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Six Free Apps That Will Make Meal-Prep Easier

Though applications are supposed to make your life easier, sometimes finding the right app can be a challenge. A “meal planning” search in the App Store yields pages of tools that claim to help you conquer the grocery store, step up your lunchbox game and make peace with your plate, but how can you know which apps are actually effective? After lots of downloading and deleting, I’ve put together a list of six free apps that have allowed me to spend more time enjoying my food rather than preparing it. These apps are available for both iPhone and Android users.

#1. Instacart: Best for buying groceries when you don’t have time to shop

As a nutrition coach in University of Maryland’s Health Center, I’ve found that my clients who grocery shop regularly are more likely to meet their nutritional goals compared to those who do not. This makes sense, as it’s pretty hard to eat healthfully if you lack nutritious foods in your home. With the Instacart app, you can have fresh produce delivered to your home with the literal flick of your finger. Not having time to make it to the grocery store will no longer be an excuse for not eating healthfully.

 

After typing your zip code into Instacart, a list of stores in your area will come up on your screen. After selecting a store, you can use the search bar to quickly find and order specific items, or, for a more authentic grocery store experience, you can add items to your cart as you peruse the different categories. You can also access Instacart online. Though the Instacart app is free, the order must be at least $10 to be eligible for delivery, and there is a $3.99 delivery fee (some of this money goes toward tipping the driver). You can subscribe to Instacart Express ($9.99/month or $99/year) to avoid this fee on orders above $35. Have fun portable grocery shopping!

 

Continue reading “Six Free Apps That Will Make Meal-Prep Easier” >

Quick Guide to Complementary Protein Sources

In this week’s Nutrition Diva podcast, I talk with protein researcher Douglas Paddon Jones about whether or not there’s any benefit to combining complementary plant-based protein sources at the same meal. Contrary to a lot of the conventional wisdom, which claims that it’s sufficient to get all of the essential amino acids over the course of a single day, Dr. Paddon Jones argues  that a meal-based approach to protein nutrition will enhance the ability to build and maintain lean muscle tissue.

This doesn’t mean you have to tally up and micro-manage each individual amino acid. The following chart shows how to choose meal components that will ensure complete proteins at a meal.

If you consume only plant-based proteins, you may also want to increase your total protein intake by 10-20% to compensate for the lower digestibility of these plant-based protein. 

The Recommended Daily Allowance for protein is 0.8 g per kg of body weight (or 0.36 g per pound). Strict vegetarians may want to aim for a minimum of 1 g per kg (or 0.45 g per pound).

These are these are minimum recommended intakes. Research suggests that there may be benefits to higher protein diets, especially for athletes, the elderly, those recovering from surgery or illness, or during weight loss. If you’re in any of these groups, you might want to aim for something closer to twice the recommended minimum.

 

What are the best and worst kinds of fruit?

In this week’s Nutrition Diva podcast, I debunked the myth that you should avoid certain types of fruit, either because they are higher in sugar or higher in fructose.   All fruit can be part of a healthy diet–especially if you are eating fruit in place of other less healthy choices. 

But if you’re curious to see how various types of fruit stack up in terms of total sugar content as well as fructose and glucose content, here’s a chart of some common fruits. You can click on any column to sort by that value.

Fruit (1 cup serving)Total Sugars (g)Fructose (g)Glucose (g)
Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
Raisins1085750
Dates, medjool864244
Figs, dried713437
Apricots, dried691643
Plums, dried (prunes)662244
Bananas281111
Grapes231211
Mangos2383
Tangerines2154
Cherries1879
Plums1658
Pineapple1643
Kiwi1687
Grapefruit1644
Blueberries1577
Apricots, fresh1414
Oranges1443
Cantaloupe1433
Honeydew1455
Pears1494
Peaches1323
Papaya1156
Apples1162
Nectarines1122
Watermelon1052
Strawberries743
Blackberries733
Raspberries532
Cranberries514

 

Which Appliances are Worth the Counter Space?

In my house, kitchen appliances live in one of two places: in the kitchen or in the basement. The ones in the kitchen are the ones that I use constantly. The ones in the basement are the ones that only come out once in a while.

My Constant Favorites

Blender

This lives right on the kitchen counter because I use it almost every day. I have a Vitamix which is no small investment, but this workhorse has served me well for years. I’m actually on my second Vitamix. After 15 years, I decided to retire my original, and Vitamix has a trade-in program that gave me a discount on my new purchase. There are less expensive options, such as the NutriBullet Blender–and the Vitamix is more power than you’d need for smoothies. However, its heavy duty parts and high powered motor can also turn whole wheat into flour, nuts into nut butter, and other tasks that might cause a lesser motor to wheeze.

 

Instant Pot Electronic Pressure Cooker


I hesitated before jumping on this particular bandwagon because I’d never used a pressure cooker before and didn’t particularly miss it. Turns out that was just because I didn’t know what I was missing. Instant Pot fans tend to be a bit cult-like, but I’ve totally drunk the Koolaid. I use it to hard-boil eggs (perfect every time!), make stock in 30 minutes instead of two hours, cook hard beans and steel cut oats to tender (but not mushy) perfection in 15 minutes, and countless soups, stews, and one-pot meals. There are many sites, cookbooks, and Instagram feeds dedicated to Instant Pot recipes, so inspiration and instruction is never more than a click away. Easily the best kitchen purchase I’ve made in ten years.

