Tag Archives: healthy eating

What I ate: First trimester

Everyone knows that the first trimester of pregnancy can be tricky when it comes to food. Even though I didn’t feel great, I really feel like I got off pretty easy. I never threw up, and though I definitely didn’t always feel like eating, there were only a few times when my stomach got the better of me and Andy was forced to fend for himself for dinner.

My biggest issue with the first trimester was the heatwave that settled in over Portland for most of the summer. We don’t have air conditioning, and the house got pretty toasty. Thankfully, I wasn’t in my 3rd trimester like my poor neighbor. Again, I was lucky!

The most unexpected thing I experienced was waking up during the middle of the night absolutely starving. Like my stomach was eating my spine starving. I started keeping LaraBars on my nightstand so I could have a quick snack. It didn’t take long though for those LaraBars to just not be enough to fill me up, so I’d have to get up and grab something (usually cheese) from the fridge. Andy was particularly amused at this because he would wake up to me crunching loudly from the other side of the bed.

Here’s a general list of things that worked, and didn’t work my first 12 weeks or so:

Yea’s
– Cheese. I couldn’t always eat the same cheese from week to week, but I could usually find some kind of cheese that didn’t make me regret getting up in the morning.
– All-fruit popsicles. These were especially good when the weather was pushing 100 degrees.
– LaraBars. See above.
– Nuts. Occasionally.
– Ice cream. Sometimes. It wasn’t always my thing, but more often than not it worked!
– Fruit. Sometimes. Again, sometimes I wanted it, other times I didn’t.
– Rice cakes. I broke my no grains rule because I just needed something light to eat. These did the trick for a couple weeks. Now that I’m no longer queasy all the time, these have gone back on the no list.

Nay’s
– Eggs. Couldn’t even stand the smell of them cooking. This one took some time getting over. There are still times when eating them turns my stomach a little bit, but it is getting better.
– Most animal proteins. I just really didn’t want to eat meat, which is something my body probably could have used. Ask me sometime about the night of sausage and eggs…
– Salad. It was so hot that I never wanted to turn on the stove, so salad was oftentimes my go to for dinner. That being said, it just didn’t do it for my stomach, and a lot of times I’d pick out the things I could eat (namely the cheese) and call it good.

Mostly the first 12 weeks were spent trying to sort out what my body actually wanted. I would get all fired up about a particular food, run to the store and buy it, and by the time I got home didn’t even want to look at it. It certainly wasn’t an easy period of time, but Andy was endlessly patient and we pulled through together.

The curious incident of wheat in the night

In September of 2012, after reading Wheat Belly (and after several suspicious allergy attacks), Andy and I decided that we were going to take the plunge and live a wheat-free lifestyle to the best of our abilities. We cleaned the cupboards, throwing away anything that could possibly contain wheat. Our cupboards were shockingly bare.

A month and a half into our wheat-free living, Andy invited me to a rare work dinner. I agreed half-heartedly, knowing that I’d be severely limited in the food I was able to safely eat.

Perusing the menu at the restaurant, I found a salad that looked safe enough. Andy made a bolder move and asked for a burger with broccolini instead of fries. After a few moments of deliberation, he decided to not inconvenience the chef further and asked if the top bun could be left off, leaving the bottom bun in place. He figured he could eat safely around the bun and it wouldn’t be an issue.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to eat around a piece of food that is stuck to another piece of food, but it’s next to impossible. Even though he was as diligent as he could be, Andy couldn’t help but have a small bite or two of that bun.

By the time we got home (it was a lovely evening, by the way), Andy felt awful. His brain felt fuzzy, he was nauseated–he just felt off. And he looked puffy. Like he’d eaten a large pizza from Pizza Hut puffy. And trust me, there wasn’t a lot of food on his plate. In fact, my salad covered more surface area than his burger and veggies.

Since he’d never had this type of reaction to eating meat and veggies, we know the burger and greens weren’t the issue. It must have been the bite or two of bun.

Having such a severe reaction to so little wheat merely reinforced what we already knew. Wheat was not for us.

