7 Creative Ways to Use Dried Fruit

When you think of dried fruit, what comes to mind? “Part of a gift basket we always give Grandpa for his birthday”? “A grab-and-go snack for hiking”? “Shriveled excuse for real fruit”?

Historically, I was never too impressed with dried fruit. (Though, one thing it has going for it is that, here in the States, we don’t call it “desiccated fruit” like I’ve seen in the UK. Sounds more like roadkill than a tasty treat.) Part of my issue was that I always believed it to be less nutritious than regular fruit. With the water drawn out of it, I figured, you get none of the digestion-promoting, skin plumping, all-around body-boosting hydration you would from regular fruit.

But come to find out, just because water is removed doesn’t mean all nutrients have left the building. Dried fruit retains (almost all) its antioxidants, micronutrients, and fiber—more, in fact, per weight, than fresh fruit. So, in one sense, dried fruit could be considered more nutritious than fresh.

Still…even though it turns out dried fruit is actually healthy, I never knew what to do with it. Eating it plain always did remind me a bit too much of Grandpa’s annual fruit basket birthday gift, and not in the most appealing way. So when the friendly folks at Bare Snacks reached out to see if I’d like to try a smattering of their dried fruit and veggie products, I was intrigued. Were there more creative ways to use dried fruits and veggies I just hadn’t thought of yet?

The short answer: Yes!

The bountiful sample Bare sent over invited a whole new world of experimentation with dried produce. The last month or so has been a fun process of discovering the many delightful uses of dried strawberries, apples, bananas, coconut, pineapple, and more.

Here are seven creative (and tasty) ways to reap the health benefits of dried fruit:

1. Make a popcorn trail mix.


Call me crazy (it’s okay, my family does anyway) but I sometimes think popcorn could use a little boost. That’s why I so enjoyed adding dried strawberries and bananas—and chocolate chips, obvs—to this tasty popcorn trail mix. The sky’s the limit for what kind of dried fruit you’d like to mix in for a unique movie night snack.

2. Top cereal with it.

What’s the difference between cereal you see in commercials and the cereal that actually comes out of the box? FRUIT, baby.

(Everyone knows Crispix doesn’t come with raspberries, right?)

Add a little luxury to your breakfast bowl by sprinkling it with dried berries. You might even feel like you’re in a classic, overly enthusiastic 80’s cereal commercial.

3. Make a fruity PB-graham cracker snack.

Peanut butter graham crackers are one of my go-tos for an afternoon snack. Adding dried strawberries and apples makes them a bit more interesting (and tangy! and nutritious!).

4. Make granola or oatmeal with it.

For me, breakfast is the toughest meal of the day to include fruits and veggies in. I honestly have to “trick” myself a lot of the time by incorporating them into the package of whatever I’d choose anyway, like a baked oatmeal or bowl of granola. Try using dried apples in place of fresh in this Peanut Butter Apple Baked Oatmeal, or pump up the nutrition in Vanilla Chai Granola by adding dried coconut or mango to the mix.

5. Use it in a yogurt parfait.

Don’t have time to make homemade granola to put in a parfait to start your day? No worries. Simply use dried fruit all by its lonesome. You’ll still get a pleasing crunch mixed in with smooth and creamy yogurt.

6. Put it in cookies.

There’s SO much more to the world of dried fruit in cookies than slipping some Craisins into your Toll House recipe. Jazz up your cookie game (and add some fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin K, among others) with the dried apricots, figs, and cherries in Ina Garten’s nearly all five-star-reviewed Fruitcake Cookies.

Alllllll the jazz hands for jazzed-up cookies.

7. Use it as an ice cream topping.

Don’t worry, I don’t mean ruining perfectly good Oreo ice cream with dried apricots or some such nonsense. I mean enhancing ice cream with a similarly-flavored dried fruit, like adding some dried coconut and pineapple bits to a bowl of piña colada gelato. Instant added fiber and nutrients plus added yummy taste!

What’s YOUR favorite way to eat dried fruit?

5 Best Books About Food and Nutrition

Are you a reader? As a freelance writer, I consider reading part of my job–and, honestly, it may be my favorite aspect of my work. As many a writer will tell you, keeping up your wordsmithing skills is, to a degree, a matter of putting good writing in front of your eyes. Reading other people’s material helps me stay fresh and reminds me what quality looks like. (If only I actually got paid for it!)

In addition to the craft-honing perks that might come with devouring novels and memoirs, I love to read about food and nutrition. It rounds out my knowledge for both my personal and professional purposes. And back when I was first starting out, wondering whether to make nutrition my career, books had an enormous impact upon that decision. In fact, since I didn’t actually know any dietitians at that time, I’d say books had a greater influence on my career choice than any actual humans.

Here’s a look at five books that fueled my desire to become a nutritionist–and which I continue to recommend today. They enlightened me, educated me, and got me asking some tough questions about what it means to eat a healthy diet. I hope you’ll find they do the same for you.

(And maybe, when I get my butt in gear and read a few more current books, I’ll write another post with a few newer additions!)

1. Food Rules by Michael Pollan

Something like ten years ago, when my husband worked for a well-known book publisher, every employee in the company received a copy of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules. I honestly don’t know the exact impetus behind this (I don’t remember ever receiving other books for free), but I’m certainly glad this one came into my life. Simple and straightforward, it offers a what-you-see-is-what-you-get format of 64 dietary principles we could all stand to adhere to. It’s not rocket science. It’s just sound, evidence-based recommendations for how to eat for good health, like “don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food” or “avoid high fructose corn syrup.” Pollan’s overarching mantra sums it up: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.”

2. The Cleaner Plate Club by Beth Bader and Ali Benjamin 

Part cookbook and part food exposé, The Cleaner Plate Club explores the world of “kid” foods–and why there really should be no such thing. Food is food is food, and as families, we should (generally) all be eating the same things. In our efforts to get kids to eat, we’ve created a bit of a monster…a greasy, processed, dinosaur-shaped chicken nugget monster. This book offers solutions for getting the entire family’s nutrition back on track.

3. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Another one by Michael Pollan? But he’s not even a nutritionist! Or medical professional! True and true. But while Michael Pollan may be “just” a journalist, his research and writing about food are thorough, spot-on, and extremely thought-provoking. While there’s a lot I could say about this book, which examines various aspects of how food is made, my favorite part comes at the end, when Pollan decides to consume a meal he has sourced entirely himself. This involves hunting his own meat, gardening his own veggies, and even scraping sea salt from ponds on the California coast. It’s an arduous endeavor that may remind you just how precious your food is–and the Herculean efforts it takes to assemble the ingredients on a single plate.

4. What to Eat by Marion Nestle

Need a basic primer on, well, what to eat? What to Eat by NYU professor Marion Nestle is it. Is organic actually healthier? Should you drink soy milk and ditch the dairy? This books serves as a sort of encyclopedia for science-based answers to these common questions.

5. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver:

Not unlike Michael Pollan in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, novelist Barbara Kingsolver had a desire to get closer to her food. In this departure from her usual works of fiction, Kingsolver details her family’s move to a farm in Virginia, where they aim to eat only locally (and mostly from their own produce) for an entire year. It’s a fascinating tale that shows the fruits of her family’s teamwork and weaves in plenty of reporting on the state of affairs in the food industry.

So tell me…what’s YOUR favorite book on food and nutrition?

How to Eat Healthy at a Buffet

This past weekend my husband and I got out of town for a little Valentine’s getaway to Las Vegas. I’ve lived in the desert Southwest nearly my entire life (since 1985!) and visited 31 states, but had never made the short 4-hour drive to cross into Nevada, let alone seen the bright lights of Las Vegas. But I’ve always just been SO curious! What is it about this place that makes it such an iconic destination? Does the reality live up to the hype?

I’m not a gambler (unless you count the round of bingo I played on my honeymoon in Aruba, but I chalk that up to the included $6 hot dog lunch that appealed to my broke 21-year-old self) and I’m definitely not one for glitz and glam. But you just can’t live as close as I do to Sin City and never, ever check it out. So, for this one of our bi-annual kid-free getaways, I convinced my husband: Vegas, baby, Vegas!

During our whirlwind trip of about 48 hours, we saw and did a TON. We took in the majesty of the Bellagio fountains.

We wandered through the endless shops and corridors of the Flamingo, the Venetian, New York, New York, Treasure Island, and the Mirage.

 

We attended an amazing magic show by Penn and Teller (and got pictures with them!).

And I posed with a naked mermaid figurehead. Because Las Vegas.

But mostly, we did what anyone who’s not into hookers and gambling does when they go to Vegas: we ATE. I’d heard tales of the mythic proportions of casino buffets, so this experience topped my list of dining options. Based on online reviews, we settled on the buffet at the Bellagio for dinner on Saturday night.

It was, in fact, the largest feast I have ever laid eyes upon. And while the food wasn’t all as fabulously gourmet as legends tell, the sheer AMOUNT of it honestly outdid my expectations. King crab legs by the pile, sushi on demand, rows upon rows of mini desserts, and bottomless alcohol (for an extra premium, of course).

As much as I adore food–especially endless mountains of it–like anyone else, I struggle with eating the right amount when faced with the overwhelming free-for-all of a buffet. But I must say, years of practice honing my awareness and tuning in to my body’s cues have taught me a thing or two about how to navigate a buffet in a healthier way. I actually left the Bellagio that evening feeling comfortably full, not overstuffed.

We could all use a refresher from time to time on how to hit the dietary sweet spot of just-enough-and-not-too-much. Here are some of my nutritionist-approved tips for healthier buffet dining.

7 Steps to Eating Healthier at a Buffet

1. Don’t show up starving. Sure, you want to get your money’s worth out of an expensive meal with so many options. But showing up ravenous is a surefire recipe for overdoing it. It’s certainly wise to eat a little lighter throughout the day when you know a large dinner is coming, but on a totally empty stomach, you’re almost guaranteed to gorge–and then regret it.

2. Survey the scene. Before I dig in, I like to make the rounds of the entire buffet scene. This way I can prioritize my must-eat items and fill my plate accordingly. Try taking a reconnaissance lap before you begin.

3. Take one plate–and make it MyPlate. If you grab two plates and a soup bowl the minute you head into the buffet fray, odds are you’re going to fill them. And for most of us, two heaping plates plus a bowl of minestrone is way more food than we actually need from a single meal. Start with a single plate. You can always see how you feel when you finish it.

While you’re loading up, think of your plate as a canvas on which to paint the MyPlate categories of  fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. It’s a helpful visual that can keep you from maxing out on a single food group.

4. A little of this, a little of that. It may sound obvious, but with a million choices before you, try thinking of a buffet meal as a sampler platter. A little place for everything, and everything in its little place.

5. Savor. When you sit down to your edible masterpiece, be sure to give your food the attention it deserves. Savoring food by focusing on its taste and texture is a proven way to slow down and moderate your intake. Though you may be distracted by the restaurant environment or the conversation at your table, do what you can to engage your senses to really enjoy what you’re eating.

6. Get up to check in. Plate #1 down! Is it time to head back for your next helping? Maybe. But perhaps when you get up from the table, it could be to take stock of your level of fullness, rather than to revisit the pasta bar. Removing yourself from the table for a momentary check-in provides the pause you may need to get a handle on whether you’re really still hungry.

7. When you’ve taken too much… At buffets, it’s inevitable: We bite off more than we can chew (literally). So what should you do when you’re getting full but there’s still a whole scoop of tortellini or half a cheesecake on your plate? It’s not like you can say, “Sorry, I took too much!” and pour your excess chicken noodle back into the soup bin.

As much as I hate food waste (and I really, really hate food waste) I sometimes have to ask myself: “Would I rather waste this food by throwing it in the trash or waste it by putting into my body?” For me, the answer is clear. If food has to go to waste, it’s not going in the trash compactor of my belly. Let the sad misuse of food left on the plate be a lesson for taking less next time.

With these strategies, I believe healthy buffet dining is actually possible. With any luck, there will be more buffets in your future! So enjoy the one before you in the moment, knowing you can eat just the right amount.

7 “Health” Topics You Won’t Find On This Blog

This week I got really angry. Like, “write a super-long, frothing-at-the-mouth Facebook rant and then delete it” angry. Like “go for a run to shake the anger and come back still feeling angry” angry. And it all had to do with what passes for “health” in this day and age.

As a freelance health writer, though I’ve been getting plenty of great work lately, I continue to stay open to new publications and previously unexplored avenues. So a couple weeks ago I responded to a call for new contributors from the health editor of a major women’s magazine. (One you’ve definitely heard of.) It seemed like a really exciting opportunity to even be considered for creating content for this magazine. I felt like if this came through for me, I really would have hit the big time.

And, in a way, the opportunity did come through: I received an email from the editor with an invitation to pitch her some story ideas. But when I read the description of what she (and the magazine) want to cover in their newly revamped Health section, that’s when my anger–and, underneath it, my sadness–began. Because every. single. item. on her list was something that stands in direct opposition to my integrity as a licensed nutritionist, or just as a thinking person who cares about the truth.

When I chose nutrition as a career, I never expected that one of the challenges I’d face would be frequent tests of my personal and professional ethics. Sure, maybe I would have predicted that some wacky supplement company might occasionally want me to sell their bogus product or that I might encounter some nutritional charlatans here and there. But to see the opinions presented as facts, the controversies for controversy’s sake, and the outright lies that major publications want to pass of as “health journalism” really grinds my gears, and it’s happening ALL the time. There is so much bad, biased, faddish, and nonsensical advice going around–and since my mission is to share evidence-based, trustworthy health information, that makes me mad.

So here’s a bit of a manifesto about what I personally (and this blog) stand for when it comes to nutrition and health. Here are 7 topics you won’t find me writing about–here or anywhere else–and why.

1. Foods to remove from your diet. These days we love to hate certain specific foods. I believe many people want an edible scapegoat to point to as the culprit behind their health problems. It’s the gluten! It’s the dairy! It’s the lectins! While it’s true that there are some things most of us probably shouldn’t be eating much of, if ever (like Flaming Hot Cheetos, let’s say), we’re all products of our overall diet and our entire environment. As a nutritionist, I find it more valuable to focus on general patterns that to demonize individual foods. Unless you have an allergy or disease that’s actually aggravated by a certain food, I don’t believe in totally ousting one thing or another.

2. Detoxes and/or cleanses. I’ve said it on this blog before, and I’ll say it again: Your body is already equipped with its own detox system. It’s called your liver and kidneys. Yep, believe it or not, your body does a pretty awesome job of filtering out toxins on a daily basis. So you really don’t need to do anything special to help it do so harder or more efficiently. If you’d like to change your diet to be healthier, that’s fantastic! (If you want to do it in the long-term, even better!) But slow and steady usually wins the race, not of a blitz of über-health followed by a return to poor nutrition.

3. Fad diets. The only time I’m interested in writing about fad diets is when I get to expose them. (Which I’m all too happy to do!) Though I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach, I myself subscribe to a mostly Mediterranean diet and feel confident that a lot of basic nutrition advice can be applied to most people. Eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats, and not too much sugar. Is it exciting? Nope. Is it good for you? I believe it is.

4. Nutrition buzzwords: Mmm…adaptogens. Yes, they’re a real thing, and no, I don’t care to focus on them. See “fad diets” above.

5. Celebrity trends. Just because someone’s butt looks amazing on TV or they have a million Twitter followers doesn’t mean their health habits are something we should emulate. So what if Kim Kardashian dropped 20 pounds by eating baby seahorse heads? That doesn’t make it a good idea. Reliable health information comes from professional, (and usually credentialed) sources.

6. Fat positivity. I absolutely think that practicing compassion toward ourselves and our journeys of health is a wonderful thing. But I see the body positivity/anti-fat-shaming movement often crossing a line into celebrating actually unhealthy behaviors. Healthy weight leads to better health outcomes. As a nutrition professional, I cannot, and will not, deny this.

7. Pointless complaints. I’ve literally seen a health publication asking for articles about how, because the media has given so much attention to unhealthy thinness and obesity, medium-sized women are being marginalized. Real issues of health inequality exist, I am 100% sure, but my personal mission around nutrition and health has far more to do with highlighting what we can do for our wellness than stirring up pointless unrest. Aren’t we all angry enough already?

To see some health topics I DO love to talk about, check out my Nutrition page!

How I Started Freelance Nutrition Writing (And So Can You)

Need a health and wellness writer with plenty of experience? Contact me at Sarah@ALoveLetterToFood.com!

Are you considering a getting started with freelance nutrition writing? Check out my post on why it’s such a great career.

You may have noticed that things have slowed down a bit here on the blog over the last several months. The reason behind this actually has to do with something really good–and something, in a sense, blog-related. See, I’ve been doing freelance nutrition writing, and a lot of it. Since I’d rather post quality than quantity on the blog, that means my posts here have gotten fewer and further between. Here’s a little bit about how it all came about, along with some tips for other nutrition professionals interested in getting into the world of freelance writing. (And to my handful of regular readers: Don’t worry, I’m still keeping the blog going with recipes and down-to-earth nutrition info!)

Some backstory:

Last August, our family spent almost three months in Germany. During this time, I wasn’t working (unless you count steadily “working” my way through innumerable varieties of German beer–oh, and I was also looking after my kids). Being very new in my career as a nutrition professional, I still hadn’t really determined what path I wanted to take. When you go through any traditional dietetics education, the party line from your program of study is that you have three options for employment: clinical, food service, or community nutrition. (Can I get an amen, RDs and DTRs?) While I knew I didn’t want to work in the clinical or food service settings, I wasn’t exactly sure what my career in “community” (aka public health) nutrition would look like. I did know, however, that my first position out of school would be temporary, that I wanted something part-time, and that I had always loved to write. My English minor back in college meant I had at least some education in doing so reasonably well.

Returning home from Germany, I decided to take a stab at freelance writing to see how it went. Initially, it barely even crossed my mind to start writing nutrition content. Instead, I began with something even closer to my heart: my own journey as a Catholic Christian. My cousin, who is a freelance writer in New Mexico, had turned me on to a couple of websites primarily aimed at Millennial Catholics, Busted Halo and Amendo. Armed with my backlog of blog content and one lonely article I wrote for my church’s Women’s Ministry page, I pitched Busted Halo’s editor, calling myself a freelance writer. I asked if they’d like to publish the story of a foolish decision I made as a young adult. I didn’t really expect to hear anything back–I mean, who was I kidding with this whole “I’m a freelance writer” pose?–but much to my surprise, the editor emailed me back with an acceptance!

And how I got to now…

After the success of my first pitch (and the thrill of seeing my first article in print), I craved more. Here and there, I’d send off a pitch, often into the echoing void of a general submissions inbox, never to hear anything again, but sometimes to a “yes” from a real human being. Pretty soon I made a pact with myself: Every day I wasn’t working–which was one to two days a week–I would pitch a new publication. I read a quick e-book called Make Money as a Freelance Writer, which encouraged new writers to make a list of all the topics you’re an expert in, as well as topics you merely have an interest in. I decided I could comfortably focus on nutrition, general health and wellness, parenting, and spirituality…and maybe some other random topics I just find fascinating, like forensic investigation and 19th century German poets. But, you know, less often.

Over the next few months, I pitched like a mo-fo. Setting aside my deep distaste for unsolicited social interaction, I rattled off cold pitches to dozens of magazines and websites. I emailed local dietitians to see if I could write their newsletters or other content for patients, and I sent out an ad for my services on my local Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics chapter’s email listserv. The mornings I didn’t work, I’d go for a walk or a bike ride to clear my head and generate story ideas, then sit down to research a good publication to send to, and off my pitches would go. From September of 2017 to the end of that year, I sent out 40 pitches and received 8 rejections, 14 no-reponses, and 18 acceptances that turned into publications. When I read somewhere that new writers often have around a 10-20% acceptance rate, I felt my hard work had paid off (but those 8 rejections still definitely stung!).

How I get my gigs

At the end of 2017 came what I think of as my big breakthrough: Paid regular work. That December I was offered a weekly contributor position for the women’s lifestyle website Brit + Co’s Health section. Shortly thereafter, a dietitian hired me at a respectable rate to write her monthly newsletter. And in May of 2018 I was hired on to contribute regularly to fitness guru Chalene Johnson’s blog on her 131 Method website. Between these ongoing projects, a monthly kids’ cooking class I teach, and a few other articles every month or so, I was able to quit my in-person job–and am now making double to triple the hourly rate my job paid, while working fewer hours.

So how did all that happen?

Once again, I really have to give my cousin credit. She referred me to numerous Facebook groups where editors post calls for pitches–which I often answered and sometimes ultimately landed. (I also asked others in these groups for editor contacts when I couldn’t track them down). Then a couple of dietitians told me about even more Facebook groups where I found work. For awhile, I also regularly searched through Craigslist and Upwork for writing gigs–getting one decent food-related copywriting assignment–but have since decided pitching my own content is the better route for the type of work I’m looking for.

If YOU want to get into freelance nutrition writing

Maybe you’re a dietitian or DTR interested in getting started with writing, like I was less than a year ago. Judging from the responses I got when chatting with other nutrition professionals at a conference just last week, I believe many RDs and DTRs are drawn to this relatively obscure area of dietetics practice. After all, why shouldn’t we be the ones to give the public reliable health information? Journalists may have great skill in reporting on food and nutrition, but they don’t have the kind of in-depth knowledge a licensed nutrition professional can offer.

Here are my top pieces of advice if you’re looking to start freelance nutrition writing:

  • If you don’t have a blog, create one–even a lil’ dinky one–so you have a landing place for editors to see your writing.
  • Create social media pages for your blog and invite friends to like them. Post often, whether it’s your own blog articles or anything you find intriguing in the realm of food and nutrition. If you post interesting stuff, your following will grow.
  • If you’re in private practice, write your own monthly newsletter. Or offer to write one for a dietetics practice to build up experience and content.
  • Offer to blog for free (for awhile) for local food, nutrition, or restaurant websites.
  • Get into Facebook groups about general and nutrition-specific freelance writing (email me for examples!) These are where you’ll find editors issuing calls for pitches.
  • Search Craigslist and Upwork for nutrition-related writing gigs.
  • Pitch like a pitchin’ fool! And, if possible, don’t pitch to the general submissions email address you find on a publication’s website. Do a little more digging to get the email of an actual editor. (Try Twitter, LinkedIn, or ask in Facebook groups.) You’re much more likely to get a response from a real person.

The work is out there. And with your experience as a nutrition professional, YOU can be the one most qualified to get it. I can tell you, it’s a pretty sweet deal when you do!

Enjoyed this article? Have a project that could use some health and wellness writing? Contact me at Sarah@ALoveLetterToFood.com!