Healthy foods vs my favorite foods

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.

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6 Responses to Healthy foods vs my favorite foods

  1. Alisha says:

    Hi Pauline!
    I hope you try the kale chips, they’re really yummy. And you know, I think you can probably keep most of your weekly menu and still be successful in ‘healthying’ it up. Like on your ravioli day, try chopping up a zucchini and a tomato into the sauce. If you’re worried your family won’t like it, chop them up into really small pieces so they’re not dealing with giant chunks of veggies. With a heartier sauce, you can eat fewer of the ravioli and get a good serving of veggies!

    For cheap fruit, try a farmer’s market. If you don’t have access, make sure to go to a full grocery store. Not a Super Target or Super Wal-Mart. They tend to have less produce and the stuff they have is usually more expensive. Keep in mind that fruit is seasonal so berries in the height of summer are much cheaper than in winter. The other day I bought mangoes, figs, a pineapple, pluots and cherries because they were all on special. There’s a LOT of fruit out there and it’s much easier to keep from getting bored if you mix it up. I like apples, oranges and bananas but you can’t expect yourself to eat those day in and day out. They get old. My favorite lunch is cottage cheese and 2-3 kinds of fresh fruit on top. In winter I go more for beans, brown rice, and veggies so it’s warm and savory.

    Anyway, I hope that helps you a bit. Good luck! And let me know if you like the kale chips. Yum! 🙂

    -Alisha

    • Pauline says:

      Thanks for the encouragement, Alisha.
      Part of the difficulty is deciding how much to follow Dr. Ann’s advice, at least while I’m part of this Eat Right for Life challenge at work, when it goes beyond what a lot of people consider healthy enough. The ravioli, for instance – it’s made with white flour, so she would consider it unhealthy, no matter how much zucchini I add.
      Then there’s trying to get my family to eat differently. They don’t want any tomato-based sauce on their ravioli. They’d like a cheese sauce, and if that’s not available then just sprinkle parmesan cheese on it. (Hard to hide any zucchini in a sprinkling of cheese.)
      I buy my pre-packaged romaine lettuce and baby carrots at Super WalMart because that’s where I shop the most (my husband works there and we get an employee discount). But the rest of the produce I try to get at a supermarket near home where it’s better quality, if not any cheaper. (Though my husband works in produce at WalMart, so he can sometimes tell me which things to buy and which to avoid.)
      If I can get my son (who is mildly autistic and has trouble with certain food textures) to eat more healthy foods, it’ll be easier to serve those whether my husband likes them or not.

      • Alisha says:

        It sounds like you have a lot of hurdles in your way. Can you talk to your husband about getting on board making a few healthy changes here and there? It might be a good idea to start small and see if you can get him to agree to few things, like switching to tomato-based sauce once and a while. Another thing you could do is instead of making breaded fish, make breaded veggies. Eggplant, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, you can cover all of them in breadcrumbs, spray them with oil and bake them. Still crunchy but load better. And use that info from your husband! Buy whatever’s on special and then google a recipe for it. Veggies especially can be cooked up really quickly. So for now, maybe just add an interesting side dish to each night’s dinner. If you’re the only one who eats it, that’s okay. And hopefully it’ll keep you from burning out on carrots and salad! You might not like all of them, but you might end up finding that you really do like some veggies you didn’t think you did.

        The other thing you might want to think about is just making something healthy for yourself and letting them eat what they want. As you add more veggies and whole foods to your diet you can get really creative. The other day I stuffed zucchini with cheese, tomatoes and bread crumbs and it was SO yummy, I’m still thinking about it. Does it really matter if the bread crumbs were whole wheat or white? No. Because the meal wasn’t based around a processed food but a vegetable. It might just be that if you make yourself something healthy but still delicious your son and husband might just want to try it. I promise, the smell of that dinner was mouth-watering and when they look down at fish and tater tots, well. They might just want to try a bite.

