Monday, August 5, 2013

Meal plans vs. planning meals

I don't write meal plans.  Sure, you can find many a nutritionist who will gladly tell you what, when, and how much to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, but I'm not one of them.  I believe that prescribing meal plans violates personal boundaries, and while they may work to improve eating or promote weight loss in the short term, they are not sustainable, and inevitably lead to dieting backlash in the form of overeating.  Instead, I believe that people should eat when they are hungry, (rather than when a meal plan tells them to), stop when they are full (versus eating a prescribed portion size), and eat what is appealing and satisfying to them in that moment (as opposed to what someone else says you "should" be eating).

However, unless you have a personal chef at your disposal at all times to indulge your every whim (let's just think for a moment about how fantastic that would be...ahhh...okay, fantasy over), it's quite difficult to eat in a balanced and non-chaotic fashion without doing a little planning.  Which is why I think it's absolutely fine and healthy (both physically and psychologically) to do some pre-planning when it comes to meals and snacks.  When you find yourself feeling those first signs of hunger, having some options in mind beforehand will help you to eat in a more controlled, less chaotic manner, and will likely put your mind at ease as well.

I've also come to the conclusion that, after 2 years of advanced education in nutrition, the single-most valuable piece of advise I can give someone who is looking to improve their eating is this...(drum roll please)...cook for yourself as much as possible!  As I've mentioned before, eating packaged and processed foods is not optimal for your health, and constantly eating out isn't ideal either.  You have to remember that people in the restaurant business want to make their food taste as rich and decadent as possible to insure repeat customers, so they will invariably add more sugar, salt, and fat to the foods they prepare than you ever would if cooking for yourself.  Don't get me wrong...I love eating out just as much as the next person!  And I eat out probably at least once per week.  But, I also try to cook for myself as much as possible, and have ingredients available in my home that make last minute meal preparation do-able.  That way I don't find myself browsing through takeout menus when hunger strikes.

Lately I've discovered a fantastic and super simple way to have a key ingredient available to make various different delicious and healthful meals for me and my family: Crockpot Shredded Chicken. I prepare this chicken in the morning or afternoon, and it's ready for that night's dinner, with enough left over for at least another two meals afterwards.  Here's the recipe:

Crockpot Shredded Chicken

Found on

4 organic, boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup chicken broth (to make life easier, I freeze 1/2 cup portions so they're ready to go)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp dried oregano

Place chicken in slow cooker.  Sprinkle chicken breasts with all the spices.  Add chicken broth.  Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours.  Shred chicken with two forks.

The combo of the spices really gives a nice flavor to the chicken, and having this on hand in the refrigerator (or frozen, if you don't think you'll use it all within a few days) gives you lots of easy meal options-- sandwiches, quesadillas, salads, as well as many other recipes that call for shredded chicken.  I've made some seriously kick-ass salads with this chicken (and that's coming from someone who's not really a big salad fan!).  For the salads, I also buy pre-washed greens (lately I've been using a lot of arugula), some yummy nuts and dried cranberries as toppings, and I also pre-chop various veggies (cucumbers, bell peppers, carrots, etc) and have them stored in glassware in the refrigerator, so I basically have a salad bar ready to go!

Below is one recipe I used the shredded chicken in the other night.  This is a bit more work than a salad, but it's not too bad, and it comes out really tasty.  It's actually a recipe I've made before, but had previously bought rotisserie chickens to do it, which are (a) hard to find organic (which is a priority to me, especially when purchasing meat and poultry), (b) more difficult to shred, because of those pesky bones, and (3) most definitely more expensive, since you're paying a premium for the service of having the store cook the chicken for you.  Anyway, here's the recipe:

Roasted Chicken-Artichoke Calzones

Found in Cooking Light magazine

1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and finely chopped
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups thinly sliced fresh spinach leaves
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) shredded sharp provolone (I used a shredded 4-cheese blend from Trader Joe's which consisted of parmesan, asiago, fontina, and provolone)
1 cup shredded cooked chicken breast (about 5 ounces)
1 tsp olive oil
2 tsp cornmeal
1 (13.8) oz can refrigerated pizza crust dough

1. Preheat over to 425.
2. Pat artichokes dry with paper towels (I skipped this step, and just strained them whole in a colander before chopping...didn't seem to be an issue at all).  Combine artichokes, salt, pepper, and garlic in a large bowl.  Add spinach, cheese, and chicken; toss gently to combine.
3. Brush oil over a baking sheet; sprinkle with cornmeal.  Unroll dough onto prepared baking sheet; cut into 6 equal portions. Cover and let rest for 5 minutes.  Pat each portion into a 6 x 5-inch rectangle.  Spoon 2/3 cup spinach mixture into center of each dough portion.  Fold one corner of each dough portion over spinach mixture to form a triangle.  Press edges together with fingers to seal.  Bake at 425 for 12 minutes or until golden.

This recipe makes 6 servings, and can easily be reheated for lunch or dinner the next day (I put them in for 5 minutes at 450 and they reheated perfectly.  I chose to do this over the microwave because I didn't want them to get soggy).  We served them with marinara sauce for dipping, and a little side salad.  The folding of the dough can be a little annoying, but remember that the shape of the calzones doesn't have to be perfect...mine certainly weren't!

Anyone else have any tips for simplifying at-home meal preparation?  What ingredients do you always have on hand for last minute meals or snacks?  Please share below in the comments section.  I'm always looking for new ideas!

Monday, July 22, 2013

A whole lotta frittata

First, I must apologize for my extremely long hiatus from blogging.  The last couple months of pregnancy were pretty crazy, and then life got infinitely crazier once the baby arrived.  But our baby girl is here, and she's healthy, beautiful, amazing, and also a lot of work!
Our sweet girl
The first few weeks of motherhood were particularly challenging, and I found myself with absolutely no time to cook for myself.  Thankfully, we had frozen some meals weeks before, and we had some help from the grandparents (who flew in to meet their new granddaughter) as well as a postpartum doula, so our diet was pretty balanced as a result.  Once things settled down a bit and I found myself able to prepare food myself, however, I realized how much I truly missed cooking!  It's still not easy, though, and I've realized that some recipes are better suited than others for our new life.  I found, for instance, that meals that need to be prepared and eaten in the moment are not ideal, as the baby's temperament is not always predictable, meaning the food could be sitting in a skillet spoiling while we struggle to get her to sleep or be calm so that we have a moment to sit and eat.  Instead, I now tend to make dinners that can be eaten cold or at room temperature, or meals that I can prepare little by little as I find myself with a few spare moments to do so during the day.

One recipe I've made several times comes from a cookbook a vegetarian friend recommended to me and that I found online for literally a few dollars.  The cover is pretty hilarious-- straight out of the 80s!-- but there are some great recipes in there, including one I've grown to love and depend upon over the last few weeks: the Zucchini Frittata.

Doesn't look like much from the cover, but this little book has some great recipes!
Besides the fact that the finished product is extremely yummy (and it really is!), I also love that the Zucchini Frittata is quick and simple to make, it can be eaten at room temperature (meaning I can make it whenever I find myself with some time, like when she's napping), AND it's extremely versatile, as virtually any seasonal veggies can be used in place of the ones recommended in the recipe.

So here's the recipe:

Zucchini Frittata
reprinted from the Sunset Vegetarian Cooking cookbook

2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 large Swiss chard leaves (including stems), coarsely chopped - I use pre-chopped bagged Swiss chard from Trader Joe's and just eyeball how much I want to add in
1 medium-size zucchini, coarsely chopped
6 eggs
1/8 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp dry basil
1/4 tsp oregano leaves
1 cup (3 oz) grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350.  Heat oil in a wide frying pan over medium-high heat.  Add onion, garlic, chard, and zucchini; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Beat eggs lightly with pepper, basil, and oregano.  Pour into a greased 9-inch pie pan (I used my GreenPan, which doesn't need to be greased at literally slides right out onto a plate.  Love it!).  Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes or until puffed and browned.  Serve hot or at room temperature.  Makes 6 servings (for us it was more like 4 servings, since we were eating it for dinner).

This frittata paired with a simple salad is a fantastic weeknight dinner that is both delicious and nutritious, and super quick and easy to make to boot!

So, yes, being a mother to a newborn can make eating balanced, tasty meals more of a challenge, but it's definitely not impossible.  With a little planning and special consideration for the types of meals that are easier to fit into our new life, I can still enjoy cooking for myself, and making foods that are truly satisfying, both to the palate and to my body.  

Sunday, January 27, 2013

WDNE? (What Do Nutritionists Eat?)

I saw this article recently called 8 Top Meals from Nutritionists, revealing what nutrition professionals really eat, and thought it would be fun to share what I've been eating these days.  I feel like I already share some of my favorite dinner recipes, so I'll skip that one and just talk about what I like to eat for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and a veggie side dish I've been really into lately.  Here goes!:

Lately for breakfast, I've been thoroughly enjoying a bowl of Nature's Path Flax Plus flakes, which provides me with 5 g of fiber, a bit of protein, and (thanks to the flax seeds used in the flakes) Omega-3 fatty acids, the consumption of which has been shown to have many health benefits.  In addition, the 4 g of sugar per serving is considerably lower than your average cereal, and the Nature's Path brand voluntarily labels their foods as GMO free, which I love!  In order to add a little bit of sweetness, I mix in just a dash of Nature's Path Pumpkin Flax Granola, but not too much because it has more added sugar than I would like to have first thing in the morning.  On top of all this, I sprinkle some crushed walnuts, which provide me with more Omega-3s, as well as some pomegranate seeds, which add additional fiber, vitamins C and B5, potassium, and several natural phenols, which appear to have antioxidant effects in humans.  I didn't used to be a huge fan of pomegranate seeds, because I thought they were too sour-tasting, but when mixed with the cereal, it really dilutes the sourness and all that's left is a burst of flavor with each bite...yum!  Getting the seeds out of the fruit can be a challenge (here's how I do it: How to cut open and remove pomegranate seeds), but once it's done, I just put all the seeds in a container and I don't have to do it again for a solid week!  Finally, I pour some almond milk over everything, which I prefer over milk because it's gentler on my stomach (but you can use regular skim milk if you prefer!).

For lunch I've been using my brand new Breville panini press (a Christmas gift...thanks, Mom!) to make yummy grilled cheese sandwiches!  They vary depending on what I have on hand, but I always use my favorite bread-- Genesis 1:29.  I find it in the freezer section of my grocery store, and I highly recommend it as a healthy and tasty bread choice.  It's chock full of all kinds of whole grains, and is coated with crunchy seeds on the outside, which makes for a great textural experience.  Between the two slices, I'm provided with 8 g of protein, 6 g of fiber, and ZERO grams of sugar.  I coat the outsides of each slice (the sides that will be in contact with the grill) with a thin layer of Earth Balance Organic Whipped Spread, then I use 2 slices of whatever cheese I have on hand (recently I used a slice of light provolone and a slice of gouda...excellent!), add a generous handful of fresh spinach (rich in antioxidants and several vitamins and minerals, including iron, calcium, folic acid, and vitamins C, E, K, and B2), and grill that sucker on the panini press for 5-7 good and so simple!  And a great way to sneak in some veggies at lunch time!

There are lots of different foods I like to snack on, but one of my all time favorites is fruit, cheese, and crackers.  In the above photo, I have some manchego cheese, an apple, and Trader Joe's Rosemary Raisin Crisps.  I get some calcium and protein from the cheese, vitamins and fiber from the apple, and a yummy crunch from the rosemary raisin crisps (plus, they actually have some protein in them too!).  

Veggie Side Dish
As I said, I've already shared many of my favorite dinner recipes here on this blog (including the Swiss Cheese, Turkey Bacon, and Kale Quiche, the Tart with beets, figs, and chevre, and my simple stand-by, Blondie Pizza), so I'll just share a veggie side dish that I've been loving lately: Oven-roasted Brussel Sprouts.  I will admit...I was a little frightened by brussel sprouts, so I understand if you're hesitant to try these, but I assure you, they are fantastic!!  And the best part is that they require no recipe and very little preparation.  Just slice the brussel sprouts in half, toss in a bowl with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper (use your judgement on how much of these to use!), then dump them onto a baking sheet and bake at 400 for 40 minutes, shaking the pan and/or turning the brussel sprouts every 10-15 minutes or so.  I'm telling you...these taste like candy when they're done cooking!!  I can't get enough of them!  And besides being delicious, these will provide you with fiber, tons of vitamin C, as well as sulforaphane, a compound thought to have anti-cancer properties.  

So that's a glimpse of what this nutritionist likes to eat these days.  To some of you, this might sound super healthy, while others of you might be thinking that my diet isn't healthy enough (I mean, grilled cheese for lunch?  Say what?!).  For those who think it sounds really healthy: Please keep in mind that I also enjoy chocolate, ice cream, cookies, and all that other yummy "play food" (a better word than "junk food" that describes food with little to no nutritional value) when I feel like it, but generally speaking, the bulk of my diet consists of foods that make me feel my best, while also satisfying my taste buds.  To those who think it's not healthy enough: You're right, I'm not perfect, but just like everyone else, I try my best. I realize that there is evidence that some of the stuff I eat may not be the best for my health (some people think dairy is the devil, for example, but I'd rather not live without cheese, thank you!), but I try not to stress about it and instead focus on eating a balanced diet using my intuition as my guide (which is driven not only by my taste buds, but also my whole body and how it feels in the hours and days after I eat).

How about you?  Do you have any simple, healthful meals you like to eat?  Please share below!  

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Why do you really want to lose weight?

Ask yourself honestly...why do you want to lose weight?  Some might say it's because they want to be "healthier," but is that really why?  This super interesting and revealing editorial in the LA Times exposes the truth...most people want to lose weight for cosmetic reasons, going so far as to say that they would be willing to die sooner if they were guaranteed to achieve their desired weight.   In fact, 91% said they would not take a pill that would extend their lives by five years if it meant they would have to stay overweight.  Isn't that sad?!

But is being overweight such a terrible thing?  Maybe not: As the article points out, the association between higher weights and health problems is not so cut and dry, and an increased weight has actually been shown to be protective in certain situations.  So why is reaching an ideal weight so important to so many people?  The author of this op-ed piece argues that attempts to lose weight are driven by a desire to avoid weight-based discrimination.  In other words, if our society would stop discriminating against overweight people and be more accepting of all shapes and sizes, then people wouldn't be so eager to lose weight.

This reminds me of the Health at Every Size movement.  As stated on their website, Health at Every Size (HAES) "is based on the simple premise that the best way to improve health is to honor your body.  It supports people in adopting health habits for the sake of health and well-being (rather than weight control)."  

Might sound a little "fluffy" to some people, but there's actual research to back this stuff up!  I read an extremely interesting article while researching for my thesis that shows the promise that living this philosophy may have in improving one's health without necessarily having to lose weight.  (Here's a link to the abstract.  If you're interested in reading the whole article, send me an email and I'll forward you the pdf file).  In this study, obese women with histories of chronic dieting received either a HAES intervention, or a traditional diet intervention.  While those in the diet group lost a significant amount of weight and the HAES group lost no weight, by two-year follow-up the diet group had essentially gained all the weight back, while the HAES participants continued to maintain.  What was particularly interesting is that even though the HAES women didn't lose any weight, they did see improvements in certain health markers, including lower blood pressure, improved cholesterol profiles, and increased activity levels, and all of these improvements were sustained at two-year follow-up.  Furthermore, those in the HAES group saw a significant improvement in their self-esteem, while those in the diet group had significantly lower self-esteem.

In other's possible to be overweight and healthy!  So, is it really so important to focus so heavily on weight loss?  As the author of the LA Times editorial says: 

"This year, before embarking on yet another diet, ask yourself why you want to lose weight. If it is to improve your health, perhaps you should focus on health-enhancing behaviors that are more directly linked to health: pledge, for example, to get more sleep, eat more fruits and vegetables, get regular physical activity, or spend more time with friends.

But if you are trying to change your body to shield against discrimination and stigma, consider making a different kind of New Year's resolution: to stand up to intolerance and bigotry in all its various forms, whether racism, sexism or fatphobia."
I'm not necessarily saying that you should just resign yourself to being your current size forever without any hope of ever changing your shape.  The truth is, if you focus on health-promoting behaviors, respect your body, and trust your internal hunger and satiety cues, then you very well might lose weight.  On the other hand, focussing on weight and committing to a traditional diet will not only make you miserable, but will very likely not lead to long term results in terms of weight loss or health improvement, so it might be time to consider a different approach.
What do you think?  Is it possible to be overweight and healthy?  Do you think you, personally would be able to simply accept your body as it is and focus more on health than size or a number on a scale?  Please comment below!  I'd love to hear what you think about this!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Intuitively pregnant

As some of you may know, I am pregnant!  I'm about 6 months along and feeling great.  Being pregnant has certainly been interesting, and even more interesting to experience as an intuitive eater.

At first, I wasn't sure if this philosophy, which has brought so much peace and well-being to my life, was fully compatible with the process of growing a human.  Friends, family members, doctors, websites, and books are constantly telling you what not to eat when you're pregnant, which feels a lot like a diet.  Intuitive eaters like myself are decidedly anti-diet, so the suggestion that certain foods are suddenly off-limits definitely didn't sit well with me.  Of course I care about the well-being of my growing child, and don't want to do anything that would harm the little one, but I also don't want to sabotage all the work I've done to get where I am right now as an intuitive eater.  I struggled with this at first, but in the end I've realized that my intuitive eating thinking is probably the healthiest way to approach eating while pregnant.  Let me explain a couple reasons why.

It started during my first trimester, when I found myself dealing with morning sickness.  I've certainly known people who have suffered on a way more intense level than I did, so I thank my lucky stars that it wasn't too bad, but nevertheless, from weeks seven to about twelve or thirteen I pretty much felt nauseous all the time, and almost no food appealed to me (and as someone who truly enjoys and appreciates food, this was a pretty horrifying experience!).  I didn't want to eat anything, but if I failed to eat, the nausea would get considerably worse.  So I basically had to force myself to eat whatever didn't completely repulse me.  I remember telling my sister about it, declaring that I definitely wasn't eating intuitively (since I was eating when I really didn't want to).  She quickly corrected me, saying that in fact I was eating intuitively and listening to my body, since I was responding to the nausea by eating in order to avoid it getting any worse.  Certainly this isn't nearly as much fun as eating when you're hungry and really enjoying the eating experience, but she was right-- my internal body signals were driving my eating behaviors, and that's most certainly intuitive eating, just maybe the less glamorous part of it!

Another thing I've noticed about being an intuitive eater is that I haven't had too many weird cravings for or binges on any particular food.  This could be a coincidence, but I tend to think it has something to do with the "Make Peace with Food" part of being an intuitive eater, meaning that no food is ever considered "forbidden" to me.  A woman I work with told me she lived on Tommy's chili burgers and Haagen Dazs ice cream during her entire pregnancy.  Predictably, she gained a ton of weight, and has spent the last 20 years struggling to lose it.  While I certainly don't know her dieting history, or have any specific insight into her relationship with food, I would venture to guess that before becoming pregnant, she probably didn't allow herself to eat these types of foods on a regular basis.  Once she got pregnant, however, she likely did what most women do-- she took the pregnancy as license to eat whatever she wanted to, or, more specifically, all the foods she never allowed herself to eat before becoming pregnant.  I simply do not have this urge.  I already eat what I want, when I want it, so why would I need to go on a binge and eat all those rich foods now that I'm pregnant?

I'll be honest...there's part of me that was a little sad when I realized that I would never experience this I'm-pregnant-so-I-have-license-to-eat-everything-in-sight rite of passage.  It's part of the experience of being pregnant, right?!  But, in the end, I'm so thankful that I have this healthy attitude towards eating during this time in my life.  Besides helping me to maintain my sanity, the balanced, binge-free diet I'm eating as an intuitive eater means there's a good chance I won't have to struggle for years to lose unwanted "baby weight" after giving birth to my child, and that's not something a whole lot of women can say!  Do I still eat ice cream and burgers?  Yes!  But it's generally an occasional thing for when I really feel like having them, just like before I was pregnant.  I haven't, however, been gorging myself on these items because I've always had access to them, and always will, whether or not I'm pregnant.  Isn't that fantastic?!

So even though it has been difficult to reconcile intuitive eating with the part of pregnancy where you're told not to eat certain things, I feel that as a whole, this philosophy has been the healthiest possible way to approach this process.  Not only am I nourishing my baby with a well-balanced diet, but I'm also setting myself up for a healthier post-baby recovery, both physically and mentally.  Not to mention the fact that my healthy attitude towards food will be passed along to my child, so that she, too, can experience the freedom that comes with rejecting diets, respecting your body, and allowing your intuition to guide your eating.  Yet another reason to absolutely love intuitive eating!