Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Airport+Hungry= ??

Have you ever missed a flight and have had to eat at the airport? Or were in such a rush packing and getting ready that you forgot to eat and arrived STARVING at the airport?

Today, I don't have either of those scenarios. Instead, I have an 8 hour layover at JFK airport. 8 HOURS (I didn't book my flight, my boss did).

In recent years, I have noticed how enticing Moe's can be (or Sbarro, or McDonald's, or Starbucks, or Auntie Anne's, or Wok and Roll...the list goes on and on) when I am sitting at an airport, bored and hungry. Does this happen to you? It is so easy to sit at the food court and dig in, just to pass the time. This would usually be me (except I am not blond)!

Today, instead of giving in to temptation, I went on a hunt for "healthy food". And I actually found some that was pretty decent! Thanks to New York State law, restaurants and cafes have to list the calorie and fat content of food that is sold. I went to an Express Euro Cafe and found a club sandwich (460 calories and 19 grams of fat) that came with the option of chips or fruit (I got an apple) and a drink (a bottle of water).

I know, I know, that is a lot of fat for a sandwich. But on the flip side, a slice of pepperoni pizza at Sbarro has 730 calories and 37 grams of fat. While the pizza would have been more convenient, I have made goals for myself that I want to achieve. With a little bit of detective work and dedication, I am able to stay with my calorie intake for the day and still feel pretty good.

And if you are feeling really ambitious, you can even walk around the airport during a layover, and get some exercise in. I will not be doing this today (I am going on about 2 hours of sleep right now), but its something to consider while you wait for your plane.

Happy traveling!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

feeling bad doesn't have to mean bad choices.

a realization has hit me this past week, as i have fought persistent feelings of yuck that have left me less than committed to healthy eating (and even worse, far than committed to cooking).  when you are weakened, all of your bad habits want to come out to play.

let me share with you what i have learned over the past week or so. we can call it, if you'd like, the do's and don'ts of feeling puny.
  • don't, under any circumstances, eat out of any carton.  you're tired.  you haven't wanted to eat anything, and now goldfish (or frozen yogurt or sherbet or anything else) sound lovely and appetizing.  even if it's a fairly decent snack that you normally have control over yourself with, you will not be able to control yourself here.  count out the dang 55 goldfish, or the 1/2 cup of ice cream, and then eat it. if you want more, you can always come back. but at least you'll know what you're eating.
  • do give yourself some latitude. if chinese food sounds good, go for it.  but do your research! beef and broccoli? an excellent choice.  too much sodium? sure. but if you end up eating mostly the broccoli, you have not done badly and you believe that you got a treat by going out to dinner.
  • don't forget your colors.  when you're feeling crappy and don't want to think too much about healthy eating, just try to eat lots of colors.  banana? yellow. and good for you. spinach salad? lots of green leafy goodness.  sweet potato? outstanding orange superfood of awesome.  sometimes, when the world is facing you with "fire bad, tree pretty" mentality, all you can do is find some colors.
  • don't go grocery shopping when you're exhausted.  normal vigilance will give way to permissive spending, and suddenly oreos and ice cream are part of your food landscape for the first time in ages.  two lovely ladies have already posted about planning ahead and making a grocery list that saves time and money. listen to them.  they are right.
  • do remember the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger.  when i'm feeling yucky, i find myself more often eating according to the clock or because i want something. when your body's already out of whack, you have to take special care to listen to its cues carefully.  what may seem like hunger might be thirst, or what might seem like a craving could be boredom. take the time to listen, and then try to make the best choice possible. 
  • don't forget the exercise.  though you may be tired, if you're not really sick, exercise can help. i'm not a health professional, but i know that, for me, when my symptoms don't indicate an infection or virus but more like the under-the-weather blues, i feel much better, on multiple levels, when i include exercise into my day.  even hard cardio can sometimes be doable if you are mentally determined and focused on the task at hand. that said, listen to your body. you may be more able to exercise vigorously earlier in the day, or nighttime might be your peak time.  whenever you do exercise, push yourself but don't push yourself to total exhaustion.  get your heart rate up a little, and see if your symptoms don't diminish a bit. working your body can sometimes help your body work.
  • do cut yourself some slack. if you're on a restricted diet, consider easing up on your caloric restriction and focus on maintaining until you begin to feel better.  it will give you some room to include some comfort food (one of my favorites is pita pizza) without feeling totally guilty or derailing your weight loss goals and progress. 
illness is part of life, and so is making healthy choices. in these times, when stress and weakness can make it easy to fall back into bad patterns. it doesn't have to happen, though.  keeping your eye on a few key strategies can make it a bit easier. 

every good choice you make in extraordinary circumstances, then, is even more of a triumph! 

Monday, June 28, 2010

The weekly menu plan

Not to beat a dead horse, but as promised, this week I’m all about menu planning. Yawn, right? But no! Hear me out (errr, read me out?).

I’m not one to sit down with all the coupon books and websites, search out the deals, and plan my menu accordingly. I know many who do that and they do save a lot of money. But to me that takes way too much time and it makes me resent the menu-planning task.

I cook what I want to eat. All week, I surf different food blogs and bookmark along the way. At the end of the week, I pull a few recipes I want to try (or the ones I know I love) and sit down to make a plan.

