6 Better Ways to Eat Potatoes — Comfort Food Feast

We could go on and on about the health benefits of sweet potatoes, but you’ve already heard the spiel. The problem with these fleshy orange tubers is that some people just don’t like them, no matter what — and when we slather on butter and brown sugar to mask the taste, we’ve completely lost sight of the original purpose.

For anyone who’s tried making the switch but just can’t adjust, it may be time to reconsider good old russets and Yukon golds, which actually provide a solid dose of potassium, calcium and vitamin B6 (just to name a few). In truth, the humble potato is vastly underrated in terms of nutritional benefits. Due to the increased interest in foods that are low-carb or have a low glycemic index value, the potato has unjustly earned a bad reputation. But a few simple modifications can turn a classic baked potato or — dare we say it — fries into a reasonable side dish. Here are the recipes to prove it.

Baked
Food Network Kitchen’s Twice-Baked Potatoes (pictured at top) still taste buttery and rich but are much lighter than the full-fat version. The secret? They’re made with a small amount of butter and reduced-fat cream cheese.

Roasted
Condiments pack a lot of hidden sugars and are often the culprit behind excessively caloric side dishes. Luckily, it doesn’t take much beyond roasted garlic and a few sprigs of fresh rosemary to dress up these classic Roasted Yukon Potatoes. Food Network Kitchen recommends serving the wedges hot out of the oven; that way, you can take full advantage of the warm, golden skin.

Fried
Your kids will be beyond excited when they see these Spiced Oven-Fried Potatoes on the table. They’re tossed with spices and a little vegetable oil, then baked until crispy for a comforting snack weighing in under 200 calories.

Mashed
Yellow-fleshed potatoes, like Yukon golds, are dense, creamy and moderately starchy, making them perfect for mashed potatoes — especially these Vegan Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes, which have no dairy and are low in calories and fat.

Scalloped
These Low-Fat Scalloped Potatoes from Food Network Magazine use Gruyère cheese, and because the cheese has a ton of nutty flavor, you don’t have to use a lot of it.

Gratin
This hearty dish of Provencal Potatoes Gratin could be a meal all on its own. The sliced-tomato topping adds extra color and fresh flavor to this elegant French take on potatoes. It’s perfect for just about any special occasion, but no one can fault you for making this gratin on a whim.

For more comforting potato dishes, check out these recipes from our friends:

Creative Culinary: Bacon and Caramelized Onion Potato Salad
Homemade Delish: Parmesan-Crusted Potato Wedges
Elephants and the Coconut Trees: Stir-Fried Purple Potatoes
In Jennie’s Kitchen: Slow Cooked Baked Potatoes
Taste with the Eyes: Flatbread Pizza: Potato, Arugula, Sour Cream, Chives, Olive, Truffle, Lemon
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Mashed Russet and Sweet Potato Casserole
Red or Green: Taco Stuffed Baked Potatoes
The Wimpy Vegetarian: Sweet Potatoes Anna with Apples and Raisins
From My Corner of Saratoga: Air Fried French Fries
FN Dish: 5 Downright Perfect Potato Dishes

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7 Foods Nutritionists Would Never Grab at the Airport

Vacation time is around the corner, which means you may come face to face with airport food. Although recently many airports have started offering healthier fare, there are still many unhealthy choices available; making healthy choices can be difficult, especially when you’re really hungry or thirsty and have nowhere else to go. I was curious to know which foods nutritionists would never grab when faced with this dilemma, so I asked seven nutritionists who like to travel what foods are on their no-no list.

Energy Drinks

“I like to read, write or fall asleep when I board a flight, so drinking something with lots of caffeine, sugar and a slew of ingredients … has zero appeal to me. In addition, the dry cabin air during the flight is dehydrating enough, so adding a load of caffeine to further promote the process is something I avoid. My in-flight drink of choice is water, and I’ll occasionally take a cup of tomato juice over ice.”

— Christy Wilson, R.D., culinary dietitian, writer and founder of ChristyWilsonNutrition.com

Cold Airport Sandwiches

“I will not touch cold sandwiches from airports. Trust me, I LOVE bread, but there is nothing good from the bread in sandwiches at airports. Aside from being plain nasty in taste, they are caloric dense, nutrient scarce and overly sized. [The] same can be said about the fillings of the sandwich, which often are full of highly processed meats with old lettuce.”

