I am a member of an online Mom’s group. I don’t necessarily participate all that much, but when the twins were infants and we had just moved here, it was a lifesaver. There was always someone around to “talk” to. I still check in from time to time, to chat with my book club friends, get advice on a restaurant, or help a new Mom know it’s going to be okay. While I was visiting with my online ladies yesterday, an interesting question caught my eye. Continue reading
My Southern grandmother’s way of asking if we wanted more was not, “Would you like some more?” It was “What’ll you have?”
In other words, “Which of these delicious things will you have more of now?” And it was hard, both physically and socially, to not promptly pick your personal favorite of her offerings. For me it was her hot milk cake, her watermelon rind pickles, her homemade biscuits with homemade plum jelly or her sugar cookies. Notice the sweet theme…. oh yes, I was a sugar hound!! It was not only delicious but complimentary to have more.
Our culture has become very much about more. If you have’t seen Super Size Me, I highly recommend it for an eye opener on serving sizes (and other outrageously egregious practices) in fast food restaurants. The film has some rough language and frank talk about sex, so may not be appropriate for younger kids.
In the less is more and more is really more dichotomy of our culture that loves:
both skinny bodies and large breasts;
both many choices and extra large servings;
both designer names and cheap food;
both the most expensive health care system in the world and the 37th most effective health care system…
we are in a watermelon rind pickle indeed.
And apparently, it’s a much larger watermelon rind pickle than I ate as a child. Check out how portions have increased over the years (and this includes the size of plates!).
Of course, weight is not the only issue that we are concerned with here at The Pantry, but to be honest it is often the card that brings people to the table. It certainly played a role in my desire to eat more healthfully. Even so, controlling weight and embracing good health is about so much more than food. That’s why it is so difficult. Even Oprah Winfrey who can hire the best chefs in the world to prepare healthy food struggles with her weight. Food is so much more than nourishment to us. As Givers and Recipients of food we have a lot to sort through in order to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to food choices and the concomitant health effects we generate. We are trying to tackle different elements of the struggle in our Baby Steps series.
People will argue over whether what you eat or how much you eat has a greater impact on health and weight, but of course as is so often the case, the middle ground, or in this case, paying attention to both, makes a lot of sense. We have talked a lot in our Baby Steps series about WHAT you eat. We should put a little attention here on HOW MUCH you eat. Buckle up because American advertising and culture has set us up for a fall here.
As a teenager we had a Farrells’ Ice Cream Parlor in our town. Farrell’s had a ridiculously large banana split and a promise. If you finished the ridiculously large banana split, you got a button that said, “I made a pig of myself at Farrell’s!” This was to be worn with pride. I’m sure you’ve encountered similar contests at other restaurants. Big Bro (not to be confused with Biggest Bro of sneezing on his French Fries fame) once won a pie eating contest. His prize was a coupon for a free cheeseburger and fries at a local deli. He almost threw up when they announced his prize.
“More, more, more…. How do you like it, How do you like it? More, more more!” Click here for a trip down 70′s Disco Singer with Really Bad Hair Lane
There are a few tricks to eating less and one of them is to understand what an intended portion is. Knowledge is power, right? I think that this is one of the reasons why Weight Watchers is one of the few truly successful weight loss programs out there. They teach portion control. So, here are some tips for eating less…. eating less bad stuff…. and finally a few graphics to help your eyes and brain become accustomed to reasonable food portions.
1) Start with vegetables. It is not possible to eat too many vegetables. Really. I wouldn’t consume a whole bag of greens in one setting as you might be asking for a little digestive trouble, but seriously, you will know when you’ve had enough vegetables. Get your stomach a little full with vegetables.
2) Slow down. Lots of research shows that the hormones that indicate satiation take a little while to let us know we are full. That’s why sometimes you don’t get uncomfortably full until a little after you eat. You’re already full; you just don’t know it.
3) Use smaller plates. This is a restaurant trick and it works very well. A serving looks smaller on a large plate and larger on a small plate. Choose the smaller plate or bowl and then your eyes will be closer to the size of your stomach
4) Use Pre-emptive Produce. We talked about this once before… but it’s a trusted tool in our house. Before a snack of the salty or sweet variety can take place, a serving of fruit or vegetable must happen. Thus, my son eats a carrot or a half an apple before he can have some pretzels or a cookie after school. The smaller portion of snack is not as depressing when there is already food in the stomach, and the balance of healthy to less healthy is better.
5) When snacking – Put snack into a small dish and then put the bag / container away before taking dish to the couch or your desk or out on the deck. It is very hard to practice portion control with a whole box, bag or container of something you enjoy right in front of you.
6) Make extra of your favorite vegetable dishes and use them as a snack. We’ve been taught that snack means a handful of unhealthy items. Buck that trend and eat some roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes and beets, or creamed kale or special green beans. You’ll be glad you did. And again – when was the last time somebody ate a whole container of vegetables? A whole bag of potato chips? A whole bag of oreos? An entire bunch of broccoli?
