Tag Archives: nutrition

From Fried Chicken to Frozen Farro

October 16, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In the early 1950s, at the dawn of the frozen meal era, it was fairly easy to predict the type of meals that appeared in those iconic, foil-covered aluminum trays.

“They very much reflected what was put on the kitchen table for an evening meal, a Sunday lunch, or something like that, with the fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and some kind of a brownie for dessert,” says Kristin Reimers, director of nutrition at Conagra Brands in Omaha. “It was such a new technology that there was a need to keep the food familiar.”

Omaha figured prominently in the development of frozen dinners and entrees, and it still does. Reimers describes Omaha as “command central” for Conagra’s innovation in such products.

“All of the technology [for innovation] resides here in Omaha with the 1,200 employees that remain in Omaha,” she says. “This is where all the research and development occurs.”

That research and development team includes such high-level employees as food science experts, chefs, and processing and packaging engineers.

In 1980, Conagra purchased Banquet Foods Co. (an early marketer of frozen entrees). The company was a competitor to Omaha-based C.A. Swanson & Sons, which developed the TV Brand Frozen Dinner in 1953.

Then, in the late 1980s, Conagra blazed a new path in the frozen meal and entree market when it introduced the Healthy Choice brand at the urging of then-CEO Mike Harper.

Healthy Choice signaled a change in frozen meals toward better nutrition, as well as convenience.

Reimers says that in recent years, Conagra has revisited not just Healthy Choice, but all of its classic brands to make them more appealing to millennials and others who seek restaurant-style meals at home that feature foods different from what they might prepare in their own kitchens. 

“People are looking for the convenience, but they don’t just want the convenience,” she says. “They want the experience.” 

“People are embracing it and loving it,” she says. “They’re looking at these frozen meals as they would a restaurant experience—some way to explore new foods at a very small risk. If you don’t like it, no big deal. You haven’t spent a lot of money or a lot of time. But if you love it, it’s like ‘wow’—you’ve experienced something really exciting—and really nutritious, too.”   

“We can offer foods to people that maybe they haven’t tasted before. We’ve been able to really explore a greater variety of foods,” Reimers says. Foods such as the Adobo Chicken and Korean-Inspired Beef versions of the company’s Power Bowls entrees, which were introduced last year. Items in that product line include whole grains and vegetables that consumers tend not to keep in their pantries.

In July, Conagra Brands introduced Morning Power Bowls, which variously include grains such as farro, quinoa, oats, and buckwheat. They offer an Unwrapped Burrito Scramble, Turkey Sausage and Egg White Scramble, Roasted Red Pepper and Egg White Shakshuska, and Pesto and Egg White Scramble.

And the bowls themselves are made from a plant-based fiber instead of a plastic, providing a nod to today’s more environmentally conscious consumer along with a reduction in energy use for the company.

Regarding nutrition, consumers need not fear they are missing out on key nutrients when they choose frozen meals. Reimers says the nutrition of frozen meals is comparable to that of meals prepared using fresh or raw ingredients.

Freshness is no concern, either. 

“Vegetables that are in the frozen meals are probably fresher than a consumer would be using at home,” Reimers says. 

Why? 

“The foods are harvested and brought to the frozen state, usually within the same day—hard to do, even if you have your own garden,” she says. “The amount of time that that food is exposed to air and to light that will cause the degradation of nutrients is very minimized in the frozen food.” 


Visit conagra.com for more information.

This article was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Kristin Reimers, director of Nutrition at Conagra Brands in Omaha

Ironman Chef Paul Braunschweiler

July 13, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Chef Paul Braunschweiler of Brushi started cooking when he was 6 years old, living in Switzerland with his family. 

Although Braunschweiler claims he wasn’t “sporty” growing up, he did enjoy participating in track up until he enrolled in culinary school and became too busy for extracurricular activities. Now an official Ironman with three completed Ironman triathlons under his belt and numerous other races to his credit, Braunschweiler admits that “being in tune” with his body’s dietary needs has helped his race performance. 

“Your body tells you what it needs,” he says. “You have to listen to your body.” He doesn’t follow a strict protocol when it comes to his day-to-day eating, nor does he switch things up pre- or post-race. What he eats largely depends on what he feels like eating. Luckily for Braunschweiler, he has the well-stocked kitchen at Brushi at his disposal. “I can eat what I want. I can just walk around and open the fridge,” he says, gesturing toward the busy Brushi kitchen. 

Though many racers swear by “carb-loading” right before a race, Braunschweiler sticks with what his body craves. “I eat what I want; I don’t change my diet at race time a lot.” When asked what a typical day-before-a-race meal might look like for him, he replies, “We get fresh fish from Hawaii every week, so that’s what I’d eat. I eat a lot of salmon.” As for his pre-race nourishment, “I don’t eat a lot before a race—maybe a sports drink and a banana.” Post-race, his go-to meal is “a big bowl of salad with lots of marinated salmon and cucumbers and avocados.” He says his body does crave protein after a race, so if he doesn’t feel like salmon he might have some beef or other meat protein. 

