Home Fermentation Video Series

Back in the fall, MUS Wellness hosted dietetic intern StephTarnacki, and together we created two videos introducing home fermentation. If you participate in our MUS Wellness Incentive Program, you may have already caught the one on kombucha. We wanted to post it again, along with a brand new video featuring how to make your own sauerkraut. Home fermentation is easy, saves you money, can help prevent food waste, and provides a tasty alternative to some of the regular foods you eat. Fermented foods are also packed with probiotics, the good kind of bacteria that live in our digestive tract. Eating foods rich in probiotics may improve digestion, boost your immune system, promote a healthy weight, and may even improve some mental health conditions.

Enjoy!  —Cristin.

30-Day Nutrition Upgrade — It’s Back!!

Last April, we offered a pilot program of the 30-Day Nutrition Upgrade to 130 MUS Benefits Plan members. The 30-Day Nutrition Upgrade, developed by nutrition expert Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN, CNS, is a simple, yet highly effective way to reshape your eating habits and boost your nutrition. The program requires only about two minutes a day and can be effortlessly incorporated into any daily routine. It’s not a diet or a detox, and there are no forbidden foods.

At the conclusion of the pilot program, we collected feedback from our MUS participants, and here’s what we found:

  • 97% of participants made a positive change to eating habits as a result of the program!
  • The most commonly cited dietary changes that participants made included:
    • More veggies
    • Better snacking
    • More legumes
    • Better planning
    • Less sugar
  • Many participants reported more energy/improved mood, fewer digestive issues, enjoying their food more, and weight loss (even though weight loss is not a focus of the program). 

In addition, here’s what two participants specifically said about the Upgrade:

  • “…I am always wary of diets and so many extreme approaches to nutrition that are out there. I’ve wanted more structure to help improve my nutrition, but have been afraid of falling into the obsessive diet traps. I loved the balanced and non-restrictive nature of the program.”

  • “I felt that the 30-Day Nutrition Upgrade was an amazing experience. It’s a wonderful addition to the MUS Wellness Program, and I would recommend the Upgrade to anyone!”

Due to the success of the pilot program, we are thrilled to announce that the 30-Day Nutrition Upgrade for MUS is back! We will offer the program again this fall, beginning Friday, October 12th at a cost of $10/person (savings of $30 off the regular price). Included in the program:

  • Live one-hour online kickoff, plus access to a video recording of the session afterwards
  • Nutrition GPA app for iOS or Android
  • Downloadable handouts and other program materials
  • Two live check-ins midway through the program
  • Frequent communication and support from program leaders, Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN, and Cristin Stokes, RDN, LN
  • Private Facebook group for Montana University System participants for ongoing connection and support

To learn more about the program, and read about Cristin’s personal experience, click here.

The program is open to all MUS Benefits Plan members, including spouses and dependents over 18 years old, and registration opens Tuesday, October 2nd. Mark your calendars and watch for an email from your campus Human Resources or Wellness contact on that morning! If you have questions about the program, check out the information here or email me at cristin.stokes@montana.edu

The Incredible Edible Eggplant

MUS Wellness again has the honor of hosting a dietetic intern for two weeks from the Montana Dietetic Internship program. This year’s intern is Steph Tarnacki. Steph earned her Bachelor’s degree in Dietetics from the University of Northern Colorado, and aspires to work as a dietitian in the public school system to improve the National School Lunch Program, provide nutrition education, and establish more Farm to School Programs. We had a reader request for eggplant recipes following our recent post about zucchini, so on day one with us, I asked Steph to write about her favorite ways to prepare eggplant, and she happily obliged. Please welcome Steph Tarnacki as our guest blog writer:

Late August in Montana – the sun shines bright against a foreshadowing chill in the air, the critters bustle and scavenge for food in preparation of the long winter to come, and the gardens burst with deep purple eggplants!   

Eggplants, a member of the nightshade family, are known for their slightly bitter taste, and spongy texture. Their roots trace back to Asia, where you can find over 13 varieties! Rich in the antioxidant nasunin, eggplants help protect against harmful free radicals and, most importantly, protect the fats in brain cell membranes. Talk about some delicious brain food! Nasunin also reduces inflammation, helps our body remove toxic waste, and may help stave off cancer, heart disease and arthritis.1, 2

Eggplants are low in calories, high in fiber and also pack a punch in the vitamin department – rich in B vitamins, magnesium, potassium and Vitamin K.

