A Day in the Life of a Worksite Wellness RDN

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A few people have asked me what a typical day at my job looks like so I thought this might be a fun way to answer that. I love reading these posts on other blogs and getting an inside look into the day of someone else, so hopefully you will find a couple of tidbits here helpful too! I coordinate an employee wellness program which can be a really cool and often not discussed career option for dietitians who want to work in a prevention setting. Read on to learn about a few things I'm working on.

5:45 am – my first alarm goes off

6:07 am – actually wake up. My morning routine could definitely use some refining right about now. Maybe this will be something I work on in the upcoming weeks... Anyone up for a challenge? 

6:45 am – leave the house and drop J off at the light rail. Random fact: we actually only have one car and have for the last three months (without going totally crazy). 

7:10 am – stop at Starbucks for an oatmeal since I forgot to pack breakfast (of course I remembered my iced coffee though, would never leave that behind!).

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7:20 am – sit down at my computer to start the work day. I usually spend the first half hour or so on emails, reading nutrition/wellness related articles, and laughing out loud at theSkimm (if you sign up using this link, you are helping me get one step closer to becoming an Skimmbassador btw). On this particular day I also proofread, format and schedule a post for our employee wellness blog. 

9:00 am – meeting with supervisor. We try to do walking meetings when possible and the weather was perfect for it today. Pro tip: the conversation flows easier during a walk and it's also a great way to get creative juices flowing during a brainstorming session!  

10:00 am – discussion with dietetic interns to go over our agency healthy meeting policy and talk about how it was developed and implemented. Our wellness team worked together with other key staff to pass this a couple of years ago and it’s been great for fostering a supportive culture. 

10:45 am – work on an outline and search for images for an ignite presentation focusing on Health at Every Size and weight inclusivity. Have you ever heard of an ignite presentation? It's a 5-minute 20-slide deck that advances automatically after 15 seconds so it's exciting and to-the-point. I am planning on giving this talk at an upcoming all-staff meeting which would be super awesome because so many people would be introduced to the topic!

12:00 pm – another short meeting

12:30 pm – walk time. I walk almost every day around noon (unless the weather is bad) and it’s my favorite part of the work day. I love the sunshine, movement and listening to a podcast. Today it was How I Built This featuring Sadie Lincoln of Barre3 - a great listen for all of you health and wellness pros. Afterwards I searched for the nearest Barre3 studio because now I want to try it (what can I say, I'm an easy target). 

1:15 pm – eat lunch + do some work on an upcoming holiday-themed challenge. I know, eating lunch at my desk is not very “worksite wellness” of me, but I usually choose walking and leaving earlier as priorities for my mental health. Anyways, the goal of the challenge is to maintain healthy habits such as self-care, gratitude and physical activity through the busy holiday season and I am so excited to roll it out soon!

3:00 pm – afternoon walk break with a co-worker. By this point in the day, I am craving fresh air. Even ten minutes does wonders for my brain...

3:10 pm – create an outline for a video I’ll be shooting with a colleague next week. We are starting to get into some Buzzfeed-style recipe videos and it’s been really fun to learn how to use a camera and editing software. After a few of them, I've found that taking time before-hand to think about what shots and angles you want to capture can help a lot during the actual filming part. I also make a grocery and supply list to make sure we have everything we need when we get started. 

4:45 pm – take off for the day. I’m really lucky that I have the option to work a flex schedule which means I work longer days Monday-Thursday and then take every other Friday off. When I was still in grad school it was so great to have that extra day for homework, and now that I'm done with school I can use it to work on the blog and some other creative projects - which is awesome.

So that's it! I would love to hear about how you incorporate wellness into your work day so feel free to share away in the comments. Also, I have an EXCITING announcement on Monday so I hope you'll check back because I can't wait to tell you more! 

Read more about Dietitians in Worksite Wellness jobs in this post. 

10 Kitchen Hacks That Every Home Cook Should Know About

If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, you probably know by now that I'm a huge advocate for time-saving strategies in the kitchen (kitchen "hacks", if you will). I'm convinced that one of my callings as a dietitian is helping people learn to cook healthy and delicious food without having to spend hours on end slaving away over the stove (dramatic, I know). I didn't make any of these up myself, but these are tips that I've stumbled upon over years of experimenting in the kitchen that I think others might benefit from (you can thank me later). 

Here are ten of my favorite kitchen hacks that I think every home cook should know about. 

