Lean Plate Club (Updated 4.20.06)

Sally Squires
Washington Post Health and Nutrition Writer
Tuesday, April 18, 2006; 1:00 PM

Daily Updates: 4.19.06 | 4.20.06

Welcome to The Lean Plate Club, hosted by Washington Post health and nutrition writer Sally Squires. Share your tips on healthy recipes, meal plans, sugar alternatives and resisting overeating with other readers.

Now that the school bell is ringing for many kids, there's a morning time crunch at home that often leaves little time for breakfast. How do you entice your kids to the table -- and make sure that they eat the food that will help boost their performance in school? And what can you eat in the morning to feel sharper on the job? During today's discussion, Sally will share tips to keep your family well nourished as school starts and life goes from the lazy days of summer to the fast pace of fall.

On Tuesdays at 1 p.m. ET, Sally, who has a master's degree in nutrition from Columbia University, leads a lively discussion for readers looking for new ways to eat smarter and move around more throughout the day. The Lean Plate Club is dedicated to healthy living -- whether you're trying to whittle your waistline or simply maintain it.

We want to hear your tips, strategies, meal plans, successes, setbacks and more. Of course Sally will be happy to answer questions and turn others over to the Club. None of this, however, is a substitute for medical advice.

Squires is a veteran health reporter for The Washington Post. She is co-author of "The Stoplight Diet for Children" and author of "Secrets of the Lean Plate Club" (St. Martin's Press; 2006).

Sign up for the free Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter . The Lean Plate Club column appears weekly in the Washington Post Health section and is nationally syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group .

Sally Squires's Recent Columns

Discussion Transcripts

A transcript follows.

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Sally Squires: Welcome to the Lean Plate Club web chat. I'm hosting this live from Atlanta and the International Conference on Physical Activity and Public Health. There's a lot of interesting stuff being presented here.

The e-mail newsletters should be in your in-box today. You'll find lots of links to recipes, activity and more. Last night, I had a great time meeting members of the Forsyth County YMCA in Cumming, Ga. It's a new facility built with a glorious stairway to health and there were lots of families and individuals being very active. Very inspiring stuff!

Tonight, I hope to meet some members of the Contours Express Gym who took the 2005 Holiday Challenge. We're gathering at the Borders in Suwanee, Ga. at the Johns Creek Mall at 7 p.m. if any of you are in the area and can join us.

Party! That's what we plan to do on Saturday, April 29 at the Post from 2- 5 p.m. where we'll celebrate the Family Challenge, publication of Secrets of the Lean Plate Club and more. Please RSVP to 202-334-7969 if you'd like to attend.

I hope you've had a chance to see the wonderful panoramics that are posted on today's LPC Family Challenge website. They're narrated by our LPC families--thanks to all of them and to Laura Cochran, Dee Swann and Alexandra Garcia at WPNI for putting them together. I'll be showing them later this afternoon at the International Conference on Physical Activity. There's space on the website for you to post your comments about these parks too.

Next week, I'll be Dallas and Fort Worth. Hope to meet some of you there. Wednesday, there's a brown bag lunch at the Ft. Worth YMCA. Wednesday afternoon at 3:30 p.m., there's a cooking demonstration at Central Market in Plano.

More details to follow:

Now on to the chat!

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Chicago, Ill.: Hi Sally - Long-time lurker, first time questioner. I just joined e-diets and while I like many of the suggested foods provided, I am also curious to see of any of the home-cooked recipes that I already make will fit into the new diet. Are you aware of any websites that will allow you to plug in a recipe and get some sort of nutritional or caloric analysis? Second, do you know of a listing of RDAs of nutrients, fats, etc. for a 1200-calorie diet? I can only find listings for 2000 or higher! Thanks!

Sally Squires: Welcome Chicago! Glad you took the plunge to post. And have I got a website for you. Check out Nutrition Data, our producer Katie McLeod will post a link for it in just a minute. It allows you to do exactly what you've just described. And yes, it's all free. Enjoy!

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Losing weight with support: there were some posts Losing weight with support:there were some postslast week (and Losing weight with support:there were some postslast week(andupdates ) that discussed help with losing weight. I lost 30 pounds last year with the Self Challenge and have lost 10 more this year ( http://www.self.com/ ). There are great recipes and tips as well as discussion boards with great support.

