By Mindy Athas, RD, CSO, LDN
Outpatient Oncology Dietitian
Has that initial back-to-school resolution to pack healthier lunches and make more nutritious choices throughout the day started to wear thin? Have autumn tasks and responsibilities and pre-holiday stress led you down the junk food trail? It’s time to get back into healthy habits before the festivities and post-holiday winter hibernation kick in. So grab your notebook, pencil and calculator, and meet me for some Nutrition 101.
Reading: start gathering healthy recipes from friends, family, books, magazines and online sites. Two great resources for healthy eating include www.cookinglight.com and www.eatingwell.com. Head to the book store for the bargain cookbooks and look for words like “low-fat”, “heart-healthy” and “light or lite” recipes. Or stop by the library and grab a handful of healthy eating cookbooks to peruse; if you find some keepers, you can always order the books online. Cooking magazines include Cooking Light, Cooks Illustrated, and Bon Appétit, all of which also have online sites. For more general healthy reading, check out www.eatright.org, www.mayoclinic.com, www.heart.org and www.diabetes.org, all of which have printable general information handouts geared to the basics.
For more detailed info and healthy eating plates and pyramids, see www.choosemyplate.gov, www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/ and oldwayspt.org/resources/heritage-pyramids/mediterranean-pyramid/overview.
You may want to start an online or paper recipe journal or folder to keep all your healthy fall picks in one place. For specific cancer-fighting foods, check out American Institute for Cancer Research’s www.aicr.org/foods-that-fight-cancer/ , for a list of nutrition fact sheets, see the National Cancer Institute’s www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/diet and the American Cancer Society’s www.cancer.org/Healthy/EatHealthyGetActive/index for cancer prevention nutrition strategies.
Writing: Jot down some weekly dinner ideas to help organize your food shopping list. Start with protein but add in at least one meatless meal: good for your budget, your waistline and the environment! Meatless meals can include beans, nuts, tofu or just a mixture of grains (think bean chili and pasta marinara). Animal protein includes poultry, fish, eggs, and lean cuts of meats, but limit red and processed meats as much as possible. Then add vegetables (seasonal and local items should top the list), and finally a starch (if you even need one with all the wonderful root vegetables in season now). Add fruit for a quick and easy dessert.
Check your local food stores’ weekly flyers for sales, which will change often, ensuring a nice food variety while helping you save money. For some meal and menu ideas: www.makedinnereasy.com which includes a weekly grocery list to print, www.dinnerplanner.com with step-by-step photos and tips, www.health.com/health/eating which includes a free email newsletter, and www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/index.html which has an A to Z foods list.
Remember to cut back on salt and salty ingredients and increase the amount of fruits or vegetables in the recipes. Always aim to keep the base of your meal coming from plants: veggies, fruits, beans, nuts and whole grains. Eat a rainbow of colors daily as well to ensure you get a myriad of different nutrients.
School Supplies: When making your fall food list, stick with some basics to keep in your kitchen all season. These include good quality olive oil (extra virgin), canola oil (expeller-pressed), balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar if you prefer), fresh garlic (don’t refrigerate), fresh herbs (which you can buy as plants and keep in a sunny window), dried herbs (curry powder, cinnamon, cumin), shallots and onions (organic if you can get them), a pepper mill for fresh ground pepper, and any other herbs and spices you like.
Cutting back on salt at home will help you lower your salt threshold for when you eat out, encouraging better restaurant choices. Remember to pick what’s in season now, in your area: in addition to a variety of apples, look for local pumpkins, gourds, pears, beans, turnips, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and honey. Try acorn or butternut squash simply baked with some olive oil or real Maple syrup (which you can also buy locally and which is considered an antioxidant).
For more seasonal eating information:, see Sustainable Table at www.sustainabletable.org/shop/seasonal/ , the Natural Resources Defense Council www.simplesteps.org/contact which has an Eat Local app for your phone, www.marylandsbest.net which includes a listing of local markets and farms, and www.pickyourown.org/MDharvestcalendar.htm which has a complete annual harvest chart. Taking a trip on a beautiful fall day to pick apples off the tree combines exercise, fun and sustainable eating: that’s putting your money where your mouth is!
