Sunday, September 21, 2014

Meal planning

One of the most important things that I have learned on my health journey is that planning your meals in advance is of utmost importance. Especially when I was doing the 21 Day Fix the first time around, I knew that I had to be organized in my food preparation. I've tried over the years to be good at meal planning, but somehow the Fix is what finally drove it home for me.

Why is meal planning important?

  1. Makes grocery shopping easier
  2. Takes the difficulty out of the 6pm scramble to get something on the table.
  3. You can make sure to get your full balance of food groups throughout the day - for example, if you know that you are going to make pizza for dinner, than don't fill up on carbs or cheese earlier in the day. Or if you are having a vegetarian dinner, then aim to get good protein in earlier.
  4. You can prep portions earlier in the day if you have the ability.
That said, I've been doing a pretty good job of meal planning and have been trying to share them on my facebook page ( But now that I have this blog up and running, I wanted to put them here and join up with some other bloggers who post their menus online. Also, this is a much easier way to link the recipes that I am using.

This week is a little different than other weeks. We have Rosh Hashanah Wednesday evening and then family is staying with us through the rest of the weekend. That gives me a little bit more room to make items that feed larger crowds and I have a little more flexibility to cook while others play with my kids.

Our Meals for the Week of September 21

Sunday - Burgers and hot dogs (we are having our last 85 degree day)
Wednesday - Chicken Marsala
Saturday - Harvest Vegetable Soup and salads of some sort

I picked a few new items this week and a few old favorites. I'm hoping that the burrito bowls go over well. My husband really enjoys my sweet potato and black bean burritos and this is in the same taste grouping but with a healthy dose of quinoa (which he doesn't like).

I'm linking this list with two awesome blogs - This Week for Dinner and OrgJunkie's Menu Plan Monday. If I don't have enough ideas to get you going, perhaps they will help spark you as well!

Happy Cooking and Healthful Eating!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The 21 Day Fix

On Monday I started another round of following the meal plan from the 21 Day Fix. I eat a pretty healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables, but when I need to get myself back on track and focused, the 21 Day Fix is just what the doctor ordered.

So what is the fix?

Beachbody's 21 Day Fix is a meal plan that makes you portion out your food but avoids weighing, knowing the appropriate measuring cup or counting calories. The package comes with 6 color coded containers and a booklet that explains what can go in each container and how many you are allowed per day based on your current weight. It does require some planning or you might find yourself struggling to make dinner (or without any containers left), but it also forces you to be incredibly mindful of what you are putting into your mouth.

One of the big things that I learned during my first go round on the fix was that my biggest enemy wasn't my love of sweets, but rather, my mindless munching on processed carbohydrates. It was during the first round that I decided to cut pasta out of my diet entirely. My family couldn't get behind whole wheat pasta and it seemed pointless to make enough so I could have a half a cup serving. I also discovered that spaghetti squash and zucchini noodles were so much tastier and more filling, let alone being healthier.

The concept with the containers is to help you balance your food groups. For example, on a 1500-1799 calorie range, you are allowed 4 greens, 3 purples, 4 reds, 3 yellows, 1 blue, 1 orange and 4 tsps a day. As I mentioned, for me the problem initially was feeling like I didn't have enough carbs (especially since I was actually a slot down and was only allowed 2). Some people struggle to eat their vegetables, but that has never been my problem.

What does a sample day look like?

B - oatmeal and apple (1 yellow, 1 purple)
S - strawberry shakeology with unsweetened almond milk (1 red, 1/2 yellow)
L - salad with 2 slices of turkey, feta and 1/2 an orange of dressing (2 green, 1 red, 1 blue, 1/2 orange)
S - 1/2 purple of blueberries and ricotta cheese then 1/2 apple with peanut butter (1 purple, 1 red, 2 tsp)
D - Asian chicken with vegetables, brown rice, green beans (1 red, 2 green, 1 yellow)

But it isn't all about the food!

The fix also comes with 7 days of workouts, each clocking in at 30 minutes a piece. Autumn Calabrese did a wonderful job at coming up with innovative workouts that work every muscle in your body. There were some moves that I struggled with due to a bum knee, but there are always modifiers and the modifiers were easy to follow and shown on screen consistently.

I'm personally not a fan of counting calories, especially since I make nearly everything from scratch. I also struggle with general food journaling. The 21 Day Fix was a way for me to get a clear picture of what I was eating and by having a chart, somehow keeping track of my foods became less of a problem. I would highly recommend the 21 Day Fix to anyone trying to get a handle on their eating. 

During my first go round in March, I was thrilled to lose 6 pounds and 10 inches in 21 days. And the weight keeps coming off while I am in the best shape of my life. 

They say that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. Whether or not that is true, this is a great program to try. If you think you are ready to make a change, email me at healthywithmichelleg at gmail dot com.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Strawberry Green Monster

One of my favorite things to do with my shakes is to experiment with them. I fell in love with the Classic Green Monster from Oh She Glows a long time ago and have missed it from time to time while drinking my shakeology shakes. I made it once with vanilla, and then I had the brilliant idea to make it with strawberry. Heaven! The original smoothie calls for adding chia and cinnamon. Those are lovely additions that I might try at some point. For now, this is my favorite way to enjoy my strawberry shakes. Perfectly refreshing and totally delicious!

The first time I made this, I actually didn't have any fresh spinach in the house, but I did have frozen spinach. It worked perfectly and probably actually gave me a larger serving. It is an awesome alternative to always having fresh on hand.

Strawberry Shakeology Green Monster

1 scoop strawberry shakeology
1/2 frozen banana
2 handfulls of fresh spinach or 1 cup of frozen
1 TB PB2
1 cup almond milk
1 cup ice

* When using spinach in a shake, you might have smoother results if you blend the spinach and liquid first. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Curbing your (processed) sugar addiction

As someone who has struggled with weight for the majority of her life, I have tried to look at the deeper roots to why we eat and why we eat certain things. One of the hardest things to cut back on is sugar. While there is research out there to prove that sugar itself is not addicting, sweet foods trigger a positive emotion in our brains that encourage us to eat more food in general hence the weight gain.

Sugar isn't addictive, but sweet things are. The hardest part is that these days sugar is being added to everything! It is in your salad dressing, spaghetti sauce, crackers, soft drinks, juice, etc. Cutting out sugar altogether isn't possible or necessary, but cutting out added sugars sure is. Consider that most Americans currently consume over 25 teaspoons of added sugar a day and our recommended intake is 6 teaspoons for women and 9 for men. If we could find ways to cut back, we would be doing ourselves a huge favor.

So what is the difference between sugars found naturally in food and those we add? Fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains contain simple sugars. When simple sugars are naturally found in whole food, they come with vitamins, minerals, protein, phytochemicals and fiber. The presence of fiber makes a significant difference because it slows down the absorption of sugar, which moderates its impact on blood sugar. Natural sugar in whole food is a type of sugar that you shouldn't worry about. When any type of sugar is added to foods during processing, cooking or at the table, you consume calories without any nutrients or fiber - ie white sugar, brown sugar, agave, honey or syrup. This type of sugar, called added sugar, is what you want to limit.

So what about those darn sugar cravings?

When you are not eating enough and your blood sugar dips you most likely will crave something with sugar in it. You’ll be tempted to eat something you’ll get that quick surge of energy but it won’t last. Sugar literally acts like a drug to your brain. So many foods we eat today have massive amounts of added sugar. My biggest problem has been grabbing a few m&ms throughout the day. One or two might not be a problem, but they add up quickly and keep you wanting more. Clean eating is not about depriving yourself but finding ways to limit or eliminate!

It comes down to the fact that the more we eat something the more we crave it, good or bad. Our body starts to really need it. So, eating chips daily or having ice cream every night actually becomes more like an addiction...something your body wants and needs and NOW. It's not fun. It's not good. And it will lead you down a very frustrating path with lack of results. Sometimes you just need to go cold turkey on a craving that seems to be grasping you tighter and tighter. Yes, it will be hard at first but it will get easier and it's freeing. Once you have a healthier relationship with that food, you can start to add it back in in moderation.

Here are some tips to help you tackle those cravings and take back the control...

  1. Drink a big glass of water. Perhaps squeeze some lemon into it. I actually like seltzer to help as a drink when I have cravings. Don't know why it works, but it does.
  2. When I'm craving something sweet after dinner, I head to the freezer and grab a cup of frozen mixed berries. They take longer to eat when they are frozen and the mix of icy burst of flavor and sweetness helps to reign me in.
  3. If I really want chocolaty goodness, I have taken to making banana "ice cream" with a half scoop of chocolate Shakeology or unsweetened cocoa powder. I always keep bananas in the freezer for various uses and you can mash one up with a fork or whirl it in a food processor. You can use this for most ice cream cravings and there are tons of good recipes out there. If the weather is colder, I will make hot chocolate with non-fat milk, cocoa powder and a little stevia.
  4. A warm cup of decaf tea or coffee often helps.
  5. Keep a ton of good foods that entice you and are easy to grab. Fresh veggies can quench a ton of cravings and a little bit of hummus adds some good fat to go with it.
  6. Do something to get your mind off of it. Find a way to take your mind off the food and you might find that you weren't hungry in the first place.

