Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Top Ten Healthy Must-Haves (Or, Grocery Shopping for Dummies. And Lazy People. Trust Me, We Would Know.)

ever spend your time in line at the grocery store surveying and evaluating the contents of other patrons' grocery carts? ... me either. how judgmental! i mean really, who does that? ... *ahem*

if you hadn't already heard, over the course of the last year or so, Hubs and i have made a real push for eating healthier and getting in really good shape. (well, when it comes to the healthy eating, poor Hubs sort-of just goes along with this, and is kindly compliant as long as i keep his daily dose of tortilla chips stocked.) while struggling with an injury since early fall, i've been rather discouraged with my progress (or loss of fitness level, as it turns out). so i've been taking this opportunity to really get back on the ol' wagon when it comes to eating well.

after a season of rather lax eating habits, Hubs and i were a little stunned by how easily we were able to get back into a routine of healthy eating. we realized that we had spent so much time over the last year testing things out and seeing what worked for us that we already knew what to grab when we went to the grocery store.

when people talk about the difference between dieting and a lifestyle change, i think this is key: finding your groove, figuring out what works for you and sticking with it. it's not necessary to eat the same foods over and over, and suffer a severe lack of variety; however, it is helpful to have a few staple items that you always have on hand. this way, if you're low on food or out of ideas, it's easier to throw something new together with what you have on hand, without compromising your nutrition goals.

i've been answering a handful of questions from folks lately about what kinds of things i eat and prepare for myself and Hubs, so i thought perhaps sharing with you some of our grocery staples might be of some benefit. (if not, too bad, i'm going with it. ha.) we're not experts or anything like that, but have sought counsel from folks who are, and spent a lot of time figuring out what works for us.

here you'll find a list of the items we continually keep stocked at our house, and are on almost every shopping list each time we go to the store. buying these items has become almost automatic for us, which, considering i hate going to the grocery store and have a Husband with ADHD, this is pretty handy. also, most of these items are pretty versatile, which is helpful for folks like us who aren't very good at planning meals ahead of time. plus, they're all super healthy, which keeps us on track, even when we're not super organized in general.

so without much further ado, i give you: our Top Ten Grocery Store Buys!

(in no particular order...)

