Disclaimer: I am not a registered dietician nor an expert on nutrition. These are my thoughts about what has worked for me. However, I am currently studying for a nutrition certification through Precision Nutrition which will help me better understand food and our relationship to food and weight loss so I can better serve my clients and their needs.
I recently wrote a post about the state of nutrition in this country. Thanks to the documentary “Weight of the Nation,” hopefully more and more Americans will begin to understand the importance healthy eating, smart food choices and will start to stand up to the food industry that is trying to sell us nothing but crap, crap and more crap. Yes, you have the freedom to eat what you want to eat, drink what you want to drink and eat and drink as much as you want. But at what cost? Diabetes, kidney failure, obesity, stroke, cancer…..these are just some of the many complications from an unhealthy diet, rich in sugar, fat and salt. Do we really want any of these words to be part of our vocabulary? Faster and cheaper….that is what the food industry believes in and unfortunately, many of us do too. Why would we want to spend 20 minutes preparing a nice meal at home when we can get something fast in less than 5 minutes? Why would we spend $30 at the food store on fruit and vegetables and chicken when we can spend $3 at Burger King? How do we compete with sugar, fat and salt and CHEAP?
Preparing meals take time, I understand. I do not have all the time in the world to cook either. I can’t even keep my house clean. But like with anything, once you get into a routine, you can make time. Most recently, my husband and I have gotten into a nice routine on Sundays, and I am thrilled.
For the past month, every Sunday, we get up early, hit the Farmer’s Market for some vegetables, fruit and various pork and poultry products and stand in line for those damn sweet peas. After the market, we head to our local grocery store for additional items – more vegetables, fruit, egg whites, cooking spray – you know, the essentials. Then we head home to unpack and make our brunch of eggs, bacon (mmmm, bacon), fruit, etc.
After brunch, we begin preparing our lunch for the week. We make turkey burgers, grill brussel sprouts and chop up a lot of vegetables for our salads. I also make a fruit salad for the week of apples, blueberries, strawberries, kiwi, mango, peaches and pineapple.
We spend about an hour and a half chopping, slicing, dicing, grilling and by 12, we are done. Now we have the rest of the afternoon and evening to do whatever we need to do which is awesome because I usually have to head out the door by 4:30 to make it to a 5:00 dance rehearsal. Two months ago, this was not how we spent our Sundays. We would sleep late. Eat breakfast late. Maybe go food shopping if we felt like it. Then I would head off to rehearsal and Diego would either go food shopping and make all the food or if we had gone earlier, he would prepare our lunches for the week and then make dinner. Not a great way for him to spend the evening before I got home. Something had to give, and I was feeling very guilty for not helping with our meal preparations. So we developed a routine which is now a habit, and I am so happy to now have a part in our food preparations.
Yes, we spend quite a bit of time preparing food on Sunday. Do we spend this much time during the week? Not one bit. Lunch is made so each night, all I have to do is put the turkey burgers and brussel sprouts into our plastic containers, throw the cut up vegetables into one big salad container and voila! Lunch is made. For dinner, we grill our various lean protein choices: chicken sausages, fish, steak or pork, steam or grill our vegetables and eat. Dinner takes 15 minutes to prep. 15 minutes to eat. Easy.
Does it take planning? Yes. Does it take thinking? Yes, but we plan what we are eating for dinner and have made a habit of having a fish night, a chicken night, a pork chop night. Try to make a point of figuring out dinner the day before, two days before. Create a weekly menu. Have some fruit or vegetables in a snack bag and waiting for them after their practice. Keep it in a cooler so they don’t go bad. Plan. Plan. Plan. Opening a box and pouring the contents of that box into a pot is not “making dinner.” Stop buying the Lean Cuisine and frozen pizzas because you say that you don’t have time to cook. I think you do. We think it should be this long and arduous task. It isn’t.
Great dinners can be prepared in under 20 minutes, and I know that you have 20 minutes. Instead of watching two hours of TV at night, why not learn how to make a meal? So many of us get food delivered to our homes. What happens when you order out and you want it delivered? How long does it typically take? 45 minutes to an hour. If you want it delivered, even if you are just a mile from the pizza place, you have the time to wait at least 45 minutes for the pizza delivery guy to show up at your doorstep. Think about that. In the same 45 minutes, you could probably make your own pizza, a much healthier version of what you are going to get. You could also grill a steak or fish, make a salad or steam some vegetables. In the same 45 minutes, you could eat what you just prepared, wash your dishes, wait a little and then maybe have some fruit as dessert if you were still hungry. In the same 45 minutes. Something is clearly wrong with this picture.
