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Monday, November 18, 2019

Holiday Eating: Give Up the Guilt

During the holidays, we eat some of not only the most delicious, but most nourishing foods of the year.  Loads of veggie side dishes, high-quality, lean protein from turkey, all sorts of vitamin A are in your pumpkin and sweet potatoes and even the desserts have fruit.  From a nutritional standpoint, Thanksgiving dinner is one of the most nutrient-packed meals of the year.  And yet, the majority of American’s start the holiday season out with eating-based guilt.  Unfortunately, I think the hype around holiday over-eating is damaging in a couple of ways:

1.    It almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Like Frasier trying to ride a bike, but due to his focusing on not hitting the mailbox, he was drawn to crash into it every time, our obsession with talking about how unhealthy and binge-filled the holidays are, simply reinforces that damaging behavior.
2.    All the negative hype around holiday eating increases our stress levels by introducing more fear around food, increasing our body dissatisfaction and raising our cortisol levels which can lead to all sorts of health problems from headaches to digestive issues to weight gain.  

The more negative media about holiday eating hasn’t seemed to improve our overall health, so why not try something radically different? Combat the guilt, shame and resulting health problems with an intentionally positive spin on your holiday eating this year.  

·      Speak only positively about holiday meals.  Celebrate the variety, the flavors, the traditions and how the food not only nourishes you physically, but culturally as well.  
·      Eat joyfully.  Enjoy that food.  Food is not good or bad – it does not have moral power over you to turn you into a good or bad person.  Physiologically, digestion works best when stress is low, and appetite, anticipation and enjoyment of eating are high.  And since the majority of serotonin – the hormone that mediates mood and well-being – is produced in the gut, a happy digestion means an over-all happier you.  
·      Pay attention to your body.  Listen to and respect your body’s hunger and fullness cues.  Don’t spoil the party by inducing that painfully full, food coma.  Good food can and will happen again – it’s not now or never, all or nothing.  Savor favorite foods and decadent desserts, but don’t do so to the extreme of discomfort or pain. 
·      Invite happy hormones to the party.  Want to endear yourself to your host and produce some mood-bosting endorphins at the same time?  Help clean up or play with the kids.  Exercise is a fabulous way to produce those endorphins, but not the only way.  Altruistic behavior such as giving or helping others also produces that happy hormone.  And the more endorphins and serotonin, the less likely you are to have constantly high, damaging levels of cortisol circulating in your system.  

This year, instead of focusing on stressful restriction, guilt and shame, make "happy holidays" more than a glib response, make it a verbally, intentional goal and see how your health responds.  

Monday, September 23, 2019

Family Meal Month

September is Family Meal Month and you may be rolling your eyes thinking, “I don’t have time for that.” Well here are some benefits to family dinner that just might change your mind.  

·     Adolescents who ate family meals five to seven times a week were twice aslikely to get A’sin school as those who ate dinner with their families fewer than two times a week.
·     Regular mealtime is an even more powerful predictor of high achievement scoresthan time spent in school, doing homework, playing sports or doing art.
·     Young adults who ate regular family meals as teensare less likely to be obese and more likely to eat healthily once they live on their own.
·     For young children, dinnertime conversation boosts vocabulary even more than being read aloud to.
·     Add to that lower rates of disordered eating, improved health and nutrition, higher self-esteem and less depression, and better relationships with parents and you no longer have any reason not to make family dinner a priority. 

Family dinner doesn’t have to be food-network-worthy.  It doesn’t have to be fancy or gourmet, just start by making it happen.  Even if it means sitting down at the table to eat the PB&Js together – that is a great start. 

September is not only family dinner month, but also national cholesterol education month.  So consider a recipe that fits both bills by swapping some of your saturated fats with polyunsaturated oils.  Plant oils like corn oil are full of cholesterol-blocking plant sterols and can play a role in making family dinner doable and healthful as well. Marinades are a great way to involve the kids in some simple dinner prep that keeps a flavorful meal simple and delicious.  
Involving your kids in menu planning can help make family dinner less of a battle ground.  And as age-appropriate, I strongly suggest involving them in the cooking/preparation process as well.  We think a lot about academic and financial preparation for college and adult-life for our kids, but don’t overlook the most important life-skill – feeding themselves.  One of the best ways to help your child overcome pickiness at mealtime is to get them cooking in the kitchen.  

