Learn to Eat Smart
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5 Tips for Eating Mindfully
Being more mindful and intuitive can help us eat smarter.
I think about food a lot. Partly because it’s my job, partly because I have two growing boys and feel responsible for providing them with mostly wholesome meals (with an occasional treat). To succeed with the latter, I make a meal plan for the upcoming week considering our activities, what’s in my freezer, what’s languishing in the crisper or what we’re craving. I shop, prep, cook and clean. But I’ve realized I often spend meals standing up, multitasking while helping my kids with their own plates or starting the kitchen clean up. Recently I’ve started making an effort to devote time to thinking about what I’m eating as I am eating and engaging in my meal more than just consuming. Being more mindful and intuitive. Here are five tips to try.
- Eat When You’re Hungry
This sounds like common sense! (And it is, but that still doesn’t mean it’s easy to do.) Consider how hungry you really are before you reach for that snack or food on your plate instead of being guided by the clock. I try to drink water, sparkling water or fruit– or vegetable-infused water at my desk throughout the day not only to stay hydrated but to also keep those hunger pangs (disguised as thirst) at bay. I also keep snacks — a granola ball, dried fruit bar or piece of fruit — in my bag for when I do need to nosh if lunch feels far away.
- Take it Slow
Sometimes meals feel like a break between meetings or something to cram in before you run out the door in the morning instead of a chance to refuel your belly and recharge the brain. If you give yourself time to enjoy the meal, you will probably feel more satiated, registering that you enjoyed some yummy food (and if you’re lucky, some great company, too). While it may be tough to squeeze an extra ten minutes in your morning schedule, plan for breakfast so you don’t spend time cooking in the morning. Make these banana muffins on the weekend for weekday mornings, or stir together oats with milk and fruit the night before for a heat-and-eat breakfast the next day. For dinner, let the slow cooker do the work for you, so that you have time to sit and enjoy the meal instead of scrambling around cooking and cleaning after a long day. Check out our awesome collection of slow cooker recipes for ideas.
- Savor that Treat
While we often have a big bowl of seasonal fruit and a steady supply of bananas that are great ways to end a meal, I’m a big believer in enjoying “treat” foods every once in a while. My go-to is chocolate-covered raisins or an easy chocolate chip bar cookie. I’ve learned that indulging in a small portion of cake, ice cream or even some salty chips can achieve something important for the food-obsessed: satisfy a craving. If you avoid a little ice cream (which is easy to dole out in small portions and then put the rest of the container away), you may overeat some other food, trying to compensate for that one taste you really want or need. And when you savor that taste, often that little portion is enough: a handful of chocolate-covered raisins is so sweet, I can enjoy it and not want any more sweets.
- Enjoy the Silence (of Your Device)
If you catch up on e-mails, read the newspaper (guilty!) or check out a blog while you’re eating lunch, you probably won’t remember lunch. And a review of studies on awareness while eating has shown that distracted eating (from TV or computers) likely causes us to eat a little more at that distracted meal and can result in increased calorie intakes at later meals or snacks. Instead of reading or watching TV during a solo meal, use the time to enjoy what you’re eating. Focus on flavors and textures of the dish or enjoy the view out the window. If it’s a family meal, engage in a conversation discussing the day, talking about certain dishes that are loved (or not!) at the table.
- GIY (Grow it Yourself)
Our little garden in the back yard has been the stealth mindfulness tool for me. I didn’t realize it, but growing even a miniscule part of our family’s food supply has made me consider our food more thoughtfully — from the care involved in growing an edible green to the prep of a just-picked pepper or the consistent watering of the tomatoes during summer. If a raised bed scares you (or you have no idea what that is), start small with container gardening for herbs. If you want to do more, check out this post on planning a garden. My kids like to help in all the tasks — especially the watering and harvesting. And then when we enjoy the garden pesto, we can all discuss the flavors and what else we want to do with the condiment. It connects me and my kids a little more at meal times, where I hope we’re making memories and not just barreling through our evening meal towards bath time.
- Eat When You’re Hungry
Ace Your Meals with Asparagus
Here's how to make the most of the versatile vegetable asparagus.
