3 Myths About School Lunch

Providing children with healthy food is a smart investment in our nation’s future, so it’s astounding that there’s room for debate on this issue. As politicians and food giants attempt to roll back the substantial progress made in child nutrition over the past few years, it’s important to examine the strengths and weaknesses of the new school lunch regulations. See below for three of the biggest myths facing the school lunch program today, and to get the facts behind the myth:

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Stereotype American school lunch. image via Sweetgreen

Myth #1: Healthy Regulations are Causing Schools to Lose Money

Critics of the healthy guidelines argue that 50% of School Nutrition Association members expect to lose money this year. However, what doesn’t get reported is that a whopping 65% expected to lose money in 2010, two full years before the healthy regulations took effect. The school lunch program was already a sinking ship, and while the new regulations haven’t completely saved it, they do seem to be helping.

Additionally, Dana Woldow found that this oft-cited 50% statistic is based on shaky data, at best. According to Woldow, “Fewer than 400 district nutrition directors, representing less than 2% of the 25,074 members surveyed, or less than 1% of the total 55,000 membership of SNA, said they expect to operate their meal program in the red this school year.”

When school district food service programs lose money, it is often because of a decline in school lunch participation. However, school lunch participation among students who pay full price (and aren’t eligible for free or reduced priced meals) has been declining since 2007, long before the healthy regulations were implemented. Additionally, this decline has actually started to level off a bit after the 2012-2013 school year.

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Actual lunch served at DCPS: Herb Crusted Tilapia, Whole Wheat Roll, Local Collard Greens, Red Cabbage Cole Slaw, Fresh Banana & Milk  (image via CSPI)

Myth #2: Kids Won’t Eat the New Healthy Lunches

School lunch has been the butt of jokes long before Michelle Obama took to fixing it. And while we all know that washing down chips and candy with a soda is a terrible choice for growing children, especially in a nation plagued with diet-related chronic diseases, the media has been overly sympathetic to critics mourning these changes, as if highly addictive junk foods were actually worthy of defense.

A survey of 557 schools in a variety of school districts found that although many respondents (56%) agreed that students complained about the new lunches at first, most (70%) also agreed that students generally seem to like the new lunches now. This study also revealed a fairly balanced picture of school lunch participation. According to the researchers, “only 4.3% of respondents perceived that ‘‘a lot fewer’’ students were purchasing lunch, whereas 6.2% perceived that ‘‘a lot more’’ were purchasing lunch.”

Studies are also finding that kids aren’t throwing away as much food as critics lead us to believe. A new study evaluated hundreds of lunches in an urban low-income school district both before and after the policy changes. According to the study, students are wasting significantly less food than they were before the healthy regulations went into effect, as kids ate significantly more of their vegetables (from 46% consumption in 2012 to 64% in 2014), entrees (from 71% to 84%), as well as slightly more fruit (from 72% to 74%) and milk (from 54% to 57%). Similarly, a study from the Harvard School of Public Health found a 23% increase in fruit consumption and a 16% increase in vegetable consumption after the new school nutrition guidelines were introduced in 2012. Contrary to popular belief, the study did NOT find a corresponding increase in food waste.

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Actual lunch served at Provo Schools in Utah: Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Homemade Marinara (image via CSPI)

Myth #3: School Lunches Aren’t Nourishing

The school lunch program has been under the microscope for years now, but the truth is that the new school lunches are actually much healthier than home packed ones. In a recent study, researchers analyzed over 1,300 lunches at three schools in rural Virginia. They found that lunches brought from home had more sodium and fewer servings of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and milk. Nearly 90% of the lunches from home also had a sweetened beverage, snack chips and dessert in them. Additionally, while a vocal minority has rallied against the protein caps set for school lunch, packed lunches actually have significantly less protein (as well as less fiber, vitamin A, and calcium). And to top it all off, the study found that lunches from home were more expensive than the school lunch offering at the elementary school level (although not consistently for middle schoolers).

