Pizza! Pizza!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009 at 10:36 AM


Remember those Little Caesar’s pizza commercials? The commercials were pretty funny back in the day, although I was never a big fan of Little Caesar’s – probably because they were the only pizza joint technically on my college campus. We all OD’d on pizza during those years, didn’t we?

I’m blogging about pizza today because (drum roll please), NuVal has released frozen pizza scores!

Now, I’ve never been a frozen pizza eater – ever. Growing up in Rhode Island (the home of all things Italian, where lots of people could pass as Sopranos cast members), there were plenty of good local pizza restaurants around. As a child, Mom often took us for a big night out at Uncle Tony’s. During my teenage years, it was slices at Papa Gino’s at our local mall. My grandparents liked to take us to the restaurant side of said Papa Gino’s because they had table service and wine and beer. As a grown-up, I lived in Connecticut for a while and thoroughly enjoyed Harry’s Pizza in West Hartford. My husband and I still remember Harry’s wistfully: the lightly dressed salads, fresh garlic and basil on our gourmet pies, all followed by lemon or grapefruit sorbet. Aaaaaaah. Once we moved to the Boston area, we never could top Harry’s, so we made our own pizza every Friday night on the proverbial wedding shower gift of the 1990′s: the pizza stone. We tried to replicate Harry’s, sprinkling cornmeal on our stone, adding sliced calamata olives, onions and grilled eggplant. Oh, the things we had time to do before those 2 kids came along!

Now, we still have pizza night every Friday – as does most every other family on our cul-de-sac. We even pool our orders from our favorite gourmet delivery pizza restaurant, so that they only need to visit our little street once. The kids get cheese, and we get a gourmet veggie that is nothing like Harry’s, but it will do.

Still, I have friends who have been waiting for these frozen pizza scores. So here they are:

Pizza scores range from 2 (ouch) to 25 on the NuVal scale, where 100 is best. The median score for frozen pizza is an 11.

Some of the best frozen pizza labels will not surprise you: South Beach and Kashi.

South Beach Living Pepperoni Pizza with Harvest Wheat Crust 25
Kashi All Natural Margarita with Tomato Garlic Cheese Thin Crust 23

Still Ellios scores just as well as Kashi:

McCain Ellio’s Cheese Pizza 23

Weight Watcher’s does not score as well:

WeightWatchers Smart Ones Stone Fired Crust Pepperoni Pizza 15
Hmmm. Stone Fired. Guess they got a pizza stone for their wedding too.

Among the lowest scoring frozen pizzas are Celeste and Totinos:

Celeste Original Pizza 4
Totinos Crisp Crust Party Pizza Classic Pepperoni 2

I wonder how the restaurant pizza stacks up against the frozen versions. Eventually, NuVal plans to score all food wherever it is sold. For now, we are focused on foods purchased in grocery stores.

So whether you like pizza in a restaurant, via takeout, delivered to your door, or hot out of your oven, there’s one thing we can all agree on: our kids will eat it.

Posted by: Melissa 2 comments

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Moooooooo!

Friday, September 25, 2009 at 09:22 AM


I am lucky. My kids are pretty good about drinking their milk. This has come, however, after several years of trial and error (2%,1%, organic, milkman?), milk-pushing strategies (we’ve put chocolate chips at the bottom of the glass), and many stinky lunchboxes. At this point, when I’m sitting in the pediatrician’s office and I need to check the box following the question, “Does your child drink 16 ounces of milk a day?” I can report “Yes” and not feel like I’m completely lying. Are they really getting a whole 16 ounces? Weeeelllllll, they come super-close.

Two things have helped a lot in getting close to that 16 ounces. First, we switched to buying Milk That Looks Like Juice Boxes for lunches. I was so thrilled when I finally found these in my supermarket. Woo hoo! No more smelly lunchboxes. You see, I used to put their milk in a thermos kind of container. They never really drank the whole thing, and so the leftover milk would come home from school or daycare and it always leaked. Yuck! The milk boxes that we buy are not cheap, but at least I’m not replacing lunchboxes all the time! The only downside is that because the containers get thrown out when they are done, I’m not sure if they took a few sips or if they drank the whole thing.

