Cool as a Cucumber

Summer in northeast U.S.A. is the go-to season for healthful, colorful, and delicious fruits and vegetables and a time when families and friends tend to gather regularly for graduations, weddings, picnics, and backyard barbecues. What better way to celebrate being in the company of people you love and feeding yourself well than planning a party of your own?

Living Room Picnic

Creating a menu doesn’t have to be stressful or sinful when you dish out whole, fresh ingredients—served buffet-style—with homemade dressings and dips on the side. Not only will your plates be visually appealing and packed with high-quality nutrients, but you won’t have to break a sweat putting everything together.

Much like designing any healthful meal, the same rules apply: more variety and colors mean more vitamins and nutrients. Include a mix of animal- and/or plant-based proteins (skinless chicken breast, tenderloin, lentils, black beans, and tofu are great options), carbohydrates (brown rice, corn, and quinoa are versatile grains; Swiss chard, beet greens, and eggplant are nutrient-rich vegetables), and healthy fats (think walnuts, ground flaxseed, and olive oil).

Avoid heavy sauces and let the natural goodness of your bounty speak for itself. To start, make a light, but flavorful, marinade or rub for your protein dishes from a complementary blend of dried and fresh herbs and spices like cumin-chili-cilantro or dill-mustard-yogurt. Next, toss up a simple salad of different colored veggies like thinly sliced summer squash and heirloom tomato over leafy greens. Whisk together a light dressing of lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. For dessert, consider macerated fruit like peaches and blueberries drizzled with honey and white balsamic vinegar. (Check out Foodily or Yummly for other great recipe ideas.) This entire combination of foods alone offers a beneficial dose of many vitamins and minerals—like manganese, vitamins C, K, and A, dietary fiber, iron, and antioxidants—to support your body systems.

Consider the following:

  • Plan and prepare accordingly by asking your guests or estimating of the number of vegetarians and non-vegetarians attending your party.
  • Serve ingredients separately to accommodate those who may have special diet requirements so they can build their own meals. Label each dish so guests don’t have to guess or ask, “What’s in this?”
  • Provide take-home items. Leftover containers will encourage your guests to continue eating healthfully after they’ve left your party. Stack printouts of your recipes on the buffet table so they can try their hands at creating their own versions at home or include recipe links in a thank-you e-mail a few days after the event.

When the party’s over, revel in the fact that, quite possibly for the first time for many of your guests, nothing was off-limits. Not only will you have enjoyed great company, but you will have served healthful fare to your grateful guests who may want to know when they can come back for more!

[Versions of this article were written for and published on YoffieLife.com on September 1, 2014 and DishWithDina.com on August 13, 2015.]

Beating the Barbecue Blues

Ah, summer! Along with sunny days, warmer temperatures, and the urge to want to leave work early come invitations to graduation parties, barbecues, and picnics in the park. Tempting as these may be, you may end up feeling sluggish, bloated, and upset with yourself after indulging in some of the more unfavorable foods served at these events. The best summer party accessory is a healthful-eating action plan.

BBQ.jpg

(image credit: https://static.pexels.com)

On the days before and after, make a conscious effort to eat nutritiously so that, if you do splurge a bit, you don’t suffer guilt (or stomachaches) later. Have a hearty breakfast the morning of your gathering, or a small snack—like whole grain pretzel sticks and peanut butter—a couple of hours before the event. As you’re heading to the venue, visualize your plate piled high with colorful and varied foods. At the very least, most functions will usually have salad fixings, so fill up on the items that will give you the most nutrients, vitamins, and fiber, then reward yourself with a small portion of something decadent. After all, you are celebrating!

Aromas may entice, but barbecued and fried foods like steaks, burgers, pork ribs, and chicken wings can be high in fat, calories, and sodium––especially if accompanied by seasonings, sauces, and buns. (Not to mention the potential food safety issues at these gatherings, when foods that contain meat and dairy have been sitting outdoors for too long.) A basic cheeseburger will run you about 350 calories, 20 grams of fat, and 600 milligrams of sodium, which is nearly 25 percent of your daily recommended value. Even a handful of nuts come in at 10 grams of fat, and that refreshing cup of sangria will cost you 20 grams of sugar. You don’t have to cut out everything completely, but keep these numbers in mind before you approach the food tables, especially if you’re concerned about weight management and caloric intake, or have a pre-existing condition like high cholesterol or hypertension.

