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Whole Grains vs. Sprouted Grains, What You Should Know, Buy and Eat!

Americans of all ages consume less than ⅓ of the recommendations for whole grains every day.  That means most individuals do not eat even 1 serving (1 slice of bread or 1/2cup cooked grain) that is 100% whole grain!  YIKES!

 

Whole grains are a beneficial part of a healthy diet.  They provide complex carbohydrate (an important source of energy), fiber (who doesn’t need a little bit MORE of that!) and a variety of vitamins and minerals, including iron, zinc, manganese, folate, magnesium, B vitamins,  and vitamin A.  The 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommends making at least half of your grains whole grains so that you can benefit from the nutrients.  Plus, the intact fiber and protein helps your body digest the carbohydrate slower so that they do not raise blood glucose as quickly as refined grains.  

 

 

Most Registered Dietitians would join me in recommending that we eat whole grains 100% of the time.  This is truly ideal.  Refined grains have 25% less protein, are always lower in fiber because the outer bran has been removed and are greatly reduced in at least 17 different nutrients!  When compared, refined vs whole, there just isn’t a comparison…whole grains win every time!

 

BUT…

 

There is something that research is showing may even be superior… sprouted grains.  These little monsters amp up the nutrition even more!

 

Let’s explore just exactly what they are and let me share all you need to know about where to find them in the store and how to incorporate them into your meals.

 

 

What are sprouted grains?

Sprouted grains are whole grains that have been soaked and left to germinate.  All the parts of a whole grain, bran, endosperm and germ, are intact.  Remember that a grain is the seed of a plant and contains all the nutrients and potential to become a plant.

 

When the grains are placed in the right environment (temperature and moisture), the grains begin to sprout.  Enzyme activity actually transforms some of the starch into more easily digestible molecules AND some nutrients become more bioavailable to the human body.  Essentially, the sprouting process makes it easier for your body to get the nutrients it wants and needs!

 

 

It is important to note that there is no regulated definition of “sprouted grains” which means that there is a level of interpretation among companies.  According to the Whole Grains Council, the USDA has endorsed a definition by the American Association of Cereal Chemists,

 

“Malted or sprouted grains containingall of the original bran, germ, and endosperm shall be considered whole grains as long as sprout growth does not exceed kernel length and nutrient values have not diminished. These grains should be labeled as malted or sprouted whole grain.”

 

IF the sprout grows so long as to exceed the length of the seed, then it becomes a “plant” and no longer a sprouted grain.

  

What are the benefits of sprouted grains vs whole grains?

While whole grains are good sources of vitamins and minerals, these grains also have natural  compounds (phytates) that can inhibit the body from absorbing some of the nutrients within the actual grain.  What a bummer!  However, because the sprouting process reduces these compounds and nutrients become better available for the body to digest them and adsorb them to be used.

 

Research has shown some pretty impressive findings about sprouted grains:

  • Antioxidant activity has been shown to be 200-800% more active in some sprouted grains than regular whole grains.

  • Sprouting can increase protein and essential amino acids (building blocks for protein)

  • Sprouted grains often have a higher fiber content than whole grains.

  • The process of sprouting can make some nutrients including, B vitamins, vitamin C, and folate, more readily available to the body.

  • Some research suggests that sprouted grains have a lower glycemic response (rise in blood sugar) than traditional whole grain and white (refined) breads

 

 

The problem…a lot of the research is lab analyses, plant research and very small human studies.  There aren’t large human studies for which we can apply to a population.  Also, the conditions, length of sprouting and type of grain create a wide variety of variables that make it difficult to conclude nutrient benefits about sprouting overall.  

 

The Whole Grains Council has reviewed an abundance of research studies and draws these conclusions as to the current health benefits of consuming sprouted grains:

  • Sprouted brown rice fights diabetes.

  • Sprouted buckwheat protects against fatty liver disease.

  • Cardiovascular risk is reduced by sprouted brown rice.

  • Sprouted brown rice decreases depression and fatigue in nursing mothers.

  • Decreased blood pressure is linked to sprouted barley.

While most of the human research studies on sprouted grains are small, the research is promising and appears to show an overall trend that sprouted grains have a variety of health benefits beyond traditional whole grains.

 

 

Can you eat whole or sprouted grains on a gluten free diet?

Some people need to follow a gluten free diet due to Celiac Disease and others follow this eating pattern due to an intolerance or a sensitivity to gluten.  BUT, just because they need to eat a gluten free diet doesn’t mean grains are out.  In fact there are 10 different types of grains commonly available in America that are naturally gluten free!  Some grains can become “contaminated” in a factory that also processes gluten containing products, but unless you have Celiac disease, most individuals are fine eating these grains.

 

Gluten Free Grains

Amaranth

Brown rice

Buckwheat

Corn

Millet

Oats

Quinoa

Sorghum

Teff

Wild rice

 

Gluten-Containing Grains

Barley

Rye

Wheat

Triticale

  

Where can you find sprouted grains in the grocery store?

Sprouted grain breads do not contain preservatives which is a huge win for whole foods, BUT, that also means that their shelf life is much shorter than traditional breads.  Depending on the supply and demand of these products at your particular grocery store, they may be located in the traditional bread aisle (this is where it is located at my local Trader Joe’s) OR the sprouted breads may be found in the freezer aisle.  When buying sprouted bread, it is best to keep in the fridge or freezer, especially if you are not planning to eat the entire loaf in 3-5 days.  

 

Other sprouted grain products include flours, snacks, cereals, and pasta. These can be located with other similar products OR are sometimes found on a “health foods aisle” in your particular store.  If you cannot find them, just ask.  Some stores will have a larger selection than others, but if you can’t find what you want to buy, most stores will purchase these exact items for you if they know you will return to buy this product.  They want you to buy products from THEM, again and again!

 

 

Markets like Whole Foods or Fresh Market often carry packaged sprouted grains (like quinoa, brown rice, etc) in the grains section and sometimes in the bulk foods area as well.  

 

Please remember that just because a product label says “sprouted” does not mean it is healthy.  The company may have included some sprouted grains but you must always review the ingredient list and nutrition label to determine if this is a product that is right for you and your health.  Don’t let trendy “health lingo” camouflage the product for what it really is… ALWAYS take a closer look.

 

 

How do you incorporate sprouted grains in your meal plan?

Most all sprouted grain products can be used in place of their unsprouted counterpart.  There are no special tricks or magic recipes to use these products.  Sprouted breads tend to be more dense which makes them great toasted or in a grilled sandwich.

 

Sprouted grains are cooked the same way you do every other type of whole grain.  Sprouted flours can be used in place of regular ones (ie. sprouted whole wheat flour for whole wheat flour).

 

If you are interested in trying out a recipe with sprouted grain flour, check out this cracker recipe from Sally Kuzemchak, RDN at Real Mom Nutrition!

 

 

What’s the takeaway?

Sprouted grains appear to be a great way to boost overall vitamin, mineral, fiber and antioxidant consumption, but they do have a higher cost.  Due to no regulated definition, the nutrition of sprouted grains may vary widely among brands.  Whole grains are still an ideal choice, especially if sprouted grains are not available or don’t fit in the weekly grocery budget. Most individuals are not consuming even half of the recommended fiber intake per day and whole grains, sprouted or not, would provide a BIG boost to help them reach their target.  If you have ever been curious, now is the perfect time to add sprouted grains to your shopping list and give them a try!

 

 

References

Whole Grains Council

Today’s Dietitian, Gluten Free Whole Grains and Whole Grains: Sprouted Grains

2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

McGill, C. R., Fulgoni, V. L., & Devareddy, L. (2015). Ten-Year Trends in Fiber and Whole Grain Intakes and Food Sources for the United States Population: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001–2010. Nutrients, 7(2), 1119–1130. http://doi.org/10.3390/nu7021119

 

 

A Few Sprouted Grain Brands

Angelic Bakehouse– breads and bread products

Food for Life, Ezekiel 4:9 Bread and bread products

Soul Sprout Granola Bars– Made with a simple ingredient list, these bars are just over 100 calories and only have 6-7 grams of sugar.

  DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links.  If you purchase a product through this link, your cost will be the same but Healthy Inspiration will receive a small commission to help with the operating costs of this blog.  Thank you for your support!

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Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oats Recipe Blueprint

 

There are few things as satisfying as walking into the kitchen to wonderful aromas wafting through the air and delicious food ready to be enjoyed…without having to do any work!  The slow cooker may not have a fancy name or glamorous appearance, but this kitchen tool is a busy woman’s indispensable sous chef.  It does all the cooking and gives you all the glory!