— Manuel Villacorta, M.S., R.D., founder and author of Whole Body Reboot, WholeBodyReboot.com

Fried Food

“I don’t eat it at home, so I certainly wouldn’t eat it while traveling (especially if I’m stuck on a long flight). It falls in line with one of my rules: “Eat as if,” which basically means choose and order food the same way you would if you were making it at home. I don’t own a deep fryer, so fried food is a no-no.”

— Danielle Omar, M.S., R.D., integrative dietitian at FoodConfidence.com

Yogurt Parfaits and Fruit Smoothies

“I avoid the large yogurt parfaits or fruit smoothies made up with sugar-filled frozen yogurts. This is because even though they are typically promoted as healthy, they all can actually be extremely high in either added sugar or hidden additives and preservatives that may aggravate the gut. I look for options that provide more protein, dietary fiber and/or healthy fats with ‘cleaner line’ labels, such as plain Greek yogurt, nuts (that have not been roasted in added vegetable oils), chopped vegetables and hummus mixes, or natural nut or protein bars without artificial sweeteners or added sugars.”

— Australian dietitian Kara Landau of the Travelling Dietitian, TravellingDietitian.com

Sugary Foods

“I would never reach for super-sugary foods like elaborate coffee drinks and candy, since they provide minimal nutrition and leave you feeling even more jet-lagged. Instead, I opt for quick, easy, fresh options like hummus, fruit, nuts, bean burrito bowls with salsa, or veggie soup.”

— Alexis Joseph, M.S., R.D., author of Hummusapien.com and co-founder of Alchemy Juice Bar + Cafe

High-Sodium Drinks and Snacks

“As a frequent flyer, I’m thrilled that there are so many more healthful choices in airports of the world, but there are still food and beverage choices I would fly right by. Because dehydration is one of the side effects of air travel, I avoid foods and beverages high in sodium (which only make matters worse). Skip the Bloody Mary mix and choose plain tomato juice, or better yet, go for grapefruit or orange juice, which is low in sodium and high in vitamin C, which can help ward off cold and flu germs floating around the airport and onboard.

I also avoid heavily salted nuts and snack chips and choose plain roasted nuts if available. If I need to crunch on something to soothe travel stress, most airport kiosks and even newsstands stock healthy snacks such as packaged cut-up fresh produce, such as apples, carrots and celery. Also, when people buy these foods, it signals an increase in passenger demand, so airport outlets will keep offering healthier choices on the fly.”

— Carolyn O’Neil, M.S., RDN, author of The Slim Down South Cookbook, ONeilOnEating.com

Muffins

“When I am passing through the airport, muffins have always been something that call out my name. Most airport or commercial muffins are huge, meaning a ton of calories and most likely a ton of fat. Even if the muffin is marketed as ‘low-fat,’ it tends to have a ton of sugar. I always crave comfort food when traveling, and this is one I always avoid.”

— Ilyse Schapiro, M.S., RDN, co-author of Should I Scoop Out My Bagel?: And 99 Other Answers to Your Everyday Diet and Nutrition Questions, to Help You Lose Weight, Feel Great, and Live Healthy

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Ways to Prevent Kids from Eating Junk On Vacation

Many families are hitting the beach or the slopes for some quality time. If your vacations are usually filled with junk food, here are some simple strategies to upgrade your travel food game.

Day Trips

A few hours in the car can easily lead to a dietary disaster. Instead of hitting up every rest stop on the turnpike, plan ahead and make it fun. Pack a finger-food-filled picnic. The menu shouldn’t be fancy; include healthy kid faves like good old PB&J, and turkey and cheese wraps. Complete the meal with 100 percent juice drinks, something crunchy like popcorn and some fresh fruit. Keep food cool in a small freezer bag with an ice pack so you can save the pit stops for seeing interesting landmarks or filling up the gas tank. If packing ahead isn’t an option, scout out healthier places along your route or hit up a grocery or specialty foods store instead of settling for fast food.

If the car ride is longer than two hours, be prepared with extra nonperishable snacks for unforeseen traffic jams and other delays. Whole-grain pretzels, nuts, granola bars and applesauce pouches don’t require refrigeration, and if you don’t use them, they can easily be saved for another time. Finally, bring along a small garbage bag for trash so scraps don’t populate the entire floor of your backseat by the end of your trip.

Overnight Trips

When travel plans include plane rides or overnight hotel stays, families typically rely more heavily on takeout and restaurant options. There are some things you can do to ensure that not all meals are over the top.