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Actual school lunch: Teriyaki Chicken Rice Bowl with brown rice, steamed fresh carrots, zucchini, yellow squash and Teriyaki chicken. Served with fresh local apple slices, whole grain roll, ice cold milk, an orange, and a fortune cookie. (Image via CSPI)

Want to learn more?

  • This New York Times Magazine article from October 2014 explores the politics of the school lunch program, including the role of corporate lobbying.
  • This February 2015 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists quantifies obesity’s impact on healthcare costs, evaluates the effectiveness of the school lunch program (data was collected before the new guidelines were implemented), and identifies ways to strengthen the school nutrition program.
  • This webpage from the Center for Science in the Public Interest has plenty of infographics, factsheets, policy options, and resources for people trying to promote changes that support healthy lunches.

– Kelly

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Slow Cooker Red Beans and (Brown) Rice

Slow Cooker Red Beans and Rice

Having started my elementary school years at a Catholic school in Louisiana, there is something about the Lenten season that makes me crave Cajun foods. From steamy gumbo to crispy catfish, my mouth starts watering for these comforting, Creole morsels before the last bite of King Cake has been finished. Today I’m sharing a recipe for a meatless, budget-friendly (and diet-friendly) recipe that is perfect for Fridays during Lent, and just about everyday in between!

This Red Beans and (Brown) Rice dish requires a bit of prep work and advanced planning (the beans have to soak and boil briefly before you toss them into the slow cooker), but I can assure you that this recipe is still incredibly simple!

Now, you may be asking, why bother to boil the beans? After all, isn’t the point of a slow cooker to eliminate that pesky step?

Slow Cooker Red Beans and Brown Rice

Indeed, most dry beans can be tossed in a slow cooker and cook beautifully, but red kidney beans are a special case. Undercooked red beans contain a toxin, so you must boil them for at least 10 minutes before you put them in the slow cooker. Note: this is a prime example of why it’s important to get recipes from reputable sources that have been trained in food safety (such as yours truly)!

Once your beans have gotten a head start on the stove, the slow cooker will soften the beans and develop the flavors of the dish. The familiar southern aroma comes not only from the seasoning, but also from the onion, celery, and green bell peppers (the “Holy Trinity” of Cajun cuisine).

Rice is a namesake component of Red Beans and Rice, but feel free to get creative with your grain base. Personally, I think a combination of different whole grains (like barley, quinoa, and farro) would go really well with this recipe. In fact, I was planning to use barley (hulled, not pearled), but my local Whole Foods was out. This hearty, rib-sticking bowl is best served alongside a dark green vegetable, such as kale chips (like I used) or collard greens.

Slow Cooker Red Beans and Brown Rice 

Slow Cooker Red Beans and (Brown) Rice

adapted from MyRecipes.com

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dry red kidney beans
  • 6 cups low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 ribs of celery, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2-3 tablespoons Cajun or Creole seasoning (I use 3 tbsp, but if cooking for young children, I recommend 2 tbsp)
  • Optional: 7 oz Andouille sausage, sliced (I didn’t use sausage in the recipe today, to keep it budget-friendly and Lent-friendly, but I have used it in the past and it was delicious!)
  • 2 cups uncooked brown rice (or other whole grains, such as barley, quinoa, or farro) for serving. This will make about 6 cups of cooked rice, which is enough for about eight ¾ cup servings.

Method

  1. Soak the dry beans in a pot of water for five hours. Then, drain the soaking water and add fresh water to the bean pot. Bring to a full boil, and boil for at least 10 minutes. NOTE: DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. RED KIDNEY BEANS CAN BE TOXIC IF UNDERCOOKED.
  2. Drain the boiling water from the beans. Then add beans and all other ingredients (including sausage, if using) to a slightly oiled slow cooker.
  3. Cook on high for 6 hours. Then remove the lid and cook on high for an additional 30 minutes. This will help it thicken up a bit.
  4. Before serving, prepare rice (or other whole grains, if using) according to package instructions. Two cups of uncooked brown rice will yield about six cups of rice, which is enough for eight 3/4 cup servings. 
  5. Portion about ¾ cup red beans over about ¾ cup brown rice in a bowl.