Will it take time? Yes.  Will it take effort and some planning?  Yes.  Will it be perfect? No.  But it will be one of the most important traditions you teach your children.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Simplify School Lunch

macro photography of school bus 

Approximately 45% of school lunch gets thrown away, and that isn’t limited to cafeteria fare either.  If you’ve spent any time at all in a school cafeteria, you know just how frustrating it is to see so many good, untouched, and often still wrapped up foods get tossed automatically in the trash.  Combine that fact with all the picture-perfect school lunch ideas all over social media and that is the perfect storm for parent frustration. Stop over thinking, simplify and get your child involved in the process of selecting and preparing their lunch so that less goes in the trash and more fuels your child.  
Consider the classics:
red apple fruit on four pyle books

A traditional sandwich plus some fruit and veggies can fit the bill without too much stress.  This way you get some carbohydrate, protein and produce all in one meal.  Sandwich meat such as roast beef is a convenient and good source of protein that works well in an allergen-free cafeteria. Not only do you get the protein kids need for growth, but you get the most absorbable form of iron – heme iron – to help with energy and cognition. Plus, vitamin B12 which is predominantly found in animal products has been shown to enhance brain development and cognitive function.  So, as this school year starts, consider beefing up that lunch box.

Tailor to their tastes: 
Not everyone is a sandwich lover.  If your kiddo likes their foods separate, then deconstruct that sandwich and send them with diced meat, cheese, crackers and some fruits or veggies. Maybe they love popcorn – so send them with a bag – that fits the whole grain bill, add in some cheese or yogurt, and some dried fruit.  Remember to keep it portion appropriate. 

Plan for hydration:
Encouraging lots of water is essential for kiddos – especially when the weather is still warm.  If you have a kiddo who refuses water or have a child who is participating in after-school sports, you might want to consider hydrating with something beyond water. Consider a portion-appropriate sports drink that provides potassium-based electrolytes, coconut water and no artificial ingredients. It can ensure good hydration on those days when long sports practices follow long school days. 

Appropriate portions always:
child and parent hands photography

A handful is a great guide for portion sizes.  Just remember to allow your kiddo to show you what their handful is so that you don’t end up overwhelming them with 4 times as many carrots. You might be a bit put off if someone packed your lunch with 2-3 cups of carrots – remember that their handful is their portion size.  Think open handful for larger, less compact items (crackers, carrots, grapes, chips) and a closed handful for smaller, denser items (dried fruit, nuts, candy). 

More than anything, keep the dialogue about what they are eating at school open and keep your school lunch plans flexible.  Less stress around eating and food makes for a healthier life for everyone involved.  

Monday, August 5, 2019

Beyond the water bottle: the hydrating power of produce

orange tomatoes

We hear a lot about staying well hydrated by drinking plenty of water.  But did you know that about 1/5 of our daily water intake comes from solid food? Fruits and veggies are the main contributors of this food hydration and that is just another reason to bring on the produce.

close-up photo of vegetable salad
  •         Cucumbers are 96.7% water and top the charts when it comes to staying hydrated without drinking.  
  •        Iceberg lettuce, celery, radishes and tomatoes all have close to 95% water. So that summer salad doesn’t just add great vitamins, it helps keep your hydration up.  
  •        Green peppers, cauliflower, watermelon, spinach, strawberries, broccoli, baby carrots and grapefruit all contain more than 90% water. So pretty much any fruit or veggie you choose adds to your water intake.  

sliced vegetable and fruits on board

Here are 4 tips to help incorporate that hydrating produce throughout your day:

1.    Half your plate.  Make half of your plate plants – even if you have no plate.  Making the habit that every time you eat, a plant goes in your mouth not only keeps your fiber, vitamins and minerals high, but keep your hydration up.  

2.    Start at breakfast.  Starting early in the day makes it easier to maintain the fruit and veggie momentum. Whether you’re putting avocado on your toast (avocados are 70% water), mixing in more veggies or salsa in your eggs, or simply grabbing a banana (75% water) to go with that granola bar, start adding more produce in at breakfast to help keep your plant intake on track. 

3.    Keep veggies handy and visible.  Best intentions sometimes go south in the produce drawer, or bottom of the fridge when it comes to eating more fruits and veggies.  If you plan in 15 minutes of produce prep when you get home from the store, you can get that pineapple washed, cut and divided into containers to grab for a delicious snack any time.  Even simply putting together some handy bags, or reusable containers of a few veggies that you can grab for your lunch or have handy to toss together that night’s stir fry or side salad mean that the hydration power of that produce improves your health instead of liquifying in the bottom of the fridge a week later.  

