Amtrak is a culinary wasteland

I am blogging to you all from the comfort of the freezing cold, air-conditioned Acela car en route to our nation’s lovely capital (and my hometown) of Washington, D.C.  Though I am shivering now, I know that the minute I step outside it will be 90 degrees and wiltingly hot.  This morning, I think my brain was somewhere else.  I awoke in a total haze, made some coffee, started to pack up my stuff and make a salad to bring on the train.  I was so excited because the salad I made was absolutely delicious and totally healthy – spinach with red peppers, cherry tomatoes, avocado, some apple slices and lentils and a low-fat wasabi-miso dressing to top it off.  Mmmmm I am still dreaming about it now.

I guess it was just one of those days where it wasn’t really in the cards for anything to go my way.  The elevator took FOREVER and when it finally arrived it was totally full and I got pushed up next to some people with bikes.  Then, the cabdriver was literally the slowest, most unagrressive cabbie in New York and I wanted to tear my hair out (or offer to take over the driving…).   I finally make it to my seat on the train with a woman sitting next to me who thought it was a super idea to use my space as well as hers…  I can feel my stomach grumbling, and I reach down into my bag to find…NOTHING.  NOTHING!!!  I left my salad on the counter at home!  And I didn’t even realize this soon enough to grab something at Penn Station.  I am close to crying or having a conniption fit.  I try to calm down and think about a game plan.  I could try to wait until I get home at 2:30…but I only had coffee this morning in my rush (I know…not a good idea) and I don’t think I can make it that long without my hunger morphing me into the Hulk (you won’t like me when I’m angry!).

I decide that the best plan of action is to check out the Acela car to see what the options are.  Of course, they have the normal things – hot dogs, hamburgers, some sort of cheese breakfast sandwich, and a turkey sandwich on honey wheat with swiss.  I thank my lucky stars that there is something remotely appealing on the menu and grab the sandwich and a bunch of mustard packets – my favorite/and surprisingly low-cal condiment.  The sandwich was the size of my face…so I took off the top slices of bread, spread a tiny bit of mayo and a huge amount of mustard on it all and had an OK lunch – nothing great, the turkey was super dry but at least the bread was kind of yummy.  And of course they had bananas and apples and other decent fare if I needed something extra (I decided I would wait until I got home).  The moral of the story?  You always have healthy options even when you think you don’t – don’t freak out if you’re somewhere and STARVING and you don’t know what to pick.  Regroup, and think of a game plan and you’ll be just fine!

Saving America’s kids…one salad at a time

While I’m usually not a big fan of The Economist…D suggested yesterday that I peruse if for an article on “nutrition stuff…in schools”.  So, I warily opened it up and found a particularly interesting article on the National School Lunch Program and the recent passing of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.  This bill provides $4.5 billion for children’s nutrition — allowing more poor children to enroll in the School Lunch program as well as making lunches healthier (see ya later trans fat french fries..).  But perhaps the most alarming aspect of the entire article was this little segment:

“One in three American children is overweight or obese.  Obesity is even affecting national security: a recent report estimates that 27% of Americans of recruitment age are “too fat to fight”.”

Excuse me??  TOO FAT TO FIGHT?!  I mean that has got to be some sort of joke right?  That is just downright embarassing as an American to hear.

But the article also got me to thinking a little bit about childhood obesity and school lunches.  Is it really enough to provide healthier school lunches if kids are going home to be served up places of fried chicken for dinner?  What about breakfast?  Some of these children will not even get a breakfast in the morning, or if they do it will be some sort of sugar-coated cereal with barely any nutrients to speak of.  Not only does this harm children’s mental and physical development, it sets these kids up for a lifetime of health problems — and not just obesity.

It’s easy for those of us who can afford to buy fresh produce and healthy products to say that those living in inner cities need to start doing that too.  But the honest truth is that fresh produce is expensive.  Fast food is cheap and quick.  So if you had five bucks for dinner…would you spend it on a couple of different veggies or a full meal at McDonalds?  I think it is a great thing that the Obama administration has asked corporations such as Kellogg’s, Mars and PepsiCo to cut calories from their products, and that this bill has been passed to give more money to the National School Lunch program.  But I think there is a much larger issue at play here: How do we as a nation change a culture of fat into a culture of fit?

What do you think?

We all scream for ice cream!

Happy Friday and Happy Beginning of Summer!  Summer is definitely the best time of year in the city.  With tons of fun events, outdoor dining, fairs, and rooftop bars to enjoy, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate this season!

Last weekend, I went with D, my sister, R, and some other friends to Central Park to soak up some sun, read some good old gossip mags, and get some last minute relaxing in before the coming week.  And of course D, who is really a little boy at heart…had to consume three different ice cream bars from the park vendors.  When he brought back a neon green colored ice pop, I was more than a little alarmed at the color — I don’t recall anything that is neon green in nature.  This “key lime” flavor is probably filled with tons of chemical, sugars, and preservatives…not exactly a cool treat that is sweet for your health!