Slow Cooker Red Beans and Brown Rice

Nutrition per serving (3/4 cup red beans over 3/4 cup brown rice, not including sausage): 390 calories, 2g fat (0g saturated fat), 18g protein, 76g carbohydrates (17g fiber, 3g sugar), 140mg sodium, 3% Vitamin A, 28% Vitamin C, 11% Calcium, 31% Iron

– Kelly

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My Favorite Healthier Menu Items Around Boston

Wondering how a registered dietitian navigates the Boston casual dining scene? When eating out, it helps to have a few go-to healthy menu items in mind–dishes that are loaded with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. See below for 5 of my current favorite nutritious menu options around town!

Healthy Menu Items in Boston: Museli from Tatte

Muesli from Tatte Bakery ($9 bowl pictured, or $6 cup): Unsweetened whipped Greek yogurt with fresh fruit, black sesame seeds, sliced almonds, pumpkin & sunflower seeds, oats, and a drizzle of honey

Healthy Menu Items in Boston: Grilled Veggie Whole Wheat Burrito from Annas Taqueria

Grilled Veggie Burrito from Anna’s Taqueria ($6.85): I choose the whole wheat tortilla (whole wheat is the first ingredient!) and fill it with black beans, pico de gallo, guacamole, lettuce, and grilled veggies (an impressive mix of bell peppers, broccoli, zucchini, corn, and green beans). That’s it. No meat, no cheese, no problem!

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Sweet Potato Sandwich from Crema Cafe ($6.95): Toasted whole grain bread filled with sweet potato, granny smith apple, hummus, sprouts, avocado, and sherry vinaigrette. Great for sharing!

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Salad from Sweetgreen (approx. $8.50-$10.50) I almost always go for the seasonal salads, but I also LOVE the Hummus Tahina and the Wild Child (with chickpeas)… and basically the whole menu!

Whole Wheat French Toast from The Paramount

Whole Wheat French Toast with Fruit from The Paramount Beacon Hill ($11): This is one of the few places that I have been able to find whole wheat French toast. Unfortunately, it was recently taken off the menu (to make room for new lunch specials), but the staff informed me that I will always be able to order it because they keep the whole wheat bread stocked for turkey sandwiches. So go ahead and ask for it, even if it’s not listed!

Do you know of any delicious, Boston area restaurant meals that are loaded with nourishing ingredients? Do tell! Also, for more of my food adventures, don’t forget to follow along on Instagram (@kellytoupsrd)!

– Kelly

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Citrus + Avocado: The Perfect Winter Salad Companions

Citrus, Avocado, & Radicchio salad

Few things are more satisfying than biting into a sweet, juicy fruit on a hot summer day, so many are surprised to learn that citrus is actually seasonal to winter. And given the general sparseness of produce this time of year, anything remotely fresh is certainly a welcome ingredient! Additionally, while creamy Mexican avocados are available steadily year-round, the California avocado crop actually arrives in February. Together, these ingredients can create some show-stopping winter salads.

I recently enjoyed my own spin on this dish–a citrus, avocado, and radicchio salad, drizzled lightly with olive oil and champagne vinegar, and finished with a sprinkle of salt and pepper (pictured above, inspired by Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express). It was the perfect accompaniment to homemade black bean soup (also from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express).

After perusing the web, I came across several other variations of winter salads that incorporate both citrus and avocados. Check out the recipe round-up below!