Sometimes it takes a hard lesson to remind us that the path we have chosen for our health, as difficult and sacrificial as it may seem, is really the easiest and best way to feel the best that we can.

The night dinner went wrong

I’m not even going to pretend to be coy–I am not a flexible person. I am a list maker, a schedule planner, and if I have plans please don’t change them, I may freak out. Just ask Andy. I’ve gotten better since we’ve been married, but early on a simple unscheduled change to my plans would send me into a tail spin. It wasn’t pretty.

A while back I was all set to try out a new recipe–Pistachio Kebabs on rosemary skewers (from Yummy Supper) served with Middle Eastern cauli-rice pilaf. I had already made some slight changes to the initial recipe–it was the middle of February and I didn’t feel like standing outside to grill, so the “skewers” were going to become meatballs. Andy doesn’t like a lot of rosemary, so I was going to mince up just a few needles and mix it in. Everything else was the same.

I was going strong. I had plenty of time before Andy would be home and back again from his evening walk, and even though the recipe itself was new, I know how to make meatballs so I wasn’t stressed. I shelled the pistachios, chopped the herbs, cooked the onions and set them to chill, and went to grab the meat from the fridge. This is where something went horribly wrong. The meat that I had pulled out of the freezer 24+ hours ago was still frozen.

I took a deep breath. I hoped I was wrong and it was just the stiff butcher paper that wouldn’t give when I squeezed. I removed the wrapper, placed the meat in the bowl with the herbs and onions and took another deep breath. It wasn’t the paper. After the first 1/4 inch the meat was still frozen solid. I took a fork and tried to break it apart. It didn’t work. There was no way I was going to be able to make this frozen meat soft enough to make meatballs for dinner.

And this is where I should have freaked out. In the past, something like this would have been a disaster. At best, there would have been tears and anger. At worst I would have thrown the whole thing out and told Andy we were going for take out. With our current lifestyle and income, throwing out an entire meal’s worth of ingredients just isn’t an option.

I started thinking… I had already planned to make Middle Eastern cauli-rice pilaf, so what if instead of meatballs, I just sauteed the frozen ground beef with all the herbs and pistachios and mixed it into the pilaf? A Middle Eastern rice bowl if you will.

It wasn’t the meal I originally intended, but it was worth a try. Anything was better than throwing the food away. So I got to work. And you know what? It was a good meal and I discovered some things I would do differently next time, like make sure I add the pistachios after everything’s been cooked. They got a little soggy and disappeared. Also, it could have used a little extra parsley and a little more cumin.

Growing in patience is never an easy thing. I know that it’s been God’s work on my heart throughout this journey that got me to the place of acceptance and flexibility when a meal didn’t go as planned. His patience with me is abundant indeed!

I’ve only made this recipe the one time, so I know I should add it to an upcoming meal plan. If it’s as good as I remember, I’ll post it here so you can enjoy it as well.

 

Grocery shopping 101: The budget

When Andy and I first got married neither one of us had experience keeping a budget. We made decent (enough) money and while we both brought some debt into the marriage we managed our finances fairly well.

After a few years, I started wondering why our savings account wasn’t growing as quickly as I felt it should. I looked at the numbers and realized we had been nickel and diming ourselves with our debit cards. A dinner out here, a movie there, midnight donut runs, and snack trips to the store all added up and we were throwing hundreds of dollars out the window a month. When I brought this to Andy’s attention, he had the brilliant idea of moving to a weekly cash system for groceries and other food-related items. If we didn’t have the cash, we couldn’t treat ourselves and groceries came first.

When Andy was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, the grocery budget became even more important. Good food isn’t cheap, and to commit to healthy eating requires some financial sacrifices. Plus, we had the added cost of diabetes prescriptions that we weren’t expecting. We knew that we couldn’t eat out as often, so we were able to reallocate some of that money into buying better meat from New Seasons. We stopped buying Mt. Dew, and those funds went straight into our apple budget.

Over the years, our grocery budget has grown and shrunk several times. Some weeks we have a surprising amount of money left over to use for “fun things”. Other weeks, I have to modify our meal plan on the fly because I know we’re running out of money. It forces me to be flexible, creative, and accountable. By setting a grocery budget and sticking to it, our overall household budget has become much easier to manage.

(One thing I must note: Our grocery budget does include non-food-related items like toothpaste, deodorant, toilet paper, and cat litter. But these items make up a very small percentage of our total grocery expenditure. The majority goes to produce, meat, and eggs.)

How you determine your own grocery budget is entirely up to you. Do you eat more protein-heavy meals? Your weekly amount is going to be higher than if you prefer a more vegetarian fare. If you don’t know where to get started, keep track of your spending for a few weeks. See where you spend your money, and what you spend it on. Do you see areas that can be eliminated? You may need to cut out all restaurant food until you get the budget under control. Do you see areas where you’d like to increase your spending? More fresh produce for the win!

I personally use a Google Docs spreadsheet to keep track of our entire monthly budget, but there are other tools available online (both free and not) that are popular for tracking your funds.

It might take a few months to really get into the groove of your grocery budget, but I promise you that your bank account will thank you if you stick to it as much as possible.

How about you? Do you have (and stick to) a budget? I’d love to hear your grocery tips!

Recipe: Chicken, mushroom, zucchini skillet (with bacon!)

This dinner came about through delicious happenstance. I was interested in making a sausage and veggie gratin, but that felt a little too heavy for the warm(ish) weather we’ve been having lately. I decided to lighten it up with chicken and zucchini. The bacon and mushrooms add amazing flavor, and the leftovers taste even better than right out of the oven.

Look at all that melty cheese!
Look at all that melty cheese!

1 Tablespoon oil
1 onion, diced
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
4 small- to medium-sized zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced
2+ chicken thighs, cooked and chopped*
4-6 ounces bacon, cooked and roughly chopped
4 ounces cheese, grated (optional)**
salt
pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Place a skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil and saute the onions with a pinch of salt until translucent. Stir in mushrooms and cook until they begin to brown and let off some of their water. Add zucchini and another small pinch of salt (small being key. The bacon is pretty salty on its own, and you don’t want to over do it!). Give it a good stir and let it cook until the zucchini starts to soften just a bit.

Stir the chicken and bacon into the veggies, taste, and season with salt and pepper as needed. Top with the cheese if you’re using it. Pop into the oven for 15-20 minutes until the cheese is melty and just starting to brown. Serve with a side salad if you feel you want an extra serving of veggies!

Recipe notes:
* I find that 2 chicken thighs is perfect for me and Andy. The bacon and all the veggies make this a complete meal without a huge amount of meat. If you’re serving more people, increase the chicken thighs by 1 per extra person.
** I don’t specify which type of cheese, because really melty cheese is melty cheese. I’ve made this with a hard English cheddar and it was just as good as when I used pepper jack. Check your fridge and use what you have on hand.

Confessions of a sugar addict

(That was my kitchen table the day before Easter with Andy’s family. Four different desserts, and I ended up with marshmallow on the ceiling.)

A while back I shared my tale of a sweet tooth. Today, I wanted to share a little bit more about my relationship with sugar.

First, it makes me very happy. Almost euphorically happy. I LOVE sugar!

Then it makes me unhappy. My blood sugar drops and I get angry. I HATE sugar (and just about everyone around me at the time).

If I’m strong enough to push through the sugar low without indulging in any more sweets, within a few hours (or up to a day or two later) my eczema will flare up. Phew, I’m feeling drained. And why do my hands itch so much? If I’m really on a bender, I may even develop a cold sore (mine are triggered by stress and sugar).

If I’m not strong enough to push through the sugar low and I go in for more, I start the cycle over again, my eczema gets even worse, and it takes even longer for the inflammation to go down. Nothing makes me feel more like a child than the inability to not scratch my hands when they break out.

Physical manifestations of sugar aside (the eczema is pretty awful), it’s the mental and emotional extremes that really take their toll. Not just on me, but on Andy. When my blood sugar drops, I get quiet. Like really really quiet. The “it’s always the quiet ones” quiet. You’ve probably heard the word “hangry”, well I embody that term.