Resorting to eating out for every meal can get pricey and lead to a lot of extra junk. Having a small arsenal of healthy favorites on hand for small meals and snacks can help keep everyone happy and satisfied (including parents!). If the trip will be extended beyond one night, try to get a room with a kitchen or kitchenette (even a fridge and microwave can go a long way). Find a local grocery store ahead of time, where you can pick up staples like milk, bread, breakfast cereal, fruit, snacks and sandwich stuff. If you’ll be traveling to a more remote location, consider shipping a small box of these items to your destination ahead of time. Shipping is often more affordable than the upcharge of grocery stores in resort locations.

Let It Go …

Wherever your travels take you, remember that the food is part of the fun. Don’t expect your family to eat perfectly (or even eat normally) when on vacation. Find the happy medium; allow for some special treats, but also take the opportunity to teach your kids that vacation isn’t a free pass to eat like crap. Help them learn to make smart choices combined with a few special splurges — it will serve them well as they grow into adult travelers.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition.

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It’s National Cheese Lover’s Day! You Can Eat Cheese as Part of a Healthy Diet

It’s true: You can have your cheese and eat it, too, especially on this national food holiday. Many cheeses are naturally lower in fat and calories, like Parmesan and Romano. Use the size of your thumb for measuring the proper portion, which is about an ounce of cheese. One ounce of Parmesan has more protein than the same amount of red meat (10 grams) and clocks in at 111 calories, 7 grams of fat and 5 grams of saturated fat. An ounce of whole-milk mozzarella has 85 calories, 6 grams of fat and 4 grams of saturated fat. Cheese also has calcium, vitamin B12 and phosphorus, and counts towards the USDA’s recommendation of three daily servings of dairy.

In honor of National Cheese Lover’s Day, we chatted with perhaps the biggest cheese lover of them all, Cathy Strange, the global cheese buyer for Whole Foods Market, about how she incorporates cheese into her overall diet (which we think probably consists 95 percent of cheese). She and her team carry over 1,500 varieties of cheese that are free of artificial flavors, added growth hormones and preservatives.

• Buy only the amount of cheese you will actually eat within three days. Keep it in your crisper drawer wrapped in wax paper or in a Tupperware container. Cheese is actually alive, so the more it sits and is exposed to air, the less delicious it will taste.

• Buy more-flavorful cheese. High-quality and tasty cheeses like clothbound cheddars, intense blues like Stilton and creamy Camemberts mean that you’ll feel totally satisfied by eating the recommended 2 ounces. That’s actually a lot of cheese.

• Cheese is actually a probiotic and is easy to digest (especially older cheeses).

• Cheese should really have only four ingredients. If your cheese has more, it’s likely processed. Know what you’re eating by looking at cheese labels and making sure the primary ingredient is: milk.

• No lactose? No problem — 97 percent of lactose is eliminated when whey is removed from milk in the cheese-making process. And aged cheeses like Parmesan have no detectable lactose whatsoever.

• Pair cheese with fruit or nuts for a balanced snack. A handful of skin-on nuts (for bitterness), or a few slices of apple or even pineapple, is the perfect pairing for cheese.
So go ahead and celebrate!

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EHR Incentive Programs: Where We Go Next

Where We’ve Been

As we mentioned in a speech last week, the Administration is working on an important transition for the Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Program. We have been working side by side with physician organizations and have listened to the needs and concerns of many about how we can make improvements that will allow technology to best support clinicians and their patients. While we will be putting out additional details in the next few months, we wanted to provide an update today.

In 2009, the country embarked on an effort to bring technology that benefits us in the rest of our lives into the health care system. The great promise of technology is to bring information to our fingertips, connect us to one another, improve our productivity, and create a platform for a next generation of innovations that we can’t imagine today.

Not long ago, emergency rooms, doctor’s offices, and other facilities were sparsely wired. Even investing in technology seemed daunting. There was no common infrastructure. Physician offices often didn’t have the capital to get started and it was hard for many to see the benefit of automating silos when patient care was so dispersed. We’ve come a long way since then with more than 97 percent of hospitals and three quarters of physician offices now wired.

It’s taken a tremendous commitment by physicians, hospitals, technologists, patient groups and experts from all over the country to make the progress we’ve made together in a few short years. The EHR Incentive Programs were designed in the initial years to encourage the adoption of new technology and measure the benefits for patients. And while it helped us make progress, it has also created real concerns about placing too much of a burden on physicians and pulling their time away from caring for patients.

