Lately…

I suck. I haven’t posted here in like, forever! This is about in line with the rest of my life. Things have been a bit chaotic and my food struggles have definitely increased.

I cannot eat fast food anymore. It GROSSES me out in the worst way. After years of turning to a quick, greasy burger and fries when in a pinch, I’ve found that it doesn’t work for me like it once did. I guess you can’t put that egg back in the chicken? (ah, what a well placed analogy)

So. Here I am. Trying to figure out how to put healthy, quick meals in to an overworked, stressed work-at-home-mom’s life. Suggestions, ideas? I have been leaning more and more vegetarian as time wears on me. Ground beef is flailing in my meal repertoire and I just cannot make chicken every night. I need good suggestions for cooking fish at home and easy, delicious vegetarian recipes.

SOMEONE HALP!

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Worth adding to the rotation

A few weeks ago, the husband and I had dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. We don’t get to eat there often anymore because there isn’t one near our home, but there are a few in Dallas and when we lived there we ate there every week.

Anyways.

I actually ventured out and ordered something I’d never eaten before (completey unlike me) and it was SO DARN GOOD my husband had to lift my head out of the bowl as I was licking that joker dry. It was a fairly simple dish with nothing but fresh ingredients, so I decided to try my hand at imitating it this weekend. And the result? It was so.unbelievably.yummy and EASY, I was tremendously pleased with myself. I wanted to share the recipe with you.

1 can artichoke hearts (or at least 5 fresh artichokes if you have the time, the canned were really good, though!)  

8-12 cherry or plum tomatoes

10 cloves fresh garlic

Basil pesto

1/2 pound penne pasta

Olive oil, to taste

Sea salt and cracked pepper, to taste

Cheese (can be omitted if desired)

I threw the artichoke hearts and garlic cloves (unpeeled) in a roasting dish and drizzled them in olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper and put them in the oven on 285 degrees for an hour. I added the tomatoes in at around 25-30 minutes so they wouldn’t overcook. While those were roasting, I cooked the pasta and whipped up the pesto. fter the veggies were roasted, I popped the garlic from its skin and sliced it. When everything was ready, I threw the veggies on top of the pasta, drizzled with the pesto, a little extra olive oil (because I love the stuff) and topped with a freshly grated blend of parmesan, asiago and fontina. I also served it with some crusty bread and red wine (straight from hill country Texas).

It was so good and so fresh and WHOLESOME! It was my first real attempt and trying my hand at whipping up something so awesome on my own. I was so proud of myself. You could add some grilled chicken if you felt you needed it, but I thought it was just fantastic as is and it made a truly delightful vegetarian dish that is promptly going to my list of “go-to” weekly dinners.

Enjoy! Tell me how you liked it.

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is “light” right?

My whole adult life, I have been inclined to grab the “fat free” or “sugar free” version of things because my mind is ineptly trained to do so. The food industry has made it so that these products generally taste as good as the unhealthier versions yet, supposedly, I can eat them without the guilt. Right?

Since I made the switch back to whole butter, I’ve been buying a spreadable butter product made by Land-o-Lakes. They have 3 products on the shelf in this particular category: Butter with olive oil, Butter with canola oil and “Light” Butter with canola oil. Obviously the addition of oil to butter is what makes it “spreadable.” My first instinct when I went to buy this for the first time was to grab the light version. It is just about engrained within me to reach for that version of any product, right? But I stopped myself and did my new “thing.” I turned all of the containers over to look at the ingredients.

Butter with Olive Oil: Sweet Cream, Olive Oil, Salt.
Butter with Canola Oil: Sweet Cream, Canola Oil, Salt.
Light Butter with Canola Oil: Water*, Butter (Cream, Salt), Canola Oil*, Buttermilk*, Contains Less Than 2% Food Starch – Modified*, Tapioca Maltodextrin*, Salt, Distilled Monoglycerides*, Lactic Acid*, Potassium Sorbate* and Sodium Benzoate* (Preservatives), Natural Flavor*, Xanthan Gum*, PGPR*, Beta Carotene* (Color). *Ingredients Not Found In Regular Butter.

Whoa. Did you see that? Did you see what just happened? We went from products with a few ingredients listed, all of which we know and are inherently familiar with to a TON of stuff, plus? A lot of multiple syllable words that sound like chemicals to me. But surely the “light” version is the equivalent of the “healthier” version, right? I suppose that assumption revolves around whether or not you feel it is better for your body to process things that are found naturally on the earth as opposed to things that are made in a lab.

