Thursday, January 23, 2014

Burrito Bowls + Healthy Living Update

Laziness is totally a relative thing.

Today, I was too lazy to go to the store. So I made refried beans from scratch.

See how this works?

I've done this before. Last time it was ricotta that I decided to whip up because that was easier than packing up the kids and heading the two blocks over to the grocery store. Very often it's bread that I make for no other reason than that my kitchen is closer than two blocks away. Sigh. Lazy me.

In any event, I made refried beans today! And you know what? They were pretty great. And cheap. And easy.
I followed a recipe I found through Pinterest, and at first I thought the recipe might be wrong - it all just seemed too simple. But hey, it worked! I did leave out the jalapenos, and I added a touch more stock at the end, and I let it cook on med-low for a while longer just to make everything extra soft, but hey, follow this recipe and you too can make refried beans in about the same amount of time it would take you to walk to your nearest grocery store and back! And you don't have to change out of your sweats!

Now where did these refried beans go? Into my delicious bowl of burrito love. Do you ever eat tacos and feel gross afterwards? I always do! Probably because they are sooooooo good when you pile on the cheese, the greasy meat and the sour cream into the huge flour tortilla! And then I eat 3. Or more. Yeah, that's likely why. But have you ever gone to a Mexican restaurant and had their rice and refried beans and realized you were full, but didn't feel gross? Funny how that works...

We've been working on having healthier, lighter meals in our household, that will still fill us up well, and I stumbled across the idea for Burrito Bowls (again, thank you Pinterest). Rice instead of flour tortillas. Beans instead of meat. Chipotle instead of cheese. I could do this! Ah yes, and the recipe also enlightened me about how to kick my rice up a notch. You take the rice, and stir the salsa directly into it!!! If you are not as amazed as I was, well, you just might be smarter than I am. But don't rub it in. Seriously, this was an epiphany for me! I happened to have some cilantro around so I snipped some of that into the rice too, and had this gorgeously aromatic rice base for our burrito bowls! Then came the refried beans, with a generous helping of veggies (we did tomatoes, corn, avocado and lettuce), then my chipotle sauce. There was a link to one from the original Burrito Bowl recipe page, but I had been gifted a jar of Epicure's Citrus Chipotle Ketchup spice blend from a local vendor who said she couldn't use it because she didn't like ketchup - and that's what they told you to put it in. Well, I don't like the idea of chipotle ketchup, but when on earth have I ever really followed a recipe (see refried beans explanation above...) So here's how I rolled with it:

Creamy Chipotle Sauce:
1/4 c. low-fat greek yogurt
1/4 c. fat-free sour cream
juice of half an orange
1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. Epicure's Citrus Chipotle Ketchup spice blend (OR 3/4 tbsp. chipotle powder and 3/4 tbsp. chili powder)

This stuff was great on the burrito bowls, and would be awesome on a taco salad!

My family loved the burrito bowls, I loved that they ate everything without complaining, and I also love that I have some of that chipotle dressing left over for lunch tomorrow!

The burrito bowls are really just a cunning way to put more veggies in my body. I've been doing well with my personal eating habits and our family meals have been succeeding at filling us with more than just fats and carbs. Last night we had Vietnamese Pork Vermicelli. I found a great recipe a while back and it remains my go-to. This is one of the few that I follow to the letter - except I triple the amount of veggies I put in each bowl - at least! Sure the sauce has fat, and yes pork isn't the leanest meat, but when your bowl is full of that much lettuce, carrots, fresh herbs and rice noodles, who needs more than a couple small pieces of pork? The umami of the sauce carries so well, it feels like so much more than a salad when you eat it, yet that's very nearly all it is in our household. We've also been upping our protein intake throughout the day, which has me snacking less, and I've started making matcha smoothies with a couple dates, a banana, and almond milk - super yummy. Oh yah, and if you want to drink more water, try putting a drop of therapeutic grade Grapefruit oil in your water! I got mine this week and I've been loving it!

Both Hubby and I have been keeping up with out workouts. Yesterday was the first day I needed a day off thanks to a lovely thing called "Wall Sits". Those were the first thing I'd done that kept kicking my butt the next day. But I went right back to it today, and I'm hoping tomorrow will feel better!

I noticed my knee had been quite touchy still with some of the exercises that I thought were tame enough, so I've had to throw in even more yoga and pilates to my routine. Believe me when I say by nature I am much more of a P90x girl - I love high impact exercises - but my left knee does not. However, that doesn't mean I'm not seeing results. And yoga and pilates, along with targeted knee-strengthening exercises will give me the advantage of forming a long, lean muscle base to build on. In other words, perhaps my thighs will be less thunderous in the not-so-distant future. If you want to check out some great low-impact exercises, check out my Health board on Pinterest!