The second thing that has helped a lot is that we’ve switched to a milk delivery service. Our bottled milk comes from Munroe Dairy in Rhode Island. Our milk man, Jay, is fabulous and he has a great sense of humor. We came to be Monroe customers, when one day I happened to be working from home, and this big Cow Truck pulled onto our street. It really looked like a cow. Jay came to the door and asked if we’d like a free bottle of milk. I took one and put it on the table for dinner with my husband, kids and my parents that night. The milk was so good that between the 4 adults and 2 kids, we finished the bottle right at dinner. I am a huge fan of the glass bottles. It is amazing to hear your kid ask, “Can I have more milk please?”

Nevertheless, most nights, the kids don’t drink a full 8 ounces with their dinner. I was curious to see how many ounces we are really giving them, so I filled the cups that they usually drink from with the usual amount of milk and then I measured it. It’s only a half cup (4 oz in case you forgot that fun-fact from home economics). Sure they also get a little milk if they choose to have cereal for breakfast, but they don’t really get another 4 ounces out of that.

My son has a new after-school habit. He’s asking for a little handful of dark chocolate chips (I know where he gets that habit from!) and a glass of our skim-from-the-milkman milk. Sounds like a great habit to me – and I’ll make it a big glass.

A lot of my friends ask how milk scores on the NuVal scale. Well, as you might have guessed, skim milk is best with an almost perfect score of 91. That’s what my DH and I both drink. And the kids are happy with that when we are at home. On the go, my son prefers strawberry or chocolate milk and while my daughter will drink non-flavored milk, the milk boxes we buy do not have a skim option. Check out some of these milk scores:

Dean’s Fat Free Skim Milk: 91
Garelick Farms 1% Milkfat Milk: 78
Horizon Organic 2% Milkfat Milk: 55
Garelick Farms Whole Milk: 50
Organic Valley Chocolate Milk 2% Milkfat: 24
Nestle Nesquik Strawberry Milk Reduced Fat 2% Milkfat: 23
Chug Milk Shake Vanilla: 12

Parade Magazine featured an article last Sunday entitled “Why You Need the Sunshine Vitamin”. The author, Dr. Mark Liponis, highlighed a recent study of more than 6000 children across the U.S. which showed that 70% had low levels of vitamin D— 61% were insufficient and 9% were deficient. According to the article, “a low level of vitamin D puts kids at risk for bone problems and could be a precursor of osteoporosis later in life. Kids with low vitamin D levels also had higher blood pressure, on average, as well as lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels.” This is a good reminder for me not to fudge it when my pediatrician asks if my kids are getting the recommended amount of milk. Instead, I need to make sure they truly are.

Posted by: Melissa 7 comments

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Mama Melissa’s Meatballs – and Spaghetti!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 11:33 AM


Now that fall is officially here today, I feel like cooking some good old-fashioned comfort food. While my daughter was disappointed to see that the trees did not magically turn color overnight when she woke up on this autumnal equinox, she will be very glad to know that Mommy will be making spaghetti and meatballs again. Since I’ve come to work for NuVal, I’ve learned lots of things and I’ve made some changes in what foods I choose for my family. That being said, I have NOT changed how I make meatballs. I still make them the way I learned growing up in Rhode Island, the amazing little state where ‘most everybody is at least part Italian. I have, however, changed which pasta I buy. I tried whole wheat pastas a few years ago and I was unimpressed. But when I heard Shari Steinbach, the lead dietitian at Meijer supermarkets, talk about how much she loved Barilla Plus Multi-Grain Pasta, I had to try it. Shari promised that it tasted just like plain old pasta and she was right. And get this – it scores a 91 on the NuVal scale (where 100 is best). Regular Barilla pasta scores a 61. And some of the favorites I grew up on (like Prince and Ronzoni) score a 49. The worst scoring pasta? Egg noodles. Some are as low as an 11.

Now, of course, like a good part-Italian girl, I make my own sauce. I was very happy to learn from Annette Maggi, the senior dietitian for NuVal, that canned tomatoes often have more lycopene in them than fresh tomatoes because they are concentrated. Who knew? But the scores on canned tomatoes really vary, mostly due to how much sodium and sugar is added. And this is why I need NuVal scores in a grocery store that is close to my home. Even though I have access to scores, I can’t always remember them when I’m looking at the grocery store shelf. And lots of those tomato cans look the same, don’t they?

