It’s Not Always Easy, But You Have To Do It

Hello again!  This week we will be discussing eating right.  Being a college student, I know eating right isn’t always easy.  Eating right takes time, energy, and thought, which, quite honestly, at the end of the semester I just don’t have any leftover to think about what I’m eating.  This week, I will give you some of my tips and tricks to eating a little better and keeping off the extra pounds.  I will warn you, nutrition is my jam, so I will try to keep this as short as I can, but when you take 3 semesters of nutrition classes, you’re bound to get a little jazzed about it.

To discuss nutrition, we need to have a visual of what our plates should look like each time we sit down at the table.  This is the MyPlate guide introduced in 2010.  It is a great visual to keep in mind no matter where you are eating; however, it does take a little insider knowledge to navigate.  At HyVee, my local grocery store, you can actually buy little 8-inch plates with the My Plate graphic printed on them, minus the dairy group (I have two, and yes, I am that much of a nerd).  Now, we will go through each group and find simple ways to get them on your plate.  The little sayings at the beginning of each section are from the MyPlate website.  The serving sizes are also from MyPlate, but note that these are very general and if you visit the website, there is much more detailed information about age/gender specifics, as well as what constitutes a serving.

My Plate
My Plate was introduced in 2010 by Michelle Obama in her campaign to fight childhod obesity.

Grains (5-6 oz. per day):  Make half your grains whole.  Personally, I think all whole grains are the way to go.  They’re easy to substitute into your favorite pasta recipe or add as a quick side dish.  By eating whole grains, you get more nutrients, like B vitamins and fiber, out of each precious bite you take.  Plus, they taste so much better than white enriched grains with their rich, nutty undertones.  However, I understand that’s not always an option (*cough restaurants cough*), but moderation is key when it comes to eating right, which I will discuss later in the post.  Since I like creativity in cooking, try new and interesting grains, like bulgur, barley, or brown rice (all of which can be frozen and reheated!).  Quinoa (keen-wah)  is a spectacular grain because it contains the whole grain, plus a complete protein (meaning it has all the building blocks you need in it).  Most importantly, when buying any grain product, make sure it says WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR or WHOLE whatever-it-is GRAIN as the first ingredient.  If it says enriched flour and then whole wheat, it’s probably only 50% whole wheat, so your best bet is to just gently slide it back on the shelf and move on.

Veggies (2 1/2-3 cups per day):  Vary your veggies (This one is from the old My Pyramid food guide, but it just says so much more than the current “Make half your plate fruits and vegetables).  Getting a variety of vegetables is important in order to get a variety of nutrients.  Not all vegetables look the same; therefore, they probably don’t have the same nutrients inside.  There are 5 categories of vegetables:  Dark green, starchy, red and orange, beans and peas, and others.  You should try to get at least a couple from each group throughout the week.  Most veggies do require some cooking to make them palatable, but others, like carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, and peppers, can be eaten raw (with or without dip, your choice), making them an easy on-the-go-snack.  While a potato is a starchy vegetable, it behaves more like a grain inside your body because they are both made of starch.  Now, this does not mean you can double up on potatoes at supper and knock out both grains and vegetables.  It is much better for you, and your waistline, to eat one serving of starch and a vegetable from another category.

Personally, I think vegetables are one of the easiest things to incorporate into your meals.  My favorite products are the frozen vegetables in the steamer bags.  Best.  Idea.  Ever.  It makes my life easier, and then if I get to end of cooking and realize I need some green in my meal, I toss it in the microwave and boom, instant nutrition.  Another way is spaghetti sauce.  I like to make a quadruple batch of my grandmother’s recipe (she’s Italian, so you know it’s good) and add some extra veggies, like peppers, onions, zucchini, and sometimes peeled eggplant.  Then, I can portion it out into the perfect amount of sauce for a two person recipe.  Then, I like to make spaghetti squash and use the strands of squash as noodles.  It’s a vegetable palooza!  It’s also fun to add vegetables where they aren’t necessarily expected, like parsnips in mashed potatoes, or like in today’s recipe, smashed cauliflower as the pasta sauce.

Fruits (2 cups per day):  Focus on fruits (This one is also from the old guide, but I think it sounds catchier).  Just like vegetables, you should eat a variety of fruits.  I know it can get expensive buying all these fresh fruits and veggies, but it is for the best.  Fresh, whole fruits provide more fiber and natural sugars, instead of the added sugars in canned products.  Frozen, unsweetened fruits are the next best thing since they were frozen when they were fresh and don’t have added sugar.  For me personally, I think fruits make the best breakfast and snack foods.  They’re already prepackaged and that little bit of sweetness is the best thing in the morning.  Usually, I’m grabbing my breakfast on the go, and I’m just not that much of a breakfast eater.  So, what I like to do is either make a smoothie or take a light protein drink and a piece of fruit as my breakfast.  The natural sugars in the fruit give me the initial boost of energy in the morning, while the fiber in the fruit gives me some sustained fullness until lunch.  Fruit makes a great snack as well.  Leaving a bowl of fruit out on the counter will make you more apt to eat it because it is readily available.

