Podcast 99: Menu Planning 101 with the Organizing Junkie

When someone tells you, “menu planning saved my life,” your ears perk up and you listen! Laura, from I’m an Organizing Junkie, is a menu planning guru, but that wasn’t always the case. Up until four years ago, Laura’s husband did all the cooking. After getting laid off from her job, however, Laura took over the daily task of getting dinner on the table for her family of five. A self-described organizing freak, Laura quickly realized that the benefits of planning a weekly menu far outweighed cooking by the seat of her pants!

Since the launch of our Cooking with the Moms podcast, we have talked about doing a show on menu planning. Ninety nine shows later (talk about being disorganized!), we have an interview with the Organizing Junkie herself, and you won’t want to miss it. In case you don’t have a chance to tune in, here are a few highlights from the show:

Laura’s top reason’s for menu planning:
I never have to come up with a last minute meal idea off the top of my head.
> For the most part, our meals are healthier and well balanced, and it helps me avoid last minute unhealthy desperation meals.
> I always have the ingredients in the house for whatever I’m making because I make up my menu plan before going grocery shopping.
> I save money by not buying groceries I don’t end up using and by planning my weekly menu around what is on sale that particular week.

Laura’s strategy for menu planning:
> I sit down on Sunday night with my menu planning pad & pencil, a pile of cookbooks, the grocery store flyer and my laptop (so I can access the recipe favorites I have saved on my computer).
> I consider my recipe selection criteria — prep time of 30 minutes or less, simple, short ingredient list, healthy and not high in fat.
> Thursday is the day I always schedule for leftovers, I often choose a slow cooker recipe, and one meal per week is meatless.
> Once my menu is created I then make up my grocery list from the chosen recipes. I, without fail, go grocery shopping every Monday morning. This is essential for my plan to work.

Laura’s Menu Plan Monday blog feature:
Every Monday, Laura hosts Menu Plan Monday where she posts her weekly menu along with recipe links. Amazingly, the 300-plus other bloggers across the blogosphere who participate in Menu Plan Monday also post their menus. It’s a recipe swap like you’ve never seen!

A few weeks ago, Laura included our Teriyaki Salmon in Foil recipe in her Menu Plan Monday lineup. Her family loved the dish, so we decided to share it here on our blog.

Teriyaki Salmon in Foil

Makes 4 Servings

  • 1/4 cup lite teriyaki sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger *
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 ½ cups snow pea pods (about 4 ounces), trimmed
  • 1 large carrot, cut into 2-inch long very thin “matchstick” strips (about 1 cup)
  • Four 5-ounce salmon fillets, skin removed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds, optional

1.  Preheat oven to 400°F.  Cut four 14-inch square pieces of aluminum foil and set aside.

2.  In a bowl, whisk together the teriyaki sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, ginger, and cornstarch until well blended.

3.  Lay the snow peas and carrots in the center of each piece of foil.  Lay the salmon on top of the vegetables and season with salt and pepper.  Spoon the teriyaki mixture evenly over each piece of salmon.  Seal each packet by bringing up the sides and folding the top edge over twice.  Seal the edges in the same way.

4.  Place the packets on a baking sheet and bake until the fish is cooked through and the vegetables are tender, about 18 minutes.  Open the packets (be careful of the steam!), place the salmon on individual plates, top with the vegetables and sauce, and serve. Top with toasted sesame seeds as desired (this dish goes great with rice).

*For convenience, use bottled minced ginger.

Nutrition Info per Serving: 240 calories, 7g fat (1g saturated, 1.6g omega-3), 450mg sodium, 12g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 33g protein, 110% vitamin A, 25% vitamin C

Print Recipe

We can’t thank Laura enough for taking the time to speak with us this week. To say she’s an inspiration would be an understatement. And though we’d be the first to admit we’re lacking the organizing gene, we do have a couple of free tools on our main site designed to turn your meal planning dreams into a reality: Supermarket Shopping List and 7-Day Meal Planner.

Next week on Cooking with the Moms, we celebrate our 100th show! Keep an eye on our Facebook fan page because we’ll be announcing a way you can call us (via Skype) to record an anniversary message!

Teen Nutrition Part 2: Common Questions & Answers (Podcast 98)

In Part 2 of our Teen Nutrition series, we answer some common questions posed by teens and their parents. For the past several years, we’ve spoken to 7th graders and their parents from the R.J. Grey Junior High School in Acton, MA, and certain questions seem to pop up every time. If you have questions about teens and nutrition, ask away … or tune into this week’s Cooking with the Moms for lots of chatter about helping teens eat better.

