For the Love of Foods

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Dessert? Yes please!

Oh yeah! A date night this week.

I’m very psyched about that.  Our friend Kiernan hangs out with our son for a few hours every 2-3 weeks so my husband and I can have an official date night. Unlike most people in the US, who eat outside the home an average of 4-5x /week, we really only go out for dinner on these planned nights, unless we are on vacation or out of town, or on an occasional lunch with a friend, but not often in between.

There are a few reasons for this. One being there aren’t too many places to go. We live in a small community, and most of the restaurants worth going to are either super-expensive, so you don’t go very often, or the food is mediocre or at least equal to what we can make ourselves, so we might as well opt for home. Also, when you don’t feel like cooking, the urge to call for delivery is non-existent because no restaurants offer that here. And of course, with my son’s nut allergy, it’s tough to go anywhere spontaneous, we have to preview menus and make calls to restaurants prior to going to ensure his safety. And take out? Again, too much work learning all the ingredients. This gets a little tiring.

So yes, date nights are special. And in preparation, I get super-excited, start thinking about where we are going to go, what I might have, and then think about my diet for the next few days so I can plan accordingly.

My friend Chris, who is also my most loyal blog reader and commenter (thank you Chris, you are the best!), posted a funny observation on her newsfeed the other day. She was at a conference dinner with a group of cardiologists, and she noted most ordered steak dinners with a beurre blanc sauce, with wine and dessert. She was a little surprised they didn’t go for more heart-healthy options considering their profession, and when she asked them about it, they mentioned it was a splurge meal.

Funny. But I can definitely relate.

One of the things I love about date night, or going out at all, because I don’t do this often and I plan carefully, is that I can and will eat whatever I want.

When the server comes over to us and asks if we would like the wine list, of course! Appetizer? Absolutely, how about the Duck ravioli with Potstickers, or at one particular place…Parmesan truffle frites (!!).  Bread. Oh yeah. Salad too? Yup. Entree? The fish special sounds pretty good over a decadent Wild Mushroom Risotto, with fresh vegetables of course. And for dessert.. that Molten Chocolate Cake sounds amazing. And no, we will not share…

I get a lot of stares. I think mostly because people wonder how the heck anyone my size can eat so much. Maybe they think I’m one of those annoying people who can stay slim and eat like a lumberjack, and giving them that impression is kind of fun. It drives me crazy watching someone hold back from ordering what they really want at a wonderful restaurant.  No butter for bread, or even worse, no bread at all. A salad or boring chicken dish for dinner. And, oh no…no dessert, that would be bad! My biggest pet peeve is skim milk in a cappuccino or latte ?? I mean really, that can’t be all that good? And then the person looks miserable during their meal, and stares longingly at everyone else’s, sad about their need to be “good” , but also feeling virtuous they were able to avoid temptation, while others were not.

How is denial good? I just want to say to them, be careful about what you eat the rest of the time, but when it’s worth it, enjoy!

A few weeks ago I did a search, wondering if I could pin down a statistic estimating the percentage of people who lose weight who eventually gain it back. There really wasn’t a specific number aside from “most”. But the one concrete number I saw more frequently than others was “over 80%”.

It’s no wonder so many people do gain that weight back. Because when on weight loss programs,we are told we need to deny ourselves of everything we love.  No alcohol! No sugar! No bread! And then when we lose the weight on this quick fix denial diet, we are so scared to eat anything ever again because we are afraid of gaining the weight back. The problem is though, we all love food! We love the smells, the tastes. We love to be with friends and family, and wonderful foods are always around. Denial is not sustainable for the long-haul. If you love and appreciate different foods and cooking, continuing to say “no, thank you” forever just sucks the life of you.

So “most” of us fail. Because we can’t live up to the ideal of eating perfectly clean 100% of the time. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

According to the Center for Disease Control and other sources, including my own experiences,  keeping eating patterns consistent as much as possible day-to-day, and planning for special occasions, is one of the best ways to keep your weight in-check over time.  Many people, I know, cringe at the idea of keeping a food journal, but it’s really helpful in learning how much you eat throughout the day, and weaning yourself off the foods that can put you over the edge. A journal can also tell you the reverse: when I have eaten well, often I can see there’s some room on the menu for a little decadence. I have been keeping a relatively loose journal for about four years.