Add spinach before heating up leftovers to pump up the nutrition and add color. 
This is a classic and it also helps cut down on produce waste. Spinach isn't my favorite leafy green (um hello arugula) but I do appreciate it's versatility. In addition to using it for salads or sandwiches you can also saute it, add it to smoothies or toss it in an egg scramble. Any sort of hot dish that you have leftover from dinner and plan to eat for lunch the next day can also be "boosted" with spinach. Think soups/stews, casseroles, pastas, etc. Just add it before microwaving and then stir it in until wilted. 

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Use foil on a cutting board to transport meat to the grill, then toss it so you can put the cooked meat on the (clean) cutting board without contaminating it. 
This is a huge time-saver and prevents having to use and clean multiple serving dishes. Even better - use a silicon cutting board and then you can just toss it in the dishwasher when you're done with it.

Run warm soapy water through a blender after using so you don't have to scrub it later.
Total game-changer. I used to hate reaching my hand in the blender to scrub every little crevice with a dish rag. Messy blender, no more! Giving warm soapy water a whirl gets all of the food particles or smoothie out so all you have to do is rinse and wipe dry. 

Use a fork to hold up tacos while you assemble them. 
No elaborating necessary. 

Use ketchup as a replacement for tomato paste (if you're like me and never have it on hand). 
Am I the only one that hates buying tomato paste? I know you can freeze what you don't use, but I just never remember to do that. Ketchup works well in a pinch!

Use a glass to help you slice a mango.
If you've ever seen someone do this, your mind was most-likely blown. Simply slice the two sides off like normal, make long slices on the inside, and then use a glass to "scoop" out each slice. Check out this post for a tutorial.

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Shake hard-boiled eggs in a sauce pan to make them easier to peel (shout-out to Ashley for this one!). 
Let's be honest, peeling hard-boiled eggs is the worst. One trick that I recently learned is leaving them in the saucepan with just a little bit of cold water, holding the lid on and then giving it a couple of big shakes. Each egg cracks just enough for easy peeling. 

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Use dried chives on everything. 
I have always loved fresh chives for finishing a dish with a pop of green or making scrambled eggs feel gourmet (many restaurants will serve scrambled eggs with chives to jazz them up). However as many amateur cooks can agree, buying fresh herbs often means a lot of waste since it can be hard to use them up before they go bad. Dehydrated chives are just as good as the fresh ones and "come to life" once added to something warm. It really doesn't get much easier. Find them in the produce section or spice aisle.

Use a waffle iron as a makeshift panini-maker. 
I don't own a panini maker but I love eating them. While you can certainly make one in a skillet, why not spice things up a bit and break out your waffle maker instead? You get the fun waffle pattern and crispy edges on top of the deliciousness that is a pressed sandwich.

Make homemade salad dressings or sauces in a jar.
This is probably my favorite shortcut of all. I tend to save jars from dressings, jellies, condiments or anything else that might come in a small glass container. Then I re-use them for my own homemade salad dressings for easy shaking (instead of hopelessly stirring). It also doubles as a storage container, and when it's empty you can just throw it in the dishwasher for easy clean-up.

OK - what is your favorite kitchen hack that wasn't mentioned above? I know everyone has their own little tips and tricks and I am always up for learning new ones!

All About the Microbiome + Tips for Cultivating a Healthy Gut

Along with the return of football, your favorite cable TV shows and a new school year, Fall is also an exciting time because the Denver Dietetic Association (DDA) membership meetings start back up. DDA is the local chapter of the AND (a professional membership organization for dietitians) and they host monthly meetings that serve as both a networking and educational opportunity, which makes them really fun to attend. I served on the board of directors for the DDA for five years when I was fresh out of my internship until just last year when I decided to take some time off. It's fun to attend as a "guest" after having previously been so involved with the planning process. 

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Last night they hosted an epic kick-off meeting at Johnson and Wales University with more than 100 people in attendance. There were so many people there that they ran out of food! I have never seen this happen before. Good thing I had a snack in my purse to hold me over until I got home later, plus the speaker had such an interesting presentation I didn't even think about how hungry I was.

The presenter was Tiffany Weir, PhD (research at Colorado State University) and her presentation was titled, "Update on the Microbiome: Impacts of Current Research on Nutrition and Health"). As a major hot topic, specifically in recent years, here are a few takeaways that I thought you might find interesting:

  • Did you know that the average person has about 100 different microbial species in their gut? In addition to their more well-known function of breaking down food, they are also protective against harmful species (the ones that cause infectious diseases), interact with the immune system for added protection, and aid in digestion. 
     