When my blood sugar drops I say things that I wouldn’t normally say with very little care how the other person (usually Andy) might take them. This leads to a lot of hurt feelings, the occasional fight, and when my blood sugar finally returns to normal (this could take hours or even up to a day or two) a heaping pile of guilt for my words and actions. I’ve become very good at saying “I’m sorry.”

I’d like to say that at this point in our health journey I’ve learned my lesson. I’d like to say that broccoli and I are BFFs. But that’s not true. I still indulge on a somewhat regular basis. Definitely not as often as before Andy’s Type 2 Diagnosis, but definitely more than I should.

I don’t share my story out of guilt or shame, but more as a reminder to myself (and anyone else) that this health journey we’re on is just that–a journey. Some days are going to be a stroll. Others will be an easy jog. Still others will leave me gasping for air at the end of the day. Andy and I have both learned that forgiveness of self is one of the hardest things to do, and that every now and then an indulgent break is okay.

Recipe: Chorizo (breakfast burrito) cauli-rice bowl

One of our favorite dinners is this chorizo rice bowl. I always get an air fist “alright” from Andy when I tell him that’s what we’re having for dinner. It’s easy, super spicy, can be dressed up or down, and has the perfect combination of protein and veggies.

When I started looking for weekend breakfast ideas, this is where my mind turned. The only real change I made to my original recipe was to top the bowl off with a few scrambled eggs. When I make this for dinner, I skip this step.

The chorizo I buy is super spicy. Like, clear out your sinuses for hours spicy. It’s right at the threshold of what I can handle. I’m a wimp, but it’s still hot. If you’re not into the idea of a spicy breakfast, swap the chorizo for a nice breakfast sausage and you’re good to go! One more note on chorizo–if you can, try to find a good natural source. The prepackaged stuff in the refrigerated section of your grocery store often has questionable “animal parts” ground up and that’s just icky. If you’re adventurous, you can also make your own.

For the rice:
1 cauliflower head
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 pound chorizo
Salt*
Pepper

Toppings:
Scrambled eggs (or fried, or poached …)
2 tomatoes chopped
1-2 avocados, sliced (or make guacamole, yum!)
Sour cream**
Shredded cheese**
Pickled jalapeños (our favorite!)
Salsa
Sriracha (Andy loves this, but it burns too much for my tastebuds)

Run the cauliflower through a food processor using the shredding blade, or grate it with a box grater. Set aside.

In a large skillet (I use my 10″ cast iron), heat oil over medium high heat. Add onions with a small pinch of salt and saute until onions start to get a little color. (I like a little char, I think it goes nicely with the spice.) Add the chorizo, stirring to break it apart, until browned and cooked through, 7-10 minutes.

Once the chorizo is cooked, carefully stir in the cauliflower so the chorizo is evenly distributed. My skillet has a hard time holding everything (and it’s a good-size skillet) so stir with care. Cook until the cauliflower is tender and the chorizo flavor is all soaked in. Taste and season with salt and pepper as necessary. We’re really into pepper right now so we’ve been adding it to everything.

Top with your favorite “fixins” and enjoy for breakfast or dinner!

Recipe notes:
* I try to use a light hand with salt. Just a pinch to get the onions going and maybe a little more at the very end after I’ve tasted the dish. Depending on who makes the chorizo, the dish could be salty enough, and you don’t want to over do it.
** If you can’t do dairy, the sour cream and cheese aren’t necessary. We usually don’t use them, but it is an option and the sour cream especially helps cool the spice of the chorizo.

How we eat: Weekends

By now you’ve read how Andy eats during the week. And you’ve probably hung your head in disbelief over how I eat. Neither one of these stories really covers what our weekend eating looks like, and I figured I should probably round out the “How I eat” series.

Andy likes to joke to friends that come the weekend, the kitchen is closed (please pardon the messy and slightly blurry kitchen shot above!). And in a way, he’s right. I cook dinner every night, and most days (okay, some days, though I’m trying to be more consistent) I prepare breakfast and lunch for myself. The last thing I want to do on the weekends is wake up early, make breakfast for both of us, then clean everything just to repeat the process a few hours later for lunch and then again for dinner. I like weekends. I like to do things. I just don’t always like to make involved breakfasts.

