Category Archives: Health/Weight loss

Real Food Challenge Week 5: New Foods

Fun and funky fruit

Fun and funky fruit

Week five of my real food challenges is over and, as expected, we had fun trying out new foods that we had never had before.  Just as a reminder, last week’s challenge was Week 5:  Try a minimum of two new whole foods that you’ve never had before.  A whole food is something that has one ingredient and is not refined.  For this challenge we were total overachievers and tried four new foods instead of just two.  I have to say, though, that it was hard to find new foods that neither us us had tried.  We looked at the produce sections of both Whole Foods and Earth Fare, and couldn’t find anything at all that was new to both of us.  That would not have been true a year ago.  It made me really happy and proud of the changes we have been making.  We may not necessarily be losing the weight we want to right now, but we have been making healthier choices and experimenting with fruits and veggies.

Anyway, we finally found some imported fruit at Harris Teeter that was completely foreign to both of us.  It was pretty funny trying to decide on which fruits to choose.  How do you know when something is ripe if you don’t know what it is supposed to look like?  We finally made our choices and walked out with the three pieces of fruit pictured at top.  Here is the breakdown:

That funky spikey football shaped fruit is called a Kiwano.  The inside of the kiwano is slime green with a thin membrane that sections it off, sort of like citrus fruit.

Kiwano

Kiwano

Also like citrus fruit, it has little sacs of juice, very similar to an orange, but larger.  Kiwano is technically in the melon family, I believe, and it tastes like a slimy cucumber.  The larger juice sacs pleasantly burst on the tongue, but the flavor is very mild.  Tim didn’t hate it, but he didn’t really like it either.  I am still not sure what I think about kiwano.  I can see mixing kiwano into a tropical juice drink, or maybe as a palate cleanser.  But frankly, if I wanted to eat something that tastes like cucumber, I’d probably just eat a cucumber.

The green apple looking fruit on the right is called Sapote.  It seemed like a cross between a pear and a banana.  The sapote had the best flavor of all the new fruits that we tried.  The skin is edible, but slightly bitter, and has a similar consistency to a pear’s skin.  The flesh has a very creamy, custard like flavor.  It was strange, but tasty.  Tim seemed to really like it.  I wouldn’t necessarily buy sapote again, but I would certainly eat it if offered to me.

The third new fruit we tried, the yellowish striped piece on the left, is called a Pepino Melon.  Pepino Melon is supposed to be sort of a cross between a cucumber and a honeydew, according to wikipedia.  Personally, I thought it was disgusting.  Maybe my pepino melon was not ripe enough, but I thought it was both bitter and tasteless at the same time.  I only managed two bites before giving up on it.  It was just gross.  Tim hated it more than I did.  The Pepino melon was an epic failure for us.

The final real food that we tried was steel cut oats.  Obviously we’ve had oatmeal before, but we’d pretty much only have eaten instant oatmeal or quick oats.  I wanted to give steel cut a try.  At the beginning of the week, I made a whole crock pot full of oats.  It was great because I didn’t have to sit and babysit a pot on the stovetop.  One of the drawbacks to steel cut oats is that they take so long to cook.  With the crock pot, the problem was easily solved.  The oats are much heartier and chewier than the oatmeal we are used to eating.  We both ended up liking them very much.  I’ve been trying to get Tim off the instant oatmeal packages that are loaded with sodium and other funky ingredients, but he’s been resistant.  This week, though, he saw how easy it is to have a healthy oatmeal breakfast pre-made and ready to heat up.  His favorite mix, so far, has been to sweeten the oats with honey and cinnamon and top it with apple chunks.  I prefer honey and blueberries, myself.  Steel cut oats were a big hit, and we will definitely be purchasing them in the future.

I’m not 100% sure what the point of that challenge was, other than to have fun experimenting with food.  I’m all for that, though. Food should be fun.  Anyway, on to week 6.  The Real Food Challenge for week 6 is: Do not eat any food products that are labeled as “low-fat”,”light”, “lite”, “reduced-fat”, or “non-fat”.  There are several reasons behind this challenge that I will discuss in depth  later, but in general, the idea is that we have replaced the fat in these products with things like hydrogenated oils and corn starch which are even worse for us than the fat we took out.  Plus, we tend to overindulge on “safe” foods.  Healthy portions of healthy “real” food is the answer to weight loss.  At least, that is the philosophy behind this week’s challenge.  Wish me luck.

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Real Food Challenge Week 4: Meat

cows-farm-lg

I am back to report on how we did with week four’s meat challenge.  But first, just as a reminder or for those of you who are new to this blog, refer back to this post that explains what these Real Food Challenges are all about, and gives you links to the 100 Days of Real Food website.  That’s where I’m getting these challenges.

