Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Quickie in the Kitchen

I love to cook, but lately I haven't had much time for cooking. This bothers me to no end because food and healthy eating are my profession. Apparently, I need to listen to some of my own advice. We can all benefit from some quick suggestions for getting a healthy meal on the table. Here are some tips that help me to prepare healthy meals for my family in a hurry.

1. Plan Ahead: This means actually thinking about what you can make for the week.
  • Find Recipes: I usually go to my favorite healthy eating website, Eating Well. There are many wonderful recipes here that can be made in less than an hour. This can be necessary if you're coming home after a long day. You can search for new, quick, healthy and delicious recipes to add to your grocery list or you can search for recipes with ingredients that you have on hand. I recently found a recipe for Spiced Eggplant-Lentil Salad when I searched for recipes using eggplant. Yes, I still have to go to the store for some fresh ingredients, but I'll be using up the eggplant that has been sitting in my refrigerator for the past week.
  • Three Meal Rule: I usually plan to cook three new meals a week. This way I'm not overwhelmed by planning a whole week of meals. I make extra to have as another meal or to take leftovers for lunch. You can recycle leftover food and create new meals. Leftover meats and vegetables can be used to make casseroles, stir-fries, salads, stews and soups.
  • Make a Grocery List: Part of the planning process is making a list. This helps you get through the store faster and can minimize less healthy impulse purchases.
2. Stock Your Pantry and Refrigerator/Freezer: Buy healthy staple foods that make it easy to prepare a quick meal. These are foods that you may eat more regularly and that you can use in recipes such as:
  • Healthy breakfast cereals
  • Low fat dairy and dairy substitutes (fortified soy, rice and almond milk and cheeses)
  • Low fat and low sodium lunch meats
  • Lean meats and meat substitutes
  • 100% whole wheat bread
  • Fresh and frozen fruits
  • Fresh and frozen vegetables
  • Canned tomato products
  • Canned beans (legumes)
  • Brown rice (quick cooking varieties are available)
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Herbs and spices
  • Olive and canola oil
  • Vinegars
  • Sauces (Many of these are high in sugar and sodium and should be used sparingly to enhance the flavor of meals. Some of my all time favorite sauces come from the Texas-based company D.L. Jardine's)
  • Broths (chicken, beef, vegetable and no-chicken broth, which is a vegetarian broth that has a chicken broth flavor)
3. Shop: To make quick and healthy meals you need to have healthy foods on hand. This means that you have to go to the food market. I'm not as well organized as one of my nutrition mentors who only needs to shop once a month (now that's a well stocked kitchen!). I usually plan one large shopping trip a week (usually on a weekend or in the evening when the number of shoppers is less) and another smaller trip mid-week. A good rule to follow for mid-week shopping is to get only the things that you really need such as some fresh produce and milk. If I have to shop for more items after work, typically we'll be eating grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. I don't have time to shop and cook after work.

4. Learn How to Use a Knife/Food Processor: One of my jobs in my family as a kid was making salads. I dutifully cut vegetables using a paring knife as my mother instructed me. This was a chore and took longer than I wanted. I hated being asked to make a salad. It wasn't until I worked for a caterer in college that I learned how to correctly use a knife. What a difference choosing and using the correct knife makes! Cutting vegetables quickly and efficiently can actually be fun! This is probably the most important skill for cooking (remember to keep your knives sharp!). Food processors are also available for quickly cutting up vegetables. I tend to only use mine if I have a lot to chop as cleaning it is sometimes a bigger chore than chopping. And if you are really in a rush, you can use bagged chopped vegetables. It's always good to have options!

5. Utilize Your Kitchen Helpers: My mother was clearly doing this when she would ask me to make salads. Your kitchen helpers can set the table, wash dishes, and stir the pot for you. A great principle to follow is anyone who eats should help with meal preparation and clean up (thanks goes to one of my dietitian colleagues for suggesting this).