Let's get started.

First thing’s first, get your goods together. Whatever you need to make a menu and grocery list, round it up. For me, this includes my computer, a few copies of Everyday Food, a pen, and paper.

(Right now is when I would insert a picture, but we’re moving in two days and the camera is packed. Just imagination some super cute, well composed, brilliantly lit photo.)

Next for the fun part, what sounds good this week? You do have a couple things to consider when picking your recipes.

Obviously, who’s eating? Are you hosting any friends or family this week? Any picky eaters? Children? Anyone with allergies?

Another thing to consider, what’s your week look like? If you’re super busy, plan quick dinners or arrange your leftover nights accordingly.

Alright, you’ve got an idea of what to cook, now it’s time to make the grocery list. I do this all at once, leaving stars next to the ingredients I think I may have. After I’m done with my list, I check the kitchen.

Once I’m done, I head to the store and get what I need. I mentioned I don’t make a plan to save money, however I end up saving a lot. I don’t get all the random things that look good, I stick to my list and get what I know will get used and not thrown away. I save a lot of time during the week, because I’m not having to run to the store to get something forgotten.

A typical weekly menu in our house:

Monday – Stirfry Beef and Snow Peas

Tuesday – Country-Fried Steak with Green Beans and Rice

Wednesday – Leftovers

Thursday – Pasta with Roasted Garlic, White Cheddar, & Wine Sauce

Friday – Curry Chicken Pot Pie

Saturday – Leftovers

Sunday – Baked Ziti with Ground Turkey Meat Sauce

Doesn’t all sound healthy up front, right? That’s where the doctoring comes in… milk for cream, low-sodium chicken broth for wine (we don’t drink and I’m certainly not buying a bottle to cook with), olive or canola oil for butter. But I’ll talk more about that in another post.

Happy planning!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Meal Planning

I'm already a post behind, so I figured I'd play catch-up while I have the computer on and logged in.

One of the easiest ways to make the transition from eating "stuff" to eating food is meal planning. Meal planning takes the guess work out of dinner ("What's for dinner?" "I dunno. What are you in the mood for?" "I dunno. Let's just go to {insert fast food place here}.") because you already have it written out and have defrosted/ purchased any ingredients ahead of time.

Planning your meals will also save you money. The average "meal" at a burger chain is about $5. So for a family of 4 you can expect to spend $20 on ONE MEAL! If that's twice a week, that's $40 a week and $160 a month! What would you do with that extra $1920 a year? Pay down debt? Take a vacation? Save for retirement? Now, say you replace just one of those meals with a home-cooked meal. This past week, we had eggplant Parmesan, a side of pasta, garden salad, garlic bread (made, not defrosted). The whole meal will take about 30 minutes to prepare, start to finish. That's about the same amount of time to get a pizza delivered, but you'll get much more food and it's so much better for you!

Actual prices from recent shopping trip.:
Eggplant $1.76
Mozzarella cheese $2.49
Lettuce $2.50 (for 3 Romain heads)
Tomatoes $1.58 (2 pounds)
Green pepper $1.40 (1.5 pounds)
Carrots $2.50 (5 pound bag)
Celery $1.29
8-Pack of hamburger buns $.79 (Manager's special at our local bread store. Like I've said, we're not purists.)
Pasta $.65 (Buy one get one deal)
Parmesan cheese $1.99
Pasta sauce $.68 (Buy one get one deal)

Granted, there is some additional cost for running the stove and oven, and I'm not going to calculate the few cents that flour adds. I'm sure the price of the olive oil I'm going to use for cooking the eggplant and on the garlic bread cost less than $1.50. Keep in mind that I'm only going to use one pepper, a carrot or two, two stalks of celery, half a tomato, one head of lettuce, and half the mozzarella, and half the box of pasta (with leftovers), 2 hamburger buns (two pieces each), so the actual price for this meal will be less. That said, this meal (using the full price from the grocery trip) costs $19.62 and will give us leftovers for lunch the next day! Using the price of what I'd actually use, the price is around $10. That's $10 X 52 weeks = $520 a year. Most meals won't cost this much (tuna cakes with creamed peas or spaghetti and meatballs are both SUPER cheap options!), but I just wanted to show you that "fancy" meals are still cheaper than some (to quote Tim McGraw) "supper from a sack/ a ninety-nine cent heart attack" and so much better tasting! Even better, your family gets to eat together and have conversation. Study after study has shown that eating as a family is a huge help in keeping kids in school and out of trouble. *steps off soapbox*

So now that you know that meal planning is a good thing, the next thing to consider is "HOW?"

Step 1: Get a calendar.
~ The calendar will give you a place to write down your meals for the week (two weeks or month). We use a dry erase board type calendar.(The paper kind would work just as well. I hear they have them available online too, but I'm so not into technology.) It allows us to post upcoming events and keep us on the same page so we don't schedule something that takes a long time to prepare on a really busy night (like the week I have finals!). Days that I'll get home late from class/ study group/ meeting at church, hubby will either have something really nice/ special ready (he makes the best oven roast!) or something that will be really easy to heat up.