7) Share an entree at a restaurant with someone. You might be pleasantly surprised by how full you are for less money!
Here is a graphic that compares measured amounts with household items to let you better align portion size with recommendations.
Here is another that uses portions of your hand to describe measurements.
And remember to be kind to yourself! Change is not easy. It takes support and encouragement, and who better to give it to you than your own sweet self The beauty of Baby Steps is that a step backwards is small and easy to attempt again.
Please share portion control stories! Personally, I know that anyone who buys a Big Gulp could not possibly be a nurse on the way to work because nurses don’t get enough breaks in the day for a Big Urinate
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Now that the glow of yet another holiday is beginning to mellow, I find that it is time again to confront the kind and quantity of the food I’m putting in my mouth. Truth to tell the stomach virus that plauged us over the break kept most of my holiday indiscretions in check, but man that sugar craving is an opportunist. A couple of chocolate eggs (the little ones, not the big honkers) and it’s over. I’m all in, wanting it all the time. When I’ve been relatively well-behaved, I’m a salt kind of gal, but straight up candy or cake can get that sweet tooth rolling… I find myself returning to my own baby steps, reviewing the things I’ve learned over time that work for me: indulging the sweet tooth with fruit for a few days while watching the other carbs, upping the veggie intake to promote well-being and satiation. It occurs to me that many of you may find yourselves in the position of returning to food sanity after each of these holidays as well, and that what’s more a few more folks might be interested in climbing aboard after a weekend of peeps and coconut cake. Continue reading
So I’ve had my ear to the ground, well, and to the laptop as it were, and I’m hearing A LOT of conversations about food – real food, healthier food, making changes, and the thing I’m hearing most is folks saying they need to EAT MORE VEGGIES (cue angel choir singing here). So many wonderful conversations, and it’s so exciting to see/hear that folks are really trying to find some lasting change.
The rest of that conversation, however, is full of questions and frustration. What should I cook? What if they don’t like it? I can’t seem to find a way to prepare these things that anyone enjoys…. This IS where the rubber meets the road, isn’t it. All of our good intentions are for naught if the food doesn’t follow. Today’s post is my attempt to give a little basic training on two of my favorite veggies in an attempt to help you find some ways to enjoy them. Then I’ll show you how I ate them together in the same bowl…. I know, the suspense is killing you.
If you’re trying to introduce a vegetable and you really want to get some nutritional mileage out of that challenge, I say go for it – go all the way and deal with the queen mother of veggies – broccoli. Broccoli is so stinking good for you it’s almost silly. It is also, um, blessed with a rather unpleasant odor and a little bitterness that a lot of folks, most especially little people, find a little difficult to swallow. There’s plenty of advice out there on how to get the broccoli in – cover it with cheese, dunk it in ketchup, batter it and fry it – but all of these methods miss the mark by hiding the problem rather than addressing it up front and allowing us all to learn to enjoy the darned thing on its own merit.
Veggie Basic 1: Choppin’ Broccoli (Dana Carvey fans are smiling, young readers are confused)
I am now going to share the great broccoli secret with you… peel it. Yes, I said peel it. Buy it fresh, and use a peeler on the stalks, going as high up as you can without it becoming awkward or dangerous. Off goes the peel, away goes a WHOLE lot of that bitter, and some unpleasant texture to boot. Cut off the hard end. Slice the stalk into large coins up to the floret and then separate the floret into whatever you think passes for a manageable size for your crew. At this point you could do a variety of things.
We have roasted it, following this procedure and replacing the parm with nutritional yeast flakes (“nootch” for those who find the yeast flakes title unappetizing). We’ve grilled it thanks to our wonderful friend at Emmy Cooks. Most often, we simply steam the little suckers (using a simple steamer basket in a pot) and then flavor them with the rest of the meal. When peeled, steamed broccoli is slightly sweet and delicious. My son prefers his with a little olive oil. Truthfully my son prefers everything with a little olive oil.
Regardless of how you prepare it, a key to broccoli enjoyment is to catch it before it’s overdone. I keep a fork next to the pot with the steamer basket in it and once the broccoli is super green, I just give it a little poke to see how tender it is. You’ll figure out what your preferred done-ness is over time, but if you’ve never had it while it’s a little crunchy, and you’re not a fan, maybe you’ve just always had limp broccoli – and I wouldn’t like that either.
Veggie Basic #2: Sweet Potato for your Sweeties
Why sweet potatoes, you might be wondering? Well, I hear that folks eat an awful lot of spuds, like an enormous amount of potatoes (and honestly, I can’t blame anyone for this as I am a spud fan myself). Potatoes are better than a lot of choices one could make for eating, but sweet potatoes offer a range of nutrients that aren’t in regular potatoes. They are also versatile, and so very good looking.