Kale-Avocado-Tangerine-and-Sesame-Salad-4-e1417403296778

Kale, Avocado, Tangerine, and Sesame Salad from Joy the Baker

Grapefruit, Salmon, Avocado Salad

Grapefruit, Salmon, and Avocado Salad from Martha Stewart Living (from the new ‘Clean Slate’ cookbook)

Pomegranate-Citrus-Quinoa-Salad-Diethood

Pomegranate and Citrus Quinoa Salad from Diethood

Kale-Salad-with-Citrus-Avocado-and-Feta-8

Kale Salad with Citrus, Avocado, and Feta from Two Peas and Their Pod

For more winter salad inspiration, check out my Fall & Winter Salads Pinterest Page. What’s your favorite winter salad combo?

– Kelly

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How much protein can your body actually use?

Healthy Chocolate Milkshakes -  No sugar

Protein shakes, protein bars, and protein powders. These seem to be the three major food groups for athletes and body builders determined to bulk up and build muscle. But is all this extra protein really necessary?

In a small 2009 study, researchers at the University of Texas (hook ‘em!) measured the muscle building rates of 34 adult volunteers (half average age 34, and half average age 68) after giving them different amounts of lean beef to eat. The scientists discovered that while a 4 oz portion of lean beef (about 30g protein) increased muscle synthesis by about 50%, additional protein intake beyond that initial 30g made no difference in muscle building in neither the young nor older adults. So if you have trouble stomaching a large chicken breast, half a dozen hard boiled eggs, and a protein shake at every meal, it looks like you’re off the hook!

Seasons 52

^^ A standard sized salmon fillet (this one is from Seasons 52) has more than enough protein for the average adult looking to build muscle

Not only is high protein consumption (beyond 30g per meal) expensive and unnecessary, but in today’s strained food landscape, it’s also a major drain on resources. The most popular protein sources in the US are animal based, and unfortunately, the livestock industry is one of the most wasteful and excess-driven industries in food. In fact, three-quarters of the world’s agricultural land is used for livestock, yet livestock provide only 16% of the world’s calories. Because of the popularity of meat-centered meals in the US and other developed nations, so much land is being used to feed so few people.

How much protein can your body actually use?

^^ No need to upgrade to the 16-oz steak!

Considering that an 8-oz portion of steak is often labeled a petite cut, most Americans can actually afford to eat less protein at dinner (by choosing smaller cuts of meat, or incorporating meatless proteins). However, this research does suggest that it’s healthy to aim for about 30g of protein at each meal throughout the day, a level that many haven’t quite reached. Currently, many breakfast options (and even some lunch options) fall short of this protein goal. (Admittedly, my daily oatmeal bowl clocks in at only 11g protein.) However, with a little nutrition know-how, it’s easy to balance your daily protein intake. See below for the amount of protein in commonly consumed foods:

Healthy Granola

^^ Greek yogurt is an easy way to add protein at breakfast

Carnivorous Protein Sources:

  • 2 oz sliced deli turkey: 13g
  • 3 oz light canned tuna: 16g
  • 4 oz grilled chicken breast: 24g
  • 6 oz grilled salmon fillet: 34g
  • 6 oz filet mignon: 40g

Vegetarian Protein Sources:

  • 1 whole large egg: 6g
  • 1 large egg white: 3.5g
  • 12 oz skim milk: 12g
  • 1 Greek yogurt cup: 14g
  • 1 string cheese (part skim mozzarella) 7g
  • 1 Luna Bar (chocolate peppermint stick) 8g

Vegan Protein Sources:

  • 12 oz plain soy milk 9g
  • 12 oz unsweetened almond milk 1.5g
  • ½ cup cooked black beans 7.5g
  • ½ cup cooked lentils 9g
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter: 8g
  • 2 tablespoons hummus: 3g

If you’re interested in learning more about sports nutrition, I highly recommend Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. My copy from college is well worn and highlighted, and I’m not even sporty! Upon moving to Boston, I was also excited to hear Nancy Clark speak at a conference up here, as she is local to Massachusetts and does a few speaking events and workshops from time to time. For a closer look at a similar topic, check out this blog post that explores the protein RDA and how much protein we really need.

