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!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Farewell to Gourmet Magazine

Wednesday's Boston Globe included an article on Conde Nast's plans to pull the plug on Gourmet Magazine. In it, the most famous chefs and foodies in Boston were interviewed and they added their commentary on the 68-year-old magazine's demise. Food historian and author, Laura Shapiro, who reviewed the movie "Julie and Julia" in a recent issue added, "This is another nail in the coffin of literate journalism."

Now, I have been a subscriber of Cooking Light and Weight Watchers Magazine in the past, but never Gourmet. My Dear Husband and I, however, back in the day (i.e., before kids) used to buy an issue of Gourmet every now and then and try out some new recipes. The result of that is that we have some old dog-eared and food-splattered copies of Gourmet tucked in between our cookbooks.

One of my favorite recipes that my DH likes to make for me is Spicy Sauteed Broccolini With Garlic from the January 2002 issue.

2 lb Broccolini or broccoli rabe, ends trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp dried hot red pepper flakes
1/4 low-fat chicken stock or low-sodium fat-free chicken broth

Cook broccolini in a 6-8 quart pot of boiling salted water until stems are crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain in a colander, then plunge into cold water to stop cooking. Drain again and pat dry with paper towels. (Wow - that's labor-intensive. Now you can see why we did this Pre-Kids!)

Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Add half of garlic and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes and saute, stirring, until garlic is golden, about 1 minute. Add half of Broccolini and 2 tablespoons stock and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. (OK, dividing ingredients makes me crazy! Again, a recipe we used to make Pre-Kids!)

Transfer to a serving dish, then repeat with remaining oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, Broccolini, and stock. Season with salt.

Today, when my DH wants to do something particularly romantic for me, he buys the ingredients for this dish that I love so. Usually the Broccolini or broccoli rabe sits in our refrigerator for about a week, wilting by the day, until he finds the time to drag out the big pot and fill the sink with ice water - all between work, home improvements, cub scout meetings, soccer, lawn care, lunch-making and laundry. But eventually he gets to it, knowing how much I just love my leafy greens that have been treated Gourmet-style.

So, why all this talk about broccolini and broccoli rabe. Two reasons! First, I just finished reading Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food where he recommends, "Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants." It was a great reminder that the best foods out there are just that: Food. Not processed food. And plants. Like vegetables and fruit. While I feel I do a really good job of following his advice, I also find that I get into a rut of eating the same things all the time. It's time to try some new vegetables. Second, if there is one thing I've learned from working at NuVal it is this: Vegetables are Rock Stars. With rare exceptions (iceberg lettuce gets an 82), almost all vegetables score in the very high 90s or 100. And I feel my best when I eat lots of them. Broccolini and broccoli rabe both score 100.

Was I surprised by the Gourmet announcement last week? A little bit, but then, not really. I have some cookbooks that I will never give away and my DH just gave me a copy of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking as an anniversary gift (and yes, I find that romantic). But these days, when I am looking for a new recipe, I do what we're all doing. I go online. Bonsoir, Gourmet.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Lazy Morning Breakfast

There's nothing like a 3-day weekend. This Columbus Day was special because the whole family either had or took the day off. My plan for the Monday holiday was to drop the kids at my gym's babysitting and take a great cardio class while my dear husband spent some time at home painting the bathroom that we're remodeling. Well, that plan was dashed when we all slept until 9 am! I guess we all needed our beauty sleep. We also needed a lazy, quality-time family day since I'm now headed into an 11-day work week that includes a trip to the American Dietetic Association conference in Denver this coming weekend. So instead of exercise and home improvement, we spent some fun time in the kitchen trying a few new things.

The kids wanted pancakes so it was the perfect time to try out the Aunt Jemima Whole Wheat Blend Pancake mix that I picked up on a recent shopping trip. I figured that it must get a better NuVal score than the Original and I was right!

Aunt Jemima Whole Wheat Blend Pancake Mix 24
Aunt Jemima Original Pancake Mix 5

I also will confess right here that I used to give my daughter Aunt Jemima Frozen Mini Pancakes - until I found out that they scored a 6! I'm still getting over the guilt.

Here's what the pancakes looked like. You can see that they are pretty wheaty!

Somehow the kids could sense that Mommy & Daddy really wanted to hang out, read the paper & drink coffee. The sight of Mommy & Daddy relaxing on the couch is foreign to my children. Mommy & Daddy must be busy, busy, busy. So, they next asked for fruit smoothies. No problem. I got out my old blender (a 12-year old wedding gift that my sister makes fun of) and put in the following ingredients:

some plain Greek yogurt (Score of 91)
some skim milk (Score of 91)
a banana (Score of 91)
some strawberries (Score of 100)
some frozen blueberries (Score of 100)

That was one healthy fruit smoothie. And somehow, everything is more exciting when you put a straw into it.

