Friday, August 31, 2012

Seasonal eating = yummy and easier than I thought

Lately, when I've been making my Change Your Life salad for lunch, I've had a hard time averting my eyes from the address on the label for the strawberries I use. They're from California. And, since as I read about sustainable living and eating I become more aware of the impact transporting food across the country has on our environment, I've been feeling a little sheepish. Somewhat rude. Kind of like a spoiled brat to be honest.  Is it possible I am becoming an environmentalist? I never expect that.

Anyway, I've made the switch to local and organic eggs and meat so I figure the switch to local produce isn't that far behind. I like the idea of supporting agricultural pursuits that are undertaken by people who live in and support my community. But I also wanted to take a stab at eating not just locally but seasonally as well.

Plus, I'm cheap so buying seasonal fruit is a more economical way to eat anyway.

In the past, "seasonal" eating has been dictated more by the picture on my calendar than by actual weather. When its cold (or when the calendar depicts a cold-weather scene), I eat soup and chili for lunch. When it is hot, I eat salad. That's as seasonal as I got. But I figured there was a little more to it than that so I Googled seasonal produce and found this site that let me sort by region so I could make myself a little chart of what was in season when: Guide to Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables.

And I found out, as I expected, that strawberries were not on my list for August and September. Darn it. 

But apples were! I like apples! So I decided to replace the strawberries in my salad with apples, which also prompted a switch from feta cheese to gorgonzola since I like that flavor combination, and see what I thought. Thanks to a Facebook fan Stephanie planting the idea of baking apples in my head, I decided to sprinkle them with cinnamon and bake them in the oven for about 30 minutes so they were nice and soft. Thanks Stephanie!

My apples ready for the oven!
Luckily, my favorite veggie spinach is always in season for my area so the rest of my salad was safe.

I call it the Fall Harvest Salad.
The result was pretty darn yummy. I usually have apple slices with peanut butter alongside my salad, but since I had apples in the salad I put my peanut butter on some celery instead. Peanut butter is a deal breaker. I will have peanut butter.

So I took one yummy step towards being a more responsible consumer of resources this week. Luckily my favorite dinnertime veggie - green beans - are safe for now, but my broccoli may have to be on hold until spring. Until then, looks like a lot of squash in my future. Um, awesome. But the list inspired me to do a little research into the health benefits of my favorite fall fruit: the nutritional power of apples can be found here.

I'll be honest, I'm not sure how seasonal my plate will be throughout the winter, but I'm going to give it a good shot! Get out there and get healthy today, even if you have to consult a list first. :)


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Meet Martin: the Highly-Evolved Clean-Eating Teenager

When most of us picture a modern-day teenage boy we probably envision a ravenous, junk-food loving, fast-food eating calorie-burning machine with the appetite of a sumo-wrestler. Have you seen that commercial where the teenage boys arrive home from school, open the freezer to peer around for food, and then are directed by mom to the bag of frozen pizza rolls to eat for a snack? Yeah I hate that commercial. Luckily there are kids like Martin Chavez to give me hope that someday, teenage boys will have moms who give them something much better.

Martin, the son of a friend who I also used to work with, is a clean-eating teen who became inspired to change his nutrition after hearing me speak about it one evening. Since that time over a year ago, he has transformed not only his diet but his academic and sports performance as well. Below, he gamely answers my nosy questions about his clean-eating journey and offers advice for getting started on a healthier path to adulthood.

HH (that's me!) How did you learn about clean eating?  
Martin: I first learned about clean eating from HOPE, a class I took in school that taught me that I should watch out for foods that are high in fat and cholesterol. 

Then in November of 2010, I heard you speak about how to get through the holidays by eating clean so that we don’t gain weight. From listening to you speak I became more motivated to eat a cleaner, better diet. 

I watched documentaries like "Food Inc.," "The Future of Food," "Forks Over Knives," and "Food Matters." These also helped me learn about clean eating, where our food comes from and ways to make a better diet.

HH: What made you want to try it? What did you want to accomplish? 
Martin: I wanted to eat clean because I didn’t like knowing how awful I was eating before. I also started exercising more and I wanted to be able to give my body the right things so I could perform better and become better athlete. 

