Food for Thought

Many of us have had discomfiting moments with memory: the 'Doorway Effect' in which we can't recall why we've entered a room. Proper nouns that go missing, just when we need them the most. And other such lapses. And while there is no sure fire diet to prevent such decline, there are recommended choices that can help keep us cognitively fit . Continue reading

Back to School Fuel

It's back to school and for many a parent that means back-to-school lunches with all the trials and tribulations that go along with them. Here is RVNAhealth's registered dietitian and nutrition educator, Monica Marcello, MS, RD, with some ideas for keeping those lunches fresh and fun. Continue reading

On the Road with COVID Vaccines

It was a busy weekend for RVNAhealth as we took our show on the road bringing COVID-19 vaccines — and food — to local events in Danbury and Ridgefield.  In Danbury, we administered over 40 vaccines at the Assembly Church of God alongside our friends at the Community Food Rescue CT, who arrived with a refrigerated truck of food. After receiving COIVD-19 vaccines, attendees at the clinic received bags filled with goodies to take home with them.  

In Ridgefield, we joined the We All Shine On festival, offering COVID-19 vaccines to kids right there on Main Street and serving up delectable energy bites and chia seed pudding, handmade by RVNAhealth registered dietitian and nutrition educator, Monica Marcello, MS, RD, who was on hand with recipes and education. 

A Tale of Two Diets – a Primer on Intermittent Fasting and the Ketogenic Diet

Nuts, salmon, avocado, eggs and other high-fat and protein and low-carb food choices
On Jan. 25, RVNAhealth Registered Dietitian and nutrition educator, Ava Safir, JD, MS, RDN, presented A Tale of Two Diets at Fit Club in Ridgefield, offering education and information on Intermittent Fasting and the Ketogenic Diet. The presentation was fascinating, covering the science behind the diets as well as benefits and pitfalls of both. Following is key information from the presentation. Continue reading

It’s a Beauty, but is it Safe?

According to the CDC, handling poultry (chicken and turkey) incorrectly and undercooking it are the most common problems that lead to foodborne disease outbreaks linked to poultry. These outbreaks increase every November and December due to improper food handling at holiday parties and dinners.

Follow these five tips to safely prepare your next holiday turkey meal:

  • Thaw your turkey safely.
    • In the refrigerator in a container, or
    • In a leak-proof plastic bag in a sink of cold water (change the water every 30 minutes), or
    • In the microwave, following manufacturer’s instructions

NEVER thaw your turkey by leaving it out on the counter. Bacteria can grow quickly if left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. The danger zone for bacteria to grow is between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F.

  • Clean all surfaces that the turkey comes into contact with – including your hands! Raw poultry can contaminate anything it comes into contact with and the germs that cause food poisoning are stealthy — they can survive in many places and spread around your kitchen.
  • Separate raw poultry from ready-to-eat foods by using different cutting boards, utensils and plates while preparing the meal, and by separating raw poultry from other foods in the refrigerator.
  • Cook poultry to the right internal temperature. Place the turkey in a roasting pan that is at least 2″ to 2.5″ inches deep and set oven temperature to at least 325 degrees F. Cooking times will vary according to the weight of the turkey and whether it contains any stuffing. Use a food thermometer to be sure that the internal temperature of the turkey AND the stuffing is at least 165 degrees F. You cannot determine if a turkey is safely cooked by checking its color and texture. Check by inserting the food thermometer into the center of the stuffing and the thickest portions of the breast, thigh, wing joint. Even if your turkey has a pop-up thermometer, still use a meat thermometer to be absolutely certain that your turkey is safely cooked. Let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before removing the stuffing or carving the turkey so that it can finish cooking.
  • Chill to the right temperature. Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible and within 2 hours of preparation (within 1 hour of preparation if outside temperature is greater than 90 degrees) in order to prevent food poisoning. Slice or divide big cuts of meat into smaller quantities for refrigeration so they cool quickly. Reheat all leftovers to at least 165 degrees F.


Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

School Lunch Ideas

RVNAhealth wellness and healthy eating

The Question:

Help! I need creative lunch ideas for back to school. What do you recommend for a healthy school lunch? 

Meg’s Response:

Packing lunch for your child — every single day — can be a challenge. And a chore! You want to provide nutritious food to fuel your child’s brain, but at the same time, you want your child to actually eat what you pack, right?

