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Baking Chicken Breasts

One of the biggest time savers, for me, is pre-cooking a bunch of chicken breasts for the work week.  Cooked, cubed, or shredded chicken can be incorporated into so many other recipes and meals.  Or, you can simply just enjoy the chicken itself!

Also, baking chicken is a MUCH healthier alternative to pan frying and the end result of this method is so much more juicy.  Plus, it is so easy that I wish I could prepare all my food like this!

Here is how I bake chicken breasts:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pour about 1/2 tbsp of lemon juice over each breast.  Season with salt (I use seasoned salt), pepper, and garlic salt.  I would say about 1/2 tsp per breast (in total seasoning), but I never measure.  I just sprinkle the seasonings on until the breasts are lightly covered.

Bake for 42-45 minutes (or until inner juices run clear).

Enjoy!

Before baking

After baking......yum!

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Making Socially Responsible Food Choices

When I decided to try to make a conscious decision to choose “socially responsible” foods to feed my family, I became overwhelmed and began wondering a few things. 

Should I just purchase all organic?  What is considered local?  What am I supposed to eat in January?

For me, I have been asking myself three things when I purchase my food:

1.  How far did this food have to travel? 

The farther the food had to travel to allow me to purchase it, the more fuel that was consumed (for commercially grown food, such as produce, the average is around 1,500 miles).  Think about this:

A lot of fruits (think watermelons and the like) are more than 90% water.  I do not really want to pay for the transportation of this water when I may be able to find that same watermelon at a local farmer’s market (if watermelon is not in season, I ask myself if I really need watermelon — or if I could enjoy a fruit that is more in season — or I try a new fruit that may have travelled a lesser distance).

Photo Courtesty of Olga Vasilkova via Dreamstime

Also, when thinking about how far food had to travel (when it comes to processed, manufactured, and packaged foods), I take a look at the ingredient list.  The fewer ingredients in the food, the better it is when it comes to fuel use. 

Every single one of the ingredients listed not only had to travel to the plant where the final product was manufactured, but then the final product had to travel from the plant to my store. 

That could be a lot of fuel use — in the end, I tend to make things from “scratch” as much as possible to help cut down on fuel consumption. 

(I put “scratch” in quotations because I actually hate using this word — whenever used, people automatically think whatever you are making from “scratch” will take a long time, be tedious, and not be very easy.  Most of the time, that is incorrect — also, the added benefit is that I know EXACTLY what I am putting into my mouth!)

Here’s a fun tidbit for you — if everyone ate one meal per week from a local source, over 50 million barrels of oil a year would be saved!

2.  How were the farmers that produced this food treated?

Let’s face it, the bottom line of a business is THE bottom line of the financials.  Without a good bottom line, the business would cease to exist!  Therefore, a manufacturing company is not only looking for the best ingredients for their product but also at the best price.

If you have ever seen the movie “King Corn” you were able to watch as a couple of guys try a year long experiment growing an acre of corn (an acre of corn grown specifically for corn syrup and process manufacturing).  In the end, without government assistance and subsidies, they would have LOST money!

By shopping at a local farmer’s market (as one option), my food is not only utilizing less fuel for travel, I am helping that farmer support his family.  Hopefully, in turn, that farmer makes local purchases as well.  This cycle could continue inevitably making my community a more prosperous place to live!

Phot Courtesy of Byron Moore via Dreamstime

3.  How was the land and the animals treated to produce this food?

Photo courtesy of Martina Meyer via Dreamstime

I am not going to get into all the hub-bub about animal cruelty, land preservation and pollution — but for me, when I shop at a local farmer’s market (where more often than not I can actually get to know the farmer himself), I feel more confident that the animals raised and the land that was tilled were treated fairly.

When I have to purchase food or ingredients somewhere other than a local farmer’s market, or a local dairy, or a local manufacturer (where I know how the ingredients were purchased), I do look for a couple of things:

a.  Certified organic food; then I know there were no harmful pesticides that went onto the land (or into my tummy).

b.  For meat, eggs, and the like, I look for “grass fed” items.

c.  I simply look at where it was produced! 

I was surprised to discover that a lot of local grocery stores will carry locally produced items (it cost less to get to them, so it is cheaper for them to sell!).  I have learned that instead of automatically reaching for the mainstream, popular brand of an item, if I just take a second to search for something a little less familiar brand-wise, more often than not I discover an item that was made by a business less than 100 miles from me!

In the end, not every single purchase I make would fit into the “socially responsible” category, but as long as I know I made the most “socially responsible” choice that I could, I am happy!

P.S. (What will I eat in January?  Preserving local, fresh food is key!  Freezing, canning, and gardening are my new hobbies……when summer comes rolling around I will be posting all of my preservation ideas……)

Smoothie Recipe

Part of my new eating plan (see post here) includes getting at least one serving of fruit in per day (as a part of a minimum 3 servings of fruits and veggies).  I have decided to incorporate smoothies back into my “diet”!

I had been turned off by smoothies in the past because I couldn’t find a good way (i.e. didn’t want to find a way) to make them without yogurt.  For some reason yogurt + smoothie = not good eats for me.  But, with a little experimentation, I have found my perfect smoothie base recipe!

Into a blender I add the following:

1/2 cup fruit (frozen or fresh) — I have been using a frozen fruit medley of blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries.  I have also used frozen raspberries (that I froze from my Pick Your Own experience this year), but plan on trying apples, grapes, mangoes, or basically whatever is in season or on sale!

1 banana — this is my way around adding yogurt.  I am able to acheive that smooth consistency with the banana without the chalkiness I sometimes feel the yogurt adds

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup fruit juice — I use whatever I have on hand (orange juice, apple juice, or recently an apple raspberry juice via Old Orchard)

1 tblsp honey

3 ice cubes

Pulse the mixture in the blender until the ice cubes are crushed then blend to perfection for about 30 seconds.  Then, enjoy!

For me, this is one serving (usually my breakfast).  It gives me over one full serving of fruits, about 6 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, only 1 gram of fat, and approximately 280 calories.  Perfect start to my day!

The best part is that you can also make this ahead…..simply add all the ingredients (excluding the ice cubes) into the blender or tupperware container.  Then cover and refrigerate overnight.  When it comes time to make your smoothie, simply add the ice cubes and blend away.  Take with you in an insulated mug to work to enjoy all morning!

How I Diet without Dieting

I love food.  Plain and simple.  However, I am most passionate about the foods that are “bad” for you (chocolate and the like).  As I have grown, and my tastebuds have matured, however, I have learned to love foods that aren’t bad for me (veggies are at the top of the list)!  Eating more locally grown foods has helped in experimenting with newly found veggies and other health foods.

Just recently I watched an episode of “Good Eats” with Alton Brown (yes, I am proud to admit I am a fan).  The episode was based on how Alton lost 50 pounds while focusing on eating foods that had a high ratio of nutrients to energy rather than just high in energy alone.  He stresses how this approach was not a diet (he wasn’t limiting what he ate, just made sure to fill himself full of things he should be eating and decide if there was really room, or the necessity, for more).  He stuck to four lists of what he would make sure to eat. 

I have decided to take a similar approach — I could stand to lose a few pounds and would enjoy the extra energy!  I have adjusted Alton’s list to suite my own preferences and also suite my need to eat more locally grown foods (or at least have an understanding of where they came from).

List #1:  Things to eat daily

1.  Fruits and Vegetables (at least 3 servings per day with at least one being fruit, one being a leafy green, and one being carrots)

2.  Whole Grains (at least 50 grams — can be found in things like cooked brown rice, whole grain cereal, popcorn, whole grain crackers, whole grain bread, etc.)

3.  Nuts (at least one serving — based on my weight, I am looking at 58 grams of protein per day — 1 oz (approximately 24) almonds has about 6 grams of protein)

4.  Tea (just to try and get rid of my soda intake!)

5.  Dairy (at least one serving….will most likely be a glass of skim milk with dinner!)

Optional:  Chicken and Hard Boiled Eggs (I will not necessarily consume these daily, but will if I need more protein in the given day — all while still watching my fat content of course!)