HH: What did you do to "go clean"? 
Martin: I stopped going to fast food restaurants, started paying attention to the ingredients of whatever I ate, and went to the grocery store with my mom to make sure we got better food (not that she wasn’t doing a good job but because I didn’t want any more food with ingredients labels that were practically essays!) [And I – his mother – will add … It’s great having Martin go to the store with me. Most of the time. We had gotten in the habit of getting boxed brownie mixes. But after Martin read the ingredients labels, he started saying no thank you. On the rare occasions we have baked goods in the house, they are typically made from scratch. Still full of sugary goodness, but not all the other junk that boxed stuff has.]

HH: What benefits did you experience as a result? 
Martin: I have a lot more energy and I always feel great because I know that I’m treating my body right! I used to always crash at school right after lunch because I would always eat the greasy, nasty pizza they serve but now that I bring my own lunches, which usually is a sub I made myself, a Clif bar and a bottle of water, I have continuous energy from lunch to the next time I eat a meal. 

HH: Were there any downsides to eating clean as a teenager? What struggles did you have or was any part frustrating? 
Martin: There aren’t any downsides to eating clean as teenager!  It’s better to start now when your body can adapt to a new diet than to start later in life and have to struggle to break the bad habits you’ve acquired over the years of being unhealthy. I haven’t come across any other teenager opposed to how I eat either so eating clean as a teenager doesn’t come with any sort of teasing. I was never frustrated either, eating clean isn’t all that hard.

HH: How has your view of food changed as a result and are you still eating clean? Martin: I will forever eat clean! I see food as fuel now and also as a mirror of how I’ll feel. If eat bad, unhealthy food then I’ll feel bad and unhealthy. Before my lacrosse tournaments, I make sure that I have all the right snacks and drinks to fuel my body throughout my games.

HH: What advice would you give to other teens - or anyone - thinking of starting a clean eating lifestyle?
Martin: My advice is to realize that it is a lot easier than they might think! I would also suggest that they get their friends and family to join them because once they realize how great it feels to give their bodies the nourishment it needs, they won't ever go back!

Martin is well on his way to a healthier life, avoiding the obesity and other health issues that plague many Americans. And, his mom just told me that he has chosen to spend his senior year externship working alongside a local sustainable gardener! I am so impressed (and jealous) and can't  wait to hear more about that adventure!

Kids don't necessarily want to eat junk food. Stocking healthy food, providing access to education about nutrition and fitness, and of course living by example are all easy ways to carve out a new path for your family. Choose a food-related documentary for your next family movie night and see if Martin inspires your kids to follow his lead!

Get out there and get healthy today, even if you have to make your parents change their ways. 


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hey Dad, let's go for a run!

This morning when I was running, I came upon a few nice surprises. The first was the weather. It was actually nice outside and for once I didn't feel like I was in a sauna with someone holding an iron to my face and pressing the steam button. That was nice.

The second was almost running into a deer! I was running along and heard a little shuffling sound next to me. Thinking it was a squirrel or a rabbit, I just hopped over a little to let it scurry away. Then I glanced over and saw a big deer bounding in the other direction and realized how close I came to being nose-to-nose with it! I love the wildlife on my run, but I'm not sure I want to get that up close and personal. Luckily I think she felt the same way about me.

The third really made my morning. Turning a corner to head into the homeward stretch of my five miles, I came across two other runners. Not an unusual thing, as my neighborhood is pretty well populated with people running, biking, or walking in the mornings. But these two got a second glance: a small boy, maybe third or fourth grade, running with his dad.


I was immediately taken back 20 years or so to when I used to run with my dad in the mornings before school. It wasn't a regular thing, and thinking back I'm sure I held him back so much that he had to go and run again at lunchtime to get his real workout in.  But those mornings were really special, and they introduced me to a sport that has been a source of pride, success, and fun for me. 

In a time when its hard to tear kids away from the TV, computer, video games, or whatever else is keeping them stationary, it was really refreshing to see this father-son workout. I wrote about the impact my dad has had on my health journey back a couple of years ago, and still love to see families in action to get healthy together.

Here are some great resources for doing just that:

Kids Exercise and Food Journal - a free online journal that teaches kids about healthy habits and rewards them for creating them.