Okay, this week’s challenge was Week 4: All meat consumed this week will be locally raised (within 100-miles of your hometown). Meat consumption will also be limited to 3 – 4 servings this week, and when it is eaten meat will not be presented as the “focal point” of the meal. Instead meat will be treated as a side item or simply used to help flavor a dish.

They went further to explain that for this challenge, they define meat as beef, turkey, chicken, pork, lamb, venison, duck, etc.  (Basically land animals.)  There is no restriction on seafood or other animal products (like eggs and cheese) this week.  The point of this pledge is two-fold.  First, the focus on locally raised meat is because it is better for the environment.  When it comes to industrialized meat, not only does the travel aspect take a toll on our environment, but the resources used to raise, feed, and slaughter the animals do as well.  Also, the closer you get to the source of your food, the more you are able to be sure that you know what you are eating.  If you buy from local farmers, you can ask them personally about what they feed their animals and make sure that they do not use antibiotics or hormones.  The second part of this challenge was about reducing overall meat consumption.  I’m going to quote from the 100DoRF website: According to Mark Bittman in his book Food Matters, “60 billion animals are raised each year for food – 10 animals for every human on earth.” He also goes on to say that this rate of industrialized meat production is causing “enormous damage to the earth, including the significant acceleration of global warming.” Secondly, consuming meat at the alarming rate that it is being produced is not good for our health. Bittman says that our current rate of meat consumption has “stimulated a fundamental change in our diets that has contributed to our being overweight, even obese, and more susceptible to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and perhaps even cancer.”

So, now that we have covered the whys and wherefores, let’s see how Tim and I did.  I think that week 4 was a smashing success.  I don’t know why we were so nervous about it.  We started the week with a well thought-out menu, and stuck to it.  There were many vegetarian dishes (like salads, veggie pizza, and veggie burgers), as well as a couple seafood dishes (like lemon-caper salmon or shrimp stir-fry).  As for locally raised meat, we bought some ground turkey and some pork shank.  We used the turkey in spaghetti sauce and had the pork with a huge heap load of veggies and a few roasted red potatoes.  Tim and I talked about our experience and we both agreed that we both felt satisfied and we did not miss our usual meaty dishes.

So, what have we learned?  We’ve decided that we will definitely be reducing our meat consumption from now on.  Neither of us are willing to give up meat entirely at this point, but we want to severely decrease the amount of meat we are consuming.  However, we aren’t really sold on the locally raised aspect of the challenge.  We are both in agreement that we do not want to ever buy conventional meat again* but I personally find the 100% local movement to be a bit elitist.  Local meats are insanely expensive; at least they are in my area.  I am not willing to buy sirloin for $19 per lb, or chicken breast for $11 per lb.  It’s just not happening.  I am willing to pay extra for certified organic meat that I know wasn’t on a feedlot and pumped full of hormones and whatnot, but I do have budgetary restrictions.  The system is broken and it is very difficult for people on a budget to afford to eat healthy.  You may have noticed the asterisk (*) earlier in this paragraph.  The one exception that Tim and I are still debating is chicken.  Conventionally raised chicken kind of grosses me out at this point, but we have yet to find affordable chicken that was not conventionally raised.  Believe me, I am looking, and will pounce on any specials I come across, but I’m not sure what we are going to do about or normal chicken choices.  We usually eat a lot of chicken, so even if we cut down, price is still a major factor in out decision making process.

So to recap, we will definitely choose to eat less meat from here on out and incorporate more vegetarian and vegan dishes.  Though not necessarily local, the meat that we do eat will be organically raised.  The only possible exception will be chicken, but that point is still up for debate in my household.  Oh, and we have already switched to almond milk instead of cow’s milk.  In general I am feeling better about our food choices.  I know that we still have adjustments to make, but we are headed in the right direction.  All of these baby steps will hopefully add up to some big changes toward a healthier lifestyle.

Moving on to this week’s challenge.  Week 5 is easy peasy because we don’t have to take anything away. Week 5: Try two new whole foods – Try a minimum of two new whole foods that you’ve never had before.  This challenge is both simple and exciting, and I am happy to have a challenge that doesn’t stress me out.  I am expecting another successful report next week.

Is Meat Really Killing Me?

MadCows

Over the last couple of months I’ve been doing a lot of research into nutrition and healthy diets, and after all of that I can honestly say that I’m not sure what to eat.  There are the basics, of course.  Significantly reduce sugar and processed food.  Eat more fruits and vegetables.  When eating meat, make sure it’s certified organic.  Okay, I can understand all of that.  What’s really confusing me is whether or not I should be eating meat at all.  And what about dairy?  People are very passionate these days about about their dietary choices, and will defend them with religious fervor.  Vegans, Vegetarians, and Meat Eaters alike will argue their stances with facts and figures from the scientific and health communities.  The problem is that all of these facts and figures contradict each other and seem to be scientifically backed up and debunked in equal measure.  So how is someone who does not have a degree in nutrition supposed to figure out what to eat?