 

Our slow cooker was given to us as a wedding present and to be completely honest, I didn’t begin using it regularly until a few years ago. Growing up, the only thing that cooked in our family slow cooker was pot roast.  I simply didn’t know all that it could do for me or how it couldlighten the cooking load.  But as I began to test it’s skills, I realized the slow cooker does more than keep apple cider hot, cook a roast or warm up the green beans for a large family gathering, it has the power to save me loads of time I don’t want to spend in the kitchen!

 

Another confession…I love steel cut oats, but I rarely made them because I simply didn’t want to babysit them on the stove top for 20-30 minutes until they were cooked through.  So, I would opt for old fashioned oats, which are fine, but simply do not compare in texture.

 

My friend, Josten Fish, RDN, recently wrote a fantastic post on The Complete Guide to Oats.  She clearly differentiates between steel cut, old fashioned, instant and several others, identifying how to use them, cooking times and nutritional value.  Definitely check out her article!

 

Unlike wheat and many other types of grains, oats almost never have the bran or germ removed from the grain during processing, ensuring that oat flour and products are almost always 100% whole grain!

 

A research review published in 2014 looking at long-term intervention studies on the effects of oats and oat bran consumption revealed that 37 out of 64 studies showed a reduction in total cholesterol by 2-19% and 34 of the studies showed a reduction in LDL cholesterol by 4-23%.  Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.  How about a bowl of oats to start your day?

 

 

Oats also boast one of the highest sources of beta-glucans, a specific type of fiber that research is showing has the potential to lower insulin resistance and blood cholesterol.  Beta glucans may even help your body’s immune system fight off cancer and reduce the risk of obesity.  Have another scoop of oatmeal!

 

To top off your warm bowl of goodness, oats have over 20 polyphenols called avenanthramides which have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.  You just can’t go wrong with a bowl of oatmeal.

 

Now, let’s get our slow cooker going and whip up some tasty breakfast! The basic blueprint is SUPER simple… just 3 ingredients.  But you can really jazz it up with add-ins and toppings.  

 

A few weeks ago I made it with reduced-fat coconut milk and water and adored the coconut flavor that came through!  Bananas are my favorite “non-sugar” way to add a touch of sweetness, but you can choose what you or your family enjoy best.  The recipe makes 4-6 servings, depending on your hunger.  It’s really a no-brainer…just toss in the ingredients, stir it up and let the magic happen while you are enjoying your well deserved sleep or living life vibrantly during the day.

 

Let the magic begin!

 

 

Basic Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oats Blueprint

1 cup steel cut oats

4 cups liquid (water, dairy milk, coconut milk, or almond milk)

¼ tsp kosher salt

 

Optional Flavors and Spices

1-2 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp vanilla or other extract

¼ tsp nutmeg (fresh ground is ah-mazing!!)

1-2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1 cup pumpkin puree’

 

Optional Sweeteners

2 bananas, chopped

Honey, maple syrup or agave, to taste

Stevia, to taste

¼ cup raisins or dried fruit

 

Optional Healthy Fat

1 tbsp coconut oil

1 tbsp chia seeds

1 tbsp ground flax seed

 

Yummy Toppings

Chopped walnuts

Sliced almonds

Almond (or peanut) butter

Unsweetened coconut

Chopped banana or apple

fresh or frozen berries

 

Directions

  1. Spray slow cooker with oil spray (I use a Misto).  

  2. Add in basic overnight oats recipe.

  3. Stir in any spices or flavors desired.

  4. Add in sweetener or leave out altogether

  5. Stir in your choice of healthy fat.

  6. Cover with lid and cook on low for 6-8 hours (overnight while you are sleep works well!)

  7. In the morning, stir and serve.  Decorate your warm bowl of oats with your favorite toppings!

Easy as 1, 2, 3!   Stirring her ‘breakfast’ brew 😉  Warm, sweet, chewy and satisfying!    

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How Often Should You Step on the Scale?

 

For many, weighing brings moments of delight OR torture…  

 

It really doesn’t matter how big, small, short or tall, you don’t have to be overweight to have a love-hate relationship with the bathroom scale. Sadly, many allow the number to define them.  The number tells them whether they were “good” or “bad.”  The number shames them or pats them on the back. The number often sets the tone for the rest of the day. It can rob us of hope and unfortunately, the number often takes over our thought life, speaking lies, deceit, guilt, stigma and defeat.

 

BUT, you don’t have to fall prey to the seductive forces of the scale.  There is a way to use this tool as simply that, a tool that provides information. But like any tool, you have to know how to use it effectively if you want it to help improve your life and get results.  

 

When we use tools improperly, we often get skewed or inaccurate results and make decisions based on that erroneous information.  Sometimes, we react, rather than respond.  

 

“How often should I weight?” is a common question in a nutrition counseling session.  But maybe even more common is the statement, “I know I weigh too often, but I just can’t help it.”  Sometimes we naturally believe that stepping on daily or even several times per day will intrinsically help us keep ourselves accountable and make smart choices, but I rarely, if ever, have found that to be true.  Instead, the more frequent people step up, the more anxiety develops about the number.

 

 

So, how often is too often.  What is not enough?  How do you know if you are going overboard?  

 

First let’s begin by talking about what makes the scale move up and down…

 

Sodium Intake– If you have consumed a salty meal or fast food meal, it can cause the body to retain fluid.  Water helps dilute the excessive amount of sodium.  You will eventually eliminate the fluid but if you decide to weigh after a salty meal, expect to see a higher number on the scale.

 

Fluid and Food Consumption– Weigh a 16 ounce bottle of water and you will find it weighs 1 pound.  If you drink that 16 ounce bottle of water, guess how much you will gain?  One pound.  Your body is in flux all day long as you eat and drink.  This is normal.  If you decide to weigh late in the day or after a meal, you will weigh more.  It’s plain and simple.

 

Elimination– Are you using the bathroom daily?  Do you eliminate on a regular basis?  If not, the scale will show.  

 

Excessive Loss of Sweat–  If you just had a sweaty workout, you have eliminated some fluid and could even be dehydrated, causing the scale to drop.  This doesn’t mean you lost a pound or 2 of fat, but simply that you lost fluid.  

 

Carb-Loading– According to Sports Dietitian, Nancy Clark, for every 1 ounce of carbohydrate, you store 3 ounces of water as glycogen stores.  If you are preparing for a race or big athletic event by boosting your carb intake the day before, weight will increase.  However, even for the non-athlete, if you eat a high carb meal, expect higher weight the next day.

 

Pre-menstrual Bloating– Hormones can play a role in retaining water for a short period of time.  It’s not fun but these hormones also allow women to carry, nourish and protect a baby in womb, breastfeed, and exert all of our feminine charm.  

 

There are a few items that must be consistent EVERY time you weigh in order to get the most accurate, “true weight”:

  • Same day of the week

  • Same time of the day, ideally first thing in the morning

  • Similar clothing or naked

  • After the same process

  • Same scale

 

For example, you might choose “Weigh-In Wednesday”.  Every Wednesday morning you wake up, use the restroom, shower and then step on the scale.  By maintaining consistency, you are able to receive clear information that is least likely to be skewed.  Remember, it is information- that’s it.  

 

The encouraging part is that you get to decide how to process the information and what you will do with it.  It might mean you decide to tweak your exercise routine or move from 4 to 5 days per week.  If might mean you decide to begin working to take your lunch to work 3 days per week instead of grabbing a quick bite out.  It might mean you decide to get our your crock pot out and commit to 1 or 2 meals in the slow cooker each week so that you can avoid fast food on the ballgame nights.  

 

The scale is information.  Decide to respond, rather than react.   

 

Let’s debunk some myths, invite some fresh perspective and protest the scale guilt…  

 

 

Weighing too frequently can idolize a number.

Do you have an ideal body weight?  Where did that number come from? How do you know it is the right weight for you?  In working with hundreds of patients and clients in the area of weight loss, one thing I know is that during our first consult, there is absolutely no way to determine an exact ideal weight or whether that individual will be able to reach a particular weight.  If we idolize a number, it may only lead to disappointment and feelings of failure, which do nothing to keep us motivated and moving forward.  Instead, that keeps us stuck or falling back into ill-effective habits.  

 

WEIGHT is a result a variety of factors, but one thing is for sure, even the best formulas can’t exactly predict how fast or steady weight loss will be.  I know, this is frustrating for many people, but YOUR BODY IS COMPLEX and wonderfully made and even the best science does not fully comprehend all that God created.  

 

You must have a general target to move towards, but if we get overly focused on reaching the weight you were when you were 10 years younger, it may turn into a very frustrating journey.  A HEALTHY YOU is not just about weight.  Wise healthcare practitioners will help you assess your health considering body fat, cholesterol, blood pressure, physical strength and mobility, inflammatory markers and so much more.  If you think being healthy is a number on the scale, it can lead you astray.

 

Interestingly, many athletes have high weights and BMIs (body mass index).  This is due to their weight in muscle.  They may be lean, muscular and have a great shape but their weight can be high because they are carrying more lean body mass.  

