Feeling a little peckish? Our dietitian has a few tips on eating well

Posted on Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Portrait of Maryann Moffitt

Latest update – January 14, 2021

Even during “normal” times, meal planning can be a challenge. Whether you’re still at home or back on campus, your lunch break is probably a lot different than it used to be. 

However, this doesn’t mean you should abandon your healthy eating habits! On the contrary, this is the ideal time to stick to a nourishing mealtime routine and explore your creative side by finding new ways to rustle up a quick lunch. We've asked some questions to uOttawa Food Services dietitian and liaison officer Maryann Moffitt. 

What fuels your passion for your work and for food and nutrition? 

I like to uncomplicate things. 

There is so much health and nutrition information everywhere, but if we need a Bachelor of Science to choose what to eat, we are collectively in big trouble. 

The truth is, it doesn’t need to be complicated. It needs to fit with your preferences: what you like to eat and what’s easy for you.

What is a balanced meal and why is it important?

Food can be divided into three main categories: carbs, proteins and fat. If you can recognize them and understand what they do, then it’s easy to know if your meals will leave you satiated, will help you perform, and if they will keep you energized until you eat again. Canada's food guide is a useful visual tool. 

There is strong evidence of the impact of nutrition on academic performance, so the most important thing to remember is: if you’re hungry, you should eat.

Let’s start with breakfast – that meal is going to have the biggest impact on your day, helping you to perform, think, concentrate and focus. Studies show that the more often a student eats breakfast, the better their score and overall grades. It affects your memory, concentration, recall, exam performance, as well as overall grades. 

Let’s not forget about hydration. If you feel fatigue in the afternoon, have a glass of water. Most of the time, it will spring you back up again. So before going to an exam or a high-performance activity, make sure you’re well hydrated. 

What constitutes a balanced meal or snack? 

We have a tendency in North America to only eat refined carbohydrates (carbs) for breakfast –think of a bowl of popular store-bought cereals for example: it’s just refined flour, there's no protein, no fiber. It’s going to go through your system so fast! This doesn’t mean that these cereals are bad, but they’re not going to fuel you for long. 

You could have a piece of cheese on hand or add some nuts and seeds – these are the easiest way to add a bit of protein, fiber and fat. Add some almonds on top of your cereal, throw in a handful of oats and a couple of berries, and you’ve just increased the nutrition and the support you can draw from that breakfast. It’s going to fuel you longer.

Now, you need carbs, but it’s the fiber and the proteins that slow down how fast that sugar gets digested. Eat too much sugar too fast and your energy levels will peak and then crash, and you’ll end up exhausted and cranky. 

Does that mean we should only be eating food considered “healthy”? 

All foods can fit into a healthy diet! You have to understand the risk, see the big picture, and balance it out. 

Some foods have been proven to be associated with disease, such as bacon, but you can still eat it once in a while. If you have a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, all those foods that have health promoting factors – then you can compensate for the occasional strip of bacon very well. 

If you focus on eating what’s nourishing, delicious and satisfying, it’s much easier to find balance. Because when you start to fight with food, it is all you think about and it’s exhausting. 

What is your go-to recipe?

I’m a lazy cook, and I’m a big proponent of planning and using leftovers. Meal planning is one of the best ways to save time.

Take poke bowls and buddha bowls for example. To make one from scratch is a lot of work. To make one from leftovers is almost no work at all (see recipe below).

I also always have a good meal in the freezer that is ready for a lazy night, for when I’m tired and really don’t feel like cooking.

Do you have any advice and ideas for lunches and snacks?

Make sure you have snacks handy. Snacks are quite easy to assemble; think of the flavours you like and keep it simple: a handful of grapes, a handful of nuts, a few crackers. Experiment with energy bites, there are a gazillion recipes online and they’re all delicious as far as I can tell.

Also, think of food safety when you’re packing your lunch – keep your food at a stable temperature and invest in icepacks and insulated containers if you don't have access to a refrigerator and a microwave. 

A food bowl beside a laptop

Here are a few lunch ideas:  

Bowls and grain-based salads
  • Start with a cup of leftover cooked grains (brown rice, quinoa, etc.) extra points for using a whole grain
  • Add a source of protein, either leftover meat, canned tuna, chia seeds, hemp hearts, or a small handful of nuts
  • Add vegetables, either fresh and raw or leftover cooked or roasted vegetables
  • Top it with a nice salad dressing for a touch of fat so you can absorb those fat-soluble vitamins
  • Choose whole grain bread for complex carbohydrates to slowly release energy
  • Include a source of protein – leftover cooked meats, nut butters, hummus, canned tuna or salmon
  • Add bit of fat, like mayonnaise or non-hydrogenated margarine, to slow digestion and to help you absorb fat-soluble vitamins
  • Top it off with a piece of fruit, or add some vegetables to your sandwich, for health-promoting nutrients
Protein boxes
  • Start with a cold protein, like cooked meats, a bean salad, a few cheese cubes, or 1/3 cup of nuts or seed
  • Add whole grains by adding a slice of bread or whole grain crackers 
  • Include some grapes, berries, cucumber slices, or any fruit or vegetable you like 
  • Top it off with some dried fruit to add a bit of sweetness

To find out where to eat on campus, check out the latest information and updates here.

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