My basic diet, during the day typically includes: Breakfast: coffee with cream, melted cheese (either swiss or cheddar) on mixed grain bread (homemade), 4-5 oz of homemade whole milk Greek yogurt. fruit, a little maple syrup. For lunch: local eggs, one or two depending on what style. Sometimes with veggies. Perhaps another piece of bread or more yogurt. Snacks: Sunflower or Pumpkin seeds. Fruit. Sometimes cheese and crackers. Often frozen blueberries with whipped cream. For dinner, we rotate meals with lots of fresh veggies, local beef or lamb or chicken or fish, a few times per week, quinoa or pasta. And wine, a little most nights.

And that’s it. Kind of boring but it works for me.

But then, on date night, or dinner at a friends house? Watch out!  Similar to Chris’s cardiologist friends (assuming they are being honest and not just embarrassed to be caught in the act of eating the opposite of heart-healthy…she did say they were all in good shape…), keeping to relatively similar meals most days, and keeping to the exercise schedule, I can splurge when it’s worth it.

I stagger the good with the not-so-good .

If unplanned decadent treats tempt me, I decide if it’s worth it and if it will balance in my plan, and make a decision.

If I’m indifferent, I don’t eat it.

Now obviously this strategy will be more complicated if on vacation, or on a business trip or during the holidays and for some reason huge amounts of tempting foods are placed in front of you at each meal. It’s much harder to plan that way and say no, so you need a slightly different strategy. But when at home and with a typical routine, this works really well.

If you are a good- food-loving person who struggles with finding this balance, try to find that menu consistency day-to-day.  Try eating in more often, or taking your lunch to work or when on-the-go. This strategy may help you to enjoy yourself a little more when it’s truly worth it. Because that one piece of Toblerone pecan pie, or a few glasses of Cabernet, or piping hot sourdough bread, or cream rather than skim, these will not make you gain weight by themselves, but being able to indulge in the sensory smells and tastes when the time is right is sometimes just what you need to find that strength to be disciplined and on track the next day.

Now, to decide where to go for date night tomorrow night…I think the Parmesan truffle frites may be calling my name!

Do you have a good strategy to balance your love for different foods with achieving a healthy lifestyle? Would love to hear your stories!

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CDC article on Maintaining Weight: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/keepingitoff.html

To check out my Exercise Strategy, because eating this way is dependent on staying active as well: https://afitandfocusedfuture.com/2013/03/19/strong-arming-the-future/

Myfitnesspal – a great website w/ mobile apps for keeping a food journal to help keep yourself in check: http://www.myfitnesspal.com/

Ramping Up

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There is a great benefit to researching and writing about being fit and healthy.  It’s the fact that if I don’t practice what I preach, then I’m a hypocrite…and since I don’t want to be one of those, it’s great motivation to ensure I make every attempt to follow my own advice. Last week, in my post Sense of Nature, I wrote about the benefits for all of us, children and adults, to be active participants in nature. I’m happy to say, I was able to embrace nature in a big way this weekend, thanks to an early start of the 2013 foraging season.

Every spring, when we see a little green on the trees and in the fields, and a few warm days, my husband and I get obsessed with foraging, or as I keep hearing in the media these days, wild-crafting. This is where we head out into the woods, search for mushrooms or edible plants or berries, or whatever we can collect in the wild with confidence that when cooked, it won’t make us sick.

Foraging was not an activity I was ever familiar with growing up. When I tell friends this is one of my hobbies, sometimes I hear them wax poetic about how so-and-so’s grandmother in France or Italy showed them which mushrooms or plants to hunt for as a child, and they had vivid recollections of amazing ethnic feasts, with these prized edibles taking center stage. This romantic scenario wasn’t the case for me, my parents weren’t the woodsy-type, or the type of people who would take a risk eating something they personally had to identify as safe. Although eventually, thanks to Whole Foods stocking some of the same wild mushrooms we fed them ( but charging zillions of dollars per pound), they learned to trust we were not going to poison them.

