Nutrition and Fitness with Randa

Healthy “Brown Bag” Lunches

I realize it has been too long since I last posted - life seems to have gotten a little hectic! But here is a post that is helpful for both kids and adults when making lunches for school or work. My own son complains that I give him the same snacks all the time so I know we could all use a little help thinking outside the box when our thinking capacities are stunted!

It's back to school time again, so when planning meals and snacks, teach young children about making healthy choices by explaining how "grow-and-go" foods will help them feel good and have fun at school. Grow-and-go foods are foods high in complex carbohydrates, good sources of protein, include vitamins and minerals and a moderate amount of fat.

Here are some quick and easy ideas, some of them courtesy of the Defense Commissary Agency for lunch and snacks that are grow-and-go foods:

  • B-n-B wrap (Banana and nut butter wrap). Mash a banana and mix with any nut butter. Here is an opportunity to try a different butter - like almond butter, which is high in vitamin E and protein. If your child prefers, sprinkle with dried fruit or coconut for a different flavor. Spread it on a whole-wheat wrap or flat bread, roll it up, cut it up and bag it.
  • Turkey, ham or chicken with hummus or Greek yogurt wrap. Spread some plain hummus or Greek yogurt on a wrap, add meat slices, any cheese (optional), lettuce or spinach and cucumber slices. Roll it up and bag it. Hummus or Greek yogurt adds a unique flavor, so if your children do not like it, use mustard or a little mayonnaise.
  • M-n-C roll up (Meat and cheese roll ups). Take any thinly sliced luncheon meat and your children's favorite cheese, sweet peppers and thin cucumber slices. Roll it up and bag it.
  • Pita pocket with curry chicken salad. Take chopped chicken and mix it with a little curry, Greek yogurt, chopped celery and chopped carrots. Put it in a whole wheat pita pocket with spinach or romaine lettuce.
  • Flat bread or bagel pizza. Toast a flat bread or 1/2 whole or sprouted wheat bagel and make a pizza with a little spaghetti sauce, shredded cheese and your choice of vegetables such as spinach, tomato slices, squash or broccoli.
  • Stuffed Bagels. Stuff with cottage cheese and berries or stuff with omelet pieces and sprinkled cheese.
  • Baby carrots, cucumbers chunks, grape tomatoes, hummus, whole-grain crackers and pita chips. Put some hummus in a small container to use as a dip. Bag the carrots, cucumber chunks and grape tomatoes. Also pack some whole grain crackers or pita chips for energy-packed carbohydrates.
  • Vegetable Roll Up. On lavosh or whole wheat tortillas, spread roasted red pepper sauce or pesto, add vegetable sticks and roll. Or, spread with bean dip, sprinkle with jack cheese and grated carrots and zucchini, and roll.
  • Also try lettuce leaf wraps. Stuff lettuce leaves with egg salad or canned chicken and olive spread, then roll. Or stuff with hummus and vegetable shavings and roll.
  • Whole what pita stuffed with ricotta cheese, goat cheese and herbs. This is for kids who like a little variety with their cheeses!
  • Tortilla chips, plain yogurt and salsa. Cut up tortillas in quarters, sprinkle a little salt on them and heat them in the microwave for a minute or two. Mix the yogurt, for protein and calcium, with salsa or just put plain salsa in a small container for a dip.
  • Trail mix. Mix almonds, peanuts, dried fruit and whole-grain cereal for a nutrient dense, energy-packed food and bag it. This is a great "take it anywhere" kind of food.
  • Great snacks. Cheese sticks, nuts, yogurt tubes, dried fruit, fresh fruit and canned fruit (packed in water) all make great snacks and additions to lunches. Mix a handful of granola with dried apricots and cranberries and pumpkin seeds. (Try to avoid the pre-packaged snacks such as Lunchables, that contain more fat, salt and unnatural ingredients than a child needs, not to mention the excessive packaging made with petroleum derived plastic and dyed cardboard.)

I encourage you to keep trying certain foods that your kids may not care for - one day, they may just change their minds unannounced. My 5 year old was never crazy about tomatoes, and one day out of the blue, he ate an entire bowlful of sweet baby grape tomatoes and loves them now! Don't give up!

If you have some healthy brown bag lunch ideas, please comment. We would love to hear!

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Got Milk? Chocolate Milk Refuels Muscles After a Workout

Many of us can remember squeezing Hershey's chocolate syrup or blending cocoa powder into cold milk for a chocolate milk treat. Now ready-made chocolate milk can be found everywhere, from Starbucks to health food stores. Until now, we have overlooked this sweet drink as nothing but a kid's after school treat.

Studies are now showing that it is no longer simply a dessert item, but also a drink that helps muscles recover after exercise, beating out even carbohydrate sports drinks.

"The combination of carbohydrates and protein in low-fat chocolate milk appears to be "just right" for refueling weary muscles", says William Lunn, PhD, an exercise scientist at the University of Connecticut.

The research involved eight male runners in good physical shape who ate a balanced diet for two weeks. At the end of each week, they took a fast paced, 45-minute run.

Following each run, the men drank either 16 ounces of fat-free chocolate milk or 16 ounces of a carbohydrate-only sports beverage with the same number of calories.

Post-exercise muscle biopsies showed increased skeletal muscle protein synthesis -- a sign that muscles were better able to rebuild -- after the milk drink, compared with the carb-only beverage.

