Healthy foods great for holiday parties

By James BrabenecNovember 29, 2012

FORT SILL, Okla. (Nov. 29, 2012) -- Jeannie Marshall discusses the merits of jicama, a slightly sweet, crisp, tasty tuber shoppers can find in the Fort Sill Commissary produce area. Use the vegetable like carrot or celery sticks with party dips to cu... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT SILL, Okla. (Nov. 29, 2012) -- Think holiday season festivities and often food fits in as an essential ingredient for family gatherings and office parties or watching college bowl games.

The Fort Sill Commissary stocks healthy alternatives to standard, calorie rich party foods.

Jeannie Marshall, a certified fitness nutrition specialist and professional body builder, began our commissary tour last week in the produce aisle. This week, three party food ideas stay pretty near to that end of the store.

Sharing display space with the likes of tomatillas and other less familiar produce is a tannish colored vegetable people can serve up as an alternative to potato chips or other snack foods. Not only would jicama complement sliced apples or celery sticks, it's also a great play for a game of Scrabble. This tap root, commonly found in Central and South American countries and South Asia, features a tough, inedible skin. Peeling that layer away reveals a whitish flesh with a slightly sweet taste loaded with lots of the good stuff.

One cup of jicama serves up only 35 calories while providing six grams of fiber. It is also a good source of B and C vitamins along with potassium, magnesium, copper, iron and manganese.

Bob Hofmann, a retired Air Force master sergeant, reached for one of the tubers. He serves the vegetable to his grandchildren who readily enjoy the taste.

"They often like to dip it in ranch dressing, but I just prefer a little salt and pepper," he said.

Marshall said jicama makes a tasty side dish when combined with cut up oranges, pico de gallo and lime juice.

"This is a great mix of different flavors with the sweetness of jicama and oranges, the spicy pico de gallo and tangy lime," she said.

When choosing a good jicama for the table, Marshall suggested picking out one with a nice, even color. It should also be free of blemishes or bruises.

Nearby to the produce area, Marshall pointed out a product that provides all the taste of leading brand peanut butter, but with substantially less calories.

PB2 is essentially powdered peanut butter. Two tablespoons of the powdered peanuts has only 45 calories compared to 180 calories for the same amount of a leading peanut butter. It also yields only one gram of fat while serving up five grams of protein.

"I use this product as is in recipes, smoothies, protein shakes, cottage cheese or greek yogurt," said Marshall. "I also sometimes add a bit of water and some Stevia then spread it on bread."

She suggested sunflower butter as another good alternative; sometimes she still eats regular peanut butter.

"I do this because it is a good type of fat to eat, though I do it in moderation," she said.

Along this aisle shoppers will find seasonal products and many Marshall says no to. Although she generally stays away from prepackaged foods, she advised shoppers to take a good look at what they purchase, because some products, though canned or boxed, are good. For example, some packaged chicken products contain a lot of salt, but they can rinse the chicken and remove some of that sodium.

The aisle also featured some organic products, and Marshall applauded the commisary staff for finding space on their shelves for these foods. She cautioned shoppers again, however, as some organics, though touted as healthy, include added sugar or salt to boost flavor. Marshall likes to use some organic soups combined with xantham gum as starters for gravy.

Nearby, she found another favorite -- hummus -- for parties or anytime someone is looking for a good dip for crackers, veggies or ... chips.

The spread consists of pureed chickpeas, lemon juice, vinegar, sesame seed butter, garlic and olive oil.

"Rather than opting for a high-salt, high-fat processed party dip, hummus offers heart-healthy fats along with essential vitamins, minerals and fiber," she said.

As stated in last week's Cannoneer, Bill Benner, Commissary director, said he is working to promote healthy food choices throughout the store.

Working wth food safety and Reynolds Army Community Hospital dieticians, the commissary staff is installing shelf flags that identify specific products for certain needs such as dietary or diabetic requirements. He added gluten free markers are much more prominently displayed as customer interest has grown for that type of food.

"We're looking to point customers to healthy eating products with information on calorie content, product uses and nutritional facts," said Benner. "We want to make it easier for our customers to know more about the products they shop for so if they match it to a recipe, they know it's what they need.

"It really is in the best interest of the commissary and our customers to increase sales. Even though we're supported by appropriated funds, if we don't show an increase in sales, the commissary benefit won't be around much longer in its current form," he said.

Were commissaries to shift their operations and become profit generating stores, such as the Fort Sill Main Exchange, Benner said the change would likely mean higher prices for customers and lower wages for the people who work there.

He gave an example of how meeting customer preferences helps the store.

"The commissary offers an awards card program, because people said if we had a competitive program for coupons, they would shop here more," he said.

Shoppers can pickup rewards cards at the commissary here and register online. After logging into their account, they can load coupons on the card before shopping then redeem them electronically at checkout.

This article is the second in a series acquainting commissary shoppers with healthy food ideas.