Consider the following:

  • Plan ahead. Call and ask the hosts what they’ll be serving the day of their event and ask if you can bring a plant-based side dish with you (a three-bean salad, baked kale chips, or carrot sticks and hummus) if there’s going to be nothing but fried foods and salty snacks.
  • Choose wisely. If the venue doesn’t allow for outside food, then make smart adjustments. Forgo the bread; select a leaner meat and omit the toppings; replace anything fried with salad. And always—always—eat off a plate.
  • Keep moving. Mingle, mingle, mingle. Take a lap around the buffet before every course. Engage in a game of volleyball or two in between servings. Each little burst of movement will keep your nibbling to a minimum, and your calories in check.

While you are out of your element, you can still be in control when it comes to your nutrition as long as you plan on being mindful before you even walk out the door. With a healthful eating strategy, you can successfully face that smorgasbord of potentially harsh foods on the other side.

[A version of this article was written for, and first appeared in, YoffieLife.com on June 29, 2014.]

Every Kid Healthy

The percentage of children with obesity nationwide has more than tripled since the 1970s1. The current average diet for the majority of nationwide kids consists of chips, candy, and soda, along with a not-so-nutritious school lunch and frequent fast food dinners. Children with obesity are at a higher risk of developing heart disease and other chronic health conditions and diseases that impact physical health, such as asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, and type 2 diabetes.

BlogPostAbigailOrtiz Pic1

(photo image credit: https://kurbo.com/)

That’s why Action for Healthy Kids has established “Every Kid Healthy Week” from April 24-28 as a great opportunity to help children develop healthier eating habits. The annual observance, which takes place among American schools nationwide, was created to celebrate health in schools and achievements in wellness. Its focus lies on the current efforts partnering schools across the nation have made and continue to make to improve the health and wellness of their students, through nutrition education, physical activity, and learning. Anyone can be a part of this promotion where schools are invited to host an event either during the official week itself or the entire month of April.

Action for Healthy Kids calls for volunteers of all ages who are passionate about helping children in the fight against obesity to contribute their time and energy in the events scheduled on the organization’s website. If you’d like to sign up to volunteer, search the website to see if your neighborhood school is already listed as a partner and if any events are scheduled with the school. If your school is not listed, ask them to register, take the pledge, and join! Action for Healthy Kids provides several resources, event ideas, and past success stories that any school can implement with the help of trusting volunteers. You don’t need to be a health professional to inspire children to take action.

BlogPostAbigailOrtiz Pic2

(photo image credit: https://i0.wp.com/)

Action for Healthy Kids understands that a child who is frequently active and maintains a balanced diet is much better equipped when it comes to being able to focus and learn in school. A healthy diet consisting of a wide variety of well-proportioned foods promotes optimal growth, enhances brain development, affects intellectual, emotional, and psychological development, and, most importantly, prevents obesity in our children. Aspire to become a role model to the children in your community: help kick-start a field day event, teach kids yoga, tutor on the dangers of excessive sugar consumption…and don’t forget to take the pledge!

References:

  1. Fryar CD, Carroll MD, Ogden CL (2014). Prevalence of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents: United States, 1963-1965 through 2011-2012. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Health Statistics.
Abigail Ortiz Author Pic

Guest post by Abigail Ortiz, nutrition student

Ho-Ho-Hold off on That Holiday Weight Gain

Not too long ago, some fellow dietetic interns and I created a presentation for one of our classes where we reported on research findings about how college students tend to gain weight over the 6- to 8-week span of the winter holiday season (Thanksgiving through the New Year).

Shocking, right?

Interestingly, the study participants weren’t “traditional” college students, i.e., 18- to 22-year-olds. In fact, the age span included grad students, some well into their 30s.

The study showed that, as seasons change and colder weather approaches, students are more likely to change their food, mood, and physical activity for the worse. Indulgences over the holiday season can cause a significant increase in the percentage of body fat and fat mass, leaving students vulnerable to obesity development from those unhealthful holiday habits that may carry on further into their adulthood and passed onto their children or other family members.

Increases in body fat are a major factor in morbidity and mortality which is why it is important to strategize ways to maintain healthful eating and other lifestyle habits, especially during the holiday season.

I’ve shamelessly plugged this blog post for over a year, but it’s got a really good game plan about how to handle the urge to overindulge during the holidays. The important thing to keep in mind is that you are in control over what and how much you eat, and how much you get up off your couch and go play outside. It’s always easy to say that your splurge is temporary and you’ll go back to better habits “tomorrow,” but, there’s a real potential to turn that temporary splurge into a 6-week binge and, before you know it, you’re feeling groggy, gross, and regretful for the long haul. So, check yourself before you wreck yourself this holiday season and any time temptation rears its ugly head.

