Tuesday, June 28, 2011

In case you're wondering what I did with those coconuts...

First of all, I was extremely tempted by all the decadent-looking desserts made with coconut that I knew I would surely love…but I decided to also try to find a healthful use for my co-op coconuts.  So I declared last Friday island night!  Our menu consisted of: pan-seared coconut shrimp with lightly stir fried veggies and brown rice.  I was also due to celebrate a co-workers birthday this week, so I had a good excuse to make a coconut dessert after all: a coconut frosted, vanilla-almond cake (I was a little indulgent, but I shared). 

I have never cooked with fresh coconut.  Even though I pride myself on trying new things in the world of food, I have to admit that it would be highly unlikely that I would purchase a fresh coconut on my own… Again, thank you co-op for pushing me to greet this challenge.  Also, thank you Internet for a wealth of information at my fingertips!  I found this helpful advice on how to crack that sucker; and it worked like a charm:

1.      With a screwdriver and a hammer, poke out two of the coconuts eyes.  (A coconut looks kind of like a bowling ball; you'll see the eyes easily).  Drain the coconut water and reserve.  There was an entire cup of “coconut water” in each fruit!  I used some in the stir fry and took a taste just for fun—it will not be my beverage of choice.

2.      Place the entire fruit in the oven for 25 minutes to loosen the meat.  Cool.

3.      With a hammer (and a strong arm) hit along the center of the coconut, rotating until it cracks.

4.      Use a knife to pry the white meat gently from the shell.

5.      Use a peeler to peel the brown skin from the meat.

6.    Grate the meat using the smallest holes on your grater.

7.    Get creative!

I'm grateful to the co-op for pushing my boundaries a little.  Imaging what it could do for you!  It's easy these days to find ways to use foods that you're not familiar with.  You might end up with something new that you love!  As for coconuts, I must admit that this was not exactly an easy feat.  I bet it would get easier with practice, but next time, even though I really do prefer fresh foods, I will probably go with the convenience of pre-shredded coconut.  It doesn't hurt to try, but we have to pick our battles :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Adding excitement and variety to your meals

I’ve known about co-op programs for ordering produce for some time and have been looking for an opportunity to try one.  Just last week I was delighted to learn of a local co-op from one of my patients!  Community Helpings Produce Co-op takes orders and sets up deliveries all over the St. Louis area.  I was SO excited (perhaps a little overly excited) to place my order.  Not only do you get a larger quantity of produce for a smaller price tag (great), but it’s also super fresh!  And the mystery makes this experience even more fun—you don’t find out what’s going to be in the basket until a few days before your pick-up is scheduled.  Food challenge anyone?

All of us get stuck in that rut of "meal repeat" and begin craving something new.  Utilizing a co-op creates a fun and exciting way to eat.  Even if you’re just hunting for a deal or looking for ways to make fresh produce more affordable for your family, it’s a great way to add variety to your meals.  You’re pushed to try new foods that you may not have picked up off the shelf at the grocery.  For example, this week, I’ll be challenged with using a FRESH coconut.   I’ll let you know how it goes…  It’s also a great opportunity to get creative by finding new ways to use the same old ingredients you’ve cooked with before.  Not to mention, it’s a terrific way to include more fruits and vegetables in your family’s diet!  Make it a game—find new recipes together and experiment with cooking new foods. What better way to peak interest and encourage learning about nutrition?

This week in my $23 basket I got: 6 large bananas, 6 large apples, a pint of blueberries, 12 small peaches, two coconuts, 3 Arkansas tomatoes, 5 limes, a head of green leaf lettuce, 2 eggplant, 1 stalk of celery, 1 pound of baby carrots, 2 red onions, 5 pounds of Russet potatoes and 2 romaine hearts.  Can't beat it.  My husband was skeptical at first, but now he's even happy!

For more information on Community Helpings Co-op, visit their website.  It’s easy to register and place your order.  Then just choose your preferred delivery site and arrive during pick-up hours for a basket blossoming with fresh produce!  Easier than the grocery store.  And definitely Good Food.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The fall of our familiar Pyramid yields the same goals made simpler

It’s a top story in the world of nutrition, and yes, I’m joining everyone in blogging about it.  But it’s kind of a big deal.  As of June 2nd, the Food Guide Pyramid, most recently called MyPyramid, has been replaced.  For at least the next five years we have MyPlate.  I have to say, it’s a little strange seeing a plate instead of the familiar pyramid that’s been around, in one form or another, since I was in elementary school.  

The concept is great—to translate the dietary guidelines onto the family’s dinner plates.  The USDA says the MyPlate icon is “intentionally simple;” designed to remind consumers to eat healthfully. I like that it’s now simpler to picture what a healthy meal looks like, in the right proportions, in the form that we see it in front of us. It’s a quick and easy method of meal-planning demonstrating that healthy eating does not have to be overly difficult.  It seems to cross all educational, ethnic and financial boundaries.  But it’s important that we don’t oversimplify.  What types of fruit/fruit products should be on that plate?  What types of meat, vegetables and grains?  And what is the right serving size?  It’s still possible to build a perfectly unhealthy meal using MyPlate.  Say a burger with French fries, fried green beans dipped in salad dressing, ice cream and fruit smothered in syrup…and we all know it could be much worse.

