Back To School 1 - Page 18 - Organization is Key for Healthy Eating on the Run

Back To School 1
- Page 18
Organization is Key for Healthy Eating on the Run
By Linda L. Esterson,
Contributing Writer

As we strive to enjoy our last weeks of sun and freedom, many can’t help but think about the grind that awaits. Soon we will be overtaken by early morning alarm buzzers, crowded bus stops and crazy school schedules. Although many welcome the structure that awaits with school, homework and outside activities, countless others may dread what some feel is the biggest headache of all: making sure the family eats healthy meals, even when on the run.

Krystal Register, R.D.N., L.D.N., licensed nutritionist with Wegmans Food Markets, Maryland Division, recommends living by the Wegmans motto “Half Plate Healthy,” which refers to making sure that fruit and vegetables occupy half of the plate, and the rest can be filled with other foods. This applies to dinner, snacks and lunch, even those packed for work and school.

“It really does work with the lunch box, packing a lunch, adults for work, or also with helping kids navigate the school lunch line so they have this mindset of filling their tray even with half fruit, veggies or salad,” says Register. “And then the other half is anything else.”

The half plate healthy even applies to time when carry out is on the menu. Pizza, too, can fill half the plate, with salad occupying the rest, she says.

This method proves most successful with advanced planning. Check schedules, find recipes and create a shopping list. Theme nights like “Meatless Monday” and “Taco Tuesday” allow for variety and can actually make shopping easier.

Planning ahead is also a recommendation of Chef Shirlé Hale Koslowski, owner/executive chef of Four Corners Cuisine in Baltimore. Koslowski advises individuals to gather as many recipes as possible that seem interesting, doable and quick. She suggests spending three hours, perhaps on a Sunday when the schedule is lighter, to plan meals for the week or for two weeks. Koslowski agrees that formulating the grocery list based on the planned recipes is essential, but to also organize the list based on where items are located in the store. This allows for a quicker shopping visit, ensuring that exactly what is needed for the recipes is purchased and nothing extra is thrown in the cart. This saves money and waste as well, she says.

Another Koslowski favorite is to purchase a bunch of vegetables, whether fresh or frozen, and spend an afternoon roasting trays of vegetables.  Just like riced cauliflower is popular, it’s easy to make your own at home. Buy a cauliflower   ad or sweet potatoes, butternut squash or rutabaga. Dice the vegetable, pulse a few times in the food processor, lay it on a cookie sheet with olive oil, salt, pepper or other preferred seasonings and bake at 400 degrees for about 12-15 minutes. After cooling, pack them in large plastic containers or zip lock bags and label them by item and date so they are easily retrievable. If food is stored in the refrigerator, allow five to seven days for freshness, and in the freezer, a maximum of two months, Koslowski says.

When spending downtime cooking meals, cook extra amounts of the entrée as well, adds Register, so a change in schedule doesn’t throw off the ability to eat healthy meals.

“Cook once to serve twice,” she says. “It’s nice enough to put some chicken and vegetables on the grill for an evening meal. But then maybe turn the leftovers into a stir fry or topping for a salad or maybe throwing it all together with a broth you find in the pantry for a quick soup.”

Keeping the pantry, refrigerator and freezer well stocked is essential. This provides an assortment of items that can be combined at the last minute to create a healthy meal like a quick dinner salad of canned beans or chick peas and tuna with salad dressing. Or hard boil eggs ahead of time and they are ready to go with canned tomatoes and a quick pasta or brown rice or a frozen vegetable. Add pasta sauces or stir fry sauce and extra seasonings, and a meal is ready in a pinch. The freezer provides any easy answer as grilled chicken breasts and precooked seafood filets store easily.

Stockpiling foods also provides an easy way to involve the children in planning the meal. Directing them to the freezer to pick a vegetable makes them feel more involved.

Planning ahead is essential with children’s activities running longer and later in today’s world. That’s why Register suggests keeping meals simple so they are easy to prepare and family members can still gather around the table together to eat. Purchasing family size packages of prewashed vegetables or prepared salads make it easy to grab and go.

Register also suggests keeping a cooler in the car to easily store salads, leftovers and even peanut butter sandwiches for eating healthy on the run to sports games and dance practices.

Breakfast is also a time known for grabbing and going. According to Koslowski, who also prepares packed breakfast for her clients, making breakfast burritos for the week is easy. Scramble a large batch of eggs, line up tortillas or English muffins and fill them with the eggs, vegetables and whatever else the eaters might like. Wrap in foil or plastic and they are ready to go. A large batch of oatmeal works similarly. Once cooled, dish into individual containers that are easily microwaved. Yogurt parfaits with  fruit also serve hungry students and adults well on the run in the morning.

Koslowski also recommends bagging snacks for those necessary times running between activities. Nuts and fruit, carrots with a small container of hummus or apples with peanut butter, are cost effective and do the trick.

Planning in advance saves time, and using appliances like slow cookers and pressure cookers have become more popular in recent years.

The Instant Pot, in fact, has become one of the most popular kitchen devices, giving the Crock Pot a run for its money, says Jeffrey Eisner, who recently joined the electric pressure cooking craze and shares his passion through his website, Eisner provides easy-to-follow, step-by-step videos with hundreds of recipes.

“You can create meals in a pinch like in a witch’s cauldron,” he says. “It’s like magic in a pot if you follow a good recipe.”

Eisner suggests choosing recipes that can be reheated or make enough to last the week. His“Dress-It-Yourself ” shredded chicken yields enough for many meals. The chicken can be combined with lemon juice, siracha, barbecue sauce or mayonnaise and added to a salad or a sandwich, perfect for families in the run. Soups like ratatouille also are easy to make in the  instant Pot and the finished product can be packed in a thermos for lunch boxes. The  same  olds true for macaroni and cheese and other pasta dishes, which can be reheated in a plastic container for the kids to eat on the way to the game.

“It’s ready when you’re ready,” Eisner says. “Do chores around the house, and when you’re ready to leave, it’s ready.”

Eisner also suggests cold options like yogurt, that can be made in the Instant Pot for less of an expense and it tastes better than store bought options. Or hard boil eggs – even a dozen at a time in the Instant Pot – for a quick snack. Eisner’s egg loaf makes creating egg salad easy. For many, back to school is like New Year’s, Register says.

“It can be one of the best resolution times … more powerful than a New Year’s resolution,” she says.“Back to school time can be time to reset and prioritize family meals and maybe grabbing this idea of half quite healthy and then making a plan not just for all these schedules, but also for meals shopping and theme nights. Have new resolution to clean out the pantry, clean out the refrigerator and the freezer and get what we want in there.” •

Above left: Lunch on the go: Sundried Tomato and Chicken Wrap served with dried fruits and walnuts. Photo courtesy of Four Corners Cuisine.
Above right: “Scary Teeth Treats” kids snacks made from a quarter of and apple filled with almond butter and almond slivers. Photo courtesy of Four Corners Cuisine.