  • When it comes to dietary intake, plant-heavy diets rule (per usual) for cultivating a healthy microbiome. In studies that compare a variety of common dietary patterns including high-fat, gluten-free, Western, and Mediterranean, the Mediterranean style pattern increases beneficial bacteria and decreases the not-so-good ones all while decreasing inflammation. The other eating patterns tend to have the opposite effect. 
     
  • Carbohydrates are the preferred source of energy for these little guys and fiber is really important in maintaining a symbiotic relationship with the microbes for optimal gut health. This is why a low-carbohydrate diet has been shown to result in a negative impact on microbiome health. Fiber also ferments in the gut which stimulates the production of short-chain fatty acids, then regulating satiety peptides (another reason why fiber aids in fullness). #eatmoreplants
     
  • There is some really cool advancements/technology in the works (some already in practice) in this field including the use of fecal transplant (exactly what it sounds like) to treat a certain recurring bacterial infection that is prevalent in the clinical setting; genetically engineered probiotics that have beneficial properties; and functional medicine reports that can give you valuable information on the state of your microbiome along with personalized recommendations for how you might remedy potential issues (love this one). 
     
  • Of all of the probiotic "buzz foods" on the market, yogurt is the one that really stands out in terms of probiotic power since certain strains of beneficial bacteria are added in after processing that destroys live cultures. Other fermented foods that have been pasteurized without this extra step, do not contain those same live cultures. note: please don't take this to mean that pasteurization is bad, because it's actually pretty awesome. 
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In summary, Tiffany referenced Michael Pollen's famous quote: "Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Plants." as a practical take-away regarding nutrition and microbiome health. During the Q&A she also shared that she doesn't personally take a probiotic supplement and many which are available over-the-counter are simply not effective. There is one that has actually undergone rigorous research and is classified as a 'medical food' (versus a supplement which can be purchased anywhere). It's called VSL#3 and requires a prescription and supervision of a medical professional. I am always most interested to learn about the personal habits of researchers who specialize in a specific nutrition topic because they are so in tuned with the literature. 

Overall it was a great first meeting and I'm looking forward to more interesting presentations throughout the year - thanks to the DDA for organizing such fun events!

An Evening at 5 Fridges Farm

Last Thursday I had the the pleasure of attending a really cool farm tour + farm-to-table dinner event that was hosted by the Western Dairy Association. The location was 5 Fridges Farm in Wheat Ridge, Colorado and it was full of informative agriculture talk, good food and great conversation with colleagues. 

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About 5 Fridges Farm

The event started with a farm tour led by the owner of 5 Fridges, Amanda Weaver. Since this is a small urban farm (literally right in the city) we walked around for just 30 minutes as she told us her story about earning a phD and then wanting to apprentice on a farm to get hands-on experience with what she was studying. Unlike other more large scale operations I've toured, 5 Fridges is utilized for research purposes and not designed with efficiency and affordable food in mind. The property is known as a conservation easement which means it's protected for agricultural use!

Amanda utilizes organic practices and has goats, chickens, bees, and a few crops. Read more about the cool sustainable growing projects that she employs. 

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Once the tour concluded, we met back at the main patio as a group where the planners had the most adorable set-up outside - a true farm dinner theme. We snacked on appetizers and drank tea out of mason jars and then eventually, it was time to find a seat at a table for the main event. Our tables were decorated with white tablecloths, tree rounds (both the centerpiece and the coasters), brightly colored flowers and cute little rustic napkin holders.

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The Main Event

Our program started with introductions and a short interview of both Amanda (the owner) and Kirsten Skogerson who was representing Monsanto, also a sponsor. Just a side note: it seems like people tend to get a little bit squeamish when they hear that Monsanto sponsors anything, but I always find their information to be relevant and science-based (not "we are right and everyone else is wrong"). I appreciate their effort to collaborate and I am confident in my abilities (and the abilities of my colleagues) to hear a sponsored presentation and recognize any potential conflict of interest. Kirsten has a phD in biochemistry (no big deal) but was also experienced in the science and study of wine (sign me up for that). This is called oenology for everyone who is now considering a career change. She led a short tasting using Colorado wines from Bookcliff Vineyards based out of Palisade. Let's just say I learned a few new terms to describe a Malbec that I plan to use as much as possible from here on out.