If your encounters with sweet potatoes have been limited to baking pans with the delectable spuds acting as a base for marshmallows and brown sugar, I’d like you to know there is a whole sweet potato world out there that is a little less like dessert, and is warm, hearty and delicious. My favorite recent preparation for these tubers was inspired by Alice Waters’ Sweet Potatoes with Lime and Cilantro (in Chez Panisse Vegetables). Because I am lazy I did not follow her directions, but instead roasted my spuds – cutting them (washed but unpeeled) into roughly 1 inch pieces, tossing lightly with olive oil and a little salt, roasting on parchment paper on a baking sheet in an oven at 450 degrees for about 20 minutes, stirring once to turn the pieces about halfway through.
When the sweet potato pieces were brown on the outside and tender on the inside, I sprinkled with fresh lime juice and chopped fresh cilantro. Unbelievably yummy.
Putting It All Together
So if you’ve been playing along, you have two beautifully cooked veggies ready, and that’s about it. You could serve these as a side with just about anything – or you could make them more of the main event. When I prepared these beauties, I served them together, varia-bowl style. I warmed leftover rice and put out some raw veggies (snap peas, chopped cucumbers), some soy sauce, with ginger and garlic in it, some cashews and sesame seeds. I tend to pile everything up. My children like to keep separate sections of all of the offerings – and they eat that broccoli, because like the rest of the meal, it is delish.
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Elephant skin is so tough they call it ‘hide’. Have you ever wanted your hands to be as soft as ‘hide’? Ever heard admiration expressed as, “Oooh. This is as soft as an elephant’s hide!” I’m guessing you haven’t. Well, we at the pantry have been pushed up against the side of the elephant in our Baby Steps kitchen for a while and it’s time for a breather. And Einstein isn’t as bothered by this elephant as we are because he understands the elephant much better and on a grander scale than do we.
The bumpy, rough-hided elephant of which I speak, is TIME.
“Finally, Bigg Sis, you are going to talk about time….It’s about time because I haven’t got much, and I’m thinkin’ all this cooking you do takes a lot of TIME!”
I hear your shouts of frustration rending the space-time continuum….. Oh sorry, we’ll let some disciple of Einstein address that. In the meantime, Baby Step 7: ReCon Convenience. For this step, we are all about figuring out time as it relates to eating healthfully. One of the major objections that most people have to cooking and eating real food is that it simply takes too long, and one of the reasons most people offer for buying carry-out and convenience foods is that they can get dinner on the table faster. We want to challenge these assumptions, and help you figure out your own time as it relates to how you eat. A few questions:
1) Where is my time currently wasted in regards to food procurement and preparation?
2) Where is my time wasted when I think I’m actually saving time?
3) Where will I find the time that is the difference between pulling something out of the freezer and heating it up and preparing something with real food ingredients from scratch.
4) And finally, will the Sis sisters come clean my house for me on a weekly, or I’d even settle for bi-weekly, basis?
I’ll start with the last one. No.
Okay that was a bit harsh. We might clean yours if you’d clean ours, It might at least be more interesting to clean someone else’s house for a change. Back to Baby Step 7. We’ve given the other three questions a longer think and want to share some of our thinks with you…
1) POSSIBLE TIME WASTERS
* Too many trips to the grocery store. (This was a biggie for us).
POSSIBLE SOLUTION: Extend the period of time between grocery store trips. Plan your meals for a period of nights, make a shopping list and get what you need. We currently aim for 2 trips to the store a week. One main trip after planning and another trip later in the week for the produce that won’t make it a week and/or the things I forgot! Better than the previous 3 – 4 times per week.
STEP: come up with a plan for planning. A time to do it, a system for recording and sharing, and a goal as to how often, or for what period of time. Here is mine.
* Not making use of leftovers :
Always, always always make extra food and especially extra grain (rice, barley, quinoa, etc.) as these can be used in future meals (including some really fast and healthy breakfasts*). Leftovers rule! What is faster – making a sandwich for a lunchbox or placing leftovers in a container. This can be done while cleaning up the evening meal as well…. 1 for Mom, 1 for Dad and 1 for whichever kid will eat that particular leftover in their lunch.
STEP: Make sure you have containers for holding leftover meals and grains. Choose a meal to try this with, or a grain to try this with. If you plan 2 meals in your planning time period that use the same grain you can make enough for both at one time.
* Going it alone – (I am woman, hear me roar and/or ‘nobody else does it right!’)
Make use of your technology and invite help. My son loves to shred veggies in the food processor. It’s like running branches through a wood chipper… what could be more fun than that? I do believe that a food processor is a good investment in saving time in the kitchen. It shreds, it creams, it chops, and many of them are now dishwasher safe. But honestly they are not hard to clean. And if you plan ahead you can chop or shred the veggies for the next night’s dinner as well and only clean the machine once.
STEP: Figure out the pieces of preparation that can be done by your child or other adults in the house. Put on some music everyone enjoys and boogie down while you cook.
