AUBURN – Diane Handler counsels patients in the area about healthy eating and sees her role as a physician’s assistant at DFD Russell Medical Center as an important one.

“I spend a lot of time talking about how to eat healthy, and I like to be a role model. I have a particular interest in diabetes and heart disease,” says Handler, who primarily works in the medical center’s Monmouth office.

As a role model, the Auburn woman prepares dishes for her family that are healthy and enjoyable. “I’ve always loved food, and I prefer home-cooked meals to processed, ready-made ones. I grew up on a farm; we had lots of fresh food, but not much money. Fast food was a rarity, and if we wanted to buy junk food we had to use our own money and ride our bikes, three miles each way, to the corner store. Now, I’m very grateful for that healthy start. I love being at the table with family rather than eating on the run, and it helps that my husband and boys love what I cook. The best part of cooking, for me, is seeing the smiles on my family’s faces because something is delicious and healthy.”

Handler also says, “I never met a vegetable I didn’t like. I prefer ‘Mediterranean style’ cooking: lots of veggies, seafood, chicken, lean meat and olive oil. I’d like to try making more fresh bread, and I also want to continue to experiment with Thai and Middle Eastern cuisine.”

On the flip side, Handler doesn’t particularly care for baking. “I don’t enjoy baking desserts quite as much; they just seem more unpredictable to me.”

Cooking Light magazine provides many recipe ideas for Handler. Some of her favorite items in the kitchen are her new big KitchenAid mixer that her husband purchased for her, as well as a nice, sharp set of knives. Keeping supplies at hand is also a must for her, especially keeping her spice cabinet well-stocked.

Handler and her cardiologist husband, Jeffrey, have two sons, Chris, 20, and Jason, 17. In her spare time, she enjoys weight lifting, running, playing piano and reading. Travel is also a favorite pastime, and, of course, trying new foods with her husband.

“I firmly believe that eating healthy can be delicious and interesting. We need to get back to a simpler and more natural way of eating, ignoring fads and using moderation.”

Lunchtime salad
Base of salad greens or spinach
Any combination of sliced vegetables: cukes, peppers, tomatoes and onions

For protein, a can of water-packed tuna, canned salmon, chopped chicken or turkey, or a half-cup of canned beans.

Diane’s notes

If I happen to have leftover cooked broccoli, string beans or asparagus, then I throw that on also. I may use, sparingly, chopped black olives, pickles, and shredded or feta cheese.

Avoid high-fat items such as macaroni, potato salad or croutons. Dress with low-fat dressing.

I make some version of this almost every day at home or at work. By the time I finish eating all of this (I bring a big bowl), I’m full!

Maple-marinated roasted salmon
½ cup real maple syrup

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice

2 tablespoons soy sauce

½ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon salt
1 to 1½ pounds salmon fillet

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Combine maple syrup, ginger, lemon juice, soy sauce, pepper and salt – stir to mix. Pour marinade into zip-lock bag and add salmon. Marinate in refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes.

Line a baking dish with foil. Place salmon on foil, skin side down, and brush with some of the marinade. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until done.

Diane’s note

I often serve this with sweet potatoes. I wash the potatoes, stab a few times with a fork and microwave on high for 8 to 12 minutes, depending on oven power and the size of the potatoes. Eat them like a baked potato, with some butter or a little brown sugar.

Pine-nut crusted chicken
6 tablespoons dry bread crumbs

2 tablespoons finely chopped or ground pine nuts

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, flattened with meat mallet

2 tablespoons olive oil
Angel hair or other pasta, along with sauce to serve with it

In a shallow dish, combine bread crumbs and pine nuts. Add chicken and coat both sides. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook about 3 minutes on each side until golden brown. Turn heat down to low, cover and cook about 2 to 3 minutes more each side, until chicken is cooked through. Serve with pasta and choice of sauce.

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