Transitioning From Measuring Clicks to Focusing on Care

Last year, the Administration and Congress took two extraordinary steps to put patients at the center of how we pay for care and support physicians. First, the Administration set a goal that 30 percent in 2016 and 50 percent in 2018 of Medicare payments will be linked to getting better results for patients, providing better care, spending healthcare dollars more wisely, and keeping people healthy. And, second, Congress advanced this goal through the passage of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), which considers quality, cost, and clinical practice improvement activities in calculating how Medicare physician payments are determined. While MACRA also continues to require that physicians be measured on their meaningful use of certified EHR technology for purposes of determining their Medicare payments, it provides a significant opportunity to transition the Medicare EHR Incentive Program for physicians towards the reality of where we want to go next.

What Comes Next

We have been working side by side with physician and consumer communities and have listened to their needs and concerns. As we move forward under MACRA, we will be sharing details and inviting comment as we roll out our proposed regulations this spring. All of this work will be guided by several critical principles:

  1. Rewarding providers for the outcomes technology helps them achieve with their patients.
  2. Allowing providers the flexibility to customize health IT to their individual practice needs. Technology must be user-centered and support physicians.
  3. Leveling the technology playing field to promote innovation, including for start-ups and new entrants, by unlocking electronic health information through open APIs – technology tools that underpin many consumer applications. This way, new apps, analytic tools and plug-ins can be easily connected to so that data can be securely accessed and directed where and when it is needed in order to support patient care.
  4. Prioritizing interoperability by implementing federally recognized, national interoperability standards and focusing on real-world uses of technology, like ensuring continuity of care during referrals or finding ways for patients to engage in their own care. We will not tolerate business models that prevent or inhibit the data from flowing around the needs of the patient.

What This Means for Doctors and Hospitals 

As we work through a transition from the staged meaningful use phase to the new program as it will look under MACRA, it is important for physicians and other clinicians to keep in mind several important things:

  1. The current law requires that we continue to measure the meaningful use of ONC Certified Health Information Technology under the existing set of standards. While MACRA provides an opportunity to adjust payment incentives associated with EHR incentives in concert with the principles we outlined here, it does not eliminate it, nor will it instantly eliminate all the tensions of the current system. But we will continue to listen and learn and make improvements based on what happens on the front line.
  2. The MACRA legislation only addresses Medicare physician and clinician payment adjustments. The EHR incentive programs for Medicaid and Medicare hospitals have a different set of statutory requirements. We will continue to explore ways to align with principles we outlined above as much as possible for hospitals and the Medicaid program.
  3. The approach to meaningful use under MACRA won’t happen overnight. Our goal in communicating our principles now is to give everyone time to plan for what’s next and to continue to give us input. We encourage you to look for the MACRA regulations this year; in the meantime, our existing regulations – including meaningful use Stage 3 – are still in effect.
  4. In December, Congress gave us new authority to streamline the process for granting hardship exception’s under meaningful use. This will allow groups of health care providers to apply for a hardship exception instead of each doctor applying individually. This should make the process much simpler for physicians and their practice managers in the future. We will be releasing guidance on this new process soon.

These principles we’ve outlined here reflect the constructive and clear articulation of issues and open sharing of views and data by stakeholders across the health care system, but they also promote our highest priority – better care for the beneficiaries of the Medicare and Medicaid program and patients everywhere.

The challenge with any change is moving from principles to reality. The process will be ongoing, not an instant fix and we must all commit to learning and improving and collaborating on the best solutions. Ultimately, we believe this is a process that will be most successful when physicians and innovators can work together directly to create the best tools to care for patients. We look forward to working collaboratively with stakeholders on advancing this change in the months ahead.

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The New Wave of Frozen Dinners

Have you taken a stroll down the frozen-foods aisle lately? Dinner options are a lot different than you might remember. There are way more choices to select from, including many that claim to be a healthier choice. As if that weren’t confusing enough, there are also delivery services that bring frozen meals to your doorstep. But are these frozen meals really healthier, quick alternatives to a home-cooked meal? Here are four you may want to give a try.

Luvo (pictured at top)
Luvo believes that frozen meals should be delicious, nutritious, convenient and environmentally friendly. They use antibiotic-free meat and poultry, and non-GMO ingredients whenever possible. The meals contain no high-fructose corn syrup, no artificial preservatives, no artificial flavors or colorings, and no hydrogenated fats. All entrees contain one or more servings of fruits and vegetables. Sample meals include Kale Ricotta Ravioli, Chicken & Harissa Chickpeas, Quinoa & Vegetable Enchiladas and Red Wine Braised Beef & Polenta.

