Category Archives: food prep

Mastering the Salad

“Something I thought I’d never see in my refrigerator: a “salad bar”. I’m coming up on 1 year of changing my diet and working on my health. Also coming up on 60 lbs lost. I’m still struggling some days, and in some months change is slower than others. But I’ve learned that commitment doesn’t mean “easy” and commitment doesn’t mean “perfect,” either. It means showing up, making a plan, and learning from both success and failure. And it also means I master the “salad for lunch” that I’ve resisted my whole life.”  – HP, posted on Facebook May 15, 2018.

IMG_1297In my world, the “salad” portion of the meal was always an optional add-on, not the main event. My mother never made great salads. My aunt is an excellent salad maker, but it always seemed like every meal had to add a salad in order to provide an obligatory vegetable side.

But after a year of improving my diet with nary a salad in sight, I decided that that this summer’s “level up” would be to master the salad for lunch. I’ve been improving my lunches gradually over the last year (slowly reducing the carbs and upping the vegetable content). But I’ve now gotten to where it just makes more sense to go with a salad.

The Elements of Salad

I’ve never found salads very SATISFYING as a meal, though. I’ve had tasty salads, but they just weren’t something I understood on a dna level, ya know? So I decided to decode their dna, so to speak.

I spent about a month going through Pinterest recipes for salads and got a general idea of the elements of a “good salad”. As far as I could tell, they comprise the following:

  • leafy greens
  • at least one source of protein, 2-3 is even better if you can combine with the following . . .
  • a variety of chopped vegetables to fill in more fiber and more flavor
  • Nuts or seeds to provide crunch, texture, added nutrition
  • A dressing that balances either the sweet flavors or the tangy-flavors of what is in the salad.  (So vinaigrette if the flavors are predominately sweet, creamy dressing if the flavors have more spice or tang.)
  • Optional: chopped or sliced fruits, as desired.

Rather than choosing specific recipes to make a bunch of mason jar salads, I opted for the “salad bar” approach. This made it easier for me in that I wanted to stick to what was easily accessible in my supermarket and easily prepped. (Not all produce in every salad recipe is conveniently sourced.)

I got everything I needed for a beginner salad at Smart and Final:

Shopping list

  • I got 12 pint-sized wide mouth jars for glass storage (keeps things fresh longer than plastic).
  • 1 lg box of 1/2 and 1/2 mixed greens (half spring mix and half spinach).
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 can of chick peas and one can of black beans
  • 1 medium red onion. A bunch of green onions, chopped.
  • Shredded cheese of choice. I used Mexican blend because I use it for other dinners a lot.
  • Chicken breast. (Or you can get pre-cooked chicken tenders). I buy in bulk and freeze the others for dinners.
  • A dozen eggs
  • 1/2 pound cashews, bought in bulk.
  • 1 bottle Annie’s organize olive oil and red wine vinaigrette

All of this cost me about $63, which seems like a really expensive salad. But when you consider that the mason jars were about $13, the chicken breasts $10, the eggs $2, and the cheese was $5 – and all of these things will be used for more than just the salad, it kind of levels out. I did the math and for the amounts used just for salads, it is around $4.40 per salad. These amounts make about 6 lunch-sized salads and in the jars they last for about 10 days, which means my grocery bill the second week will go down a bit.

Like I said, it seems to all level out.

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Meal prep and recipe

Anyway. Here’s what I put together on meal prep day:

  • 6 jars of mixed greens. I use the whole jar for a single salad.
  • 1 chicken breast, cooked, sliced or shredded.
  • 6 hard boiled eggs
  • 1 jar of shredded cheese (2 cups)
  • 2 jars of chick peas and black beans, mixed (drained and rinsed)
  • 2 jars of chopped red and green onion
  • 1 jar of sliced and halved cucumber.
  • Nuts in the bag. I keep them with the salad stuff in the fridge so I don’t forget about them. They MAKE the salad!

