Holidays on Whole Food

First – It’s almost Halloween, so here’s a little treat: Organic Valley Dairy Coupons and Free Apples from Earth Fare and more Earth Fare Coupons.

I can’t believe Halloween is two days away. It seems fall just arrived. Then again, yesterday at the elementary school, there were leaves on the floor. You know fall is in full swing when leaves are blown and tracked inside buildings. This is my favorite time of the year!! I absolutely L.O.V.E. the holidays. I’m the one who starts listening to holiday music on November 1st, the one who almost can’t wait for Halloween to be over so we can get on with the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Spending time with family, good will, holiday decorations and preparations, the music and traditions… I get goosebumps thinking about it!!

The next few holidays are centered around food, so of course this excites me! I’m looking forward to holiday cooking and baking with real food. But it does lead me to wonder how am I going to stick to my whole food, non-processed, no conventional meat, low sugar and refined carbs lifestyle at potluck family dinners? I was thinking of buying a free-range turkey from the farmers market, but changed my mind when I figured up the price. At $6.00 a pound, that’s about $120 for a turkey. I might spring for this once a year, if I knew that it’s superior quality and taste would be appreciated by someone other than me. And if it were served with equally fresh, local vegetables and sides to honor the bird.

It’s really a bit odd how cheap whole turkeys are in the stores this time of year – $0.49 or even $0.29 per pound. A conventional 20 pound turkey will only set you back about $6 to $10. (If you have 10 to 15 guests, that’s $1 or less per person for the main protein.) Isn’t that just a bit strange? Especially considering the costs of feeding, raising and processing, packaging, storing and transporting a turkey? It’s life and all of the resources used to get it to your table is priced at $6 to $10. Really?

So what’s a whole-foods girl and her family to do at family gatherings? I’m not sure yet, but I’m open to suggestions. I know I’ll probably eat very little meat and dessert and try to pick out the most “whole-some” foods offered. I’m not sure whether the temptation will be too great. I don’t really miss that sort of food. I’m more worried that I’ll feel obligated to eat (or at least plate) the offerings so as not to offend anyone or draw attention to myself. The rest of my family, especially the girls, will eat with reckless abandon and take full advantage of the processed, sugar filled cornucopia. I wish I could say I have a plan for that, but I don’t  – yet.

I do have a plan for Halloween. I’m going to buy as much of their Halloween booty as they are willing to part with. I’ll conveniently remind them that they’re going to need money if they want to go see the new Harry Potter (coming out November 19th). We are usually pretty strict about how much they are allowed to eat daily anyway. (Between Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter, our candy bowl never runs dry around here.) So limiting what they do keep, won’t necessarily be a problem.

But as for the rest, I’ll just take it in stride. I’m not the least bit worried that our new food philosophy will take the happy out of the holidays. The joy from it will easily overshadow little hiccups. We’ll cross each bridge when we get to it. While I would like to say my kids will make wise choices, they probably won’t. They’re kids. It’s my job to do that for a few more years…

Sleep Deprivation

This blog is about our healthy journey, which largely includes eating healthy. Most of my posts have been about food. This one isn’t. Our menu isn’t the only thing that has changed around here. While I do believe eating healthy is step one, you can’t stop there. Studies have shown that people who maintain a healthy weight, usually make healthy choices in all aspects of their life. Focusing on overall health, rather than just your waist line, will give you the weight loss you want and might even make it feel effortless. It did that for me. Don’t focus on the food-weight connection. It’s a smoke screen that will probably lead to failure.

I think the most important thing, besides eating well, is sleeping well. For me this was the thing that kicked me off that vicious yo-yo diet cycle and took me from “dieting” to healthier living. The light bulb went off when I realized that not getting enough sleep made me too tired to make healthy choices. I used to stay up until the wee hours of the morning. I was a self professed “night owl.” London, my sweet little alarm clock, usually woke me around 7 a.m., which meant I was getting about 5 hours of sleep most nights. (Apparently I wasn’t alone.  I’ve seen a facebook likey thing called “I stay up too late and then hate myself in the morning.” They have over 385,000 likes!!)

At some point I realized that I was cheating myself. I traded a few hours of sleep for a few hazy, tired hours in the middle of the night. BUT WAIT! THAT’S NOT ALL! In addition to those extra hours in the middle night, I also received, at no additional cost, one full cranky and unproductive day filled with guilt, which lead to feeling sorry for myself, all for one low price of just a few hours of sleep. I’d rationalize not eating or worse yet, eating prepared processed junk food to save time. It’s part of the cycle and studies have shown that sleep deprivation may lead to weight gain (especially in women). Here’s the cycle. You eat a lot of junk. You need more sleep. You don’t get enough sleep. You eat more junk.

