In Dr. Ann’s Eat Right for Life, she makes it clear that eating right doesn’t have to mean not enjoying what you eat. People don’t stick to eating plans long-term unless they find the food satisfying – which is why so many diets fail. I do enjoy some healthy foods, but right now it seems that the list of foods I like that are on her “unhealthy list” is a lot longer than the foods I like that are on her “healthy list.”
Partly that’s a matter of taste, but also a matter of variety and convenience. If I could afford to eat whatever healthy foods I wanted, including having someone else prepare my meals every day, I would probably find it a lot easier to eat healthy. I like pizza (personally I like a “deluxe” with veggies as well as meat, but the family favorite is meat-lovers), not just because it tastes good, but because it’s easy. (Obviously I don’t try to make it from scratch; even when I buy prepared pizza dough and all I have to do is spread it on the pan and add sauce and toppings, it doesn’t generally come out well. Forget about trying to make my own dough!) Put it in the oven and bake it, then slice it and enjoy it. I hardly even have any dishes to wash, either.
I’m trying to figure out how much of my current weekday dinner plan I can retain while making the meals healthier. Mexican Monday isn’t too hard – I can use ground turkey in place of ground beef, or just beans and cheese. The family likes my homemade burritos better than the frozen ones anyway. Italian Tuesday has various possibilities, though minimizing the use of white flour will mean replacing the ravioli I usually buy with something else. “Hump Day” Hamburger night can stay if I plan healthier things to mix in with the ground beef than boxed macaroni and cheese or ramen noodles – but the whole point of the plan was to make it easy to make dinner without much planning.
Tonight I tried adding sweet potato puffs along with the usual Thursday evening tater tots (and breaded fish). My son thought they were OK, but I noticed he didn’t go back for seconds. Maybe over time he’ll decide sweet potatoes are pretty good – even when they’re just baked in their skins. I have no good ideas yet about Fast Food Friday – maybe it will be the weekly “eat whatever” night, when I take a break from being careful what I serve.
Adding enough fruits and veggies is the other big challenge. I’ve gotten into a routine of making salad every evening, adding extra veggies that I happen to like to my own salad. My problem is figuring out what to buy that I will use up while it still is fresh and tasty. My son likes only lettuce and carrots, and for now I’m just happy he’ll eat those, so I’m not trying to push more on him. My husband can only eat certain vegetables because of the bariatric surgery he had in 2004, and doesn’t care for most of the others. (I don’t understand why so many people don’t like beets – they are so delicious!)
Fruits are a little easier in that most of them don’t need to be cut up (both in terms of how they’re eaten and the quantities eaten at one time). I’d eat more melon if I didn’t have to eat most of it myself, but as it is I tend to stick to apples, tangerines, grapes, and bananas. And cost is the other issue – I’d be happy to add more fresh berries to my diet if they cost as little as apples and bananas.
Today I read on Dr. Ann’s blog that a USDA study had shown that you can get seven servings of fruits and vegetables (they used to recommend five a day, but now it’s 4 to 13) for as little as 64 cents. Considering that when I buy a single apple at the supermarket it often costs me at least fifty cents, I wondered how they could possibly have come up with that figure. That’s an average of less than ten cents a serving – what kinds of fruits and vegetables cost so little?
I found a list that shows which are the least expensive fruits and vegetables. Dried and canned beans are on the list, as well as potatoes (even french fries!). It doesn’t surprise me they have a low-cost per serving, but I never counted them when I was thinking of servings of vegetables per day. Dr. Ann recommends a serving of beans every day. OK, I can put garbanzo beans in my salad (fortunately my romaine lettuce is also on the list).
When I look at the list of fruits and vegetables that Dr. Ann especially recommends, though, I don’t find too many on the “least expensive list.” She cites superfoods broccoli, berries (especially blueberries), and tomatoes for their disease-fighting properties. But none of them are on the low-cost list. The list of low-cost fruits includes lots of juices – no good according to Dr. Ann.
Some of her recommendations that are on the list are kale (in frozen form) and oranges (navel oranges are listed). But I don’t know about red onions – the list says fresh onions, but at my supermarket red onions cost nearly twice as much as yellow onions. I bought some fresh kale today, mostly because I read that “kale chips” are very tasty. (I find myself skeptical, but so were the people who are recommending it, before they tried it.)
Then there’s still the question of whether I can really find enough healthy foods I like (including having variety) and not miss the unhealthy foods I give up. I looked at what Dr. Ann’s family had for dinner this week, and I’m not sure how much I’d enjoy some of those meals, even if I didn’t have to cook them. (One of my co-workers is sure Dr. Ann must have a chef to cook for her.)
Tonight I found a site devoted to fruits and vegetables, with lots of resources I plan to continue reading. They include a healthy menu for one day, including plenty of fruits and veggies. Let’s see – breakfast includes blueberries, which I like but don’t buy regularly due to cost. (It also includes quick oats, which I like but which Dr. Ann says to replace with old-fashioned oats, which take longer to prepare. And it includes a glass of orange juice, which I have had regularly with my breakfast for decades, but Dr. Ann lumps it in with other sweet beverages as unhealthy and to be replaced by water to drink, and fresh fruit to eat.)
Vegetarian chili for lunch sounds pretty good, though I don’t know how well it would go over with my Nebraska-born meat-and-potatoes husband. And I’d have to prepare it ahead of time and reheat it at work. Baked or broiled fish for dinner – hmm, need to work on learning to cook fish without under- or overcooking. (Someone suggested using the George Foreman grill; I’ll have to try it next time – tonight I used it for the asparagus which is why I stuck with breaded fish in the oven.) I’m sure I’d like squash with pecans and cranberries, but it might be a tough sell with the rest of the family.
And snacks – a banana with peanut butter on a whole wheat tortilla doesn’t sound bad – but I don’t think I’d ever be salivating over the prospect of eating it the way I would some of my favorite snacks (chips, microwave popcorn, cheese and crackers, peanut M&M’s, banana bread with cream cheese). I can eat raw veggies with hummus, but after a few weeks I get tired of it.
My co-worker insists that it doesn’t matter that much what you eat, as long as you eat in moderation and exercise. It probably is better to eat the “superfoods” Dr. Ann recommends, but I would agree that for many people, moderation and exercise will lead to reasonably good health. The problem is that I find it so hard to eat certain foods in moderation. My co-worker was eating a plate of cut tomatoes on one side and Cheetos on the other side, and apparently quite happy with the combination. But if I ate the Cheetos, I’d lose interest in the tomatoes, and think how good a Twix bar or a bag of peanut M&M’s would taste.
An interesting article on Dr. Ann’s blog explains that some foods can truly be considered addicting.
Both in animal and human studies, it seems that ultra palatable foods, especially those high in both fat and sugar (think donuts, milk shakes, cheesecake) can hijack our normal appetite regulatory mechanisms, throwing us into a perpetual cycle of desire and bingeing. A new laboratory study adds to the current evidence that the decadent, fatty and sugary fare that has become a hallmark of American cuisine literally rewires brain circuits making it extremely difficult to say no to them.
I suspect it affects some people more than others, so that my co-worker can enjoy her Cheetos or peanut M&M’s and still eat lots of healthy foods, while I find I need to just avoid them or risk getting back in the habit of unhealthy eating.