Directions: Drop a jar of mixed greens into a bowl. Use a 1/4 measuring cup to add: 1 scoop of cheese, 1 scoop nuts, 1 scoop onions, 2 scoops of beans. Slice one egg in. Drop in approx 1-2 oz of chicken breast. A few cucumber. A little pepper. 2 tbsp of dressing. Toss. Done. (If you’re wondering, this is in the neighborhood of 450 calories. Back off of the chicken, beans, and dressing to bring it down to about 300).

Verdict:

I’ve found that I can probably lose the chicken if I want to go vegetarian on a few days. The nuts, egg and beans are plenty of protein and very satisfying. It is a plenty big salad that I find keeps me satisfied for a good 4 hours before I start feeling a little hungry again. And I’m not uncomfortably full after eating it.

And so, after just one week, because of the ease and general deliciousness for a weekday lunch, I am now a person who eats salad for lunch. And enjoying them. I’m also pooping like a boss.

I hardly recognize myself, anymore.

 

 

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Food Prep 1/1/18, this week’s menu, and how to make juicy chicken breasts

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This week’s options in the fridge.

Tomorrow I’m supposed to hit the ground running because Rogue Festival is literally eight short weeks away and January is when my schedule becomes overwhelmingly busy.

But in terms of the diet and exercise, I’ve been in maintenance mode since Thanksgiving. The Win: I’ve actually lost 3 lbs since Thanksgiving. That’s about .5 lbs per week, which is .5 lbs a week more than I anticipated.

I didn’t do things even close to perfectly during the holidays. But I did make a concerted effort to not go overboard. I upped my calorie and limits and allowed myself more sugar treats like cake and cookies. But there were also two or three weeks in there where I did a solid food prep to eat well during the workweek and that helped keep things in check. I think that shows (anecdotally, at least) that even doing things well in a hit or miss fashion is better than not doing them at all.

And this last week, I’ve slowly gotten back into the habit of walking at least every other day. This is a big deal because when I’m stressed I really want to sleep, but I need to work on switching that habit over to going for a walk. Hopefully, the consistent diet and regular exercise will keep me energized enough to power through the next two and a half months!

WEEK’S MENU AND FOOD PREP

Anyway. . . the food prep this week was pretty simple and basic. The post holiday budget is pretty tight, so we’re looking at simple, inexpensive foods or foods that can stretch to two or more meals (three chicken breasts will stretch to two lunches for me and two dinners for both me and Jag on this plan). On the menu:

Breakfasts: My usual oats, greek yogurt with fruit, cottage cheese, bananas, sometimes a hard boiled egg or nuts. I mix and match depending upon the day.

For lunches (we typically go home for lunch during the workweek): Again, the usual staples – Farmer’s Sandwich, Chicken breast and brown rice (half a cup), or leftovers like spaghetti marinara or a quick black bean chili, which we had this weekend.

For dinners:  Baked Drumsticks with mashed cauliflower, Taco Bowls (crockpot) with brown rice, Baked Pork Chops with sweet potatoes. Leftovers at will.

Snacks: Celery with peanut butter, handful of almonds and apple slices, orange slices with dark chocolate (brilliant for a little dessert when called for).

Food Prep (45 minutes, including the washing up)

  1. Cooked one large (10oz) chicken breast to divide for lunches. (See below for my method of cooking a chicken breast so it stays moist in the fridge during the week).
  2. Assemble Taco Bowl recipe in Crock Pot crock. Set into fridge (set up to cook tomorrow morning).
  3. Slice 1.5 apples for Farmer Sandwich fixins and snacks.
  4. Clean out expired or generally gross stuff from fridge. Reorganize.
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Refrigerator reorganized for this week’s plan. The sheet pan on the bottom is helpful for sliding out leftovers and pre-prepped food instead of having stuff sit in the back, lonely and forgotten.

Everything else is pretty much a quick-prep food that is easy to deal with. The brown rice is the Trader Joe’s frozen kind and the mashed cauliflower also from Trader Joe’s. I had intended to make my own mashed cauliflower, but TJ’s didn’t have any cauliflower in stock at the moment. So I was forced to take the lazy way. Alas!

