Stocking the kitchen for quick meals

Is this a common dinner scenario? The kids just got home from their afters chool event, mom and dad arrived late from work, and the dog is barking at the door. Everyone is hungry. Will dinner be take-out fried chicken, burgers, or boxed macaroni and cheese? None of the above if the pantry holds a selection of nutritious foods to make meal preparation easy and satisfying.

Start with pantry items.

  • Whole grains including brown rice, barley, quinoa, and couscous come in handy. Choose quick-cooking varieties for convenience. Whole grain breads, pitas, and pastas are other grain ideas.
  • Canned versions of dried beans and lentils are good for salad additions and in roll-ups or casseroles.  Rinse first to clear out extra sodium.
  • Other canned items include low sodium soups and broths, fruit, tomato products, and veggies.
  • Canned meats, sardines, tuna, and salmon can be added to casseroles, grilled sandwiches, and salads.
  • Nuts and nut butters add protein and good fats to meals and snacks. Seeds and their oils along with olive and canola oils also contribute health fats.
  • Both sweet and white potatoes are quick to prepare in the microwave.
  • Seasonings are important for adding flavor. Garlic and onion powders (not salt), Italian herbs, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, wine vinegars, and low-sodium soy sauce are just a few ideas.
  • Fresh onions and garlic have their place, also, in the well-stocked kitchen.

Next consider the fridge.

  • Low or no-fat dairy items such as yogurt, sour cream, cottage cheese, and hard cheeses add protein and are great as toppings or casseroles additions.
  • Fresh greens including romaine, radicchio, endive, turnip tops and spinach make great salads and sides.
  • Baby carrots, celery, cucumbers, and sweet peppers can satisfy hungry kids as a snack or pre-meal treat.
  • Eggs can be made into an omelet with potatoes and other vegetables, or used as a base for a casserole, or just scrambled with chopped meat for a quick, nutritious and inexpensive meal. (And, eating one egg a day is fine for most folks.)

Don’t forget the freezer. Besides meats, other items are helpful to have on hand.

  • Frozen fruit and vegetables of all types, even diced onion and green peppers, are available.
  • Fish in individual servings are quick to prepare. Some need to be thawed during the day in the fridge. Choose those without breading to reduce calories and fat. No fish sticks, please.
  • Veggie burgers are a quick fix, too, and available in many flavors.  I like the Dr. Praegers brand.  (Disclosure: I have no connection to this company.)

In general, look for no-salt or low-salt varieties of canned goods and pick fruits canned in water or their own juice. Go for grains that list a whole grain as the first ingredient. Be aware of expiration dates on all food items, and place recently purchased items behind those already in the pantry. For more tips, visit Cooking Light and Today’s Dietitian.


Healthy Super Bowl Eats

Is everyone ready for Super Bowl 50 when the Broncos battle the Panthers? No? Fortunately, there still is time to get menus in order. After all, what is a football gathering without food?

And the good news is that folks can still enjoy some of their favorites while adding nutritious options to their plates.

If appetizers are the fare, remember that many small bites can add up to big calories. Choose wisely, maybe concentrating on those foods that you don’t usually eat. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • Avocados are popular now due to their healthy monounsaturated fat content.  These make a great dip or spread. Cooking Light  has some tasty suggestions for making any kind of guacamole that you desire.
  • Homemade party dips made with sour cream or salad dressings are often served at football parties.  For extra flavor and crunch add minced green onions, finely diced water chestnuts, or sweet peppers.
  • An easy cracker spread can be made with a square of cream cheese topped with a favorite jam or jelly.
  • Low fat bean spreads are another option and are great whether combined with several ingredients or with mashed beans simply topped with layers of low fat shredded cheese and salsa.
  • Don’t forget about hummus!  Either with raw veggies or pita bread and chips, this is a yummy offering.
  • Of course, the reliable fruit and vegetable trays are easy to prepare and offer healthy variety.
  • Want something hot? How about Cheesy Chicken Enchiladas? Or, Sloppy Joes.
  • Speaking of hot, chili is a favorite for many and can be made healthier with ground round, ground lean turkey, or chicken, or by making a vegetarian variety with additional beans in place of meat. Try this crockpot version.
  • To top it all off with something sweet, brownies are always a crowd pleaser. For a different taste sensation, try a recipe with cherry preserves.

Enjoy the game and may the best team win!



Healthy holiday treats

We are smack in the middle of the holiday season.  And special holiday treats are part of the season’s charm. Everyone looks forward to special goodies. But these foods often come with a high calorie punch. Here are a few tips for creating healthier versions.

