Healthy meals, snacks on a budget

Registered dietician Maureen Bierling Watts fills up a sample cup of her homemade granola. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – A registered dietician visited Front Royal’s Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry and explained how to create healthy meals at low costs.

Maureen Watts, a registered dietician from Culpeper who provides nutrition counseling from her business, Watts Nutrition Services LLC, stopped by the food pantry Feb. 9 and 16 to offer samples of healthy snacks and explain ways to make healthy meals on a budget.

She said she tried to use food pantry staples, such as beans and oats, that pantries tend to have in larger quantities, to make easy snacks that are both healthy and kind to the wallet.

On her Feb. 9 visit she made White Bean Cookie Dough Dip and Overnight Oats for a Crowd for pantry guests to sample while they walked throughout the pantry. On Feb. 16 she made Brownie Batter Dip and Homemade Granola.

Watts added that this was her first year visiting this shelter and is glad to be able to help the residents of Front Royal create smarter eating habits.

Maureen Bierling Watts, a registered dietician, holds a bowl of brownie batter dip that she featured during a food demonstration Thursday at the Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry in Front Royal. Watts used black beans instead of cooking oil to add protein for a healthier treat. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I like to get out in the community and share my message,” she said. “This is a good cause.”

When speaking about how to eat healthier, she said she incorporates information from the United States Department of Agriculture’s website https://www.choosemyplate.gov that offers suggestions on making healthy lifestyle choices, such as what to eat and how to exercise.

She said she encourages people to incorporate as many of the five food groups into each meal. The five food groups are fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy, which are the building blocks for a healthy diet.

For snacking, she added that healthy snacks should include at least two of the food groups, preferably food groups that haven’t been represented in meals already eaten that day.

She said she likes to include chocolate whenever possible into her recipes because it’s something that is often deemed unhealthy, but can be used in healthy dishes when used in moderation.

Tiffany Martin, of Front Royal, samples a serving of homemade granola at the Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry in Front Royal recently. The granola is made with old -fashioned rolled oats and sweetened with honey instead of sugar. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I like chocolate,” she said. “I’m a real person too.”

In her Brownie Batter Dip, she uses unseasoned black beans, brown sugar, unsweetened cocoa powder, peanut butter, vanilla extract, milk and semi-sweet chocolate chips. She serves the dip with animal crackers or apple slices. The dip includes protein due to the inclusion of black beans and has a rich chocolate taste because of the cocoa powder and chocolate chips.

She said this snack provides an easy and tasty way to get her children to eat beans when they otherwise would not eat them.

Checking food labels is a great way to verify the nutritional value of a product and make healthier shopping purchases.

She said there are also ways to make foods that aren’t traditionally healthy a little bit better for you. Canned foods, such as canned peas, are seen in abundance at food pantries because of their extended shelf lives. To make this vegetable healthier, she said to wash the peas in water to reduce the amount of salt used to preserve the peas. About 40 percent of the sodium will be removed this way, she said.

Another example is boxed macaroni and cheese. She said she adds peas or broccoli to the dish to increase the nutritional value of the meal.

“You can always add something to it to boost the nutrition,” she said.

Brownie Batter Dip

• 1 can (15 ounces) unseasoned black beans, rinsed and drained.
• 2/3 cup brown sugar.
• 2 to 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder.
• ¼ cup peanut butter.
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.
• 1 to 2 tablespoons milk (add 1 tablespoon at a time).
• ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Combine all ingredients (except chips) in a food processor or blender. Process until the mixture is smooth and silky. Stir in the chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Overnight Oats for a Crowd

• 2 ½ cups diced firm pears.
• 1 cup steel-cut oats.
• 1/3 cup golden raisins.
• 2 tablespoons brown sugar.
• 3 tablespoons honey.
• 2 tablespoons melted butter.
• ¼ teaspoon salt.
• ¼ teaspoon cinnamon.
• 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg.
• 1 ½ cups milk or milk substitute.
• 1 ½ cups boiling water.

1. Coat your crockpot with a light layer of butter or non-stick spray.
2. Add all ingredients to your crockpot, adding the boiling water last.
3. Stir well to incorporate, and cook the oats on low overnight, or for about seven hours.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com