MAKING MOIST CHICKEN BREASTS

Okay, so. . . when I discovered this method of cooking chicken breasts a few years back, my world shifted. Seriously. I was never any good at making a basic chicken breast on the stove top. They were always dry and a rather tough. I’m sure there is some technique that would have prevented this, but I don’t care what it is anymore. Because this is how I make them now. It takes more time to cook, but is actually easier on me in the long-run.

The great thing about this way of doing it, though, is that if you eat them right after you make them, they are SUPER MOIST and always thoroughly cooked. But if you put them in the fridge to keep, they are still moist and tender upon reheating for about three days. I think that’s because they are basically steamed.

The prep time takes about 6 minutes and is super-easy. The cook time, about 25-30 minutes (during which time you can prep the rest of the meal or go and read a book or something for a bit. No need to check the chicken.)

*First, you’ll need a skillet with a cover that fits. And a glass of water with about 1/2 a cup of water in it. Doesn’t need to be exact. Set these aside for a bit where you can reach them.

  1. Heat up a tablespoon of oil of your preference in the pan over high heat and swirl in the pan.
  2. Place the chicken breasts in the pan to sear. Sear for 3 minutes per side.
  3. While searing the second side, add any seasoning you like to the chicken. (I use Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute, but use what you like or nothing at all.)
  4. After both sides have seared for 3 minutes each, grab the cover to the skillet in one hand and the glass of water in the other.  Keep the heat on high for just a bit.
  5. Pour the water into the pan and then cover immediately. The water will immediately boil and steam up and the cover will trap that initial steam.
  6. Lower the heat to the lowest setting.  Let it continue to simmer and steam on low heat for 25 minutes. (25 minutes is plenty of time for most chicken breasts, but if you have some particularly large cuts, you can let it go 30 minutes and it will be fine.)  SET THE TIMER!
  7. After the time is up, turn off the heat and open the cover. It can sit in its steam-juices for a few minutes to rest while you prepare the rest of your meal or set the table. It’s ready.
  8. Eat and enjoy!

***

Already need to edit:  I just went back and looked through my previous updates and realized that I weighted 240 on 10/18.  This week, I weighed 240 in late October. Yesterday, I weighed 232 lbs. That’s 8 lbs in 10 weeks ( .8 lbs per week on average) over the holidays and after a plateau. That isn’t so bad when looked at in the grand scheme of things. I’ll take it!

 

Fridge Clean-Out Food Prep 12/17/17 + Maintaining during the holidays + Fruit Bake

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This week’s fridge list. 

Well, it has been a couple of months since my last update, so I thought I’d catch up tonight.

First, the past month has been a slog as far as my eating is concerned. I had a five days at a conference in San Diego with a foodie companion just before Thanksgiving and ever since then I’ve been a little loosy-goosy with my eating. As a result, my weight loss has slowed to around a half pound to a pound a week. Still progress, but yeah.

This is also due to the fact that when the weather is colder, I get hungrier. I also want more sweets and more wine. Which have to be accounted for in my intake! So those are the losses in the past month. A little hungrier, more of a sweet tooth, less motivation to be as disciplined as I have been.

The wins: I’ve still logged everything I’ve eaten in MyFitnessPal every single day. No lying. No skipping a meal. No skipping a day. I’ve been able to see why I’ve slowed to a crawl and be at peace with that. As a result, I upped my daily calorie intake by 150 calories (about a glass of wine) for the holiday season. This will keep me on maintenance mode until January.  I feel better having made that decision and it being a conscious one instead of an accidental one.

But today I felt the need to get back to a Sunday food prep. I’ve skipped strategic food prep for the past month or so because of schedule and general motivation. So, I figured the week before Christmas would be a good time to get back to it.

I didn’t do my huge food prep, though. This week I did the “refrigerator clean out” food prep. Which is basically evaluating what is already in my fridge and can be re-purposed or used as leftovers.

