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Help me, Hungry Girl!

My son is in the hospital for the next few months, and I am staying here with him. Eating out of vending machines and from the cafeteria's short-order line has been packing on the pounds. Any advice?? Thanks!

Cafeteria Dweller

Dear Cafeteria Dweller,

First of all, I hope all is going well with your son. I'm sure dealing with an emotionally difficult situation is making it harder to watch what you're eating. Couple that with having no choice other than to eat all your meals at the hospital cafeteria, and I see your dilemma. I, too, recently spent some time at a hospital (my mom had back surgery -- she's doing well now!), so I am more than familiar with the hospital cafeteria and vending machine offerings. When it comes to cafeterias in general, your best bet in the AM is probably some combo of the following -- fruit (cut-up or whole), light yogurt, oatmeal, an English muffin (with jelly), high-fiber cereal (with fat-free milk), and hardboiled egg whites. For lunch and dinner, you can get in that deli line and assemble or order yourself a salad of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers or pickles, and lean deli meat (like turkey). Sometimes, grilled chicken breast is available -- also a great option. You'll want to avoid fatty breakfast items (pastries, giant bagels with butter or cream cheese, greasy breakfast meats), pre-made deli salads (tuna, egg, chicken), saucy and/or creamy noodley offerings, and all those cafeteria desserts (FYI, they are NOT even close to delicious!). As for the vending machines, you will likely be able to grab something decent from there in a pinch. The hospital I was at had some reasonable options. Look for 200-calorie-or-less snack bars with decent amounts of protein and fiber, fruit/nut mixes with one or two servings max (to avoid gobbling down 600+ calories' worth of snack mix at once), baked chips (if you need a crunch), and sugar-free gum or hard candies (if you just wanna keep your mouth busy). Another great thing to do would be to ask visiting friends or family members to bring you a few classic HG emergency snacks, like apples, jerky, 100-calorie packs of almonds, etc. (BTW, you can click here to see a fun little HG video about emergency snacks.) Also, remember that these are extreme and temporary circumstances -- so if you put on a couple of pounds, you can always take them off once things return to normal. Best of luck to you -- and I'm wishing your son good health and a speedy recovery!


Hungry Girl,

The other day, my dad was nice enough to go out and buy me something fresh -- a small pizza, with cheese and tomatoes, fit for one person. But like most fresh items sold at bakeries, it didn't have a label; I wasn't pleased about that. My mom explained that eating freshly prepared food is always better than packaged things, which are processed. I'm not saying I'm going to eat only processed food for the rest of my life, but how do I deal with unmarked stuff? Do I just have to say no to every little thing without a nutrition label?

Label Slave

Dear Label Slave,

Thanks for the Q. While having food labeled with nutritional info is a great thing, it's not always available. To directly answer your question, NO, you do not need to completely avoid everything that isn't labeled. If you tried to do that, you would limit yourself way too much (and probably not be a lot of fun to hang out with!). The key is to become good at sizing up all kinds of food -- even ones that don't have nutrition labels. Oftentimes those will have ingredients listed, which is helpful -- but sometimes, they may not even have that. In the case of your pizza, you can take notice of things like the thickness of the crust, the oiliness of the cheese and toppings, the AMOUNT of cheese, etc. Then you will probably be able to estimate the calorie and fat counts. (Check out if you're unsure of certain food stats.) Even if you can't come up with an estimate, you've gotta accept that there are going to be unknowns, and you shouldn't let those stop you from living your life. If you want to eliminate some fat and calories, just make a few adjustments -- with that pizza, for example, you could blot the oil and not eat all of the crust. Try to be extra-conscious of your fullness level, too -- you may not need to eat the entire amount of food in front of you. And think of it as the 80/20 rule -- if you make sensible, informed choices most of the time, it'll all balance out. As for the comment about fresh food "always" being better than packaged, I'm not sure I agree. I think it depends on what your goals are. If you are trying to get to a healthy weight, then eating only fresh food -- especially things that are super-high in fat and calories -- is not necessarily better than eating some packaged items that have reasonable calorie and fat counts and are easy to track. Those packaged goods can really help you meet your weight goals. It's about balance. I'm all for eating fresh food when you can and when it's truly good for you -- fruit, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains are all great. However, cream, butter, and fatty cuts of meat can be fresh and natural, but eating those all day long won't necessarily help you reach and maintain a healthy weight. I hope you see my point. Bottom line: You do NOT need to completely avoid unlabeled food OR packaged food. Just be aware, pay attention to what you're eating, and aim for balance. Happy chewing!

Today, July 29th, is Cheese Sacrifice Purchase Day, the day you are supposed to buy some cheese to load up mousetraps. (Um, EW!) It's also HG's sister's b-day. Happy birthday, Meri!!!
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