Summertime…and the Eating Is Easy

There’s always a great reason to be in the company of friends, but summer is the go-to season for healthful, colorful, and delicious fruits and vegetables, so why not plan a party to celebrate both?

Living Room Picnic

Creating a menu doesn’t have to be stressful or sinful when you dish out whole, fresh ingredients—served buffet-style—with homemade dressings and dips on the side. Not only will your plates be visually appealing and packed with high-quality nutrients, but you won’t even have to break a sweat putting everything together.

Much like designing any healthful meal, the same rules apply here. Be sure your party menu includes a good mix of proteins (skinless chicken breast, tenderloin, lentils, black beans, and tofu are great options), carbohydrates (brown rice, corn, and quinoa are versatile grains; Swiss chard, beet greens, and eggplant are nutrient-rich vegetables), and healthy fats (think walnuts, ground flaxseed, and olive oil). More colors mean more vitamins and nutrients.

To start, make a marinade or rub for your protein dishes from a complementary blend of dried and fresh herbs and spices like cumin-chili-cilantro or dill-mustard-yogurt. No heavy sauces here. Next, toss up a simple salad of different colored veggies like thinly sliced summer squash and heirloom tomato over leafy greens. Whisk together a light dressing of freshly squeezed lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. For dessert, consider macerated fruit like peaches and blueberries drizzled with honey and white balsamic vinegar. This entire combination of foods alone offers a beneficial dose of so many vitamins and minerals—like manganese, vitamins C, K, and A, dietary fiber, iron, and antioxidants—to support many of your body systems. (Check out Foodily for some other great recipe ideas.)

Consider the following:

  • Plan and prepare accordingly by asking your guests or estimating of the number of vegetarians and non-vegetarians attending your party.
  • Serve ingredients separately to accommodate those who may have special diet requirements so they can build their own meals. Label each dish so guests don’t have to guess or ask, “What’s in this?”
  • Provide take-home items. Leftover containers will encourage your guests to continue eating healthfully after they’ve left your party. Stack printouts of your recipes on the buffet table so they can try their hands at creating their own versions at home or include recipe links in a thank-you e-mail a few days after the event.

When the party’s over, revel in the fact that, quite possibly for the first time for many of your guests, nothing was off-limits. Not only will you have enjoyed great company, but you will have served healthful fare to your grateful guests who may want to know when they can come back for more!

[A version of this article was written for, and first appeared in, YoffieLife.com on September 1, 2014.]

TEDxManhattan (Sat, 3/7/15): Changing the Way We Eat

If you’ve been keeping track of my Twitter feed or are a part of my LinkedIn network, you know that my boyfriend and I will be hosting a viewing party of the TEDxManhattan live-streaming event “Changing the Way We Eat” at our apartment in the East Village, New York City, on Saturday, March 7, 2015. As I did last year, I’m opening the invitation to anyone who follows this blog.

OTHER INFO:

  • Food will be provided (menu still TBD), but you can BYO food or beverages, if you wish.
  • Kids are welcome.
  • We have cats in case you are allergic.
  • This is not a fund-raiser/there is no charge to attend.

The entire event is from 10:30 am – 6:00 pm ET. Since we have a teeny apartment, we are asking everyone to RSVP by Wed, 2/25 for their preferred session(s), noted below, so it doesn’t get too crowded. (I’ll e-mail you our exact address after you’ve replied).

Session 1 (10:30 AM – 12:25 PM)
Introductions
Nikiko Masumoto – Legacy of three generations of Japanese American family farmers.
Anim Steel – Food justice.
Ali Partovi – What’s the real reason organic food costs more? (Hint: It’s not because it’s more expensive to produce.)
Stephen Reily – How do cities build platforms to help the local food economy achieve sustainability and scale?
Film clip: The Meatrix, re-make and re-launch of the hugely successful 2003 viral phenomenon
Michele Merkel – What is legal is not always right: Fighting for justice in rural America.

