Tag Archives: nutrition

Summer means simple

Even in the middle of this crazy pandemic time, I feel like summer is still fairly busy at our house. Even if we aren’t going as many places, we keep busy cleaning, reading, playing in the yard, riding bikes, etc. That means by dinner time, none of us are in the mood for a big complicated dinner that will take hours to cook. Also, I don’t mind eating hot food even when it is hot outside, but I don’t want my oven on forever heating up the house.

Summer Watermelon

Today, I’m sharing some tips for simplifying summer meals.

1) Make it a family affair. Rotate who has the job for meals each night. If your kids aren’t old enough to cook, you can have them at least help you pick out one night’s meal. If possible, rotate between you and your spouse. It feels less overwhelming when more people take turns.

2) Go fresh. Now is the time for fresh fruits and vegetables. Let the freshness shine! We have been eating our version of a veggie tray as our side dish for a lot of dinners. I buy the fresh veggies we like, cut them up, and have them waiting in the fridge ready to go. Homemade ranch has also been a huge hit this summer. Watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches, pineapple, cherries. All of these are beautiful as is. Just slice, chill and serve!

3) Grill. Grill. Grill. Grilled food just tastes like summer. It also cooks quickly, is generally healthy, and doesn’t heat up your house. Kebabs, chicken breast, fish, and vegetables are great items to grill. Even the traditional hamburgers and hot dogs can fit in a healthy diet. Just pair them with the simple fruits and veggies from above.

4) Prep ahead when possible. By the end of a long, hot day, everyone is tired. So prep as much as you can in the morning or at lunch time. Slow cookers are great for this. But you can slice veggies or fruit, make kebabs, marinate meat, etc. By moving the grunt work to when you have energy and enthusiasm, you are more likely to eat better later.

5) Store standbys. When possible, I like to keep ingredients for quick meals I know my family likes on hand. The pressure cooker chicken tacos I shared recently are a great example. Everything is freezer or shelf safe. Spaghetti, homemade macaroni and cheese, black bean nachos, and potato soup are just a few examples. Then, even when I’m tired and what I originally planned sounds like too much work or I don’t have enough time, I know I have a back up that can be ready in a flash.

Hope these tips help you have a healthy and fun summer!

Leave a comment

Filed under Nutrition

Teaching Kids to Cook

I’ve seen quite a few parents share lofty goals of things they’d like to teach their kids during this time of staying at home. Teaching kids how to cook frequently shows up on that list. As this period of staying at home has gone on, I’ve also seen most of those people post that they aren’t accomplishing most of the goals.

First, I want to say that is 100% ok to not accomplish the goals and just move on. This is a difficult time for all of us in different ways. Doing your best is all you can do.

I will be honest, I had lofty goals of things to accomplish for MYSELF, but didn’t really think about goals with my kids. Sadly, I haven’t accomplished most of my personal goals. And that’s ok. The answer to most things in this post is “that’s ok”.

Why? The most important part of teaching your kid any life skill is actually building a positive relationship with your child and having a positive experience. So do what you have to do and that’s ok. Repeat it to yourself.

However, I have actually randomly had a fair amount of success cooking with my kids during this time. This isn’t something that comes naturally for me, actually. And we have plenty of failures. But today, I thought I’d show some tips I’ve found to work for me and my kids in the kitchen. If you have any, please share in the comments. (None of the links in this post are sponsored or affiliate links. I get nothing from you clicking them. Just passing on information.)

1) Find something that makes your kid(s) excited to cook. There are subscription services out there that can be very fun, like Raddish. My daughter got a cookbook for her birthday that has really set her cooking dreams aflame. We are liking that one, but there are plenty of options out there. During this time of quarantine, America’s Test Kitchen has opened up their kid website for free. Not everything is open, but a lot is. And their kid’s club is discounted right now as well. But you don’t need any of these “official” things. Just ask your kid what they want to make and find a recipe somewhere. If they are old enough, have them find the recipe.

2) If you have multiple children, only cook with one at a time. This has caused huge breakthroughs in our house. I used to always try and cook with everyone. It just led to fights between the kids and me yelling. By going individually, things go much smoother. Does it mean my other kids sometimes watch tv? Yes, and that’s ok. Not only does this eliminate fighting amongst the kids, it lowers your stress level. You aren’t having to watch more than one kid with a knife or hot stove, etc. Also, kids love one on one time with parents, so it is a win on multiple levels.