Q: Can certain foods fight teen stress? If so, what are they?
There is no solid research to support that the consumption of a specific food or foods can ward off stress. Eating to beat stress is really about making wise food choices and eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. Regular exercise has been shown to relieve stress by boosting the production of endorphins (natural mood enhancers), and it has other benefits too: Exercise can build muscle, help with weight control, and it may help reduce the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease. Eating well and being physically active are positive steps you can take toward feeling less stress. Here are a few other things to consider: Eat healthy snacks between meals to avoid hunger (which can make you cranky), get plenty of sleep, avoid alcohol and tobacco, laugh and don’t take yourself too seriously, think positively, take time for yourself, and practice relaxation techniques such as yoga and deep breathing.

Q: What are the nutritional benefits of peanut butter? If you see “hydrogenated oils” on the label is that a red flag that it’s bad for you?
Nutritionally, peanut butter is a good source of high-quality protein, fiber, vitamin E, and heart-healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats. Since peanut butter is a plant-based food, it’s cholesterol free. The process of hydrogenation turns liquid vegetable oil into a solid fat.  Though the term “hydrogenated oils” gets a bad rap, when a liquid vegetable oil is fully hydrogenated, almost no cholesteol-raising trans fats are formed.  Full hydrogenation increases the amount of saturated fats, mostly in the form of stearic acid, which does not raise levels of the bad LDL cholesterol.  So if you see “hydrogenated oils” on the label, it’s not the same as the more harmful partially hydrogenated oils.

Q: Teenagers drink lots of soft drinks, which can lead to excessive consumption of sugar and calories. Would teens be better off drinking diet soda instead?
A: A recent study found that teen boys, on average, consume about a quart of sugary drinks a day, resulting in excess calories and sugar. Several studies have shown — particularly in children and adolescents — that drinking cola-type beverages may leach calcium from bone due to the high phosphate content in soft drinks. Although diet soft drinks contain zero carbohydrates, fat, and protein, most contain artificial sweeteners, and some evidence suggests that regular use of artificial sweeteners may actually promote weight gain. Therefore, switching to diet soda may not be the best replacement for teens. Instead, turn to water, fizzy drinks made with seltzer and 100% fruit juice, homemade fruit smoothies, lowfat milk, or 100% fruit juice (just be sure to limit juice to no more than 8 – 12 ounces daily). For more information, check out this Harvard School of Public Health web page: Sugary Drinks or Diet Drinks: What’s the Best Choice?

Q: What is the calorie, fat, and saturated fat difference between whole milk, 2%, 1%, and skim? And what does the % stand for?
A: The percent stands for the percent of milk fat. Surprisingly, there is quite a range between the calories, fat, and saturated fat in one 8-ounce glass of whole, 2%, 1% and skim milk (by the way, we each buy 1% lowfat milk for our families).
Whole Milk – 150 calories,  8 grams total fat, 4.5 grams saturated fat
2% Milk — 120 calories, 5 grams total fat, 2.5 grams saturated fat
1% Milk — 100 calories, 2.5 grams total fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat
Skim Milk — 80 calories, .2 grams total fat, .1 gram saturated fat

Q: When a label touts beef or chicken as “natural,” what does that mean? What about grass fed and free range?
According to the USDA, a product can be labeled natural if it contains no artificial ingredients or added color and is only minimally processed (a process which does not fundamentally alter the raw product). The label must explain the use of the term natural such as no added colorings or artificial ingredients or minimally processed. Grass fed or forage fed is defined as the feed source consumed for the lifetime of the ruminant animal, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning. As for free range, producers must demonstrate that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside. For more information, visit the USDAs web page: Meat and Poultry Labeling Terms.

Teenagers, faced with new-found independence, don’t always make the wisest food choices when left to their own devices. So when they’re home (under your watchful eye), be sure to present them with lots of nutritious choices. And if you have the time, show them how to prepare a few simple recipes — a smoothie, a cheese omelet, even muffins. It’s really empowering.  The benefit of teaching teens to cook really hit home when we watched Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution last Friday night. In one of the scenes, he shows a 12-year old boy how to make a chicken and veggie stir-fry, and the kid beamed with pride.

Teen Nutrition Part 1: Meal Makeovers for Teenagers

For the past five years (or maybe six … we’ve lost count), we’ve participated in Project Wellness, a day-long series of workshops for 7th grade students and their parents at the R.J. Grey Junior High School in Acton, MA. The Meal Makeovers for Busy Families class that we teach features lots of tips for boosting the nutritional GPA of teen favorites — things like pizza, chips, soft drinks, and white bagels — and empowers teens to take charge of their diets by choosing lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The class culminates in a Food Network style smoothie contest where teams of teens are given vanilla and fruited yogurt, 100% fruit juices, frozen fruit, and bananas and are challenged to create a delicious smoothie snack.

