Don’t Worry, Eat Happy!

With the summer heat coming to a close and the cool autumn breeze fast approaching, it is important for us not to become stagnant in our healthful habits. It might seem desirable to cuddle up on the couch with some comfort food once the temperatures drop, but don’t forget to get in your servings of fruits and vegetables as well. In the U.S., farmers’ markets are still chock full of colorful produce, so be sure to take advantage of the bounty while it’s still there. Besides, September just happens to be “Fruits & Veggies––More Matters” month.

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(image credit: WPR.org)

On average, New Yorkers eat less fresh produce in the fall and even less in the winter, than they do during the summer months, regardless of the fact that NYC has over 139 greenmarket locations within its five boroughs, most of which operate year-round.1 Many of us may feel too overwhelmed by work, bills, and family life, that making sufficient time in our busy schedules to browse through farmers’ markets for fresh produce with limited shelf life feels akin to an unnecessary chore than anything particularly beneficial.

What may limit Americans in creating habits concerning weekly farmers’ markets, and/or grocery shopping in general, is not only a lack of information about how to shop, but also a lack of information regarding what to shop for.2 The abundance of food options may cause a great hindrance to shoppers’ abilities to make significant changes to their food shopping habits. Though the great increase of selections concerning produce is appealing mentally, in practice, however, it may often debilitate shoppers.

In addition, market patrons, who may live with tight financial constraints and are unsure about proper food storage and efficient meal planning may make dietary and food purchasing decisions that are more unhealthy than not. For those that struggle with cooking time/skills or eating similar meals frequently, the added fact that farmers’ market fruits and vegetables have a very limited lifespan may also increase stress around the immediacy of consumption.

In order for food shoppers to develop weekly habits for farmers’ market shopping, and prevent market attendance from waning during the fall and winter months, taking the necessary steps will prevent stress overload and make fresh produce shopping less complicated and more exciting!

Eat Happy pic2

(image credit: Cynthia Moon)

Step 1: Budgeting: How much are you willing to spend?
Buying fresh produce seems very expensive when, in actuality, it is cheaper in the long run. First, determine how much money you’re willing to spend, then calculate how much you normally spend both weekly and monthly, making sure to include how often you dine out or purchase lunch outside instead of taking leftovers to work. Make sure the market you attend receives currency in the form of Health Bucks and/or food stamps if your budget is very tight. Your shopping list must be based on your budget, along with recipe adjustments that will most likely incorporate rotating certain veggies into different dishes.

Step 2: Recipes: Find recipes that you can rotate and use your staples as a base!
What do you cook often? What are your staple foods? Do you like brown rice? Does your breakfast always include bananas because you think they’re the cheapest fruit you can find? Farmers’ market vendors can often suggest simple recipes relating to the types of produce they provide. Allow yourself the possibility of varying your fruits and vegetables. For example, if you are left with a large amount of spinach at the end of the week, you can quickly use it up as a base for a salad instead of your old standby romaine lettuce. Leftover onions and broccoli would be a great addition to your morning omelet or scrambled eggs. If blueberries happen to be the right price and are in-season, buy extra and freeze them to use in desserts or breakfast smoothies at a later date.

Step 3: Meal plan: Start weekly, then make necessary adjustments.
It is important to first calculate your daily energy needs in order to be certain of how much food you need to eat weekly and how much to buy in the first place. Your weekly meals can easily be rotations or variations of your go-to recipes and your produce shopping should be nutritious additions to your staple foods. For example, if you made split pea soup for dinner Monday evening you can use the leftover celery, carrots, and onions from that meal in a tuna sandwich for lunch the next day. Meal plans should incorporate an adequate balance of your essential nutrients according to your specific energy needs and physical lifestyle––such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats––through a varied diet of whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruits, lean meats, and/or fish.

[Editor’s note: Click here to learn more about meal- and menu-planning and here for some smoothie mix-and-match suggestions (over 3,000 combinations to make sure you get your fruits and veggies on).]