I don’t claim to be perfect at this process but I have to say the more I shop and make a concerted effort to read ingredients before I stick something in my cart, the more I realize how much “stuff” is in our food that we don’t even realize. I think back to when people lived off their land and only ate what they could grow. If you didn’t live in a tropical area, you probably never tasted a banana or a pineapple in your lifetime. But? That was life. And though people like to say that we have clearly figured out how to live longer so our processed food system can’t be all that bad? Hmmm. Do we attribute our increased life expectancy to our food or to our advances in medicine? I don’t have numbers or statistics on hand, (check Pollan’s books, he’s got it) but I do know that number of heart attacks and cancer have risen DRASTICALLY over the years since margarine, bleached flour and high fructose corn syrup were introduced. We’re just better at treating those things now than we were then. Much better.

It has been a serious retraining effort on my part to shift my food focus from calories to ingredients/wholesomeness but I am getting better every day. My biggest struggle so far has been meal planning and creating a “core” set of meals that I revolve our diet around each week. I’m learning and trying new things and expanding my repertoire and I hope to share some of these new meal staples with you over the coming weeks. Please share any of your healthy and wholesome meal ideas with me if you have them.

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college fund or organic milk?

Our fridge is a humorous MECCA of milk: organic whole for the wee one, almond milk for me, lactaid and chocolate soy milk for the husband. I usually buy them all two at a time, too, since they all last quite well, and because we simply fly through milk here. It’s a good thing we bought that french door fridge because we really need that room, courtesy of one heck of an obvious milk fetish.

A friend recently asked why on EARTH I would spend the money on organic milk for the baby, especially with how fast babies go through milk. Yes, organic milk is a bit of a splurge. Especially when you are going through a carton a week, but it is one that I feel is necessary. Let’s look at the root of the matter, what exactly is organic milk. Well, according to Google:

“Organic milk is defined by the USDA as milk from cows that have been exclusively fed organic feed, have not been treated with synthetic hormones, are not given certain medications to treat sickness, and are held in pens with adequate space.”

So, yea. Does that answer the question? No, not really. I have to admit that although I am a huge fan of milk and cheese and ice cream and a veritable variety of all kinds of dairy products, milk? Is kind gross. I mean, why on earth do we drink cow’s milk exactly? Wouldn’t it be gross to drink human milk? That’s silly, of course, human milk is designed specifically for human babies. Well… by the same token, cow’s milk is designed specifically for cow babies. And the average, non-dairy cow, doesn’t produce NEAR the amount of milk a dairy cow does. The principle is the same for a nursing mother… you only produce what you need when it’s needed, otherwise you aren’t lactating, correct? So dairy farmers pump cows full of all kinds of hormones to get them to produce as much milk as possible. And in the process of such, the poor cows often wind up getting all kinds of infections from being overworked AND in turn the farmers give them antibiotics to treat such. So? Those infections and subsequent antibiotics wind up in the milk you’re drinking.

EWWWWWWW. Am I right?

And I realize that organic milk surely isn’t perfect. The organic food industry is just that, industry. Ultimately, industry is just in it for the business and they aren’t consistently looking out for my little nugget’s welfare every single second of every single day. BUT? I feel like organic milk is the best I can do in the situation so it is what it is.

So often times, I ask myself if regular old milk, hot dogs, soda, boxed mac-n-cheese, bologna sandwiches on white bread, copious amounts of sugar and fast food was good enough for me as a kid then why am I so concerned about my baby girl’s diet? I mean, I turned out just fine, right? Well. I think that’s marginally subjective. Looking back, my health has been a consistent issue my entire life. I’ve had blinding migraines since I was 4 or 5. I remember my mom having to put me in a pitch black room and rock me to sleep crying from the pain I endured from those headaches and I easily had them 50% of time for a few years… they diminished as I got older but I’ll never forget them. No doctor could ever explain why I had them. I’ve also suffered from PCOS my entire life. It has never been weight related, it is purely hormonal. I do not ovulate on my own, at all. No doctor has ever been able to explain to me why. I’ve also had acne and suffered from consistent and often unexplainable dental issues. Maybe I didn’t turn out so fine, after all?

I honestly don’t remember drinking water on a daily basis in any real amount until I graduated high school. I couldn’t tell you what vegetables my mother ever made me eat other than mashed potatoes, corn or the occasional carrot dipped in ranch dressing. At dinner last night I actually laughed to my husband as I watched my 15 month old baby girl shovel sweet potato and green beans in her mouth, that I don’t think I even ate a meal that healthy until I was in my 20’s. Sad, but true.