This discussion group has been a wonderful tool and I want to thank you (and Washington Post) for the time and effort. BTW: Went to Myrtle Beach for Easter weekend and saw some family members that I have not seen since December 2004...nothing tastes better than hearing people tell you how good you look!

Sally Squires: Sounds like you had a wonderful holiday. And congratulations on those 30 pounds. I'll bet you also have lots more energy too, right? And for those who don't know this, we post updates to the web chat on weekdays as this LPCer has noticed. Thanks again!

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Washington D.C.: It came as a surprise to me to read recently that saturated fat is as undesirable as trans fat (or perhaps as much so, possibly even more). And even though I have known for years that excess saturated fat is coronary-artery-clogging, I had thought that trans fat was the true devil in the pack.

Sally Squires: Yep, there are actually three types of unhealthy fat to be avoided: trans fat, which when consumed on a regular basis significantly raises risk of heart disease. It may also hike risk of type II diabetes, although that's not completely nailed down yet.

Saturated fat also can raise blood cholesterol levels, especially of the more dangerous varieties of blood cholesterol. Ditto for eating too much dietary cholesterol, found in such things as egg yolks, organ meat, such as liver. All three types of fat are on the "watch out" list.

You can find more information at the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute and also at the American Heart Association web site. We'll post both of those in a minute too. Hope that helps. Thanks!

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Fairfax, Va.: Hi Sally,In reading The Lean Plate Club column in the Post's print edition this AM, I noted that it gave olive, safflower, etc. oils a calorie count of 120 per teaspoon. Believe that should be per TABLESPOON, correct?

washingtonpost.com: washingtonpost.com:This Summer, Change Your Oil (Post, April 18)

Sally Squires: Argh!!! You're absolutely right, Fairfax. Good catch. Very sorry. We'll correct. My apologies. Thanks for pointing it out.

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washingtonpost.com: nutritiondata.com

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Ann Arbor, Mich.: Hi Sally,

I am on a low-cholesterol 1400 calorie diet my nutritionist put me on to lose weight and reduce my cholesterol. I have a lot of work/family traveling to do in the next month, and I'm nervous about keeping to my diet. I do a good job when I'm home, but last week I visited my family and did not stay on target as much as i would like. Any ideas on how I can eat healthier while traveling/staying in hotels/visting family?

Sally Squires: As I write this sitting on the 20th floor of the Grand Hyatt in Buckhead, I'm with you. It takes a little planning to stay healthy on the road, especially if you are watching your cholesterol levels and calories.

1) Skip anything fried. You pretty much have to assume that it will have trans fat. That's not good for your blood cholesterol, plus it has a lot of calories.

2) Carry some healthy snacks with you. Good options: Nature Valley Granola bars with about 90 calories each. (And they come two to a pack, so you can eat one and then another later.) Kashi has some good cereal bars. Many hotels including this one offer fresh fruit. Grab it. Turkey or beef jerkey are shelf stable higher protein options that will keep your mouth chewing for a while and presumably out of other trouble.

3) Skip the snack bars in the room. They'll break your eating regimen and take a bite out of your wallet.

4) Consider carrying gum as another diversionary tactic.

On the plane--consider order tomato juice or Blood Mary mix instead of fruit juice or a soft drink. It will give you a serving of veggies and provides more nutrition than a diet drink--although that could be another option.

At restaurants: consider entree salads with dressing on the side. Best to make that oil and vinegar that you pour on, since many creamy salad dressings can also pack trans fats. Other good options: plenty of veggies (as long as they're not fried.) Have one piece of bread if you must and then send the basket away. Easy on the booze. Make fruit your dessert. Also consider several appetizers instead of a main course.

Last night, I had black bean soup and a small appetizer salad. It was great combination. Very satisfying.

Good luck with your travels. Hope that they don't turn into travails.And if you can, take advantage of the health clubs at most hotels. Or just try to do a lot of walking at the airports...

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Midwest: Sally, What do you think of carbonated flavored water? It's really the only water I drink - drinking plain water is so boring - but is this more like drinking diet soda than drinking water? My husband says it's Diet Coke without the caramel coloring and caffeine.

Sally Squires: If it is calorie free, then you're just drinking flavored water. And there's nothing wrong with that and plenty of right with it. Question for you: are you drinking it because you like it, not because you think you should? If so, drink away.Hope that helps.Thanks

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Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.: Is there a way to find walking groups in D.C.? I'd like to think that having a group would motivate me to get out of the apartment in the mornings, but I don't have any friends in my neighborhood.

