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.

“Real Food” Bars

While I know most people do not enjoy grocery shopping, I am quite the opposite. Walking through aisles of the grocery store (especially at Whole Foods) for me is like a kid in candy store. All of options blow my mind. I could spend hours and hours reading every label and spend way too much money trying the new and crazy products on the market. One that I have recently become obsessed with is the snack bar whose only ingredients are fruit, nuts, and spices-nothing else (no chemicals, no preservatives, no added sugar, no nothing-only real food!).

I first tried the Raw Bite brand when I was studying in Copenhagen. Denmark has a 7/11 store on every corner filled with healthy snacks, pre-made salads, along with the usual candy bars and chips you find at 7/11 in the U.S, so finding the Raw Bite bars was a piece of cake. Pretty much all of the flavors are made of dates, raisins, nuts, and cashews, plus whatever gives it a distinct flavors (cocoa, peanuts, etc.). After coming back to U.S., I was on a mission to find a replacement for the Raw Bite bars I ate in Europe; the closest things: Lärabar.

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The main ingredient in Lärabars is dates and then each flavor has different fruits and spices to make them unique. Unfortunately they aren’t sold on every street corner 7/11 like in Europe, but I have been able to find them pretty easily at the grocery store (and not just at Whole Foods). My favorite flavors are Coconut Cream Pie, Apple Pie, Coconut Chocolate Chip and Peanut Butter Cookie- each with no more than six ingredients. Because they are made of mostly fruit, they are high in sugar (natural sugar, that is) and low in protein. This makes them a good snack, but they shouldn’t replace a meal like breakfast. I snacked on these all summer and are great during my back-to-back classes, but one of my favorite times to have them is a few hours after dinner when I need a little something sweet while working on my homework (the new Mini Lärabars are perfect for this!). The sweetness from the dates hits the spot when I don’t want something too dessert-like.

While Lärabars are my all-time favorite of the “real food” bar brands, more and more have been popping up recently. Kind makes Pressed by Kind bars that are just fruit (and depending on the flavor they also have vegetables and chia seeds). So far I have tried and enjoyed the Cherry Apple Chia and the Pineapple Banana Kale Spinach. There are also That’s It bars that are made of apples and one other fruit. They are sold at Starbucks so they are my go-to if I forget to bring a snack with me during the day. Because these two bars don’t have nuts in them like Lärabars, they are lower in fat and calories but aren’t as filling.

 

I’m always on the look-out for new products (especially snacks with no artificial ingredients) so if you have any recommendations, please send them my way!

 

Peanut Butter Energy Balls + Olympics

I’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchen the past few days testing out some new recipes so expect lots of yumminess soon. Today I thought I would share one of my favorites: Peanut Butter Energy Balls. They are perfect to grab as a quick snack or to enjoy when you need a little sweet snack after dinner. They are incredibly easy and fast (and don’t require any baking). Just mix all the ingredients together, roll ‘em into balls, and enjoy!

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In Other News…

Guess what today is?! The opening ceremony of the Olympics (aka my favorite time of every other year); in fact, I am watching them as I type this! Seriously, I am obsessed with the Olympics. I have already downloaded 5 iPhone apps to make sure I’m always up to date on scores and medal counts, and my butt will likely be glued to the couch for the next few weeks watching everything from gymnastics to synchronized swimming to beach volleyball.

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Olympic Training Center 2010

On a more serious note, I attribute my love for the Olympics to my involvement in sports throughout my life. If I had not been an athlete myself, I would not have the same appreciation for all the athletes competing in the Olympic games. As a rhythmic gymnast, I learned the importance of being healthy a living a balanced life. I saw first had how eating habits could impact my energy and performance at practice and competition. These experiences are really what have guided me on my path in college to become a dietitian. Whether I work with athletes in the future, that is tbd.

Enjoy the games and go team USA!

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)

Copenhagen Street Food

Surprise! In a city that is famously known for their hot dog carts, you can still find some healthier street food options. It just goes to show that there is usually a healthy (or at least healthier) option anywhere you go. Now, I don’t come from a big urban city where street food and food trucks are on every corner so I don’t know if this is normal, but I found a food truck this week that I couldn’t resist sharing. It was a nut and dried fruit truck! Here is a picture of this amazingness but it doesn’t do it justice. 
  