Well, those are my bag of tricks! That's all I got. Of course I always come back to my WHY and my goals. I have pictures all over my house...on my phone, my computer, in my car, to remind me of why I need to take care of my body. I have 2 little people and an amazing husband that depend on me to be here for a long time. Not to mention, I am a better everything when I feel good in my skin. There is no chip or cookie worth more than that.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Salted Chocolate Caramel

It seems so simple a combination but it packs a punch. While initially you might be turned off by the idea of adding salt to your shake, it makes a big impact. Apparently, there is even scientific research to show that adding a pinch of salt (good quality salt!) to something makes it sweeter.

This is one shake that I am perfectly happy to make with water when I am trying to watch my intake, although 30 calories for unsweetened almond milk isn't exactly a huge deal. The most challenging part of this shake is finding caramel extract.

Chocolate Salted Caramel

1 scoop/packet chocolate Shakeology
1 cup water or milk of choice
1 tsp caramel extract
pinch of quality sea salt

Cherry Vanilla Cheesecake Shake

I LOVE this shake! It is so simple and so delicious! Cherries are packed with antioxidants and offer many health benefits, including help with insomnia, joint pain and belly fat.  I honestly don't think that you even need to add the jell-o powder, but I haven't tried it that way just yet. Cherries are also a low glycemic index fruit and they can help reduce inflammation. Add that to the health benefits of Shakeology and you have a win-win situation!

Cherry Vanilla Cheesecake

1 scoop/packet vanilla Shakeology
1 cup milk of choice
1 cup frozen cherries
1 TB jell-o cheesecake powder
1 cup ice

Pumpkin Pie Shake

It's getting close to fall and we are getting into the world of pumpkin, pumpkin everywhere. We know that drinking a sugar laden pumpkin pie latte from one of the myriad fast food joints is not your healthiest choice. Rather than that, get your pumpkin fill in the most nutritious meal of the day.

Pumpkin Pie Shakeology

1 scoop/packet vanilla Shakeology
1 cup milk of choice - I prefer almond or soy
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp maple syrup
1 cup of ice

Very Vanilla

When I started drinking Shakeology six months ago during a 12 day challenge, I was given 2 vanilla packets and was seriously turned off. After tasting the awesome chocolate shakes you could make, I couldn't stomach vanilla.

Fast forward a few months and I started seeing more and more posts about ways to make vanilla taste good. I used a few of my sample packs on hand and was converted. The difference between chocolate and vanilla is that vanilla isn't one of the flavors that I like to drink on its needs some sprucing up. The fun part is that vanilla piques my inner foodie who enjoys playing with her food. Vanilla is the perfect blank slate to be creative with your food while also getting the healthiest meal of the day. Between picking up new flavor ideas from the coaching boards and coming up with a few of my own, I find my bag of vanilla shakeology to be my current favorite.

I am going to be posting a slew of recipes on all flavors, but especially utilizing vanilla. I hope you enjoy! Here are a few teasers, two of my current favorites!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Thinking about fat in our diets

One of my favorite magazines is Eating Well. Aside from providing me with excellent recipes and beautiful images, this magazine is designed to get you thinking in a health and intelligent way about the foods that you put into your body.

This month's issue has a very thought provoking article on fat entitled "The New Fat Revolution." With ever increasing rates of obesity and diabetes attaching our society, people try to point fingers and villanize specific foods and food groups. Fat has long been one of the "bad" foods, but this article shows how that isn't necessarily proper judgement.

When people try to eliminate something from their diet altogether, be it fat, carbs, sugar, etc., it usually leads to the problem of replacing it with something just as bad if not worse. This article makes a key point - when Americans got crazing about reducing fat in the early 1990s, they replaced it with more processed sugar and processed carbs (note - processed carbs are things like pretzels, breads, etc and not natural carbs like those found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains). Sugar and white flour raise glucose levels and are linked to weight gain.

As a society, we like to look for easy fixes - cut fat! no sugar! no carbs! But these mess with our body chemistry in the long run. Rather than looking at foods as either "good" or "bad," the best thing that we can do for our overall health is to try to eat a well balanced diet of whole foods. Eat healthy fats like avocados, hummus and nuts and fill up your system on fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. The less processed a food is, the better it is for you.

In the Eating Well article, they included the "fat matrix" that you see here. This is an easy way to see that we can place various foods on a matrix or spectrum and that some foods we should eat more of and some we should eat less of. The left side is saturated fats and the right side is unsaturated. The higher up on the page a food is, the better it is for you. For anyone who is more visual, this easily shows that avocados, fish and low-fat dairy products are good ways to get healthy fats and that we should eat butter and french fries less frequently.

Dietary fats are not the enemy. They are essential to give your body energy and to support cell growth. They also help your body absorb certain nutrients and produce certain hormones. Your body needs a good mixture of fats, protein and carbohydrates to do its job and to help you thrive. Whole foods are always better than processed. Consider small changes, your body will thank you for it.