We begin the class with some silly icebreakers to get everyone thinking “nutrition.” From there, we dive into our makeover tips and the smoothie cook-off. For this post, we thought it would be fun to share our icebreaker activity and makeover tips.

Icebreaker: Name That Food

Q: This tiny vegetable comes in a variety of colors – white, black, brown, and cranberry. Though it is a vegetable it is sometimes referred to as the magical fruit.
A: Beans

Q: This super food gets a bad rap from some cardiologists. Despite its reputation, this incredible edible food is packed with nutrients that keep everything from your eyes to your brain healthy.
A: Eggs

Q: Only 40% of the world’s population has the enzyme needed to digest cow’s milk.  Thanks to this food, people who can’t drink milk can get the calcium and vitamin D they need to maintain strong bones.
A: Soymilk

Q: The average teenage boy consumes nearly four cups of this food each day. It’s packed with calories but zero nutrition, and research shows that consuming too much of it may leach calcium from your bones.
A: Soft drinks

Q: Anthocyanins and phenolics may not sound appetizing, but this fabulous food tastes great when added to a yogurt parfait, topped on pancakes, or blended into a smoothie.
A: Blueberries

When we ask teens what they eat for breakfast and snacks, bagels are often their number-one choice. Bagels are fine … but they’re not exactly nutritional superstars. Rather than tell middle and high school kids to give up their favorite foods, however, we prefer the more low-key makeover approach:

Teen Food Makeovers:

If you like BAGELS …

  • Choose a whole wheat bagel instead of the usual white, or try a mini whole wheat bagel (brands we like are Pepperidge Farm and Thomas’).
  • Top with PB&J, a slice of lowfat cheese, or an egg omelet & cheese.
  • Switch to a homemade muffin, like our Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins, for a change of pace.

If you like TACOS …

  • Add black beans, shredded carrot, or corn to the meat mixture.
  • Use your own seasonings such as cumin, chili powder, and garlic powder instead of the usual salty taco seasoning packet.
  • Choose a healthy taco shell free of trans fats.

If you like PIZZA …

  • Choose healthy toppings such as sauteed mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, or broccoli instead of fatty/salty pepperoni, meatballs, or sausage.
  • When making your own at home, top with lowfat cheese versus full fat.
  • Opt for pizzas made with a whole wheat crust or a blend of whole wheat and white.

If you like HOT DOGS …

  • Look for an all-natural, nitrite-free brand (we like Coleman Natural and Applegate Farms).
  • Use a whole wheat bun.
  • Choose healthy side dishes including crunchy cut up veggies and sliced fresh fruit.

If you like MAC & CHEESE…

  • Choose a natural brand or one made with whole grains (we like Annie’s Homegrown).
  • When using a boxed mac & cheese, make it with 2 tablespoons canola oil vs. 4 tablespoons butter, and use lowfat milk.
  • Add fun mix-ins including petite peas, flaked tuna or salmon, cooked broccoli florets, leftover chicken.

If you like PEAS & CORN …

  • Expand your veggie repertoire with edamame, snow peas sautéed in oil and tossed with light teriyaki sauce, steamed broccoli drizzled with extra virgin olive oil & kosher salt, or sweet potato fries (we like Alexia).

If you like SOFT DRINKS …

  • Make your own fizzy drink by mixing together 100% fruit juice and seltzer or club soda.
  • Switch to water. If it’s boring, add a slice of lemon, orange, or lime.
  • Make a nutrient-packed smoothie or frosty with lots of fresh and/or frozen fruit.

Tell us what you’ve been doing to steer your teen toward healthier food choices. And be sure to check back on Wednesday for Part 2 of our Teen Nutrition series (we’ll be answering some of the most common questions from parents and teens).

Our Facebook Fans Speak Out About National Nutrition Month!

Every Tuesday since mid January, we’ve been joined by intern extraordinaire, Beth, a fourth semester nutrition graduate student at Boston University. Beth has been helping us with recipe development for our second cookbook, and she’s been working hard on various social media projects. Recently, we challenged her to write a blog post about National Nutrition Month (NNM), and here’s what she had to say:

The theme of this year’s National Nutrition Month, sponsored by the American Dietetic Association, is “Nutrition from the Ground Up.”  When I think about that message, I think about the importance of helping children establish positive eating habits and the importance of providing them with nutritious and delicious meals to grow into strong and healthy adults.