So, how can you incorporate more eggplants into your life? Here are a few of my favorite recipes!

BAKED EGGPLANT PARMESAN

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 eggplant sliced 1/4″ thick (you’ll need 12 slices)
  • Salt
  • 3 eggs beaten
  • 1 (8 ounce) box Italian seasoned panko bread crumbs
  • 1 (26 ounce) jar marinara sauce
  • 1 (16 ounce) package fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • Cooking spray

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Sprinkle some salt on both sides of each slice of eggplant. Layer the slices in a  colander and place the colander in your sink. Place a heavy dish or pan over the top to press them down. Allow to sweat for 30 to 45 minutes. Rinse well with cold water to remove salt and blot dry with paper towels
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a rimmed baking sheet generously with cooking spray. Dip eggplant slices in egg, then in bread crumbs, pressing crumbs down with fingers if needed to cover evenly. Place in a single layer on oiled baking sheet and lightly spray tops of breaded eggplant with cooking spray.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes then carefully flip each slice and cook an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until nicely browned. Remove from oven and reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
  4. In a 9×13 inch baking dish spread just enough marinara to cover bottom of dish. Place a layer of eggplant slices in the sauce. Cover each slice with a spoon full of marinara, a slice or two of mozzarella, and then sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Repeat with one more layer. Pour any leftover marinara and around edges of eggplant slices and top with any cheese that is left. Sprinkle basil on top.
  5. Bake, uncovered, in preheated oven for 30 minutes.

Recipe by: Valerie’s Kitchen

BABA GANOUSH

INGREDIENTS

  • Olive oil (for grill and  drizzling)
  • 2 pounds Italian eggplants (4 medium)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon tahini
  • ½ garlic clove, finely grated   
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Sumac, za’atar, crushed red pepper flakes, or Aleppo pepper; grilled flatbreads or pita bread (for serving)

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Prepare a grill for medium-high heat; lightly oil grate. Grill eggplant, turning occasionally, until skin is charred and flesh is fork-tender, 25–35 minutes. (Alternatively, you can tuck vegetables into coals left over from grilling something else. Wait until charcoal is completely covered with ash and no black spots remain. Shake grill to knock excess ash off coal, then rake them around and pile them up around vegetables.) Let cool slightly.
  • Halve eggplant, scoop flesh into a colander set over a bowl, and let drain at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour; discard liquid.
  • Pulse eggplant along with lemon juice, tahini, and garlic in a food processor until smooth; season with salt and pepper.
  • Drizzle baba ghanoush with oil and top as desired. Serve with flatbreads or pita bread.

Recipe by NYT Cooking

baba-ganoush-1271630_1280
Baba Ganoush

RATATOUILLE

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large (1.25 lb) eggplant, cut into 1/3-inch cubes
  • Salt
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 2 medium zucchini (about 1 lb), cut into 1/3-inch cubes
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 red, orange or yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 5 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 5 large vine-ripened tomatoes (1.75 lb), cut into 1/3-inch cubes, with their juices
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme, plus more for serving
  • 3/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large nonstick pan over medium heat. Add the eggplant and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring frequently, about 10-12 minutes. Transfer to another plate and set aside.
  • Add another tablespoon of oil to the pain. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring frequently, until tender-crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and transfer to a plate; set aside.
  • Add two more tablespoons of oil to the pan and add the onion and bell pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking for about 3 minutes more. Do not brown. Add the tomatoes and their juices, tomato paste, thyme, sugar, crushed red pepper flakes (if using) and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are broken down into a sauce, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the cooked eggplant to the pan; bring to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes or until the eggplant is soft. Add the zucchini and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more, or until just warmed through. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Sprinkle with fresh basil and thyme, drizzle with a little olive oil if desired, and serve warm or chilled. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Recipe by: Jenn Segal

And a few other recipe links that look tasty:

Caponata

Penne with Tomatoes, Eggplant, and Mozzarella

Hoisin Glazed Eggplant

Roasted Eggplant, Zucchini, and Chickpea Wraps

Hopefully these recipes can help you add some eggplant to your life! Please share more of your favorite eggplant recipes!

Steph

Sources:

  1. https://draxe.com/eggplant-nutrition/
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0300483X0000202X

Oh Zucchini!