Let me back up a little and explain why I am even trying to figure this out to begin with.  I’ve been heavy my entire life.  Even when I was in school and playing sports, I was still overweight.  I come from a fat family where everyone in it has weight issues.  They also have health issues because of that weight.  My father died of a heart attack (not his first) at the age of 49.  He was also diabetic and gave himself insulin shots.  My mother has faired a bit better, but at just shy of 65, she has high blood pressure, is also diabetic, and is now on insulin.  My sister, who just turned 45, has Plantar Faciitis so badly that she can only walk a short distance before needing to get off her feet.  She has to wear special shoes and inserts to help with the pain.  This is just the stuff I know about.  All of these health issues are completely preventable, and only get worse by remaining overweight.  Now that I am getting older, I’m realizing that I need to really take my health seriously.  I don’t want to be sick, and I don’t want to die of a completely preventable disease.  Hence, all of the research and the attempt to figure out what I should be eating.

I’ve been shocked and disgusted by the conventional food industry practices.  I am definitely convinced that I need to move to organic meats, and my current food challenge is teaching me that I can actually afford it (for the most part).  Chicken is my main issue.  I am really grossed out by what I’ve learned about conventional chicken, but we are big chicken eaters.  I have a really hard time paying high prices for chicken, especially since we eat so much of it.  But more on that later when I talk about the Real Food Meat Challenge and what I’ve learned.

I’ve been doing research into vegetarianism and veganism, strictly from a health perspective.  I have no moral issue with eating meat, especially if it was humanely raised.  But I’m starting to wonder if I should be eating meat and dairy.  I’ve watched Forks Over Knives, I’ve heard a lot of the studies claiming that a healthy diet cuts out animal products all together.  I have to say that it is a very enticing idea to think that heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and all sorts of things can be prevented and in some cases reversed by eating a plant based diet.  I’ve heard all of the personal experiences through blogs and forums of how cutting out dairy cleared up acne, asthma, IBS, and a variety of other issues.  I’ve read the articles on how casein is highly addictive and is sending me to an early grave.  When I was in high school, my vegetarian friend would often say that meat is murder.  Now it seems like meat is actually the murderer.  Or is it?

My little cow cartoon (which if you can’t tell is carrying a scythe and says “I kill you now”) may seem a little ridiculous, but that’s how I feel meat and dairy is being portrayed today.  It’s so all or nothing.  Either meat is what we, as omnivores, were made to eat and not eating it will make you deficient in necessary vitamins and nutrients, or it’s going to kill you dead, and probably tomorrow.  For all the happy vegans quoting the China Study, there are just as many happy meat eaters pointing you to the articles debunking the China Study and claiming that the science behind a plant-based diet is outdated and erroneous.  And, then there is the fact that most “meat will kill you” studies are based on conventional meat that is pumped full of antibiotics, hormones, and has other issues because of the feed lot environment.

Really, when it comes down to it, I am so sick of thinking about food.  All I want is to lose some weight and not eat food that’s going to kill me.  Is that too much to ask?  I’ve discussed it at length with Tim, and we have decided to cut down on meat and dairy for now, but not cut it out completely.  And to keep looking into the subject.  Tim fully believes that humans are meant to eat meat, but he does admit that he kind of likes some of the science and logic behind going plant based.  We both want to get healthy, but it seems more difficult than it should be to discover what healthy actually is.

What do you believe when it comes to meat and dairy?  Are you possibly a vegan or  a vegetarian?  What has decided the issue for you?  I’d love to hear other perspectives on the subject, both pro meat and pro plant, as I try to decide what is the best plan for me.

RFC Week 3: No Fast Food, and Snow!

no-fast-food

Week three of our Real Food Challenges is over, and I am happy to say that we rocked it.  Just a  quick reminder, Tim and I are participating in 14 weeks of real food challenges that have been outlined at 100daysofrealfood.com.  Our challenge this week was as follows:  Week 3: No fast food (as detailed below) or any foods that have been deep-fried in oil.  Fast food has been defined (for this challenge) by:

  • Restaurants with drive-thru windows
  • Convenience stores that also typically sell gas
  • Places where you watch them assemble your food through a glass wall
  • Restaurants that are situated in a “food court” setting
  • School lunches (most schools do not have a fully functioning kitchen and simply heat precooked meals)
  • Airplane food

