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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Frozen Foods Are Your Friend

Tell me if this sounds like you. You go to the grocery store and are super motivated to buy healthy foods and fresh fruits and vegetables, then a week goes by at home and you realize you haven't cooked half the fresh produce and now it's ruined. I never intend to let delicious fresh produce go to waste, but sometimes my lifestyle is so hectic I just don't have time to mess with cooking.

Here's the good news: frozen fruits and vegetables not only last longer in the freezer, but they are equal to (if not greater than) the nutritional value of fresh fruits and vegetables. I recently read an article from the Frozen Food Foundation that revealed Americans are failing to consume the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables in their diet. If you are like me, half of your attempt goes in the garbage. So, why not find a solution that will help you increase your fruits and veggies and save big bucks! Let's be real: fresh fruits and vegetables (especially when it's not in season) can be expensive. Have you done a price comparison of fresh green beans to frozen? It can make a big difference. As a college kid on a budget, you may want to save as much as possible. This is an easy way to make a positive change on your wallet and diet.

Just as you need to plan your menu for the week, take a look at your meals and see what items you can purchase frozen.  Be careful not to purchase vegetables with added salt or sauces, as they will add a lot of calories to your meal. The same rule applies to frozen fruit. Need some ideas on how to use frozen fruits and veggies? Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Vegetable soup: Buy the vegetable medley, add some sauteed onion and garlic, canned dice tomatoes, broth, lentils, and you've got a delicious vegetable soup for the week.
  • Side dishes: baking some simple chicken and need a side item? Frozen vegetables are a perfect quick addition. One of my favorite frozen option to purchase is a vegetable medley. It adds a lot of color to your meal and gives you a nice variety at dinner time. Other great vegetable options are frozen steamers (heat in a microwave and your done), green beans or peas, Brussel sprouts, and corn.
  • Fruit smoothies: Thought I'd leave out fruit? Never! Frozen fruit are perfect for a morning smoothie or as a snack. Add a berry mix, frozen strawberries, or blueberries to your blender with yogurt and almond milk and you've added fruit to your day. Don't have a blender? Add fruit to cereal, oatmeal, or yogurt with granola and you've got a delicious breakfast.
  • Stove top or oven vegetables: Most frozen vegetables work best steamed, on the stove (cooked in olive oil with herbs or boiled in water) or roasted in the oven. Some recipes will call for cooking immediately out of the freezer, but I find it helpful to let some defrost to get rid of extra added water. The added water can make some veggies mushy if you are roasting them in the oven.
Fruits and vegetables are packed with a lot of important nutrients. They are packed with water-soluble vitamins like Vitamin B2 and Vitamin C, as well as rich in Calcium, Iron, Zinc, Magnesium, and Copper. Fruit and vegetables are nutrient-rich, full of nutrition and low in calories. So the next time to go shopping for food, look to the frozen section! Adding these items will save you money, time, and keep you healthy. Enjoy cooking!

Happy Eating,


Monday, April 29, 2013

No Food Motivation

So I've had an epiphany....being a college student and trying to eat right is really difficult! I just went over eight months of ignoring the task of writing my blog posts and ignoring eating right, to focusing all my concentration on good grades and writing papers. So, I would like to share my issues in finding food motivation I had this last year, and the numerous challenges college students face in making health a priority.

Week one of year two in a graduate program: I'm loaded with hundreds of pages of reading and tons of writing. Of course, depending on your course of study, it may look slightly different but overall the same issue....we have so much to do in so little time. I mentioned the issues of time management in preparing meals and finding time to plan. I faced this issue head-on this past year. During times of stress, I put my health aside and focused on delicious comfort food such as pizza and beer (a staple for any college student over the age of 21). With my resort to comfort foods and lack of exercise, not to mention increased levels of stress, my health was on the decline.  So what is a college student to do? Let's not only look at this from a student perspective, but what if you are a full-time employee with a similar issue of non-stop projects/tasks and little time for health? Ladies and gentlemen, it comes down to this: you must have the motivation.

I lost my motivation for taking care of my body. It's easy to do, and thousands (if not more) people are guilty of doing it every day. You have a bad day, a large workload, a stressful event.....and you could care less about going to the gym and decided to focus on the delicious food/drinks/comfortable couch and free time before you. You have the time restraint of finishing a work project, rather than cooking a healthy meal or going for a walk. I realized a few months after my semester started I had to make a change. What did I do? These simple steps:

1. Write it down on your calendar: If you are determined to maintain your weight (let's not even focus on weight loss), making a schedule and sticking to it will be KEY. Everyone in this hectic world is busy. Find 30 minutes to take a break and take care of you. Go for a walk. Do a yoga class. Run....whatever your exercise of choice is find it and do it. You're more likely to stick to your schedule than if it was never written down.