Step 2: What do you like to eat?
~ Hate potatoes? Then don't schedule mashed potatoes to go with your chicken for Thursday! Have a recipe for stuffed peppers you've been wanting to try? If you have everything, schedule it when you'll have time to try it out. If you need something, schedule it after your shopping trip (and a night you have time to take your time). The point of this is not to stress. Make it easy for yourself! If you don't have one, get a crock pot. For a family of 4, I'd recommend a 3 or 4 quart one. It's about $35, and it will pay for itself! Uses very little electricity (summer in Florida is no time to crank up an oven anyway); make your own frozen dinners for cheap and without the added salts, preservatives, etc; lets you buy cheaper cuts of meat because it will make ANYTHING tender; take 20 minutes in the morning to prep and dinner will be ready when you get home!

Step 3: Make it balanced
~ By writing down your meals (side dishes and all), you'll be able to make sure your meals are balanced. We try to have a (veggie-heavy) meatless meal once a week, but we can't eat just lettuce. We make sure we have a good combination of non-meat proteins (like beans and rice), carbs and veggies/fruits. Even if you eat meat every night, try to change it up by having different types of meat (chicken 2 nights, a night with beef, a night with pork, a night with some sort of seafood, like canned tuna) and keep the meats lean, if possible.

Step 4: Keep consistent
~ Set up a day/time to plan the week's meals. Our time is Sunday evening, after dinner. We plan Monday through Sunday, but whenever and however works for you is totally fine! Just make sure you do this EVERY week (every other week or every month, whenever it's your time)! Once you get into the habit, it gets to be so easy. I know there have been a few weeks that we "forgot" or were "too busy/tired/grouchy" and we didn't plan. It killed us for the week. (Read: went out to dinner 3-4 times!)

Remember: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

Intro... better late than never.

Let me just get it out there that I am NOT tech savvy, at all. Thus, there were some issues in the beginning (like not being able to join the blog, not being able to publish my intro post, etc.) So, if my regular post doesn't show up, please be patient because I probably hit "save" rather than "publish." *Whew* Ok, now that that's out of the way:

I'm Elizabeth. I'm 21 (and a half!). I was born in New Jersey, but have moved all over the country because my dad was in the Marine Corps.(Semper Fi!) However, my darling hubby, Dave, comes from a long line of southerners and lived in the same small southern town all his life. Somehow, we ended up in the same city, him for work and myself for college. We met at church and became best friends. We were married in May of 2009. In spite of our very different backgrounds, we share most of the same goals, values, hopes and dreams: a simple home full of love, laughter, family and good food made from our own garden.

One of the things that we have in common is a love of food. My biological father's side is pure Italian (my mom was the first non-Italian ever in the family, think "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" style), and my mom's side is Polish, German, Irish, and Native American. Yes, I'm stubborn. Yes, I have a temper. And yes, I can cook, and I have the hips to prove it. (Chicken parm, ravioli from scratch, lasagna, homemade red sauce, perogies, homemade stuffed cabbage)My husband grew up Southern. Not Paula Deen's butter-covered, everything covered in cheese, wrapped in bacon and then fried style either. His Paw-paw had a huge garden and he spent summers going outside and eating peas right off the plant. Fruits and veggies were always fresh, fresh, fresh. It's not a meal without at least three veggies and some kind of bread. Most importantly, meals are simple: Piece of chicken/ steak/ pork chop/ fish, green beans, corn on the cob, salad, mashed potatoes or rice, and cornbread. Now, just because he can cook like that, doesn't mean he did/does. The man LOVES his red meat, bacon, blue cheese dressing, Taco Bell, etc. Don't even ask how many trips we made to Waffle House when we were dating/ engaged!

I don't know if it was watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution or my scripture-based study of health (probably a combination since they were happening around the same time) that brought me and my husband (No, "my husband and I" is not the correct way to say that) to the decision to dip our toes in the "real food" movement, but either way, I'm glad it happened.

First of all, what is this "real food" stuff?

What "real food" is not:
1) Eating everything organic. (There are PLENTY of organic products that are not real food and vice verse.)
2) Being a vegetarian/ vegan
3) Just for hippies!
4) Always super expensive/ hard

Now that we have that out of the way... much like "natural childbirth" there are as many definitions as there are people, and my style is far from the only/best one. For our family, eating real food is about eating things that are good for our bodies (and avoiding those that aren't) because our bodies are gifts from God and are not to be defiled. (1 Corinthians 3:17 "If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.") These things include grains, fruits and vegetables, small portions of meat, poultry and seafood. We try to avoid things like artificial flavorings, colors, preservatives, sweeteners, etc. (Basically: food is not made in a lab. It comes from the Earth.)

This way of eating isn't completely new to me. My whole life I have been plagued by migraines (so much more than just a bad headache)and I have a skin condition called epidermolysis bullosa (EB... here's a link: which my skin becomes covered in painful blisters after minor trauma (like kicking a soccer ball). I'm very blessed to have only a mild case, but it is painful nonetheless. I've had to avoid artificial sweeteners (and caffeine except in small amounts like a chocolate bar in a two week period or one caffeinated soda in a month) my whole life. An EB outbreak can be triggered by artificial colors, especially Red 40. Needless to say, I'm used to skimming lables.

But it wasn't until I got married, watched Food Revolution, started to go heart-healthy and trying to get hubby and myself into better shape (you know, other than round) that I began really reading labels (originally for sodium content). I began saying things like "Honey, how do you pronounce that?" for over half of the ingredients. Hubby's a scientist and he had no clue what some of those things were. That made me uneasy about what we're eating. Furthermore, I found recipes for (easy!)heart-healthy things from scratch that I usually got from a bottle or pouch. I noticed how much better it tasted and how much better we felt after eating it. The first things to go were those bagged frozen meals. ("Go" as in we ate them to use them up, or we gave them to missionaries from our church. I'm just too cheap to throw things out.) We rarely have any type of soda or chips (except corn chips made from actual corn, salt and oil Fritos) except as treats. (I make some killer nachos!)We also put the breaks on boxed dinners (Hamburger Helper) and mac-and-cheese. We still have some on hand for those nights when we're just beat, and we figure it's better than fast food, but we've cut down a lot.

My crock pot(s)and my stock pot (20 quarts... yeah, it's huge) are my BFFs. We get veggies from our farmer's market (or grocery store when there's a better sale) and cook up a big batch. Then we portion them out and freeze in plastic containers. A few months ago, we got a HUGE bunch of greens (Yes, this Yankee cooks collard greens!)for $3. We still have 3 or 4 containers in the freezer. When we need a "quick" veggie, we just pull out the container, run water over the bottom to loosen it, and pop it in a pot over medium heat. (The juice is already in there.) My favorite has to be the chicken broth I made. Chicken leg quarters were on sale for $.59/ pound (less than half price around here). I bought a ton! Boiled them until the meat fell off (great for stir-fry, chicken salad and using up the last of the "helper.") Then I boiled the bones with some herbs and spices and veggie peels. So much better tasting than boxed/canned broth and no preservatives! Easy, easy, easy! Be on the look out for tons of "real" frozen dinner recipes!

We aren't purists by any means. We still go out to dinner, most (80%) of our bread is store-bought and, like I said, we keep some boxed mac-and-cheese on hand. But we're a work in progress. From what I've read, baby steps are key. I hope the coming post will provide you with little things you can do to make your life easier and healthier.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Supersets Save Time

I am a strong proponent of the important of strength training for women. I know you are all probably rolling your eyes. We’ve all been there. As women, we often think, “I only have 30 minutes to workout today, I want to do whatever will burn the most calories and help me lose the most weight,” and in our minds we rationalize that cardio workouts are the way to go. I totally understand that mentality – but I also disagree.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think cardio is very important. I try to equally distribute my workouts between strength training and cardio (3 and 3 for those who are wondering - one day I’ll show you my workout calendar covered in gold and silver star stickers à la 2nd grade), but if I have to choose, I often choose strength training. Why? Well, even though I’ve read countless articles and heard many of the debates on cardio vs. strength, in my case it just comes down to where I have seen the best results in my own life – strength training. This doesn’t mean strength training will equal the best results in everyone, but in my experience, I have developed more lean muscle mass and witnessed higher fat burning from strength workouts.

I think the most important thing with strength training is to do something you like – otherwise you will get bored very quickly. I was pretty lucky about 6 months ago to stumble into a class at the gym that I ended up really enjoying. It was called Super Set Conditioning and it has been an asset to my strength-training program in 2010. It has pushed me to my limits, taught me beneficial workouts to do on my own time, and left me researching strength workouts to do at home.

But as usual, I am getting ahead of myself. First, I guess I should address -- what is a superset? Well, most of us have heard of set training – doing a strength training exercise for a certain number of repetitions (often between 8-12, or 12-15), resting and repeating. Supersets just take it to a new level of intensity. Rather than putting that “rest – repeat” step in, you immediately move into a second exercise with little or no rest in between. For example, I might do a set of 12 Tricep Extensions and immediately move into 12 Hammer Curls. I could then rest for a moment and repeat the set. Supersets can be composed of opposing muscle groups (antagonistic supersets), or they can be comprised of exercises for a single muscle group. Each method has its benefits.

If you are new to strength training, I would recommend doing regular set training until you know you are using proper form. At that point, you can gradually move into supersets.

There are many benefits to supersets. Supersets save time and they are constantly challenging your muscles. You are moving through your exercise program much quicker than with regular training sets, but the intensity is increased.

I’ve included a short video of me demonstrating an at-home superset. Please excuse the end of the clip getting cut off (the hubs swears he didn’t hit stop until I was done talking). Also please excuse the tiny hand weights...they were all I had on hand.

One of my favorite things to see in the blogosphere is links to other sites and articles of interest. I think it’s a good way to find out about related reading that you might not otherwise know about. Also, I tend to come across a lot of stuff that I’d like to pass on, but time just won’t allow for a full blog post. So look forward to “Links to Health” every Thursday!

Links to Health:

50 Best Blogs for Clean Eating

Battle of the Baby Weight: Stability Ball Exercises for Postpartum Moms

Biggest Loser Controversy: Kai Hibbard Speaks Out

Circuit Training: Burn Twice the Calories in Half the Time

How to Eat Garden Fresh Without a Garden

By End of 2010, New US Dietary Guidelines Will Be Issued

CDC: Few Americans Meet Salt Guidelines

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tempted Much?

Greetings from Honduras! This week I am cruising with my mom, two aunts and two cousins. The six of us take a trip every two years, and this year we decided to cruise.

I don't know about you, but when I hear the word cruise, one of the first things that I think about is the food. Well, first I think of the tan I plan to acquire, but then I think of the food. Every meal can be eaten buffet style or in the dining room. And let's not forget the midnight buffet, the pizza stands by the pool, the deli, the sushi bar, the burrito bar, and the waiters who are always offering pina coladas. Add to that 24 hour room service and you can literally eat all day long.

So, how do you combat the temptations?? For this cruise, I decided that I would not snack and would only eat at meal times. In doing this, I am actually hungry during meals and not eating just because the food is there.

I also decided that I would allow myself one meal to really let loose and enjoy all I wanted, but the rest of the meals I would show control. My chosen night was Captain's Night. It was HEAVEN! The appetizers were pumpkin soup and stuffed mushrooms, the main course was lobster and shrimp, and dessert was a chocolate molten cake. And here is the kicker: I didn't feel guilty. At all. Because for breakfast I had had fruit and toast with peanut butter. For lunch I had the light pasta and fruit for dessert.

In contrast, for dinner last night, I had boiled free range chicken on top of asparagus with a plain baked potato (I eat my baked potatoes with ketchup instead of butter and sour cream). I did have some cheesecake for dessert, but it was controlled (and delicious).

As mentioned in my previous post, it's all about not feeling deprived. I am enjoying the food on this cruise, but on my own terms. I have set some boundaries, but instead of limiting me, they are helping me enjoy the food that I am eating that much more. I am also working out everyday. The cruise has a great track that we walk/jog on and we also swim "laps" in the ocean (which is much harder than I thought because you have to fight the current and waves).

In the past year I have learned a lot about my eating habits and what I need to do to feel satisfied. The cruise has been a great start to this traveling season and I am hoping that I can keep it up! Next week I will be writing to you from Barcelona and giving you an update on my better choices for food and the never ending battle to exercise.
Until then...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

breading? yes, please.

on saturday, i got a pretty serious yen for something Not Healthy, though happily my commitment to my diet and my goal to take off the pounds that just seem to come on without warning stayed true.

so i decided it was time to trick my tastebuds by indulging in The Great Breaded Food Fest 2010.

how can this be? isn't breaded food of the devil?  only when it's fried, kids, only when it's fried.

i decided that i would do some homemade chicken nuggets (with purchased wing sauce for my dear husband, who would order that at chili's every single day of the week if provided the opportunity) and zucchini coins/fries.

first rule of thumb when you're doing breading: supplement your egg mixture with something else.  

 why? because the egg mixture is the perfect place to hide vegetable puree.  behold the egg mixture for the chicken--a mix of one egg and 1/2 cup pureed carrots.  hello, vitamins!

(don't worry. you can't taste it, and it keeps the chicken ridiculously moist.)

you can use egg whites only if you are concerned about cholesterol or fat. the egg white is the sticky stuff anyway, but i only used one egg each  for about 1 1/2 zucchini and almost a pound of chicken.  

(don't be grossed out.  it's somewhat thick and soupy, but happily makes it much easier for the slippery chicken breasts to hold on to the breadcrumbs.  i also added a few dashes of hot sauce, because that's how our family rolls.)

second rule of thumb when using bread crumbs: doctor up the bread crumb mixture.

frankly, i'm a big believer in spice now.  i used to be fairly bland in my eating, but there's nothing that a little garlic salt can't make better, or a store-bought spaghetti sauce that can't use a little extra oregano, basil, and garlic powder. just because we're eating healthy foods doesn't mean they have to be boring.

so to my bread crumb mixture for the chicken nuggets, i added some garlic powder and parmesan cheese. when you're planning on baking something breaded instead of frying it, i think the parmesan is important in the browning process. it also adds a great deal of flavor without many calories (1 tbsp is about 20 calories, if you're using the reduced fat version; it's about the same calorie count, with more fat for the regular version).  you can toss anything in there, as long as it's dry.  for the zucchini, for example, i used basil, oregano, garlic powder, and parmesan.

you can use a bowl or, as i learned yesterday, you can use a plate. i think the plate prevents a lot of glopping that comes with putting your fingers in the bowl and tossing the mixture on top of the thing you are breading.

(and, yes, glopping IS a formal term.)

for the chicken nuggets, i used two fairly large frozen chicken breasts, defrosted and cut into chicken nugget size.  you can do chicken strips, if you like, but you won't get as many from your two breasts. 

third rule of using bread crumbs: dredge, dredge, dredge but don't overdredge.

for the chicken nuggets, i dip the chicken piece into the carrot/egg mix, then into the breadcrumbs. i cover the nugget, but i shake off the excess.  i ended up using about 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs, though i had to add a little more at the end.  i always have leftover breadcrumbs, but they are the ones that don't really stick anymore and aren't usable, so have the bread crumbs and assorted additions handy.  the same dredging process happened for the zucchini fries as well, though i was able to use less.

fourth rule of using bread crumbs: find ways to make the breadcrumbs crispy.  

for the chicken nuggets, i took a page from the bisquick baked fried chicken recipe and decided to heat the pan ahead of time. instead of butter, i used olive oil, enough to coat the bottom of the pan (about 2 tbsp for a large pan, though i added a bit more for the middle of the pan). heat the oven to a high temp (mine was 450) and put the pan in for a few minutes.  take it out, and put your dredged chicken pieces directly on it. at first, you'll hear a sizzle when they hit.

that's a GOOD thing, as it's how the crispiness will happen.

this is what mine looked like in the oven:

the zucchini fries were much easier to manage.  i just put them in the oven, again at 450, for about 12 to 15 minutes; turn once and take them out when they are crispy and tender enough for your liking. you need zero oil for this recipe, though if you don't have a really non-stick pan, you'll hate your life.

with the zucchini, you can cut them into medallion shape or into wedges.  either one works well with dredging.  having done this twice now, i suggest the wedges--unless you hate the texture/taste of zucchini. then, if you cut them skinny enough into medallions, you cannot taste them at all. but the wedges have the feel of fries and i think they have a much more delicious taste--and this from a person who really doesn't like zucchini in traditional steamed/healthy preparations.

the end result of The Great Breaded Food Fest looked a little something like this:

(sorry for the bad lighting.)

on the right are the chicken nuggets (told you they got a little bit...done),  on the top are the zucchini medallions, and on the left are, obviously, peas. the plate was just too beige--i needed some nutritious color!

(not pictured: the curry sour cream and spicy marinara sauce that i made as dipping sauces.  everything's better with a dipping sauce, and the zucchini is DELICIOUS with marinara sauce.)

bottom line: breading is not of the devil.  bread crumbs are calorically dense, but you don't have to use much.  if you're smart, and substitute, substitute, substitute, you can enjoy the same foods that you always have but feel MUCH less guilty about it.  this is a good thing.

(and i made the zucchini again yesterday for lunch and i'm making them again today.  they are just that good.)


ps: i made ashlee's apple banana muffins. they are DELICIOUS. everyone in my house is a fan.  try them!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Apple Banana Muffins

I was originally going to discuss the value of weekly menu planning, but that will just have to wait until next week. I simply must share this recipe with you. I found the original recipe at Weelicious and made a couple changes.

In a few days, EK and I will be traveling to NYC for Anthony’s BOTC graduation. I’ve been going over what snacks I was going to take for the plane ride and have been hitting some bumps. It has to be something REALLY good for her to eat it (she doesn’t eat when she’s excited). I know I want her to eat during take off and landing to avoid the whole shrieking-in-ear-pain situation. The only thing I was thinking would work was cookies. She’ll do just about anything for a cookie. And then I found this recipe.

It’s perfect.

Not only did it use up the rest of the fruit that I was worried would end up trashed, but it made a bunch of beautiful, bite-sized little scrumptious goodies. And guess what… no added sugar (I’m talkin the white stuff, ya know, the enemy. This recipe does call for honey.) and VERY little fat. And the fat that’s used is canola oil, a heart-healthy fat.

Apple Banana Muffins
(Makes 24-28 Mini Muffins… That’s what the recipe said and I ended up with 24 mini muffins and 10 regular muffins.)


The Dry Team:
1 ½ Cups All Purpose Flour
½ Cup Old Fashioned Oats
2 Tsp Baking Powder
½ Tsp Baking Soda
½ Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Cinnamon

The Wet Team:
4 Tbsp Canola Oil
½ Cup Honey (substitute agave for honey if feeding an infant under 1 year old, or you could just use the white stuff, sugar. I won’t tell anyone.)
1 Egg
½ Cup Milk
2 Bananas, mashed
1 Medium Apple, peeled and grated (I used the yummy, sweet Pink Lady variety)

1. Here we go! Preheat your over to 350 degrees and grease your muffin tins.

2. Combine your dry team in a bowl and mix.

3. In another bowl, combine your wet team and whisk.

* If your honey is sticking to the sides of the jar (or in our case, the bear), pop it in the microwave for a few seconds. This will liquefy it and allow you to use every last drop.

(Just don't do it too long or you might melt your bear.)

4. Slowly add the dry team to the wet team and stir until just combined. Do not fret, you WILL see bits of white here and there. You must fight the urge to work those bits in. Just walk away! You’ll thank me later.

5. Fill tins almost to the top. I suggest using a scoop to make the job nice and neat.

6. Bake for 17 minutes. If making minis, check them after 12 minutes by inserting a toothpick in the center of one muffin (if it comes out wet, needs more time).

7. Once out of the oven, immediately remove from muffin tin and allow to cool on a cooling rack.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Slightly Clean. Mostly Dirty.

Following three fabulous ladies and their fabulous introductions. So….Much… Pressure. But isn’t that how it always is? As women we’re always finding ways to put pressure on ourselves. I certainly do. Family, school, work, fitness – all seemingly normal until I get a hold of them. That’s something I am working on though, not comparing myself against others, but instead comparing myself against me. Reaching my potential and all that mess. It’s a long-term goal and a work-in-progress. That is what you will learn quickly about me though; I like to have goals (but that doesn’t mean I am constantly finding clever and innovative ways to procrastinate moving towards those goals).

I guess I am getting ahead of myself though. I should probably tell you about me and my rockin little world before I jump into everything else. My name is Meghan and I am a mid-twenties (is 26 mid or late twenties? I can never decide) Florida girl. I am married to Allen, my best friend, my confidant, and the most hardcore sports fan I know. We have been married for about a year and a half and it has already been an incredible ride.

We dated for about three years before we got married and in that short time, he has slowly and cunningly converted me into his ideal Southern girl (country music, 4-wheel riding, skeet shooting, and all); that is, if Southern girls can still claim that they love saltwater in their hair and that palm trees make them feel at home.

I love traveling and college football (and especially traveling FOR college football).

Also, I’m always in training (for something). I have found that having a long-term goal to train for helps me stay disciplined (disciplined is different than motivated – but that’s a discussion for another day). Right now it’s a combination of things (100 Pushups and a Sprint Triathlon). I love strength training, decorating my house, and apparently (parentheses). I also like ellipses and slashes. But to the disgust of the person who signed my English degree (and Teachergirl! Hi Teachergirl!), I rarely…if ever…use any of those things properly. It’s my own personal form of rebellion against years of red pen.

Currently, I’m working on a Master of Public Health degree and I just took a new job working with a Rehabilitative Counselor. Similar to the other ladies, my adult life has been a constant internal battle with food, body image, and jean size. I am addicted to granola bars…but I tend to ignore the fact they are dipped in chocolate. Granola is healthy right?

This internal battle is part of the reason I am so excited about this collaboration. I truly believe in the strength of women, especially a group of women. I look forward to learning from one another.

I have several fitness related ambitions, but for now, I just focus on developing ways to keep it all interesting. I don’t like to get settled in a routine for too long and I am always more successful at things when I have an opportunity to help others.

Some of the posts you can expect from me will relate to fitness and strength training, eating clean (though I mostly eat dirty), setting health and fitness goals, and my many misadventures with cooking.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It is a truth universally acknowledged that all women are in search of a better body...

(It's true what they say, the intro post is always the worse. And I have written three different versions! I think this version was the best one...)

My name is Adriana. I am no expert on health or fitness (although after a lifetime of dieting, I certainly sound like I know what I am talking about. It's putting it into action that is the problem.). I have had my share of ups and downs with my weight, well, more ups than downs. One year I was within 25 lbs of my goal weight and I got lazy (and gained about 20 more lbs!). However, as I get older, I am finally realizing that being healthy is way more important than wanting to look good in a bathing suit or fit into a pair of skinny jeans (although that is an added perk!). I plan to live until I am at least 87 years old, and I need to take better care of myself. Welcome to my journey!

My favorite hobby is traveling and with that comes the usual problem of trying to stay healthy while visiting other countries. But I can't just tell the waiter in Madrid to go light on the lard that is making my meal delicious or say no to the tartuffo that is calling my name in Rome (that should be illegal!). However, I can share the meal in Madrid or just have a bite of the tartuffo. Over and over again, I learn the art of making good choices and not feeling deprived. Thankfully, I will be living in Barcelona for a chunk of the summer and will have a chance to perfect my craft of healthy living. I am hoping that as I post my adventures and tips about eating and working out in foreign countries that this audience will serve as inspiration to help me keep my goals.

I will also be blogging about healthy recipes for 1-2 people. Being single can many times help with healthy living because you don't have to worry about another person, but it can also hinder the process (how many times have I said, no, I am not cooking, I am going out to dinner...). You should know that I have a lot of experience in the kitchen and if any recipe that I post doesn't work for you, let me know and I will fix it, at no extra charge.

I am so excited to be part of this blog and hope that we can grow and learn from each other. Truly, having a support group makes life work so much better and I look forward to sharing the wisdom that I have and gaining more from you...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

the reeducation of me.

(in typical me fashion, i charge ahead and post without introducing myself, like you know me and are already in my head.) 

while you may know me, you may not know what inspired this blog. 

about five years ago, i started losing weight. for the vast majority of my life, i have been overweight; from high school until the beginning of my phd program, i was seriously obese. i had tried most every diet out there, but never was successful.  there are a lot of reasons for that, but mainly it was because i wasn't ready. i don't know why; i railed against my weight for many years, wishing and hoping that i could be smaller and healthier.  but i never really did anything about it.

then i moved, and had a year of phd program, and somehow i was ready.  nothing exciting--calorie counting and portion size education.  i lost about 90 pounds in about a year.  i maintained it for about a year or so, then lost 30 or 40 more primarily through exercise.  between those two years, i figured out a lot about myself, my relationship with food (though i deeply loathe that term), and how to exercise.

and i learned that i actually liked things that i didn't think i liked (hello, vegetables, i'm looking at you) and was actually good at other things i didn't think i ever would be.  it was a steep, and rewarding, learning curve.

but one of the main things i learned is that my weight will always be a constant battle, and that the numbers on the scale are sometimes depressingly underwhelming.  health is about far more than what i weigh, though i am in a constant quest to finally reach my goal weight. 

