Tag Archives: feed me

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.


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).


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.




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.



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.:


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).
  • 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.



HP’s Lose the Buddha Belly: Diet Approach after 3 months.

After I announced my first 20 lbs lost in 11 weeks, I had several people ask me what I was doing to see that result.  The next five sections are what I sent in reply. But I also emphasize GREATLY the importance of judging the calorie and macronutrient intakes on a 7-10 day average instead of obsessing daily, not freaking out if every single food doesn’t meet every single one of the goals, and being incredibly forgiving with myself in terms of where I’m at emotionally because that is going to get in the way at times. There are just some times it is going to be harder or go slower. And that’s okay.



The first thing I did (on advice from a friend who also dealt with pre-diabetes) was cut out potatoes and drinking milk (I still cook with it occasionally).  The starch in potatoes spikes blood sugar and you’d be surprised how many carbs and sugars are in a glass of milk. I drink milk now like I drink a fancy cocktail – only on occasion and often as dessert! I also tend to switch out sandwich bread for whole wheat pitas half the time. And I started with steel-cut oats in the mornings. This was a big help with keeping my energy up in the mornings.


I did a ton of online research about diabetic diets and did an online pre-diabetes course through Kaiser Permanente and consulted briefly with a KP nutritionist who basically confirmed that my research was on the right track. (Thank you, ObamaCare!).



southwest-tenderloin-w_rainbow-salsa-Well-Everyday-1024x682To keep the blood sugar down and lower my cholesterol, my diet consists of monitoring what I call my Big Four: carbs (under 180g per day), saturated fat (16g p/d – I don’t worry about general fat, just the saturated kind), cholesterol (280 g p/d – cholesterol is often related to diabetic issues) and added sugar (20g added sugar p/d – I don’t count natural sugars in fruits and vegetables).  If a food hits the targets on 3 out of 4, I’m good to go.


The result of eating like this is I’m automatically eating a lot of foods low in the glycemic index like whole grains, high in complex nutrients like beans and lean meats, I eat less bread and dairy than I used to, and go vegetarian more often. I also have a new love affair with hummus. Seriously.


BTW – this is very similar to a ketogenic diet, but this is far less extreme and way more forgiving. I’m all about the forgiveness!



The OTHER thing I found when focusing on the BIG FOUR is that for the first several weeks, I was having trouble getting in ENOUGH calories. I still have to be pretty strategic about it, but it is less of an issue now. By eating a lot of brown rice, beans, and lean proteins, I was eating foods that satisfy me longer, leveled out my blood sugars and my energy, and I was less prone to stress eating. (I still stress eat, just not as often and not as much.)  But these foods are usually very low in calorie.

During the first month, I actually had trouble clearing that 1200 minimum calories per day. When I needed to clear that hurdle, Trader Joe’s “Handful of Almonds” became a go-to. It is now part of my regular snack regimen – as are multigrain pita chips and hummus. 

But it also becomes pretty obvious after a several days of low-calorie eating, that something must be done. My body basically turns into Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors and screams “FEED ME!”  So, I do.  And I don’t worry too much about what I’m feeding me on that day, but I DO record everything I’m feeding me. No matter what. 




I pay the $50 per year for the full My Fitness Pal (MFP) app so I can track calories and each of my Big Four on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. I don’t kill myself if I’m a little over on one day or another. As long as my weekly averages are below the limits, I consider it a solid week. (Again, forgiveness!)


I had used the free version of My Fitness Pal in earlier endeavors to just track my eating. But I find that paying the $50 a year (not month, YEAR) is worth it. It gives you so much more data that is both encouraging and eye-opening.  Each day, week, or month, I can click on SUGAR or SATURATED FAT and see the foods I’ve eaten that contributed these to my diet, and how much they contributed. Same with over a dozen other macro and micro nutrients.  


Let me tell you, this last week, when I only lost 1 lb after several weeks of losing 2 lbs, I was like, WTF? Then I went to MFP and looked at the Big Four.  Lo and behold, I had had a week filled with Mexican food (and forgiveness).  I had been in rehearsal for two weeks, so feeding Audrey II queso and margaritas or getting Robertitos bean burritos two or three times was a coping mechanism.  It didn’t completely kill my week, but it definitely slowed things down. And there it was, in the antiseptic blue and white of the app, staring me in the face.


So yeah, it really helps me get a handle on what foods are problem foods for me and where I need to find some solutions. (Like finding better options on a Mexican menu!).


But it ALSO tells me what I can have that’s a surprise. When I found out how friggin healthy hummus was, I was looking to put it in everything!  I also discovered that I can still have small amounts of sour cream in my chili beans or a tsp of brown sugar in my oatmeal and it won’t kill my day.



IMG_9879The old-fashioned tradition of a Sunday Dinner has been replaced in my life with Sunday Food Prep. Especially with rehearsals involved, having a refrigerator full of already prepped foods really helps. So often the decisions are already made for me.


What I prep:

  • Brown Rice –  6 cups (after cooking) total.
  • Steel Cut Oatmeal – 2-3 cups.
  • Chicken Breasts – 2-3 large. One or two get split in half for dinner portions. One will get shredded or cubed for chicken salad or pita/hummus bowl filling.
  • Steamed vegetables – 4-6 cups.  
  • 3-4 hard boiled eggs – these are just in case of emergency, when I need a snack or a super fast breakfast (with fruit). Jaguar can make egg salad sandwiches or I’ll slice and add to a spinach mix for salad.
  • Fresh Fruit – 4 cups of sliced/cubed melon, strawberries, pineapple, watermelon. Apples. Always apples. Now adding peaches and nectarines in the latter part of the summer. And grapes for snacks.
  • Beans with chili seasoning – 6 cups.


This amount of food can last Jaguar and I well over a week, really. It is perfect for when we’re both busy and we’re not sitting down to a prepared meal every night. If we’re disciplined, grocery store trips are cut down to the basics, saving us some money, too.


IMG_9882All of this then gets divided into various 3-6 cup food containers – a few of which are complete meals so I can take them to work for lunch or grab for a fast dinner before rehearsal.  I also tag what everything is with post-it notes AND put a list of what’s in the fridge on the fridge itself. So I scan, make a decision, and don’t think too much about it.


Meals I prep in a 3 cup food containers:

  • Chicken breast, brown rice/quinoa, and steamed veg. (The classic prepped meal for weight loss).
  • Beans w/ steamed corn or Beans and Brown Rice.
  • Chicken salad pita with fruit on the side.
  • Leftovers: ususally stir fry or whole wheat spaghetti marinara
  • Four morning portions of steel-cut oats
  • Hummus bowls – I read about this on a MFP blog and gave it a shot. It almost instantly became my replacement for Mac and Cheese for lunch. A hummus bowl is bascally a 1/2 c – 1 cup of brown rice and 2 – 3 tbsp of hummus as its base. Then you can add in anything else that suits you. I add shredded chicken or steamed vegetables as I have them. Leftover steak or taco filling has also gone into hummus bowls. Beans? Yep. Anyway, add what you want to the base, zap it in the science oven for a minute or so, stir and eat. I add a little garlic and cumin or Lebanese spices as often as not. But it is filling, low in calorie, low in the Big Four, and I find it a decent comfort food.