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Shortcuts show the way to a healthy diet


Although eight out of 10 Americans recognize the importance of good nutrition to their health and well-being, only 35 percent say they're doing all they can to eat a healthy, balanced diet. And that number has dropped from 39 percent in 1993, and 44 percent in 1991, according to the American Dietetic Association.

The "1995 Nutrition Trends Survey" conducted by the Wirthlin Group for ADA and Kraft Foods found, once again, that people feel confused by news reports of conflicting studies. They also believe that healthy eating takes too much time, and requires them to give up the foods they love.

How sad, when the marketplace is brimming with more easy, quick, delicious and nutritious foods than ever before.

If you're looking for shortcuts to high-nutrition dinners, try these quick and easy ideas for good health and great taste.

* Revisit eggs: Scrambled, boiled or poached, two large eggs add 12 grams of inexpensive, high quality protein to your evening fare, along with 21 percent of your vitamin A and a whole array of B vitamins, including folic acid. Eggs are high in cholesterol, and two eggs contain 10 grams of fat, but no one ever said to stop eating eggs. The American Heart Association says four egg yolks per week fit nicely, even in a cholesterol-lowering diet.

To create a Spanish omelet, top scrambled eggs with chopped fresh tomatoes or 1/2 cup of salsa (mild or hot to suit your taste), and a slice of reduced-fat cheese. Serve with whole-grain toast, then have fresh fruit for dessert for a complete meal using all the food groups.

* Have cereal for dinner: Folks are embarrassed to tell me they do this, thinking they've somehow failed, but it's a great way to end a busy day. Serve hot or cold cereal with low-fat or skim milk. Add sliced banana, fresh berries or dried fruit for extra nutrition, or just have a glass of juice. This is especially effective when you're trying to balance out a big meat, chicken or fish portion from lunch.

Almost any cereal will do, as long as it offers less than four grams of sugar (about one teaspoon) per serving, and three grams of fiber or more. Instant oatmeal has all the nutrition of the longer-cooking kind. It's quicker because the oats are sliced thinner.

* Enjoy instant whole grains with beans: Many people tell me they skip the grains and beans because they take too long to cook from scratch. So use a short cut. Cook a batch of grains at night while you're eating some other instant meal. Refrigerate the cooked grain, then microwave one portion along with canned beans for another quickie meal. Or stir your cooked grains into canned soup, like split pea or lentil.

Experiment. Cook barley, brown rice, a packaged rice and seasonings combination, millet, quinoa (let your imagination run wild). Season with onion flakes, garlic powder and dried herbs of your choice, or use a seasoning blend such as Mrs. Dash or Parsley Patch.

Try different canned beans, such as black, kidney, pinto, Fava, black-eyed peas, or cannelloni. Season with hot sauce or reduced-fat sour cream.

Serve your beans and grains with raw vegetables (peel your own or get the grab-and-go kind from your produce department). Finish with yogurt and a piece of fresh fruit for a complete meal. Apples, oranges and grapefruit keep well for folks with more erratic schedules.

* Build a meal on an instant salad: Packaged salads are faster and more convenient than the salad bar! Breathable packaging protects nutrients for an added bonus. Top with canned tuna or garbanzo beans for protein, shredded cheese for calcium, and raisins or chopped apple. Serve with bread sticks for a complete meal that draws on all the food groups.

* Keep a freezer full of instant meals: Frozen meals have come a long way since the original TV dinners. Their big bonus is that you get an entree, a starch and a vegetable without having to think about it. Many are well-controlled in fat and sodium. All have Nutrition Facts labels so you know what you're getting. Complete the meal by assembling a glass of milk, slice of bread, and a piece of fruit while the dinner heats.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant at the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.

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