        Personally I would say don’t worry so much about exactly what the author deems ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ I’ve been overweight my whole life and I’ve done a whole lot of diets. The idea of demonizing any one food group (carbs, white flour, red meat, potatoes, etc.) gives us a really poor food outlook, and certainly makes us desire those ‘forbidden’ foods more. But, it makes for good reading and sells books well. I may be slightly cynical, but I tend to take all of those books with a grain of salt. If you want to have a healthy eating lifestyle, it’s a matter of reaching a place where everything is done in moderation. Oh! And try soups! You can make soups ahead of time or in a crock pot. You can use so many veggies in soup and if it’s a creamy soup, your family might even eat it.

        You can have tater tots. Just not once a week. Maybe once a month. You don’t have to eat kale chips and apples every day. But you should eat a wide range of fruits and veggies each week. Maybe you only have one banana on a Tuesday, but on Wednesday you have broccoli, grapes, carrots and lettuce. I think it’s really important not to beat yourself up on the day you only had a banana. Or maybe you have a cheeseburger. Again, it probably shouldn’t be a weekly item but it’s certainly something that in a balanced diet shouldn’t be a big deal. For me, a good rule is that I will try anything once. But I don’t force myself to eat anything that I really hate, and I don’t eat anything ‘just because it’s good for me.’ Because it’s just not a good enough reason when there are so many delicious things that I do like. And forcing yourself to eat something you hate is a recipe to not stick with it.

        I apologize for how long this is. I totally understand what you’re dealing with. I have tried cooking for my fiance’s family and they refuse to eat anything I make if it has a vegetable in it or if it isn’t immediately recognizable as ‘american’ food. It’s very frustrating. Anyway, it sounds like you don’t love cooking and that’s okay! But maybe try a few of those 30-minute meals that Rachael Ray does. She usually has some pretty healthy ones and 30 minutes isn’t so bad, right?

        Good luck dear! 🙂

  2. modestypress says:

    I was overweight for a long time, and gradually came to realize that I was a food addict, which was really strange, in that we can (in a pinch) live without alcohol or marijuana or similar substances, but we all have to eat, so it’s not like I can go “cold turkey” (so to speak).

    I will have to learn to be a moderate eater. There are worse fates.

    Also, many people are living much longer, but as that very wise man Johnathan Swift point out in Gulliver’s Travels, living too long is probably not that much of a delight. As the old folk saying goes, “Be careful what you ask for; you might get it.”

  3. Pauline says:

    My husband goes along with some changes just fine. I recently switched to whole wheat bread, and everyone seems fine with it. He says he actually prefers brown rice to white rice. Whole wheat macaroni and spaghetti is just fine. We’ve used only skim milk for years. He’ll eat vegetables as long as they’re chopped fine enough, which gets around the problem with his digestion not being able to break them down well enough.
    He just doesn’t like tomatoes or tomato-based foods, which are part of a lot of low-fat dishes. (And he won’t eat oatmeal or salmon, which otherwise I would serve more.) And he wants certain snacks, mostly cheese and crunchy snack mixes.
    At one time he actaully ask me to put all of us on a meal plan that was very healthy. I lost weight, but he didn’t, or at least not much. After a while he went back to his favorite snacks, and I didn’t like working hard to make healthy meals and feel like his snacks negated whatever benefits came from the meals. So gradually I got pretty lax in how I cooked. I guess I’m partly afraid that if he doesn’t like what I prepare well enough, he’ll just end up eating the stuff he likes as snacks.

  4. Karen O says:

    Pauline, I think one of the mistakes many of us make is thinking that it has to be “all or nothing” – completely change our eating habits or don’t change at all. But I think a lot of good comes from making the changes we can (such as you mentioned with the whole wheat bread & such), while trying to be more moderate with the “bad” foods.

    Also, I think it would be easier to swallow (pun intended) to make just a couple changes at first, then more changes after a while, etc.

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