Monday, August 17, 2015

Pack a quick, easy & healthy school lunch

As the school year approaches, parents may find themselves busy again and wondering how to keep their kids healthy while they hit the school cafeteria.  Although public schools have come a long way with school lunches, they still may not measure up to parental standards when it comes to a fresh, balanced meal.   However, it can be difficult to find the time to pack a healthy lunch at home.  Here are some tips that may help to make your child’s lunch healthier and easier on you (or them) to put together. 
kids eating healthy while at school.
·         Review the school lunch menu with your child and see if there are options on certain days that are agreeable to you both in terms of health value and foods that your child likes.  Circle these options as days where you won’t have to pack a lunch. 
  •  Be sure that a lunch you pack offers something from each food group; 
  • Grains/starches, which might include whole grain bread for sandwiches, healthy whole grain snack crackers (Wheat Thins, Triscuits), popcorn.
  • Fruit – any fresh fruit, unsweetened applesauce or fruit that is canned in juice (not syrup).
  • Vegetables – carrots, celery sticks, cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes.  Pack some light dip or hummus for dipping.
  • Protein – this could be sandwich meat (turkey, tuna fish – avoid processed lunch meats such as bologna & salami) or it could nut butter in a sandwich (if the school allows) or it might even be a string cheese stick or a few slices of cheese. 
  • Keep sugary snacks to a minimum. 
  • Prep lunches for the week on Sunday.  Cut up any veggies or fruits that need cutting.  You can have separate bins in your refrigerator and cabinets for each lunch component.  In the bins, place baggies with single portions of each food in baggies or containers.  Label each bin with the food group i.e. “School Lunch Fruits,” “School Lunch Veggies.”  Going a step further, you can even freeze sandwiches;  Just be sure not to freeze fresh vegetables and fruits and if you do use mayonnaise or mustard, place it between the meat or cheese slices to prevent the bread from getting soggy.  This makes lunches come together in a snap and your child can even throw together his/her own lunch, picking a food from each bin.
  • Don’t forget the ice pack!  Keeping foods cold is important, especially meats and cheeses, to prevent food-borne illness.  
  • Always make it a point to provide a healthy after-school snack!
Hopefully these tips take some of the rushing around out of your schedule and put your mind at ease about providing a healthy school lunch in a manageable fashion!  

Monday, June 15, 2015

How often should you weigh yourself?

How frequently to weigh yourself seems to be a topic of debate among individuals trying to lose weight and among professionals.  The frequency advised to weigh yourself ranges from "not at all" to "every day," depending on who you listen to.

Weekly Weighing

The advice to weigh weekly tends to be the most common.  Weight Watchers, for one, encourages people to only weigh themselves at weekly meetings/check-ins on their scale.  The theory being that you are seeing a week's worth of effort reflected and a bigger change than if you were weighing yourself daily.  For some, this proves to be less frustrating that weighing oneself daily and only seeing small changes.

Daily Weighing

The daily weight advice is controversial but also becoming more popular.  The theory behind daily weights is that it helps you to recognize how your weight might fluctuate day to day, based on the foods you eat, fluid retention and other factors.  This also helps some to "stay on task" with their goals.  If you overindulge one night, the scale will show it the next morning.  For some, this is a motivator to get right back on track again with their goals.  The controversy lies in the risk of becoming too obsessed with your weight and/or too frustrated at not seeing enough of a change in the right direction daily.  This approach is not recommended for those with a history of eating disorders or significant body image issues. 

No Weighing

The advice to stay off the scale is recommended as part of the "Intuitive Eating" approach, pioneered by book authors and Registered Dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.  The theory behind not weighing yourself at all is to take the focus completely off the number on the scale and focus more on the act of  tuning in to your body's queues for what foods to eat and how much.  The theory is that eventually, your body will migrate to the healthy weight it is meant to be at and that the number doesn't really matter at all.

Bottom Line

Personally, I've tried all three approaches.  Although my goal is to maintain, not lose weight, what works best for me are daily weights.  They do help me keep focused and on track with (or quickly resume) my goals. I truly believe that this method has helped me to stay at my preferred weight.  Bottom line, despite the fact that I have chosen to weigh myself daily, I have no recommendation at all about frequency except to do what motivates you the most.  What motivates each of us is personal and individual.  If you're not sure, try each approach for a month and see how it works for you.  One piece of advice remains constant though; do choose the same scale to weigh yourself on and try to weigh yourself at the same time of day for consistency. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

How about a Shamrock Smoothie instead of a Shamrock Shake?

Six years ago, when I was living in Minnesota, we had a unique friend named Nickolai who was hanging out with us on good ol' St. Paddy's Day.  After celebrating for some time, he came up with the intense craving for the well-known McDonald's Shamrock Shake.  He found a responsible individual (me) to drive him to McDonald's, which I did against my better judgment.  To my chagrin, Nickolai proceeded to order not one but two large Shamrock Shakes.  He drank the first shake, all 840 calories and 24 grams of fat.  He then decided he did not feel so well and tried unsuccessfully to pawn off the 2nd shake on other revelers.  Now, every time I see the Shamrock Shake advertized under the lovely yellow arches, I think of Nickolai.  When I looked up the nutrition information on McDonald's web site, I was actually surprised that a 22-oz shake only has 24 grams of fat (that's still a lot, but less than I expected). Of course there are healthier alternatives...