Tips for Family Fitness - fun and easy ways to infuse your weekends with healthy fun.

Kid Fitness: When Your Child Won't Exercise

Get out there and get healthy today, and bring the kids along!


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

This Mini-Goal Idea is Genius

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I started my Awesome Every Day Challenge for August? Best idea ever. I started with the intention of streamlining my diet, becoming more disciplined, and trimming out mindless nibbling. Instead I ended up revolutionizing the way I eat on the weekends. Totally unexpected but completely welcome detour!

It's simple: I set one small mini-goal for each day. Just one nutrition or fitness thing to focus on. If I achieve it, I get my star. And get this - for three weekends in a row, one of them being travel and another hosting company, I have earned all my stars.

That has not happened, like, ever. I always screw up the weekend, especially when I am traveling or entertaining.  Either I'm not disciplined about using my tips for weekend eating or I just let one nibble lead to another and before I know it that little voice is telling me that its okay because its the weekend and I'm supposed to indulge on the weekend. Says who? A nation of obese Americans? The television commercials trying to sell me fast food and chocolate? All the people who claim that everything is okay in moderation but then complain that they can't get in shape because they lack the discipline to make it happen? 

I opted out of that club a long time ago. And hopefully, now my membership card is torn up for good! 

The secret here is in the simplicity of the mini-goal. When I headed out of town for the weekend, I set a mini-goal to avoid crackers when I was traveling. I knew that eating crackers opened the door to eating more not-so-good stuff, so I locked that door and threw away the key. But what happened was way more than just not eating crackers: I was motivated to do even more healthy things, above and beyond my one mini-goal. As a result, it was by far the healthiest on-the-road weekend I have EVER had.

After that first initial success, I was pretty surprised. I didn't expect to do so well. The next weekend I had company coming and I wondered if I could do it again. I did, and it was even easier. The mini-goals kept success within easy reach, and thanks to clearer thinking and zero cravings for sugar now that I have detoxed it out of my life, having a healthy weekend was easier than ever.

And, my calendar is proudly displaying little gold stars on every single day this month. I'm really excited about it! I hope this is more than a lucky trend and actually a lifestyle change that is here to stay.

Are you setting mini goals for yourself this month? Tell me about them! Get out there and get healthy, one mini-goal at a time. 


Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Lasagna Everyone Wants to Know About

I make a mean lasagna. It's really, really good. I make it for people when they have babies or surgery or some other life event that is accompanied by comfort food. Since I've recently had friends who have had surgery and had babies, I've been making a lot of lasagna.

I think a lot of times people think I must be this really great cook because I like healthy food, but I'm not. I'm average. So when people ask for my "recipes" for stuff, I worry that they'll be disappointed in the simplicity of what I make. There are no exotic ingredients, no secrets, and not much wow factor. I'm not a foodie, I just make food. But, whenever I make lasagna people want the recipe so here it is!

Healthy Heather's Super Easy Lasagna


  • 1 pound ground turkey breast 
  • 1 chopped red onion
  • 1 jar of crushed tomatoes (a big one, like 24 ounces)
  • Italian seasoning, garlic, salt, pepper
  • 1/2 package of 100% whole wheat lasagna noodles
  • 1 bag of fresh spinach
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Cook the turkey in a large, deep skillet and then drain it to wash away any grease. There probably isn't any but do it anyway.

Then add your chopped onion and cook until the onions are almost clear. Add in your tomatoes, season it up with garlic, salt, pepper, and italian seasoning until it tastes good to you.

Then let it simmer until most of the liquid is gone and it is almost like chili. This might take a while so go run a few miles, do some burpees and some high knees, and come back after you're done with all that.

Mix your ricotta cheese with the parmesan cheese, add in some dried basil and garlic, and set it aside. Try very very hard not to taste this because once you do you will want to eat it with a spoon!

Next boil a big pot of water and cook the noodles. 9 noodles does the trick for me, as I put my lasagna in an 8x8 pan and that's enough for three layers. But you can use less or more depending on the size of your pan. See how I am not a good cook? I'm just winging it here.

