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Nutrition

Mexican menu ideas for simple family dinners

Encourage kids to get hands-on. It’s no secret that kids like finger foods, and many Mexican dishes are best enjoyed by hand.

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When the school year is back in full swing, families often find themselves battling the mealtime crunch. Mexican-inspired meals bursting with flavor are known family-friendly picks that can be easily prepared and put on the table on those frenzied weeknights.

These simple ideas from the experts at Ortega can help make “taco night” and other Mexican meals better than ever.

Encourage kids to get hands-on. It’s no secret that kids like finger foods, and many Mexican dishes are best enjoyed by hand. Tacos are an obvious favorite, but other options like quesadillas, taquitos and Ortega Fiesta Flats are also easy to enjoy sans silverware.

Step outside of tradition. If you’re looking for something that makes mealtime feel extra special, skip the basic taco and choose a meal kit that lets you serve up a restaurant-style experience at home. For example, Ortega’s Bakeable Tortilla Bowl Kits bring a new and simple way to change up your Mexican meals. Just bake and fill with your favorite ingredients.

Offer a variety of ingredients. One of the benefits of a Mexican meal is all the ways each family member can customize plates to their own tastes. Try setting out a wide range of ingredients and encourage the kids to experiment with toppings they may not have tried before, like olives and guacamole.

Don’t forget the sauce. Taco sauces can bring unique, unexpected flavor to recipes. One to try is Ortega’s line of bold and creamy Flavor Craver Taco Sauces. Varieties include Taco Ranch, Chipotle and Jalapeno Lime, all perfect for tacos, taco salads, dips, burgers and more.

Poblano Ranch Tacos 

Makes: 8 tacos

2          tablespoons olive oil
4          poblano peppers, sliced
1          yellow onion, sliced
1          tablespoon fresh lime juice (optional)
1          box Ortega Yellow Corn Taco Shells
6          radishes, sliced
1          cup corn kernels
1          cup cotija cheese
1          bottle Ortega Flavor Craver Ranch Taco Sauce, to taste

Add olive oil to skillet over medium heat. Add sliced poblano peppers and yellow onion to pan. Sauté until cooked through. Add squeeze of lime to pepper and onion mixture, if desired.

Bake taco shells according to package directions. To assemble tacos, add poblano and onion mixture to base of taco. Top with sliced radishes, corn and cotija cheese. Finish with taco sauce.

Steak Fajita Burrito Bowl

Makes: 4 bowls

3          tablespoons olive oil, divided
1          pound skirt steak
1          red pepper, sliced
1          yellow pepper, sliced
1          package instant rice
1          tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2       packet Ortega Original Taco Seasoning
1          Ortega Bakeable Tortilla Bowl Kit
3          cups green leaf lettuce, sliced
2          avocados, diced
1          cup corn kernels
1/2       cup cotija cheese
1          bottle Ortega Green Taco Sauce, to taste

Add 2 tablespoons oil to skillet over medium-high heat. Cook skirt steak 5 minutes on each side. Remove steak from pan and let rest. When cooled, slice into strips. 

Add remaining olive oil to skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté red and yellow peppers until cooked through. 

Prepare rice as directed on package. Add squeeze of lime and taco seasoning. Stir to combine. 

Prepare tortilla bowls as directed on package. Fill with rice, shredded lettuce, sliced steak and peppers. Top with diced avocado, corn and cotija cheese. Finish with taco sauce.

Southwest Chicken Salad

Makes: 4 bowls

2          tablespoons olive oil
4          chicken breasts
2          teaspoons chili powder
1          Ortega Bakeable Tortilla Bowl Kit
3          cups green leaf lettuce, sliced
1          can Ortega Black Beans
1          cup corn kernels
2          avocados, diced
1          tomato, diced
1          cup cotija cheese
1          bottle Ortega Flavor Craver Ranch Taco Sauce, to taste

Add olive oil to skillet over medium heat. Coat chicken with chili powder. Cook chicken 8 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. Remove chicken from pan and let rest. Slice chicken into strips when cooled.

Prepare tortilla bowls as directed on package. Fill with shredded lettuce, black beans, corn and sliced chicken. Top with diced avocado, tomato and cotija cheese. Finish with taco sauce.

Stock Your Pantry for Mexican Cooking

You can enjoy the flavors of a Mexican cantina in your kitchen anytime if you’re stocked up with the right goods.

Pantry and Dry Goods

  1. Keep dried or canned chiles of all sorts on-hand. Dried chiles include ancho, chipotle, guajillo, negro and mulato.
  2. Expand your spice rack with Mexican staples like chili powder, cayenne pepper and paprika, as well as oregano and cumin.
  3. Buy white rice in bulk so you can create Spanish rice to accompany any dish.
  4. Stock up on canned refried beans, black beans and pinto beans for use in your favorite Mexican dishes.

