Food Ideas


flag with fireworks

I was going to do a 4th of July blog on what to eat, what not to eat, good tips and tricks and well it appears, I’d done one already, which is still quite relevant (click link below). The only addition I have, which is what I plan to do this holiday is to stay focused. Focus on what I really want and not just what is in front of me. I want to spend time with friends, hang out by the pool and relax with a few choice beverages. Just because food is there doesn’t mean I should eat it. And if by chance I do munch a bit, I will take some laps in the pool. Hopefully my plan to stay focused on what I really want will keep me from what I don’t want… extra pounds on the scale. Happy 4th everyone as you Celebrate Your Independence.

I do love summer. It’s warm, people always seem friendly and there’s so much to do. With that said, summertime for me sunshinehas its difficulties as related to health, wellness, and my eating regimen. The warmer weather makes me want to go out and do more; however, that’s not necessarily a good thing. I like to sit on patios at various restaurants and watch the passersby. I like to head down the street to grab a bite of ice cream and sit in the park. Sure, I walk to all these events, which add to a healthier me, but eating, drinking and possibly staying out late, those aren’t helping my wellness cause. I try to do a mixture of things to balance my summer fun. 

I love salads. As a cold natured person, I don’t typically eat salads in the winter, as I need food that will warm me up. However, in the summer, I crave salads all the time. This is a good thing as I can have a light dinner salad with a glass of wine (or two), sitting on a patio. This keeps the calories low and helps me soak up some vitamin D through the sun. Since we frequent many establishments in our neighborhood that are in walking distance, I do burn off a few more calories in the summer than usual, so that’s a plus as well. If I walk to get a salad and a couple of glasses of wine, I’ve likely walked off at least one glass of wine. 

sushi rollI also love sushi. For some, sushi in the summer is not desirable as there is the risk that it’ll go bad quite quickly, but again, I’m cold natured so the best time for me to eat it is in the summer. Sushi, at least the sushi I eat, is extremely low in calorie and very good for me. I don’t get sushi with excessive ingredients or with crunchy, fried, or saucy accompaniments. I like most of my sushi au naturel, with wasabi of course. If I get it with rice, I try to get brown rice. I try to mix it up a bit with some nigiri (but typically don’t eat the rice) and a few bites of a sushi roll. Luckily, I finally have my husband into eating sushi so we can get a couple of different small rolls and some nigiri to get the most bang for our buck and save our waistlines. 

 As I stated, I do try to walk more during the summer. Many places that we frequent are within walking distance (less than 2 miles), so regardless of the weather, if I know I’m going to eat and drink, it’s time to walk. If I do eat any excess calories, it’s possible I’ll burn them off. For example, my birthday is next Sunday. On Saturday, we’re doing a 5k event and then hanging out with friends that afternoon, likely bar hopping. I figure the 5k gets us started off with a good calorie burn (this is after I already do my 2-hr normal workout for the day). From there, I’ll be sure to watch what I eat. We’re going to a Mexican place, so I’ll get a couple of tacos with everything on the side so I can control the sour cream and cheese, along with no chips and salsa. When we bar hop, I’ll sip slowly (thus shooting for no more than one beverage per establishment) and make sure I only eat if I’m hungry, and even then, it’ll be low in calorie. In addition, we’re making sure to walk everywhere. This will certainly keep my metabolism in overdrive, as I’ll wake up, workout, do the 5k, and never stop going, thus burning numerous calories.

picnic ants, noWhether or not this plan works next week, we’ll see but as I’ve always said, having a plan is at least a good start. Moreover, knowing my weaknesses and setting boundaries is quite helpful too. Luckily, I do like low-calorie foods such as salad and sushi and I live in a walking neighborhood that helps offset my need to be active when the sun comes. This summer, I hope to continue having plans and ideas to ward off the pounds like Raid against ants at a picnic; I’m going to squash all these summer temptations like a bug.

hold hostageMy husband came up with the idea for this blog and the title because of a salad I ordered last Saturday. We went to Gordon Biersch, who has many salads on their menu. I love salad; I’m just too lazy to cut, clean, and put them together the way I want. When I go to restaurants that have a smorgasbord of salad toppings, I frequently order a salad for my meal. The problem for me is that they usually don’t have a composed salad just the way I want. Therefore, I have to “make” a customized salad, or as my husband put it, give my list of demands. This particular trip I ordered a well-chopped salad with mixed greens, tomatoes, pears, craisins, artichoke hearts, gorgonzola cheese, spiced pecans, and light balsamic Italian dressing on the side. 

