Food and Related Products

I Am Boosting the Economy One Frozen Dinner At A Time

While trying to bend with a learning curve that comes with graduate school, I am discovering what it means to forsake oneself for something bigger. Although my nutrition knowledge pool may be on the rise, my diet has gone to the gutter. Amid hunting for my normal foods, learning to run errands by subway, bike or on foot and trying to tackle the mountain of homework that calls my name each and every night, my dietary world feels to be in shambles at the moment. Oh, and let’s not forget my new Game of Thrones addiction. Say what you will about literary adaptations, but that show makes True Blood look like a tacky bargain bin romance novel meant for those without taste. Game of Thrones makes me want to put on a forty pound dress, learn how to ride a horse, shoot a bow and arrow and eat a turkey leg…simultaneously. Word to the wise – get HBO. If profanity, nudity or gore offends you – don’t get HBO.Long ago I found my freezer can be my greatest ally in the kitchen. Gone are my days of lounging, cooking, and baking. I am still batch cooking, just on a smaller scale. Thanks to my time and space constraints, my traditional food choices have been slightly compromised for the sake of my own sanity. Lucky for you, my total anguish and partial melt down has paved the way for your body’s betterment. Rest assured, I receive no monetary compensation for this blog so the products spotlighted here are purely of my own opinion. There is no exchange of money for product endorsement. Just ask my depleted bank account.

Like so many people around our great nation, I am pressed for time. My coursework is demanding, homework is unrelenting and I live two blocks from Fenway Ballpark so you better believe I am getting used to living with noise. Perhaps my greatest Boston rival to date has been eating on a budget. Holy bagel sandwiches! Food is expensive out east. My conservative mid-west food spending days are over.  When my plane flew over the Pennsylvania border, there was no turning back. My new home city is awesome but high-priced.

Frozen Dinners – often times these words next to one another makes the health conscious cringe. Understandable. For MANY years frozen entrees meant three things: high sodium, high fat and no vegetables. Over the last decade however, the food industry has made some pretty substantial improvements in these pre-made meals. Still, at times walking through the freezer section can feel like a bad movie preview you can’t look away from because your intelligent inner self just wants to see if it can get any worse. Well that and those twenty milk duds you just ate make you think the lead actor looks like your gym teacher minus the unisex polyester gym shorts.

Enough schticking. There are two important things to remember when opening that freezer door:

  1. Not all frozen meals are created equal.
  2. Just because the word ‘healthy’ is on the cover doesn’t necessarily make it your waist or heart’s friend.

Below are three more favorable choices I find to be both nutritious and delicious. Because, let’s be honest, no matter how nutrient packed a meal is, if it tastes like crap from a dumpster that been rotting in the sun for four days, I sure as heck ain’t eating it.

PRODUCT #1
Amy’s Light in Sodium Vegetable Lasagna 

Yes, it’s a vegetable lasagna. Get over it. With stacks of organic lasagna noodles layered with tomato sauce, roasted vegetables and low-fat cheese, this one is unapologetically delicious. One serving has 290 calories and 8 grams of fat. The real thing about Amy’s Vegetable Lasagna that gets my heart pumping (in a good way) is its sodium content. With 340mg per nine-ounce piece, Amy’s makes Stouffer’s like a bottle of soy sauce. Most traditional frozen lasagna pieces run around seven ounces, pack 350 calories, 12 grams of fat and carry between 600 to 800 mg of sodium. You’re body and taste buds will thank you.

PRODUCT #2
Kashi Mushroom Trio and Spinach Pizza

With a whole grain and flax crust topped with a tomato Parmesan sauce, baby Portobello, champignon and shiitake mushrooms, spinach, mozzarella and provolone cheeses you really can’t go wrong. One serving (1/3 the pizza) has 250 calories and 9 grams of fat. The sodium content on this one isn’t a bragging point, however, it does bring a sizable amount of dietary fiber (4 grams) and protein (2 ounces). Enjoy it for dinner and heat up the leftovers for lunch the next day. Yum, yum!

PRODUCT #3
Amy’s Light & Lean Bean & Cheese Burrito

It’s like a fiesta in your mouth. This burrito has a whole-wheat tortilla filled with pinto beans, Cheddar and Monterrey Jack cheese, brown rice and a tab of chili sauce. One serving contains 280 calories and 5 grams of fat, 8 grams of fiber and nearly 2 ounces of protein. Does the word burrito make you flatulent simply reading it? Well, take your Beno, drink some water and put the dog outside. No but really, for some, beans require practice. With practice will come tolerance. It may not be pleasantville, USA the first time around but it does get better with time.

Note: If you can’t find the Light & Lean version, the traditional bean and cheese burrito is just as good and honestly, the nutrition profile is not greatly different.

