By: Pamela Redwine
Nutrition and Food Safety Area Agent
We know that meat, fish, and poultry are wonderful sources of protein, and offer many different vitamins and minerals, including iron. These foods provide us with a wide variety of flavor and texture that often form the centerpiece of our meals. However, the meat and beans food group is more than the meats we usually consider. Beyond meat, fish, and poultry, this group includes beans, nuts, seeds, and peanut butter. Incorporating all of these foods into your daily meal plans can increase variety, fiber, essential fatty acids, as well as various vitamins and minerals. The goal is to avoid getting stuck in a food rut.
In the USDA food guidance system, MyPyramid, it is recommended that as adults we eat approximately 5 1/2 ounces of meat and beans each day. Most of us don’t have a problem eating the recommended amount. In fact, we typically eat more from this group than is recommended on most days. We are also creatures of habit and aren’t willing to step out and try new and different foods. Often times we limit our choices to a select group of foods and miss out on other foods that would be a wonderful addition to our daily meals.
It is a well known fact that many of our diets lack variety. Most of us eat the same foods each week without ever trying anything new. Think about it, the next time you go to a restaurant, are you willing to try something from the menu that is completely different than what you usually order? Unfortunately, all too often, we fail to choose foods that are not only good, but good for us. So, here are some tips on trying new foods from the meat and beans group and why including them can make you healthier and happier.
·Look past the typical hamburger. Many restaurant style hamburgers are larger portions than is recommended for an entire day! The added fat and extra calories found in these burgers aren’t really necessary or beneficial. Think about occasionally replacing them with something different, like hamburgers you can make at home. By using meat extenders, you can help reduce the amount of meat you will need and create your own delicious and healthy burger. Combining extra lean ground beef with oatmeal or seasoned bread crumbs and egg white or egg substitute can be a great way of using less meat and increasing variety. If you have a problem with your family eating vegetables, try mixing diced onions, peppers, or garlic, into your burgers.
·Bring on the beans. Technically, they are called legumes and include dry beans, peas, and lentils. They can be a wonderful alternative to your traditional entrées. Consider making legumes the “center of your plate” a few times a week. There are many things you can try, like “meatless” lasagna or chili. Also you could try a bowl of bean soup or mixed legumes as a part of a vegetable salad.
·Find time for fish. Some types of fish are high in a healthy type of oil called “omega-3 fatty acids”. Fish such as salmon, herring, and trout are each high in omega-3. There is some evidence that a diet high in these omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. So, try to include these types of fish, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids 2-3 times a week.
·Don’t forget about the nuts. Nuts, like walnuts, are excellent sources of essential fatty acids. Sunflower seeds and almonds are very good sources of vitamin E. Remember you don’t need a lot of nuts or seeds; for instance, 1/2 ounce of mixed nuts is the same as 1 ounce of meat. Some easy ways to add nuts and seeds to your daily meals might be to sprinkle pine nuts on a green salad or add toasted peanuts or cashews to a vegetable stir fry instead of meat.
Remember, variety is the spice of life and our food selections should be no different. The next time you find yourself in a restaurant or at home struggling whether or not to choose the same old thing; do yourself a favor and choose something different.