I’m not perfect with her diet. It would be impossible for me to not occasionally rely on the conveniences of packaged foods, but even then I still shoot for the best options possible. What, you ask?

These are my usual stand ins. I know that Nutri-grain bars are probably the worst of the bunch, but she loves them. And they are a quick and easy snack in a pinch so until I find a healthier grain bar alternative (suggestions???), they will do for now. Plus I can get them in big boxes from Cost.co on the CHEAP. We also get the Veggie Straws from Cost.co–so yum and there are only like 6 ingredients, all of which I know and can pronounce! I love Annie’s boxed snacks options, as well as the Yo-Baby yogurt (a GOD SEND, she could eat 4 of them in one sitting), hummus and the organic whole cheese we buy directly from Whole Foods. Otherwise, she eats a ton of fresh fruits and veggies, whole grain whole wheat bread, brown rice, beans, organic eggs and the occasional serving of organic meat. I strive to get her 5 fruits and veggies in every day and I’d say, on average, we make it happen. I’ve cut out processed meats like sausage and deli meat almost entirely now. I still cannot look at my husband’s sliced ham deli meat in the fridge without throwing up in my mouth a little bit.

So there you have it. My child eats like an absolute champion. And other than 2 cups of milk a day? She only ever gets water. No juice or soda here and I sure hope we can keep it that way! (As a side note, I’ve even gotten my husband to kick his diet soda habit in the past month. I am so proud of him! We are a water loving bunch here!)

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Baby Steps

We just did the whole family vacation bit… for us, our first! It was fun, for sure, but it was also absolute and COMPLETE food chaos. And the problem with food chaos is that it is generally a downward spiral that continues to nose dive with each day.

Sigh.

The notion that you could ever walk in to a “regular” restaurant and ask that your burger patty consist of only grass fed organic beef and fresh, crisp organic veggies with a 100% whole wheat, unprocessed bun is laughable. We did manage to find a few quaint organic coffee shops in small town Texas, though, so our breakfasts were generally guilt free. But otherwise? Meh, not so great. But you know what? I don’t beat myself up over it… because life is simply not in absolute our control every day and I was not about to let a couple meals of pizza, tacos or ice cream bother me.

However, upon our return home, I am working small changes in to our daily life to continue on my wholesome food voyage for my family. Some of our insertions/deletions?

1) SPLENDA. Gone. After doing research on sweeteners a few weeks ago, I determined that artificial sweeteners were at the top of the “bad list” for process foods. We are coffee junkies over here… well, I must have one cup every morning. I guess that doesn’t constitute a junkie, per say, but 3 Splenda packets a day does not bode well when you realize you are basically eating chlorine. Uh. No. Not good. We bought a bag of turbinado at the store and have been trying that. It’s not bad! It is definitely higher in calories than what we were using before but I have decided that calories aren’t what I am focusing on with eating anymore. Wholesome foods are WAY more important than low calorie food options. Turbinado is still somewhat processed, but it is a much less refined form of real sugar cane. I am open to other suggestions if anyone has them! I may ultimately just give up sweetener in my coffee all together, though. As we remove the Splenda rush from our daily lives, I find that I don’t really need my coffee so sweet after all.

2) MILK. I used to be a skim milk junkie. I honestly can’t give dairy up completely, but I am cutting back quite a bit. And milk was the easiest choice. I’ve been using almond milk as a substitute in things like coffee and oatmeal and it has been a VERY pleasant exchange. I will use the baby’s whole (organic only!) milk in certain recipe situations for the family and it works fine. I never realized how very processed homogenized milk really is… and skim milk? The most processed of all. I also switched to only organic whole milk cheeses as well.

3) MARGARINE. Also gone. I never even knew what margarine was until I read “In Defense of Food.” I promptly walked to the fridge and chucked the familiar brown tub I’ve known my ENTIRE life in to the garbage. Do you know what it is? It’s not real food, that’s for sure. I purchased real butter sticks for cooking and some spreadable butter for use occasionally on toast and for the husband and the baby to use on whatever they wish. Its still dairy, obviously, which isn’t ideal for extreme consumption in my mind, but I accept that and I am comfortable using it on occasion. Again, calories, but whatever. If you look at the ingredients list on butter versus margarine, you’d see what I mean when I say “real food.” And? After ALL the years of the margarine campaign telling us HOW VERY unhealthy butter is because of all the saturated fats found in it? Turns out the trans fats used to make margarine (in a lab, it is NOT natural) are worse for us than naturally occurring saturated fats. OOoooOOoo. Go figure. Fake versus real: fake FAIL. (Side note: I’ve also used almond and cashew butter in place of dairy butter in several situations and it works beautifully!)