  • Use low-fat dairy. Whole milk products are sources of saturated fat. Yes, fat is not the villain is once was.  But one can overdo it. Using low-fat, skim milk, fat-free evaporated milk, and fat-free sweetened condensed milk can yield as mouth-watering a product as full-fat dairy. This is also true for the low-fat versions of sour cream. Plain Greek yogurt is a tasty substitute for sour cream in twice-baked potatoes and casseroles. I have used fat-free yogurt to replace half of the fat in coffee cake recipes with pleasing results.
  • Substitute egg whites for yolks. I have nothing against whole eggs. There is research that indicates healthy people can enjoy eggs several times a week with no ill effects. But at this time of year, we can go way over our allotment with all the egg-containing goodies around. With that in mind, two egg whites can be used in place of a whole egg, or use the egg substitutes in the dairy case.
  • Replace chocolate chips with dried fruit. Raisins, chopped dates, and cranberries offer flavors of their own and add a chewy texture. If you must add the chips, reduce the amount or add mini chips to spread the flavor throughout the product.
  • Create healthy dips to replace the sour cream types. Hummus, salsa, corn relish, and bean dips are more healthful choices than sour cream versions.
  • Watch those portions. Eat half of the special treat and share the other half or save for later. This is a helpful tactic during the holidays or at any special event.
  • Choose nuts for a healthy snack. Although high in fat, nuts contain fiber and healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that are associated with a lower risk of heart disease. An appropriate serving size for nuts is one-quarter cup.

Most importantly, enjoy time with family and friends during this holiday season.


Clementines make a perfect snack

Citrus fruits are in plentiful supply at this time of year. Navel oranges, grapefruit, and other varieties are available at reasonable prices. And those cute, little clementines that come in wooden boxes or mesh bags are becoming more popular with shoppers because of their small size, sweet taste, few seeds, and easy-to-peel skin.

With only 35 calories per fruit, clementines offer a healthy snack or meal addition that both children and adults can enjoy. These tasty packages of nutrition are not only low in calories, but are also low in sodium and a source of heart-healthy vitamin C, potassium, folate, and fiber.

Besides being healthy to eat, clementines are versatile, too, and can be enjoyed in many ways.

  • For breakfast, lunch, after-school treats, or midday snacks, just peel and eat. What could be easier than that, especially when time is short? Keep a bowl of clementines out on the table or countertop to encourage healthy snacking.
  • When enjoying a favorite hot or cold cereal, add clementine slices for a sweet treat. No need for added sugar with the natural sweetness of this fruit.
  • For a salad or side dish, combine cut-up clementines with a selection of berries, or chopped apples and dates. Or, add the fruit to mixed greens and then drizzle with just enough honey-mustard dressing to coat the salad.
  • As a dessert, a clementine parfait can be prepared easily by layering a fat-free yogurt and your choice of low-fat granola or puffed cereal, and chopped nuts.

Need more ideas? Visit Bon Appétit for a salad with clementines, fennel and avocado. And check out EveryDay with Rachael Ray for a tasty combination of clementines and ricotta cheese.

Enjoy these little darlings soon.

Healthy after-school snacks

With another school year underway, kids are looking for after-school snacks to quell their growling stomachs. By offering healthy foods, you will not only provide a source of energy after a long day at school, but also contribute to your child’s daily nutrient needs.

Try to serve snacks one to two hours before a meal so that children are hungry again at mealtime. Grazing from the time one gets home until dinner will interfere with natural hunger cues and may lead to weight gain.

Make a snack part of the overall daily intake of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and healthy fats. Resist the urge to rely on a candy bars, cookies, or some types of processed foods that may be high in sodium or sugar. Such foods taste good, but offer fewer nutrients and more saturated fat than fruits, vegetables, whole grains, or nuts.

The suggestions for healthy snack foods are endless. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers helpful ideas for kids of all ages. Here are a few to get you started.

•Make a yogurt parfait by layering low-fat or fat-free yogurt with fresh fruit and a whole grain cereal.
•Set out carrot and celery sticks with nut butters or low-fat salad dressing for a dip.
•Mix together raisins or other dried fruit (chop into smaller pieces if needed) with whole grain cereal, pretzels, small fat-reduced crackers, or nuts. (Choking hazard alert: use only if your child is old enough to eat nuts and small dried fruits without choking).
•Spread peanut butter or low-fat cream cheese on a small, whole wheat tortilla and roll up. Wrap around a celery stick for a crunchy center.
•Freeze banana slices in a single layer on a cookie sheet for a cold treat. These are really yummy! Or, serve unfrozen and kabob style by threading on a thin pretzel with other sliced fruit.
•For something warm, toast an English muffin, a bagel, or whole wheat bread round, and spread with peanut butter. Another tasty version is to add shredded, low-fat cheese to the breads and melt in the microwave.
•Applesauce is a yummy treat when warmed a bit in the microwave and topped with ground cinnamon.
•Pop some popcorn, a perennial favorite of kids and adults alike. This is an easy snack to prepare ahead of time and take along in sandwich bags when after-school events are scheduled.
•If serving crackers and low-fat cheese, try Ry-Krisp, Wasabrod, and other similar items.

And on those days when you may be too busy to chop and bag, good-for-you-food is still within reach. Registered dietitian Elaine Magee of WebMD has compiled a list of healthy, prepackaged choices from the grocery aisles including Nabisco Fig Newtons, Healthy Choice Fudge Bars, Bumble Bee Tuna Salad Kit, and various soups.

Enjoy your healthy snacks.

