September is a time for new beginnings, a new school, a transition to university which can often mean living on your own and facing many choices when it comes to food. Sometimes the choices at school cafeterias cater to our cravings for salty, fried foods and sweets, which makes it easy for anyone to gain that dreaded ‘frosh 15’. Stress, exams, cost and lack of time often make it even harder to make healthier choices. Fortunately, many university cafeterias and restaurants are making the effort to make healthier choices with quality ingredients and the calorie labelling is now seen on large chain restaurants, fast food places and prepared foods at some grocery stores.
Small changes in our habits can make it easier to make healthier when our environment is flooded with unhealthy choices. Next time you’re looking for a meal try:
- Looking at all of the choices before committing to putting it on your tray.
- Get your vegetables first and try to fill your plate halfway with vegetables.
- Look for fresh, seasonal fruit to enjoy for dessert
- Use small plates, when we’re hungry, our eyes are always bigger than our stomachs
- Don’t waste money and calories on sugary drinks. Find the water fountain and make water more interesting by adding ice, lemon slices, or a bit of cucumber and mint
- Look for healthier side dishes instead of fries.
- Look for dishes that are grilled or sautéed instead of breaded and fried. A chicken burger isn’t always a healthier choice when it’s covered in breading.
- Read the calorie information. Ask for more nutrition information or find it on the restaurants’ website to really know what you’re getting. Sometimes salad really isn’t a healthier choice.
- Get sauces and dressing on the side, or ask for less sauce
- Give yourself time to eat and enjoy every bite. How many of us remember the taste and flavour of a delicious meal if you ate it studying or walking to class? Better yet, enjoy food with friends and family.
If healthier choices aren’t available to you in your school, make sure you speak up! Better yet, make suggestions of healthier items you would like to see. Cafeteria management want to make choices that you want, after all, that’s what their business is all about.
Summer weather is here…..finally! With summer weather comes a barrage of local festivals and community events with food vendors and food trucks offering delicious street foods a plenty. Unfortunately, these venues are typically exempt from the new menu labelling legislation, so most likely you will not see calories listed on the menu boards to help inform your selections. Only food service establishments with 20 or more locations across Ontario are required to post calories on their menus.
So how can you make healthier choices when there is no menu labelling? Here are some tips to help you to eat healthier while enjoying the summer festival scene:
- Try not to drink your calories – avoid the mega-sized, sugary drinks (both hot and cold varieties). Instead, drink lots of water in the heat!
- Choose grilled or sautéed instead of deep-fried, whenever possible.
- Ask for sauces and gravy on the side – that way you can control how much you eat.
- Think ahead and try to eat at home prior to going, that way you won’t over-eat at the event.
- Share the often jumbo-sized food purchases with friends or family – that way you can still enjoy, but not feel like you need to finish the whole dish yourself.
- Choose a healthier side dish and avoid the fries – select salads, grilled veggies and fresh fruits more often.
When eating out, kids want meals that taste good, and parents want a healthy meal for their growing, active children. New research shows that although many restaurants claim they have improved their menus and made them healthier, the data indicates not much has changed. Parents need to speak up and request more healthy options for their children when dining out. Usually, all children really need is something off the regular menu, but in a smaller size. Try to relay your expectations to your favorite restaurants and see if they respond. Often times, it’s all about consumer demand!
So, what is a healthy meal for children? No meal is a good meal if it is not eaten. Work together with your children to select tasty and healthy menu items that they will enjoy eating. Ideally, a meal should include a variety of foods from at least three of the four food groups: Vegetables & Fruit, Grain Products, Milk and Alternatives, and Meat and Alternatives. Studies show that children are eating too much processed foods that are high in fat, sugar, and salt, and not enough vegetables, fruit, milk products and whole grain foods. Here are some tips for eating out with children.
It is also important to note that beverages can significantly impact the nutritional quality of a meal. Encourage children to drink water or choose unflavoured milk! Children who drink milk at meals are more likely to meet their daily calcium needs. Steer them away from high calorie, high sugar options which can contain almost a days’ worth of calories in one glass.
Not so long ago, eating out was considered an occasional treat for most families, but it is now so common it accounts for nearly half of all food spending. Kids (and their parents) deserve to be able to choose tasty, nutritious meals even when dining out, and restaurants play an important role in making that happen.
They’re in your food. Now they’re on your menus. See them for what they are.
The Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care has recently launched this campaign to increase awareness about new menu labelling legislation and to encourage parents, and youth in particular, to make healthier choices when dining out. Watch the video and visit Calories Revealed to find out more.
With obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease continuing to rise, being able to make informed choices when dining out has never been more important. Posting calories on menus is an important tool to help people decide and select healthier options. We know that eating healthier foods and a balanced diet is just as important, if not more so, than how many calories you consume. So now, Toronto Public Health is working on finding way to improve the quality of the foods you eat when eating out by collaborating with the restaurant industry as well as other key stakeholders that influence your food environment.
A recent posting in Harvard Chan’s School of Public Health’s e-newsletter brings up some important points regarding calories vs. quality. The article states that rather than focusing on calories alone, food quality is also key in determining what we should eat and what to avoid in order to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.” Instead of choosing foods based solely on the caloric value, think about choosing high-quality, healthy foods, and minimizing your intake of low-quality foods.
What is high-quality vs. low-quality?
- High-quality foods are unrefined, minimally processed foods such as vegetables and fruits, whole grains, healthy fats and healthy sources of protein.
- Lower-quality foods are highly processed snack foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, refined (white) grains, refined sugar, fried foods, foods high in saturated and trans fats, and high-glycemic foods
Researchers emphasize that there isn’t one “perfect” diet for everyone, due to individual differences in genetic predisposition and lifestyle factors. Researchers did not discount the importance of calories, instead suggesting that choosing high-quality foods (and reducing lower-quality foods) is important in helping individuals consume fewer calories overall. This is helpful advice to follow whether eating at home or dining out – look for restaurants that offer menu items made with fresh and high-quality foods.