 

To get some better perspective, ask your Registered Dietitian or healthcare practitioner about how to assess your body fat percentage.

 

 

Weighing too often can shift your focus from healthy behaviors to making the the dial move.  

Controlling our weight turns into a game and often leads to overly strict behaviors and choices for a period of time, instead of working healthy habits into our regular lives.  Have you ever talked with someone who said they were going to eat a Lean Cuisine every night for dinner to cut back on portions and calories and continued cooking their traditional higher calorie/fat meals for their family?  

 

This person clearly understands that they need some lighter dinners and smaller portions, but to assume that they will eat a Lean Cuisine or low calorie frozen meal every night for dinner for the rest of their life while their family eats supper favorites at the dinner table is absurd.  Instead of thinking about how to restrict and control, a better way is to think about how to adapt family dinners to benefit themselves and the entire family.  It’s time to focus on long term, effective strategies, not short term solutions to change move the dial.

 

 

 

Weighing too often can move our focus away from mindful eating.

Learning to acknowledge and respect satiety and body signals of hunger is a part of living a healthy lifestyle.  No one practices this perfectly but it is a crucial part of long term success (losing or maintaining weight).  When we override real feelings of hunger because we are scared of the scale, we are not respecting our bodies and not practicing proper fueling.  

 

If we want to be our best, it takes fueling properly and saying “yes” when our body is asking for nourishment.  Making the scale move is not about telling ourselves “no” to food, but creating habits and patterns that help us fuel well at the right times so that we perform, think, feel and look our best. Overriding these signals as a way to restrict might make the scale move temporarily, but it is not a strategy that can be sustained long term and it is not a way to honor our body.

 

 

My confession.

I don’t own a scale.  That’s right.  I owned one for years, didn’t use it often and eventually threw it out.  In fact, when I was trying to lose weight after having my daughter, I probably stepped on it a handful of times.  This may not be the right method for everyone, but I have found that the numbers on the scale weren’t motivating to me.  Instead, they just made me feel inadequate.  I decided I could reach my goals by moving my focus to specific habits and behaviors I could modify to help me lose the weight and body fat I wanted to lose.  And I did!!

 

In this fitness article, you will read that I adapted my exercise routine MANY times to find a consistent way to make it happen on a regular basis. And in my post When More Is Less, you will find 10 of my favorite strategies to lighten up meals and fuel the body well without feeling deprived.  I saw that the scale was not actually a helpful tool for me in my weight loss journey after baby.  But, there were clothes I wanted to fit into again that I would try on every month or so to see if I could zip them up. And, I took measurements that I monitored monthly to see progress.  That journey unveiled beauty, fitness and health in a whole new way- beyond a size or number.

 

The scale might be a great tool for you to use on a regular basis but, as I found, it wasn’t for me.  

 

Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, author and founder of Ottawa’s non-surgical Bariatric Medical Institute warns, “Watching those numbers go down seduces you into thinking you’ve found a lifestyle when in fact [you’re] just on a diet.”

 

If you think that reaching a certain weight will make you healthy, that’s not the case.  In fact it is opposite.  Healthy behaviors get you to an ideal weight for your body.  

 

 

So how often should you step on the scale?  IF you choose to use the scale as a tool, I recommend 1 time per week or less.  This allows you to see trends, without the daily ups and downs that can make us feel defeated.  

 

In one research review, the use of daily weighing was found to be helpful for weight loss, but in another research review published a few years later, there was conflicting evidence that frequent weighing may promote feelings of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and negative mood.  

 

I believe that you already know “how often is too often.”  I don’t think you need me or your doctor to tell you.  

 

Engaging in your own health journey is partly learning to trust yourself, your ability to notice body signals and choosing a healthy thought life.

 

Don’t drive yourself crazy by stepping on the scale too often.

Don’t speak harshly to yourself when the scale doesn’t show what you want.

Don’t allow the scale to define YOU.

 

Rise above the scale guilt.

Use information to develop a plan.

Value your body at any weight- it is the only one you have.

 

 

TRUTH: I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

Psalm 139:14 (NIV)  

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Practical Time-Saving Tips for Grocery Shopping

Most households are making 1.6 trips to the grocery store each week.  That means most of us are not very good at getting everything we need in one trip. For some individuals, it may work out better to grocery shop for half the week and then return for additional ingredients for the second half. But for other families, that second trip is not intentional and instead, the trip for the forgotten items or our brave attempt to get a healthy meal on the table when we don’t have a plan.  

 

And then… there are the people that avoid grocery shopping like it’s the plague.  For these individuals, the mere thought of grocery shopping creates anxiety and dread.  But 89% of shoppers agree that eating at home is healthier and if we are going to do that, we have to buy food to prepare. 

 

 

So how can we shave time off our grocery shopping excursions and make it as painless as possible?  Today I have 9 tips to make your trips efficient, fluid, and pain-free, allowing you to grab the items you need without wasting your time.

  

01. Make a List in Advance and Follow It

How often do you grab items not on your list?  Do you ever find yourself snagging an item from the store displays carefully placed and promoted with bright colors, ‘great’ prices and catchy phrases?  What about those stands in the middle of the aisles that you have to drive your cart around?  

 

If you want to save time, follow your list exactly.

 

To help yourself stay focused and efficient, organize your list according to your store’s footprint.  Include a section for produce, dairy, poultry/fish/meat, frozen, grains/beans, etc.  This will help you avoid running back down aisles when you forgot an item.  By creating a “running list” that is placed in a visible spot in your kitchen (on the fridge, bulletin board, chalkboard), family members can write down what is needed throughout the week so that items that need to be restocked are not forgotten during your weekly grocery trip.

 

 

According to Food Marketing Institute (2015 survey), about 25% of Millennials and Gen Xers still do not make a grocery list.  While 75% of us are, make sure to recommit to following it closely if you value your time and money.  

  

02. Shop During “Off Hours”

This is MY FAVORITE tip!  Crowded stores add stress, anxiety and distractions- this leads to taking more time weaving around others, waiting at the specialty counters, standing in line to check out.  And when stressed, it is easier to overlook or forget items, especially when you are distracted by trying to make it down the aisle crowded with people.  

 

When I walk in during “off hours,” the lines are shorter, aisles are less crowded and store associates are more available and helpful.  For most grocery stores and supermarkets the less busy times tend to be very early in the morning and late in the evenings.  Weekends and directly after work tend to be incredibly busy.  

 

The smart way to determine the best times to shop is to simply ask a store associate.  I usually do this while checking out. I found at my local Trader Joe’s, Sundays are busier than Saturdays simply by engaging in conversation.  A few years ago, I found that Friday nights at my local Harris Teeter was usually pretty sparse and a great time for a smooth and efficient grocery shopping experience.  You can also test out your assumptions by trying a few different times.

   

03. Don’t Shop When You Are Hungry

Food looks more appealing when we are hungry.  It is a simple fact.  You are less likely to make impulse buys and grab an item on a display if your tummy is not grumbling.  Ideally, shop after eating a balanced meal, but if needed eat a small, healthy snack before your grocery shopping trip.  Once again, the more you are conned to stop for items not on your list, the more time (and money!) you will spend.

 

  

04. Review the Sales Flyer BEFORE You Arrive

Often when I walk into the store, I watch individuals grab the sales flyer and a cart as they walk in and with their head down studying the flyer, they slowly make their way to the first aisle.  The flyer is not organized in the same way as the store so if you decide to make food or meal decisions on the fly, you will run all over the store wasting your precious time looking for the “deals” (and not all of them are deals, anyway!).  The good news is that each store puts the sales flyer on their website so you can access it all week, at any time of the day, and plan meals around what you find on sale.

   

05. Avoid Shopping at Multiple Stores

There are few things that can waste our time more than going from store to store to get certain items.  Some people may have the time and energy to do this in order to save money, but they certainly aren’t saving their time!!  

 

If your time is more valuable, but you still find that there are 2 stores you prefer to shop at, consider the possibility of swapping stores each week and purchase enough for 2 weeks instead of 1.  OR, if you go to one store every week for amazing produce and another for great deals on grains, beans, fresh poultry, etc, then go to the store for produce weekly and try to make a trip to the other place only every other week.  

 

  

06. Have a Meal Plan!!!

Grocery lists are easier to make if you have a meal plan scheduled.  While there are a lot of items that are purchased weekly without fail, there is nothing as frustrating as beginning to make a meal and finding you don’t have an ingredient.  Make sure you have checked your pantry and know what is in stock.  

 

For some meal planning assistance, check out my post on PlateJoy OR One Powerful Key that Will Simplify the Way You Meal Plan

   

07. Give Yourself a Realistic Time Frame

Don’t underestimate how long it really takes to grocery shop.  Begin by setting a goal time frame and after several trips, determine whether this is realistic or needs to be re-evaluated.  Make it a challenge or game to get it done in the amount of time you have set.  Don’t forget to add in how long it will take to get to the store and drive back home.  