Maybe I’m just geeked out about this because I like nutrition but I thought it was so cool- and personally, I would rather snack on nuts and dried fruit while shopping in downtown Copenhagen rather than eating a hotdog. Aside from the food, I think this is the first food truck I have ever seen that only sells water- no soft drinks. 

Anyways, I just wanted to share this awesome food find and that there are usually always healthier options around. 

That is all for now. I am off to Riga, Latvia, Helsinki, Finland, and Stockholm, Sweden this week for more public health visits and lots Northern European adventures!

A Sugary Surpise

And just like that, another semester in the books. With this semester behind me, it just got real that I will be living in a different country in one month, and I’m SO EXCITED. Of course I am going to miss family and friends back home (It is crazy to think that the next time I step foot on campus will be in August!), but I can’t wait to see where my study abroad journey takes me (literally and figuratively).

Anyways, during finals week, it is pretty common for college students to pretend calories don’t matter and 5 cookies will make hours of studying and three-hour exams seem a little better. Ironically, as a nutrition major, while you are chowing down Hershey Kisses and Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups at the library, I’m sitting one table over trying to memorize all of the things that sugar is doing to your body.

Sugar is a tricky topic and always gets a bad wrap. Most people think anything with sugar is bad, but if I were to ask you, which is better: a Snicker’s bar or a cup of Cherry Chobani Greek Yogurt, you would probably say the yogurt is better. Guess what? The yogurt actually has more sugar than the snickers! How about Quaker Raisin Oatmeal or a Krispy Kreme doughnut? The oatmeal has more sugar!

Now, I am not saying to go out and eat candy and doughnuts instead of yogurt and oatmeal. The sugar in the candy is added sugar whereas the sugar in yogurt in natural lactose. Both types raise blood glucose and insulin levels (read more here), but natural sugar is more easily recognized by the body to be metabolized. Plus, yogurt and oatmeal are full of other nutrients that desserts don’t have.

This is just some food for thought. Just because something contains sugar doesn’t mean it is bad; it is the type of sugar that is more important.

Key words to look for one a food label which indicate added sugar: maltose, dextrose, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, (anything else ending in –ose), cane juice, maltodextrin, syrup, malt, nectar, sorbitol, and too many more to name!

Note: Ingredients on a food label are listed in order by weight. If a product has added sugar, make sure it is one of the last ingredients rather than the first.

Keeping Snack Portions Under Control + Study Abroad Classes

Have you ever sat down in front of the TV or went to read a textbook chapter with a big bag of chips? Let me guess… the next thing you know, the whole bag is gone. Don’t worry, you aren’t the only one. I have been know to polish off a big bag of Skinny Pop watching too many episodes of Dance Moms.

We, in America, tend to eat WAY more than a typical portion size. Think about that bag of chips; the nutrition fact label probably said you should have shared that bag with 10 other people!

While nutrition fact serving sizes may not be realistic, they should be used as a guide to limit your intake especially on snacks that are easy to overeat.

My favorite way to prevent overeating is to pre-portion my snacks. As soon as I get home from the grocery store I take the big bag of food and separate it into smaller Ziploc bags. The next time you need a snack, you grab one of your little Ziploc bags. This way, you don’t have a whole bag sitting in front of you for you to mindlessly keep eating.nuts portion pic

Not only is this a great way to limit how much you eat, it also easier to grab a snack on the go. You can just grab a pre-portioned bag and be on your way!

I especially like to do this with my favorite trail mix from Target. Nuts carry a lot of fat and calories so overeating can be dangerous. As soon as I get home, measured out ¼ cup of nuts and put each into a snack bag. When I am running out the door to get to class, I can grab a bag and not have to think about how much to eat.

If making portion size bags isn’t for you, I suggest buying the small snack bags from the store (like buying the small bags of chips instead of the huge family size). It might cost you a little more money but it will prevent you from eating the whole bag at once.

Study Abroad Update!
My flight is officially booked and I am signed up for classes. I am in a public health program where my core course will be Health Delivery and Prioritization in Northern Europe. As a part of this class, I will spend a week in Helsinki, Finland and Riga, Latvia learning about various European health care systems. I will also be taking Health Beyond Boards, Anthropology of Food, and Danish Language.

T-92 days until I am on my way!

Mini Fridges, Microwaves, and Maid Service

My obligatory first day of school photo.