Making college meals more than fast food fare

Soon college freshman will be arriving on campuses, eager to start a new life experience. 

Is every college freshman doomed to gain those 15 pounds that have become legend among university students?  No, not if students can make wise choices when faced with unending dining hall, fast food, and restaurant items.

If you are new to the university scene, are a returning student, or know someone who is, here are a few suggestions to keep energy levels high and waistlines in line.

  • Eat regular meals and snacks.  Start the day with breakfast to rev up your metabolism.  Plan the day so that you have time for a meal or at least a nutritious snack if class schedules are tight.  Fresh fruit, nuts, cereals, raisins, and string cheese are easily packed and carried on campus. Eating a healthy meal or snack every three to five hours will keep you from grabbing that candy bar.
  • Choose whole grains.  Whole grain breads and bagels, oatmeal, quinoa, and barley provide healthy fiber that will fill you up and keep you going.  On the same note, include beans and peas in your day for fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Try to consume four cups of fruits and vegetables each day. Fruit with breakfast, a fruit and veggie with lunch and dinner, and then another for a snack will get you to that goal.  Single serving fruit packs are easy to through into a backpack for a quick snack.  When eating out, choose the plain janes, those fruits and veggies without fatty sauces and toppings.
  • Make milk (non-fat or low-fat) a part of your day.  Cow’s milk and fortified soy or nut beverages provide needed calcium and vitamin D.  Yogurt is another option that makes a great dessert or snack eaten plain or topped with fruit.
  • Aim for a protein source at every meal.  Choose lower fat options such as baked, roasted, steamed, or broiled fish (not fish sticks), chicken, pork, and beef.  Chicken and turkey breasts are leaner than the thighs and legs. Loin and round cuts of beef and pork are lean choices, too.  Not a meat-eater?  Go for eggs, legumes, tofu and other soy products, nuts, and seeds.  And the familiar nut or seed butter sandwiches (on whole grain) are convenient take-along lunches. 
  • Add heart-friendly fats, in moderation. These include olives, olive oil, avocadoes, nuts, and seeds.  Healthy fatty fish include sardines, salmon, and herring. 
  • Beware the soft-serve machine and late night parties.  These are waistline wreckers.
  • Drink water instead of sugary soda or high-fat coffees options.

Using portion control and eating from all food groups can go a long way towards keeping weight down and bodies healthy during the college years.  Combine good eating habits with 30 minutes of exercise on most days, and your body will thank you.

For more information on nutrition for college students and for meal trackers and other tools, visit MyPlate on Campus.

Snacking as a healthy practice

Can snacks be part of a healthy eating plan? Let’s face it. Most people enjoy snacks. If the snack contributes to one’s overall energy and nutrient needs without adding a lot of calories, what’s the harm, right?

According to a report from the NPD Group, a market research firm, fruit is the number one choice in America for snacks. This is good news. Chocolate was next in line. Ok, a small amount of dark chocolate can be heart healthy. Potato chips came in third. This choice is not as gratifying as the first two because it is easy to eat chips mindlessly and end up eating an entire bag with few nutrients to show for the effort (or lack, thereof).

Results from a study in 2011 attribute the rise in calorie intake in our country to eating more often. This suggests that snacks play a role in overeating, which then encourages weight gain.

It doesn’t look good for snacks, until one considers another factor, that of timing.  

Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Center in Seattle used data from a study with overweight and obese postmenopausal women, 50 to 75 years of age. This study showed that women who had mid-morning snacks lost less weight than those women who did not snack before lunch.

The researchers suggested that eating a snack too close to a main meal may result in fewer pounds lost when dieting. On the other hand, long intervals between meals might be better handled with a snack to relieve hunger and prevent overeating at the next meal.

Interestingly, other findings showed that the women who ate more than two snacks each day consumed more fiber than the women who ate fewer in-between meal snacks. And afternoon snackers consumed more fruits and veggies than those who refrained. So there can be a health benefit to indulging between meals.

Everybody likes snacks from kids to teens to adults. Here are a few guidelines.

  • Consider when your next meal is. If the meal is less      than 30 minutes away, have a glass of water or a cup of tea. If you need      something to chew, have a small salad.       When hunger strikes and the meal is one to two hours away, keep the      snack around 100 calories or less. Baby carrots, cucumber slices, and green pepper      sticks can be prepared ahead and kept in the fridge.
  • Try to satisfy the textures you crave in a healthy way.      For example, if a crunchy or salty food is what you crave, select whole      grain crackers. Or try an apple with peanut butter for combo of textures      and added protein. A small handful of nuts adds protein and also      contributes fiber and healthy fat. Be sure to stop at a small handful,      though.
  • Low-fat yogurt and small portions of cheese are      satisfying snacks. Check out the lower fat versions of cheese in the diary      case.
  • If you really want a sweet, chewy snack, and it is some      time before the next meal, choose snack or energy bars with about five      grams of fiber and protein, and no more than two or three grams of      unsaturated fat.

For more suggestions, visit the American Heart Association for tips on satisfying different snacking tastes and for eating on the go. The Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics has tips for families and teens.