Green smoothies (nicknamed "Shamrock Smoothies" in honor of the holiday) are on the rise these days, with people trying to find creative and easy ways to add fruits and vegetables to their diets.  My husband and I have a favorite recipe; but, unfortunately, we do not remember where we found it.  Regardless, we have modified it from its original form: 

Ingredients for 2 servings:

1 large handful of kale
1 large handful of baby spinach
1 banana
2 kiwi fruits - skins left on but ends cut off
1/4 cup ground flaxseed

Instructions:  Add kale and spinach to blender container (they should fill it up about halfway if you have a standard 6-cup container), add banana, kiwi fruits and flaxseed.  Fill blender to the half-way mark with water (more or a less, depending on the consistency you desire).  Blend until smooth.  Enjoy!  You will be surprised at how little of the veggies you actually taste and how much of the fruit.

Nutrition Information Per Serving:  Calories:  185, Total Fat:  5.6g (Primarily Polyunsaturated with 2400 mg Omega-3), Protein:  7.3g, Sodium:  64mg, Carb:  33g, Fiber 10.2g  Excellent Source of  Potassium, Vitamins A, C, B6, K, Good Source of Vitamin E, Calcium and Iron (non-heme).
Of course, very many modifications can be made to a smoothie recipe.  The sky is the limit.  I'm not always a fan of experimentation with recipe ingredients (for fear of bad results), but smoothies are the exception.  For instance you could add Greek yogurt or protein powder and then it would potentially count as a complete meal/snack, containing carbohydrate, protein and healthy fat .  I also often add mixed frozen berries, which add a nice taste but detract from the aesthetics (turning the smoothie more of a brown versus a green).  You could add any fruit or vegetable you desire depending on your taste and the nutrients you desire.  There are a ton of recipes on the internet as well - just Google "green smoothie" and you will see, although I cannot necessarily vouch for the nutritional value of what you may find! 

So, why not do something healthy for yourself on St. Patrick's Day and find a new green smoothie recipe to add to your traditional Irish fare. Of course, if you like to take the opportunity to enjoy the ever-famous Shamrock Shake, I won't hold it against you.  You may not want to attempt to drink 44 ounces of it though...after drinking 44 ounces of green beer. 

Photo Courtesy:  Jennifer "SweetOnVeg"

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Sleep-Weight Connection

Ok, so we’ve all heard that we need to “eat less, exercise more” to lose weight.  That’s a given.  But, are you aware that getting enough sleep can also be crucial?  The sleep-weight connection is actually multi-faceted, making sleep quite an important part of the equation.  Part of it may seem obvious;  You’re exhausted...Are you more likely to grab a yogurt and go to the gym or grab a couple of chocolate chip cookies and sit in front of the TV?  The other part that’s not so obvious is the fact that lack of sleep during the weight loss process actually alters our hormones and by hormones, I mean the ones that can heavily impact appetite, hence weight...leptin and ghrelin.  Leptin tells us when to eat and ghrelin tells us when to stop.  Well, guess what?  When you’re sleep deprived, leptin increases and ghrelin decreases, attacking your appetite at “both ends” so to speak.  Oddly enough, according to one study, the hormones were only impacted in those that had been trying to reduce caloric intake...i.e. those that were trying to lose weight.  So, what may seem like “loss of inhibitions” during sleep deprivation may in fact be more related to your hormone levels!  So, what do experts recommend?  Try to get at least 7.5 hours of good quality sleep each night and not only will you feel more energetic, you may also notice that you’ll be more successful in your efforts to lose weight.   

Monday, February 16, 2015

Create a Vision Board to Help You Lose Weight

Whether you want to call it a "vision board," "dream board," "motivation collage" or some other creative name, what I am referring to is a visual that can help you to achieve your goals.  Have you ever stopped in your tracks on your way to grab a second helping of ice cream because you saw your "Shape" magazine out of the corner of your eye?  Have you pulled out a pair of jeans or a bathing suit and hung it up on your wall as incentive to stick with your goals?  A vision board is like that, only a more "in your face" approach.  It's something that you would want to post where you will see it frequently - perhaps in the kitchen or on your smartphone or even as your computer wallpaper.  

So, what goes on a vision board?  The sky is the limit!  As long as they are things that motivate YOU.  This could include a picture of a thinner you, an inspirational quote or a picture of an outfit you'd love to wear someday.  You could write down all of the reasons you want to lose weight or be healthier or if you have pictures of those motivators, even better.  It could include pictures of healthy foods you enjoy eating.  Be creative!  The only rules are that the board should be inspirational and motivational for you, enough so that it could stop you in your tracks while on your way to consume an extra helping of dessert.  You also need to post it somewhere you will see it very often (maybe even in 2 or 3 places)! 

So, what will go on your vision board?!

