“Christmas” and “cookies” are words that should always be together, right? But sometimes with all the cookies we make and receive around the holidays, we want something a little healthier to offset icing and sprinkles! Try out these apple “cookies” for something nutritiously sweet!
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
1/4 cup chocolate chips
Using an apple corer, remove the core of the apple.
Slice the apple into thin rings.
Spread peanut butter over one side of the apple slice.
Sprinkle pecans and chocolate chips on the peanut butter.
During the cold and dreary winter months, food can almost feel a bit lacking as we crave the summer’s bountiful abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. But lucky for all of us, there are plenty of lesser-appreciated foods, such as root vegetables, beans, frozen fruits and vegetables—even the canned variety.
I totally get it, as the temperature outside (and in my office) continues to drop, it’s tempting to curl up with your favorite comfort food. But keeping our bodies well nourished is crucial to not only prevent weight gain but also to keep our immune systems fighting against all those pesky germs.
The key to remember is: “If it’s not there, you can’t eat it.” So you’ve got to make sure these better-for-you foods that I mentioned earlier are readily available, whether that be in the house, at work or—believe it or not—in the car. How do we make this happen? Well, for starters, grocery shopping.
Maybe you’re like me and are not a fan of grocery shopping. In the winter, especially, it can be a dangerous expedition with all those bags and grocery cart! Plus, the coats, coats, coats, coats—(I’ve got 3 kids, so I feel like coats take up the whole grocery cart!)
To try and make this expedition or triathlon as painless and accident free as possible, I strive to plan our meals for the entire week. I include leftovers with this meal planning too. I list all the ingredients needed and see if I have what we need already in the cabinets or fridge. Yes, its tedious and one I do after the kids go to bed, but saves trips to the grocery store. Plus, I try to find recipes with similar ingredients for the week. For example, if you have carrots for soup, think about other ways you can have the carrots, such as roasted for a side, shredded in a salad or cooked in the slow cooker with a roast.
Meal planning is important because it saves you time and money. How many times have you made a trip in the in the snow, only to get home and realize you forgot an ingredient (or more!) meaning you have to either go back to the store, figure out something completely different—or giving up and running through the drive-thru for dinner. Planning ahead will save you the hassle!
Maybe this could be the time to try out the drive up or delivery services offered by many local grocery stores. You could also try some of the meal delivery services, but I encourage to be cautious when selecting one (and this is a whole blog most in itself).
Stock the Pantry
While it may be more expensive in the short-term, the more you have pre-stocked in your pantry/cabinets, the more things you have to get creative with later. I like to have canned beans, different kinds of rice (brown, jasmine, basmati, wild), quinoa, oatmeal and dry roasted/unsalted nuts.
Look at Sale Items
Keep an open mind to clearance grocery items. You may be surprised to find that a random item could spark an idea for a meal or snack. Out-of-season fruits and vegetables can be expensive, so watch for sales, but don’t be afraid to substitute in-season fruits or vegetables in your recipe.
Don’t Forget about Snacks
I encourage you to stock up on snacks and stash them in lots of places, especially in the car. Some examples are: trail mix, protein bars (that have at least 20 grams protein), whole wheat crackers, squeezable unsweet applesauce, unsalted/dry roasted nuts, roasted chickpeas, hardboiled eggs, string cheese, snack size bags of popcorn, hand fruits and vegetables (grapes, apples, blueberries, baby carrots) just to name a few.
So while you curl up next to the fire this winter, be thinking about how you can plan ahead, try something new and have food available—and don’t forget to eat every few hours.
From vampire bats to Kit Kats®, Halloween is a long-standing tradition celebrated with tricks and treats. In fact, it’s one of my favorite holidays. I have always found humor in dressing up in non-traditional Halloween costumes, even at an early age. Luckily, I have great friends and family that are willing to partake in my couple/group Halloween costume extravaganzas.