Does eating whatever he wants work for Braunschweiler as an athlete? Yes—although his penchant for fresh, nutrient-rich food likely helps. Giving in to cravings won’t work for all racers. But it works for Braunschweiler because he enjoys healthy foods and occasionally allows for splurges so he doesn’t feel deprived. “Allow yourself to splurge a little bit,” he advises fellow racers. “We can do this because we are so active.”

He wasn’t always so active. It wasn’t until after his divorce that he delved into the racing world. “I needed to do something for myself after my divorce,” he says. “I saw people rollerblading and running at Lake Zorinsky, and I decided to start running again. I signed up for the Des Moines Marathon and liked it—I did pretty well even though it’s a little hilly.”

Braunschweiler has progressed from “doing pretty well” to consistently winning in his age division at every race in which he competes. At nearly 67 years old, he’s diversified his racing because “marathons are hard on the body.” Triathlons are his race of choice nowadays. His advice to other racers is, “You have to make time to train. You can achieve so much with your will.”  


Visit raceomaha.com for more information about the Omaha Triathlon. Visit brushiomaha.com for chef Paul Braunschweiler’s restaurant in Omaha.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha. 

Whispering Roots Takes Root

July 10, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Highlander Village on North 30th Street between Lake and Cuming is a dramatic new development meant to revitalize the depressed neighborhood surrounding it. The center of this community (planned by 75 North Revitalization Corp.) is the Accelerator. The 65,000 square foot, Z-shaped building serves as a Creighton University and Metropolitan Community College-led health-education hub. An event venue and a ground floor coffee shop will be joined by established eateries and entrepreneurial startups. 

But what most grabs the eye is the Accelerator’s futuristic-looking urban agriculture facility for nonprofit tenant Whispering Roots. A see-through greenhouse sits majestically atop floors dedicated to education and production—all centered on aquaculture, aquaponics, and hydroponic growing. As Whispering Roots founder and executive director Greg Fripp explains, nearly everything at the $4.2 million, 18,000-square-foot green site is designed for the next generation. Like the rest of Highlander, he says the custom design and construction, plus elevated location, are meant to raise people’s expectations in a high-poverty environment.

Slated to open by late summer, the facility is built on years of seeds sown by Fripp and company in inner-city public schools and neighborhoods. Whispering Roots teaches students how to build and maintain aquaculture systems that grow fish—tilapia or steelhead trout—for consumption. Fish waste is used to fertilize crops grown in the same system. The closed system’s water is naturally cleaned and recirculated. Floating raft crop, drip irrigation, and raised bed techniques are taught. 

The new digs will allow Whispering Roots to expand learning opportunities for youth and adults around organic agriculture, healthy cooking, and nutrition. It will refer participants in need of human and social services to on-site partners.

“We focus on growing, feeding, and educating,” Fripp says. “We’re touching different aspects of the community to address where the gaps are. By working with different folks and actually being out in the community and listening to the feedback—what’s working, what’s not working—it allowed us to design a facility that meets the needs of the community.”

Fripp says residents of the community have said they need more locally produced food, hands-on experiential learning, and STEM education, “and that’s what we do.”

To help address the community’s lack of access to fresh, local healthy food, Whispering Roots will sell the fish and vegetable crops it harvests on-site at farmers markets and select stores and to neighboring Accelerator food purveyors. 

Fripp sees this as just the start.

“The model is what matters—the techniques and how we build them and improve them in underserved communities—and then taking that model and replicating it at whatever scale makes sense for a community,” he says. “Where a lot of people make mistakes is they try to force a model and scale in a community that’s not ready to deal with it. The community’s overwhelmed.”

Fripp’s interest in urban ag and aquaculture goes back 20-plus years, to high school. After a U.S. Navy logistics career, he worked in the corporate world. He left an executive human resources position at TD Ameritrade in Omaha to follow his real passion full time.

He founded Whispering Roots in his home garage and basement lab with his own savings, and in less than a decade it’s now supported by major philanthropic players such as the Sherwood, Weitz Family, and Suzanne and Walter Scott foundations.

Funders bought into his vision, allowing it to ramp-up from micro to mega level. In learning to build and operate aquaculture systems, grow, harvest, package, market, and sell food, students will acquire portable skills.

Whispering Roots already has a presence as far away as Haiti and Madagascar and as near as Iowa and Missouri. It’s currently building a facility in Macy, Nebraska.

On the planning table is a full-scale commercial production facility that would supply food in quantity and create jobs.

“We not only want to replicate what we’re doing here but also to do economic development by developing this pipeline of kids and adults from the community who can then work in or run those facilities,” Fripp says.

