Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Homemade Banana Chips

In my last post, Tips for Making Half Your Plate Fruits and Veggies, I wrote about different ways to keep fruits and veggies easily accessible in your kitchen. When they're ready-to-use and easy-to-grab, it's easier to make them fill half your plate!

Aside from fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen, dried and canned fruits are excellent convenience options. And they're just as healthy--sometimes possibly healthier--than fresh. What? Yes; frozen, dried and canned fruits may actually contain more nutrients than fresh produce because they're picked at their peak and then processed (and by processed, I just mean dried, frozen or canned). This doesn't necessarily mean that fresh isn't as good for you, it just means that we have lots of options when it comes to eating our veggies (and fruits)!

Of course you can purchase frozen, dried and canned produce at your local grocery. Just make sure you look for varieties that don't have sugar or salt added. Better yet, without preservatives. If you like to prepare your food at home to ensure there's nothing at all added, processing produce to increase its shelf-life is surprisingly easy! I'm getting pretty darn good at freezing and drying it myself, but haven't tackled canning yet. Hopefully a summer project :)

Knowing how to perform these simple tasks can also save you some bucks if your fresh produce is beginning to spoil. This past weekend, I made dried banana chips because our bananas were quickly passing their peak! Buying and processing summer produce in bulk will also allow you to enjoy the deliciously fresh summer flavors when certain fruits and veggies aren't seasonal. Like the amazing peaches I have from local Eckert's Farm that I froze last summer. Delish. {Click here to learn how to freeze fruit that may turn brown, like peaches.}

This simple tutorial will get you started in the skill of drying fruit. I like this site for more tips and instructions for drying different types of fruits in a dehydrator or your oven.

Banana Chips
Serves 8.

  • 4 medium bananas (about 8-10" long)
  1. Peel bananas and place on a cutting board.
  2. Slice about 3/8-inch thick (about 30 slices per banana). Make even slices so they dry evenly.
  3. To keep bananas from turning brown, dip them in lemon juice or ascorbic acid solution (you can buy this in the canning section of your grocery or hardware store). P.S. I did not treat my bananas--you can see how they are slightly brown. 
  4. Place in a single layer on grates of the dehydrator. Slices should not touch each other to allow for adequate airflow.
  5. Turn temperature setting to 135 degrees.
  6. Run dehydrator for about 4 to 6 hours, checking about every 30 minutes to an hour towards the end of cooking time to check for doneness (check your dehydrators manual for specifics). To check for doneness: pull out a single banana chip and allow to cool for 5 minutes. The fruit should feel dry throughout out and will be crunchy when you bite into it.
  7. When done, turn dehydrator off and allow chips to cool for one hour.
  8. Transfer to a loosely-packed jar to condition the fruit (I use a canning jar or old condiment jar). Gently shake daily to evenly distribute moisture. If condensation appears on the jar, further drying time is needed. After 7-10 days, you may transfer to airtight storage bags if you prefer.

Additional Notes
  • You can also try cinnamon banana chips! Just sprinkle cinnamon across banana slices before drying.
  • If you don't have a dehydrator, you can also dehydrate produce in the oven. A very low temperature is needed. Dehydrate bananas at 135 degrees (200 degrees if that's as low as your oven will go) for about 4-6 hours, until they are crisp.
  • Dehydrating also works very well with strawberries. Slice them 1/4-inch thick. 
  • Any dried fruit makes an excellent, healthy on-the-go snack. 
  • Keep dried fruits in airtight containers for about one year.
  • Other homemade dried fruits will not be crunchy. They are done when they feel dry. Evaluate further by cutting through the center, then check for moisture beads at the edges which, if present, indicate more drying time is needed.

Nutrition Facts (per 15 chips)
Calories 60 | Total Fat 0g | Saturated Fat 0g | Cholesterol 0mg | Sodium 0mg | Total Carb 15g | Dietary Fiber 2g | Sugars 8g | Protein 1g.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tips for Making Half Your Plate Fruits and Veggies

Most everyone knows that fruits and vegetables are good for them. No news there. But actually eating enough of them is a different story! Why? Some clients have told me that they're just not as easy and convenient as other foods. Or they take too much time. Or they're wasted (have you ever brought home bags of fresh produce, only to find them rotting in the fridge a week later?).

To me, these excuses don't hold up! You just have to make it easier on yourself.