Step 4: Shop!
Find farmers’ markets that you know will provide the necessary foods you need for your meal plans, are budget-friendly (like the Fresh Food Box offerings in most NYC neighborhoods), and are closest to you. Take hold of the wonderful abundance of food options we have in our city during the cold season to come. As a result, not only will your health benefit from a nutritious and varied diet, but you will be contributing to a greater, environmentally sustainable cause, and without breaking the bank.3

[Editor’s note: Click here to find a farmers’ market in or near your zip code and here for more tips on shopping at your local farmers’ market.]

References:

  1. NYC.gov. (2017). Farmers Markets in New York State.
  2. Graffagna, S. (2014). “10 Healthy Habits for Fall.” Superhero You website.
  3. Tufts University. Health & Nutrition Letter. (2016). “Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables to Help Fight Frailty.” Tufts.edu website.
Abigail Ortiz Author Pic

Guest post by Abigail Ortiz, nutrition student

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.]

10 Steps to Shopping at Your Local NYC Farmers’ Market

Farmers’ market season is almost in full swing again! While many farmers’ markets are open year-round, truly the best time to shop locally is mid-summer to late fall, when most everything is in season and incredibly fresh. Learning how to shop for local produce at the farmers’ markets may seem a little daunting at first, but once you learn how it becomes autopilot.

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(Union Square Greenmarket image credit: http://www.jazzhostels.com/)

Shopping locally for your produce in the warmer months is simply the best way to get the most bang for your buck. Local produce is always in season, which means that the farmers have harvested their wares likely within the last few days. There are few, if any, grocery stores that can boast that their products are anywhere near this fresh. While most grocery store produce is harvested while it is still unripe (so that it may ripen and not spoil during transit), most market produce is left on the plant until it is ripe and then picked fresh, which not only allows for the best possible taste to develop but also allows the plant to plump up with more vitamins and minerals1.

June and July are the months that NYC farmers’ markets really kick off for the new season; but, August, September, and October in particular are the months when almost everything is in season and the prices drop––often even lower than the grocery store’s––as each farmer is trying to sell their food quickly since it’s all perishable. If you’re interested in canning, freezing, fermenting, or preserving food in other ways, those three months are the best time to buy.

In short, local food = tastier, healthier, and often cheaper!

Same as most other things, shopping at farmers’ markets is simple once you get a lay of the land. Here are 10 easy steps to guide any farmers’ market novice into becoming an expert.

1. LOCATION & TIME

First, find the nearest market to your house or work. This comprehensive map lists all current NYC markets (an updated map is usually released every July). Most markets in NYC are housed under the Greenmarket program, which is a part of the nonprofit GrowNYC, but there are other organizations such as Harvest Home and Down to Earth that host markets as well. Different organizations have slightly different models for their markets, so you may notice some variations among them.

Check the days and times to make sure you can make it. Most markets open early and close on the early side, too, so you might miss the entire thing if you wait until after work to show up. Arrive as early as possible so the farmers haven’t sold out by the time you get there.

2. CHECK OUT THE VENDORS

If you’re looking for a specific vendor or food item, be sure to search online for the name of the market and its list of farmers, vendors, and food categories. This should give you a good idea what you can find when you get there. Some markets only have produce, while other generally larger markets also have meats, cheeses, bread, honey, wine, pastries, seafood, or even locally made lip balm, lotions, tinctures, salves, soap, and teas.

The historic, world-famous, and ever-popular Union Square Greenmarket has the largest variety of local products in the entire city2, and you can almost always find what you’re looking for there. The prices can be a little higher compared to other markets, especially in the outer boroughs, but the quality and value is excellent. This market is open year-round on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 8am to 6pm, weather permitting. The Union Square Greenmarket also features constantly updated lists of the farmers and vendors that will be in attendance at the market each day, so visit the website on the day you plan to go for the most current info. Additionally, the Union Square market has an app for both Apple and Android mobile devices where you can also find regularly updated lists of vendors.

