Monday, August 29, 2016

How To Navigate the Supermarket

Patients always tell me that they’re lost when it comes to shopping in the supermarket.  They want a list of what to buy.  I started a pantry in my office of products to have a discussion with patients about what to buy and what to look for when shopping (I have yet to make a handout).  It can seem overwhelming at first, but I tell my patients, “start with replacing one item at a time” – this way the changes can happen slowly.   The truth is, good nutrition starts with smart choices in the supermarket, just remember, NEVER go to the store hungry – that should just be obvious.  Here are a few general rules to get you going:

The process starts even before you head to the grocery store.  Have a PLAN! Plan your meals for the week – which meals will you make at home, what’s for lunch – and plan your list to shop from.  This may seem obvious, but the truth is planning helps to avoid the pitfalls of stopping on the way home from work for take-out (because there’s nothing at the house to cook.) It’s easy to fall into this trap, believe me.  So first a few rules of navigating the supermarket and then some products that are my go to staple items to have in the house. 

Spend most of your time in the produce section.  This many times can be one of the first areas that you encounter when you enter the supermarket.  Choose a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables.  The color reflects the different vitamin, mineral, and phytonutrient content of each fruit or vegetable.  Fresh is best!  Aim to have 5 to 9 servings of fruits and/or vegetables a day.

Breads, Cereals, and Pasta – choose the least processed foods that are made from whole grains.  Regular oatmeal is preferable to instant oatmeal (not to mention preferable to all the flavored instant oatmeals out there as well.)  Any patient in my office knows that I think cereal is one of THE worst foods out there.  It’s a high load of carbohydrate with virtually little protein.  I truly don’t have one boxed, cold cereal to recommend – and patients try to get me to tell them one.   Oatmeal is a cereal and that would be the only one I would recommend (but even then you need to add protein to it via nuts or nut butters to help keep you fuller longer). 

Bread, pasta, rice, and grains offer more opportunities to work whole grains into your diet.  Choose a whole-wheat bread or pasta, brown rice, farro, quinoa, barley, freekeh – there are so many grains to choose from.  The goal is to make at least half your grains whole.  Experiment and see which ones your family likes and remember that there are many ways in which to prepare them.  This is my favorite way to eat quinoa, Sweet Potato Quinoa Cakes.

Meat, Fish, and Poultry.  The American Heart Association recommends two servings of fish a week.  Salmon is one that many people like (if you’ve found the way to cook it just right – Honey-Glazed Salmon) and it’s a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.  Be sure to choose lean cuts of meat (like round, top sirloin, and tenderloin), opt for skinless poultry, and watch your portion sizes!

Dairy/Non-Dairy Milk Substitutes – Make sure to choose plain yogurts as much as possible.  This is an area that in the next year when nutrition labels are updated, we’ll be able to see how much added sugar is really in the yogurt.  My recommendation, buy plain as much as possible and add your own fruit in, along with cinnamon, and vanilla.  In regards to the milk substitutes, i.e. almond milk, etc, make sure to choose unsweetened.  These too will have a lot of added sugar and the goal is to keep our added sugars to a minimum.

Frozen Foods.  Frozen fruits and vegetables (without any added sauces) are a convenient way to help fill in the produce gap, especially in the winter.  Whole-grain waffles, frozen vegetables (picked right after harvesting), frozen fruits, and even pre-cut vegetables (think onions, green peppers) that can help out with minimizing steps for cooking!

Canned and Dried Foods – Keep a variety of canned vegetables, fruits, and beans on hand to toss into soups, salads, pasta, or other grain dishes.  When possible, choose vegetables without added salt, and fruit that’s been packed in its own natural fruit juice.  Here in Florida we’re in the midst of hurricane season, so it’s always a good thing to have a few of these canned food items on reserve, just in case.  A few other items to have on hand as they are just staples to have in your pantry, canned tuna, nut butters (the natural kind – think one ingredient, peanuts!), olive and coconut oil, and assorted vinegars.

