Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Menu, Shop, Chop

When losing weight, or just trying to get healthy, clients often tell me the hardest part of staying on track is the planning.  To eat well balance meals and snacks every day we have to plan ahead.  Is it tedious?  Sometimes.  Is it time consuming? Kind of.  Is it worth it?  Absolutely.  Here's what it takes to make sure you always have healthy foods around.

1. Make a menu:  This is where routine comes in handy.  I know we always have eggs for breakfast, Ryan always eats yogurt for snacks, and I typically bring salads for lunch.  Supper is where we have the most variety.  But even here there is still a lot of stability.  Many of our favorite recipes call for similar ingredients, or at least nothing too crazy.  Stir-frys can include any meats and veggies, meat loaf can be as simple or complex as you want it, and baked chicken thighs go with any number of roasted veggies (even frozen).  Planning 3 main suppers per week typically leaves us with enough leftovers for one or two nights, possibly a hot lunch option, and not sooo many groceries around that things start to go bad.

Frozen turkey patties and corn.
2. Take stock: Now that you have a list of ingredients that you need, go through your pantry, fridge, freezer and make sure you know what to buy.  What do you have that you want to use up?Don't wing it!  Otherwise you will end up with 3 jars of chili powder, and rotting lettuce in the back of your fridge.

3. Write a grocery list:  If you need a specific amount of something (ex: 2 pounds pork loin) write it down. Again, you run the risk of coming home with only 1.5 pounds, or an entirely wrong cut of meat.  Without a list it's also easy to forget little odds and ends such as mustard, coconut milk, or fresh herbs.

4. Prep foods:  After bringing groceries home, take the time to prep some foods.  Cut carrots and celery and bell peppers and put them in containers or snack bags.  Dice onions and store in glass containers.  Pull leaves off kale stems for easy use in eggs or soup.  You can easily store kale in a ziplock bag or even in the plastic containers that precut lettuce comes in.  Freeze meat that you are not planning to use right away.  If something comes up, you don't want it to go bad.  Frozen meat can be placed directly into a crock-pot before work, so you're guaranteed to come come to a great smelling house and warm meal.

Roast Beets While Chopping Veggies
Beet greens blanched for later use
Veggies chopped for the week

5. Cook:  This can be done simultaneously while prepping.  Boil eggs for snacks.  Bake sweet potatoes or winter squash while prepping other foods so they just have to be reheated at meals.  Sweet potatoes can also be placed whole in a crock-pot for 6-8 hours.  Form meatballs or turkey patties and freeze for an easy quick meal.  After prepping veggies, use some of them to make a crock-pot stew.  It will cook while you finish up any other activities around the house.  Use the leftovers for lunches, snacks, and dinners.  Blend up several smoothies and freeze for breakfasts or snacks.  Any time you turn on the oven or grill, make extra!  Even if it's just one serving.
prepared shepherds one day, baked it for supper the next night.

6. Repeat: Some people find that taking one Saturday a month, and cooking up extras of many different items including chili, egg bake, protein bars, grilled chicken, wild rice or quinoa.  By planning ahead, you'll have easy proteins and healthy carbs available.  Proteins are typically the hardest nutrient to have available quickly, so if you're just starting out, focus your efforts there first.  A few hours spent prepping and cooking one day, will save you time, money, and stress in the future.
egg bake that will be frozen for quick breakfasts.
What changes can you make in your routine, so you always have healthy meals and snacks ready to go?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Tomato Takeover

Just like every other gardener in the midwest we have been inundated with tomatoes.  Between our CSA, Ryan's best friend Keith, and our lone cherry tomato plant, the past few weeks have been filled with these beautiful fruits.  That's right, if you haven't heard, botanically speaking, tomatoes are a fruit not a vegetable.  But nutritionally (carbohydrate wise) they are more similar to a vegetable.  Plus, by USDA standards, keeping tomatoes as a vegetable means that processed tomato paste on pizza and tomato sauce on pasta counts towards the allotted vegetable servings in school lunches.

The question becomes, what do we do with all these tomatoes?  As a kid, I remember picking tomatoes from our garden and eating them over the sink with my dad.  Liberally salting each slice.  We aren't so overtaken that we need to make jars and jars of salsa and tomato sauce, but just slicing them onto salads becomes a bit boring.  The past couple mornings I've sauteed them and then added them to eggs for breakfast.  This weekend I think I'll just make a Mediterranean salad with cucumbers, onions, purple green beans, and a vinaigrette.

Why bother planting and over running yourself with tomatoes any way?  Because they are high in lycopene!  and they taste so good.  Lycopene is the antioxidant polyphenol that supposedly helps reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men.  However, in order for our bodies to access and utilize the lycopene, the tomato must be cooked.  This is where raw foodists make a mistake.  Yes fresh produce is nutritious, but some nutrients can only be accessed when a food is heated.  If you want the benefit of lycopene, find ways to include a cooked tomato product in your diet several times a week. Ketchup doesn't count.  Canned tomatoes in soup or chili, pasta sauce over meatballs (hold the pasta), chicken legs Osso-buco style, roasted tomato salsa, ratatouille, shakshuka eggs.  Your options are just about endless.

All this talk about lycopene and it's prostate benefits made me wonder if there is a difference between prostate cancer occurrence in the US compared to the UK/Italy.  Surprisingly, or not, there is a huge difference.

From the CDC Website...

In 2008 —
  • 214,633 men in the United States were diagnosed with prostate cancer.*†
  • 28,471 men in the United States died from prostate cancer.*†

  • In 2009, 40,841 men in the UK were diagnosed with prostate cancer.
  • 10,721 men in the UK died from prostate cancer in 2010.
In Italy...
  • prostate cancer is the first cancer that hits men, with an incidence of 12%, surpassing lung cancer which is around 10%. Every year in Italy 42,804 prostate cancers are registered with 9070 fatalities (statistics from The Epidemiological Cancer Department – The National Epidemiological Centre, Surveillance and Promotion of Health – The Superior Institute of Health 2005).

Obviously we can't say that a higher consumption of tomatoes is the reason for fewer prostate cancer cases in the UK and Italy.  For one, the US has more people in it than Italy, so more chances for cancer to occur.  There are also other diet and lifestyle habits that vary greatly.  People in European countries walk more than Americans, and exercise has been shown to decrease the risk of just about every cancer.  Many European countries have banned trans fats, another known cause of cancer.  

For now, lets just say that tomatoes are delicious and nutritious and fun to grow; so eat more tomatoes.