recipe link: Spaghetti Squash Pomodoro

7 Dec

My spouse tasted this when they were handing out samples at Wegmans and came home talking about how good it was. I was a bit skeptical, but I have to admit, he was right. It’s fantastic. 

Spaghetti Squash with Pomodoro Sauce

I’m seriously considering making everything with pomodoro sauce from now on.

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food diaries: the secret weapon

30 Nov

You know, I have read the following piece of advice roughly six million times: You should keep a food diary. And it never convinced me. Not for years. I read it and thought, “Eh. That sounds annoying, plus I already know what I eat.”

But I finally started doing it. And you know what? It is amazing.

It’s not just a matter of knowing what you eat (although of course most of us are not as aware of that as we think: when you look back at your day, it’s easy to forget about that half of a cookie that you shared with your toddler or the handful of crackers you munched while you cooked dinner). It’s also about seeing the patterns of when you eat, whether you miss meals or snack all the time or wait until dinnertime to try to cram in all of your vegetables. For me, the most interesting thing about it is that it shows me how my nutrients break down–lunch is my biggest problem, it turns out, both in terms of eating empty calories and of failing to eat vegetables or protein. It’s much easier to eat some crackers or pop some popcorn than to make a real lunch, especially since I’m only at home for lunch a couple of days a week (a lot of the time I’m eating that meal in between teaching classes).

Seeing that pattern encourages me to improve it. Even if I’m not likely to start making gourmet lunches 7 days a week, it does help me remember that I could be eating an omelet with some vegetables instead of cheese and crackers, for example. Seeing it in print reminds me that if I cook a bit more dinner, I could be eating leftovers instead–a leftover lunch that’s already packed and easy to eat, and one that’s balanced and healthful.

I’ve been using SparkPeople (www.sparkpeople.com), but any of the food-tracking services out there will work (Daily Plate, for example, is another). You could also just use a notebook, especially if you’re not counting calories/nutrients or if you eat the same things often enough that you’ll memorize those foods. I like knowing the basic breakdown of protein/fat/carbohydrates; it helps remind me to eat enough protein. I also really like having an idea of how much sodium I’m eating. All of those things help me remember that every bite I put into my mouth counts; every bite matters. That’s not to say that I can’t eat what I want–one of the other benefits of the food log is that I *do* feel able to have treats, as long as I can see on paper that my general habits are still pretty good.

several ways of looking at an egg…

25 Oct

I am probably not the only PCOS patient who read all of the low-GI diet books and started eating eggs for breakfast–and eventually reached the point of thinking, “I will never ever ever eat another egg.”

For me, at least, breakfast eggs (especially just eggs, by themselves, or with a slice of bacon or something) are unappealing. I don’t like to eat a boiled egg, or a scrambled egg, or any other kind of plain egg.

But I have found that they are a helpful and delicious component of other things. And they’re a great way to balance out an otherwise carb-heavy meal.

For breakfast, if I’m going to eat an egg, I slice an onion and cook it; add other vegetables if I have them (diced tomato, broccoli, whatever’s in the fridge); and then toss in an egg. It’s not the main attraction–more like a sauce for the vegetables.

Similarly, I like an egg on top of steamed asparagus; over rice with stir-fried vegetables; or with a homemade roll and sliced fruit or vegetables. For me, the only way to enjoy an egg is to get it off the center of the plate. I am never going to be a person who likes to just sit down and eat an egg, but they are very good with lots of other things (especially vegetables).

I’ve also found that one egg is plenty. Lots of meal plans or recipes suggest two eggs per person, and that’s one egg more than I’m going to enjoy. But that means that you can have a tasty breakfast with lots of vegetables and add a piece of toast or fruit and still stay within a reasonable calorie range, too.

snack idea: Honeycrisp apple + almond butter

20 Oct

I realize this blog has been sluggish of late–I’m teaching five classes this semester!–but I thought I’d post a quick snack idea. I think I’ve recommended Honeycrisp apples before. They’re much, much more delicious than regular apples. They taste…like cider, I guess.

But paired with a dollop of almond butter, they’re like a dessert. It seems totally indulgent, but it’s really very good for you. I have tried peanut butter, and it’s okay, but almond butter is another different level of tasty.

The only downside, as I see it, is that almond butter is a lot pricier than peanut butter. I figure, though, if it gets me to eat a healthy snack on a regular basis, it’s worth it.

[And if I’m really in the mood for something dessert-y, adding a square of dark chocolate doesn’t hurt either.]

the hardest advice to follow

12 Oct

I have been thinking a bit about why it’s hard to foster certain healthy habits. It’s different for everyone, of course. Maybe your vulnerable point is exercise–hard to remember to do it and make yourself stick with it, easy to stay home or stay on the couch. Maybe it’s diet-related (can’t resist a certain junk food, have a hard time with portion control).

For me, the #1 hardest thing is this: when you’re eating, sit down and enjoy your food and don’t do other things.

I know this seems like it’s not very important. I certainly believe that choosing healthy foods and being active are more important lifestyle changes than this.

But this is also the one thing that I find it hard to do even for a few days. In fact, it’s hard for me to do this even for one day.

In theory, I know that this would be good for me. It would force me to be mindful about eating; it would give me a more relaxed dining experience and make my day less stressful; it would remind me that food is something to be enjoyed, not something to be frustrated about.

But I still end up eating 80%–maybe 90%–of my at-home meals on the couch, with a book in hand or the laptop next to me. And breakfast, plus sometimes lunch, is eaten in the car or in between the classes I’m teaching.

So, thinking about it today, I came to a staggering (and embarrassing) realization.

I think the reason I struggle so much with this is that I am incapable of keeping our dining table cleared off. It’s always covered in junk; it never seems worth clearing it. My spouse works fairly late, so I usually eat with the kids, and it’s easier to ignore the mess on the table and eat in the living room.

It would seem, at age 31, that I should be old enough and responsible enough to keep the table cleared off, but it’s very difficult for me. Now that I’ve made this connection, though, I’m going to make more of an effort to do this, with the goal of being able to sit down and eat dinner there with my kids. I want them to develop the habit of eating mindfully, too.

The most interesting thing about this observation is that the real problem isn’t what I thought it was. I assumed that I avoided sitting down to eat in peace because I was too busy, or too stressed. I am sure, however, that I would sit down and eat at the table much more often if I didn’t have to move a bunch of books and papers to clear a space.

The moral of this post is that you, too, should think about why you struggle with some habits more than others. If you find it almost impossible to drink enough water, for example, is that because it interrupts your day? Or because you don’t like the taste of your tap water? Or because you’re not in the habit and you haven’t figured out how to remind yourself? Once you figure out why it’s hard for you, you’re in a better position to solve the problem.

book review: The “Food Matters” Cookbook

21 Sep

I have been coveting The Food Matters Cookbook: 500 Revolutionary Recipes for Better Living, by Mark Bittman, for a while, and I got it for my birthday. I’ve used it for a few weeks now, so I guess it’s time for my review.

For the most part, I like it. It contains a lot of how-to-cook ideas and bits about technique, in the recipe instructions sections. It’s simple and descriptive. My biggest peeve is that it doesn’t contain pictures, although I can understand why (it’s already a hefty book with just the text). The dishes I’ve made have been good, and it’s given me some great ideas for lunches and breakfasts, which are the hardest for me to keep interesting.

In theory, I’d also like calorie counts, but in practice, these recipes are so flexible that it would be sort of pointless to include those. Bittman’s recipes are basic plans, not prescriptive or fussy blueprints. He includes plenty of choices and variations for almost every recipe. This approach encourages the use of seasonal produce, which I like.

This cookbook is aimed at readers who have read Bittman’s more argumentative book, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More Than 75 Recipes. I like both of these books very much, and I recommend them both. If you’re not interested in reading about food, though–you just want the recipes and that’s it–there’s no reason you can’t get the cookbook alone. The basic philosophy is simple, and it’s covered in the cookbook as much as it needs to be in order for you to understand it.

motivation for change

14 Sep

Sorry for the blog hiatus; a new semester has begun, and that always means upheaval here at the home of a college teacher! Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about motivation lately and trying to figure out what will motivate me to make healthy choices, and I wanted to toss some ideas out there in case any of them help you.

I am not particularly motivated by rewards that I promise myself–mostly because, if it’s something I want to do and it’s feasible, I’m not going to wait until I hit a goal to do it. Instead, I think about giving myself time and care every day to reduce stress and make me more able to commit to healthy choices and maintain them. Time is tight around here, like it is for most people, but I take a long hot bath any night that I want to; it helps me sleep and reduces my stress, which makes it easier for me to say no to junk food and yes to exercise the next day.

When I really struggle, I try to pause and think about why that healthy habit matters. If I’m longing to snack on unhealthy foods, even though I’m not hungry, chances are good that I am not in any frame of mind to contemplate why I want it. If I’m stressed, bored, sad–whatever it is that is making me want to overeat or stop thinking about healthy choices–I’m not going to be in the mood to sit down and think about my inner feelings. (It’s great if you can do that; it’s just that I can’t.)

So, instead, I let myself off the hook on figuring out why, at least right then.

I stop, remind myself that this is emotional eating, not hunger, and then I give my future self the gift of a healthier choice. I imagine me, the next morning, getting up knowing that I did exercise yesterday. I imagine myself knowing that I did eat my vegetables or that I didn’t eat mindlessly. This only works for me if I actually stop and imagine myself in the future, being grateful that I made the healthier decision.

I know how cheesy that is, but hey–it works for me. It works better for me to think about my behavior as the gift, rather than promising myself gifts if I change the behavior.

I also thought you might like this little diagram. Check it out.