Fruits and veggies should make up a large part of our diets. I'm not saying you have to be a vegetarian to be healthy, but a diet rich in plant foods definitely has its benefits. That's why the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, represented by MyPlate, recommend that we make half our plate fruits and vegetables at meals. And what better time to start using MyPlate then National Nutrition Month?! Fruits and veggies are loaded with nutrition: vitamins, disease-fighting antioxidants, fiber and energy, while low in calories and fat-free. How can you beat that? But to be successful in making half you plate fruits and veggies, you have to make it convenient and you have to be conscious of what you're eating at your meals. You might have to do a little rearranging. For instance, swap those chips or fries for a salad or crispy cucumbers.

Here's my biggest tip for making half your plate fruits and veggies:

Use a "one-every-time-you-eat" approach. The meaning of that phrase is just as it sounds; make sure to include at least one fruit and/or vegetable with each meal and each snack. If you eat 3 meals per day and 2 snacks, you'll have eaten at least 5 fruits and veggies! Sounds easier already, right? Here are some examples included in a one-day sample menu:
  • Breakfast: Cereal with banana and walnuts
  • Morning Snack: Yogurt with berries
  • Lunch: Turkey sandwich with avocado, a side of sliced bell peppers, whole grain crackers and pineapple
  • Afternoon Snack: Apple, carrots and peanut butter
  • Dinner: Chicken breast, broccoli roasted in olive oil, and a baked potato with butter
  • Evening Snack: Dried cherries or strawberries (they're sweet like candy :))
See how easy that was? We totaled NINE in a snap (TEN if you count the avocado). P.S. This menu adds up to about 1800 calories.

In order to fulfill your "one-every-time-you-eat" mission, use some of the following tips:

If you're in a hurry at mealtime and look in the fridge only to find bags of unprepared produce, the extra 5-10 minutes it will take to prepare them may be daunting. So imagine now that you look in the fridge and see containers of cut peppers, zucchini and broccoli. Better! That's the power of being prepared. When you get home from the grocery store with bags of fresh produce, take the time (I bet it's 20 minutes max) to wash and cut your produce; then store it in airtight containers. You'll be thanking yourself come mealtime when all you have to do is open a container and grab the veggies, ready to go.

If you're really looking to minimize the time you spend in the kitchen, buy pre-cut produce (and also proceed to the next tip). Yes, it costs more. But if you're willing to pay the price tag to save yourself some time, it might be worth it to you. Some veggies that come pre-washed and cut include salad, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery and green beans. Check your grocery to see what's available.

Keep frozen fruits and veggies on hand in the freezer at all times! They don't spoil as rapidly and will be there if you're out of the fresh stuff. You can even buy steamable bags of veggies that can be popped directly in the microwave in portion-controlled servings.

Here are veggies you'll always find in my freezer and how I add them easily to dinners:
  • Frozen peas: Toss them in the same pot as the pasta you're boiling for dinner. Strain together and top with olive oil and herbs.
  • Frozen corn: Make a Mexican taco filling. Saute chicken breast in a skillet, add black beans, frozen corn and diced tomatoes. Wrap in a taco shell or spoon on top of a salad.
  • Frozen green beans: Place green beans, still frozen, in a skillet filled with about 1/4 cup of water. Cook on medium heat. As the water evaporates, add olive oil and seasonings, and saute until desired tenderness.
  • Frozen broccoli: Steam in a pot or in the microwave, then top with a sliver of butter.

Dry or dehydrate.
Stock different types of dried fruits in your pantry; they also come in handy when fresh fruit isn't convenient or available. If you have a dehydrator, you can dry extra portions of fresh fruit for a healthy snack later. My staples are golden raisins, dried cherries and wild blueberries. I love:

Canned fruits and veggies are also great to have on hand as a backup; just make a wise selection since canned foods can be a source of extra sodium or sugar. Opt for low-sodium vegetables or those labeled, "no salt added." In the fruit aisle, choose fruits that are canned in their own juice or water.

This is one of the most important parts. Once you've got all your produce prepared, you have to eat it! If you're at home during the day, you'll have easy access to whatever you need. Just abide by the "one-every-time-you-eat" approach. If you pack your lunch for work or school, fill a large, airtight container with fruits and veggies to eat throughout the day at your meals and snacks. {Click here for an example.}

The key to eating healthy is being prepared. It may take you a few more minutes on the front-end, but will save you time and headache (plus calories, of course) during the week. Give it a shot and let me know how you do!

Photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ask the RD on RD Day!

Today is the sixth annual RD (Registered Dietitian) Day! This annual "holiday" is a time to recognize registered dietitians and our role in helping people lead healthy lifestyles. I'm an RD and I love what I do! I get to talk and think about one of my favorite things all day...food. And I'm glad to have a day dedicated to my mission: helping others love (or learn to love) healthy foods as a part of their lifestyle; and in doing so becoming healthier, preventing disease or controlling disease. I think we have an important job and I'm honored and excited to do it. And to all my fellow RDs out there, happy RD Day!

In honor of our "holiday," I'm offering you the opportunity to ask me your nutrition questions. Either comment below or send an email to askliz@rdbyyourside.com. I'll be taking your questions all month long. Please note that I can't provide personal nutrition guidelines (a meal plan or nutrient goals) without an appointment. Everyone is different and it's important to take all factors into account when calculating a meal plan that fits you! And as it's standard, although I am a credentialed nutrition professional, please don't make medical decisions solely based on this website.

Here's more information about RD Day:
  • Registered Dietitian Day increases awareness of registered dietitians as the indispensable providers of food and nutrition services and recognizes RDs for their commitment to helping people enjoy healthy lives.
  • Registered dietitians are food and nutrition experts, translating the science of nutrition into practical solutions for healthy living. The expertise, training and credentials that back a registered dietitian are vital for promoting positive lifestyle choices.
  • When you need food and nutrition information based on fact or need to know how a healthy diet improves health and fights disease— rely on qualified professionals in the field.
  • Registered dietitians draw on their experience to develop a personalized nutrition plan for individuals of all ages. They are able to separate facts from fads and translate nutritional science into information you can use. A registered dietitian can put you on the path to lowering weight, eating healthfully and reducing your risk of chronic disease.

Why should you see a dietitian? Here are ten great reasons:
  1. You have diabetes, cardiovascular problems or high blood pressure.
  2. You are thinking of having or have had gastric bypass surgery.
  3. You have digestive problems.
  4. You’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant.
  5. You need guidance and confidence for breastfeeding your baby.
  6. Your teenager has issues with food and eating healthfully.
  7. You need to gain or lose weight.
  8. You’re caring for an aging parent.
  9. You want to eat smarter.
  10. You want to improve your performance in sports.

Why don't you celebrate National Registered Dietitian Day by visiting your local dietitian to say thank you, ask a question or get started on your journey to healthy living. There's no better time to start than RD Day!

If you're in St. Louis and looking for a Registered Dietitian, look no further than RDbyyourside Nutrition. I'm running a special this month if you're interested in a nutrition program, so visit my website. To locate a registered dietitian in your area, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics at www.eatright.org.

What's your nutrition question?

Content adapted from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.com

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Green Pasta (Rotini with Spicy Spinach Pesto)

Not only is it National Nutrition Month, but St. Patty's Day is fast approaching too. And here in St. Louis, it's a big deal! I don't know if I'll be heading down to the Dogtown Parade this year, but I'll still be trying to rub off a little of that "Irish luck" by going green on the 17th.

This "green" meal is also a great way to create a MyPlate meal in honor of National Nutrition Month--that's a meal that's based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. A MyPlate meal incorporates healthy choices from a variety of food groups. This meal fits the bill by supplying whole grains (pasta), vegetables (zucchini), protein (beans) and healthy fats (olive oil and nuts in the pesto). Add a fruit and dairy, either for dessert or at a snack, to complete your healthy meal.

My "Green Pasta" is a quick and easy to prepare meal. It's also a meatless option that would suit a vegetarian or vegan diet (are you doing Meatless Mondays?). It's an excellent source of non-meat protein and filling fiber too. If you're normally not a big fan of pesto, I encourage you to give my Spicy Spinach Pesto a whirl. It's not as potent as traditional basil pesto and is lower in fat. All you need is 5 minutes and a food processor or blender. For added convenience, make a large batch and freeze it in smaller portions for future meals. It's easy to freeze in an ice cube tray or between two small pieces of wax paper.

If you're preparing a dinner for just two, this recipe is great for lunch (or leftover dinner) the next day too.

Green Pasta (Rotini with Spicy Spinach Pesto)
Serves 4.