3) Make it a “set” thing. As set as you can make it. We don’t have a set night, but my daughter knows she will cook dinner one night a week. When I am menu planning, she picks it out and we put it on the schedule. She knows it is coming and is excited about it. This also makes it a bit easier only allowing one kid in the kitchen – the other’s know when their turns are.

4) Allow for spontaneity. I know that goes against the last one. While we have the set times, if my daughter randomly asks to make breakfast or a dessert, I try to work that in as I can. But if I’m not feeling up to it, I say no. And that’s ok.

5) Be prepared for a mess. A huge mess. As they are making the mess, just take deep breaths. Realize you were going to have to clean up no matter what. If they are old enough (or have cooked enough to know how to not make as much of a mess), make them help clean it up. Nothing like cleaning up your own mess to teach cleaner cooking. But also, it is ok to have messes. It’s part of the process. However, if the mess is getting out of control and raising your stress level, you can end the cooking session with kids at anytime. And that’s ok.

6) You don’t have to let them do everything. A kid with a knife stress you out? Don’t give them one. That’s ok. The kid can’t muster the muscles to mash potatoes (true story at our house)? That’s ok. Every time the kid whisks half of the mix ends up on the counter? Don’t let them whisk. That’s ok. Let them do as much as you can while keeping the experience positive for both of you. If either of you hate it, it won’t keep happening.

7) Keep the end goals in mind. Positive time together. Building a relationship. Some day (far away likely) they will be independent. Teaching some health and life skills. A picture perfect meal with a picture perfect kitchen isn’t in there. And that’s ok.

I hope any of these tips help you out. Let me know if you have any great tips for cooking with kids. We all need all the help we can get!

Leave a comment

Filed under Nutrition

More tips for healthy eating during a pandemic

Line for toilet paper at my local Wal-Mart recently

I like to keep posts fairly short and sweet around here. Especially right now, I often don’t have the world’s greatest attention span. Small steps help me. I hope you enjoyed my tips last week and found them helpful. Here are a few more tips for eating healthy while staying safe during this pandemic.

1. Keep to your pre-pandemic routines. If you had a good routine for meal prepping or making a lunch to take to work, I would recommend keeping that up. While it may seem silly since you are home, it will have at least two good effects. First, it will make life feel a bit more normal in this crazy time. Second, when life does go back to normal, you won’t have to start your good habits up again. Plus, if you make lunch in the morning, you can use your “lunch break” time to eat and go for a walk or read a book or something else fun.

2. Celebrate food holidays. There are tons of food holidays. Use your time at home to celebrate them if you can. We need any reason to celebrate. A friend or relative having a birthday? Make their favorite foods for yourself. Next week is Cinco de Mayo. This Saturday was supposed to be the Kentucky Derby. It is beef, barbecue, egg, salad, salsa, and strawberry month in May. Have fun with it!

3. In a similar vein, try new things. Always wanted to learn how to cook a certain dish? Maybe now is the time to try. Perfect your Grandma’s pierogi recipe (see Some Good News for a cute segment on that). Have fun!

4. On the opposite end of the spectrum, remember not every meal needs to be a made from scratch homemade gourmet wonder. If you have kids, they very likely could make their own lunches. Many school districts around the country are offering school lunch pick up. We do this a couple days a week. They also pack breakfast for the next day – we usually use these as the rest of the day’s snacks. Check with your local school district to see what options they have. Just because you are home does not mean you need to spend inordinate amounts of time in the kitchen. I am personally veering toward quick and easy dinners as I’m usually out of patience by the time dinner time rolls around.

5. Get creative in your grocery shopping. Most of us are trying to go to the store less. There are often CSA’s or other produce services out there that will deliver produce to you. You can also choose produce that lasts longer. Carrots, potatoes, onions, brussels sprouts, garlic, apples, and oranges are a few items that keep particularly well. Frozen veggies are also a good option. Not storing your produce wet will often help it last longer. Placing asparagus bottoms in a glass of water in the fridge helps it last longer.