 

Some surveys have shown it takes around 45 minutes to get in and out of a store, but there are several factors like the size of the store and the actual footprint that play a huge role in the length of time it takes to shop.  For instances, grocery shopping at my local Aldi or Trader Joe’s, which primarily only has their store brand items is much shorter than a supercenter or large supermarket which could carry a dozen brands for one item.  

 

Consider planning your day so that you have an engagement or appointment set an hour or 2 later so that you must get your shopping completed and put away (and prepped!) before you move on to your next event.  I often find that when I only have a limited amount of time, I move faster and more efficient AND, if you have your list planned and organized, it is truly possible to get it done without forgetting items.

   

08. Leave Kids at Home When You Can

Now this is easier for some than others, but kids tremendously slow down grocery shopping.  (I KNOW!!)  They often ask for more items, put items in the cart without asking and require a lot of attention and sometimes even discipline during the grocery trip.  They can also divert our attention leading to forgotten items or picking up the wrong stuff.

 

Can you kid swap with a friend so that you each have a time to grocery shop?  Maybe your spouse can take them to the park while you head to the store?  This may not always work out, but brainstorm some ideas that will work for you and your family.

 

 

IMPORTANT NOTE: I do believe it is important to involve our kids in food and shopping experiences and in fact, this creates a lot of interest and curiosity around foods and trying unfamiliar foods.  But, decide when you want to invite your kids along and do it intentionally, as a learning and exploratory experience.  Plan a trip to the farmer’s market 1 time per month.  Take a field trip to a local farm for a play date with friends. Remember it is CRUCIAL to create experiences for our kids to interact, touch, smell and taste a variety of whole foods, BUT, if you are trying to get in/out of the store, then you may want to leave them at home.  

  

09. My One Last Tip…

Shop with a smile.  Even if grocery shopping is a task you detest, your attitude can change your entire experience.  If you decide to shop with a smile, research shows that the simple act can release neuropeptides that help fight off stress and relax your body.  YOU choose when you smile and how often. Find simple things to smile about.  Smile as you walk past another individual.  AND, take advantage of opportunities to make another person smile…at the checkout, at the fish counter, while waiting to grab some bell peppers in the produce department.

 

 

Grocery shopping is an important part of getting healthy meals on the family dinner table, making smart snacks and eating more whole foods. While it does require some time, planning and intentionality, it doesn’t need to become long, arduous or despised.  

 

How can you save yourself some time and energy?  How could you shop smarter and more efficiently?  YOU are your most valuable asset to your family.  Take some smart steps today to shave time from doing the have-to tasks so you can add more time to the want-to tasks.  It’s a WIN-WIN!  

 

 

REFERENCES

Hartman Group, US Grocery Shopping Trends 2016 

Food and Marketing Institute, survey, 2015

Psychology Today

 

 

 

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PlateJoy, A Tool That Makes Meal Planning a Cinch?

Only 24% of dinners are made from scratch, although cooking shows are more popular than ever (!!!), according to the Hartman Group, a market research firm that focuses on the food and beverage industry.

 

The steady decline of family meals is not revelatory, but it is alarming.

 

 

With over 50% of meals planned within an hour of eating, I would guess that a lot of those meals are comprised of frozen and convenience foods. There is no shame in reaching into the freezer for a quick option when the masses are starving, but the problem is when this turns into a usual routine.  

 

We know that…

Whole foods = better health and longevity

Processed foods = greater risk for disease

Family meals = improved self-esteem, commitment to learning and grade point average for our kids

 

There are 3 keys to getting a healthy dinner on the table for your family:

  • Planning

  • Buying

  • Cooking

 

All 3 of these parts need to happen synergistically in order for family dinner to happen.  For some, you made excel in 1 or even 2 of these steps, but if you are missing the third, you could have disaster, or at least, no dinner.

 

 

  

Finding the right option for your family to plan, buy and cook dinner is essential.  There are dozens of meal planning apps, programs, software and services, but which one is the right one for your family?

 

This year, I am on the hunt to find the best solutions to share with you.  All families are unique.  Your cooking know-how, skills and desire are your own.  Your schedule is unlike anyone else.  To think that you can follow someone else’s plan is a misconception.  BUT, you do need a plan.  

 

YOU JUST NEED ONE THAT WORKS FOR YOU.    

 

PlateJoy recently gave me the opportunity to try out their meal planning service for 2 weeks.  The founder created this program after “losing 50# and keeping it off for 5 years, and wanting to help people do the same.” This program is simple to use and allows for a variety of meal options, food preferences and dietary plans.  

 

If you are looking for a tool to help you take the guesswork and decision making out of planning meals, making a grocery list and knowing what you are going to eat each day, then you don’t want to miss my completely honest review.  I will walk you through the steps how to use this program and how PlateJoy did at solving our family dinner dilemmas.  Allow me to point out all that it can do for you and what it can’t.  

 

Then, you can determine if this might be a solution for your family.  AND, don’t miss the discount code at the bottom of the post, if you want to try it out!

  

Step 1: Fill out the Personalization Quiz

Upon setting up the online service, you will be asked to fill out a 3 minute Personalization Quiz.  The purpose is for PlateJoy to fully understand your nutrition and weight goals, food preferences, family composition and home-meal frequency.  This is the primary way it selects recipes and customizes your meal plan to help you eat the way you want to eat.  Your preferences get saved, but you can come back and change them at any time.  And, because your goals may differ from your spouse’s goals, the quiz asks some individual and group questions.

 

Some of the questions include…

Are you (or your partner) trying to lose weight?

Are you limiting carbohydrates?

How often do you eat meat?

Are there any ingredients you prefer to avoid?

 

This form allows you to get very specific about how low you want to keep your carbohydrate per meal, what ingredients you DO NOT want in your meals, whether you prefer batch meals that provide multiple meals and how long you want to spend cooking.  

 

You can also designate Clean Eating, Paleo, Whole 30, Kosher, Dairy Free, Pregnant/Nursing.

 

 

PlateJoy doesn’t assume that you have a chef-inspired kitchen.  Make sure you designate the equipment you do and do not have so that it doesn’t suggest recipes or meal plans that are not feasible for you to make.  If you don’t have a food processor, let them know!

 

MY EXPERIENCE

Neither my husband or I are trying to lose weight but because I did not provide any weight or carb limitations, the recipes that were initially recommended had a hugely varied carb and calorie count.  Some meals provided over 100 grams carbohydrate for my husband’s portion (completely excessive) and up to 800-1000 calories at a few of the dinner meals.  While this was not true for all the meals suggested, I found that by editing my personalization form to “50 grams carb/meal or less” provided meals that I felt were more nutritionally appropriate for our family.

 

 

Step 2: Review the Meal Queue

Next you need to review the Meal Queue, where PlateJoy lists recipes that fit your criteria.  This allows you to keep any recipes that look amazing and remove any recipes that don’t appeal to you or your family.  

 

Make sure to review each tab:

  • Breakfast

  • Lunch

  • Dinner

  • Batch

  • Snacks

By taking just a few minutes to remove any meals you wouldn’t want to make, you will ensure that the menus it creates for you are filled with foods you love and want to eat.

 

Simply click on the recipe picture to find the preparation/cooking time, ingredients, and nutrition for each family member.  Photos are available for almost all of the recipes and give a really accurate picture of what the completed meal will look like.

 

MY EXPERIENCE

I did not review the queue thoroughly and the first few menus created included several meals that did not appeal to my husband.  However, after I went back and reviewed each section, deleting recipes that were not family friendly, the menus created were much more in line with our dietary preferences.  

 

This is your opportunity to do more customization.  If you want more meals with a certain ingredient or theme, simply search in the top right corner.  I did a search for tempeh in the lunch tab because I like to eat vegetarian during lunch.  You could also search for specific meals or ingredients like “chili” OR “chicken” OR “spaghetti squash”. Think about what your family really enjoys and search these types of recipes to fill the Queue with recipes that will be appealing to everyone.

 

 

Step 3: Create a New Menu

Before it creates your menu, PlateJoy wants you to identify 2 items:

  1. How many meals will you be shopping for this week? Include the number of breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks.  

  2. What ingredients do you want to use up?  You can include up to 3 ingredients on this list so that the recipes pulled for your weekly menu can use up these items.

 

Then, click “Create Menu” to see what yummy meals you will be creating this week!

 

Review the menu.  IF there are any recipes that populate your menu that just don’t look appetizing or are not what you are in the mood for this week, you can “swap” the recipe for a different one.  

 

 

Step #4: Populate Your Shopping List

PlateJoy wants to know what you have in your pantry and fridge so that it can create a list of what you actually need to buy.  This is an awesome feature!  It includes every ingredient, even spices, so that you can make sure you don’t end up running back to the store in a rush later in the week.

