The holidays are fast approaching, which means there is often a lot of preparation, organization, and stress that can fill our days. Riverbank High School Culinary Arts Instructor Nena Sandoval has taken some time to offer a few tips on reducing the effects of stress by choosing food that is fresh and full of nutrients and antioxidants.
Sandoval has been teaching at RHS for the past three years. The love of food began for her at a young age when she was growing up in the Delta region on a ranch.
“I grew up in a family where we would ride out to the fields and pick fresh tomatoes, asparagus, blackberries and eat them sometimes before we even got home,” said Sandoval. “That is where my love and appreciation for fresh food began.”
According to Sandoval, several foods that help reduce stress not only provide our bodies the boost they need during the holidays but contain cancer fighting, heart loving, and mood-elevating benefits. Cashews are an excellent source of zinc, a great snack and perfect in a chicken stir-fry, she said. Both anxiety and depression have been linked to low levels of zinc. Berries have many health benefits including high levels of antioxidants and vitamin C; both are known to help combat stress. Asparagus is high in folate which is known to help people stay calm. Garlic is packed with antioxidants and because stress weakens the immune system garlic can help toughen it up. Last, but not least, is oatmeal. When eating oatmeal, our brains produce serotonin which contains antioxidants and a soothing chemical that aids in overcoming stress.
Sandoval suggests using food to gain energy instead of having a caffeinated drink. The food will help boost your metabolism and provide long lasting energy unlike a caffeinated beverage that can cause one to ‘crash and burn.’ Make your own trail mix, she added, by using nuts, dried berries, dried cherries, chopped dates, dark chocolate chips, and coconut.
For a quick breakfast taco any time of the day, Sandoval recommends using corn tortillas, salsa, sliced avocado, reduced-fat cheddar cheese and scrambled egg whites.
Also, carry nuts, trail mix or dried fruit in Ziplocs when shopping so just in case you get hungry you will have a high energy healthy snack on hand instead of choosing a high fat store bought snack. To save money on nuts, seeds, and dried fruit, Sandoval suggests finding a store that sells these items in bulk.
Planning ahead and eating at home is the best recipe for healthy, satisfying, money saving meals. Therefore Sandoval suggests making homemade soups that are fast, easy, and a great way to incorporate vegetables. Chili is another meal that can be made from a variety of beans and healthier meats such as chicken or ground turkey.
The crock pot can be utilized to do the cooking for you, while you are working or holiday shopping. Turn less expensive cuts of meat into a tender tantalizing tasty treat by using your crock pot to feed the family. Sandoval also suggests adding lots of vegetables and rice to make it a complete meal, which will leave the house smelling amazing when you walk through the door.
Stir-fry is always a family favorite. Take advantage of frozen stir fry vegetables and slice a thin boneless skinless chicken breast for quick cooking. The short cooking time required will ensure the nutrients are maintained in the vegetables.
Sandoval also suggests staying organized and preparing as much as you can ahead of time for any meal which will help you enjoy your family, friends and the holidays. Make a grocery list many days in advance so that you can take advantage of items that come out on sale. Purchase non-perishable items a little at a time during the weeks prior to your event so that you can spread out the spending as well as make the “big shopping” not so overwhelming. For example, shop for perishables and produce three days before the event and when you arrive home wash all your produce then wrap in paper towels, put them back in the plastic bag and then put them away. The next day do all the prep work that you can like chop all the vegetables, sauté vegetables, make casseroles, and make the desserts. However, make sure you have enough refrigerator space to hold all the items that are prepped.
“Remember the most important part of every meal is not the food, it is the people who prepare it and those who enjoy it,” said Sandoval. “Keeping food fresh, simple, and flavorful will ensure the holidays are less stressful and more memorable.”
Sandoval and several of her culinary arts students also helped members of the Riverbank High School staff celebrate the holiday recently, with a special luncheon served up on Friday.