Sally Squires: Two suggestions and then I'll open it to others who may also have leads for you: American Volksport has some walking groups. Also, check out the LPC Frappr map. We'll post a link. Some LPCers have connected with each other that way. Other suggestions out there for walking groups in DC? Send 'em our way...Thanks.

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Virginia: This is a question I am embarassed to ask anyone in person. I tried to ask my boyfriend and he laughed for quite some time before saying I was crazy. The confidential nature of the online chat is perfect. Also, I can't help but thinking Weingarten would love this question, but his chat already ended.

That said... Let's say an item of food has 150 calories. Like the bag of chips I had with my otherwise healthy lunch. I know that a calorie in the scientifc sense is how much energy it takes to raise some amount of water 1 degree celcious. is this how they figure out the calories of food? Do they take one bag of chips and burn it to see how much it raises the temperature of water? Because if so my question is this? Don't we poop out some number of calories? I mean... is the stuff coming out the back end not counted while its going in the front end? Or is some percent of calories consumed always going to be expelled?

OK. Laugh all you want. I'm curious.

Sally Squires: You sure this isn't Gene? Yes, they can calculate calories using a calorimeter which is that device that would burn those chips and then measure how much energy was expended.Yes, various bodily functions do use energy including the one you described. But the counts all pretty much work out in the end if you get my drift...Hope that helps. Now on to other topics...

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healthier baked goods: Dearest Sally,

Please forgive me, I know you've been over this a few times. But I'm paranoid so before I ruin a perfectly good box of cake or brownie mix....

For the brownies I mix in a regular sized can of black beans, stir and bake per box.

For cake mix, I put in a regular sized can of pumpkin (not pie mix. well, unless it's a white cake), stir and bake per box.

Am I right?

Thanks!

Sally Squires: I can help with the brownie mix. I'd have to look up the cake mix with the pumpkin. So here's the brownie recipe:

1 15.5 ounce can of black beans

1 brownie mix

1 pan sprayed with oil (or nonstick)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees after preparing pan.

Take beans the liquid they are in. Place in blender and pulverize. Mix in a bowl with the brownie mix. Stir with a spoon. Fold into pan. Bake. That's it. Voila: brownies that are nonfat, higher in fiber than the regular variety and also pack from complex carbs and protein. Calories are about that of regular brownies: roughly 100 per brownie.

Hope that helps.Thanks.

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Apex, N.C.: For Chicago,

I use some recipe software called Living Cookbook that calculates the nutritional information for recipes. I know that several others -- including MasterCook, will do something similar. Both of these are Windows programs.

Sally Squires: Thanks very much Apex. Where did you get the programs?

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Mitchell, Neb.: According to what I have been reading and studying, trans fat is the real killer. Saturated fats can be eaten in moderation and a bit is even necessary for your cell development. But trans fats should not be eaten at all. Not only are they artificially produced, they also use metals, generally nickel or aluminum as a catalyst and some of that metal remains as traces in the oils or their products. Eating trans fats does to your blood vessels much the same thing that tobacco smoke does, causes lesions which lead to plaque build up. They are also implicated in type 2 diabetes. And unlike saturated fats, trans fats are hiding everywhere in our processed foods. Check labels before buying anything, and if they contain trans fats, don't buy. And finally, don't be fooled by a sticker on the package that says "no trans fats". Manufacturers are allowed to use up to half a gram a serving of hydrogenated oils and still claim no trans fats.

Sally Squires: Well said, Mitchell, except I haven't seen the part about trace metals. For more information on trans fats, check the link that we are about to post from the Food and Drug Administration. Thanks.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Last weekend my family took advantage of one of the DC areas greatest recreational resources, the C&O Canal. We started at Voilets lock (well north of the busy area aroung great falls) and took an easy bike ride. Along the way we saw several turtles, 2 herons, some fish and several different birds. It was a leisurly ride , so even my 8 yr old had no problem keeping up with us for the 3 miles. We all had fun, saw interesting nature and got exercise. I recomend it to any family.

Sally Squires: Thanks Gaithersburg. Sounds like a wonderful day for you and your family and a great outing for others. Anybody else have a great park or trail that they really enjoy in DC or elsewhere? We're all ears...

