Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Hot Topics-New Year's Resolution

Just in time for new year's resolutions and post holiday budget blues, recent research looked at the cost of a healthy diet.  The good news is swapping less expensive, high volume processed foods for fresher and more nutritious foods cost just about $1.50 per day. 

Analyzing 27 studies from 10 countries, it was summarized that yes, leaner proteins and fresh produce do cost more, but it is a slighter increase than you might have thought.
Less than a latte.  Less than a bag of chips.  Less, on a monthly basis, than a mani/pedi.  Way less than cigarettes.  At $1.50 a day, that's about $550 per year.  Less than some high tech gadgets you thought you needed.

The key is swapping healthy foods for unhealthy ones.  Just like swapping OUT unhealthy lifestyle habits.  Just like swapping more movement and activity INTO your day.  Choices.  Small steps.  Swap-portunities.
You are not adding healthy foods to your diet, you are substituting healthy ones for unhealthy ones - perhaps spending more now - but investing in energy, wellness and the satisfaction of doing the best you can for yourself.  Now there's a new year's resolution!

Monday, December 30, 2013

What's In My Garden Now? More Square Footage

Winter gardening.  A hobby gardener's work is never done.  Yet, it usually not work, but much enjoyed time outdoors, super physical activity and gratifying effort.  We've had way too many of those sunny, almost 50 degree winter days here in Virginia the past few years.  My winter memories as a kid in Virginia are of random, wonderful snow falls and crisp clear days. Lately, it seems they are of pleasantly warm days, stink bugs and ticks that never quite die off, and worries about adequate snow for family ski trips.

Today was a great, sunny almost 50 degree and the beds called to me. Our vegetable garden is a grid of 16 raised beds.  I never seem to have enough space to plant, especially as we plant more perennials each year, such as berries and asparagus, which take up bed space year around.  Between the beds we have grass, which is a huge chore to mow each week, fighting with the mower to turn the corners around the beds.  We have talked about killing off the grass, laying down landscape fabric, and bringing in rock for the paths between the beds, but the cost and effort required has deterred us.

So today I turned 3 paths over to bed space by filling in the space between raised beds with a little herbicide, layers of newspaper, and many wheelbarrows full of compost and soil.  This will give me essentially 3 new beds, to plant tomatoes which really did not need to be in a raised bed.  One wheelbarrow was full of the solid gold dirt from our outdoor chicken coop area, a live compost pile of sorts, with the chickens scratching, fertilizing and making compost of the fruit, grain and veggie scraps I give them.  It is dark, rich, well aerated soil.

I'll be eager to see how this works in terms of weed control, one of the benefits of raised beds which I will lose. I intend to mulch heavily around the tomato plants to stay ahead of the weeds and short periods of drought.

I plan the rotation of our beds carefully, to maximize production in the summer months.  With the extra space, maybe we can try some new veggies!

Friday, December 27, 2013

What Was On the Menu?

Christmas Eve:

Homemade Sweet Potato Soup - with sage and a surprisingly pleasant ingredient - apple cider
Homemade Seafood and Corn Chowder - shrimp, clams, creamed corn and bacon
French Bread

Christmas Day:

Appetizer - Baked Tomato Tarts - the mini muffin tin Pampered Chef recipe
Glazed Ham - easiest entrée ever
Spinach Casserole - with cottage and cheddar cheese
Home Grown Collards - made the day before
Carrot Soufflé - evaporated milk and eggs make this soufflé like dish
Yams - with mini-marshmallow topping
Pineapple Bake - the old fashioned one with tidbits, cheddar cheese and Ritz crackers
Dinner Rolls
Homemade Fudge & Christmas Cookies!

We are enjoying what I call "planovers" rather than leftovers.  I very intentionally make a lot of side dishes to stretch the entrée, enjoying several dinners from a feast like turkey or ham.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Have an F4 kind of day - with food & fun  -  and family and fellowship!  Merry Christmas!




Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Hot Topics-Movie Messages

Heading to the movies over the holidays?  Researchers at the University of North Carolina looked at kid-oriented movies and noted more unhealthy subtle messaging than healthy hints.  Movies featured unhealthy snacks, sugar sweetened beverages, exaggerated portion sizes and negative weight-related messages.

In the 20 G- and PG- rated movies reviewed, unhealthy habits were actually made to seem glamorous.  Inactivity was promoted by star characters watching TV and playing video and computer games.
If you go to the movies, check your own snack, beverage and portion size choices.  Try not to make stopping at the snack counter an automatic thing.  You will save your finances and  your fitness. Yes, you and your family can sit through a 2 hour movie without eating.
Is the answer to skip the theatre and head to the park on a rainy day?  No, of course not.  But model healthy habits and choose active indoor family activities such as indoor jump houses, bowling, skating, mall walking, skateboarding, active video games, swimming, home gym family time, racquetball, and the like.  Find balance in your eating habits as well as your choices for free time.

(Obesity, December 2013)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Hot Topics-Have Your Cake And Enjoy It Too

I've written about enjoying food and the fellowship that frequently goes with it. I've encouraged you to be moderate about food choices, with no guilt or compulsions.  I'm in favor of teaching about a healthy diet in terms of whole foods and cooking methods, not grams of this and vitamin alphabet soup from that.  And no "clean your plate" clubs and no "good foods/bad foods".
Here is some research to back up that balanced, healthy approach.  Dieters who felt guilty after eating treats actually gained more weight than those who felt happy about it.  Three hundred females were asked if they were trying to lose weight and if eating a piece of chocolate cake would make them feel guilty or happy.  They were followed 18 months later.  Those who saw it as a celebration were more successful in losing weight.