2. Have a "cheat" day: I hate using this terminology. I hate thinking about a "cheat" day, but if you attempt to restrict yourself of foods you enjoy or want, you'll purge. Once you purge, you may give up on maintaining healthy goals, or feel guilty for those few bites of (insert weakness food here). Have a day to do whatever, then get back on track! Realize you can jump back into your healthy meals and planning routine. Life gets in the way. Let's not forget that.

3. Reality Check: You are going to face tough times-your schedule may be overloaded, you may be dealing with family/school/work and have no personal time. Stay motivated. Realize a healthier you is a happier you = Less illness, less stress, and supplying your body with the nutrition it needs. The more you keep your body in shape, the better you will do in preventing chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and high cholesterol. 

So I apologize folks. I had my ups and downs in motivation-especially when it came to writing my blog posts. I want to focus on my next few blogs that encourage everyday tips and goals for a healthier you. Whether you want to lose weight, maintain weight, or just keep eating right, I will be providing some interesting posts. Please stay tuned! I won't let you down (now that school is over for me). For those students who are still going....stay strong. To be continued....

Happy Eating,

Monday, August 27, 2012

Time Management for Meals

When it comes to classes or your work schedule, time management can be a very useful tool. Believe it or not, it is also helpful in planning meals during your week. When I was an undergraduate student, I was horrible at planning for meal time. It wasn't until I transitioned into my Obsessive-Compulsive-Dietitian mode did I realize the benefits of planning ahead for your week. Planning meals can help keep you eat healthy, save you time and stress, and keep you out of the kitchen all hours of the night. I thought I would share four quick and easy tips to get you started:
  1. Set aside time to plan a menu. It's not hard. I promise! While you are writing out your grocery list, plan for quick and easy meals you'd like to prepare for the week. Have at least 3-5 meals in mind. Add these items to your grocery store list.
  2. Sunday Cook Day! Okay, it doesn't have to be Sunday, but most of us are wrapping up our weekend and focusing back on school work or projects. I have decided to dedicate my Sunday afternoon to food prep for the week. I bake chicken breasts so I can have it as dinner, as well as chop up an extra chicken breast or two to add to salads or a sandwich wrap as lunch for tomorrow. I also chop up veggies for future meals such as stir fry, side dishes, cooking into pastas, adding to salads, or having as snacks. Place the chopped veggies in plastic bags or containers (date and labeled) and place them in your refrigerator. Switch up what you purchase and prep for the week-don't get into a routine of the 'same ole thing' just because it's easy. Make sure you get a variety at your meals.
  3. Schedule time to put your meals together. Most people are NOT morning persons. If you are guilty of hitting snooze until you hop out of bed to hit the door....then preparing your lunch in the morning will not work. Do you stay up late? Take a break to go to the kitchen and pack a lunch bag for the following day. It'll make life much happier in the mornings when all you have to do is grab-n-go for the day. You can set aside a healthy breakfast as well!
  4. Invest in a quick-and-easy Cookbook. For beginner cooks, 5-ingredient cookbooks are so easy. It's a great beginner cooking guide as well as helpful in creating a grocery list to shop for ingredients. Are you a more advanced chef? Have a cookbook handy to plan your recipes and meal ideas for the week. I still recommend a quick-and-easy or 30-minute meal cookbook to help with time management.
Bringing your lunch to school (or work) can help with weight maintenance, portion control, and save you money from dining out. As for dinner time, planning ahead and having half the prep work done can save you 15-30 minutes in the kitchen! It's amazing what a few bags of chopped vegetables can do. Just to show you results, I am revealing my Monday evening meal (more meals to follow and soon recipes).

Tonight, I got home at 6pm. Instead of the fatigue from my day dragging me to the nearest restaurant, I had an extra chicken breast chopped up and saved in my refrigerator. Hmmm...what to do? I have some chopped vegetables such as onion and broccoli. I also have some pasta and a jar of pasta sauce. BAM...I have a pasta dish (no...I'm not fancy like Chef Emeril but it will taste just as good). With the vegetables chopped and ready, all I have to do is heat my pan to cook together my chicken, vegetables, and sauce, and in a pot boil my water for pasta.
Remember those spices I recommended in blog post one? I added some salt, pepper, garlic powder, and basil to add flavor without the extra calories. FYI: using a tomato-based sauce versus a cream sauce will save you calories and fat grams. Now that dinner is done, I dish out my portion and put the leftovers in a container for.....another meal time!!! Trick to save calories: don't leave out the leftovers in the kitchen for round two. Some of us may be tempted to go back and re-fill our plates, but before you do....make sure you allow yourself at least 20 minutes in between seconds.  It takes twenty minutes for your stomach to signal to your brain that you are full.  Not only did it take me half the time with my prepped/chopped foods to cook, but I had enough to save as another meal for the week. I'm very happy about this indeed. Time to eat....
Now I did do a last minute "what's for dinner" scenario tonight, but imagine if you knew ahead of time you were going to do "pasta night" and had all the veggies prepped and ready.  That's the beauty of time management for meals. Go ahead and give it a try. This weekend, set aside time for your meal planning, grocery store trip, and weekly prep work. I am also a fan of crock-pot nights where you add the ingredients in the morning before you hit the door for school/work, let it slowly cook all day, and you'll arrive to a delicious smelling kitchen of dinner awaiting you. Let me know if you have any questions! Mark your's meal planning time.
Happy Eating,

