Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Food Guidelines: What I Eat

This two-part post is different from even my usual randomness. So feel free to ignore it if you think it's odd. And yes, we all know that I'm not a nutritionist.

As a continuation from Monday's post, today I'll give you some examples of the types of everyday foods that I eat. First, a note on eating out.

Restaurants - I don't eat our on a daily basis (so when I do I'm not as concerned about what I get), but I realize that it isn't so simple for many people to limit eating out. You might go out to eat for work or with friends, or maybe you really are too busy to prepare all of your own food. So the simple guideline is to try and eat out in places that stick to the guidelines you would want to keep to at home. Things that are freshly made will have less undesirable ingredients. While salads are recommended as healthy choices, I don't necessarily recommend them. Sometimes they're terrible, sometimes they have even more food than other menu items, and sometimes they're simply not what you feel like eating and therefore you won't feel satisfied from eating them. (Not that it's bad to order a salad--I'm not trying to discourage that at all. I'm just saying that it isn't always your only option.) Instead, just try and keep a balance in what you're eating throughout the day or week and stick to the guideline of eating the amount that you need to satisfy instead of under or overeating.

Breakfast - I never skip a meal. I don't understand how most people don't eat breakfast. I also don't understand why many people would rather wait at a drive through window to get coffee and a pastry instead of spending five more minutes at home to eat a better version of the same thing at home. So here's what I do. I have a big mug of black tea in the morning. Remember, you've been asleep for hours; you need to hydrate, whatever it is you're drinking. Limit the sugar in the morning; you'll feel better for it. Everything has its place, and the place for sugar is not the morning. As long as you don't specifically have a gluten allergy, don't fear bread. Just look for a local bakery; if it's too much to buy directly from them, Whole Foods probably carries their bread, too. Limited ingredients means a better product that you don't have to feel guilty about. Butter? I use it pretty much every morning--that is, whenever I have toast, which is most mornings. Organic, unsalted, sweet cream butter is what I like to get. I also have one or two eggs most mornings. Again, don't fear eggs; they're a great food. I buy the organic, pasture-raised eggs (which, yes, might seem expensive at first, but how much does that coffee from the drive through cost again?). Sometimes I'll put the egg on the toast with some cheese. Sometimes I make a soft-boiled egg. Sometimes I sauté some potatoes or zucchini on the side. Or I add avocado to the toast and egg. Sometimes I'll mash some beans. If you have leftover rice, you can crack an egg into it while you're reheating it in a pan. And of course let's not forget about oatmeal. When I have oatmeal, I let it cook while I'm getting ready in the morning, then add a spoonful of honey to it.

Lunch - Lunch is kind of odd, I know. Usually lunch you can't eat at home, so that can make it more difficult. Leftovers can make a good lunch, but if you're like me and you don't use microwaves, then anything that needs to be reheated isn't an option when you're not at home. Some leftovers you can eat cold, over a bed of greens, but I really don't usually do that. And even if I'm home, I'm more likely to use leftovers for dinner than for lunch. Tuna is a good lunch food, either in a sandwich or over greens or with tortilla chips or crackers--but again, depending on where you eat lunch, you may or may not want to be bringing in fish. I stick to a sandwich most days. Peanut butter and jelly really is a nice combo--just use organic peanut butter with no more than two ingredients and use all-fruit jelly (sometimes they'll add a little extra fruit juice to sweeten it) or at least one with reduced sugar. I usually, illogically, scoff at "reduced sugar" labels because I don't think that sugar itself is the problem, but I do think that nearly all jellies contain way too much more sugar than they need. I want to eat my sugar in chocolate and cookies, not in jelly. Jelly seems like one of those products, like bread and honey, that you can easily buy local--but I'm just not happy with the amount of sugar in the jelly that's made around here. Anyway. Sandwiches. Remember that instead of buying cold cuts, you can also just cook a little extra meat for the week. Slice that up and use it in sandwiches. I also make pasta salad sometimes for lunch; it's also easy thing to take with you. All I add usually is salad dressing. Not a very balanced meal in itself, but remember that each meal doesn't necessarily have to be balanced as long as the total of what you eat in a day is. Fruits make good accompaniments for lunch, or even just a little bit of greens.

