Archive | January, 2014

Portion (out of!) Control

20 Jan

When you are in the kitchen with your family, talk about nutrition. These discussions need to be done with a little strategy.  Children cannot be barraged with information. It will sound like lecturing, and the “off” button will be activated in your child.  Think of your conversations being constructed with bullet points. Brief. Light. Just the highlights. Discussions such as these can be easily conducted while working on getting a meal to the table.

Here is a starting point. Discussing portion size is a must. This country has been “super sized” into expecting huge portions that are not designed for optimum health. When discussing portion sizes, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • 1 ounce of meat (protein) is about the size of your thumb. 4 ounces is an appropriate serving and about the size of a deck of cards..
  • 1 egg or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter is about an ounce.
  • One serving of bread is usually 1 slice.
  • Fruit juice can generally count as 1 fruit serving a day. In other words, 2 glasses of fruit juice isn’t 2 fruit servings. And remember, high quality fruit juice is worth the extra expense.
  • A vegetable serving is 4 ounces. That equals a half cup.
  • A serving of milk is 8 ounces.  That is one cup.
  • One serving of Grape Nuts cereal is 4 ounces.  That is 1/2 cup.
  • One serving of crackers, such as Cheez-It crackers, is about 25 crackers

Are these serving sizes surprisingly small?  This briefly illustrates how out of control portion sizes have become acceptable in our diet. The expectation has changed to a “bigger is better” mentality with food. Portion size is included on the packaging of most food, but consumers fail to use this tool.

Hey, I get it.  Being in the grocery store juggling kids, a list, and playing beat the clock is rough.  Not a great time to stop, read and analyze a label.  How do we combat this?  Start by standing at your pantry or food cabinet at home. Education can begin at home.  When time isn’t so tight, take a minute or two to look at the food you have in your cupboard or pantry.  This is a great time to read the labels and start to formulate a healthy portion control plan. Start looking on food packaging for portion information at home, not at the store,  and share it with your children. It is a great habit to get your family into, and a good way to have discussions about portion control.

Talking of portion control, I do not allow my family to eat out of a bag of chips, for example, when snacking,  They must pour their snack into a bowl.  I expect this for a couple of reasons.  The first reason is simple cross contamination.  I am a clinical nutrition professional, so food safety is always on my mind.  It just isn’t healthy to put your hand to your mouth and then place that hand back into a big bag of snack food.

The second reason to portion foods, including snack food, is for control.  You just don’t know how much you are eating when not portioned it out.  And I think to learn self control, eating a certain portion raises awareness.  “Mindless eating” is eating without being conscientious of what you are eating.  Portioning your food helps eating be more mindful.

I am also a fan of eating meals att the table and on a schedule when possible.  It is important to enjoy meals with music on, with others, and making it a social event when possible.  If eating alone, I still think ambiance and environment are important.  Eating at a healthy pace, sipping water or other healthy beverage, and having conversation is a way to slow down eating.  The body signals when it is full, but you have to give those signals time to get front he stomach to the brain!

Portion control is important, as is variety and physical activity. It is important, though, to start with one small step, one small change.   Next start walking after dinner!  Another small change with a big impact!

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Salt

12 Jan

I was thrilled to get something new to cook with for Christmas.  I love to try new cooking techniques, new recipes, and new ingredients (remember last fall when I declared pumpkin was the new bacon?  I used it in everything for weeks!).  Things like this really get my creative juices flowing.  I was jazzed!

These were not the kind of salt blocks I was accustomed to growing up in the midwest.  We used to get big white blocks of salt at the grocery store to add to the water softener in a (dark and scary, if my childhood memories serve me right!) corner of the basement.  Chicago and its suburbs had hard water, which made using water a bit less efficient in some cases.  Large salt blocks and a water softener are de rigueur with hard water.  No…the salt blocks I received are different from the salt blocks of my childhood. But I digress.

These Tibetan salt blocks have a lovely patina, are about 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick, and can serve a couple of purposes (foodie snobs like myself expect kitchen stuff to do many jobs).   The Tibetan salt blocks can be used for cooking as well as for a lovely presentation of food.  Since the winter weather is chilly here, I am starting with cooking on my salt.  More to come on serving with them…

I started heating my salt slowly to about 500 degrees over 30 minutes.

I started heating my salt slowly to about 500 degrees over 30 minutes.

