Big City Life · Life Balance · Tasty Sides · Vegetarian · Veggies!

Variety is the Spice of Life

If you think nutritionists/dietitians only eat kale, salmon, quinoa, and organic artisanal almond butter, you would be wrong. First of all, nobody eats healthy all day every day. We all need to splurge once in a while, and every good health enthusiast does too, we just try not to overindulge most of the time. Secondly, eating the same things over and over again is not really healthy either. You need a lot of variety in your diet to get all of the vital nutrients. Did you know that the color of your food contains nutrients? The pigments found in food are made up of important chemicals and antioxidants that your body needs, so you really should be eating a rainbow of foods. Eating a mix of red, yellow, purple, orange, and white fruits and vegetables is just as important as eating lots of green.

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The red onion looks almost neon in this lighting. Sadly, I am not glow-in-the-dark purple today.

Beyond just a lack of nutrients, anyone who eats the same three or four things every day, no matter how clean or healthy those things are, is destined to go on an out-of-control binge at some point. Especially if they prepare the food without butter, oil, or salt like some athletes preparing for competitions do. Boredom + no flavor = no joy. And depriving yourself of joy eventually leads to a complete breakdown of self control…if it doesn’t, you are a saint. Food should taste good! I mean, God wouldn’t have given us taste buds if he/she didn’t want us to enjoy our food, am I right? That said, when trying to eat healthy, cutting back on things like butter, oil, and salt can be challenging because these things contribute so much flavor. Never fear, though! There are other great ways to add flavor to your food without adding calories. Here are some of my favorites.

  • Onions and garlic – I put these pungent vegetables from the allium family in almost everything. They have a lot of flavor and they’re packed with nutrients…and as a bonus they make your home smell like heaven when they’re cooking.
  • Citrus – squeeze a little lemon or lime juice over almost anything and you get instant flavor. You can also roast chicken, fish, or veggies with sliced lemon or orange on top to infuse them with citrusy goodness.
  • Herbs & spices – you may have to experiment a little with different herbs and spices because they all have a distinct flavor. Just be careful with spice mixes like adobo or chili powder as they can sometimes have a lot of salt. Something I’ve recently discovered is that a little cinnamon added to a spicy dish like spicy shrimp tacos adds a really unique flavor that I can’t resist. I always thought of cinnamon as a spice just for sweets…who knew it was so diverse?
  • Vinegar – my pantry currently holds at least 5 different types of vinegar. Like spices, each one has a unique flavor, but they all add a tangy pop of flavor to your food.

I still use butter, oil, and salt too, but I don’t have to use nearly as much when getting such great flavor from these things.

A standard go-to meal when we’re busy or we don’t really want to cook is a quick stir fry or fried rice. Below is a fried rice I made last night that is loaded with colorful veggies and has a ton of flavor without a lot of oil and much less sodium than you find in most other fried rice recipes. We ate it as a meal, but it would make a great side dish as well. I used whatever veggies I had in my fridge, but you can switch them out for other fresh or frozen veggies based on your preference or what you have at home. Frozen peas and carrots or a frozen stir fry veggie mix are always great time savers that we tend to keep in our freezer at all times.

VegFriedRice
I had some leftover sprouts, so I threw them on top as garnish. Pretty, but completely unnecessary. The fried rice is great without them.

Easy Veggie Fried Rice
Servings: 4
Serving Nutrition: 296 calories, 9.1 g protein, 10.9 g fat, 40.7 g carbohydrates, 573 mg sodium, 4.4 g fiber
Ingredients
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 medium red onion, diced
3 sprigs green onion, sliced, white and green parts separated
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups sugar snap peas
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (adjust for your desired spice level)
1 tsp ground ginger
3 cups cooked chilled brown rice
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp rice vinegar

Directions
1. In large skillet, heat vegetable oil over medium heat. Once hot, add red onions and white parts of green onion and saute until translucent.
2. Add garlic and cook for about a minute.
3. Add sugar snap peas and cook about 2 minutes, stirring often, then add bell pepper and cook for 2 more minutes.
4. Push veggies to one side of skillet and pour beaten eggs into other half. Let sit until edges of eggs are cooked, then with spatula or spoon push edges of eggs so that any uncooked egg liquid on top runs off onto skillet. Let cook until eggs are cooked through (it will look like a small omelet), then remove eggs from skillet and chop into small pieces.
5. When peppers and sugar snap peas begin to soften, add chopped eggs, rice, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, red pepper flakes, and ginger to skillet and stir to mix well.
6. Add green parts of green onion, stir into mixture, remove from heat, and serve.

