Healthy Eating

Miami Concierge Nutritionist Shares Back-to-School Lunch Hacks

Much like New Year's, the beginning of a fresh school year is the perfect time for children, teens, and adults to get healthier. There's always room for improvement in the nutrition department, and packing a healthful lunch is a struggle nearly everyone can relate to.

To help get the season started on the right track, registered dietician Monica Auslander shared some quick and easy ways to tweak our eating habits. The Miamian holds a master's degree in dietetics and nutrition from the University of Florida and is the founder of Essence Nutrition LLC, a nutrition practice providing concierge services to individuals and corporations. Auslander approaches healthy eating with humility and a sense of humor, and she'll never tell clients to stop enjoying their favorite foods. 

New Times: What are some quick and affordable ways kids and adults can make their packed lunches healthier?
Monica Auslander: Nix any kind of juice or sports drink, and always include one fruit and one vegetable. Sneak veggies everywhere. Zucchini noodles? Cauliflower rice? Pumpkin lasagna? Get wild on Pinterest. Siggi's yogurts are low in sugar and high in nutrition — kids loooove them. Make sure to include a reusable cute water bottle (hello, S'well), I also love Ezekiel-brand bread and wraps. And remember: An avocado a day keeps the dietitian away.

What are some common eating mistakes you see kids and adults make? 
Overportioning, consuming added sugars (even ones in yogurt, salad dressings, smoothies, açaí bowls, bread, and even oatmeals!)

When packing a nutritious meal, what are some of your go-tos? 
Personally, I meal-prep. I always have hard-boiled eggs (I boil a bunch of organic eggs on weekends), and I'll sauté a huge head of kale and a huge head of chard and tunnel into them slowly throughout the week. I always have a Justin's almond butter squeeze pack and a fruit in my purse, and an emergency Theo's 85 percent dark chocolate. I have half an avocado almost daily with lunch, and on most days, I have some sort of legume/bean either as a spread, a soup, or just out of a box. I'm far too lazy to sprout my own beans.

Based on your experience, what are some common misconceptions people have regarding healthy eating?
People always think there is a quick fix: a cleanse, a detox, a smoothie, a shot, etc. The reality is: nutrition change is s-l-o-w. Sustainable habits take months and even years to create and sustain. Nutrition change is changing a little piece of who you are; it's important to honor that. Any monkey can look up a meal plan; a registered dietitian weaves a plan into your lifestyle and health needs. Also, if one more person tells me that fruit is "fattening" and that mango is "so sugary," I may actually hurl a mango at them.

What are some immediate changes people can make to help shed those extra pounds?
Get rid of everything white in your diet, besides bananas, white beans, and cauliflower. No more soda, no more juice, and no more artificial sweeteners. Eat two servings of fruit per day and five servings of vegetables per day, plus one serving of beans per day and one serving of nuts per day. 

What are some ingredients or foods everyone should avoid?

Processed meats, which are linked to colon and stomach cancer, and trans fats because they raise bad cholesterol.

What are your thoughts about keeping desserts or junk food in the house? Is everything OK in moderation? 
Some people can handle having an inventory of desserts; some can't. This is where I work with clients on mindful intuitive eating, which banishes cravings and honors true hunger. I sleep with a jar of Nutella next to my bed, but honestly, I forget it's there. If you tell yourself that you can have Nutella whenever you want, as long as it's with a piece of fruit and it's just a few tablespoons, then you will feel less compelled.

Again, the ability to do this totally depends on where on the emotional eating spectrum someone lies. And, yes, I adore almond croissants from Panther Coffee and True Loaf and will eat them shamelessly. I feel that all of your favorite foods belong in your diet. We have to honor the love of food! There is no "bad" food — there's only consistently making poor choices in the realm of an overall diet.

Why did you decide to pursue nutrition as a profession?
I was fascinated that nutrition can have a tangible effect on people's health and even help manage diseases. I wanted to inspire others and have them appreciate this as well.

What is your favorite aspect of your job? 
I love feeling connected to people and inspiring change. I'm so touched when someone returns to my office and says, "You changed my life." Having my dog in the office every day isn't bad either.

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Valeria Nekhim was born in the Ukraine and raised in Montreal. She has lived in Manhattan and Miami. Her favorite part of food writing is learning the stories of chefs and restaurateurs.