2) ReCon Your “Convenient” Meal
* How convenient is a convenience stop? Sometimes the kids are melting down and they need something placed right in the pie hole before everyone is a puddle on the floorboards of the car. We’ve all been there and we have to do something, and it might include fast food or snacks from a convenience store.
Try to stock reasonably healthy snacks in your car for just such occasions.
Include knowledge of your schedule when you plan meals.
STEP: A) Time yourself when you make the stop for a convenience meal or a convenience snack, or for a pre-made dinner at the grocery store. See how long it takes and write it down. So you stop the first place you see and buy some convenience foods. How long does that really take? It depends on where you are, but even if something is close by, you have to park, walk in, choose (with much advice),purchase and go get back in your car.
B) Challenge yourself to make a meal, perhaps including leftover grains, or even scrambled eggs and salad in that same amount of time. For extra fun, compare the price of your homemade fast meal to the price of your “convenient” dinner.
3) DEVELOP A LIST OF QUICKIES
You might be surprised at the number of recipes out there designed to be ready in 30 minutes or even 20 minutes. There are 2 types of recipes for you to consider:
A) the kind that is actually 20 – 30 minutes from start to finish
B) the kind that is 20 – 30 minutes of prep time but requires some time in between steps for something to boil or roast. These are still possible if you have someone at home who can start that step for you if you are not there. Alternately, a crock pot or a rice cooker can go a long way to help some steps be done by the time you get home.
I made stir-fry this evening in 25 minutes and I was not hurrying like I do on nights when one of us is going to an early TaeKwonDo class. I can make pasta from scratch in 30 minutes. It’s faster if I saute double veggies and freeze, then that part is done next time around. You can also have a pasta sauce ready at the touch of a blender button, and as fast as the pasta is ready – you can eat!
I made veggie burgers the other day which took a prep time of only about 15 minutes but then they had to bake for 40. I made a bunch, froze the leftovers on the cookie sheet they baked on and now we have a stock of burgers on hand for nights with no time.
STEP: Choose one (or more nights) that you are going to try a quick recipe. Here are a few of our faves – under the A category of 20 – 30 minutes, and the B category of 20-30 minutes of prep time with some boiling, roasting or other timed event in between.
Varia-Bowl Category A if using noodles or pasta, Category B if using grains -unless you have leftovers
Sushi Salad (with leftover rice it is in category A)
Mustard Tempeh (with leftover rice it is in category A)
Remember that one of the most important elements of Baby Steps is that it is okay to make these changes a little at a time. If you eat a healthy fast meal once or twice per week and/or send a healthier lunch once or twice per week more than you do now, then you are improving your health lifestyle. Everyday brings new opportunities to make good choices about food. So ReCon commercial convenience! …and find ways to have your own healthy convenience instead!
I don’t know about anybody else, but since the holiday season I have been super HONGRY. I want to eat all the time. It doesn’t help that I still have a few holiday treats lingering (like these amazing cookies) that I can just scoop up and pop in without even breaking stride… I’ve slowly cut down on the sugar overdose (that was mild compared to years past, but still – whoa), but I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling SO deprived for just passing up on a cookie. So very, very HONGRY. And then it struck me, the sweets weren’t the only holiday slippage.
When I apply myself to a new initiative, I really go for it. Not much for half measures, this girl. Of course not much for finishing either but that’s a different and way too long to finish – HA- story. So when I made some pretty hefty dietary changes last spring, I really went for it. Eliminated a bunch of things systematically that I thought were making me feel blechy and upped the produce content of every plate and snack by A LOT. It was easy. I didn’t feel deprived. I felt great and I did NOT feel HONGRY. So in examining my habits since the holidays I noticed that I was not only eating more sweets but I was eating less of the things I was snacking on before – veggies and fruit – produce. So I decided to run a little experiment.
For the past few days every time I get HONGRY I’ve grabbed some plant matter (mostly carrots because I really like them and they require so little fuss) and jammed it in my gaping gullet, a little pre-emptive produce (PEP) as Bigg Sis calls it. I haven’t dictated to myself that there will be no more cookies, but I’ve instituted the same policy I have for my kids – if I’m hungry I should eat something REALLY nutritious first. Guess what? The HONGRY has calmed down to just hungry and the cookies are getting easier to pass up as my sweet tooth settles down again. Such a simple lesson that I learned a while ago, and yet in all the crazy holiday-ness I forgot one of the most important principles: your body needs food. If you only give it crap, you will be HONGRY.
How’s it going for you? Shaking off the holiday stupor? Finding yourself feeling deprived or HONGRY? What’s going on the plate as you take the holiday indulgences off? Feed that body; feed it good. And when you’ve done a good thing, and are feeling really proud of yourself – go outside and look at the birds. Rewards are all around us – not just in the cookie tin.
Interested in our Baby Steps Series? Click above or on the sidebar, or just move straight to Step 1 here. You’re not late; it’s always a great day to eat real food.
