Put it on a Plate

Ever get home after a long day and the last thing you want to do is put together a meal? If there are no plans to eat anytime soon, I can guess that your first move is to open the fridge or the pantry and just start picking at whatever looks good. The problem? There is not limit. You have the whole bag, container, or package at your disposal.

The amount of food you eat is just as important as the type of food you are eat. We often load our plates way too high or dig our hand in the snack bag a few too many times leading to overeating and that uncomfortably full feeling.

So, my number one tip for portion control is putting everything you eat on a plate (or in a bowl). Sounds easy enough, right? But think about how many times you have eaten straight out of the package. Maybe it was the whole bag of popcorn on the couch or standing in front of the fridge, fork in hand, eating straight out of the Tupperware container (I am frequently guilty of this one).

Instead of bringing the whole bag of popcorn with you to the couch, pour a reasonable amount into a bowl. Even if your “reasonable” amount is more than the recommended serving size, I’ll bet you it is a lot less than what you would eat if you ate straight out of the bag.

The same goes for meals… When you sit down for dinner, put a scoopful of each item on your plate at the beginning. Then you can visualize all the food you will be eating. If you put each item on your plate after you have finished the previous item, you can’t tell how much you ate in total.

See, if you can visualize the total amount of food you are eating in a given sitting, you are more likely to make more realistic decisions when it comes to portion sizes. Even if you just want some nuts, fruit, and a slice of bread for a snack, putting it on a small plate allows you to pick out a serving size that you think is reasonable.

In my opinion, eating healthier portion sizes is worth the 2 extra minutes and few extra dishes.

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).

quinoa-bns-recipe

Mixing and Matching Food Groups

Balance. That is pretty much they key word that people use to describe a healthy diet since there is no real consensus on what a healthy diet exactly is. But, I know that that is a little too vague and some more guidelines are helpful for creating well-balanced eating habits. It is impossible to tell you exactly what and how much to eat since that varies too much person to person, but there is a good way to keep the daily balance when it comes to snacks and meals.

This guide to balance refers to food groups. Remember that famous food pyramid? Yep, those are the food groups I am talking about. While that pyramid has now been redesigned into a plate (which I don’t really like, but that is for another blog post), the idea is still the same. The main food groups you should incorporate into your diet are grains, protein, vegetables, fruit, dairy, and fats. Fats are left off of the plate because most foods that I would consider healthy fats also fall into other categories (e.g. avocado could be classified as a fruit and nuts could fall into the protein category).

Food pyramidmy plate

Snacks
The key here is to incorporate two to three food groups into each snack. This allows the body to get nutrients from different sources and digest at different speeds. One food group will usually digest faster (giving you more immediate energy) and the other will digest more slowly (keeping you full longer).

Want some snack ideas?
-Yogurt and granola (dairy and grain)
-Apple and peanut butter (fruit and fat/protein)
-Hummus and celery or carrots (protein and vegetable)
-Cheese and crackers (dairy and grain)
-Avocado Toast (fat and grain)
-Oatmeal and berries (grain and fruit)

Meals
For meals, you want to combine three to four food groups (you could even try to do all five!). This allows for lots of variety (which means lots of different nutrients) and helps you meet your daily servings of each food group. It can also prevent over eating by helping you fill up on foods like vegetables before digging into the main, usually more calorically dense, part of your meal. Plus, it is important to get all the vitamins and minerals in vegetables that are sometimes forgotten during typically protein and grain rich meal times.

Need some meal inspiration?
Breakfast:
-Eggs and avocado toast (protein, fat, and grain)
-Yogurt with berries and granola (dairy, fruit, and grain)
Lunch:
-Sandwich with protein (egg salad, turkey, tuna salad) and veggies with hummus (grain, protein, and vegetables)
-Grilled chicken salad with quinoa and an apple (protein, vegetables, grain, and fruit)
Dinner:
-My favorite black bean burrito lettuce wraps with brown rice (protein, vegetable, and grain- also add avocado/guacamole for a healthy fat)
-Baked salmon with whole-wheat pasta and a side of edamame (or other vegetable) (protein, grain, and vegetable)

Bread for Lunch?

