Monthly Archives: June 2013

Healthy Lifestyle Tip #5: Keep a Food Journal

This tip goes hand in hand with the previous one, Think About the Food You Eat. I think we all tend to lie to ourselves a bit about the things we eat in a day. We also may not realize how many calories are in a particular food, or just how many (or few!) calories we should be eating in a day. A food journal is a great way to hold yourself accountable. I use MyFitnessPal, both the website and the iPhone app, to keep my food journal. There are many other food journal apps and websites, and of course you could just use a pen and paper.

You can just keep a journal for a short time until you figure out where your problem points are, and to get a better understanding of the calories in different kinds of food. Or you could log consistently over a long period if you need it to keep yourself on track. Do whatever works best for you, and that may change over time.

I have been keeping a food journal on and off for over a year. I stopped logging for a few months in March when I felt like I had a really good grasp of how to continue losing without it, then started logging again after a busy May when I hadn’t lost any weight and only had a few pounds left to reach 100 pounds lost. I managed to drop the last few pounds pretty quickly once I started logging again. Now that I am considering going into maintenance, I am taking a break from logging again. If I find the weight is going back on at any point, I know I can start logging again to figure out what I am doing wrong. Instead of seeming like a burden to me, I find keeping a food journal (even if it is only occasionally now) gives me confidence in my continued success.

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Millet Banana Bread and Chocolate Chip Millet Granola Bars

These are not exactly low calorie options, but they are tasty whole grain treats. I was looking for a good banana bread recipe using whole wheat flour, and I came across a recipe for Crackly Banana Bread from Smitten Kitchen. This is seriously the best banana bread I have ever had in my life. I use the lower amount of maple syrup she suggests, and it is plenty sweet. Other than that, I follow her recipe exactly. So good. I never knew about millet (except in bird seed) until I made this recipe, but it was amazing the wonderful crackly crunchy texture it gave to the bread. I found millet in the bulk food area of Whole Foods.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am trying to eliminate as many processed foods as possible from our family’s diet. My kids really like chocolate chip granola bars as a snack at school, and there are quite a lot of ingredients in even the “healthy” options. I decided to try to make them myself. I searched online quite a bit, and found this recipe. I adapted it a bit to make a smaller batch, add a chocolate layer on the top (as the ones I was buying for my kids previously had), and I added millet. I figured the crunchiness it adds to the banana bread might work in the granola bars too, and it really does.

Chocolate Chip Millet Granola Bars

  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 Tbsp Sucanat or brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups oats
  • 1/2 cup white (or regular) whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup millet
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325. Melt the butter and honey together in the microwave, add the Sucanat (a more natural form of sugar) or brown sugar and vanilla, and mix together. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, flour, baking soda, salt and millet.

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Why yes, that is bird seed in my bowl

Mix the butter mixture into the dry, and stir together until well mixed, and there is no dry flour remaining. Make sure that it is cool enough not to melt the chocolate, and then add about 1/2 of the chocolate chips (about 1/4 cup, maybe a little less).

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Before adding chocolate chips

Spray an 8″ square baking dish with canola oil spray, or butter the dish, and add the mixture. Press down with something with a flat bottom. I use a measuring cup. Make sure it is firmly pressed everywhere, especially along all the sides and corners.

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Pressing down on bars before baking

Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden. My oven is very uneven, so I bake for 10, turn it a half-turn and bake for another 10. Press down again all immediately after removing from oven.

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The lucky kid gets to lick the melted chocolate off the back of the measuring cup

After pressing down, immediately scatter the rest of the chocolate chips evenly over the top of the bars. Allow to melt for about 5 minutes.

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Mmmmm, chocolate

Spread the chocolate chips in an even layer over the bars. I use an offset spatula, which makes this a lot easier. You could probably use a rubber spatula or a knife.

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Another lucky kid gets to lick the spatula

Let cool on the counter, then place in the fridge for a couple of hours.

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Finished bars before going into the fridge

Remove from fridge and slice with a very sharp knife. You may need to wait for them to warm up a little first, and put a bit of elbow grease into cutting them. I usually cut them into 16 bars/squares. I store them at room temperature, and they have lasted just quite some time.

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Bars are ready for eating!

Healthy Lifestyle Tip #4: Think About the Food You Eat

I believe the first step to eating healthier is to become more aware of what you are eating now. So even before changing what you are eating, just think about the food you are putting into your body. Realize that the primary function of food is to fuel your body. It doesn’t need to be an either/or proposition–either it tastes great or is good for you. It can still taste great while giving you something your body needs. However, there is a lot of food out there that may taste great, but provides your body with absolutely nothing useful. The key, eventually, is to greatly reduce how many useless foods you eat, and replace them with foods that help your body, namely lots of fruit and vegetables, some complex carbs and lean proteins. Before you can get to that point though, you need to raise your own awareness of what you are eating.

There is this practice called “Mindful Eating” which includes meditating over your food, and slowly taking every bite. I don’t think I have the patience to eat like that. However, I do pause a moment before eating something, and think about first whether I am actually hungry or if I’m only eating because I’m bored or some other reason, and then whether the food I am choosing will help my body function in some way.