IN THE FRIDGE

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TJ’s frozen brown rice. I always have this on hand. One pouch is about a cup and a half of rice – good for two lunches. 3 min in microwave

 

This is what I had:

Already had 4 hardboiled eggs, a low-sugar fruit bake I made as a dessert last week, Trader Joe’s frozen brown rice, leftovers from a taco soup and a cheeseburger pie I made a few days ago, and three chicken breasts in the freezer. I also still had some celery sticks left over and more celery for a stew. We have lots of oranges on teh counter. And a small batch of fudge. There are, of course, various other staples that we always have (rolled oats, milk, yogurt, etc.)

So this is what I did. First, I made a quick chicken stew in the crock pot with two chicken breasts for our Sunday night dinner. It’s about 325 calories a serving and low in sugars, but high in dairy. It is a really filling and comforting stew that will give us mid-week leftovers for dinner, too.

FOOD PREP

Once that was in the crock pot and cooking, I …

  1. Parboiled the remaining single chicken breast to use for a couple of lunches this week. It was a 4 oz breast, so there’s two 2 oz chicken pieces with a 2/3 cup of brown rice for lunch.
  2. Sliced up an apple pear for use in a few farmer’s sandwich lunches this week.
  3. Spooned out two servings of the taco soup (I leave out the chicken in this recipe, btw) into a smaller container for a couple of lunches this week. I tossed the remaining half a serving.
  4. Cut up the remaining celery stalk (left from the stew) into 5″ pieces for snacks with peanut butter.
  5. Re-purposed the fruit bake I made (recipe below). I made this fruit bake last week when I was craving something sweet. I made it with half the amount of brown sugar called for in the recipe. It was still delicious over a bit of vanilla ice cream for dessert. And it became even sweeter sitting in its pineapply juices for a day or two. But I had a bunch left I wasn’t likely to use as dessert again. So I dropped about 2/3 of what was left into my chopping/blending device and give it a quick turn. It is now a very chunky fruit sauce that’s just perfect over quick oats or in plain yogurt for breakfast. It is so sweet, I won’t have to add any honey to the oats or yogurt with this stuff. And at 1/2 cup I’ll get a serving of fruits in.
  6. I measured and prepped three oatmeal bowls for overnight oats. 1/2 cup rolled oats and sliced almonds mix in the little bowl with some cinnamon and nutmeg. The night before I’ll put 2/3 cup of milk in the bowl. The next morning, the oats have absorbed most of the milk and I can heat it in the microwave with the chunky fruit bake on top. I’ve already tried it. It tastes like a deconstructed fruit pie for breakfast. Win!!

The food prep part only took about 40 minutes. After that I wrote out my fridge list and cleaned out the rest of the fridge and pantry. Total of 1 hour food prep and I now know what I need to shop for, what I’ve got on hand for meals for the next five days, and how to keep things at a manageable level of eating satisfaction without totally derailing my (slow) progress right before Christmas.

By the way, my meal plan DOES include a small piece each day of the Easy Fudge I made Friday. I’ll eat the fudge alongside an orange. The combo is delicious! Like I said, I’ve got a sweet tooth going on right now. But keeping the sugars under surveillance is super important, too. I can have it, but knowing how much added sugar I’m taking in during this time of year is going to be key to not losing it in January.

Low Sugar Fruit Bake

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from cottercrunch.com

I modified this recipe to use about 1/2 as much brown sugar as called for and added in more pineapples and more of the pineapple juice to compensate. I find pineapples to be incredibly sweet these days, so using it to offset the added sugar made sense to me. The recipe says the bake serves 5, but for me it made 8 servings at about 1/2 c per serving.

My workup of the recipe with the lowered sugar content:

130 calories per 1/2 cup serving
Fat: 8.2 g (4.9 saturated)
Carbs: 15.5 (most from fruit)
Protein: 0.5
Sugars: 11.4 g (2.5 g added sugars – the rest are in the fruit)

Great for over oatmeal or alongside brunch in the morning or as a sweet treat with ice cream or served with marscapone or whipped cream as a dessert.