– Kelly

P.S. While we’re talking about protein shakes, this 2-minute marketing video from Organic Valley (“Save the Bros”) on the dangers of additives in protein shakes is pretty hilarious! It’s pushing an organic protein drink (which we now know is kind of a waste), but I love that it pokes fun at body-building bro culture, and still highlights the unnecessary chemicals in most commercial protein shakes.

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Decorate Like a Dietitian: Healthy, Inspirational Pieces for the Home

The home should be a sanctuary that inspires healthy living, not a cave for Netflix binges and mindless snacking. In Slim by Design, Brian Wansink offers several hacks to make your kitchen slimmer, such as not storing cereal boxes on the counter, keeping fruits and veggies on the top refrigerator shelf, rather than the crisper, and avoiding buying junky snack food in bulk. These small tweaks are research-tested ways to curb mindless eating, which Wansink also implements in the homes of his celebrity clients.

Tips and tricks aside, the design aesthetic of your house can also encourage healthy choices, and that’s what I’m posting about today! When I see enticing pictures of food (be it a donut or a carrot), I crave it. That’s why I like to fill my home with inviting images of delicious fruits and veggies. (This is also the inspiration behind the #foodpornindex campaign from Bolthouse Farms.)

If you’re looking to make your home a catalyst for healthy choices, then see below for my pick of pieces to decorate like a dietitian!

Bouffants and Broken Hearts

^^In my dream home, I would have one of these delightful illustrations by Bouffants and Broken Hearts turned into wallpaper for a powder room (or other small room). Some of her illustrations are available as prints, or on a few other trinkets (such as coffee mugs) on Society6. But wallpaper is totally my end game with these. Just imagine how dramatic it would look with crisp, white trim!

Artichoke print - Etsy

^^For a similar look on a smaller scale, this artichoke print from The Joy of Color is available on Etsy for $21 (along with many other fruit and vegetable watercolors).

Coconut Milk - image via Dark Rye

^^For those that favor pop art, I love this riff on Andy Warhol’s iconic pieces using organic coconut milk from Whole Foods Market. (Note that this isn’t a print for sale, just an image that I stumbled upon on the Whole Foods Pinterest page.)

The Wheatfield - by Katie Daisy

^^Katie Daisy is hands-down one of my favorite artists! (Check out her Etsy shop, The Wheatfield.) I have the ‘farmers market’ print framed in my bedroom, and I gave the ‘Go play outside’ print to my mom for her birthday last year.

Peeled Orange - Elizabeth Mayville

^^Another recent Etsy favorite is Elizabeth Mayville. (You may recognize some of her prints from Design Darling). I recently bought this peeled orange print and am currently on the hunt for a frame and the perfect place to hang it.

Orange Trees - image via Coco + Kelley

^^Plants are another great way to bring you back to nature and inspire healthy choices! Citrus trees, in particular, are especially beautiful (as evidenced by this Domino Magazine photo from Coco + Kelley), but unfortunately, I doubt they’d survive in the Boston tundra.

Herb Garden

^^Lastly, I’m finishing up with a photo of my (short-lived) herb garden. I posted this picture to Instagram about a year and a half ago, and the plants died less than a week later. Not even kidding. Nonetheless, for those with green thumbs, herb gardens are a great way to reconnect with the food system, even if on a tiny scale.

– Kelly

P.S. There’s a lot more where this came from! Check out my Pieces for the Home Pinterest page.

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Nutrient Synergy: Why Whole Foods and Traditional Cuisines Matter

Nutrient Synergy: Why Whole Foods and Traditional Cuisines Matter

Cooking tomatoes in olive oil, as is traditional in the Mediterranean, increases the absorption of lycopene (an antioxidant known for its role in heart health and prostate health). Across the ocean, in ancient Mesoamerica, corn was soaked in lime to provide niacin, a B vitamin necessary to prevent pellagra. And all over the globe, variations of rice and beans have been eaten for centuries, which have complimentary amino acids that produce a complete source of protein.

