It's rare that I serve a meal without cheese. It adds a generous dose of calcium for healthy bones and teeth, as well as protein which helps create a feeling of fullness after a meal. The best part about adding cheese to a meal though, is the comfort that it brings. Cheese brings homecooked meals to a whole new level of deliciousness —it's the component of the meal that makes you close your eyes and savour every bite.
Over the years, cheese has gotten a bad rap in the nutrition world, mainly due to its fat content, but as a dietitian it makes me so happy to see that people are realizing that dietary fat isn't so bad—that it's essential for proper health—and that cheese is actually a very nutrient-dense food. Adding a bit of cheese to meals also adds joy and comfort to an eating experience, something that is just as important nutrition-speaking as receiving essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals, in my mind.
Here are my top five favourite ways to include cheese in family meals and snacks:
One of our favourite fast and easy (but healthy) meals is the "melt." Start with high-fibre whole grain bread and top it with your protein-rich food of choice: tuna, leftover chicken, leftover ground beef, pan-fried egg, etc. Add sliced tomato, sprinkle with our favourite cheese, and pop under the broiler for a couple of minutes. Melted cheese adds a "comfort factor" and delicious flavour to your typical open-faced sandwiches and creates a meal everyone will love!
Fresh fruit is our go-to snack, but without pairing it with some protein, it doesn't keep bellies full for too long. Pair your favourite fruits such as peaches, plums, apples, grapes, berries and banana with some cheddar or mozzarella cheese and you have the perfect nutritious, delicious and filling snack for both parents and kids. Try cheese strings if you're on the go! These cheese apple stacks are one of my little guy's favourites. Slice a cored apple width-wise twice and spread peanut butter and top with dried cranberries on the bottom layer, and then put sliced cheddar cheese on the top layer (or use cheese for both!).
One of our other favourite snacks is cheese, crackers and fruit. If you're pairing your cheese and fruit with whole grain crackers such as Triscuits Original or Low Sodium, you've got a great balance of nutrients that includes fibre, protein, calcium and several vitamins and minerals. This combo could also easily be made into a quick and balanced meal. Cheese pairs so well with both crackers and fruit, so combining all three makes perfect sense!
We all know how important it is to eat enough vegetables, but this food group tends to be a tough sell with both kids and...ahem... some adults. There are many ways to make veggies more tasty and appealing, but my favourite way is to add a bit of cheese. Crumbled feta has become our go-to veggie toppers lately, especially with steamed broccoli, cauliflower, spaghetti squash, and roasted or grilled veggies such as peppers, zucchini, and mushrooms. Feta also makes for a great addition to roasted root vegetables such as parsnips, carrots, beets, and fennel. Although it's often thought of as a salad topper, feta adds flavour and texture to cooked veggies too, which may appeal to more people in the fall and winter months.
In my mind, eggs and cheese automatically go together. I'm not sure I ever serve eggs without a sprinkling of my favourite cheese. They both provide a wide range of nutrients and health properties, but even better, they taste irresistible together! Whether it's a sprinkle on top of scrambled eggs, grated inside an omelette or frittata, or melted on top of sunny-side up or over easy eggs, cheese is a must-have addition to any of your egg dishes.
We often serve eggs for dinner because they're so fast and easy to prepare and chock full of nutrition.
We use ground meat a lot, especially leaner meats such as bison, turkey and extra lean ground sirloin beef. I find that ground meat is so versatile and most of the dishes make for great leftovers. I often cook one or two pounds of ground turkey or bison at the beginning of the week and use it for dishes throughout the week such as spaghetti sauce, tacos, chili, or even pizza and then freeze any leftovers for later on. Add of course, adding cheese to any of these dishes is a must. I've even started adding grated cheese to our homemade burgers, which makes them juicier and much more flavourful.
Speaking of flavourful, our new favourite easy, weeknight meal is Easy Cheesy Family-Friendly Burritos. I love this dish for so many reasons: it's a breeze to throw together, it's comforting and filling, it's loaded with nutrition and it freezes really well!
Heat canola oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and peppers and saute until fragrant and slightly soft (about two minutes). Add garlic and saute for another 30 seconds.
