Bring on the Broccoli

The thing I love the most about gardening is the whole growing process. I love to see how something comes from such a small plant or seed and what it can turn into. Unfortunately, when you plant everything at the same time you end up with an abundance of the same types of vegetable all at once. Obviously the scale at which I currently garden isn’t ever going to be conducive to producing all of my own food, but it is nice to be able to grow as much as I can.

This week my first vegetable other than lettuce was ready for harvesting. I planted four broccoli plants and they were all ready to harvest this week. I decided to use half now and safe the other two for later. As I have mentioned before I am going to try different types of food preservation this year. Broccoli isn’t something that is canned so this was another easy one that can be frozen.

Harvesting the broccoli is very simple, cut the head of florets with a few inches of stalk from the plant with a sharp knife. If your broccoli is a variety that produces off shoots and possibly additional heads of broccoli don’t cut away the part of the stalk that contains the new shoots.

To prepare broccoli for freezing you must first cut it into uniform or bite size pieces.

Put leaves and any unhealthy pieces of the plant in your compost bucket, and make sure you’ve removed any bugs or caterpillars. Wash the pieces of broccoli well and then put them into a pot of boiling water to blanch.

Blanching helps preserve the food longer by delaying the enzyme deterioration process within the vegetable.* Boil the broccoli pieces no longer than 3 minutes. Once you drain the boiling water put the broccoli immediately into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.

Once they have cooled put the broccoli in freezer zip top bags and remove as much air as possible or use a food sealer if you have one. Don’t forget to label the bag with the contents and the date and your extra broccoli should be ready for the freezer.

*Blanching info from “How to Store Your Garden Produce” by Piers Warren

Healthy Eating: Changing the Way We Think

I’m back on my health kick. There is no reason why I shouldn’t be taking better care of myself. But with bathing suit weather here, I feel like it’s now or never to get in shape.

I have started buying organic food again. Although this time of year makes it easy to find fresh fruit and vegetables at local farmer’s markets, other organic foods are harder to come by. My local grocery store stocks very little options. I even struggle finding specific items at the bigger specialty markets in Winston-Salem. This makes shopping tedious, difficult, and somewhat expensive.

What I also do not like about “healthier” food is that it takes longer to prepare meals. After spending hours driving around looking for key items, the last thing I want to do is spend another hour in the kitchen making a recipe. By the time it is all said and done, I would be too tired to eat! Who is with me on this?

Frustrations are common when I’m first getting back on the healthy track. It’s like the universe knows just what to toss my way to keep me from doing better. It’s aware of my low tolerances and my lack of patience. It takes a lot of focus and determination to fight past distractions in the first few weeks.

As I was shopping yesterday, I could feel myself getting discouraged with organic food selections and cost. When I walked away from a healthy item because of its price, it dawned on me why the USA is so overweight…

Restaurants, grocery stores, and food manufacturers have caught on to our struggles. Most fast food chains offer a reduced-price menu to help those of us on a budget. Between buffets, drive-thru windows, and deliveries, we can literally have dinner in under ten minutes! Many of the items featured in sales fliers and coupon inserts are less-than-nutritional… but they’re non-perishable, quick, and easy. There is literally something for everyone’s convenience; soccer moms, single parents, bachelors, etc. Why bother with the tedious and pricey stuff?

I have a friend, Ginny, who lives in Haiti. She spent the majority of her life in Ohio. She went to Haiti on a three-week mission trip in 2008 and returned in 2009 to work as a missionary nurse. She now lives there full time with her daughter, running a mission that she founded, and is getting married at the end of this month. She has a great blog that I encourage you to follow. Recently, she blogged about how much it costs to purchase “American” food in Haiti. It was eye-opening to see that Tide laundry detergent costs the equivalent to $50.00 United States dollars, a bag of frozen chicken wings – $56 USD, a pint of fresh strawberries – $23 USD, and a box of Pillsbury cake mix – $5 USD.

The following week, Ginny posted a blog showing how much Haitian food she can buy at the open market on very little cash. Everything shown in the photo below, along with transportation costs, was only $12.00 USD!


(Photo Credit: GinnyinHaiti.com)

My point? It does seem like the United States has it backwards. Fresh food, healthy food, and locally-grown food should be sold at a muore affordable price. It should be abundant and easily attainable. There should be more incentives for farmers and less tax breaks for franchises and corporations. But at the same time, when you compare the price of fresh fruit and veggies from the farmer’s market to the price of a combo meal at restaurant, the fresh food actually does costs less!*

I’m sure you are thinking, “Even if the food becomes more convenient and less expensive to purchase, it is still to much work to prepare it.” I am guilty of thinking that way too. Sometimes I’m willing to go out of my way or spend more just to save time in the kitchen. But again, Ginny’s blog reminded me that it is all about organizing priorities, avoiding laziness, and being grateful for all that we have here in the States.