I’ll admit, I do this quite a lot when I go out to eat as I figure it’s my waistline and my money so I should have it my way. Restaurant establishments can turn me down or not give in to my hostage demands, but they’ll also not get my money as I can go elsewhere. I’ve been ordering tailored food for years now and have not come across any problems (knock on wood). There are times when I order vegetables with no oil and the waitperson comes back to tell me their vegetables are pre-seasoned and oiled when they arrive to the location. It is not that they do not want to compile with my wishes, they just can’t. In this case, the staff might recommend I get the vegetables but they can request no additional oil be used (sad but true; many restaurants have oil already on the vegetables, then put more oil on to reheat, roast or whatever for preparation). Sometimes I’ll move forward as suggested, other times I’ll opt for a salad or something without oil. 

I don’t just do this with salads or vegetables. I’ve become very good at picking a menu apart. Many ingredients are served with one dish but I want them with another. For example, if salsa is served with the nachos, I know they have salsa. I might want my fish prepared without the buttery sauce described on the menu, so I’ll ask for grilled fish with little to no oil and salsa on the side. Or, if they use apple slices for a drink on the bar menu and I want lightly grilled apple slices with my pork chop instead of the gravy it comes with, I’ll ask for it. Most things can be done and modified, they just might cost a bit more or take more time to cook but it can be done. 

Another thing I pay careful attention to is the kids menu. There are usually smaller portions and simpler offerings for these little tikes. Sometimes the waitperson will alert me that they have to charge me a higher amount than what is listed on the child’s menu, to which I respond, “that’s fine, I just want to get the kid size meal and not waste or be tempted bythink outside the box the food.” I’m always courteous and open to suggestions so the servers are genuinely helpful and typically want to accommodate my requests. 

While you might not be dining at Burger King, keep in mind you can still have it your way. Take charge of the menu and caloric intake. Be polite in the request and be ready to offer solutions for any problems that arise. You might want grilled fish but they only have utensils to bake their fish or so they tell you. If they have a grill and some foil or even a heavy pan/skillet, it can be done; just some out-of-the-box thinking needed. Before exchanging your calories and money be sure you’re getting what you want and need for continued success in your weight-loss or maintenance journey.

happy easterWell, it’s almost Easter. On Sunday, I can fall off the wagon, as I gave up alcohol for Lent. I’ll admit, this wasn’t the hardest thing to do but it wasn’t easy. In the past, I’ve given up coffee, chocolate, and dessert, foods I consume every day. While I don’t drink every day and most times, not even every week, partaking in a sip of wine with dinner or a de-stressor bourbon after a hard day at work or a hot-toddy nightcap is something I’m able to do when I want. On those occasions, when I was unable to have my beverage of choice, I did manage to muddle through and as always, learned a few things about myself.

The challenges this Lenten season were an adult birthday party, St. Patrick’s Day and a happy hour for my husband’s new job. For the birthday party, I was fine in the beginning, as this wasn’t too long after we’d returned home from Mardi Gras. I did enough drinking on that trip to last a few weeks. However, as that evening progressed and everyone around me enjoyed a cocktail, I started wanting one. That’s when I spotted someone “drinking” that I knew didn’t drink. My husband asked her what she was drinking and she said, “A Shirley Temple,” made with Sprite, grenadine, and a squirt of lemon. I’d forgotten all about those things. Since I hardly ever drink soda pop, I figured this would be something drink with cherrydifferent and I could trick my body, at least for this event. Viola, success. I had two diet Shirley Temples with cherries and made it through the evening just fine, with calories to spare.

Then came St. Patrick’s Day, on a weekend no less. This is usually a day I go all out, with Pub Crawls, green beer, etc. (and keep in mind, I don’t even like beer). Wow, talk about struggling. I curled up on the couch the Saturday of that weekend and felt bewildered. Oh, I just wanted the pain to go away. My wonderful loving husband again came to the rescue. He Googled non-alcoholic drinks, went out to get some Vernor’s ginger ale and whipped up a virgin concoction of something that was wonderful. I have always enjoyed the soothing flavor of ginger. Ahhh, again I’d made it through tough times. There was an unconventional solution to keeping me on track and we found it. This reminded me of how I felt when I first started eating better and losing weight. There’s always a healthier alternative that will work. It’s just a matter of finding it.