Add ground meat and cook until no longer pink (about three to four minutes). Turn heat down to medium and season with spices (to your liking). Add corn, beans, and salsa, combine and cook for a minute or two, turn heat down to simmer and cover for 5-10 minutes.
Lay your tortillas out and spoon a heaping spoonful of meat mixture into the middle of each. Top with grated cheese (1 cup dispersed among all 6). Fold the tortillas up and place side by side in the greased baking dish. Top all of the folded burritos with remaining cup of cheese.
Bake at 350F for about 30 minutes until cheese and tops of the tortillas are golden brown. Serve with fresh salsa, guacamole, and sour cream.
Cheese makes for the perfect addition to any of your healthy family meals.
Not only does it boost the overall nutritional value of a dish, but it also transforms a normal everyday meal into a delicious, cheesy comfort food that your whole family will ask for again and again. You really can't go wrong when adding cheese—its versatility allows you to be creative in the kitchen without having to whip up a complicated gourmet meal every night.
Who wants to dress up to go out when you can create warm comfort at home?
Create these mouthwatering cheese-inspired dishes found at the Kraft Comfort Zone. It’s ooey gooey goodness all in the comfort of your own home.
If you consume artificial sweeteners such as Splenda (sucralose), Equal (aspartame) and Sweet n' Low (saccharine), you may be putting yourself at risk of metabolic disorders such as Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes, a recent study suggests.
According to a study that was released last week in the journal Nature, the zero calorie sweeteners that are widely consumed in North America in the form of diet soda, sugar-free gum and sweetener for coffee, as a healthy alternative, may actually pose the same metabolic risks that real sugars do. Researchers found that when they fed mice and humans artificial sweeteners such as saccharin, the bacteria naturally found in the gut ("intestinal microbiota" ) were altered. The composition and functionality of these bacteria changed in the presence of artificial sweeteners, and then led to a rise in blood sugar--the very thing that consumers are trying to avoid when using artificial sweeteners. This means that if someone consumes artificial sweeteners often--everyday or multiple times a day, let's say--this may lead to health problems.
As you can imagine, this study and its findings have taken the internet by storm, creating huge buzz, conversation and debate over whether or not it is safe to consume zero calorie sweeteners. Many readers have declared that they will not touch their favourite diet beverage or a package of Splenda ever again, while others are taking this study with a grain of salt.
Although it is never smart to take one study and base all of your food decisions on it, this particular study and its findings are very important--it will hopefully lead to more research on the short-term and long-term effects of artificial sweeteners. What it tells us is that artificial sweeteners may be too good to be true and that they may in fact be contributing to unhealthy weight gain which can lead to common metabolic disorders such as Type 2 Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome. They may not be the "magic solution" to weight control that so many people swear by.
What we know for sure is that artificial sweeteners are not healthy. They don't provide nutritional value to foods or beverages and from what I've observed both in my private nutrition practice and personally, they increase the desire for sweet, and raise the "sweet taste threshold" for people (artificial sweeteners are typically much sweeter per gram than sugar or other "nutritive sweeteners"), which may lead to more sugar consumption overall. This could lead to unhealthy weight gain over time.
Does this mean that you should swear off of artificial sweeteners all together? Not necessarily. Until we have more evidence to suggest that they pose a significant health risk, there is no need to panic. If you're able to enjoy artificial sweeteners once in a while, I wouldn't worry too much about it. If you feel as though you can't go a day without consuming some form of artificial sweetener, however, you might want to cut back. You shouldn't feel a sense of dependance on artificial sweeteners, so if you feel you do, it's time to start weaning yourself off. If you're able to avoid them all together, all the better.
My suggestion, if you consume artificial sweeteners (or a lot of added sugar for that matter) regularly, is to cut back on "sweet" all together so that your "sweet taste threshold" decreases over time. In other words, you'll require less sweet taste to feel satisfied after consuming something. For example, if you add Splenda to your coffee in the morning or order a "sugar-free vanilla latte" everyday, start using half as much Splenda, or start ordering your latte "half sweet". As you continue to decrease the amount of sweetness in your foods and beverages, your taste buds will adapt and you will start to crave less sweet all together. Once this happens, you may find that artificially sweetened foods are just too sweet for you, which is not such a bad thing.
Did you know that these 10 "health foods" aren't healthy at all?
