We're more than halfway into the first month of the New Year. How are you doing with those goals and resolutions? Have you been undeterred? Focused? Strong-willed? Have you had a small set back or fallen off the wagon? When it comes to watching what we eat it can occupy much of our thought process and time. It can complicate food shopping and eating out. But it shouldn't have to. Moderation is key. If you slip don't punish yourself. The best place to start is in your kitchen. If your kitchen is "clean" and healthy you'll be less driven to temptation at home so if you do go out and splurge it won't be the end of the world. I am not a nutritionist nor a health fanatic. But I do have a few simple tips to share. If you think that red wine is medicinal and healthy you should read on!
A trimmed down kitchen will help you get a trimmed down you. Organization here is key but very simple. Many of us have a hard time saying no to temptation and while it would be easy to remove those tempting items altogether, this may not be feasible, especially if, like me, you have a house filled with children. I know what my weaknesses are - everything! I find that it's easier to avoid temptation when there are plenty of substitutes to be found. I make sure that ready to be eaten healthy foods on snacks on readily on hand. I have my fridge filled with a variety of brightly colored healthy treats that satisfy all my cravings. Variety is key here. I get bored easily and when I limit myself and my diet I am much more likely to veer off course.
At the beginning of the month, wanting to undo my Christmastime food damage, I decided to put myself on a strict diet to help me lose the 10 pounds I'd been wanting to lose for the past few years. I had had luck in the past with The South Beach Diet losing all my baby weight after my 2nd and 3rd children were born. I decided to give it a go again. This is a strict no carb diet that was created for the diabetic and those with substantial amounts to lose and not really for people like myself. I went to the grocery store and bought the suggested menu items. The first couple of days were tough as I munched my way through nuts (I'm not a huge fan), chicken and cheese. Although vegetables are encouraged I found myself actually eating less than what was normal for me. The vegetables weren't satisfying my hunger. I'm active and try to work out at least 5 days a week doing cardio most of those days. The lean protein, cheese and nuts weren't sitting well. While I had lost the desire for the bad carbs that I normally turned to as snack choices, I found myself craving things like yogurt and fresh fruit as oranges, apples and berries are such a great part of my diet. So I decided to bag the diet and add back the fruit.I didn't lose anything in my deprived state and I didn't lose anything when I added the fruit back in, but I felt incredibly well. I had my energy back. In fact I had, perhaps, even more than I had had before I removed the "bad" carbs from my diet. I didn't miss the crackers, the chips or the sugary sweets.
Below I have some healthy tips and bits of advice to help curb the dangerous cravings. I do believe, however, that no one should ever completely deprive themselves, that moderation is key and that from time to time you should allow yourself something special.
Tips for a "Clean" Fridge (& what to keep in it)
A "Clean" Fridge will carry you far. The new year is the perfect time of year to go through your refrigerator with a fine tooth comb. Get rid of opened jars that haven't been used in months - salsas, pasta sauces, salad dressings. Comb through all your containers, glass and plastic, and check expiration dates. If possible consolidate partially started jars. Organize your condiments so that they're all together. Wipe down shelves and drawers. Once you've done that you can move on to Part 2 of a Clean Fridge.
Have plenty of healthy options readily accessible for when hunger or cravings strike.
- Have fresh fruit washed and ready to be eaten in your produce drawer. These can include, oranges, tangerines, blood oranges, grapefruits, apples and pears. Have plenty of fresh berries on hand as well but don't wash these ahead of time as this will shorten the life of the fruit. I like to grab a bowl, fill it with water, and wash out the berries I think I will eat over the course of the day. I drain them and then keep them in a bowl in the fridge. This sort of forces me to eat them either alone, or my favorite way, with yogurt.
- Yogurt. My yogurt of choice is Dannon's Oikos Triple Zero.
- Ready to eat Veggies. I peel and cut peppers, carrots and celery so that if I need something crunchy I can just grab and go. My kids can too. In fact, I find that by having these pre-prepared they eat more vegetables. In order to prevent the carrots and celery from drying up you can keep them in jars of water. You can also toss them freshly washed (wet) in Ziplock bags. I keep pre-cut peppers this way too. I'm not a huge fan of raw broccoli or cauliflower, but will eat them cooked and chilled either sprinkled with salt and pepper or with hummus or salad dressing. In fact, I love asparagus this way too. They're so easy to cook and I designate several hours one day a week - usually on Sunday when I do my big grocery shopping - and prep some healthy snacks that the children and I can munch on during the week.