We have to want to make changes in our eating if we are actually going to succeed. And change can be difficult….but it is not impossible. Instead of thinking about what you need to eliminate, think more about what you need to include in your daily meals. Do you need to add more vegetables? Start there. Maybe you need to drink more water during the day. Start with a glass for breakfast and a couple glasses at dinner. Once these become part of your daily habits, you will find that the other items become less and less. For some of us, we can go cold turkey and just eliminate items at will. Not all of us are gifted with this ability. So start slowly and try to create one new habit every two weeks or three weeks, whatever you think will help you succeed the most.
I started doing this about 4 years ago. 10 years ago, I never ate breakfast or rather, I sort of did if you call a banana and a yogurt breakfast. When I was teaching, I typically ate this around 8am in the cafeteria as I waited for my students to arrive at school. (I taught for five years in Baltimore City.) At 12, I would eat my half frozen burrito that I would let defrost in my lunch bag. Maybe I would have a piece of fruit. I can’t remember. I would shove this burrito in my mouth as I raced around my classroom setting up for the afternoon. Okay, so far I have had a banana, a sugary yogurt and a frozen bean burrito. At 6pm, I would head off to the gym. I can’t remember if I had food before then or not. It is all a blur. Once I was done with the gym, I would head home to eat dinner which usually consisted of a salad if I felt like making it or just some soy cheese and crackers. Now, in the first couple years of teaching, my dinners were atrocious. Pizza, diner food. I ate what my boyfriend ate so subsequently, I ate crap which made me feel like crap and consequently made me look like crap. Once he was gone, things improved dramatically (funny how that works) but there was still room for improvement.
It wasn’t until I met my husband that my eating really took a turn for the better. And, it wasn’t until about 4 years ago that I finally started eating breakfast, a real, honest to goodness breakfast. Eggs, fruit, vegetables, oatmeal at times. Four years later, I am still going strong. The only day I will leave the house without eating breakfast is Sunday because we try to get to the Farmer’s market early and get our shopping done. We will come home and make brunch – eggs, bacon, fruit, the works. Over the past four years, my lunches improved too-lots of vegetables, lots of protein, fruit. Dinners are fantastic. Today, I am very, very satisfied with how I eat. I love how I feel each day. I like that I know exactly what I am putting into my body with each bite. I like the taste of my food. I like the satisfaction I get from every bite. I do not miss my pretzels, cookies, crackers, frozen burritos, baked cheese curls, Jujyfruits. I do not crave certain foods as I used to. (Unless it is Michele’s granola. I cannot get enough of the stuff! I started to make my own granola because I cannot afford to continue to buy the granola from the store!) Every one of my meals includes vegetables and protein. I usually have fruit for breakfast too as well as later during the day or after dinner. My plate is filled with half vegetables, half protein and good fats (olive oil, butter).
Now that you know a little bit of my history and the fact that I did not always eat the way I do now, I am going to give you a run down of a typical week for me food wise along with a few suggestions for dinners. I am a creature of habit as is my husband so we can eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, every week and not get tired of it. This may not work for everyone and you know your body best. But I think once you begin to develop better eating habits, you quickly discover what foods you eat all the time and like and what foods you eat rarely and can easily begin to plan your meals better. Have alternative meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner to prevent boredom and cycle through those meals.
Here are a couple typical breakfasts for me. While I usually eat eggs every morning, some of my mornings are getting earlier for me as I am not a early morning person, I have had to adjust my breakfast on the days I get up really early.
Breakfast A (When I have more time in the morning to prepare and eat):
I make an egg scramble with 2 whole eggs (yes, whole eggs are good for you as the yolks have all the vitamins and minerals) and 1/4 cup of egg whites, spinach and kale, diced green/red peppers, mushrooms and sometimes tomatoes. In addition to my eggs, I have a cup of mixed fresh fruit.
Breakfast B (On my 5:30 am days):
I combine 1 serving size of plain skyr and 1 serving size Siggis yogurt (skyr). These are chocked full of protein (34 grams of protein total!) so it is quite filling. I add in fruit. I usually try to eat this before my 7:00am class but usually get to it around 8, my usual breakfast time. A couple hours later, I will eat two hard-boiled eggs.