I said in my last post that I was going to make an exception for Valentine’s Day, and since we ended up having Mexican food, that was a good thing to say in advance.  I’m pretty sure those tortilla chips are deep fried.  To make up for it, Tim and I continued the challenge through the weekend.  (If you remember, we are only committing to the challenges M-F because our weekend schedules are pretty wacky and we never know what we are doing food-wise.)  I figured that the biggest threat to our success for this past week would be pure laziness.  Poor planning that leaves us starving and not wanting to cook or clean up after a meal are the main reasons that we go out to eat in the first place.  Fast food is just so damn convenient.  The whole point of this challenge was to teach that convenience is not a good enough excuse to eat crap at McDonald’s.  The goal was to make planning  meals ahead and making sure to have healthy snacks on hand a habit so that you don’t even need to consider fast food.  We did a really good job of sticking to the menu that we made.  I was really proud of us.  This challenge taught me that we really do not need to eat out nearly as much as we do.  The only day that gave us any issue was last night, actually.  Sunday nights are the biggest temptations for me to eat poorly.  I have that “start anew on Monday” mentality, which is a blanket excuse to indulge on Sunday because I will re-commit to heathy eating tomorrow.  It’s a flimsy excuse, and one I need to stop using.  We had our dinner all planned out, but we both had a craving for cheese fries which would have led to burgers and who knows what.  There was some whining and complaining (on both of our parts) but  we decided to stick to the plan and cook at home.  I’m really glad that we did.

The other reason Sunday was a big temptation was because we knew that we wouldn’t be able to go out during week four either.  We’ve been a bit nervous looking ahead to this challenge, actually.  Week 4: Meat- All meat consumed this week will be locally raised (within 100-miles of your hometown). Meat consumption will also be limited to 3 – 4 servings this week, and when it is eaten meat will not be presented as the “focal point” of the meal. Instead meat will be treated as a side item or simply used to help flavor a dish.  They go on to basically define “meat” as land-based animals, so there is no restriction seafood.  Also, there is no restriction on animal products like eggs, milk, cheese, etc.

This challenge is a tough one for us, Tim especially.  For many years his family raised animals for food, so he is a big meat eater.  He has already told me that he would never consider giving up meat entirely.  It will be tough to cut back and treat meat as a side item and not the main point of the meal.  Also, this challenge makes us both nervous because locally raised meat is really expensive.  We had a very interesting conversation with a local butcher on Saturday about how, right now, local farmers in our area are price gouging because of the high demand for locally raised, grass-fed beef.  It was a very interesting conversation.  We did manage to pick up the meat that we need for the week, but it did take more figuring than it otherwise would.  We will be eating a fraction of the meat that we normally eat.  It will be an interesting week.  Just for clarification, Tim is only participating in this challenge for dinner M-F.  He gets lunch provided for him at work.  I will be following as best I can for all of my meals.  I’m not too worried about dinner, but I have to be a lot more creative with my lunches than I am used to.  I usually have chicken in soups or salad or something like that at lunchtime  We did not get any local chicken at the market, so I have to divert from my usual fare.

Snow outside my window

Snow outside my window

One great thing about this challenge is that we visited the 7th Street Public Market for the first time.  We had so much fun!  In addition to stopping at the butcher shop, we picked up some blackberry balsamic vinegar and some lovely loose leaf tea.  I also stopped at a raw vegan juice bar and got a lot of questions about juicing answered while tasting several of their juices.  It was a great time.  We arrived home about ten minutes before the snow started to fall.  This picture, taken from my balcony, was about thirty minutes after we got home. I love winter, and was so happy to see the snow, but I was also happy that I was not caught out in it.  It got very cold very fast.  I must still be a California girl at heart, because the few minutes that I stepped outside to take some pictures froze me to the bone.  The snow is really beautiful, though.

Anyway, I am nervous and excited about this week’s meat challenge.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Real Food Challenge Week 2: Beverages

soda

Well, week two is over and it’s time for me to report on how I did.  For those who are just joining me and don’t know what these Real Food challenges are, refer back to  this post where I outline what I’m doing and why.

Week 2:  Beverages will be limited to coffee, tea, water, and milk (only naturally sweetened with a little honey or 100% pure maple syrup). One cup of juice will be allowed throughout the week, and wine (preferably red) will be allowed in moderation (an average of one drink per day).  The point of this challenge is to minimize the amount of sugar and sweeteners we consume.  All sweeteners are high in calories and low in nutrition, and the low-cal artificial sweeteners are just chemically created imitations invented in a lab somewhere.  The restriction to honey and/or 100% pure maple syrup is for two reasons.  They are both (mostly) made in nature and slightly higher in nutrients than other sweeteners like refined white sugar.  The other reason is that it is hard to find highly processed foods or beverages that have been sweetened with honey or maple syrup, and if you sweeten items yourself chances are you will put in a lot less than the factory.