After the wine tasting, Chef Jason Morse of 5280 Culinary came outside and explained what we would be having for dinner, and he was so much fun. Here is what was on the menu:

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  • Tri-tip steak marinated in bloody mary mix, cooked in a traeger and served with blistery cherry tomatoes
  • Local corn on the cob from Sakata Farms that was seasoned and smoked
  • Roasted beets served with an herb whipped cream cheese and microgreens
  • Roasted purple and baby new potatoes
  • A vegetarian enchilada wonton cup of sorts that had a lentil/black bean/corn mixture inside
  • A roasted palisade peach layered dessert with Noosa yogurt and madeleine cookies that was served in mini mason jars (un-pictured)

I really appreciated the incorporation of local ingredients and the meal was really tasty. My favorite part was definitely the corn. But then again I think I could make a meal of corn sometimes. 

The Controversial Stuff

Lastly, as we wrapped up our dinners, each table was provided with a discussion prompt to keep the agriculture talk going. Topics ranged from antibiotics, to genetic modification, to organic food systems and more. Each table was tasked with finding common ground (even if there was some disagreement on the actual question) and then one person from each table reported back to the whole group. Our question involved organic agriculture, and whether or not it was a sustainable way to feed our rapidly growing world population. 

I must say, I've been to events like this before where the discussion is directed at the attendees (instead of encouraging us to speak up about our perceptions on these controversial issues) and I really enjoyed having honest conversation with the group at my table. We had a large variety of backgrounds including registered dietitians, students, college-level nutrition professors, an organic farmer and industry representatives and everyone was really professional yet brought up great points. One of my biggest peeves is when someone takes a strong stance against a particular issue without any valid argument so it was great to hear respectful comments from others with legitimate points (versus a conspiracy theory fueled rhetoric that doesn't get us anywhere). Our group discussed the importance of prioritizing food waste, utilizing a variety of growing spaces (both urban and traditional) and evaluating what type of crops are being grown in addition to utilizing technology to simply increase yields. 

There was definitely some more heated discussion at some of the other tables and I was happy to hear from all of them on their perceptions, hesitations and opinions on each of the topics presented. I love learning about this agriculture and using critical thinking to come up with viable solutions. 

I'm curious to hear about your biggest agricultural questions. What is confusing to you or what would you like to see better communicated to consumers about the way food is grown?

 

How to Get Organized with Meal Planning

It's back-to-school time, and with that comes feelings of getting back into a routine and leaving behind the relaxed vibe that summer brings. I don't know about you, but no matter how far removed I am from traditional schooling, I still feel a small sense of excitement when Labor Day rolls around. 

If you have kids (or even if you don't, really) getting organized with meal planning can save a lot of time and energy which is something that we don't always have come 6:00pm on a week night. Here are a few ways you can nail it in the kitchen and use that saved time for relaxing with a glass of wine or tea instead. 

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Keep a Notebook handy 

Keep a notebook in your purse/car so whenever a meal idea or craving strikes, you can write it down. Most weeks, I already have a general idea of what I want to make by the time I sit down to actually make a plan, which is really helpful. Sometimes I'll need to browse recipes or find the cookbook I need later, but at least it's a start. 

If you're a coupon-user, keep those tucked inside your notebook so you can factor those into your plan as well (and never forget them at home again - unless you forget your notebook too, then you're just out of luck). I get a great mini-magazine from the grocery store I visit regularly. They include coupons catered to my purchasing history so it's a win-win and also serves as some extra inspiration for meal ideas.

Make a List

It doesn't matter if you use a pretty template, scrap paper, or even a napkin for all I care, a list is just an all-around great idea. Making a list helps ensure that you don't forget any necessary ingredients or just wing it and grab whatever looks good in the moment.

Start by listing everything you need and then take inventory of your kitchen and cross off any items you already have. This will help you cut down on food waste since you are buying only what you need, and can help you maintain that weekly food budget. 

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Leave Room for Flexibility

It can be easy to get stuck in a fruit and vegetable rut, or get caught up with which ones you should buy every week. I like to keep this part of my plan as general as possible as a way to save time, and also so that I can scope out what's on sale and what looks the freshest once I actually get to the store. Obviously you need specific items if you are following recipes, but leave some room for changing things around where you can. I try to shoot for at least one green and one orange vegetable, a berry of some sort (fresh or frozen) and whatever else is in season and looks good. Remember that almost any vegetable can be chopped up and thrown into either a salad or an egg scramble if you need to use it up fast so don't be afraid to think outside the box with your choices.

Get Prepped on Sunday

If you have time on Sunday and are willing to do a little bit of prep, it will save you time all week long and your future self will thank you. You might try batch cooking grains, chopping vegetables, hard-boiling eggs or baking some muffins or snack bars. I always feel super accomplished when I finish a food prep session and can enjoy Sunday night knowing my week is starting on a great note. 

What are your favorite ways to save time on cooking and meal planning?