When I moved to Vermont as an adult, that’s where my education on wild-edibles began.  Here, in many places, the forest is open and beautiful and you can really meander around comfortably and see the forest floor without getting poked in the eye with twigs or branches or brambles, or assaulted by too many ticks. Black morel mushrooms are the first to come out, and where I live, we see them along old paths in the woods. A few weeks later we see yellow morels, often near white ash trees.

fresh morels from a secret spot in the Vermont woods...

fresh morels from a secret spot in the Vermont woods…

morels...

morels…

What I love most about collecting mushrooms, or berries or wild plants in the woods is that it’s like an unstructured scavenger hunt. You look for clues: a certain tree. the elevation, the slope of the ridge. The sun. Moss. The weather that day. The moisture. And when you get it right, you are sometimes rewarded with the prize.

And probably more often, you get the location right, all the elements for success are there, but you find nothing and you are left scratching your head wondering what the heck you did wrong.

Regardless of mushroom success or failure, we usually come back relatively happy, because what we tend to find in the same locations are big beautiful patches of wild ramps, or as they are sometimes called, wild leeks. My husband used to think of these as kind of a consolation prize when we came home empty-handed on the mushroom front. But since, I have come to love them as much, maybe even more. They are much more abundant, predictable, and come back in the same spots every year. When I have them, I cook with them pretty much every night, adding them on homemade pizza, or on top of a burger, in omelettes or over pasta or grains… They are the best when the bulbs and leaves are slowly sauteed in olive oil until crispy, with a little sea salt.

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Oh, I’m off topic here, I’m supposed to be talking about exercise and nature, not eating…

So this weekend, I didn’t even have foraging on the radar because it’s so early in the season. But I happened upon a recipe for Wild Ramp Pizza that looked so good.

Hmmm, I wonder if… ??!!  Maybe I’ll go check…

jackpot!

jackpot!

We happen to have a reliable ramp patch near our house. I quickly grabbed my waders and boots, and ran down along the river (it’s easier to do that than run through a tick-infested field), and within a few minutes, realized I hit the jackpot. Sometimes early in the season you will see many ramp leaves, but the bulbs are too small. Not so this time, there were a bunch of them. I didn’t bring a pack basket with me, because I didn’t really expect to find anything, so brought back just enough for dinner that night and surprised my family with my prize. I made my super-slow-cooked crispy saute perfectly and served it over quinoa.

freshly picked!

freshly picked!

The next morning, when the timer rang, signaling to my 8-year-old son Brett that he had reached his Minecraft playing limit, I came over and asked him if he wanted to take a hike down the river and get more ramps for dinner.

Typically?

Whining. Complaining.

“Can’t I just play for 5 more minutes!”

Not this time.

More ramps for dinner? He was on it.

We brought the pack basket this time, so we could collect a little more than just a handful.

It had to be the most beautiful day. A nice breeze. 70 degrees.

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pulling them out with great care…

There were no critters in the backwater ponds for Brett to catch with his net, what he usually focuses on while I do all the work, but once he looked up and saw that field full of ramps, he pulled out his small shovel, and even though they were tough to pull out, he took great care in selecting, cleaning and helping me fill the pack basket.

On the way back, we stopped and made some rock sculptures on the river beach, and later that afternoon came back to the house tired and happy and proud of our catch.

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me and my little partner…

Foraging is such a perfect activity from start to finish.

Fresh air, lots of exercise, mental relief from being in such a beautiful outside environment, and a great time to talk to family and friends.  Let’s not forget too, at the end of the day you get to cook a really special meal reminding you of the time and patience and care it took for you to gather the ingredients.

As for me? I’m psyched because the season has officially started. It’s almost never as easy and hiking down the river to find what I want, like I did this past weekend. It’s more of a puzzle. A hunt, and not always a sure thing. But that’s what makes it fun, engaging and kind of addicting!  Now that I have had that first taste of it, I’ll be more motivated than ever to shift my focus from winter indoor exercise and grocery-store produce, back outside and back to nature, something essential for us on so many levels.

Hiking in the woods. Rambling on paths. Wading in the river.

Ramps. Fiddleheads. Mushrooms, Berries…

Let the hunting season begin!