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Classes are Starting! What do I do for food?!

Start off right by fueling up!

Happy first day of classes!

It's always a stressful first few days. We're still learning where our classes are located, buying books, and beginning to find time to fit it all into our day. The last thing college students even want to think about is their health. It's all good! We've got a lot on our plates-no pun intended....but let's face it...we need to take care of our bodies. It is important to maintain a healthy you, and with our class schedule and limited time to exercise and eat right, as students we need to find a balance. As a Registered Dietitian, I always painted a picture to my clients: think of your body as a car. You drive it from Point A to Point B, take it in for regular check-ups, and give it fuel to run properly. Similar to a car, we should find time to fit in physical activity (such as walking to-and-from class), go in for annual physicals at the doctor, and fuel your body with the food it needs to feel your best.

So where to begin? We're already overwhelmed with new assignments and readings. When it comes to healthy eating, let's start from scratch. First, let's fill our pantry with brain food-foods that will help you get through your day and fuel your body. Below is a good, basic checklist of foods to start with-and yes...I threw in quick and easy because there will just be days where cooking is NOT an option. Let's start with the basics:

Basic College Food List:
  • Breakfast Foods: whole grain breads/cereals, English muffins, fresh fruit, eggs and/or egg whites, oatmeal, yogurt and low-fat dairy, and lean meats
  • Lunch Foods: low-fat lunch meat, sandwich wraps, mixed salad greens and veggies, baked chips or whole grain chips, fruit, natural peanut butter, and frozen meals such as lean cuisines/healthy choice, and more (avoid those bagel bites, pizza rolls, and other high-fat/no nutrition foods)
  • Dinner Foods: frozen vegetable steamer bags, brown rice, lean meats: chicken breasts, pork, lean ground beef, tofu, fresh vegetables, whole wheat pasta, and frozen healthy meals
  • Condiments: mustard, ketchup, reduced-fat mayonnaise, vinaigrette salad dressings, olive oil/canola oil for cooking, non-stick cooking spray
  • Basic spices for cooking: salt, pepper, garlic powder, basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and parsley are great beginner spices to add great flavor to your foods.
First, make a list. Think of the foods you want to have in your pantry for the week. Think of meals you'd like to prepare at night (and have for leftovers). You never want to shop without a list for two reasons: (1) you can easily go over budget by purchasing items you didn't need, (2) sometimes if you shop hungry, you'll want to buy foods not on the list, and sticking to a list helps to avoid the temptation. When shopping, think of We want to select foods to give us a variety of nutrition at each meal: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein foods, and dairy. It's important to have a variety on our plate at meal time because this will ensure we are getting our important vitamins and minerals to maintain a healthy immune system and brain function. On a restricted diet or have food allergies? Make sure if you are unable to eat a food group that you are taking a multi-vitamin daily. This will make sure you are getting the nutrients your body needs. Always check with your doctor first before loading up on supplements.

Next, how to shop? Do the outer parameter of the store first: most stores have similar layouts, and you can grab all the main food groups by staying on the outside to avoid high-fat, high processed foods that tend to be in the middle isles. How to stay in budget? There are a lot of great tips from SNAP education you can Google. Lastly, do you have basic cooking equipment? If not, here is a brief list of "must have" cooking tools:
  • Cooking Pot: for soups, beans, rice, pasta, and vegetables
  • Cooking Skillet: for cooking meats, vegetables, and more
  • Cooking Sheet/pan: for baking foods
  • Utensils: cooking spatula, large spoon, tongs, knife, and cutting board
Of course you can buy more equipment once you get comfortable cooking. I'll make sure to include some great websites for recipes and cooking tips to help get you started. By filling up your pantry with healthy food, you are preparing for a healthier you during the school semester. Keep a routine of checking the pantries and keeping a shopping list. The more prepared you are in the kitchen, the easier it is to be healthy. Questions? Feel free to ask me anytime through the comments section on the blog. Happy first day of classes everyone!

Happy Eating,