Don’t let Valentine’s Day be your excuse to be unhealthy

Valentine’s Day is often celebrated with candy, romantic dinners and rich desserts. While these things may help to celebrate the love in your life, they also have the potential to wreck your diet. Let this year be different. Here are a few tips to help avoid exorbitant caloric intake.

Rather than the traditional box of chocolates, try these fruity treats

Edible Arrangements in Marketview Shopping Center in Champaign offers many different festive arrangements of fruit.

With pineapples shaped like hearts and melons fashioned to look like flowers, this gift can be both nutritious and creative.

Chocolate-dipped dried fruits are also a good alternative for other candies.

Chocolate dipped apricots, for example, contain only 43 calories per candy.

These dried fruits contain both fiber and potassium, and are easy to make at home.

If you have to buy chocolates, go with dark chocolates.

“There are many potential health benefits associated with consuming dark chocolate,” said Melissa Tisoncik in an e-mailed statement.

Tisoncik is a graduate student researching the affects of emulsifiers in dark chocolate storage studies.

Dark chocolate, which has a high cacao content, is rich with substances that have high antioxidant capacity.

“Ongoing research indicates that consuming antioxidant rich diets may help protect against cardiovascular disease and lower blood pressure,” she said.

Source: eatingwell.com

Love in the kitchen

Rather than going out to dinner, stay in and cook together. These recipes from EatingWell.com will help you and your valentine enjoy a delicious meal with less than 500 calories.

Cream Cheese-&-Pesto-Stuffed Chicken Breasts

4 servings

Total Time: 50 minutes

Ingredients

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, (1-1 1/4 pounds total)

1 egg white

1/2 cup plain dry breadcrumbs

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

Cream Cheese-Pesto Filling:

2 tablespoons reduced-fat cream cheese,

1 basil pesto,

Ground pepper, to taste

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

2. Combine cream cheese, pesto and pepper in a bowl with a fork.

3. Cut a horizontal slit along the thin, long edge of a chicken breast half, nearly through to the opposite side. Open each breast and place one-fourth of the filling in the center. Close the breast over the filling, pressing the edges together to seal. Repeat with the remaining chicken breasts.

4. Beat egg white with a fork in a bowl. Place breadcrumbs in a dish. Hold each chicken breast half together and dip in the egg white, then dredge in the breadcrumbs. (Discard leftovers.)

5. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken breasts; cook until browned on one side, about 2 minutes. Place the chicken, browned-side up, on the baking sheet. Bake until the chicken is no longer pink in the center or until an instant-read thermometer registers 170°F, about 20 minutes.

Sauteed Green Beans & Cherry Tomatoes

4 servings, 1 cup each

Total Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 pound green beans, trimmed

1/2 cup water

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 cups halved cherry tomatoes

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preparation

1. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add green beans and cook, stirring often, until seared in spots, 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Add water, cover, reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes for tender-crisp or 6 minutes for tender. Push the beans to the side; add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

3. Add tomatoes, stir everything together and cook until the tomatoes begin to break down, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in vinegar, salt and pepper.

Warm Chocolate Pudding

6 servings

Total Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

1 large egg

2 1/4 cups nonfat or low-fat milk, divided

2/3 cup sugar, divided

1/8 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation

1. Lightly beat egg with a fork in a medium bowl.

2. Combine 1 1/2 cups milk, 1/3 cup sugar and salt in a medium saucepan; bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

3. Meanwhile, whisk the remaining 1/3 cup sugar, cocoa and cornstarch in a medium bowl. Whisk in the remaining 3/4 cup milk until blended. Whisk the simmering milk mixture into the cocoa mixture. Pour the mixture back into the pan and bring to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened and glossy, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

4. Whisk about 1 cup of the hot cocoa mixture into the beaten egg. Return the egg mixture to the pan and cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until steaming and thickened, about 2 minutes. (Do not boil.) Whisk in vanilla. Serve warm.

Total calories for the meal: 468