Although asparagus is available almost year-round now, it’s always exciting to see the spears — green, white, or purple — in the produce section at spring. This is when this vegetable is at its best. With so many ways to prepare it, asparagus also wins points for its good nutrient profile and ability to partner with many flavors from chiles and sesame to fresh lemon. Here’s how to make the most of this versatile vegetable.
Nutrition Notes on Asparagus
Asparagus spears are a great vegetable choice with plenty of nutrients to offer for few calories. Just four large spears of asparagus contain less than 20 calories and provide a good source of iron, folate and vitamin A while supplying almost 45% of daily vitamin K needs. What’s more, asparagus is a natural source of the savory, satisfying, almost meaty fifth flavor umami.
Selection & Storage
Forget the idea that the thinnest asparagus spears taste best. You want the freshest spears — either thick or thin — that feel firm and have straight stalks with tightly closed tips. Asparagus should be a consistent color from top to bottom. And make sure that if you’re buying several bunches, you choose ones that are similarly thick or thin to ensure even cooking times for your recipe. Eat fresh asparagus as soon as possible though it can be kept in the refrigerator for three or four days. For best results, stand the spears in an inch or so of water in the bottom of a container, and cover with a plastic bag. Alternately, wrap the stem ends in a damp paper towel and store in a plastic bag.
Prep School, Plus Recipes
Once you are ready to prepare asparagus for cooking, simply take a stalk in your hands and bend until the woody end snaps off. Cook just the tender upper portion of the spears, and compost the ends or use them to make vegetable stock. Here are some of our favorite ways to use those spears:
- Don’t even cook them! Use a veggie peeler to shave thin ribbons to make a quick Lemony Asparagus Salad. (Thick-stemmed asparagus are best here.)
- Roasted asparagus (without oil!) is an easy side dish for spring entertaining. Or make a big batch during the weekend for quick meals later in the week. Leftovers work well in omelets or quinoa or rice bowls.
- The star of the season shines when puréed in Creamy Spring Asparagus Soup.
- Lightly steamed asparagus is wonderful with just a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Or chop and add to tuna, shrimp, chicken or egg salads.
Keep stalks crisp, tender and bright green by blanching asparagus. Then serve with a dip, as a simple side, as a fresh twist on a potato salad, or the perfect springtime risotto.
What is your favorite way to enjoy asparagus?
Juice Up Your Water!
Deanna Anderson | 03/22/2016
A few simple tricks can turn a plain glass of water into a tasty, refreshing beverage.
We all know that drinking water is important for, well, just about everything! Not only does it help with weight loss because it replaces the high calories in fruit drinks and sodas, but our bodies also need to be hydrated to stay healthy. Water is good for our complexion, maximizes muscle performance, helps balance our bodily fluids, aids in kidney health and function, and helps to maintain proper bowel functions.
Despite all these benefits, drinking more water and fewer sugary drinks is often easier said than done. A common complaint is “water has no flavor” or “I get tired of drinking just water!”
Luckily a few simple tricks can turn a plain glass of water into a refreshing, healthy beverage that not only tastes great but has added benefits for our bodies.
- Mint Leaves: Adding a few crushed mint leaves adds a light, refreshing zing (crushing them releases the oils for optimum flavor). Mint is also an excellent herb for easing an upset stomach.
- Citrus Fruits: Squeezing lemon, lime, grapefruit, or orange juices into water adds Vitamin C. Citrus fruits can also reduce the risks of strokes and cancer and improve eyesight. Slices of fruit can also be added to the water for added favor (don’t forget to eat the fruit when you’re done!).
- Herbal Tea: There are many wonderful herbal teas on the market. Teabags can be placed into a bottle of cold or Luke-warm water, and they will steep the same as in hot water. Herbal teas have a variety of benefits; look for one that suits your needs. .
- Lavender: Fresh lavender buds dropped in a water bottle not only adds a unique flavor but also has a soothing and calming effect that is perfect at the end of a long day.