Here are some side effects of sleep deprivation (from Wikipedia) :

So what is considered a good nights sleep? Everyone’s probably heard that we need 8 hours. But then some study showed that 8 is too many and 7 is the perfect number…? In reality the amount of sleep a person needs varies. There is no “perfect number.” Figuring out yours isn’t that difficult. I started out with 8 hours and then tried 7. Subtracting that hour made one noticeable difference. It was easier to get out of bed in the morning. I didn’t have that strong urge to hit snooze, roll over and go back to sleep. I also began to notice that I was naturally waking up just minutes before my alarm was set to go off. Any day that doesn’t start out with that atrocious “BEEP… BEEP… BEEP…” is already a good day in my book.

The only problem with all this, is that I didn’t want to give up those peaceful evening hours. The only sound as beautiful as a house filled with the joy and laughter of happy children, is a quiet house filled with the silence of happily sleeping children. So, I swapped those 3 to 5 unproductive hours at night for 1 or 2 really good ones in the morning. What a difference! I can’t believe what I’ve been missing all these years! It’s the same quiet, peaceful house, but now with a quiet, peaceful me. Serenity.

Here are some benefits of good night’s rest (from About.com):

I’m Not Spending a Fortune on Food!

Inspired by a local blogger, a few weeks ago I decided to cut my food budget down and prove that it isn’t so expensive to eat consciously. It’s all about trade offs. We’ve stopped over consuming and wasting food and we eat out less. We spend the extra money on better quality food. As you can see from my other posts, we aren’t exactly starving or eating poorly! Even if the cost of groceries is slightly more than you’d expect, you’ll find that spending those extra bucks now, will pay you back in dividends later.

I’d estimate that I was spending around $200 to $225 per week on food for our family of five (which falls between the Low and Moderate range on the current Official USDA Food Plan Average). I’m shooting for $150 now (Thrifty), but giving myself permission to spend $175, which still falls well below the Low-costs plan even after subtracting 5% for a family of five as the fine print instructs.

The past few weeks have been pretty successful, although we were running low on a few of our favorite foods around Thursday last week. It didn’t bother me much. I actually liked that it forced us to think outside the box for a few days. We used some things that we might have passed over before, as well as some leftovers and produce that probably would have spoiled and been wasted. There’s nothing thrifty about wasting food!! I only spent $150 last week, but let me assure you – we had plenty of food and still have some of it leftover. It just wasn’t the convenience food my family is used to. I did eventually grow tired of hearing them complain that “There’s no food in this house!” Umm, yea there is.

We ran out of eggs and milk (though these were restocked on Wednesday and were within our budget), lunch meat and cereal around midweek and by Saturday morning, yogurt. I didn’t bother going back to the store to get more. Instead, we just ate something else, even if it meant I had to personally go into the kitchen and prepare it myself. They’ll get used to it and maybe they’ll learn to ration better, instead of eating all of their favorites up in the first few days!

I spent $175 this week, so next week I’ll do my best not to go over $150. Here’s where the money went.

- Farmers’ Market $72 (lots of produce, pecans, honey, a whole chicken, two pounds of pork chops, ground pork sausage and goat cheese)

- Trader Joe’s $20 (mozzarella cheese, lunch meat, uncured bacon and some kettle corn)

- Harris Teeter $55 (yogurt, ricotta, bananas, white button mushrooms, crimini mushrooms, OJ, some convenience a/k/a processed food – three boxes of cereal, healthier versions of snack bars – Odwalla’s  and Clif Kid Organic ZBars – both on sale, can’t remember anything else at the moment)

- Dairy and eggs $28 (gal of low fat milk, 1/2 gal of buttermilk, a pound of butter and two dozen eggs)

The local dairy (and eggs) is something new I’m trying and I don’t intend to spend that much each week. I probably won’t buy eggs there again (however the cost will move over to the farmers market, next week) or buttermilk. It’s not cultured, which is what I want and I only buy it about once a month. I probably will buy the butter again, but this pound should last at least a few weeks. I’m only planning to buy 2 gallons of milk next week, which will cost me just $12. Yes… I’m am paying $6 a gallon for milk. But organic milk in the grocery store is around $5 or $6 anyway and this milk is from pastured, humanely treated cows (you know how I feel about that). It tastes better and it’s better for our health, the cows and the earth.

I’m getting better at planning, so (fingers crossed) I’m hoping I won’t get any complaints this week from the family. The point is you can eat consciously without breaking the bank. It might take a few weeks to get the hang of it, but as you can see I’m not spending a fortune on food each week as you might have imagined. I’d be willing to bet that we’re spending less than the average shopper who’s buying mostly conventional food for their family of five.

