Monday, November 16, 2009

I've Moved!

I just finished packing up my NuVal scores, my recipes, my blogposts, and oh yeah, my kids, and I've headed on over to my new home.

I can't wait for you to see my new digs. Blain Smith of 13-infinite helped me with the architecture and floorplan and then I did a little decorating and unpacking. The kids are all settled in and we're cooking again. There's lots of "Nu" things like giveaways, Incredible Vegetables and Field Trips.

Come and check out my new home at

Friday, November 13, 2009

Time to Move It, Move It

Today is an exciting day! It's time to Move It, Move It. My blog that is! I've got a new name, new space, much greater functionality, and cool new surprises. Thanks to my new friend, Blain at 13-infinite, my new site is beautiful!

So today, I'm packing up my NuVal scores in a Uhaul and heading on over to my new site to unpack. My housewarming is next week and you are all invited! It's a potluck, so I'll need you to bring some things. I need your examples of how you've traded up for better nutrition using NuVal scores. I know you all have some great stories, so get 'em ready. There's a doorprize waiting for one lucky reader!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

C is for Cookie

Happy 40th Birthday Sesame Street! It is scary that I am almost as old as you! It has been wonderful these past 6 1/2 years, getting reacquainted with the Street. And yes, your Platinum Hits collection is on my Ipod. My Dear Son, now 6 1/2 and sadly Way-Too-Old for Sesame Street loved Oscar's "I Love Trash" and Ernie's "Put Down the Duckie." My daughter, now 4 1/2, still wakes up wanting her Elmo's World fix and sleeps with the one stuffed Elmo I could find that did not have some sort of speaking unit in it. I love watching her wake up, groping for Elmo's eyeballs so she can give him a hug. Any parent who has had a love/hate relationship with Elmo should read Joanna Weiss's column from the Saturday's Boston Globe: Six reasons why Elmo went from being horrible to adorable.

I am looking forward to the big Sesame Street special tonight (Episode #4187!), with Michele Obama, Elmo and the White House vegetable garden. I love that Cookie Monster now gobbles vegetables along with his cookies. But still, C is for Cookie makes me want, well, a cookie! I haven't talked much about cookies on my blog yet. Nutritionally, there's not much to know. The median NuVal score for cookies is a 3. Ouch! You can see some of the NuVal scores for cookies on our newly designed website here.
There are a couple of superstars in the Cookie category. Most notable are Kashi's TLC Oatmeal Cookies. They get a NuVal score of 40 - the best we've seen in Cookies to date. Of course, I prefer Kashi's TLC Oatmeal with Chocolate cookie (it's all about chocolate) which score a 24. Still, that's a great score when it comes to cookies. If I wanted to forget about the scores, I might have a Nabisco Chips Ahoy instead. They score a 6. I might try to be a little healthier by choosing the Reduced Fat version of Chips Ahoy. I wouldn't bother. They get exactly the same score as the regular version - a 6! I'll just be sure to have my cookie with a big glass of skim milk, which gets an almost perfect NuVal score of 91.

I probably only have a very small window of Sesame Street Love left in my household. You know Hannah Montanna is going to be knocking on my door soon. My son now knows that there's more to life than PBS. He's quickly teaching his sister how to find Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel. So tonight, I'm going to have my cookie and eat it too, as we all Sing A Song. Enjoy!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Ladies Who Lunch

One of my goals is to raise two kids who appreciate good and nutritious food. When it comes to eating out, this can be a real challenge. So often, the children's menu is filled with the same old predictable choices: chicken nuggets, grilled cheese, hot dog, etc. The Boston Globe ran a great article this week about restaurants that do a better job of offering nutritious and creative dishes for kids.

My sisters and I have a new Friday tradition that includes exercise and lunch. Since we all have very different lives and schedules, we were so excited to find one day that we could get together for a few hours. First, let me introduce you to our clan.

There's Me, of course, Mom of two. I work for NuVal, teach group exercise part-time, and love motherhood, cooking and all things healthy.

There's Julie, owner of Rhode Island Pilates Studio. She is married and is about to become the proud owner of a new puppy, Lily.

There's April, busy Nurse and Mom to a preschooler and infant, both girls.

And Kristin, newly engaged, she works in Customer support for a major retailer.

Friday Lunch takes place with two kids in tow, my 4 year old daughter and my new niece. First, we get a great Pilates Reformer workout in at RI Pilates Studio. If you've never tried using Pilates apparatus (chair, Cadillac, Reformer, barrel, towers), you are missing out! It's amazing!

Then, it's off for a healthy lunch. On this particular Friday, we went to The Garden Grille Cafe in Pawtucket, RI.

The Garden Grille serves vegetarian, vegan and raw foods. I had heard about it so I was very excited to try it out.

On this particular Friday, Kristin was unable to join us but my mom came with us too, so we had a nice big party to try out different dishes. Julie and April are always seeking out something Mexican, so they went for the Garden Grille Nachos and Burrito.

Mom and I shared the Grilled Asparagus Wrap and the Roasted Butternut Squash Quesadilla, on the advice of one of my favorite Spinning instructors.

>My niece munched on a Kashi TLC Ripe Strawberry Cereal Bar, which gets a NuVal score of 30, in case you're wondering. April made a great choice there! That's a great score when you compare it to Nature Valley Chewy Granola Bar Strawberry (Score of 10) or Quaker Chewy 90-calorie Strawberry Vanilla (Score of 9).

After perusing the menu, I thought that the Vegan Gluten Free Macaroni and Cheese with Broccoli would be the best choice for my daughter.

The Verdict:
The grown-ups loved our dishes. Lots of vegetables and yet, so satisfying. I would love to go back for dinner as they have a beer and wine menu.

My daughter ate all of the broccoli out of her mac & cheese and then picked at the macaroni. Instead, she really wanted Auntie Julie and Auntie April's nachos. And then, she remembered that I had a snack pack of Cheetos in my bag (don't ask!) So, she grabbed them and started eating Cheetos. In a vegan restaurant. With orange Cheeto cheese all over her face. Not my proudest Mommy moment.

I would love to see The Garden Grille put a few kid-friendly choices on their menu. How about a smiley face made out of vegetables? With some kind of vegan dip in the middle? The possiblities are endless and The Garden Grille is the kind of restaurant that would do it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Chicken Soup with Rice

Well, it's official. Our household has fallen victim to the flu. Since my pediatrician is not testing for H1N1, we're not sure which flu. But it is the flu. And today, I am the latest victim, so this blogpost comes to you in a feverish haze. I apologize in advance for any typos!

Basically, my strategy when the kids get a cold or the flu is to push fluids - even if it means bending the rules. So, yes, you can have a popsicle before noontime. And yes, you can have yet another juice box, even though we are at home and I ordinarily only allow them to be consumed outside of the house since they are more expensive than bottled juice. And yes, you can have way, way, way more than the recommended 4 ounces of juice per day. And you can drink it in the TV room while sitting on the couch (instead of in the kitchen at the table). What? You'd like another glass or purple Kool-Aid? No problem.

There's nothing like some Chicken Noodle Soup or Chicken Soup with Rice when you're feeling under the weather. I make a to-die-for Chicken and Matzoh Ball Soup. It's sort of a combination of my Italian cooking upbringing with some Jewish penicillin thrown in. I first make a roast chicken (like on a Sunday) and then make the broth from the remains. But, as I mentioned above, I now have the flu too, so I've only got enough energy to pop open a couple of cans. Plus, truth be told, my kids hate my homemade chicken soup. Well, actually, my 4 year old daughter eats it, but picks out the escarole. And my 6 year old son, no way!

What the kids really want is Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup with one of their favorite characters on the label. I love how when we shop, these cans with Princesses, Cars, and Shrek, are strategically placed right at kid-eye-height. They always end up in our cart. But here is the good news that I so need on this flu-ridden day. These soups score OK on the NuVal scale when compared to regular canned soups. In fact, Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup with Disney Cars on the label scores higher than Cambell's Select Harvest Healthy Request Chicken with Egg Noodles. Woo hoo! Check out these scores:

Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup with Cars: 35
Healthy Choice Chicken & Rice: 33
Progresso Healthy Favorites Chicken Noodle Ready to Serve: 30
Campbell's Chicken Alphabet Soup: 29
Campbell's Select Harvest Healthy Request Chicken with Egg Noodles: 29
Progresso Chicken Noodle Ready to Serve: 25
Campbell's Chicken Soup with Rice: 24

Campbell's Soup has made a good effort in reducing the amount of sodium in their kids' soups, as reported here in this Supermarket News article. Good for you, Campbell's! And this mom, who should probably be headed to bed, says thanks!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween - One Day or a Season?

Like so many of our holidays, it seems like Halloween is no longer one day. It has truly become a "Season". In our town, we kick off with the Annual Halloween Parade, a great event that we never miss. There's also "Wear Your Costume" days at Sports Class, Ballet, Gymnastics, and Daycare. And don't forget the classroom party. My goal is just to get to 9 pm on Oct 31st with two children's costumes more or less intact!

In addition to the kids' Halloween festivities, we have my sister's Annual Halloween party this Friday night. This is no ordinary Halloween party. My sister has some very competitive friends when it comes to costumes. And although I grumble about not having time to put together a costume for myself (note all those activities I just mentioned in the previous paragraph), my sister usually comes to my rescue with an idea for me and even some clothes. Yes, my sister had held onto that 1980's Jane Fonda leotard that was the basis for my 80s Workout Girl costume last year. And yes, my DH is wearing his real fraternity sweatshirt from the same era, albeit inside out and stuffed a la Hans & Franz.

In an attempt to get through the Halloween Season without the dreaded weight gain (that's what Christmas is for!), I am bringing veggies with my favorite yogurt dip to my sister's Party for Grown-ups.

Dannon Fat Free Plain Yogurt - NuVal Score of 99
Athena Feta Cheese Crumbles - NuVal Score of 24
Fresh Chopped Dill

But back to the Kid Stuff. It was a glorious fall day for our Halloween parade.

My son had been begging me to have a Halloween party this year. However, between my trip to Denver, our downstairs bathroom completely gutted, and our front steps under significant renovation, I opted to invite just 3 close friend-families over for a "party". Thankfully, this appeased my son.

They happily made some goodie bags.

And put on their Costumes for the first time.

I wonder what those costumes will look like by Saturday night?

As for Post-Parade snacks, I decided to go healthy (shocker!) and I took the opportunity to try Del Monte's Arizona Chicken Chili. When we were at the American Dietetic Association Conference, Del Monte was sampling this chili just a few booths away. So when people came to see us to learn about NuVal at our booth, they were carrying these beautiful steaming bowls of a hearty yet healthy chili. Thankfully, Rob Keane, our Senior Manager of Communications, grabbed the recipe for me. You can find it here.

I bought the exact ingredients denoted in the recipe because I was curious to see how they scored.

Del Monte Fresh Cut 50% Less Salt Corn gets a NuVal score of 61

Del Monte Diced Tomatoes with Garlic & Onion gets a NuVal score of 35

That 35 is a little low for the diced tomatoes. I probably could have bought a No-Salt version and added my own onion and garlic. Next time!

The recipe called for black beans. Since NuVal is not yet on any grocery store shelves in my area (although I really wish Stop & Shop, Roche Bros, or Big Y would join us), I have to go by memory. And that is fading fast as I approach the big 4-0! So, I bought Goya Regular Black Beans at Stop & Shop for a NuVal score of 54. A better choice would have been Full Circle Organic Canned Black Beans (which I can get a Roche Bros) for a score of 82.

The boneless chicken breast in this recipe with a score of 39 is a much healthier alternative to the traditional ground chuck, which scores a 26.

I added two things to the Del Monte recipe: 1 tsp of cumin and 1/4 tsp of red pepper flakes.

We topped our chili with all the suggested garnishes, (grated Monterey Jack Cheese, diced avocado, sliced green onions) and added chopped cilantro and a dollop of non-fat Chobani Greek yogurt (NuVal score of 94) in lieu of sour cream. It was so yummy and it made great lunches during the busy week.

I don't know about you, but I often find that I'm all "holidayed" out by the time the holiday actually gets here. We get so caught up in all the festivities, that by the time, Halloween actually arrives, I do not want to see any more orange and black for a long, long time. In the meantime, I'll try to pick just a couple of things that I really want to do together as a family.
1) Carve our pumpkin
2) Make some pumpkin seeds
3) Watch It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, altogether, as a family (not with kids in front of TV, mom making dinner, Dad en route on train).

And what do I want to do at 9 pm on October 31st? Once my sugared up kids are in bed, I want to curl up on the couch with a big glass of red wine (or a pumpkin martini) and watch my favorite Halloween Chick Flick, Practical Magic. I have to get that guilty pleasure in. Because you know what season starts on November 1st. And it ain't about giving thanks.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Family Dinner

I think that most parents have that “Ah Ha!” moment when they realize that they are cooking two dinners a night: one for the kids and one for the grown-ups. It’s really not an “Ah Ha!” moment. It’s more of an “I’ve Reached Rock Bottom” moment. When you think of the progression of how our kids eat (first breast milk or formula, then baby foods, then finger foods, then table food), you can see how this happens. You start off making two dinners (because pureed peas really aren’t all that appetizing to most grown-ups) and you just keep going with that habit. And for some families, where say, one parent is home or partially home with the kids and the other parent works late, you end up feeding the kids some sort of "kid dinner" and then eating a grown-up dinner later with your spouse. And if both parents work, you end up feeding the kids something quick so that you can get bedtime started and have a grown-up meal later or rely on take-out.
I can’t quite remember when I made that rock bottom realization that I was cooking two meals (maybe when the kids were 3 and 1?), but I do recall that I made a resolution to only make one meal per night.
Here’s a study that makes a case for starting Family Dinner while your kids are still young. A new report by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University found that compared to teens who have frequent family dinners those who have infrequent family dinners are twice as likely to use tobacco or marijuana; more than one and a half times likelier to use alcohol; and twice as likely to expect to try drugs in the future. Wow! I am lucky in that my DH and I have both been able to work our schedules so that we can all be home for dinner together about 4 or 5 nights out of 7. It also helps that the kids are still little (ages 6 and 4) so we’re not juggling weeknight football practices and/or baseball games just yet. Still between work, school, homework, gymnastics, sports class, soccer, ballet, and cub scouts, fitting in time to make a family dinner and sit down and eat it simultaneously is a challenge.
About a year and a half ago, during a silent auction for Hearts At Play, my neighbor’s charity event for Children’s Hospital Boston, I won a gift certificate to Dream Dinners in Plainville, MA. I had heard of Dream Dinners but was hesitant to try it out for several reasons. I like to cook, I did my own weekly meal preparation on Sundays, it seemed expensive, etc. But I thought I’d try it. So I selected 6 meals to make and booked a session.

Dream Dinners is a meal preparation location where you can make healthy meals for your family and store them in the freezer for the busy weeks ahead. I remember my first Dream Dinners experience vividly. I went by myself on a Friday night. I was a little nervous because I thought that everyone would be there with friends and I would be the only one solo. Not true. Dream Dinners was buzzing with busy moms (and a couple of dads), donned in aprons, efficiently assembling their meals. There was good ‘80s music playing (Dream Dinners has figured out their demographic), everything was well-organized, and a great team of helpers was there to assist me in making my recipes, even cleaning up after me. Heaven!

Here’s how it works. Let’s say you are making Grilled Mediterranean Chicken with Polenta. You go to that station and you find all of your ingredients waiting for you with the right measuring utensil right in the container.

So, if you need ½ teaspoon of Kosher salt, the ½ teaspoon is right in the salt container waiting for you. The directions are clearly laid out for you and since I usually attend on a Friday night, when I am brain-dead after the busy week, I am thankful for that.

You assemble all your ingredients into heavy-duty plastic bags or tin pans, depending on the recipe, and finish by sticking the cooking instructions right on the finished package.

The amazing thing is that you end up assembling 6 – 9 meals in just over an hour! There’s no shopping and no cleaning up. I usually spend about $150 each month at Dream Dinners. When I think about how much I spend if I want to make a new recipe from a magazine (it’s usually over $20 and the leftover ingredients go to waste), the economics make sense to me. The biggest selling point for me was the time factor. Now I don’t have to spend every Sunday cooking for hours. I can focus on making one or two family favorites, a big salad, or some interesting vegetables.
I do know some people who have tried Dream Dinners and have stopped because they found that their kids won’t eat them. To get around that, I sometimes modify the recipe for my kids. I can cut back on the spices or keep their meat or chicken plain. Most things work so that we can keep with my goal of making only one meal a night. And sometimes, especially when dinner is sandwiched (no pun intended) between Sports Class and Cub Scouts, we indulge in something that only grown-ups would want, like Salmon and Crab Pinwheels, and the kids get either a Garden Burger or Chicken Nuggets with Fries. When the going gets tough, and I have to resort to Chicken Nuggets, they key is to pick the right kind to get the best NuVal score.
Consider this. I could make your kids a “traditional” Chicken Nuggets & Fries dinner:
Tyson Regular Chicken Nuggets score a 14
Ore Ida Crispers Crispy Shaped Potatoes score an 11

Or I could trade up for better NuVal scores:
Morningstar Farms Frozen Hot & Spicy Chicken scores a 29
Cascadian Farms French Fries score a 76

An even better choice would be to swap the vegetarian chicken nugget with a veggie burger:
Garden Burgers score a 32
Boca Burgers score a 54

I guess no matter what I serve, the important thing is that we gather around the table and have a Family Dinner most nights. For me the proof that we’ve succeeded at doing the Family Dinner thing is hearing my 6 year old son ask, “How was your day at work, Mom?” Love it!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Taste As You Go

Head on over to Taste As You Go where I'm guest-posting today. Michelle Judd is a new Twitter friend of mine who lives in NYC (lucky girl - I miss it sometimes!). Michelle blogs about her great adventures in the city as she visits restaurants and tries new foods. She also is a healthy cook who is training for the Philadelphia marathon. I love to read her latest adventures and cheer her on. For her blog, I challenged myself to make the best-scoring pasta dinner ever! Just what Michelle needs for her upcoming big race!

Monday, October 19, 2009

FNCE Day 2

There was a time in my life (B.C. - Before Children) when I traveled for business a lot. I mean A LOT. So, I've stayed in a lot of hotels, sometimes for months at a time, and I've been to a lot of multi-day meetings and conventions. But this has been my first time at a convention for Registered Dietitians. I have made 3 key observations:

1. There are a lot of women. I mean A LOT. If there are any bachelors out there wondering where all the women are, just find out where the next ADA convention will be. Hemi Weingarten, the blogger for Fooducate, noticed this too and had a great blogpost yesterday, noting that 97% of dietitians are women.

2. The hotel gym is packed at 5 am. I ended up on a broken elliptical this morning (which was fine - I managed) because these RDs really practice what they preach. They live a healthy lifestyle. It is a refreshing change from some of the other industries I've experienced.

3. RDs are passionate about food. Whether it's been on the convention floor, at a fabulous Denver restaurant, or during a busy reception, I have so enjoyed being in the company of these women (and some men!) who have a true appreciation for all things culinary.

Day 2 at FNCE was even busier than Day 1. In addition to the 4 of us who came from NuVal to work our booth, we were joined by Shari Steinbach, lead dietitian at Meijer, one of NuVal's retailer partners.

Dr. Keith Ayoob, a member of NuVal's Scientific Advisory Board, was also on hand to teach RDs all about the NuVal system.

Dr. Ayoob congratulated Laura Sutherland as we all celebrated our latest retailer partner: United Texas Supermarkets.

We all were really busy spreading the NuVal work to the RDs.

We were surprised and thrilled when another member of NuVal's Scientific Advisory Board stopped by: Dr. Gail Frank.

These visits from our Scientific advisors was a great reminder that NuVal is deeply rooted in science and it is an independent scoring system.

The day culminated with a great presentation and panel discussion called Cleanup in Aisle 4: The Impact of Food Labeling Systems on the Grocery Industry and Consumers. Annette Maggi, our Senior Director of Nutrition, gave a great presentation on NuVal.

SmartChoices was represented by Dr. Susan Crockett of General Mills and Susan Moores played referee!

Dr. Crockett explained that while the SmartChoices program is not for profit, food manufacturers have to pay to participate. So, if they would like the green checkmark on the front of their package they need to meet certain nutritional criteria and pay for it. I feel badly for the smaller manufacturers whose products may meet the criteria for SmartChoices but who may not be able to afford to pay for the checkmark. Annette clearly explained that NuVal scores all products and that we do not charge manufacturers.

The day wrapped up with a wonderful dinner at Restaurant Kevin Taylor. Annette, Laura and I dined there with an incredibly well-rounded dietitian from a very exciting and innovative prospective retailer. More to come on that topic.

Day 3 of FNCE will probably leave me with no time for blogging. While FNCE has been a great time, and I love coming to conferences like this more than ever. Now, as a busy working mom juggling career and household, a conference is more like a vacation than it ever was B.C.

I can't wait to see my husband and kids tomorrow night!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

FNCE Day 1

For those of you who don't know (and until recently, I did not know), FNCE is the American Dietetic Association's Food & Nutrition Conference and Expo. It is attended annually by about 8,000 - 10,000 registered dietitians (RDs). Another thing that I have learned since coming here is that RDs work in many different capacities including hospitals, schools, government agencies, the armed forces, corporations, food manufacturers, retailers, universities and private practice, just to name a few. This year, the conference is being held in Denver, the mile-high city.

I definitely felt the effects of the change in altitude yesterday. After hydrating, however, and getting some rest, I felt much better this morning and managed a 4:30 AM run in my hotel's fitness center. Fortunately, my body is still on Eastern Time, so it felt like 6:30 to me.

Denver is unique and the Rockies are breathtaking.

I keep humming John Denver's Rocky Mountain High in my head!

We have 4 people here representing NuVal. Rob Keane, our Senior Manager of Communications, is one of the best writers I know!

Laura Sutherland, who is Director of Customer Management and Manufacturer Relations, is full of southern hospitality and charm.

And Annette Maggi, our Senior Director of Nutrition for NuVal, is a real superstar. Here she is with Dr. Eric Decker, Head of the Food Science Department at the University of Massachusetts and a member of NuVal's Scientific Advisory Board.

Our booth is in a great location. We are right next to Subway.

And behind us is the booth that I would vote Most Beautiful: Wild Blueberries. Blueberries, even frozen ones without additives, score 100 on the NuVal scale.

The supermarket shelves that we set up are coming in most handy.

We can show that broccoli gets a NuVal score of 100. Add cheese and that score changes to 39. Ouch!

Here is Laura showing a dietitian how NuVal works.

And I am sitting down at our lovely conference table to review the ONQI algorithm, the formula which drives our NuVal scores.

We were all talked out by the end of the day. It was a great time to go find ChobaniNicki. The Chobani booth was packed and she was very busy.

I got my favorite, non-fat vanilla for a great NuVal score of 73! Thanks Chobani. I overheard them say that they went through 2500 Chobani samples today.

Well, my feet hurt by the time we closed up our booth. How I wish I were taller than 5' 4" so that I could get away with wearing flat shoes. Laura and I splurged on a pedi-cab ride back to our hotel.

Unfortunately, it wasn't until we were in the lobby that we discovered we were in the wrong hotel! Oy!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Greetings from ADA in Denver!

For the next few days, I'll be blogging from the ADA (American Dietetic Association) conference in Denver. I arrived today after what turned out to be a great three-and-a-half-hour plane ride. I was dreading my middle seat, but it turned out that I was sitting between a Registered Dietitian who works for the National Dairy Council and another woman who is an author of children's books, including some of the American Girl Doll books. Not only were both my seatmates incredibly courteous (thank goodness considering the duration of the flight and my bad seat), but it was so interesting to speak with both of them. We covered all my passions: parenting, books, the Boston Globe, children's literature, Julie and Julia, cooking, nutrition, work. It was a great ride.

The Colorado convention center is huge.

And outside of it is a ginormous bear.

Luckily for me, two of my colleagues had already arrived and had done most of the legwork for our NuVal booth.

It looks great.

And we are showcasing some NuVal scores with our supermarket shelves.

Back at home, I missed a milestone. My son lost his top front tooth!

I've given explicit instructions to the tooth fairy!

It's going to be a busy but fun 3 days meeting lots of dietitians and teaching them all about NuVal. I am really looking forward to meeting many RD's whom I've met via my blog and Twitter. Stay tuned!