On a side note, many sites have some great offerings to help in this time. America’s Test Kitchen has some great recipes, substitution tips, free videos for kids, and more. There are many others as well, but that is one of my favorites.

I hope you find these tips helpful. I’ll hopefully be back later this week with a pantry friendly recipe for Cinco de Mayo. Happy staying at home!

2 Comments

Filed under Nutrition

Eating healthy and reducing stress during a pandemic

Pandemic life shouldn’t be THAT different than my regular life. I’m generally home with 3 of my 4 kids everyday anyway. But trying to get a good schedule and routine where I have time for posting here is harder than I anticipated. Also, I want to make sure things I am posting right now are applicable to today’s situations. I have lots of recipes and pictures ready that use a lot of ingredients that maybe are harder to find. Still working on that.

Today, I wanted to share a few tips for trying to eat healthy during this crazy time while also not increasing your stress level. Hope any of these help!

The in and out of stock board at my local Costco recently

1. Menu planning is your friend. If you are trying to go to the grocery store less frequently, plan out LOTS of meals and buy the ingredients. I generally plan about a week of menus. Right now, I’m trying to go about a week and a half to two weeks out. Do I have to know exactly what day we will eat everything? No. But knowing what meals I have food for reduces my stress.

2. Strict menu planning is your enemy. Try to pick recipes that have somewhat flexible ingredients. Be flexible about what types of beans, pasta, vegetables, cheese, meat, you need for a recipe. These things can often substitute with ease. For example, my daughter had a birthday in the midst of this pandemic. She requested lasagna for her birthday dinner. I warned her ahead of time I would make her some sort of pasta casserole, but it would depend on what noodles I could find at the store. Luckily, lasagna noodles were about the only pasta stocked that day.

3. Keep fruits and vegetables in the mix – in any form you can get. At least at the stores I have been to, fresh produce has been fairly well stocked. One or two things might be wiped out, but they generally have things. Frozen has been pretty obliterated. Canned is hit or miss. Just remember a couple things if you are having to get canned fruits and vegetables. First, that is 100% ok! Second, look for no salt added vegetables or canned in water or juice fruits. But just doing your best is all you can do. So give yourself grace!

4. Watch your sodium intake. A lot of us are switching to more canned products than normal or using more shelf stable products to avoid frequent shopping. That is great. Just know that shelf stable products often, but not always, have sodium added. So check your labels. And check yourself on adding more salt.

5. Teach your kids or yourself how to cook. I’ll have a post soon about tips for teaching your kids to cook. But with yourself and your children stuck at home, it is a great time to add in some cooking lessons. Or if you don’t have kids, teach yourself a new cooking skill!

Learning to make pretzels with my daughters

6. Give yourself grace! If you need a treat now and then, it is ok. If you can’t handle a long drawn out meal but really on freezer food, that is ok. This is not going to be normal life forever. Try to keep things as healthy nutritionally as you can while still maintaining good mental health. (And if that involves a lot of diet soda like it does at our house, go for it!)

Got soda?

Hope these tips help! If you have any questions I could help with your nutrition or cooking in this pandemic, please email me at kimberlykmarsh at gmail dot com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Nutrition

Added Sugars and Nutrition Labels

How much sugar should we eat? Is high fructose corn syrup bad for me? What sweeteners should I use in my home? These are questions I frequently get asked. A dietitian friend of mine, Melanie Betz (@the.kidney.dietitian) did a great post on instagram recently about sugar.

First off. Sugar is sugar is sugar. I don’t care if it is white sugar, honey, brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, or whatever other sugar you have seen. These are all sugar. They all are broken down into sugars that are used by our bodies. Having too much of ANY of these isn’t a good thing. There is no evidence in human studies to date that shows a strong difference between caloric sweeteners.

What about non-calorie sweeteners? People are often concerned about these. In moderate amounts, these are generally considered safe. However, it likely isn’t good to rely on these as a stop gap to solve your eating pattern issues. If you are eating too many sweet treats or drinks, just switching to a sugar free version will not fix the overriding problem. The overriding problem is you are consuming these foods that do not provide necessary nutrients. Switching from regular Coca-Cola to Diet Coke saves you 140 calories per can, yes. But did you gain any nutrition? No. Plus you’ve consumed lots of other additives that can have health effects – phosphorus on your bones and kidneys for example.