BREAK 12:25 – 1:35 PM (webcast offline)

Session 2 (1:35 – 3:35 PM)
Marcel Van Ooyen – Scaling up local food distribution to take it from niche to mainstream.
Robert Graham – Teaching doctors about the importance of food to health.
Stefanie Sacks – How small changes in eating can make big differences.
Joel Berg – The only real way to end hunger in America.
Dana Cowin – The power of ugly vegetables: Why ugly, bruised vegetables are the future of food.
TEDxManhattan Award Winner – Stephen Ritz, Green Bronx Machine. School. Kids. Community. Food. The educational community center Steve is building in a school in the Bronx.
DJ Cavem – Health education through art and hip hop music.

BREAK 3:35 – 4:15 PM (webcast offline)

Session 3 (4:15 – 6:00pm)
Henry Hargreaves – How end-of-the-world doomsday preppers are thinking about their food.
Film clip: Anna Lappe, Real Food Media Project winner
Shen Tong – The impact of venture capital money and investment dollars in the food system.
Kendra Kimbirauskas – The rift between the good food movement and the explosion of factory farms in the U.S.
Film clip: Regina Bernard-Carreno and Alison Cayne
Danielle Nierenberg – Why the food system will fall apart without women farmers.
Danny Meyer – Fine dining and chain restaurants: The evolvement and overlap of the two.

END 6:00 PM (webcast offline)

We look forward to sharing good food and conversation with you!

If you are unable to attend, but would like to learn more about the event or watch on your own, click here to visit the official TEDxManhattan website. Please feel free to post comments below about what you thought after watching the event.

Fishing for compliments

For the second year in a row, I shared kitchen duties with my mom for our family’s Christmas Eve dinner. My mom handled all the fish dishes (I’ve written about our Italian fish tradition previously here) and I was in charge of the rest, which included a variety of nutrient-dense, fancifully flavored, plant-based recipes. This year’s menu, like last year’s, combined old-world tradition with some new fusion fare:

  • Shrimp Cocktail (à la Costco)
  • Chard & White Bean Soup (I substituted sweet potatoes for new potatoes)
  • Wilted Greens Salad (I used plain, ol’ mesclun instead of mustard greens, but added Dijon to the dressing as a nod; I also threw in some chopped walnuts to add texture and offset the sweetness of the dressing)
  • Shrimp Scampi; Calamari en Brodo; Broiled Cod; and Linguine with King Crab legs (all recipes in Mom’s head)
  • Braised Kale and Carrot Stew (loosely inspired by this recipe)
  • Citrus Pound Cake w/Warm Citrus Salad (from the Dec ’14 issue of The Oprah Magazine)
  • Winter Warmer Cocktail (I don’t drink alcohol, but got everyone else nice and drunk on this)

I fare best when I eat vegetarian, but I don’t feel the need to make a show of it; I just like providing solidly healthful foods for people I love, especially when I know some of the day will include indulgences and sweets. Plus, it ensures that I’ll be getting my own fill of fruits and veggies…a true win-win.

What kind of foods do you eat and traditions do you follow for the holidays? Do you like to cook or share the cooking responsibilities with anyone in your family during special occasions? Feel free to post your comments below. I look forward to reading them!

Turkeys and dressings and pies…oh, my!

With the end of the year comes invitations to holiday parties and the potential to indulge on some not-so-great foods. Tempting as these are, overeating–especially the wrong foods–can not only leave you feeling sluggish, bloated, and upset with yourself, it can bring you steps closer to heart disease and other chronic illnesses. The next best party accessory to your sparkly bangles or your festive tie is a healthful-eating action plan.

Thanksgiving Table

Aromas may entice, but dark meat turkey with skin, fried onion casseroles, pecan pie, and egg nog are high in fat, calories, and sodium–even canned cranberry sauce carries four times the amount of sugar you should normally have in a day–especially if accompanied by seasonings, sauces, and biscuits. (Not to mention the possible food safety issues at these occasions, when meats and dairy items sit out for hours.) A simple serving of mashed potatoes will run you about 240 calories with 9 grams of fat and over 600 milligrams of sodium, which is nearly 25 percent of your daily recommended value. A handful of nuts comes in at 10 grams of fat, and that cozy cup of gingerbread latte will cost you 40 grams of sugar. You don’t have to cut out everything, but keep these numbers in mind before you approach the dining table.

On the days before and after a special event, make a conscious effort to eat nutritiously so that, if you do splurge a bit, you don’t suffer guilt (or stomachaches) later. Have a hearty breakfast the morning of your gathering, or a small snack—like whole grain pretzel sticks and peanut butter—a couple of hours before you head out. On your way to the venue, visualize your plate piled high with colorful and varied foods. At the very least, most functions will have salad fixings, so fill up first on the items that will give you the most nutrients, vitamins, and fiber, then reward yourself with a small portion of something decadent. After all, you are celebrating!