3. BRING REUSABLE BAGS

Okay, so this step isn’t entirely necessary, but it seems a little silly to go through the extra effort of purchasing food that is super healthy, flavorful, and more sustainable…only to carry it all home in incredibly wasteful and polluting single-use plastic bags. If you’re like me, you already have a plastic bag filled with plastic bags sitting at home that you hate even looking at, so why add to the pile? Instead, plan ahead and bring your own bags. I find that canvas tote bags are my favorite type of reusable bag. Although they aren’t quite as sturdy, I also really like this style of reusable bags from ChicoBag or similar companies, which can easily be stuffed into a neat little pocket and then clipped onto your keys, belt loop, wallet, or anywhere so you always have it with you. I find it easiest to always have a few reusable bags tucked into my daily backpack so I’m always prepared to avoid taking home those horrible plastic grocery bags. [Editor’s note: Be sure to regularly wash your reusable bags to avoid any cross-contamination or bacteria build-up.]

Caylee Market

4. VISIT THE MARKET

Now it’s time to actually head to the market––Go! Explore! Taste! Enjoy!

5. WALK THE ENTIRE MARKET FIRST

Unlike the grocery store where like items are usually placed together in marked aisles, at the farmers’ market, different farmers on opposite ends of the location may sell similar or the same products (e.g., eggs) and it’s up to you to find the best option and price. So, take a lap around the market first and compare what’s being offered that day, making note of prices (ask the vendor for the price if you don’t see it posted). Then, retrace your steps and purchase what you liked the most, but not before you figure out how you’re paying (see the next step). The same farmers generally come to the same markets all season, so, just as you’ve memorized where to find your favorite foods at your regular grocery store, over time, you’ll come to recognize the individual stands by name and shopping at your farmers’ market will become easier and easier.

Caylee Market3

6. HOW TO PAY

It’s easiest to bring cash with you to the market. Normally, $20-$60 should cover enough food for about 3 people, so plan accordingly if you need to buy for more people, or are shopping for a party or similar. However, if you’re the type that doesn’t carry cash, then know that you are usually able to use your credit card at the farmers’ market, but it’s important to know that most farmers do not accept credit cards directly. Instead, you should head to the “market information” tent where you will tell them how much you would like to charge to your card, and they will give you wooden tokens equal to this amount that you can then give to the farmers in exchange for their delicious wares. You can also use SNAP benefits in this same way. If you have a wooden token worth $10, for example, but only spend $9 at a farm stand, the farmer should give you the remaining $1 in cash. Farmers cannot give cash back for SNAP tokens, thought, so you’ll have to purchase exactly the dollar amount on the token. [Editor’s note: If you’d like to volunteer at a GrowNYC Greenmarket tent or other position, click here to fill out and submit an application. Help is always needed and appreciated!]

Caylee Market2

GrowNYC market information tent

7. GET FREE PRODUCE WITH HEALTH BUCKS COUPONS

It’s easy to get free produce from the market! First, check this map of all NYC farmers’ markets and locate the markets with a carrot symbol next to their name. At these markets, the NYC Department of Health and other organizations host cooking and nutrition workshops that are each about 20-30 minutes in length. At the end of each workshop, every participant receives a coupon called Health Bucks, which are worth $2 in produce. Take this coupon to any farmer in exchange for $2 in fruits and vegetables! There is no limit to the number of workshops you can attend.

If you receive SNAP benefits, for every $5 you spend in SNAP at the market, you will receive an additional $2 in Health Bucks to purchase extra produce. Using your SNAP benefits at the market in this way allows you to buy 40% more food!

8. TRY ONE NEW FRUIT OR VEGETABLE REGULARLY

The farmers’ market has an incredibly vast array of produce, much of which you probably have never seen or eaten before. Be adventurous! Buy a small amount of something new and ask the farmer how to cook it. Whether you opt to try Jerusalem artichokes, romanesco, purslane, ramps, papalo, or something else totally new, make sure you write down or take a photo of its name so that you can also look up recipes later. Many vegetables do well simply sliced or diced, then sautéed. Yummy and nutritious!