As these examples illustrate, traditional cuisines and food pairings have a lot to teach us. This is one of the main reasons why I decided to compliment my nutrition education with a degree in Gastronomy, learning more about culinary traditions and global food cultures.

Nutrient Synergy: Why Whole Foods and Traditional Cuisines Matter

^^Chickpeas, eggplant, zucchini, artichoke, and sundried tomato, with lemon juice, olive oil, and whole grain pita (inspired by the Pita and Grilled Vegetable Panzanella in Giada’s Feel Good Food)

While there is no reason to toss aside culinary creativity, there is reason to be wary of hyper-processed “Frankenfoods” that have no root in logic or tradition. Dr. David Katz illustrates this caution in a recent article about the rise of gluten sensitivity.

Nutrient Synergy: Why Whole Foods and Traditional Cuisines Matter

The same could be said not only of gluten, but also of soy and corn products. After all, these ingredients show up in nearly every highly processed food, and often in strange combinations. This point is famously illustrated in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, when Michael Pollan deconstructs a McDonald’s meal to reveal that a shocking number of ingredients—56% of Chicken McNuggets, for example—are derived from corn. Instead of letting food scientists dictate which foods and nutrients belong together, step into the kitchen and let traditional cuisines be your guide.

Nutrient Synergy: Why Whole Foods and Traditional Cuisines Matter

Packaged foods are easy sources of portable energy and can introduce us to fun flavor combinations. However, even though these processed snacks are increasingly being made from “real” ingredients and claim to offer optimal nutrient combinations, it’s important to remember that the world’s healthiest foods have already been “invented,” and they are growing in fields, farms, and gardens across the world. In The Blue Zones, Dr. Gary Fraser of Loma Linda University and Medical Center states, “what epidemiologists know with certainty about diet and cancer can be stated in a single paragraph. And that would say that consuming fruits and vegetables and whole grains seems to be protective for a wide variety of cancers.”

If you’re looking to eat cleaner and incorporate more whole foods into your diet, the best place to begin is at your local library or bookstore. Pick up a few cookbooks that catch your eye, and start experimenting! Check out the picks on my cookbook shelf below…

Cookbook Organization Tips

– Kelly

 

 

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Blizzard Food: Healthy and Delicious No-Cook, No-Refrigeration Meal Ideas

Blizzard Food: Healthy and Delicious No Cook No Refrigerator Meals

In preparation for the most recent blizzard (Juno), my mom called urging me to stock up on nonperishable and no-cook food, in case of a power outage. As I entered Whole Foods that Monday afternoon (the ultimate post-work/pre-blizzard grocery frenzy), my mind went blank. Food that doesn’t require cooking? What I am supposed to do? Eat packaged junk?

Not knowing what to buy (and feeling anxious to join the ever-growing checkout line), I grabbed apples and bananas, a can of lentils, a loaf of whole wheat bread, and a couple of KIND bars that I saw near the register (#impulsebuy). Luckily, our power never went out, so I spent my snow day enjoying warm, cozy meals, such as this spaghetti squash bowl.

Now that I’ve had some time to form a plan, I thought I would share some meal ideas that don’t require cooking, power, or any refrigerated items. Hopefully this will give you some ideas for what to stock up on before the next storm!

Healthy Granola

Breakfast: Granola with fresh berries. Shelf stable almond milk (or even shelf stable dairy milk) might be a welcome addition to this bowl, although most shelf-stable milks recommend refrigeration after opening, so it’s good to have more than one carton on hand. Also note, berries certainly keep much longer in the fridge, but they won’t spoil if you keep them on the counter for a day or two. After all, they’re outside for hours and hours at farmers markets and farm stands.