4) BREAD. I found out what “enriched wheat flour” meant and I realized that all the “wheat” bread I’ve been buying is basically white bread disguised as wheat. UGH. I’m not going to lie… I LOVE the way white bread products taste. I do. Croissants, muffins, sourdough… I love it all. But it is SO bad for us and it is simply a bleached version of something that was once healthy. They strip ALL the nutritional value out in the process. Now I just make sure to read all the ingredients in bread and I find that less is more. Whole Foods has some GREAT options in the bread department, though I really would love to learn how to make my own. (Another side note: I am amazed at how many “boxed” goods list “enriched wheat flour” as the first ingredient. Ingredients are listed in order of amount used, by the by.)

5) SNACKS. I have always been a snack junkie. I love chips, cookies and the like… and they are so totally FAKE food in every sense. I’ve changed up our snack routine to include far more nuts, fruits, hummus, etc. REAL snacks that aren’t only better for you but are far more filling and don’t leave you feeling so empty after you’ve eaten them. 100 calorie packs no more.

6) MEAT and EGGS. I’ll be honest. I love beef and chicken and eggs. This is why I won’t be turning vegan or vegetarian any time (soon). I’d love to say that I could do it, but I, personally, don’t feel like I have any real reason to take a stand in that way. (Though I’d love to note that I completely respect people who do take that stand!)  BECAUSE I have discovered the value and importance of organic and humanely treated animal products. I’ve made buying grass fed, free range meat a priority. And? I only get my meat from Whole Foods. I don’t trust anyone else. I’ve looked in to buying direct from ranchers and that is a viable option for us in the future. (Texas is a good place to live for this) But I will also say that I am backing meats out of diet somewhat. I don’t think that meat should be the center of the show! Not that I won’t eat a good steak dinner here and there, but I am focusing more on salads and veggies to be the main course each night and if there is a small grilled chicken breast on the side? No problem. Usually the baby and I will split one breast and the husband will eat one of his own. And it is totally okay to have nights without any meat at all! We had whole wheat farfalle with organic marinara with fresh parmesan and asiago cheese and satueed zucchini for dinner last night. Meat free and delicious! As for processed meats like hot dogs, breakfast meats and cold cuts? My husband loves ham sandwiches and I will NEVER take anything away from him and we will have bacon from time to time, but for the most part I refuse to eat them if given a choice. Researching them made me throw up in my mouth a little bit. I am constantly amazed at what lies underneath the surface of foods people eat EVERY DAY without thinking about them for what they really are.

So, that’s an overview of the basic baby steps I’ve taken so far. I tried shopping at a regular grocery the other day and I felt almost combative walking through there. Like I didn’t trust anything and I stuck to the general rule of shopping only along the outside edges of the store–where most of the “real food” is. I know it will never be perfect, but I am doing my best. I am also realizing that sometimes, I’ll just have to let it be! I don’t want my child to feel like she has to work against the world to enjoy a meal or event and I completely understand that we’ll eat the occasional hot dog at a pool party or ball game and that my views will NOT be made something which I use to pass judgment on others or obsess myself sick over all of the time. That somewhat defeats the whole purpose of this in my opinion. Easy, wholesome, simple. That is all.

Baby steps, friends. Tell me what your simple changes are?

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Frustrating transitions

If there is one thing about healthy eating that I could champion as a downside it is cost.

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Healthy, wholesome, organic, fresh food is expensive. And that is just down right frustrating for me. When I lost my job last year after having my daughter, my husband and I decided that I would only work part time from home while acting as a full time caregiver to the ankle biter. That means about 10-15 hours of “billable” work (if only being a mom paid in cash!) a week maximum for me and sometimes less during slow new home construction seasons. While we have always managed just fine since making the switch, grocery expenses were always on the top of my list to watch like a hawk and cut back on whenever possible. Coupon clipping, bargain buying, you name it, I did it. Well, funny thing, processed foods are cheap like that. Real cheap. And the superstore down the street is undeniably the best place to shop for cheap. But when you shop for food, real food, you find that not only do they not have much selection of such, what they do have is insanely expensive.

During the detox, I discovered Whole Foods. I love it. Love it, love it, love it. My new favorite thing to do is pack up a package of something like pasta or bread to check the ingredients label. If there are more than a handful of things listed, or a laundry list of things I don’t only know what they are but cannot pronounce? I don’t buy it anymore. Whole Foods still has some of that stuff (hey, process is processed… it is big business) but they have a TON of the good stuff, too. However. (of course, there is a however) You totally pay the price.