I hit the internet.  How, exactly, do you cook with these blocks I wondered.  Well it turned out to be pretty simple.  The blocks can go right onto a stove or grill burner to heat and cook.  So that is what I did.  The salt needs to heat slowly, and get to a temperature of about 500 degrees over the course of about 30 minutes.  Easy enough.

Recipes to cook on salt were surprisingly plentiful.  Everything from steak to scallops can be cooked on them.  But being health minded, I was concerned about the salt content of food cooked on salt.  Turns out I didn’t need to be.  The salt blocks impart little salt during cooking.  Considering the amount of salt in prepared foods, cooking something fresh and salt free on salt is certainly an option!  I discovered that using them occasionally for those of us watching our sodium but not on sodium restricted diets is just fine.

Armed with this information, off I went!  When trying something new, I am cautious with ingredients.  I was not going to start this experiment with an expensive cut of meat or piece of fish.  I began with a small piece of flank steak.  I ordered it freshly cut from my butcher.  When preparing to cook it, I began heating the salt blocks and  sliced the steak into thin strips.  I did not season the meat at all because I wanted the full experience of the salt flavors on the steak.  When the blocks were hot onto the salt it went.

The steak hit the salt and immediately began sizzling.  Family gathered around to witness the fantastic scents that

On to the salt the steak went.  It began sizzling the second it hit the salt!

On to the salt the steak went. It began sizzling the second it hit the salt!

began wafting through the house.  Oooohs and aaahhhhs followed.  It was my Oscar moment (so few and far between for me are these moments that when it happens I preen like a peacock…ridiculous I know!  Damn pride!).  The steak began noticeably browning, and with a preference for medium rare

The meat sizzled and cooked beautifully!

The meat sizzled and cooked beautifully!cooked steak, I flipped the pieces over after only about 30 seconds.  The sizzling continued.

steak, I flipped the pieces over after only about 30 seconds.  The sizzling continued.

I had a large dinner heading to the table, with the steak being simply an accoutrement to the meal.  It was an all inclusive experiment, as everyone at the table got one or two pieces of steak to taste.  The excitement built as the steak was tender to cut.  And to our delight the flavor was outstanding!  It was a two thumbs up night!  The steak was a hit.  Now my question is what to cook next on my salt blocks.  I think it will be sea scallops but I will let you know!

A quick word about serving on these salt blocks.  I found suggestions to serve produce that folks like to salt, such as melon and tomatoes, on the blocks.  You simply slice up a melon, for example, and lay the pieces on the salt block.  The melon will absorb a bit of salt producing a juicy salty sweet hot weather treat.  I can’t wait to try that, but it will have to wait until summer rolls around for that one.  Until then, I am going to continue to experiment cooking with my blocks.  I will keep you posted on my progress!  Bon appetite!

Seven Super Spices Wrapup

7 Jan

Okay, we have had fun talking about spices.  The seven super spices we discovered (or rediscovered) are cumin, cinnamon, oregano, ginger, turmeric, sage, and clove.  There has been time to process information about these super spices and start using them.  Adding them to food has so many benefits.  Making foods with spices, such as ginger tea, is also a way to take steps toward better health.  Lets just take a quick peek at the general benefits of using spices.

  • Spices are a concentrated form of antioxidants.  Antioxidants, at the very core, protect cells from damage.  Cells are the building blocks on which we rely for our body to perform at its best.  Antioxidants allow us to build a better wellness foundation from the inside out!
  • Many spices have anti inflammatory properties.  This can allow our bodies to naturally decrease pain from inflammation, such as arthritic pain.
  • Many spices have beneficial fiber-a great way to help cleanse the body.
  • Spices are naturally vitamin and mineral rich in a concentrated form.
  • Some spices can be used to relieve nausea.
  • Many spices are beneficial to the digestive system.  They promote positive gastrointestinal activity.
  • Spices add savory flavors to food, encouraging healthier eating habits.
  • Some spices help regulate blood sugar, a big plus for diabetics.

They are simple to add to your daily diet, and can immediately benefit from their medicinal properties.  It can be as simple as this: Make a dry meat rub by mixing 1 tablespoon each of basil, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and thyme.  Toss these spices into a bowl, mix them up a bit, and rub them on pork or chicken.  Spritz the meat with a bit of olive oil and bake.  Easy Peasy!

There is our series, and our wrap-up.  Let me know how you are adding spices to your cooking!