Bonus points if you can eat it with chopsticks. I have yet to master eating rice with chopsticks…I end up with more of it on the floor than in my mouth. Any pointers you can give me are welcome!

Life Balance · Mid-Life Career Change

The Beauty, and Stress, of Change

We humans are creatures of habit.  We fear and dread anything that takes us outside of our comfort zone.  When I tell people about my career change, I often get responses like, “you’re so brave”, “you have balls” and, of course, “I wish I could do something like that”.  Well, you can.  I don’t have super powers, I just learned how to get comfortable living outside of my comfort zone.  The first, and hardest, step is deciding that you are willing to forego a little comfort in the short term to make changes that will make you happier in the long run.  No easy task.  Recently, my BF made the decision to make a major career change as well and I have relived every moment of that crazy emotional roller coaster with him.  So, here’s a little of what I learned from my own experience with career change.

First of all, it is never easy to uproot what you’ve known and built over the course of however many years.  It is especially difficult when you are making a decent living and the change you want to make will take you out of the full-time workforce for months or years on end and/or you know the new career will involve a substantial pay cut.  I realize that everybody has different circumstances and for some, this just isn’t an option.  That doesn’t mean you can’t make changes, you just might have to do it in a way that allows you to continue working.  Either way, it really just comes down to one question – what motivates you?  If money is all you need from your career, it’s a no-brainer – keep climbing the ladder you’re on.  If feeling happy/satisfied/rewarded is what’s truly important to you and you’re not getting that from your current career, you might want to consider a change.

So now what?  I don’t know about you, but I didn’t have this vibrant glowing image of exactly what I wanted to do.  I just knew I was unhappy where I was and I had a lot of interests floating around in my head.  I needed to narrow it all down.  Take all of those interests and evaluate for each one what exactly your role would look like and whether it fits not only with what you want to do, but also (1) what you’re good at – job satisfaction is enhanced when you are able to use  your strengths and shine, (2) what will fit with your lifestyle – for example, if you have kids (or dogs) you might not want to be on the road 5 days a week, and (3) whether you will be able to earn enough to support that lifestyle – OK, I know we said money isn’t the motivator here, but let’s be honest, we all need to eat.  Don’t expect to be able to sit down, make a list, and magically have all the answers in one day.  Give it some time.  Everyone is different, but in my case I was reading about nutrition and playing with recipes for a couple of years before I had my aha! moment.

So now you know what you want to do and you need a plan.  Does it involve going to school?  Research all programs in the geographic areas you’re willing to consider, evaluate quality of education, whether or not they have a focus in the area of the career path you want to pursue, how long it will take, how much it costs, when you will have to start, etc.  If it doesn’t involve school, start working on that resume to highlight the experience and skills that will fit with your new role then get to networking.  Networking is exhausting and, for some, nerve wracking.  It’s a necessary evil, though.  I wouldn’t have gotten a job when I moved to New York if I hadn’t networked.  Go to professional meetings, lectures, and happy hours.  Reach out to alumni from your college who are in your field of interest.  Talk to friends and family…they might know someone.  Don’t be afraid to tell people what you’re doing because you never know who can put you in contact with the right person.  It only takes one.

Image result for strengthsfinder 2.0 test
The test associated with this book helped me narrow down what I’m good at.

