Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Healthy Adventure: Diet Week 4

This is a big week! You have already given up soda pop, candy, and junk food. This week's goal was the one that I thought would be the most difficult for me and for my family. But, guess what! It turns out that it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be, all because I came up with a plan (bet you didn't see that one coming). For the past month, I have been putting together my own, personalized 8 Week Meal Plan (8WMP) as I have been eliminating and replacing the other items in my diet. At first, I was going to use an awesome plan I found online that actually helps you put together a 28 day plan. It even prepares your grocery list for you, using the ingredients you put into a spread sheet. It was a little bit too complicated for me for now, but, if I can figure out how to use it with 8 weeks instead of 4, I would love to try it out someday.

Here is a beautiful, short article about fast/processed foods and why we seem to be so dependent upon them today. I don't believe it can be explained any better than Mark has here. After reading his article, I felt compelled to change our family's diet, but was not sure exactly how I would do so. That was the beginning of my yearning for this old Healthy Adventure. If you haven't already guessed, our next goal is all about letting go of the fast food.

Week 4 Goal: No Fast Food

That's right, you heard me....NO MORE FAST FOOD. I am almost completely positive that no one who is reading this is 100% free from eating fast food. I know that before this past month, I called my hubby (at least) once a week and asked him to pick up dinner on the way home. I also know that whenever I was sick, pregnant, exhausted, lazy, (fill in the blank with whatever lame excuse you can find for me here), my family suffered because of it. I also know that when I did cook a meal, it was usually like running a sprint in a marathon, mostly because there was no planning involved. I usually would stop around 3 or 4 pm, on any given day, and ask myself what I was going to make for dinner. Unfortunately 3 or 4 pm at our home is one of the craziest times of the day. I would find myself so busy trying to run around putting out little fires all over the place, that I would forget I still needed to figure out what I was cooking for dinner....until around 5:30 (which explains the many evenings of fast food).

Picky Eaters
Another issue I had was feeling my efforts were going unappreciated. I would, finally, complete the preparation of my family's meal, only to have at least one child turn up their little nose at my latest creation. I decided a while ago to use a few different teaching phrases when I heard complaints. Some of them I learned from Love and Logic and the rest I just learned worked for our kids, so I kept them around. Here's my favorite:

Child: "Ahhhhh, I hate (insert whatever dish you just prepared)!"
Me: Do you? Well, you are in luck! In our home, we don't make anyone eat anything. You are free to not eat this meal. :)

Usually, this one worked with a child after a few times. I really abhor hearing a child talk about how much they "hate" something (usually, the same thing that they would have lovingly devoured a few minutes later, without prompting), so I came up with this rule as well: If you tell me that you hate it and don't want to eat don't get to eat it.

To some, this probably seems harsh. Trust me, no one ever starved from going without one meal. I think we have had our oldest go one meal without eating. All the rest got to hear first-hand from her, that if they didn't want to eat their food, mom and dad really would allow them to go without dinner. It only takes a few meals and your kids will catch on quickly.

Out of Sight, Out of MindI have found over the past month, that my kids have began to see an orange or a smoothie as a treat, the same way that they used to view candy or chips. A lot of what they eat depends upon what you have lying around for them to eat. If you have chips, cookies, candy, and soda pop in your cupboard (even if they have been told not to eat it), they will choose those things to eat. The trick, is getting other adults (or young adults) to follow your lead and choose to have healthier options. And, that is why I asked my hubby to keep any sweets at work and to support me on this adventure. It has made it all the easier. I have also been sending him to work with leftovers from the previous evenings meal for lunch and a few healthy snacks I know he likes. Who knows? Maybe he is just pretending to want unhealthy foods....I haven't seen him eat any.

One Food
Another tactic that we use in our home is the One Food Opt Out (1Food). Each New Year's Day, we give each of our children (who are old enough to understand what we are giving them) an opportunity to choose one food that they can opt out of for the entire year. They can't change their food until the next New Year begins (otherwise they would just change it with every meal....our littlest ones still try to do this all the time). The catch is that they NEVER have to eat that one food and that you will ALWAYS find them a replacement when the family is eating their 1Food. I like to make sure that I prepare meals with their food on a regular basis, just so that I can reinforce the fact that I NEVER make them eat that food. Here is an example: One of our children has absolutely loathed peanuts and peanut butter since he was a year old. He has had the same food every year. We make a lot of pb & j sandwiches, so I have learned to keep pistachios, almonds, or cashews on hand. I put the jelly or honey on his sandwich and then grind up some of the nuts I have to put on his sandwich. If I didn't have any nuts, I would offer him a different type of a sandwich, NOT ONCE making him feel bad or showing any contempt towards him for the extra time it took. After all, it is his 1Food and he has a right to that.