Fripp and his team are much in demand as consultants.

“We’ve become subject matter experts for other communities that would like to do the same around the country. We have people calling from Kansas City, Minneapolis, wondering how we’re pulling this off in Omaha,” he says, adding that the model is what’s interesting to them. It challenges the way people view urban agriculture, hands-on experiential learning, and STEM in underserved and impoverished communities.

“We’ve been able to navigate government and policies and work on the community side, in schools, and to figure out how all these pieces work together,” he says.

From concept to completion, he says, “One of the biggest challenges is helping people understand the vision because it’s so new. When I started my organization in 2011 and said we’re going to put fish and plants in classrooms to teach kids about science, people thought that was crazy. They said, ‘It’s never going to work, kids aren’t going to be interested.’ Now our problem is we don’t have enough bandwidth to handle all the requests we get from the schools. But when I started, no one believed this was even possible.” 

Even after capturing the attention of kids—who started winning science fairs—and making converts of educators, he says, “In talking about where we were going to build our new facility, we had people questioning why we wanted to go into the inner city and offering us free land to build in rural areas. But the goal was to do it in an underserved community to prove it’s possible to go into the toughest areas, build this thing, and show it can work. That’s not easy because you run into a lot of roadblocks. There’s a lot of preconceived notions about what education looks like in an underserved community, what people will tolerate, what will work. What we’re trying to do is change that view.”

On a recent tour of the new Omaha facility, a woman who resides nearby told Fripp, “I’m glad that you are here. This is close to my heart. It needed to be here. This is such a beautiful and good thing that the community will protect you.”

“That feedback,” he says, “tells me we’re on the right path. The key is that you are a part of the community so that people feel like they have ownership—this is their resource. That’s what we want. We want that community base. If it’s just a community place and there’s no connect, people don’t care. They’re like, ‘That’s not ours anyway.’ But if it’s community-based, then, ‘It’s ours.’”

Part of that buy-in, he says, is “trying to build our own pathway and network of students who then become the experts who teach and train.” The goal is creating self-sufficiency so that communities can feed themselves. 

Having an African-American at the head of it all is a powerful symbol.

“When intersecting with the African-American community, students need to see people who look like them doing this work,” Fripp says. “Then they can internalize it by saying, ‘Me, too.’ They need to know this is a goal that is achievable.”


Visit whisperingroots.org for more information

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. 

Greg Fripp teaches aquaculture, aquaponics, and hydroponic skills to the next generation.

On Bread

April 10, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Illustration by Matt Wieczorek

It was the story I didn’t want to write—that one about what I call “my malady,” my three episodes of severely restricted eating. The first bout struck when I was 15, when, in response to difficult family circumstances, I limited myself to fewer than 600 calories per day. I calculated and tallied the calories for everything I ate; I chewed and spit out forbidden foods; I stripped down and weighed myself many times a day; I exercised too vigorously and for too long; I awakened in a panic from vivid dreams in which I was devouring doughnuts or pizza; I isolated myself from my friends and no longer ate meals with my family because of the all-consuming nature of my regimen. I lost weight so quickly and recklessly that I stopped menstruating and could barely get out of bed in the morning because of the anemia. But I felt safe and empowered because, through my self-restriction, I’d taken control of my frustrating life and unruly flesh.

Over a decade before Karen Carpenter’s death from anorexia nervosa, the event that awakened many Americans to the dangers of eating disorders, I had never heard of the condition. Apparently, neither had the pediatrician who examined me when I was my thinnest and most unhealthy. He simply told my mother that I needed to eat more, which eventually, I did. When I was 25 and left my family, friends, and hometown for a demanding job in a big faraway city where I knew no one, my malady returned in a less dangerous though more tenacious form. In spite of intensive psychotherapy, this bout of my malady didn’t start abating until three years after it started with the birth of my son.

Most perplexing to me was that when I was deep into middle age, a professor at a state university, the author of five award-winning books, the mother of an adult son and daughter, a homeowner, a church member, and a supporter of various worthy causes, my malady returned. Then, my weight dropped to a number on the scale that I hadn’t seen since middle school, as I whittled down my list of permissible foods until it fit on my thumbnail. Because of age-related changes in my bodymind, the departure of my grown children, and the loss of other significant people in my life, I was heartbroken and anxious. Just as when I was 15 and 25, I tightly restricted what and how much I ate as a way of keeping myself safe from what threatened me. But I couldn’t see what I was doing, much less link it to the two other times when eating too little had been so easy and gratifying. In fact, I didn’t know that I was sick again until my 20-year-old daughter told me that if I didn’t eat more, I was going to die. My blindness to my situation still astonishes and baffles me.

