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.]

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.]

Image credit: Fitnut