- Other Fruits: Just about any fruit can be added to water such as raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, and even a few vegetables like cucumbers. Berries carry anti-oxidants which help fight disease, and cucumbers have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Adding natural flavors to water is a great way to increase your water intake. (Plus, an added benefit is that you will have plenty of leftover fruits or herbs on hand to add to wraps, salads, or other dishes!) Looking for more ideas? A search on the internet will yield even more flavor combinations, or you can have fun creating your own unique ways to juice up your water. Drink up!
Hannah Walters | 02/19/2016
Remember Chia Pets? Turns out chia seeds are good for much more than growing goofy chia pet hair!
Remember Chia Pets? (I was a big fan back in third grade.) Turns out chia seeds are good for much more than growing goofy chia pet hair!
Chia seeds, once a staple of Mayan and Aztec diets (cool, huh?), have re-emerged over the past decade as a popular health food. And for good reason. Just one tablespoon packs 3 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber, and a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids—in only about 60 calories.
Chia seeds have a mild nutty flavor, but are fairly tasteless, which makes them a great addition to many popular meals or snacks. I often add them to smoothies, oatmeal, salads, granola, and baked goods (like muffins or quick breads). One of my favorite ways to use chia seeds is making chia seed pudding (chia seeds can absorb up to 10 times their weight in liquid, which makes them a great thickener). Chia seed pudding is quick, easy, and makes a unique breakfast, snack, or even healthy dessert option. If you Google chia seed pudding, you’ll be hit with thousands of interesting, yummy recipes, but the basic concept is to mix a quarter cup of chia seeds with one cup of liquid (usually milk or a milk alternative). Then you can add whatever flavors or extras you like. Let it thicken in the refrigerator for a few hours (overnight is best)…and voila! You have a delicious, simple pudding.
Below is one of my current favorite chia seed pudding recipes. How do you use chia seeds? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.
Creamy Coconut Orange Chia Seed Pudding
(Adapted from Simple Roots Wellness)
1 cup coconut milk
Juice of 2 oranges (~1/2 cup)
Zest of 1 orange
2 tbsp maple syrup or honey
¼ cup chia seeds*
Combine coconut milk, orange juice, zest, and maple syrup. Sprinkle in chia seeds and mix until well distributed. Pour into bowl with a lid, and refrigerate 4-5 hours (overnight is best). Sometimes I stir once in between to keep the pudding from clumping and to ensure the chia seeds remain distributed. When ready to eat, top with nuts, granola, coconut flakes, dried or fresh fruit, or any other goodies you enjoy.
*Not sure where to buy chia seeds? Trader Joes, Whole Foods Market, Wal-Mart and many other well-stocked supermarkets sell chia seeds. You can also buy them in bulk at Sam’s Club and Costco or through online retailers.
The Best Yogurts For Your Health: Greek or Regular?
Jayne Hurley | 02/12/2016
With so many options, how can you know which yogurts are the best yogurts?
The yogurt aisle isn’t what it used to be. In the last few years, greek yogurt has taken over a sizeable chunk of the refrigerator case, leaving non-greeks to compete for the remaining real estate.
Meanwhile, both greek and non-greek yogurts are branching out. Fat-free? Cream on top? You got ‘em. Fruit purée or fruit mousse? Yep. Lactose-free or no dairy at all? Got you covered. With so many options, how can you know which yogurts are the best yogurts?
What is yogurt?
Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus are two of the strains of bacteria that companies add to milk to make yogurt. Many brands also add other bacteria.
You can tell if the bacteria are alive if the label says something like “live cultures” or “active cultures.” It may or may not carry the National Yogurt Association’s “Live & Active Cultures” seal, which requires a yearly fee. Live cultures decline over time, so the sooner you eat your yogurt, the more live cultures you’ll get.
So far, the only clear benefit of yogurt cultures is their ability to change milk’s naturally occurring sugar (lactose) into lactic acid. So people with lactose intolerance should have less diarrhea, gas, or other symptoms when they eat yogurt.
Does yogurt help restore beneficial bacteria to the gut after a course of antibiotics or help treat yeast infections? No good studies have looked.
Which are the best yogurts?
The best yogurts should be a good source of protein and calcium without loading you down with saturated fat, added sugars, or possibly unsafe sweeteners.
Should you look for added vitamin D?
If you need D from yogurt to help you reach your daily target – 600 IU for adults up to age 70 and 800 IU for people over 70 – check the label. Vitamin D is listed as a percent of the Daily Value (400 IU). So a yogurt with 20% of the DV, for example, has 80 IU.
What is Greek yogurt?
Greek yogurts are made by straining ordinary yogurt. The straining removes some of the liquid whey and leaves more concentrated solids behind. That makes Greek yogurt thick and rich – even if they’re fat-free – and higher in protein (about 17 grams for a 6 oz. fat-free plain) than non-Greek yogurts (about 8 grams).
The only downside: by straining out calcium-rich whey, the Greek yogurts end up with less calcium (about 15 to 20 percent of a day’s worth) than the non-Greek yogurts (25 to 30 percent).
One note about sugars in yogurt: Companies don’t have to disclose on their Nutrition Facts labels how many grams of sugar they’ve added and how many are naturally occurring in their milk or fruit ingredients. So we recommend reading the labels carefully.
Our recommendations () are plain unsweetened yogurts. We’ve listed the criteria—maximums for calories and saturated fat and minimums for protein and calcium—at the beginning of each section. We disqualified products with artificial sweeteners. Within each section, yogurts are ranked from least to most calories, then least to most saturated fat, most to least protein, and most to least calcium.
And one last caveat regarding the best yogurts: Some items with yogurt included as an ingredient may not contain all that much in the way of actual yogurt. For instance, Post Honey Bunches of Oats Greek Honey Crunch has very little Greek yogurt in it.
Beyond the Kale
Hail to the kale! Here's how to cook it.
Hail to the kale! You’ve probably heard about the many virtues of kale and its mighty nutrient powers but when it comes to gorgeous bunches of greens, don’t stop there. There are all kinds of versatile and tasty varieties of dark leafy greens that add nutrients and beauty to your plate, bowl, or even glass. I’m always looking to incorporate more greens into my family’s dishes. Whenever I make a pot of beans, soup, chili or stew, in go the greens too. While every variety of greens has its own particular flavor and characteristics, they are easy to use interchangeably in most recipes. Creamy Sesame Greens is another regular recipe on my list and a great one to use when trying out different types of greens.
Braising Here’s my method for braising all types of greens for a simple side. Take a large bunch (or two) of greens, rinse and then shake gently to dry. Cut or strip leaves from the tough stem and then roughly chop. Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons of stock, water, or white wine in a large pan and add as much or as little minced onion as you like. Sauté, stirring often, until the onion starts to soften and becomes translucent, then toss in your greens. Stir occasionally until wilted and brilliantly colored. Add a splash of tamari if you like. Either stop here, or if you prefer your greens more mild and tender, add about ¼ cup of stock, cover, and simmer for another five minutes. You can cook just about any greens like this, but here are some of my favorites along with other delicious ways to use them.
Collard Greens Tender, mildly flavored and readily available year round, collards are one of my staples. With their flat broad leaves, they are also easier to chop than curly greens, and make delicious and colorful stand-ins for tortillas in wraps or in “sushi” rolls. I’ll cut out the stem and use a raw collard leaf or blanch the leaves to soften them as in these beautiful Collard Rolls. Subtly flavored collards also are lovely with spices such as in Collards with Lentils, Tomatoes, and Indian Spices or in Indian Spiced Garbanzos and Greens.
Chard Swiss, green, red or rainbow, all these members of the chard clan can be used interchangeably. Chard makes a great stand-in for spinach with its velvety texture. But with its large leaves you can be even more creative with it, using it for layering in casseroles, wrapping around fish to bake or as a colorful new take on cabbage rolls. Check out these chard dishes too: Mushroom, Chard, and Caramelized Onion Tacos, Chard with Sherry Vinegar and Walnuts and Swiss Chard with Black-Eyed Peas.
Greens with a Bite Do you like it spicy? Then don’t skip these sassy greens. You may pull them out of your lawn, but you should be putting them on your plate. Sharply pungent and a bit bitter, dandelion greens can be added raw to salads or sautéed to temper its bite. Mustard greens are peppery, pungent, boldly delicious — and packed with antioxidants and a wealth of other nutrients. Steam or sauté them with other strong flavors like garlic and soy sauce or add them to red beans and rice for a welcome tang.