If you are interested in learning more about foraging and collecting edible plants, there are so many books and field guides and apps to use. I learned through knowledgeable friends though, and think it’s probably the safest bet to have someone show you how to identify the plants or mushrooms in person. If you have a friend who is into it, invite yourself along–and if not, look to see if you have a local nature organization nearby where you can learn with guided instruction.

I’d love to hear your foraging stories too, please do tell!

A Stairwell in Suburbia

Museum stairs: challenging to some, not to others…

At times it’s tough to get back into the health mindset on a Monday, but after a road trip, a reality-check from my mother-in-law, and a stairwell, today I’m actually kind of inspired to get started.

This newfound enthusiasm, after a weekend of poor eating choices, isn’t coming from some magazine cover telling me I can “Melt off 10 lbs!” just from reading this issue. Or from my junk email inbox with a message screaming “Want to Rock that Bikini Body this Summer…here’s how!??!”. Umm, yeah, I just got that one a few minutes ago…and it’s not from looking at photos Jillian Michaels looking perfect, although I do think she’s awesome, I’m guessing the photo is airbrushed and I’ll never actually look like her no matter what I try…

Do quick fix strategies and images of perfect people, keep me inspired? Not really…at least in the long-term

Nope. These don’t do it for me, at all.  These messages may cause short-term guilt and negativity to jump-start a little action, but they don’t keep me going long-term.

What is keeping me going this week? Some observations from a family trip to suburbia, in a town outside of Rochester, New York.

In contrast to where I live in Vermont, where we have two country stores, a library and little else, this town is all about big-box stores and chain restaurants. And we needed those stores because we had to purchase computer supplies for my 86-year-old mother in law. We spent the morning accomplishing our mission, but when we were ready to have lunch, hmmm, tough choices for those hoping to eat something relatively healthy. No quaint little cafe exists in this town, serving organic, local, grass-fed foods with right-size portions. The options: Fast Food? Ick. Hot Dogs? Apparently something super-popular in the Rochester area. No thanks. Applebees? I have a son with food allergies and I hear they aren’t great with that. Red Robin–oh, yeah, I heard they are a chain that gets the allergy thing. So that’s where we went.

My cute little "non-suburb" town...

My cute little “non-suburb” town…

Looking over the menu, it looked to me like the best non-salad choice was the fish sandwich, so I ordered that with sweet potato fries, thinking to myself, I don’t do this very often, It’s great to have a splurge meal every once in a while. Oh, and a margarita, I forgot I had one of those too! Yes, a splurge. I sat back, happy, relaxed, and took in the atmosphere, my eyes landing on the people at the tables around us.

A woman in her eighties eating a gigantic ice-cream sundae, probably bigger than her head, dining with what looked like her extended family. A couple, in their twenties, dressed all in black with matching dyed black hair, hamburgers oozing, soda-slurping. A table of middle-aged women with frizzy hair, laughing and talking and gesturing wildly, probably on their lunch break from work. And everyone eating way, way, way too much food. But having fun.

Can't we go here for lunch? Not in the Suburbs....

Can’t we go here for lunch? Not in the Suburbs….

I wonder if these folks are “regulars” and eat like this all the time, or are like me, on a once-in-a-while splurge?

Sadly, most looked like they did eat there everyday.

After lunch, it was time to do something fun so we set out to find the Science Museum.  In the car, my thoughts started to turn on me, like they usually do, from happy and relaxed to scorn. Why did you have to eat so many fries? Were they really that good, they really weren’t. Did you really need to eat every little drop of it? I put the negative thoughts on hold at the museum, where once inside, my husband and son ran off and started climbing four floors of open stairs to the top floor, while my mother-in-law and I tried unsuccessfully to catch them. As we were climbing, I looked down at her. She was a little slow, but I have to tell you, she was doing just fine with those stairs.

She didn’t complain. She didn’t ask me to find an elevator instead.

Mother-in-law Dorothy w/her granddaughter Brooke...

Mother-in-law Dorothy w/her granddaughter Brooke…

How many 86-year-olds do you know who can do that?

She and I decided to check out an exhibit on Native American villages, something most dinosaur-and-fossil-seeking kids had no interest in, so we had this whole quiet wing of museum to ourselves for a little while. I asked her whether or not she might come back to this museum with friends, since it’s so close to where she lives, and so beautiful. She would love to, she said, but basically none of her friends could walk around the way she does. The conversation drifted from the museum, to the fact that she is at this age where she is losing the people around her more and more. She became a widow about 8 years ago, but most recently this winter, she lost her best friend.