Anyway, getting more sleep is the next big thing on my Healthy Lifestyle to do list, so I'm signing off!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Healthy Living 2014

I have been desperately trying to post a Christmas write up of all the gifts I made, complete with pictures and maybe even a tutorial (felted play macarons for a tea set, anyone?) but my computer and Blogger are having some disagreements right now concerning pictures. So instead of waiting on that one post, I've opted to do this one so you have something to read!

I don't necessarily approve of New Years Resolutions - they tend to imply short term change, with an understanding that most people won't follow through with them. I instead prefer to look at my life and see where I want real change, or set a specific goal, and work towards that until I achieve it, and keep that lifestyle change as a new part of my every day life.
Back in November I posted how I was ready to get my body back to normal, which I planned to accomplish through a no-cheat, lower fat dietary plan. Well, I wisely decided to forego the cold-turkey approach to all baked goods until after Christmas. For the two years prior I had been deprived of some of my family's traditional Christmas treats thanks to gallstones and food poisoning, so this year I ate butter tarts, shortbread, and pie, and I'm not even sorry. That being said, as of the end of our New Year's celebrations, I was ready to be done with indulgence and crack down on my fitness approach.

Now, when I talk about a diet plan, I don't mean a fad diet. I mean looking at what I normally eat and changing it, because changes will see results. If you drink a pop a day, and then stop drinking that and replace it with water, you will absolutely see changes, even if that's the only thing you change. Your body gets comfortable with what you do, so mix it up sometimes! For me, that means restricting fats. I don't often watch my calculated intake of nutrients (bad me, I know...) but I can guarantee that I'm often over my intake for fats. It's easy: butter your toast, creamer in your coffee, sandwiches made with bread, cheese, ham and margarine, a snack of who-knows-what in the afternoon, then something for dinner that I can be pretty well assured will have anywhere from 20 - 40 grams of fat (not often 40, but sometimes we eat out). Daily recommended intake is around the 50 g ball park, but I know that by just watching it more closely, I won't be too far below that number anyway, and it will still be enough of a change to my system to start seeing change in my body.
A couple years ago when I had gallstones I got to the point where the most fat my body could tolerate at a time was 5 g/meal. That's when you really start to realize how much fat is in things! White sandwich bread, salad dressings, a slice of deli ham... all of those things could set me off. So I know this time to find alternatives for those things. I also know it's easier to limit fats some times more than others. My breakfast is low fat, whereas my supper is less-so. Why? Because I've got a husband and three little boys who do not have the same restrictions in their diet right now, and I want us to enjoy our meal times together, eating the same foods. But whenever I tend to make myself something different anyway, I'll opt for low-fat.

One of the other changes I've been making to my diet is increasing my protein. I've decided to work out more right now, and so I have enough activity to make proper use of a higher protein diet. I look for protein in all three meals now, whereas before I'd often only see it at supper time unless we had lunch meat in the house. This is probably the trickiest change for me, especially since I can't eat eggs because my still-nursing baby can't handle them on his stomach... But I'm making do! And while I'm at it, here are some tips about how I'm making this work!

