Sep 29, 2011

Pumpkin-Banana Muffins

I love Fall. It's the perfect excuse to drink hot chocolate, wear comfy sweaters and wrap yourself in a cozy blanket. Too bad it's been about 90 degrees here and that blanket was replaced with an ever-so-thin bedsheet. Still, it's September and Fall is begging me to bake something with pumpkin or apple regardless of this crazy weather. 

In our house, most baked goods fall into the "rarely" category because they are high in sugar and calories. So, naturally I had to find ways to make healthier versions of our favorite treats so we could enjoy them a bit more often. My secret weapon? Fruit purees!

Pumpkin and other such fruit purees (like apple, banana or sweet potato) are great for adding to baked goods because it gives a moist texture and natural sweetness without adding fat. Plus, they're loaded with fiber, antioxidants and vitamins to keep your body healthy.

Today I combined my two favorite Fall-things: pumpkin spice cake and banana bread. I used pumpkin and banana puree, cut the sugar a bit and added ground flax seed for extra fiber and heart-healthy fats. 

It turned out so yummy, I had to share. I baked the mix in a muffin tin so I could store them in the freezer and pull them out the night before for a quick breakfast or mid-day snack. These are really yummy with a spread of reduced-fat cream cheese or even peanut butter. 

Here is the recipe I used:

1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup ground flax seed meal
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice 
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix pumpkin, banana, oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla until blended. In a separate bowl, mix remaining ingredients. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix just until combined. Pour mixture into muffin cups and bake for 20-25 minutes. 

A bonus of making muffins is the instant no-brainer portion control. So do like I did today: brew a cup of coffee, have one yummy muffin and enjoy the tastes of Fall. Happy eating!

Sep 25, 2011

Eat Local

This week my son and I went apple picking at a local farm near our house. The apple picking was fun, but my son preferred simply eating the apples and petting the dog.

Eating locally grown or produced food is a real hot-ticket item in the media. But is all the hype based on truth? In a word, yes.

Once harvested, produce begins to lose it's nutritive value. So, from a nutritional perspective, locally grown produce is healthier mainly because it travels less time from the farm to your dinner table.  

Buying local produce (and other foods produced locally or regionally) is a great idea, but there can be barriers such as accessibility or limited funds. Thankfully, many grocery stores now offer local produce, which is convenient but often costly .

If you simply can't afford or are unable to buy all local produce, you're not alone. Try to buy at least some of your produce as local as possible (that can mean in your town, in your state or in the country).

Here are some tips for finding local produce and other foods at a price you can afford:
  • If available, join a CSA (community supported agriculture) program to receive a weekly box of local (and often organic) produce at an affordable price.
  • Shop sales and stock up when prices are low.
  • Buy in season
  • Purchase items in bulk and freeze for use throughout the year.

All this to say that fruits and vegetables are healthy in any form; frozen, dried, canned, etc. Barring they're not drenched in added salt or sugar, frozen, dried or canned varieties are both convenient and nutritious options.

The take home point is that priority #1 should be eating enough fruits and vegetables (think: quantity). The #2 priority is eating locally grown produce (think: quality).

Sep 20, 2011

What To Eat When You Weight Train

I love weight training. I love weight training so much I even have a gym at home. Okay, it's for both my husband and I, but's in our HOME! It's awesome.

It's not the prettiest thing, but it definitely gets the job done. Especially with a toddler running around keeping me busy all day, it's nice to know I don't have to travel to workout anymore. Sweet relief!

I've always loved to exercise. In high school it was basketball and volleyball. In college it was running and triathlons. Now, it's weight training and running.

Slightly embarrassing, but yes, that's me "squatting".

What you eat can affect your performance. It's a common misconception that you need to eat a ton of protein to gain muscle. I also find that people tend to eat too few (or too many) carbohydrates and focus on nutrition supplements (like protein powder) rather than eating whole foods.

Rule #1: Eat real this:

The good news is that weight lifting recreationally (about 2 times per week for about 30-45 minutes each) doesn't require a major diet change (read: no need to buy protein powder or other nutritional supplements). Instead, eat an overall healthy diet including all food groups like grains, lean protein, low-fat diary, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. Before AND after your workout, eat a light snack that includes a healthy source of protein and carbohydrate.

Easy, healthy snack! Add some low-fat milk to make it complete.

How about cereal with low-fat milk? Yogurt with fruit and granola? Totally easy, right? Focus on foods you are comfortable with and know your body tolerates. For example, avoid foods that are too spicy or acidic.
I like to have my pre-workout snack about an hour before a workout to allow for digestion.

Some of my favorite snacks before or after a workout are:
  • 1/2 cup greek yogurt, handful of berries, 1/3 cup granola
  • 1/2 turkey sandwich
  • 3/4 cup dry cereal, 1 cup low-fat milk
  • 1 string cheese, handful of crackers

Sep 13, 2011

Why Am I Eating?!