This was a tough week, y’all.  I pretty much knew that it was going to be going in.  I grew up in a Diet Coke drinking household.  We drank buckets of it.  I hardly ever drank water, but the Diet Coke was a never ending flow.  My drinking habits have morphed over the years, but I have always been a Diet Coke drinker and probably always will be.  These days I drink a ton of water, but I like to have something else with my lunch and dinner.  Most often I grab Diet Coke, but I also enjoy Sobe Lifewater, Vitamin Water, or iced tea.  This challenge cut my choices down by quite a bit.  We made a big pitcher of peach black tea Sunday night, and hoped  for the best.

Tim was hit by an immediate stumbling block Monday morning when he forgot his milk at home and had to go without coffee at work.  He doesn’t like black coffee, but the only creamer at his work has added sugars (even the half and half) so he had to go without.  He was sure to remember to bring the small bottle of whole milk we bought with him the next day so that he could get his coffee fix.  Otherwise, Tim seemed pretty content, or at least he didn’t seem to struggle the way that I did.  I was okay with my iced tea on Monday and Tuesday, but by Wednesday night I was demanding soda.  Tim convinced me to have wine with dinner, which allowed me to hold out until Thursday night when I went to Starbucks with my sister and caved by drinking a spiced vanilla latte.  I was fed up with the challenge by that point and drank my soda on Friday.  Tim seemed to take on the attitude that If I was failing or cheating, that meant that he could too.

Though this challenge wasn’t an epic failure, it certainly wasn’t a success.  I feel that I failed on week two.  I was surprised by how much I missed my soda, especially considering that I don’t think I drink that much of it.  I know that I am probably killing myself with the aspartame, but this challenge proved to me that I am not willing to give it up quite yet.  I have decided to try to cut back.  Instead of having two a day, I’m going to try to incorporate more of the other beverages I mentioned, especially the plain iced tea.  I do actually really like iced tea, but we rarely have room in the refrigerator to accommodate a large pitcher.  I think this challenge proved that I need to make room so that I have a healthy alternative to water and soda easily available to me.

So, on to the next challenge.  Due to scheduling issues, I wasn’t able to get to the market for week three’s meat challenge, so I am switching week three and four.  So, the new challenge is Week 3: No fast food (as detailed below) or any foods that have been deep-fried in oil.  Fast food has been defined (for this challenge) by:

  • Restaurants with drive-thru windows
  • Convenience stores that also typically sell gas
  • Places where you watch them assemble your food through a glass wall
  • Restaurants that are situated in a “food court” setting
  • School lunches (most schools do not have a fully functioning kitchen and simply heat precooked meals)
  • Airplane food

I am thinking that week three will present a difficult challenge for us, but not an impossible one.  We have been trying to cut out fast food, and have had moderate success, but there are always those days when we are both tired or not feeling well and don’t want to cook, or when it it’s really late and we still haven’t eaten.  I hope that this week’s challenge combined with next week when we will also have to be fast food/takeout free will break our habit once and for all.  Valentine’s Day is this week, and I am going to say right now that I am allowing a break in the fried-food part of this challenge for out V-Day meal.  It may not be an issue, but just in case we are served something fried with our dinner, I am allowing the holiday indulgence.  Otherwise, I am looking forward to seeing how well we do resisting temptation.  Mostly, I think our biggest issue with this challenge will be one of laziness.  Wish me luck.

Real Food Challenge Week 1: Veggies

Flatbread Veggie Pizza

Flatbread Veggie Pizza

I am back to report on how my first week of Real Food Challenges went.  Just a reminder of what my first challenge was, Week 1: Eat a minimum of two different fruits or vegetables (preferably organic) with every breakfast, lunch, and dinner meal.  The whole point of this particular challenge is for you to displace something else that you would normally eat (like chips or fries or even crackers) with some colorful produce.

You may remember that I was confident going in to this challenge.  We already eat fruit or vegetables with pretty much every meal, so how hard would it be to add one more, right?  Well, the answer was that while it was tough during the planning process, it really wasn’t that hard to execute.  It was difficult to train my brain that vegetables are just as filling as my beloved wild rice blend or red potatoes.  When I looked at the meal plan I made for the week, I was skeptical.  Tim, my meat and potatoes man who used to shun veggies completely, was even more doubtful than I was that we would feel full without our starchy sides.  It didn’t take long, however, to realize that the mountain of peas and broccoli on our plates were a meal in itself.  We also found that finishing a meal with an apple or some berries was the perfect palate cleanser, and really cut down on my sugar cravings.  I didn’t feel the need for dessert when I finished my meal with fruit.  We also did some experimenting, which is why I pictured our first attempt at veggie pizza at the top of this post.  I’ve been meaning to try a veggie pizza ever since we started meatless Mondays, but hadn’t gotten around to it.  We followed the basic “recipe” that I outlined in this post, but topped our pizzas with roasted broccoli, mushrooms and yellow bell pepper.  They were awesome!