Later, back at her house, I started thinking about her lifestyle and pieced together some of the other conversations we had that weekend. My mother-in-law has a high-strung dog who needs to walk a few times a day. When I tried to help her bring sheets down to the laundry area, she said, oh no… she deliberately bought the house she is in now because it has stairs, so she could keep moving, and she will strip the beds and do the laundry herself. No problem. She drives everywhere, even in snow. After a few scares on black ice, I avoid driving in snow at all costs. When I mentioned that she just shrugged and said, “well, I need to do what I need to do, the store, lunch, class, so I drive”. She takes exercise classes a few times a week at the Y, that include weights and stretching and all sorts of movements. She, ironically, is a caregiver/companion to her daughter who has limited mobility from back surgeries, and to another younger friend each week.

I am thoroughly in awe of this woman. She makes me think a lot about my two grandmothers, both died a few years ago, but lived similarly active lives and were independent and happy and fun and young until the end. And to my dad, who I lost way too early, who was always on his bike rides and stretching and moving and still happily doing financial consulting and keeping his brain exercised, where others his age were slowing down.

This weekend was just a great reminder to me about why I want to always keep activity and health top of mind. Sure, it’s great to look good, “have Rock-hard Abs!” and “a bikini body by summer!!!”, like the women’s magazines like to remind us, but honestly, I think this message is all wrong. Inspiration to make changes, and to keep us focused on what is important doesn’t come from looking at perfect photos of models, we all know that isn’t attainable for most of us. Long-term inspiration comes from real people who live real lives. We see these people all around us, and make the decision about who we want to emulate, and the reverse, who we don’t.

I want to climb those stairs when I’m 86.

And I want to be confident to drive in snowstorms in Rochester.

And I want to have a yippy dog I still need to chase and bend down to pick up, and be able to do these things myself.

I hope I’m not the last healthy one left, as my mother-in-law seems to be, so will try to inspire my family and friends to keep their health top-of-mind as well.

Yes, we can sit back in the booth at Red Robin, and have a margarita and endless fries and whatever, and that’s ok once in a while. What isn’t ok, is getting mad at ourselves for living life a little when we need to, and then giving up on our health goals when we don’t think we have measured up… we need to be off as much as on, or at least I do, to stay committed for the long-haul. The chain restaurant staff won’t start singing “Here comes a Regular…” next time I walk in for lunch…

So it’s Monday, and I overindulged this weekend. But my mind is back where it needs to be, thanks to my mother-in-law, and I’m ready for the ebb and flow of the good and bad, and the careful balance it’s going to take to manage my healthy, active future.

How about you? Do you have role-models who keep you motivated? Would love to hear your stories…

My Food Evolution

20090509-DSC07443There are many food moments from my past that now make me cringe.

My interest in eating healthy foods wasn’t a decision, it was more of an evolution over time, and stemmed from a few different places.

It’s no wonder my husband and son were reluctant passengers on my evangelical health kick, but eventually they managed to buy in to it.

There was this period in middle school when my school lunch choice included Hostess Apple Pies, and milk. That’s it. It’s hard to believe the school let me do this! My mom was a great cook, but to counter all her yummy homemade meals, like lasagna and chili, and chicken every-which-way, I also remember growing up with Eggo waffles, Steak Umms, Campbell’s Soup, and Chef Boy R Dee Ravioli.

And Fast Food.

Yup, that bucket of KFC graced our kitchen table many times.

In high school, I had sense enough to stop drinking soda, thankfully, although I can’t remember why I stopped, and still haven’t to this day gone back to it.

Even as an adult, when I was enlightened enough to experiment in the kitchen, preparing Indian, Japanese and Thai meals from scratch, and considered myself a foodie of sorts, I had moments of food regret.

There was the “low carb” stage, where I banned all my favorites: pasta, rice and breads. Oh, how I loved to make an Indian Lamb Biryani, but no more after that…

And the “Balance and Luna Bar” stage, I liked them both.  I would go to work with a few of those in my purse, and basically that’s all I would eat during the day.