Here are my tips for healthy school lunches:

  • Get your child involved: Make a back-to-school trip to the grocery store to pick out a few healthy school lunch items. Have your child pick one or two items from each section of the grocery store that he or she would enjoy in school lunch. If you leave the store with 2 fruits, 2 veggies, 2 meat/bean foods, 2 dairy foods and 2 grain foods that your child enjoys, that will help to ensure that your child will enjoy what you pack.
  • Have fun: Use cookie cutters to cut foods into fun and appealing shapes. Not a creative type? Find fun, reusable lunch containers in bright colors that will make lunch seem more…. ENTERTAINING!
  • Go for the nibble tray: Instead of packing a sandwich, pack a nibble tray! Find a reusable container with lots of small compartments, and fill each compartment with something different. Kids love variety! Include cream cheese, hummus, SunButter, bean dip, salsa, guacamole and other fun dips and spreads along with fruits and veggies to dip. Add a baggie of whole wheat crackers or a slice of multigrain bread on the side for some healthy whole grains.
  • Don’t feel guilty about combining healthy convenient foods with foods that you prepare from home. What do I mean when I say that? It is ok to purchase items like individual portion hummus cups, guacamole, and bean dips and pair those with baby carrots, grapes, sliced cheese, sliced cucumber circles and some whole-grain crackers for a “snacky” lunch. These “short cuts” can help to provide a healthy – and quick to assemble – lunch. What other healthy, but convenient foods can you think of to add to school snacks and lunches?
  • Keep portion size in mind. Often times parents think their children aren’t eating enough fruits and veggies. Did you know that the portion size of fruits and veggies for preschoolers and elementary-aged children is 1 tablespoon per year of age? That’s right, so a 5-year old would only need about 4 whole strawberries for a serving a fruit and 10 carrot coins for a serving of veggies.
  • Try School Lunch: If there is a meal offered in the cafeteria that your child enjoys, let them buy lunch. It teaches your child how to navigate a public food setting, getting them ready for middle school, high school and college. It also gives your child practice communicating needs and preferences. While school lunches historically have had a reputation of being less than perfect, things have changed. Stop by the school cafeteria and check it out for yourself. And hey – it gives you a break from packing! Can’t beat that.
  • Great Nut-Free Options: Food allergies and intolerances are an additional consideration to be made for many families packing school snacks and lunches. Depending on the school’s policy, you may or may not be able to include peanuts and tree nuts. Here is a list of nut-free protein-rich foods that can be packed as a part of a healthy school lunch
    Hard-boiled egg
    Hummus and other bean dips
    Low Fat Greek Yogurt
    Low Sodium Deli Meat and Cheese roll-ups
    Sunbutter (sunflower seed) and Wowbutter (soy nut butter)
    Cubed grilled chicken
    Beans (chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans, pink beans, white beans)
    Cottage Cheese

A Healthier Take on Summer BBQ

RVNAhealth nutrition programs

Q:  We love hosting summer cookouts. How can we make our favorite barbecue foods healthier?

A:  To put a fresh and healthy spin on your cookouts, skip the hot dogs, hamburgers, cole slaw and potato salad for lighter options that are trending now. Another reason to lighten up? Without all those mayonnaise-based dressings, your food will stay safer outside on a hot day. Here are some ideas to keep you both healthy and safe:

Lighten Up and Foil Fat with a “Foil Pack”

Opting for grilling favorites that are lower in saturated fat than burgers and hot dogs is the way to start. Go for grilled chicken breasts or lean chicken sausage and a healthier salad on the side. One of my favorite prep methods is the foil pack. Wrap individual portions of meat and veggies in foil and toss on the grill.  A cool no-cook salad with zucchini noodles – also known as zoodles – adds a modern touch. Recipes below.

Healthy Hydration

While you’re at it, lighten up your drinks. Hydration is particularly important in the summer, but alcohol and sugary drinks aren’t thirst quenching and can even cause dehydration. If plain water isn’t your thing, try infusing your water or seltzer with flavor. Add fresh fruits like citrus, berries, and pineapple. Even better, use frozen fruit to both chill and infuse your drink. When you’re finished, the fruit will be defrosted, and you can eat it as a snack!

Safety First

To keep summer buffet foods safe, serve hot foods immediately and keep cool foods chilled (put a salad bowl over ice, for example). Cover food and clean and remove the serving utensils when not in use. As an extra measure, keep hand sanitizer handy so folks can clean up before digging in.

These simple swaps and precautions will keep you and your barbecue healthy and safe all summer. Enjoy!

Try these recipes at your next cookout!