In general we did really well during week 1.  The only exception was when we had takeout.  An unexpected trip to the ER (and the subsequent exhaustion) made it difficult to want to cook at home.  We had a fast food lunch and a Chinese takeout dinner this week, which didn’t follow the rules, but these things happen.  My new motto is to not let the pursuit of perfection get in the way of the good.  What I mean by that is to not let the fear of failure keep me from attempting something that could be really good for me. I may not get it perfectly right, but even the attempt is a good and positive change.  So despite my slips, I still count week 1 a success.  I am definitely more willing to replace a starchy side with another vegetable, though not at every meal.  And I really do like finishing my meal with fruit.  I am determined to do so at least twice a week from now on.

Week 2:  Beverages will be limited to coffee, tea, water, and milk (only naturally sweetened with a little honey or 100% pure maple syrup). One cup of juice will be allowed throughout the week, and wine (preferably red) will be allowed in moderation (an average of one drink per day).

*sigh*  I am not looking forward to this week.  Though I have no problem drinking water, and actually drink quite a lot of it, I like to drink other things as well.  I usually drink two diet sodas a day, one with lunch and one with dinner.  I also like to enjoy Sobe Lifewater, or Vitaminwater.  I rarely drink coffee these days, and I never drink milk.  I absolutely understand the point of this challenge, but it is not going to be a fun week without any soda.  Luckily I really enjoy my tea without any added sweeteners.  I’ll be drinking a ton of tea this week.

14 Weeks of Real Food Challenges

approved-food-pic

As I stated in my previous post, one of the goals I have for myself this year is to eat a healthier diet by cutting down on processed foods and moving to more whole, real foods.  A recent tool that I have found to help me in my journey is the 100 Days of Real Food website.  I found 100daysofrealfood.com back in early November, and have really enjoyed the content.  I’ve been trying to learn more about the food industry and more about where my food comes from.  There are recipes and meal plans, and it’s a great source for parents looking for healthy ways to feed their children.  I recommend checking the site out if you are even a little interested in a commitment to eating real food.

Lisa (who created the site) and her family have taken on a couple 100 days of real food projects, and you can read about the unique challenges they experienced while attempting it.  The purpose was to show people that they too can eat healthy and completely cut out processed food, even if they have small children or have a tight budget.  The site encourages readers to take a 10-day pledge to follow their “real food rules” that have been largely influenced by Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food.  But they also realize that not everyone can do a “cold turkey” 10-day pledge, so in Spring of 2011 Lisa created 14 mini pledges to ease people into the concept.  Tim and I have decided to give the mini pledges a try.

Each week we will be attempting to tackle one of the 14 real food challenges.  I am going to do my best to stick to the challenge for all of my meals.  Tim will be following for dinner for sure, but lunch is provided to him by his work three out of five days, so he will play that by ear.  We’ve also decided that since our weekends are always so up in the air, we will commit to a five day week (M-F) and allow some leeway on the weekends when necessary.  Some of the challenges will be a lot easier than others.  Some will be down right (seemingly) impossible.  We are going to do our best.  My plan is to report back to you on how the weeks go for us and what specific challenges we faced as we tried to accomplish each task.  Then I’ll announce the next week’s challenge and start the process all over again.  The over-all goal of taking the mini pledges is to gain a new perspective from the experience and make at least some positive long-term changes.  Baby steps.  If you want to learn more about the mini pledges, click here for the master list with links to Lisa’s specific posts about each challenge.

So, that’s the plan.  We start today with the challenge for Week 1: Eat a minimum of two different fruits or vegetables (preferably organic) with every breakfast, lunch, and dinner meal.  The whole point of this particular challenge is for you to displace something else that you would normally eat (like chips or fries or even crackers) with some colorful produce.  I don’t think that this is going to be as big of a challenge for us as other weeks will be.  We’ve already been making a point to eat more fruits and veggies, so this challenge is just super sizing the effort we are already making.  I realize that it is really easy for me to say at the beginning of the week that this will be no problem.  Check back with me by Friday and it could be a whole other story, right?  But I really do think that we have this week under control.  I am optimistic about week 1.  I will let you know how it turns out.  Wish me luck.  🙂

Meatless Monday

Meatless_Monday

We’ve been trying out Meatless Monday for about two months now, and it has been going pretty well for us.  It is just one of the many ways that we have been changing our diets to eating more natural whole foods.  A little history, my husband grew up raising his own animals, mostly pigs, and has always believed that meat is an essential part of a meal.  In fact, when we first got married, he rarely ate any fruits or vegetables at all.  He really had an aversion to most veggies and it was easier to just go with it, than to fight for a food group that wasn’t one of my favorites either.  We have both struggled with our weights, and after moving across the country from all of our friends, we let ourselves get really big.  After realizing that we needed to make a change and lose weight, I decided to do some research into the food industry and learn about nutrition.  One thing became very clear to me in my research, we needed to cut down (a lot) on how much commercial meat we consume.