Guilt can be a diet controlling habit.  Researchers concluded that enjoyment of food should receive more attention.  Yes! 

Have your cake and eat it too, slowly, savoring it, enjoying it - not every day, it is a treat, and treats are meant to be enjoyed.
(Science World Report, sciencewr.com, December 2013)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Chuckles From the Chicken Coop-Not Funny

I went to check on the chickens and found a pile of feathers.  Not good.  No other evidence of body parts.  These feathers were from the old grey bird that was no longer laying eggs. 

I looked in the coop, thinking she was in there.  But, I found not a chicken but an opossum, curled up, sleeping contentedly after eating several fresh eggs (based on the number of cracked shells in the nesting boxes).  This time is the first time we have had a possum in the coop.

After poking, prodding, and banging around, he or she finally scurried out.  I found a big hole in the chicken wire and patched that up, closing the super highway to fresh eggs.

Based on the lack of evidence of the chicken, I think something larger than a possum may have come through that hole and got her.  Interesting how the predators go for the oldest, weakest prey.  That is the proverbial food chain, up close and personal. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Hot Topics-Hungry and Obese?

Once again, the link between food insecurity and childhood obesity was confirmed in a study funded by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation.

We talk about parents role modeling healthy eating.  What does this look like in food insecure families?  What cooking techniques are modeled?  What food items are on the weekly grocery list?  What habits are established?
Cooking techniques may include microwaving processed items for lack of cooking equipment or knowledge.  Standard food items may include processed or canned and shelf stable items from food pantries.  Eating habits are formed in children by what, where, when and how they eat.

WHAT:  Ideally, it is whole foods, cooked in a healthy way but it may be high sodium veggies, little fresh produce, high fat meats and powdered drink mix.
WHERE:  Ideally, it is seated around a dinner table, but it may be on a hotel bed, in the car, or on TV trays in front of, inevitably, the TV.

WHEN:  Ideally, it is 3 balanced meals with healthy snacks in between but it may be catch as catch can between shifts, daycare, and being latch key kids. Food insecurity may also be worse at the end of the month, as aid runs out.
Awareness of the problem is a good thing.  The overweight child you see may not be that way because they are lazy, sedentary or pigging out on junk food after school.  They may be that way for many reasons, some of which include lack of access to healthy food.

How can low income families eat healthier? Start with a healthy, balanced, free or reduced price breakfast and lunch for children in school. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Hot Topics-Drink Your Milk!

In a legitimate study (96,000 participants, men and women over age 50, followed for at least 22 years) from Harvard Med School and Brigham & Women's Hospital, milk consumption during teen years was not linked to either less risk or greater risk of hip fracture later in life.

Based on biannual questionnaires from ages 13 to 18 about diet, milk consumption, smoking, meds, physical activity, weight  and  health history, researchers looked for clues to determine later risk of bone fracture.
Controlling for known risk factors for hip fracture and milk consumption, researchers found no link between teen milk consumption and risk in women.  In men, there was a slight increase in risk with more milk consumption, but this association declined when adjusted for height.

So, I still talk to my teen children and students about the importance of calcium consumption and how milk is the perfect nutrient package of protein, carbs and vitamins and minerals. Milk is equally valuable for the unhealthy beverages it displaces from the diet.  However, this study just goes to show how complex is the link between general dietary advice and specific outcomes.

We try to decipher research and pass along the best tidbits of advice, but nutrition is just as much as art as a science.  To me, art comes in to the picture when we talk about the taste, the texture, the presentation, the flavor, the freshness and the enjoyment of food.  I think these may be as important to healthfulness of food as the nutrients and micronutrients they contain.
(JAMA Pediatrics, November 2013)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hobby Farm Life Abundance

I usually blog about what our hobby farm garden provides, but lately we've had some good eats from not just the flora but the fauna.

My son shot and cleaned a rabbit and I made a delicious, fall-off-the-bone stew in the Crock Pot with a simple soy sauce and onion gravy.  It does taste like chicken.

He also shot a deer and we have a lot of venison in the freezer and we had some delicious bacon wrapped venison steaks, hot off the broiler. I make a fabulous venison stew (secret ingredients:  juniper berries and Marsala wine).  It he has continued success with hunting, I may be in the market for a meat grinder.

The five chickens are laying about three eggs a day.  One of the two who weren't laying is now laying a couple of times a week, enough to earn her board. The other one may be heading towards the Crock Pot.

Thanksgiving was a turkey and Christmas dinner will be a ham.  For the Protein Group, I think we have variety covered!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Hot Topics-Eliminate or Moderate?

We preach moderation, but does it work?  Recent research suggests it does.  Dieters who continued to eat their favorite treats still shed pounds. This survey by YouGov, an online market research company, polled 2100 dieters who use calorie counting apps.  In this case, the treat was chocolate (yes!) and 91% of men and women who lost the most weight continued to eat their normal amount of daily chocolate.   Other studies show diets with forbidden foods usually make the dieter crave them and eat more of them.  Deprivation doesn't work.

