March is National Nutrition Month. This year’s theme is “Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right.”
People will frequently choose foods that taste good over foods they know are good for them, such as choosing vanilla ice cream over blueberries. However, many foods can be both tasty and healthy — it may just be a matter of finding the right recipes to enhance the flavors of healthy foods and thinking outside the box, such as combining blueberries and reduced fat ice cream, to encourage increased intake of healthful food groups.
Vegetables can be the toughest food group to increase in the diet. Sometimes not liking vegetables is generational — some individuals grow up not eating vegetables because their parents did not eat vegetables.
Other parents do make an effort to offer vegetables, but sometimes children refuse to eat many of them. Being forced to eat them can cause people to avoid vegetables when they are old enough to make their own food decisions.
To promote increased vegetable intake it may be good to try seeing them through fresh eyes. I ask individuals if they have tried disliked vegetables since they were children. If not, I recommend they choose one vegetable at a time, such as broccoli, and give it another try. This sometimes works. People come back and tell me they actually like the vegetable they have avoided since childhood.
I often tell parents with “picky” children to never force them to eat anything. Dinner time should not be a power struggle and source of conflict — this can not only cause food aversions but eating disorders later in life. A food may have to be offered many times over several years before a child will start eating it. This may require patience but eventually most children will eat at least a few vegetables if offered frequently enough.
Some people do not like most cooked vegetables but will eat certain raw ones. Other people will only eat raw vegetables with creamy dressings or dips such as ranch. This is a great way of including vegetables in the diet, but choose light dressings in order to avoid excessive caloric intake. Sprinkling vegetables with parmesan or reduced fat sharp cheddar cheese are also ways of enhancing their taste.
Tomato sauce is a vegetable, and using tomato sauces is an effective way of including Vitamin A and C, potassium and the antioxidant, lycopene. Some people who normally do not like vegetables in larger “chunks” are able to eat small pieces of cooked vegetables such as onions and bell peppers mixed in soups, stews, egg dishes and casseroles.
For those who will not even eat small chunks of cooked vegetables, try pureeing them in a food processor and mixing the puree into sauces, entrees and side dishes. This might not work with some adults but is a good way of “sneaking” vegetables into a picky child’s meals. Adding one cup of raw greens such as spinach or kale to smoothies is a way to increase “green” intake for individuals who do not usually like them.
There are ways to increase fruit intake for people who do not like most fruits. Smoothies are a tasty way to include not only fresh or frozen fruit but also dairy products and even greens. Fruit is a nutritious addition to flavored yogurt, especially when mixed with a little granola cereal.
Dried fruit is another way of getting fruit by mixing raisins or diced prunes into oatmeal or other whole grain cereals, but watch portions. Dried fruits have more calories per serving than fresh or frozen fruit.
Fruit can be mixed into cooked cereals and whole grain pancake and muffin batter, and applesauce can be substituted for half the oil in many baked good recipes. Mixing sliced seasonal fruit with light whipped cream can make a tasty fruit salad, and crepes stuffed with fruit filling can liven up breakfast. Sugar free gelatin prepared with fruit can be a nutritious, low calorie dessert.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends non-pregnant and non-lactating adults consume 1,000 milligrams of dietary calcium a day but many people are not getting enough calcium in their diets. One cup of milk contains 300 mg. and some companies are selling calcium-enriched milk that can double the amount in a cup of milk.
Individuals who do not tolerate regular milk can try lactose-free milk or lactase enzymes before drinking milk. This frequently promotes toleration of dairy products that cause digestive side effects. Soy milk is also a source of calcium for individuals who cannot tolerate regular milk.
For individuals who do not like plain milk, I suggest making fruit smoothies with milk or mixing half chocolate milk with half plain one-percent or fat-free milk. For individuals who are watching caloric and sugar intake, there are sugar-free chocolate syrups and sugar-free flavored coffee syrups that can be added to the beverage.
Other foods besides milk, yogurt and high-fat cheese contain calcium. Cottage cheese, chia seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, brazil nuts, figs, calcium fortified orange juice, sardines, canned salmon with soft, edible bones, white beans, black strap molasses and some vegetables such as broccoli, bok choy and collard greens are good sources.
For recipes or more nutrition information, call me at the Raymond W. Bliss Army Health Center at 533.9033.