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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Not-quite-homecookin'

Recently, I did a post about using prepared meals and their place in a busy family's healthy diet.
Naturally, this prompted a guilt-trip that I wasn't doing enough cooking. I've since been trying to plan easily-cooked meals.


Some staples of this meal prep style:

  • Pre-cut, steam-in-the-bag fresh veggies
    •  I usually take these out of the bag, so that I can season them.
    • These generally have fairly long fridge lives, but if you need even longer, there are plenty of freezer versions.
  • Speaking of seasoning, I've come to rely heavily on pre-mixed seasonings, bottled salad dressings, etc
    • I used to insist on mixing my own spices, marinades, dressings.
    • Now I use lemon-pepper mix almost daily! I'm a big fan also of light salad dressings (Ken's and Newman's Own) - I use these for marinades and pasta toppings as well as for salads.
  • And speaking of salads, how about bagged salad?
    • I love it; I love it, and also I love it. 
    • They make some fancy everything included varieties if you're not even feeling like topping your own greens. 
  • What about meat? 
    • Lean cuts of steak grill up easily inside or out, same for pork chops. 
    • Fish can bake or broil in minutes. Add a little Parm and bread crumbs and top with cooking spray - wa-la! 
    • Dirty secret: I don't watch sodium much, so I use things like turkey kielbasa and prepped pork tenderloins.
Really the biggest lesson is that home-cooked meals don't have to be complicated, as long as you keep a loose definition of "home-cooked." Sure it might not tickle your Gourmet bone, but there's a unique creativity to making yummy meals in minutes.


Oh, and by the way, I stand by my occasional use of frozen meals. They just haven't been on sale lately!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Aromatherapy Inspirations

If my talents, time, and knife skills matched my imagination when it comes to cooking, I'd be a huge star! Alas, I'll have to keep my day job and just enjoy the daydreaming for now.

The other day in the shower, I realized I have so many different scented products that it could be a great inspiration for a menu ... or several!

The products: coconut shampoo, rosemary mint conditioner, pomegranate lemon verbena body wash, apricot face scrub, ginger lime verbena lotion. Yum, right!?!!?

How about:
1. lamb chops rubbed with rosemary, lemon, mint / spinach salad with feta and pomegranate seeds / coconut cake for dessert / after-dinner drink of Pimms and ginger ale.

Or.....

2. Coconut rum mojito / chicken satay with ginger-garlic dipping sauce / coconut shrimp with apricot jammy dipping / lemon meringue pie

Or.... ?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Top 3 Tips for a Healthier Grocery Trip

  • Before you get started - by all means, choose good company!
    • In my case, my child is small enough not to ask for things etc. She's a good reminder of why to make healthy choices. She's also a hoot! Sometimes though, the grocery store is my "me time!"
    • Find what works for you & go with it.
  • 1. Prioritize the perimeter.
    • Spend most of your time in the produce section. If half your diet should be fruits and vegetables, then it follows that half your cart should be too! (excluding the 4 bottles of body wash I bought this week.) 
      • We used one of those little double-decker carts today. I filled the entire top in the produce section.
    • After produce, focus on fresh meat and dairy. 
      • Within these sections, look for lean meats and low fat dairy.
    • Money can be a fair indicator too. 
      • This week I spent about $100. $25 was in the produce section. I did spend more than usual on cosmetics & beer/wine this week - some of my faves were a steal!
  • 2. Have a plan
    • If you're just getting started on healthier eating, I cannot overemphasize how important this is. Make an actual list. Start by planning your meals for the week, then list out the ingredients you'll need.
    • Recently, I've started going with just an outline of what I want to eat for the week. I have found that I have some go-to healthy meal patterns, and I prefer to freestyle based on sales and what looks good.
  • 3. Don't shop hungry.
    • A basket of veggies and a good list won't help you if you're too hungry to resist the buy-one-get-one Oreos or Doritos!

Monday, June 20, 2011

(re)Starting Small

I used to be a runner. Or least I jogged avidly. Then I started to hate it. Three years ago, I gave it up. Cold turkey.