Eliminating "bad" foods doesn't make you want "good" foods.  It makes you crave the forbidden food.  Enjoying things like holiday foods in moderation may be the best way to help you resist them.
Have your pumpkin pie - you only do this once a year.  Enjoy 1 or 2 Christmas cookies a day.  Indulge in an adult beverage if you want, enjoy it, but just one.  No guilt.  No compulsions.  No counting calories.  Enjoy food.  Enjoy fellowship.  Enjoy your holidays!

Friday, December 13, 2013

How Do You Serve It Up At Home?

Do you serve dinner at the table with serving bowls and plates full of options?  Do you serve buffet style from an island or counter in your kitchen ?  Do you prepare your child’s plate for them?
Cornell University is well known for its behavioral economics studies.  Click here to learn more about their work in the child nutrition arena.  Recently they determined that at buffets, folks filled up 2/3 of their plate with the first 3 foods they saw on the buffet table.  Think about this at your holiday events. Check out the whole buffet before you go for what's at the beginning. (Besides, don't you hate it when your plate is full and then you come to something really good?)

Researchers suggest putting healthy foods at the beginning of a buffet makes it more likely people will choose them and less likely people will fill up on the higher calorie foods thus placed farther down the buffet. 
Try this at home with your dinner spread.  Serve from a counter in the kitchen, don't put large serving dishes right in front of your diners.  It makes seconds a little too easy. Lay out your dinner choices on the counter with the veggies first, entree next, grains last.  Remember My Plate, make half your plate fruits and veggies.

Let your children walk along the counter with you and suggest how much of something they would like.  You might not know how hungry they are or are not.  And please, no "clean your plate" club.  But yes, they have to try a little of everything, including the veggies.

If you fill your grocery cart with the healthy stuff, and you plan your menu with the healthy stuff, and your choose the healthy stuff for your snacks, you will have less room in your healthy life for the unhealthy stuff.  Right?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Art of Cooking

A friend and I were talking about cookbooks.  She asked me if I had a lot . . . yes.  I say I need another cookbook like I need a hole in the head.  But we both agreed that "cookbook people" read cookbooks almost like novels, perusing the ingredient lists, techniques and photos, storing them away for future reference.

In a recent post, I talked about how practice makes more perfect with cooking.  The more you do it, the more comfortable you are with cooking, the more your intuition kicks for knowing things like how much, how long, etc. 

My son recently asked me, "Mom, do you ever measure anything?"  Mostly, no.  Very little except baked goods require precise measuring.

To me, measuring takes a lot of the fun and whimsy out of cooking.  It also requires more planning to follow a recipe (having the proper ingredients in the house) than to cook off hand.

In parent and child cooking classes I have taught, called "Chef Smarts", patterned after an extension program in North Caroline called "Eat Smart, Cook Smart", we talk a lot about substitutions.  That's the reality of many a quick family meal - making a meal out of what's on hand.  But a premise of the class series is keeping a well, fundamentally stocked pantry.  This allows you some flexibility and options.

Think about My Plate for a healthy, well stocked pantry/freezer.  It includes basics in the grain group:  whole grain pastas, brown rice, frozen dinner rolls, tortillas.  It has protein options:  chicken breasts or thighs, frozen tilapia or salmon, lean ground beef, boneless sirloin, and tuna.  And it has veggie options, including frozen veggies of your choice, salad fixings, or better yet, an abundant garden with seasonal options.  From these, you can make variations of your favorite Italian, Mexican, Asian, comfort food and other dishes by adding sauces and condiments.

My favorite cookbook is one I received as a wedding gift, "The Fannie Farmer Cookbook".  What's yours?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Do Dietitians Do It Differently?

Cooking that is.

I think there may be some culinary techniques, menu planning and food prep techniques we do intuitively and inherently, as part of our training, preferences, and habits.

For example, I don't butter my toast, English muffins, bagels or other items that come out of the toaster.  Just don't need it.  Just don't like it.

I absolutely don't like mayonnaise - the "mouth feel" is all wrong for me.

I don't add salt at the table, certainly not before tasting, and I always go for pepper first.

I always go for oil before butter or margarine for sautéing.

I recently made turkey soup and a key step for me is after removing the bones and skin, putting the broth in the fridge to allow a layer of fat to congeal.  Then I scoop off that layer, removing a lot of unpalatable fat.

I take my coffee black, saving thousands of calories on sugar and creamer over the years.

I love water.  It still tastes good to me - I haven't altered my palate with too many diet sodas or other sweet drinks.

I almost always cut the sugar or brown sugar in baked good recipes, just a little, usually they are too sweet anyway.

I think about My Plate when packing my lunch - always including a fruit and/or veg, and dinner - always including veggies. I try to do it a breakfast - adding some fruit or juice.

For most of my baked goods I add at least 1/4 to 1/3 whole wheat flour in place of all purpose flour.  When I do more, the family protests.

Certain things are treats at home:  liver, bacon, sausage, French fries from the freezer, cinnamon buns, Pop Tarts, Oreos, potato chips.  These make it in the shopping cart a couple of times a year (well, actually that depends on who goes to the store with me).  They are "sometimes" foods.

I reach for herbs instead of the salt shaker when cooking.

If we add up all our daily food related decisions (we make thousands of them), and alter many of them to be the healthy choice, the potential for healthier eating is great.  What habits can you ingrain?  What practices can you model for your children?  What small steps can you take in the right direction?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Busy Mom?