Food Prep 9/10/17 and How to Make Balsamic Chicken Thighs

September 10, 2017: Current weight 247.  Reached my first goal, losing 10% of my weight. Total: 27 lbs down. As of last week, my calorie goals are 1440 per day during the week and 1600 on the weekends. 

The last two weeks’ food plan looks like this:

And yes, I do write this stuff out. It helps me to plan the grocery shopping and to check what I already have in the fridge and pantry so I can use it. Money is an issue in our lives and I’m not all that fond of wasting food, if I can help it. I put this note on the refrigerator so I can remind myself what the options are every day.

I also tend to set up my day’s eating in My Fitness Pal the night before or the morning of. If I decide in advance what I’m making for dinner, I can adjust my breakfast and lunch accordingly. This makes spontaneous dinner outings with friends hard, though. But if I have a day’s notice, I’m often able to make adjustments!

You can see that last week’s meal plan includes some not-so-healthy items like Brinner (Breakfast for dinner) and Steak and Ale pies.  I built these into the plan because I knew I was feeling stressed and a little down from grief. So I allowed myself a little grace in my eating and adjusted my breakfasts and lunches on those days.

Food Prep:

  • Brown Rice 2-3 cups
  • Chicken Breasts – steamed on the stovetop. (This method keeps them moist as they sit in the refrigerator for 3-5 days). Seasoned with TJ’s 21 Seasoning Salute. 1 12 oz breast cut into 3 oz portions for lunches. 1-2 12 oz breast cut in half for dinner portions.
  • Apple slices and chunks of peaches (good for farmer’s sandwiches, snacks, to put in oatmeal or yogurt for breakfast)
  • 4 hard boiled eggs
  • Marinade for Balsamic Chicken Thighs (see below for recipe).

Trader Joe’s Cheat:  Pre-made Salads.  I split them in two portions for when I don’t feel like making a side or need a snack on the weekends.

 

BALSAMIC CHICKEN THIGHS – Baked. 

I cannot take any credit for this one. Found it on Pinterest and it is legit a favorite for both me and Jaguar. Super easy and pretty cheap if you use thighs, but you can use breasts, too. Thighs have a heartier taste to them, but breasts have a bit less fat. Do what you will.  And I’ve left it in the fridge to marinade for up to a day and a half it and it was fine.

The Full Recipe is found HERE AT BUDGET BYTES.

My final version with chicken breast. The balsamic marinade is good with the vegetables, too.:

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My workup on this recipe is:

  • 3 tbs of the balsamic-soy-brown sugar- olive oil marinade (approx what is spooned over the meat when serving): 90 calories. 1 g of sugar.
  • 1 – 8 oz chicken breast – baked: 215 calories.  3 g of fat (1 g of saturated fat).
    or
  • 1 – 4 oz boneless, skinless chicken thigh, baked – 135 calories. 9 g of fat (3 g of saturated fat). Thighs are smaller than breasts, so most people eat two.

 

 

Food Prep and Week’s Journal 7/30/17: Rehearsal foods, TJ’s in the freezer, & How to make a Farmer’s Sandwich

7/30/17 Current weight: 252 lbs. 5 lbs away from first goal. 22 lbs lost.

When mom died on the 18th, I was 3 lbs away from my first goal (10% of my weight lost, or 27 lbs).  But in the two weeks after mom’s death, I gained back two pounds.  Not so bad considering I thought I had gained 8! But putting on two pounds after just losing my mom AND while directing a play . . . I’m putting that in the win column.

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The large-ish food prep that I did for rehearsals, right before my mom died. Got me through another week without having to think too much about “staying on track”.

In all honesty, I had done a huge food prep the weekend before mom died, and that really helped during the week. To not have to think too much about food and just grab something already prepared was a godsend when I was in the fog right after her death.

Right now, I am exhausted. The grief from mom’s death has caught up with me and I’ve still put off doing her obit. Not good. I have other, show-related items I need to get done as well. But I physically hurt from the low-grade depression and anxiety of grief. I was exhausted all last week. I got through rehearsals but just barely. The cast has asked for longer rehearsals this week.  I’m not looking forward to it.