My obligatory first day of school photo.

Day 1 of junior year… check! After a long 8-hour day on campus, I am finally back to my hotel. No, that is not a typo; I am living in a hotel. My on-campus apartment building is brand new and isn’t ready for me to move in yet, so in the mean time I’m living in a hotel. It is a strange feeling walking into a hotel all sweaty from the mile walk back and having the bellhop ask you if you need help carrying your backpack to your room (I must have looked like I was struggling!).

I’m enjoying the 24-hour fitness center along with the clean towels and lotion samples that are left in the bathroom everyday. But, with all the nice hotel amenities come the not so good parts. Can you guess my biggest complaint? The food situation! Three weeks in a hotel means three weeks without the kitchen that I should have in my apartment. I feel like I’m back in my freshman dorm with just a mini fridge and a microwave minus the dining hall.

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The hotel mini kitchen.

Of course there are tons of restaurants to choose from, but I’m not a fan of eating at a restaurant for 63 meals in a row. Thankfully, I have friends with kitchens and spent yesterday afternoon cooking a bunch of meals to stock my mini fridge for the week. Aside from that, here are some healthy snacks I have discovered you have with just a fridge and a microwave:

Fresh Fruits Vegetables
Apples, bell pepper, carrots, celery, and oranges all last about a week so they are great to have on hand for a quick snack or to grab when you are on your way to class. Adding peanut butter or hummus to your fruits or veggies can make an even more nutritious snack.

Cooked Vegetables
Zucchini, broccoli, and edamame can all be kept in the fridge and cooked in the microwave. Click the names below to find out how to cook them.
Steamed zucchini
Steamed broccoli
Edamame 

Other Options
If you have access to a kitchen or can get them from the dining hall, hard-boiled eggs are a great snack with lots of protein.
Popcorn is also a good microwavable snack if you choose one with light butter and salt.
Yogurt and Oatmeal are not only good for breakfast, but also as an afternoon snack with some berries or granola. Check out my post about my obsession with oatmeal here.

Stay tuned for more of my hotel adventures and healthy microwave meals!

Eating on the Road

Summer is the perfect time to hit the road with some friends, and it’s not a good road trip without yummy snacks. Keeping your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel while snacking can be tricky. This is where your passengers come in handy; they can get the snacks out and hand them to you so you don’t get distracted.

Riding solo? Snacking only gets harder. Have you ever attempted to peel a banana or open a Ziploc bag while trying to keep your hands on the wheel? It’s not an easy task.

Going to school a 3.5-hour drive from home, I have spent a lot of hours in the car and finally discovered the best snack options. Whether you have a car full of snack helpers or are riding solo, my road trip snack plan is sure to make any road trip safe, healthy, and happy.

Dana’s Road Trip Snack Plan

eating on the road picHere is what my front seat looks like when I’m about to hit the road!

One cup-holder has my beverage. Just like always, my 24oz Starbucks tumbler is refilled with a fresh wedge of lemon squeezed in before I leave. If you want a water alternative, I suggest flavored water, sparkling water, or, decaffeinated tea. Stay away from anything else caffeinated like pop and coffee. Caffeine acts as a diuretic and you will be making too many stops during your drive ;). Also, getting a cup with a lid and a straw is helpful. This way you don’t have to worry about spills or screwing on/off bottle caps.

My other cup-holder has a large cup filled with my munchies. Anything you can eat with your hands is usually a safe option, although it might not be healthy. Chips, candy, and cereal can pack in the sugar and calories and don’t keep you full. Some of my favorite, healthier snacks are grapes, cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumber, and popcorn (I’m having Skinny Pop in the picture). Nuts and dried fruit are also a good option, but watch the portion sizes. Nuts can have a lot of calories because they are higher in fat, and dried fruit is sometimes loaded with sugar (try to find dried fruit with no added sugar). Choose a smaller cup for a snack like this.

If you are on a long trip and need more snacks, an apple is one of my favorites. Apples are high in fiber so they keep you full during your long drive. Keep in mind, if you eat an apple you need to have somewhere to put the core when you are done (your empty snack cup is a good place!).

They key is to plan ahead. Making sure you have healthy and easily accessible choices will keep you from grabbing a bag of chips and a bottle of pop at the gas station.

Grab your snacks, make a music playlist, and have a safe drive!