But running has a couple big things going for it:

1. It's cheap. (No gym membership. No equipment. Just shoes.)
2. It's fast. (You can burn more calories per minute than most other exercises.)

In other words, if you like saving time and money like I do, it's a hard deal to beat. So I was psyched last week when I spotted a piece of time to go running.

1. Mornings? Nope. My 15 month old daughter seems to wake up at a different time every morning. There's just not enough of a routine to count on. Also, I enjoy that time with her. Finally, if she does sleep in - I want to too!
2. Lunchtime? Nope. No showers at my work, and plenty of lunchtime meetings.
3. Nighttime? You're joking right? Bedtime also varies and has been known to be exhausting. I just want to chill with my hubby in the evenings.
4. Afternoon? Weeeeelllll .... It never occurred to me till last week. I like to go pick the little one up at school as soon as I can. But, then I remembered running really doesn't have to take that long. You don't have to run long distances like I used to. Aha! I could take a quick run after work before picking her up!

Just one problem. It's June. In Florida. Afternoons are blisteringly hot. Well, I am nothing if not stubborn, so away I went! But I took some precautions:

1. I started small. Just 20 minutes today, including a few minutes warm-up and cool-down. (and, yes, even a 2 minute break in the middle!)
2. I stayed hydrated. I drank 48 ounces of water during the day and had 24 waiting in the car for the drive home. I also had a snack at the ready.

I didn't love it. I didn't quite hate it either. I plan to try it again. Next time, I need my running hat and some music - it can be bright and boring out there.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Try Try Again

"Oh, no! My child is going to be that kid who will only eat mac'n'cheese and chicken nuggets!!"

Naturally, this has been my internal monologue every time my little one rejects a new food, especially a fruit or vegetable. On the outside, I calmly tell my husband that we'll just keep trying. We smile & clap when she eats the broccoli and try (mostly without success) not to laugh when she spits it out with great gusto.

Here's the thing though, sometimes she eats the food and other times she doesn't. I've tried & tried to analyze when/why/how. To no avail. Kids are enigmatic. End of story.

It's obvious that we need to set good eating examples for our kids, both by what we give them and by what we eat ourselves. But it doesn't do any good to get all freaked if she doesn't like this or that. What has worked for me (so far & sometimes) -- trying again & in different ways.

By different ways, I do not mean pureeing vegetables and putting them in spaghetti sauce etc. That's all fine & good, but I'm going to try not to go there myself. (Note: try.) I just mean different veggies & fruits and in different forms, with different flavors & settings. Also, just trying again in exactly the same way can sometimes do the trick. (Note: kids have more sensitive palates than adults, so take care not to over season.)

Daphne refused to eat the fresh fruit at school every morning, and pretty much still does. I despaired. I tried spoon-feeding applesauce & other baby foods at home. Then one day she got grabby with my apple core and chowed down on it. I tried the same technique with bananas, giving her a big enough chunk to hold on to - success!

For the most part, that's how she rolls. She wants to feed herself, she's not awesome with utensils yet, so she needs big pieces that are easy to grip. That's when it comes to fruit. Veggies are a different ball of wax; those can be tiny - peas are a favorite. My best guess is it's a texture thing. But hard to say - she still won't eat peaches, no matter what. Like I said, enigmatic.

The take home point is don't give up. If green bean casserole doesn't go over, try plain green beans. Serve them with a different main dish. Try them in a bowl, on the tray, with and without a fork. Go read "Green Eggs & Ham" if you need inspiration.

The picture is of her with her second watermelone slice in two days. She likes to share.
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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sabotage! Not as simple as ABC

This week I've been thinking about sabotage. As in, when you set yourself a health goal, but something prevents you from accomplishing it. I have noticed in dealing with clients & patients, that I can usually teach them more if I listen more than I talk. SO, I asked some friends to share with me their ideas about dealing with sabotage. Indeed, I learned a few things! Below is a compilation of their input & some professional tips, as well as some take home points.