Refrigerator and Produce

  1. Keep ready-made salsa and spicy sauces chilled and serve them alongside chips, tacos and other Mexican dishes.
  2. Always have garlic, onions and fresh cilantro handy. Keep lemons and limes within reach to add bright flavor to your dishes. Also, buy fresh chiles like jalapeno and pasilla to spice up a variety of dishes. If possible, grow them yourself.
  3. Store flour and corn tortillas in your cupboard or refrigerator to create burritos, tacos, enchiladas and wraps.
  4. Keep Monterey Jack, queso fresco and cotija cheese on-hand to include in enchiladas and burritos.

Find more recipes and ideas to add a unique twist to any Mexican meal at Ortega.com.

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Nutrition

Body clock off-schedule? Prebiotics may help

Dietary compounds shown to protect against jet lag-type symptoms.

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Photo by Daily Nouri from Unsplash.com

Whether it’s from jetting across time zones, pulling all-nighters at school or working the overnight shift, chronically disrupting our circadian rhythm—or internal biological clocks—can take a measurable toll on everything from sleep, mood and metabolism to risk of certain diseases, mounting research shows.

But a new University of Colorado Boulder study funded by the U.S. Navy suggests simple dietary compounds known as prebiotics, which serve as food for beneficial gut bacteria, could play an important role in helping us bounce back faster.

“This work suggests that by promoting and stabilizing the good bacteria in the gut and the metabolites they release, we may be able to make our bodies more resilient to circadian disruption,” said senior author Monika Fleshner, a professor of integrative physiology.

The animal study, published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, is the latest to suggest that prebiotics—not to be confused with probiotics found in fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut—can influence not only the gut, but also the brain and behavior.

Naturally abundant in many fibrous foods—including leeks, artichokes and onions—and in breast milk, these indigestible carbohydrates pass through the small intestine and linger in the gut, serving as nourishment for the trillions of bacteria residing there.

The authors’ previous studies showed that rats raised on prebiotic-infused chow slept better and were more resilient to some of the physical effects of acute stress.

For the new study, part of a multi-university project funded by the Office of Naval Research, the researchers sought to learn if prebiotics could also promote resilience to body-clock disruptions from things like jet lag, irregular work schedules or lack of natural daytime light—a reality many military personnel live with.

“They are traveling all over the world and frequently changing time zones. For submariners, who can be underwater for months, circadian disruption can be a real challenge,” said lead author Robert Thompson, a postdoctoral researcher in the Fleshner lab. “The goal of this project is to find ways to mitigate those effects.”

How a healthy gut may prevent jet lag

The researchers raised rats either on regular food or chow enriched with two prebiotics: galactooligosaccharides and polydextrose.

They then manipulated the rats’ light-dark cycle weekly for eight weeks—the equivalent of traveling to a time zone 12 hours ahead every week for two months.

Rats that ate prebiotics more quickly realigned their sleep-wake cycles and core body temperature (which can also be thrown off when internal clocks are off) and resisted the alterations in gut flora that often come with stress.

“This is one of the first studies to connect consuming prebiotics to specific bacterial changes that not only affect sleep but also the body’s response to circadian rhythm disruption,” said Thompson.

The study also takes a critical step forward in answering the question: How can simply ingesting a starch impact how we sleep and feel?

The researchers found that those on the prebiotic diet hosted an abundance of several health-promoting microbes, including Ruminiclostridium 5 (shown in other studies to reduce fragmented sleep) and Parabacteroides distasonis.

They also had a substantially different “metabolome,” the collection of metabolic byproducts churned out by bacteria in the gut.

Put simply: The animals that ingested the prebiotics hosted more good bacteria, which in turn produced metabolites that protected them from something akin to jet lag.

Are supplements worthwhile?

Clinical trials are now underway at CU Boulder to determine if prebiotics could have similar effects on humans.

The research could lead to customized prebiotic mixtures designed for individuals whose careers or lifestyles expose them to frequent circadian disruption.

In the meantime, could simply loading up on legumes and other foods naturally rich in the compounds help keep your body clock running on time? It’s not impossible but unlikely, they say—noting that the rats were fed what, in human terms, would be excessive amounts of prebiotics.

Why not just ingest the beneficial bacteria directly, via probiotic-rich foods like yogurt?

That could also help, but prebiotics may have an advantage over probiotics in that they support the friendly bacteria one already has, rather than introducing a new species that may or may not take hold.

What about prebiotic dietary supplements?

“If you are happy and healthy and in balance, you do not need to go ingest a bunch of stuff with a prebiotic in it,” said Fleshner. “But if you know you are going to come into a challenge, you could take a look at some of the prebiotics that are available. Just realize that they are not customized yet, so it might work for you but it won’t work for your neighbor.”

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Nutrition

The best teas to drink for health

Study after study shows the benefits of drinking tea, essentially verifying what your ancestors believed back in ancient times. The humble tea plant – a shrub known as Camellia sinensis – has long supplied an answer to some ailments.