Ginny lives in a third-world country. She once lived in a shack that didn’t have a kitchen (she had to literally cook meals over an open flame) or running water (they caught rain in barrels) and she went nearly a year without transportation. These are everyday struggles for many Haitians. Yet, I am pouting over how difficult it is or how long it will take to prepare a meal? In a kitchen that is equipped with above-average amenities? How messed up are my priorities, and the priorities of many people in this country? We would rather jeopardize our health for the sake of a few minutes and a few dollars. Why? What on my schedule is more important than making sure I am healthy enough to fulfill my giant to-do list? And what in my budget am I spending money on that I can do without? Because I am certain there is something… like monthly pedicures… that I could give up if money is so tight that I can’t buy healthy food.

It’s time to stop making excuses. Our health and well-being IS a priority! There is no one else capable of managing it but ourselves. We are worth the time and the money. If you are struggling with the same obstacles, I invite you to join me in an effort to eat more organic foods and prepare fresh meals. It’s the healthiest way to lower calories, fat, and sodium intakes. Don’t see what you need in your neighborhood grocery store? Ask your manager if they can order it. If the demand for healthier food increases, I feel like more could be available and costs could come down. Who knows… if we start allowing time in our hectic day to cook, we may even enjoy it. That, in itself, could lower our stress levels!

Let’s push past the frustrations. Let’s reconsider our priorities. Let’s change the way we think about being healthy!

*If you’re interested in reading more about the comparison of fresh food to fast food, check out Mark Bittman’s article, Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?

 

The Secret to Losing Weight

The secret is, there is no secret. I know, I know…you’ve heard that before. But believe me, it’s the truth. I will be totally honest with you and tell you that all of the infomercials, exercise equipment, gimmicks, diet fads, and all the promises you hear on television WILL NOT WORK if you do not change your eating habits.

Sure, you can get a Brazilian butt lift and 6 pack abs…but not if you eat the wrong foods. No amount of exercise can compensate for bad eating habits. I don’t want to sound mean or disheartening, but the principles are fairly simple. Eat right, exercise, and stay committed!

I always thought that I was a pretty healthy eater… and I am in comparison to a lot of people. I have always maintained my weight and never really been out of control (except for the 10-15 lbs in college). But I also never had toned arms, lean legs, and ripped abs like you see on tv. Well, thanks to my trainer I found out why. It was my diet! If you eat sugar, sodium, and processed/packaged foods (even if they are low fat), they will prevent you from achieving that lean physique. As soon as I changed my eating habits…wow, I started to reveal a super flat stomach!

And it was essentially about getting back to the basics. Eating whole foods in their most natural form. Instead of instant oatmeal already packed with sugar, buy plain oats. I love adding cinnamon, a little brown sugar, or honey. It also tastes really great with a little spoonful of peanut butter. I have also discovered truvia, which is a natural sweetener, and so much better for you than sugar.

Instead of eggs, try egg whites. Or one egg with 3 egg whites. I sauté onions, mushrooms, and sometimes zucchini to add to my whites and then just a pinch of salt and pepper. Eat that with a bowl of oatmeal, high fiber cereal, or put it on a piece of whole grain toast. You will save so many calories and it tastes so much better than something from a drive-through.

Stick to lean protein – skinless chicken breast, lean ground turkey, flank steak or filet, pork tenderloin, white fish, shrimp, scallops, and salmon. Cook in just a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Or season with Dijon mustard, spices and herbs. You don’t have to drown meat in heavy soups and sauces to make them tasty. It’s all about the basics.

Fruits and vegetables – really, you cannot eat enough! And variety is key. Try to eat as many colors as possible. Apples are great sources of fiber as well as strawberries. Blueberries are loaded with antioxidants. Oranges and mangos have tons of vitamin C. Bananas are a staple at my house. I have one after a morning work out because they are a great source of potassium.

My favorites vegetables are mostly green – broccoli, brussel sprouts (don’t knock them until you try them), green beans, kale, and cabbage. Peppers are also great for you as well as onions, squash, and carrots.

Try to eliminate “white” foods. Opt for whole wheat/whole grain bread instead of white. Sweet potatoes instead of baked potatoes. Try brown rice, quinoa, or barley instead of white rice. Whole grain noodles instead of white. If you eat cereal, try high fiber or brands that have less than 5g of sugar per serving.

This may all sound boring to you, and you feel like you are depriving yourself. But if you cook things and add the right flavors, everything tastes great.

And the bonus – you can eat MORE! When you eat whole foods, nothing processed, the amount of food you can eat increases while the calories decrease. Even my dad was amazed at how much food I was consuming when I was training. But that’s because lean protein, fruits, and vegetables don’t have many calories. Yet, they are packed with important nutrients and vitamins for your body.

So if you are stuck in a rut and can’t get those last 10 pounds off, take a closer look at what you are eating. It makes a world of difference!