So how much sugar should you eat in a day. The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting added sugars to 10% or less of calories per day. For the generic 1800-2000 calorie diet, that translates to 45-50 grams of added sugar per day. For reference, one 12 oz can of Coca-Cola contains 39 grams of sugar. The American Heart Association is even more strict. They recommend 100 calories per day of added sugar for women and 150 for men. That translates to 25 and 38 grams respectively.

But how do I look at added sugars? The Dietary Guidelines points out that what we are looking at is an overall eating pattern. MOST people consume too many added sugars in sweet beverages and desserts. However, not all sugar is evil. Sometimes it is added to make healthy things more palatable.

I think the classic example to look at is cereal. Here are pictures of 3 cereal labels I found in my cupboard. Let’s take a look and compare.

Cereal Comparison

So let’s look at the carbohydrate section.  Both Raisin Bran and Frosted Mini Wheats have more total carbs than Honey Nut Cheerios.  For total sugars, Raisin Bran has the most at 17 grams.  Until a few years ago, this is all a label would say, total sugar.  Why is Raisin Bran, which you think is healthy, so high in sugar you say?  Two reasons.  First, it has raisins (and bananas in this box), which NATURALLY has sugar in it.  Second, you do need some sugar to make the bran palatable for most people.

Now let’s look at the added sugars.  Raisin Bran is actually the lowest at 11 grams, compared to 12 grams in both of the others.  This is a classic example of why I’m so incredibly glad “added sugars” has been added to nutrition labels.

But wait?  Mini Wheats and Cheerios are the same in added sugars?  Let’s delve one step further then.  In this case I would go look at the fiber.  Mini Wheats’ 8 grams of fiber definitely beats out the 3 grams in Honey Nut Cheerios.  (Another place you could look would be protein, but that is a discussion for a different day).

I hope you found this helpful as you look at added sugars and nutrition labels!

Disclaimer:  I have no vested interest for or against any products mentioned in this post.  Similar comparisons could be made between any regular vs diet soft drink.  These three cereals happened to be in my cupboard that I purchased at the most recent sale at the grocery store.

Leave a comment

Filed under Nutrition

Go Red for Women

Today is National Wear Red Day, part of American Heart Month and the Go Red for Women Campaign. The purpose is to raise awareness of cardiac disease risk factors and prevention, especially in women. More women die from cardiovascular disease in the United States than all kinds of cancer combined. I think heart disease is thought of as a man’s disease, but it is a problem for women too.

The good news is that heart disease and it’s complications of heart attack, high blood pressure, and stroke are largely preventable. Diet and exercise can help lower your risks.

Hopefully by now you know you should be limiting your saturated fat and sodium intakes. But what are practical ways to apply this in your diet. Here are a few tips:

1. Sub in healthier fats. Canola oil and olive oil are healthier choices than butter, shortening, and other solid fats. Use these fats when possible.

2. Try cutting the fat in half. You can often cut down the fat in recipes without changing the end result. I often use half the recommended amount of butter in cookies. If making a roux, half the amount of butter generally works as well. If something calls for a high fat sauce or dressing, cut the amount in half or serve it on the side.

3. Stop adding salt. Beyond removing the salt shaker from the table, stop adding salt in your cooking. So many ingredients in your food will already have sodium. If you are worried about the flavor, add a high sodium ingredient that adds flavor along with sodium. Cheese and soy sauce are two easy additions that bring salt and other flavors to the party. Even these should be limited. Remember, salt is an acquired or learned taste. You can lower your tolerance.

What are you doing to help your heart? What can you commit to change? Let me know in the comments!

Leave a comment

Filed under Nutrition

GMO’s – Good or Bad?

I recently listened to a very interesting podcast about bananas on Freakonomics. It highlighted how modern farming techniques have made producing bananas fairly inexpensive. Bananas are one of the most popular fruits in the world. However, this plentiful fruit is at risk of extinction due to a fungus. This risk is partly due to our production efficiencies that make it so affordable.

