It’s been almost two weeks since I set out to write this post. Life in our house is quite busy as we prepare to graduate our oldest child from high school and collectively gear up for next phase of her education. But that’s not all that’s kept me away from writing; enter “the guilt”. I could wax poetic on being raised with a side dish of guilt but I’ll save that for another day! To get to the point, I feel kinda phony at times for attempting to share healthy eating ideas as a self proclaimed comfort foodie who’s gained 25 plus pounds over the course of the pandemic!? Truth be told, I mentally and physically wrestle with what it means to eat healthy, be healthy and feel comfortable in one’s body. I do in fact eat healthy foods as well as share healthy recipes on my Instagram and blog. I just had my annual physical exam and although the doctor said all is well, I need to watch my sugar intake because diabetes runs in my fam. Her advice: lose a few of these extra pounds. In addition, I exercise 5 – 6 times each week including everything from strength training, interval training and running, to yoga and brisk walking. My next excuse (for not writing and/or weight gain – you decide!) is peri-menopause. Ladies of a similar age… I am sure you can relate! This super fun stage in female life is reeking havoc on my mom-bod as well as my mom-brain by increasing my cravings, decreasing my restful sleep, toying with my moods and my ability to stay cool (both literally and figuratively)! Ok, so long story short… sorry for the delay! Whether I blame the fam, the pandemic or my body’s physiology, what follows are healthy-ish eating tips from someone who loves food, enjoys feeding her peeps, tries to make healthy choices and exercises regularly and has gained a few extra pounds in the process! Now take these suggestions with a grain of salt (no pun intended) and enjoy!!
In no particular order:
- LOW SODIUM – I like salty foods and I use salt as a seasoning in much of my food prep however, I don’t always like the way I feel when I overdo it and wake up parched and bloated. This is why whenever possible, I make low sodium swaps. One of the best examples of this technique is using low sodium stock. I rarely make my own stock and literally “stock up” on stock at the food store weekly! I use stock in soups, stews, sauces and when making sides like rice. Using a low sodium version adds up to reduce sodium intake over the course of a week’s worth of meals and no one in my fam is the wiser!
- HIDDEN FRUITS & VEGGIES – This is where the magic happens! I am always trying to trick my kids into eating more fruits and veggies and there’s no easier way than to sneak them into dishes they already love. One of my favorite hidden gems is pureéd pumpkin. I hide it is tomato sauce when making pasta dishes and in baking mixes when making muffins or breakfast treats like pancakes. It blends easily, adds creaminess and moisture as well as natural goodness! Speaking of baking, mashed banana and unsweetened applesauce make great add-ins/substitutes that often go undetected as well. I add spinach and kale to many dishes too. Yes, both are green and often get noticed however, they tend to take on the taste of whatever they are being cooked in or along side of and they soften and basically melt into soups and sauces. If chopped up enough leafy greens can be passed off as herbs or seasonings. Lastly, let’s talk mushrooms! Mushrooms make a great meat substitute while providing hearty flavor and texture. I add mushrooms to any dish involving ground meat like meatballs, meatloaf and burgers. Mushrooms give great umami and typically fly under the radar if you need them to!
- FLAVORED WATER – As a child I was nicknamed “Leigh the Liquid Leaver” by my dad because I never finished the glass of water/milk/juice placed before me at our family meals. Fast forward 40 years and I am still guilty of the same treason! But at this stage I don’t really drink milk or even juice (only in the occasional Bloody Mary or Mimosa and those go down just fine!). As a result I am often moderately dehydrated. Because I know I need to drink water and more of it, I trick myself into doing so by adding all natural flavor packets, lemon slices or a few drop of an edible essential oil like peppermint to my reusable water bottle. It’s so funny how I will down a glass of flavored water in a few minutes versus stare at a glass of regular water for hours!
