Thankful for Fruits and Veggies

Happy belated Thanksgiving! Here is a little update on my Thanksgiving festivities and foods.

Before heading back home for Thanksgiving, my roommates and I had a Friendsgiving at my apartment last Tuesday. It was my first time any of us had cooked for a large group of people or been “hostesses” of a little gathering. Last weekend, we planned the menu and went grocery shopping and then Tuesday after we were all done with class, it was all hands on deck. We had lots of paper chains and toilet paper tube turkeys for decorations, plus lots of peeling, chopping, mixing, and cooking for our meal. We served chicken (I know, not your traditional Thanksgiving but we were all going to have turkey on Thursday so we decided to mix it up), sweet potato fried, corn on the cob, homemade bread, and an apple crisp, plus the mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, green beans, broccoli, and pie, our guests brought. We had an amazing time and would love to do it again!

For our family Thanksgiving, I had to get creative after my Fruiturkey from last year. This year, my mom and I made a turkey out of vegetables. Our vegetable turkey was much easier and less time consuming than the fruit turkey, but he was just as cute and delicious.

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We used pea pods, bell peppers, cucumbers, baby carrots, grape tomatoes, and broccoli around a bowl of hummus. The body is made of a mini cucumber with a carrot beak, red pepper snood, and black peppercorn for eyes.

I also tried to get creative with the fruit tray this year, but it didn’t work out completely as planned. The goal was to make a cornucopia out of waffle cones and stuff them with fruit. It didn’t quite turn out to look like the cornucopia– Oh well, just an excuse to try to make something new next year. But in any case, grabbing a cone filled with fruit was a new, fun twist on the traditional fruit bowl.

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Healthy Holiday Tips

 

Did you know that the average American gains about 0.5 to 1.5 pounds per year with the majority of the gain occurring between November and December. Can you guess why? Yep! Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years are not very good at promoting healthy eating habits. All those chocolates, cookies, and endless buffets can make it difficult to avoid temptations, but it isn’t impossible. Here are some tips to have healthier holidays:

  1. Don’t skip meals: Have a big holiday dinner party tonight? Plan on eating a healthy breakfast and lunch, plus some healthy snack throughout the day and especially before you go. This will prevent you from becoming over-hungry and eating everything in sight once you get there.
  2. Keep your distance: Don’t sit yourself down next to the chips and dip, and choose the seat furthest from the buffet. This will make you less likely to go back for more.
  3. Fill at least half your plate with the healthy stuff: That means, at least half (more won’t hurt!) of your plate should have lean meat (white meat with no skin), non-starchy vegetables/salad (sorry, mashed potatoes don’t count), and whole grains.
  4. Be realistic: Don’t tell yourself to not eat any desserts at Thanksgiving dinner. When everyone is enjoying his or her pie, you are not going to want to sit empty-plated. You might also end up throwing your goal out the window and overeating dessert. Setting realistic goals (like only having half a slice of pie and some fruit) that are achievable can make you feel much better about yourself and encourage you to set and achieve your goals in the future.
  5. Don’t wait until new years to make a resolution: This goes right along with tip number 4. Set yourself some holiday goals to keep you on track, but don’t be unrealistic and set yourself up for failure. This is not the time of year to try to lose weight but maintaining your weight is manageable. Make some daily, weekly, and monthly goals to resist all the holiday temptations.

It is important to remember that it takes about 3500 excess calories to gain one pound (that means 500 extra calories per day for a whole week). One more cookie, an extra scoop of stuffing, or your favorite pie is not going to kill you, but it will add up. Pick and choose when to indulge and keep the rest of your days and meals light and healthy.

Finally, just because it is cold outside, doesn’t mean you can’t stay active. Holiday shopping, cleaning, and cooking means lots of walking and time on your feet, which can help keep off the holiday pounds. Try parking in the furthest spot from the store, taking the stairs in the mall instead of the escalator, or taking an extra lap around the grocery store before you check out. It might sound sill but all the little things add up!

Happy Holidays!

How my Senior Capstone has solidified my decision to be a dietitian

As a nutrition major, I get to have a very unique experience for my Senior Capstone project. Instead of writing a long research like most students, I have the opportunity to teach a nutrition education class, along with four other students majoring in nutrition, to older adults at a local YMCA. Over the course of the semester, we teach six different classes on various nutrition topics. The topic this week- diabetes. We chose to teach about diabetes because over 25% of older adults have it and many cases go undiagnosed or unmanaged.

Before we gave the presentation, our advising professor thought it would be a good idea for us to learn how to check your blood sugar since that is a major part of living life with diabetes. She gave each of us our own blood sugar meter and got to check our own blood sugar. Since needles don’t freak me out, I was pretty excited about the opportunity. Our professor walked us through the process and I got my first ever blood sugar reading: 97mg/dL which is perfectly normal🙂.