To celebrate National Nutrition Month, Liz and Janice asked their Facebook fans what “Nutrition from the Ground Up” means to them.  As an incentive, they offered a giveaway for three books written by fellow dietitian, Elisa Zied:  Feed Your Family Right, So What Can I Eat?, and Nutrition at Your Fingertips.

Well, the comments came flooding in, and after reading through all of them, I realized that a lot of people felt the same connection I did between “nutrition from the ground up” and the role good nutrition plays in kids’ overall health. I loved all of the comments, and I hope you head over to The Moms’ Facebook page to read them. For this post, I thought I’d share a few that really caught my attention:

Sally B: “From the first moment you place food in front of your child, do so in a mindful manner. From the “ground” (crawling stage) to adulthood, keep in mind the following: Know where your food comes from and relay this message to your children.”

Lisa M: “When I asked my four-year old what “from the ground up” means to her, she said that bunnies eat the flowers and plants that grow from the ground up to the sun. She also said that she loves to nibble on veggies just like the bunnies.”

Jennifer H.O.: “Yup–definitely thought of my kids’ planting seeds in little starter cups, transplanting them into the garden, watering them, and then being so excited to pick them and cook them into food. This year, we took potatoes that sprouted eyes and put them in glasses of water to sprout roots. We just transplanted them into a pot and can’t wait until Memorial Day weekend to start our veggie garden!”

Amber M.T.: “It means building a solid nutritional base using as many whole, organic, and locally-grown products as possible, to give everyone in my family a head start towards eating nutritious foods for life.”

Wanda F: “My Grandmother once told me you can spend good money for good food or you can spend it for the doctor. We have seriously got to get back to healthy eating with less fast food or the next generation will be in deep trouble.”

Leah G.S.: “To me, it means to get back to the basics (un-processed foods, growing your own foods, shop the perimeter your grocery store, etc.) and that good health can simply come from … nutrition, from the ground up. I am inspired to shop local farmer’s markets, grow a garden, and eat more fruits and vegetables. Even as a dietitian, we all need to be reminded sometimes.”

To learn more about National Nutrition Month, visit the ADA’s website, eatright.org. While you’re there, you’ll find lots of cool tools including a BMI Calculator, nutrition videos and articles, and diet book reviews.

If you’d like to share YOUR thoughts on “Nutrition from the Ground Up,” I hope you’ll leave a comment here on the blog or on Facebook!

Family Nutrition … it’s our “Beat”

March is National Nutrition Month, and tomorrow is officially National Registered Dietitian Day.  Admittedly, we never knew there was such a day, but then again, there’s a National Pigs-in-a-Blanket Day and a National Blueberry Pancake Day, so we’re thrilled registered dietitians get their own day too.

To celebrate, we’re participating in an RD Blogfest (AKA blog carnival).  For the event, dietitian bloggers across the web are showcasing what it means to be a dietitian and highlighting the different career paths they’ve chosen (see links below).

Dietitians do a host of things.  Those with clinical backgrounds often work in hospitals and nursing homes while others, trained in the area of media and communications, bring their talents to public relations firms, food corporations and major magazines and newspapers.

As The Meal Makeover Moms, we consider ourselves family nutrition experts.  Our journey down that path began in 2004 with the release of our book, The Moms’ Guide to Meal Makeovers.  The book highlights our simple food philosophy that kids – even picky ones — will eat nutritious food without complaint as long as it looks and tastes great. To write the book, we drew upon many experiences – Liz worked as a producer for CNN and PBS for many years, writing and reporting on food and nutrition, and she was also trained at The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts in Cambridge MA; Janice, the uber organizer between us, worked as the dietitian for the U.S. Senate in Washington and spent over a decade collaborating with award-winning chef Daniel Bruce at the Boston Harbor Hotel.

Timing is everything. In 2004, when the web was really starting to take off we launched MealMakeoverMoms.com, our online Meal Makeover Moms’ Club (now over 6,000 members strong), and a monthly e-newsletter.  At that time, we also began hosting hands-on cooking classes for fellow parents and wrote for several parenting magazines including Nick Jr., American Baby, and Kiwi.  Today, we co-host a weekly radio podcast, Cooking with the Moms (anyone can tune in either on our website or on iTunes).  In addition, we have a newly-designed food blog, Meal Makeover Moms’ Kitchen, where we post kid-friendly recipes, mealtime tips, and new food product news several times a week. We mastered a lot of new technologies along the way; we’re still amazed that Janice learned how to edit the podcast and that Liz finally figured out how to post to the blog without breaking out in a cold sweat!