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washingtonpost.com: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

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How can get my groove back?: Sally, help me get my motivation back! After child #1 lost about 40 pounds. Then child 2 came along (9 months ago now) and I've managed to lose most of the weight -- all but five pounds (here's a stat my OB found interesting: I weighed MORE before my first pregnancy than in the last week of my second). Anyway, I want to lose this last five pounds, but I can't motivate to exercise. I just sit there watching TV, ignoring the elliptical machine. I used to DO the elliptical while watching, which was a big part of the initial weight loss. Help!Thanks.

Sally Squires: Those 40 pounds are great. Are you at a healthy weight now? If you lose the 5 pounds will you still be? Those are two questions to ponder.

As for motivation: sounds like you need something new to do. Can you pile the kids in the stroller--or at least the youngest one--and take them to park? Can you get a mom to walk with you so that you won't find an excuse not to go?

Other possibilities:

Listen to books on tape while you do that ellipitcal trainer. Or consider renting a movie that you can watch while you climb.

Or make a contract with yourself: 5 minutes on the trainer today--or whatever time you absolutely know you can do. Consider 6 minutes tomorrow, 7 the next day. You get the idea. Set a reward if you meet x number of days. Maybe it's a bubble bath. Maybe it's a manicure. Maybe it's a new CD you've been hankering for...You get the idea. Good luck and let us know how you do.

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Apex, N.C.: Living Cookbook : (free trial download availble)

MasterCook is available from many electronics sellers including CompUSA. A friend of mine uses this and likes it.

Sally Squires: Thank you Apex!

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Cake Mix Alternative: Another option with cake mixes that we always do, is to replace the oil with apple sauce (we use unsweetened - less calories), which I used to hear about a lot but not as much recently. We do a 1 for 1 replacement... It still tastes so good and cuts down a lot of the calories and fat.

We did it this past weekend with a cookie mix in which the original directions said to make with butter, but gave alternative directions on the bag for oil, so we switched it to apple sauce. The cookies were a little more cake-y consistency than normal cookies - but still really good!

Sally Squires: Great idea and another way to add some hidden fruit as well. Thanks much!

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Cake Mix Alternative: Another option with cake mixes that we always do, is to replace the oil with apple sauce (we use unsweetened - less calories), which I used to hear about a lot but not as much recently. We do a 1 for 1 replacement... It still tastes so good and cuts down a lot of the calories and fat.

We did it this past weekend with a cookie mix in which the original directions said to make with butter, but gave alternative directions on the bag for oil, so we switched it to apple sauce. The cookies were a little more cake-y consistency than normal cookies - but still really good!

Sally Squires: Great idea and another way to add some hidden fruit as well. Thanks much!

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re:trails: Hi I'm new to the area (I live in the southern part of Rockville near Bethesda). Sometimes when driving home, I see a sign for beach dr. (or is it beach view dr.) I think in another chat (moving crew?) someone mentioned in the summer they close of the road and people go biking and jogging there. It perked my interest and I wanted to know if you or any of the chatters could give me more info about this.

Sally Squires: Welcome to DC and the Washington metro region. Actually, they close part of Beach Drive every weekend so that it can be used for hiking and biking. It's a beautiful area of the District and Maryland, well worth the trip.Hope you enjoy it.

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Trails in D.C.:: My mom was in town last weekend, and we did the Capital Crescent trail , which I'd never heard of until I started looking for "urban hikes" for her visit. It goes from Silver Spring to Georgetown, about 11.5 miles, although you can enter the trail at any access point. We took the Metro up to Bethesda and went from there about 7.5 miles down to Georgetown--the trail is only a few blocks from the Metro stop. It goes along Rock Creek park, the C&O canal and the river at points, is largely shaded and paved to be biker/rollerblader friendly. I'd highly recommend!

Sally Squires: Another great trail. And the weather is so nice these days, it's hard not to get out there to try our great parks. Thanks!

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Arlington, Va.: I saw your list of "healthy" oils but noticed that sunflower oil isn't on it...any particular reason?

Sally Squires: Nope. We just didn't have space to list all the healthy oils. Sunflower oil and sesame oil are both good oils. So is rapeseed, walnut, etc. The list goes on and on. That's why it's nice to have additional space in this web chat and in the e-mail newsletter. Thanks!