 

This is also the opportunity to decide if you want to use a substitution.  For example, if a salad uses pecans, but you have walnuts on hand, you could decide to use what you have to keep your grocery bill down and avoid food waste.  You can also ADD an ingredient if you want to buy an ingredient that is not on your meal plan- this means you don’t end up sorting through 2 grocery lists while you are grocery shopping.

 

Now, your list is ready to print!

 

MY EXPERIENCE

My husband thought that the was the BEST feature of PlateJoy.  It made grocery shopping so very easy and the ingredients were categorized similarly to a typical grocery store.  

 

 

Step 5: Rate the Recipes

After you make the meal, PlateJoy wants you to rate the meal (1 to 5 stars) and add any comments you have.  When you give a recipe 5 stars, it turns into a “Favorite” and you can add favorites to menus in the future, if you wish.  

 

 

Your PlateJoy Questions Answered

What did our family like most about the PlateJoy service and recipes?

There were some VERY simple 10-20 minute recipes that were delicious.

The grocery list made shopping a breeze!

The personalization quiz could be edited.

The recipes included real, unprocessed foods, even for snacks!

 

Did we like the recipes?

Yes and No.  There were a few that were duds.  We made 2 batch meals, one that lacked flavor (Slow Cooker Chicken Bacon and Potato Stew) and another where the vegetable simply didn’t cook as the recipe said (Slow Cooker Balsamic Pork with Carrots and Green Beans- the green beans were incredibly uncooked after following the directions).  

 

However, we did make some amazing recipes!  Our favorites:

Greek-Style Pita Tacos with Tzatziki and Cucumber Salsa

Chocolate Quinoa Breakfast Porridge

BBQ Chicken Salad with Avocado and Lime

 

The key to using PlateJoy is to make sure you rate the recipes, or at least the ones you love, so that they populate your menus frequently.

 

 

Can I make non-PlateJoy recipes too?

You cannot insert your recipes into PlateJoy, however, you can add the ingredients into the grocery list so that you can shop from one list.  

 

Will PlateJoy save me money?

It can save you money on groceries by creating a menu that uses the same ingredients in multiple recipes during the week, however, from our experience, it did include several “pricey” ingredients.  

 

To keep your costs down, a) Make sure you review your pantry before you create your grocery list; b) determine if you can substitute an ingredient you already have or a lower priced ingredient for a pricy one.  Of course, if PlateJoy suggests a recipe that you feel doesn’t fit your family’s budget, simply remove it from the Queue- it is that simple!

 

Are there any things PlateJoy won’t do for me?

  • grocery shop

  • prep food

  • cook the meals 

Those tasks are still your responsibility.  But, it will help you get organized, avoid food waste, and create a plan for each day.  AND, if you want short cooking recipes, just mark that box in the Personalization Quiz.

 

 

How much does a PlateJoy subscription cost?

6-month: $69 USD

12-month: $99 USD

*This comes out to around $8-12 / month and will be billed in one installment.

**The cost of PlateJoy does not include food.

 

Is PlateJoy a good tool for my family?

Are you interested in adding variety to your current menus?

Do you have some basic cooking skills?

Does having all of your meals planned out (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks) sound like a dream come true? 

Do you mind grocery shopping for ingredients?

Are you desperate for a tool to do the thinking and planning for you?

 

Will the Hunt family continue to use PlateJoy?

I have not continued my subscription for PlateJoy simply because I intend to try out several different meal planning services this year to give you the best reviews and feedback.  BUT, we really did like the service.  It took a few “practice menus” to figure out exactly how to customize it so that my husband (my “selective eater”) would eat the meals it populated. But, it really did simplify the planning process and make grocery shopping a cinch.

 

If you want to give PlateJoy a try, you can get $10 OFF your membership by using the code: JENNH10

 

Have you tried PlateJoy?  What did you think? 

Disclosure: Healthy Inspiration makes every effort to test and review products/services fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are my personal views and have not been influenced by a brand, product or service. This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase a product through this link, your cost will be the same but Healthy Inspiration will receive a small commission to help with the operating costs of this blog. Thank you for your support!

 

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3 Dinner Solutions When Your Family Is Starving and You Don't Have A Plan

Hangry is a real word!  According to Oxford Dictionary it is defined as “bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger.”  When it is dinnertime and you don’t have a plan, the family gets restless, irritability mounts and mom begins to feel her stress level rise.  

 

 

As good intentioned as we all are, there are nights when our meal plan is non-existent or ineffective and we have to decide “plan B” fast.  There is usually little time to spend contemplating the best, healthiest options and instead, we turn on survival mode.

 

These moments are real!  

 

I didn’t know really how real until I became a mom.  Recently, I told my husband in a moment of utter overwhelm and frustration that I completely understood why eating out is so prevalent among families during the week!  I wanted to escape!  I didn’t want to make decisions!  I didn’t want to figure out what to cook… I wanted to sit down and eat in peace!

 

Sometimes, you just want to flee the craziness and decision making. Sometimes the thought of throwing together a meal when it is already past dinner time sounds like madness!  

 

Unfortunately, cooking turns into the ‘bad guy’ that we are all running from.  But, I believe the solution isn’t take-out or packing up the family into the car for the nearest restaurant.  The reality is that it will take at least 15 minutes to get there and order.  Instead, I believe the solution is having an arsenal of 2-3 meals that can be thrown together in 15 minutes or less.

 

 

In order to make this actually happen under 15 minutes, here is what you need to know:

  • The meals need to be written down or typed out

  • The list needs to be visible in your kitchen (on the fridge, bulletin board, etc) so that you can look at your list when the panic begins to rise.

  • Keep a well stocked pantry and fridge

 

These are 3 DINNER SOLUTIONS to save you, feed your family and restore a peaceful environment:


 

HOMEMADE PIZZA

Can I get an ‘Amen!’  You don’t need any pizza dough in the fridge.  Pizza is one of the most versatile foods there is.  You need some type of crust, a sauce, toppings and cheese, but it doesn’t have to look like your favorite pizza delivery and in fact, it might taste even better!

 

 

Crust Options

Whole grain french bread

English muffin

Whole grain flat bread (like Flat Out, Joseph’s)

Sandwich Thin

 

Pizza Sauce Options

Marinara sauce

Tomato paste*

Tomato sauce*

BBQ sauce

Pesto

*season with Italian herbs

 

Cheese

Mozzarella cheese

Provolone cheese

Cheddar cheese

Parmesan cheese

*any other type of cheese you like!

 

Toppings

Spinach

Peppers

Onions

Black olives

Leftover roasted/grilled vegetables

Chicken

Pepperoni

Ground beef

Pineapple

Fresh basil, cilantro, oregano

 Directions

Step 0: pre-heat oven to 400 degrees

Step 1: choose a crust

Step 2: add your sauce of choice

Step 3: add any toppings you have

Step 4: top with your favorite cheese

Step 5: Bake for 8-10 minutes or until cheese has melted and is slightly brown

Step 6: Take a deep breath!  Dinner is done!!

 

Tips

  • slightly toasting your crust of choice while you are getting out all of you toppings will help prevent a soggy crust

  • preheat oven with the pizza stone; a hot stone will help toast the crust

  

BLACK BEAN TACO SALAD

Who doesn’t adore Tex-Mex?  This recipe is so easy and simply uses a few pantry and fridge staples.  Whether it is “Crazy Wednesday”, “Meatless Monday” or “Tired Friday”, this Black BeanTaco Salad is the perfect dinner that doesn’t take much thought, but will satisfy rumbling tummies.

 

 

Pantry Ingredients

Canned black beans

Chili powder

Cumin

Sliced black olives

Jarred salsa

Tortilla chips

 

Fridge Ingredients

Lettuce or bagged salad

Plain low fat greek yogurt or low fat sour cream

Shredded cheddar, Mexican or colby jack cheese

 Directions

Step 1: combine canned beans with spices (½ tsp chili powder & ¼ tsp cumin per can/beans)

Step 2: warm the beans in microwave for 45-60 seconds

Step 3: add lettuce to salad bowl

Step 4: top lettuce with beans and then cheese

Step 5: dollop yogurt/sour cream, salsa and sprinkle on sliced olives

Step 6: slide 1 serving of tortilla chips around the rim of your bowl OR crumble on top

Step 7: turn on your favorite background music and enjoy some fun dinnertime conversation

 

Tips

  • look for low sodium beans (<200 mg/serving) when possible

  

FRITTATA

A frittata is a fancy word for a simple egg dish.  It is incredibly forgiving and it is a great way to use up leftover vegetables before they turn.  It is a little bit different from scrambled eggs or an omelette, but similarly, you can add in vegetables, meats, cheese, and herbs…whatever you have on hand!

