Alison Precourt is a clinical dietitian specializing in pediatrics at the UVM Medical Center.

Editor’s Note: In honor of National Nutrition Month, this week we’re giving you tools and information to help keep you healthy, happy and inspired to eat well for life.

The 5th Annual Junior Iron Chef VT on March 24 is a statewide competition that gives students an opportunity to gain hands-on experience preparing and cooking nutritious, farm-fresh foods.  Clinical dietitian Alison Precourt recommends some easy ways to make healthy food choices each and every day.

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Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudel, door bells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles.

Are these some of your favorite things?  Our happiest memories often involve food – the Thanksgiving feast, a wedding cake, Halloween treats, Fourth of July picnics, baby’s first foods, birthday cupcakes for school, and going to the state fair. So much of our lives are connected to food.  We eat for survival.  We eat for pleasure.  We eat to celebrate.  We eat to comfort. Food can be painful and food can heal.

How do we navigate through all of the food choices?  How do we guide our children through this maze? Twenty years ago, the types of foods available were vastly different.  Today, more processed foods, bigger portions and fast foods have crept into our diets.   In addition, even though modern technology has made our lives easier in some ways, it hasn’t necessarily made us healthier.

But you can enjoy a healthy diet by using some easy tips at the grocery store and at home. Here are some simple strategies to help you and your children eat healthy:

  • Fresh is best.
  • Cook foods to maximize nutrition and limit pathogens.
  • Shop the perimeter of the supermarket.
  • Look for colors of the rainbow.
  • Create a plate that provides half the food from fruits and vegetables.

A fresh approach
Fresh is best.  Most food, in its simplest form, is the best.  But we can’t eat raw foods all the time.  Our bodies lack the ability to breakdown and destroy many pathogens.  We prepare raw foods by cooking them to preserve their nutritional integrity.  Eating raw fruits and vegetables is healthy, but eating raw chicken is deadly.  Generally, fresh to frozen to canned is a way to remember the healthy to least healthy foods.

Avoid processed food
Shop the perimeter of the supermarket.  Generally, the healthiest foods are often farthest from the door.  Healthy foods are perishable so they need refrigeration.  Processed foods, often found in the center aisles, are full of sodium, fat and preservatives to extend their shelf life.  A Twinkie and a can of soda will be around far longer than an apple and a carton of milk.

The rainbow connection
Using the rainbow as a food-color palate will provide antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and other nutrients to prevent disease and ensure a healthy diet.  Different colors of foods reinforces  variety:  crimson red beets, blood oranges, yellow bananas,  green peppers,  blueberries, concord grapes and eggplants reflect the intense colors of a rainbow.

Dividing your plate
The plate method of eating is a great visual to use for meals.  “Divide” the plate into 4 equal portions.  One portion for lean protein, one portion for whole grains, and the other two portions should be fruits and vegetables.   Add a serving of low-fat dairy and the meal is complete.

Junior Iron Chef VT
Children and teens who become involved in cooking foods can learn to incorporate healthy eating into their diets.  The Junior Iron Chef VT competition embraces this philosophy.   Students learn hands-on experience on how to prepare and cook nutritious, farm-fresh foods.  Local produce, fresh ingredients are an integral part of this unique opportunity.  During the competition, participants and spectators can feel the excitement and witness the impact of food.  It is from this simple art of cooking that students learn team work, healthy eating, innovation, self-esteem and a unique understanding of food systems.

What a wonderful way to celebrate food and create another fond memory.

Alison Precourt, RD, CDE, is a clinical dietitian specializing in pediatrics at the UVM Medical Center.

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