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Fort Worth, Tex.: Hi Sally, Hope you enjoy your visit to our area. We have a Central Market in Fort Worth too. It's a very nice concept.

I've done the pumpkin/cake mix thing and it is just plain canned pumpkin and one mix. Another light and easy cake uses Angel Food Cake mix and a can of crushed pineapple, undrained. Just bake according to package directions for the cake. A slighly less healthy option is a chocolate cake mix with a can of cherry pie filling. I saw the chocolate cherry cake idea in a Dallas Cowboys cookbook. It was a Troy Aikman favorite. He tops it off with an icing that is basically fudge. I just use the cake part.

Sally Squires: Thanks very much. I'm looking forward to my visit. And I think that the e-mail newsletter had the days of the week right, but may have posted the wrong dates. Schedule is Brown Bag lunch at the Ft. Worth YMCA next Wednesday, April 26. Cooking demo where they're going to make a recipe from Secrets of the Lean Plate Club on Wednesday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. also April 26, at the Central Market in Plano.

Hope to get to meet some of you while I'm in Texas. Thanks!

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Washington, D.C.: I grew up in the area and some of my fondest childhood memories are of canoeing with my family on the C & O canal. You can also do it in Georgetown along the Potomac.

Sally Squires: It is beautiful isn't it? We are very lucky. I've also reccently experienced some great parks here in the Atlanta region as well as in San Francisco--it's hard to beat the Golden Gate Park--and in Tucson, which has some wonderful recreational options. Thanks!

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Laytonsville veggie: With all the fuss about stick margarine, butter, and transfat, I have a simple solution that tastes great--I take the tastiest olive oil, put it into a used soft margarine tub, and put it into the coldest part of the refridgerator. It solidifies somewhat and can be used like butter or margarine as a spread. Even a squeeze bottle works. Olive oil at room temperature is great at the restaraunt with the plate, spices etc but it can be wasteful. But the semi-solid cold olive oil does the trick with the morning toast.

Sally Squires: Very creative, Laytonsville. Thanks much!

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Toronto, Ontario: To the person wanting walking groups around Washington DC. Try meetup.com/cities/us/dc/washington , which has meetup groups to do different things from hiking, walkiing, salsa dancing, there seems to be a weight loss group there. I have been going to meetups in Toronto and they are great

also: Washington Women Outdoors for women who want to get together in that area to do outdoor activities -- if you google you will find more. Good Luck

Sally Squires: Thanks for the assistance Toronto!

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Arlington- sweet suggestions: I could not live without a sweet or two!

I now carry a bag of small lowfat graham crackers (about a 1/4 cup) in small pieces, a 1/4 cup of mini marshmallows, and 1/4 cup of the mini chocolate chips! You can also do the regular chocolate chips in milk chocolate or white chocolate. I have this around 3pm and it gets me to closing time and away from the candy machine or the donuts from the morning meetings we have almost daily. The graham is good for you and the whole little baggie is not high in calories or

My other little saver is to melt about 10 chocolate chips in the microwave for 15 second and spread the chocolate over a chilled banana. You'll get your potassium, vitamins in as well as all the benefits from chocolate as well! And a pick me up!

Happy moderate sweet eating,

Arlington

Sally Squires: Happy sweet eating indeed! Yum. Another great chocolate option are Drost pastilles. They come in all types of varieties including and one goes a long way. Thanks!

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Boston, Mass.: Hi Sally,

Food find--Whole Foods has fat-free angel food cake on sale buy one get one free. It is fat free and a wonderfully filling dessert. I put fresh strawberries on mine with a dollop of light whipped cream and it was the tastiest strawberry shortcake ever.

Also, Rachel Ray recommends freezing fat-free evaporated milk for a half an hour and then whipping it in a blender for a delicious and rich "whipped cream."

It really does work!

Sally Squires: Those are great food finds, Boston. And for those who don't know this, the Lean Plate Club now appears Sundays in the Boston Herald. You can also whip very cold skim milk into a "whipped cream." But I'll bet the evaporated milk is even richer because it's more concentrated. Thanks much, Boston.

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Boston, Mass.: Regarding fats and baking - I often use you black bean idea in brownies, for spice cake mix add 1 15oz. can pumpkin - makes delicious cake and cupcakes. I also often use baby pureed carrots and prunes instead of oil when I bake. Hope this helps.