Blizzard Food: Healthy and Delicious No-Cook No-Refrigerator Meal Ideas

Lunch: Peanut butter sandwich with strawberries and bananas, plus an apple. You can make this more exciting by trying different nut butter and fruit or jam combinations (almond butter + figs, cashew butter + raspberry jam, etc). Note that most natural nut butters (aka, the only nut butters worth buying) recommend refrigeration after opening. However, that is mainly to preserve freshness. Natural peanut butter won’t go rancid if you leave on the counter for a few days, it just won’t last quite as long.

Blizzard Food: Healthy and Delicious No-Cook No-Refrigerator Meal Ideas

Snack Ideas:

  • Apples with Peanut Butter
  • Rice Cakes with Almond Butter and Raisins
  • Dried Fruit and Nuts/Trail Mix (I like almonds, pistachios, dried cherries, and dried cranberries)
  • Nutrition Bars (such as KIND bars, Larabars, or Luna bars)
  • Fruit and granola
  • Popcorn (already popped, of course)
  • Shelf-stable, ready-to-serve hummus (like this one) with cut vegetables

Blizzard Food: Healthy and Delicious No-Cook No-Refrigerator Meal Ideas

Dinner: Mezze platter with bean dips, whole grain crackers, fruit, nuts, olives, chocolate, and & wine.

  • White bean dip: Drain (and rinse, if possible) a can of white beans. Mash with a fork and add olive oil, onion powder, garlic powder, a pink of cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with carrots and whole grain crackers, such as these Kashi Original 7-Grain Crackers.
  • Black Bean Dip: Drain (and rinse, if possible) a can of black beans. Mash with a fork and add a few spoonfuls of salsa, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. Top with diced avocado and serve with whole grain crackers or baked tortilla chips.
  • Small bites: Jarred olives and nuts, such as almonds or cashews, make great finger food. For fruit, sliced apples and pears are always a popular choice, but berries are great too. Also, be sure to have a quality chocolate bar on hand to break apart and nibble at.
  • Wine: It’s a snow day! If you’re going to be stuck indoors, you might as well uncork a bottle and celebrate!

Tips: I recommend washing fruits and vegetables the night before you think you may lose power, just in case your water goes out as well. Also, be sure to fill up your water bottles and mason jars with water, or stock up on water bottles. For more information on food safety during power outages, check out this webpage from the USDA.

- Kelly

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White Bean Soup

White Bean Soup + Whole Wheat Croutons

I was first introduced to white bean soup at Dean & Deluca in Soho, during a fun weekend trip to NYC with my mom. As with most products in that pristine, marble-clad food emporium, we were instantly smitten. No other white bean soup has lived up since, as most are either too bland or too bitter (from leafy green overload).

White Bean Soup (Delicious, Nutritious, and Super Simple!)

I’ve been wanting to try my own hand at this Tuscan classic, and the recent surge of snowstorms here in Boston proved to be just the perfect atmosphere to experiment with soup making. Canned beans make this an easy weeknight meal to throw together, which is not something you’ll often hear from me. I’m a weekend chef, but a weeknight microwaver. Leftovers are my favorite food group.

Reminiscent of potato soup, this hearty dish is the perfect meal to satisfy during these blustery, cold winter days. At the bottom of this post I also included a simple recipe for whole wheat croutons, as crusty bread is the ideal accompaniment (taste-wise and nutrition-wise) to bean soups.