 

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Overall, it was a pretty eye opening experience. While it didn’t hurt that much, it is definitely not something I would want to do every day. (Diabetics may have to test their blood sugar up to eight times a day depending on how well-managed their blood sugar is.) I found it even crazier that people with diabetes can make so many dietary changes to prevent uncontrolled blood sugar and having to test blood sugar every day, yet many people don’t make the changes they need (usually because they don’t know what they need to do or how) and end up suffering the consequences.

While we taught the class, my classmates and I discovered that many of the participants had diabetes, but they couldn’t even identify what foods had carbohydrates in them (the main contributor to elevated blood sugar). I had a little bit of a light bulb moment during the class; I realized just how little the general public actually knows about nutrition, and that I often find myself assuming that people know so much more than they actually do, which can make my job as a (eventually) dietitian a lot harder.

That being said, this is just another reason why I want to be a dietitian. The fact up to 40% of premature deaths can be prevented by changes in health behaviors like diet and exercise makes me feel like my job as a dietitian will be meaningful and will hopefully have a positive affect on the people I work with.

Trying New Foods

I love exploring and trying new things, especially when it comes to food. In some of my other posts I have talked about how I love going to the grocery store—it is so exciting for to see what new products I can find and new foods I can try. Going to restaurants is always a struggle because I always want to try everything on the menu.

When it comes to nutrition, trying new things is a good habit to have. Why? Here are some reasons:

  1. Adding variety increases the types of nutrients you get. Eating the same 5 fruits and vegetables isn’t bad, but it also means that you are missing out on the nutrients you can get from other kinds of fruits and veggies. Try eating a variety of different colors- different color fruits and veggies provide different types of vitamins and minerals. This goes for whole grains and low-fat dairy products as well.
  2. You might eventually learn to like something. We have all heard that you have to try a food 8-12 times before you know if you really dislike it. That’s because our natural instinct is to dislike unfamiliar foods. Our first impression is often wrong so try something at least a few times before you give it an official ruling.
  3. You might find something you didn’t know you liked. What do you have to lose? If you never try you will never know if you like it!
  4. For the world travelers like me, it makes traveling is easier. The more foods you like and the more you are willing to try, the easier it is to find things to eat in foreign countries. Plus you get to experience the local food culture instead of relying on a suitcase full of protein bars. (When I studied abroad, one of my friends was very picky so finding a place to eat was a big challenge and often took several hours of research.)
  5. It sets a good example for kids. If you spend any time around kids, you know that they want to follow your every move. If they see you eating all different kinds of foods, they are more likely to do the same.

If trying new foods is not your thing, start small. Instead of trying completely new foods, try preparing some of your favorites with new seasonings or toppings. Buying one new vegetable per week and adding it to your dinner is also a small, realistic step to expanding your palate.

While I am really good at spending hours in the grocery store finding new types of nut butter, fancy snack bars, and unique fruits and vegetables I have gotten pretty lazy about trying new recipes. So, my goal for the rest of the semester is to print off two new recipes to try each week. Hopefully I’ll make some yummy, new things to share with you!

What is your goal for trying new foods?

Fail to Prepare = Prepare to Fail

With midterms in full swing, my calendar is packed with classes, meetings, field trips (yes, I guess going to the farm is still a thing in college), and research. There is barely enough room to squeeze in my daily sweat session at the gym. Whether you are in high school, college, or in the work force, there never seems to be enough time in the day, and that is when planning becomes imperative. Yes, you have to plan how you are going to get everything done in the day, but I am talking about planning your food for the day. When time is of the essence, convenience is key. It is human nature to do (and in this case eat) what is most convenient. When I have two papers due and a test next week, I’m not spending hours in the kitchen preparing a healthy gourmet meal, nor am I driving to Whole Foods (although I would love to) to get some organic, non-gmo fruit. In order to eat healthy under the pressure of time, planning will keep you on track and save you time in the long run.

Of course meal planning for the week is important to make sure you have healthy food handy (read more here) but also preparing food ahead of time is crucial. I don’t mind eating leftovers and reheating so I like to cook a lot of my meals for the week over the weekend (especially when I know the upcoming week is busy) so every lunch and dinner is in a nice Tupperware that I can quickly eat between classes, meetings, and homework. Having everything pre-made also makes packing lunches (and sometimes dinners for long stays at the library) a breeze. In the morning, I can just grab my Tupperware and a fork and I’m ready to go…well almost ready to go; you can’t forget snacks! If I meal planned correctly for the week, I have tons of healthy snacks like protein bars, nuts and seed, and veggies with hummus that I can put in my backpack.