Anyway, once the noodles are cooked and your sauce is nice and thick, it's time to layer. I start with a layer of noodles, then spoon some sauce over them. Since the sauce is thick, I spoon it in 9 little spots on the noodles, three across each one like where you would cut a piece. Put a thin sprinkling of mozzarella cheese, and then cover the sauce/mozzarella layer with a nice layer of spinach. Next comes the ricotta/parmesan cheese mixture, and I do the same thing with the three spoonfuls across each noodle, nine total. Then, start again! Noodle, sauce, mozzarella, spinach, ricotta. Then a third time. Eventually you'll run out of ingredients and you're done. Put some more mozzarella cheese on top, sprinkle some Italian seasoning over it, and viola! You have a lasagna.

Bake it at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until it is all bubbly and looks done. Serve with a ginormous salad of spinach, tomatoes, banana peppers, red onion, kalamata olives (just a few!), cucumbers, and a sprinkling of feta cheese. That's so you don't eat too much lasagna. :)

It's not bad nutrition-wise: about 250 calories per serving! It's hearty, delicious, and definitely comforting. I'm glad people like it so much! 

Get out there and get healthy today, even if you eat lasagna. :)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Our Food Journey: Going Grass-Fed!

Back at the beginning of summer, I wrote this post about my goal to gradually transition my family to an organic diet. I set the goal to make switches and swaps on the grocery list every week until we were eating a more ecologically friendly and pesticide-free palate of food. That journey has progressed nicely, but not in the way I expected. While we are eating some things organic that we weren't before, the real transition has been in even more processed foods being eliminated from the grocery list.

Instead of buying bread, I'm baking it. Granola bars and other processed snacks, even those touting the USDA Organic seal, are rare. My son has made a great transition to eating fruit and cheese for snacks instead of (yes, still organic but still processed) cheddar bunnies or peanut butter crackers. It's nice to have an almost-bare pantry and an overflowing fridge.

But last week I picked up The Omnivore's Dilemma again and started reading. I've been taking some rest days from running and spending two days a week on the elliptical, which gives me time to read. And, that means time to start thinking again about the way our food choices affect the world around us.

I've never claimed to be an environmentalist or animal activist. I'm not against those appeals, its just that my focus is on eating simpler food for health's sake, not the world's. But, the more I read the more the two worlds get closer together. That's what led me to the store looking for grass-fed beef this week.

I've eaten grass-fed beef before but more out of curiosity than anything else. Now I'm more mom-on-a-mission to avoid being part of the machine. That's why this article called "Truth in Labeling" was so valuable to me: it sheds light on the new supermarket lingo and offers a reality check on food labels. We all know food marketers will say whatever it takes to get us to buy buy buy, but the FDA also muddies the waters with loopholes, technicalities, and grandfather clauses that make what we think is organic and clean, well, not quite. It annoys me that I feel like I need a graduate degree in semantics just to go grocery shopping, but I'm also thankful that there are resources to help me figure it all out.

I am not a food photographer.
But this bison burger was delish!
I made a bison burger this week for the first time! It was delicious and I'm looking forward to making more swaps to friendlier meat. My pantry and fridge are not 100% organic yet, but hey - I gave myself until the end of the year! We're on our way!

Get out there and get healthy today, even if it means learning the secret grocery store code!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

How Food Becomes Candy

I just made a snack for my son: some pineapple, a few strawberries, and a low-fat cheese stick. He gobbled down the strawberries and poked at the pineapple. 

"You know I don't like new fruit, mom."

"Try it. You'll like it. It's super-sweet."

"Like candy?"

"Almost. I think fruit is sweeter than candy. It's like candy from nature."

This exchange reminded me of how quickly food in our world doesn't just taste like candy, it becomes candy. One stroll down the yogurt aisle proves it.

What is yogurt? Cultured milk, right? Yes. But look at the label for 90% of the yogurt in your grocery store and tell me how many are really yogurt. Let's take a look at Chobani's Pineapple Low-fat Yogurt for example. The package promises only natural ingredients, fruit on the bottom, and features that "it-must-be-good-for-me" buzz word for yogurt: "Greek". Flip it over and see what else it has:

Evaporated Cane Juice, Pineapple, Pectin, Pineapple Juice Concentrate, Locust Bean Gum, Natural Flavor, Turmeric (for Color).