So what are some really healthy, and delicious choices for icy treats when the weather gets hot?  Here are my picks to satisfy your sweet tooth without breaking the calorie bank!

Fruity:

D swears by Haagen Daaz Fat Free sorbets.  You can’t go wrong with their mango or strawberry flavors.  Both are incredibly fruity and rich – not too icy tasty, which can be a problem with sorbets.  Both only have 120 calories per 1/2 cup!

Vanilla:

Stonyfield Farm “Gotta Have Vanilla” Frozen Yogurt is DA BOMB.  Creamy and delicious, this frozen yogurt is super satisfying and a great addition to smoothies as well!  And the most unbelievable part?  It’s only 100 calories per 1/2 cup.

Chocolate:

Breyer’s Fat Free Chocolate Fudge Brownie.  Much lower sugar than most ice creams that I looked at, but still a great, chocolatey flavor.  I’m drooling just thinking about it!

Sandwich:

Hands down, Skinny Cow Vanilla ice cream sandwiches are the best thing since sliced bread.  Each individual sandwich is 140 calories and 2 g of Fat, and is a great way to practice portion control.  And the taste?  I actually think it’s better than those bricks of ice cream sandwiches they used to hand out at summer camp!

“Fun” Flavor:

Last but not least is Haagen Dazs Dulce de Leche Frozen Yogurt.  It’s a little bit more caloric than the rest of the ice creams at 180 per 1/2 cup.  But it is so creamy, rich, and delicious that it really is a treat.  The mixture of caramel swirls and vanilla frozen yogurt are to die for, and a little goes a long way towards satisfying any sweet tooth.

Those are my picks!  What are your fave low-cal icy treats??

A return to normalcy with a side of tempeh

Hey folks!

After a nice, long vacation in Italy I’m back and ready to get back into my routine.  I must say, while I do love traveling, it’s always nice to get back home and back into the swing of things again.  And I’ll be the first to admit — I definitely overindulged a bit in Italy.  I’d be really happy if I don’t have to look at a piece of cheese or pasta for quite some time!  While it can be frustrating to come back home and realize that I am going to have to be extra-careful about what I’m eating for a couple of weeks — I realize that everyone falls off the wagon a bit every now and then.  Rather than beating myself up about it, I give myself a little time to get back on track and recommit to eating healthy and getting some good old exercise!

When I got back, of course I was craving lots of veggies and fresh, delicious, low fat foods.  Lucky for me, my little sister, R, just moved into the East Village for the summer and my rents were in town to help her out.  Being in hipster heaven, we all decided to take a trip to Angelica’s Kitchen, a favorite restaurant of mine and a famous New York vegan instutition on 12th st and 2nd ave.  We even dragged my dad, who never saw a piece of steak he didn’t like.  Upon entering the restaurant he asked, “So how’s the burger?” But even my dad was surprised by how yummy-delicious vegan food can be.  We enjoyed a ton of great dishes including their dragon bowl (macrobiotic veggies, tofu, and brown rice) with delish carrot-ginger dressing (R and I wanted to drink it, it was so good), quinoa lemon croquettes, and delicious black bean enchiladas.  And to top it off, the restaurant is BYOB.  Just make sure you bring some extra cash (in true hippy-style they don’t take credit cards).

Now if that’s not what you would call a plateful of health….I don’t know what is!

Verdure means vegetable…

Ciao from Toscano!  I am writing to you from the beautiful hills of the Tuscan countryside.  D, his family, and I arrived in bella Firenze (Florence) three days ago.  We have been enjoying some gorgeous weather, delicious food, and beautiful wine!  The first two days have been an absolute whirlwind — D’s younger sister, E, had never been to Florence before, so of course we couldn’t miss seeing all the sights.  The first day was spent walking the city, taking in the resplendent cathedrals and world-renowned works of art, and finally, a little shopping (we are in Italy after all!).  Although Italy is known for being the birthplace of pasta, it is totally possible to eat healthfully and still enjoy yourself immensely.  Here are some great tips for eating healthy food on vacay (and you really can apply this anywhere):

One of the best things about Italy is the importance of la famiglia (or family).  Dining out is an experience, and meals here are truly shared events.  As such, many dishes are served family-style so that everyone can enjoy!  This is a dream for anyone looking to stay healthy.  Not only is food savored, which leads to less overeating (it takes 15 minutes for the stomach to signal to the brain that it is satisfied!) but dining can be an extremely enjoyable and memorable part of exploring culture and having a fantastic and memorable vacation.

