March is when spring begins to show its colors, college basketball teams get competitive, leprechauns celebrate in city streets and, most importantly, registered dietitians bring awareness to the benefits of nutritious living.
What started as “National Nutrition Week” in 1973, became National Nutrition Month in 1980 when the public interest in nutrition became apparent. This year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics theme is Savor the Flavor of Eating Right– this message speaks to the emotional and cultural aspects of a healthy lifestyle, stressing the importance of choosing foods that are nutrient-dense.
What is considered “healthy” does not always fall into the same sentence as “tasty.” Society, including Veterans, has described foods like “cardboard” when speaking about whole grains, and “bland” when tasting meals with lower salt content. However, if given the chance to bite into a ripe tomato or a crisp summer pepper, most people change their tune.
As a registered dietitian who works in the TeleMOVE! program at the Ann Arbor, Michigan VA, I’ve heard Veterans voice concerns that eating healthy is costly. However, buying fresh foods that are in season helps to maintain a food budget. When there’s plenty of seasonal produce, stores charge less to get them off of the shelves quickly. This is an excellent way to save money, try something new, eat well.
Despite their naturally sweet and savory tastes, a busy day or many stressors may impact a person’s ability to enjoy healthy foods. The key word in this year’s theme is “savor.” While a person is working to improve dietary choices, it is important to be conscious to make sure healthy foods are enjoyed to the max.
There are tricks of the trade that I’ve shared with Veterans I work with at the Ann Arbor VA. First, as mentioned above, look for fruits and vegetables that are in-season. For example, apples are picked in the fall, meaning they will be at their best during this time. The “Produce for Better Health Foundation” has a website that identifies the best seasons to find them: Best Season to Find Your Favorite Fruits and Vegetables
The website includes meal planning and recipe ideas. For example, apples are enjoyed whole, but they’re also great in a salad or chopped and added to a low-fat yogurt.
Through cooking you can sample foods and experience new flavors. This March, try new meal and snack choices by trying a new fruit or vegetable. Instead of celery in a soup, fennel may be a possible substitute. If a routine side salad is no longer providing that filling crunch, sautéed greens may be a savory substitute. Nutritious eating can be an adventure if approached with an open mind.
Ask if your VA offers Healthy Teaching Kitchen classes, or ask to meet with a registered dietitian to get some ideas on how to “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right” this March.
Bethany Grzesiak is a clinical dietitian at the Ann Arbor VA Medical who works directly with Veterans enrolled in the TeleMOVE! Weight Management Program. She has had the wonderful opportunity of also working with and learning from the dietitians at the Cleveland Louis Stokes VA Hospital and Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center in Saginaw, Michigan.