Photo Courtesy:  WiseWellWoman

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Key to Successful Resolutions Involving Weight Loss

as written for "The Citizen of Laconia"

Statistics show that a large percentage of New Year’s resolutions involve weight loss.  Many of us have the best intentions of carrying these resolutions out, however they often are forgotten soon after the New Year hits.  There are certain steps that can be taken to prevent this phenomenon from happening that just may work for you:

Step 1:  Have a plan and put everything in writing.  This not only involves writing down what your ultimate goal is, but also what goals are going to lead you toward that ultimate goal.   These goals need to be specific and measurable; Instead of saying “I need to eat more vegetables,” try “I will eat more vegetables by filling half of my plate with them for at least 12 meals per week.”  This gives you the ability to clearly identify whether you’ve achieved your goal or not.   

Step 2:  Be sure you have the supplies on hand to carry out your plan.  If one of your goals is to increase certain foods, stock your refrigerator and freezer.  Make these foods accessible by preparing them for eating as soon as you get home from the supermarket.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, rid your house of foods that may sabotage your goals, or at least make them less accessible.  

Step 3:  Be accountable.  Food journaling can be incredibly effective and it doesn’t have to be anything fancy.   A notebook will do, or you can use a free web site or Smartphone app, such as “My Fitness Pal,” which gives you a calorie goal and tracks calories consumed.  Another effective accountability measure is to enlist a resolution buddy that you can communicate with on a daily basis - one with likeminded goals.

Step 4:  Have a relapse prevention plan.  There will be situations where you may not be as headstrong about your goals; during vacation, for example or when you go out to dinner with a friend.  Be sure your initial goals are realistic enough to allow for some give in these situations, or else you will end up feeling too restricted to carry them out.  Also, a vision board can be a great tool to get you back on track after a relapse or if your motivation starts to dwindle.  A vision board is a bulletin board that you look at often that includes motivational pictures or quotes to keep you on task with your goals.  This could be an actual bulletin board or a digital collage, such as a Pinterest board.  

Step 5:  Seek professional help if you are having trouble.  Dig deep to figure out the reasons you are not succeeding.  There may be underlying emotional issues that cause you to sabotage yourself.  If you cannot solve these issues on your own, consider therapy.  If you have a lot of specialized dietary needs, likes or dislikes or have encountered a roadblock with your meal planning, consider a registered dietitian.  If you are having trouble figuring out an exercise plan, consider a personal trainer.  

Step 6:  Reassess your goals often.  Sometimes goals that are too rigid or unrealistic prevent success.   Don’t be afraid to revise your goals to be a bit more lenient, as long as they are still leading you to your ultimate goal.  

By using this model, you will be more likely to achieve your goals, giving yourself the freedom and confidence to move on to a new resolution next year.   The best part is these steps can be tailored to any type of resolutions you might have, whether related to weight loss or not.  

Photo by:  Lori Ann of MamaWit

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Controversy of Nutrition

The more I think about it, the more I feel like nutrition is becoming so controversial that it could almost be equated to religion or politics when it comes to what one believes and feels strongly about and what one doesn't believe or feel strongly about.  The fact is, a lot of it IS outright politics when it comes to FDA rulings, the USDA and any other US governing bodies that have power over food & nutrition in America.  Registered Dietitians (RDs) tend to be getting a bad rep because of this.  Alternative health professionals and those against what the FDA and USDA are ruling tend to think RDs are government "puppets."  However, this could not be more false.

The role of an RD is to look objectively at the science and studies behind it all and provide evidence-based information and guidance, based on what the majority of studies point to, no matter who funded the study.  As long as the studies are carried out appropriately; meaning that they were carried out by a professional who knows that they are doing, that there were little or no errors, a substantial number of subjects or participants and that they are unbiased and objective, that would constitute something to look at and take seriously.  A lot of us like to keep an eye on emerging and smaller studies and give credence to those as well.  We recognize that these studies could end up being something worth listening to, again, as long as the studies were appropriately conducted.

For a study to be unbiased, it generally means that it has to be done by an organization who is not trying to sell you a a supplement company who has done studies in their own in-house laboratory, using their own employees would be considered biased.  However, if this study were reviewed by other objective scientists outside of the organization and published in a journal, the bias is eliminated. The study is then considered a "peer-reviewed study."  The problem is, so many organizations and companies are using biased studies to try and prove a point...studies that may be flawed or carried out in a way that would automatically favor a certain product or idea.  Consumers don't necessarily know to look for whether a study is biased or peer-reviewed.  To some, any study is worth listening to, which is where the controversy comes from.

In today's world, where more and more people are paying attention to all sorts of studies and claims, it tends to be the dietitian's role to help decipher what is worth looking at further and what would be considered biased or flawed.  This is why RDs take so many science classes to earn our degree.  Nutrition is definitely a constantly evolving science.  This is apparent when we take a look at how nutrition recommendations have changed over the years.  So, when a registered dietitian tells you something is not worth listening to or worth listening to, it's not because we were "told" to tell you that, it's because there is unignorable scientific evidence that actually proves a point one way or another. 

photo courtesy:  "Amy"