I didn’t want to write the story of an illness that many judge to be a character flaw, a moral failing, nothing but a silly, overzealous diet, or a childish attempt to get attention. I didn’t want to write a story in which I had to admit that I had a condition that usually strikes teenagers and young women. I didn’t want to write a story that would require me to re-enter, through memory and imagination, the dark periods of my life when eating less than my body needed seemed like a logical, fitting response to adversity. I didn’t want to write a story that was an illness narrative and, so, presents a version of the self that isn’t sound or fully functioning.

And yet, I felt compelled to write this story. In “On Keeping a Notebook,” Joan Didion advises us “to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.” If we don’t, they might “turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget.” What I had forgotten was the woman in me who sometimes found self-starvation and the taking up of as little space as possible so alluring.

To write the story of my malady, I had to educate myself about eating disorders and disordered eating. Eating disorders—anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder—are clinically defined and diagnosed, according to criteria set forth by the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Less well-known to most people is “disordered eating,” which Lauren Reba-Harrelson and the co-authors of a 2009 study define as “unhealthy or maladaptive eating behaviors, such as restricting, binging, purging, or use of other compensatory behaviors, without meeting criteria for an eating disorder.” “Other compensatory behaviors” include the use of laxatives, diuretics, stimulants, or excessive exercise to counteract the calories one has consumed.

I went into my research believing that eating disorders and disordered eating are caused primarily by unhealthy family dynamics and the message from the fashion, entertainment, beauty, and diet industries that nothing you are and nothing you’ve achieved matter as much as being thin. Now I know that those are but the easiest explanations and that they trivialize a complex problem. Aimee Liu, the author of Gaining: The Truth About Life After Eating Disorders, compares an eating disorder to a gun: “Genes shape the gun, environment loads it, and stress pulls the trigger.” This felt true to me, so I went to work researching the genetic, environmental, and psychological aspects of eating disorders. From the studies I read by geneticists and neuroscientists, I learned that those with eating disorders and disordered eating can’t trust their brains to tell them the truth about when and when not to eat.

Several studies, for instance, have investigated variations on the gene for serotonin among the eating-disordered, since when people with anorexia severely restrict their caloric intake, their abnormally high levels of serotonin drop, and they report feeling calmer and less anxious; when those with bulimia increase their caloric intake, their low serotonin levels rise, and they report feeling happier. Another study found that those with bulimia and anorexia have an altered response in the insula, a part of the brain involved in appetite regulation, when given tastes of sugar, which means that they don’t accurately perceive signals about their hunger or satiety. Yet another study suggests that increased activity in the dorsal striatum leads to “maladaptive food choices” among restrictors, meaning that they actually prefer the plain rice cake over the Asian pear and smoked gouda panini.

From my reading in psychology, I learned that certain family structures and personality types were more likely to “load the gun” than others. Hilde Bruch, a psychoanalyst and pioneering researcher on eating disorders, studied the connection between disturbed interactions between a child and a domineering or detached mother and the development of anorexia, while psychiatrist Salvador Minuchin studied how “psychosomatic families,” especially those that are “enmeshed,” contribute to the genesis of eating disorders. For a 2004 study, Walter H. Kaye, the director of the Eating Disorders Center for Treatment and Research at the University of California-San Diego, administered standardized tests for anxiety, perfectionism, obsessionality, and eating disorders among individuals with anorexia, bulimia, and both disorders, as well as a control group. He found that 66 percent of the members of the three eating-disordered groups had “one or more lifetime anxiety disorders,” 41 percent had obsessive-compulsive disorder, and 20 percent had a social phobia. The majority of the eating-disordered study participants reported that the onset of their anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or social phobia had occurred during childhood, before the symptoms of their eating disorder manifested. Even those who had recovered from an eating disorder and were symptom-free “still tended to be anxious, perfectionistic and harm-avoidant.”

I explored various cultural factors that “load the gun.” Feminist theorists, such as Susie Orbach, Naomi Wolfe, and Susan Bordo, see anorexia as rebellion against or an over-conformity with Western notions of feminine beauty and power. Historians and medievalists weighed the similarities and differences between contemporary anorexia and the prolonged fasting of religious women in Europe in the late Middle Ages who sought worldly power and a deeper union with God through their austerities. Accounts by and about hunger strikers, whether the imprisoned members of the Irish Republican Army, the American suffragette movement, or those being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, present their fasts as the ultimate political statement and protest.

Clearly, eating disorders and disordered eating are due to a messy tangle of genetic and biochemical factors, family dynamics, individual psychology, and a wide range of cultural influences. Also clear to me is that my story isn’t unique. Experts say that about 10 percent of those with eating disorders are older women. But, says Dr. Cynthia Bulik, the director of the Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders at the University of North Carolina, the percentage is surely higher since most older women with eating disorders disguise or misread their symptoms as being due to a health condition or changes associated with aging, and so they aren’t included in the number of reported cases. In a 2012 study, Danielle Gagne and her research team found that women over 50 are engaged in unhealthy eating behaviors and thinking to the same extent that adolescents are. Most experts that I’ve read see a link between loss, grief, and depression as triggering the onset or return of an eating disorder in women who are middle-aged or older.