January 1st is a tough time to make a change. I mean, how many of us still have Christmas cookies in the house? Fudge? Candy canes? Chocolate…. no wait. I always have chocolate in my house. In my defense it is dark chocolate and I limit myself to about 150 calories worth a day. What? How can you stop eating chocolate you ask? I’ll answer that in a second, but would just like to point out that although the holidays bring all sorts of unusual treats into our homes, most of us always have a lot of ‘food’ on hand that is not healthy food. Food is a habit that is hard to break. No wait, that sounds ridiculous… Poor food CHOICES can be a hard habit to break. Habits are hard to break. Time to develop new healthy habits. They can be hard to break as well!
That is my segue back to the chocolate. I used to adore Reese’s peanut butter cups and all manner of sugar-filled treats and candy. Switching to dark chocolate took time. I had to start with some in-between chocolate…, kind of dark, kind of milk / wishy-washy Charlie Brown kind of chocolate. But as I developed new habits for snacks that were lower in sugar I began to find the more sugary versions WAY too sweet. In fact, when I imbibe in a high sugar treat now I feel really bad in about 10 minutes. No kidding. It’s a great motivator to stay away from the crap, but it took some time to develop that sensitivity.
So my answer about having chocolate in the house without eating it is this. The less sugar in the chocolate, the more deeply satisfying is eating a reasonable amount, AND the less sugar, the less likely to cause craving for more. That is my experience. And it is experience that has driven Little Sis and I on our quest to eat more healthfully, and to achieve a degree of success towards that proposition. Experiences of wellness and satisfaction. Repeated experience develops habits. Paying attention to experience helps us develop healthy habits. We would like to help you have experiences that will drive your own success towards healthy eating. We suggest that you can develop new habits and new rewards.
If you are new to the Baby Steps series, I heartily recommend that you take a click back to the beginning and follow through the steps we have outlined thus far. (Brief synopsis to follow) If you are not new to the series – scroll on down to the next section which includes some tips for breaking habits.
Baby Steps Series (All offered with love and encouragement during successes and slip-ups):
Introduction: Baby Steps Down the Road to Better Health
a little why should ya for ya and links to recipes
Baby Step #1 - The Ol’ Switcheroo
Swapping out one or more of your worst choices for better ones – One Item, One Switch
some suggestions for where you might make a swap if you’d like suggestions and links to recipes
Baby Step #2 - Be Fearless, Be Honest
Facing up to what you are currently eating – we’ll still love you, I promise.
Baby Step #3 – Pantry Perusal
We help you assess what’s in your pantry. Taking a hard look at what and why you find what you find.
Baby Step #3b – Peeping in our Pantries
A Peep into our pantries. What are good items to have on hand for quick, healthy meals along with links to recipes
Go Back Jack – Baby Steps Check in
Encouragement to keep at it, even if you mess up. Everyday provides new opportunities to make good choices about food. We are with ya! Hang in there!
Baby Steps #4 – Adventurous, Experimentation and Gratitude
So you’ve decided to improve your eating and your health, how do you get the rest of the family to come along? Suggestions here!
Baby Steps #5 – It’s Time for a Plan
The name says it all – helping you make a plan after all your hard work preparing and experimenting.
Baby Steps – Happier, Healthier Holidays
Suggestions to eat as healthfully as possible during the holidays – or anytime when you know you will have tough choices coming your way!
Baby Steps – Don’t Say Diet
Reminders and encouragement that you don’t need to diet, you need to change what you eat. You can learn to be satisfied and energized by healthy food.
And now Little Sis and I both have some things to say about New Habits – New Rewards….
I heard this guy interviewed on the radio the other day. He had some really interesting, specific, and helpful things to say about habits. I immediately thought of changing the way we eat in terms of habits. So much of how we feed ourselves is habit driven, routine, doing what we’ve always done. Habits can be hard to break. We want to help and so does Jeremy Dean. He gives 10 tips for habit change here that he covers in greater length in his new book Making Habits, Breaking Habits. I was delighted to see how many of his tips sounded like the kinds of things we suggest in our Baby Steps to Better Health series.
Dean’s very first suggestion is “For Big Results, Think Small.” He discusses the importance of making change in small, incremental, manageable and achievable bits. Sound familiar? Other themes that we both stress are repetition, tweaking (the same plan won’t work for everyone), and replacing an undesirable behavior with one that is desirable rather than just trying to suppress the “bad” one. Yay! These are just a few of his tips – there are a total of 10 in the article, and like I said they’re all from a larger book. If you’re trying to make some healthy changes, this guy just might have some insight for you. And there’s nothing like having your advice validated by an official smart guy.
Indeed we do like smart guys, don’t we Little Sis? I would like to add that we have cultural habits about using food as a reward. We ‘deserve’ a treat at the end of a hard day. We ‘earned’ a chocolate milkshake by cleaning out the garage. Only problem is we are hurting ourselves with some of these choices… what kind of a reward is that? Rewards aren’t supposed to hurt, are they?