Needless to say, it’s important to further delineate what constitutes a healthy choice for each section of the plate (food group).  The plate must be used, and the USDA agrees, to guide further learning.  The website www.choosemyplate.gov is a great resource, providing general guidelines for the amount of food to consume from each food group, key concepts, foods to limit and helpful tools for the advanced (and interested) learner. 

But even in this day and age, everyone doesn’t have access to the Internet or use it to its fullest potential.  Everyone may not have the interest, motivation or time to spend navigating the website.  So where will the rest of the population hear the remainder of this information?  Supposedly the unveiling of this new icon is just the beginning; a broader communications initiative is forthcoming.  I just hope it will be enough to compete with the constant badgering of food advertisements through various media outlets.  Otherwise, we’ll be looking for something even simpler in five years.  

And why isn’t the fats/oils group pictured? Research tells us that certain fats are good for us because they help control cholesterol.  The dietary guidelines recommend inclusion of plant fats in the diet regularly.  For me, the absence of this group is a throwback to the 90’s, when fat-free was the fad, and is misleading.  This is one of my disappointments in the new Plate.

The term “discretionary calories” has been replaced with “empty calories,” a popular, but effective dieter’s term for calories without much nutritional value.  Some examples of “empty calories” are sweets and sugars.  The message here is to limit these types of foods and choose more that are a complete nutritional package.  Again, simpler, but perhaps more easily understandable.

I guess the running man (the figure that used to take the stairs up the side of the Pyramid) fell off!  I thought it was a fantastic move in 2005 when physical activity was added to the Pyramid.  This was, and is still, a key message!  A healthy lifestyle is about finding a balance between food and activity.  I’m disappointed that he’s gone.

On one hand, it’s definitely wise to try to simplify the goals of healthy eating, since obviously a lot of people don’t get it.  But on the other hand, is it overly simplistic?  Are we lowering our expectations too much?  Are we promoting laziness? Again, how will people be educated about the best foods to fill that plate? 

All in all, it’s a good start.  The MyPlate icon conveys that healthy eating can be simple—and it can.  That’s really what my blog is about!  I do believe we will see a difference in obesity and disease prevalence if everyone starts eating this way. But it’s also important for people to understand the numbers on the nutrition facts label, especially if combating diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure.  We still have to learn more about the types of foods that are healthiest.  For this, nutrition education remains key—and all cannot be cured by the fundamental strategy of MyPlate.  I’m going to continue to root for nutrition education in schools, sponsored nutrition programs for adults, availability of healthy foods at restaurants and exposure of registered dietitians (your partner in making good nutrition and health happen).

Okay…I’m off the soap box.

So give it a shot—try building a meal with MyPlate.  Once you’re familiar with the food groups, it's pretty easy.  It reminds you of what your missing and shows you how to balance your food choices on your plate. 
Here’s MyPlate: 2-3 ounces grilled chicken breast, a medium baked potato topped with light margarine and non-fat, plain Greek yogurt, green beans sautéed in olive oil, steamed carrots, a glass of skim milk and strawberries drizzled with honey.  Easy!  And YUM.  Let me know what you picked by commenting below!  I’d also love to know what you think of MyPlate.

If you have questions about the new guidelines or how to make them fit your lifestyle, please contact me for an individualized appointment or visit my website for more information on my services.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Farm-fresh frame of mind

We spent last weekend with our best friends who live on some farmland outside of Clarksville, Tennessee.  We always have a great time and it certainly is relaxing to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. 

This time, though, I was especially intrigued by the availability and use of home-grown, homemade foods!  For breakfast one morning, we enjoyed biscuits made from scratch, not a can (thanks, Kyle, they were awesome) and farm-fresh eggs plucked straight from the chicken coop in the backyard.  We picked fresh lettuce from the garden for dinner salads and even left with a jar of homemade strawberry preserves.  It is so refreshing to see things from the beginning to their end product--to start from scratch and end up with delicious, nutritious, non-processed foods! Quite different from my discerning cruise through the aisles of the grocery store. 

The trip reminded me that sometimes simple is so much better! Just a little effort has the potential of being so rewarding--both emotionally and nutritionally. I found myself thinking, “Maybe I would like to live this semi-self-sustaining lifestyle in the country!”  But at the same time I sure would miss the city.  So I’ll have to stand my ground (no pun intended) and use some of those farm-fresh tactics here in my suburban backyard. I guess my neighborhood probably won’t let me have live chickens, but my own garden is a good enough start.

If you're starting to get a farm-fresh attitude too, try planting your own garden! If you don’t have a space in the yard to build an in-ground garden, start with a container garden using a few pots on your patio.  That’s how I started earning my green thumb!  If you're clueless about where to start, don't worry.  Try one of these helpful resources:
              Trowel and Error: Over 700 Tips, Remedies and Shortcuts for the Gardener    The Vegetable Gardener's Bible (10th Anniversary Edition)
                You Grow Girl: The Groundbreaking Guide to Gardening    Home Vegetable Gardening: A Complete and Practical Guide to the Planting and Care of all Vegetables, Fruits and Berries Worth Growing for Home Use (Illustrated Edition)