Nutrition

A Beginner’s Guide to Meal Planning

Is cooking more meals at home one of your goals for this year?  Great!  Now the next question:  where to start?  Standing in front of the fridge at dinnertime hoping to find some inspiration might work for some, but if cooking at home is new for you it’s probably a good idea to adopt a habit of meal planning.  Essentially, meal planning helps answer the question “what’s for dinner?” for the whole week.  If done regularly, it can help reduce some of the stress of cooking weeknight dinners and save money.  Begin your meal planning practice with these tips:

Plan:  Set aside time to devote to meal planning.  The weekend is usually a good option as you can plan your meals for the following week.  Decide how many meals you will need to prepare, choose your recipes and make a grocery list.

Shop sales/shop in season:  Read through grocery store flyers and plan your menu around what’s on sale.  Fruits and veggies are less expensive (and more flavorful) in season.  Also, look for opportunities to use the same ingredient(s) in more than one recipe.

Stay organized: Get a calendar and fill in the menu for the week.  Keep it someplace you can see it easily (like on your refrigerator).  Save all your recipes in one place so you can find them easily.  If you find recipes online, a Pinterest board may be a good option.

Prep ingredients:  Do as much of the prep work as possible ahead of time.  This is another reason it’s helpful to do your meal planning over the weekend.  Chopping the veggies you need for each recipe or making a big batch of quinoa on Sunday saves time during the week.

Use leftovers:  Practice “cook once, serve twice” when possible.  Make extra servings and bring some for lunch the next day.  Soups and chili can also be frozen for later (just thaw and reheat).

Have a backup plan:  There’s always the chance something unexpected will happen to throw off your plans.  Keep a couple of simple recipes on hand to fall back on in a pinch.

If you’re just starting to cook more at home, start small.  Maybe plan for one or two meals a week.  As you gain more confidence in the kitchen, you’ll be able to do more.  Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to do meal planning.  The most important part is finding a system that works for you and that you can stick with.

Post content reviewed by Melanie Pearsall, RD, CDE

 

Health

Wishing you a Healthy Holiday

Thanks to everyone who joined and followed our healthy holiday photo challenge!  Wishing you a happy and healthy new year.

BeFunky Collage

Gratitude – Gratitude can reduce stress/anxiety and improve relationships.

Colors – Quick and healthy holiday appetizer: colorful veggies and hummus.

Evergreen  – Sneak some exercise into your day:  use the season as an excuse to go for a walk and take in the holiday decorations.

Prioritize – Trying to “do it all” is a common cause of holiday stress. Focus on the things that are most important to you – anything else is bonus.

This makes me happy – Taking time to do something you enjoy (any time of year) helps reduce stress.

Relax – Research shows listening to your favorite music can help you relax.

Healthy Swap – Steamed fresh or frozen green beans are a healthy side dish alternative to green bean casserole.

Exercise – Sneak some exercise into your holiday shopping by doing an extra lap around the mall.

Breathe – When the holiday cheer starts getting to be too much, try a mini meditation like this one from the Benson-Henry Institute.

Peace – Remember to take time for activities (yoga, meditation, even a walk outside with family) that help you unwind and find peace.

Hydrate – Keep a water bottle nearby to remind you to sip water through the day.

Moderation – Using a smaller plate at meal time can help with portion control.

Decorate – Multitask to fit in some fitness:  turn up the holiday music and dance while you decorate.

Sports – Winter activities like sledding, skiing, ice skating or making a snow man are great ways to exercise outside with family in winter.

Unplug – Putting away phones and other devices for a time can reduce stress and help you feel more connected with loved ones.

Light – Happy #Hanukkah! Enjoy this sweet potato pancake recipe from MGH Be Fit.

Minimize – Over scheduled? It’s okay to say no! Only take the commitments you want/can do.

Sleep – Stick with your regular sleep routine during the holidays.

Something I enjoy – There’s so much to do during the holidays, but be sure to plan some fun activities too!

Mindfulness – Choose foods you really want to eat and focus on the taste and texture of each bite.

Fun and games – Plan family activities that take the focus away from food.

Fresh – Buying produce in season is a great way to save on fruits and veggies. DYK – Brussels sprouts (in season now) are a source of vitamin C?

Anything you like – Finding a way to laugh (like a surprise visit by a cute puppy) is a great way to relieve holiday stress.

Act of kindness – Research shows simple acts of kindness can reduce stress levels.  These gifts were wrapped as part of a charity toy drive.

