Jun 30, 2011

Eat Healthy Affordably - Topic #3: Frozen Fruits and Veggies

My freezer is always stocked with frozen fruits and veggies. Why? Because they're convenient, cost-effective and best of all....nutritious! Including frozen produce in your diet is a great way to increase your overall fruit and veggie intake - something everyone can use a bit more of!

Sadly, it seems like frozen fruits and vegetables have developed something of a bad rap. Many are convinced that frozen produce is less healthy than fresh, but the reality is that - in most cases - it is equal in nutrition to cooked fresh produce. Once harvested, fruits and veggies are frozen to preserve quality and nutrients. Contrary to popular belief, there are no preservatives in frozen produce since the process of freezing preserves the food naturally. While it's still advisable to eat fresh whenever possible, frozen produce allows you to enjoy a variety of fruits and veggies year round at a fraction of the cost. And they store in the freezer for up to 6 months!

Veggies currently in my freezer

I have a few tips when it comes to picking and preparing the healthiest frozen options. First, always buy varieties with no added syrups or sauces to keep added fat, sugar and salt to a minimum. For example, if you're buying frozen asparagus, the ingredients should read "asparagus" only. Secondly, to preserve nutrients, cook in minimal liquid to prevent vitamins from leaching into the water (unless of course you will be consuming this water, for example in a soup).

Frozen vegetables frequently find their way into many of our family meals including pizzas, lasagna, soups, stews, casseroles, etc. With so many varieties of frozen produce available, the only problem will be deciding which recipe to use!

Here is one that my family really enjoys and happened to be our dinner tonight:

Homemade Spinach Pizza

For the dough, see this recipe
(I usually substitute 1 cup of white flour for 1 cup of whole wheat flour. It gives the dough a heartier taste and is slightly healthier).

For the Topping:
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 Cloves Garlic, Chopped
1 Cup Frozen Spinach
1-2 Cups Reduced-Fat Mozzerella Cheese, Shredded
1/4 Cup pizza sauce (Frankly, I just mix together tomato paste with a little water. Use whatever you prefer.)
1/2 tsp Oregano
1 tsp Crushed Red Pepper Flakes (I like it spicy!)
Salt and pepper to taste

Pro-tip: make the pizza dough in advance, divide and wrap into portions, and store in your freezer to preserve for up to 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remove one portion of dough from freezer and defrost in refrigerator for 24 hrs.  

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Saute chopped garlic in olive oil. Once you smell the garlic, add frozen spinach and cook for about 5 minutes on medium heat to defrost and remove some of the water. While that's cooking, grate the cheese. Next, flatten and stretch the pizza dough into a large round disk and lay onto pizza pan. I use nonstick cooking spray on the pan to prevent pizza from sticking. Spread pizza sauce onto dough, then top with the the garlic-spinach mixture. Finish by sprinkling cheese, herbs, salt and pepper on top. Confession: I also added a few slices of seared salami that I chopped into pieces. Anyhoo, bake for about 10 minutes until golden brown.

Something tells me your family won't mind eating their veggies this way......

For more info on the nutrition in frozen produce, click here.

Jun 24, 2011

The Scoop On Detoxing

During high school and college, I worked as a waitress at a restaurant called Cilantro. This wasn't just any restaurant. It was a vegan, organic, "raw food" restaurant, serving meals made from only raw ingredients such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and oils. The clientele were mainly "raw foodists" - people whose diets were either 100% or mostly raw foods. I'll be honest, I tried it. That lasted....oh....about an hour. Now, after many years of education and experience in nutrition, I know better.

Eat a plant-based diet to improve your health

Raw-foodists believe that consuming a diet of mostly raw foods - and the enzymes they contain - is the key to preventing poor heath. Let me say for the record that of course I am in favor of consuming a variety of raw fruits and vegetables. Totally healthy. But eating an entirely raw food diet can leave you deficient in certain essential nutrients. Like most fad diets, scientifically this one holds no ground.

Raw foodism goes hand in hand with naturopathic medicine. So, it's no surprise that many patrons at Cilantro also took part in various cleanses and detoxes, which are important components to naturopathic treatment. Certainly, detoxes and cleanses are nothing new to us. Even if you're not a raw foodist, you've probably heard of them or even tried one. I was always fascinated by the types of detoxes people were on -- there was the lemon juice, water, cayenne pepper and maple syrup cleanse. There was the juice cleanse....oh, and the coconut water cleanse. The list goes on. Detox diets can last up to several weeks, many claiming to rid the body of toxins and help drop unwanted pounds.

The reality is that detox diets and cleanses are more of a marketing scam than anything else. Most are not tested for safety or effectiveness and may pose serious health risks for people taking medications, who are pregnant, nursing, older adults or growing children. Thankfully, our well-designed bodies do a fabulous job of eliminating toxins from our system - no lemon juice or cayenne pepper required!

So, yeah. I don't recommend anyone do a cleanse. Instead, to promote a healthy body, focus on eating a mostly plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats. Exercise regularly and achieve a healthy weight, if you are overweight. That's the best, and most well-tested, advice around. I know, it's not quite as exciting as a 5 day detox promising to make you drop 20lbs. But thankfully, healthy eating and exercise are safe and work every time!

You can read more about my take on holistic cleanses and detox diets here.

Jun 20, 2011

Party Food

Everyone knows a good party starts with good food. This weekend I co-hosted a bridal shower for one of my best friends. Her name is Deb. We go way back...like, 17 years back.

Meet my co-host, Kat and the bride to be, Deb

Deb and I share many common interests, but our favorites are laughing and eating......preferably at the same time. So naturally, I wanted to make sure the shower menu had lots of good food. Here's a recap of some of my favorites:



More Yum.

While deciding on the menu, I was reminded of how parties can wreak havoc on your diet. Don't get me wrong, I am a full supporter of indulging every once in a while. But it seems like "reasons" to indulge pop up pretty frequently in life....parties, birthdays, holidays, graduations, etc. Before you know it, indulging becomes commonplace instead of an occasional treat. To help enjoy celebrations without over-indulging (i.e. over-eating), I have a party plan. Here it is:

1. A few hours before the party, eat a healthy snack. This helps curb hunger, so I don't feel the need to devour an entire cheesecake.
2. Don't go back for seconds. I try my best to stick with one plate of food and only one alcoholic drink. FYI - I do this because it's recommended that women consume no more than 1 drink per day. For men, it's 2 drinks per day. 
3. Fill half the plate with fruits and veggies. This helps keep me full, provides healthy vitamins and minerals and lets me enjoy a few treats with the other half of my plate!

The shower was a success! Not only did everybody have a good time enjoying good company and good food but I actually managed to follow my own advice. Hooray!

Jun 15, 2011

Eat Healthy Affordably. Topic #2: PLAN ON IT!

Let me share with you one of the most important factors influencing both your budget and your waistline – planning. Over the years, I’ve talked to (at least) hundreds of clients and patients about how to achieve a healthy weight. Without a doubt, their ability to plan was always one of the top reasons they did (or did not) reach their goal.

Let’s be honest, in our society healthy eating doesn’t just happen. It takes effort to feed your family well. I am reminded of this every time I drive around town and am constantly bombarded with temptations: fast food, sweets, donuts (ahhhh, wish they weren't so good!!), dollar menus and the list goes on. It’s almost impossible to resist, unless you have a plan.

Here are my favorite planning tips that help me save money and eat healthy:
  • THINK AHEAD. Be real - even though you just ate breakfast, in a few hours you’ll be hungry again. We all are. So, bring a snack. Bring a healthy snack and don’t go through that drive thru…don’t do it! Likewise, pack a lunch if you’re going to be away from home for a while. Pack one for your husband to take to work too.
  • MAKE A LIST. Create a menu that will feed your family for the whole week. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, etc. Write all ingredients down on a list and don’t forget it when you go to the grocery store (as I’ve done more times than I care to admit).
  • STICK TO THE LIST. Yes, I know the Twix bars are 50% off at checkout and potato chips are buy one, get one free. Don’t do it! Stick to your list! You’ll save money....promise. While we’re on the topic, don’t put candy OR potato chips on your list.
  • SHOP ONCE. Shopping only once per week for groceries can be challenging, but will definitely save money in the long run.
  • BUY SEASONAL. Whether you chose to buy organic or conventional produce, buy seasonally so you can save money and get the most nutrients from your food. 

Here is our weekly dinner menu. Planning this not only helps save money, but allows me serve healthy meals without the last-minute worry about what we’re going to eat.

Do you have any good planning tips? Share the love - post a comment! 

Jun 10, 2011

What a Dietitian Eats

I will come back to the “eat healthy affordably” series next week, but wanted to touch on another nutrition topic. A lot of people ask me what I eat, expecting the answer to be “only healthy foods all the time”. The honest answer is “everything”! In my world, no food is off-limits. And I encourage you to adopt the same philosophy. Let me explain...

I am currently perusing through a cookbook called "The Food You Crave" written by Registered Dietitian, Ellie Krieger. She holds to the philosophy that all foods can fit into a healthy diet “frequently, sometimes or rarely”. In other words, aim to eat healthy foods frequently and less healthy foods either sometimes or rarely. This outlook allows you to enjoy the foods you love in the right moderation so you don't feel deprived.

In my experience, the minute I restrict myself, I seem to instantly want that food more. Ahh, so annoying! I once tried to stop eating chocolate (in the persuit of post-baby weight loss) and the minute I let myself have chocolate again, I ate half the bar! My husband watched in amazement, as this is not a typical sight at our house! 

Here is my refrigerator and the foods we consume “frequently”: 

Other foods not pictured that we eat “frequently” are whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat pasta, 100% whole wheat bread, oats, etc). I'll be honest, growing up my mom always had a candy drawer (sorry mom!). And yes, I admit I have one too. In it you'll usually find a stash of dark chocolate, but I only eat that “sometimes”. And the apple crisp I ate for dessert tonight? Oh yeah, that's a "rarely".

So eat freely and avoid restricting yourself too much. Understand that all foods can be a part of your diet but try to choose healthy foods the most "frequently". 

Jun 7, 2011

Eating Healthy Affordably. Topic #1: Probiotics

I have a confession: I know I'm a dietitian and food is my business, but I don't like to spend a lot of money on it. Eating is expensive these days and unfortunately, it's often assumed that buying healthy food means spending more money. But take it from a gal who knows food and pinches pennies -- it doesn't have to cost more to eat healthy!

While there are money saving tips for all types of foods, today I want to focus on yogurt. Why? Well, recently I was asked about probiotics -- live microorganisms that help your digestive system and immune health -- and whether they are safe for kids to take. The short answer is YES! Probiotics are great for both kids and adults and the best natural source is yogurt. Assuming no lactose intolerance, children and adults can benefit from consuming one serving of yogurt per day for a healthy dose of probiotics.    

Not to complicate matters, but it has to be said: not all yogurts are created equal. Different yogurt brands offer different probiotics. For simplicity, always buy yogurt that has "live and active cultures" written on the label. That means you're getting at least some probiotics. However, if you want specific health benefits like improved immunity, try DanActive. If you want improved digestive health, try Activia. The probiotics found in these brands have been tested in scientific studies and found to have these health effects.

 Thanks to a local farm, today I had fresh picked 
strawberries and blackberries to eat with my yogurt.

Individually packaged servings of yogurt can be pricey, so buy the large container. I like to purchase the 32 oz size, which feeds my family (2 adults, 1 child) for the whole week to the tune of about 2 dollars. Pretty sweet. Whenever I want a quick, healthy on-the-go snack, I package the yogurt into single servings myself.

So enjoy the benefits of probiotics -- and possibly improved digestion and immunity -- without breaking your budget! For more detailed information on probiotics, click here

Jun 6, 2011

Go Fish!

If you're reading this blog, you probably already know that good nutrition is important for your child's growth. But did you also know that certain fats called omega-3's play a role in your their brain development? Kind of important, right? Omega-3's are found in foods like salmon, tuna and walnuts. Fish is the best source and the Institute of Medicine recommends that children eat about 2 servings per week.

I know, I know....what about the mercury? Turns out, the risk of toxicity is very low if you avoid fish with higher mercury content such as shark, swordfish, makerel and tile fish. In actuality, not eating enough fish could put your child at greater risk.

"But my kids don't eat fish", you say? Try introducing them to fish regularly so that they'll learn to enjoy it. I don't know about your child, but mine wants to eat everything I eat! So make sure your kids see YOU eating fish, and they probably will want to try it too. Of course, a good recipe in your back pocket doesn't hurt either. Try this simple tuna salad recipe. It not only provides omega-3's, but also has whole grains, lean protein and veggies. Not to mention, it packs nicely for a quick and easy playdate lunch. 

  Tuna Salad Recipe

  • 1 can of "light tuna" (Note: limit "canned white tuna". It's higher in mercury)
  • 2 cups cooked whole wheat pasta
  • 1 cup mixed vegetables
  • 1/2 tsp. dried dill
  • 1/8 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. whole grain dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste

Mix first four ingredients together in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk lemon juice, olive oil, dijon mustard, salt and pepper. Pour dressing over over tuna mixture and toss until evenly coated. Salad can be served either cold or warm.

For more information on the health benefits of omega-3's for your children, read my recent Livestrong article here