Category: Weight and Cholesterol Control


Eating away from home is supposed to be a treat and not a staple, right? Each time I hear that families turn to fast food as a supposed cheaper alternative to a home cooked meal I shake my head in disbelief. Yesterday while browsing on one of those social sites I saw a comparison made involving a fast food meal, homemade chicken and potato meal, and a beans and rice meal.

A chicken and potato meal was on the menu for supper last night so I decided to do a cost analysis of the foods I had on hand. This meal took me 30 minutes to prepare, and that included thawing the chicken in the microwave. The only advance prep I did was to pound the boneless, skinless chicken breasts before freezing. I prepared the meal for a family of three but did the cost analysis for a family of four. I could have added carrots as an additional vegetable for minimal additional cost.

I prepared my “French” chicken, microbaked potatoes with chives, and a romaine salad with an oil and vinegar dressing. I even had a fancy garnish of chive flowers for the salad. We drink water or iced tea with our suppertime meal. Even if serving children a glass of milk with this meal, it still would be really frugal. If we were meant to drink soda or pop, it would fall from the sky. I can feel the daggers, soft drink lovers. My husband is a Mt. Dew fan.

Put a little olive oil in your pan and start to cook your thawed chicken.

Season your chicken with a little onion powder and tarragon. Remember to season both sides. No one likes one-sided tasting food. 😉

When your chicken is almost done you can make a sauce right in the same pan.

Put the Dijon mustard, to taste, in the pan. Add a little cream or milk to thin it out and stir. Finish cooking the chicken in the sauce. Young children may prefer honey mustard.

While your chicken is cooking, scrub and prick your potatoes and microwave them for about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on size. Wash your greens and dress with a little olive oil and vinegar.

Dinner is served. My piece of chicken looks a little skimpy, but you have to remember that a serving size of meat is the size of a deck of cards. I’m trying to cut back on calories so I gave my husband the larger piece and half of my potato. He had leftovers to take to work as we only have a family of three. I filled up on a second helping of salad.

$2.50     2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, pounded to even thickness $1.99/lb

$1.26     3 medium organic, yukon gold potatoes

$.67       1 romaine heart

$.25       olive oil

$.08       vinegar

$.05        onion powder

$.10        dried tarragon

$.07        Dijon mustard

$.04        organic 1% milk

$.08        4 tsp butter

$.00        chives from herb garden

$5.10      Total

We spend $15 to $25 on a fast food meal for a family of four, depending on if we happen to have high value coupons. Fast food is an option, not a necessary choice to save money or time.

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It’s somewhat of a curse to be the only true yogurt lover in the family and know all of the health benefits that come from this superfood. It makes it my job to try my best at getting my family to try it or to find ways to sneak it into their diets.

Yogurt is a convenient snack and coupons are usually plentiful, which make it less costly too. Grab a container out of the frig and a spoon and you’re good to go. It’s easy to pack to take along to work or school for lunch or a quick snack.

There are a variety of flavors and textures available, from whipped to custardlike to smoothies. If you want to cut down on the sugar you could buy the fruit on the bottom yogurt and only eat the yogurt for just a hint of flavor and sweetness, or you could control the amount that you stir in. Buy plain yogurt and add your own honey, fruit and nuts for a nutritious snack. Add yogurt to your own homemade smoothies. My favorite is Greek-style yogurt. It’s more thick and tangy than regular. You can find fat-free to full-fat, conventional and organic. There are soy alternatives too. Look for tons of choices in the dairy section of your local supermarket, but don’t forget to check out the organic dairy section as well for a lot of other options.

Yogurt contains some awesome stuff. The prebiotics and probiotics in yogurt are good for your gut! They help keep everything balanced and can even affect immunity and the absorption of minerals. In order to get the health benefits from yogurt make sure the yogurt you buy contains live active cultures. It’s also a good source of protein, which helps keep you feeling fuller. Calcium and B vitamins are in there too.

This summer try freezing your own homemade smoothies into popsicles. You can put a stick or a spoon into a container of yogurt and freeze it just like that. Don’t forgot about tubes of yogurt. Kids and adults alike find them fun to eat.

There are ways you can use yogurt as a substitute for foods that just aren’t as good for you. Use yogurt instead of sour cream to top a baked potato or chili. Flavor it and use it as a dip for fresh fruit. Cut down on your mayo use by making your own spread and using half yogurt. Add greek or strained yogurt to recipes in place of some of the fat.

Sometimes it’s tough trying a new food or suggesting a new food to your family. Remember that it usually takes several tries to get to like a new food. Never give up too soon on something that is such a benefit to your health!

Carrots are inexpensive. Most weeks I can pick up a pound of carrots for around a dollar, and they are the organic ones too. A serving size is a half cup of cooked carrots. Each bag that I buy contains right around five servings, so that’s $.20 per serving. What a bargain.

Carrots are low in calories. One serving of carrots is only 30 calories. Of course what you choose to top them with or dip them in will increase that.

Carrots are good for you. They contain beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants battle free radicals, which cause cancer and contribute to a host of diseases. One serving of carrots provides over 100% of your RDA of vitamin A and 10 percent of vitamin C too.

Cooking makes the nutrients in carrots more available for your body to use, but you still get some benefits from raw carrots. Adding a source of fat, such as butter or olive oil also helps your body absorb the nutrients, so don’t be afraid of a little fat.

In a previous post I touched on a different strategy for weight loss, concentrating on good foods to eat instead of dwelling on foods not to eat. By making a conscious effort to eat a good variety of healthful foods that offer your body something, like a great source of vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, etc., you will fill up on those foods and crave the empty calorie foods less. If you make the right choices and make every calorie count, you don’t have to count every calorie.

Remember the list?

Tea

Whole grains

Berries

Yogurt

Nuts

Citrus

Beans

Cruciferous vegetables

Green leafies

Orange vegetables

Red fruits and vegetables

Lean protein

Fish

The goal is to consume most of the foods on the list daily and fish at least twice a week. Most of the foods on the list are frugal and all are healthful. Today I want to talk about one of my favorite whole grains.

Oatmeal  

Whether you have it for breakfast or a snack, oatmeal is quick, cheap, filling, and so good for you. Even rolled oats only take two minutes in the microwave. Do a cost analysis per serving between oatmeal and boxed cereal, not even close. If I eat a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast I’m not even remotely hungry until late morning. Old fashioned rolled oats are a whole food. You can’t get much closer to nature.

If you find oatmeal just plain boring, dress it up, but make smart choices. I buy walnuts in bulk, toast them in the oven at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, and put them in a plastic storage bag to sprinkle over my oatmeal. Of course you could do this with the nut of your choice. Dried fruit is another option. I happen to prefer dried plums, but you could choose any dried fruits such as raisins, cranberries, or blueberries. The nuts add crunch and the dried fruit adds sweetness, without having to add sugar. If you prefer fresh fruit that’s another option. Try chopped apples and a sprinkle of cinnamon or berries and nonfat milk. The choices are endless and you could use whatever happens to be on sale at the time.

Dig in to a bowl of oatmeal, save some bucks and feel healthier.

It doesn’t cost much to get moving. Actually, it’s free. Walking is one of the most frugal and healthful things you can do, and it doesn’t have to be boring.

  • Plan a walking date with a friend. It will give you the opportunity to catch up with each other and with your exercise goals.
  • Walk your dog(s). They enjoy getting out too and many times are a great way to make new friends with whom you know share a common interest.

  • Listen to your favorite tunes. Make sure though that you can still hear sounds around you for safety’s sake.
  • Take in some beautiful scenery. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For some it may mean interesting architecture and to others it may be of mother nature’s design.
  • Use it as an opportunity to get some pictures, bringing the beauty of the outdoors inside and possibly inspiring you to head back out the next day.

  • Get to know your neighborhood and your neighbors. Everyone seems to stay inside anymore. Help nurture the spirit of community.
  • Bring a bag, gloves, and find a stick to pick up trash and help beautify a natural area. You may find something of value or be able to recycle some aluminum for cash. You’ll feel better about your surroundings and feel good about yourself for doing a good deed.

Some things to think about before you head out.

  • Make sure to use good judgement when choosing where and when to walk.
  • Listen to the forecast and keep your eye on the weather.
  • Dress for the weather.
  • Bring along some water.
  • Walk with a buddy or form a group.
  • Keep your cell phone handy.
  • Know safe places to go for help along your route.
  • Be sure to bring supplies to clean up after your pets and obey leash laws.

When faced with a health challenge, such as trying to lower our cholesterol or lose some weight, we often concentrate on the foods we can’t have or shouldn’t have. After several years of trying to do both of these things I’ve found this is not the best strategy. If you can’t have or shouldn’t have something it only makes you want it that much more. Those are the foods that seem to always be on your mind.

I’ve developed a new strategy. From now on I will concentrate on getting healthful foods into my body on a daily basis. I have a list of superfoods that one could consume for optimum health. This list includes:

Tea

Whole grains

Berries

Yogurt

Nuts

Citrus

Beans

Cruciferous vegetables

Green leafies

Orange vegetables

Red fruits and vegetables

Lean protein

Fish

In addition to incorporating these foods into my life, I plan on being vigilant about portion sizes. Of course I will eat other foods, as eating a wide variety of foods is best. If you focus on which food is good to eat I feel there will be less room for the other foods. Although science still has no concrete evidence about what causes cravings, it is thought that cravings materialize from something we are lacking and unfortunately what we crave doesn’t contain the optimal amounts of those nutrients. Cravings could also be emotional or just plain old habits that are hard to break. If you didn’t notice, these foods are brimming with nutrients, are satisfying and many contain lots and lots of fiber. The list is so great I’m sure you could find a “better for you” substitute for whatever you have a hankering for. A slice of sweet, red, juicy watermelon could calm a sweet craving. A small handful of nuts could calm a crunchy craving, and would satisfy you long before you eat your way through a similar calorie amount of potato chips.

Over the next few weeks I periodically plan to pick these foods apart, touch on why they are so fabulous and share how I incorporated them into my diet and share other ways to do that too.

As a starting point I’ll use my breakfast.

Today I chose green tea which should give my metabolism a little boost. It’s also full of antioxidants. Most boxes of tea today boast about the flavonoid content. These catechins (flavonoid phytochemicals) top even vitamin C, but don’t substitute tea for fruits and veggies because the latter both have a lot of other things to offer that our bodies need. When it comes to sweeteners I usually pass for my tea and coffee because I’ve grown used to drinking it that way, but I like honey in my tea on occasion. If you need to have coffee in the morning then try iced tea at your other meals or a cup of a special tea, such as Earl Grey, as an afternoon boost. Remember that you can choose to brew herbal or fruity teas with your green, black or other tea to give a pleasant flavor therefore cutting down on the sweetener you would add. Don’t forget about lemon and other citrus as tea flavorings as well.

Many days I turn to lean protein, such as egg whites first thing in the morning because it seems to really satisfy, however variety is best. Today it was buckwheat as my cereal of choice. It’s still chilly this morning and hot cereal always warms me up. It takes 10 minutes to cook but I made enough for several days. I sprinkled my cereal with ground flax seed and toasted walnuts. Dried cranberries would have been nice too, but I’m really trying to watch the sugar. If you didn’t already know, buckwheat contains no wheat but is actually triangular seeds from a flowering plant. You may have heard of buckwheat flour for buckwheat pancakes which are more common. I’m talking about the whole grain seeds and have found them in the organic section of larger supermarkets. If you’re not too keen about hot cereal in the morning, or just don’t have the time, you could bake up some whole grain muffins on the weekend, make oatmeal pancakes for supper, or an oatmeal crisp for dessert, with apples or berries and just a touch of sugar.

Because every bone in my body is frugal and coupons are my friends I’m curious to see how this new strategy affects my grocery budget. From other blogs I’ve read I’ve often heard stories about how a switch to whole foods allowed many to spend less, sometimes because they were not filling their carts with a lot of junk food. Other times I’ve heard more was spent because they had purchased many processed filler foods with coupons on previous trips. This will be a challenge for me, to make sure the budget stays the same, and I love a challenge.

There have been a lot of celebrations around here lately. We’ve just had two birthdays in the house and now Easter is just around the corner. Because we really try hard to eat a healthful diet normally we tend to splurge a little during celebrations. There comes a time when you feel you’ve lost a little ground in the nutrition realm and need to make up for it fast. I’ve turned to the bean for a little help. Beans are nutritious powerhouses and are cheap. I threw together a quick chili and froze portions to be reheated as needed. Chili seems to be one of those dishes that tastes better that way.

Four-bean chili

1 can each of black, light kidney, dark kidney, and cannellini, rinsed well and drained.

1 lb grass-fed ground beef, cooked, crumbled, and drained. (You can rinse and drain the meat too to get rid of even more fat)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 large onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped (Use the color or colors of your choice)

1 28 oz can plum tomatoes, crushed with your hand

1 28 oz can tomato sauce

garlic powder, Italian herb seasoning, and cumin, to taste (you could always use chili powder too or instead)

Saute your onion and garlic with the ground beef, add the remaining ingredients and simmer at least an hour. You could also pour everything in a slow cooker, after browning the ground beef and cooking the onions and garlic a little and allow it to cook all day.

You could cut down the amount of meat used by half or leave the meat out of this recipe, making it vegetarian, and serve it over rice or another more interesting grain.

I made the homemade chips by spraying whole wheat tortillas with olive oil, cutting them like a pizza pie and putting them on a cookie sheet into a 400 degree oven for 5 – 10 minutes. Make sure they do not get too brown but are toasted. Sprinkle with your favorite herbs and or seasonings.

Aren’t they pretty?

Maybe not pretty, but they are simple and good.

Beans are so versatile. You can make several different kinds of chili, soup, and dips. You can find a recipe for pasta e fagioli here. There’s baked beans and three bean salad. Add beans to salads, tacos, or to stretch meat dishes such as sloppy joes. They come in different colors, flavors and textures. Don’t forget about green beans and peas.

Beans are so healthful. Beans are full of fiber and contain B vitamins, folate, potassium and calcium. The more colorful a bean is the more antioxidants it contains. They are a great substitute for meat when mixed with a grain. The soybean is the exception as it is a complete protein. I’ve added beans to my diet to help lower my cholesterol. I’m trying to eat a half cup of beans on most days. I find an easy way to do this on the days that beans are not part of a main course is to throw some beans into a salad. I am particularly fond of the garbanzo bean or “chick pea”. It has a nutty, rich flavor that goes so nicely with a light oil and vinegar salad dressing. You could also make a southwestern inspired salad and add black beans.

Beans are so frugal. Beans are downright cheap. When you find a sale it’s even better. I recently found beans for under 45 cents a can and I stocked up. They will last for quite a while. I always drain and rinse my canned beans to lower the sodium content. It’s even more frugal to buy dry beans and cook them up yourself. You can do these ahead and tuck away portions in your freezer. Make sure to buy dry beans where there is a lot of turnover or you could end up with old beans that will never get soft no matter how long you cook them.

I’m seeing some four-bean chili in my future.

Can a good-for-you lunch be tasty and filling? Of course it can!

I’m on a weight-loss and cholesterol-lowering adventure. It makes it sound more appealing to me when I think about it like that. I’m constantly evaluating my food choices. Here’s a favorite that I found that is a spin-off from a burger I get when I go to Denny’s. It’s a California veggie burger with sautéed mushrooms and baby spinach leaves served on a whole grain sandwich thin. They serve it on an actual whole-grain bun. While there I enjoy it with green beans, but today I had some baby carrots. Carrots are sweet and crunchy and satisfy both of those kinds of cravings.

You can make this lunch at home or pack it all up separately and take it to work. It took about 2 minutes to make. The “burger” could be microwaved for 60 seconds and left to stand for the same while I reheated the mushrooms from last night’s supper. Toss on your baby spinach and you’re done. The flavor is surprisingly tasty for all of you veggie burger skeptics.

The scale continues to “cooperate” and I have information like this to thank for it. I’ve increased my veggie and fiber intake to help me lose and it’s working, without me having to feel hungry all of the time. Yesterday I talked about an entire day. Today I want to concentrate on the main meal of the day. During the weekdays we usually eat our main meal between four and five o’clock in the evening. It’s best to consume the majority of your calories as early in the day as possible. Those of us with jobs and families can find this difficult. The supper pictured below was put together in 30 minutes. I did steam my beans earlier in the week and reheated them with garlic and olive oil to serve. Couscous only takes five minutes to cook after the water boils. Whole grain couscous has a nutty, delicious flavor. Marinated, pounded chicken breasts take a little less than 30 minutes in the grill pan that I used. I threw the mushrooms in after the chicken was done. I made the salad while everything was cooking.

Proof that a healthful meal can be quick, filling and delicious.

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