Avoid the Freshman 20 (Part Two)
Buying food, preparing food and more…
In my last post, Avoid the Freshman 20 (Part One), I discussed what you shouldn’t do when purchasing and handling food. In this post, you’ll find out important things you should be doing.
Things You Should Always Do
Read the labels on everything you buy, it only takes a minute. Meats, poultry and fish that are packaged, look for the expiration date and “freeze by” date. If loose in a case, read where fish is from, the tag with the price should show the country of origin–stick with U.S. and Canadian–our standards are different from other countries. Ask the fish monger when the fish was delivered as fish is very perishable. Try to buy “Wild Caught” whenever possible. Do buy low in fat cuts of meat (less fat around and inside), and the white meat of poultry (breast).
The same applies to produce, look at the tiny labels on fruits and veggies, buy U.S. grown and organic whenever possible. Buy local produce at farmer’s markets. Most organic food has become affordable, maybe just a few cents more than non-organic, but well worth it. Fruit with thick skins that will be peeled, like a bananas, don’t need to be organic.
Boxed or carton foods have labels, usually on the side or bottom, which are called “Nutrition Facts”. “Ingredients” are shown near the nutrition listings. The first ingredient listed tells you what makes up the majority of the product. For example: the first ingredient is Whole Wheat Kernels on a box of cereal, that’s good, but read on further. If sugar is at the bottom, or not listed at all, you’ve got a good product. See how much fat, sugar, sodium and cholesterol (AKA: the “unhealthy four”) are listed in grams and milligrams–the lower the numbers the better. Compare two different products, hold the boxes side-by-side and look at the labels. Buy the one with the lowest numbers of the “unhealthy four”.
Shop on Wednesdays, if you can, that’s usually when sales take place and new flyers are out. Think “green” by reusing your plastic and paper grocery bags, when they’re not usable anymore, put them in the store’s bag recycle bin, or use as garbage bags back at the dorm.
Do be careful what isles you wander down in a large grocery store, they are designed with profit in mind. Junk foods are often placed together, so know that isle and avoid it! The bakery is another place tough to walk by without your mouth watering. Do your best to steer clear of the fattening cakes, cookies and doughnuts full of calories. Instead, reach for energy bars like Nature’s Path Organic Granola Bars that you can carry anywhere.
Always wash fruits and vegetables before eating–even if organic–”grazing” not advised! The large amounts of pesticides on non-organic items and germs from being handled are all unhealthy. Wash hands with soap before and after handling meat, fish and poultry. Cross contamination or improper handling can make you very sick with Salmonella poisoning. Proper washing of boards and knives with hot soapy water is necessary as they can be a breeding ground for germs.
Properly refrigerate or freeze (and thaw) meat, fish and poultry. Thaw frozen items in the refrigerator on a dish to catch liquids, not in your sink.
How do you know if your refrigerator is the right temp? Refrigerator/freezer thermometers will give you an accurate reading to keep food safe and fresh.
There are a few things you’ll need to be able to prepare delicious and healthy meals. First, instead of a toaster over, I recommend a convection oven, which is the same size as a toaster over but does more. Oster has one for approximately $60 at K-Mart. I own a Euro-Pro which I purchased on sale at Macy’s 4 years ago for less than $75. I use it for just about everything since it’s self-cleaning. Microwaves are great, but you’ll get more use out of the convection oven because you can bake, broil, toast, grill and keep food warm. And convection means it cooks food faster and more evenly than a regular oven. Before you buy, check with Consumers Digest to see what they recommend. After putting many kitchen appliances to the test, they rate them, giving the breakdown and comparisons.
Utensils are important for eating as well as cooking. The basics: a few good sharp knives for chopping and cutting and a set of wafer-thin plastic cutting boards. You don’t need a huge stack of dishes, glasses, cups or pans to get by. Inexpensive at thrift stores, you can find quality used, and sometimes brand new items for sale. Buy one or two good oven mitts, I like Orka’s because they’re washable, won’t burn and last a long time.
If you love your morning coffee, save a lot of money and time by making your own. Many companies offer small coffee makers that brew one or two cups. Or you can buy a small Italian expresso maker. By making your own coffee, you won’t be tempted to buy fattening specialty coffees with whipped cream and sugary syrups. Carry coffee in an eco-friendly mug with lid that can easily go in your backpack when empty. And if you like to carry water, another environment-saver is the “green canteen”, instead of buying small plastic water bottles. Both mug and canteen I’ve purchased at Grocery Outlet for under $5 each.
Beyond the Dorm Room
Some colleges have their own “Iron Chef” cooking competitions and cooking clubs. Check to see if your college offers either one. And most colleges have excellent cooking classes available to hone your skills. Impress your friends–or your date–with your cooking!
Log on to websites such as the “Food Network” or “America’s Test Kitchen” to get great tips about quick and delicious recipes, discussions about cooking utensils, appliances, and food handling.
I know this might seem like a lot to take in at first, but you’ll quickly get the hang of it–and I think you’ll enjoy the challenge. Cooking for yourself is rewarding because you monitor what goes into that food and you keep your body and mind healthy. By limiting salt, sugar and the wrong kinds of fat, you’ll prevent the dreaded “Freshman 20″! And understanding the basics, you can now take your gastronomic experience to new levels. Healthy eating!
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