Make yourself a list of non-food rewards. One of mine is to step outside (when possible) smell the air and look for some birds or other wildlife. That always makes me feel better. A little break, no harmful intake. Then if I am really hungry, I can eat something that will nourish me in all my bird-loving glory . Seriously, make a list. Little things, little treats… treats you can pay attention to like a cup of flavorful herb tea, a game of cards with your sweetie or friend, a flower or two to put in a vase where you’ll see it, a bath with scented water. Make a list because options are good and options can help you overcome old, harmful habits.
Another benefit to the list of non-food rewards is that when the habit rears its head, if you go get the list, or read your list, you have a chance to move beyond the initial impulse. Habits are in a way trained impulses. Given a little bit of time to think about the consequences of our habitual actions, we might make a better, or less bad, choice.
Close your eyes when you’re sure that you ‘deserve’ that bag of Doritos or Reese’s peanut butter cup, breathe and count to 10. Then look around you wherever you are and decide what you are going to do next. Maybe the treat won’t seem so important anymore, or you will acknowledge a healthier choice and ‘treat’ yourself well.
Congratulations for reading a Baby Steps post. That is a Baby Step right there! You deserve a pat on the back and a healthier body! Let us know how you are doing developing new habits and new rewards. Please also let us know if there is specific information you’d like from us. The Steps continue down the road to better health.
A Real Change for the New Year.
So here we go. The New Year approaches and the diet chatter is increasing. Everybody’s choosing plans, making resolutions and getting ready to start measuring their bits and counting their stuff. If you are one of these folks, I’m going to ask you to reconsider. I’m going to ask you to do something completely radical. I’m going to ask you NOT to go on a diet.
When we decide to go on a diet, we are committing to a temporary state of restriction, usually in an attempt to achieve some sort of numerical change – a smaller waistline, a lower reading on the scale, a smaller clothing size. When we commit to a temporary state of restriction, we are admitting to the foregone conclusion that the results of that restriction – the number drop – will also be a temporary phenomenon.
You cannot return to the way you normally eat and maintain those lower numbers. It doesn’t work. If you’ve made this particular resolution in the past, you already know this is true. Simply restricting what you eat also doesn’t guarantee that the food that you DO eat will actually nourish you.
When we decide to change the way that we eat, we are committing to a higher level of consciousness about what we eat in an attempt to eat food that is more healthful, that provides our bodies with more of what they require; a body that is getting what it needs is far less likely to torment us with the cravings that often drive us to eat unhealthy foods.
When we decide to change the way we eat, we are committing to caring for our bodies and our health, and are therefore also committing to caring for those around us who love us and cherish us. When we decide to change the way that we eat, we open ourselves to the joy of living healthfully and the adventure of eating new and abundant real foods. And so I ask you, on this auspicious occasion, NOT to diet, but to change the way you eat. Eat Food, Real Food.
Big Sis and I have spent a lot of time this year talking about Baby Steps to Better Health. Maybe you missed it; maybe you weren’t ready; maybe you already think you eat well and weren’t interested in making a change. But now it’s coming – that resolution moment – that moment when so many of us get a little honest about our habits and find a little motivation to make some change. If that’s you, and you’re ready, we’d like to invite you to join us taking Baby Steps to Better Health.
We’ll do a recap of the steps we’ve already covered. We’ll get you started. We’ll help you figure out what to eat and show you how to make it super yum. If you’re ready, we’ll help you take those steps that will get you eating and feeling great in a way that works for YOU, with changes that YOU choose according to YOUR timeframe.
This is YOUR plan; it’s YOUR body. YOU should be the one to decide what to put in it, thoughtfully and consciously, using ingredients that aren’t invented in a lab. And you will find that the food you put in that body can be both succulent and healthful, both sublime and invigorating, both yummy and nourishing. Because real food is delish and it does your body good. Don’t diet; Eat Food, Real Food.
By now I suspect you’re getting a little weary of legwork. You’ve experimented with a swap, you’ve kept a food journal, and you’ve investigated your pantry, and you’ve thought for a bit about how to get those with whom you eat the most on board with the idea of a new approach to food. You didn’t realize you’d already done so much, did you? Didn’t do it all? That’s okay. Jump in here, go back to the beginning and start there – whatever. There is no timeline.
The only due date I’d like to suggest is that you do something today. No, don’t wait until January… Waiting until January means losing a month of taking baby steps down the road. Yes, there are more holidays coming, and you can decide how to deal with them, but they aren’t TODAY. There’s no reason you can’t get a little ahead of the game and celebrate whatever season it is for you with a glow of better health and the satisfaction of knowing that in addition to anything you’re doing for others, you’re also taking care of yourself. Convinced? Yay! It’s time to make a plan….
Gather your stuff. Get that food journal. Open that pantry door. Peek in the refrigerator. Your mission is to make a list of foods that you’d like to baby step out of your diet. No, you don’t need to come up with a specific number. And yes, we will help you figure out which ones to start with if you’re not sure. Let’s see if we can’t make some progress with a few simple questions.