 

 

Fridge Ingredients

Eggs

Milk

Your favorite cheese- cheddar, feta, goat, etc.

Cooked vegetables (steamed, grilled, sauted, microwaved)

*broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, onions, peppers, and zucchini work well

 

Pantry Ingredients

salt/pepper

 Directions

Step 0: Preheat oven broiler

Step 1: whisk 6-8 eggs, ⅓ cup milk, ½-3/4 cup cheese, hefty pinch of salt, black pepper and any herbs you desire

Step 2: heat a large (10” or 12”) non-stick, oven safe pan on the stovetop and add oil spray (or 1 tsp oil/butter)

Step 3: add in cooked vegetables and saute on medium heat for 2-3 minutes to warm

Step 4: add in egg mixture and cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until the egg mixture has set on the bottom and begins to set up on top

Step 5: top frittata with any remaining cheese and place under broiler for 2-4 minutes or until the middle is set and top begins to brown

Step 6: Take a minute to affirm a job well done while the frittata slightly cools. (or tell yourself you are amazing while you admire your “fancy” masterpiece)

 

Tips

  • Using raw vegetables may produce a watery frittata and the vegetables may not cook all the way through.

  • You can steam a bag of broccoli in the microwave for a quick vegetable option

  • Serve with toast, fresh fruit, cooked oat bran/oatmeal, or english muffin

 

Still a little hesitant to try your hand at a frittata?  Check out this Alton Brown clip for an entertaining, but easy step-by-step video.  You really can’t mess this up!

 

 

YOU CAN give your family a delicious meal in 15 minutes or less!  Make sure to have these printed out in your kitchen so that the next time life overwhelms your well intentioned plans, you feel confident in your ability to produce a Plan B that everyone will eat up!

 

For more quick recipes and tips on easy planning, you can check out……………….

Weeknight Dinner in 20: Maple Dijon Salmon

One Powerful Key that Will Simplify the Way You Meal Plan

 

 

TRUTH: A prudent man foresees the difficulties ahead and prepares for them; the simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.

Proverbs 22:3

 

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Waste Not, Save A Lot

The average family of 4 wastes $1,500 of food each year, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

 

It’s a fact.  

 

 

Food waste is not anything anyone sets out to do.  We go to the store, buy groceries and intend to eat what we buy.  But it’s not uncommon to find molding vegetables, wilted leaves or brown speckled foods hiding out in our refrigerator.  It happens, but it doesn’t have to happen often.  If you are ready to throw in the towel on the moldy science experiments, here is how you can do it:

 

 

Keep Healthy Foods Within Sight

“Out of sight, out of mind…” this phrase rings true for healthy foods too! If food is placed in closed containers, bins, drawers and deep places in the pantry that are not visible or easy to reach, we forget about it.  

 

While we want to remove foods from sight that are processed, WE WANT to add foods to the counter and easy to reach places that are unprocessed and whole…fruits and veggies.  If you want to remind yourself to eat the veggies and hummus when you are hungry early evening and dinner isn’t ready, make them easy to spot when you swing open the fridge door.

 

According to Brian Wansink, consumer behavior and nutritional science expert at Cornell University, there is 3 secrets to healthier eating using his “CAN” approach:

Convenient– make healthy foods and beverages the easy, obvious choice

Attract– display healthy foods so they look appealing

Normal-make healthy foods the default and most abundant option

 

Eating healthy foods consistently is about making them readily available and visible, but this same trick also helps reduce household food waste.

 

 

Simple Food Placement Can Help You Eat and Use Instead of Overlook and Toss:

 

Create a kitchen herb bouquet- Cilantro, parsley, basil- cut off the tips of the stems and place in a glass or mason jar with 1-2 inches of cool water; remove any discolored or brown leaves. Place on the counter in lit area but out of direct sunlight.  Change the water every few days or when it becomes cloudy.  Your herbs can stay fresh for 1-3weeks!

 

Use glass containers, mason jars, and see-through storage containers– these are perfect for pre-cut vegetables and fruit as well as cooked grains, roasted vegetables and any other cooked foods you made on your food prep day.  If you can’t quickly see what is in the container, you will likely forget about it.  I use these Rubbermaid glass storage containers and LOVE THEM!

 

Place the fruit bowl on the kitchen table- this is the only food that deserves to be within sight when you walk into the kitchen.

 

Move chopped vegetables to the top shelf of the fridge- they are ready to go for snacking, roasting, steaming or any other preparation. You can buy pre-chopped or do theprep when you get home from the grocery store.

 

 

Salvage What You Can

Bad spots and molding indicate a living food is turning, but it doesn’t mean it is not edible.  Only you can make the call but if you know something is old and will need to be tossed soon, consider a few different ways to salvage these ingredients and prevent food waste:

 

 

Brown speckled cauliflower– chop off bad spots, then mash or puree it!

Limp carrots, celery, root vegetables or herbs– vegetable stock

Brown Bananas– freeze for a smoothie or banana ice cream

Apples or pears that are mushy or have soft spots– toss into a crock pot to make applesauce

Overly Ripe TomatoesRoast with feta, balsamic and basil for a delicious side!

Basil that is starting to brown– make pesto!

Veggies or potatoesroast!

 

According to the National Resources Defense Council, 48% of produce is wasted by American households!  Imagine every time you go to the grocery store, unpacking your bags and tossing ½ of your fruits and vegetables directly into the trash!!

 

What can you salvage today?

  

Plan, Plan, Plan

The most common reason a food might go to waste in my kitchen is when I don’t make OR follow my meal plan.

 

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.”  BUT, then you have to follow through with the plan. You have to commit.  

 

 

Planning doesn’t require endless hours, lists and notes, just a little intentionality, notepad and a pen.

 

A few tricks for planning:

  1. Include 1 Pantry/Freezer meal in your meal plan each week.  This is a meal that does not include any fresh meats or produce and ONLY uses foods from your pantry and freezer.  There will be no waste IF you don’t get to make this meal during the week…just save it for next week. For some tips on how to create a healthy pantry/freezer meal, check out this post.

  2. First, prepare the meals with ingredients that will turn the quickest.  For example, prepare fresh fish on the day of or next day after purchase. Make the recipe with the fresh asparagus before you make the recipe with the frozen broccoli.  Prepare the meal with the fresh pork loin before the fully cooked chicken sausages.  Simply, re-order the meal sequence… no extra work required!

  3. Keep your meal plan in the kitchen on the fridge or on a bulletin board so that you and all the family members are able to reference it at any time.  It eliminates the question, “What’s for dinner?” and provides focus when we are frazzled.  Also, write out 2-3 snacks for yourself and kids so that they know what they can reach for each day during snack time (if they don’t notice the fruit bowl you have waiting for them on the dining room table!).  You can change up the snacks each week to keep it interesting and it ensures that the fresh fruit and veggies you planned for snacks are actually eaten.

  

Stick To Your Shopping List

When was the last time you walked into the grocery store with a list and walked out with ONLY the items on your list?  Never?!?  Join the club!! But, we spend more money and increase the changes of food waste every time!

 

 

Sometimes we are making choices based on what looks fresh and appealing.  Maybe the asparagus looks appealing and delicious OR maybe the mangos are perfectly ripe.  Definitely, make produce choices based on what appears to be the freshest, but make sure you don’t buy more than what you intend to eat or use.  

 

 

Inventory Your Pantry and Fridge 1 Time per Month

A good friend told me one time that she made dinners for her family of 4 for an entire week shopping her pantry, freezer, and fridge only– no grocery shopping required!  I was astounded!  I can’t claim that title, but it is true that ingredients begin to pile up and our neat and tidy shelves can easily become disheveled over several weeks with ingredients, extras, and little bits.  

 

Plan to inventory your entire pantry, fridge, and freezer 1 time per month. Set a reminder on your calendar to do it on a specific day each month before you make a trip to the grocery store.  You may find the beginning of the month is the perfect way to start fresh, but the key is choosing 1 day and sticking to it.

 

Then, create meals for that week that are specifically designed to help you use up those ingredients.  Maybe you plan a chicken and vegetable soup with any fresh or frozen veggies you can find, canned beans, little bits of rice or grains that aren’t enough for a regular serving.  Don’t forget to use up those fresh herbs you might have around.  Add chopped, fresh herbs before serving so they stay flavorful and don’t lose their color.

 

This is the perfect time to be creative, resourceful and inventive.  Who knows…maybe you will create a mouthwatering masterpiece!  

 

 

 

What could you do with $1500 each year?!  Would you spend it?  Invest it? Give it?  What is 1 strategy you can implement today to save your hard earned dollars and reduce food waste?

 

“Wasting food is like stealing from the poor.”  

–Pope Francis

 

 

References

Natural Resources Defense Council, Save the Food

 
DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links.  If you purchase a product through this link, your cost will be the same but Healthy Inspiration will receive a small commission to help with the operating costs of this blog.  Thank you for your support!

