Lately, I’ve become more aware of the utter impossibility of achieving perfect dietary requirements and fulfilling – but not exceeding – every imaginable quota, every single day. Or any day. Really, there are just too many things to keep track of in the health world, and so many health concerns overlap each other that I think most individual health nuts choose the factors to be nutty about and the ones to ignore.
For instance, random health-obsessed Michelle might extoll the natural benefits of coconut oil/milk/cream for the skin and hair and all its fiber, and bathe her daily diet in coconut. However, Michael avoids coconut at all costs due to its sky-high saturated fat content. Mikayla might choose to go vegan since meat and dairy are common causes of food-borne diseases. On the other hand, Mitchell eats fish often in the hopes of reaping the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids and lean protein, choosing to risk the parasites that are often found in fish. While some facts, such as the idea that consuming a ton of sugar on a daily basis isn’t healthy, are accepted by the general population, there are others that are highly contested, and mentioning some of these touchy subjects to the wrong health nut can result in an unhealthy anger attack.
After spending some time angsting about how to get enough protein without eating too much dairy, how to avoid processed foods without spending a ton of time and money on fancy organic products, how to get variety while avoiding any food that didn’t fit into my swiftly swimming guidelines for what quotas of this and that were permissible, I came to the conclusion that it’s impossible to do it all. Sure, I could consume low levels of sugar every day for the rest of my life… but it’s likely my sodium consumption would rise as a result. And yes, I could eat mostly fruits and vegetables to avoid processed foods… but think how high my grocery bill would be from replacing cereal and yogurt with that amount of calories and protein in the form of fresh produce! (Not to mention, it’s a well-known concept in the health world that a long-term nutrition plan needs to be doable in the long term. In today’s world, it would be difficult socially, emotionally, and financially to avoid microwave dinners, grandmother’s cookies, and one’s own wedding cake over the entirety of a life, so choose a diet you can stick to.)
So what I’ve decided to do, personally, is to try to keep things as balanced and varied as possible. I am fortunate enough, living in the USA in the 21st century, to have access to a rainbow of nutrients from sources of all different form, taste, and texture. So I load up my grocery cart with items of reasonable merit – no garbage, but not all $50 superfoods either – from a range of departments.
My personal choice currently (and for the past year-and-a-half or so) is to be a vegetarian, so no meat or fish goes in the basket, but I’ll pick up some Greek yogurt like Dannon Light & Fit (fewer calories and less sugar than many flavored yogurts) and eggs are a staple (the perfect protein, though they do contain fat and cholesterol). As for carbs, I always make sure to have some whole wheat bread in the house, and there’s some brown rice just waiting in the cupboard for me to spend an hour waiting for it to cook. For busy days, I pick up some Amy’s frozen meals to have anytime: they’re a smart choice because not only are they convenient, they’re also organic and vegetarian, and many fit certain health specifications like lower sodium, lower calories, dairy- or gluten free. Of course, fresh produce is a must-have. And, as I explained in this post, sometimes I change it up with frozen or dried fruits too, knowing not much nutrition is sacrificed for this frugal change.
Every day, I make choices about what to eat, knowing everything I’ve bought has some health benefits, but many also have disadvantages to be aware of. I don’t obsess over meeting every quota every day, but strive for balance: if I know I’ll want to eat a So Delicious coconut milk frozen dessert later on, I might avoid the grilled cheese sandwich and have a salad instead to keep the saturated fat in check. However, some days I will choose to indulge in a dense peanut butter smoothie in the morning, and then I might go with a low fat yogurt or some cereal and almond milk for dessert instead. Either way, I throw in plenty of high-fiber fruits, veggies, and whole grains, with some days including more processed grains than others. A varied diet, within reason, is the best bet for overall health, in my opinion. Furthermore, it just makes eating more interesting to rotate options and have something different every day! Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, be it the low-fat basket, the low-carb basket, the sugar-free basket, or any other idiosyncrasy the food world throws at us. I’d advise anyone to cut out extreme bad-guys (whatever you simply can’t stand for – for me, it’s meat) and from there, simply provide yourself with a spectrum of acceptable choices, each one fulfilling certain dietary needs, even at the expense of others.
This breakfast bowl I made today was an example of balance – I made a concession or two to make this both healthy and convenient, as well as a delicious way to kick off the day. The mashed potatoes that are the foundation of this bowl aren’t the most fiber-rich or low-sugar of grains. I chose a store-bought brand, likely to contain lots of cream and be highly processed. In the future I might make my own from scratch as I love to control what goes into my recipes, but for a quick microwaveable breakfast the store-bought stuff sufficed. I added plenty of protein with MorningStar Farms Veggie Bacon Strips as well as a sunny side up egg, which I cooked without butter, mindful of the truckload likely in the potatoes. For added vitamins and fiber I threw in some flavorful grape tomatoes. A hypocritical tip: don’t be as lazy as me. Add greens for even more texture and fiber – maybe wilt them in the pan before/while/after cooking the egg?