In an article with a rather foretelling title "Maternal Inactivity", authors used national time-use data from a five decade study to compare activity levels of moms over 50 years.  Physical activity was cooking, cleaning, food preparation and clean up, playing with children, and exercising.  Sedentary activity was all other time outside of work and time spent in front of the screen (yes, all the various screens in our busy lives) and driving. 

Comparing time use from 2010 to 1965, mothers with children under 5 spent 14 hours LESS per week being physically active.  Mothers with children ages 5-18 spent 11 LESS hours per week being active.
Now here's an interesting tidbit:  the time spent being active decreased more for non-working mothers than for those who work full time.  And another one:  moms who don't work full time still spend more time being physically active than those who do work full time.

I would venture to say the routine forced upon working moms actually facilitates their exercise routine.  I would also speculate that the home based responsibilities of non working moms facilitates their being more active with cooking, cleaning, and playing with children.  Either way, the result is good for both groups of moms.
At the caloric level, mothers today burn between 1,238 and 5,835 calories less each week than mothers did in the 1960s.   To put that into perspective, a pound of fat is roughly 3,500 calories so if the midpoint between 1200 and 5800 is about 3500, that's a pound a week on the mid line.  Vastly simplified, but you get the picture.

Technology, as in washing machines, may have been good for mom, but modern technology, think tablets, may not. Sedentary time increased for all moms about 6 hours per week.  And yet we are so busy. 

It's not just about how we spend our time.  It's not about working versus non-working moms. The real crux of the problem is modern day kids may see busy mom living a life centered around cars and screens.  Look again at the definition of sedentary activity in the first paragraph.  What are you role modeling?

Mayo Clinic Proceedings, December 2013

Monday, December 9, 2013

Thanksgiving - What Was On the Menu?

I always plan lots of sides to enjoy with the leftover turkey.

Turkey - Butterball of course! In 23 years of marriage, I have never made a bad or dry turkey when I've stuck with Butterball.
Stuffing - Kitchen Sink Stuffing made by my husband - it has just about everything - raisins, walnuts, celery, onion, water chestnuts, mushrooms
Gravy - from the turkey drippings (and I can make some GOOD gravy!)
Creamed Onions - the little cocktail ones from a jar - family fave for generations
Green Bean Casserole - yep, with the fried onions on top, but made with frozen not canned green beans to make it a little healthier (very little)
Cranberry Sauce - canned, nothing fancy
Collards - fresh, from our garden
Corn Casserole
Hot Artichoke Dip - appetizer
Pumpkin Pie and Apple Pie - yes, homemade

And what did I do with the leftovers and the turkey carcass?
1.  Turkey Noodle Casserole
2.  Turkey Curry over Rice
3.  Turkey Pot Pie
4.  Two quarts of turkey broth for the freezer for soup at a later date
5.  Turkey Sandwiches (white meat, Miracle Whip, wheat bread, a little pepper and lettuce - yum!)

We also had some great eating over the long Thanksgiving weekend with rabbit stew (in the Crockpot - easy!) and fresh venison (bacon wrapped venison steaks) from my son's hunting successes.

Now . . . on to Christmas dinner!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Welcome Back - to ME!

I took a break to finish a quilt, to spend Thanksgiving with my family, 2 of whom were home from college, and to fix some hardware issues.  I'm sitting under the quilt with the new laptop right now and my college students are back at school, prepping for exams!

I'll be back to blogging this week!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Hot Topics-Wake Up!

We know good sleep is linked to good health and we have heard adequate sleep is linked to a healthier body weight.  But a recent study shows women who woke up around the same time each day, within a 60 minute range, had lower body fat (American Journal of Health Promotion). Consistent bed times and especially, consistent wake times, were associated with lower body fat.

The sleep habits of 300 university women were tracked and those with consistent sleep schedules had lower body fat.  Sleep hygiene” is a term comparable to dental hygiene – all the things we do to have good, healthy sleep habits and patterns.  Altered sleep hygiene disrupts physical activity, hormones, food consumption, and thus body fat.

Researchers also found a sweet spot for the ideal amount of sleep for the young adults (ages 17-26) in this study:  Those who slept between 8 and 8.5 hours per night had the lowest body fat. Interestingly, less than 6.5 or more than 8.5 hours of sleep per night was associated with higher body fat.
Personally, when I honor my natural circadian rhythm, which is early to bed and early to rise, even on weekends, I feel better.  Since a consistent wake time was particularly linked to having lower body fat, set that alarm, enjoy the sunrise, and start your day!


Thursday, November 21, 2013

What's In My Garden Now? No Worries

If you scroll down to the very bottom of this blog, you will see a widget that shows what's in season in Virginia right now.  The list got dramatically shorter in November.  No worries.  Recent research tells us frozen veggies are just as healthy as fresh. Did you know some veggies are frozen right at the place of harvest?  That's about as close to fresh as you can get.

A new study from the Frozen Food Foundation looked at 8 common fresh and frozen fruits and veggies (blueberries, strawberries, corn, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, green peas and spinach).  Each was analyzed under 3 conditions:  frozen, fresh on the day of purchase, and fresh after 5 days of storage (the typical storage time in the home).  The nutritional value of fresh and frozen was generally equal, with some frozen fruits and veggies having higher Vitamin A, C and folate content than fresh.