I thought this was healthy.

I thought this was a good way to keep from over-eating during the work day.

This was about 12 years ago?

One day, during this time I was chatting with Brooke, my step-daughter, about foods. As a vegetarian she has to constantly check labels to make sure whatever she is about to eat didn’t include meat. Our conversation turned to the “Bars”, and how the ingredients are so weird, these chemicals couldn’t possibly be something we want to put into our bodies, could they?

Honestly, it never even occurred to me to look at the ingredients. But, that discussion convinced me to stop buying them.

And start paying attention to the label.

Around the same time, as an avid reader of the New York Times Magazine, I discovered some of Michael Pollan’s articles on Food and the Food industry, and started delving into his books, my favorite: the Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Soon I loosely based my philosophy on what would eventually become his “Food Rules”:

Don’t eat anything you can’t pronounce.

Don’t eat anything with more than a few ingredients.

Eat mostly veggies, sourced locally

Source local meats and buy in bulk.

Buy Organic if possible.

Those were the major ones.

fresh morels foraged from a secret spot in the Vermont woods...

fresh morels foraged from a secret spot in the Vermont woods…

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spring fiddleheads

Also included, forage what you can, as in mushrooms, wild leeks, fiddleheads, berries and other wild edibles, one of the 3-season rituals we are lucky to be able to do because of where we live. On this subject, I was proud to have a heads up on Michael Pollan, because we did this already, and didn’t need to use a guide.

Further complicating my changing views on food, when my son was around 2, while out to eat at one of our favorite Thai restaurants, we innocently ordered Pad Thai and gave some to him for the first time.

Immediately following his taste, he turned red and complained of a burning throat. Thankfully, since we were completely unprepared, he was ok and went back to normal after a few minutes. But that was the first discovery of his severe Peanut Allergy.

After a trip to the allergist, label-reading took on a whole new meaning.

It wasn’t a luxury; it was for Life.

It’s not easy to find safe foods for him to eat, foods that are not processed in the same facility as nuts, so after awhile, I gave up looking and started sourcing safe ingredients and making what we need from scratch. This includes foods like cakes, desserts, breads, granolas, and ice cream.

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The fine print…

It’s kind of interesting how this constant label-reading helped with overall health. Because once you start looking for:

Fewer ingredients.

All natural.

No weird chemicals

No nuts or allergens.

Suddenly you start seeing the other numbers on that label, like how many grams of Sugar. Fiber. How much Sodium.

A few years ago, even though it didn’t fit into my food rules, I allowed myself one favorite processed food for lunch, and had them every day: Morningstar Veggie Burgers. I happened to checked the label—holy moly, the Sodium! Sadly, Veggie Burgers were axed from the shopping list.

And that brings me to today…

When I can, I make foods from scratch and keep trying to add to the list.

My latest big change, as of last fall, is yogurt. I had always heard this was easy to make but never tried it until a friend forwarded a recipe for making it in a crockpot. Hey, I have a crockpot I never use; let’s put it to use! I did, and with a little trial and error, I now make my own Greek yogurt twice a week, and haven’t bought a store brand since. Basically, all you have to do is buy whole milk, set a timer a few times, throw in a little yogurt and wait. then strain it to “Greek” it. I didn’t do this for health reasons, but just love not having to clean out all those yogurt containers before sending them to the recycle bin.

It amazes me how easy making some of this stuff is.

Sometimes it’s easier than having to drive to a store and buy it.

My husband has been great through all of this, and doesn’t mind me being the Food Czar and gatekeeper of the house as long as there are some good things for him to eat like potato chips and chocolate when he wants them. And maybe a little heavy cream to make ice cream.

And, we still eat whatever we want. That’s the amazing part. You get to this point where you only crave the foods that are really worth it. Part of the decision-making process is deciding what needs to stay, along with what should go.

What’s worth it to me?

Dark Chocolate.

Red Wine.

Coffee with cream.

Full fat dairy.

Treats like cookies and brownies and cakes are fine, but they aren’t at the house every day to snack on endlessly.

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Just making sure to read the box, they don’t make a Peanut version do they?