One final frozen dinner tip. Add vegetables. Toss up a side salad. Roast or steam vegetables. The possibilities are endless. The frozen dinners can be on the smaller end and rightfully so for the sake of calorie, fat and sodium control. The trick to making sure they are both filling and nutrient dense is to add some color either directly into the dish or on the side.

Happy Heating!

Shameless Product Placement of June

Holy freaking moly. How is it already the last day of June. When I got home from work Monday night, I sat down to ponder what my next blog post would be. After taking a few moments to review my monster list of topic ideas, the date hit me like a brick in the face. I quickly realized a shameless product placement was in order. They’re not always the most informative pieces, but they are easy.  Much like CSPAN, these posts are nearly effortless and run the risk of putting you to sleep. You’re welcome.
I cannot continue without first acknowledging this Blagojevich situation. How could he have possibly thought he could sell Obama’s Senate seat and not get caught in the process? We’re talking about a man whose dismissal from The Apprentice was reportedly due to his technological inadequacies. He literally could not use a computer or text for that matter. On Monday he was found guilty on 17 counts of wire fraud, attempted extortion, soliciting bribes, conspiracy to commit extortion and conspiracy to solicit and accept bribes. I would think that in order to even attempt getting away with any of this, some knowledge of how to operate an iPhone would be necessary. This isn’t Hogan’s Heroes.  

Now then, the Shameless Product Placement of June is….

Natural Peanut Butter 

I was a kid raised on Jiff. It was (and still is) delicious awesomeness. From the artery clogging sensation it induced to the way it cements to plates in the dishwasher, I genuinely loved everything about it. It sufficed for the first twenty or so years of my life. But the honeymoon had to eventually come to an end. A of couple years back, a cardiovascular surgeon was a guest at the after school program where I volunteered to help teach inner-city middle schoolers how to cook healthfully. He brought in real human hearts, each one having a greater degree of cardiovascular disease. They were interestingly disgusting. Being the strong stomached girl that I am, I fainted only four times, wet myself twice and threw up once. You’d think after one of those episodes, someone would have asked me to leave the room.

The demonstration continued on with a miniature Eat This Not That lesson: chicken over red meat, fruit over candy, olive oil over butter, blah blah blah. One topic discussed was trans fats. Thanks to the butter vs. margarine post from Monday, you’ve been well-informed on trans fats. The thing about a lot of peanut butter products out there is they contain hydrogenated oil(s). That probably means nothing to most of you, so I encourage you to keep reading.  There’s a prize at the end.

To put hydrogenation into laymen’s terms, the word simply means to treat with hydrogen. By chemically introducing hydrogen to oils, it turns them into solid fats. It’s a process done to extend a food’s shelf life. You’ll recall from butter vs. margarine that NYC health code prevents food service operations from using artificial trans fats. Hydrogenated oils are one such example.

There is a slight catch when it comes to fat labeling. A product can claim to be ‘trans fat-free’ and list zero grams of trans fat on the nutrition label if there is less than 0.5g per serving. Okay, that’s fine. However, that food doesn’t necessarily remain trans fat free if you eat three servings of it. Enough about the mundane details of labeling, let’s get to the good stuff.

Similar to all other products I’ve chosen to spotlight on this blog, the theme they all seem to carry is simplicity. All of them (all two of them) have contained a limited number of easy-to-read ingredients. This one is no exception.

Most natural peanut butters typically have one, maybe two, ingredients: peanuts and salt. Yes, this is the kind you have to stir and store in your refrigerator. Over the last three years I’ve tried numerous brands and various nut versions – think almond and cashew. As a former Jiff devotee, the best one I’ve found is Smucker’s Natural Peanut Butter. It’s sweet and has a normal peanut butter consistency, not that gritty texture other natural nut butters often bring to the table. Best of all, Smucker’s has somehow discovered a way to make a natural peanut butter than requires little to no stirring.

Other than the traditional pb & j, I thought I’d give you some other unique ideas for ways to eat peanut butter.

  1. Spread onto a frozen waffle for an easy on-the-go breakfast or snack
  2. Stir it into your oatmeal as it finishes cooking and top with banana or apple slices
  3. Spread onto apple slices and top with granola
  4. Put into a smoothie
  5. Spread onto pretzels, graham crackers, or squares of dark chocolate
That list got increasingly decadent. For a while I boycotted peanut butter due to it’s fat content. Was I insane? Yes. Here’s the thing about fat.  Like the infamous carbohydrate, fat should not be feared. Of the macro-nutrients, fat is the most complex one to digest and therefore, keeps you feeling full longer. If you disagree that capitalizing on satiety is not a fundamental part of weight loss and/or weight maintenance, meet me outside. But peanut butter isn’t just a good source of fat, it also packs some protein.  Two tablespoons equal one ounce of protein.

Check this scrumptious stuff out!  No need to go to a health food store either. Smucker’s Natural Peanut Butter can be found in your normal grocery store.  It’s available in Creamy, Chunky, Honey, or No Salt Added. Come back next week for I don’t know what, but it’s sure to be fantastic.

