When it comes to eating healthy, most people know what they should eat, but it’s easy to fall short when it comes to putting it all together day after day. Since March is National Nutrition Month, and today is Registered Dietitian day, I asked my colleagues – the smart, creative, and talented Harvard Vanguard Registered Dietitians– to share their favorite tips for keeping their own mealtimes healthy and balanced. I’m happy to report that nutritionists really do practice what we preach!
Stephanie Karakantas never skips breakfast. “I find a balanced and satisfying breakfast a great way to boost my energy level for the day.” Her favorite way to start the day is with her own banana bread oatmeal (cook plain oatmeal with a tablespoon of flax meal or wheat germ for crunch, and mix in ½ mashed banana, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, brown sugar and crushed walnuts), or a breakfast smoothie made with low fat milk, a scoop of protein powder, and fresh or frozen berries.
Fernanda Copeland believes in the power of the lunchbox, and recommends investing in a large, insulated lunch box so you can pack meals and snacks daily. She always includes fresh fruit, yogurt, vegetables and one low fat treat in hers. Janine Clifford-Murphy agrees. “Eating at work is always a challenge, but for that reason, I have all my food supplies ready to go.” She packs fruits (peeled oranges save time), with a protein like nuts or Greek yogurt for a snack, and herbal tea bags. She also keeps sandwiches interesting by making roll-ups with “linear veggies” like steamed or blanched string beans and asparagus, or red pepper strips.
All of us, across the board, try to eat several servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Helen Mastro stresses, “They are the foundation of a healthy diet. I try to eat them with every meal.” She keeps frozen fruits and vegetables, without added sugar, salt, or sauces, on hand for those days when she runs out of fresh. Melissa Gilman always tries to make her meals look colorful. “If my meal looks too blah, I swap out something beige, and add a colorful fruit or vegetable to my plate!”
Another great way to eat more vegetables is to turn your salad into a meal. Julie Seed loves to make chopped salads like the ones at California Pizza Kitchen or The Cheesecake Factory. Her tip is to look at the restaurant’s website to see what’s in their salad, and then recreate it at home. “Creating a theme salad, like barbeque chicken salad, southwest salad with corn and black beans, or Asian chicken salad with mandarins, definitely makes salads more interesting. Making it at home allows you to tailor the ingredients and skip or control the amount of higher calorie add-ins like cheese, dressing or Chinese noodles.”
Nutritionists always stress the importance of planning ahead to create healthy meals and snacks, and one of my favorite ways to do that is with soups and stews, which can be full of vegetables and other healthy ingredients. Even if you’re only cooking for one or two, it pays to buy ingredients for soups or stews in bulk and prepare enough for several meals. Leftovers can be eaten for lunch or dinner the next day, or frozen for later. It takes only a few extra minutes to cut up extra veggies, but reheating your own home-made frozen meals can save hours later on, not to mention the cost of take-out. Marlene O’Donnell has another great time saving, plan-ahead tip. She likes to prepare one large pot of couscous (or quinoa), and use it for several meals. She adds precooked shrimp, which is sautéed in olive oil and lemon juice for a tasty main course one night, or arugula, grated carrots and a lemon vinaigrette for a hearty salad another night.
Sometimes, making your meal or snack healthier means thinking outside the box. Jennifer Bonczek urges everyone to try to substitute a healthy ingredient for one that is high in calories or saturated fat. “I keep hummus on hand and use it instead of mayonnaise in tuna salad, for a savings of more than 100 calories. I also swap the cheese on my sandwich for a slice of avocado – it not only saves calories, but also replaces the saturated fat with a heart healthy fat.”
Denise Barra also tries to lighten up her cooking. “I like to watch online recipe makeover videos from Cooking Light, to learn how to substitute lighter, lower salt or lower fat ingredients in recipes. The videos show you how to make over foods that people feel are cheat foods.” She often uses unsweetened applesauce, banana, or prune puree in place of butter or shortening in baked goods. She also recommends, “When baking, cut sugar back by one-third to one-half, and add spices like cinnamon, cloves, allspice, or nutmeg, and flavorings such as vanilla or almond to boost sweetness.”
Think all this healthy cooking and planning means that Nutritionists never eat out? Think again! We all enjoy a meal out, but still try to follow our rules of planning ahead, balance, and moderation. Most restaurants post their menu on their website, so when dining out, try to decide ahead of time what seems healthy for your meal plan. Linda Germaine-Miller also suggests ordering one glass of wine, rather than sharing a bottle, and sharing an entrée with a friend or spouse. “My husband and I often share a main course item, and we each order a salad to start.” Margie Ullman-Weil also agrees with this strategy, especially when it comes to desserts, or treats in general. “Often just a few bites of dessert with a cup of tea or coffee is enough to cap off a good meal.”
Eating well can sometimes take a bit more work, but we’re here to show you that it can be done! If you need help to improve your diet, contact Harvard Vanguard Nutrition department.