A useful concept from the field of health behavior, is "ABC's" - Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence. A classic example here:

  • (A) You had a bad day at work.
  • (B) You came home & ate too many cookies.
  • (C) You feel really bad about it.
This cycle can repeat itself. As in, you feel like a jerk & eat more cookies to feel better ... and so on. The key to stopping the cycle? Find the antecedent. Most people tend to focus on the behavior, which comes down to "will power" and blame themselves for not having enough!
It is better to focus on the antecedents, because they tend to be easier to control. In the example above, how do ensure you're always going to have a good day at work? I can't!
There are many possible hidden antecedents here. Access to "too many cookies" is the simplest to control. Now comes the part where you have to know yourself. My friends seemed to fall into two basic groups.
  • Avoid - Some people find that if there are cookies, they won't stop until they've eaten them all. So, if their goal is to eat fewer cookies, they find the solution to be: "Don't have cookies anywhere in the house." Some may be able to have cookies in the house but "not even get started on them!
  • Portion control - Some people (myself included) find that if they can have a small (or at least reasonable) serving of cookies, that they're satisfied. 
    • My personal solution is to put a few cookies on a plate and take it far away from where the container is. I also sometimes use the individually wrapped packs & take one far away from the box.
  • An additional possibility - maybe you ate the cookies because you were starving after a long day, and nothing was easy to cook for a real dinner? In that case, have some easy dinners on hand!
It is also possible to change the consequence. Huh? The fancy name for this is "cognitive behavior therapy." Super-simplification of a very complex & most excellent therapy: when you have a bad thought, you tell yourself another thought until the better thought becomes your first thought. Here are two suggestions:
  • Don't moralize: One of my friends suggested that it was actually the moralizing of food in general that could lead people to choose the foods they're trying to avoid.
  • Don't generalize: Even if you continue to moralize food, one cookie binge does not make you a bad eater (and certainly not a bad person!). Record keeping might come in handy. If you can look bad and see that you've kept your goal for a few days or weeks running, it's easier to accept your misstep and get back to the drawing board.
Either cognitive change hinges on planning ahead. They also recognize that all foods can fit. In other words, everything in moderation. To me, moderation is the magic word, for health & really just for life. 
BTW - for me, it's frozen yogurt, not cookies. It used to go in a latte cup (aka bowl); now it goes in a little coffee cup. 
If you have sabotage in your life not answered here, please comment & I'll get back to you.
Happy Eating!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pantry Potpourri

I go to the grocery store every week. EVERY week. Except this week. We were out of town.

Honestly, I was a little excited. My husband often looks in our pantry (and freezer) & can't comprehend why I went to store at all. My response, "You'll see. One of these days .... blah blah blah." Finally, that day was here!

A well stocked pantry is essential for those days/weeks when you can't get to the store for fresh/new ingredients. Well-stocked will mean different things for different people. Obviously, it will depend on the type of foods you like to cook. Oh, and mine includes items in the freezer and some long-lasting fridge items.

My short list: 
  • Canned & dry beans
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Pasta, nearly always whole wheat
  • Some other grain, such as bulgar or quinoa
  • Baby carrots
  • Chicken broth or stock
  • Minced garlic
  • Dried Breadcrumbs, seasoned
  • Frozen meat (esp chicken & fish)
  • Canned tuna
  • Variety of nuts
  • Prepared vinaigrettes
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Large variety of herbs & spices, including mixes

If that doesn't look like ingredients you'd use, ditch it! I googled "well-stocked pantry" and got over a half million results. Peruse!

I also googled "recipes based on what i have in my kitchen" and got 7.55 million results. My favorite is http://allrecipes.com/. Personally, I like to let me creativity do the work here, but I'm not always inspired and maybe you aren't either. There's help out there. Take it!

When I got home tonight, my parents were watching the kiddo & were able to stay while I actually cooked a meal from scratch ... albeit with less-than-the-freshest ingredients! Mom diced an onion while I snuggled with the little one. I tossed the onion in a pot with some olive oil & cracked pepper. Then I chopped baby carrots & added those, then a few teaspoons of minced garlic. Once tender, I added a few cups of chicken broth. I mused in front of the spice cabinet & added a few (maybe a teaspoon curry, 1/4 tsp cloves, 1/2 tsp ginger). I dug a nearly empty bag of lentils out from the back of the pantry & dumped them all in (after sorting for debris!). I thawed a few chicken breast tenders in the microwave & continued to cook, shredded them up and tossed it in. I simmered all this for about a half an hour, till most of the liquid had cooked off. On the side, I made whole wheat couscous, perhaps the world's easiest side dish.