Serious question: have you ever asked yourself "why am I eating"? Have you ever found yourself snacking when you're not actually hungry? If so, you're not alone. When the sometimes turbulent stresses of life hit, food can become a coping method for many people. But of course a dietitian would never experience this. Pfft...right.

True confession: after a particularly stressful week, I found myself standing at the mercy of an open pantry feeling a serious need to munch. Anything sweet, crunchy or salty beckoned my name. After I got down a few crackers, I thought to myself "why am I eating?". After recognizing my food temptations were not hunger-related, I shoved my snack back into the pantry before the damage was too bad! Phew!

It reminded me there are so many reasons why people eat. Of course we eat for physical nourishment, but it's much more complicated that that. People eat as a result of boredom, stress, anxiety, fear, sadness, too little sleep and more.

Understanding your body and paying attention not only to what you eat but why you eat is important for ensuring a nutritious diet and dealing with stress in a healthy way. If this hits home for you, try these things:

1. Write down when you feel cravings and what you ate. This way, you'll be able to determine what causes you to eat and what changes you can make.

2. Relieve stress in other ways. Try exercising, reading, writing, listening to music or calling a friend.

3. Recognize the physical signs hunger. Practice eating only when you are hungry, that is when you feel hunger pains or other physical cues. Learning to recognize signs of true hunger will allow you to eat more for physical nourishment rather than emotional comfort.

Food is - and should always be - an enjoyable and gratifying experience. That said, I wish you happy and healthy eating! 

Sep 8, 2011

Safe Cooking 101

Healthy food isn't healthy unless it's cooked well. And properly cooked food starts with a clean kitchen and the right utensils. Since I am a self-proclaimed food safety nerd to the point that I am actually "certified" in the topic, I thought a post on the "how to" of safe cooking would be appropriate.

So why should you care about safe cooking? Well, improperly cooked food can lead to food poisoning. Have you ever had a slight (or very intense) stomach-ache after a meal? You could have experienced food poisoning. Symptoms vary based on the type and amount of bacteria, but let's just say they are all unpleasant. Another reason cooking food properly is important is that children, infants, sick individuals or older adults are at greater risk for getting food poisoning because their immune systems aren't as strong. So if you're cooking for these folks, be extra cautious.

Almost any food can become contaminated, but the biggest offenders are meats, poultry, fish, milk and dairy products, baked potatoes, tofu, melons, tomatoes (think: salsa!), cooked rice, sprouts and garlic-oil mixtures. I bet a few of those surprised you. Make sure you keep these foods cold in the refrigerator, discard by their expiration date or (for cooked food) about 3 days after they were prepared.

A look at some of the "big offenders"

Here are a few important tips for cooking food well and avoiding food poisoning at home:

1. Wash wash wash your hands. Every time you switch from handling different food products (especially the "big offender" foods listed above), wash your hands in very warm (as hot as you can stand) water for about 15 seconds.

2. Invest in a meat thermometer. They are super cheap and available in most stores that sell cooking supplies. Using a thermometer allows you to test cooked meats to make sure they have reached the right temperature. Be sure to insert the thermometer deep into the largest portion of meat to get an accurate reading. Cooking meats to the proper temperature also prevents overcooking, which makes the texture tough and rubbery. Yuck!

Meet my friend, the meat thermometer. This is getting weird.

3. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. If food has been sitting out for more than 4 hours (allowing it to sit at a luke-warm temperature), throw it away.

This has been brought to you by Tiffany Schulte, Registered Dietitian and food safety nerd :)

Sep 4, 2011

Small steps to big change

Change can be hard. Really hard. People are creatures of habit and sometimes those bad ones are hard to break. I talk to so many people who want to eat healthier but quickly give up because they try to make too many changes too quickly. It's the "go big or go home" kind of mindset. The truth is that changing all your unhealthy eating habits all at once is never a good idea.....and rarely works! Rather, it's about taking small steps each day that result in big change over time.

Let's start with the basics. What should you be eating each day? According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines, eat at least 6 oz of grains (at least half of them whole grain), about 7 oz of protein foods, 2 cups of fruit, 2 1/2 cups of vegetables, 3 cups of low fat diary and limit oils and fat to 7 tsp per day. This would roughly equal about 1,800-2,000 calories per day. If you're like most Americans, your diet may not include enough of these healthy foods. The best way to start eating more nutritiously is to set small, attainable goals each day. For example, if you notice you don't consume enough low-fat dairy, make it a goal to drink 1 cup of low-fat milk with each meal. Or if your vegetable intake falls flat, aim to add vegetables to your daily snacks.

Despite being a dietitian, my eating habits aren't always perfect. My current "small" daily goal is to eat at least 3 servings of low-fat diary each day. It's one of those things I never did as a child and carried over into adulthood. By keeping my daily goal attainable, I increase the chances i'll actually follow through and not end up discouraged.

What is a small daily goal YOU want to set?