Additionally, drinking fat-free chocolate milk led to a higher concentration of glycogen, or muscle fuel, in muscles 30 and 60 minutes after exercise, compared with the sports drink. Replenishing glycogen after exercise helps future performance, Lunn says. This is also proof that it is very important to consume at minimum a snack - at best a meal of carbohydrates and protein - after an intense workout (walking the dog while window shopping does not fall into this category!)

While only men were studied, one would expect women to gain the same post-workout benefits from chocolate milk.

"While the studies were small, there's no reason not to reach for fat-free chocolate milk after your next workout", says sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, MS, RD, of Healthworks Fitness Center in Chestnut Hill, Mass. "Athletes can consider it an inexpensive nutritional alternative to engineered sports beverages for help with post-workout recovery," she tells WebMD.

A healthy chocolate milk option

In Summary.........

Chocolate milk that is low-fat or non-fat provides energy, protein, calcium and seven other essential nutrients (including potassium, phosphorus, vitamins A, D and B12, riboflavin and niacin) and is quickly absorbed in the body. It is not a surprise that this sweet, inexpensive drink is a great post-workout option for those who exercise at greater intensities and duration.

There are many choices out there, but try to look for chocolate milk that is not loaded with preservatives, fat and sugar. Horizon Organic Reduced Fat Chocolate Milk and Organic Valley Lowfat Chocolate Milk are two of the best in terms of both good taste and health.

Using Cocoa

You could also make your own using unsweetened cocoa. Cocoa derives its health benefits from flavonoids, which are plant pigments capable of acting as antioxidants to counteract some of the cellular damage that can lead to chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Cocoa powder has also been shown to lower blood pressure and improve blood flow in humans.

Many cocoa powders are processed and contain such undesirable additives as hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, and milk products. Look for as pure of a formulation of cocoa as possible with the lowest calorie content, such as Green and Blacks Organic Fair Trade 100% Cocoa Powder.

Here is a recipe for homemade hot chocolate:

  • 1 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 2 tbsp. organic sugar or sweetener of choice
  • 2 tbsp. water
  • 1 c. low-fat or non-fat milk
  • a bit of vanilla, if desired

Combine cocoa, sugar, and water in a small saucepan. Heat it on low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent the paste from sticking to the pan. After about 1 to 2 minutes, add milk and vanilla. Mix it all together until it reaches your preferred temperature.

Source: Web MD Health News

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Healthier Snacks We Love!

When you are too busy or tired to make your own homemade snacks, or want snacks for special occasions or 'treats', these are three brands of healthier snack foods we - meaning both kids and adults - love: Nature's Path Organics, Kashi and Annie's Homegrown. Here are six snacks that we enjoy:

Nature's Path Organic Toaster Pastries are a healthier version of the well-known pop tarts. Made with organic wheat flour and evaporated cane juice, they are great toasted or eaten straight out of the box. Just make sure you don't eat the whole box - all in moderation, of course! They come in many flavors including frosted wildberry acai, frosted cherry pomegranate, apple cinnamon, maple brown sugar, frosted strawberry and frosted chocolate!

Crackers are one snack food that are renowned for their inclusion of hydrogenated oils (read the ingredients!) and excess sodium.These hearty, trans-fat free Kashi TCL Crackers are bursting with flavors including honey sesame, 7 grain, country cheddar, and asiago cheese. They are made with whole wheat flour and oats, and taste great with peanut or almond butter, cheese, tapenades or on their own. My husband even breaks them up, dumps them into hummus and spoons the concoction into his mouth!

When you want a cookie, go Kashi! With decadent flavors and textures, Kashi TLC All Natural Chewy Cookies show that snacking can be "tasty, indulgent, and have nutrition you can feel great about." Their cookies combine their signature Seven Whole Grain blend with natural ingredients such as peanuts, raisins, sunflower seeds, cranberries, walnuts, shredded coconut, flax seeds, and dark chocolate. The result is a delicious chewy cookie that has a home-baked taste.

Annie's Organic Fruit Snacks are similar to gummy bears in taste and texture, but without all the processed sugars and unhealthy additives or preservatives that are found in most fruit snacks of this kind. We use these as road-trip 'treats' or at times when we need the kids to be quiet! A plus: they are made with real fruit juices and are naturally gluten-free! Comes in Berry Patch, Summer Strawberry and Sunny Citrus flavors.

Annie's Mac and Cheese is made with certified organic pasta and certified organic Real Aged Cheddar cheese. The orange color that kids love comes not from icky food coloring, but from annatto, a natural coloring used for centuries to make foods like butter and mustard colored naturally.  Find it in whole wheat, 5-grain and make sure to check out Annie's Gluten-Free Rice Pasta & Cheddar Mac & Cheese. It tastes great!

Most kids love that sweet graham taste! Choose Annie's Bunny Grahams over graham crackers made with hydrogenated oils and processed ingredients. These not-too-sweet bite size cookies are made with organic whole grain wheat flour. Also comes in chocolate, chocolate chip, cinnamon and gluten free vanilla and chocolate!

If you can't find these snacks in your local stores, you can find them - and practically everything else - at Amazon!

If there is a healthier snack you or your family loves, let us know what it is by leaving a comment.

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