Evol Lean & Fit
Evol, which is “love” spelled backward, has a Lean & Fit line of delicious meals like Parmesan Polenta & Veggies, Coconut Lemongrass Chicken and Fire Grilled Chicken Poblano. The Lean & Fit line is low-fat, gluten-free and made from chicken raised without antibiotics. Meals range from around 250 to 300 calories, and their sodium content is between 15 and 25 percent of the daily recommended amount.

Elite Lifestyle Cuisine
This healthy-meal delivery service uses flash-freezing to help maintain the quality of their food. They have also found it to be the best method to help preserve the quality and taste of their products. Meals are prepared with calorie balance in mind, using high-quality proteins, small amounts of healthy fats and low-glycemic-index carbs. The meals are additive- and preservative-free, with low amounts of sugar and sodium, and the meats in them are hormone- and antibiotic-free. Dishes include 3-Bean Chili, Asian Stir Fry with Chicken Over Brown Rice and Heart-Healthy Salmon. The cost is the downside of these meals, which run between $8.95 and $12.50 each if you order a la carte; you can choose a package plan to save.

Amy’s Organic Light & Lean
Although the Amy’s brand isn’t new to your grocery aisle, its Light & Lean choices are a newer addition. Amy’s offers 18 products in this lighter line, such as Macaroni & Cheese, Sweet & Sour Bowl and Black Bean & Cheese Enchiladas. Amy’s doesn’t use additives, preservatives or GMO ingredients. All foods are vegetarian and a good choice paired with a fresh green salad on the side.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

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5-Ingredient Salmon and Broccoli Stir-Fry

After New Year’s Day, when I’m back from holiday travel and indulging, my body craves a clean-eating detox diet. Light and flavorful seafood dishes hit the spot, since they’re packed with protein and good fats. Alas, fresh wild Alaskan salmon is out of season, so what’s a girl to do? It’s frozen salmon to the rescue. Since the texture of seafood changes from freezing, it’s important to add moisture back in and cook it right. I’ve also discovered that cutting salmon into bite-size pieces, like those in a stir-fry, also enhances the texture of this omega-3-rich fish.

Lately I’ve turned food waste prevention into high gear. You can nearly double your dollar by using the broccoli stems, a part of the plant that many people throw away. The key is slicing the meaty stems lengthwise once or twice, and then slicing crosswise 1/4-inch thick. This results in the stems cooking to the same doneness as the florets.

You can enjoy this dish as is, or served over steamed brown rice or brown rice noodles.

5-Ingredient Salmon and Broccoli Stir-Fry
Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 20 min
Cook Time: 10 min

1 large bunch broccoli, florets cut bite-size, long stems sliced (about 4 cups)
1 medium orange, zest finely grated, fruit juiced*
2 teaspoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 pound salmon, skinned, patted dry, cut bite-size
2 cloves garlic, minced

Add 1/2 inch water to a large wok or saute pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the broccoli, covering loosely to allow steam to escape. Cook until bright green and nearly fork-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and transfer broccoli to a plate. Wipe remaining broccoli debris from the pan.

Combine the orange zest, juice and soy sauce in a small bowl. Season the salmon with a pinch of salt and black pepper. Place the pan on medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon high-heat cooking oil, like rice bran, canola or grapeseed. Tilt the pan to thoroughly coat the surface where you will be placing the salmon. Carefully add the salmon to the hot oil, reduce heat to medium, and sprinkle in the garlic. Cook undisturbed until browned on the bottoms, and the sides of the salmon turn opaque, about 3 minutes. Pour in the orange and soy sauce, and turn the salmon. Add the broccoli. Cook until the salmon is cooked through and the juice thickens a bit, about 3 minutes, reducing the heat to medium-low. To serve, spoon the sauce over the salmon and broccoli. Serve with rice or noodles, and additional soy sauce.

*Cook’s Note: If you prefer a bit sweeter and more orangey taste, prepare this dish with the zest and juice of 2 oranges.

Per serving: Calories 265; Fat 14 g (Saturated 2 g); Cholesterol 50 mg; Sodium 240 mg; Carbohydrate 15 g; Fiber 5 g; Protein 22 g

Michelle Dudash is a registered dietitian nutritionist, Cordon Bleu-certified chef consultant and the creator of Clean Eating Cooking School: Monthly Meal Plans Made Simple.

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