National Nutrition Month® is an annual campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. During the month of March, everyone is invited to learn about making informed food choices and developing healthful eating and physical activity habits. The theme for 2022 is Celebrate a World of Flavors! Celebrating flavors from cultures around the world is a tasty way to nourish ourselves and appreciate our diversity.
Variety is the spice of life, so you’ve been told. It’s true; life is more exciting and enjoyable when it includes different things. Your diet is no different. Eating various foods from diverse cuisines opens the door for you to get more nutrients and flavors. Yet, many feel stuck in a rut regarding the foods we eat. Families eat the same weeknight meals, and moms pack the same sandwich and snacks for lunch a thousand times. Let’s change that! The benefit of living in Mississippi is the various whole foods grown and harvested here, allowing us to experiment with multiple cuisines.
A Mediterranean diet is linked to better heart health. It is a well-balanced, easy-to-follow diet characterized by high consumption of vegetables, seafood, olive oil, and moderate meat consumption. You can get all the health-promoting benefits of the Mediterranean diet by sautéing Mississippi-grown squash, peppers, onions, mushrooms, and more in olive oil served over a bed of rice, topped with Mississippi Gulf Coast seafood of choice. Or serve up a taste of the Mediterranean with a sirloin pita salad with herb yogurt dressing. Yogurt is packed with essential nutrients like calcium, potassium, B vitamins, and protein. Spoon plain yogurt into a medium bowl and stir in garlic, parsley, chive, and oregano until well blended; and use it as a delicious topping for salads, wraps, and more.
Everyone loves taco night! But there’s more to Mexican cuisine than tacos. Some of the most popular Mexican ingredients are beans, rice, and corn — all Mississippi staples! Bypass taco shells or wraps and utilize rice grown in the Mississippi Delta to make a one-skillet beef and rice casserole. Store-bought kits aren’t required! Think fresh when you think of Mexican toppings. Freshly grated, hard, aged cheeses like Swiss, parmesan, and cheddars are lower lactose but still contain the same essential nutrients as any cheese. Stay fresh with avocado or pico made with tomatoes, onion, peppers, spices, and cilantro. Try Cheesy Guacamole made with protein-rich pureed cottage cheese for a twist on traditional guacamole.
Herbs and spices are easy to switch up flavors and add in nutrition. A recent study that analyzed the antioxidant capacity of more than 3,000 foods in the U.S. food supply found that many herbs and spices provide more antioxidants than other foods. And using more herbs and spices in your cooking also means you can go easy on the salt—another critical part of any well-balanced diet. Mississippi’s climate is suited for growing basil, lemon balm, chives, mints, and many others! And with a bit of extra drainage, you can grow sage, oregano, thyme, lavender, and rosemary galore.
When weeknight meals get boring or stale, go international! This March, celebrate a world of flavors, and embrace global cultures and cuisine while still giving the nod to the farm families of Mississippi. And remember, we are all unique with different bodies, goals, backgrounds and tastes! A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with the Mississippi Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics can help you create healthy habits that celebrate your heritage and introduce you to new foods and flavors.
Sirloin Pita Salad Sandwich with Herb Yogurt Dressing
Herb Yogurt Dressing
- 2 (8-ounce) containers plain yogurt
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon minced parsley
- 1 tablespoon minced chive
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
Sirloin Pita Salad Sandwich
- 1⁄2 pound sirloin or rib-eye steak, trimmed
- 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
- 1⁄8 teaspoon pepper
- 4 (4-inch) whole wheat pita bread rounds, cut in half-moons
- 2 1⁄2 cups mixed salad greens (such as arugula, radicchio and baby spinach leaves)
- 2⁄3 cup crumbled blue cheese
- 1⁄2 small red onion, sliced and separated into rings
- 8 cherry tomatoes, halved
Herb Yogurt Dressing
- Spoon yogurt into a medium bowl and stir in garlic, parsley, chive and oregano until well blended; set aside.
Sirloin Pita Salad Sandwich
- Rub both sides of steak with salt and pepper. Heat a medium, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook steak about 6 minutes on each side (for medium) or until desired. Allow steak to rest 5 minutes before cutting into thin slices.
- Warm pita halves in toaster. Into each pita half, spoon 1/4 of the yogurt dressing, mixed salad greens, blue cheese, onion, steak and tomato. Spoon additional yogurt dressing over top.
- 16 ounces cottage cheese
- 1 cup avocado, diced
- 1⁄2 cup red onion, peeled, diced
- 1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
- 2 tablespoons lime juice, fresh squeezed
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cumin, ground
- 1 teaspoon coriander, ground
- 1⁄2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 4 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, finely shredded
- Purée cottage cheese until smooth in the food processor.
- In a small bowl combine avocado, red onion, cilantro, lime juice, salt, cumin, coriander and garlic powder; mash with a fork until chunky.
- Stir together cottage cheese, guacamole mixture and Cheddar, reserving some Cheddar to use as garnish.
One-Skillet Mexican Beef and Rice Casserole
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 pound extra lean ground beef or turkey
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon paprika
2 cups prepared brown rice
1 cup salsa
1 (10-ounce) package fresh spinach
½ cup shredded low-fat cheddar cheese
Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil, then the chopped onion. Cook until the onions start to soften.
Add the meat and the spices and cook until the meat is browned. Stir in the cooked rice and salsa, then reduce heat to medium and place the spinach on top. Cover and cook for 2 minutes, until the spinach has wilted. Stir in the cheese and serve immediately. Top with fresh cilantro, chopped avocado, if desired.
Photo credits to The Dairy Alliance and Rebecca Turner.