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Appliances break down barriers to healthy eating

What’s the biggest barrier to healthier eating? Certainly, willpower and determination are factors. But according to Isabel Maples, a registered dietitian practicing in Virginia, the biggest challenge for many is planning.

“The biggest barrier to getting a healthier meal on the table is the

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thinking ahead,” Maples said. “I can’t tell you the number of times I’ll get to the end of the day and think ‘What is for dinner?’”

Whether you’re preparing fresh meals or storing them to eat later, your appliances can help you get on the path toward healthy eating. We recently spoke with Maples and another registered dietitian, Marina Chaparro of Nutrichicos in Miami—both spokespeople for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics—to get their thoughts on the role appliances can play in healthy eating. Here’s what they had to say.

Think in advance: Dinnertime comes quickly, and you can anticipate those days when you’ll be short on time for planning by having go-to meals that can be prepared quickly. “You need to have at least three on hand that you can get on the table quickly,” Maples said.

Having healthy meals at the ready means you’ll need appropriate containers to make storage in your refrigerator or freezer easy and help control portion size. “Loading up on the right containers will help you have better habits,” Chaparro said. Containers that are divided into sections will make you put some thought into what you’re storing and eating. “It forces you to have three or four different foods with small portions. It’s great to take leftovers to work. It divides it nicely, so you’re forced to include different food groups.”

Blend in the goodness: A blender is a great tool for both adults and children who might not get enough fruits and vegetables in their diet. Chaparro has been pleasantly surprised by a recent small-size blender purchase, which she initially bought to puree fruits and vegetables for her 11-month-old daughter. “I love it, because it’s really small. You can use it to cook up some fast recipes like salsas or smoothies.”

If you’re using a standard blender, consider the size, Maples said. “That controls how much you put in. Don’t make too much or not enough.” Chia or flax seeds can add texture to a blended drink. “It can be as simple as some chocolate milk and a frozen banana,” Maples said.

Sometimes, texture can put family members off from eating certain vegetables. An immersion blender can help. “My favorite small appliance is an immersion blender,” Maples said. “I would use an immersion blender to smooth out the texture. I can add more vegetables and don’t have to be limited to a jar of sauce.” The immersion blender can also add a richer texture to cream-based dishes, but allow you to still take advantage of alternative ingredients, like low-fat milk. “One of my kids liked stew a lot, and that’s where my immersion blender came in. I could throw in extra vegetables.”

Tastier veggies: Vegetables can sometimes be tough to sell for picky eaters. Your oven can make them tastier. “Many people may not know how to make vegetables flavorful,” Chaparro said. “If you use the oven—roasting or baking at 400 degrees for short periods of time—it caramelizes.” Add olive oil and fresh herbs for more flavor. “I find that people who don’t traditionally like vegetables will eat vegetables if they’re roasted. It’s just a different flavor dimension and brings out some of the sweetness in the vegetables.” Maples encourages people who don’t want to take the time to chop the vegetables to buy a food processor for easier vegetable prep.

Try an air fryer: While she doesn’t currently own one, Chaparro said she’s interested in giving an air fryer a try. “It cooks food by using really hot air and leaves it crispy on the outside,” she said. “Some people like their chicken nuggets or french fries. You still get a comparable texture.”

Don’t forget the freezer: Use your freezer to preserve portions for quick meal and ingredient options later. “When my bananas are getting overly ripe, I’ll peel them and freeze them,” Maples said. “They’re great in a smoothie, or I can make banana bread.” She uses an ice tray to freeze fresh herbs in water. “You can pop them out and put them in a freezer bag.”

Keeping a healthy kitchen

Organization and preparation are essential to healthy eating, Chaparro said. “We might just think it’s about food and choosing healthy things, but it’s about creating that environment. Put the healthy things at eye level, especially the fresh fruits and veggies.” Make sure you have the right prep tools as well. Chaparro has her favorites, including a mandolin slicer that she uses to make zucchini, sweet potato chips and beet chips, and a noodle slicer, which she uses to substitute vegetables for traditional pastas.

Keeping healthy options in sight and within reach can even encourage family members to drink enough water, Maples said. That’s why she’s a fan of refrigerator water dispensers. “It makes it accessible,” she said. “If you have ice and there, it’s great and cheaper than using bottled water.” (Note: Make sure you’re changing the filter regularly, and that the replacement is not counterfeit!)

If you’re hungry after reading all of this, try this citrus and herb poached salmon recipe from recipe developer and “real foods advocate” Alyssa Brantley at EverydayMaven, who says her essential appliances for a healthy kitchen are a “good food processor, a good blender and either a slow cooker or electric pressure cooker.”

AHAM will dive deeper into the connection between healthy eating and appliances during our June 29 #AHAMHealth Twitter chat. Join appliance manufacturers, nutrition professionals and others from 2-3 p.m. and tweet using the hashtag #AHAMHealth. See you there!

How to brush your teeth with an electric toothbrush

Electric Toothbrush

Just as they give you cleaner floors and clothes, your appliances can also help you have cleaner teeth. Electric toothbrushes take some of the movement out of brushing for you.

We talked to two dentists—Ana Ferraz-Dougherty of Rolling Oaks Dental in San Antonio, and Colleen DeLacy of Lexington Dental Care and Sandusky Dental Care in Michigan—about how electric toothbrushes fit into your daily brushing routine. Like any appliance, electric toothbrushes must be used properly if you want to harness the full benefits.

Here are some of their recommendations on proper electric toothbrush use:

  • Brush properly. “Make sure you’re getting the inside and outside, the chewing surfaces,” Ferraz-Dougherty said. This video from the American Dental Association will walk you through the proper brushing technique if you need a refresher. Remember that an electric toothbrush is designed to do the work for you. “You don’t have to do that traditional movement,” DeLacy said. “You just have to guide the brush head.”
  • Store the electric toothbrush properly. Electric toothbrushes should be stored upright without a cover. “Don’t enclose it in anything,” Ferraz-Dougherty said. “The warm, moist environment promotes bacterial growth. It means you’re not really cleaning your teeth if there’s bacteria on your toothbrush.”
  • Change the brush regularly. Change it every four months or once the bristles show signs of wear. “Soft bristles will be easier on your enamel,” Ferraz-Dougherty said.
  • Choose the right-sized brush. The brush head should be comfortable and an appropriate size for your teeth, Ferraz-Dougherty said. “People who have larger teeth would want a larger brush.
  • Watch the pressure. Pressing too hard while brushing can hurt your gums. “Some of the newer models have built-in sensors that will give you an alert if you’re applying too much pressure,” DeLacy said.

Individuals who have trouble with the physical movements required for brushing might benefit from an electric toothbrush. “They’re good for people with limited movement in their hands, and for children who don’t have manual dexterity,” Ferraz-Dougherty said.

When brushing with an electric toothbrush, DeLacy recommends dividing your mouth into quadrants and spending a total of two minutes brushing. That means you’ll spend 30 seconds in each quadrant. Some electric toothbrushes have built-in timers to help you meet your brushing goals.

Thinking of buying an electric toothbrush? Ask your dentist for advice.