With February being National Heart Health month, my goals were to research foods and dietary patterns that influence the health of our hearts. This subject is near and dear to me as my dad had quadruple bypass surgery for a 90% blocked artery nicknamed the “widow artery” at the age of 52.

While unhealthy fats, such as a fatty steak or scoop of ice cream, are commonly associated with heart disease, we often forget the impact that high sodium foods have on heart health as well. Having high blood pressure damages our blood vessels allowing bad cholesterol to build up in our arteries. In fact, one study found that it takes just 30 minutes for one salty meal to impair the arteries ability to pump blood around the body.

The American Heart Association outlines the top sodium contributors in their “salty six,” and they are:

1. Bread
2. Cold cuts
3. Sandwiches
4. Pizza
5. Soup
6. Chicken

Thinking about these foods, I recalled that I had already had 3 slices of bread by noon, and we had planned on having pizza that evening. Ouch.

Not only was I already over the recommended 1500 mg of sodium for the day, my children were going to be over their limit as well. It was a good call to action for me to:

1. Use more herbs and spices to flavor foods in lieu of salt.

2. Be aware of how often I serve our family foods from the salty six.

3. Continue offering produce with every meal (because this is the habit I do well) and make sure to include potassium-rich food in our diets (like white potatoes, tomato sauce, sweet potatoes, spinach, and watermelon), which help keep blood pressure in check.

See, nobody’s perfect. We ALL have areas in our diets in which we can improve, even our registered dietitians from MNT!

Mary Wissman, MS, RD, LD

I have lots of room for improvement in the meal planning department. In fact, sitting down on Sunday evenings to meal plan for the week is my 2018 Resolution. I know how important this is for keeping my evenings less hectic and my grocery bill on budget. Unfortunately, I always struggle to set aside the time to actually write meals on the calendar.

Too often I’ve relied on the “wing it” method. I cook a lot, so I can always throw something together, but when I plan out all 7 nights, dinner time is definitely smoother. My husband works late and is never home while I’m cooking dinner, so I really need all the help I can get. At least one child is always crying, bickering or whining between the hours of 5:00 PM and 6:00 PM – sometimes all three simultaneously. A plan doesn’t solve that problem, but it does help me keep my sanity. Lately, I do meal planning on Sunday, so my Friday email from McDaniel meals gives me new ideas to incorporate the following week.

I tend to do a good job of eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, especially those in season. Eating seasonally helps me to save money, get the optimal nutrients from my produce, and create a colorful plate – which entices everyone in the family to eat it. The winter can be tricky, but I rely on lots of winter squashes and citrus fruits. In the spring, summer, and fall I stock our garden with plants the whole family will enjoy. The garden also gets my kids excited about eating fruits and vegetables. They love to go out and pick for dinner, even if it is just the fresh herbs I’m using that night.

Jenni Leslie, MS, RD, LD

One thing I could definitely improve on is cooking more from scratch. I’ve definitely been on the “cook once, eat for a week” train. While this can be cost-effective, helpful, and time-saving, I don’t exactly get excited to meal prep or batch cook. I believe there’s a sense of triumph that comes from creating something that you could’ve easily bought (pasta sauce, peanut butter, salad dressing, etc.). Making items from scratch can also end up being healthier since you’re in charge of what goes into it. Also, it can just be plain fun to get your creative juices flowing!

One area of nutrition that I tend to do pretty well with is eating veggies. It’s become such a habit for me to have at least one vegetable at meals that it feels odd if they’re absent. This wasn’t always the case, but I’ve been able to find ways to cook and prepare vegetables so that I crave them (follow Ina Garten’s parmesan-roasted broccoli recipe, thank me later).

Kim Yawitz, MA, RD, LD

Like many busy and sleep-deprived mamas, I rely too heavily on coffee to get through my days (so much so that my three-year-old often says, “do you need grande cold brew, mama?”). Most studies have shown that plain old coffee isn’t bad for healthy adults, but sometimes I sip on so much coffee that I don’t get enough water in the day. I’d practically guarantee that I’m dehydrated on days when my sleep has been especially poor. Lately, I’m only allowing myself a third cup once I’ve reached half of my target water goal for the day. When I do this, I often find that I don’t even need that third cup. But if I do have it, I feel more at ease knowing that I have some water in my system!

One aspect of healthy eating that I do really well is keeping my menus interesting! I love to cook, and I really enjoy experimenting with spices, exotic fruits and vegetables, and different prep techniques. I make an effort to cook a new recipe at least once a week, but usually more often. This exposes my kiddos to a broad range of foods (helpful for combatting pickiness) and also makes healthy eating more sustainable for my family.

If you would like support improving your own dietary habits– contact us at McDaniel Nutrition Therapy, we’re in this with you, and we won’t pretend to be nutrition perfectionists!

Jennifer McDaniel, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD, is the founder of McDaniel Nutrition Therapy and an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson. She specializes in weight management, sports nutrition, and corporate wellness. 

Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.