How to Cut Back on Waste and Waists

(The Washington Post) -

Healthful-eating columnist and dietitian Ellie Krieger answered questions recently.

Q: I store produce in Tupperware with a vent, or in green bags. I feel like I don’t use it all quickly enough and waste a lot. It’s just me and my husband, who does not eat as healthfully. How can we cut waste without going shopping too frequently?

A: No one wants to see good food go to waste! When it comes to greens, I find they last longest when I wash them and dry them very well, then wrap them in a slightly damp paper towel before placing them in a bag. Other produce will last longer if you wait to wash and cut it until just before use. Also, do not rule out frozen produce (without added seasonings or sweeteners). It has comparable nutrition to fresh, and means you can always have produce at your fingertips even if you haven’t been able to get to the market. Frozen spinach, peas, corn, berries and mango are staples in my home.

Q: When Martha Stewart prepared a duck breast recently, she mentioned that it was in many ways as healthful as a chicken breast. I can’t remember the details of how she explained it. What is your take on this?

A: Chicken breast offers you more protein for fewer calories and less saturated fat than chicken thigh or duck. It is fine to eat chicken thigh and duck once in a while — they are delicious, of course, and also have high-quality protein and even more minerals than chicken breast. But they are higher in calories and saturated fat, so it is best to keep portions on the small side.

Q: I would love it if you could do a column (or series) on what constitutes healthful and unhealthful fat in our diets in light of recent research. I am unclear what I should be looking for when deciding what to incorporate into my diet. I would love your nutritionist’s view.

A: Keep in mind that most of us should be trying to get more monounsaturated fat (avocado and olive oil and nuts) and omega-3s (from fish). But if you add those fats, think about what to swap out (refined sugars and refined flours), since you also want to keep calories in check.

Q: I know processed wheat is a no-no, but what about whole-grain?

A: Whole-grain wheat offers tremendous benefits: B vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, for example. Plus, it is satisfying and tasty. I especially love farro, which is an ancient grain variety. I use it in salads and as a bed for stews. I also enjoy wheat berries and love a hearty, whole-grain bread. As with any food, keep portions in mind. One or two slices of bread or half a cup to a cup farro is a sensible portion range for a meal.

Q: My children are such big fans of sloppy Joes and tacos, but I am trying to use less meat now both for health and spending. Is there a good way to make this type of food without meat?

A: My family is a big fan of sloppy Joes and tacos, too! I like to incorporate chopped sautéed mushrooms and/or beans into my recipes for them so I still use some meat, but up the vegetable factor. You can simply replace a half-pound of the meat in your usual recipe with one drained can of beans or a pound of mushrooms, finely chopped and sautéed. Also remember to use lean ground meat (90 percent lean or higher).

Q: Is there a healthful equivalent to bone broth that is a vegan broth?

A: For those readers who haven’t heard about this craze, bone broth is basically what our grandmothers call stock. Animal bones and sometimes vegetables boiled down to extract all the flavors and minerals and then strained. It is comforting, hydrating, tasty and nutrient-rich. A vegan broth could be made with a variety of vegetables. It wouldn’t give you the same nutrient profile as one made with bones, but it would also be packed with nutrients and flavor.

Q: My 25-year-old nephew loves to work out and is in great shape. However, I’m worried about his diet. He and his [fellow gym enthusiasts] seem to think they need to consume as much protein as possible. Can you recommend the outlines of a sensible diet for active young folks who work out regularly?

A: I know exactly what you are talking about. I have seen guys at my gym order three chicken breasts for lunch — that’s it! A generous amount of protein is important for building muscle, but it doesn’t need to be done at the expense of your health. Getting adequate vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants from a balance of foods (vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, dairy, healthful fats) will help their athletic performance and appearance, ultimately. One easy step in the right direction is to encourage your nephew to fill half his plate with vegetables and/or whole fruit.

Q: One of my resolutions is to be less lazy about reheating leftovers in a real bowl and not just sticking the plastic container in the microwave. Is it still okay to store it in plastic, though?

A: Yes! That’s fine. To be safe, just toss the container if it gets very scratched up.

Q: My goal this year is to try new (to me) vegetables, and in January, it’s celery root. Any brilliant ideas?

A: Celery root is so delicious and underrated. You can use it very much like you would use a potato or a turnip. For hot dishes, you can peel it, cut it into chunks and cook in stews or soups. Also try steaming it until tender and mashing with a little milk, salt and pepper and a touch of butter, just like mashed potatoes.

Q: How can I calculate a serving size when a recipe shares only the number of servings? Is there an easy way to do this?

A: I know it is not common to get serving sizes on recipes. I provide them for all of mine, and it usually means I have to dump the batch of whatever I have made into a large measuring cup and divide by the number of servings. I have not figured out an easier way that is accurate. If you know the volume of the pot you are using, you could also eyeball the total quantity in the pot and divide it without transferring the whole batch.