Meals Made For You: They’re Fast AND Healthy

April 20, 2010 at 5:36 pm , by

We’ve all done it: Nuked a few frozen dinners at the end of a crazy work day. As much as I’m sure we’d all like to live the ideal of preparing meals from scratch, sometimes it’s just not doable. So we talked to Dr. Susan Mitchell, PhD, RD, FADA, (the health and nutrition expert for Target) who gave us tips on how to choose the healthiest frozen or prepared foods:

Look for meals high in fiber with zero trans fat and low saturated fat. Fiber helps lower cholesterol and keep you fuller longer. It’s also important to watch out for the sodium content in packaged foods. Take a glance at the ingredient list to find flavorful but natural substitutions for sodium, like herbs and spices. “The ingredients should also appear closest to the way they occur in nature,” Dr. Mitchell says. Whole grains and real veggies and fruits are the way to go.

If you snack in between meals, be sure to check the labels—even for things you think are healthy like granola bars, which can often actually contain super-processed, less-than-healthy ingredients. Again look for whole, natural ingredients, and if your favorite bar has chocolate, steer clear of chocolate that’s been blended with high saturated fats like coconut oil.

Reading labels is a good habit to get into, but if you need a little help we made a cheat sheet of our favorite pre-packaged entrees. They’re tasty and healthy!

Target’s Archer Farms brand (our favorite!) has new “better for you” entrees. The Simply Balanced varities have zero grams of trans fat and no artificial flavors, synthetic colors or sweeteners. Curry Apple Chicken for the family or Cajun Style Beans and Rice are our top picks.
Amy’s Light in Sodium Organic Burrito is low sodium and comes in non-dairy or cheddar cheese.
Pacific Natural Hearty Artisinal Soup (5 varieties) is certified organic as a bonus. Savory Chicken with Wild Rice is delish and has only 120 calories per can.
Healthy Choice All Natural Entrees are high in fiber, low in fat and saturated fat, and have antioxidants to boot. The Portabella Spinach Parmesan is our fave!

What My Son’s Preschool Taught Me

September 24, 2009 at 4:52 pm , by

A preschool lunch made by Wendy Copeland (, a mom who's way out of my league!I was getting a bit lax in the eco-friendly arena. But preschool whipped me into shape.

My son just started preschool for the first time last week, and I thought I’d be the  dorky parent who sends carrot sticks and soy nuts for snacks when everyone else gets Lunchables or some other food that’s “fun,” mainly due to being based on white flour and sugar and housed in disposable cartons, boxes and bags covered with brightly-colored, bug-eyed licensed characters. For at least a minute or two, I seriously worried that he might be a preschool social reject because of his uncool, health-conscious lunches.  (In reality, I think he has a couple years before he risks becoming a pariah on those grounds.)

Turns out I seriously underestimated my ultraprogressive, parent-run preschool.  No Blues Clues-emblazoned Yoplait for this crew! Right in the family handbook, it spelled out a lunch and snack policy that was healthier and way more eco-friendly than I was planning to be. Healthy lunch and snacks only, they said, no sweets allowed—and please send food in reusable containers, with real cups, spoons and forks and a cloth napkin. “This practice will eliminate the waste of paper and plastic and help your child learn to preserve the earth’s resources.”

Whoa. I was planning on being eco-friendly and all, but no yogurt cartons, pretzel packs, or juice boxes EVER? What about those little containers of organic applesauce? Don’t they buy me some moral high ground, despite the plastic? What about my guilty addiction to Ziploc bags? And it would never have occurred to me to send a cloth napkin to school. The responsible citizen in me thought these were excellent rules, but the harried mom thought, “yikes!” I had some shopping to do.

After totally striking out at local stores—cloth napkins for kids and eco-friendly lunch paraphernalia are apparently far from the norm, even in my famously progressive neighborhood—I went online and found some great products (my favorites listed below). Scott was ready to go green.

But something else happened. Preparing his healthy, eco-friendly lunches guilted me into doing the same for myself—and because of his preschool’s rules, I was ready with all the right containers.

The ReSnackIt sandwich bag

I swear my turkey on whole wheat tastes way better in its hip-looking ReSnackIt reusable bag than it would in a Ziploc.  Even those drearily healthy carrot sticks have taken a step up: now they get dipped in the hummus I put in one of the tiny little Sassy containers I got for Scott.

The transformation goes further—as I put his cute cloth napkin into his lunchbox, I find myself thinking that, instead of a paper towel, I really could use a cloth kitchen towel to dry the counter after sponging it. Meanwhile, at work, the Envirosax company sent me a 5-pack of their portable, reusable shopping bags. Thanks to Scott’s preschool giving me a shove in the ecologically correct direction, I decided to try them.

An Envirosax shopping bag

Turns out they’re not only pretty, but practical: They fold up easily to the size of a Kleenex pocket pack, so you can always keep one in your purse, and they have nice long handles so you can hang them from your shoulders, making grocery-carrying a lot easier (a big deal in New York, where you have to shlep your bags for blocks).  Plus, Justin Timberlake uses them. How cool is that?

The upshot: After two weeks, I’ll bet all the paper and plastic Scott and I would have generated—but haven’t—would fill our kitchen garbage can.  I still use too many paper towels and too much plastic, but I feel great about the changes I’ve made. It took some effort to get myself set up with products that make re-using easy, but now it really isn’t so hard to pour some milk into a thermos or spoon some yogurt or applesauce from a big jar to a small container that I can throw in the dishwasher later. I wouldn’t have done it without a push—our culture is set up to encourage excess packaging and the idea that things can be heedlessly thrown away, and it’s so much easier to just go with it.

So, what I’ve learned so far in preschool? Just like the teacher says, rules really can make the classroom a better and happier place. And sometimes, peer pressure can actually be a force for good!

Do you have an eco-friendly lunch product you swear by? Check out my faves, after the jump: Read more

The Health Director Goes to the Salad Bar

September 2, 2009 at 6:22 am , by

salad-barI’m Julia, the editor who gets the free vitamins and veggie power bars, not the free lipsticks. Whose husband peers into the murky depths of the newest antioxidant smoothie in the fridge and says, “What did you bring home this time?”

Giving out health advice for a living is like I have a voice in my head that says everything I eat should be healthy—especially at lunch where my co-workers can see what’s on my desk.

That’s why I love salad bars. Instead of watching the broccoli get all yellowish at home, you can grab just as much as you need, fresh today, plus 3 or 4 more other vegetables. Remember that a serving’s only half a cup (or 1 cup of leafy greens), so it’s not hard to get your minimum five a day. How much do you need exactly? You’ll be surprised.

It’s also easy get those two weekly servings of grilled or steamed fish you’re supposed to eat—at least where I go for lunch—even if you’re not all that good at cooking fish yourself. You do have to beware of obvious hazards like sweet-and-sour anything and oil- or mayo-drenched salads—the reason I usually stick to steamed or raw vegetables. And buy only from a bar with sneeze guards over the food and a staff that replenishes food frequently.

Here’s what I ate yesterday: roast turkey (couldn’t resist a slice of dark in addition to lean white meat), 3 raw asparagus spears; 3 raw broccoli florets; 2 big red pepper rings; small spoonfuls of hearts of palm, broccoli rabe in soy and sesame sauce, and red kidney beans (extra fiber). Dessert was 2 slices of mango and some raspberries.

I wasn’t hungry for hours—until that plate of chocolate cookies walked out of the test kitchen, right past my office to the table where we sample the food. I had to try one. OK, two. Chocolate has antioxidants, right?

Photo via JOE M500

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