First Test

So, right after my last post we made a last minute decision to go out for dinner with family. While driving to Jake’s Good Eats I went back and forth trying to decide whether I was going to start abstaining from conventional meat that night or put it off for just one more meal. When we arrived I still hadn’t decided. After looking at the menu, I realized that this place was more upscale than it looked. It’s also well off the beaten path and appears to be on the edge of a farm of sorts. Was it possible that this was a place for a conscious eater?

I made a bold move (one I’m going to have to get used to) and decided to ask the waitress a few questions about the food. Nothing’s local, but she tells me that the chicken is free range and free of antibiotics. That’s good. I mean, it’s not perfect, but it’s edible. Worst case scenario is that it came from a factory farm where free range means thousands of chickens freely ranging under a small, crowded, dark, dusty and disease filled poultry tent. That would definitely take the wind out of my sails. She mentioned that they use Sysco, which has been offering more local and sustainable foods to it’s customers (so they say). There was some hope. Click here to view Sysco’s 2009 Case Study.

There were a few other things about this place that gave me the sense that someone running it was thinking consciously about food. They make all of their own salad dressings. Balsamic vinaigrette was drizzled on the plate with some sauteed leeks and fried green tomatoes. Wow! This was a great start. I could have eaten the entire appetizer, but it was too good not to share.  At first I resisted an offer to try the scallops, but then let my guard down and tried a tiny nibble. Pretty tasty.

I should tell you that when we first pulled up to this restaurant, Haleigh practically shouted in despair and dread “UUUGH! THIS PLACE IS UUUGLY!” After chastising her for being rude and telling her to keep those thoughts to herself, we pulled into a parking spot facing a couple of horses. Things were already looking up for my drama tween.

The restaurant does slightly resemble a shack at first glance. Not really knowing much about this place, I was expecting typical local diner fare, such as hamburgers and maybe some not so healthy country cooking in a dusty old dining room. Corn hole was set up by the front door. The inside is decorated with some antiques and old plaques, but with an artsy touch. The bathroom almost had a sort of boutique feel about it. As it turns out, the place is pretty charming. I don’t know if it was intentional, but the dinnerware was not uniform. All the plates were white, but different shapes and sizes. Maybe the owner doesn’t have the money to purchase uniform sets, or maybe they like it that way. I did. Unfortunately for the wait staff, I noticed it seemed to make clearing tables slightly more difficult.

I’d ordered blackened chicken breast over homemade fettuccine alfredo. There were a few small cherry tomato halves mixed in. They didn’t have much flavor, but the rest of the dish had plenty. I didn’t want to bombard the waitress with questions, but I wish I’d asked what part of the fettuccine alfredo was homemade – the pasta or the sauce or both. I’m guessing the menu was referring to the alfredo sauce, which was very good. There was nothing special about the noodles, though they were more than adequate. They were cooked a little past al dente, but still, it was a good dish. As my sister-in-law pointed out, it would have been better if there were more vegetables mixed in – maybe some spinach or broccoli. The vegetables on everyone else’s plates looked fresh and nicely cooked. But back to my dish. The breastbone was removed from the chicken, but the drummette from the chicken wing was left intact. Nice touch. The skin was also left on, although it was a little too  charred.

This wasn’t a huge portion of food, but plenty in my opinion. I still had enough leftover for lunch the next day. The take out box offered another pleasant surprise. Instead of bringing me one of those eco-unfriendly styrofoam takeout containers, the waitress handed me a nice brown box made from recycled materials. I’m not at the point yet where I’m thinking enough ahead to remember that I don’t want to use those styrofoam ones, so it was nice that they’d thought of it.

While this isn’t a great restaurant (that would be one that uses local and organic ingredients), I still loved it. The real clincher is that it’s just a few miles away from home. There are several things on the menu that I can’t wait to try. Most of the restaurants that I would prefer to dine in, serving fresh, local ingredients, are in south Charlotte and don’t quite fit into our budget. Though I wouldn’t exactly describe this restaurant as cheap, it’s nice to have a semi-conscious option, i. e., one that I don’t have to fear, for an occasional dinner out that’s close to home.

Random Stuff

I’ve finally had some success baking bread!! I’ll still play around with the recipe. I’m starting to get the “feel” of the dough. I’ve been trying to avoid adding gluten, which I finally figured out was like putting the cart before the horses. Whole wheat is harder to work with, so until I get the basics down, I’ll keep adding gluten (in the form of King Arthur’s organic unbleached all purpose flour for now) back into the recipe until I get it right. Then I’ll start working backward again, until I figure out a way to make it with just whole wheat. I just need the training wheels a little longer. I checked out King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook from the library, to get a few more tips.