Green Tops And whenever I’m buying beets, turnips or daikon radish I always am so happy to find ones with their bountiful green tops attached. Not only do these pretty tops reflect the freshness of the roots, but they are an added valuable bonus! Try simmering turnip tops until silky for traditional Southern-style greens; tossing beet greens in with roasted or steamed beets towards the end of their cooking time; or adding chopped daikon greens to miso soups.
Delicate Lastly, perk up salads, wraps and sandwiches with the more delicate of the leafy greens. Mizuna brings a subtle exotic spice to dishes, arugula offers a peppery kick, and watercress, my favorite, brings a buttery texture and a sharp pleasing bite. Try it in Quinoa with Watercress, Pears, and Pomegranates. And keep broadening those green horizons. Mache, endive, escarole and even Italian parsley all provide new dimensions to your dishes and nutrient intake.
What’s your favorite green and how do you like to eat it?
How to Turn your Child into a Healthy Eater
Brie Holmes | 12/08/2015
With a little work, it’s possible to get even the pickiest eaters to enjoy their fruits and vegetables.
As parents, we want to do everything possible to make our children happy. When it comes to health, it isn’t always easy–kids are notorious for being picky eaters. If left up to them, many children would stick to just three food groups: desserts, goldfish, and dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets! Alas. These narrow tastes can leave us frustrated and desperate for quick solutions. “You’re not leaving the table until you finish your broccoli,” quickly turns into, “fine, you can have extra dessert if you eat your peas without throwing a tantrum!” They say to pick your battles, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Health is a value that is inherently transferred from parent to child. From a young age, our children differentiate between “good” and “bad” foods based on what we teach them. If they are rewarded with unhealthy foods, they will continue to eat and enjoy these foods regularly as they grow. It’s up to us to instill healthy values in our children.
But how?! Fortunately, with a little work, it’s possible to get even the pickiest eaters to enjoy their fruits and vegetables. Here are some tips:
- Start a dialogue. When your child asks, “Why do I have to eat my (insert green vegetable here)?!” It’s tempting to respond with, “because I said so.” Instead, explain why that food is a good choice for your child and how it will help him or her grow big and strong. Talking about health is the key to starting a healthy lifestyle. Take your child grocery shopping with you and let them help decide which healthy foods they’d like to try. When you get home, invite your child into the kitchen with you to help cook a meal. Make it fun! Children will be more open to trying something that they helped cook.
- Don’t reward bad behavior. Make the same meals for everyone at your table. Don’t make a separate meal for your child because he or she doesn’t like what you’re already cooking. Instead, introduce “scary” foods slowly and incorporate them into dishes that your child already likes. Making a separate meal teaches a child that it isn’t important for him or her to try a new food because there will always be a backup.
- Offer Choices. Instead of telling your child what you’ll be preparing for dinner, give them a choice between two healthy options. Say, “do you want carrots or green beans?” instead of “we’re having green beans at dinner.” If children choose which healthy food they’d rather eat, it makes them more inclined to actually eat it. In addition, if your child is hungry (even between meals), offer healthy snack options instead of encouraging him or her to wait for dinner or preparing an unhealthy snack.
- Lead by example. Believe it or not, your food choices shape what your child craves. If you expect the rest of the family to eat salad for dinner while you eat pizza, your child will notice! Developing your own healthy habits is beneficial for everyone. In addition, emphasize health rather than dieting or weight loss. Teach your children the importance of long-term, sustainable healthy lifestyles.
Decoding Food Labels
Hayley Weise,MBS, RD, LD, SNA | 11/19/2015
Reading food labels can sometimes feel like trying to understand a foreign language.
Reading food labels can sometimes feel like trying to understand a foreign language. It seems like every fad diet tells us to pay attention to a different nutrient–one week, you’re told to restrict calories and limit carbohydrates; and the next week, fat and sugar are off limits.
If you’re struggling to understand food labels, you’re not alone. These guidelines may help you the next time you’re trying to decide between two snacks.