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 large zucchini, halved and sliced
  • 2 2/3 cups whole wheat rotini, dry
  • 1 cups peas, frozen
  • 16 ounces garbanzo beans, canned, low-sodium, drained and rinsed
  • 6 tablespoons Spicy Spinach Pesto (recipe here)
  • 1 dash kosher salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 dash fresh ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons parmesan cheese, grated
  • 8 leaves basil, fresh, chiffonade (sliced)

  1. Boil water in a medium pot. When water begins to boil, add pasta and cook until al dente (just beginning to soften). Add frozen peas and continue to heat until water returns to a boil. Drain in colander and return to pot. Cover with lid to keep warm.
  2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a medium skillet.
  3. Sauté zucchini until it begins to soften, seasoning with garlic powder, salt and black pepper. Add garbanzo beans. Stir and turn heat to low.
  4. Add Spicy Spinach Pesto to pasta and peas. Gently fold to coat pasta with pesto.
  5. Serve pasta with zucchini mixture on top. Sprinkle with parmesan and ribbons of fresh basil.

Nutrition Facts (per serving, including Pesto)
Calories 426 | Total Fat 13g | Saturated Fat 2g | Cholesterol 4mg | Sodium 528mg | Total Carb 62g | Dietary Fiber 8g | Sugars 4g | Protein 17g.

Download the recipe here (includes Spicy Spinach Pesto).
Recipe pictured includes chicken breast, which adds about 145 calories per 3 ounces.

Spicy Spinach Pesto

This may not be a recommendation you hear a lot: pesto sauce is always great to keep on hand. You'll be surprised how easy it can be to whip up a quick, healthy and flavorful dinner when you have some pesto ready to go!

Traditional pesto is made with basil leaves, pine nuts and olive oil. It's delicious and rich in healthy unsaturated fats. But I'm not always willing to bank a couple hundred calories on a pasta sauce--so I created this lightened-up version. It's a little more lightly flavored that traditional pesto and still has the benefits of heart-healthy unsaturated fats--but with a little kick. All you need is a food processor or good blender.

My best tip for whenever you make your own sauces is to prepare a large batch. Leftovers, like this sauce, can be frozen in smaller portions to use to prepare quick meals later on. This method works great for pesto, marinara or meat sauces. Since pesto sauce is used in a smaller portion size than other pasta sauces, I like to freeze it in ice cube trays. When the pesto freezes, transfer your "cubes" to a large, zip-top freezer bag. This recipe serves 6 and can be adjusted to prepare extra. Pesto can also be used as an appetizer spread on a baguette.

Spicy Spinach Pesto
Serves 6.

  • 2 cup spinach, baby
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • 3 teaspoons lemon juice
  • ⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 dash Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • In a food processor, pulse spinach, pine nuts and lemon juice.
  • Add spices.
  • Add olive oil and pulse until smooth.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
Calories 80 | Total Fat 8g | Saturated Fat 1g | Cholesterol 0mg | Sodium 32mg | Total Carb 1g | Fiber .5g | Sugars 0g | Protein 1g.

Download the recipe here. Use in this recipe: Green Pasta (Rotini with Spicy Spinach Pesto)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

How Does Your Plate Rate?

Are you "eating right?" How much do you know about nutrition? 

As part of National Nutrition Month (NNM), the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has made available some fun and informative quizzes in which you can test yourself! 

I highly recommend two, both available here:

  • The Rate Your Plate quiz
  • The Fact or Fiction quiz

Test your eating habits against MyPlate by taking the "Rate Your Plate" quiz. Follow the link, then scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the "Rate Your Plate" icon. It's a simple 10-question quiz that will give you more information about how you're doing and what you can change to make your diet healthier. 

Next take the "Fact or Fiction" quiz, also found by following the link then scrolling to the bottom of the page. It's a great way to determine if some common nutrition statements are really true. Get to the bottom of it and find out if you're on the right track!

A healthy diet includes a variety of foods from the different food groups pictured on MyPlate. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans include recommendations on how many servings from each of these groups we need daily to meet our bodies' nutrition needs. These guidelines are generally appropriate for everyone. If you have been given specific dietary guidelines from your doctor or dietitian, you should follow those. If you would like to find out what your personal diet goals should be, visit RDbyyourside Nutrition or eatright.org to find a dietitian near you.

To read more about National Nutrition Month click here.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day

That's the theme of this year's 40th anniversary National Nutrition Month®! It's going on all through the month of March.