1. Chobani Nonfat Greek Yogurt. you guys don't really know what a lifesaver this stuff has been. if you're being mindful of your carb intake, this stuff is basically miraculous. we usually get either plain or vanilla flavors, as these are lowest in sugar. in fact, both have more grams of protein than they do carbohydrates; the plain has 18 grams of protein per serving! and we use this stuff for EVERYTHING. the plain is a perfect substitute for sour cream, when topping soups, tacos, etc., and a great alternative to mayo if making tuna or chicken salads. Hubs sprinkles cinnamon on the top and uses it as dip for his apples; the vanilla also makes a great pairing for fruit.
2. Apples. our favorite time of year is autumn, when the local apple harvest is in full swing. but even year-round, we have apples in the house almost all the time. they're a solid fruit that keeps well, has tons of health benefits, and best of all: Hubs never gets sick of them. for a while, i was convinced all he ever ate was apple slices and yogurt. but he was eating something healthy and enjoying it, so how could i argue with that? these are an absolute essential for us, so when hunger strikes, we always have a healthy snack on hand. our favorites are Cortlands, Pink Ladies and Honeycrisp.
3. Eggs. Egg whites are an almost perfect source of protein, and although i haven't convinced Hubs to get past the "egg stink" and give them a try, i eat eggs in one form or another almost every day. usually, i separate out the yolks and only eat one per meal, using mostly just the whites. i try to hard-boil a handful of eggs at the beginning of the week, so i have a quick and easy protein source at hand when i need it. i'm always finding new ways to eat them, too. one of my recent favorites is poaching eggs in a skillet with Ro-Tel tomatoes, tomatillo salsa, black beans, garlic and frozen spinach. super fast to prepare, and super healthy as well. win-win! my favorite brand is Eggland's Best.
4. Kemp's Cottage Cheese. no, i'm not getting paid for any of these grocery endorsements. but i will admit that we're pretty picky about brands. we're kind of OCD like that. not that we're total snobs, it's just that once we find something we can agree on, that works, it's best to kind of stick with it. (also, we're total food snobs. there. happy?) i never ate cottage cheese until just recently, and now we keep it in the house all the time. it's a fantastic source of protein, and if you're mindful of your fat intake, this is a healthy way to satisfy your craving for some cheesy goodness. Kemps is particularly good, especially since their 1% variety is just as good as the full-fat stuff you can get at the salad bar. not too runny, and just rich enough to trick you into thinking it's not low-fat. Hubs eats it as a side with most meals (startling quantities of it, actually), while i prefer it with hard-boiled eggs, omelets or fresh peaches. random tip: it also makes a great mayo/spread substitute for pita sandwiches. yum.
5. Jennie-O Turkey. we eat a lot of tacos at our house. like, A LOT of tacos. or at least, taco-related foods, considering i try to steer clear of grain-y carbs more often than not. we buy 5-pound packs of lean ground turkey from Sam's Club and keep it in the freezer, then pull out a package at a time to make taco meat. when all the taco seasoning is in there, you can hardly tell it's not just normal beefy taco meat, and actually i've come to prefer this leaner variety over the traditional ground chuck. we make a whole 2.5-pound package of meat at once, and keep the leftovers in the fridge to reheat throughout the week. it's also perfect for chili, another frequent meal at our house (we like to cook once a week and then just eat leftovers all week, can you tell?) recently, i also discovered Jennie-O Sweet Italian Turkey Sausage, which has been like an extra-special treat that's been useful in broadening my collection of go-to recipes. brown either of these and add them to spaghetti sauce to top whole wheat pasta, or my favorite, sauteed zucchini.
6. Canned Diced Tomatoes. we also buy these in bulk from Sam's Club--both plain diced and Ro-Tel tomatoes with green chiles. we use them for making chili or taco soup most of the time, but i've recently begun using them to poach eggs in a skillet. tomatoes are obviously awesome for you, so these provide a quick and easy way to get some extra vitamins into any meal, even if we don't have fresh veggies on hand.
7. Black Beans. beans are clearly a great source of protein, but black beans are especially good considering their lower starch content compared to other beans. we use these in everything: tacos, chili, egg dishes, etc. we're especially partial to Goya brand, the low-sodium variety. if you're a vegetarian, or just trying to use meat more sparingly, these are a reliable and yummy source of protein to have on hand.
8. Spinach/Salad Greens. when i'm in the groove, i eat salad at least once a day, often with both lunch and dinner. we tend to buy boxed salad greens in bulk, yes, from Sam's Club. depending on what we're hungry for or getting sick of, we alternate between baby spinach and mixed salad greens (we especially like those ones that come in the box with six tiny heads of different artisan lettuces. so fancy!) having a salad base on hand at all times makes preparing a healthy side for dinner really quick and easy. keep chopped veggies in the fridge, toss some on, add protein and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a quick lunch.
9. Bell Peppers. lots of people seem not to like peppers, for some reason, but they work for us. we usually buy two varieties: green and either red or yellow. then we eat them with everything. no seriously, EVERYTHING. i usually try to slice a few peppers into strips at the beginning of the week, so we have them on hand for easy use. here's a small sampling of our favorite bell pepper applications: eggs, tacos, salad, chili, cajun shrimp/turkey sausage skillet. i also pack them in my lunch and dip them in hummus; it's an easy way for me to make sure i'm getting enough veggies, and the hummus is a great healthy protein source.
10. Nuts. nuts have gotten a bad reputation as being fatty, but if you're mindful of how you're using them, they can be quite beneficial. yes, they have "good fat," or at least lots of them do. we keep raw almonds, walnuts, pecans and cashews on hand most of the time as a healthy snack. sometimes we mix them with dried fruit and dark chocolate to make a healthy trail mix. but i also keep raw almonds on hand most of the time, since they keep and travel well. just a handful of these can make a filling and healthy snack.worried about price? buy in bulk. we find most of ours in the baking aisle at Sam's Club. (... surprise, surprise.)
*11. Whey Protein Powder. technically, i'm not sure this is really considered a food, so i tacked it on the end as a bonus. (this list goes to 11!) i have a protein shake almost every day. protein is filling and helps build muscle, which in the end allows your body to burn more calories naturally. we've tried a couple of different protein powders, but currently use EAS brand because it's relatively cheap (Sam's Club. bulk. duh.), not digusting (at least the chocolate flavor), and packs 20+ grams of protein per serving. Hubs likes his mixed with a little milk. i can taste the non-sugar sweetener, which i'm not particularly a fan of, so i usually add liquid coffee concentrate to mask the flavor. then it's like a delicious guilt-free mocha shake! every day! see? eating healthy CAN be totally awesome. :)

so that, folks, is our list of food must-haves. these may not work for everybody, but we've found that they work well for us. and yes, we do eat other foods not included on this list, naturally, these are just our staples. do you have any go-to grocery store buys? what things do you find yourself filling your cart with each time you hit the store? i'm always looking for new ideas for expanding our healthy meal repertoire.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

pros and cons: double tights

it's a two-pairs-of-tights kind of day here in the single-digit Midwest. (AND WE LIKE IT THAT WAY. IT BUILDS CHARACTER.)

dressing for cold weather requires some practice, but to be honest, i appreciate the challenge. getting sick of winter already? consider today's topic: the implications of layering up on tights.

Photo via smittenbyliz.com

- double the layers equals double the time required to make a bathroom trip.
- forgetting you must sit like a lady.
- static cling.

- tights are awesome. therefore, double tights equals double awesome. (obv.)
- extreme warmth, without the bulk.
- cozy legs provide for greater wardrobe creativity and give warm-weather clothes a longer shelf life. ...er, wear life. whatever.
- feeling like a girl at the time of year when one might feel like a frumpy broken record of those same insulated boots and jeans, again.
- one more day you can put off laundering said jeans. again.

in conclusion, it's double tights—for the win!


in other news, it seems we've been doing a lot of winning here in Wisconsin lately. if you hadn't noticed.  ;)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

remember how i said i wanted to get more adventurous with greens?

i think the blogosphere is trying to send me a message.

also, something i'm working on: my list of healthy food must-haves. stay tuned!
(if this snow storm lives up to the hype, you may see this sooner than later.) ;)

*photo via ymib.com