And here is the only thing you need to read on a nutrition label.
Check out my Facebook page, where I regularly post free nutrition tips, recipes and resources.
Does your child belong to the "eat one thing and one thing only on my plate club"? If it's a yes, you're not alone.
I recently received a question on my Facebook Fan Page from a Mom who was stumped on whether or not she should give in to her toddler's request for second helpings of his favourite food, when leaving the more nutrient-dense foods untouched on his plate:
"If you make a plate of food for your toddler and he only likes one thing, won't eat the others, and wants more of the yummy stuff, do you give it to him so that he at least eats SOMETHING or do you say, 'this is dinner, if you're hungry eat, if you're not, don't?' Are there other options?"
This is a dilemma that many parents face (including me). Kids eat foods that taste good and are pleasing to their palates (which in most cases, is starchy or sweet carbohydrate-rich foods), without taking into consideration the foods' nutritional benefits, or lack thereof. In other words, the pasta or bread may disappear quickly off of their plates (and they may ask for seconds), while the peas and grilled chicken are left untouched.
It's up to us, as parents, to relay the message that balance and variety are important when it comes to food, in a way that makes sense to young kids. Telling your child that a certain food is healthy, therefore, she needs to eat it, won't make sense to her, nor will it increase the likelihood of her eating it. Instead, I often coach parents to say something like, "We eat lots of different foods every day, because every food is good for us in a different way. So, it's important to taste a little bit of each food on our plate before we eat more of just one thing. If we fill our tummies with only our favourite food at dinner, we won't leave any room for the other foods." Or something like that.
A tip that I often give parents (and use myself) is to tell their kids that they must "eat in a circle" before finishing ALL of one food or asking for seconds of only one food. For example, if your child only eats his bread and leaves his meat and vegetables, and then asks for more bread, you could say, "First of all, we're going to eat in a circle, which means you have to have one bite from each food around the entire plate. If you don't like it after you put it into your mouth, you can politely spit it out in your napkin." This takes the pressure off of everyone—your child will at least taste every food on his plate, but he does not have to commit to swallowing it if he doesn't like it. Often times, when my son tries a food that he thought he disliked or had previously rejected, he surprises himself (and me) and ends up gobbling it up. We know that our kids are ultimately responsible for whether and how much they eat at meal times, but "eating in a circle" gives them a safe opportunity to try foods without pressure to actually eat them.
Some kids prefer their foods not to touch each other, especially when it comes to favourite foods touching new or previously rejected foods (my son has been known to lose his mind when green veggies touch his noodles). In that case, separate new or unfamiliar foods and serve them on a "tester plate." In time, these foods will make their way onto your child's dinner plate once they are accepted and once the "my foods can't touch" phase has passed (which it will).
I encourage parents to always give their child a high five for trying a new or previously rejected food (regardless if the bite is swallowed or not). By doing this, you're not praising your child for eating, but rather for being brave and giving something new a try.
After your child has tasted around the circle, he should be allowed to have some more of the food that he loved (i.e. bread), if he is still hungry. There is a big difference between "short order cooking"(making your child his very own meal that is separate from the rest of the family, which is not a good idea) and allowing your child to have more of one particular food that you've served everyone (this is still in line with a healthy feeding relationship). It's important that we as parents and role-models are also "eating in a circle," showing our kids that even if we like one food more than another, we still taste all of the foods on our plate prior to finishing one particular food or having seconds of one food.
Another tip that I often give is to serve veggies prior to a meal—for example, bring out a platter with an assortment of raw veggies and dips before supper. Veggies tend to be the toughest sell with kids, so serving them alone prior to the rest of the meal, when kids are starting to get hungry, increases the chances of them eating some. The vegetables are no longer competing with the "yummier" foods on their dinner plate.
As parents, we want to give our kids a safe eating environment where they can try new or previously rejected foods without pressure or bribing (this will increase the chances of acceptance later on). And trust me, your child WILL accept a variety of foods in their own time.
If this was helpful, you may also find this post on what the Parent's Role In The Parent/Toddler Feeding Relationship is, as well as How To Manage Treat Foods In Your House
I also post daily nutrition tips and resources for parents (as well as answers to common nutrition questions) on my Facebook Fan Page. Feel free to check it out!