Romanesco

(romanesco image credit: http://puntdesabor.com/)

9. BRING YOUR COMPOST & TEXTILES RECYCLING

There are even more ways to reduce your carbon footprint at the farmers’ market. If your NYC neighborhood does not yet offer compost (food waste) collection, then you can bring your compost to the farmers’ market. Instead of throwing away food scraps where they will just end up trapped inside a landfill generating greenhouse gases, collect any and all unwanted food scraps and drop them off at the market. From the market, your food scraps will be taken to a facility where they will be allowed to break down completely and turn back into dark, rich, soil. Kind of stinky but also kind of magic, right? Find markets that accept compost here.

Also, you can recycle any old clothing or textiles at the farmers’ market. The average New Yorker tosses 46 pounds of clothing and other textiles in the trash each year3. Unwanted clothes do not belong in the trash, so give them a second life by recycling them properly. Find markets that accept textile recycling here.

10. ENJOY!

Go home and whip up your delicious, inexpensive, and local bounty into a mouth-watering meal!

Remember, the farmers’ market is local, which means you will never find tropical fruits such as bananas, mangoes, or coconuts, because those plants simply cannot grow in or near New York. And, since the market is seasonal, you won’t find peaches, berries, tomatoes, or other summer and fall produce in the winter or spring months. Often, there is confusion between actual farmers’ markets and other produce stands. If a stand has produce that isn’t locally grown or is out-of-season, then it is not part of a farmers’ market. [Editor’s note: For example, the carts you may pass on the street corner near your apartment or office building, or subway may sell fruit that is fresh, but not necessarily local or in-season.]

To conclude, I’d like to leave you with a list of some of my all time favorite farmers’ markets in the city:

  • Of course, the Union Square Greenmarket is not to be missed. At its peak, this market has more than 250,000 customers per week, and boasts more than one thousand varieties of fruits and vegetables4.
  • Another great market is the Jackson Heights Greenmarket in Queens, #128 on the map. This market has a wide variety of products, including meat, cheese, honey, and wine. They also host nutrition workshops where you can get Health Bucks for free produce. Bonus: There are nearby street vendors selling Mexican tamales that make for an excellent breakfast!
  • Finally, the 125th Street FreshConnect Farmers’ Market (#79 on the map) not only has a wide array of products, but also plays music and hosts events that celebrate the cultural roots of historical Harlem. In a quickly gentrifying area, it’s exciting to connect with the history of the area.

Happy shopping!

[Editor’s note: If you don’t live in New York City, you can learn about resources and programs in your state by visiting the Farmers’ Market Coalition website.]

References:

  1. Frith, K. (2007). “Is Local More Nutritious?” The Center for Health and the Global Environment website.
  2. Union Square, Manhattan. Wikipedia.com.
  3. Clothing Is Not Garbage.” GrowNYC website.
  4. Union Square, Manhattan. Wikipedia.com.

Caylee Clay Author Pic

Guest post by Caylee Clay, RDN. Click here to visit Caylee’s website or find her on Instagram: @eat_yer_veggies. All photos property of Caylee Clay, RDN, unless otherwise noted.

The Chicken and the Egg

We just wrapped up National Women’s Health Week and it got me thinking, being a national woman and all, how most of my clients and classmates––females in their 20s and 30s––are just now developing their identities, getting their first “real” jobs, and starting families, while my close female friends and I are in our mid- to late-40s, reminiscing about the million lives we seem to have already lived.

I’ve always said it’s never too late to start…whatever––a new habit, a new skill, a new career––but sometimes, UGH. Who has the time and energy? The older I get, the more set in my ways I’ve become (mostly about my routine and schedule) and now, with what already seems like two full-time jobs, I have to add a third: taking care of myself.