Consider the following:

  • Plan ahead. Call and ask the hosts what they’ll be serving the day of their event and ask if you can bring a side dish with you (a three-bean salad, baked kale chips, or carrot sticks and hummus) if there’s going to be nothing but fried foods and salty snacks.
  • Choose wisely. If the venue doesn’t allow for outside food, then make smart adjustments. Forgo the bread; select a leaner meat and omit the toppings; replace anything fried with salad. And always—always—eat off a plate.
  • Keep moving. Mingle, mingle, mingle. Take a lap around the buffet before every course. Engage in a dance or two. Each little burst of movement will keep your nibbling to a minimum, and your calories in check.

While you are out of your element, you can still be in control when it comes to your nutrition as long as you plan on being mindful before you even walk out the door. With a healthful eating strategy, you can successfully face that smorgasbord of harsh foods on the other side.

[A version of this article was written for, and first appeared in, YoffieLife.com on June 29, 2014.]

Image credit: iStock

TEDxManhattan (Sat, 3/1/14): Changing the Way We Eat

If you’ve been keeping track of my Twitter feed or are a part of my LinkedIn network, you know that I’ll be hosting a viewing party tomorrow, Saturday, March 1, 2014, for the TEDxManhattan live-streaming event “Changing the Way We Eat.” This may seem like a nutty move, but I’m very trusting of my readers, so I’m opening the invitation to anyone who follows this blog. I’m not crazy enough to post my exact street address here, but I’ll say that it’s at my apartment in the East Village, New York City.

If you’re interested, please click here to RSVP and I’ll send you the address.

OTHER INFO

  • Food will be provided, but you can BYO food or beverages, if you wish.
  • Kids are welcome.
  • We have cats in case you are allergic.
  • This is not a fund-raiser/there is no charge to attend.

The entire event is from 10:30 am – 6:30 pm EST, but you can drop by whenever your schedule allows and stay for as short or as long as you wish; however, if you’d prefer to join us for a particular session, here are the details:

10:30 AM – Session 1
Brian Halweil, Editor, Edible East End; Publisher, Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn
Peggy Neu, President, The Monday Campaigns
Kathy Lawrence, Program Director, School Food FOCUS
Michael Rozyne, Executive Director, Red Tomato
Tama Wong, Principal, Meadows and More
Megan Miller, Founder, Bitty Foods
Steve Ritz, Founder, Green Bronx Machine
Andrew Gunther, Program Director, Animal Welfare Approved
David McInerney, Co-Founder, FreshDirect
Dr. Lance Price, Professor, George Washington University
Bill Yosses, Executive Pastry Chef, The White House
David Binkle, Director of Food Services, Los Angeles Unified School District

1:40 PM – Session 2
San Van Aken – Tree of 40 Fruits, Artist
Stefani Bardin, Faculty, The New School
Matt Moore, Family Farmer, Artist, Activist, The Digital Farm Collective
Maisie Ganzler, Vice President, Bon Appetit Management Company
Regina Bernard-Carreno, Assistant Professor, Baruch College, CUNY
Ann Cooper, Founder, Food Family Farming Foundation
Sunny Young, Director, Edufood Consulting
Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director, Food & Water Watch
Virginia Clarke, Executive Director, Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders
LaDonna Redmond, Founder, Campaign for Food Justice Now
Alison Cayne, Owner, Havens Kitchen
Elizabeth Meltz, Director of Food Safety and Sustainability, Batali/Bastianich Hospitality Group
Nikki Silvestri, Executive Director, Green for All

4:20 PM – Session 3
Mitchell Davis, Executive Vice President, James Beard Foundation
Myra Goodman, Co-founder, Earthbound Farm
Kerry McLean, Director of Community Development, WHEDco
Saru Jayaraman, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United)
Cheryl Kollin, Founding Principal, Full Plate Ventures
Clint Smith, Educator, Parkdale High School
Peter Hoffman, chef owner of Back Forty and Back Forty West
Chellie Pingree, Congresswoman, U.S. House of Representatives (Maine)
Kenneth Cook, President and Co-founder, Environmental Working Group
Tom Colicchio, Chef, Restaurant Owner, Head Judge “Top Chef”, Cookbook Author

We look forward to sharing good food and conversation with you!

If you are unable to attend, but would like to learn more about the event or watch on your own, click here or here. Please feel free to post comments below about what you thought after watching the event.