Luckily, Italians love their side dishes!  The trick is here is enjoying rich dishes like pasta and meats in moderation, and loading up on the fiber-rich and filling vegetables sides or contorni.  One of the most pleasant surprises about Tuscan dining is the amount of delicious, fresh, seasonal verdure or greens that is available to enjoy.  Most of my meals have been accompanied by either a lush green salad with little pieces of pecorino cheese, walnuts, and ripe pear, or side dishes of spinach, artichokes, or whatever else is fresh and available.  Italy, of course, is nothing without its pastas, but the servings are quite small in most restaurants (pasta here is really an appetizer rather than an entrée).  Try ordering one or two pasta dishes to share with the table, so that everyone can get a couple of bites (enough to enjoy but not be a huge CALORIE BOMB).  Entrées can be quite hearty, so those are great for sharing too!  I recommend anything grilled — steak, chicken, fish — you really can’t go wrong there.  Be careful when it comes to the bread and the wine though…I know it’s the toughest part when you’re hungry and there is a huge plate of bread in front of you…  I try to enjoy one or the other at dinner — if the bread looks particularly fresh and delicious, I’ll have a small piece with some fresh olive oil and skip the wine (or have just a little sip).  And vice versa if the wine is truly unforgettable.  At lunch I skip it completely (who really needs all that much bread anyway when the rest of the food is SO much more delicious!)  Finally, we come to dessert.  I have become absolutely obsessed with the delicious, cute, little cups of espresso at the end of my meals.  And really, when you’re walking around sightseeing all day the pick-me-up effect of caffeine is really fantastic!  Another thing Italy is quite famous for besides its fresh, amazing pastas is of course, Gelato.  And really, the gelato here is unlike anywhere else in the world.  However, while D can eat three gelatos a day or more  on his quest to try every flavor that Italy has to offer — that wouldn’t be the best healthiest choice for me.  Lucky for me I get a little lick of whatever D is having, or a bite of whatever delicious dessert we share at dinner and don’t feel deprived (but still get to enjoy!).  But remember, just one or two bites and then pass the dessert along – after all, Italy is all about the sharing!

That’s it for now!  Stay posted for more healthy tips from Italia!  Pics to be posted shortly….

Snack attack!

First of all…let me apologize to my readers for the recent lapse in blog posts…I’ve been having a beyond crazy week.  Between starting my masters in nutrition (woohoo!) and getting ready to leave on vacation to Italy (leaving tonight and couldn’t be any more pumped!!!) the blogging has gone a bit to the wayside.

When life gets a little crazy, sometimes it can be hard to grab a full meal.  Suddenly, you get to 4 pm and your stomach is screaming “FEED ME NOW!!”  It’s moments like these when a good snack can make a huge difference.  So what constitutes a good snack?  The best snacks to hold you over are a mix of fiber and protein.  Some great snack ideas are:

  • greek yogurt with blueberries (or any kind of berries)
  • apple with spoonful of peanut butter (peanut butter is fattening so try to keep it at one or two spoonfuls)
  • carrots with hummus or black bean dip
  • whole grain wheat toast or 1/2 whole wheat english muffin with hummus or nut butter
  • a hardboiled egg
  • nonfat/lowfat cottage cheese with fruit
  • a handful of nuts or trail mix (JUST A HANDFUL! )

Now I know what you’re saying…”Yea right!  Like I keep that stuff around when I’m rushing!” Well…let me let you in on a little secret — being healthy is all about being PREPARED.  Prepared for instances when life gets crazy and there is not a healthy snack in sight.  When I’m running around I make sure to at least pack an apple or a banana — they take up very little room and eating that is much better than desperately resorting to an oatmeal raisin cookie at Starbucks (hello 390 unnecessary calories!).  Being prepared isn’t about obsessing about where you’ll get your next meal or snack — it’s about giving yourself more options to be healthy!

At this point I’d also like to take a moment to address energy bars.  If given a choice between a granola bar, and a low-fat yogurt, I always, always, always go for the yogurt.  Most energy bars are not that much different than candy bars — except with more added protein perhaps.  There isn’t so much of a difference in taste between a chocolate-covered powerbar and a snickers.  No one ever got fat from eating too many carrots, but there are definitely people who got fat from too many granola bars.  If you must get your fix of granola bars, or if there simply aren’t better options available..try your best to stick to granola bars made from natural ingredients: KIND bars, Lara bars, Luna bars are all good options and do not have insanely high sugar counts (high sugar makes your blood sugar spike and then crash later…not exactly good for keeping your energy levels stable!).

That’s it for now…keep yourselves posted for some exciting blogging about staying fit and healthy on vacation from la bella ITALIA!

soaking up some Vitamin D

Hello folks!  After a weeklong bout of yucky weather…it was glorious and sunny all weekend long.  I made a point of trying to soak up as much sun as humanely possible (wearing sunscreen of course!).  Being outside was definitely an endorphin-booster, not to mention a great way to get some good old fashioned vitamin D.  According to the Mayo Clinic “The major biologic function of vitamin D is to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium, helping to form and maintain strong bones. Recently, research also suggests vitamin D may provide protection from osteoporosis, hypertension (high blood pressure), cancer, and several autoimmune diseases.”  Sounds pretty sweet to me.

On my quest to worship the sun gods, D suggested that we take a little trip to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.  Of course we ended up walking about two miles around the outside fence of the park until we could find the entrance (which was actually where we started).  But it was most definitely worth the half an hour detour:

Definitely a good place to bring a book, pack up some healthy snacks, and spend an afternoon.  Enjoy the rest of monday!