It was really quite tasty. Nothing like cooking an onion to make your kitchen smell homey. Disclaimer: couscous + toddler = mess. :)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Body in flux: numbers not the whole story

"I'm 5 lbs lighter than I was before I got pregnant, but I'd take the extra pounds for my former shape." A co-worker told me this shortly after she stopped breastfeeding. Like so much with parenting, I had to experience it to understand it. But, like with everything in life, we each have a unique experience.

My body flux relates to pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding & weaning. Yours may relate to life stress, injury, moving, who knows. The universal point here is that the scale only tells part of the story. Before you start your behavior changes, you may want to measure your waist/hips, perhaps even biceps & thighs. If you build up muscle, you might slim down without scale numbers going down. You would not want to view that as a failure! You can also judge by how your clothing fits. I wouldn't recommend simply "eyeballing" it though; I think we're all too prone to warp our body images!

I stayed active & didn't go too crazy with eating during my pregnancy. I gained around 30 pounds. Close to 20 of that came off within a few weeks of delivery. The last 10, plus a little extra kind of dwindled over the following several months. In that time, the shape of my body seemed to change, often seemingly unrelated to the numbers on the scale or how much I ate.

Obviously, during pregnancy, I had that lovely firm round ball. I know not every pregnant woman loves her belly, but I loved my belly! My face got puffy without me really noticing, and my arms & legs stayed pretty much the same. Afterward, again obviously, there was some major sag in the abdominal area, but I was so tired & focused on baby that I barely noticed! That tightened up within the first 4 mos or so.

As I said, I loved my baby belly. I must admit I loved my breastfeeding body even more! I had never been particularly well-endowed, so it was a real treat for me to move up in the "girls" department. Also, I got to eat whatEVER I wanted, lose weight & have boobs! I ate so much, it was ridiculous. I also got a little too used to it.

I stopped breastfeeding about 2 months ago, a couple weeks after my daughter's first birthday. I wasn't particularly "ready" but figured - if not now, when? I knew with certainly that I would lose my endowment, and that I would have to cut back on calories or find time to exercise more --- to the tune of 500-700 fewer calories daily!

That, dear readers (all 11 of you), is why I started this blog when I did. It is why I'm tweeting the small stuff, etc etc. So far it's working! I have not gained weight. As I've said, I have actually lost. That is, as predicted, at the expense of the endowment. Given that I have actually gained arm & leg muscle thanks to lugging around a breast-fed baby (who walks just fine, mind you), the loss has been rather devastating! I'm keeping my chin up though. In the short-term, keeping my waist in check keeps the proportions looking good. In the long-term ... I'm saving up ... just in case. ;)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Baby steps, keep moving

When it comes to healthy behavior changes, most people want to go big. People like drama. Also, most people have very low levels of patience. (If I were looking at you, you could tell me that I'm the pot calling the kettle black, but I'm just generalizing.)
Anyway, the problem is that habits did not develop overnight, so it's unreasonable to expect to be able to change them overnight. Let's say there are five things about your diet/lifestyle that you'd really like to change. Let's further say that you are currently doing more or less the opposite of what you'd like to be doing, it would be overwhelming to completely reverse all five things at once. My personal preference would is to make a small change in a few areas, or even just one area. This is particularly helpful if you have a lot going on in other areas of your life (jobs & kids come to mind!).
Here's a personal example: before I had my baby a year ago, I exercised every day, including hour-long walks with the dog, yoga classes, and truncated strength training. I did this right up until labor & delivery! I actually even did fairly well during my maternity leave - short walks most days, sometimes stretching & the rare yoga class. I also cooked most of our meals from fresh ingredients. Since going back to work (TEN months ago), there have been altogether too many processed meals. We fell into a rotation of frozen pizza, frozen family entree, spaghetti (with a vegetable side!), snacks (chips/crackers, hummus/veg/pita). I told myself throughout that when the baby started eating solids, I'd have to do better. I was a little behind that goal, but I have been doing much better the past several weeks. Frozen pizzas and Stauffers family meals are the exception not the norm. In the past 3-4 weeks, I have been serving fish once weekly. I already eat fish at least twice a week - I have a Lean Cuisine for lunch nearly every day and choose the seafood options just under half the time. It was important to me that my daughter develops an early appreciation for a wide variety of healthy foods. In the area of activity, I made a point to always take the stairs when changing floors at the hospital; I also parked quite far from my office. I still do. For the past few weeks I've made a point to take a walk on each day of the weekend. This past week I added to that 1-2 sessions with our Kinect Fitness.
See ... 2 of my themes are present in this story. 1 - I've done tiny things. I feel better. My weight is stable despite stopping breast feeding a few weeks ago (which was burning something like 700 calories daily!). 2 - I did not stop with the first changes I made. Once the initial improvement was old hat, I upped the ante.
More examples will follow, both personal & specific ideas for changes you can make & why you should consider them. Perhaps at some point, I'll even figure out how to put up pictures!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Convenience foods have a place

Not everyone has time to cook from scratch every night. Newsflash, right? The key is what you do instead. Certainly, it's important to find ways to have fresh foods more often than not. (See my numerous blogs about fish recipes. I think there will be another tomorrow!) However, when things get really crazy, it's nice to have an arsenal of go-to convenience foods.

What you must do is read the labels. Food labels can be confusing; make sure you know what the serving size is & how many are in the package before going any further. I look first at the calories. For me, finding low to moderate fat is the next priority. I also try to find meals that include vegetables, or I pair the meal with a packaged salad or an easy veggie (frozen or precut for example!). If you spend a little time in the grocery store when you have the time, it can save you on a rough night. You can very easily find convenience items in the grocery store that are head & shoulders about fast food!

I'll admit: sometimes bath-night counts as really crazy! Tonight, I had a more generally accepted "really crazy night." My husband & I have been visiting his parents all weekend. We actually did much better than usual with our eating while there. Still, I did not want to drive-thru for dinner. I did want to give my baby a bath & get her to bed on time. It's a 5 hour drive, and we got home about 2 hours before her bedtime, so that was a bit of a challenge.

Here's a dirty little secret. I typically have a few Stauffer meals in the freezer. I wait till they go on sale & stock up. They cook in around 25 minutes in the microwave. I'm especially fond of the stuffed peppers. While they're in there, you can do other things. In this case, I pseudo-unpacked, in between keeping Daphne out of the dog bowl. I also "baked" French rolls, also stocked in my freezer! All said & done, my meal was under 500 calories & quite filling. A good bit better than a burger & fries!

My clean baby was in bed on time too. :)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Response to MyPlate

Overall

This is a great improvement over the pyramid. Given the theme of this blog, you could probably guess I'd like the plate. Yes, some of us want to go beyond it & do even better. But a great many people see healthy nutrition as simply too complicated for them to manage. The new plate presents its message in a totally accessible way, and I am hopeful more people can benefit from it than ever did from the pyramid.

Following are responses to some specific aspects of the plate. For your reference, here's a link to the new icon: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/.


Yeahs


  1. Simplified design - People eat off a plate, not a pyramid, so this is vastly more functional. 
  2. Clear basic message - Most certainly, there are important nutrition concepts left out of the basic picture. However, if everyone in the US did only what was obvious from the picture, obesity would decline. Perhaps I'll devote a blog to an analysis of that, but the point is - this plate is a huge improvement over plates in front of most Americans. 
  3. Good use of take home messages - My favorite is "make half your grains whole." It's a carry-over from the pyramid, and one I've used in my own life & with clients. I'm also glad to see them recommend low-fat & non-fat dairy.
  4. Soy milk included in the dairy section - thank you, USDA, for recognizing vegan & lactose-intolerant people everywhere!



Nays


  1. Includes starchy vegetables with non-starchy - hence, you can fill 1/2 your plate with mashed potatoes and be in compliance ... but how is that any different than 1/2 a plate of pasta? Pasta & potatoes are roughly the same when it comes to calorie density & fiber content. (1 cup enriched cooked spaghetti = 220 calories; 2.5 g fiber; 1 cup mashed potatoes made with whole milk & no butter = 174 calories, 3.1 g fiber).
  2. Includes fruit juice with fruit - Juice is a pet peeve of mine, so I will try not to rant. 1 cup of orange juice gives you 112 calories and 0.5 g of fiber. Whereas, a cup of orange sections has 80 calories and 3 g fiber. Add to that the fact that most people drink more than a cup of juice in a sitting, and we begin to see how juice can be such a source of added calories in our diets --- especially, since most view it as good for them!


Neutral


  1. Interactive website - you can click on the plate portions and learn more about each group. You also get to see pictures of what serving size of selected foods looks like. Unfortunately, not everyone has internet access. Since poverty & obesity are so entwined, many of those without access will also be the ones who could most benefit from the messages.
  2. Lean meat recommendation takes too many clicks. I'm glad to see the recommendation for lean meats/protein sources, but I'd like to have seen it on the home page, right beside the low-fat dairy recommendation.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Be SMART: Goal-setting 101

SMART goal-setting is not unique to nutrition. The technique is a useful tool for any kind of healthy lifestyle change. In fact, you could use it for any kind of change at all!

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. I would like to add to that Behavior-related. Thus, Be SMART.


So, let's say you want to lose 30 pounds. Great! I'm sure you can do it. But that's not a good way to phrase your goal. You can do a better job of setting yourself up for success with a little rewording.


You want to state a Behavior-related goal. Our behaviors are what we can control. What is a good behavior to help lose weight? Here's a surprise (not) - to lose weight, you have to expend more calories than you take in. So, you can do one of two things: increase the calories you expend or decrease the calories you take in. Let's take a shot at the calories in. Worried you'll feel hungry? You can decrease calories in without decreasing the volume of food eat -- choose foods lower in calorie density. Vegetables in general are the lowest calorie density foods.


Presto! Your goal is to "eat more vegetables". The nice thing about this goal is you're stating a positive goal, instead of a negative one (like "eat less cake"), but you'll very likely eat less cake because you'll be full on veggies.


No, sorry - we're not there yet. Let's get Specific & Measurable. If you currently eat 1 serving of vegetables (1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked) daily, make it your goal to increase to 2 or 3 servings daily.


Wow, that's not very exciting! Exactly. We also want our goals to be Attainable and Realistic. Remember, setting a small goal does not make you weak, and it's not your endpoint. It's just a small step in a bigger journey. Setting a small goal and achieving it helps you build confidence. Study after public health study show that if people don't believe they can do something, they won't - no matter how obvious it is to you or me that they can do it. Get it? If you set too big a goal to start and don't achieve it, you could feel like a failure and stop trying.


Last, but not least, your goal needs to be Timely. So, your final goal would be "Increase daily vegetables from 1 serving to 3 within the next 2 weeks."


Then the key is to check back in 2 weeks. If you've achieved the goal, set a new one. If not, think about why. Decide whether to try the same goal again or a new one. If you try again on the same goal, be sure to come up with new strategies to achieve it.


Need help forming strategies? Just ask me here or on Twitter @sweatsmallstuff. For now, here are some general and very simple strategies to increase your vegetable intake:

1.      Have a salad as a first course to your dinner. Make sure to compose your salad mostly of vegetables and go easy on (or skip) the add-on's like cheese & croutons. Use either a small amount of dressing or a light dressing.
2.      Add lettuce, tomato, or other vegetables to sandwiches.
3.      Try new recipes and preparation techniques. This will stop you from thinking vegetables are bland or boring. Here's an easy one - roast vegetables with a little olive oil, salt & pepper (and/or your favorite seasoning) - just pop 'em in an 400-425 degree oven until fork tender (time varies by veggie). One of my favorites is cauliflower with the EVOO/S&P and a little ground mustard. 
4.      Try new vegetables. Another good means to keep your interest up. Don't think you like Brussel sprouts? Try shredding them in your food processor and sautéing them with minced garlic in a little olive oil.