Healthy treats – Don’t go to the party hungry! Have a healthy snack (like a handful of nuts) before you leave the house.

Cranberry – DYK cranberries are a good source of vitamin C? Try them in this recipe from the MGH Be Fit program: Parmesan Almond Crusted Chicken Breast Stuffed with Cauliflower and Dried Cranberries.

Positive vibes – A positive outlook will help with coping with challenges you may face during the holidays.

Memories – Remembering loved ones who aren’t there is helpful in bringing the family together. H/t MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds.

Tradition – As you take part in holiday traditions, take a deep breath and savor the moment.

Community – Schedule “together time” with those you most want to see during the holidays.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

recipes

Be Fit Basics: Sweet Potato Pecan Pancakes

Ingredients:
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup chopped pecans, divided
2¼ tsp baking powder
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or ½ tsp cinnamon and ½ tsp allspice or nutmeg, with a pinch of cloves)
1/4tsp salt
1 cup skim milk
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tbsp canola oil, plus more for the pan (est. 3 tbsp for greasing)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 (16 ounce) can of unsweetened sweet potatoes or yams, liquid drained and solids mashed together

Instructions
Combine flour, half the pecans (2 tbsp), baking powder, spice(s), and salt in a large bowl. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the milk, sugar, oil (1 tbsp), vanilla extract, and eggs; add these wet ingredients to the flour mixture and mix until smooth; stir in sweet potatoes.

Heat a griddle or sauté pan.  Pour enough canola oil to grease the griddle or pan.  Spoon about ¼ cup batter (per pancake) onto your hot cooking surface. Flip each pancake when bubbles start to form on the surface and the edges look cooked.  Cook about 1 minute more, or until both sides are golden.  (Turn down the heat if the pancakes start to brown too quickly.)

Repeat with the remaining batter until all batter has been used, using additional oil to grease the pan as needed. Sprinkle pancakes with the remaining pecans.

Yield: Serves 6 (2 pancakes per serving)

Nutrition Information per Serving:
Calories:  310 • Protein: 8g • Sodium: 345mg • Carbohydrate: 37g • Fiber: 3g • Fat: 15g • Sat Fat: 1.5 g

Recipe adapted from Cooking Light. Originally posted on clubsatcrp.com
Nutrition

Healthy Holidays: Adapting the “Balanced Plate” for Holiday Eating

balanced plateThe Holidays are often filled with rich foods that may not seem to fit into a balanced plate. But, with the proper portions and a few healthy tweaks, you can confidently create a balanced holiday plate without giving up your favorite dishes.

Many traditional holiday foods have a lot of starches and fat, so it’s important to keep in mind the balanced plate when eating during the holidays. Here are some tips to make your holiday eating a breeze!

PROTEIN: 1 palm-sized portion Protein

Make it work: 1 palm-sized portion of white meat turkey, ham, fish, or any other lean protein

Turkey and ham are traditional holiday proteins.  Try to eat more white meat rather than dark meat as this is a leaner source of protein. No matter your choice of holiday protein source, keep your portion to the size of your palm to fulfill your protein needs.

STARCH: 1 fist-sized portion starch

Make it work:  Usually a fist size of starch is recommended, but choosing smaller (½ fist-sized) portions of your favorite starches will allow you to have more options on your plate.  For instance:  ½ fist-sized portion of stuffing AND a ½ a fist-sized portion of mashed potatoes.

Starches can definitely be tricky with all of the options during the holidays. Holiday starches include stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and dinner rolls.  These tips can help to decrease the carbohydrates and help save room in your balanced plate for some dessert!

Swap 1: Switch out traditional mashed potatoes for mashed cauliflower.  Mashed cauliflower has about 5 times LESS carbohydrates than mashed potatoes. If cauliflower isn’t for you, stick to a small portion size of mashed potatoes and use skim milk instead of cream.

Mashed Cauliflower

Swap 2: Add extra non-starchy vegetables to stuffing to decrease the carbohydrates per serving.

Carrot Mushroom Stuffing

VEGETABLES: 2 fist-sized portions veggies

Make it work: 2 fist-sized portions of non-starchy vegetable side dishes (such as green beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, salad, etc.)

Remember that half of the balanced plate should be filled with non-starchy vegetables. Try to avoid dishes with a lot of cheese, butter, or cream and instead choose roasted, sautéed, or raw vegetables.  There are many recipes online with healthier versions of traditional side dishes such as the Healthy Green Bean Casserole recipe below!

