Baby Step 7: Einstein’s Elephant -or- ReCon Convenience

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 elephant-hide_kgr-0464kitchen 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.

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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.

A) Anything Goes, Fast Burrito 

Pesto Pasta with Veggies and Nuts

Mushrooms Pignoli

Noodles with Asian peanut sauce

Varia-Bowl Category A if using noodles or pasta, Category B if using grains -unless you have leftovers 😉

B) Herbed Zucchini 

Kichadi (a quinoa based dish)

Sushi Salad  (with leftover rice it is in category A)

Beet Soup (Crock Pot)

Mustard Tempeh  (with leftover rice it is in category A)

Lentil Casserole

* Fast and healthy breakfasts: barley, oats, more oatssweet potato

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! 

Baby Steps 6: New Habits – New Rewards

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!

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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.