This year's National Nutrition Month theme is "Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right." The foods we should be eating more of—whole unprocessed or minimally processed foods—have unique natural flavors, but let's admit it, they often don't have the punch of processed foods that are loaded with salt, sugar, and artificial flavor enhancers. How do you make plain whole grains like brown rice or quinoa palatable without using the salt shaker? Is your elegant two-tiered spice rack used more for decor than function?
To meet that challenge, Stop & Shop hosted a tasting event at Boston University last week with Julie Menounos, their nutritionist, and Jeremy Sewall, owner and executive chef of the popular restaurants Lineage, Island Creek Oyster Bar, and Row 34. What better way to learn how to season food properly than from a top chef? At this hands-on cooking class they demonstrated five recipes with an abundant use of fresh herbs and spices. Julie also provided several takeaway tips to help give your everyday meals a flavor boost while controlling sodium:
- Keep it real. Approximately 75% of salt we consume is already in our foods. Processed foods are our biggest source of excess sodium. Make it a point to try one new fruit, vegetable or whole grain each week.
- Read labels. Look for products labeled “sodium-free” (less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving), “very low sodium” (35 milligrams or less per serving), “low sodium” (140 milligrams or less per serving) or “no salt added.” Beware that low and fat-free products often contain more sodium than the original version.
- Get in the kitchen. Preparing your own meals is the best way to control how much sodium goes into your food.
- Retrain your taste buds. It may take up to three months for your body to adjust to eating less salt and sugar, so cut back gradually.
- Stock your spice rack. The 10 basic everyday herbs and spices include: black pepper, oregano, rosemary, ground cinnamon, red pepper, cumin, basil, ground ginger, basil, garlic powder and chili powder. Also stock up on no-salt-added spice blends like Mrs. Dash and McCormick Perfect Pinch.
- Remove the salt and salt shaker. If a recipe calls for a pinch of salt, replace it with an herb or spice. Salt-free don’t mean taste-free. You can try rosemary, marjoram, thyme, tarragon, onion or garlic powder, curry powder, pepper, nutmeg, cumin, ginger, cilantro, bay leaf, oregano, dry mustard, or dill.
- Dress with low-fat flavors. Add vinegar (rice, balsamic, white wine) or citrus juice to foods just before eating. Vinegar is great on vegetables, especially dark leafy greens, cooked or raw. Most vinegars are calorie-free, though seasoned rice vinegar contains sugar and salt. Citrus like lemon, lime, orange, and grapefruit are delicious on fish, berries, broccoli and salad greens.
- Add dried fruits and vegetables to your favorite dishes. Sun dried tomatoes, chili peppers, dried mushrooms (soaked), raisins, figs and currants can add big flavor without a lot of calories.
- Don’t fear unsaturated fats. Enjoy the taste and health benefits of liquid fats such as veggie oils, avocado, fatty fish, nuts and seeds. Try all kinds—olive and grapeseed oil, walnuts and almonds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Toasting nuts and seeds adds a smoky flavor and crunch to salads and brown rice.
- If you’re dining out, try more ethnic cuisines. Choose a restaurant that features food from Asia, Europe or Africa. These restaurants often feature unique seasonal vegetables on their menu that would allow you to try something new.
I was unable to get away from work to attend this event but I tested a few of their recipes at home. I liked their pancake recipe because it was so easy to make and used ingredients I already had. The only downside was that the carrots didn't have time to cook so they were still crunchy. I'd suggest shredding them very fine (e.g., julienned) and/or sauteeing them for a few minutes before adding them to the batter. The honey and almond topping is delicious and the bananas add plenty of sweetness so you won't miss the usual added sugar in the batter!
Whole Wheat Carrot Pancakes with Honey and Almonds
(Makes 8 medium pancakes; 1 serving = 2 pancakes)
2 very ripe bananas
2 large eggs
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup almond milk
½ cup shredded carrots
¼ cup toasted almonds
¼ cup honey
- Mash bananas thoroughly. Mix bananas, eggs, flour, baking soda, salt and milk, beating until you have a smooth mixture. Add shredded carrots. Warm a non-stick pan over medium heat, adding ½ t canola oil or cooking spray to the pan, ensuring it is evenly coated.
- Pour ¼ cup of batter into the pan, and cook until it begins to bubble. Flip over and heat until cooked through. Repeat with the rest of the mixture.
- Serve warm and garnish with toasted almonds and a bit of honey.
Nutrition facts per serving: 265 calories, 8 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 108 mg cholesterol, 330 mg sodium, 46 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, 8 g protein
Disclosure: I received a $50 Stop & Shop gift card to purchase ingredients to test the recipes.