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Test Your Chocolate IQ: What Do You Know AND What Should You Know?

Chocolate has earned the title “health food” in the last decade.  But like wine, coconut butter, almond flour and so many foods in the health and fitness world that are celebrated for their nutritional benefits, how healthy is it really and how much should you eat?  

 

 

Test your chocolate knowledge and find out what you know and what you need to know to make the best choices for your body.

  

01. All chocolate comes from cacao beans which after harvesting, are fermented for several days before being sent to plants for processing into chocolate.

TRUE

Cacoa beans are actually seeds from the fruit of a Theobroma Cacao tree. After picking, these seeds are allowed to ferment for 5-7 days and then dried and ship for processing.  The combination of drying, roasting and fermenting the seeds helps reduce the bitter flavanol levels.  Artisan chocolatiers would say that fermentation may be one of the most critical steps because ithelps develop the rich, buttery flavor and significantly meld the astringent tannins.  Otherwise, chocolate just wouldn’t have it’s decadent appeal.  

02. You must buy 80% or higher cocoa in order to get the health benefits of dark chocolate.

FALSE

Dark chocolate by definition is 70-99% cocoa solids.  While it is true that the anti-inflammatory flavanols increase with the percentage of cocoa solids, so does the astringent or bitter flavor.  Choose dark chocolate with at least 70% but don’t worry if you can’t handle 85% bitter-sweet chocolate.   

White chocolate does NOT contain cocoa solids and only includes cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids and vanilla flavoring.  Some brands don’t even contain cocoa butter- just vegetable oil and sugar!!  Due to the lack of cocoa solids, white chocolate is void of the beneficial antioxidants.  It also does not contain iron, magnesium, copper or zinc, as in it’s dark chocolate cousin.

  

03. Dark chocolate may improve blood flow and reduce blood pressure.

TRUE

Many studies have shown that chocolate and chocolate products may have a beneficial effect on blood pressure, similar to that of lifestyle changes like exercise.  However, one 18-week study of hypertensive and pre-hypertensive individuals showed that as little as 30 calories of dark chocolate had a beneficial effect, lowering systolic BP (top number) by 3 points and diastolic BP by 2 points (bottom number).    

04. Milk helps you absorb the antioxidants in chocolate.

FALSE

Milk and dairy actually bind to antioxidants in chocolate making them unavailable.  Therefore, milk chocolate is not a good source of beneficial antioxidants.

  

05. Chocolate cravings indicate that your body needs nutrients within the chocolate.

MAYBE

The research is still unclear whether cravings indicate a physiologicalneed or a psychological response.  This means that it is possible that your body is desiring nutrients in the particular food OR it could be related to an emotional or mental attachment.

 

For example, when you are sick, you probably crave your mom’s famous chicken soup. Or, when you walk into your grandma’s house, you may crave her home-baked cookies.  Or, when you walk into a movie theater, you may not be able to sit down until you have a tub of buttery popcorn in your hands.  

 

Cravings can also be related to low blood sugars, when you are needing some energy.  Your body may begin craving sugar, the quickest source of energy for a “pick-me-up”.  It may have nothing to do with the beneficial nutrients in chocolate like iron, magnesium or copper.  Instead, it may be the food you think of when your body wants an energy boost.

 

Don’t be deceived!  Chocolate is not the bad guy but it is also not the answer.  

 

If your body needs energy, you can choose a healthy snack like a piece of fruit and nuts.

If your body needs some iron, you can make a pot of chili with iron rich beans and beef and vitamin c from the tomatoes to help you absorb the iron even better.

If your body needs magnesium, you can get double (20%) in 1 ounce of almonds for the same calories as in chocolate.

If your body needs a dose of copper, include some copper rich foods into your usual diet like sunflower seeds, lentils and almonds.

 

If your mind can’t get chocolate off the brain, eat a small square and enjoy thoroughly.

  

06. Dark chocolate only complements red wine.

FALSE

While a rich red wine tends to be the ideal option for luscious dark chocolate, white wine is not an automatic fail.  There are a few exceptions. Pairing wine and chocolate sounds romantically delicious, but there are a few guidelines to follow to make sure one doesn’t blow away the flavors of the other.  Here is what you should consider:

 

  • The sweetness and/or fruitiness of the wine needs to match that of the chocolate.  If the chocolate is sweeter, the wine will seem dull or bitter.

  • Pair based on the darkness of the chocolate.  Look for intense, fruity reds (or whites) for darker chocolates.

  • Experiment A LOT!  Sometimes it takes some wrongs to end up at a right!

  

07. A dose of chocolate will give you a caffeine boost.

MAYBE

…depends on your sensitivity to caffeine.  If eating chocolate in small quantities of 1 ounce portions, it is unlikely that you will get the “boost” you are expecting.  This portion only contains 23 mg caffeine which is one quarter of a typical 8oz cup of brewed coffee. If you do find that after eating chocolate you feel a surge of energy, it is likely due to the sugar.  

  

08. Chocolate will put you in the mood…

UMM…

Well, the jury is still out as to whether chocolate is the aphrodisiac like the fanciful myths claim (you may have your own opinions!) but here is what we do know…

 

Chocolate can improve mood by boosting brain endorphins (natural opiates) and serotonin.  There is a reason people reach for chocolate when they are in a bad mood!  But no amount of chocolate will solve our problems or eliminate our stress, so make sure you don’t regret your chocolate splurge after the fact.

 

 

09. You should eat a little bit of dark chocolate every single day.

TRUE

…At least according to the University of Michigan, Department of Integrative Medicine.  Dark chocolate is included as a part of the Healing Foods Pyramid “as a part of a balanced, whole foods, plant based diet. This Food Pyramid emphasizes foods that nourish the body, sustain energy over time, contain healing qualities and essential nutrients, and support a sustainable environment.”

 

They give 9 health benefits, although most of us would be satisfied with just 2 or 3.  BUT, they do emphasize limiting to a 1 ounce portion.  The key is making this treat fit into your eating pattern so that it is not adding more calories, sugar and fat than your body needs to maintain your goals.

 

So, if you needed a reason to eat it, wanted permission to take a bite, or were longing for a guilt-free pleasure, eat an ounce each day as a part of YOUR healthy diet.

 

 

TRUTHAnd above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Colossians 3:14 (ESV)

 

Chocolate References

Amano Artisan Chocolate

USDA National Nutrient Database: Dark Chocolate 

Cornell University: Chocolate, Food of the Gods 

Today’s Dietitian: Mining the Richesof Dark Chocolate

 

 

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7 Staple Groceries I ALWAYS Keep in Stock and How I Use Them

A couple of years ago I led a monthly grocery store tour for patients.  We would spend almost 2 hours walking through the grocery store talking about food, nutrition labels, how to use ingredients, better options and every other question you can imagine!  One of the most common questions I received was “What do you buy?”  Patient’s wanted to know what I placed in my cart and how I filled my pantry and fridge.

 

Today, I wanted to share 7 items I always purchase and have stocked in our kitchen.  These are ingredients I grab routinely to include in meals, substitute for a missing ingredient, or simply enjoy eating as is.  

 

You probably have a lot of these items in your kitchen already.  I hope to inspire a few different ways you can use them as you include these nourishing foods into your meal plan.

 

 Plain Greek Yogurt

We generally buy plain greek yogurt for our home- whole milk for my daughter and low fat for myself and husband.  Greek yogurt is a great source of protein, calcium, vitamin D and potassium.  We go through A LOT of yogurt each week because all 3 of us LOVE IT!  

 

One of the most common complaints I have heard about plain greek yogurt is that it is too tart.  I agree that greek yogurt has a certain tartness and astringency.  However, the little bit of fat in low fat yogurt (made with 2% milk) has a bit less tang than the fat free.  Brands also vary in taste and flavor.  My absolute favorite brand is FAGE.  If you have been weary to give plain greek yogurt a shot, shop around and try out some different brands to see which ones you like the best.  You might be surprised!

 

How we use plain greek yogurt at home:

  • As a replacement for sour cream (like on top of a taco salad!)

  • In a fruit dip- this one is my favorite right now!

  • Incorporated with a dry dressing mix (like ranch or french onion) for a vegetable dip.

  • To make my creamy overnight oats!

 Oatmeal

Oatmeal is a whole grain that can do all kinds of culinary tricks in your kitchen!  It is so much more than a bowl of oatmeal and I dare you to find different ways to incorporate this flat, oval grain into your meals.  

 

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • In place of breadcrumbs- add to meatballs or meatloaf

  • Baked Oatmeal- the perfect breakfast to make on a weekend and re-warm all week for a stick-to-your bones meal.  This is my favorite recipe!