List #2:  Things to eat 3 times per week

1.  Fish (oily fish such as sardines and herring, but also including fish such as salmon, tuna, cod, etc)

2.  Yogurt

3.  Potatoes (sweet or regular)

List #3:  Things to eat only once per week

1.  Red Meat

2.  Pasta (this one will be TOUGH)

3.  Dessert

4.  Alcohol

List #4:  Things to avoid altogether

1.  Fast Food

2.  Soda

3.  Processed Meals (Frozen Dinners, etc)

4.  Canned Soups (I am excluding cream-of-anything from this list due to cooking needs — I am trying to avoid those large “diet” cans of chicken noodle soup that have a ton of sodium)

5.  “Diet” anything — because this is not a diet!

Along with making sure I consume the above items per the recommended dosages, I am also going to be tracking calories.  Yes, I said it…….I am, however, still not calling this a diet even though I will be tracking what I eat.  Tracking my food intake will be more so to realize how quickly the calories add up and to ensure I am getting the recommended dosages of protein, fiber (very important), and limiting fat.  I will think twice about those chocolate squares by doing this! 

To track what I eat, I will be utilizing my account on Livestrong.com (I have been using it on and off for a while).   The great thing about this website is that it not only tracks the calories but also the grams of nutrients as well!

Along with consumed calories and fiber intake, I can also track my exercise and be able to “add back” more calories to consume for the day!  I will be looking at a net of 1,500 calories per day.

The Ten Steps In Understanding Your Food

At the end of the movie, Food, Inc., a list begins to appear.  It essentially sums up the entire movie into ten simple “steps” to follow if you are looking to better understand the food you eat.

The reason I put the word “steps” in quotes is that, to me, they are not like the steps you follow in a program where there is a definite end (a change like this should change your life forever).  I feel these steps are more like “theories” to follow when making food decisions!

A link to the page with the list is located on the website for Food, Inc. 

However, below is the list from the website.  Here is what I will be trying to keep in the back of my mind:

1. Stop drinking sodas and other sweetened beverages.

Personal Note on this Step — I am a Diet Dr. Pepper fanatic.  I would drink it every meal of the day if I didn’t feel completely awful for doing so.  So, just like this entire process, I am going to make this change slowly.  At first I will try to limit myself to just one per day and move from there 🙂

2. Eat at home instead of eating out.

Once again, this is one of my favorie things to do.  However, now that I realize I have no idea what is in the back of that kitchen, I do appreciate being able to make a meal knowing exactly what went into it!

3. Support the passage of laws requiring chain restaurants to post calorie information on menus and menu boards.

Even before I started this journey I wanted this.  I frequently check out the websites for my favorite restaurants to see if they have any calorie or nutrition information so that the next time I stop in, I could at least make a some-what “healthy” decision.  I am not sure (yet) on how I will, or can, support laws such as this……

4. Tell schools to stop selling sodas, junk food, and sports drinks.

5. Meatless Mondays—Go without meat one day a week.
Did you know that an estimated 70% of all antibiotics used in the United States are given to farm animals (statistic from takepart.com).  I am discovering there are some very healthy (and tasty) alternatives to meat.  Substituting in one of these alternatives just once a week saves me calories and fat consumption and I do not feel I am depriving myself of anything! 

6. Buy organic or sustainable food with little or no pesticides.
According to the EPA, over 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used each year in the U.S. (statistic from takepart.com).  Just think of how many pesticides we could save from going into the earth and into our mouths, if everyone substituted just one of their regular yogurts, fruit, or vegatable with an organic alternative.  

7. Protect family farms; visit your local farmer’s market.
Farmer’s markets allow farmers to keep 80 to 90 cents of each dollar spent by the consumer (statistic from takepart.com).  If that farmer then turns around and spends his 90 cents in a local business, you have helped stimulate the US economy! 

8. Make a point to know where your food comes from—READ LABELS.
The average meal travels 1500 miles from the farm to your dinner plate (statistic from takepart.com).  I am realizing how scary it is that I do not know what 80% of what I eat actually is, or where it comes from. 

9. Tell Congress that food safety is important to you.
Each year, contaminated food causes millions of illnesses and thousands of deaths in the U.S. — when was the last recall you heard about (spinach, hamburger, eggs, tomatoes…..)? 

10. Demand job protections for farm workers and food processors, ensuring fair wages and other protections.
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