There is no “healthy” candy
As a dietitian, the most common question I get this time of year is, “What is the best/healthiest candy to eat”? Unfortunately, there isn’t an answer. But don’t worry! This is not going to be your typical “don’t eat candy” Halloween post. In my eyes, it’s perfectly fine to eat your heart out in candy for a night (or two). Why? Because we are a product of what we routinely do, not what we occasionally do. This applies to all aspects of life, but especially to our health.
Everything in Moderation
What I mean by this concept is that it is perfectly fine to enjoy some less-nutritious foods, such as pizza, donuts and candy, occasionally. The problem is that most people enjoy these foods far too often than what their metabolisms are capable of processing. I am more concerned with the “daily candy” our youth and adults consume. Routine consumption of these foods can lead to high blood sugars, hypertension, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, gut problems—and the list goes on and on.
Cereals, Pop-Tarts® and pastries are some of the best ways to start off your day…. If you want a sugar and insulin surge. These habits lead to fluctuations in blood sugar and insulin control throughout the day, disrupt concentration and can suck the energy right out of you. Lower sugar options include eggs, lean breakfast meats, nuts, peanut butter, cottage cheese and small servings of fruit.
Juice, soda, sweet tea and sports drinks are simply sugar in a liquid form. Perceived benefits of caffeine, vitamins and electrolytes are far outweighed by the consequences of the rapid absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Not only does this sugar tidal wave spike insulin levels, it also increases preferences towards high-sugar foods, so the cycle unfortunately continues.
Often, people gravitate towards items that are “sugar-free,” such as diet soda or sugar-free snacks, with the assumption that these products are healthier. I firmly stand my ground that low-calorie, chemical versions of sugar are no healthier for you than real and processed sugars. They may have a reduced nutrient density, but research shows that sugar substitutes greatly damage our gut lining. This can lead to leaky gut syndrome, propelling a host of other disease conditions.
Fruit roll-ups, fruit snacks and fruit-fillings are not fruit. They are pastes and mixtures created to taste like fruit. While these foods may appear to be healthier choices than other snack foods, nutritionally, they are no different than Skittles®.
Milk and yogurt contain both natural and added sugars. Calcium intake is important but not at the price of 20 grams of sugar, which is what you may find in a standard serving of yogurt (even Greek) and especially flavored milk varieties. Opt for low-sugar calcium sources such as unsweetened milk substitutes, broccoli, spinach, cheese, cottage cheese or whey/casein-based protein powders.
I recently attended the American Association of Diabetes Educators conference in Indianapolis. How great and refreshing it was to be with 3,000 other diabetes educators from across the U.S. At this conference, there was a great display from the Abbott Freestyle “Know Your Sugar Tour” bus, which is a cross-country expedition to raise awareness about the ill effects of sugar on the body. This tour, featuring one-of-a-kind sugar sculptures made by world-renowned Irish sculptors Brendan Jamison and Mark Revels, promotes the importance of understanding sugar’s effects on the body.
We Need Sugar—to an Extent
Our body is fueled by carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Sugar is a type of carbohydrate that occurs naturally in foods, but can also be added during food processing. Sugar is consumed in many different forms, but our bodies digest almost all of the sugar we eat into glucose. Glucose is the primary sugar our bodies use to create energy.
Our bodies do need a minimum amount of sugar every day to function properly. The reason for this is that glucose is the only source of energy for the brain and red blood cells. The human bloodstream normally contains only about 5 grams of glucose at any one time, which is the equivalent of just one teaspoon of sugar.
But Too Much Sugar Can Risk your Health
Sugar is not the enemy, as it is our fuel source, but too much sugar can be. So when we eat, this is what happens…
When there is extra sugar, it can be stored in muscles and liver for later use, but it also can be stored as fat. Additionally, if there is too much sugar, adverse effects start to occur within our bodies. Too much glucose in the bloodstream is the third highest risk factor for premature death worldwide, preceded only by tobacco use and high blood pressure. Additionally, consistent high blood glucose can lead to serious diseases affecting the heart and blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves.