As busy moms, we understand the daily challenge parents face when breakfast, lunch, and dinner rolls around.  By sharing our tried-and-true recipes — Cheeseburger Pizza, Mommy’s EdamamesApple Butterscotch Cake to name a few — and realistic mealtime advice, we aim to make a positive impact on families everywhere.

Blogfest contributors:

Beyond Prenatals -
Food vs. Supplements and Real Advice vs. Fake Advice
Annette Colby -
No More Diets! A Registered Dietitian Shares 9 Secrets to
Real and Lasting Weight Loss
Ashley Colpaart -
Dietitians working in food policy, a new frontier
Diana Dyer -
There & Back Again: Celebration of National Dietitian Day
Marjorie Geiser -
RD Showcase for National RD Day - What we do
Cheryl Harris -
Me, a Gluten Free RD!
Marilyn Jess -
National Registered Dietitian Day--RD Blogfest
Julie Lanford -
Antioxidants for Cancer Prevention
Renata Mangrum -
What I'm doing as I grow up...
Liz Marr -
Fruits and Veggies for Registered Dietian Day: Two Poems
Jill Nussinow -
The Registered Dietitian Lens I Look Through
Wendy Jo Petersen -
March 11 is our day to shine!
Diane Preves -
RDs & the White House Forum on Health Reform
Andy Sarjahani -
Green Eggs and Ham and a Sustainable Food System
Rebecca Scritchfield -
Big Tips from a "Big Loser"
Anthony Sepe -
RD Showcase: Registered Dietitian Day, March 11, 2009
Kathy Shattler -
RD Showcase for Nutri-Care Consultation
UNL-Extension, Douglas/Sarpy County -
Nutrition Know How - Making Your Life Easier 
Monika Woolsey -
Dietitians--Can't Do PCOS Without Them!
Monika Woolsey -
In Honor of National Registered Dietitian Day
Jen Zingaro -
My life as a Registered Dietitian

Think About Your Drink

Unfortunately, when teens are thirsty, they often grab for sweetened beverages — soft drinks, juice drinks, and sports drinks — guzzling lots of calories … but little to no nutrients. Now, a new pilot program in Boston called, the Boston Corner Store Iniative, aimes to change all that. Through the project, eight convenience stores located near six Boston middle schools will market healthier beverages such as lowfat milk, plain water, and 100% fruit juices to the kids who frequent corner stores before or after school. The goal is to get kids to nix the nutritionally lackluster, sugary drinks in favor of other nutrient-packed options. According to Mayor Thomas Menino, “The increased consumption of soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages is directly linked to rising obesity and diabetes rates among children and youth. This is an effort to get students to think about what they drink before they make their purchases.” We applaud this initiative and hope other communities will follow suit. What efforts are underway in your community to promote better health and nutrition among children and teens? We’d love to hear from you!

No Burping at the Table

As a mom of two rambunctious boys — 12-year old Josh and 8-year old Simon — Liz knows how frustrating it can feel when kids burp, whine, diss the meal and get up and down during dinner. That’s why she put the kibosh on bad manners and roudy mealtime behavior when her kids were young. With realistic and enforcable food rules, family meals are now a pleasurable daily ritual. Visit Meal Makeover TV to watch our Food Rules video clip featuring simple strategies for implementing the following rules:

  • Practice Good Manners at the Dinner Table
  • Mom is the Executive Chef, Not the Short-Order Cook
  • Drop Out of the Clean Plate Club
  • Let Them Eat Cake … Sometimes

Janice Meets Oprah

We’ve been told for years that we should be on the Oprah Winfrey Show to share our ideas & tips for feeding families a healthy diet. Janice finally had the opportunity to talk with/beg Oprah to let us on her show. Unfortunately, Janice didn’t get a response from the Diva of Daytime TV because the Oprah Janice spoke to was made of wax. “Wax, you say?” Yes, since their meeting took place at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in New York City, it was impossible to get any sort of dialog going (though Janice did do her best). If anyone knows the real Oprah, feel free to tell her all about us!

Eat Lean!

A couple of weeks ago, Janice was in Naples, Florida speaking at a food conference (while Liz was back in the test kitchen slaving over a hot stove). On the panel with Janice was Sally Squires, longtime Health & Nutrition Columnist for the Washington Post. Sally just released her new weight loss book, Secrets of the Lean Plate Club. Her “non-diet” approach is refreshing, and the book is filled with strategies, recipes and physical activity ideas to help people reach their weight loss goals. If you’d like to receive Sally’s weekly Lean Plate Club newsletter, click here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/12/AR2006101200647.html