When Wellness Champion Linda Wilson of the State Auditor’s Office approached me with the idea of conducting a tour of the Ashburton Cafe, my first thought was, “I wish I had thought of that!” Once I realized I couldn’t take credit for her great idea, my next thought was, “How soon can we make this happen?” Thanks to Ashburton Cafe nutritionist Carole Grandon Harris and the Cafe staff, yesterday we were able to hold two 30-minute tours of the Cafe that highlighted its many healthy options and the fact that it is possible to have a healthy, balanced meal in a cafeteria setting.
Many state employees eat one or more meals at the Cafe, and I’m sure many struggle with all of the choices with which they are presented. A lot of people automatically assume that it’s hard to eat healthfully away from home, and that most “healthy” options at cafeterias or other dining spots are pretty unappetizing. Carole certainly proved this notion wrong yesterday, as she took the group on a tour of each of the Cafe’s stations and spotlighted multiple tasty ways to eat healthfully at each.
Tuesday is Taco Bar day at the Cafe, and Carole showed us that it’s surprisingly easy to create a healthy, delicious taco for around 500 calories. By adding lean protein like chicken or beans and lots of fiber-rich vegetables and brown rice, and going easy on fatty (and calorie-laden) toppings like cheese and beef, you can create a filling lunch that tastes good and doesn’t break your calorie budget. If you’d rather skip the taco shell and use a potato as your base instead, opt for a sweet potato, which has fewer calories, more fiber, and more vitamins C and A than a white potato.
The Soup Station can be another healthy option, as broth-based or vegetable soups are filling options that aren’t full of calories. Some soups can be high in sodium, however, so be on the lookout for lower-sodium (usually vegetarian) options like potato, lentil, or grilled eggplant and zucchini soups. If you’re watching your sodium, it’s also a good idea to limit deli meats like ham, any entrée with an Asian sauce, and salad toppings like feta cheese.
Other good strategies for eating healthfully at the Cafe are to limit your trips to the fry station, as fried foods are going to be higher in calories than anything baked, broiled, grilled, or steamed; look for meals that contain both a protein and a fiber-rich carbohydrate like vegetables or whole grains; include fruits and vegetables in your meal to fill you up for not a lot of calories; go easy on sauces and cheese, as these can often add more calories to a meal than we think; and try to choose zero- or low-calorie beverages rather than soda, which can add at least 200 empty calories to your meal.
An aspect of the tour that I found particularly eye-opening was how Carole pointed out some little-known nutrition facts about foods we often eat. Did you know that one bagel can contain over 500 mg of sodium (and that the recommended daily intake for sodium is only 2,300 mg)? Or that hard cheeses like cheddar are higher in saturated fat than soft cheeses like mozzarella? These facts, and the tour as a whole, really solidified for the participants (and me!) the importance of really thinking about all of the foods we put on our plates. It’s not difficult to take a step back,weigh the health value of each option presented to us, and choose the better option most of the time. Eating out can be costly to both our wallets and our waistlines, but with a little practice, it doesn’t have to break the (calorie) bank.
If you’d like to learn more about the nutrition of the food served at the Ashburton Cafe, you can go here. WellMASS is planning on holding additional tours of the Cafe, so please send me an email if you’re interested in joining a future tour. In the meantime, enjoy your lunch!