Healthy Green Bean Casserole

Roasted Broccoli with Lemon & Parmesan

FRUIT: 1 cup or 1 small piece of fruit

Make it work: Incorporate fruit in a festive way into your holiday meal. Add in any of your favorite seasonal fruits to make a festive, colorful side dish.

Winter Fruit Salad

Beverages

Stick to water as a beverage and save room for all the other delicious things on the plate! Starting the meal off with some lemon water will help you stay hydrated and able to enjoy the entire meal. Be mindful of alcohol, especially holiday drinks like eggnog! These drinks contain a lot of added sugar and fat.  Try switching to healthier versions or other fun beverages with very little added sugar.

Dessert  

There are many recipes out there for lighter versions of holiday desserts.  If you have a family favorite recipe, try searching online for some easy swaps to make sure you can have your pie, and eat it too!

These simple tips can ensure that holiday eating doesn’t wreak havoc on your progress towards a more healthy life! By making a few changes, you can still have all the traditional holiday foods while following the balanced plate guidelines.

Have a happy & healthy holiday season!

Content reviewed by MGH Department of Nutrition and Food Services
Health

Healthy Holidays Photo a Day Challenge

Join us for a healthy holidays themed photo a day challenge starting November 27!

PhotoADay

 

How to play:  Take a photo each day of the challenge, using the prompt for that day as inspiration.  Post your photo on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook (or all three!) with the hashtag #DSMEHealthyHoliday.  Follow along on our  Instagram page for healthy holiday tips.

Daily Prompts:

Gratitude
What does gratitude look like for you?

Colors
Post a picture of something colorful you saw today.

Evergreen
Go outside sometime today and take a picture of an evergreen (or anything green).

Prioritize
What is most important to you during the holidays?

This makes me happy
What makes you happy during the holidays?

Relax
The holidays can be stressful. What’s something you do to relax?

Healthy Swap
What’s something you do to make a recipe healthier?

Exercise
There’s always so much to do during the holidays.  How do you fit in exercise?

Breathe
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop and take a breath.  What does that look like?

Peace
What does peace look like to you?

Hydrate
Enjoy your holiday drinks, but don’t forget water! How do you remember to drink water through the day?

Moderation
The holidays are full of treats and feasts. How do you practice moderation?

Decorating
Share how you incorporate physical activity in your holiday decorating.

Sports
Do you enjoy winter sports? Share an outdoor activity you did today.

Unplug
Power down your devices for at least an hour today. Show us what you did!

Light
How is light used in your holiday celebrations?

Minimize
Trying to do EVERYTHING is a big source of stress. Show us how you keep your “to do” list from becoming too overwhelming.

Sleep
Getting enough enough sleep helps keep the immune system healthy which can protect against colds and flu.  How do you make sure you get in your 8 hours of sleep during the holidays?

Something I enjoy
What do you enjoy most about the holidays?

Mindfulness
How do you practice mindfulness during the holidays?

Fun and Games
Fun activities with friends/loved ones can help reduce stress. What did you do today?

Fresh
Post a picture of something new or fresh you saw or did today.

Anything you like
Wildcard! Post a picture of anything holiday related today

Acts of Kindness
Small things mean a lot. Share an act of kindness you experienced today.

Healthy treats
Do you have a go-to healthy holiday treat? Show us!

Cranberry
Cranberries are a good source of vitamin C. Show us how you use cranberries in your holiday meals.  Or, take a picture of something cranberry colored.

Positive vibes
How do you stay positive in times of stress?

Memories
The holidays can be difficult for some. Post a picture of something that brings back a happy memory.

Tradition
What are some holiday traditions in your family?

Community
How does your community come together for the holidays?

Nutrition, Uncategorized

More Nutrition Myths Debunked

Sydney Bates, Dietetic Intern

There is a lot of conflicting information when it comes to nutrition. It seems that every day there is a new headline that’s at odds with everything we thought we knew. Despite emerging science, many nutrition myths are still prevalent. Here’s the truth about some common nutrition myths.

Myth: Egg yolks are high in cholesterol and should therefore be avoided
Fact: For decades, we were told not to eat eggs too often (and only the whites) if we wanted to be healthier and avoid elevated cholesterol. The latest evidence, however, shows that advice was scrambled. While egg whites are an excellent source of protein, the egg yolks contain most of the major nutrients including iron, folate and vitamins that support eye and brain health. The dietary cholesterol in eggs that was demonized for decades is now largely recognized by the medical community as having little effect on blood cholesterol. Overall, eggs contain a host of valuable nutrients, and focusing on the cholesterol content of eggs as a contributor to disease is not only counter-productive but false. Maintaining a balanced eating pattern with plenty of plant-based proteins and fats with the occasional animal product is the key to keeping those blood lipids at an optimal level.