Does that mean I never eat anything that isn’t useful? Of course not. I go out to eat, and while I now make healthier choices there is always food that is eaten simply because it tastes good. I occasionally have a small frozen yogurt when taking the kids for a treat. I have just greatly reduced the frequency and portion sizes of those events. It makes me savor and enjoy those treats even more than I did before.

Zucchini “Spaghetti”

Today was still a bit rainy–though it actually became surprisingly warm by the time I had to cook, but I was committed at that point–so I made a turkey sausage tomato sauce with tons of veggies. It was similar to this one, though I changed the process a bit. I will try to document it next time and post the changes.

Usually when we have pasta sauce in the winter I have spaghetti squash instead of most or all of the pasta. What to do in the summer? Zucchini “spaghetti”! I first read about this in Clean Eating Magazine, and I really love it…maybe even more than spaghetti squash. I bought a spiral slicer from Amazon–rather expensive for a simple little device, but it does work great. It slices the zucchini into these perfect spaghetti-like ribbons. I made some whole wheat spaghetti for my husband and the kids, and I had a little bit of that and a lot of the zucchini “spaghetti”. By the way, if you have been hunting for a good tasting whole wheat spaghetti, we really like bionaturae (I picked it up at Whole Foods), which is the top rated whole wheat pasta by Cook’s Illustrated Magazine.

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Healthy Lifestyle Tip #3A: Consider Buying a Pedometer

My husband read yesterday’s Healthy Lifestyle Tip, and pointed out that I didn’t mention wearing a pedometer as part of your effort to move more. I thought that wearing a pedometer should have its own post, but he was right in that it does fall under the same heading of moving more, hence the “3A”.

I wear a Fitbit, and I try to get at least 10,000 steps every day. I find wearing the Fitbit highly motivating in my efforts to move more, as simple things like parking farther away from the store, doing the laundry, or going for a few short walks throughout the day can build on your total steps. I find it really helps to have the feedback wearing a pedometer provides. Besides just the step count, it shows how many stairs you have climbed, and the website can show you how much of your day has been active vs sedentary. If you are a social person, you can “friend” other Fitbit users, and compare your step counts, or compete if that helps your motivation.

Sorry for sounding a bit like an advertisement there. I swear I am not in any way compensated by the makers of Fitbit. There are many choices of pedometers out there, from simple to sophisticated, choose the one that looks best to you. You might be surprised how much wearing one can motivate you to start moving more.

Tempeh Veggie Chili and Wholesome Cornbread

Today was a very strange weather day where I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was cold and rainy, and made me alter my original plan for dinner. I decided to have a Meatless Monday, and made Tempeh Veggie Chili and Cornbread. I used the Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili recipe I have previously blogged about, and added a package of Trader Joe’s tempeh, which I crumbled by hand into the slow cooker at the same time as the rest of the ingredients.

I’ve been searching for a cornbread recipe that didn’t include any white flour, and had a minimum amount of sugar. I’ve been having great luck with EatingWell.com lately, so I decided to try their Wholesome Cornbread recipe. I used Sucanat (a more natural form of sugar) in place of the white sugar, I’m sure it tasted pretty much the same. I may try it with honey next time. I used white whole wheat flour instead of regular whole wheat flour, and as a reviewer of the recipe suggested, I added 6 oz. of defrosted frozen corn into the finished batter. While I was searching for recipes, I found a bunch that cooked in a cast iron skillet, so I decided to use that method. I put the cast iron skillet in the oven while it preheated. As soon as the batter was done, I sprayed some canola oil in the skillet then quickly poured in the batter and spread it out. It finished in 20 minutes, faster than the original recipe, likely because the pan was already hot.

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Cornbread in the cast iron skillet

I thought the cornbread was excellent. I made some honey butter for my husband and kids, but I enjoyed it plain. The whole corn pieces added a lovely texture and sweetness, and I didn’t miss the butter…much.

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Yummy slice of cornbread

I ate my chili with nonfat Greek yogurt, diced fresh tomatoes, and Frank’s Hot Sauce. It was delicious, and perfect for a strangely rainy day.

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Veggie chili

Healthy Lifestyle Tip #3: Move More

I know you have heard it a million times, exercise is important. I don’t need to go into the reasons it is so important–I’m sure you already know all of that–I will only tell you that I am living proof of the amazing rewards you can get from regular exercise, and that you can end up enjoying it, even if that is very very hard to believe right now. If you are not yet exercising in any way, perhaps you have lots of reasons why.

If exercise sounds like torture to you, start slow. Try something new. Find a walking buddy, check out an exercise video on youtube, keep trying thing after thing until something clicks and it is fun. As I stated when I started this blog, for me it was Zumba Fitness Rush on the Xbox. I love to dance, and so an hour of Zumba would go by quickly. I could do it in the privacy of my own home, so wouldn’t have to deal with anyone else watching. Do whatever amount of exercise you can manage to start, do what’s fun, just move a bit more than you are doing today. When that feels good, move more than that. Keep building on it as time goes by. Then maybe try something else new so you don’t get tired of what you have been doing. Even moving more throughout the day–taking walks around the office every 15 minutes to stretch your legs, parking farther away when you are shopping, getting up from your computer to do the laundry or take the kids to the park–is going to be so much better for you than sitting still. With that in mind, I’m off to move a bit more! Making cornbread to go with tonight’s Veggie Chili. If it comes out well, I’ll blog about it of course!