On the other hand, I’m less likely to want to make and drink a smoothie for myself on the weekends. I want something a little more special and a little more substantial. Not eating isn’t an option–I’ve tried that and nobody really liked the end result. (Hint: I got cranky.)

Andy tends to walk significantly more on the weekends and likes to have a little extra protein to compensate. So between him needing protein, and me just needing to eat, I had to come up with something that would carry us through those “closed kitchen” days. As it turns out, Andy’s kind of a crack shot when it comes to making breakfast. He’ll fry up eggs, bacon, and sometimes steak (see above about needing protein), and be a happy fella. All that protein is a bit much for me (it’s the steak that really pushes me over the edge), so I wanted to find a way to still get lots of protein, but maybe throw some veggies into the mix to lighten everything up.

We’re big fans of the whole cauli-rice trend, and I thought that some kind of burrito rice bowl might be the answer to my problems. And I was right! Well, mostly right. There are still weekends where I just can’t be bothered to go all in for breakfast (x 2) and lunch (x 2), but the rice bowl makes enough food for both of us, with plenty of leftovers for lunch and maybe even for breakfast the next day, so it’s a win-win for me.

I’ll post the recipe later this week so stay tuned!

The power of marketing

Have you walked through a grocery aisle lately? I’m not talking about rushing through the aisle as quickly as possible to cross things off your shopping list. I’m talking about just walking through and looking at stuff—in particular, labels. Both front and back.

You might be surprised.

One of the things both Andy and I started doing after his Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis was reading labels. Okay, maybe you’re one of those people who’s been doing it for years. The point is we did start looking, and found ourselves putting stuff back on the shelf on a frequent basis. To say our eyes were opened is an understatement. High fructose corn syrup is in everything. Everything! Why would you put HFCS in dill pickles of all random things? It blew our minds.

I have a background in marketing so I’m very familiar with “spin”. Ever look at a movie poster and wonder what those ellipses (…) might be omitting? That’s spin! In the food industry spin is all over the packaging—from the flashy color labels that distract you from what’s really in the product, to the word burstss that proclaim: Fat Free! Sugar Free! All Natural! Organic!

The fact of the matter is, you can’t really trust the front of the label. I wish you could. It would make shopping so much easier. The only way to truly know what’s going into your body is to turn the product over and read through the ingredients list on the back. You’d be amazed at what they like to hide in that fine print. A while back, someone gave us a bottle of salsa that had both chicken and beef paste in the ingredient list. Meat paste. In salsa. Bummer dude.

If you’re just starting out on your own lifestyle obstacle course, I encourage you to start peeking at those food labels. Yes, it does require some work, and you’ll probably start putting some of your favorite foods back on the shelf when you realize what they’ve been sneaking into your body. The more we read, the more we realized the only “real” food we ate came out of our own kitchen. Even those awesome, time saving, rotisserie chickens from the grocery store have questionable ingredients.

I’m not saying you have to avoid all boxed food, but I encourage you to, at the very least, turn the box over and look at the ingredients list so you know what you’re getting into with your eyes wide open.

April 17th: Weekly meal plan

Hi there! The weather has been beautiful and sunny lately, so I wanted our dinners to match that tone. There’s a little rain on the horizon, so I’ve got a few “warm your bones” meals, but for the most part we should be eating pretty light this week. I’m trying some new ideas–variations on familiar themes–and am excited about the flavor possibilities (I’m looking at you Brussels sprouts salad…)!

Here’s the grocery list. Enjoy!

Brussels sprouts, apple, caramelized onion salad with fried eggs
Broccoli, tomato, and sausage bake
– Broccoli and anchovy cauli-rice with fried eggs
Chicken ragu over herbed cauli-rice (this makes excellent lunch leftovers!)
– Cobb salad
– Zucchini, mushroom, chicken gratin
– Hodge Podge!