If you choose frozen veggies, watch the sauces and extras that sometimes come with them.  They can add a surprising amount of sodium and calories.  Also, watch the price for conveniences like steam bags, zipper closures and the like. 

I have found that you get what you pay for in terms of name brands versus the low end brands.  You get broccoli heads versus stems.  Tender crisp peas versus larger, tougher peas. Early season green beans versus late, large beans and occasional stems.

Keep a stash of frozen veggies, toss them in many of your common favorite dishes and then simply close the bag and keep for later use.  Frozen chopped spinach, green peas, tri-color peppers, and diced tomatoes from my garden are my go-to toss-in frozen veggies.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Hot Topics-Research Realities

Wait, what's the latest on fish oil?  Caffeine?  Omega 3's and 6's?  No wonder you can't keep it straight. 

Overstating and overreaching the results of nutrition studies occurs in about 10% of nutrition or obesity papers published in leading specialty, medical, and public health journals.  (American Journal of Preventive Medicine, November 2013)

Overreach was found through reporting relationships as cause and effect when they are simply associative; basing policy recommendations on observations that are associative; and generalizing results to a population not studied.

So you may be left wondering what applies to you.  And when you attempt to bring this information to the grocery store, it gets even more confusing with health claims and different nutrition rating systems on food packaging.

As we get more savvy (or desperate?), we want numbers, data and specific advice.  But much of nutrition education is an art not a science.  There is a solution somewhere in the realm of moderation, common sense, and believe it or not, My Plate.

For most adult Americans without underlying chronic disease, the general advice to increase fruits & veggies & whole grains, to decrease sodium & sugar, and to achieve energy balance by watching portions & being more active still holds true.  Even if you do have health issues, you will come out ahead following that advice consistently.

I think most of us know what our "bad" habits are.  Most of us know what we should eat without worrying about grams, percentages and biochemistry.  Don't change your diet everytime there is a new research headline or a new fad diet.  Most Registered Dietitians preach balance, variety and moderation for a reason.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fast Food F.A.C.T.S.

They’re going to get to your kids one way or another.  TV advertising may be decreasing but use of social media is increasing.  When Johnny uses your iPad or mobile phone to play games, he is being exposed to ads.  When John is on Facebook or You Tube, he is bombarded by ads.  When John Sr. surfs the web, ads abound. 

The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity found that over a 3 year span, from 2009 to 2012, there were 10% fewer ads for fast food directed toward young children.  Good news.  But we all know that TV “screen time” has been replaced by other screens, and advertising on them is just as effective.
Social media and mobile app ads may not speak to us like characters and celebrities on TV ads, but they beckon by wiggling, scrolling, and by being presented as games.  Go to many food brand websites and there is a “kid’s corner” where games involving the products are offered.

I’m not anti-fast food.  Food can be fast and healthy, fast and fresh.  But more often than not, we throw caution (and moderation) to the wind while waiting in the drive thru.
By the way, what happens when you order some standard fast food items?  Nutritionists at The Nutrition Education Store created some interesting visuals, giving us their version of a fast food commercial:

·        A large serving of fries fills an entire dinner plate – would you do that at home?

·        A double burger, large fries and sweet tea brings over 1500 calories into your car and would fill 2 dinner plates and 4 glasses at the dinner table – would you do that at home?

I’m also a realist – fast food is here to stay, as is technology and advertising.  Just be mindful about what you order, why you order, and for whom you are ordering.  You can order just the sandwich – you don’t have to order the meal.  You don’t need the value size just because it is cheaper.  And Johnny doesn’t need the dinner plate serving of fries.
Be mindful.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

What's In My Garden Now? The Final Harvest

It is a bittersweet day for any gardener when they harvest the last of something.  Yesterday was the last of the fall radishes and the peppers - which I barely saved before another cold night.  Here was the harvest:

It is such a pleasure, after a day in my office with no windows, to come home and check the garden and the chicken coop.  Chores, yes, but a joy nonetheless.  And of course, we had just-picked broccoli and a little radish salad for dinner.

For the remainder of winter, we'll get some more broccoli, lettuce mix and Swiss Chard until harder frosts end that supply and then just collards, until I plant sugar snap peas, radishes and lettuce once again in February.  Maybe I'll try something early and new this year.  Any suggestions?

The seed catalogs will start arriving any day to inspire us gardeners through the winter, as we plan, dream and scheme.  Why don't you join me and if you are just starting out as a veggie gardener, plan a pot or small plot?  Simple pleasures will await you at the end of a long day too.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hot Topics-Stone Soup

Here's my debut blog The New School Food as a guest blogger for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' Food and Nutrition Magazine blog Stone Soup.  Stone Soup is a delightfully varied collection of blogs by guest bloggers, all of whom are Registered Dietitians.  Take a look at the list of Categories.  There are great recipes and great ideas.  Subscribe as a follower!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

When High Tech is NOT Good

How can we get kids to eat healthier and be more active?  For healthy eating, we've already talked about family dinners, eating breakfast each day, and healthy meal and snack planning centering on My Plate and seasonal vegetables.  What about activities?  
Kids need low tech activities - playing outside (yes, just good old fashioned PLAY, not organized travel team sports), gardening, walking the dog, raking leaves and washing the car are outdoor examples.  They need low tech indoor activities too.  High tech indoor activities tend to be sedentary - TV, computer games, phone games, videos, iPad games, Internet surfing, texting.  Low tech activities tend to be more active - house work (yes, chores!), putting away groceries, cooking, and cleaning their room.  Think about life "pre-Wii".  Think about life when you or your parents were a kid.
At the same time, they are learning life skills.  The daily business of life can be pretty active (ask any full time mom) and kids can benefit in many ways from helping with those activities.  One of the most important ways may be contributing to the family "business".