- Salad dressings and dips. We keep lots of low fat options of salad dressings too - ranch happens to be a favorite here. We always have at least 1 container of hummus on hand as well. Sabra is our favorite brand.
- Pre-washed and dried lettuces. I have lettuce washed, dried and ready to go. With Romaine, after I've washed and dried it, I'll chop up the leaves and place them in a sealed plastic bag. This way if I want a salad, I just have to grab a handful or two of the leaves and go. I love the baby lettuces but my children don't as much.
- Hard boiled eggs. They're great to eat alone and tossed in salads.
- Canned fish. I keep cans of high quality tuna packed in olive oil. The Italian brands are superior.
- Edamame. In the produce aisle where I can find the herbs I help myself to containers of salted, shelled edamame beans. These make a great snack!
- Lean protein. Rotisserie chicken is almost always in my fridge. Turkey bacon often is too.
Tips for a "Clean" Pantry (& what to keep in it)
Clean out the pantry, your cupboards (or Carb Closet as we call it!) the way you did the fridge. Toss out cans and jars of things you've not used or have expired. Take inventory of canned items, sauces, oils, vinegars and other items used regularly.
- Quinoa and other healthy grains. Incorporate healthy grains like quinoa, farro, millet and buckwheat into your diet. Replace white rice with brown rice. I believe that pasta once in a while is a good thing. In fact, the glycemic index of pasta is much lower than bread. Pretzels are, apparently, one of the worst choices if watching carbohydrates.
- Popcorn. Because sometimes you need a salty crunch! I keep kernels, Jiffy Pop and Smartfood on hand. For sweet cravings a carefully measured serving of Smartfood Kettle Corn totally hits the spot.
- Dark Chocolate. For medicinal purposes of course ;) I keep dark chocolate or semi-sweet miniature chips on hand for an occasional treat. After several days of not eating foods with added sugar you find that you prefer things a bit less sweet. Dark chocolate is a perfect sweet choice here. Be sure to stick to the serving size. If necessary separate into batches. And keep them away from sight! I like to grab a small handful of miniature chocolate chips to enjoy occasionally or add a tablespoon or two to vanilla yogurt.
- Cocoa Powder. This has the properties of dark chocolate and none of the calories. I love to add some to my yogurt or even stir some into a cup of coffee with a packet of Splenda and some lowfat milk for low calorie afternoon treat on a chilly day.
- Nut butters. I adore peanut butter and have to watch myself here. I especially love the nut butters you can "make" at Whole Foods. A spoonful or two before I hit the gym gives me just the right amount of energy if I happen to be working out at an odd hour. I also love peanut butter swirled into my yogurt.
- Broths and beans. When you shop fill your shelves with broths and beans. Beans are great additions to soups and chick peas are great additions to salads and sauteed with just a little bit of olive oil make a great snack. Jars of nuts, pistachios, almonds, and cashews are on hand for snacking as are popcorn kernels.
A "clean" counter...
I do keep a bottle of red wine on the counter. I do enjoy a glass at the end of the day. I keep my counter-tops clear for prep space - chopping veggies, cutting up apples or grapefruits and for prepping meals. During the winter months I keep my crock pot on the counter. It pretty much lives there. This time of year I use my crock pot a lot. I find that it's such an easy way to cook so many wonderfully delicious and low fat meals. In fact, it couldn't be easier - just toss in the ingredients and go. Because the cooking process is slower and longer, I find my dishes are much more flavorful. I adore making soup in the crockpot. (Recipes to follow) I also keep a bowl of fruit - I divide fruit between the fridge and counter. I think fruit bowls look pretty. I keep apples and clementines and bananas out so that my kids can readily reach for them. Tomatoes sit on the counter too - both cherry and Campari. If they start to turn I do toss them into the fridge or roast them in the oven with Italian spices, garlic powder and Parmesan. They're delicious that way.
- Food processor - Great for pureeing veggies and fruit for chilled soups like gazpacho. (Don't puree hot items!) Did you know you can grind your own chicken for tacos and chilis? You sure can and your food processor is a great way to do so!
- Immersion blender - The only way to cream soups. Immerse into the hot crock pot and you have a creamy soup (without cream) in minutes.
- A really good vegetable peeler for peeling celery and carrots.
- Good, sharp knives for good food prep