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Being realistic about food choices

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Carol Berg Sloan RD

We eat every single day, but do we celebrate eating well on a daily basis? Sadly, most Americans don’t.
That’s part of the reason the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) officially named Monday, October 24 “Food Day.” Does this mean eat all you can? No. Instead, it aims “to bring together Americans from all walks of life— parents, teachers, and students; health professionals, community organizers, and local officials; chefs, school lunch providers, and eaters of all stripes— to push for healthy, affordable food.”
I support Food Day’s premise, which is to make consumers aware and knowledgeable about their food choices and to support the consumption of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts, but the CSPI is also calling for the elimination of entire food groups and beverage categories.
Let’s be realistic. Telling consumers to totally avoid sodas, candy and cookies? It won’t work. That’s why I teach inclusion, not avoidance, which has proven to be more successful. After 30 years of counseling patients and clients, I have found that sharing what they can eat works better than telling them what they can’t eat. Soda? Sure, just drink two to three cans of regular soda a week, buy mini cans of Coke or purchase diet soda. Halloween candy? Of course! But just a couple of bite-size pieces, not bags. Chips? Why not? If you need help with portions, buy single servings or measure out each serving in a large bag. (Trader Joes and Fresh & Easy offer affordable individual bags).
Portion control and moderation can work for most people who are trying to manage weight and stave off chronic illness. That is where the “knowledge is power” concept kicks in. If you take the time to read food labels, you will be able to make an informed decision on what is best for your dietary needs. And some brands put calorie information on the front of packages, which makes it easier to find.
Becoming an active, informed participant in what you eat and drink each day is a no-brainer, but many of us have fallen into a pattern of convenience and ease, which has led us to an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle. Purchasing fresh produce seems cumbersome when you have the option of stopping at a drive-through on the way home. Driving up to the mailbox feels convenient even though the mailbox is around the corner. Calling pizza delivery seems more cost-effective after a long day at work. But the long-term consequences of these actions can catch up with anyone.
Here’s a short list to get you started on the road to smart eating and to help avoid those common pitfalls:
• Make a menu plan for the week, then a shopping list. Take time one day of the week to buy foods you need, so you stick to your plan.
• Eat meatless once a week. Believe it or not, chili is still delicious without ground beef!
• Enjoy smaller portions of products such as soda, candy or other favorite foods, or consume full-size portions occasionally. Find a way to fit them into your daily meal plan.
• And don’t forget to throw in a sprinkling of daily physical activity to really make a difference. Come home 30 minutes earlier to exercise. This doesn’t mean buying a gym membership; it means walking around the block before collapsing in front of the TV each night.

In celebration of Food Day, start your meal plan with this quick, easy, nutritious and inexpensive chili on Monday. You’re worth it!

Cheap Chili
3 cans beans (drained) (You may choose your favorite: pinto, white, black or kidney)
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 packet chili seasoning
1 small onion chopped
Other vegetables such as carrots, celery, corn, etc.
1. Place all ingredients in a large pot.
2. Let simmer together for about 30 minutes to incorporate flavors.
3. Serve with whole-wheat bread and low-fat milk.

Sloan is a registered dietitian and consultant to the food and beverage industry, including The Coca-Cola Company, Tru Care Community and other local and national companies.

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Being realistic about food choices