Chicken, Tomato, Corn Packs

For each serving, cut a 12” piece of foil and place a boneless, skinless chicken breast, ½ cup grape tomatoes cut in half, ¼ cup corn kernels, and minced garlic to taste. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of avocado oil or canola oil, salt and pepper. Seal all sides of the foil and grill on high until the internal temperature is 170 degrees (approx. 20-25 minutes).

Caprese Zoodles

Toss 1 package of zoodles (found in the produce section of most grocery stores) with 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper. Let marinate for 15 minutes. Add 2 cups of cherry tomatoes cut in half, 1 cup of mozzarella balls, 1/4 cup of torn basil leaves, and 1 teaspoon dried oregano. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar.

Meg Whitbeck, MS, RD, is available for private consultations. For more information, contact RVNA at 203-438-5555.

Deep Dive Into … Water

RVNAhealth nutrition programs, fairfield county, ct

We know! We need to drink more water. Every single day without fail and a single cup won’t do. Correct?

Correct. For those of us who hydrate regularly, we know our bodies catch on. The more water we drink, the more we like it, the better we feel, the more we want it. When we’re low, we notice.

But for those of us who struggle with the immensity of the daily requirements and often simply ‘forget,’ the key questions are: how much do we really need and how can we meet our daily requirements and have a little fun while we’re at it? Are all types of water created equal? And do other beverages contribute to our daily allowance?

Here with advice is RVNA’s nutrition team, Meg Whitbeck, MS, RDN, and her newest colleague, Ava Safir, JD, MS, RDN.

How Much?

How much water do we need each day? Half your body weight in ounces per day, increasing to ¾ or even 1x your body weight if you exercise. You can hydrate with any clear beverage that is unsweetened (real or artificial sweetener), decaffeinated, and alcohol-free. Decaf herbal tea, mineral water, seltzer with a splash of fruit juice… it all counts. If you have a health condition that impacts your need for water – always follow the recommendations that your physician provides.

Are all waters created equal?

Mineral water is typically from a natural, spring-fed source. Water that is from a natural source/spring will have minerals in it from the rock/ground surrounding the area. So, if a spring flows through a limestone rock, it will have higher levels of calcium than water that flows over granite. You can also find sodium, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, selenium and many other minerals dissolved into mineral water. That’s the good news. Pollutants also find their way into mineral water too, so you need to proceed with caution.  Know the source of your water, check the bottling dates, and choose glass bottles!
We recommend no more than 10 oz. per day.

Purified water, meanwhile, is treated and filtered to remove any possible contaminants. Distilled water – a form of purified water — is boiled, and the steam is collected and bottled. Distilled water has no minerals in it. Sounds harmless, right?  So why don’t we all drink distilled water all the time? Well, due to the lack of minerals, distilled water doesn’t contain any of the electrolytes, which are minerals, and we need electrolytes for proper hydration and fluid balance in our body. Without electrolytes, we would perish! Who wants that?
We do not recommend drinking distilled water unless it is used to prepare infant formula. 

What about alkaline water?  Well, alkaline water is water that has minerals dissolved into it that raise the pH to a more alkaline level. These minerals are more of those “good-for-you electrolytes” that we just talked about. However, if you water is acidic or too alkaline (aka ‘hard water’), that could be a tad problematic for your teeth, stomach and appliances!
We recommend alkaline water with a known pH of 7.1 – 9.5. 

And seltzer? There is a huge seltzer trend these days. Fizzy and appealing on a hot summer day and the flavors add a little glamour to the whole situation.

Seltzer is carbonated water, usually with natural flavorings added. Ava Safir, MS, RDN, says this: “Seltzer is a great alternative to sugary drinks and sodas when you have a taste for a bubbly treat with flavor. Just be careful to limit your intake to 8-12oz daily since carbonated beverages can increase symptoms of GERD and negatively impact your bone and tooth health.”
To repeat, we recommend no more than 8-12 oz per day.

What about bottled waters – so sleek and attractive?  We are conditioned to think that bottled water is somehow healthier, but .. behold ..  it is not! Bottled waters are expensive and harmful to the environment. Plus, drinking water that has been sitting in plastic for several weeks (or even months) is not ideal. We understand that there’s a time and a place and sometimes bottled water is the only option, but don’t be fooled into thinking there’s an additional health benefit.
We recommend on an as required/needed basis. 

And last but not least, do you want to know what the best water for you is?  The old standby. Tap water.  Cheap, safe, accessible, contains local minerals, environmentally friendly.  It’s hard to beat. If you have a well, be sure to test your water yearly
Our recommendation: turn on your faucets and enjoy in superfluity.

The upshot: Drink mostly tap water. Enjoy carbonated, mineral, and bottled water sporadically.