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Photo by Loverna Journey from Unsplash.com

While studies have shown the health benefits of drinking tea, the variety of options can be overwhelming. A dietitian from a top American hospital, Cleveland Clinic, explains how different teas offer different benefits.

Beth Czerwony, MS, RD, CSOWM, LD, from Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition with the Digestive Disease & Surgery Institute, says: “Study after study shows the benefits of drinking tea, essentially verifying what your ancestors believed back in ancient times. The humble tea plant – a shrub known as Camellia sinensis – has long supplied an answer to some ailments.”

Here, she discusses which popular teas are advised for common ailments.

Best for Overall Health: Green Tea

“Green tea is the champion when it comes to offering health benefits,” says Czerwony. “It’s the Swiss Army knife of teas. It covers a lot of territory.”

A medical literature review offers a snapshot of those benefits, she adds, linking the consumption of green tea to:

  • cancer prevention;
  • fighting heart disease;
  • lower blood pressure;
  • anti-inflammatory treatment;
  • weight loss; and
  • lower cholesterol.

According to Czerwony, the healing power of green tea is linked to catechin, an antioxidant compound found in tea leaves. It helps protect cells from damage caused by out-of-hand free radicals reacting with other molecules in the body.

Best for Gut Health: Ginger Tea

Studies show that ginger naturally combats nausea, making it a go-to remedy for dealing with morning sickness during pregnancy, notes Czerwony.

Ginger also offers proven digestive benefits by helping the body move food from the stomach to continue its digestive tract journey. Speeding up that process works to calm indigestion and ease stomach distress, she explains.

“Ginger relaxes your gut, which can make you a lot more comfortable if you’re having tummy trouble,” Czerwony says.

Alternatively, peppermint tea can also serve as an aid against indigestion. “Peppermint, however, is best for issues lower in your gut. It can actually aggravate higher-up issues such as acid reflux,” she advises.

Best for Lung Health: Herbal Tea

The anti-inflammatory powers in herbal teas can help loosen airways tightened by conditions such as asthma, says Czerwony. She recommends herbal teas featuring turmeric, cinnamon or ginger as a way to keep the air flowing.

As an added benefit, drinking a hot cup of herbal tea can also help clear congestion by loosening mucus, says Czerwony.

Best for Sickness: Peppermint Tea

“Menthol packs quite the punch when it comes to fighting a cold – and peppermint tea is packed with menthol,” says Czerwony, “It really kicks up your immune system.”

She says peppermint tea works well to relax sore throat muscles, relieve nasal congestion and even reduce a fever. “It’s also loaded with antibacterial and antiviral properties to give you a healthy boost.”

She also suggests trying echinacea, hibiscus or elderberry tea when someone does not feel well.

Best at Bedtime: Chamomile Tea

The daisy-like chamomile plant contains apigenin, an antioxidant compound and snooze inducer, explains Czerwony. She says apigenin attaches itself to receptors in the brain and works to reduce anxiety, building a peaceful calm that leads to drowsiness.

Valerian root tea also is a good option, she says.

What about black teas?

Black tea offers many of the same benefits as green tea, which makes sense when you consider they’re made from the same plant leaves, says Czerwony.

So why are they different? “Leaves used to make black tea are allowed to age and oxidize, turning them brown or black. Green tea leaves are processed earlier when they’re still green. Hence, the name. Black tea generally has more caffeine than green tea— a key selection factor if you’re concerned about limiting your caffeine intake,” she says.

“There are so many teas to choose from,” concludes Czerwony. “Try different varieties and see what works best for you.”

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Nutrition

How to enjoy whiskey this summer

Select “young” whiskey. If adding ice cubes to give it a chill, you don’t want to dilute aged whiskies. You alternatively can chill whiskey in the refrigerator before drinking.

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Photo by Vinicius "amnx" Amano from Unsplash.com

Over the years, whiskey has become increasingly popular and is a beverage people typically drink year-round. Shots Box, an alcohol subscription service offering curated, craft, artisanal, and small-batch spirits, is here with some tips on how to best enjoy whiskey during the summer months.

  1. Select “young” whiskey. If adding ice cubes to give it a chill, you don’t want to dilute aged whiskies. You alternatively can chill whiskey in the refrigerator before drinking.
  2. Choose a lighter variety. When picking a whiskey to enjoy in the summer, single grain Scotch or Irish whiskey are usually lighter malts and bourbons, making them easier to enjoy in the warm weather.
  3. Pick an option that’s lighter, sweeter, and with a natural hint of citrus.
  4. Balance or adjust the flavor by mixing with stone fruits, summer vegetables, or pair with tea.

“As whiskey continues to grow in popularity, there is no better time than the summer to enjoy it,” said J.C. Stock, Chief Executive Officer of Shots Box.

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