The final test was last week at the happy hour to wish my husband luck at his new position. We celebrated with both old and new co-workers. The drinks were flowing and after a while, the sting from the dark roasted black coffee just didn’t work. Even the full strength Shirley Temple (as they didn’t have diet) didn’t work. I was miserable and before I knew it… the night was over. O-V-E-R!!! I’d made it. I knew if I could make it through a happy hour, 5 weeks after being stone-cold sober and just one week away from Easter’s arrival, I’d be fine and sure enough, now, I am.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m counting the hours until I drink my extra spicy bloody Mary at Easter brunch, but at least I bloody Maryknow I persevered. Oddly enough, the thing I noticed most is that I had no food cravings while on the wagon. I didn’t want to drown myself in pizza or cookies or eat half a cake. This is progress. On the down side, I wondered if the reason I didn’t crave these things is because I wasn’t consuming alcohol. Could it be that alcohol brings on these feelings? Maybe these foods wouldn’t taste as good to me without alcohol, thus I didn’t crave them. I suppose I’ll find out soon enough, but at least I’ve done the research and am now aware. I have found that knowing is half the battle and once I identify a problem, I can tackle it. I’ve already figured out my strategy for brunch and how to make it through Easter day without overdoing it. Additionally, I’ve planned the following days to carefully add my favorite beverages back to my diet, in slow rotation, so that I don’t swill everything in sight. As I frequently say to those that ask, moderation is key and I’ll be sure to intently exercise that over the next few weeks, as I raise my glass to toast you all – Happy Easter!

This has been an interestingly busy and challenging week for me, one that in the past would have meant tons of empty, sugary, unhealthy calories. I have been out of my office, away from home base, most of this week, especially in the muffinsmornings. All the meetings, conferences, or seminars I attended offered various morning treats like bagels, muffins, a wonderfully smelling apple and raisin tartlet with homemade syrup, Danishes and even fruit. The old me would have easily eaten one or two of these treats during a 3-4 hour session and I’m not talking about the fruit. Instead, this week, I relied heavily on those portal foods I’ve come to love; carefully strategizing what to eat from a calorie perspective and what will satisfy my hunger.

Tuesday and Wednesday morning, I made sure to take cottage cheese with me. While this is a perishable item, cottage cheese and yogurt low in fat seem to stay fresh in a moderate temperature environment for a couple of hours. I likely wouldn’t try this when it’s 80 plus degrees outside but with temperatures barely reaching 30 degrees and the indoor buildings not being hot, I can travel with this dairy product and eat within 2 hours. I have found these go great with Fiber One brownies, Nature Valley granola bars, Kashi bars (just pick one, they’re all so good), and of course, my Vitatops.

I also make sure to carry some almonds with me. I like the Emerald’s Cinnamon and the Dark Cocoa almonds. I tend to eat a couple of those and drink some water between my breakfast and morning snack just to get a flavor booster (and almonds are good for you, helping the good cholesterol, though be sure to eat them in moderation). I just throw a few of these in a Ziploc and carry them with me in my workbag. They really do help curve any hunger pangs or cravings for the wonderfully aromatic foods I see others eat at these events.

bars, life, pb, fiber oneMy mid-morning snack can consist of a banana, which is extremely filling and a Weight Watcher’s muffin, a Honey Nut Cheerios bar, some peanut butter crackers, a Thomas’ Cinnamon Raisin Bagel thin, or a different kind of bar than the one had with my cottage cheese. There really are numerous types of satisfying foods with which I can travel and I enjoy eating. I usually only eat many of these foods during a hectic week like this, so I welcome those flavors when the time approaches. For example, I love Honey Nut Cheerios Bars, but I don’t eat them often. So, when a week like this occurs, I’m all over those things. Yummy!!!

Thursday was another crazy busy day, but at least I did get to stop by the office during the morning meetings, thus settled down with a bowl of oatmeal, making it a nice change for the week. However, dinner was another story. My late afternoon, evening hair appointment meant no traditional dinner at home. There is a pizza place across the street from the hair shop, and some years ago, I would have easily stopped there to get a pizza. Instead, I had my home-prepared dinner meal for my lunch. As there is a refrigerator at the salon, I took a yogurt and some Lance, Whole Grain peanut butter crackers to nosh on while under the hair dryer.

Compared to the week I’ve had, Friday will just be a “boring eating day.” I’ll be in the office eating per usual and for dinner, we’re getting takeout at a place with wonderful local produce for salads and wraps. It is weeks like this that make me really look back at how my life has changed and how I’ve changed. I don’t leave my calories or foods I’ll eat in the hands of others. This really is something in my life that I can be responsible for and fully intend to be. There are so many healthier foods out there, available for whatever is needed and all I have to do is continue to be open to those possibilities. What a HUJ difference an accountable frame of mind, a list of portable foods, and a little bit of planning can make on the road to weight loss and maintenance.

greekyogurt

It seems Greek yogurt is the new go to snack food for many out there but I don’t like the stuff. I eat yogurt every weekday as my afternoon snack. Various people at work love Greek yogurt and many articles I’ve read state that low-fat Greek yogurt is better than just plain low-fat Dannon or Yoplait because it has less sugar. As I continually try to reinvent myself, adding foods that are healthier to my daily regimen, while keeping great taste, I figured it was time for me to have a John Stamos moment of my own (surely you’ve seen the Oikos commercials). My first encounter with the popular and enticing dairy product didn’t go well, nor did my subsequent experiences with other brand names.