The loss and grief triggered by an empty nest, the death or relocation of several others who mattered to me, and an awareness of my own aging caused me to start restricting my diet again in 2011. But of all the factors that loaded the gun, two presented the most daunting challenges to my recovery. The values of hyper-consumerism was one. In “Hunger,” the Canadian writer and human rights activist Maggie Helwig says that it’s no accident that the widespread appearance of eating disorders in the 1960s and the epidemic of the 1970s coincided with the unprecedented growth of the consumer society, which places supreme value on one’s ability to buy goods and services. Helwig, who almost died from anorexia when she was young, observes that by the end of the 1960s, our material consumption had become “very nearly uncontrollable,” resulting in “what is possibly the most emotionally depleted society in history, where the only ‘satisfactions’ seem to be the imaginary ones, the material buy-offs.” Anorexia, then, is the “nightmare of consumerism” played out in the female body. “It is these women,” writes Helwig, “who live through every implication of our consumption and our hunger and our guilt and ambiguity and our awful need for something real to fill us … We have too much; and it is poison.” By not eating, the anorexic tells us that she’d rather be skeletally thin than ingest something that isn’t real or substantial. By not eating, the anorexic causes a cessation in ovulation and menstruation, rendering herself literally unproductive. By not eating, the anorexic refuses to be consumed by the act of consumption. Such self-denial in a culture of plenty is an audacious, radically countercultural act and statement. I extend Helwig’s metaphor to include binge-eating disorder (rapid, uncontrolled consumption with no “compensatory behaviors”) and bulimia (a refusal to complete the act of consumption by hurling out what one has just taken in) as responses to unrestrained consumerism.

The things, services, and diversions that money can buy can’t fill a hungry heart or lessen the pain one feels from a lack of meaning or purpose. Ironically, or perhaps fittingly, what we’re truly hungry for can’t be bought. And what I was craving when my malady returned for the third time were a renewed sense of purpose and deep nourishing relationships to “replace” those that I’d lost.

This was easier said than done. The rise of consumerist culture has been accompanied by a decline in the number of close relationships among Americans of all ages. Instead of visiting and confiding in each other, we spend more and more of our time working and, in our leisure time, gazing at screens. Consequently, finding others with the time and desire for new friendships was challenging and at times, disheartening. But with prayer and persistence, I eventually found people who share my values and who enjoy my company as much as I enjoy theirs.

The other factor that made recovery during the third bout of my malady so challenging was that in my early 50s, I had become acutely aware of the effects of ageism. Because the master narrative our culture imparts about aging is that late midlife and beyond is a time of inexorable decline, marked by deterioration, powerlessness, dependency, irrelevance, and obsolescence, it is the fear of aging and even more, of ageism, that is the inciting force that triggers disordered eating in some women. I didn’t want to think about aging—my aging—and I certainly didn’t want to write about it. Yet, address it I must. In a 2011 study, a team of Australian researchers found that a group of women ages 30 to 60 with disordered eating who participated in just eight weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy focused on “midlife themes” were still doing better in terms of “body image, disordered eating, and risk factors” at the follow-up six months later than a control group that had not had the opportunity to explore these themes in a therapeutic setting. To counter the effects of ageism in my life, I now collect resistance narratives from women, role models, really, who live their later years with passion and purpose and on their own terms—Jane Goodall, Maria Lassnig, Gloria Steinem, Helen Mirren, Isabel Allende, and others, both famous and not.

Although I was reluctant to write this story, I did find pleasure in crafting Bread. And the act of writing was filled with many moments of self-revelation and one grand epiphany: that there are aspects of my malady that are within my control (how I respond to ageist, hyper-consumerist, and patriarchal values) and some that are not (genetics and brain chemistry: my hard-wiring). Now, I know what I can fight and what I must gracefully accept.

When people asked me what I was working on as I was writing Bread, I reluctantly told them about the story that I didn’t want to write. I found that most were not only interested, but they wanted to tell me their stories about being in the grip of something beyond their control that lead them to eat too much or too little, about feeling shamed or misunderstood because of this, about the familial tensions or social costs or the ill physical effects that resulted from their unhealthy relationship with food and self. Some told triumphant stories about the residential treatment, the counseling, the spiritual practice, the religious conversion, or the supportive loved ones that saved them. But some were in the thick of it. Many were grateful to be given a name—disordered eating—for what they were experiencing and to know that this could afflict anyone of any age and circumstance.

Many were grateful to learn that the reasons they were stuffing or starving were more complex and nuanced than their having played with Barbie dolls as children or having conflicted relationships with their mothers.