Listen to my podcast episode: 4 Reasons You Need a Pressure Cooker. Continue reading “Which Appliances are Worth the Counter Space?” >

This Probiotic Cereal Doesn’t Make Me Happy Inside

Probiotic foods continue to be one of the hottest food and nutrition trends. And now Kellogg’s has jumped on the bandwagon with a new probiotic cereal called Happy Inside. While this new offering is certainly on trend, I think they’ve missed the mark in a number of ways:

1. “Yogurty probiotic pieces” that are neither yogurty nor probiotic.

Don’t be fooled by the mention of “yogurt,” these are pieces of candy. They’re made of unnecessary ingredients like sugar, palm kernel oil, and Greek Yogurt Powder (which is heat-treated, killing any beneficial bacteria.)

2. Four kinds of added sugar, totaling 9 grams per serving

I’ve certainly seen worse, but it reminds me of General Mill’s “healthy” fail a few years ago with their high protein Cheerios, which added only a modest amount of protein but a whole lot of sugar. (What were they thinking?)

3. A single strain of probiotic bacteria

When it comes to live and active cultures, it’s just one lonely strain (Bifidobacterium lactis HN019) with a limited amount of research to back it up. Although HN019 may enhance immune function in the elderly, the strain otherwise has a small portfolio of effectiveness.

4. Plenty of marketing gloss

The cereal calls itself a 3-in-1 product because it contains fiber, prebiotics, and probiotics.  However, “prebiotic” and “fiber” are just two ways of saying the same thing.   (See also: What are prebiotics?)

The Bottom Line on Happy Inside

Rather than spending big bucks on this highly processed food, you can get more pre- and probiotic benefit at a lower cost with higher nutritional value.  For example, stir 1/3 cup of Swiss Muesli (I like this no-added-sugar brand from Familla) into 2/3 cup unsweetened kefir and refrigerate overnight for a gut-friendly breakfast without all the junk.

 

How to Meal-Prep Like a Dietitian

How to Meal-Prep Like A Dietitian

The list you scribbled in the car five minutes ago rests between your fingers and the grocery cart’s handlebar as you embark on what you hope will be a quick grocery run. As the produce section starts to feel like a corn maze and the frozen aisle makes your brain freeze, you wonder how people manage to conquer this meal-prep thing weekly. If this sounds like your typical grocery run, then these dietitian-approved meal-prep tips might be for you.

  • Understand the value. Before heading to the store, you should recognize that cooking meals is about self-care, says Julie Duffy Dillon, a North Carolina-based registered dietitian and eating disorder specialist. She adds that meal-prepping should not be stressful. “It’s compassionate to you and your family,” Dillon explains.And being organized about meals can help you reach your nutritional goals, Claire Chewning, an R.D. and blogger located in Virginia, said. “You have to align your actions with your intentions.”
  • Plan strategically. “Meal-prep doesn’t have to take place on Sunday afternoons,” Rachel Meltzer Warren, a New York-area R.D. and nutrition writer says, though many find that to be a convenient time. Using grocery delivery apps and preparing food in increments can help you “carve out time in a busy schedule,” she adds. It’s also helpful to “know when your energy is,” University of Maryland’s campus dietitian, Jane Jakubczak, says, laughing while explaining that she makes salmon at 6 a.m.
  • Shop smart. Having a general idea of the foods you want to purchase can minimize food waste, Warren says. She advises clients to fill out grids – which become grocery lists – when mapping out meals for the week. “I know I have big eyes when I shop,” Warren says, chuckling. “If I have no plan, I grab everything, and [then] the food goes bad.”

Meal Planning on the Fly

To stay on track when shopping while still allowing room for creativity, Chewning considers each meal as a triangle; it’s three points are the macronutrients. “At every meal, if you want full balance to keep you satiated and to keep all the little cells in your body happy, you have a protein, you have a carbohydrate and a healthy fat,” she said. “In the center of the triangle, you have a big empty space, and that’s where fruits and vegetables come in.”

The carbohydrate sources Chewning, a lacto-ovo vegetarian, enjoys include rice, potatoes, peas, beans and corn. For protein, she likes tofu, seitan and fish prepared in olive oil, a healthy fat. “If I plan to have those foods cooked, it gives me the freedom and the ease to eat them in a way that sounds good to me at that moment in time,” Chewning said.

Jakubczak purchases salmon, chicken and lean meats in bulk, the cheapest option per-unit, she says. After cooking proteins on Sundays, she portions them into labeled containers and freezes them – essentially “creating [her] own frozen food.” She takes the containers out to thaw and uses a microwave to accelerate defrosting before mealtimes. “If we don’t plan and prep in advance, it’s almost too easy to get take-out,” Jakubczak says. “Make the healthy option the easy option.”

  • Plan for chaos. A busy schedule shouldn’t stop you from consuming balanced meals and snacks. Dillon plans to cook two longer-to-prepare recipes, two 15-minute recipes and one “super easy” recipe weekly, for nights when “life happens.” Warren keeps frozen riced cauliflower on hand to fry with tofu and eggs for times when she lacks fresh ingredients. Jakubczak bags vegetables and portions watermelon into containers in advance so she can grab them on busy mornings. “Prepare to be unprepared,” Warren says. “Have ideas that can be thrown together without much prep.”
  • Make it simple. “In the end, having canned peas versus fresh peas isn’t going to make a difference,” Dillon says. “If you can try not to be too [much of a perfectionist] or all-or-nothing, then you will be able to be honest with where you are now. Then you’ll be able to start cooking.”

Dena Gershkovich is a dietetics and journalism double major at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is hoping to become a registered dietitian and nutrition writer. To read more of Dena’s work, check out her blog, The Artsy Palate, for original recipes and tips for how to stay healthy in college and beyond.