Mar 28, 2012

Asian Chicken Noodle Salad

In my line of work, I talk to a lot of people who just don't like vegetables. Some refuse them all. Others allow only the white, starchy kind (i.e. potatoes) to pass through their lips. If I said I couldn't relate, I would be lying. When I was a kid, the only vegetables I would eat were corn and green beans. That's it. Nothing more. 

When I became a dietitian, I realized the benefits of eating veggies, hunkered down and made myself do it. Now, I understand that vegetables can actually be tasty - even downright delicious - when prepared and cooked well. It's nice to know there's hope beyond steaming broccoli or coating lifeless lettuce leaves in bulk-jar ranch dressing. Hope.

It's here.

Whenever I make this salad, my husband actual asks me if I'm trying to get him to eat more veggies. He loves it. The answer? Of course I'm trying to get him to eat more vegetables. Isn't that what wives are supposed to do? Thankfully, with this recipe it's easy as pie. 

The dressing is fresh and perfectly seasoned. The veggies are crisp, colorful and full of flavor. The kick of ginger and cilantro makes your mouth water. The noodles and the chicken allow you to easily call this salad a "meal". Hello, easy dinner!? It's healthy and delicious; the perfect combination in my world. 

To this recipe from the Pioneer Woman, I add chicken and toasted almonds. I limit my pasta serving to about 1/2 cup and load up on the salad. If you're watching your salt intake, use low sodium soy sauce.

Even Will likes it. Yes, a toddler likes salad. Real deal. Allow me to elaborate via text art what must have been going through his mind while eating. I can only assume this since it was absolutely impossible to get him to look up for a picture.

Mar 23, 2012

Q & A with the Dietitian: Puzzled By Whole Grains

Sometimes food labels can be confusing. Lately, whole grains are making a comeback as more people are realizing their health benefits. However, between "whole grain", "whole wheat", "100% whole wheat", "enriched wheat", etc, labeling for grain products sometimes make it difficult to discern the healthiest choice.

Q. Jen wrote:

Several years ago, I switched my family over to whole wheat pasta for the clear nutritional benefits. This has generally been fine, except that I've found the whole wheat pasta sometimes doesn't work well in casseroles and overwhelms the flavor of very light sauces. I recently noticed a new pasta product at Trader Joe's called High Fiber Penne. The nutritional information on the back of the package is surprisingly similar. The penne cooks and tastes more like a traditional durum semolina pasta noodle. I'm wondering if the High Fiber Penne noodles would be a reasonable addition to our pasta collection or if this is marketing hype that is leading us away from a solid nutritional food choice.



A. Dear Jen,

It's fantastic that you've made the commitment to cooking with whole grains. Currently, there are a growing number of choices when it comes to pasta. And just when you think you've got it figured out, a new product comes out and throws you for a loop. 

The answer to your question lies in understanding what whole grains naturally provide. While the good-for-you ingredient list is long, I'll focus on some specifics. Whole grains provide B vitamins, zinc, copper, iron, and vitamins A and E. These vitamins and minerals help support a healthy immune system. Additionally, whole grains are an excellent source of carbohydrates, provide fiber and are low in fat. All the healthy ingredients found in whole grains work towards maintaining a healthy body and may help lower cholesterol, promote a healthy GI tract and prevent certain types of cancer. The current recommendation from the USDA is to make half of your grains whole grain. 

Whole grains include products such as "100% whole grain" bread, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, popcorn, oatmeal, quinoa, millet, and amaranth.

Can you guess which products below are whole grain?

The cornmeal and the rice are not. And yes, we eat them occasionally at my house.

To answer your question specifically, the high fiber penne is essentially white pasta with added fiber, vitamins and minerals. The first ingredient on this product is "enriched durum wheat seminola". Translation: enriched white pasta. The remaining ingredients are added fiber and B vitamins. But remember all the other healthy ingredients I mentioned above found naturally in whole grain products? They're not all found in the high fiber penne. Also, nutritionally it's often easier for our bodies to absorb nutrients found naturally in food products than those that are added or "enriched". For these reasons, I would recommend using the whole wheat pasta most frequently and using the high fiber penne occasionally (like you said, when it works better with the recipe you're using).

Thanks for your question Jen and I hope this helps!

Mar 17, 2012

Cinnamon & Vanilla Rice Pudding

 It's St.Patrick's Day. I have nothing green or Irish for you. However, I do have rice pudding. Wait...rice pudding on a nutrition blog? Yes, ma'am! I was driven to make this recipe due to a particularly aggressive pregnancy-induced craving. I gave in. But I did make a few changes to make it a bit healthier, yet still crave worthy.

Although this is not something I make often because it's fairly high in calories, it does include healthy ingredients like milk (high in calcium, vitamin D and protein), vanilla and cinnamon (hello antioxidants) and rice (low in fat). On the other hand, keeping your portion small is also important because the sugar and rice provide a substantial amount of carbohydrates and calories. I ate 1/2 cup for one serving and froze what my family didn't eat. 

A week later I took it out of the freezer, let it defrost in the refrigerator for a few days and was pleased to find it held up. After a quick nuke in the microwave for about 30 seconds, I would have never been able to tell it was frozen. I love how the freezer helps me avoid throwing out food. Just love it.

Anyway, back to business. Here is the recipe I used and adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook via Joy the Baker.

  • 2 Cups Water
  • 1 Cup Long Grain Rice
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 4 Cups of Low-Fat Milk
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
  • 2 Teaspoons Ground Cinnamon


Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, add rice and salt. Allow to return to a boil, then set the heat to low and simmer, covered until water is absorbed. Once rice is cooked, set aside and rinse pan.

Next, add milk, sugar and vanilla to pan and bring to a low boil, stirring often to prevent the milk from burning. Add rice to hot milk mixture and continue stirring often until the mixture is creamy (about 15 to 20 minutes)

Mar 14, 2012

Registered Dietitian Day

It's March 14th, or "Registered Dietitian Day" as initiated by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics just five years ago. The purpose is "to increase awareness of Registered Dietitians as indispensable providers of food and nutrition services and to recognize RDs for their commitment to helping people enjoy healthy lives". I couldn't have said it better myself, so I didn't.

I'm honored to be a Registered Dietitian and embrace the commitment to provide science-based nutritional care to individuals. Registered Dietitians are often mistaken for "nutritionists", but are actually quite different.

 Even my well-educated dentist wasn't too clear on the topic. Last month (as he's peering deep into my mouth), Dr.Dentist asks me what I do. Side note: don't you love when dentists strike up a conversation when they have their hands and three other utensils in your mouth? End side note. So I told him I was a dietitian.

He says "oh, so you're a nutritionist?". To which I answer "No, not exactly. Dietitians have degrees in nutrition, have completed an internship and an examination, abide by a code of ethics and can only promote science-based nutrition guidelines. If we don't do these things, our credentials can be revoked". He took a moment to take it all in. "So, it's kind of like being a doctor", he said. Then I said "like doctors and nurses, we can only promote guidelines that are science based and we have an accrediting organization that makes sure we do that. On the other hand, anyone can call themselves a "nutritionist". 

Dr. Dentist was totally amazed. Apparently this was the first time he had ever heard that a dietitian was different than a nutritionist.

Practically speaking, the danger of using a "nutritionist" is that many promote nutritional misinformation, which is not only confusing but frustrating. This unfortunately is far too common and that is why we have Registered Dietitian Day to get the word out that dietitians - not nutritionists - are the nutrition experts.

And this is me. Smiling at you wishing you a happy, healthy Registered Dietitian Day!

Mar 11, 2012

Brussels Sprouts Recipes

This week was a long one. Between house hunting, work and parenting, the hubs and I feel a little worn. That's okay though. It's all part of life, right? I'm a firm believer that going through difficult times can make you a better person. Sure, I need frequent reminding, but I know there's a light at the end of the tunnel. 

Sometimes we have to look at the big picture when it comes to food too. For example, I'm sure you could name a few veggies you'd rather not associate with. Maybe your mom made them one too many times as a child. Or maybe you're not quite sure how to prepare them in a way that would make them more appealing. 

This week a friend asked me for brussels sprouts recipes so that her, her husband and her kids would enjoy them more. I don't know about you but brussels sprouts are one vegetable that - at least growing up - I could not stomach. No chance, no way. They were in my mind the equivalent to dirt. Now I know how nutritious they are and that they're actually quite tasty when prepared well. 

Here are a few brussels sprouts recipes my family really enjoys:

Brussels Srouts with Bacon (I use turkey bacon or a little pancetta)

In general, I like roasting veggies because it gives flavor without additional salt or fat. I also like to season with a variety of things like salt, pepper, parmesan cheese, sauteed shallots or garlic, chicken broth, and a little pancetta or turkey bacon (usually not all at once, but that depends on the kind of day I'm having).

In terms of children eating their vegetables, I'll give you the scoop on what really happens at my house. Even a dietitians child doesn't always eat his vegetables. Case in point: 

Plate before serving:

Plate after serving:

My philosophy in getting children to eat their veggies (I know, I've said this before) is to provide vegetables consistently with meals and snacks, offer a variety of choices and provide gentle encouragement. If they refuse - and they will refuse at least sometimes - encourage them to eat veggies, allow them to see you eating your veggies and do this consistently throughout their childhood.

Will is generally a pretty good vegetable eater, so I feel okay if he has a few meals here and there where the veggies aren't eaten fully. That's life.

Do you have any good brussels sprouts recipes or tips on how you get your kids to eat their veggies?

Mar 4, 2012

Getting Our Plates In Shape

I bet you didn't know that March is National Nutrition Month. Pretty fancy, right? I probably shouldn't say this, but up until this year I really didn't pay too much attention to it. It's not that I'm not into nutrition....clearly. I just don't work in public health or a nutrition job that lends itself to talking to people about National Nutrition Month.

But this year is different. This year I have a blog. And talking is what we do best here :)

For National Nutrition Month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics asked dietitian bloggers to write about how we "get our plates in shape". You may recall the new plate image from the USDA that replaced the old food pyramid....

I think this image is very helpful and practical. Although it doesn't help explain how much to eat, it does nicely depict what to eat.

So, what does "get your plate in shape" mean to me? It means a lot of things, but for the sake of not putting you to sleep (wake up!), I'll focus on a few of my favorite points:

To me, "getting your plates in shape" means:
  • Think Before You Eat. Take a look at what's on your plate. Is it healthy? Is it balanced?
  • Eat Nutrient-Dense Foods. Aim to eat foods that offer the best nutritional "bang for your buck" such as fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat dairy and heart healthy fats.
  • Embrace Change. Real change starts in your mind. Once you change your mindset, your habits and lifestyle will follow.
A few additional tips from the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics are:
  1. Make half your plate fruits and veggies
  2. Make at least half your grains whole
  3. Drink fat-free or low-fat milk
  4. Eat a variety of protein sources
  5. Make foods high in salt, added sugar and fats occasional choices, not everyday
  6. Enjoy your food but eat less
I meet a lot of people trying to lose weight. Many of these people exercise regularly and are therefore confused why they're not losing weight. If this sounds like familiar, you may want to consider "getting your plate in shape" because - seriously - you can't out-exercise a bad diet. True story. A "bad diet" could mean you're not eating healthy foods or you're simply eating too much. Whatever the case, following the tips mentioned above can help you reach your health goals.

How can you get your plate in shape this week??