Though neither my husband nor I have any intention of becoming vegetarians, we have started to view meat in an entirely different way.  Instead of making it the main focal point of every meal, we are trying to limit our meat consumption to being only a quarter of our plate.  It’s been difficult to re-order our thinking (especially for him) to recognizing what a healthy and appropriate serving of meat actually is.  A 12 oz steak is 2-3 times as much meat as we should be eating in one sitting, despite what restaurant menus will tell us.  Until I started my research, I had no idea how taxing American meat consumption is on the environment.  I figured that raising animals for food has been done for thousands of years, so how bad could it be?  The truth of the matter is not pretty.  So for a lot of reasons, we decided to give Meatless Mondays a try.

Every Monday, I have committed to avoiding meat entirely, and Tim has committed to avoiding it for breakfast and dinner.  (He gets  lunch provided for him at work, so he makes the best choices that he can there.)  One really positive benefit from trying to come up with a variety of choices for meatless meals is that I have had to get creative in the kitchen.  I have no experience with purposely making vegetarian dishes, so at first all I could think of to eat were veggie burgers.  I’m pleased to say that I now have a handful of simple “staple” vegetarian dishes that I can make without much thought or effort, and a whole host of vegetarian recipes for when I want to experiment.  I’m also becoming much more interested in different vegetables, and comparing not just taste, but texture, color, and what pairs best with others.  It’s been a lot of fun to have this weekly challenge of providing tasty, satisfying meals without meat that both my husband and I will love.

There is a ton of information out there about the health and environmental benefits of cutting meat out even just once a week, so I encourage you to look into it for yourself.   Who knows, maybe you will want to give Meatless Monday (or Tuesday, or Friday) a try for yourself.  If nothing else, I have found trying to go meatless for an entire day has made me stop taking my food choices for granted and really think about what I am eating at least one day a week, and that is something we can all benefit from.

First Trip to the Farmers Market

Tim and I took out first trip to the local farmer’s market this weekend and love it.  I’ve mentioned that we get fresh organic produce delivered to us once a week, but there are some staples, like bell peppers and salad mix, that we buy in addition to our delivery.  I’m really trying to improve our diet and eat more whole foods, so I really wanted to go to the farmer’s market.  We are lucky to have a good growers market close by, and it’s silly that we haven’t even checked it out to see what they have to offer.

Child playing in the pumpkins

First up, we were greeted by this little guy playing with some pumpkins, right by the door.  Atherton Market is an indoor market, but there were a few booths set up outside, including woven wares and a guy who can help you set up your own chicken coop.

Farmer’s market

Obviously there were a ton vendors selling fresh organic locally grown fruits and veggies.  We came home with red bell peppers, zucchini, fresh mint, and a couple bags of mixed greens.

Fresh Flowers

There were also some beautiful flowers and floral arrangements.  I don’t often have flowers at my house, but they were really lovely.

Floral Arrangements

What was really cool to newbies like us, though, were the non-produce booths.  I’ve only been to one farmer’s market in my life and it was a pretty small one, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  There was a fish monger and a farm that sold locally raised, grass-fed beef and lamb.  We bought a delicious agave mustard from the Pickle Guy who had quite a variety of probiotic pickles and dips/salsas.  The artisan bread maker’s booth was really tempting, but I’m limiting my bread intake because we eat way too much of it right now.

Olives and Oils

I was very interested in this booth that offered a variety of oils and balsamic vinegar infused with different flavors.  They also had several types of olives and other jar items.  The booth was busy, so I didn’t get a chance to stop for a closer look, but I will definitely pick something up next time.

Fresh Roasted Nuts

A fun new find was this booth that sells freshly roasted nuts with no added salt or anything.  So fresh, in fact, that the peanuts were still warm.  I didn’t think that it would make that big of a difference in taste, but it really does.  The nuts are fantastic.  In addition to buying bags of their nuts and dried fruit, they also offer the option of creating your own trail mix blend.  I usually don’t like store bought trail mix.  Throwing raisins or dried coconut into a random mix of salty nuts, pretzels, candy etc., and calling it healthy just doesn’t do it for me.  We chose a mix of almonds, peanuts, dates, cherries, and papaya.  This trail mix is SO DELICIOUS!!!  In fact, it’s a little too good.  It’s really hard to limit myself to a small portion.  We walked away with one bag of trail mix, but next time we may have to stock up.