The deep story I’ve heard in each of these testimonies concerns the tellers’ hunger for wholeness and fullness. Now, I encourage those who tell me their stories to ask themselves a difficult question—What am I truly hungry for? —and then answer it with courage and honesty. I’m hungry for companionship. I’m hungry for solitude. I’m hungry for reconciliation. I’m hungry for meaningful work. I’m hungry for less busyness or the opportunity to paint or dance or fight for social justice. Then, I urge them to bring that source of nourishment and sustenance into their lives. Some women thanked me for writing Bread before they’d even read it.

When I consider how frankly confessional my story is and how controversial some will find my interpretations of the research, I squirm and second-guess myself. But then I remember that I am safer from relapse because I understand what I can and can’t control and because I’m far less likely to forget, as Didion says, “the things [I] thought [I] could never forget.” And, too, I feel full knowing that people are finding self-knowledge, nourishment, hope, and strength in the story that I didn’t want to tell.

Lisa Knopp, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s English Department. Her recent book, Bread: A Memoir of Hunger, was published by the University of Missouri Press in 2016. Visit lisaknopp.com for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of 60 Plus.

Twenty Minute Taquitos

November 8, 2016 by
Photography by Di Tendenza

This recipe is great for a quick and easy dinner for the kids. Each taquito can also be cut into fourths as an appetizer for those last-minute holiday parties, and the chicken mixture can be spread into bibb lettuce leaves for a healthier option.

Ingredients

  • 1 rotisserie chicken, or 3 cups cooked diced chicken 
  • 3 cups raw spinach
  • 1 cup of diced, roasted red pepper
  • 6 ounces of shredded cheese (a blend of jack and cheddar cheeses is recommended)
  • 8 ounces of cream cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste (about one teaspoon each)
  • 8 large tortillas
  • Salsa for dipping

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Set aside 1/4 (2 ounces) of the cheese.

  1. Pull all the meat off of the chicken, then chop it to bite-sized pieces, or use diced chicken. Place in a large bowl.
  2. Chop the spinach to bite-sized pieces.
  3. In a large pan, cook the spinach on medium heat until it has released most of it moisture.  Pour into the bowl with the chicken.
  4. Combine the pepper, cheese, and cream cheese with the chicken and spinach. Stir until it is mixed thoroughly.
  5. Season and taste. Season again if needed.
  6. Put two large tablespoons of the mixture on a tortilla. Spread it around, leaving 1 inch on all sides.
  7. Roll the tortilla from one end to the other. Be careful not to roll it so tightly that the sides pop.
  8. Place the roll in a foil-lined 9-by-13-inch pan.
  9. Repeat steps 7-9 until you have used all the tortillas and taquito mixture.

Make sure there is 1/2 an inch of space between each roll.

Cook 10 minutes, or, for an extra-cheesy dinner option, cook eight minutes, add the reserved 2 ounces of cheese, and cook for another two minutes.

Serve the taquitos with the salsa.

This article was printed in the Winter 2016 edition of Family Guide, an Omaha Publications magazine.

Nutrition

December 4, 2014 by

Good nutrition is vital to the proper growth and development of children. The reality of childhood obesity is visible in our day-to-day lives; however, parents need to understand the dangers and warning signs associated with an unhealthy diet before it gets to the point of obesity. Among other complications, an unbalanced, unhealthy diet in children has a direct effect on how the body functions, from constipation to acne to depression.

Obesity & High Blood Pressure

In 2006, Nebraska had an adult obesity rate of 24.4% according to a report by Trust for America’s Health. Children often learn from adults by example, so as the adult obesity rate increases, so does childhood obesity. Childhood obesity is defined as a child or adolescent having an excess of 25% body fat. This can be determined by a skin fold test or a Body Mass Index (BMI) test.

High blood pressure is a very real and scary side effect of obesity. It is a crucial diagnosis in children because it can lead to other serious complications such as kidney disease, heart abnormalities or problems with the nervous or endocrine system. If the high blood pressure continues without medical help, the constant pressure on the blood vessels can damage vital organs, and possibly
lead to heart failure or stroke.

Constipation

Constipation is another common problem associated with poor nutrition. An improper amount of junk food such as chips, sweets, fried foods, and non-diet soft drinks may be problematic. Too much dairy (milk, yogurt, cheeses, and ice cream) in your child’s diet may also affect bowel movement. All foods, even junk foods, are fine in moderation. Boys Town Pediatrics recommends that parents follow the MyPlate guidelines (formerly known as the Food Pyramid) to help keep a balance of nutritious foods in their child’s diet.

Acne

There are many common myths and misconceptions regarding the cause of acne. Among such causation myths are poor hygiene and an unhealthy diet. However, neither hygiene nor diet actually causes acne. It is rather an unfortunate consequence of overactive sebaceous (oil) glands. Yet, once glands become active acne lesions, it is possible for certain foods often associated with a poor diet to increase the oil supplies and worsen the severity and prevalence of such lesions. Including healthy and vitamin-rich foods into your child’s diet, especially those with Vitamins A and E, and drinking plenty of water, can lead to healthier-looking skin.