  • Overnight Oats- Cool, creamy and satisfying.  Check out my Overnight Oats Recipe Blueprint to create your own sweet combination!

  • Pancakes- Blend oats into flour for these yummy gluten free pancakes. My company loved this recipe when I made it over Christmas holidays!

 Edamame and/or Tempeh

My favorite kinds of whole soy are edamame beans and tempeh. Edamame are the actual immature soybean that comes in a green pod- buy them in the shell for snacking or already shelled for cooking.  Frozen is my favorite way to buy edamame- it is ready in a couple of minutes after boiling or microwaving. Tempeh is when the edamame beans are fermented together in a cake or patty.  Tempeh is firmer than tofu with more chew and texture.  Tempeh is also higher in protein compared to tofu, making it a great meat substitute at a meal.   Find tempeh in the refrigerated section in the produce department in most grocery stores.  

 

My 1.5 year old daughter is currently refusing meat any time we offer it, but she adores tempeh and sometimes eats edamame.  Right now, this is a lifesaver in our house!

 

How you can include edamame or tempeh in your meals:

  • Add edamame to a garden salad for some vegetarian protein in place of poultry or meat.

  • Toss edamame into your favorite vegetable soup to make it a complete meal with protein.

  • Marinate tempeh pieces in a flavorful marinade and bake.

  • Cut tempeh into cubes, toss with oil, spices and cornmeal; bake for ~15 minutes for “Tempeh Croutons”.

 Beans

Full of protein, fiber, iron and potassium, beans are an undervalued food that contribute great benefits to our health and are so very easy to stock and use.  Most of the time, I buy canned beans but when I really plan well, I will grab a bag of dry beans.  When buying canned, I always check the sodium of the different brands as some are higher than others.  I have found several brands (sometimes the organic ones) that have less than 200mg sodium per serving- I try to choose these most often.

 

Here are a few ways we use them in our meals:

  • Our favorite chili recipe includes several different kinds of beans as all of them add a different texture and flavor.

  • Mix 1 can of black beans with ½ pound of lean ground beef for taco night to add nutrients and save some money- meat is expensive!

  • When we want a treat, I have made these fudgy Black Bean Brownies that are full of sugar but incredibly delicious!  If you are in doubt, I promise you won’t be able to taste the beans at all!

  • Add to the top of your salad for vegetable protein- super simple!

 

Salsa

Jarred salsa is one of my favorite condiments!  It is a healthy and fast way to add pizzaz to any type of tex mex dish and at only 10-15 calories per 2 tablespoons, you can add as much as you want!

 

Most salsa brands have a pretty simple ingredient list including tomatoes, peppers, onions, vinegar, salt, garlic and spices.  The sodium can be high in some brands.  There are 2 brands I buy that both have about 170mg sodium per serving, but some brands have as much as 250mg/serving.  Simply check the nutrition label when you are shopping for the best option.

 

How I incorporate into our meals:

  • Top grilled chicken with salsa and avocado to add some flavor with flare

  • Mix with rice/quinoa and black beans for an easytex-mex side dish

  • Create a lunch bowl with leftover roasted vegetables, whole grain, tempeh/shredded poultry and a bit of shredded cheese; warm through and then add salsa before serving.

  • Include in a soup like this one I love (I use chopped yellow bell pepper in place of the corn for extra veggies)

 Nuts- Walnuts or Almonds

Raw walnuts or almonds might seem a bit boring but there are so many ways you can incorporate them into your meals!

 Our family’s favorite ways to enjoy:

  • Top your favorite bowl of oatmeal or overnight oats recipe with chopped/sliced nuts for some added crunch

  • Blend in a food processor to become your crumb coating for baked chicken breast

  • Roughly chop along with some of your favorite herbs as a topping for fish

  • Add a small handful to your breakfast of yogurt and berries for some healthy fats and nutty texture

 Dark Chocolate

Yes, this is a staple in our home.  We are never without.  I limit my quantity, but I do enjoy a little bit each day.  While my husband loves to include dark chocolate bits in muffins and pancakes, I prefer to eat dark chocolate in its purest form- as is!

 

  

TRUTH: The mind of the intelligent and discerning seeks knowledge and eagerly inquires after it.

Proverbs 15:14a (AMP)

 

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The Power of People

 

“Show me your friends and I will show you your future.”

 

Have you ever heard that statement?  My youth pastor was known for making that proclamation and it always stuck with me.  That little piece of wisdom has dramatically influenced how I make friends and whom I choose to place in my close, inner circle.  

 

Of course we interact with dozens if not hundreds of people every day, but the fact remains that the people we choose to spend the most time with, have the most influence on our lives.  Their values, beliefs, convictions and language add to the environment in which we live.  It doesn’t mean we lose our individuality, but the more time we are in their presence, the easier it is to be influenced by what they say or do.

 

While some people speak toxic trash, others speak life-giving truth.  

 

As you are running towards your 2017 goals, persevering, developing healthy habits and wiping out damaging behaviors, it is critical that you consider the people around you.  These individuals are powerful and have the ability to lift you up and drag you down.  

 

Attracting and inviting the right people into our lives won’t only encourage us, but has the power to bring out the best in us.  

 

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

— Proverbs 27:17

 

 

In my years of nutrition counseling, the individuals that experience long term progress were those that invited support.  They actually asked for it, sought it out and created relationships that promoted personal growth. They realize this was a journey that they could not walk alone and actually needed people to cheer them on.  These individuals realized that “Negative Nellie” made them feel hopeless and “Diet-Crazed Sally” rode a rollercoaster to nowhere and “Lazy Lana” was staring at the consequences of her inaction.  

 

These clients realized the power of the people around them and the power of those they allowed into their inner circles.  Surrounding themselves with positive people actually helped them persevere when the journey was tough. 

  

When I was working for an outpatient bariatric program, I co-lead monthly support groups.  I was always wowed and amazed as I would watch people walk in feeling frustrated, depressed, and out-of-control and leave an hour later feeling uplifted, encouraged, empowered and courageous.  It wasn’t me; it was the other patients that sat in those same chairs and offered support, ideas, empathy and a listening ear.  

 

Those positive, uplifting patients played a necessary and dramatic role in helping others stay on track, keep moving and not be discouraged by bumps in the road. This happened every single month.  Again and again. What a beautiful picture it was.

 

We all reach places of despair and frustration, when we feel hopeless and at the bottom of a pit.  We all get weary along the journey, wondering how many more steps until the future looks brighter.  We all need someone to relate, empathize and simply say that they care.  

 

 

We need people, uplifting people, to keep walking and eventually reach the future we envision.

 

Are you walking with any like-minded people on your health journey? Choose people that have a vision for their health and are constantly moving towards it.  Choose people that treat their bodies kindly.  Choose individuals that don’t follow the next diet craze and instead, pursue a healthy lifestyle that includes real food with the occasional treat.  Choose those that speak truth, affirm, encourage and uplift.

 

If you would like to find some health-minded individuals that can support you on your nutrition and fitness journey, here are a few ideas:

 

  • Walk/Run groups– You can often sign up for these through sporting goods stores, meet-up groups and track clubs.  A simple online search can help you find groups in your area.

  • Church/social groups– Consider attending or leading a book club or Bible study group with the focus on health and fitness.  This is a great way to learn, share ideas and find support!  There are several programs specifically designed for small groups including: 7 Pillars of Health by Dr. Don Colbert, First Place 4 Health, The Daniel Plan by R. Warren and D. Amen and M. Hyman, or Lifesteps Weight Management Program.

  • Dietitian Consult– Registered Dietitians are excellent resources to help you assess barriers and formulate plans to achieve goals.  They can help you develop a customized meal plan, strategize difficult situations, and direct you to beneficial resources.  Many dietitians also lead support groups, grocery store tours and cooking classes to help take concepts and make them easy to apply.

  • Health Coach Consult– These health professionals can help you identify and assess motivation, integrate health recommendations into your lifestyle and create healthy language to meditate on that empowers you to thrive.  Make sure you find a credentialed Wellness Coach; many Registered Dietitians have also received training and credentials in health coaching.

 

Remember that healthy individuals are those that not only talk the talk but walk it out.  Consider people that demonstrate consistency.  Having a gym membership does not make someone an exerciser.  People that value health and fitness regularly carve out time for these activities, demonstrating that they are a priority in their lives.  

 

I encourage you to write down a list of healthy behaviors you want to practice regularly and then look for these in the people you know.  If you envision a future where you have energy, vitality, a healthy self-image and feel good putting your clothes on each morning, invite some people along the journey that can see you there too!   

 

If you see something beautiful in someone, speak it.

— Ruthie Lindsey

 

Choose people that speak truth, cheer you on and help you go to the next level.  Keep your future bright.

  

TRUTH: Become wise by walking with the wise; hang out with fools and watch your life fall to pieces.

Proverbs 13:20 (MSG)

 

 

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