New Teacher: don’t be afraid to try new foods! Check out the plethora of gourds, pumpkins, root vegetables, and colorful fruits showcased at the farmers’ markets this fall. Don’t know what it is? Buy it and try it: your farmer or grocer will get you started. (Did you bring your recipe notebook?) Write down the names of unusual foods (Parsnip? Dragon fruit? Fiddleheads? Lychee?) so you can search recipes later. Haven’t tried brown rice, amaranth, quinoa or chia seeds yet? Don’t be a flunky: get hip to the multitude of whole grains available at almost every supermarket. Look for the words “100% whole”, “whole wheat,” “stone ground,” “multigrain” and “whole grain” on packages. Choose grains with the most fiber: aim for 3 grams per serving for breads and crackers, and 5 grams per serving for starches. Fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds are also great fiber sources, and remember an apple for the teacher! Some other nutrition superstars which always seem to be in season include mushrooms, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, Brussels sprouts, pomegranates, and kale. For other great healthy food ideas: www.appforhealth.com/tag/healthiest-produce/ , www.whfoods.com/foodstoc.php and www.divinecaroline.com/22175/52070-twenty-healthiest-foods-1.
A is for Autumn: Eat plenty of fresh (local and seasonal) produce this fall. Choose 3 or more servings of vegetables daily and 2 or more servings of fruit daily. This is equivalent to about 2 cups daily of fruits and veggies combined. For details, see www.choosemyplate.gov/myplate/index.aspx.
B is for Bread: think making your own bread is hard? You have mastered many difficult school subjects, so baking bread from scratch (or using your bread machine) is a veritable piece of cake! Start with an easy basic recipe using a combo of all-purpose, bread and whole wheat flour. Use up all those fresh apples and pears in muffins and fruit pies with added nuts to add healthy fats, fiber and protein. Sprinkle in some oat bran or flax seed for crunch, and substitute some of the oil in the recipes with yogurt or applesauce. Try this pear and granola muffin recipe from Martha Stewart, which includes whole grains and cinnamon: www.marthastewart.com/317980/pear-and-granola-muffins.
C is for Cooking: Think how great your home will smell with a big pot of creamy butternut squash soup (yum!) on the stove. Throw in some cinnamon and the neighbors will be coming by. Cook large batches of soup, stew, chili, casseroles, quiche, or tomato sauce. Cool in shallow dishes, then freeze in small glass containers for a quick dinner. Make chili with beans or try a white chili with ground turkey or chicken.
If you’ve never had fresh beets, try: www.finecooking.com/recipes/jewel-roasted-vegetables.aspx?nterms=53248,50300. And for a low-carb pasta swap, try spaghetti squash instead, with turkey meatballs: www.wholeliving.com/131539/spaghetti-squash-turkey-meatballs?czone=/fall-recipes/main-courses¢er=185179&gallery=185173&slide=131539.
For a twist on fresh pumpkin, consider a warm pumpkin salad over polenta: www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Warm-Pumpkin-Salad-with-Polenta-and-Candied-Pumpkin-Seeds-105581 or stick with the traditional soup: www.tasteofhome.com/Recipes/Curried-Pumpkin-Soup-2 where you can sub fresh pumpkins (look for the small round kind for cooking, not the big kind for carving at Halloween) instead of canned.
Watch your Math: Remember to watch portion sizes, added fats and sugars. With all the tasty fresh fall produce, you won’t need many calorie-rich condiments. Cream, butter, excess oil, sweet sauces, salad dressings, cheese and fried items can easily overload your calorie budget. Seek lower or no-sugar-added items and try making your own salad dressing with olive oil, vinegar and mustard or a squeeze of fresh lime juice. Retrain your taste buds to appreciate the delicate flavors found naturally in fresh foods. Remember fresh garlic, shallots and onions in dishes for a pop of flavor and substitute fresh herbs for dried as able. Use the plate method: half your plate (and try to use a smaller diameter plate) with vegetables and fruits, then ¼ whole grains and ¼ protein foods. For more ideas on adding produce: www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org. Continue to add daily physical activity to your life: just walking 10 minutes after each meal can help keep your body healthy and relieve stress. Try sleeping in a dark room at night for a solid 7- to 8-hour stretch and laughing more, both of which can strengthen your immune system. For more healthy living ideas: www.fns.usda.gov/eatsmartplayhardhealthylifestyle/ and www.hhs.gov/safety/index.html.
Congratulations on passing your Mid-Term Fall Eating class: enjoy all of autumn’s bounty, and it’s OK to encourage others to copy.