National Nutrition Month Blog
By: Payton Baker, UNL Dietetic Intern
March is underway and it’s that time of the year again. March Madness, Spring Break, and you guessed it… National Nutrition Month! Along with National Nutrition Month comes the “Go Further with Food” cooking class at the Rec and Wellness Center, Wellness Kitchen on Wednesday, March 14th from 5-6 pm. This class will discuss 12 rules to live by in order to further your goals with food, while making and enjoying a meal of Mexican Chicken, Sweet Potato and Black Bean Skillet.
National Nutrition Month themes of the last couple of years included “Put Your Best Fork Forward” (2017), “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right” (2016), and “Bite Into A Healthy Lifestyle” (2015). However, this year the AND decided to take a slightly different approach with the theme of “Go Further with Food”. “Going Further with Food” is a multifaceted theme that ultimately focuses on healthy lifestyle changes to reduce food waste. We’re going to focus on what I think are some of the more important main points within this theme. These main points are to plan meals and snacks ahead of time, be aware of portion sizes that are right for you, and to make the most of nutrient dense foods within each food group. After I have discussed these three points, the question of “why is reducing food waste important?” will be addressed.
Planning Meals and Snacks Ahead of Time
Planning meals and snacks has a variety of benefits. For this reason I think it’s a great topic of discussion to have. Some of the benefits of planning meals are: it helps with portion control, it can lead to less consumption of convenience foods, and lastly it can reduce food waste. But first, how do we properly meal plan?
The first step in meal planning is to answer the questions… how many people am I planning for? And who are these people (What will they and won’t they eat?). Once you have figured this out it’s time to think of or find the different meals for the week. When planning these meals it is important to look at how many people each recipe serves and what the portion size is. This will give you a better idea of how many meals you can get out of this dish.
**Tip: Look to see if there are any dishes you are going to make later in the week that might use some of the same ingredients as a dish you made earlier. This may not only save you prep time later in the week, but it may save you time and money at the grocery store!
After deciding on meals for the week, it may be beneficial to even write down what days of the week you will be having each meal. To plan even further, you can write down what day you are going to prep each meal as well. After you have all of your meals and snacks for the week planned out it is time to create a grocery list. I know… fun, right? But that’s okay, this grocery list shouldn’t take you long to create since you’ve already decided on your meals. You may even create the grocery list as you plan your meals. The point of this grocery list is to keep you focused on what you NEED for the week and not what you WANT for the week. Hopefully this can lead to less impulse purchases and an overall healthier grocery cart. Less impulse purchases also means more money saved!
Finally, when it comes time to cook and serve up these delicious meals, don’t forget to portion them. Find some easy to store containers that will allow you to portion out your meals. Once you do this you can store the leftovers in the refrigerator for an already portioned out, on-the-go meal for the following day.
As you can see, meal planning can help with portion control, less consumption of convenience foods, and ultimately reduce food waste. Reducing food waste is done by not providing ourselves with portions we aren’t able to eat and using leftover ingredients from earlier on in the week. However, it is important to make sure you are properly cooling and storing foods so you are able to use or consume them safely later in the week.
Be Aware of Portion Sizes that are Right for You
Being aware of portion sizes seems to be an ever increasing issue in today’s culture. It seems as if every time we look over our shoulder, both fast food restaurants and dine-in restaurants have an even bigger burger. However, we don’t have to fall into their trap. We already discussed how meal planning can help us to portion at home. So why can’t we portion when we go out to eat? The answer is… we can!
One of the first steps to take when portioning at a dine-in restaurant is to simply ask the waiter “what is the portion like for this dish?” If what they describe seems like it will be far more than a meal or two for you, you can then consider a different option. If you decide to try the dish, no problem. Your next step takes place when your food arrives. At this point you can ask for a to-go box. Once you get your to-go box, use your best judgement to give yourself the proper portion for dinner. Place the rest of the meal in the to-go box. Hopefully, what you don’t eat is close to the proper portion for another meal. Once again, this not only helps you to not overeat, but it saves you money.
Fast food can be a tougher task to portion out. This is because fast food doesn’t keep quite as well as “fresh” food. For this reason, portioning is going to be important at the time of selecting your meal. Many fast food restaurants now have a variety of sizes for different menu options. For example, McDonalds now has a Mac Jr., the Big Mac, and the Grand Mac. If you decide to go with the Big Mac, select the Mac Jr. along with a small fry. Along with this you can order a small drink or simply just ask for a water cup. On top of portioning at restaurants, it should be noted that many restaurants now offer healthier alternatives that everyone may not be aware of. I would encourage people to take a look at all of the different options before selecting your meal.
Hopefully following these tips will lead to a healthier you. However, not only can they help you be healthier, but they can reduce food loss and waste. By portioning out and properly storing your meals from dine-in restaurants, your food will no longer go to waste. By selecting smaller and more realistic portions at fast food restaurants, we shouldn’t have leftover fast food that doesn’t store very well. These will prevent leftover food from going bad and ultimately reducing food loss and waste.
Eating Nutrient Dense Foods within Each Food Group
By eating nutrient dense foods from a variety of food groups we can lower our caloric intake while getting the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that we need. Getting a wide variety of these nutrient dense foods will become easier as we plan meals and will play an important role in eating the proper portions. A great way to do this is to follow the 10 tips of MyPlate listed below:
- Find your healthy eating style
- Make half your plate fruits and veggies
- Focus on whole fruits
- Vary your veggies
- Make half your grains whole grains
- Move to low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt
- Vary your protein routine
- Drink and eat beverages and food with less sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars
- Drink water instead of sugary drinks
- Everything you eat and drink matters
Eating these nutrient dense foods will fill us up faster than “empty calories” or foods that are high in calories, but low in nutrients such as fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. By eating these nutrient dense foods you truly are “going further with food”. You are eating less food, but giving your body more vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial nutrients than if you were eating more “empty calorie” foods.
Why Reduce Food Waste?
Lastly, I am going to provide some information on why reducing food waste is important. These statistics come from the Further with Food Center for Food Loss and Waste Solutions: https://furtherwithfood.org/understand-the-issue/
The AND is a founding member of this Center and is committed to cutting food loss and waste in half by 2030, within the US.
- We need to improve food security due to an increase in population. It’s estimated that by 2050 the population of those living in a city will rise by 2.5-3 billion people. If this is the case, nutritious, sustainable and safe food is going to be at an even higher demand. Reducing food waste can play a huge impact in providing the solution.
- Safe and wholesome food that is currently being wasted, can feed people who are hungry right now and can reduce food insecurity.
- Reducing food loss and waste can reduce unnecessary expenses. It’s estimated that the average household could save up to $371 annually by reducing their food loss and waste.
- Food loss and waste increases the cost of food in households, which cuts into the affordability of a more nutritious diet. Anywhere from $90 to $107 billion worth of food is uneaten each year in the US alone. This cost the average family of four around $1,500 annually.
- Reducing food waste can help conserve and protect natural resources. When foods go uneaten, that is wasted resources. In the US, over 2% of the energy use is used on food that is ultimately not eaten. That equals out to about 586 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity or enough to cover the electricity for about 54 million households a year.
- Reducing food loss could help reduce climate change. This is because both food production and disposal create greenhouse gases, which ultimately contribute to climate change.