Friday, November 8, 2013

School Daze-Chef Partnership 2

Here's an update on our chef initiative, wherein we have a part time consulting chef working with me, the child nutrition services' Registered Dietitian, and our cafeteria managers in staff in two schools (see my previous blog post School Daze-Chef Partnership).  One of the goals of the program is staff training, and yesterday afternoon we held our first Boot Camp.

We have planned a Boot Camp format - intensive, focused, small group, two hour workshops to teach specific skills that we have identified may be lacking.  Yesterday, we started with an Iron Chef type cook-off for a little healthy competition, preparing our Mexican Chicken Tortilla Soup.  Following a standardized recipe, it was interesting to see how the three different dishes turned out.  In the process, the chef covered knife skills, work simplification (she is FAST!), garnishing, and recipe modification to lower sodium content.

It was FUN!  Team members commented, after already working a long day, "At first, I didn't want to come, but I had fun!"

We also prepared roasted sweet potatoes, the local farm to school veggie on our menu next week.  Addressing one of the main barriers to farm to school success, prep time, the chef showed that the potatoes do not have to be peeled and that they can be quickly and roughly chopped.  After tossing with oil and a little pre-chopped garlic from a jar and a little diced fresh rosemary from the school garden, they are much healthier than the typical mashed sweet potato, brown sugar and margarine dish.  I personally found the local, freshly harvested potatoes naturally sweeter than what I've purchased in the grocery store.  There were a few "aha" moments when some participants realized just how pleasant and perfect is that natural sweetness. 
One team member even took home the fresh rosemary to try it at home. Success.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Hot Topics-Rituals

Kin is in. Family dinners are the right choice for health, grades, socialization, positive behaviors and more.  A new study found that families who often eat dinner at the table had significantly lower body mass indices for both adults and children.  This is as compared to families who ate elsewhere, especially in front of the TV.

Here are the key points of the study reported in the October issue of the journal Obesity:
  • They did it often - dining was an important family ritual.
  • They ate at the table, either in the kitchen or the dining room.
  •  It helped both adults and children have healthier body weights.
Possible Healthy Family Dinner Rituals Which Might Work For You:
  • Always offer at least 2 veggies with dinner (keep a stash of frozen veggies to make this more likely).
  • Serve from a buffet rather than family style so the extra helpings are not sitting right in front of you.
  • Give everyone a glass of water - in addition to their other healthy beverage of choice, such as milk for children - with their meal.
  • Have a "try it" policy with kiddos - at least a taste (or as it was when I was growing up, the number of peas, Lima beans, etc. equal to my age).
  • Have a no vices or devices zone - no Berries, Tweeters, pagers, texters, etc. at the table.  That goes for Viners, Snapchatters and Instagramers too.  No "i" anything.
  • Clear off the dining room table so that family dinners are even a possibility.  If it is where you pay the bills, keep the bill paying items in some kind of tray or file box that is easily moved to the floor.  If it is where the kids do their homework, keep some kind of organizer nearby where they can easily and temporarily move their things off the table for dinner time.
  • Question some inherited family rituals which might not be the healthiest - do you really need a dinner roll with certain entrees?
  • Table vs. TV?  A key point of this study is that families ate at the table, either in the kitchen or the dining room, not in front of the TV.
  • Mark the family calendar - maybe you can designate certain nights and times to be family dinner nights (a family date, of sorts).
If you are already having family dinners, give yourself a pat on the back - good job!  Reap the benefits of this study by simply keeping it at the table and doing it as often as possible.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Hot Topics-Big Bird Bananas

The Produce Marketing Association has partnered with Sesame Street to use the very strong Sesame Street brand to market fresh fruit and veggies.  Growers, suppliers and retailers will be able to use Sesame Street characters to deliver healthy eating messages, without paying the hefty licensing fee.

By partnering with THE Street, as far as kids go, bananas and lettuce will have the same street cred as sugary cereal.  This gives healthy fresh produce the ability to compete with Tony, Toucan, and the Krispie brothers (Snap, Crackle and Pop, in case it's been awhile).

Influence is power in the marketplace and Sesame Street has that with young eaters who are developing taste buds, brand preferences, and their own influence with Mom.  Who better to prompt an impulse purchase than Big Bird?

This is a win-win for the Association, Bert & Ernie and the kids.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to School (From the Farm)

I have a few funny farm to school stories to share.  We have been dabbling in this area for about 5 years and the efforts in the early days offer some of the funniest fodder.

1.  Imagine the faces on our dear lunch ladies when the farmer shows up with wooden crates of whole, unstripped, unwashed KALE leaves.  They were accustomed to washed, chopped, ready to go bagged kale. I received a few emails after that one.  Lesson learned - give a fair warning and plan for delivery a few days prior to service so they can begin prep.

2.  We attempted to order WATERMELONS from one farm for a special program at one school.  We estimated we needed about 30.  All good.  However, come harvest day, only 15 were ripe and they weren't exactly of the size I was accustomed to seeing in the grocery store and upon which I based my forecast.  Lesson learned - always have a Plan B.

3.  We were super excited that one of the school gardens had SWEET POTATOES to contribute to the school lunch menu.  Good thing we supplemented with potatoes from our local farmer because they school's were long, skinny, misshapen and hard to peel.  Lesson learned - it's the thought that counts.

4.  Most local farms are not set up to deliver to 16 schools.  In the early days, I was the delivery gal, driving the school division, circa 1980s, wood paneled station wagon around the circuit of our schools.  Lesson learned - try a satellite delivery system where the farm delivers to 4 or 5 centralized schools and the cafeteria managers pick up from there.

5.  One of our very first farm to school programs was coordinated by an enthusiastic local college student.  He called it "Lunch Goes Local".  Cute right?  He assured us he had a great source for local produce.  We planned some side dishes and modified some entrees to include a local veg each day.  But it wasn't so cute when we got the bill for SALAD GREENS that cost $7 a pound.  Lesson learned - no hydroponics, no middle man produce broker, and set a price limit.

It is well worth the effort for the support of the local economy, the positive publicity, the student buy-in, the super fresh produce, and the potential lessons about gardening and food sustainability for students.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Feeding Your Family

We had a meeting today at Trader Joes.  Having just come off the fiscal cliff of feeding 3 teenagers, and thus 5+ adults, I had for the most part thought TJ's was pricey.  Most containers and packages are small for 5 adults which means I would have to buy multiples.  (Just to keep you up to date, two of those mouths are now at college and unfortunately, tuition is more expensive than groceries.)

We were talking about doing grocery store tours and cooking classes with them, and our friendly Crew Member pointed out some great products.  I have to say Trader Joe's (or any store's for that matter) frozen veggies offer great options to expand dinner and to pump up the nutritional content of dinner.

I frequent TJ's for their sauces and spreads and cute pastas.  After today, I would add their prepped veggies.  I am usually an advocate for not purchasing prepped items - and thus paying for the cost of someone else slicing and dicing.  But I must say, when time is short, ready to go pre-cuts are a great option.  We have been defaulting to eating out when the dinner plan isn't preset and I know, even with the cost of prepped veggies or other short cuts, it is cheaper to eat at home.  A stop at the grocery might be a better option than eating out.

This ending up being a $69 meeting as I always multi-task and tossed some items in the cart while we did our tour.  But I'm stocked up on a few go-to items for adding flavor to my dishes, some great snacks, and fresh spinach for tonight's salad.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Menu Planning 101 - Dinner Winners

Very good lasagna tonight, if I may say so myself.  Oven ready noodles.  Two jars of pasta sauce - any flavor.  No ricotta - no problem.  I combined shredded mozz, an egg, a half a jar of leftover aflredo sauce, shredded jack & cheddar, shaved provolone, and a little grated Parmesan. We are trying to eat vegetarian a few nights a week so I sauteed onions, green peppers (from the garden!), and diced carrots with some fresh herbs to make veggie lasagna.

I'm famous for not having a dinner PLAN - much to my husband's dismay, but I'm pretty good at pulling something together.  Some of my other posts have talked about letting the harvest determine the menu, based on what is in the garden.  You can also let the pantry or the fridge determine the menu, based on what you have in stock or what leftovers you may have.  Having a well stocked pantry is the key to success with this style of menu "planning".

5 tips from a seasoned cook:

5.  Keep a well stocked pantry.

4.  Cook often enough so that you know how to make easy substitutions. (I knew what consistency lasagna filling should be, so that I could come up with a reasonable, tasty substitute.)

3.  Make do with what you have.  Mozz, cheddar, provolone, parmesan - whatever.

2.  Notice that I said "cook" and not "chef" - they won't all be winners, but they'll be okay for dinner.  Trial and error is okay.  That's how you accomplish number 4 above.

1.  Hate running to the store as much as I do!!  I'll be really creative (risky?) with substitutions before I will run to the grocery store.


Friday, October 25, 2013

What's In My Garden Now? Freeze Warning!

We have the first freeze warning tonight.  All my fellow gardeners and I will be scurrying around to bring in potted plants and tropicals, to pick the last tomatoes and peppers, and to cut the last flowers. 

The first freeze is good news for the collards, as they say they will be sweeter after a few frozen nights.  Can't say I've noticed in past years.  I'm not quite a collards' aficionado yet.  The ones I made this past weekend - before any freeze - were delicious.  Of course, my recipe calls for a pinch of sugar!

Our Potting Shed

My husband built this wonderful potting shed.  The morning glories (started from seed!) overtook it this year.  There are huge windows on the north facing front and the west facing side for full sun all day.  It allows us to keep ferns and geraniums from our porch "inside" over the winter.  This year we will try to overwinter lantana and a beautiful rose tree.  We can start seeds in the early spring in the big, sunny windows.  He has also been known to buy shrubs and perennials at the crazy late fall 70-90% off sales at the garden center and keep them in there over the winter.  It is not a heated space but the exposure allows the sun to keep it nicely warm.  Not quite a greenhouse, but almost.

How does your garden grow?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

School Daze-Hash Tags and Tweets

To follow up on how I "kept it real" for high school students (see my blog post from last week), let me tell you how the nutrition classes went.  They liked the assignment to create a hash tag about why fiber is important in your diet.  My example was #fiberfills.  From the students, we had the not unexpected poop related one liners, demonstrating they clearly got it.

After looking at clear plastic tubes that showed the sugar and caffeine content of energy drinks, they were asked to Tweet something to their friends about what they learned.  One student Tweeted, "I'll stick with water".

I think they got a kick out of counting out the 20 sugar cubes of sugar that are in a 20 ounce bottle of  Mt. Dew.  They realized that the at-a-glance nutrition information in the Nutrition Facts box is for an 8 ounce serving and that they had to multiply by the 2.5 servings per container to "keep it real" for the amount they usually drink.

They were pretty impressed that our program had just hired a social media intern to help us reach high school students. They were similarly impressed that I knew about things like Instagram and Vine - thanks to my own teenagers.

If only one could predict what is next on the social media horizon. We need to stay one step ahead of the obesity epidemic by being innovative and responsive.  This is true for children, young people, and adults.  What is the next healthy eating or physical activity fad, food, tool, app, game, etc. that will help us get our message across?  Who knew that McDonald's would respond to positive industry and parental pressure and cater to children and change its Kid's Meal?  Who knew that kickball would make a comeback for young adults?  Who knew that My Fitness Pal would help adults monitor their intake and output?
What's next?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What's In My Garden Now? The Simple Pleasures Of Life on a Hobby Farm

What a pleasure to come home from work after a long day of meetings and head out to the chicken coop and garden and gather a basket of fresh eggs and veggies.  Here is today's harvest.

Not bad for a late fall day!  Look at the rich colors in the mesclun lettuce mix and Swiss chard.

Show the picture of the radishes to your kids.  Did they know they have such a long root?  Did they know they have such lush tops?  Or did they think they only came trimmed, cleaned and in little bags?

And I'm happy to say the new chickens are finally laying in the nesting boxes!  They had been laying on the floor of the coop, in the pine shavings, requiring us to climb under roosting branches to retrieve the eggs.  Maybe they like the warmth of the boxes, now that it is cooler outside.  We are down to 5 chickens, with 3 currently laying, and we are getting about 2 eggs every other day.

Simple pleasures.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

School Daze-What Works?

Love this piece! A fellow blogger interviewed school meal program folks like me and here is her take on what works to get kids to eat the good stuff.

Take a look:  Six Quick Lessons From the School Lunch Line

1.  Advisory panels of (she says) parents - I say students. 

2.  Introduce the new stuff slowly - same good pizza with a whole grain crust.  We switched the crust the first year and the cheese to low fat the next year.  Psych.

3.  Free samples - it's hard to say no to free stuff.  I had high school students eating fresh, local steamed asparagus because it was free.

4.  Peer pressure - contests, direct asks, and positive social pressure from students who do like it.  Find your cheerleaders.

5.  Don't give up - she mentions a school district where it took a year for students to accept dark leafy lettuce rather than iceberg. We switched to brown rice cold turkey at the start of the school year.  They didn't notice.  We plan to do that next year with whole grain hamburger and hot dog buns.

6.  Know when to give up - she says, "Sometimes you have to let the customers be right, even when they're not".  Our epic fail was fish tacos.  I love them.  Most kids didn't.  Now we have "Make Your Own Taco Day" and they wrap it themselves.  If they want to leave out the cole slaw, they can.  If they just want to eat the fish pieces, they can.  Want to dip the tortilla (whole grain!) in the dressing?  Sure, why not?

Make the healthy choice the easy choice.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Hot Topics-Adult Obesity Rates

US Adult obesity rates from as recent as 2012 are out.  Overall rates are 35%, down by barely one statistically insignificant percentage point from 2009-10 rates.  The good news is obesity rates are not rising.  The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) has been conducted annually since 1999 and monitors the health and nutritional status of adult Americans over age 20.  The data is not self-reported but is actually measured.

Looking at gender, women are up slightly, and men are down. Rates for men did not differ from women, except for in blacks.  Fifty-seven percent of black women were obese, compared to 37% of men of the same race.

Looking at race, for black adults, the obesity rate is 48% putting that group solidly in the “almost half” range.  Wow.  Half of adult black Americans are obese, compared with 33% of whites and just 11% of Asians.  By prevalence, the largest numbers of obese persons are white (50 million plus).  Another wow.
Looking at age, middle-aged adults ages 40-59 had the highest rates, followed by younger adults 20-39.   

This table presents a summary of the latest data.

Group   Obesity Rate %
Overall   35
Women   36
Men   34
Blacks   48
Hispanics   43
Whites   33
Asians   11
Being obese is having a body mass index (BMI) greater than or equal to 30.  In a 5’4” person, the cut off is 174 pounds.  In a 5’9” person, this is 203 pounds. Risk of chronic disease may be impacted by factors such as body composition and fat distribution that are not captured by BMI.  By definition, obesity (BMI>/=30) rates include those that are overweight (BMI >/=25).  If we added the percent of adults that are in the overweight range (BMI 25-29) to the percent that are obese, the overall percent of adults at an unhealthy weight for height would be alarmingly higher.

Alarming enough is that the prevalence of obesity among adults continues to be greater than one-third of the US population.  Where are our role models for children?