- As you look at your food journal, is there something that you know is unhealthy and that you eat regularly for the sake of convenience or to treat yourself? Perhaps you have a soda habit or a frappucino addiction. These are perfect places to start – a food that is not a meal, it’s offering no nutrition, and it’s loaded with sugar. Am I telling you to ditch them altogether? You know me better than that. Cut them out, cut them down, wean yourself, swap them out for something healthier. Whatever a baby step is to you… do that.
- As you consider your food choices, does carry out or fast food play a major role in your lunch or dinner meal planning? Set a goal for eating one more home cooked meal or one more brown bagged lunch per week than whatever your current total is.
- As you examine that pantry you’ve already peeped in, take notice of the number of packaged snacks. This is an excellent place to experiment with some snack swaps or learning to make a homemade snack.
- As you peek in the fridge, take notice of the beverages that are available. How many of them are sweet? How many of them are juice or juice-like? Another excellent place to get started. Remember, you don’t have to throw it out (unless you want to, and I’m certainly not going to stop you). Cut the amount, cut the frequency, mix it with water, swap it for something healthier.
- Still not sure where to get started? Some basic categories you should consider: foods with a lot of sugar or corn syrup, foods that contain excessive fat (especially hydrogenated fats), foods that contain excessive sodium (in all its forms), and highly processed foods (like those that stay good for a REALLY long time).
- Still at a loss? I’m going to point you toward Michael Pollin’s food rules – eat food, real food, mostly vegetables.
Overwhelmed. Don’t be. Now is when you take all those answers and thinking and make a list of foods or food categories that you want to work to eliminate from your diet. It could look something like this:
- sugary cereals
- carry out
My current list looks like this
- caffeine (UGH)
- salt on the plate
- afternoon sweet
So am I going to do all of these at once? Maybe, but I won’t cut them all out. For my caffeine problem, I’m switching from two large mugs of my beloved coffee to one of coffee and one of black tea. The next step will be to switch the black tea out for green tea. Then black tea in the a.m., green tea in the afternoon… you get the picture. I have reduced caffeine before and in addition to the headache, I’ve found that being abrupt on this one makes me miserable and inflicts some level of misery on those around me…. so I’m going to step it down, achieve my goal at a pace that allows me to make adjustments, allows me to tame my body’s addiction over time without being a horrible grouch for the holidays.
Once you’ve got a list of things you’d like to cut/limit/wean yourself off of, choose a starting place. Pick one of them and consider how you want to proceed. Limit the quantity? Swap it out? Cut it altogether? Your answer will be different from my answer – what is a baby step to you may seem like a huge leap to me. This is YOUR plan, not a test of your character, but series of decisions you get to make for yourself.
Finally, write down the steps you’re going to follow to get started on that change. If you’re going to limit your quantity, write down how that’s going to work – what’s the new limit and what are you going to do to replace that item? If you’re cutting a sweet treat in the middle of your work day, what are you going to either eat or do to replace that ritual? Write it down. Write down your start date (today) and then give yourself a goal date for reaching whatever your desired change is on that item.
If you want to ditch chewy granola bars, write down when you’re going to start (today), write down what you’re going to do instead (there could be a few steps here), and write down the date by which you hope to be done changing this food habit. Does that mean you’ll never eat one again? Maybe, but probably not.
Remember what Big Sis said – the key to healthy eating is making healthful decisions as often as you can. Establish a new pattern so that the chewy granola bar (or soda, or candy or drive through) is an exception rather than the rule. Open the door to improved nutrition and prepare to be wowed as your taste buds come back to life and you discover new satisfaction in eating for your health.
And just in case you’re wondering, this isn’t all about what we cut out… we have plenty of suggestions about what to cut in. A little delish, morning, noon, and night comin’ up.
If you need help with some swaps, read this step. No suggestion that works for you there? Ask us! We’ll answer, and probably some others will too. You don’t have to figure it all out yourself… and if you don’t like your plan a week from now, know what you get to do? Change it. It’s YOUR plan.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it: “I want to eat healthier, but my kids (partner, whomever) won’t eat that food.” Everyone who said it was 100% certain that this was true. The only thing I am 100% certain about as regards feeding others healthy food is that if you don’t have it/make it/serve it, they certainly won’t eat it.
Changing our own eating habits is hard; convincing others that this is a group project can be daunting at best, but the difficulty of the task doesn’t mean the effort is not worth it. Big Sis and I have both enlisted our families (immediate and in some cases extended) in our pantry transformations and we have some ideas that just might help you do the same. The truth is that, as with any meal, eating real food is easier and more enjoyable when you do it with the people that you love.
So here we approach the core of Baby Step 4: just as eating healthier foods requires you to be more conscious of what you’re eating and how you’re making it, so too will rallying the troops involve an evolution in consciousness about food. You must be the leader in the movement to develop an attitude of adventure, experimentation and gratitude surrounding food and mealtimes in your home.