Proteins (5-5 1/2 oz per day): Go lean with protein. When looking at the meat case, choose cuts of beef, chicken, lamb, or pork that are lean, aka contain less fat. This is easy todo with ground meat because it’s right there on the package. However, with whole cuts of meat it can be more difficult. Look for cuts that have less marbling (fat within the meat, not around the edge). These cuts typically come from tougher parts of the cow (just like in people, more exercise = stronger, firmer muscles and less fat). The large (wholesale) cuts these come from are everything except the rib, loin, and sirloin (the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th sections along the top). The good news is these cuts are typically cheaper and need to be cooked by moist, slow heat (perfect excuse to get out the slow cooker).

Wholesale and Retail Cuts of Beef
Wholesale and Retail Cuts of Beef

Something else to consider with protein is alternative sources of protein (not meat).  Tofu, though it takes some getting used to, is a great way to add protein to a dish.  When I make my grandmother’s sauce recipe, I use some lean ground beef, but I also like to add diced, sauteed tofu to it to bump up the lean protein content even more.  Soy milk is a great alternative to regular low-fat or skim milk because it has a higher protein content.  However, you have to keep an eye on the fat content.  Typically, the fats in soy milk are good for you, but you must watch to make sure the saturated fat content isn’t too high.  Greek yogurt is another easy way to incorporate protein into your diet.  I like to use a container of that, along with frozen fruit and/or a banana and about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of soy milk, to make my morning smoothies.  The protein in the yogurt and, combined with the fiber of the fruit and the little bit of fat in the soy milk, helps keep me full until lunchtime.

Dairy (3 cups per day):  Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.  Dairy is the simplest group to discuss.  (I know all of you are secretly cheering.)  Dairy products are the best way to get calcium and vitamin D into your diet.  Just be sure to pick products that are lower in fat.

With all of this in mind, just remember that moderation is key.  If you’re going to eat out, pick a smaller entree, or ask for a to-go box right away and pack half of your meal in there before you even start eating.  If you want to eat some cookies, only eat a couple.  If you deprive yourself, one, you won’t be happy, and two, you will find yourself in your kitchen at 2 a.m. scarfing down all the coveted Girl Scout cookies in your cupboard.  Okay, maybe not that exact scenario, but you get the point.  Always remember, too, that exercising is just as important as eating right.  If calories in equal calories out, you will maintain your weight.  When you’re exercising, do what you like to do.  I’m not a runner, so if I’m going to exercise, I’m not going to go run 5 miles.  Instead, I might play Just Dance on my Wii or do some zumba in the comfort of my own apartment (mostly so motorists don’t have to see my thighs jiggle).

Okay, let’s get cooking.  All this food talk has got me hungry!  This is a recipe that I adapted from a Rachael Ray recipe.  Here is the link to the original recipe:

Whole Wheat Pasta with Cauliflower Sauce and Garlic Breadcrumbs (Original Photo)
Whole Wheat Pasta with Cauliflower Sauce and Garlic Breadcrumbs (Original Photo)

Whole Wheat Pasta with Cauliflower Sauce and Garlic Breadcrumbs

Serves 2

Ingredients for Breadcrumbs:

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or grated
  • 1/2-3/4 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
  •  1 Tbsp. dried parsley
  • 1/4-1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Ingredients for Sauce:

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2-3 slices bacon, chopped (Turkey bacon is lower fat and just as delicious)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated
  • 1 Tbsp. dried rosemary
  • 1 Tbsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup wine (whatever you have is fine, but a drier wine is better)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1 head cauliflower florets, cut into small chunks
  • 2 parsnips, cut into small chunks
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound rigatoni
  • 3 tablespoons butter


For the breadcrumbs, heat the oil and butter over medium heat, melting the butter into the EVOO. Add the garlic and stir for 1-2 minutes. Add the breadcrumbs and stir until very fragrant and deeply golden in color. Remove the breadcrumbs from the heat and cool; toss with the parsley and cheese.

For the sauce, heat oil over medium-high heat in a straight-sided skillet. Add the bacon and stir until crispy, 3-4 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, rosemary, thyme, red pepper flakes and raisins; stir to soften, 3-5 minutes. Start a pot of water boiling for your pasta.  Add the wine and stock, then add cauliflower and parsnips. Season with salt and pepper and cover. Cook for 10-15 minutes until very tender.  Drop pasta into the water once boiling and season with salt.  When done, mash up the cauliflower into small pieces with a wooden spoon or potato masher (the potato masher works much better).  Cook the pasta to al dente and reserve a cup of starchy cooking water from pasta just before draining.  Along with the starchy cooking water, stir the butter into the cauliflower sauce. Combine with the pasta and adjust the seasoning.  Serve in shallow bowls topped with garlic breadcrumbs.

That’s all for today.  Until next time, keep your mind sharp and your knives sharper!


My Plate:

Cow Diagram:

Meat Labels: