Dec. 15 2015 02:30 PM

‘Target to Table’ offers alternatives to unhealthy eating

With Christmas just around the corner, that New Year’s resolution to lose 10 pounds can’t be far behind. With a holiday season that now seems to stretch from Halloween to the mid-January college football national championship game, it can be tough to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“Be aware of what you are eating,” said Kristen Johnson, co-author of the new lifestyle cookbook, “Target to Table.” “You can eat a Christmas cookie, but you don’t need five.”

The new cookbook, which she wrote with her twin brother, Matt Johnson, mixes lifestyle changes with easy-to-prepare healthy recipes. The cookbook is an offshoot of the family business, On Target Living. The East Lansing-based company was founded by their father, Chris Johnson, in 2007. The concept is based around a balance of three lifestyle concepts: rest, eat and move.

Matt Johnson, a Grand Valley State University graduate with a degree in corporate fitness and wellness, was hired as company president in 2011. Kristen Johnson, a registered dietician and Western Michigan University graduate, joined the company last year as a dietician and public speaker.

“I grew up this way, and I couldn’t get away from it,” she said.

Matt and Kristen Johnson will be at Schuler Books & Music’s Eastwood Towne Center location Jan. 14, for a cooking demonstration, tasting and discussion. See for event details.

In addition to “Target to Table,” which pushes lifestyle changes and healthy eating for the general population, the Johnsons also work with corporations to improve health and performance of employees.

“Companies are using On Target Living to lower health care costs and to engage more employees in their health decisions,” Kristen Johnson said. “They usually see immediate results in productivity and lower health care costs.”

She emphasized that lifestyle changes begin at home. That’s why the twins decided on a cookbook that emphasizes quick, simple and healthy recipes that can easily be made at home. She added that healthy cooking is easier now than ever before.

“Every grocery store offers more healthy choices,” she said. “It’s kind of exciting. There are all kinds of choices that weren’t around 10 years ago.”

Johnson added that it’s important to know what the ingredients are and how to pronounce them.

“The place to start is with the ingredients,” she said. If the list is long, “it’s probably not good.”

Her preferred ingredients are fresh from the garden with no processing or boxes, especially from local growers.

“Local is the way to go, and you are helping the local community,” Johnson said.

Johnson has several tips for incorporating healthy choices into everyday cooking. She suggests using coconut oil instead of butter and Greek yogurt in place of sour cream. She also recommends ground bison as a healthier alternative to hamburger.

The cookbook recipes are based on the “food target” ring developed by Chris Johnson. The food target is a series of concentric circles that go from poor and fair decisions in the outer circles to better and best decisions in the center circles. Poor decisions, for example, includes items like chicken nuggets and ice cream. The best decisions include foods like lentils, avocados and wild-caught fish.

“The more processed food is, the more you should avoid it,” Kristen Johnson said.

One of the main objections that Johnson encounters is that healthy eating is more expensive.

“That’s true, but it’s too expensive to get sick,” she counters. “You need to spend a little more now.”

The cookbook starts with a short primer on the concept of target eating, including a guide to making simple, healthy smoothies. It moves from there into a typical cookbook format, ranging from beverages and snacks to entrees and desserts. The book’s overall concept is not about dieting, but rather about creating a holistic healthy lifestyle, Johnson said.

She also has some advice for those who worry about overdoing it this holiday season: Stay with your workout plan and don’t change your healthy eating choices.

“But if you do fail, just own it,” she said.

And for that one great Christmas cookie, don’t worry, she said. It’s only once a year.

Fruitilicious Upside-Down Cake (From “Target to Table”)


2 cups raw pecans

2 cups pitted dates

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2-3 kiwis, peeled and sliced

2-3 bananas, sliced

1 pint blueberries

1 pint raspberries


Combine the pecans, dates and vanilla in a food processor and pulse until finely ground

Line a small mixing bowl with saran wrap. The bowl should be approximately 7 inches wide by 3 1/2 inches deep to allow the ingredient layers to be seen when served.

Layer kiwi slices in rows along the bottom and up the sides of the bowl.

Press half of the pecan and date mixture evenly over the kiwi slices to secure in place. Push date mixture in the spaces between the kiwi slices.

Layer banana slices, blueberries and raspberries over the pressed pecans and dates.

Cover the fruit layers with the second half of the pecan and date mixture and press to seal.

Push down so the top is level with the edges.

Wrap in saran wrap and place in refrigerator for 20 minutes to set.

To serve, remove top layer of saran and place serving dish on bowl. Flip the bowl and plate and remove the bowl from the filling. Remove saran wrap.

Cut into slices and serve.