To me, the taste was unmistakably sour. Not that sour is necessarily a bad thing, as I like sour patch kids, Jolly Ranchers, and even sour apple martinis. This sour taste made me think this stuff had spoiled. I’ll admit, I double-checked the date on the package, as I thought it must have gone bad. When I tried a different brand, and didn’t like it either, I realized Greek yogurt is supposed to taste this way. Sure, it’s creamier with a bit of tang but my taste buds noticed that the extra straining process drains not only excess sugar but flavor as well. I’ve tried it with sweet fruit like strawberries or pineapples but still, it’s not palatable.

I’ve heard the comparison of Greek yogurt to sour cream and since I don’t sit and eat a cup of sour cream, I figured  maybe that is why I didn’t like it. I use sour cream to add an essence of sourness and creaminess to things but I don’t eat it 5 ounces at a time. So, I tried a few recipes that called for a tablespoon or ¼ cup of low-fat Greek yogurt. However, even then, in a recipe with many other foods and flavors, such as tzatziki sauce or salad dressings, it just seemed to take over and I couldn’t eat it.

Bottom line, Greek yogurt is not for me. That being said, my regular Dannon low-fat yogurt is still good for my body and a great snack I love to eat. To me, it is filling, nutritious and convenient food at its best. My husband doesn’t like Greek yogurt or Dannon, but he will chow-down on some Yoplait. Low-fat yogurt in general is a healthy, calcium rich, and dannonyogurt, thumbsuplow-calorie product, regardless of the origin, famous person promoting it, or brand name. It’s great to try the new “everybody’s doing it” food option but the important thing is to make sure whatever snacks you have in your daily food regimen are tasty foods you enjoy with lasting wonderful flavor. This will ensure you keep those “good for me” eating habits.

I am asked a lot what I eat. I eat the same things everyone else eats. The key for me is always moderation, balance and portion size. I might have pizza one day (note, just a piece or two, not a 14” large pie) and chicken with vegetables the next. I try to make the majority of my meals, say 80% of them per week, low in fat, so I generally fix my own meals on the weekdays. When cooking food, I often prepare items that will allow me to add flavors I love. For example, I love hot and spicy food. Anything I can add cayenne pepper, hot sauce, or Cajun spices to are favored. Below are just some ideas for cooking foods lower in calorie, high on taste, and make it easy to add your own flavor profile.   

Meats – My preferences are pork tenderloin, pork chops, lean ground beef, and bison. Pork tenderloin is one of my favorites, as it is quite lean, low in a calories and seasons well. Additionally, various fruit sauces or chutney can be made to accompany the dish. I have an apricot and tenderloin dish that is wonderful. The tenderloin just needs a few spices meat, fish, poultryadded and goes in the oven for roasting. The apricot chutney requires a bit more work but just one teaspoon adds a lot of flavor and with a hint of cayenne, I get the sweet and spicy nodes popping in my mouth. 

Poultry and fish – chicken, turkey, and a large number of white fish in their natural state tend to be low in calories, especially without the skin. What generally increases the calories of these dishes are cheese, gravy, and other drowning sauces or coating. Preparing skinless chicken and turkey or even using ground poultry in lean pasta dishes can be quite filling and low in calorie. I love Cajun seasoned catfish and blackened tilapia, prepared slowly on the stove with a little Pam no-stick spray in the pan; no butter or oil, just fish and heat (from the stove and the spices). Bake, broil or roast these dishes, using spices to add your favorite flavors. 

veggiestirfryVegetables – vegetables are the best thing out there for filling, low-calorie, greatness. Similar to poultry dishes, many vegetable recipes or dishes have accompanying sauces that increase the calories. I have found roasting vegetables adds flavor and brings out the natural sweetness of them. Brussels sprouts were something my husband and I both disliked but now they are a favorite. Roasting them in the oven, sprinkling them with just a teaspoon of brown sugar until they are crisped gives them a caramelized texture that melts in my mouth. Carrots, sweet potatoes and corn are naturally sweet so I usually roast or steam them with a touch of Molly McButter or other spice to complete any poultry, fish or meat meal. 

Trying different types of food and recipes will help figure out what you like and don’t like and give you an idea of what healthier dishes to prepare moving forward. There are so many combinations of meats, vegetables and spices, and you’re sure to find ones you like. Once I got used to preparing my own food and the natural flavor of those foods, I stopped adding sauces, pasta, and rice. I was surprised by this change in behavior. Whether my body got used to healthier eating or I just stop liking pasta and rice or I just prefer the natural flavors of various foods, I don’t know. I do know that I still love food, I still eat well and it still tastes great!

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