Remember, it’s been said many times before, but the truth is, shop the perimeter of the store.   This is where the fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat, and fish are usually located.  Avoid the center aisles as that’s where most of the processed/junk food lurks. 

Choose “real” foods, 100% whole-grain items, with as little processing and as few additives as possible.  This can be a goal that you are working towards.  Yes, they do make “whole-grain goldfish” crackers, but remember we’re trying to limit as much as possible some of the additives and preservatives.  So while they might be trying to make these crackers a little healthier the truth is they still shouldn’t be a staple item to have around.

Stay clear of foods that have cartoons on the labels that are targeted to children (think of that cereal aisle – cartoon characters everywhere, not to mention all the sugary type cereals are right at the kids’ vantage point from the grocery cart!)  If the junk food is available kids will eat it, so if you don’t want your kids eating junk food, don’t have it in the house.  Sounds simple, but it is one of the biggest complaints I hear from parents to which I respond, “who buys the food for the house?”  This is definitely a discussion to have with the whole family.

Avoid foods that contain more than five ingredients.  This is getting hard to do at times, but it’s a good rule to try and follow.  This year as I’ve been trying to make everything homemade there are a few items that I do still buy (bread, crackers) and I try to use this rule – So if it does have more than 5 ingredients I at least try to buy something that I can pronounce all the ingredients!  Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has a good list to double check if it’s an item that is safe – Chemical Cuisine.

So now we’ve come to the part where I’ll recommend a few items for you all to have as staple products to have in your pantry.  I by no means am endorsed by these companies, I’m just helping to guide you as you make your way through the supermarket. 

The first item is beans.  I am a vegetarian and these are my go to for protein (and complex carbohydrates).  Whole Foods sells these both in the can and in the box (I didn’t have any in the box – need to pick up!) and they have just one ingredient: garbanzo beans.  No additives or preservatives and no added salt!  Not to mention that in the can they run $.99 and in the box they’re $1.69 – cheaper than I’ve seen anywhere else (when you take into consideration the health benefits of no salt and no additives – not to mention I didn’t have to cook them!)  I have these on hand ALL the time. 

Next item – some of the breads I have on hand:  I’ve been buying the Ezekiel bread (or the Trader Joe’s version of Ezekiel bread) otherwise known as sprouted bread.  Sprouted bread contains the whole grain (or kernel, or berry) of various seeds after they have been sprouted.  I’ll then rotate back and forth between the English muffins from Trader Joe’s or the Eureka brand bread – they have a few versions of flavors varying the nuts/seeds.  My goal is to make my own bread but until this point I haven’t had much success – I might just have to break down and buy a bread maker.  Until then, these are a few breads I rotate through.

Canned items – Salt (sodium) lurks in most canned/boxed items.  I always opt for the unsalted version.  My palate has adjusted and I season with other spices/herbs that I have on hand.  People often tell me that I must like bland food.  I often challenge myself to make a dish have flavor with all the spices – believe me when I tell you, you won’t even know it’s missing once you start cutting back.  The recommendation for sodium is just 2,300 mg (roughly 1 teaspoon) and Americans are far exceeding that recommendation.  Here are a few items that I use, canned/boxed, that are unsalted if I can’t make it homemade or find fresh.  This brand of vegetable/chicken/beef stock comes unsalted.  Normal brands carry 2,400 mg of sodium in a box.  This brand only has 600 mg for the whole box!  It’s still loaded with flavor.  This spaghetti sauce is my go to sauce (don’t tell my mom I don’t make it homemade!)  Brands can range for a ½ cup to have anywhere from 250 mg – 850 mg of sodium.  Gia Russa’s brand has just 15 mg of sodium per ½ cup.  It may lack sodium but it does not lack flavor!  Last I always have some canned or boxed tomatoes around – while it’s summer now and the tomatoes are in season, it’s always good have to some extra tomatoes on stand by (to throw in a soup or dish with real tomatoes). 

Grains – I’ll admit it.  I’m a snob when it comes to brown rice.  Regular brands in the grocery store just don’t cut it for me.  I’ve had the real deal and that comes from the Chinese supermarket.  Once you’ve had the real stuff you won’t go back – not to mention when people tell me they don’t “like brown rice” I explain that they probably haven’t had a good experience with it and that makes sense.  I rotate through my grains when I make grain bowls and I always have a few around – whole wheat couscous, farro, barley, and quinoa.  And with my pasta I have all whole wheat versions – be it the orzo in the picture, rice noodles, or just regular pasta.

In the summer I’ve been having a homemade muesli that I throw together.  It allows me to have the rolled oats but not cooked – it’s too hot for oatmeal in the summer in Miami.  So for breakfast I rotate and have the muesli or my whole grain bread (with nuts butters) – what can I say, I’m a creature of habit.  I save the eggs for the weekend!  Akmak is my go to cracker.  Super flavorful and perfect for cheese and crackers, hummus and crackers, or whatever you fancy.  I’ve even had it with a little ricotta cheese, tomato, basil, and a drizzle of vinaigrette – delish!

So there you have it.  A round up of sorts of how to navigate the supermarket.  I know it can seem overwhelming.  Part of the reason is that there are so many new products being introduced yearly.  I definitely can’t keep up with all the new items.  Manufacturers are producing what they think you the consumer want.  See the above rules to help you solve that problem – stay away from the center aisles, otherwise known as packaged and processed junk food.   Problem solved. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Kids Eat Right™

Kids Eat Right™

“August is Kids Eat Right™ month.  Kids Eat Right™ month focuses on the importance of healthful eating and active lifestyles for kids and families.  It’s a time to highlight the role that everyone plays in ensuring a healthy future for our nation’s children.”
As a Registered Dietitian I help teach parents and children how to eat healthy and learn the important role that nutrition plays in their growth.   It’s all well and good to know what your child should eat, but getting the food from the plate to their stomach can be a challenge.  It may not seem like the thing to do, but letting kids have some control is the way to go. 

Here are 10 tips for parents:
Parents control the supply lines:  You decide which foods to buy and when to serve them.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the grocery store and see parents cave to buying food just because their kids are whining and they don’t want them to make a scene.  You have the control over what comes into the house.  What’s available is what kids will eat.  I’m not here to say that kids shouldn’t have a few treats, but if the majority of what you’re buying is crap, odds are they’re going to go for the food that in theory looks/sounds more appealing.  It’s all in how it’s presented though.  I’ve always said that healthy food can taste good.  It has to have flavor otherwise no one will want to eat it, yourself included.

Kids decide if and what to eat.  From the foods you offer, kids get to choose what they eat or whether to eat at all.  Yes, this means they can walk away from the dinner table (once everyone else is finished) without having eaten.  But, because you control the food, it also means that they won’t have the option of opening a bag of chips and using snacks to fill the dinner void.   You’re not going to please everyone every night with what’s for dinner, the key is to offer variety and have some foods that the kids recognize and like.  What might be more important is getting the kids involved in the meal prep, not only for understanding the importance of nutrition but also for helping them to learn how to cook as well as expanding their repertoire as far as eating.  I’ll never forget the time when we made homemade pesto at the school I taught at.  We had an organic garden at the school and the kids really were able to see farm to table in motion.  They were hesitant at first to try a green leaf aka basil.  But the minute they saw it blended up with parmesan cheese and nuts they were able to see it transformed into something that maybe, just maybe they’d eat.  Bring on pasta and they were in (because who doesn’t like pasta?!)  Getting kids involved in the meal prep is important, not only for them but also for the parents – it helps take some stress off of having to think of every meal for the week.  The odds are higher that they’ll try it if they’re involved in the process.