Speaking of books, I’ve read a few lately. Mostly about food of course. Even Eat, Pray, Love had a section solely dedicated to food. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan was okay, but honestly it wasn’t anything I hadn’t already heard. If you just skip to the last section, you’ll get the entire book in a nutshell. If you aren’t already familiar with reasons to eat whole food, Big Industry and Big Agriculture and such I recommend it. I’ve been told I might like another one of his books,  Omnivore’s Dilemma more.

I read Building Bone Vitality, which was boring, to be quite honest, but there was some really compelling information in there explaining what’s wrong with the current recommendations to eat lots of dairy and take calcium supplements to build strong bones and prevent osteoporosis.  The authors/doctors recommend eating less meat and dairy and other the high acids foods that steal the calcium right from your bones. Instead eat calcium rich fruits and vegetables like collards, kale, spinach, broccoli, carrots, oranges, dates and raisins. Even nuts and seeds have calcium.

I also read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. They actually had it on cd at the library, so I listened to most of it while chauffeuring the kids back and forth to school. (The girls were so glad when I finished it.) The author basically uprooted her family from Arizona and moved back to Virginia where they grew most of their own food (fruits, vegetables, eggs, chickens and turkeys) and ate locally for one year. Very inspiring, and there was a lot of insight in this book about eating local, whole foods.

Now I’m reading The Conscious Kitchen by Alexandra Zissu. I like this book the most because it’s more of a why and how to. She gives lots of tips and resources, like how to read PLU codes (those little stickers they put on produce). 5 digit numbers beginning with a 9 are organic and according to her, conventional produce begins with a 4 and has a four digit number (however I know that some also begin with a 3). Genetically Modified produce can be labeled with a five digit numbers beginning with an 8, but good look finding those. PLU’s are optional and I doubt those producers would be willing to divulge that information. She also has touches on almost everything I’m concerned about these days – from dairy to fish to plastic and more. Read this book!!

Next on my list is Real Food What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck. Then maybe the other Michael Pollan book.

One more thought. I caught a quick glimpse of an episode of Oprah last week in which she was discussing the horror of puppy mills. Shortly after that, I was shopping at HT and found myself in line behind a woman with reusable grocery bags (great!), but she also had a ton of prepackaged food in her cart. I know every little bit helps, so I’m not knocking their efforts by any means. In fact I need to ramp up my own. What I’m suggesting is that now that we’re paying attention and doing our part to rid the planet of puppy mills and plastic bags, it’s time to take the next step, whatever that means for you.

Pick one thing that concerns you and figure out how you can make that situation better. When it becomes a habit, choose another. Recycling is good, but avoiding all that packaging is better. (Something I need to work on.) Likewise, if you can’t bear the thought of puppies raised in a mill, then you should reconsider buying conventional meat from the grocery store. That steak or chicken was once a living animal that most likely came from a factory farm. The animal abuse and neglect happening on factory farms is much worse than that of a puppy mill. (See pictures below.) Livestock and chickens aren’t bred for adoption and the public isn’t looking to rescue them. The whistle’s been blown and still no one is listening.

For me, the next step is going to be further avoiding packaging and any meat that might have been factory farmed. I’m going to reuse all the produce bags I’ve been saving. I use them at the farmers market, but now I’m going to take them into the grocery store too. Once they’re gone, I’m going to put a couple of those handy grocery baskets inside my cart and put the produce right in there. I’m also going to try and eliminate paper products at home. That will be a little harder and the additional washing will probably fall to me. I’m not sure if I’ll get a lot of support at home for this one.

Avoiding conventional meat outside of my home will be difficult. I have been reluctant to take this step, because it’s not something I can do discretely. It will leave me vulnerable to ridicule and some people will question it. But I’m going to do it. Some might think I’ve gone vegetarian, and that’s fine I guess. In fact, this would probably be easier to explain than: I only eat minimal amounts of meat from animals that were raised humanely and fed a proper diet, free of growth hormones and antibiotics. Unfortunately, someone along the way will take offense to that. They might assume I think I’m too good to eat what they are eating or that I’m judging them, when in reality I’m just taking a stance against something I feel strongly about. I’m sure there will be opportunities for me to show my girls that standing up for what you believe in may not always be easy, nevertheless it’s an important virtue. Of course I’ll probably break the rules every now and then, when it can’t be avoided, but I am going to give it more effort. Saying “I will never eat” or forbidding myself from any food is not something I’m willing to do.

 

How is this...

 

 

... different than this?

 

 

Mama pigs are literally pinned down so that her babies can nurse freely and to keep her from rolling over on one of them, which is a real possibility. But still no excuse.

Mama pigs are literally pinned down so that her babies can nurse freely and to keep her from rolling over on one of them, which is a real possibility. But still no excuse.

 

 

These might be considered "Free Range" chickens on a factory farm, but not to me. Buyer beware.

 

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