Consider these sample canned tomato scores:
• Sclafani Regular Tomato Puree Concentrated (no additives): 82
• Hunts Regular Tomato Sauce (no additives): 75
• Contadina Regular Tomato Sauce (no additives): 37
• Hunts Regular Stewed Tomatoes: 34
• Red Pack Regular Crushed Tomatoes: 21
• El Pato Mexican Tomato Sauce: 17

And since this old-fashioned part-Italian girl is also one busy working mom/fitness instructor/blogger/volunteer/fundraiser, there is always some jarred sauce in our house. Again, the scores are all over the place:

• Eden Foods Spaghetti Sauce No Salt: 91
• Classico Di Roma: 68
• Ragu Old World Traditional: 52
• Barilla Sweet Pepper with Imported Olive Oil: 46
• Barilla Roasted Garlic with Imported Olive Oil: 36
• Newman’s Own Sockarooni Spaghetti Sauce: 27

As for my Mama Melissa’s Meatballs, as my Dear Husband affectionately calls them, here is the recipe. Sorry, no measurements – my mom never gave them to me. Just play around with the mix until it has a consistency and aroma that’s pleasing to you.

Ground Beef (I use something around 85%, about 2 lbs)
Italian Style Bread Crumbs (around 1 1/2 cups)
2 eggs
Oregano (really shake it in there)
Parsley (really shake some of that in there too)
Parmesan Cheese
Garlic Powder (the more garlicky, the better)

Mix the ingredients and hand roll the meatballs. Bake them at 350 until firm and lightly browned. Transfer the meatballs to your sauce pot and let them simmer in the sauce on low for at least 5 hours. Works great in a crock pot.

Oh, and now go out and buy a very large bottle of Spray and Wash. I know in our house, after we eat this meal, we need it!

Posted by: Melissa 5 comments

Posted in: Tomato Sauce

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School Lunch – 1988 and Today

Friday, September 18, 2009 at 08:53 AM


When I started my senior year of high school, I decided that I would buy school lunch every day so that I could prepare myself for the institutional food that was coming my way when I left for college the next year. Somehow, I convinced my friends to join me in this masochistic plan. And somehow, I remembered that we actually took a picture of our last school lunch ever. There is proof – the back of this photo is stamped June 1988 (remember when we used to get film developed and the date was stamped on the back!) So here we were, big hair, big sweatshirts, big smiles, all enjoying our cardboard pizza. Yum!

My son started first grade last week which means that he can now choose to eat school lunch if he wants to. Amazingly, he has not asked to do so. I am overjoyed. In perusing the school lunch menu, I see only one lunch that might possibly live up to my standards for a healthy lunch: On September 29th, they are serving a grilled cheese sandwich, yogurt cup, and baby carrots with dip. Not bad. But there literally is no other day in September that I would want my son to buy lunch. Not one. Here are some of the options:
Stuffed Crust Pizza Dippers
Chicken Nuggets with Baked Tostito Scoops and Nacho Cheese
Macaroni & Cheese
French Toast Sticks, Hash Brown Patty, Sausage (yes, for lunch!)
Cheeseburger on a bun with potato puffs
Pizza Party (of course – I wonder if it is the same cardboard pizza?)

So there’s our school lunch menu for first graders. And we wonder why according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 16 percent of all children in the country are overweight or obese? Now, my school offers an online program where I can see what my child chose to eat for lunch. Cool, but look at the less-than-stellar choices!

Rhode Island (the state in which I was born and raised and in which I feel I have dual-citizenship at times!) has implemented strict new guidelines for school lunches.
Last Sunday’s Providence Journal featured a great article outlining the new program. Among the changes: more fruits and veggies, beans or legumes at least once a week, no white bread or flour, only whole wheat. The new regulations also restrict sodium – not easy to do. I’d love to hear from my Rhode Island readers. How are your kids liking the new program?

Well, thankfully, my son is happy to bring his Transformers lunchbox filled with healthy things – for now. And since I know the NuVal scores on lots of foods, I can be sure to keep packing it well. Long term, NuVal hopes to be the universal standard nutritional scoring system in the country. And we hope to provide nutritional guidance wherever food is eaten – even in the school cafeteria. NuVal is being recognized by journalists, bloggers, doctors and dietitians for its objectivity and independence and its ease of use. It is an amazing system.