Myth: Coffee is bad for you
Fact: The majority of studies on coffee have actually shown it provides protective effects against disease. Coffee is loaded with antioxidants, and has also been shown to help reduce the risk of developing diabetes in regular consumers. It’s likely the bad reputation comes from cream and sugar many people add to their drink. Adding sweetener greatly decreases this protective effect. To reap the most benefits, limit the amount of cream, milk, sugar, or artificial flavorings you add to your coffee.

Myth: You can eat as much “healthy” food as you like
Fact: The key to a healthy lifestyle is eating a variety of foods from all the main food groups. What this means is that just because the media touts avocados and kale as healthy “superfoods,” it doesn’t mean more is better; even healthy foods still need to be eaten in moderation. Ever hear of the saying, “too much of a good thing?” It applies to so-called healthy foods too. The body needs a certain amount of nutrients to function, and any excess is either stored as fat or eliminated. Plus, when you eat from only a small selection of foods, you miss opportunities to obtain vital nutrients from other sources. No one food contains all the macro- and micronutrients we need. That’s why it’s so important to view articles that promise things such as “eat as much of these foods as you want and never gain weight” with a critical eye. These headlines are designed to grab your attention using the allure of being able to eat all day long and never gain weight. To maintain health, eat a variety of foods, from all the food groups, in portions that are satisfying but don’t leave you feeling overly full all the time.

Myth: Gluten Free is healthier…and other labeling misconceptions
Fact: The term “health halo” is given to foods with a reputation for being better for you. They may have a special title or brand that is associated with being more nutritious, but this is not always the case. For instance, foods like smoothies, granola, organic snacks, protein shakes or foods labeled “organic” or “gluten free” are often thought of as being better options. The fact of the matter is that this is simply marketing and tailoring to consumer demand. Gluten is a protein found in wheat that has received a lot of attention recently. People with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity need to avoid gluten, but there is no need for the average person to eliminate gluten from their diet. As for organic foods, if you have the resources to purchase the “dirty dozen” (produce known to have high levels of pesticides) organic, wonderful. If not, you will not be losing out on any of the health-giving vitamins and minerals found in fresh produce. Learn more about the “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” and make an informed decision about which foods you will purchase organic. Overall, beware of falling for labeling traps and use your best judgement!

If you have questions about nutrition or your meal plan, speak with a Registered Dietitian to shed light on the evidence.

Post content reviewed by Melanie Pearsall, RD, LDN, CDE
recipes

Chicken Vegetable Stir – fry

Cooking dinner at home during the week doesn’t have to be complicated.  Try this chicken stir-fry recipe from the MGH Be Fit program.  Short on time?  Fill up a container with already cut veggies from your grocery store salad bar. Or keep frozen vegetables, such as broccoli, on hand to use in a pinch.  Substitute tofu for the chicken for a meatless option.

Ingredients:

2 tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
1 tsp brown sugar or honey
1 tsp minced ginger
1 pound chicken breasts, raw
2 tbsp olive (or canola or peanut) oil, divided
½ cup sliced onion
1 cup sliced red, orange, or green peppers
1 cup roughly chopped broccoli florets
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup frozen peas
4 cups cooked brown rice (such as quick-cooking Uncle Ben’s Ready Brown Rice—90 second)

Instructions:
In a medium bowl, combine soy sauce, brown sugar, and ginger. Add chicken to the soy sauce mixture; set aside.

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat; add chicken breasts. Cook 4-6 minutes per side (until each side in browned). Remove the cooked chicken and set aside.

Wipe out the inside of your pan with a paper towel to remove any overly browned bites.  Add 1 tbsp oil and then add the remaining vegetables (except peas) to the pan, including the garlic.

Stir vegetables occasionally until they are tender- crisp; add the peas and cook until warmed through. Cut the cooked chicken into strips and add to the vegetables; stir to combine.

Serve with 1 cup cooked rice per person.

Yield:  4 servings

Nutrition Information per Serving: 
Calories:  455 •  Protein:  32g • Sodium:  400mg • Carbohydrate:  49g • Fiber:  5g
Fat:  14g • Sat fat:  2g

Recipe from Tara Linitz, MS, RD, LDN