bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Reverse food snobbery: Who has time to cook lasagna after work?

My friend Meaghan shared the above infographic with me last week to see what I thought. I thought that it was worthy of a blog post.

I think that it’s over simplifying a complex issue. How can you possibly put frozen peas in the same category as a packaged frozen lasagna? Frozen peas (and other frozen vegetables) are picked and frozen at their prime, meaning that they’re often more nutritious than their “fresh” counterparts on grocery store shelves. However, as you can see, even with their selection of lasagna, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find a frozen lasagna that’s as healthy and nutritious as one that’s homemade. Who the heck is cooking lasagna as a weekday supper anyhow? Ain’t nobody got time for that! Let’s see some more realistic comparisons of quick and easy homemade suppers.

I’m not sure what the deal is with the packaged stir-fry pictured on the infographic. It appears to be a box but I would think that they’re referring to a frozen stir-fry mix. Sure, if you’re buying the frozen mixed vegetables without a sauce, they’re going to be easy to turn into a healthy stir-fry. However, if they’re already coated in a sauce you’re probably going to get more sodium, sugar, and fat (possibly trans fat) than you would if you made your own sauce.

Minimally processed packaged foods can be a great healthy time saver. However, you can’t equate buying pre-cut vegetables with a frozen tv dinner. As a dietitian, one of the main messages I hope to impart on people is the importance of cooking their own meals. If you’re trying to lose weight or just to be healthier this is probably the best thing you can do for yourself. And sorry, but taking a box out of the freezer and nuking it doesn’t count as cooking. I’d like to see the true cost of the frozen meals they’re pushing if you also factored in the shortened health-spans due to poor nutrition.

There’s also the not so subtle “reverse snobbery” (I’m stealing that one Meaghan) in the post accompanying the infographic. The implication that the average person doesn’t have time to cook and that their time is far too valuable to be spent *gasp* cooking. Yes, we’re all terribly busy, although we do somehow manage to find time to watch Big Brother or binge watch Orange is the New Black. I think that we, as a society, need to re-evaluate our priorities and put cooking right up near the top. The thing is, cooking doesn’t need to be a long torturous laborious process. There are plenty of healthy and delicious meals that you can whip up in less than half an hour after work. If you’re cooking for more than one, you can also enlist the help of other members of the household. You can prep ingredients the night before or batch cook on your days off. You can make extra portions so that you can have your own homemade nutritious frozen dinners ready to grab when you’re short on time. Cooking is not a luxury. It’s a necessity.


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Follow Friday: Tender app

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Based on the premise of tinder (and a bunch of other apps) where you swipe right when you see something you like, and left when you don’t, there’s now Tender. Which, aside from the swiping to express your feelings about photos is really nothing like tinder (or those other apps) because you’re looking at photos of food. It’s a fun and easy way to find new recipes and inspiration for supper, lunch, breakfast, and snacks. You can adjust the settings so that it will only show recipes for particular meals or foods, or won’t show something that you dislike. Apparently it’s also got an algorithm so that it learns your preferences and will try to show you similar foods to those you swipe right on. Once you’ve swiped right it saves the photos in your “cookbook” and you can click on the photos to get the full recipes.

There are still a few bugs to workout. Some of the photos don’t match the recipe names and some users have reported that the photos don’t always link to complete recipes. These are pretty minor bugs to work out and for a free app I think that it’s definitely worth a go if you like to cook or want to start cooking more.


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Will Watson render cookbook authors obsolete?

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Have you guys heard of Watson? No, not that Watson. The flavour combining computer that’s just released a cookbook? Based on this review I don’t think that human cookbook authors have much to fear just yet. In fact, Watson didn’t actually write the recipes, he was more like the provider of ingredients on Master Chef. Based on algorithms he suggested ingredient and flavour combinations that chefs then used to develop recipes for the cookbook. Kind of neat, but it’s already been done, just not by a computer.

If you want to play Watson and develop new recipes based on flavour profiles you might want to pick-up Niki Segnit’s The Flavour ThesaurusNo, I’m not being paid to plug this. It just happens to be a book I own. It gives you recipe ideas and pairings based on flavour profiles. Essentially, you look up an ingredient and it will tell you a number of other ingredients that it pairs well with, as well as recipe and preparation suggestions. Some are obvious, like chocolate and peanut butter. Others are a little more surprising, like egg and banana, based on sweetened omelettes that are common in French cuisine. Who needs Watson?


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Lessons from salty restaurant meals

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Last week a study was released showing that sodium levels in chain restaurant meals are still ridiculously high.

The researchers found that some meals contained roughly the maximum amount of sodium an adult should consume throughout an entire day. Sure, some people only eat one meal a day, but this isn’t a recommended pattern of eating, and most of us eat at least three times a day.

While I agree with the researchers that there need to be regulations to ensure that restaurant meals, and packaged foods for that matter, contain lower amounts of sodium and menus are labelled, I think that there are a few more important lessons to be learned here.

First, I just have to say the thing that bothered me the most upon hearing the story on the radio was the man from the restaurant industry who stated that sodium is necessary for flavour and food safety! I get that salt is a common preservative but when I’m eating at a restaurant I’m going for fresh, quality food. The thought that high levels of salt are added to food to make it safe is rather alarming to me. As for the flavour comment, that’s what salt shakers are for. Customers should be given the option of adding more salt to their food. Obviously you can’t remove salt once it’s in a meal (well, at least not at a restaurant table, perhaps in a lab) so why not use the least amount of salt possible, flavour with herb, spices, and lemon zest, and allow customers to add more salt if they desire.

Okay… on to what I think are the important lessons to be learned here… One, this study only looked at restaurants with at least 20 locations. That means local restaurants were not included. Many of these places employ excellent chefs who use fresh ingredients and don’t rely on salt to make their meals flavourful. Talk to the chef if you have concerns about ingredients, find out if nutrition information is available for your favourite dishes. Ultimately: avoid chain restaurants; buy local.

Two, you should be preparing the majority of the meals you eat yourself. Sorry, but you can’t trust anyone. Only you can take care of yourself. Try to use minimally processed ingredients and read labels on any packaged foods you purchase. Restaurants are lovely for a treat but they shouldn’t be providing you with the majority of your meals. Be your own personal chef.


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Recipe: Quinoa Pumpkin Pie Granola

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I shared a pumpkin granola recipe a couple of years ago. That one was kind of chewy. This one is nice and crunchy.

Ingredients: 

4 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup uncooked quinoa

1 cup pecan pieces

1/4 cup flax seeds

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

dash of ground nutmeg

1/4 cup melted virgin coconut oil

1/2 cup honey (or maple syrup)

1/4 cup pumpkin puree

1/2 – 1 cup raisins

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300F.

In a large bowl, mix together all of the dry ingredients (except for the raisins), then add the wet. Combine thoroughly. I find my hands are best for mixing so ditch the spoon if you want. Depending on your own size, you can spread on one large baking sheet or two smaller ones. Bake in middle of oven for about 45 minutes, stirring every ten minutes or so. Granola is done when it turns a nice golden brown. Remove from oven and stir in the raisins. Allow to cool then store in an airtight container.