Shameless Product Placement of May

Because the world didn’t come to an end last weekend, I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief that Friday is finally upon us.  It feels good to be alive.  Although, I have to admit I’m a bit disappointed.  Harold Camping, the preacher who predicted our impending, all be it false, doom has made one hell of a shocking announcement this week. He did his math wrong.  I like a man who can openly admit he is wrong when the general public is unaware of his misstep.  It takes a large set of cahones to publically admit you’re wrong, especially after you make the entire world acknowledge what you believe to be their death sentence.  He formally apologized about this on Monday, saying he did not have the dates “worked out as accurately as I could have.” Wowsa.  Note to self: Always do your homework. Lucky for us, he has recalculated the date the world will end and now we have until the end of October to get our affairs in order.  Thank God.  I was worried. Having your will drawn up when all you own is a few pair of jeans and an ipod is STRESSFUL. And who does one leaves things to when the world ends? Probably no one, but I like having back up plans for my back up plans. Agh, I have so many unanswered questions.

Although we all only have a few short months left, I think we can all still enjoy the wonderful perks of food. Having said this, the Shameless Product Placement for the month of May  is…

Greek Yogurt
I know what you’re thinking.  Kimberly, yogurt is for chicks. Kimberly, yogurt is disgusting. Kimberly, I hate how my toenails grow in various pointing directions.  It’s okay.  It took me a while to get accustomed to Greek yogurt.  I’ve always loved yogurt, but that may be due to the fact that most of the flavored brands are loaded with sugar. Greek yogurt is thicker than traditional yogurt and has a slight tanginess to it. Regardless, it’s the bee’s knees.

 

The difference between traditional yogurt and Greek yogurt simply lies in processing. Obviously, both forms are made from milk. Regular yogurt is formed by introducing bacteria (probiotics) into the milk. This mixture then ferments to form its signature consistency. Greek yogurt is made in a near similar fashion. After the bacteria have been introduced to the milk, the mixture is then strained through cheese cloth and the extra liquid whey is drained out.I’ve chosen to plug Greek yogurt this month for numerous reasons. One reason does not include the fact that the Yahoo! News Business page ran an article on the stuff this week entitled “Greek Yogurt: Weight Loss Secret for the Summer”. Bologna. I love articles like this. She writes sarcastically.  Below I’ve provided you with the opening two sentences:

Need to lose weight you gained over the winter? Clinical research proves that a reduced-calorie diet that includes yogurt can encourage fat loss.

This is ground breaking.  A reduced-calorie diet encourages weight loss? Ugh I love when people claim the obvious to be something revolutionary. In addition to this, you could substitute almost any other “healthy” food for yogurt in that last sentence and the statement would still ring true: Carrots, beets, grapes, mangoes, etc.. I also found it interesting that this article was in the Yahoo! New Business section and not the Health section until I scrolled down to the bottom of the article where I learn it was written by Emily Neukircher from Sun Valley Dairy. Bingo. I’ve included this slightly obnoxious paragraph to encourage us all to be active readers when it comes to health related material. Being aware of where your writers are coming from can help you distinguish facts from advertisements.

Back to Greek yogurt.  For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to pick a brand to discuss. Oikos.  One 5.3 ounce container contains 0% fat and only 80 calories. The true claim to fame of Greek yogurt is the protein content. This small little container packs about 15 grams (2 ounces) of protein, making it a crazy good breakfast item or mid-afternoon snack.

Like I mentioned before, eating Greek yogurt can take some getting used to. So to ease into all the deliciousness, my suggestion is simply dilution. This was how I first starting eating it. Half a cup of plain Greek Yogurt mixed with your favorite traditional yogurt. Feel free to add in berries, nuts, or granola.  After a while, the pain of mixing your yogurt will win out and you’ll realize Greek yogurt is actually pretty good by itself. I regularly eat it in the morning with some kind of juicy fruit (mango, berries, or orange slices) and top it with some sliced almonds.  For a while I also used honey or agave nectar to sweeten it up a bit.

Lastly, for all you bakers out there, Greek yogurt can easily be used in place of sour cream. Cutting the fat and boosting the protein content of any given baked good is truly a health nut’s delight. I substitute plain Greek yogurt for sour cream in my Nana’s blueberry muffins and my Mother’s chicken enchiladas.  And I got to tell you, we can’t tell the difference.

Look for Greek yogurt in your grocer’s refrigerated dairy section. Other brands of Greek yogurt include Fage, Chobani, and Trader Joes. Greek yogurt can also be found in a wide variety of flavors if the plain isn’t your cup of tea. Blueberry, strawberry, peach, lemon, honey, raspberry, pomegranate, vanilla and mango are just a few of the numerous flavors of Greek yogurt that are out there.  So check it out and enjoy!