Now it’s time to pull the trigger.  If you have been networking and making connections, the change might just happen naturally.  But for the rest of us, this is the hardest part.  “Take the plunge” or “make the leap” – there’s a reason there are such ominous phrases to describe making a big change.  It’s risky and scary and we all get anxiety just thinking about it.  In my case, I needed reassurance that I was making the right decision, so I hired a career coach.  We explored my strengths, my interests, my daydreams… everything.  I wanted to make sure that there wasn’t anything I would be just as happy doing that wouldn’t require another 4 years of school.  In the end, all signs pointed to dietitian, so I dove in head first.  Some people, like my BF, need to sit with the decision for a little longer.  However you process it all is up to you as long as you don’t let the fear of change stop you.  Just remember that without change, great things will never happen.  It’s all up to you!

 

Life Balance

Admitting you have a problem is the first step…

winter-olympics-2018I must confess, I can’t stop watching the Olympics. I’m obsessed. In prior Olympic years, I couldn’t have cared less about any of the winter sports other than figure skating. This year, though, I’ve become fascinated with the extreme skiing/snowboarding, luge, skeleton, bobsled, the US/Canada hockey rivalry (how about that final women’s game last night???), and yes, I’ve even watched a few games of curling. At times,I’ve caught myself wondering if I missed my calling in freestyle snowboarding or skiing….the tricks they do are just so cool! I very quickly remember, though, that I am extremely afraid of heights and even more afraid of barreling downward at top speed from high altitudes. And let’s face it, this Texas girl has zero gracefulness on snow or ice. I’ve only been skiing twice in my life and the first time can be described as nothing less than a disaster. It was a high school band trip and my “pizza wedge” was more like a “pizza half” – I was so afraid of going too fast that I turned my skis in as far as they would go – and I spent more time on my butt than on my feet. At one point, I got my skis tangled up with one of my classmate’s skis and we both went tumbling. We weren’t even on a slope. Sorry, Bobby! The second time was better, but let’s just say I won’t be winning any medals for my bunny slope skills. Clearly curling would be more my speed. Then there’s the dedication it takes just to get to the Olympics. The TV broadcast sometimes shows clips of the workouts these athletes do to get competition ready and my dreams of glory come to an abrupt halt. I think I would die after 2 minutes. I’ll stick to running slowly on relatively flat land that’s free of snow and ice simply for the joy of feeling good for now.  You might find me on the 2022 US curling team, though.

PyeongChang '18: Ice Hockey Women: USA 3:2 CAN
Just after the US women’s hockey team beat Canada for the gold…such an amazing moment!

As much as I’ve enjoyed the games this time around, I’m glad it’s coming to a close this weekend.  To say it has put a damper on my productivity would be an understatement.  There were three saving graces in terms of eating regularly during these past couple of weeks.  The first, and most helpful, was my boyfriend being in the mood to try making some new recipes. I have eaten very well considering I haven’t really cooked anything. The second is having some standard staples on hand, including canned beans, rice, salsa, cheese, greek yogurt, this trail mix, flour tortillas, and spinach. The third is my homemade pasta sauce.  I made it early into the Winter Games and used it for multiple dinners – we put it in lasagna, on spaghetti squash, on chicken parm, and on pizza.  It is a great go-to sauce that is so easy to make and uses carrots for sweetness instead of the sugar found in many jarred pasta sauces. I’m smack in the middle of watching some Olympics right now, but I promise to post the pasta sauce recipe in my next post!

USA! USA! USA!

Batch Recipes · Life Balance · Mid-Life Career Change · Running · Snacks

Hitting the Reset Button

There are those times in everyone’s life when you have too much on your plate and it gets overwhelming and chaotic.  You’re burning the candle at both ends and you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel through everything that has piled on top of you.  At those times, you have to take a step back, breathe deeply, and evaluate the situation.  Are there obligations that aren’t helping you to move forward that can be eliminated?  Are there things you can do now to make your life easier tomorrow or a week from now?  Are there things you’re doing in reaction to the stress that are making it worse?