Our suggestions fall into three basic categories:
- The Use and Acceptance of Baby Steps as Progress
- Attitudinal Adjustments
I can’t speak for everybody, but when I embark on a new venture that I’m enthusiastic about, I want to share it. I want to share it with everybody and I (unreasonably) want everyone to be as excited as I am… It’s sweet, isn’t it? The cold water of reality is a bit uncomfortable. Just because I’m enthused doesn’t mean they will be. My loved ones’ priorities might be entirely different than mine and the mental steps I’ve taken to prepare myself for this wonderful new transformation have not been their mental steps as well. If we can agree that baby steps are an effective tool for making changes in our eating habits, we must remember that those we wish to encourage (and feed) deserve the same gracious and gentle introduction to foods with which they are unfamiliar and that they may not be initially inspired by. Does this mean don’t try? No, no it doesn’t. It may mean don’t try ALL the time. It may mean be ready to see consumption without complaint (but no real enjoyment) as progress over grousing. It may mean lovingly saying that you understand when deep inside you’d like to remove all the plates from the table and tell everybody to…. okay, that’s just me now and again – I know, it’s not pretty.
1. Establish baby steps with your family by: designating one meal per week to be healthier food night/ or healthier entree or side dish night if you need a gentler step.
Family mealtime means different things to different people and for many folks it is comfort. When we are trying new foods, it’s not always so very comfortable. So rather than highlighting the comfort of familiar foods, we must highlight the adventure of trying new things. This can be particularly challenging with little people. I get it, really I do. But again, if we give up all we can be sure of is that they will NEVER try the new food. If we persist and attempt to make it fun, who knows what will happen?
This is what we remind my sweeties of. If you don’t TRY it, you’ll never know. We then remind them of the foods they’ve tried and discovered how delicious they are. If we’re trying a dish that highlights flavors from another culture, we talk about that place and the role that this food plays there. We take an adventure. When they are adventurous with their food, we lavish them with praise. Big Sis had a great idea that I think we will implement – the adventurous eater medallion. We may also try adventurous eating hats. Occasionally, in desperation, we appeal to their sibling rivalry and have a race to try the new food. I can’t say the last method encourages delightful table manners, but it does seem to work.
In addition the the positive role that adventurousness and competition can play, there is no way to overstate the importance of gratitude at the table. Mr. Little Sis has instituted a fabulous family tradition at the beginning of our meals. As head chef, I occasionally become discouraged by the cajoling that feeding twin 5 year olds can require. When we sit down to eat, Mr. Little Sis immediately says, “Thank You Mommy, for making such a wonderful meal for us.” The twins usually follow on quickly, even if they are mid-complaint or moving stuff around to see what’s under there icky-face-making.
The most interesting thing about it is that once they’ve said thank you, they rarely return to the complaints, at least not with volume and vigor, which helps keep the mood at the table a little lighter, and prevents them from discouraging one another from trying new foods. Highlighting the importance of gratitude in a positive way, “We are so fortunate to have this healthy and nourishing food, and to be able to enjoy it together,” over the “There are starving kids all over the world who would be happy to eat that ____,” rightly changes the focus at the table from whether or not the meal meets every individual’s expectations to mealtime as a time to come together and recharge.
2. Establish adventurousness and gratitude by asking for it and acknowledging it. Reward adventurousness and model gratitude.
Different strategies work for different people. Some like the games (my daughter) and some need the rationale. I am still making this meal even though you’ve expressed it’s not your favorite because it has ingredients in it that do _____ inside your body. Anything that helps that boy’s allergies will go in the mouth. Guaranteed. It is difficult NOT to take advantage of that knowledge. We’ve also talked a great deal about why I pack their lunches and why I don’t include many of the things their friends eat regularly. I marvel at the lack of pushback on this. They occasionally express their severe deprivation (along with a host of injustices that I have perpetrated), but they also, I’ve found, are able to make choices that they would not if we didn’t share so much food information.
I’ve discovered that when they are offered a treat at a party, they limit themselves, without my saying anything. They tell me when they’ve had a surprise goody at school or with friends so that I can make adjustments to what I give them for the rest of the day. They GET IT. When they’re older and they ask about McDonald’s (or whatever) rather than toeing the line on that front as they do now, perhaps we’ll sit down and watch SuperSize Me together. My husband and I watched several food documentaries before we embarked on the last round of dietary changes, discussed the information we found, researched the questions that remained. Just as I need information to make a big change, so too do the loved ones in my life.
3. Educate your loved ones by telling them why you are doing what you are doing.
So your Baby Step? What should you do? You should consider your surroundings and try (gently and patiently) to get’em on board. Your life will be easier; your food will be healthier; and your table will be a place of adventure, experimentation, and gratitude while you tackle another pantry swap, or try a new recipe. Baby Steps for you, Baby Steps for them. It worked for all of us once, right?