It’s mid-August — the days of hot temperatures, smoky skies, the approach of fall semester, and…loads of zucchini. Sadly, the zucchini plants in my garden didn’t fare so well this year, but I’m lucky to have generous in-laws who recently brought over a bag of zucchini and summer squash for my family, and then I was back in the familiar position of trying to figure out what to do with it all!

I remembered that years ago we asked MUS plan members to share a favorite recipe with us. We must have presented this challenge in late summer, because we received a ton of zucchini recipes! So, if you’re like me these days and trying to use up lots of zucchini, here are a few ways, thanks to your coworkers, to enjoy your summer bounty:

Chicken Zucchini Boats  

Recipe by Cindy Boies

Ingredients

  • 1 large zucchini
  • 2 cups cooked chicken
  • 4 roma tomoatoes
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 can green enchilada sauce
  • 1 cup part-skim mozzarella

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cut zucchini in half lengthwise, deseed.
  3. Fill a baking dish with about ¾ inch of water. Bake in water bath until tender but not mushy. Approximately 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Pour out water.
  4. Turn zucchini flesh side up in baking pan. Carve out additional trough in zucchini.
  5. Layer the following in the zucchini boat, amounts will depend on the size of the zucchini: Cooked chicken (chopped into small to medium size pieces),tomatoes (deseeded and diced), and avocado (diced)
  6. Drizzle desired amount of green enchilada sauce over zucchini filling.
  7. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over filling.
  8. Bake at 400 degrees until cheese is brown, approximately 15 – 20 minutes. Enjoy!

Zucchini Parmesan with Tomato Sauce

Recipe submitted by Annette Galioto

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 zucchini, peeled, sliced lengthwise
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 Tbsp fresh basil (or 2 tsp dried)
  • 1 ½ cups tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute zucchini until softened, 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Season zucchini with oregano and basil.
  3. Add tomato sauce; cook and stir until heated through, about 5 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over zucchini mixture.

Zucchini Quiche

Recipe submitted by Anita Brown

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups grated zucchini
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 cup bisquick
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp butter
  • 1/2 tsp Parsley flakes
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper

Directions:

  1. Mix all together in bowl.  Pour in large buttered pie dish & bake at 350 for 30-45 min until it starts to brown.

Zucchini Burgers

Recipe submitted by Jill Seigmund

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb ground turkey or lean beef
  • 1 cup finely shredded zucchini
  • Salt, pepper, Mrs. Dash, or other burger seasoning

Directions:

  1. Mix the ground meat with the shredded zucchini.  
  2. Shape into five hamburger patties and season with salt and pepper or Mrs. Dash.  
  3. Grill and serve as you would a regular hamburger.

Other ideas:

  • Make zucchini noodles, or “zoodles”, with a spiralizer
  • Shred with a cheese grater, and freeze in 1 or 2 cup labeled portions to use in baked goods (this is especially good to do with very large zucchinis)
  • Serve sliced & raw with a veggie dip or hummus
  • Use as pizza or salad toppings
  • Make zucchini “butter”

Feel free to leave a comment with your favorite way to enjoy zucchini!

Happy Eating!

Cristin

 

 

Back-to-School Breakfasts!

School is back in session and for many of us, that means more responsibilities, tighter schedules, and often…less time for food prep. Breakfast especially can take a hard hit if school mornings are chaotic. Even if the start of school doesn’t change your schedule much, it’s rare to find someone who has time in the morning to sit down to a freshly prepared meal, especially as the weather starts to cool, the sun rises later, and your bed feels ever more cozy & comfortable in those early morning hours.

But rather than skipping breakfast or just grabbing a pastry at the coffee shop that will leave you hungry an hour later, do yourself a favor and prepare some healthy items ahead of time that are ready in a jiffy or that you can take with you on your way to work. While the internet is full of make-ahead breakfast ideas, I’ve rounded up some of my favorites to share with you all, plus a few additional recipes that actually sound realistic and manageable for the average working person with morning responsibilities.

Remember to include a source of protein with breakfast to keep you satisfied longer, and to spread your protein intake out throughout the day, which has been shown to be beneficial in helping your body utilize protein most efficiently.

Eggs

  • Mini-Crustless Quiches in Muffin Tins. These are easy to adapt to your preferences with different veggies, cheeses, etc.
  • Freezer Veggie Breakfast Burritos. Make a big batch (i.e. half dozen or more) for the entire week. Take out of freezer in the morning and throw in the microwave for ~2 minutes. Use smaller tortillas (8” or so) for portability and cool the filling first before wrapping in a tortilla and freezing to prevent your burrito from becoming soggy. You can change up the recipe based on what ingredients you have available in your fridge; I always recommend going heavy on the non-starchy vegetables, and easy on the potatoes and processed meat (or skip those altogether).
  • English Muffin Breakfast Sandwiches. Again, easily adaptable based on what you have available.
  • Hard-Boiled Eggs. Ok, so you probably don’t need a recipe, but I wanted to make sure to include these on the list. Having hard boiled eggs prepped and ready in your fridge means you have a perfect, transportable protein source to take along with your fruit smoothie or oatmeal.

Oats/Grains

  • Overnight Kefir Oats. These are really yummy, plus you can start your day with a boost of beneficial probiotics.
  • Steel Cut Oats: Given their heartier texture, these stand up to being made ahead of time. You can cook a big bowl on the weekend or whenever you have a chance, then add some milk or water when you warm them up. I love throwing a nut/seed trail mix on top, with a spoonful of honey or jam if you want to sweeten them up.
  • Homemade Muesli: Muesli tends to have less sugar and more fiber than granola, especially when homemade and you can limit the dried fruit and any added sweeteners (which I would suggest on the recipe linked above). Can be soaked overnight or added to yogurt/milk in the morning.
  • Homemade instant oatmeal: Most instant oatmeal purchased from the store is loaded with sugar and artificial flavors. Instead, make your own at home! This recipe comes from MUS employee Jane Wolery’s blog, who adapted it from the Iowa Extension’s Spend Smart Eat Smart blog. Thank you Jane!

Ingredients

  • 4 cups rolled oats or quick cook oats
  • Optional mix-ins:
    • Chia seeds
    • Dried fruit
    • Nuts
    • Cinnamon
    • Pumpkin pie spice
    • Brown sugar (could also add honey or maple syrup right before serving)

Directions

Put rolled oats in blender or food processor. Blend for a bit, until you get some fine powder and some regular oat shapes. You could probably powderize about 1 cup of oats and then add 3 cups regular or quick cook oats to that powder. The powder should make a creamier and faster cooking product.  

If doing different flavors of packets, take about ½ c. of the oats and put in snack-size bags or containers.  Add about 1 tsp of sugar, dried fruits, nuts, chia seeds, etc.  If doing all the same, mix “extra” dry ingredients into one large container with oats and then portion out 2/3 c. or so into snack-size bags.  You’ll have to experiment with the sugar for a bigger batch or just add it to each portion.  When ready to use, pour contents of packet into a bowl, add hot water and let sit until oatmeal is creamy.   

Yogurt/Dairy

  • Yogurt Parfaits: These can be made several days in advance, and then if you want a little crunch, you can sprinkle a whole grain cereal on top just before eating.
  • Chia Seed Pudding With the chia seeds as a natural thickening agent, it’s possible to make chia seed pudding without yogurt, but in my opinion, the texture if far superior when you do add yogurt.

Baked goods

  • Breakfast Muffins. The key to a healthier breakfast muffin is portion size (no oversized muffins please!), less sugar, and hearty ingredients like nuts, seeds, and vegetables to increase prortein and fiber content.
  • Tina and Michael’s Nutritional Breakfast Cookies. Thank you to MUS employee Michael Bloom for sharing this recipe!

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened                                               1/2 cup chopped dates
  • 1 cup peanut butter                                                      1/4 cup chopped figs
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar                                       1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract                                                       1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • 2 large eggs                                                                      1/2 cup craisins
  • 1/2 cup cider or cold coffee                                          1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour                                                  1/4 cup flaxseeds
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour                                               1/2 cup coconut
  • 2 cups whole oats
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp baking soda

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Spray or lightly grease baking sheets.
  2. In a large bowl beat together butter, peanut butter, brown sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer until creamy.  Beat in eggs and cider or coffee.
  3. In a medium bowl stir together flours, oats, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda.  Mix flour mixture into peanut butter mixture. Stir in remaining ingredients.
  4. Drop by ice cream scoopfuls (or 1/4 cup measuring cupfuls) 2-1/2 inches apart on greased cookie sheets.  Flatten slightly.
  5. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes until golden but still soft.
  6. Remove from the oven and cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to cooling racks to cool completely.

Smoothies

  • Snickerdoodle Green Smoothie: If made ahead, the avocado may discolor, but a quick stir before eating will make it unnoticeable.

Ingredients

  • 1 handful spinach
  • 1 frozen banana
  • ½ small avocado
  • ¼- ½ cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon

Directions:  Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth. Serves 1. Adapted from https://rabbitfoodformybunnyteeth.com/

  • Make-ahead Smoothie Packs. You can package ingredients for individual smoothies in ziploc bags, then let a bag chill in the refrigerator overnight and add the liquid to blend in the morning.
  • You can also prep entire smoothies a couple of days before and store in mason jars to transport. They will require a shake/stir to remix ingredients that may have settled, but they will be all ready to go!

Other

  • Mini-Tofu Quiches: Don’t turn up your nose so quickly at the mention of tofu for breakfast! These are delicious and packed with protein.

Happy Breakfast Eating!

Cristin

 

Power Bite Video: Weird Veggies

As fresh summertime produce continues to roll in, it’s a great time to branch out with some new recipes including some yummy, and sometimes not so common, vegetables.

For those of you participating in our online incentive program, you can get a jump on a couple of new challenges that will roll out next week (8/14), including watching the following video, and thinking about some new recipes to include in your weekly meal plan.

The latest Montana Meals video features four “weird” vegetables that may not be part of your usual veggie repertoire: kohlrabi, eggplant, tomatillos, and garlic scapes. Although sadly we are now past prime kohlrabi and garlic scape season, you can still pick up some great tips, and be well prepared for the next time you find these options!

https://vimeo.com/228099713

After knowing what to do with these weird veggies when you bring them home, the next step is to decide how exactly you want to prepare them. To help, here’s a roundup of some tasty recipes that use the four veggies described in the video. Happy Eating!

Eggplant

Grilled Eggplant & Tomato Stacks

Stuffed Eggplant

Baba Ganoush

Eggplant Caponata

Spicy Eggplant & Cauliflower with Basil

Kohlrabi

Roasted Kohlrabi

Crispy Apple & Kohlrabi Salad

Kohlrabi & Potato Puree

Kohlrabi Carrot Fritters

Kohlrabi Salad with Cilantro & Lime

Tomatillos

Tomatillo Salsa Verde

Chicken with Tomatillos and Cilantro

Roasted Tomatillo Chicken Soup

Nuevos Huevos Rancheritos

Tomatillo Guacamole

Garlic Scapes

Garlic Scape Pesto

Grilled Garlic Scapes

Garlic Scape Salad Dressing

White Bean & Garlic Scape Dip

Double Garlic Soup

 

Time to order your fresh, local summer veggies!

Although some days it still doesn’t feel like it, it’s officially spring, which means now is the time to consider joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. CSA programs offer a weekly share of garden produce, and in some cases, additional products like eggs, meat, flowers, or canned goods, in exchange for a lump sum payment at the beginning of the growing season. This model is beneficial to both farmers and consumers. For farmers, offering CSA shares provides capital for start-of-the-season costs. For consumers, benefits come mostly in terms of nutrition and economic savings. CSA participants have been shown to eat more fruits and vegetables during the season, and therefore more health-promoting nutrients such as fiber, vitamin A, and cancer-fighting antioxidants and phytonutrients. As a CSA participant for the past 2 years, I can definitely attest to eating more veggies during the CSA season!

Even though weekly share costs may appear expensive, comparison of CSA prices with the retail value of equivalent amounts of produce have shown significant savings for the CSA participant. In fact, studies show the retail value of the produce received from a CSA share to be 120-250% the cost of the share price. If it still feels pricey, you can do as the Andrews and Stokes families have done the past couple of seasons, and split a share with another family. You can still get the benefits of fresh veggies each week, albeit less of them, at half the cost.

Finally, CSA participants also have the opportunity to form a connection with the farmer who grows their food, something that cannot be done with store-bought produce. Some CSA farms also offer volunteer opportunities or member events to further promote a sense of community.