This balanced breakfast bowl is a great start to a productive morning. Whether you’re off to school, work, or any other meaningful pursuit, this tasty and savory single-serving recipe is a great compromise between convenience and nutrition. And the golden yolk running down your mountain of potatoes like the sun on the alps will bring some optimism to your day. Enjoy!
Sunny Side Up Breakfast Bowl
- 1 cup mashed potatoes (use leftovers or a pre-made store-bought brand – look for one with modest saturated fat and calories if possible; I used garlic mashed potatoes for flavor
- 2 strips of MorningStar Farms brand Veggie Bacon Strips (found in frozen aisle of grocery store)
- 3 Naturesweet Cherub grape tomatoes
- 1 egg
Cook vegetarian bacon strips according to package directions. Then break the strips into smaller pieces.
Use a sharp knife to quarter Cherub tomatoes.
Spray a small pan with nonstick cooking spray. Cook an egg sunny side up/over easy (what’s the difference?)
Meanwhile, place a scoop of mashed potatoes in a microwave-safe bowl and warm in microwave until temperature is to your liking.
Pour veggie bacon strips and Cherub tomatoes into bowl with potatoes, and mix in gently. Place sunny side up egg on top.
Break into that egg and let the golden yolk color your potatoes – and your morning – a cheerful, sunny yellow. Bon appetit!
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Image Sources: (in order of appearance excluding sunny side up breakfast bowl photos which are my own):
Wouldn’t it be nice to spend the holidays on a tropical vacation? I can just feel the white sand under my toes, smell the sea breeze and feel the sun’s sweet kiss on my skin as the song “Mele Kalikimaka” massages my ears, and my friends and I exchange beach treasure and conch shells as presents… but the reality is, not everyone can be in a tropical paradise in mid-winter. For one thing, those plane tickets aren’t cheap. And for another, a tropical island wouldn’t be paradise anymore if every square inch of sand was taken up by rowdy tourists pushing for dear life to win the race to the last hotel with a vacancy.
So some of us must resign ourselves to several months of gray gloom to preserve the peace for the few each year who may escape.
I live in California, so winter isn’t that big of a deal for me – no snow to shovel, and temperatures rarely drop below 58 or 60. But it is depressing when the fresh fruit section in the grocery store narrows down to the few varieties that can stand the winter: great homogenous mountains of pears, every make and model of apple in existence, big bins of oranges – and that’s about it, at least as far as local stuff goes. Even the exotic fruits imported from distant lands of year-long sunshine look a little sadder and droopier than they do in the summer – or is that just me?
These delicious, fruity muffins are bursting with the flavors of summertime, a tropical escape in particular. But they contain no fresh fruit. The whole wheat muffin base and luscious melty chocolate is complemented by pineapple chunks from the frozen aisle and dried strawberries, blueberries, and cherries.
But don’t you lose so much nutritional value, subbing out fresh fruit for frozen or dried? you ask. I used to think the same thing, and tried to use fresh fruit in my baking as much as possible. But many nutritional experts agree that you get the same or comparable nutrition when you have your fruit dried or frozen.
With dried fruit, there are some trade-offs: since a basic piece of dried fruit is just a piece of fresh fruit with the water drained out of it, what you’ve got is a more densely concentrated nutrient powerhouse. You can get the same fiber, antioxidants, and calories from a smaller volume of dried fruit versus fresh fruit.
But we don’t always want every bite to be laden with several times as many calories, and furthermore there is some speculation that certain nutrients are reduced from the process of drying the fruit. So it’s best to maintain a varied diet with some dried fruit and some fresh. (By the way: when choosing dried fruit, look for a brand that doesn’t add any sugar.)
As for frozen fruits and vegetables, there’s really no significant difference from the fresh – in fact, if anything the frozen stuff can be healthier for you. Ripe produce is richest in nutrients. But a lot of times, the fresh produce at the grocery store isn’t fully ripe because it was picked before it fully matured to prevent it going bad before reaching the merchandise shelves. This is especially likely when the fruit must travel long distances, for instance out-of-season products from exotic shores.
Frozen fruit companies don’t have this issue, since the fruit is frozen, iced and slapped in a truck or plane to make its journey to the grocery store. Therefore, farmers can allow the fruit to become fully ripe and delicious before picking and packaging it without losing a profit.
Needless to say, sometimes there’s just nothing better than to sink your teeth into a plump, juicy, uncompromised fresh peach, or plum, or get the satisfaction of carving a real pineapple and watching the sweet juice run down your fingers as you take that first, wild and wonderful bite. But don’t count on it for the next few months!