The podcast highlighted something I hadn’t thought of before. You go to the grocery store. How many kinds of apples are there? Probably at least half a dozen. How many kinds of bananas? One. The whole world (for the most part) consumes one variety of banana. However, this variety is threatened by a fungus that could literally wipe out all the banana plantations. For THIS variety of banana.

Interestingly, some scientists have found a solution. They have successfully modified the DNA of some banana plants to be resistant to this fungus. The scientists have put one gene from a wild banana plant into the current banana plant used and found that it is immune. One gene. Brilliant, right? Except, this hasn’t taken on like wildfire because of the widespread concern over GMO’s in our food.

Now, I’m not telling you that you have to be for or against GMO’s. I think everyone is entitled to an EDUCATED opinion. But I would strongly encourage you to learn more about what we actually do and do not know about GMO’s related to our food supply.

It reminds me of a speech I heard from a food scientist years ago. He talked about how as healthcare professionals we (often) tell people to stay away from food additives. But then we complain about the cost of fresh foods and it being unavailable for all people. He pointed out you can’t have it both ways. The scientists came up with the additives to lower the cost of food and increase availability.

I just think it is important to understand both sides. You don’t want GMO bananas? That’s fine. But don’t complain when they are basically non existent or very expensive in a few years.

For the record, I don’t have a firm opinion on GMO’s. I think there is a lot of information out there, good and bad. And a lot we don’t know yet. I just post here to remind us that when we form one opinion, we have to accept the ramifications.

Leave a comment

Filed under Nutrition

Leftovers

I think I’ve waxed poetic about the beauty of leftovers before. But I feel like it bears repeating.

There are so many great things about leftovers.

1) Delicious lunches that take little time to put together. As you put food away after dinner, portion it into containers so it is ready to grab for lunch the next day.

2) A no brainer dinner. We have leftover night every Tuesday. My kids LOVE it because they feel in control of what they eat. They (with guidance and some rules) can choose whatever leftovers they want for dinner. I don’t have to plan it. I don’t have to cook again. I don’t have to clean up much. Wins all around. (This does mean we don’t eat any leftovers for lunch until AFTER Tuesday night though, so there is that trade off.)

My husband calls it the “best of” night. Here’s my plate at leftover night recently. It’s pretty random: lasagna, lo mein, pork chops, and mashed potatoes/turnips. But it was yummy!

Leftover night

3) Some food tastes better with time. The minestrone soup I love tastes WAY better as leftovers. Something about sitting makes the flavors better. Many people swear by assembling an entire lasagna then letting it refrigerate for a day or so before baking to improve the taste. (Real caveat: some foods DON’T improve with time or reheating. Seafood is a particular culprit I can think of in that category.)

4) Saves money. You are throwing out less food. You are buying less food (less stuff for lunches or dinners, depending on how you use them).

5) Simplifies other meals. Just this last week, I was grilling chicken for dinner one night. I saved one piece aside to make pizza later in the week. I always double up on soup or spaghetti sauce recipes and freeze the extra. Super simple meal in the future.

Like I said, I LOVE leftovers. However, there are some rules for being safe with leftovers.

1) All leftovers should be reheated to 165 degrees F. This is easiest with soups or sauces – if it’s bubbling throughout, it’s good.

2) Food needs to be cooled quickly. Don’t stick a giant pot of soup in the fridge to cool down. Put it in smaller containers. If possible, don’t put the hot pan in the fridge. Transfer things to a new container that isn’t hot.

3) Wrap leftovers well. This will prevent bacteria in the air from getting in there.

4) Leftovers should only be kept for up to 4 days in the fridge, about 3-4 months in the freezer. The USDA does say frozen foods will last longer but will lose moisture and flavor after that amount of time.

5) Leftovers of leftovers? The USDA says it is safe to refreeze previously frozen leftovers IF you heated it to the appropriate temperature of 165 degrees F. I probably wouldn’t recommend this due to loss in quality of product.

Do you like leftovers or loathe them? Share in the comments!

Leave a comment

Filed under Nutrition

Meal Planning Tips

A common complaint I hear from many people is that meal planning is hard/time consuming/frustrating/boring, etc. I told someone I didn’t love meal planning either, and she seemed shocked. “Isn’t that what you do for a living?” It’s true that I did learn a lot about meal planning in school. In ways, that only makes it harder for me, since I can think of more “rules”.