Depression

We are all familiar with the saying, “You are what you eat.” If your child’s diet is consistently unhealthy, he or she will likely see a change in weight, and will physically feel the negative impact of the unhealthy foods. Inadequate nutrition often leads to a lack of physical drive, which in turn lessens a child’s stamina to play and participate in sports or other extracurricular activities, and may also decrease his or her ability to stay focused and concentrate on cognitive tasks such as homework. This can lead to irritability, mood swings, behavior problems, low self-esteem, and even depression. If you think your child is suffering from depression, contact your child’s physician.

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Patique Collins Finds the Right Fit

January 28, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In 2011 Patique Collins left a two-decade corporate career to open a fitness business. Two-and-a-half years later her Right Fit gym on West Maple Road jumps with clients.

This former model, who’s emceed events and trained celebrities (Usher and LL Cool J), now seeks to franchise her business, produce workout videos, and be a mind-body fitness speaker with a national reach.

Under her watchful eye and upbeat instruction, members do various aerobic and anaerobic exercises, kickboxing and Zumba included, all to pulsating music, sometimes supplied by DJ Mista Soul. She helps clients tone their bodies and build cardio, strength, and flexibility.

The sculpted Omaha native is a longtime fitness convert. Nine years ago she added weight training to her running regimen and got serious about nutrition. She’d seen too many loved ones suffer health problems due to poor diet and little exercise. The raw vegan describes her own workouts as “intense” and “extreme.”

And she pushes clients hard.

“I really want to help every single person that comes in reach their maximum potential, and that is a big responsibility,” she says. “If you don’t give up on you, I won’t. I will do whatever I can to help you earn your goals if you’re ready to.”

Collins has even been known to show up at your workplace if you skip class. “There’s accountability here at Right Fit. I’m very passionate about my clients.”

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She believes the relationships she builds with clients keeps them coming back. “People will tend to stay if you develop a relationship and work towards results.” Her gym, like her Facebook page, is filled with affirmations about following dreams, being persistent, and never quitting.

“I think positivity is a part of my DNA,” says the woman who sometimes dresses as a superhero for workouts.

A huge influence in her life was her late maternal grandmother, Faye Jackson, who raised her after Collins and her siblings were thrown into the foster care system. “My grandmother told me I could be whatever I wanted to be and made me believe it.” Collins went on to attain multiple college degrees.

Motivated to help others, she made human resources her career. She and her then-husband Anthony Collins 
formed the Nothing But Net Foundation to assist at-risk youth. While working as a SilverStone Group senior consultant and as Human Resources Recruitment Administrator for the Omaha Public Schools, she began “testing the waters” as a trainer by conducting weekend boot camps.

Stepping out from the corporate arena to open her own gym took a leap of faith for this single mother of two small children.

“This is a lot of work. I am truly a one-woman show,” she says. “Sometimes that can be challenging.” Right Fit is her living, but she works hard at maintaining the right balance, where family and faith are top priorities.

She’s proud to be a successful female African-American small business owner and humbled by awards she’s received for her business and community achievements. Collins believes opportunities continue coming her way because of her genuine spirit.

“There’s some things you can’t fake, and being authentic is one of them,” she says. “I’m doing what I want to do. I think it’s my ministry. Everybody has their gifts, and this is mine. I’m able to influence people not just physically but mentally.”

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.

Gingerbread Men

December 12, 2013 by

Baking holiday treats with the kids is a tradition in many families. This year, look for ways to trim up your favorite recipes and share a gift of good health.

Ingredients (Yield: 32 cookies)

  • 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1¼ cups sifted whole wheat flour
  • ¾ tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¾ cup (1½  sticks) trans fat free margarine, softened
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup unsulphured molasses

Preparation

  • Preheat oven to 350°.
  • In a large bowl, sift together flours, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside.
  • In another bowl, using a hand mixer, cream together margarine and brown sugar until fluffy. Mix in egg and molasses until combined. Gradually add flour mixture.
  • Divide dough into thirds and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about 2 hours, or until firm.
  • Dust rolling pin lightly with flour; roll out each piece of dough on wax paper until it is about 1/8 inch thick. Dip cookie cutter in flour and use to cut out gingerbread man (or other desired shapes).
  • Transfer cookies onto baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until golden brown. With a metal spatula, transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 1 cookie
Calories: 100
Fat: 4g
Saturated Fat: 1g
Cholesterol: 6mg
Sodium: 106mg
Carbohydrates: 16g
Fiber: 1g
Protein: 1g

* Nutritional information is based on ingredients listed and serving size; any additions or substitutions to ingredients may alter the recipe’s nutritional content.