I was in such a situation recently.  Fall classes started at the end of August and I am taking a full coarse load.  Around that same time, I took on a part-time job to supplement savings and financial aid.  I was also still attempting to train for a marathon and maintain relationships with the people who are important to me, including my boyfriend.  It was just too much and, as a result, I was eating poorly (skipping breakfast because I woke up late and just ran out the door, or having pizza for dinner because I was too tired to cook), I had no time to work out, and I was irritable because I was exhausted and I was staring down a mountain of school work I still had to get to.  Something had to give.

After a lot of thought, I knew the first thing that had to go was the marathon.  I was less than 2 months away from running 26.2 miles and I could barely squeeze in one or two runs a week, and my body was sluggish on every single one of those runs.  I tried to force it for a few weeks, but the realization that continuing down that path would most likely result in injury made the ultimate decision a no-brainer.  So, I deferred and will now be running the Marine Corps Marathon in 2017.  I’m happy with that decision.

After I pulled the plug on the marathon for this year, I was still overburdened and stressed beyond belief.  The job.  Let me tell you about the job.  It didn’t pay much and I realized quickly that it was very demanding both physically and emotionally.  The schedule was never set in stone and I could either be cut from or added to a shift within just a day, or even a few hours, of the shift.  It made it impossible to plan anything at all.  My role was to assist with cooking classes, which I thought would be good experience for my future in food and nutrition, however I spent most of my time washing dishes.  At the end of every shift, my feet hurt like crazy and sometimes I would have to work back-to-back shifts with no break.  It was causing the plantar fasciitis in my left foot to worsen and I started to get sharp lower back pain.  I laughed that I could run marathons but couldn’t stand for hours at a time without wanting to cut my feet off and roll up into fetal position, but I swear it was harder on my body than running!  I was so exhausted and cranky every time I left that place.  The final straw was when they scheduled me for 14 consecutive days.  I had to get out of there, so I gave them 2 weeks notice and made my exit as swiftly as I could.

Now, I’m back to trying to find my new normal.  I’ve taken a volunteer position with a non-profit helping out with their corporate wellness program.  I am loving the work I’m doing and it will go a long way toward building my resume in nutrition.  I still need to find something else part-time that pays, but I am not going to stress myself out over it.  Right now I’m just enjoying being able to focus on school and cooking with my boyfriend again.  We didn’t do much of that at all during my craziness, and it’s something we love doing together and it helps us to eat healthy.  The first things we made were a couple of things we could keep on hand and just grab to take with us when we are in a rush.  We made egg muffins that we keep in the freezer for a grab-microwave-and-go breakfast.  They are so easy – just put a bunch of veggies and whatever other fillings you like into a muffin tin, pour whisked eggs in to fill, then bake on 375* until the eggs are cooked through (about 20 minutes). We chose to fill them with spinach, bell peppers, Trader Joe’s chicken jalapeno sausage, onions, and cheddar cheese.  Yum!  The other thing we made was my favorite trail mix.  Also really simple to make and the cinnamon and cranberries give it a bit of a Fall flavor (but, let’s be honest, I devour this year-round), so I thought it appropriate to share now.  Note that I am not giving measurements for some of the ingredients because everyone likes different proportions of the various items in a trail mix, so it’s really up to you.  Enjoy!

trail-mix

Honey Cinnamon Trail Mix

2 cans of unsalted mixed nuts

1/2 cup of dry oats

2 tbsp of chia seeds

flax or sunflower seeds

shredded coconut (optional)

honey – around 1/2 cup

Cinnamon

dried cranberries (or whatever dried fruit you prefer)

dark chocolate M&Ms

In a bowl, combine nuts, seeds, oats and coconut.  Stir in honey until it thinly coats everything, then add as much cinnamon as you’d like and stir well.  I’d say I probably end up using around a tablespoon or two of cinnamon.  Spread your mixture on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake at 375* until just starting to brown – around 10-15 minutes.  Let cool thoroughly, then break up clumps and mix in cranberries and M&Ms.  This makes a big bowl of trail mix you can portion out into sandwich bags.  It won’t last long, though.