Fitness Facts: Kitchen prep

EDITOR’S NOTE: In honor of National Nutrition Month, our weekly Fitness Facts is focused on nutrition for the entire month of March. Additionally, we are hosting a healthy eating trivia contest for all GCU Today readers throughout the month. Each week’s Fitness Facts will contain a trivia question. To enter, email your answer to [email protected] by the end of the day each Friday to be entered to win a healthy prize basket. We will select one winner each week as well as one grand prize winner at the end of the month. Winners will be notified each Monday, and prizes will be distributed when all employees are back on campus. Good luck!

By Liz Cook
Registered Dietitian, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic

If you’ve been to a grocery store lately, you’ll know that simply running in to pick up a few things for dinner isn’t really an option right now.

With more and more recommendations to stay home when possible and avoid crowded places, stocking your kitchen and pantry is a great idea at this point. But how do we know what to buy? How much is enough without being too much?

While there are certainly a lot of unanswered questions, here are my recommendations:

Keep the basics of a well-balanced eating pattern in mind. Carbohydrates, proteins, healthy fats, and fruits and veggies should be your building blocks.

● Carbohydrates
Some of my favorite shelf-stable carbs to keep stocked include pasta, rice, quinoa and oats. While whole-grain or legume pastas and brown rice are ideal, it’s a good idea to have something as opposed to nothing, and at this point the pasta aisles are probably pretty bare. Pick up what you can! Stocking up on bread, tortillas, etc. is also a good idea, and these items can be frozen for later use.

● Proteins
Stocking up on frozen meats and seafoods as well as canned items such as tuna and salmon can help ensure you have options on hand. Eggs and yogurt are also good items to pick although they do have a shorter shelf life. Canned beans and lentils are great plant-based ideas; tempeh and tofu are good, too.

● Healthy fats
Healthy oils such as olive, avocado and coconut are great staples to keep on hand. Grabbing a few avocados – ideally at varying points of ripeness – is smart. Stocking up on nuts and seeds as well as nut butters is great as well.

● Fruits and veggies
While fresh fruits and veggies are usually my go-to option, picking up a variety of options is key to make sure you’re stocked over a longer period. Nutritionally, there is no difference between fresh and frozen produce, so you will get the same benefit from eating frozen broccoli or berries that you do from eating fresh.

Picking up some fresh and some frozen fruits and veggies is your best bet. To make your stash last even longer, pick up a few longer-lasting fresh options such as apples, oranges, potatoes and onions along with items that tend to spoil faster, such as berries and greens. Eat items in the order in which they likely will start to go bad.

If you want to opt for canned, look for items canned in water with little to no added sugar and/or sodium. If you want to pick up dried as well, look for options labeled unsweetened or no added sugar.

When it comes to packaged foods to keep on hand, some of my favorites include shelf-stable, non-dairy milk such as almond or coconut milk; whole-grain crackers; pretzels; air-popped popcorn; low-sugar granola and/or cereal; healthier bars such as RX bars, KIND bars and gomacro bars; hummus; and salsa. These make for easy, healthier snacking throughout the day.

In an effort to eliminate food waste, before buying anything  think about what you will realistically use. Instead of just frantically grabbing boxes and cans and packages of whatever you see, think through what you truly will use and buy those items.

There is no sense in buying things that you will never use, which makes it a waste of money for you and a waste of valuable resources for others. Leave items you won’t use on the shelf for those who will utilize those items!

When choosing what to prepare from the items you have purchased, work from most perishable to least perishable. Use the fresh items first, followed by frozen, and save the canned and non-perishables for last.

If you happened to overbuy fresh items and they are about to spoil, many of them can be frozen. Wash and chop fruits and veggies, place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper in the freezer for 1-2 hours, then transfer to a freezer bag for long-term storage.

Now, let’s talk about how to put to use some of the things you might not be accustomed to buying. Here are a few of my favorite recipes for frozen, canned and shelf-stable options:

Daily Smoothie

½ of a banana – fresh or frozen

½ cup frozen berries

½ cup spinach – fresh or frozen

½ cup plain greek yogurt

1 cup milk of your choice – dairy, almond, coconut, etc.

Optional: ½ scoop of protein powder

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

Feel free to sub other fruits and/or veggies depending on what you have available.

Simple Stir-Fry

1 cup dry rice or quinoa

3-4 cups frozen peppers and onions

1-2 cups frozen broccoli

2 tablespoons oil – avocado is my favorite

1-pound ground meat OR 1-2 blocks of tempeh or tofu OR 1-2 cans of beans

Soy and/or stir-fry sauce – to taste

Cook rice or quinoa according to package directions.

Heat oil in a large skillet, then add veggies and sauté until cooked through.

If using meat – cook in a separate pan.

If using tempeh or tofu – marinate in your favorite stir-fry sauce, then cook in a separate pan.

If using beans – drain and rinse, then add to pan with veggies and cook until warmed through.

Add rice or quinoa and protein to skillet with veggies, top with sauce to taste, mix until fully combined.

Feel free to sub 1 fresh onion, 2 fresh bell peppers, and 1-2 cups of fresh broccoli if available.

Customizable Crock-Pot Chili

3-4 cups frozen veggies of your choice – peppers and onions work well

2 tablespoons oil – I use olive or avocado 

1-2 cups frozen corn

1 can black beans

1 can kidney beans

1 can pinto beans

2 cans fire-roasted tomatoes

1 can diced tomatoes

1 can tomato sauce

Cumin, chili powder and cayenne pepper to taste

Optional: 1-pound ground meat of your choice

Heat oil in a large skillet.

Add veggies and sauté until cooked through, then transfer to Crock-Pot.

If using meat – cook in the skillet, then transfer to Crock-Pot.

Drain and rinse all beans and add to Crock-Pot.

Add remaining ingredients to Crock-Pot and mix well.

Cook on high for approximately 6 hours.

Feel free to use a large soup pot instead of a Crock-Pot. Simply bring all ingredients to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes.

Healthier Banana Bread

2 ripe bananas

2 eggs

¼ cup coconut oil

¼ cup maple syrup, honey or agave nectar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2/3 cup whole wheat flour

2 tablespoons ground flax seeds

½ teaspoon baking soda

Cinnamon – to taste

Salt – to taste

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Spray a loaf pan with nonstick spray or line with parchment paper.

Melt coconut oil in a large, microwave safe bowl.

Add bananas to the bowl and mash.

Add eggs, maple syrup and vanilla and whisk until combined.

Add flour, flax seeds, baking soda, cinnamon and salt and mix well.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake at 325 degrees for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Feel free to sub another type of flour and/or sub hemp or chia seeds for flax seeds.

Here is your trivia question for the week: What is the nutritional different between fresh and frozen produce? Send your answer to [email protected] by the end of the day Friday to be entered to win!


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GCU Magazine

Bible Verse

Jesus continued His message, saying, "Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:23-24)

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