I was tempted to title this post “The Spring Chicken and the Rotten Eggs” because I believe that, while I’m young at heart and open-minded enough to want to soak up every new lesson and experience that comes my way, I’m starting to physically and mentally feel different, depleted. At 48 years old, I act half my age, but feel twice it. (Granted, the last few years of returning to school and rotating through my dietetic internship probably fast-tracked the age process for me.) I’ve got so many thoughts and ideas rushing through my brain at all times and a fairly full schedule. Before my feet even hit the ground, I’m a good part of the way through my to-do list. Yet, no sooner do I break for lunch, it feels like it’s time to wind down for bed and I’ve barely chipped away at the rest of my daily tasks.

Way, way back when I first learned about how oocytes develop and transition to ova, I did some mental math and figured I’d be hitting menopause when I turned 45. (The average age in America is about 511.) It hasn’t happened yet, but with each passing year, it has become all I can think about, waiting for it like a phantom hiding around the corner, ready to pop out and surprise me at any moment. I so want to embrace the decades in front of me, but I’m a planner by nature and I’ll admit I’m concerned about how to work around some of these challenges that seem to come with menopause. I’m already anxious, irritable, and depressed on any given day, sweat profusely when I’m barely moving, and often find it difficult to concentrate on—oooh! Squirrel!

But I think it’s easier to do than to undo, so how should we prepare for what awaits us on the other side of this decade?

17th-Menopause-talk

(image credit: http://www.sproutlifestyle.com/)

For starters, let’s rejigger our numbers so that we’re not overeating. To maintain a healthy weight, we’ll require about 100-200 calories less each day than we did twenty years ago2. (Click here to calculate your daily needs.) But be sure to still pay attention to nutrition by eating high-quality protein (including those of the plant-based variety like beans, peas, nuts, and seeds), a healthy mix of fruits and veggies, fiber-rich whole grains, and good fats like those from olive oil, salmon, and avocado.

We should also be keeping active and including strength training in our weekly exercise regimen to protect bone density and muscle mass and reduce our risk of fractures (ain’t no fun getting a hip replacement at any age, let alone when you’re 70)3. Plus, if you continue to eat as you always have and don’t increase your physical activity, you’re likely to gain weight.

Calcium plays a major role in supporting our health as we age, so be sure you’re getting your recommended 1,000mg a day by adding foods like yogurt, sardines, tofu, or broccoli to your meals (click here to read my previous post on calcium)4. Vitamin D is a big deal, too, and the easiest way to get 600 IUs is through daily sun exposure. Be careful not to overdo it here, though, because you don’t want to chance getting sunburned. A mere 10 minute walk outside during lunch will suffice. Otherwise, you can add a mix of fish, fortified dairy, cheese, or eggs (with the yolks) to your daily meal plan5.

Sleep is also important. Start setting an alarm for yourself about an hour before bedtime and give yourself time to unwind, relax, reflect, and mentally prepare for the next day6. This means detaching from technology, so no screens once that alarm goes off.

I’m considering putting together a month-long challenge in July for females over 40 (but open to anyone who wants to join)––something related to weight loss and lifestyle habits. I realize the summer, which can be packed with graduation parties, barbecues, and other social events, may be especially difficult to stick to new eating guidelines; but that’s why it’s called a challenge. Besides, I don’t believe in waiting for the “perfect” time to start anything and I think if we can do it then, we can sustain it long-term.

If any of the above has resonated with you, regardless of your age or menopausal status, please leave a comment below. Let me also know if you’d be interested in joining our July challenge. In the meantime, please check out this handout (that I designed last year when I was a dietetic intern at Betances Health Center) to help you better understand some of the wellness measures you can take through each decade of your life or click here to access the fact sheet from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics if you’ve already entered the wonder(ful) world of menopause.