Sally Squires: I've tried the pureed prunes, but never the carrots. Sounds like another creative way to add veggies AND reduce fat. Thanks much Boston.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: How much yogurt containing healthy bacteria(bifiobacteria, lactobacillus) must you eat per day to get the desired results of improved digestion?

Sally Squires: Different studies have shown varying amounts. There's a good round-up on this in a recent issue of the journal, Nutrition Today. Studies suggest that a serving or two per day--basically a cup or two per day--appears to provide some good benefits. It also looks like one needs to keep eating the healthy bacteria in various forms including yogurt to reap the benfits. Hope that helps.

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Walking Groups & Post-Baby Weight Loss: seemommyrun.com is a great resource to find other moms who want to form groups to run (and walk) with their kids in tow (or sometimes now). The groups are based on location, run v. walk, and how far/fast you want to run.It's a lot easier to get out there when you know you are meeting someone else!

Sally Squires: Thanks!

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Sally Squires: Thanks for a great web chat. Gotta run to be on a panel here. Winners today are:

Fairfax for catching my typo in the column today; Gaithersburg;the mom trying to get her groove back and Trails in DC. Please e-mail me with your snail mail address to leanplateclub@washpost.com. I won't be back in DC until Thursday but will send the prizes then.

Look for updates each weekday.Until next week: eat smart and move more with the Lean Plate Club. Thanks to all!

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UPDATED 4.19.06

Richmond, Va.: Sally-I like to bake, especially for my son who is 18 months. I want to reduce the sugar and add more protein because sometimes all he will eat for a snack is a muffin. Do you know of any websites or cookbooks that have good recipes for healthy baked treats? I would rather just use less sugar than use substitutes. Thanks!

Sally Squires: Yes, I've got several good sources for you Richmond. The American Heart Association has a new publication called Healthy Recipes Kids Love. They're kid tested and kid approved. One recipe is for Honey Bran Muffinettes.

Honey Brand Muffinettes

2 teaspoons canola or corn oil
1 7.4 ounce package honey bran muffin mix
1/3 cup golden raisins,sweetened dried crnaberries or chopped dried apples.
1/3 cup fat free milk
1 4-ounce jar baby food pureed carrots
3/4 teaspoon apple pie spice
4 ounces fat free or light cream cheese (optional)

1.Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Using paper towels, spread the oil in two 12-cup nonstick mini muffin pans

2. In a medium bowl, comine all the ingredients except the cream cheese, stirring until just belnded. Spoon into each muffin cup.

Bake for 9 to 10 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool on a colling rack for one minute before removing from the pans. Let cook completely for peak flavor. Serve if desired with the cream cheese.

Also the Junior League has some recipes for kids and a website to help them know more about nutrition and cooking.

Find it at Kids in the Kitchen

On Sunday, April 23, they're also hosting an event in Northern Virginia. It's at noon and again at 1 p.m. at Ballston Common Mall, 4238 Wilson Blvd. Arlington, Va.

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Austin, Tex.: Error in today's column? Sally, I was just reading today's column, and gasped as I read that a healthy oil like Canola was 120 calories per TEASPOON. I was compelled to pop into my kitchen and read the label on my bottle of Canola, and as I thought (and hoped) it would be, it stated 120 cal's per TABLESPOON. Thanks again for taking the time to do the chats that support all of us out here!

washingtonpost.com: This Summer, Change Your Oil (Post, April 18)

Sally Squires: Yes, Austin, there was a stupid typo in the column. My mistake. Should have written that 1 TABLESPOON not teaspoon has 120 calories. We will correct. It's been mentioned earlier on this chat, but just to make sure everyone sees it. Sorry.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Sally, This may sound like a silly question, but when I measure rice and pasta in the measuring cup before it's cooked, I'm measuring 1/2 cup for myself. It seems like an awful lot when cooked. Should I be measuring rice and pasta for a meal once it's cooked instead of beforehand? Thanks!

Sally Squires: There are no silly questions here at the Lean Plate Club. And your instinct is correct. You want to measure that rice after it is cooked. A half cup of rice makes approximately one cup of cooked rice. Hope that helps.

By the way, I've been making rice in the oven. I use the same 1:2 proportions, or 1 cup of rice: 2 cups water. Place in a oven proof casserole. Bake in pre-heated 350 degree oven for about 40-45 minutes for brown rice. White rice would take much less time. A wonderful rice to try: brown basmatic jasmine rice. Delicious. Also makes the whole house smell grand while it is cooking.

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Another delish cake idea: A coworker on Weight Watchers brought these in and they are very rich and tasty!

Each cupcake has 110 calories, 2 g fat, 20 g carbohydrates, and 3 g protein.

I've made it as a two-layer cake also.

18 1/4 ounces devil's food cake mix
6 large egg whites
2 (2 1/4 ounce) jars pureed carrot baby food
1 1/3 cups water
1 1/4 teaspoons instant coffee granules
4 ounces light tub cream cheese
3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons skim milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup Cool Whip Free, thawed

Stir together the cake mix, egg whites, carrots, water, and coffee. Using an electric mixer, beat on low speed for 30 seconds to blend slightly. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes. Spoon the batter into 24 muffin cups that have been sprayed with nonstick spray. Bake for 20 minutes at 325 or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Put the pans on cooling racks and let stand for 15 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pans and allow to cool. In a medium mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, confectioner's sugar, milk, and vanilla. Using an electric mixer, beat on medium speed until smooth. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the Cool Whip. Cover and refrigerate until needed. Top each cupcake with 1 tablespoon topping.

Sally Squires: Sounds really good. Thanks for sharing!

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washingtonpost.com: Check back on Thursday for another update to this week's Lean Plate Club discussion.

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UPDATED 4.20.06

Washington, D.C.: Hi Sally, I looove the chats. Posting early today. I love smoothies, they are filling and very healthy... I make them with just anything I have available at home: natural fruit, frozen fruit, and orange juice or grapefruit juice. My question is: is there a smart container I could use to bring these delicious smoothies to work? Regular water bottles don't work. I am sure someone out there must know of a practical container to sip from at the office. Thanks for the chats!!

Sally Squires: Have you come to the right place. I've got a smoothie with me today. I use a small plastic container with a screw top. Sometimes I also use the same type of container with a pop top but put a couple of rubber bands on it to keep it tightly closed.

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Re: low-cholesterol diet: Cholesterol only comes from animal products, so choosing nondairy vegetarian items would be an easy to find low-cholesterol foods while on a trip. It's often easiest to find completely vegetarian options at international restaurants. So look for an Asian, Italian, Indian, or Mexican restaurant. Just be sure to skip the cheese!

Sally Squires: It's a good step, but not quite so fast. Some of those dishes can have large amounts of fat. Case in point: curries, which usually have coconut milk, a hefty source of unhealth saturated fat and calories. So skip curries if you can--or try to eat very little of the sauce. Skip fried foods which are also not only high in calories, but also may have unhealthy fat. Go for stir fries with plenty of veggies. And have the summer rolls, not fried, instead of the egg rolls. Steamed foods are also generally good choices. Thanks!

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Newton, Mass.: Sally-I bought something called "poppy seed mash" this weekend at a Middle Eastern Market. It contains nothing but poppy seeds and is sort of the consistency of natural peanut butter. It tastes great but since I am almost religious about tracking my calories and can't find nutrition info on it on any of the usual sites- nutriondata.com or calorieking.com was wondering if you could help. I also wondered about whether it might count as a "healthy fat"? Thanks

Sally Squires: Poppy seeds--in fact all seeds--contain healthy oils. I looked for poppy seed mash and found a bunch of references but no full ingredients. So that would be the question: is there any unhealthy added fat to this mixture? I'll keep searching the answer. If anyone else out there has used this food, please zip me an e-mail to leanplateclub@washpost.com.

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Arlington, Part 2 with sweets: Whoops- forgot the third. For the non- chocolate eaters:

Get an individual pack of Apple Sauce- all natural variety. Motts for instance- they come in packs of 6. You put that in the microwave for 10 second (in a seperate bowl!) and then sprinkle one graham square on it and some cinnamon. Watch people flock- it smells like apple pie!

-Arlington

Sally Squires: Apple sauce is a great way to soothe a sweet tooth--and get a serving of fruit along the way. Look for varieties that don't have added sugar. There are some great combinations these days that also have applesauce and berries. Quite nice and about 90 calories per half cup. Good snack.Thanks!

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washingtonpost.com: Join Sally Squires during her next live discussion on Tuesday, April 25, at 1 p.m. ET.

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