The key, is that when they do complain or give a heavy sigh (my kids have now learned not to tell me how much they hate whatever I am preparing), I can ask them if their food is in our meal. Then, I remind them that we have NEVER made them eat their 1Food. I also remind them that everyone else only has 1Food that they can opt out of and that it would be unfair to give any of the kids more than 1Food. I ask them to at least try the food before they choose to not eat the meal. Lo and behold, they usually are the same ones who are making complimenting me on my cooking! I kid you not. It is beyond Green Eggs and Ham some nights. ;)

There will be nights when your kids won't eat as much as you'd like or they will still refuse to eat what you have made for them. This is a good opportunity to remind them of what time you will be serving your next meal. It also allows you to reinforce the fact that in your home, nobody is forced to eat what they don't want. If your kids have been calling the shots on what and when they eat, you will find resistance. Just remember to be loving and to stay calm. Also, if there are other adults in the house, make sure that you are all in agreement that this is better for the kids and ask them to allow you to try it out for a couple of weeks to see if it really does work.

The 8WMP
As I mentioned above, I have been working on my own 8 Week Meal Plan for our family. Not only have I been incorporating our family's favorite meals, but I have also been searching for vegetarian meals to add to the list. My goal was to come up with 4 vegetarian meals, 1 beef, 1 chicken, and 1 fish or pork meal per week. I used that as my guideline and came up with a pretty good layout, but I noticed that I had plenty more meals that had meat than didn't. And that was part of the reason that I had to extend the 4 weeks out to 8 weeks. The other reason for having 8 weeks, is that I, myself, get sick of eating the same thing over and over and over again. I figured that if it had been 2 months since we had last had something, there wouldn't be any valid excuse for someone complaining that we have that meal too often.

If you want me to send you a copy of what I have so far (I still have a few vegetarian meals to fill in....if you have any to share, please do), I would love to send it to you. Just leave me your e-mail in the comments below.

Here is an example of what one of our weeks looks like:

Week 5V M Veggie Pizza
F T Shrimp Scampi w/Pasta~Veggie
V W Veggie Crepes
P H Costa Vida Salads
V F Cream of Mushroom Soup~Bread
V S Vegetarian Thai w/Noodles
C U Hawaiian Haystacks (freeze ½ of chicken for Bridal Salad)

The first column is what type of meal it is (V=vegetarian, C=chicken, B=beef, P=pork, F=fish).
The second column is what day of the week it is (H=Thursday, U=Sunday)
I used college lined paper and a pencil to create (and recreate) my outline, then typed it into the computer. I have been faithfully using my 8WMP for the past four and a half weeks (while I am not on vacation...which leads me to another good point.....).

Exceptions, there are always going to be some. Because we left for our vacation less than 36 hours after deciding to leave, we were limited on where we could stay the night. Normally, we stay in a hotel that has a nice kitchen and several dishes to accommodate our cooking needs. This time, we were limited to a microwave and mini-fridge. Which, actually, turned out to be fine. Even if we would have had a kitchen to cook in, we weren't at the hotel for most of the day. I did get to see the dilemma of trying to stick to a meal plan while on vacation. The bottom line? You will have to take a vacation from your meal plan, while still planning healthy meals and snacks for your family. You may not be able to find raw nuts. You may be limited on fresh fruit. You may even have to eat some foods that aren't as healthy for you. As long as you aren't making a habit out of your vacation-mode, you will be fine. I didn't eat any candy or drink any soda pop while I was on vacation. I tried to choose healthy snacks and fresh fruits and veggies when possible. We avoided fast food, for the most part, but we ate Chinese and had cheese pizza a couple of the nights...hey, I was flexible and I did fine. Phew! :)

The other exception is when you have a celebration or holiday where you will be eating something in particular or eating away from home. For these days, you can juggle the other days of the week around, if you really want to eat the meal that you had in your 8WMP for that night. For instance, tonight we will be celebrating the Chinese New Year with Chinese noodles and dumplings, etc. Because of this, we will be making our Costa Vida salads on Saturday, when we would have eaten Vegetarian Thai. There is a way to use a schedule and still be flexible.....I am learning.