all of this is background to where i am now: newly married, about to graduate with a phd, and holding down about three or four different teaching jobs to support our new little family while my husband goes to school.  my life is a juggling act that has often found me not taking good care of myself. since i got married in august, i've gained twenty pounds.  happily, those twenty pounds have been half a pants size instead of three, a miracle stemming from exercise, i think.  but it bothers me more than i can say, and even thought i've done a lot of things, the pounds just aren't coming off. 

when things are busy, it still seems the easiest thing to do is slap a frozen pizza in the oven and call it a night.  it's way too easy for me to not be conscious of healthy choices when i'm busy and living on a budget.  nobody puts grapes on bogo sale, you know? i still like to bake when i'm stressed and unfortunately often lack the willpower to stop myself from eating what i bake.  i have a wicked sweet tooth that i keep trying to figure out how to placate with healthy choices rather than my previous default position (a little something that i like to call ben and jerry's/oreo/anything chocolate and full of transfat therapy). 

i am reeducating myself again, with a focus on making myself the healthiest and strongest that i can be.  i want to feel good in my skin, not necessarily because a number tells me to be so, but because i know that i am consistently making the choices that will bring me stamina and strength and energy--so that i can run and not be weary and walk and not faint.  when i do that, and when my weaknesses have become strengths, then i will feel like a success.  i'm on my way.  but it's a daily struggle.

so here, you'll hear about the tricks i've discovered, the ways i'm trying to make things more healthy, and the lessons i've learned in my journey. here, i'll learn that i'm not alone in my struggle as well as some awesome hints and tips from people who i respect and admire.

there will be lessons for all of us, i'm sure. 

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hello, my name is . . .

The first post is the weirdest hardest. When asked to contribute to this blog, I was very excited. I think the idea of having several women share their personal struggles and triumphs with healthy living is inspiring.
So, Hello! My name is Ashlee. I’m a full-time mother of one beautiful 23-month old baby girl and another beautiful baby girl to be born this August. My husband and I have been married for 3 years. He’s recently been commissioned as an Officer in the NOAA Corps, a big blessing and huge trial all rolled up into one nice, government-employee package. I’m basically a single mom for half of the year…, well, more like 220 days of the year. This lifestyle is new for us and we’re coping. Hesitantly. Gradually.

So who am I? I’m certainly no nutritional expert or life coach. I’m a mom, and by so being I wear many hats. So far today I am a maid, carpet cleaner, dish washer, personal chef, doctor, preschool teacher, dog walker, writer, photographer, and TV critic. Being a stay-at-home mom is the hardest job I have ever held. Ever. Ever ever ever ever. There are many challenges and one of the biggest is getting my daughter to eat healthy foods. And resisting ice cream.

I’m not going to lie to you. I LOVE ice cream. Actually, I love most things that contain refined sugar. I also love fried things. And you know what my favorite things are? Doughnuts. The beautiful marriage of fried and sugar. So basically, I’m not some granola toting, raw food eating, perfect example of health. But everyday I try to be better and everyday I fight my dragons (chocolate covered dragons are the worst).

And that’s what I’ll be sharing with you. My fight.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

tricks of the trade.

when you're trying to lose weight and a person with a desperate sweet tooth, you're likely to find some way to work the system.  it's not a new idea; it's not even my idea, really, but i've managed to figure out a way to make it a bit more healthy and budget friendly.

so you've probably heard about 2 point brownies or 100 calorie brownies. what's the trick? the standard recipe is to take a chocolate cake mix (devil's food, chocolate fudge, whatever) and add a can of pumpkin.  you don't use eggs, you don't use oil, and so you lessen the fat and increase the vitamin content.

awesome idea.

however, during the Great Pumpkin Shortage of 2009-2010, cans of pumpkin were hard to come by and they're also fairly pricey.  during the same time, i found deceptively delicious by jessica seinfeld. once i got over the fact that she's a rich celebrity's wife and thus should shut up and hire a cook and realized that she actually does cook for her family and my mind was blown, i read it and loved it. essentially, it just suggests that you up the health quotient of everything you eat by adding purees.

purees? you mean like...pumpkin?

i learned about two substitutions for pumpkin that make my chocolate life easier and cheaper: sweet potatoes and butternut squash.  from one roasted sweet potato, i can get about a cup of puree, which will make one whole cake mix.*  however, i bag them in 1/2 cup amounts and split the cake mixes.  i toss in a few chocolate chips, bake them in mini muffin tins, and i have little bite size pieces of awesome that are about 60 or 70 calories each (it really depends on how liberal i am with the chocolate chip dumping).  and since sweet potatoes are prevalent everywhere and relatively cheap, there's no reason for me to not get my chocolate on.

and that's an idea i can get behind.

*i don't own a food processor or any fancy equipment. i stick the sweet potatoes in the oven and bake them at a high degree (usually around 400 or 450) for about 40 minutes, until they're very soft.  i split them, put the pulp that i scoop out into the blender, and blend.  or, if i'm feeling lazy and anti-extra-dishes, i put it in a bowl and smash it some.  it's really not complicated, trust me. and these purees are great for other things than just chocolate awesome muffins.  but i'll post about that some other time.