Having all this healthy food with me at all times makes it 1000 times easier to eat healthy. Instead of running to Einstein Bagels or Jimmy John’s, I have a whole lunch bag full of food when I get hungry. I am also a big snacker, especially when I’m at the library for hours, so having munchies with me prevents me from going for an ice cream run or hitting up the vending machine for some snacks. Not only are those not the healthiest option, but they also aren’t the best brain food to help me study.

Tomorrow I have class from 8:30am to 2:15pm with no break and then I have a meeting with a professor immediately after so here is what I’m packing in my Lululemon lunch bag:

Apple and cheese stick for mid morning
Black bean burrito bowl with guacamole for lunch
Dried Edamame or Crunchy Larabar for an early afternoon snack (I usually bring one extra snack in case I need it)
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All of this is to show you that it can be fairly simple to eat healthy even when you don’t have much time; it just takes a little planning ahead. You have to prepare for your long and busy day ahead otherwise you are setting yourself up to eat convenient and usually unhealthy food (like McDonalds or Starbucks pastries). Making the healthier option the easier option will make you much more successful in eating healthy.

Quinoa Butternut Squash Salad

Almost a month and a half into school and two weeks away from midterms, my semester seems to be on a high-speed train and I’m hanging on for dear life. Papers, test, my research job, and Dietetic Internship applications are leaving little time for cooking meals. Instead of trying out new recipes every week, I have been making lots of “salads”. No, I don’t mean lettuce and vegetables. I mean, taking anything I can find that sounds good throwing it in a bowl. Thankfully, the past year or two of working on my culinary skills has helped me figure out what tastes good together and all of my concoctions have turned out pretty well. One was so good that I am writing this post about it.

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I have still kept in the sprit of trying new things by buying a new fruit or vegetable each time I go to the store…my latest obsession: butternut squash (which is fitting with fall weather approaching). I used roasted butternut squash to make a quinoa salad with dried cranberries, spinach, chickpeas, and walnuts. I like to eat is warm, when the butternut squash is fresh out of the oven, but I have had it for lunch at room temperature and it is just as good.

This recipe packs in whole grains (quinoa), fiber (squash), healthy fats (walnuts), some protein (chickpeas) and lots of vitamins and minerals (spinach).

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Drink Your H2O

Over the summer, a friend and I made a bucket list of a bunch of things we wanted to do during our senior year of college. Four weeks into school, we are slowly checking things off the list. One check mark I got to add Tuesday was donating blood. I’ve wanted to do it for a while but for some reason, it just never happened. When “Blood Drive” was listed as an upcoming event in last week’s university email, I knew I had to go for it. I registered with the Red Cross and signed up for a time slot. I was feeling pretty good about it until I was walking to the donation site. I started to get a little freaked out, praying that I wouldn’t pass out. Once I got there, I calmed down a bit. I had to read a big information packet, get a brief physical done to test my blood pressure and iron levels and then answer a bunch of questions. The nurse wasn’t too happy with me since she had to type in all the countries I had traveled to in the past year (it ended up being 13!) and the amount of time I spent in each one. After that long process it was finally time to stick the needle in me. Shockingly, it didn’t hurt, nor did I even get the slightest bit light headed. I got a banana, some apple juice, and was sent along my marry way. Hopefully you don’t mind the graphic pictures!

How does this story relate to food and nutrition?
Well, if you have ever given blood before, you know that you have to drink lots of extra water both before and after you donate to increase your blood volume and keep you hydrated. But even if you aren’t donating blood, water can do tons of amazing things for the body. Here are some of the top reasons why you should always have a water bottle by your side (if you didn’t guess, mine usually has lemon it in😉 )

  1. Water is crucial for our survival. The body is made of 60%-70% water and every system in our body requires water to function properly.
  2. It can improve your mood. Being thirsty is never a pleasant feeling. Dehydration can also affect your mood and make you grumpy and confused. Drink more water to be happy and think clearer.
  3. It regulates your appetite. Sometimes when we feel hungry, we actually just need something to drink. Try a glass of water before reaching for the munchies (this can help you lose weight too!).
  4. Water keeps your skin glowing. Skin is the largest organ in our body and water helps it continue to build new cells, which can improve the color and texture of your skin. Staying hydrated also helps your skin maintain your internal body temperature.

How much water should you be drinking?
There are lots of opinions on this one. The old fashion recommendation is 8 glasses of 8 ounces per day (64oz total). Now, new research is saying that more wouldn’t hurt. A good rule of thumb is to take your body weight in pounds and divide it in half. That should give you the number of ounces you should aim for per day.

Drink up!