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Friday, March 25, 2016

Road-Trip Nutrition

Last summer, my family and I took what we termed the “Big Kahuna” of road trips.  In 16 days we hit 23 states, drove over 7,000 miles and spent 138 hours in the car.  That made for some very long days and some hungry bellies in the minivan. 

Approximately 76% of vacationers travel by car and as spring break approaches, we start looking towards planning that next great road-trip.  How will you plan to make it through Nevada or Nebraska without binging on high calorie, high-processed snack foods? 
Here are a few tips to avoid the typical “garbage-gut” feeling that often accompanies a long day in the car. 

1.     Hydrate with water.  Keep water bottles filled and handy for all your passengers.  Between the car snack and the inevitable eating out that is part of the road-trip experience, you don’t need to drink your calories.  

2.     Involve all passengers in planning their own snack mixes. Combining their choice of dry cereal, dried fruit and nuts or seeds makes for a more nutritious and successful snack that won’t leave you feeling garbage-gut-ish.  High fiber cereals provide a great crunch, the dried fruits give a little sweet/tart flavor plus you get added fiber and vitamins with that change-in-texture addition.  Nuts are a great way to get a little salt-fix with some powerhouse nutrition.  The protein, fiber and beneficial fats will help keep your car mates satisfied for the miles to go that lay ahead. 

3.     Even without a cooler, think produce. Bananas, apples, oranges, nectarines, clementines, avocados and cherry tomatoes are just a few produce items that don’t need refrigeration.  And while dried pineapple and homemade fruit leather are a staple for our car-trips, it is refreshing to have a fresh fruit as a snack or some avocado slices on that sandwich at lunch.  Whole fruits will help keep everyone hydrated and help keep tummies happy and regular during a vacation when routines go out the window. 
4.     When possible, avoid eating out.  Grabbing some fruit, toast and yogurt at your hotel for breakfast, picnicking out of your cooler or food-stash for lunch and then eating at a restaurant at night is a good way to not only trim your calorie consumption, but your budget as well. 

Planning your foods as well as you plan your destination will ensure that everyone will feel happy and healthy enough to enjoy the view once you get there.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Choosing a Smart Granola Bar

Ranging from borderline-candy-bar to super high in nutrition, granola bars can be a tricky choice at the supermarket.  Factor in you’re family’s personal tastes, and you might think it’s impossible to find the right granola bar.  Here are a few tips to shop smarter when it comes to granola bars. 

Look past the name or label.  Granola bars, snack bars, energy bars, cereal bars, breakfast and power bars may all run together in one's mind and while a lot of the naming is driven by marketing, there are a few differences:  Granola bars are generally composed of oats, snack bars more often contain more fruit and nuts and other grains, energy bars are generally higher in calories and are more processed.  For example breakfast bars generally are in the 200-220 calorie range while traditional granola bars tend to have about 100-140.  Don’t let things like “cookie” or “organic” make you think it is a more nutritious choice. 

Short Label.  Ingredient list should be your first stop when choosing any food and granola bars are no exception.  Whole grain should top the list and looking for a list as short and understandable as possible will reduce the degree of processing and unnecessary fillers.  

Fiber Dilemma.  Since American’s get about 50% of the recommended daily fiber intake, looking for a good source of fiber is helpful.  Fiber keeps not only helps with regulating digestion, but it keeps your fuller longer.  But beware – there is another side to unusually high fiber granola bars.  Often the isolated fibers that are added can bring unwanted side effects.  Chicory root or chicory root fiber is a source of inulin - an undigestible fiber that can help feed the bacteria in our colon - but it can also cause a lot more gas and bloating in certain individuals.  It is commonly used in  granola bars and other low-calorie foods since it is a calorie free filler that adds bulk.  If you tend to have similar digestive problems, you might want to stay away from the high fiber granola bars. 

Protein pros and cons. Americans are far from deficient in protein, so protein doesn’t need to be a driving force in shopping for a granola bar.  However, if you are looking for a little extra protein at snack time, then make sure that your proteins are coming from understandable food sources (nuts for example).  Keep in mind that the high protein granola bars are generally higher in calories (usually the fat from nuts) and often fall into the chicory root fiber trap.  

Don’t overlook the option of making your own.  You could involve your kids in the process which not only gives them some cooking skills, but it also puts them more in control of healthful eating.

Simple No-bake Granola bar:
1 cup dates – chopped to a paste in food processor
¼ cup nut butter
¼ cup honey
1 cup nuts chopped (I love cashews and almonds)
1 ½ cups rolled oats – toasted
½ cup dried fruit (I love dried cherries and blueberries)

Melt the nut butter and honey together in the microwave for a minute until soft and easily combined. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, then press into an 8x8 baking dish that is lined with parchment or plastic wrap.  Chill in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.  Cut into 12 bars and store in air tight container – can individually wrap and freeze for longer storage. 

1 bar: 195 calories, 26 g carbohydrates, 4 g fiber, 6 g protein

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Convenience & Nutrition Can Coexist

Often times our busy schedules make the siren-song of the drive thru seem irresistible.  But with less time than it takes to wait in that line of cars, you can enjoy a meal with your family at home – the way it should be – around the dinner table. 
Here are some overlooked convenience foods that you can have on-hand for a quick go to meal or snack. 

 First off is a quick fix from the protein category. 

Often, it is cooking the protein that takes up a lot of our time.  Tofu.  It’s been a bit misunderstood lately, but I’ve chosen one of my favorites: House Foods Organic Tofu is non-GMO, grown in the U.S. , and full of health benefits.  Cholesterol free, low in saturated fat and is a complete protein containing all 9 essential amino acids. With the new dietary guidelines emphasizing vegetable protein sources, tofu makes for a convenient quick way to go meatless.  I’ve used a soft tofu in this strawberry orange smoothie and a firm tofu in this manicotti.  I’ll have links to the recipes on my website.

Next, don’t overlook the freezer-section.  

Frozen produce is harvested and flash-frozen at peak ripeness, so you’ve got all the great nutrition of seasonal produce anytime of the year. The benefit of frozen is that it is real food,  frozen for convenience in preparation plus you have single servings that cut down on food waste and that always helps your food budget.  In the time it takes to round up the family and set the table, you can have your entrĂ©e and sides ready to go.  Now more than ever, there are more global-ethnic flavors to choose from that helps cut back on takeout. 

Lastly, don’t forget the whole-grains.  

My favorite convenience whole-grain is minute or quick-cooking brown rice.  You may be able to throw together a stirfry in a matter of minutes, but if often is the rice that slows you down getting dinner on the table.  So try a quick-cooking whole grain, or cook a batch ahead of time and freeze it.  You can pull out a bag of frozen brown rice and heat it in the microwave while you stirfry those frozen veggies and tofu.  Better than takeout any day! 

What about the inevitable convenience store stop?

On the road, if my car wasn’t stocked with some good go-to snacks and I were to go into a gas-station convenience store for a snack, I’d buy a bottle of water, nuts or trail mix.  With a little thought, good nutrition and convenience can coexist.