White Bean Soup

White Bean Soup

Serves 6 (serving size: 1 1/2 cups)

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 leek (white and light green parts only), sliced
  • 3  15-oz cans cannellini beans (or other white bean), rinsed and drained
  • 4 cups (32 oz) low sodium vegetable broth (more if you prefer a thinner, lighter soup)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups baby spinach, thinly sliced (see tutorial here)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • Optional: sliced green onions, whole wheat croutons (crouton recipe below)

Method:

  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and leeks and stir until onions are translucent, about 6-10 minutes.
  2. Add white beans and broth to the pot, and bring to a simmer.
  3. While your soup is heating up, use an immersion blender to puree the soup into a creamy texture. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can still enjoy the soup in its more rustic style, with whole beans. Alternatively, you can also let the soup cool, then transfer to a food processor or blender for pureeing. (Also, note that the 4 cups of broth makes this soup very thick and hearty. If you prefer a thinner, lighter soup, add more broth.)
  4. Stir the parmesan cheese into the soup. Then taste soup and adjust seasonings (salt & pepper) as necessary.
  5. Stir the spinach into the soup until just wilted, about 3-5 minutes.
  6. Spoon into individual bowls, and serve with optional toppings, such as sliced green onions or whole wheat croutons. If you don’t have croutons (see recipe below), serve alongside a hearty slice of whole grain toast.

White Bean Soup (Easy, Hearty, & Healthy)

How to Make Whole Wheat Croutons: Cut a slice of whole wheat sandwich bread into small (about 1/4 – 1/2 inch) cubes. Toss bread cubes with a light coating of olive oil (I used olive oil spray), then bake on a baking sheet at 350 degrees F for about 7 minutes.

Nutrition per serving: 260 calories, 4g fat (1g saturated fat), 42g carbohydrates (16g fiber, 3g sugar), 13g protein, 180mg sodium, 29% Vitamin A, 11% Vitamin C, 22% Iron, 16% Calcium

*Nutrition does not include optional ingredients

– Kelly

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Bon Appétit Food Lover’s Cleanse

Bon Appetit Food Lover's Cleanse 2015

Turkey Breast with Roasted Broccolini (image via Bon Appétit)

As a staunch proponent of whole, unprocessed foods and balanced meals, I’m certainly not a “cleanse” girl. But a two-week cleanse filled with foodie favorites like pork tenderloin, chia pudding, and chocolate bark? Now I’m listening!

Bon Appetit Food Lover's Cleanse 2015

Morning Barley with Squash, Date, and Lemon Compote (image via Bon Appétit)

The Food Lover’s Cleanse, dreamed up by the folks at at Bon Appétit, isn’t really a cleanse so much as a boot camp for cooking regularly and getting familiar with some of the lesser-known “superfoods”. Now in it’s fifth year, this creative meal plan demonstrates the growing overlap between nutritious and delicious. I only can’t believe that I’m just now learning about it (thanks to Emily, and her intriguing healthy lunches)!

Even though the 2015 Food Lover’s Cleanse wrapped up in mid-January, you can still access all of the delicious recipes online. Here is a one-page overview of the menu for all two weeks, a printable PDF of all this year’s recipes, and printable shopping list. Prefer to do kitchen prep ahead of time? This is a link to big-batch recipes that are used throughout the cleanse.

Bon Appetit Food Lover's Cleanse 2015

 images via Bon Appétit

While your grocery bill might suffer (superfoods don’t come cheap these days), it really does make sense to follow the menu plan to it’s fullest, as many ingredients are repurposed throughout the cleanse. For example, barley makes an appearance in a dinner pilaf with leeks and lemon, and then is prepared for breakfast the next morning with squash, date, and lemon compote. Similarly, chevre cheese is served alongside a sliced pear as a snack one day, and then shows up in an egg scramble with caramelized onions the next morning. With quality ingredients like these, the attention to waste reduction is much appreciated!

That being said,  if you’re simply looking for nuggets of inspiration to escape your culinary comfort zone, the recipes can also stand alone. Seeing as my grocery budget is pretty maxed out at 2-3 recipes per week, I probably won’t follow the cleanse to a T (at least not this year). However, browsing the menu plan certainly gave me ideas for recipes that I want to make and foods that I want to cook with. Have you tried any recipes from the Bon Appétit Food Lover’s Cleanse? Do tell!

– Kelly

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