4.    Shop farmer’s markets, shop local and in season.  That along is more motivating to enjoy hydrating produce than simply buying a hard tomato that tastes like cardboard.  

So, for those of you that struggle with drinking water, consider upping your hydration and your nutrition with more produce on your plate.  

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Keep Cool With Less Sugar This Summer

Keep good water habits in place.  Whether it is downing a certain number of water bottles during the day or keeping a pitcher in the fridge with some water and citrus slices, do what it takes to keep your hydration habits in place with lots of water. That way there is less room for other sweetened beverages.  

Be picky & cheap. All sorts of beverages from slushies to frozen lemonades to sodas may sound very tempting, but the reality is that there is plenty of mediocrity out there – especially in the drinkable sugar category.  It can also be a real drain on your wallet as well.  So be very particular in the what and when of summer drink purchases and let your frugal side shine through a bit.  Saving money can also save you from added sugar.  

Stick it. If popsicles, creamsicles or other frozen treats are constantly calling your name during the heat of summer, take a few minutes and freeze your own.  You can freeze your favorite smoothie recipe in individual popsicles, or you can stab your own fruit with a stick and freeze it.  Have a few leftovers from a fruit plate? Skewer them up and toss them in the freezer.  Then you can eat them as a popsicle or put it in a glass of ice or sparkling water as healthy ice cubes.  My favorite is choco-piña – a frozen spear of pineapple that is dipped in a thin layer of chocolate* and frozen. Bananas work really well frozen and dipped. Best summer dessert ever.
* I add a little bit of coconut oil to the melted chocolate for a better frozen texture.

Stock your freezer with sale produce.  Nothing quite says relaxing-spa-day quite like frozen grapes but consider stocking up on other seasonal produce and tossing it in the freezer.  Blueberries make great, bite-sized frozen treats and have a great frozen texture.  The key is to tailor your smoothies, frozen fruits, and flavored water to the tastes of you and your family.  Then they’ll be a lot more likely to be on board to head home for a choco-piña instead of hitting the drive-thru on a hot summer day.  

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Cook, Cover, Chill or Chuck: Food Safety Outdoors

As the temperature increases, so does our tendency to eat outdoors.  Not surprisingly, the prevalence of food borne illness also increases this time of year.  The good news is that healthy picnicking is completely within your control, and some of the most healthful foods are also the safest.  So here are a few tips to safely and happily eat outdoors.  

Cook with care.  When it comes to grilling, or barbequing, make sure you keep raw and cooked foods separate.  Separate areas, trays, tools and even coolers are the safest way to prevent cross contamination.  Then make sure you cook food sufficiently.  Take a thermometer with you.  If you don’t want to try and remember different numbers for different foods, stick with this one to be safe: 165.  If you don’t have a thermometer – make sure juices from meat run clear.  

Cover food outdoors. We sometimes overlook this food safety tip, but there are a lot more pathogens outdoors – blowing dirt and dust around a campsite, bugs or other pests that land on or get into the food. So, keep the food covered when possible to reduce the amount of bacteria and pathogens that can be introduced to your food and then ingested.  

Chill.  Make sure that cold foods stay cold – keep a cooler, with ice to transport cold or raw foods and then to chill it afterwards.  You will want to keep food out for no longer than 2 hours, so set a time on your phone if you need to, but get that food put away and chilling, so that it doesn’t stay in the danger zone of 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit for longer than a total of 4 hours.  You can keep hot food hot by using a separate “cooler” and wrapping hot bricks or stones in a kitchen towel.  

Chuck it.  When in doubt, throw it out.  It is always better to throw out suspicious food than to be throwing it up later.  So, if you can’t get your chicken kebabs cooked all the way through, or you can’t cool that potato salad down quickly, chuck it. Better yet, plan a menu with items that don’t run a high risk of food borne illness and then you don’t have to worry about getting ill or wasting it.  

Fruits, veggies and oil-and-vinegar based dressings are safer foods to eat outdoors and don’t run the risk that protein-rich, meats, dairy and creamy dressings do.  Plus, we don’t get enough fruits and veggies in our daily diets, so this is a great opportunity to play it safe and healthier as well.  

Serves 4
Mix together:
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp. sugar (optional)
1 tsp. dill
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ tsp. hot pepper sauce
4 cups vegetable juice
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
½ cup chopped cucumber
¼ cup chopped red or sweet onion
½ cup chopped bell pepper
1 ripe avocado peeled and diced
¼ chopped cilantro (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Chill or serve at room-temperature.