Putting your Best Fork Forward for National Nutrition Month

Every March the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics celebrates the field of dietetics (and dietitians!) with National Nutrition Month (NMM). The annual NNM theme is designed to inspire healthful eating, not just in March, but all year long. This year’s theme, “Put Your Best Fork Forward,” fits this goal of encouraging a balanced diet…one forkful at a time.

The idea of working toward better nutrition with small, consistent shifts that can be built upon over time is a goal for better nutrition that I’ve encouraged, not just in light of this NNM theme, but always. As both a retail dietitian and the dietitian for Guiding Stars, I focus quite a bit on how we can translate these small changes into our home kitchen through better shopping strategies, cooking skills and the use of ingredients that enhance the nutritional quality of our dishes. While keeping it simple and promoting sustainable changes, the ultimate outcome is a healthier eating pattern that feels like a natural fit and “way of life,” not a diet.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies, made with pantry-friendly canned pumpkin, are a great opportunity to make a more nutritious choice when choosing a sweet treat.

So what is the ideal way to put your best fork forward? Begin by carving out time for prepping and cooking healthful dishes, visiting the supermarket with a menu in mind, and create a well-stocked pantry and freezer that’s there when you need it.

In celebration of NNM, my colleague and friend, Kit Broihier, and I, will be offering a free webcast, Real Life Tips for Nutritious Meals, on Wednesday, March 22, 12:00 PM EST. Here’s a taste of what Kit and I will be discussing as we help you put your “best fork forward.”

4 important steps before you go to the store.

Look at the calendar: Identify the days you can cook, the days you can’t, and what you need in the house to create a seamless week (without the need for takeout)

Write a menu: Need the slow cooker to work for you while you’re out on a busy day? Or a quick meal for a busy night? Write a menu that matches your week.

Check the freezer, refrigerator, and pantry: Review what you have and need based on the menu you wrote. Check on the guide to a well-stocked freezer and pantry below.

Write a grocery list based on your menu and re-stock needs and head to the store.

3 things to keep in mind at the store.

Stick to your list: You wrote it for a reason. Your list is your best budget tool and guide to creating a shopping cart that serves your needs.

Label confusion: Understanding nutrition labels is important for ensuring that you make the most nutritious choice.

Callouts may call to you: Think of the front of a product as a mini billboard. Some things that can be written on there are the choice of the manufacturer, and generally based on trend (like, “all natural”). While other statements have to be written a certain way and are defined by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA).

A well-stocked kitchen:

There are many versatile foods to have on hand that allow you to pull nutritious meals together easily. Here are a few:

Beans: Make your own bean purees or hummus, or add to sweet or savory dishes for added carb and protein (or possibly as an oil replacement).

Canned pumpkin: This is a fast and easy puree that adds nutrition to baked goods, meatloaf, chili and more.

Simmer sauces: Pass on the take-out and create tasty dishes in 30 minutes or less with simmer sauces. Be sure to choose low sodium options.

Spices: Herbs, spices and blends provide flavor without salt and allow dishes to come together quickly with little effort.

Light coconut or cashew milk: Combine with spices to create your own simmer sauce.

Frozen veggies: These are ideal for rounding out a meal when you’re low on fresh veggies. Frozen chopped spinach can be defrosted/strained and used in sauces, added to casseroles and more.

Frozen edamame: Rich in protein and low in calories, frozen edamame can be used for quick bean salads and more.

Whole grains: Keep your pantry stocked with several grains such as brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, and farro, which can be enjoyed warm or cold in a variety of ways.

Plain Greek Yogurt: With so many ways to use this tangy yogurt, from smoothies, dips, and more, Greek yogurt is a must have for your refrigerator.