Steps for Managing your Sugar
Now, I’m not trying to alarm you! Insulin resistance, an effect of too much sugar in our bodies commonly known as type 2 diabetes, can be managed with healthy eating, increased physical activity and education and awareness. Complications in diabetes can also be better managed with:
• early diagnosis
• health professional support
• controlling glucose levels, blood pressure and cholesterol levels
• access to insulin, oral medications and monitoring devices.
You can get started on eating less sugar right away by making the following food choices:
• non-starchy vegetables
• whole-grain foods
• fish 2-3 times a week (fried fish doesn’t count)
• lean cuts of beef and pork
• removing the skin from chicken and turkey
• non-fat or low-fat dairy products
• water, unsweetened tea, coffee and calorie-free ‘diet’ drinks instead of drinks with sugar
• liquid oils for cooking instead of solid fats (limit quantities)
In addition to changing what you eat, you can change how you eat. Consider making the following changes to your eating habits for better health and balance:
• eat a variety of foods
• eat small portions several times a day
• match how much you eat with your activity level
• eat few foods high in calories, cholesterol, saturated fat, trans fat and sodium.
I know this sounds like a lot, so to simplify:
Try to not go more than 3-4 hours without eating, get a portioned amount of carbohydrates and protein together and follow My Plate guidelines with portioning all types of foods. Strive to get some movement in daily. This could be going to a gym, walking, “chair walking,” water therapy, exercise classes—anything you want, really, as long as you’re moving! Don’t hesitate to also set up an appointment with one of the dietitians at Springfield Clinic, too.
As a follow-up to my school breakfast post, I want to share my strategies for healthy school lunches. As I said, we are not morning people. There is not much time to get everything ready and everyone out of the house. My philosophy: Prepping and planning are key. If it is not there, we can’t eat it, so make sure it is there.
My goal is to go to the grocery store every week or even two times a week, but honestly, that is not always possible. To get the most bang out of my time and wallet, I make a list on my phone. If I make the list on a piece of paper, it never fails that that piece of paper is sitting on my counter when it is time to shop. I make my list from staples needed and from my meal planning.
I strive to plan all three meals each day. Ugh, you may be saying—yeah, its work, I’m not going to deny that. If I don’t plan, then we don’t eat or we don’t eat well. I also plan for two kid’s breakfast, a child lunch and family dinner. For myself, I make a shake daily for breakfast and leftovers for lunch—so it’s not as horrendous as you may think.
To plan the lunches, first we go through the monthly school menu and pick out what days my son wants to eat school lunch. Yes, I let him eat school lunch—even on hot dog day. Most days he takes his lunch, I know what healthy foods he is eating at home, so to me it balances out. I ask him what foods he would like in his lunch; I’ll listen, but typically veto many options. When kids think they have input they are more apt to eat it 🙂
I like to keep the #plategoals ( ½ of the plate is non-starchy vegetables, ¼ is whole grains/fruits/starchy vegetables and ¼ is lean protein) in mind when packing lunches. Offer variety and keep portion sizes small. Remember there is no “parent fail” if you don’t get a veggie in their lunch, however, encourage them to snack on some after school and to include them at dinner. I try to include at least two colors of plant-based foods at lunch. Not only does this boost the nutritional quality, but it also makes the meal more colorful and fun! Examples: orange carrots and frozen pineapple tidbits, plum tomatoes and green grapes, black bean dip and frozen mango chunks.
On those rare days when I have an extra minute, I try to label a container or two with little post it notes, like “magnificent mango” or “tasty hummus”—it may help the lunchbox come home empty.
I plan, make my list, grocery shop, have it at home, prep it and send it. What do I send it in? I like containers, like these, that have the three compartments. They make it easy to have multiple items in the lunch box without colliding and smashing. I am not a fan of the character lunch boxes; nothing against the characters, but they are just not big enough for the containers. We got a lunchbox this year that fits the containers, lays flat, and the handle on top to hold the containers flat. If the handle is on the side, making the container on its side, it always leaks.