Does anyone else find it funny that the less ingredients you find in something the more expensive it is?

I digress. So I find myself at an impasse. I am slowly coming off the detox and as I am trying to shift back into what will be “real life eating” for me and my family, I am struggling to determine how we are going to make this work. I realize that I can only do this in moderation. It is impossible for us to completely wipe all processed foods out of our routine overnight. But I am taking big strides with every grocery trip, learning how to buy what is best for us all.

I just wish is wasn’t so gosh darn expensive for a family of 3 to eat real food.

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Survival of the fittest

I made it through the first week of the vegan detox! Woo hoo!

When I decided to do the detox, I had two main concerns: 1) What the heck am I going to eat and 2) Will I still be able to run/exercise?

EATING: So what exactly have I been eating? No meat, dairy, sugar, wheat, soy or any processed food is rather limiting, to say the least. The first day I honestly ate nothing but fruits and veggies. I had no idea what, if any, alternatives there were to wheat and soy. I googled and found a ton of vegan detox friendly recipes.  So, let’s review my days… Breakfast has been pretty much the same every day, not for lack of imagination but for LOVE of what I’ve been eating: Oatmeal made with almond milk and topped with ground flax seeds, almond butter, fresh fruit (usually peaches or banana) and a heaping spoonful of cinnamon. YUMMMMMMM. Lunches have varied between fruit and veggie salads with homemade dressings, black bean and brown rice tacos on corn tortillas with HOT salsa, or simple things like hummus and tomatoes or crackers. Crackers, you say? Yes, I did stumble across some detox friendly crackers made from brown rice, the score of my week. I also bought some bread made from sesame seeds that I was very skeptical about and it wound up being totally decent. Wouldn’t be my first choice for a sandwich, but is good enough to eat as a stand in to wheat. For dinners, I made some great soups, some not so great stir fry (FAIL) and had 2 of the yummiest salads I have had in a long time. Friday night I made quinoa style spaghetti (quinoa is not really a grain, but it can be substituted for one) tossed with olive oil, diced tomatoes and sautéed onion and garlic. It was awesome!

When I think about all the stuff that got me through the first week, I am so beyond thankful for Whole Foods Market. Most regular grocery stores do NOT offer such a wide variety of alternatives for a gluten-free diet or even a good section of non-super-processed foods. Even their produce selections kinda stink and their organic stuff is SO high-priced and they offer little to ZERO locally grown options. Hats off to Whole Foods for being so friendly to the plight of wholesome eating. The closest location to us is about 20 minutes away but it has been worth the drive every single time. I have such a newfound appreciation for people with food allergies, I really do.

EXERCISE: I was really quite worried about missing out on running during the detox. I was concerned that with the obvious decrease in calories from going to someone eating meat and dairy to someone eating beans and nuts, that I would feel light headed and weak for several days. I certainly had my moments when I did feel that way, I won’t lie, but overall I found that exercise actually made me feel better while I got through the “withdrawal” part of the detox. I found I was able to push myself and I felt very in tune with my body and like the running was helping me get through the struggles of the detox. I even ran an organized 5k with some neighbors this weekend and had one of my best times to date.

So, how do I feel now that a week has passed? One word.

AMAZING.

I feel so freaking good. I haven’t even found myself craving sugar anymore the past 2 days and I don’t feel like figuring out what to eat is such a huge challenge. I walk in to the kitchen and know exactly what I want and just eat as much as I want, when I want. I managed to lose 4 lbs the first week, with no change to my usual regime other than what I was shoving in my kisser. I feel fit and focused and my skin is clear as a bell. My stomach is flat and I haven’t felt bloated in days… I had been feeling bloated most days for a while. I can see parts of my body where those really annoying pockets of fat have disappeared… parts that I couldn’t seem to slim down since I had the baby for the LIFE OF ME. Sleep has been really good again, too. AND? We went an ENTIRE week without eating out once!

I’m not sure if I’ll make it through the entire 2 weeks without caving a little on some of the strictness of the detox… with Memorial Day weekend coming up we have some plans that will more than likely derail my efforts, but I don’t mind. I don’t know that I have to stay perfect through the entire 2 weeks to fully reap the rewards of the experience. I sorta feel like I am already starting to feel them, to tell the truth. I know that I will more than likely never go all vegan and I won’t be giving up sugar eternally, but I am definitely making some lifestyle changes that are directly a result of this detox. I cannot thank Hilary enough for helping me to this path.

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