The kids loved the whole wheat pancakes so we made a whole bunch and put the extra in the freezer for quick heat-ups during this crazy stretch of work that I have ahead of me.

In the meantime, I'll be preparing for my absence from home for four whole days. Thankfully, my mom will come to the rescue, my DH is SuperMan, and my BFF can't wait to take by daughter to ballet (she has 2 boys!). The bad news is that I will be away for my daughter's School Picture Day. Horrors! I mean my DH is amazing, but his talents end when it comes to doing my daughter's hair. One of my friends suggested that I cancel my business trip. Oh well, there's always Picture Retake Day!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Macaroni & Cheese PLEASE!!!!!!

As I mentioned a couple of blog posts back, I got out to a Price Chopper store last week to help with an upcoming news story on NuVal. It was great to walk the store and see over 10,000 NuVal scores on their shelves. While I work for NuVal and get to see scores all the time, it really hits home when you can see them on the supermarket shelf and see how the products you like score.

And that is when I saw it. The product I have been tossing into my cart for over a year now in a quick attempt to avoid a mid-aisle meltdown: Scooby Doo Macaroni & Cheese. OK, I will confess. It is not just Scooby Doo who makes it into my cart. It's SpongeBob Square Pants, Pokemon and Spider Man too. Back when the kids were smaller, before they had been sucked in by the power of Marketing to Children, we used to buy Annie's Macaroni & Cheese. Once I started working for NuVal (but before we at NuVal had started scoring products in the Macaroni & Cheese category), I was pretty sure that Annie's really wasn't going to score much better. So I succumbed to the whine of "Mooooooommmmmm! Can we get Scooby Doo Macaroni and Cheese? Please!!!!!!!!" and bought it. It also does the trick on especially busy weeknights when I need there to be few fights at the dinner table.

So, (drum roll please), here you go, the scores my Mommy friends have been waiting for:

Kraft SpongeBob SquarePants Macaroni and Cheese: 4
Kraft Spiderman Macaroni and Cheese: 5
Kraft ScoobyDoo Macaroni and Cheese: 5
Kraft Easy Mac: 8

Now, Kraft does have 2 products that get a slightly better score.

Kraft White Cheddar Shell Macaroni and Cheese: 10
Kraft Whole Grain Elbow Macaroni and Cheese: 18

That's great. But my kids want the ones with SpongeBob, Spiderman, and Scooby Doo!

And as for Annie's, my instincts were right. The regular Annie's Macaroni and Cheese does not score any better than Kraft. And the Annie's Whole Wheat version scores only slightly better than Kraft.

Annie's HomeGrown Cheddar Cheese Regular Macaroni and Cheese: 5
Annie's HomeGrown White Cheddar Shell Macaroni and Cheese: 5
Annie's HomeGrown Whole Wheat Shell Macaroni and Cheese: 21

Now, I know that some of my Super-Mommy friends will leave me comments with their recipes for homemade macaroni and cheese that has butternut squash in it and wheat germ too. That happened to me on CafeMom back when I wrote about Pepperidge Farm Goldfish vs. Annie's Cheddar Bunnies. A mom wrote in and gave me her recipe for making her own "Fishies" from scratch. Yes, she shaped them into little fish. I am not making this up. Of course you could make your own Macaroni and Cheese and with the right ingredients, it would be healthier. Use a Whole Wheat Pasta, use a reduced fat cheese or a veggie slice alternative. Check out some NuVal Cheese scores here and let your imagination run wild. But that is not the point! The point is that you are busy and your daughter has gymnastics and your son has cub scouts and you need to finish that thing for work and oh yeah, you need to get dinner on the table and get your kids to eat it quick so that everyone can back out the door for aforementioned activities.

You know what, you're better off making a grilled cheese with a good 100% whole wheat bread!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Happy Hour!

This weekend I heard that the Chobani website has some great recipes that use one of my favorite ingredients: Greek yogurt. Now, let me just say up front, that NuVal is not partnering in any way with Chobani nor am I being compensated by Chobani for blogging about them. I just really like the stuff. When I saw that there was a recipe that included two of my favorite ingredients (Greek yogurt and avocados), I had to try out this recipe: Holy Guacamole!

I bought my ingredients on Saturday during my regular shopping trip which was sans kids thanks to cancelled soccer. Woo hoo! I carefully chose my avocados. My sister Julie, a Mexican food aficionado, once explained to me that you should try to make a dent in the avocado with your thumb. If the dent stays, you're good. The avocados I chose passed the test, but I also put them in a paper bag over night so that they would ripen just a bit more.

Sunday proved to be busy with church, my DH working on remodeling our downstairs bathroom, and me getting ready for FNCE, the American Dietetic Association conference coming up in a couple of weeks. However, since this great recipe took only 15 minutes, I whipped it up around just as the New England Patriots were winning their game and called The Neighbors Most Likely to Drop Everything and Come Over for a Cocktail at a Moment's Notice. Since it suddenly felt like summer again, we paired it up with frozen margaritas for the Moms and cold Guinness for the Dads.

Other than the cocktails, our little Happy Hour got a great NuVal Score. The recipe consists mostly of Avocados (Score of 89) and non-fat plain Chobani yogurt (score of 94). While I could have gone for Garden of Eatin No Salt Blue Corn Tortilla Chips, the highest ranking Salty Snack with a score of 52, I like salt. Instead, we had Price Chopper Tortilla Chip Blue Corn Flax (score of 46), which I had picked up during my trip to Price Chopper last week.

The verdict? We all loved Holy Guacamole. It is a little creamier than your usual guacamole, but it went down quick with our blue chips. We also thought that it would make a great spread on a tortilla with grilled chicken or in a wrap for a sandwich. So, I'm off to buy 2 more avocados to make some more. You will find me in the produce aisle poking my thumbs in the veggies!

Friday, October 2, 2009

The San Francisco Treat

One of the things that I love about my job is that I get to have all these amazing "Ah ha!" moments as we score more and more products at NuVal. This happened again last week when the scores for Rice were unveiled. But before I go into that, let me just confess right now: I have been feeding my kids some nutritionally-delinquent food. Yesterday, while out at a Price Chopper store for a television shoot, I had a great chance to walk the aisles and see tons of NuVal scores on the shelf. It was then that I saw it: Knorr Rice Sides Rice Pilaf with a score of (brace yourself!) 3! Three!!! And that score is for the dry mix. It gets a 3 before you put butter or oil in it. I have put a couple bags of that rice in my shopping cart every week for the past few years. They're always on sale, 10 for $10. My kids call it "our favorite yellow rice." I am awash in Mommy Guilt.

Of course, I never expected the Knorr Rice Pilaf to be a nutritional juggernaut. But a 3?! Why did I do it? I blame it on my mother (who I hope will find that humorous when she reads this post). Please see disclaimer below. Growing up in the '70s and '80s, my mom made Rice A Roni (the San Francisco treat, sing it!) a lot. With so many mothers headed into the workforce at that time (mine went to nursing school and then worked as a nurse) convenience foods became all the rage. I loved Rice A Roni and so as a mom, I was resorting to Knorr Rice Pilaf which cooks in 7 minutes and does not require the pan-browning that Rice A Roni does.

Last week, I attended a webinar that Annette Maggi, MS, RD, NuVal's Director of Nutrition, facilitated. During the session, she unveiled rice scores which, she explained, are a commodity (just like produce or meat). An apple is an apple no matter what color sticker is on it and it scores a 96 (unless you put caramel on it). So the commodity rice scores are:

Wild Rice 91
Brown Rice 82
White Enriched Rice 57
White Un-enriched Rice 48
White Parboiled Rice (enriched and un-enriched) 82

That last one is a shocker, isn't it? And what is parboiled white rice? I had never noticed it in the grocery store. According to Wikipedia, parboiled rice is rice that has been boiled in the husk. Parboiling makes rice easier to process by hand, improves its nutritional profile, and changes its texture. Wikipedia also explains that parboiling rice drives nutrients, especially thiamine, from the bran into the grain, so that parboiled white rice is 80% nutritionally similar to brown rice. Who knew?

Well, I did know that it was time to stop serving my kids Knorr Rice Pilaf and start moving them to parboiled rice. I found it at my local Stop & Shop in a ginormous bag that cost about $8. But it is huge and well worth it. I made it this week, served it with chicken and fresh green beans, and voila, shiny, happy children at my dinner table. And yes, I did top it with a little butter, but it's still gotta be better than what we were eating. Brown rice is going to be a stretch for my kids, but it is great to know that I can give them the same nutrition in a version that looks, feels and tastes like white rice.

Oh, and for those who are wondering, Rice A Roni Chicken flavor (the one my mom used to make) scores an 11. Rice A Roni offers a lower sodium alternative, but it only gives it a couple point jump, to a 13.

Disclaimer: Other than the nutritionally-lacking rice side dish my mother cooked for me as a child, she was an incredibly healthy and progressive Mom. We had no chips or soda in the house - ever. We made our own yogurt. Kids in the first grade called me Carrot Head because I always had fresh cut up vegetables for a snack. The smell of vitamin and/or health stores reminds me of my childhood to this day. She did a great job!