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Food for Thought in National Nutrition Month

Fresh assorted vegetables in boxes on farmer's market

Fresh assorted vegetables in boxes on farmer's market

It’s March, National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spotlights the important role of healthful eating and physical activity to control weight and prevent chronic disease. But these aren’t snap-your-fingers, easy-to-achieve goals.

In honor of National Nutrition Month, I exchanged e-mails with eight registered dietitian nutritionists, asking them to divulge their secret weapons.

  Make a plan

 “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail,” says Elana Natker, who works in the Washington office of FoodMinds, a nutrition communications company. Natker creates her weekly dinner menu on Sunday, inventories what’s in and out of stock and then shops. She notes, “These steps minimize my 6 o’clock scramble and the expectation of my young children that I’m a short-order cook.”

Others ditto Natker’s strategy. “Our weekly menu and coordinated shopping list are in hand on my supermarket runs. The results: We eat healthier, waste less food and time, and there’s less stress at dinner time,” says Nancy Brenowitz Katz, manager of the Healthy Schools Act Initiatives inWashington and president of the Metropolitan Area Dietetic Association.

Keep Healthy foods in the kitchen

High among their goals is to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. They’ve devised strategies to make this happen.

“I toss a variety of colorful vegetables, onions, carrots, potatoes, hearty root vegetables in olive oil, herbs and spices. I roast and refrigerate them,” suggests Wendy Anderson, an in-store nutritionist for Giant Food in Severna Park, Md. They’re handy as a full-flavor side dish, snack or meatless entrée.

Thanks to advance prep, Danielle Omar, who owns Food Confidence, a nutrition counseling practice in Fairfax, Va., makes salads in a jiffy. “I keep all my salad fixings together on a tray in the refrigerator. Out comes the tray. I prepare the salads, and then back the tray goes.”

Natker cuts the various vegetables she uses in salads and stores them in containers. “Making salads becomes an assembly job versus the arduous task of washing, chopping and cleaning every time you serve salad,’’ she said.

“My must-have-on-hand vegetables are onions, avocados, jalapeños and tomatoes. I chop various combinations for quick meals like paninis, flatbread pizza or quesadillas,” adds Dana Magee, a dietitian at the nutrition counseling practice Rebecca Bitzer & Associates.

Fit in fruit and vegetables

It’s one thing to stock up on fruits and vegetables; it’s another to eat them before they shrivel and go brown.

“Three tactics help me,” says Angie Hasemann, a pediatric dietitian at the University of Virginia Children’s Fitness Clinic and president of the Virginia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. One: She keeps fruit in her car for post-exercise snacks when that starvation feeling hits. Two: She kicks off her brown-bag lunch with fruits and vegetables before she digs into the main dish. “They take the edge off my appetite, slow my pace of eating and help me eat my fill.” Three: She sneaks vegetables into unlikely dishes, such as diced onions, raw squash and zucchini in spicy barbecue chicken nachos.

Load up early, go light later

Americans tend to eat a light breakfast or skip it, grab lunch on the run and eat the bulk of our calories from dinner on through the evening. Two experts upend this pattern.

Sarah Waybright, owner of the WhyFoodWorks healthful dinner party service, front-loads her day to stabilize hunger hormones and avoid nighttime cravings. Breakfast is her largest meal. Next, she eats a mid-morning snack. “By the end of lunch, I’ve eaten three-quarters of my calories. I’m fueled while I work and don’t sleep on loads of calories at night,” she says.

If your mornings are too rushed, try to fuel up at lunch. “I don’t have time for a big breakfast, so I chow down on a big, healthy lunch. This helps me shrink my dinner and limit evening snacking,” Hasemann says.

Have snacks ready

It can be hard to hunt down healthful snacks on the go. So bring your own.

“I have plenty of those dollar-store quarter-cup plastic containers and pack portion-controlled snacks to go in them,” Magee says, “from nuts to trail mix, dried fruit, whole-grain crackers or a few cookies. I use these containers to pack peanut butter, hummus or salad dressing for parts of meals on the run, too.”

Katz says containers are also helpful on long trips with kids. “I prepare and pack a variety of options so I can keep offering something new.”

De-stress the 6 o’clock scramble

The nightly question “what’s for dinner?” begs for a quick and easy answer. The key is advance thinking.

“We keep a go-to list of family favorite dinners next to the fridge. As I see new recipes, I add them. When we’ve hit a dinner-menu rut, I glance at the list for inspiration,” Natker says.

To get one step closer to the dinner table, Anderson assembles dinner ingredients before leaving for work. “It also lets me know what I might need to buy on my way home,” she says.

Magee freezes portion-controlled single servings of meals in muffin tins: a batch of soup, stew or homemade pasta sauce. Once they’re frozen, she pops them out of the tin and into freezer bags. Then dinner is as simple as boiling pasta and heating servings of sauce in the microwave.

Satisfy, don’t deprive

When it comes to temptations, Heather Calcote, a wellness coach for Wellness Corporate Solutions and author of the blog Dietitian on the Run, practices a 90/10 approach. “Ninety percent of the time I choose healthy foods, and I leave 10 percent wiggle room for celebrations, restaurant meals and sweets.”

Omar savors a few pieces of dark chocolate after dinner. “This prevents me from reaching for sweets during the day,” she says.

And Waybright allots 200 calories a day for sweet treats. “Chia pudding, mascarpone and berries or homemade hot chocolate are my have-on-hand, go-to splurges,” she says.

Earn your calories

Maintaining a healthy weight depends on burning sufficient calories, too. In addition to planning out meals and practicing portion control, these nutrition experts fit physical activity into their hectic lives in different ways, depending on the season. They walk, run, go to a gym, play team sports, use fitness apps or videos and burn calories by taking stairs and parking farther from their destinations. Celebrate National Nutrition Month this March by borrowing a few tactics from their playbooks.

For more advice from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, go to www.eatright.org.

Hope Warshaw, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator, is the author of numerous books published by the American Diabetes Association and of the blog EatHealthyLiveWell, found on her Web site, www.hopewarshaw.com.