To all my readers? Do your kids buy lunch at school? What do you do to make sure they are making nutritious choices?

Posted by: Melissa 11 comments

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Happy New Year!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009 at 09:23 AM

Well, the gym was busy, busy this morning at 5:30 and I was not surprised one bit. I’ve been a gym rat for quite some time and I’ve been moonlighting as a Pilates and Group Exercise instructor since 2001, so I’m familiar with the trends. The three busiest times for health clubs are:
- The first 3 weeks of January (it dies down by Superbowl)
- Mid-end of April (my sister, Julie, owner of RI Pilates Studio, says it coincides with the warmer weather because women will be baring their arms)
- Mid-September (once the kids are settled in their back-to-school routines, Moms feel they can finally get some “Me” time and after a summer of cookouts, vacations, and cocktails by the pool, we need it)

I’ve always loved September, and to me, it feels like a New Year. In the Jewish faith, it is in fact the New Year. I’m not Jewish, but my Dear Husband tells me that I want to be. Maybe I was in a previous life. In any case, to me, September is the start of a New Year and it is a great time to get back on track, if you’ve strayed at all from your healthy routine. When I’m feeling like I’ve fallen off the wagon a bit, I try to squeeze in some extra workouts, use my online food journal daily, and put only the most nutritious foods on our weekly menu.

Squeeze In Extra Workouts
Whether you are a busy Mom or not, this is not always easy. Even the most devoted of us early risers gets tired now and then. And lack of sleep is not good for weight loss/weight maintenance either. One way I squeeze in extra cardio time is by running on the elevated track that surrounds my daughter’s gymnastics class and my son’s sports class. I figure I can yada-yada-yada with some Moms outside the door, or I can get in 45 minutes of cardio instead. No brainer. And no, chasing the kids does not count as a workout according to a new study presented at a meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Use My Food Journal
Now, I’m not a dietitian and I don’t play one on my Blog. But I am a lifetime Weight Watcher and writing everything down (these days, I use the Weight Watchers online tools) is critical whether I’m trying to lose a few pounds or just maintain. Now, of course there are things that don’t count, like a few dark chocolate chips after dinner!

Put Only the Most Nutritious Foods on the Weekly Menu
Working for NuVal opens my eyes to the highest ranking foods according to their nutrient-richness. So, when my DH and I feel we need to get back on the straight and narrow, there’s lots of baked or grilled fish on the menu. Last night, it was baked haddock (which scores a 64). Cod would have been a better choice since it scores an 82. And at a work lunch last week, I chose a spinach salad with grilled salmon since the fish has a score of 87. We also eat lots of grilled chicken breast which scores a 39. My favorite recipe, which I have on a dog-eared card from Martha Stewart Living’s July/August 2000 issue (yes, there once was a time that I actually read that magazine), adds no fat and has a spicy kick. We make it on the weekend and use leftovers on top of salads and in wraps.

Grilled Chicken Paillard
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Zest and juice of 2 limes (most of the time I just use bottled lime juice and skip the zest)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 boneless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/4 inch thickness
Salt and freshly ground pepper.

Make the marinade in a large resealable plastic bad and add the chicken. Chill in refrigerator 15 minutes or up to 24 hours. Grill 4-5 minutes per side.

The leftover factor gives us some extra time to actually cut up the fruit sitting on the kitchen counter and prepare the fresh vegetables that we bought from the farmer’s market.

So, I guess “squeeze it in and trade up for better nutrition” is my message of the day. I ate breakfast while driving to the office this morning – multitasking is “squeezing it in”. I had a Thomas’ Original Made with Whole Grain English Muffin (scoring a 26) with Teddie Peanut Butter Chunky (scoring a 38). A better choice would have been a Thomas’ English Muffin Light (scoring a 38) and Teddie Peanut Butter No Salt Creamy (scoring a 49). I still need to work on Trading Up.

I would love to hear from you on this topic. How are you squeezing it in? Do you write down what you eat? And are you trading up for better nutrition?

Posted by: Melissa 8 comments

Posted in: Exercise, Seafood

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