Fresh pasta

Another nifty booth sold freshly made pastas.  They had a ton of flavors, and a whole list of raviolis and gnocchi.  Everything was so tempting, it was tough to decide.  We bought some lobster ravioli and spinach gnocchi.  Though we haven’t had the gnocchi yet, the lobster ravioli was fantastic.

The Atherton Market is large, and open five days out of the week, which is great.  If you live in the Charlotte area, I highly recommend checking it out.  Tim and I had a great time, and will definitely be going back.  I encourage you to see what farmer’s markets are local to your area.  You never know what you are going to find.

Personal Sausage and Pepper Flatbread Pizza Recipe

No pizza for me, I’m dieting

Pizza.  Who doesn’t like pizza?  The doughy crust, the melted cheesy goodness, it is so yummy.  However, the average pizza is about five million calories (a rough estimate) and not really what you can call “diet food” in any way.  Since I’m trying to lose weight and not gain a clogged artery, I’ve sworn off the real stuff for the time being.  However, the pizza gods still call to me.  So, to curb my pizza craving, I started eating home-made flatbread pizzas.  This lightened up version is actually really good, and very easy to make. I use Flat Out brand flatbread (the multi-grain with flax flavor) as a base.  You just toast it up and top it with your favorite pizza toppings and you are all set.  It doesn’t taste like “real” pizza, but it does taste great.  It satisfies the impulse and keeps me on target to achieve my goals.  You can make any kind of pizza you like.  I really love doing a barbeque chicken and caramelized onions version that is so tasty.  I’m going to show you a more traditional sausage and pepper version today, but feel free to get creative.  You know what you like, and what will satisfy you.  The photos below are of two pizzas that my husband and I made for lunch the other day.  The great part about doing pizzas this way is that it is easy to adjust quantity for all family sizes.  You can feed a family of four just as easily as a single person, or cook some up to share as a snack.

Personal Flatbread Pizza Recipe:

1)  Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.

Toast flatbread

2)  Toast flatbread (I used Flat Out, but you could also use a tortilla or wrap to do this.  Just adjust cooking time for the difference in thickness.)  I lay my Flat Out on a foil wrapped cookie sheet for ease of clean up.  Spray lightly with cooking spray (I use Pam) and bake for 3-4 minutes.  Take out, flip over, and repeat the process to toast up the other side for an additional 2-3 minutes.  Ovens vary (a lot) so keep a close eye on it.  This isn’t a recipe where you can walk away.  These puppies will go from “not quite done” to “charcoal briquet” in a flash, so stay put and watch it carefully.

Add sauce

3)  When flatbread is toasted enough to keep its shape and bear the weight of your toppings, add sauce.  I use Hunt’s Garlic & Herb Pasta Sauce.  2 Tbls is plenty of sauce for me, but go with your heart on this one.  Use a spoon to spread the sauce evenly across the whole flatbread, leaving a tiny rim around the edges, so that every bite has sauce on it.

Add Toppings

4)  Add desired toppings and cheese.  For this sausage and pepper pizza, I used one sliced Casual Gourmet Tomato, Basil, & Mozzarella Cheese Chicken Sausage per pizza, and a bell pepper.  We like sweet peppers, so we split a red pepper and a yellow pepper between the two pizzas, but again toppings are where you can get creative.  For cheese I used Sargento Reduced fat 4 Cheese Mexican Blend because that’s what I had on hand, but you can use Mozzarella if you are looking to be more traditional.  One serving of shredded cheese is 1/4 cup (pictured below), though I usually add a bit more because I like my pizza cheesy.  1/3 cup is usually sufficient.

Add Cheese

6)  Return to oven and bake until cheese is melted, around 4 minutes.  Be careful not to burn it.  Again, keep a close eye out and don’t stray too far.  When the cheese is nice and melty, take it out of the oven, cut and serve.  I usually cut it in quarters.

Flatbread Pizza

Like I said, it isn’t the same as your Papa John’s delivery, but it certainly saves you money and calories.  And it tastes great!  This personal flatbread pizza with the toppings that I chose comes to only 380 calories and 17.5 g of fat.  If you can find another sausage pizza with those stats, I’d like to see it.  This would be great with grilled chicken breast instead of sausage, or skip the meat entirely and load it up with veggies to lighten it up even more.  I hope that you give flatbread pizza a try.  Just because you are trying to eat healthy or lose weight, doesn’t mean that you can’t have your pizza and eat it too.