As we shed the outer layers of sweaters and jackets from the cold winter months, and we realize spring is rapidly approaching, I’m regularly asked what a person can eat to shed a bit of weight and trim the winter bulge.
We all want to eat healthy, but what exactly is healthy? In my opinion, healthy is individual; it is what your body needs . . . as a flight crew member flying a crazy schedule you need a higher protein, higher energy diet with more antioxidants than we might require on the ground with a “normal” 9-5 job. One glove doesn’t fit all, nor does a nutritional program fit everyone. But how do you achieve healthy eating? Over the next few weeks, I am going to suggest several dietary changes over that might help you get started.
Unfortunately you the passenger, or flight crew are, in part, at the mercy of your global food sources. Is that food source able to step off a programmed menu with scripted recipes and prepare a special request that meets your definition of healthy? Is the food source sophisticated enough to understand how to make their normal fare healthier? What choices are available to you in a given market for catering? Or are you just lucky to have bottled water and dry pantry snacks in the galley from the departure location of some areas of the world? I remember a trip one time with one of my daughters; she lived off of dry snacks from her suitcase for days as she was too timid to try the foods we were confronted with during our travels. Are you too timid to try a healthier version of the foods you enjoy eating right now? Step one of eating healthy and meeting your nutritional needs means you should share with the person or persons responsible for ordering the catering for your flight, what you are trying to achieve. If you work with a company that allows you to choose from a preplanned menu from contracted caterers, insist that some of these choices fit a healthier lifestyle. Ask for some ingredient substitutions in the recipe to make the food you desire healthier.
Many diners equate “healthy” with flavorless. I have always been one of those people until I began working with our dietitian Heather Hibben. She, although not a certified chef, is an excellent cook, who has introduced me and the Tastefully Yours staff to an alternative for those passengers and flight crews who are in need of food that better sustains them and their rigorous schedules.
Heather first introduced our kitchen to some simple ingredients to swap to make our dishes more flavorful and healthy. Believe me, I was a doubting Thomas. I wanted to see it to believe it. I wanted to taste it (well, honestly I thought the food would be dreadful and flavorless and wasn’t quite sure I could bring myself to the actual taste). I couldn’t believe that my mother and grandmothers recipes which made us famous could (or even should be) altered and taste the same or better. One by one she began redefining some of our standards to be healthier overall. Her first project was to transform my great grandmother’s Swedish Butter cookie recipe. The name says it all . . . butter. This is one of my all-time favorites. I was actually frightened by the thought of making a change to her generations – old recipe that came with her mother on their journey to the United States from their homeland in Sweden.
Would my grandmother, her mother and my mother come back from the hereafter and haunt me for allowing a change to the family recipe? I was sworn to always keep the family recipes true to my heritage. When the new “healthier” cookies were done, I looked at them on the sheet pan, side by side, to the “original” and visually they looked identical. BUT, the taste, it couldn’t be even similar in my mind. I hesitated as I picked one up to try (only after I had eaten two of the original to get my nerve). Memories of working at the side of my grandmother and mother mixing and baking this very cookie overwhelmed me as I held “it” in my hand ( yes, ”it” was an “it” for now, not deserving of owning a real name yet). I was trying to get the nerve to take a tiny taste of this thing in my hand. You cannot imagine the courage it took for me to raise that cookie to my mouth and eventually take a taste. Flax seed instead of egg, fresh ground almonds instead of extract and white flour and applesauce in place of half the butter…yes 1/2 butter was now gone! A healthier version of my favorite cookie??? My lip curled with disgust at the thought of actually eating this new thing; everyone in the kitchen was watching. I was behaving like a child asked to taste a dreaded vegetable on my dinner plate. You know what? It was really a good cookie, close to my grandmother’s, not quite the same, but actually really good . As I took my second bite, I finally smiled and felt a satisfied sensation as I suggested the rest of the staff should take the taste test. The response was that surely it had to be a joke; it couldn’t be any good, that I just wanted them to suffer over the taste as I must be doing inside.
The end result, ”it” is now a staple cookie on our new healthy menu offering. Heather has made the same cookie with rice flour and made other changes so it is on our gluten-free menu and another version on the sugar free menu. To say the least, I was and am amazed! Even though it is a fantastic cookie, it did need a new name. I couldn’t stand the thought of being haunted by my ancestors by calling it a Swedish Butter Cookie. The new name is Almond Cookie Indulgence; after all, it is a dieter’s or allergy ridden passenger or flight crews’ indulgence.
Now that I was open to the idea of taking some of my personal favorite recipes and making minor changes in them to make them healthier, I began to see an entire new side of our business emerge.
