Tag Archives: Dietician Ron

Dietician Ron- Lower Sugar Treats for Trick-or-Treaters

The Halloween season is here and kids are bursting with delight. The thrill of a scary story, the spooky décor transforming our homes and neighborhoods into macabre fantasy lands, becoming anything you want with the aid of a simple costume, going door-to-door and filling your bucket with candies like a pirate fills a chest with treasure, and doing it all surrounded by friends and family…what’s not to love? There’s still that child in me that tries to discover that Halloween magic anew each year. Now that I’m an adult, however, there’s also a pragmatic dietitian in me and these two parts struggle to get along. The child in me says give the trick or treaters the full-size candy bar (because those were always my favorite houses) but the dietitian in me recognizes that most kids already get too much sugar (causing or increasing the risk of numerous health problems).

As the argument rages inside me, I remind myself that Halloween has redefined itself nearly every generation. When trick or treating first started in the 30’s, the most common treats were homemade confections, fruit, nuts, or toys. By the 50’s, candy manufacturers were beginning to capitalize on the holiday and Bazooka Bubble Gum, M&M’s, and Almond Joys found their way into children’s buckets. In the 70’s the homemade sweets that started the tradition were now labeled as taboo and individually wrapped candies were almost exclusively given to trick or treaters. Since then, the candy selection has changed, with new flavors and brands coming and going, but we’re long overdue for a significant shift. It’s my hope (and I think both the kid and dietitian in me agree) that better-for-you snacks can be that next shift – foods that are still treats for children (get those raisins and toothbrushes out of the lineup) but aren’t loaded with sugar like traditional candy.

As you incorporate better-for-you snacks (non-food items can work great too) remember that variety is key. There isn’t one universally appealing option (one of the reasons for variety packs even among candy). To help you find the perfect treats, we’ve compiled a list of less-sugary snacks and non-food items you can find at your local grocery store. While none are quite as affordable as a fun-sized candy bar, there are many options that won’t break the bank and you can have the satisfaction of knowing you’re contributing to the health of our children (while still pleasing them with a treat).

Treats for under $1

  • Halloween Toys – the seasonal aisle has a wide range of Halloween toys for less than a dollar (selection varies by store, while supplies last).
  • Blue Diamond 100 Calorie Packs – nothing but good, nutritious almonds here in a small convenient package.
  • Kind Kids Granola Bars – roughly half the sugar of a fun-sized candy with whole grains and fun packaging, this is my pick for best bar.
  • Kind Bar Minis – your favorite fruit and nut bars in a small (and affordable) package with a quarter the added sugar of a typical fun-sized candy.
  • Z Bar Protein – not my first recommendation due to the higher sugar content (about the same as a fun-sized candy) but it is balanced with a fair amount of protein and fiber.
  • Goldfish Crackers – 0 g sugar and a fair amount of protein, goldfish are a good option and available in single-serve bags.
  • Clementines – more fun than raisins especially if you decorate them like pumpkins; while clementines might be viewed as a treat by some, be sure to offer other options.
  • Treetop Applesauce Pouches – with no fruit juice concentrate added, these one of the healthiest fruit squeeze pouches.

Treats for under 50¢

  • Halloween toys – while options are more limited in the sub 50¢ range, you will find a few items like spooky pens or vampire fangs (selection varies by store, while supplies last).
  • Stickers – check out the greeting card aisle where you’ll find a variety of sticker packs that you can break into individual sheets to give away.
  • Stretch Island Fruit Leather – boasting no added sugar and 100% real fruit ingredients, they also have a low price tag when you buy them in multipacks.
  • Smartfood Popcorn –single-serve packs are available, providing a fair amount of fiber and protein with no added sugar and a reasonable amount of fat and sodium.
  • Corn Nuts – another good whole-grain corn option with no added sugar and a reasonable amount of fat and sodium.

Everything Your Wish You Knew About Eggplant

It’s purple. It’s spongy. It’s weird. But it can also be delicious, taking on the flavors of whatever it’s cooked in and imparting a buttery richness. Or, if prepared poorly, it can become an inedible rubbery mess. I have to admit, I’m a bit of a latecomer to eggplant. I don’t recall ever seeing it on my kitchen table growing up and the only time I ventured to try it in early adulthood left me questioning why anyone would purchase such a chewy and bitterly bland vegetable (or fruit in the same way a tomato is if you care to get technical) when there are perfectly wonderful zucchini that could be eaten instead. It wasn’t until I really got into Mediterranean cooking that I began to understand how truly irreplaceable eggplant is, both in texture and flavor as well as in nutrition. I get it, eggplant can be an intimidating vegetable but successfully mastering it, as I discovered, will broaden your culinary repertoire and open doors through its creative use. Eggplants are at their most delicious now through the end of the month so put any reservations aside and read on for tips to add some purple to your meals.

Why Eggplant?

