By: Elizabeth Rahavi, RD Date: 3/28/11
I spent a nice Sunday afternoon hanging out at a friend’s house with her husband and their 120 pound Newfoundland. The beast of a dog couldn’t have been sweeter for her size and stature, but admittedly this was one of her better days. Some weeks before my arrival, the dog had chewed the wires on my friend’s brand new treadmill, making it difficult for my friend to exercise as she had planned. She joked that it was the dog’s fault that she gained five pounds!
When it comes to weight management, we can all get detoured from time to time. If it’s not the dog chewing the treadmill, it’s the 50-60 hour work weeks that can make it hard for us to put a healthful and colorful dinner on the table every night. This month we’ve been blogging about the National Nutrition Month Theme, “Eat Right with Color.” The American Dietetic Association is encouraging us to “splash some color on our plate” and consume a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean protein and dairy every day. Not only are these foods good for you, but they are also nutrient rich and, when prepared safely, they are part of a diet that can help you manage your weight.
With the frantic pace of life that most of us are facing, who couldn’t use some helpful tips on how to get a healthful, colorful, and weight-conscious meal on the table? Today’s modern food production and processing provides us with a host of options that can shave precious minutes and hours off of our food preparation time. While some processed foods are meant only as an occasional treat, these foods do not represent all processed foods. In fact, there are many nutritious foods that also are processed that can be a part of a balanced diet.
Here are a few ways to take advantage of processed foods in a weight-conscious and colorful way:
• Put a “ready-to-eat” meal on the table in minutes. Buying frozen dinners or single-serve frozen entrees is a great way to pull a meal together in a matter of minutes. Monitoring calories is an important part of managing your weight. These packaged foods provide calorie information per serving at the tip of your fingers in the Nutrition Facts panel.
Color Tip: You can spruce up the color and variety of your meal by pulling together a quick side-salad. My favorite salad is bagged spinach and spring mix greens with fresh sliced mushrooms, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, tossed with a tablespoon of bottled balsamic vinaigrette.
• Stock up on frozen, canned and packaged foods. Having foods that stay fresher longer on hand means that you will always have them when you need them. Examples include frozen vegetables, canned beans, soups and instant rice.
Color tip: For a quick and easy meal, prepare instant brown rice per the package directions. In a frying pan, sauté frozen Asian vegetable stir-fry. Once the veggies and rice are ready, mix them together and serve. You can also add your favorite meat to the dish (pre-cooked options are available in the refrigerated section of the grocery store)!
• Buy the package size that suits you. Choose from packages that provide multiple servings or single servings that can help cut down on food waste. However, some people might find that having multiple servings of a food may be a hindrance to weight management efforts. Don’t be detoured! Simply split multiple serving packages into single servings once you get home and freeze or store those you don’t use for later.
Color tip: Dried fruit and nuts can be a great snack, but also more expensive when purchased in single serving packages, and higher in calories. Look for economy-sized servings of nuts or dried fruit at your local grocer or wholesale store. Portion these foods out into single-serve plastic baggies on Sunday, keeping in mind a calorie serving that is right for you. Keep one on hand each day to have as a snack when mid-morning or afternoon hunger hits.
• Food packaging innovations have made it more convenient to have fresh fruits and veggies on hand. After the invention of baby carrots in the 1990s, consumption of carrots in the U.S. doubled. Many retailers and manufacturers have also found ways to provide other fresh fruits and vegetables in a convenient way for busy people on the go.
Color Tip: Look for pre-sliced veggies in your produce aisle like sliced apples, mushrooms, onions, and a host of other ingredients that can be easily included in a stir-fry, baked or roasted.
Planning a balanced diet that keeps your weight and health in mind doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Modern food production and processing makes it possible to prepare meals that have color, texture, taste and variety in a matter of minutes.
How will you get started adding color to your plate?
Need some inspiration? Check out these resources:
• Healthy Eating, Active Living
• Foods for Health: Managing Your Weight
• Farm to Fork Resources