Some of the things we have used as a substitute that you also can use are below. When placing a catering order with a catering source capable of making modifications to their recipes, you might request some of these as an option to fill that healthier menu option for passengers and flight crews either by choice or because of nutritional dietary requirements.
- Use mashed avocado for butter and oils in baking. Not all fats are bad for your body. Olive oil, nuts, and avocado are high in monosaturated fats (the good kind). These types of fats help maintain healthy levels of cholesterol and may even ward off some heart problems. Solid fats such as butter, (sorry, but I love butter when I cook), are high in saturated fats which will raise cholesterol levels and can plug up your veins and arteries.
- Use Non-fat Greek Yogurt for mayonnaise, sour cream, or crème fraiche; Ask your food source to substitute yogurt for any of these since they offer the same consistency, and will add an extra punch of protein. Yogurt will have a little “twang” to the flavor so some seasoning adjustment will be necessary.
- Use mashed bananas for sugars and fats. This is a super easy fruit to use in an aviation menu plan. They travel well, are easy to peel and eat. Add them to the tops of cereal and oatmeal. We often mash some and add to our muffins and cakes. They help make these breads more moist and hold that moisture when at altitude so your flight crew and passengers don’t bite into a hard, dry, crunchy cake or muffin. They also allow us to use less sugar when baking since the sweetness in the fruit is about equal to the sugar we would have added. But best of all, bananas are loaded with potassium which lowers blood pressure and will keep your digestive system running more smoothly.
- Use apple sauce for oil, butter and sugar. Yup, you heard it here . . . this is our secret ingredient in baking. Applesauce has a natural sweetness, cuts the saturated fat, and adds fiber to the diet. Before, when I saw fiber added to an ingredient, I felt it was like eating a cardboard box. Not anymore.
- Use soda water for tonic water when ordering a cocktail. A simple switch and you have just eliminated the sugar. Use seltzer water to dilute a sugary soda or fruit juice. Think mimosa here and you might not miss the sugar.
- Use nuts for croutons in salads and granola in yogurt. As I have mentioned in the past one of the key elements of a successful meal in the air, is the addition of a crunchy ingredient to stimulate your taste buds. Unsalted nuts have that crunch and are loaded with flavor. Walnuts and almonds are especially heart healthy. Eliminate the sugar in granola, the salt and butter in croutons, and add another layer of flavor with nuts.
- Use whole wheat flour instead of white flour. We have all heard this. Most recommended dietary guidelines suggest at least half of your daily grains be whole grains. Try requesting, whole grain cereals, crackers, sliced breads . . . even pastas. Try requesting a half and half of white and whole wheat flour in baked goods if your catering source is making their own baked goods in house from a house recipe.
- Use pureed sweet potatoes instead of cream to thicken soups. This was a hard one for me to sample as well as I couldn’t imagine a rich comforting soup where I expected cream but, to have pureed sweet potatoes instead. Yuk! I must say this one really shocked me.
Dominique, one of our sous chefs, created a pureed sweet potato and butternut squash (loaded with heart healthy potassium and low fat) base soup with an avocado and lobster salad on top of the puree.
Incredible to say the least. Another new soup was the famous, often over-ordered, tomato basil soup. He smoked the tomatoes before pureeing them, garnishing them with chevrons of smoked trout. Too good to be a healthy soup!
- Use ribbons of zucchini and yellow summer squash, or spaghetti squash for pasta. Now I would love to give Heather all the credit for coming up with this suggestion, but, since I love squashes, I have used this trick for years. Bake or sauté the ribbons of squash or pull the “noodles” from the spaghetti squash and viola you have a great base for any pasta sauce . . . even the pasta layers of noodles in the lasagna. This alternative offers a much lower carb option for the crew who are going to be flying all night.
- Use oatmeal for bread crumbs. I first tried this idea when I wanted a crisp chicken coating using an oatmeal cookie that I inadvertently forgot to add the sugar to when I mixed and baked them. The side of me that just can’t stand to waste things decided to smash them and use the crunchy cookie as a breading for my grandchildren’s chicken one weekend night. It was a huge hit; I added fiber, healthy carbs, Vitamin B and Iron without the salt I would have added to the breadcrumbs for seasoning their chicken. With the addition of herbs, I have since made a southwest rolled oats crumb crust, and Italian rolled oats crust and a creole rolled oats crust all from the ruined oatmeal cookies. They like this coating second only to crushed potato chips and catsup crust, or the nacho Dorito chip crust on chicken (both of which not so healthy).
Healthy starts with you. It is up to you to tell those who provide or order your food what you want to achieve with your menu selections. We are after all a team; we need to be able to work together to achieve one final goal . . . To provide healthy, nourishing and flavorful meals for our passengers and crews.