First ingredient: sugar. Oops! This just became candy!

Let's try another one. Stoneyfield Farms Organic YoBaby Drinkable Yogurt for toddlers. It's organic, so it must be good, right? Well let's see. It starts out as yogurt with its first ingredient: cultured whole milk. Then it adds organic sugar. Woah! It just became candy! See how fast that happened? And I used to give that to my son. Yes it is organic but it doesn't matter anymore because this is not food. It's candy. And we don't eat candy because candy isn't food.

I made this at home. It was super yummy and had that oh-so-magical Greek yogurt, all-natural ingredients, and fruit on the bottom. And the top and middle, too. But it didn't have any sugar. It was not candy. It was food!  My little baby eats fruit and yogurt all the time, but not YoBaby. I make him Greek yogurt with some pureed mango mixed in. Sometimes blueberries. But no sugar. Babies don't eat candy, silly! 

Both Chobani and Stoneyfield Farms have some excellent products that actually are food. They are the ones where the list of ingredients begins and ends with, "cultured milk." I buy and eat them all the time and they're great! I add my own fruit and nuts to make them into a delicious snack that tastes like candy...but isn't.

I saw this at my local grocery store and knew that a lot of people would pick it up thinking it would be a healthy snack. Its fresh fruit and yogurt! Doesn't Gillian Michaels eat that? But wait...take a look at the ingredients list. I see cultured milk....and then a whole bunch of other stuff including sugar, artificial sweetener, corn starch, and down at the very bottom, fruit. This is not food. This is candy. Put it back and go get food.

The yogurt aisle is just one place where candy is pretending to be food. Check out the bread aisle, and OMG just the cereal aisle alone is practically like trick-or-treating. How do you not buy candy? Easy. Read the ingredients and put back anything that has sugar as one of the first five ingredients. Oh, and beware of anything with more than five ingredients. :) Hint: You might want to buy a bread maker and start eating oatmeal.

Candy is not forbidden in my house. We trick or treat and we have candy canes at Christmas and jelly beans at Easter just like everyone else. But, we don't let candy pretend it is food. The next time you head to the grocery store, plan to spend a little extra time reading labels and make sure you're buying actual food. 

Get out there and get healthy today, even if it means not letting your kids eat candy and call it food.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

August Calendar Challenge: Awesome Every Day!

I'm off to a great start!
Earned my exercise sticker for today. :)
It's a new month! A transition month, too. We move from the long, lazy days of summer to the busy, frenetic back-to-school routine in the blink of an eye. It's a month of new beginnings! And new shoes! :)

As you know, tracking data is a huge part of building sustainable wellness habits. There are a lot of ways to track data, exercise and food logs being the most popular. But for me, visual feedback is uber effective so I still put my happy little stickers on my calendar every day. Each day I can earn one sticker for good nutrition and one sticker for exercise. And, I can almost always attribute any weight gain or general "not feeling it" feeling to the number of stickers on my calendar. If there are lots of gaps between stickers, I can bet that my waistband will be feeling a little snug.

I've got no patience for that.

Welllll, July was a bit hit-and-miss with the stickers. I went on vacation for two weeks, and while I did pretty darn well, there were seven days when I got either just one sticker or none at all. Gulp. That's a whole week of me goofing around. So, it shouldn't be a shocker that my clothes aren't quite as comfortable as they were a month ago.

But today begins a new month! My goal is to earn a sticker every single day. Yeah I said it. It's lofty, but a big goal is exactly what I need to get my head back in the Awesome Every Day game that I've been missing! I've already gotten in my workout for today so now the real challenge begins: staying at or under my calorie goal, because as we all know that awesome physiques are made in the kitchen, not necessarily the gym.

So we're off! Care to join me? Grab a calendar and a pack of stickers and start rewarding yourself for good work! To make it even more interesting, plan a nice prize at the end of the month if you make your goal. Mine is a new pair of jeans. I tried them on last weekend!

Get out there and get healthy, old-school gold sticker style!

Related posts: Your Brain on Goals: Sticker Shock! and Four Champions of Change: Data