If your child’s school doesn’t have a refrigerator for cold lunches, then you need to make sure there is also room for an ice pack to help keep the lunch cool. If the lunch doesn’t stay cool then bacteria grows and the not so good happens—you get the idea.
When the lunchbox comes home, wipe it down and wash the container to use again. Those lunchboxes can come home nasty at times and fill with lots of bacteria. Don’t forget about the box and wiping down the ice pack.
Here are some quick, simple healthy foods my kids will eat.
Bread, tortilla, flat bread, English muffin, bagel, day old Jimmy John bread and pita pockets.
To help mix it up I try to add fun shapes to the sandwich by using sandwich cutters or cookie cutter and sandwich kabobs.
Bagels with cream cheese, quesadilla, nachos, ravioli and pasta.
Applesauce, fresh fruit (apple slices, grapes, orange slices, cutie or pear), or canned fruit, canned in light syrup.
Salad with salad dressing in a small cup to drizzle on, raw veggies with ranch dressing or hummus to dip in, or cold roasted vegetables.
Whole-wheat crackers, pretzels, goldfish crackers, or baked chips.
One cookie, rice Krispy treat, Oreo, or tootsie roll.
I want to emphasize that I don’t make these packed lunches fancy! I am about simple, quick and easy—all made possible by planning and prepping. There is no foolproof way to make sure your kids will eat their lunch while at school, but you can at least know you are doing your part for their health. Happy Back to School!
Summer is just around the corner and that means weekends will soon fill up with beach trips, pool days and afternoons in the sun. As a dietitian, I often get asked on what are some slimming secrets and increasing confidence tricks for being in a bathing suit all day. Consider some of these tips the next time you are packing up your sunblock and beach towels and heading outdoors!
1. Don’t Skip Breakfast/Meals.
Nothing good will come from this action so please do not consider it. Skipping meals or going long durations without eating signals your body to prepare for starvation and will slow down your metabolism. Just like your computer, your metabolism will go into “sleep mode” when not being stimulated for an extended period of time. This causes your body to aggressively store calories and will also offset your body’s hunger hormone levels. Basically, you will find yourself extra famished by the end of the day and will be more likely to overeat.
2. Avoid carbonated beverages and salty snacks.
Both carbonated beverages (even sugar-free ones) and salty snacks such as crackers, pretzels, Chex mix and the like can cause water retention and extra bloating. This is definitely not the recipe one wants for feeling svelte and confident all day in a swimsuit.
3. Do pack lean protein sources.
Foods that are high in protein will help you stay fuller longer. This will allow you to spend more time splashing and playing in the water and less time breaking to eat. Protein go-to’s can include eggs, lean meats, protein bars/shakes, low sugar Greek yogurts, unsalted nuts, white cheese varieties. Another perk to frequent protein intake is that it can also help ward off sugar cravings.
4. Focus on water for hydration.
Believe me, I know nothing sounds better than ice cold lemonade on a hot summer day but fueling your body with liquid sugar isn’t the best recipe for staying fit and trim. Confession: I’ll be the first to admit that plain water isn’t the most exciting thing in the world to drink. Take advantage of fresh produce this summer and create natural flavor enhancers by putting fresh cut fruit, herbs or vegetables in your water.
5. Fresh fruit and vegetables make great hydrating snacks.
Fresh produce is naturally high in water, fiber and antioxidants. Choosing fruit and vegetables as snacks help boost your nutrient intake. Natural foods do not have any added chemicals or junk in them, which can often be the culprit for bloated, upset stomachs. Save yourself some time preparing fruits and vegetables and purchase pre-cut bags and containers from the grocery store to be beach-ready in a snap.
6. Above all- kick back and have fun.
Despite the season of being more active, I understand summer can amplify body image issues with wearing a swimsuit. With constant reminders of magazine covers touting to have the perfect bikini body, even the most confident of women can become over critical of themselves. Try not to let worrying thoughts about how you look overpower the fun you could be having with your friends, family and kids. Summer always comes and goes too fast anyways, so grab your shades, sunblock and let out a big “cowabunga”!