I’m going to try to get up early and walk in the mornings this week. Give me more time during the day to organize my thoughts, perhaps get a few things done. Maybe take Friday off for rest and recovery.

But the food plan is full of whole grains balanced with protein in order to keep my energy up for the whole day. Once I get to six p.m., I still have at least five more hours of work to do!

 

***

Food Prep Upcoming week: 7/31

Final week of regular rehearsal before tech. Needing to prep food for easy lunches and dinners to keep me on track and Jaguar fed.

ON THE MENU:

Breakfast: TJ’s Steel-cut oats or hard-boiled egg (with apple slices, usually).

Lunch: Farmer’s Sandwich (a favorite of mine – see below for how to make), leftover chicken breast with whole wheat spaghetti on the side.

Dinner: Spaghetti marinara (whole wheat) and chicken breast, chicken breast/rice/steamed veg, chili-seasoned beans with quinoa.

Everything I’ll need for food prep, except the chicken breasts.  I use the 21 Seasoning Salute on the chicken breasts, the Lime Chili Seasoning, Garlic Powder, and Cumin on the beans (which is beans, corn, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, bit of whatever broth I have mixed together), and the marinara and pasta is self-explanatory.

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Almost all from Trader Joe’s.

 

Today’s food prep:

  • 4 hard boiled eggs
  • 2 parboiled chicken breasts
  • 8 cups whole wheat spaghetti marinara
  • 6 cups chili beans/corn
  • 2 apples, quartered and sliced

 

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Each takes only 3 minutes in the microwave.

In the freezer:  

TJ’s frozen steel cut oats (more sugar than when I make the oats myself, but I went this direction to get the oats back in my diet. For some reason, I wasn’t feeling them the last two weeks).

TJ’s frozen brown rice

Mixed California Vegetables for steaming

The food prep has helped me stay as on track as possible in the last two weeks. Not having to think about what to eat is good. But by the end of last week, I was tired and emotionally exhausted and just wanted mashed potatoes (I’ve had next to NO potatoes for 2 and a half months). I planned for a meal at Jack’s Urban Eats – the chicken plate with mashed potatoes and corn – which pushed up against my calorie limit, but wasn’t terrible overall.  My weekly averages were still okay, all things considered, and I still lost a pound. Hoping for similar results this week.

Adding in the frozen items from Trader Joe’s are helpful when I’m already tired and stressed from rehearsals on top of work. They cut down on my Sunday food prep time and make pulling  a meal together very, very easy.

 

FARMER’S SANDWICH

A “Farmer’s Lunch” is traditionally a crust of hearty bread, an apple, and a hunk of cheese.  I put these elements into a sandwich.

  • Two slices of whole wheat or multi-grain bread
  • Brown Mustard and Mayo to taste (I use less than a tbsp of each)
  • Sliced apples (usually half an apple is plenty)\
  • Sliced cheddar cheese

I stack the sandwich with the apples on the mayo side of the sandwich and the cheese on the brown mustard side.  The sweetness of the apples pairs well with the sharpness of the brown mustard and the cheddar, and the mayo gives it all a slight creaminess. It can be difficult to keep together, though, so assemble at work if you are brown bagging it.

Today's simple pleasure. One of my fave springsummer lunches a farmer's lunch sandwich. Apples, sharp cheddar, light Mayo and brown mustard on wheat bread. With milk. It gets the job don
Farmer’s Sandwich Lunch – except I now omit the milk. Too many carbs and sugars.
  • It is around 500 calories, but super filling for a no-meat sandwich and gives good, long-lasting energy.
    22 g protein
    44.5 g carbs
    12.2 g fiber
    15.5 g sugars (but only 4 of those are added sugars, the rest are in the apples)
    25.1 g fat (that’s with two slices of cheese, cut it in half if you want less)
    10.1 saturated fat
    60 mg cholesterol