Involving the Family
The most vital step for me has been the involvement of the kids and my hubby. I sat down and asked them what their favorite meals were and made sure to include those meals in our 8WMP. I also came up with Kitchen Duty. The purpose of Kitchen Duty is to have one-on-one time with an individual child. During that time, I teach them how to prepare food and clean the kitchen properly. This has been an awesome part of our family's Healthy Adventure. I can't tell you how many times during the week I have my little ones asking me if it is their day for Kitchen Duty. Here is our schedule for right now (their ages are in parentheses).

M BlueMoon (11) w/mom
T Forest (9) w/mom
W BlueMoon (11) w/mom
H Forest (9) w/mom
River (6) w/dad
S Flower (4) w/mom
U Rainbow (16) w/mom

Each morning, that particular child knows that they are supposed to make breakfast. I let BlueMoon make pancakes on Saturdays. Mostly, because I never feel like doing them on school mornings. I have been having my hubby make crepes or french toast on his morning, since he only has one day of the week to my 6.....and because I LOVE his crepes and french toast. The kids help me come up with lunch and they know what meal they are to help prepare for dinner long in advance (thanks to our 8WMP). I am thinking about coming up with a breakfast, snack, and lunch plan....just to make it that much easier for us all.

It takes us anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour to prepare the meal, and that is time well spent teaching cooking and baking, as well as, discussing life. On their day to cook, I put another older child in charge of the younger kids during this time, so that they aren't underfoot (or sneaking lots of samples). The kids have become more conscientious of how many dishes we use because they are the ones washing them all day long (we are still using our color-coded bowls and cups, along with our splayds). They are also more aware of how much work goes into making our meals. The icing on the cake is, that they are learning valuable skills that they will keep for the rest of their lives. I believe this step is the most important one. If I wasn't teaching them what I am learning right now, how will they ever be able to share it with their own children someday?

This week is a steep part of our Healthy Adventure. Please feel free to leave any questions you have in the comments below. I check back often and would love to share any other suggestions or findings with you.

Happy Trails! :)
~.~ the purple sprout
p.s. the vegetarian lasagna I have pictured above was my first successful one ever....thanks to some helpful advice from my friend and an awesome chef, Mark.Thanks, Mark!  

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Healthy Adventure: Diet Week 3

For anyone who is actually keeping tabs on what I am doing with My Healthy Adventure, I apologize for not writing last week...or the week before. We were on an impromptu vacation.

Before we go any further, I should probably say what is already pretty obvious to most who are reading this....I didn't start out on my adventure at a point that I would ever call "healthy". I have struggled with being as healthy as I know I need to be for years. Partly, because I am lazy. Partly, because I am cash-poor. But mostly because I LOVE FOOD.

The purpose to me sharing my adventure is to show you, that, if you are struggling with becoming more healthy, there is a simple and free way to make it a possibility. I know that there are some awesome programs out there, some to help you to eat healthier and others to help you to lose weight and feel great. I am just a stay-at-home mom who wants to help others who may not have the time to read several books and articles on why you need to be healthy. I want to help those who, like me, struggle financially and cannot afford to purchase other programs or helps. I want to give you something that is simple to use and won't take up a lot of your time. Okay, enough said....on with the adventure!

So far, you should have eliminated soda/soft drinks from your diet and increased your water. You should also have eliminated candy/candy bars and increased your fresh fruit intake. Now, we are on to the third week of my Healthy Adventure...the part where it gets a little bit trickier.

Week 3 Goal: No More Junk Food
You should already be eating more fruit and so it will be that much easier to take out ALL of your obvious unhealthy snacks and replace them with healthier choices. Remember, right now we are just focusing on getting rid of the obvious junk foods. As we continue on our Healthy Adventure, we will get closer and closer to our final destination: eating more whole, organic, local foods. This is all about baby steps. ;)

So, what do I consider junk food? What is healthy and what is not? What I want you to do is to think about what you give yourself and your family for snacks in-between meals. Think about the nutritional value of that snack. How many times do you rationalize that you are only going to be eating a small amount or that they aren't as fattening or as unhealthy as the other brand? Yeah, me, too. A bag of potato chips is not really healthy, even though it came from a potato, which I consider to be healthy. Jell-O, while it may be a great source of protein, is not nearly as healthy as cheese. So on and so forth.

You will begin with choosing mostly fresh fruits and veggies, (with sauces or dips, if needs be for now). Also, closely examine anything that comes in a box or bag (e.g. fruit snacks, chips, nuts, or crackers). These items, usually, have quite a few preservatives in them and are not as whole as your fresh or frozen sources. I like to think about how much of what I am eating was once a whole food and how far away from being whole it is now that it is on the shelf at the store. I have been slowly limiting what we eat out of a bag/box/can to only what I cannot purchase or find otherwise. I, personally, haven't had any chips besides tortilla and pita chips for over a month now, and eventually I would like to get to the step of making my own crackers and chips from scratch. I used to drink a cup (or two....or three) of hot cocoa nearly ever day during the winter. Haven't had any for weeks. I have been slowly weaning myself off of naughty foods for a few weeks now, in preparation for the next few weeks. But, I have also given myself permission to make exceptions, because I have been so good. Like when I was on my vacation last week. I knew that it would be impossible to stick to my meal plan, but I still kept away from sweets and junk food. It really opened my eyes to just how difficult it can be to stick to a plan of cooking and baking healthy meals when you are away from a oven/stove/open fire for an extended period of time.

These are the three excuses I have made for not providing healthy snacks:

1) Not having time to prepare them
2) Not having enough money to buy them
3) Not knowing that it wasn't healthy in the first place

These are the three answers I have come up with to refute these excuses.

1) As I practice and plan ahead, prep time is taking a lot less time.
2) As I plan ahead and stick to my 8 Week Meal Plan, I will be able to plan money for snacks. This summer, I plan on drying, freezing, and bottling as much fresh produce as I can....yum!
3) As I educate myself through research and discussions with those who have done research, I become more and more aware of what harm can come from what I eat. I still have so much to learn, but I know the obvious areas to avoid and I am in the process of doing just that.

Choosing what to eat (and not eat)
I will use fruit to share my own experience with making decisions. I used to rationalize that fruit snacks were healthy because they had real fruit in them. Just today, I was reading through the ingredients of the healthy fruit leathers that I used to (proudly) purchase at my favorite bulk store for regular snacks. The pureed fruit that is in them is from concentrate. And, while I am sure they are healthier than most snacks and wouldn't hesitate to purchase them for a long hike or our 96 hour kits, they aren't something that I would use for one of our regular snacks. It would definitely be better to get real fruit instead. Some will argue, that it is easier to grab a box of fruit is. And, if you get them on sale, it will cost you less. That is why you have to really plan ahead. When strawberries, peas, cherries, kiwi,(you can fill in with whatever you like to snack on), are in season, freeze some in baggies for when they are ridiculously priced and from far, far away.

I love nuts, despite the bad rep that they get for being fattening. I have been eating a lot of nuts lately and will continue to eat them for some of our snacks, especially since we are cutting out quite a bit of our meat. But I will be buying more raw nuts and seek out those that are grown in the USA.

I love raw veggies, but I usually use dips and sauces with them, so I am getting in the habit of eating them with less dip and trying more and more varieties.

I love fruit smoothies and so does my family, so I usually make one a day. I am learning more and more about what to add to these to make them healthier. Right now, I just add a little spinach and use as fresh of ingredients as I can....and it will only get better.

Healthy Snacks
Here is a list of some of the combinations of snacks that our family enjoys. Feel free to leave more ideas of healthy snacks in the comments below...I am always looking for more ideas. Thanks!

grapes & air-popped popcorn
apples w/peanut butter & raisins
orange slices & crackers
grapefruit slices & nuts
pineapple slices & cottage cheese
frozen cherries
strawberries, peaches, or bananas w/yogurt
celery w/peanut butter & raisins
cheese slices & crackers
pita chips w/hummus
broccoli, snow peas, celery, bell peppers, or carrots w/ranch dip
fruit smoothie
tortilla chips w/salsa or pico de gallo

I just began my 4th week of The Healthy Adventure and have been using my 8 Week Meal Plan for the past 5 weeks (other than my vacation last week....but I'll discuss more about that in my next post). It hasn't been difficult because I am committed to this adventure. I am excited to have less stress about what our meals and snacks are going to be from one day to the next and happy to have more healthy choices around me and my family all of the time.

Happy Adventuring!
~.~ the purple sprout