The handling and processing of food can affect its nutritional value. A knowledge of the various food preparation methods can help you derive the maximum nutrients from the meals and snacks you prepare each day.
Buy fresh vegetables that are in season. Steam them or cook them quickly in a small amount of water to preserve the nutrients. Cook them just until tender.
Frozen vegetables can add variety to your menus when ones are not available. Cook frozen vegetables the same as fresh, using just a little water (usually 1/2 cup per regular-size box). Be careful not to overcook them.
Canned vegetables are just slightly less nutritious than fresh and frozen if they are prepared properly. Because they have already been fully cooked during the canning process, they should only be warmed. Further cooking will decrease their nutritional value.
For maximum benefit from the vegetables you prepare, save all the cooking water. This water often contains more vitamins and minerals than the vegetables themselves do. Use the water in spaghetti sauce, chili, gravies, soups, stews, casseroles, stuffings, cream sauces, pot roasts, and other recipes. Mild-tasting cooking water—from vegetables such as corn, peas, or green beans—can be used in any recipe that calls for water, even cakes and muffins. If you have no immediate use for the water, freeze it.
Wheat germ is a versatile and nutritious food that can be added to almost any dish. Its concentrations of protein, vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin E, and iron can fortify cake, muffin, and pancake mixes. Add about 1/2 cup of wheat germ per regular-size box of mix. You can also use wheat germ as a topping for casseroles. You can add it to most ground beef recipes, at the rate of about 1/2 cup per pound of meat. Mix it with peanut butter for a nutritious sandwich spread, or add it to your baby’s mashed banana. Use wheat germ as cereal served with milk, or add it to any cooked or cold cereal for extra nutrition. It can be used in almost any cookie recipe, in addition to or in place of nuts. Its nutlike flavor will enhance the taste of most foods. Let your imagination create new uses for wheat germ.
Brewer’s yeast is a natural vitamin B complex concentrate that can be purchased in health food stores. Because its flavor is somewhat strong, you will probably want to use it first in recipes that require cooking. Cooking seems to produce a milder flavor. For example, you can add brewer’s yeast to a recipe for dark-colored cookies. Use about 1 tablespoon per average batch. You can also add brewer’s yeast to pancakes, cakes, and breads. For instant energy, stir 1 to 3 tablespoons into 12 ounces of vegetable or fruit juice.
The most nutritious brewer’s yeast is the powdered form, but the instant flakes dissolve better and have a milder taste. Tasteless brewer’s yeast is also available. In addition, brewer’s yeast comes in tablets, but huge quantities must be consumed to be of value.
Honey is a natural form of sugar that is slightly more nutritious than processed sugar. It contains 1 milligram of calcium per tablespoon, but brown sugar contains more—nearly 12 milligrams per tablespoon. Honey contains 65 calories per tablespoon, as compared to 40 calories per tablespoon for granulated sugar. As with all sweets, honey should have a limited place in your diet. The best way to obtain sugar is to consume fruits, vegetables, and milk.
Do not give raw honey to a baby under 1 year of age. In addition, never dip a pacifier in honey to encourage the baby to accept it. The baby could develop infantile botulism from spores that may be present in the honey.
Peanut butter is a very rich source of protein, as are all nut butters. You can easily make peanut butter yourself in a blender, or you can buy freshly ground or natural peanut butter in your health food store or supermarket. Many commercial manufacturers use too much salt, extra (often unhealthy) fat, and unnecessary sugar, as well as other additives. Lower-fat versions of many brands are now available.
Get in the habit of fortifying almost everything you cook. Add wheat germ, powdered milk, brewer’s yeast, or anything else that is nutritious. For example, doctor up a frozen pizza with wheat germ, freshly sliced tomato, 1/2 pound freshly cooked hamburger, and extra cheese.
Cooking nutritionally is a challenge, but it can also be fun. Many nutrition books are available that contain recipes which are easy to prepare as well as nutritionally superior. You can compensate for the additional cost by not buying “valueless” foods such as soft drinks, cookies, and potato chips. In time, you will witness even greater savings because of fewer doctor and dentist bills.
If your family has well-established but poor eating habits, make dietary changes slowly. You will neither reach your nutritional goal nor have a happy family if you try to change a lifetime of eating habits in 1 week. Make only one change at a time—and do not mention it! Gradually, as the weeks change into months, you will have a family that is eating and enjoying truly nutritious foods. The highly refined and valueless foods will simply have fallen by the wayside, forgotten and not missed.
To calculate the amount of protein, calcium, and iron that you are eating each day, see Table 3.1. Although these are not the only nutrients you need, they are very important and need to be consumed in adequate amounts. By eating sufficient quantities of these nutrients, as well as a vitamin C-rich food every day, you can be sure that you are getting all the nutrients necessary for a balanced diet. Follow the No-Risk Pregnancy Diet when planning your meals.
To use Table 3.1 write down everything you eat and drink for 24 hours. Calculate how much protein, calcium, and iron you consumed using the table and prepare your totals to the daily requirements for a pregnant woman. If you are deficient in your consumption of a certain nutrient, refer back to the table to find foods that are high in that nutrient. Another good way to test yourself is to add up your day’s totals after dinner. If you are low in any category, you can look through the chart to identify which foods would be best for your evening snack.
In addition to protein, calcium, and iron counts, Table 3.1 also includes the calorie count for each food listed. This is to help you determine which foods supply the most nutrition for the least number of calories.