Quit the “clean plate club”:  Let your children stop eating they feel they’ve had enough.   Parents may want the efficient eating and clean plates, but that is not how kids operate.  And that is a good thing.  Kids, especially younger ones, are able to respond to their hunger cues.  When they’re hungry they eat, when they’re not hungry they don’t eat.  If you as a parent are able to respect your child’s hunger cues, your child may well be on the way to a healthy and enjoyable relationship with food.  Now if only some adults could cue in on their hunger cues…

Start them young.  Food preferences are developed early in life, so offer a variety of foods in a variety of forms.  Yes, kids go through phases where all they want to eat is a grilled cheese on repeat, aka known as a food jag, but don’t get frustrated or force them to eat, this will not solve the problem.  Introduce new foods slowly.  Children are new-food-phobic by nature.  Taste buds have to get used to a flavor before the kids actually begin to like the taste.  It can take as many as ten tries before a child accepts a new food.  10 tries!!  Talk about needing patience.  Keep offering, without forcing, and your child might end up liking broccoli.  Here are a few alternative ways to offer broccoli:

Drink calories count:  Soda and other sweetened drinks add extra calories and get in the way of good nutrition.  Kids need water, water, and more water – it helps to quench their thirst and won’t fill them up at meal time, as opposed to sugary drinks like juice or soda (& yes, juice is just as unhealthy for you as soda – don’t be fooled!)

Put sweets in their place.  Occasional sweets are fine, but don’t turn dessert into the main reason for eating dinner.  If parents are using sweets as a reward, the sweet treat can become the goal, making dinner just something to get through on the way to the finish line.  These practices can create unhealthy eating patterns instead of resolving them.   

Kids do as you do:  You ARE a role model.  Eat healthy and your kids will follow.  Children pick up on adults’ attitudes about food, so be aware of your approaches to eating, too.  Don’t expect a child to try a variety of foods if you regularly eat chips for dinner.  If you view food as a collection of unwanted calories, your child may adopt a similar outlook.  Instead, turn mealtimes into a pleasurable time – talk about your day while eating together as a family. 

Bite your tongue.  As hard as this may be, try not to comment on what or how much your kids are eating.  Be as neutral as possible.  Your job as a parent is to provide food that is balanced; your kids are responsible for eating them.  If you play food enforcer – saying things like “Eat your vegetables” – your child will only resist.  No one wants a fight at the table.

Make mornings count.  Most families don’t eat enough fiber on a daily basis, and breakfast is an easy place to sneak it in, whether it’s with oatmeal or whole grain toast.  Or, do what I do and make-up batches of whole-grain pancakes that can last all week (I am a kid at heart J).  For a batch that serves 6 (2 pancakes a piece), sift together ¾ cup all-purpose flour, ¾ cup whole wheat flour, 3 Tbsp. sugar, 1 ½ tsp. baking powder, ½ tsp. baking soda, ½ tsp. salt.  Next mix 1 ½ cups buttermilk, 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil, 1 large egg, and 1 large egg white.  Combine the liquid ingredients with the dry ingredients and there you’ve got your homemade pancake batter!  If you want to make up extra, they freeze well too!

Turn off the TV, computer, tablets, and phones:  You’ll also turn off the advertising and mindless snacking.  Distracted eating is becoming more and more common as we are so busy in our day to day lives.  Make sure to turn off all electronics and focus on your meal.  The other day after running with my friend we were sitting and enjoying our coffee and her son came in from watching morning cartoons.  He walked right in and asked for “Froot Loops”.  I looked at her and I tried not to laugh.  He’s 5 years old!!  Talk about the power of advertising.  He walked right in asking for what the TV advertisement showed him to eat.  I’m not sure what the ad showed and what its contents were.  But what I do know is that kids are young and impressionable.  Kudos for the Froot Loops ad working but shame on them as well for marketing to kids an unhealthy food.  (He wasn’t eating breakfast at the time, but it was on during early morning Saturday cartoons).  Turn off the electronics and focus on your food, help kids learn from an early age, no distractions while eating.

Kids Eat Right™ month is designated as August every year, however, every month and every day paves the way for kids to eat right.  Teaching children healthy eating habits that ensure that they’re getting the nutrients that they need starts at a young age.  Getting kids to eat healthfully doesn’t have to be complicated.  Variety, Balance, and Moderation along with a little patience will help kids eat right and you’re on your way!