6. Clean as You Cook: My husband actually helped me learn this. His job in his family was clean up. Clean up is so much easier when you clean as you go. While I'm waiting for something to cook, I'll wash a few dishes. I'm a much happier cook when my cooking space is uncluttered and clean.

7. Minimize Distractions: When you're tired after a long day, distractions can make you lose your momentum and the next thing you know you'll be ordering out for pizza. Don't sit down at the computer, don't turn on the television and don't pour yourself a drink until you have a head start on your meal. You may need to delegate other household tasks to the denizens who share the house with you.

8. Experiment: Try making up your own recipes. With practice you will figure out flavor combinations that you enjoy. You'll be surprised at some of the great meals you come up with. You'll also make a few duds, but don't worry, you won't poison anyone. I've had the experience of not liking some of my own creations, but my family seems to eat them anyway, and sometimes they like them even when I don't. I've probably instilled enough guilt in them to simply appreciate the fact that I am cooking for them. I think I'd appreciate an underwhelming meal if someone prepared it for me too.

9. Lighten Up: Sometimes it's OK to eat grilled cheese. You can make a healthy meal using all kinds of shortcuts as long as you balance it with fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

10. Enjoy: Sometimes we need little reminders about how to make quick work of meal preparation so that we can have more time to enjoy other things in life. Who knows, maybe you'll even be able to enjoy the process of meal preparation more, which will make you a happier person overall. Hopefully, you'll free up time to enjoy the other rooms of your house too.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A World of Oats

Guest blog post by Laura Williams

Oats are a gluten-free cereal grain and are the third leading cereal crop produced in the United States (after wheat and corn) and the fourth most important crop worldwide. They were once considered a weed, but are now a popular staple of the British Isles like Scotland, Ireland and Wales. The grain was introduced into the Americas in 1602 by a sea captain who planted them in one of the islands off the coast of Massachusetts. Today, nearly half of the world's oat crop--more than 4 billion bushels a year--is grown in the United States and Canada. Oat kernels look very much like wheat in structure with an outer covering of bran, which protects the starchy endosperm and the germ that sits at the bottom of the grain. Whole grain oats contain seven B vitamins, vitamin E, and nine minerals, including iron, magnesium, selenium, manganese, phosphorous and calcium. Oats are very high in protein, containing about twice the protein of wheat or corn. But the most important nutritional advantages of oats are the soluble fiber and the GLA (gamma linoleic acid), an essential fatty acid. The soluble fiber is what gives oatmeal its gummy texture; it also has many beneficial effects on health. Regular use of oats in the diet can be helpful for managing several medical conditions. They have been shown to help control blood sugar levels, which is beneficial for people with both type 1 and 2 diabetes; to reduce cholesterol levels, which may help prevent heart disease; and to reduce plaque build up in the arteries which may help prevent atherosclerosis.

Different forms of oats:

Oat groats: This is the whole oat grain, with only the outer hull removed. Oat groats are extremely nutritious, but they need to be soaked and cooked a long time. Oat groats are usually processed into one of the other forms below.

Steel-cut oats: Produced by running groats through steel cutters, chopping the groats into smaller pieces and creating a chewy texture. Steel-cut oats still contain the whole grain and oat bran, and are also very nutritious.

Rolled oats or old-fashioned oats: Steaming groats and then flattening them with a roller makes rolled oats.

Quick-cooking oats: Steaming and flattening steel-cut oats makes quick-cooking oats.

Instant oatmeal: Produced by rolling more thinly and steaming longer or partially cooking the oats. Instant oatmeal will also have salt, sugar, and in some cases artificial sweeteners added to it.

You can also grind rolled oats yourself to make oat flour.

Oats can be included in the diet in the form of oatmeal, cold cereals, baked products, granola bars, etc. Any way you include oats in your diet, you will still receive their beneficial effects.

Some recipes to try using oats include:



2 cups oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)

2 cups apple juice or apricot nectar

1-1/2 cups sliced fresh fruit (any combination of banana, peaches, nectarines or strawberries)

8 oz vanilla low-fat yogurt

2 T chopped nuts* (optional)

1 T ground flax seeds* (optional)

Preparation: Combine all ingredients except nuts and fruit; mix well.