- PORTION CONTROL – Oooh. This is a toughy for me. I cook like I am feeding a small army most nights. Mostly because I fear I’ll somehow run out of food, but also because a giant casserole or table with a beautiful foodscape photographs so well! It may not look like it from my Instagram feed, but I do try and practice portion control. My mantra is eat what you want but do so in moderation. I know I’m not alone in this, but it’s truly what I try and do and the proof is in the leftovers in my fridge! By the end of the week we typically have a “United Nations” themed collection of small and medium sized Tupperware containers of food to feast from! One more tip for portion control is “be the cook”. Based on my own personal experience, if I cook the meal myself, I tend to eat less. If I go out to eat, I tend to eat more. My interpretation of this phenomenon is that the process of preparing the meal provides me with some level of satisfaction and satiety leading me to crave less when I sit down to eat. Believe it if you’d like!
- TASTE THE RAINBOW – I know I am stealing the Skittles slogan but oh well! This is just how I remind myself to incorporate fruits and veggies of all colors into my daily and weekly routine. Not to mention, a more colorful plate is a more appealing plate; nobody should eat beige food all of the time! A great way to be introduced to a rainbow’s worth of fruits and veggies is to participate in a local CSA – community sponsored agriculture. By doing so you’ll get a weekly supply of farm fresh fruits and vegetable (some items you may not normally buy) often times delivered to your doorstep while supporting local farmers and filling your fridge with healthy, colorful choices!
- MEATLESS MEALS – We alternate between Macaroni Monday and Meatless Monday in our house and sometimes we even combine the two! Pasta is a great way to go meatless and is truly one of my favorite ingredients to work with. I love getting creative with macaroni and designing dishes that feature fun combos of vegetables and sauces. It’s easy not to recognize the lack of meat when doing so! As I said earlier, mushrooms are a great meat substitute as well as tempeh and tofu. I like using tempeh like ground meat and find it easier to work with than tofu. But if you like tofu than you do you!
- CARB SUBSTITUTES – Comfort foods and carbs go hand in hand and I have just admitted I love pasta, so you can easily put two and two together to determine how I gained 25 pounds over the pandemic, lol. But I do make substitutes to reduce calories and sneak in veggies when the spirit moves me. For example, I substitute spaghetti squash for the real thing and although there’s no hiding it, the fam doesn’t protest. Zoodles (zucchini noodles) are another great pasta substitute and are also readily accepted at our dinner table.
- MEAL PREP – Its much easier to make healthy choices when you’re hangry if you’ve got good food at your fingertips. I often spend time on Saturdays and Sundays prepping snacks and grab and go foods for the week ahead, things like hard boiled eggs, homemade hummus, chopped veggies, egg cups, muffins and overnight oats. In most cases I have to replace these items midweek to get us through to the weekend!
- HEALTHY FATS – Probably one of my favorite swaps is using mashed avocado in place of mayonnaise. I love mayonnaise on sandwiches, burgers and in lunch salads like tuna. But it’s so easy and tasty to use half an avocado in place of a glop of mayo, not to mention avocado has the good kind of fat that our bodies need! One simple recipe I can’t get enough of is avocado egg salad. I make it several times a week and schmear it on toast or eat it right outta the bowl!
- EXERCISE – So exercise is not a healthy eating tip but I wanted to say something important here, something that I try and remind myself of daily: Exercise because you like to or because you want to be stronger or because it makes you feel good. Don’t exercise to make up for what you ate or so that you feel like it gives you permission to eat something “bad”. The struggle is real and many of us do just that. It’s not our faults. We’ve been programmed to think that way but it’s never too late to reframe the narrative. Food is a necessity, food is love, food is family, food is delicious! Eat what you want, when you want and for whatever reason you want… in moderation. And if you want to go for a run, take a walk or do some yoga before or after, good for you! Let’s try and end the stigma that makes us feel guilty for doing something so primal and satisfying.
So that’s my story and I am sticking to it! None of this is rocket science and you may even be scratching your head asking yourself why you took the time to read this! If that’s the case, I thank you for your support and hope you stick around for future posts which are more likely to feature recipes versus commentary. At the very least, I hope I gave you at least one tip or thing to think about. At the very most, I hope I sparked a little something in you that you could relate to and I hope you’re inspired to incorporate these healthy-ish ideas into your life. No matter what, I hope you keep eating amazing foods and sharing food experiences with those you love!