Dinner - When I'm by myself, I don't eat meat every day. I would never become a vegetarian (obviously never vegan, either), but I also think of meat as more of an accessory than a main dish. Sometimes it's the main part of a meal, but it's a small percentage of what I eat overall. Usually it's salmon (which is easy to cook and just needs a touch of seasoning) or chicken (which I season more). Instead of eating meat all the time, I make a pot of beans nearly every week. Pinto are nice, but I also like to get other kinds. It can be months before I buy the same kind again: there are just so many varieties and they all taste different. I make rice often. I've been most fond of brown rice lately, though I didn't much favor it in the past; now I find it rich and meaty. With white rice, usually I've been adding tomato sauce to make it into orange rice. Steaming vegetables (make sure not to leave them in too long) is great; you just add some salt to them and there you have a simple start. You can just put steamed vegetables over rice for an easy dinner. I also make potatoes pretty often. Sometimes I'll boil several of them to keep in the refrigerator for when I want them, whether for breakfast or dinner. I make what I call mock fries sometimes by slicing up these potatoes, then cutting them into thin pieces, and sautéing them in a pan with plenty of salt and a touch of pepper. Sliced potatoes can also cook in the oven with olive oil and rosemary. Mashed potatoes are good with butter and sometimes cheese. Tortillas make a nice accompaniment to most foods. And remember that a salad can be as simple as greens with cucumber slices set on the side of whatever else you're eating. Oh, yes, and pasta is a good, quick dinner when you haven't planned out anything else. Pasta sauce is one of the "processed" foods that I do buy, though I do keep an eye on the ingredients list.

Extras/Desserts - Nuts and dried fruit make for good snacking items that are easy to carry around with you. But I do also favor tortilla chips, sometimes with salsa, for when I'm at home. I frequently eat tortilla chips late at night. I always forget to make popcorn (yes, I'm one of the people who still pops popcorn in a pot on the stove--why would you want to make it any other way when half of the fun is getting to watch it pop?), which I season just with salt, but I always think I should make it more often when I do. Fruit is a good in-between food. And as I keep mentioning, if I'm craving something sweet, I'll either have it right away or plan when I'm going to have it. If I want brownies, I'll make brownies (I recommend Martha Steward's Double Chocolate Brownies recipes). Or cookies, or some cake, or just chocolate. I used to not like pancakes until I realized that they taste kind of nice when they don't come from a mix; very occasionally, I'll have them for lunch or dinner (remember, I don't eat sweet things in the mornings)--I use maple syrup, not the faux syrups that dominate the shelves. (Actually, I do make scones for breakfast sometimes--and I top them with honey or jelly, so that would be the exception to my morning rule.) My point is: if I make these things myself, then I know what's in them. And since I have to go through the extra trouble of making them, I'm less likely to make them every day and more likely to spread them out over multiple days (as long as each item can last before it goes bad, which is less time for scones and more time for cookies).

Obviously I'm not listing menu items, nor am I listing every single food that I eat. I'm only trying to give an idea of my attitude toward food. On a daily basis, I don't go all out. I don't make dishes or follow recipes. I just make food, usually simple and sometimes plain. I think this is why some people get overwhelmed at the idea of cooking at home: they think they have to be making elaborate meals all the time. You don't. And you also don't have to shy away from basic ingredients (unless, of course, you have a specific allergy or extreme health concern). Use butter, use cheese, use sugar, use potatoes--just buy specific types of these and other ingredients. You know, buy a whole piece of parmesan and grate it at home so that you know you're not eating wood pulp. Buy organic potatoes so that you're not eating all the pesticides from the dirt the potatoes were sitting in. Buy the peanut butter that isn't full of oil and sugar. That sort of thing.

And don't feel like you have to follow the current "healthy food" trends. I don't understand why there is such a big section full of kale chips when they're something I can't even imagine wanting to try, much less each regularly. I'll eat salad as salad and chips as chips; don't try and combine them. Recipes with black beans in the brownies? Maybe it works out great, but what's really the point? Beans taste good on their own, and brownies can have their place as dessert. Sure, I don't drink milk, but I stopped long before it was popular to. And like I said, though I see so much vegan food nowadays, I would never go vegan. If that's a choice that you want to make, go for it. Just make sure that you're not just jumping on food bandwagons that you don't really want to stick to. See what works best for your tastes, your lifestyle and habits, and your intentions. You vote with your dollar, and we all buy food. What kind of food do you want to support?

And what kind of food do you want to nourish yourself with? If you care about the body that you're living in, then don't you want to treat it well?

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