Nutritionally, eggplants are often regarded as a superfood despite not containing large amounts of any vitamins or minerals. They are a good source of fiber but fiber alone does not a superfood make. Eggplant’s superfood status is due primarily to two antioxidants, anthocyanins (responsible for the eggplant’s purple color) and chlorogenic acid. Among the most promising health benefits attributed to eggplant are cognitive (due to a unique anthocyanin found only in eggplant), cardiovascular, and anti-diabetic effects. Beyond basic nutrition, eggplant is often used as a meat replacement by vegetarians due to its meaty texture (protein is lacking though so be sure to add high-protein foods to balance your meal) and also works as a low carb substitute in recipes like eggplant parmesan. Eggplant is a versatile ingredient that can be a subtle player in dishes like ratatouille or take center stage like in stuffed eggplant. It functions in a range of recipes from sides to entrees and appetizers to desserts.

Picking an Eggplant

Eggplants can be rather unforgiving. Picking the wrong one can ruin an entire recipe. When an eggplant become overripe, it becomes increasingly bitter tasting and develops an unpleasantly spongy consistency. Barely ripe or slightly immature eggplants are best. When picking an eggplant, look for smooth, glossy skin with no wrinkles and one that’s heavy for its size. As eggplants become overripe, their skin becomes dull. Avoid eggplants with blackspots or indentations which may indicate damage under the skin. When you press on an eggplant, you should see an indentation that bounces back quickly. If there’s no visible indentation, it’s under-ripe. If the indentation stays, it’s overripe. When slicing, you’ll also know if your eggplant is past its prime if the seeds are large and dark. Eggplants do best at fifty degrees if you have a cool cellar. Your fridge or pantry work if you don’t but enjoy your eggplant within a few days.

To Salt or Not

Salting, often called sweating, is a process that draws excess moisture from the eggplant. If you have an older eggplant or particularly bitter variety, it can also help cut down on the bitterness. Salting never hurts and in some cases can help avoid a soggy mess. It is typically done during the initial preparation phases immediately after slicing the eggplant. There are two basic methods to salting:

  1. Slice eggplant and generously salt it. Leave it in a colander in the sink for one to two hours to allow water to seep out and drain. Once complete, rinse eggplant to remove water and excess salt. Pat dry with paper towel.
  2. Lay eggplant in a single layer on a paper towel. Sprinkle with salt and allow to sit for thirty minutes. With another paper towel, gently press the eggplant to squeeze out any remaining water and remove the excess salt on top. A variation of this method involves layering the eggplant in rows with paper towels between each and placing a pot or other similar tool on top for the entire thirty minutes to press out water.

You can usually skip the salting step without affecting the final product too much if you’re pressed for time. If you run into problems with soggy eggplant, salting is a good fix. Salting, especially the second method involving physically pressing the eggplant, is more important in fried dishes since it can significantly reduce the amount of oil eggplant absorbs.  

Just Getting Started

New to eggplant? Start by perfecting roasted, grilled, and fried eggplant. Many recipes like eggplant parmesan, ratatouille, and baba ganoush require that you cook the eggplant first. Perfecting this initial step will make all the difference when you take a stab at these recipes.

  • To roast, simply cut eggplant into half inch rounds or slices and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Brush with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Brushing with a basting brush or even lightly oiled fingers is preferred. Avoid drizzling or tossing with oil because eggplant soaks up oil quickly so you’ll have some spots with too much oil and others with too little. Roast at 500° for fifteen minutes turning half way through. Be sure to keep eggplant in a single layer and flip half way to avoid soggy eggplant.
  • For grilling, slice eggplant, brush with oil, and salt and pepper as you did with roasted. Toss on the grill for five minutes each side.
  • Fried eggplant can either be half inch slices or one inch cubes. The key to fried eggplant is a good batter to keep the eggplant from absorbing too much oil (salting can definitely help as noted above). Dip your slices or cubes in egg or an egg and milk combination then lightly toss in panko breadcrumbs with parmesan and herbs. Heat a few tablespoons of high heat oil in a pan until hot. To test you can put a drop (only a very small drop unless you want oil everywhere) of water in the oil. If it sputters immediately, the oil’s ready. Fry your eggplant in batches for two to three minutes each side and transfer to a plate covered in a paper towel to absorb excess oil.  

Advanced Eggplanting

Once you’ve perfected roasting, grilling, and frying along with basic Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Indian dishes, the fun begins. Get creative. Incorporate eggplant into soups, stir fries, salads, sandwiches, tacos, chili…there’s no limit to the dishes eggplant can be used in. Even in baking, much like applesauce, eggplant can add moisture to cakes and brownies. If you want to dabble in vegan or vegetarian fare (even if it’s just for meatless Monday), try pureed roasted eggplant as a substitute for cheese in your favorite queso dips, make eggplant steaks or burgers, or fry up thin strips as a bacon substitute.