Breakfast C (On my 6:00am days):
I just started making green smoothies with kale and spinach, fruit and protein powder. I love them! I still bring my hard-boiled eggs with me.
All my breakfasts are are between 300 and 400 calories. Lots of protein and good carbs.
We can both eat the same thing for lunch day in and day out. This is just who we are. Here is our lunch for the week. For the past 5 months, lunch has been turkey burgers and brussel sprouts. In the winter months, we also made vegetable soup. Now it’s just the burgers and brussel sprouts. This seemed to be enough food until we both discovered that we were beginning to make special trips to Whole Foods for more vegetables at lunchtime so we decided to go back to making salads!
Lunch #1: Prepared lunch from home: Turkey burgers, brussel sprouts, green salad with lettuce, spinach, cucumber, red cabbage, tomatoes and radishes and a piece of fruit. I like to add grilled vegetables to my salad – red peppers, green peppers, portabello mushrooms and cauliflower.
Lunch #2: Chipotle. Diego gets this every Thursday. I will eat Chipotle on the weekends with him. I get a bowl with fajitas, chicken, mild salsa, lettuce and guacamole. I pass on the beans and the rice and ask for more veggies and sometimes double chicken.
Lunch #3: If it’s not Chipotle or our prepared lunch for the week, then it is a salad from Whole Foods with either grilled chicken or the pulled curry chicken salad.
Lunch is always a salad and lean protein and healthy fats – olive oil or avocado, etc. and sometimes a whole grain roll. Period.
Our dinners never take more than 15 minutes to prepare. We GRILL just about everything. Salmon. Cauliflower. Asparagus. Tilapia. Chicken sausages. Brussel sprouts. Burgers. Pork chops. We cut up broccoli, carrots and cauliflower and throw it in the microwave. Everything else gets thrown on the grill. We use olive oil, butter, salt, pepper, chili powder, smoked dust, balsamic vinegar as our dressings. Half our plate is vegetables. Half of our plate is protein.
Here is our breakdown for the week:
Monday and Tuesday nights: Chicken sausages with steamed vegetables. We grill two sausages a piece, cut up the cauliflower, broccoli and carrots, throw them in the microwave for 5 minutes, salt and pepper and Mrs. Dash them and voila! Dinner is served.
Wednesday night: Typically, this is an evening out. And to the same restaurant. Hey, decent food, cheap and I can get my vegetables and protein. It works for us. I will either get the house salad with roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, romaine lettuce and grilled chicken or the chef salad with double turkey and ham. We may also get an antipasto.
Thursday night: This is always fish night- salmon or tilapia. Most recently,thanks to the Farmer’s Market, I may have a steak (for me!) We grill asparagus or some other vegetable.
Friday night: This is kabob night although I do not get a kabob. I eat fish again and opt for the salmon salad which I usually accessorize with additional vegetables at home.
Saturday night: Usually a night out….again. This differs week to week. If we have my nephew, we eat in. If we go to my parents, we may eat in or do take out. Dinner is always protein with vegetables. If we go out for sushi, I always get a sashimi and an avocado roll.
Sunday night: Fish again or pork. We will have either tilapia and cauliflower or pork chops with grilled vegetables -zucchini, peppers and onions.
I know this may sound a little boring to some, but this really works for us. And it takes absolutely no time to cook. We do not mind eating the same meals because1. We enjoy them very much. 2. This takes the guessing out of “What’s for dinner?” 3. They are quick and healthy.
As far as snacks are concerned, I don’t stress too much about eating snacks in between my meals. I will eat anything from greek yogurt to an apple to celery sticks and cottage cheese to my homemade granola. If I am hungry, I will eat. If I am not, I won’t. On the days that I train, I will usually have a whey protein shake during my session. And yes, I do like to eat ice cream occasionally and lately, I have been experimenting with recipes from various people – chocolate avocado mousse, homemade granola. Simple food. Simple ingredients. Healthy choices.
So, there you have it. Not terribly exciting, but simple to prepare and easy to follow. Good nutrition is not rocket science and does not require a culinary degree. Just eat real, nutrient dense foods that you prepare yourself. Stay away from packaged foods as much as possible. Eat protein and fibrous vegetables with every meal. Adjust your carbohydrate intake up or down to match your level of activity and training. Eat more if you are trying to build muscle and less if you are trying to lose fat. Don’t get taken in by advertisements and systems that sound too good to be true. Be persistent, be patient and keep it simple!