Participation in a CSA does involve shared risk. There are no guarantees if a hail storm wipes out half of the garden. However, most farmers want to provide CSA members with good value for their participation and will prioritize the CSA shares if produce is scarce.

Several MUS campuses offer CSA programs in conjunction with a campus farm, and all are recruiting participants now. You can also search Local Harvest for a CSA located near you. Check out the info below and sign up today!

townes harvest

fvcc csa

Happy Eating!

Cristin

 

National Nutrition Month: Put Your Best Fork Forward

“Nutrition, at its core, is simply about eating good food.”

I’m sure the readership of this blog knows that March is National Nutrition Month. I mean, it’s circled on your calendar, right?  Well, in case you haven’t heard, National Nutrition Month is a month intended for celebrating healthy, delicious food that nourishes your body. It’s also a month that all joking aside, even as a dietitian, I often overlook. So this year, I am going to be a little bit better, and acknowledge National Nutrition Month with a blog post!  

Each year, the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, the largest organization of dietitians and nutrition professionals, selects a theme for National Nutrition Month. The theme for 2017 is Put Your Best Fork Forward. It’s a broad theme that allows a lot of personal interpretation, so here’s my take:

To me, the phrase Put Your Best Fork Forward makes me think about the actual act of eating. And not eating just anything, but eating wholesome, delicious food.

Sometimes in the world of nutrition, we get so focused on single nutrients or numbers that we lose sight of the bigger picture. We get lost in in the questions like “how many grams of protein should I be getting each day?” or “which calcium supplement is best?” that we forget that nutrition, at its core, is simply about eating good food. It’s about eating consistent meals throughout the day consisting of fresh, healthy ingredients that you actually enjoy. Gone are the days where healthy means only raw vegetables without dressing, light margarines, and nonfat/sugar-free everything. Instead, putting your best fork forward means food that is flavorful, colorful, and most of all, satisfying. It’s roasted vegetables with a generous enough serving of olive oil, salt, and pepper to bring out all the flavors, it’s whole eggs topped with creamy avocado chunks, and it’s your favorite cut of beef savored and served with garden carrots and locally grown whole grains. It’s food that, in reasonable portions, makes us both healthy and happy.

Put Your Best Fork Forward also means eating food with a fork. Of course there are exceptions, but for the most part, the healthiest meals (in our American diet and American way of eating, anyway) actually require utensils. Consider foods that can be consumed without utensils — fast food burgers, prepackaged granola bars, snack foods straight from the bag, donuts or pastries, etc. All can be eaten quickly, on the go, in your car, mindlessly in front of the TV, or at your desk as a distraction from work. Now think about a hearty, nutritious meal that has protein, veggies, and whole grains. You need a fork to eat what you just pictured, don’t you?

Put Your Best Fork Forward further implies a conscience decision to make good choices. Just as putting your best foot forward means putting forth solid effort and trying your best, putting your best fork forward means you are doing things on purpose to help yourself and your family eat a healthy diet. Good nutrition doesn’t happen by accident. It requires effort. Sometimes this news is discouraging to people. But remember that small actions on a consistent basis, like fitting in 3 servings of vegetables a day or planning out your dinner meals for the week, can produce big results like feeling less fatigued, bringing or keeping your cholesterol and blood pressure in a normal range, or losing the weight that has been creeping up over the years. 

The other part of making a conscience effort to eat well is to not get too discouraged when you make a poor food choice. Putting Your Best Fork Forward means that each time you eat something is another opportunity to provide your body with the nutrients it needs. So what if you gave into that candy bar craving? Get right back on track with your next bite, snack, or meal. Had a day at work full of junk food? Make an extra healthy dinner at home to balance things out.

So this month, in honor of National Nutrition Month, take a moment and consider, what does Put Your Best Fork Forward mean to you? And what can you do today to eat in a way that matches and honors your interpretation?

Happy Eating!

Cristin

For more info on Putting Your Best Fork Forward, visit www.eatright.org

What_s_on_Your_Fork_24x24-web_1024x1024

Power Bite: Basic Kitchen Knife Skills

In this Montana Meals Power Bite video, Cristin demonstrates how to properly and safely handle a chef’s knife, and demonstrates some basic cuts like slicing, chopping, and the julienne. Honing your kitchen knife skills are an essential part of cooking healthy meals at home!