References:

  1. Women’s Health: Menopause.” The Center for Menstrual Disorders & Reproductive Choice website.
  2. Warren, R.M. (n.d.) “8 Diet Changes Women Must Make After 40.” Health.com website.
  3. Munger, R.G., Cerhan, J.R. & Chiu, B.C. (1999). Prospective study of dietary protein intake and risk of hip fracture in postmenopausal women. American Society for Clinical Nutrition, 69(1), 147-152.
  4. Dawson-Hughes, B., Dallal, G.E., Krall, E.A., Sadowski, L., Sahyoun, N., & Tannenbaum, S. (1990). A Controlled Trial of the Effect of Calcium Supplementation on Bone Density in Postmenopausal WomenThe New England Journal of Medicine, 323, 878-883.
  5. Calvo, M.S., Whiting, S.J., & Barton, C.N. (2004). Vitamin D fortification in the United States and Canada: current status and data needs. American Society for Clinical Nutrition, 80(6), 1710S-1716S.
  6. Jacobsen, M. (2014). Midlife Nutrition — Helping Women Over 40 Overcome Nutrition Challenges. Today’s Dietitian, 16(3), 30.

A Salad a Day

Eating healthfully does not have to be a difficult feat of strength and will. In fact, I encourage you to create a simple salad every day based solely on ingredients you have in your house or can easily grab at your local grocer and dump into a bowl.

I have been having so much fun with Mason jar salads lately. (Yes, food nerds like me think salads are fun.) Originally, my meal planning and prep work used to take up half a day every Sunday. I would divide all my ingredients into their own containers so I could mix and match and assemble a variety of veggie-friendly meals for myself during the week. But, lo and behold! I became a Mason jar salad convert.

Mason Jar Salad

My Mason jars are extra large (32 oz) and light green, but you could go for the clear, smaller version if you’re slowly working your way into the meal prep and veggie lifestyle. Assembly is easy, but requires some thought as you don’t want your fragile, leafy greens sitting in a puddle of dressing for three days. HurryTheFoodUp shows you how to properly structure your salad and TheMuse gives you lots of ideas about the kinds of foods you can integrate into your salads, so play around and experiment with different flavors each week. Try to always have a protein (chicken or chickpeas), a carb (sweet potatoes or carrots), and a fat (avocado or walnuts) in your combo. When you’re ready, you can simply shake up your salad and eat directly out of the jar or shake, dump everything into a bowl, and toss in a handful of croutons. Ta da!

Mason Jar Avocado

For more information and ideas about how to get lots of veggies and other yummy, good foods into your daily meals, check out my previous blog post “It’s Easy Being Green…” And please leave a comment below and share with us what’s been working for you or what you’re struggling with. We’re here to help make healthful eating as easy as possible!

How Convenient

I often tell people that I’m very busy and important––busier than Oprah, if that’s even a relevant reference these days. Starting a private practice while finishing grad school and landing a lovely little part-time weekly gig as an in-house prenatal nutritionist at an ob/gyn office in midtown east (NYC/Manhattan) has definitely put a lot on my plate. It’s been three months since my last blog post in which I wrote about a 10-day hiatus I was taking from social media. In that time, half a dozen holidays and other celebrations have come and gone as has an entire season. But, as busy as I get, there has always remained one non-negotiable in my schedule: meal-planning.

Regardless of how much work I have to do, how quickly school assignment deadlines are approaching, or how little sleep I’ve gotten, I always carve out about half a day on Sundays to grocery shop, prep, and cook my meals––or, at least, the ingredients for my meals––for the week. It’s what keeps me in line for healthful eating…and sane during the week when I’m exhausted and don’t want to so much as lift a finger to point at food I want to eat. In fact, a recent study1 showed that at-home meal planning improved diet quality, nutrition and food variety, and weight status in over 40,000 people who participated in it.

Even with planning ahead, though, there are times when I forget to schlep my pre-made meals with me or want to treat myself to something different. The ob/gyn office is located where convenience foods abound, but meals in that area can be a little costly or might not be as healthful as I’d like them to be. Enter Eatsa, a “futuristic power bowl automat” (according to Gothamist) that serves up a wide variety of delicious, nutritious, customized, plant-based lunches, all for the pocket-friendly price of $6.95.