While I don’t always love meal planning, I don’t hate it. Usually my problem is having the right ideas to fit my schedule and budget at the time. Here are some tips I try to follow to make meal planning easier.

1) Don’t try to plan too much at one time. For me, a week is plenty. I plan to grocery shop once a week. Produce doesn’t last much longer that anyway. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have more ideas than one week worth. I often have more ideas than days (or ideas that won’t fit my schedule for the week). File those away in your brain for the next time.

2) Have a set time you meal plan. Find a consistent day and time of day that works. I like to meal plan during breakfast or lunch. I’m a little hungry so I can think of foods that sound good. And I can multi-task doing it while I eat. This makes it feel like less of a time drain. Also, if you have a set time, it doesn’t feel like it is taking over your life.

3) Have a few “set” days. We have a leftover night every Tuesday. Breakfast for dinner is every Wednesday. I don’t have to think about two out of the seven days. Win! Maybe you do Taco Tuesdays or Meatless Mondays. Just having some parameters will speed things up.

4) Know your categories of foods. I like to have soup generally once a week. Then I know we’ll probably want Mexican and or Asian food. Fridays and Saturdays I like to have “weekend food” – pizza, sandwiches, burgers, faster foods to cook. Having those categories helps me know which types of foods I’m thinking about.

5) At the end, double check for repeats. This is a key step. I skipped it a couple weeks ago and ended up with 4 nights of chicken in a row. Whoops! This isn’t to say I might not repeat chicken in a week, but I try to space it out.

6) Look at food magazines and blogs in your free time. I know, I know. We don’t have free time. But instead of scrolling Facebook for the third time today, go check a couple food blogs you trust. Subscribe to a good food magazine for your lifestyle. I really like Cooking Light, but there are plenty of other great options. Just browsing these will file dinner ideas away in your brain. Seriously. Years later, I will suddenly remember a blog post I saw and wanted to try. If you use pinterest, actually USE it to help you plan your meals.

7) One idea to try, which may or may not work for you. Pick one blog or one cookbook or one magazine. Find all your meals from there. It is tricky, but it can save time flipping around endless places for ideas. When I’ve done this, I usually get about three recipes from the same place. My other two ideas are recipes I know and love.

8) Don’t try all new things. Keep some tried and true recipes in your line up each week. It is mentally exhausting to figure out a new recipe every night. Keep it real. Keep it simple.

Do you meal plan? I’d love to hear what you use to help in the comments!

1 Comment

Filed under Nutrition

The Pegan Diet

I hear about the paleo diet fairly frequently still, but I recently heard about new variant of paleo – the pegan diet. The pegan diet is sort of a combination of paleo and vegan. At first, I thought that sounded impossible. The whole point of paleo is to eat meat, the whole point of vegan is to not. But this a unique diet that takes ASPECTS of each individual diet.

Followers of the pegan diet eat 75% of their food as fruits and vegetables. These should mostly be non-starchy and “low glycemic” fruits. All of this is to help balance your blood sugar levels.

The other 25% of the diet is made up for grass-fed, responsibly raised animal protein. Fish is especially encouraged. Healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, and omega-3s are also encouraged.

Both of these steps seem much less restrictive than the original diets to me, and mostly in line with a general healthy diet. The real kicker is eating less than ½ cup of gluten-free grains per meal and less than 1 cup of legumes(beans) per day.

The diet creators state that the benefits are reduced inflammation and better blood glucose control. There are no long term studies to prove any benefits of this diet.

Overall, I don’t see anything wrong with the diet itself. It would be difficult to follow and could be quite expensive – focusing on organic, responsibly raised foods, etc. Some sites point out dining out would be quite difficult which could be isolating to some. It does seem unnecessarily restrictive – if you aren’t allergic to dairy or gluten, there isn’t a NEED to avoid them. However, if you are diversifying your intakes, you could have a nutritionally adequate diet without them.

My final thought: compared to vegan or paleo, this is less restrictive and possibly easier to follow. But I don’t know that it is necessary for good health.

1 Comment

Filed under Nutrition