This post is a little different. I wanted to share this little anecdote about how studying abroad has changed the way I describe healthy dietary patters- so here I go…

“The buns are in the oven”. This is what my host mom told me around 11:00am on my first day after arriving in Copenhagen. She explained that homemade buns (rundstykker) are a traditional Danish food- which are basically just big bread rolls. Each family has a unique recipe and the fluffier the buns, the better. Around 11:30am she asked me to help set the table. I put out plates, forks, knives along with the butter, jams, cheese, honey, and Nutella she pulled out of the fridge and cupboard. As the fresh buns came out of the oven just a few minutes later, my host parents, their three year old son, and I sat down at the dining room table for what I thought was a little, traditional mid-morning snack. My host mom cut the buns in half and passed them around the table until we each had a hot bun on our plate. We all helped ourselves to the toppings in the middle of the table easily spreading them as they melted over the warm crumbly surface. For the next hour or so, we sat around the table talking and getting to know each other. I had a total of one and a half buns, as I didn’t want to fill up on bread before lunch—even though they were delicious and I could have had many more. Over the course of the hour that we sat there, my host mom and dad had three or four buns each and continuously offered me more. When they finally finished cutting, spreading, and eating each bun and our conversation had come to a breaking point we cleared the table and washed the dishes. I went to my room to finish unpacking my luggage and take a nap to catch up on my jet lag. I was expecting a nice hot lunch to be ready when I woke up an hour later. Much to my surprise, I woke up from my nap with no food in sight. I didn’t want to ask my host parents when our next meal was because I was starting to get the feeling that lunch was the buns that we had had earlier. As the clock neared 3:00pm and my stomach started to grumble, I went in the kitchen and grabbed an apple to hold me over until dinner. Fast forward to the evening when I went to pack my lunch for Monday, my host mom suggested that I take some leftover buns with butter and cheese for lunch. It finally clicked! Apparently that meal of bread, butter, and cheese was actually a typical Danish lunch. I began to have a slight internal panic attack when I realized that I would be having a light, bread-filled, and protein-lacking lunch for an entire semester.

Among other things, getting used these light Danish lunches (which are almost always filled with bread) was has been a major food obstacles that I have had to overcome since coming to Denmark. Coming from living in a university apartment where I can buy and eat whatever I want (I try not to eat lots of processed food and simple sugars/grains), to not being able to choose what food is in the house and becoming accustomed to eating bread at every single meal has not been easy.

Now, almost two months into my new Danish eating habits, I actually have a newfound appreciation for the diet patterns. At first, it was difficult to overcome the uncomfortable feeling of eating mostly bread for lunch, but I have actually discovered that eating nut and seed filled rye bread actually fills me up quickly and keeps me full throughout the day. These rye breads with lots of nuts and seeds, which are very common in Denmark, have a lot more nutrients—including some protein—than most bread in the long American grocery store aisles. I have had to add an American touch by having peanut butter on my rye bread to make up for some of the protein and healthy fats I am lacking during lunch, but other than that, I have realized that the Danes actually are not crazy just having bread and some toppings for lunch. It has taken some getting use to but I now feel good about eating all of the wholesome grains in bread for lunch every day.

Eight weeks ago, when I realized I would be having bread for lunch everyday, I nearly had a panic attack. I would have never predicted that, today, I actually look forward to my rye bread sandwich everyday for lunch. As a nutrition major at school and an aspiring dietitian, it is fascinating to learn about the various eating patterns of people around the world. Throughout my education, I have always been taught that bread is full of empty calories and should not be the main part of any meal. Not only has living in Denmark given me new cultural experiences, but it has also changed how I look at diet choices of those in different counties and given me a fresh perspective on what healthy eating is defined as.

Study Abroad Update
It has been 3 days since returning from Riga, Helsinki, and Stockholm and had some really interesting (but some boring) lectures on health care. It is definitely interesting to see how cultural differences (such as Latvia’s conservative views on HIV/AIDS and family planning) can have such a large impact on the health care that is (or is not) provided to the citizens. Some unique food experiences on my trip included traditional Swedish meatballs (which were delicious) and reindeer (which was not so delicious)!

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Tomorrow will take me to Dublin, Ireland for the weekend as my next stop in this amazing adventure!