For more healthy recipes, visit HealthyKohlsKids.com. The Healthy Kohl’s Kids program is a partnership between Children’s Hospital & Medical Center and Kohl’s Department Stores to educate children and parents about healthy nutrition and fitness.

Gluten-Free Brownies

September 24, 2013 by

These brownies are a delicious treat that should please almost everyone in the family. Fudgy and rich, they’re also gluten-free!

Ingredients (yield 12 servings)

  • ½ cup reduced calorie trans fat-free margarine
  • 5 oz dark chocolate chips
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup brown rice flour
  • ½ cup almonds, processed into a fine meal/flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts, optional
  • ½ cup semisweet chocolate chips, optional

Preparation

  • Preheat the oven to 350°. Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with foil and lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray.
  • In the microwave, melt margarine and dark chocolate chips in a large, microwave-safe measuring cup, in 20-second intervals, until melted. Stir until smooth. Set aside.
  • In a mixing bowl, whisk eggs until frothy.
  • Add brown sugar and whisk for 1 minute, or until the mixture is smooth.
  • Gradually add the melted chocolate mixture into the egg-sugar mixture, and mix well for 1 minute, or until the chocolate is smooth and glossy.
  • In a bowl, combine rice flour, almond meal, salt, and baking soda; whisk together. Add to the chocolate mixture and mix well for 1 minute. Add vanilla and mix for 30 seconds.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan. Tap the pan on the counter to even out the batter.
  • If desired, layer nuts and/or semisweet chocolate chips over the top of the batter and press them in slightly.
  • Bake for 33 to 35 minutes or until the brownies are set. Cool on a wire rack; remove the brownies from the pan by gripping the foil edges. Chill before cutting.

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 1 brownie
Calories: 235
Fat: 12g
Saturated Fat: 4g
Cholesterol: 29mg
Sodium: 234mg
Carbohydrates: 31g
Fiber: 2g
Protein: 4g

* Nutritional information is based on ingredients listed and serving size; any additions or substitutions to ingredients may alter the recipe’s nutritional content.

For more healthy recipes, visit HealthyKohlsKids.com. The Healthy Kohl’s Kids program is a partnership between Children’s Hospital & Medical Center and Kohl’s Department Stores to educate children and parents about healthy nutrition and fitness. 

Food Allergies Abundant in a Purell Society

August 16, 2013 by

Food allergies are on the rise, and there are many theories as to why.

“We are too clean,” says Carlos Prendes, M.D., family medicine physician with Alegent Creighton Clinic. “We do not let our immune system do its job. Anything that comes in that is not a part of our routine, our body will attack and protect us against.

“Food allergies were very rare in the 1900s (and Purell did not exist). As we have developed a more antiseptic society, we are also developing more allergies. There is something to be said for a bit of dirt in your life.”

There are eight foods that are responsible for 90 percent of food allergies. The “big eight” are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish.

“Many common food allergies for kids (milk, soy, wheat, and eggs) are not major allergens for adults. Adult food allergies tend to be lifelong and potentially severe. Many childhood allergies can be ‘grown out of,’ but adult allergies tend to stick,” says Dr. Prendes. “Most kids outgrow an allergy to milk and eggs by age six (this is different than being lactose intolerant).” However, he adds, this is not the case for peanuts.

“We are too clean. We do not let our immune system do its job.” – Carlos Prendes, M.D., family medicine physician with Alegent Creighton Clinic

Think you have a food allergy? “Symptoms usually begin within two hours after eating. If you develop symptoms shortly after eating a certain food, you may have a food allergy,” says Dr. Prendes. “Key symptoms of a food allergy include hives, a hoarse voice, and wheezing.” Other symptoms may include abdominal pain, diarrhea, difficulty swallowing, nausea, and stomach cramps.

“Any food allergies can be very serious,” says Dr. Prendes. “And mild reactions in the past do not always mean mild reactions in the future. If you are allergic to something, you cannot eat it; subsequent exposures can make the allergic reaction worse.”

There is a lot being done to make life with food allergies a little easier. The FDA requires by law that “the big eight” allergens are labeled on packages, even if the food does not contain any of “the big eight” but is produced in a factory that also produces any of these common allergens.

Schools and daycares are working to maintain peanut-free and milk-free zones or lunch tables, and to notify other parents that there is an allergy in the classroom.

Dr. Prendes recommends that the child takes responsibility for his or her allergy. “It is very important that the child is aware of their food allergy and cannot take a break from it. If you are at a birthday party and you are allergic to milk, you cannot have the ice cream. The sooner that they are aware of this allergy and that it is part of their life, the better off they will be.”

There are a lot of emerging ideas on how to reduce your risk of developing a food allergy. Some of the recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics—no cow’s milk until age 1 or peanuts until age 3—may be changing. “It is hard to tell parents to get their kids dirty more often,” says Dr. Prendes. “We have to figure out a balance to avoid developing these allergies and keeping people healthy.”