What's it all about? National Nutrition Month (NNM) is an annual campaign sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Good nutrition can impact our lives in many ways: from the prevention of diseases (such as cancer and heart disease), to the management of diseases (everything from lactose intolerance to diabetes to celiac disease to high cholesterol), to weight management and general healthy living. During the annual NNM, the Academy focuses attention on “the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.” It's an entire month in which to think about one of the most important things you can do for yourself--lead a healthy lifestyle. And it's a great time to get started on the path to healthy living! This year's theme encourages you to find your own unique way.

"Eat right, your way, every day" encourages personalized healthy eating styles. We all have our own style--and that is no different when it comes to food and nutrition. One strategy doesn't work for us all because we're all unique! And as both an individual and RD, I embrace that. Your healthy eating style should fit your likes, dislikes and lifestyle. Are you a meat-lover? Vegetarian? Athlete? Do you require a low cholesterol or carb-controlled diet? Do you travel often? The list of differences could go on and on. So next time you hear about the next miracle or one-size-fits-all nutrition plan, think again. Will it really work for us all?

The message of this year’s NNM also emphasizes how a registered dietitian can assist you with eating healthfully in a manner that works for you. Dietitians strive to help people make healthier choices every day that are based on scientific fact, not the latest trend. That's what the GoodFood blog is really all about. To become a registered dietitian (RD), an individual must earn at least a bachelor’s degree, complete a supervised practice program, and pass a registration examination--so they really know their stuff.

RDs like myself strive to work with their clients so they can accomplish the goal of eating right, their way, every day. We gather information about YOUR food preferences, YOUR lifestyle and activity level, YOUR health status and YOUR goals. As a team, we design a plan that you can stick to all the while providing suggestions for meal plans and recipes. We motivate you to stay on the path of good health, even when it is tempting to go astray, by breaking down the sometimes overwhelming task of eating right into smaller, manageable short-term goals. And if chronic disease management needs to be included too, no worries--your dietitian can help you determine foods and a style of eating to manage symptoms. Sounds fun, right? Well it is! At least for a foodie like me :)

The bottom line is: All foods can fit in a healthy eating plan. Learn how to eat a diet based in healthy foods; not only are the possibilities endless, but they're so good for you! Favorite foods, indulgences and special occasions are no reason to throw in the towel for healthy eating--they're all part of the plan. By working with a dietitian you can learn to incorporate balance, moderation and variety: three essentials for healthy eating. These aren’t concepts used by most fad diets; in fact, many fad diets encourage complete elimination of one or more food groups! This exclusion of specific types of foods can lead to nutrient deficiencies and other negative effects--not to mention it just doesn't last. Forget fad dieting! See an RD for your nutrition needs. And I apologize for the shameless plug, but it is my month: If you're in Missouri or adjacent to the St. Louis area, click here for more information about in-person or e-counseling with RDbyyourside. {P.S. You'll find a NNM special here too} If you're not, visit www.eatright.org to find an RD near you.

Is it really possible to eat right every day? Sure! Until you are able to make an appointment with your RD for specific and personal goals, remember these essentials for healthful nutrition that you can use every day, your way:

It's the recipe for weight management, which helps us feel good and prevent disease. Keep your food intake (calories in) in balance with activity (calories out). Keep tabs on how much food you're taking in and find an exercise routine to do consistently. Don’t force yourself to do activities you find boring, but rather choose activities you enjoy. Exercise with friends and family to make your exercise time a social event as well. (Be sure to talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program).

Using the concept of moderation in your diet will help you have that occasional treat without the frustration of weight gain. It is okay to indulge every now and then (and is it really realistic to think that you’ll never do it again?), but balance your treats with making healthier, more nutrient-dense choices the rest of the day and most days of the week.

It’s the spice of life! There are so many foods that are good (healthy and tasty) for us to eat, so it is certainly not necessary to eat the same foods over and over again to be successful in weight management and a healthy diet. Variety helps eliminate diet-boredom and temptation too. Incorporate all the food groups into your diet, along with variety from within each group. 
  • Grains provide our major source of energy. 
  • Protein helps to replenish our muscle mass and help with our body’s structure. 
  • Dairy is important for building strong bones. 
  • Fruits and vegetables provide us with many vitamins and minerals; eat a rainbow!
  • Healthy fats help keep us full and control cholesterol.

So are you ready to embrace the concept of eating right, your way, every day? What's your style? Please share!

Published with the help of contributor, Kelly Houston, Saint Louis University Dietetic Intern.
Photo published with permission from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics