Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving Fellow Food-Lovers!

You gonna eats me?

Thanksgiving Day is tomorrow! I’m sure everyone is just as excited as I am, writhing in anticipation over filling your belly with the traditional turkey-day spread---cornbread stuffing, green bean casserole, candied yams, apple and pumpkin pie, perhaps a juicy baked ham… I’m drooling a bit. Just make sure you wear your stretchy pants so there aren’t any embarrassing rips, tears, or flying buttons.

This holiday is about giving thanks for all of the blessings we have in our lives. Let us remember to be thankful that we have a roof over our heads and plenty of food to feed the family. There are, of course, folks out there who struggle to put food on the table and will need help from generous hearts. If you happen to be doing some last minute Thanksgiving grocery shopping, pick up a few items to donate to your local food pantry.

Through a daily newsletter that I receive from the American Dietetic Association (soon to be renamed the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) I found an article about making healthier donations to the food bank, and I felt compelled to share this information with you. In a previous blog titled “I’m Back, BAYBEE!” I discussed the difficulties of eating healthy on a budget. Processed foods are cheap, but can be high in sodium, fat, and calories. The author of the article made a great point: make sure you donate food items that you would serve to your own family.

Usually when we think of food bank donations, we think of large cardboard boxes filled with random grocery store items, but did you know you can also donate cash? Last year, the Student Dietetic Association at Texas Woman’s University through their annual 5k walk/fun run Pioneer Pace donated nearly $2,000 to the TWU Food Pantry. Monetary donations allow the food pantry to purchase the items that they know are in high demand, or that they need to restock. Every dollar counts and a $10-15 donation can go a long way.

So this Thursday, give thanks for food, family, and football! Oh, and don’t forget to THANK those who prepared the meal because it takes an entire day to cook a dinner that you can devour in less than five minutes. :-)
Here is a link to the article about healthier donation options: USA Today

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pizza, Now Available in the Produce Section!

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I can see the headlines now: Vegetable Consumption at an all time high! Getting your 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables has been made easy now that Congress has declared two tablespoons of tomato sauce equivalent to one serving of vegetables. Where can one find tomato sauce within the school lunch spread? Pizza! Let us set aside the fact that most school lunch pizzas are processed foods high in calories, refined carbohydrates, sodium, fat, and are often accompanied by a side of French fries.

It has been over a decade since I have had to consume lunch in a school cafeteria regularly, but pizza has always been the talk of the tray line. If you weren't purchasing a la carte items such as chips, snack cakes, and sodas, then you wouldn't be caught DEAD getting the meatloaf and green beans. Pizza and fries with chocolate milk seemed to be the only respectable option amongst your peers. Forgive me if my school lunch experience is a far cry from yours, dear reader. Perhaps you attended an avant-garde private school?

So what is so wrong with sending the message that pizza is a vegetable? Unless the slice is piled high with spinach, onions, bell peppers, and artichokes--eating a slice of cheese and pepperoni pizza will not give you the same benefits as eating fresh, whole foods. I'm not totally against tomato sauce, it is high in lycopene--a pigment and phytochemical found in tomatoes that has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer (namely prostate cancer) and it's yummy. Without it, spaghetti dinners wouldn't be the same. My fear is that by Congress fixing a problem simply by putting sheep's clothing on a wolf, public school students will continue to displace actual vegetables with foods that are energy, rather than nutrient dense.

Parents, here is where you come in. Set an example for your mini-me's by being a food model. No, don't wear the fruits and veggies--eat them! If your children see that you enjoy broccoli or Brussels sprouts, they are more likely to give them a try. Even better, let them pick out the accompanying vegetable with dinner and allow them to help you prepare it. I got a group of kids to try squash and zucchini in their quesadillas because they rinsed them, chopped them up and sauteed them. The kids were open to trying it because they made it! Whenever possible, pack your child's lunch. You can find great tips on the American Dietetic Association website for packing healthy lunches.

Until next time my fellow foodies, I've got to go--- the vegetable delivery guy from Pappa John's is at the door!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I'm Back, BayBEE!

I fell off the face of the Earth. I'd heard a lot of people talk about it..."It's like he fell off the face of the Earth" or "I wouldn't care if she fell off the face of the Earth." So I gave it a try. Why not? It seemed to be working for many other people. Let me tell you, time really flies by when you do this. Everything and everyone you left behind may or may not be there when you get back, and what is certain to remain are the problems you tried to leave behind. On the bright side, falling off the face of the earth gives you time to reflect on your life and to shake off the dust and see that the most important things and people are still there for you once you return.

          Are you still out there readers? I may have taken a leave of absence from writing about my Adventures in Eating, but I certainly never stopped having adventures! They were (and still are) adventures I never would have pictured myself having. How spoiled have I become? How spoiled are many of the middle and upper class folks who take eating for granted? Wait...I don't want to lose your attention with preaching, because that is not what I plan to do here. I had the opportunity to take a glimpse into what it is like to not know where your next meal will come from, and to know that it is quite possible that it could happen to me.

          Calamity struck at every turn; it seemed, for me, my family and for close friends. Just as the semester came to a close my relationship ended and my apartment flooded. My dad, who supports his daughter in her endeavor to get through college, had knee surgery and then ended up with multiple pulmonary embolisms. Little did we know that our lives were about to change that Saturday evening when my dad had to be taken to the E.R. for what we feared was another heart attack. Considering his diagnosis, we are lucky he is still alive! My dad cannot return to work as long as he is on blood thinners because of the danger that he might cut himself, fall, or bruise himself. My parents expected to live off of half of his pay, but so far that hasn't been the case. The last pay check he received was for a whopping $140.

           Not only has my ability to buy groceries been diminished; for the first time in decades my parents are unable to spend liberally at the grocery store. When every penny you make goes to simply surviving, food usually takes a back-seat. Finally, a close friend of mine lost his job and eventually his home. While he looks for work that will pay him enough to cover his living expenses, he works making minimum wage in a factory setting set up through a staffing agency. He knows all too well what it's like to go without breakfast, lunch, or dinner. He applied for SNAP benefits, and boy do they make it difficult! There is usually some form of red-tape and it requires a lot of waiting around for appointments, phone calls, and wading through automated systems. He has a "job" so all SNAP is willing to offer him is $16 a month in assistance. Really? I suppose a single man, with no children, in between stable work only consumes $16 worth of food every month.

          I join him at the grocery store pretty often, and I see the quality of food he is able to afford. It has to be cheap, it has to last, and it has to fill him up. Ramen noodles of course, canned soups, milk, eggs, bread. Basic staples. Can he afford the high quality whole grain bread? Can he afford free-range eggs? Can he afford "organic" milk? Of course not! Meat is a luxury, and even fresh fruits and vegetables are a luxury. You would have to be pretty creative, a good planner, and have the time and energy to get all of the recommended servings of all of the food groups and to make sure you are getting all of your vitamins and minerals. This was a huge wake-up call for me as an aspiring Dietitian. How can we presume to tell people how and what to eat, and hope to improve the health of the community if it's cheaper and easier for folks to eat junk? For a dollar, he can eat a McDouble on his lunch break.

          Lately my mom has been experimenting with making cheap dinners, and they usually don't stretch very far between me, her and my dad. Using beans as the protein in a meal, vegetarian style, is a cheap way to fill every one up. For dinner last night we had a pot of pinto beans and onions, served with a side of fried potatoes and corn bread. Rice and pasta dishes are also prominent for those who are trying to make a hefty meal on the cheap. It reminded me of something I heard on one of those reality shows about rich people, "Poor people eat carbs." Yes, indeed they do, because they can't really afford to eat any other way.

          Not everyone I know is struggling to eat well, and to me that is a huge relief. I know people who are still able to eat at restaurants several times a week and keep their kitchens well stocked. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason and that every situation I end up in is an opportunity for me to learn something. After my experience with applying for SNAP benefits and learning that if I have NO job and am a full time student I am NOT eligible for benefits, but if I HAVE a job and am a full time student, then I AM eligible. Even the woman on the phone, working for Health and Human Services, could see how silly this is,'s "policy." I am beginning to understand why it is so important for Dietitians to be able to lobby the government for change. Time will tell if this slow moving, archaic dinosaur known as welfare is helping or hindering those who need it most.

While I'm typing this blog the news is reporting that Texas is #12 in the nation for obesity. Womp, womp.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

'Tis the Season: For Winter Produce!

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       It's 2011 as you surely know! For me, this is not a year of resolutions but a year of solutions! I have decided that I want to be a part of the solution to the dietary health problems that are becoming more and more prevalent in the United States and in other countries who have adopted the "western" way of eating. While I'm in college I will learn what the administrators tell me to learn, but rest assured this will not stop me from learning about things that are important to my health and the health of the people on this Earth. Over the break I have been catching up on my reading. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan is one of the books I'm reading now. I would honestly add it to the list of books that everyone should read. Why? Because everyone eats food! It's unavoidable, although some try to avoid eating all together...a sad state of affairs that I won't get into here.

           You may have heard the current suggestion for healthy eating--it's all over the news, magazines, books, and popular TV shows: Eat fresh, local produce and buy in season! How easy or how difficult is this for the general public? I will use myself as an example: a college student with no income other than what the government generously provides or the loans that I take out... As I have mentioned before, my grocery budget is $50 a week...and someone who does not live close to a farmer's market. The nearest farmer's market is in Lewisville--roughly a 20-30 minute drive depending on the time of day. It is not a convenient distance for me, although it is probably the best source of local fresh produce. I do the bulk of my shopping at Kroger which is a 5 minute drive from my apartment and has nicer produce than Wal-Mart in my opinion. Think about where you shop for produce. Do they have a good selection? Do the fruits and veggies seem fresh? How often do you pay attention to where that piece of produce came from? If the produce did not come from the state you live in, or even the country you live in--it is not local!

           Does this mean that you can't have fruits and vegetables unless they come from a local source? Of course you can have them! I'm not a Produce Nazi! The whole idea of buying local is to reduce the transit time that produce undergoes from the farm to your plate and to support small farmers in your area. If you would like to learn more about the impacts of buying local visit and search: why buy local? Knowing where your food comes from, how it is produced and most important--what is in it--is crucial in improving yours and your family's health. Trust that nature got it right with fruits and vegetables, and do not trust that food companies and food scientists know what is best for your health. This is the change I would like to see and be a part of! The end of food ignorance and blind trust! Oops...starting to get preachy...

          Let's talk about seasonality! The winter season is between December and February, and you may notice a price difference in certain produce now compared to the summer or spring months. Check the price of berries right now...outrageous! That's because they are not in season and are not as readily available. Chances are they won't be at their best when it comes to nutritional value. Now, look at the abundance of winter produce such as sweet potatoes, winter squash, winter citrus fruits, pears, and green leafy vegetables. The produce in season should be lower in price, fresher, and more abundant. As my new year's gift to you, my wonderful reader, I have made a list of common (and not so common) fruits and vegetables and when they are in season. You can find this list on the right side of my blog page--just click the link. Print it out and keep it with you when you go shopping.

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          My winter produce pick of the week: Brussels sprouts! I'm going to be brutally honest here...I don't like Brussels sprouts. However, I saw Emeril make a delicious looking side dish on the Planet Green channel using   fresh Brussels sprouts, walnuts, olive oil, garlic, chicken stock and lemon juice. I'll try it, and if it makes the cut it will go on my Stephfoodie's Favorite Recipes! Look out for my next winter produce pick next week!