- Start with the serving size. Serving sizes are standardized to help you better compare foods. The serving size influences the number of calories and other nutrient amounts listed on the food label. Before having a snack, ask yourself, “how many servings am I consuming?”
- Consider the calories. Despite the heightened attention on calories, they are not the be-all and end-all of nutrition. Calories are units of energy, and your body needs energy to survive. In order to understand the caloric value of a food, you must first understand the serving size. This tool will help you understand exactly how much you should be eating based on your individual needs.
- Which nutrients to limit. The first nutrients listed on a food label are fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Too much of these nutrients can increase your risk of certain chronic diseases. Keep in mind that while you should limit the amount of these nutrients that you consume, they’re still necessary for a healthy lifestyle. For example, avocados, nuts, and fatty fish are all sources of “good fat” and are better choices than pre-packaged snack foods.
- Which nutrients to get enough of. Other nutrients to pay attention to are fiber, calcium, iron, and Vitamins A and C. According to the FDA, eating enough of these nutrients can improve your health and help reduce the risk of some health conditions.
- Look at the carbohydrates. “Carbs” is often a buzzword when it comes to dieting. “Low carb” has become synonymous with “healthy.” However, that’s not always the case. The key is to make sure that most of the carbohydrates you eat are “good” or “complex” carbohydrates like sweet potato, whole grain pasta, and beans as opposed to “bad” or “simple” carbohydrates like candies, pastries, and white rice or bread. Simple carbohydrates are higher in sugar and lower in fiber, and they contain little real value for your body.
- Sugar. Sugar can be naturally occurring (like in fruits) or added artificially (like in desserts or cereals). If you’re watching your sugar intake, make sure that added sugars aren’t listed as one of the first ingredients. Sugar can be disguised as corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey, and maple syrup.
- Anything else? Of course! Protein. Protein is found in meat, eggs, beans, and nuts. Foods that contain protein are known to keep you fuller longer, so if they’re low in sugar and fat, they can be a great snack!
Above all, it’s important to practice balance. Every nutrient is important to nourish your body and keep it working the way it’s supposed to. Try these tips the next time you go to the grocery store! Don’t be fooled by common phrases like “all natural,” or “low carb,” because now you have the tools to know better.
Six Tips for a Healthier Halloween
Hannah Walters | 10/29/2015
Though fun, Halloween is a notoriously sugary holiday. Here are 6 tips to keep you and yours healthy this fall!
Though fun, Halloween is a notoriously sugary holiday. Here are 6 tips to keep you and yours healthy this fall!
- Focus on family fun activities rather than sugary treats. You can go pumpkin or apple picking, navigate corn mazes, carve pumpkins, make crafts and decorations, and so much more!
- Sneak in an extra serving of vegetables by adding pumpkin puree to your favorite foods! Pumpkin is packed with Vitamin A, fiber, and potassium, and tastes great in oatmeal, muffins, nut butters, soups, and many other dishes.
- Get creative with Halloween-themed fruits and vegetables. With a bit of work and imagination, apples can transform into creepy mummies, clementines can become cute pumpkins, and carrots can turn into witchs€۪ fingers! (Check these Pinterest accounts for ideas: ESMMSC, CSPI, ACDKids, MomsRising)
- Skip the fried, sweetened treats at festivals or markets and take advantage of fall harvests! Apples, grapes, and sweet potatoes are all in season. Nature is sweet, too!
- Make sure your family eats a healthy meal before heading out to trick-or-treat! This can help discourage excessive snacking. Also, keep any leftover Halloween candy stored out of sight (and out of mind!).
- Instead of passing out candy on Halloween, try giving out dried fruit, fruit strips, gum, stickers, bubbles, small toys, rings, etc.
What's in Season?
Navigating your local grocery store or farmers market is easy when you know what’s in season.
Navigating your local grocery store or farmers market is easy when you know what’s in season. Here’s a chart from the South Carolina Department of Agriculture to show you which fresh produce to buy from your local farmers in October (and every season). Time to look up recipes for apples, squash, grapes, sweet potatoes and more!