My son? He’s not so happy about having to deal with his allergy, but he has no choice. It’s imperative he starts learning to read labels for himself, for his health and for his safety. I was really proud of him a few weeks ago when he came home from school and told me “The TruMoo Chocolate milk at school has 18 grams of sugar and Hood has 26 grams, so I’m going to choose True-Moo” and then later added “I am only going to choose chocolate milk once or twice a week, because I don’t need so much sugar every day.”

See, you can preach, and they really do listen sometimes!

I love that.

And I love that every time he passes a McDonalds he says “Look, a McEwwww!”

And that he has never tried Soda, and has no desire to try it.

And that it was years before he realized you could actually buy ice cream, you didn’t have to make it.

Awareness isn’t always easy:

There are some challenges.

You can’t just go to the grocery store, get what you need and come home. Sometimes it takes a little time to find all this good stuff, and there are many questions to ask.

Being aware of what you eat sometimes does ruin the desire to eat out, unless it’s really worth it.

Your family and friends may think you are preachy, or a killjoy, when you all get together and suddenly you have some issues with the quality of foods served. My brother Greg is constantly teasing me about all the weird seeds and grains that come with us on the airplane when we fly down for a visit.

Also, it can get overwhelming.  Trying to figure out the balance of where to stop, so I don’t drive myself crazy obsessing over every decision, is a challenge. Where I live in Vermont, there are lots of back-to-basic type people making everything from scratch. Sometimes it’s hard not to get swept up by romanticizing the “idea” behind making everything yourself.

For instance:

I bought a how-to book, and a whole mess of supplies to learn cheese-making. I live in Vermont. We have the best cheeses in this state you could ever ask for. Not necessary, considering the time involved. The book and supplies? Untouched.

I considered getting my own chickens for fresh eggs.  Really, many people in my town do have their own. As of now, I’m thinking no thanks, I can purchase local eggs at the Country Store down the road.

What about Salsa? Hummus? Jelly? Pickles? I have tried making all of these at least once, and determined there are great local sources who can make these better than I can.

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The “Bonus Garden”, where we collect more caterpillars than veggies…

Growing my own veggies? Well, we have enough land, I need to make this happen. But I’m not very good at it yet.  I have been trying over the last few years with some luck (green beans, and kale), but mostly without (everything else, even zucchini!). I call our little garden beds the “Bonus Garden”, because if anything grows, it’s all kind of a “nice surprise”.

I’ll still frequent the farm stands and markets for everything else.

Raising Lambs and Goats for meat and milk? Ok, you city folks probably will not believe this, but the discussion has come up over the years. So far, we have opted out, although my husband has been tempted to bring them in to help him mow the unruly lawn.

A few years ago, my sister-in-law, also Brooke, asked me how I shop, and how I approach healthy foods for my family, because she was struggling over where to begin.

I never answered the question because it’s kind of complicated. But I’ll try now…

The way I look at food and health today accumulated from so much trial and error and experience.

And over time.

And still seems to be evolving.

Every time I read the news or watch a documentary about what’s healthy today, and what isn’t, based on new research, there is even more to evaluate.

Should we eat meat, and if so, how often?

Should we eat dairy?

What’s up with Paleo? Vegan?

Intermittent fasting?

How much Sugar? Sodium? Vitamin D?

Protein, Fats, Carbs? How much of each?

High Fructose Corn Syrup vs. Sugar?

Grass Fed Meats vs Not?

Local?

Gluten?

You can go dizzy trying to keep up.

But if you want to start making better choices today, the first step I would take is to start reading labels.

Try cutting out the chemicals and going for the real food.

Pay attention to the added sugar and sodium.

And as you gain success and are more confident in your food choices, don’t be too hard on yourself if you are not able to make 100% of the changes all at once.

Or if you don’t get that buy in from the family from the beginning.

Or if it’s tough to accomplish at every meal.

There is definitely a learning curve, and every small step you take to eat well now, along with your fitness and portion control plan, will take you and your family one step closer to better health.

Fitness and portion control plan? I know, it was bad for me to throw that in at the end. But we all know food is just one part of healthy living, and that’s a whole story in itself.  Perhaps I’ll write about how my thoughts continue to evolve on that topic in a future post…

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