Burrito Bowl closed.jpg

The day I checked out Eatsa, I ordered the Burrito Bowl which packs in 25g of protein, 25g of fat (mostly the good kind), 89g of carbs (primarily complex), 17g of fiber (nearly 70% of a woman’s daily needs!), and only 9g of sugar (I’m assuming from the salsa and corn); however, the sodium was a little high at 1112mg (an issue for anyone with high blood pressure), and, at 653 calories, you’d really get your money’s worth as there’s enough food here to cover a meal and a snack for most people.

Burrito Bowl open

While I realize spending half a day cooking and cleaning in order to plan a week’s worth of meals might not be realistic for some folks, options like Eatsa are a wonderful––and affordable––alternative. Currently, this chain is only located in a few neighborhoods in NYC, DC, and California; but, hopefully, we’ll see an expansion soon to other places across the country.

And in keeping with the theme of another celebration that’s almost over, National Nutrition Month‘s “Put Your Best Fork Forward,” please check out the resources below to help you make the best decisions for times when convenience is of the essence:

References:

  1. Ducrot, P., et al. (2017). Meal planning is associated with food variety, diet quality and body weight status in a large sample of French adults. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 14(12), 1-12.

Get Your Macros Here!

Macronutrients—proteins, carbohydrates, and fat—are vital to health and well-being. Regardless if you are a meat-eater or follow a plant-based lifestyle, it is important that you get the full range of what your body requires to function properly.

Macronutrients

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) create dietary guidelines for Americans, listed on the Nutrition Food Labels on packaged foods and also found online at Health.gov. These amounts are fairly arbitrary—not to mention often confusing—and do not take into account a person’s life stage, level of physical activity, or existing chronic conditions, so understanding your own habits will help you make the eating choices that are best for you.

Proteins, which break down into amino acids when eaten and serve to function in metabolism and immunity, are critical components of all tissues in the human body. Protein is in everything from lean, ground beef (22g/serving), skinless chicken breast (29g), and plain yogurt (13g) to tempeh (18g), kidney beans (8g), and oatmeal (6g). Diets with too little protein can lead to low energy and illness; too much protein may worsen chronic diseases like osteoporosis and kidney failure. Protein functions best with adequate amounts of carbohydrates and fats.

Carbohydrates are mainly found in plant foods and break down into sugar molecules (most abundantly, the monosaccharide glucose) during digestion. Carbs are the primary source of energy for the body’s red blood cells, brain, and other nervous tissues. They also deliver fiber, which may reduce the risk of some cancers, prevent digestive problems in the colon, and provide satiety. Fiber can be found in foods like navy beans (10g/serving), blackberries (8g), broccoli (6g), and whole-wheat bread (2g). Too few carbs in the diet can lead to ketosis, an unhealthy metabolic state; too many carbs—especially if the food is considered “high-glycemic” as in white starches, candy, and dried fruit—may cause spikes in blood sugar levels, especially detrimental for anyone with diabetes.

Fats (and oils) turn into fatty acids when digested, provide the body with energy, transport the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K to cells, and are found in everything from butter to walnuts. The main issue with a low-fat diet is that the fat, which contributes to the flavor and texture of food, is usually replaced with sugar or salt to make the food more palpable. High-fat diets, especially in saturated or trans fats, can lead to obesity and heart disease.

Consider the following:

  • What are the primary foods you’ve been eating? Were there plenty of proteins, but not enough nutrient-dense carbs? Did your lunches consist only of what was in your office mate’s candy bowl.
  • Check your plate and be sure each macronutrient group above is represented in some way. Add what’s missing or include it as a snack in between meals.
  • Every season, replace the foods you seem to be eating most often with others that you haven’t tried yet.

Everything you eat plays a role in running—or ruining—your body. Incorporating varied, balanced, and high quality forms of energy is the best path toward a long and healthful life.

[A version of this article was written for, and first appeared in, YoffieLife.com on September 28, 2014.]

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