Cover; refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

Serve cold; add fruit and sprinkle with nuts, if desired. Refrigerate in airtight container up to 4 days

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies


3 cups old fashioned oats

1 cup flour

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

1 cup honey or maple syrup

¾ cup softened butter

½ tsp vanilla

1 egg

½ cup raisins

Preparation: Preheat oven to 375 F. lightly coat cookie sheet with vegetable oil. Combine dry ingredients and mix well. Mix honey/syrup, butter, and vanilla until smooth. Add egg. Blend in dry ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Stir in raisins. Place rounded spoonfuls of blended ingredients onto cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Makes 50 cookies.

I made three batches of these cookies each using a different sweetener (1 each with honey, maple syrup, and sugar) and would definitely recommend using maple syrup.

Laura is a senior at Syracuse University majoring in dietetics and minoring in hospitality management. She hopes to become a Registered Dietitian. Laura has a passion for cooking and baking.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Diabetes From a Personal Point of View

The dates of some experiences can be imprinted on one’s memory for a long time. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day that my son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 8 years of age. He had been excessively thirsty for a few days, and was drinking a lot of water. A couple days prior to his diagnosis, I remember him coming home from school and telling me in amazement that he went to the bathroom twenty times that day! My husband and I scoured the internet looking for any other explanation than the one that we knew was most obvious. In medicine, they have a saying: If you hear hoof beats it’s probably a horse, not a zebra. This means that what is most obvious is most likely. In our case it was a horse, type 1 diabetes.

When I was a nutrition student learning about diabetes, I struggled to get my mind around all that was necessary to manage the disease. Diet, medication and physical activity are all very important in controlling diabetes, and none of it is simple. I am still learning how complex diabetes management is every day. My son is now a 15 year old athlete. He has risen to the challenges of diabetes better than many adults would have. He knows how important physical activity is for his blood sugar management, and after trying several different sports he found a sport that he loves, rowing. Diabetics used to be discouraged from participating in sports because of the risk of low blood sugar. Now, we view physical activity and athletics as an important part of keeping a diabetic person healthy throughout life. The advent of the insulin pump has allowed us to fine tune the delivery of insulin such that athletics is not considered as dangerous as it used to be.

Since my son has been diagnosed with diabetes on March 16, 2004 he has had several seizures related to low blood sugar, all of them occurring during sleep. He’s always recovered relatively quickly from them, and was alert enough to drink juice to bring his blood sugar back up. His most recent seizure on July 7, 2010 was different. By now, my other children are well versed in their brother’s diabetes management. My 13 year old daughter has helped me administer juice to her brother and witnessed the multiple daily finger pricks to check blood sugar and injections of insulin. On this warm day in July, she frantically called us at work to let us know that our son was having a seizure. I left for home grateful that she would be there to give him juice. While I was en route she tested his blood sugar and administered glucagon, a quick acting sugar to help raise blood sugar in unresponsive diabetics. When I arrived the situation had not improved. Another injection of glucagon failed to bring him around. I was relieved when my husband, a physician, arrived home to help, but nothing that we did brought our son back to his normal mental status. We called 911.

I’m happy to say that my son has made a full recovery and the only lasing effect from this day was his inability to train athletically for about a week due to headaches from a lumbar puncture that was part of his hospital evaluation. We replay the events leading up to this day and try to figure out what contributed to it. I never expected my son to have a seizure that we couldn’t bring him out of. I now wonder if we should have been better prepared to understand how different the needs of a diabetic athlete are compare to other athletes and other non-athlete diabetics. I’ve since learned that to correct for a low blood sugar, a diabetic athlete can require twice as much carbohydrate as a non-athlete diabetic. I’ve also learned that dehydration can impact a diabetic athlete differently than a non-diabetic athlete. I never wanted to understand as much about diabetes as I do now. My experiences with my son have motivated me to learn as much as I can about this disease to help him and other diabetics, athlete and non-athlete alike, to take control of their lives!