More Protein, Less Fat Tips:
When choosing breads, go for the crusty/artisan breads instead of soft sandwich loaves! Baguettes and crusty buns often have 0 g of fat.
For deli meat, opt for fat-free chicken or turkey breast. Steer clear of bologna.
Better yet, cook a whole turkey up and save the white meat for sandwiches! A turkey takes a while to cook, but it yields a lot of meal potential. That dark meat will be great for family meals, too. (Mango Chutney Turkey with Coconut Rice!)
Use stronger tasting cheese so you don't have to use as much! Opt for sharp cheddar, smoked cheeses, asiago, bleu, or goat cheeses.
If you need dressings on your salads, invest in a good, high-end aged balsamic. This stuff is downright drinkable. Mix with a tiny bit of olive oil if you need, and drizzle all over!
If you can do eggs, buy pre-separated egg whites. I suggest one whole egg + 2 egg whites for a morning serving.
Soups can be great low-fat - fat-free options! Make soup for dinner one night, and eat the veggie and protein-filled leftovers for lunch for the remainder of the week! This is my new Monday meal plan! Good soups to try for this are homemade turkey (use that turkey carcass you cooked up for meals and lunch meat!) or chicken noodle soup, mulligatawny, beef barley, taco bean or Vietnamese ox tail.
Make small changes - don't butter your toast, or use half the amount. Drink better coffee that you don't need creamer in. Put herbs and spices on your popcorn instead of butter.
I drink SlimFast shakes in the morning. Since my go-to breakfast is often a bowl of (sometimes sugary) cereal, this is a big improvement for me. If you have the time though, go all out and make a well-rounded breakfast with a mosty-egg white omelet with veggeis, half a grapefruit (or the less tart Pomello!), and a small bowl of yogurt.
It can be tricky to always come up with healthy lunch ideas if you don't plan ahead. Pick one lunch you'll have for the week, and switch it up at the beginning of each new work week! If sandwiches are your thing, try chicken breast, mozzarella, apple, artichoke and spinach, or turkey breast, tomato, cucumber, mozza and cranberry relish.
When making sandwiches, avoid oils, butters and fatty spreads. You can get enough moisture from fruits and veggies typically.
Opt for good fats when you have them! Salmon makes a great sandwich, filled with protein, calcium (if you eat the bones), and fats that are great for your body.
Make homemade energy bars with equal parts dried cherries, dates and almonds. Throw them in a blender and shape into balls or bars. (add a touch of coconut oil if you need them to be a bit wetter.) Add cocoa powder or matcha, too!
Eat real food when you have snacks. Those "100 Calorie" snack packs in the grocery store are awful for you - low calories does not mean low sugar, low sodium, low fat... it just means small servings. Eat veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, and look for raw food diet recipes for making great snacks that your body will appreciate!
Try drinking matcha - it's unparalleled in the amount of antioxidants it has, and those antioxidants are a rare, anti-carcinogenic variety. Which means it's great for battling cancer, too. It's an anti-ager, helps to regulate and prevent diabetes, and is surprisingly low in caffeine.
DRINK LOTS OF WATER! (a well known, but often underestimated tip!)

Remember, fats are important, even if you are limiting them. I chose fats because I see that as a more out-of-control area than regulating my sugar/salt/carb intake. But going totally fat-free is never a good idea - my doctors were alarmed how much weight I was losing while I had my gallstones, and by the end of that season, just before my gallbladder was removed, I could no longer eat anything other than some grains, some veggies (but not all), and white poultry or venison. Especially since I was nursing, that was a tough time, and I'm still amazed my milk supply didn't dry up, because your body really does need fats to operate properly. So if you do choose to limit something, unless your doctor tells you otherwise for some reason, don't eliminate it completely.

Beyond my diet, I'm also working on exercising regularly. So is my husband, which helps a lot! If I can make one suggestion for helping you to stick to your goals, it's to do it with someone else! My husband is my weakness - I often bring junky foods into the house for his enjoyment, I am infinitely less productive when he's around because of the opportunity to spend time with him, and I always spend too much money when he comes shopping with me. But, when he's set on the same goals that I am: eating healthy, exercising regularly, lower fat and higher protein foods... then I'll do anything to help him achieve his goals, which makes it easier to achieve my own!
I've also got my kids in on it. They see that Mommy and Daddy are taking time to go exercise, and they want to participate. About half the time I exercise with them now. What does this look like? I narrate a scenic jog while we run in place in the basement. I show them a new move and by the time I've got 3 reps of 12 done, they've finally mastered it. They pull out my yoga mat and do stretches on it while I do balance exercises. They certainly are enthusiastic, and we're setting them up to work regular exercise into their own lives!
On those other days where I don't exercise with them, my workouts are different. And they change quite frequently. Remember what I said about how your body gets used to things easily, and change in routine produces change in your body? That applies to exercise as well as diet. So where do you start? Well, if your current exercise regime constitutes, well, nothing, start with stretching! A few years back I wanted to start exercising and started with a few weeks of stretching every day after work. 30 minutes of stretches everyday for 2 weeks resulted in losing 5 pounds. Plus, it prepped me for the next level - cardio. Cardio makes you lose like no one's business. It gets your heart pumping, burns fat, builds endurance, and is easy to get into. Start by walking. Take your kids or your dog for a daily walk. The weather is absolutely ridiculous in my province right now: -40, +10, so much snow you can't get your car out of the driveway, crazy high winds... that sort of thing. I'm opting for indoor cardio right now. I quite simply run in spot while I turn on a show. One episode of a mindless show on Netflix and I've got a good cardio circuit under my belt. Just remember, even if you're not on a treadmill or the road, start slow with a warm up time, increase your intensity, and don't skip your cool down. And that stretching you mastered in the first few weeks? Keep it up, before and after your work out.
If you check the Health boards on Pinterest you're sure to find lots of "Lose 10 lbs in 2 weeks by doing this crazy circuit!" posts. Often they involves lots of jumping jacks, squats, burpees, etc. Lots of high impact exercise. Don't do those. Not yet. Not for a while if you're just starting out. After baby number 2 I had great success with running every morning at 6 a.m. When the weather got cold and it was darker for longer, I decided to move my workouts indoors and tried one of those circuits. I did two jumping jacks before I got hurt. It was stupid of me to try without proper shoes, and on a concrete floor, and without working up to it, but I blew my knee out and it put a stop on even my running for a long time. So now that I'm working out again, I need low impact exercises, and if you're just starting out, you need them too. But low impact doesn't mean no-results. It just means easier on your joints. Try this move and I guarantee you won't complain about 'not feeling a burn'. And if you can't seem to find time to exercise, look at any time in your day where you're sitting. If you watch TV in the evenings, run in spot. If you send emails in the morning, do ballet poses or stretches while you type.

And lastly, another thing I'm trying for improved health is essential oils. Health is a big picture, not just what weight you are at. My household last year was sick from the beginning of November 2012 to April 2013. At any point, someone was always sick. I've noticed a difference this year though. And the biggest thing I've changed in that capacity is using essential oils. If you're not aware, EOs are the steam distilled oils from plants. Therapeutic grade oils are very potent, where a single drop can produce great effects. If you ever read somewhere that lavender is great for relaxing, or clove is a antifungal, or that peppermint can ease pain, the EO is far more effective than taking a dried herb, or even a fresh one, simply because it is so concentrated. We first got oils because our middle boy has Reactive Airway Disease, where if he gets a cold, it turns to a croup cough almost instantly, and his airway gets overstimulated, causing him to cough endlessly even when there is no underlying illness - and it can cause asthma attacks. Our doctor suggested we get 'some sort of an oil to put in your humidifier to help clear his sinuses' (she's a very old-school, blunt doctor, and I love her for it!) so I bought a starter kit of oils from Young Living and waited for his next illness. Well, first came a full-on asthma attack. We got him through it with his puffer and a trip to the hospital, but it scared the crap out of me. He was coughing for no real reason, and I was worried the next night would result in the same flare up, so I ran his humidifier with a few drops of lavender oil in it. No coughing. The next night I wondered if it was simply the humidifier helping, so I ran it without the lavender - cough, cough, cough. But at 3:00 a.m. when I held the open bottle of oil under his nose to smell, it soothed his coughing, and after I put a couple more drops in his humidifier, I didn't hear any more coughing for the rest of the night. I now keep lavender on hand for prevention, sitting right next to his puffer in case he has a full on attack again.
Another oil I've seen results with is called Thieves. It's a mix of Clove, Cinnamon, Rosemary, Lemon and Eucalyptus Radiata. They claim this oil has a 99.96% kill rate for airborne microorganisms. Clove oil is actually renown for it's antibacterial/antifungal properties. And Eucalyptus is a known expectorant (helps to make your coughs productive). I figured I'd at least try it since I had it. Bennett, Hubby and I all got sick after the week of Christmas - you know, seeing everyone, not caring if they're sick or not because you're just so glad to see them - and the first full day at home after Christmas, we were sicker than dogs. Right away I started running Thieves - this was its chance to show me what it could do! And it's the darndest thing... I got better, quickly! And so did Bennett! And hubby didn't even need to miss a day of work! AND, most impressively, Gabe and Nathaniel (you know, the boy who catches everything that comes within a mile of our house.) never caught it at all! Two weeks later Gabe and Nathaniel both had a bad cough (I think I know who they caught it from too, and it wasn't from our household!). Uh oh... Nathaniel has a cough?? But I ran Thieves during the day, and got him to smell lavender before bed, and that little boy's cough didn't even last two days. That's unreal for this kid. I also had some tooth pain in November that freaked me out, and after three days of popping Tylenol and I was ready to try the 'hippie oils' (as I lovingly refer to them) - I mixed coconut oil and Thieves, rubbed it on my gums and dabbed it in my tooth, and that evening the pain was lower than it had been the whole time I was popping pills - and the next morning it was gone. Turns out clove oil has long been regarded an effective option for dental pain. Next up I'm trying their Thieves line household cleaner, and seeing about making a relaxation massage oil with Chamomille and Vetivert! And if I can help our household stay healthier by diffusing oils around cold and flu season, I'll absolutely be willing to at least try it!

What do you do to stay healthy? What changes are helping you? Seriously, I'm asking, because I'd like to see about trying them!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)