Enjoy!

www.vimeo.com/202790791

Montana Meals: Basic Kitchen Knife Skills from Montana University Sys. Wellness on Vimeo.

Santa’s Kitchen Wish List (Good boys & girls only)

All you good little boys and girls out there have probably put together your holiday wish lists.  And although the newest iPhone, or virtual reality set, or new skis might be cool and make you the envy of all your friends, if you are looking to make 2017 your healthiest year yet, consider adding a few of the following items to your holiday wish list. The following are my personal favorite nutrition-related tools that make healthy eating and cooking easier, more enjoyable, and more convenient.

Note: I am not getting paid to promote any of these items; this list is a reflection of my personal opinions only. With the exception of the Ninja slow cooker and Glasslock containers, I have no particular brand loyalty on these items. The links are provided as examples only.

  1. Chef’s Knife. Every cook needs a great chef’s knife. While there are hundreds of different types of knives to choose from, my favorite is this pink high-carbon stainless steel knife (as seen in Montana Meals videos!) This knife is lightweight, super-sharp, comes with a handy-dandy protector, and is the perfect size for chopping and slicing a variety of vegetables and meats. Really hard items like bones or frozen foods are best left to a butcher’s knife, but I think this knife is a great all-around tool.
  2. Slow cooker. Few things are better than coming home after work to a house that smells delicious, with dinner nearly complete. Even better than just a regular slow cooker, the Ninja 3-in-1 slow cooker switches to warm after the designated cook time, can sear meats in the pan itself (no need to dirty an additional pan), and can also function as an oven, using steam to prevent baked goods from getting dry. The Ninja 3-in-1 is pricey, but in my opinion, I think the convenience of this tool is worth the investment.
  3. Immersion blender: If you regularly make soups or sauces, or perhaps aspire to, I highly recommend an immersion blender. Avoid burns or big messes when transferring hot liquids from a cooking pan to the stand-up blender by blending the liquid in the cooking pot itself.
  4. Glasslock containers: I always suggest keeping healthy foods like pre-sliced veggies in clear containers at eye-level in the fridge, and these excellent containers will help you do just that. The lids seal very tightly, so these are also great containers for transporting your lunch to work.
  5. Salad spinner: A salad spinner may take up some precious kitchen space, but it’s an incredible tool when it comes to cleaning greens and keeping them fresh. Forget using paper towels to dry off your greens or herbs; just use the spinner to get rid of excess water after rinsing, then store the greens in the spinner in the refrigerator. Chances are, you’ll eat a lot more salads if you have clean fresh greens ready and waiting for you.
  6. Food thermometer: Keep you and your family safe by ensuring that all food is cooked to its proper temperature. There are lots of fancy food thermometers to choose from, but even a basic one will do. Here’s a handy guide on safe food temperatures from the USDA.
  7. Digital food scale: I remember buying my first food scale a few years ago because I had just received a cookbook as a gift that had all of the ingredients listed in weights rather than volumes. I never thought when I was buying my scale that I would use it as much as I do! I use my food scale frequently for measuring exact ingredients like flour when baking, when measuring fresh produce from my garden, and when cooking recipes that have ingredients listed in weights.
  8. Steamer basket: Steamed vegetables are an excellent, easy side dish. Just fill a saucepan with about an inch of water, place the basket with chopped veggies in the pan, cover, and bring the water to a boil until the veggies are brightly colored and soft, but not mushy. Or, be brave and try steamed collard greens as a wrap in place of a tortilla like in this recipe for collard-wrapped bean burritos. A steamer basket is the perfect stocking stuffer.
  9. Cast-iron Dutch oven: Cast-iron cookware is durable, can withstand high oven temperatures safely, retains heat, and unlike nonstick pans, doesn’t pose a threat when scratched. If you’re anemic, using cast-iron cookware is also a good strategy for boosting iron intake. Soups, stews, no-knead bread, beans, risotto, braised chicken, apple butter—the possibilities of what to cook in this pan are nearly endless!
  10. Prep bowls: Having all of your ingredients chopped, measured, and ready to go before you start cooking — what chefs refer to as “mise en place”—will help you be a more efficient home cook. These prep bowls of varying sizes can keep your cooking space nice, clean, and organized.

Happy (Holiday) Eating!

Cristin

P.S.  I was just kidding.  No one is really buying a virtual reality set right?