Chocolate Pineapple Cherry Berry Muffins
based on recipe from Allrecipes
makes 12 standard size muffins
- 1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
- 3 tbs Truvia Baking Blend
- 2-1/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 egg
- 1 cup plain almond milk (or other milk of choice)
- 1 container Yoplait Greek 100 Calories Tropical Fruit flavor yogurt
- 1 cup frozen pineapple chunks
- 2/3 cup dried berries/cherries mixture (I used Safeway Kitchens brand Dried Berries and Cherries)
- 1/2 cup chocolate chips (I used Nestle’s Toll House original Semi-Sweet Morsels)
- 2 tbs sweetened flaked coconut
- 2 tbs chocolate hazelnut butter
Preheat oven to 375 Fahrenheit. Line a standard-sized muffin tin with 12 muffin liners.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, Truvia Baking Blend, baking powder, and salt. Mix.
Beat in the egg. Add the almond milk and yogurt. Mix just until combined.
Stir in pineapple chunks, dried fruit, and chocolate chips.
Spoon batter into 12 muffin liners, distributing evenly. Bake at 375 Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Sprinkle flaked coconut on each muffin, and drizzle with chocolate hazelnut butter. Bake for another 13 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean (mine baked for a total of 23 minutes.)
Nutritional Information Sources: (very informative articles on dried vs. frozen vs. fresh fruit):
Image credits (for non-muffin images; all muffin images are my own) (in order of appearance):
“It’s ALIVE!!!!” exalts the mad scientist, delighted to see his horrifying conglomeration of flesh and organs rise off the lab table. This line has got to be the most iconic, most cited moment in the story of Frankenstein. (By the way: I just read that whole book, the original version, and never are those two words spoken in conjunction throughout the text. But some movie director clearly decided they belonged there, and it stuck.)
My point is, people have this intrinsic need to breathe life into inanimate objects that have no business being animate, and it rarely leads to any good.
Take the tale of Pinocchio, for instance.
If only the woodcarver had stuck to making tables or chairs or whatever he was supposed to do, instead of creating a creepy puppet, that poor soul never would have experienced the dilemma between being a real boy and a slab of timber. He never would have told so many lies and caused his creator such heartache and in the end, there would have been one less real boy contributing to overpopulation.
Another classic example is the story of the Gingerbread Man.
Now, personally, if I knew mixing together eggs and flour and sugar and ginger and baking it in the oven would result in the creation of a conscious, self-aware being with wishes and desires, such a hopeful life so soon destined to be painfully terminated through consumption, I would still my hand before pulling out that recipe book. It just doesn’t seem fair to bring a living cookie into the world, especially inside a commercial bakery, where I assume the story begins. Customers are there to eat, not to respect life.
That’s why every product of the True Healthy Me kitchen is thoughtfully and responsibly crafted to avoid cruelty, mortal danger, excessive lying, and all other negative results of the bestowal of life upon food items. All ingredients start out inanimate, and that’s how they end. That way, you can feel perfectly safe and free of guilt when you put one of these goodies in your mouth!
These holiday brownies are truly guilt free. Not only are they vegetative and inanimate, they’re also gluten free and made with wholesome ingredients and fresh fruit. The foundation is a layer of soft, dense gingerbread made with chickpeas (don’t worry, you can’t taste them), embellished with caramel apples, and covered with rich, chocolatey flourless brownie emblazoned with Weight Watchers caramel candies. Top that all off with more caramel apples, tart cranberries, and coconut that toasts in the oven, and you’ve got the ultimate unique and delicious holiday treat.
What’s more, this is one you can feel good about eating. Serve it up piping hot, maybe with frozen Greek caramel apple yogurt… or chilled, firm and fudgey. Either way, you can feel confident these gingerbread brownies won’t turn around and bite you.
Image credits (in order of appearance) (all brownie photos are my own):
I wanted to bring a wholesome vegetarian dish to my family’s Hanukkah get-together earlier this week. I’d been briefed that the table would be graced with a copious quantity of latkes, along with the traditional toppings of sour cream and applesauce, a slab of fish, and some salad to help digest all those potatoes and oil. Now oil is all very well when it’s lighting the ruins of the temple for a miraculous eight days, and a small quantity of vegetable oil can even be beneficial in one’s diet. But with that said, I decided to stick with a light and miraculously oil-free recipe for my own contribution to the holiday table. And to round out the options, I chose a vegetarian-friendly protein – eggs.
Swirled with a savory, spicy pumpkin sauce and crowned with chickpeas like little Christmas ornaments, these cute little personal quiches went over well with my family. I would have added some wilted kale or other greens to the egg mixture if I’d thought to buy any, but they were also fine as they were. While I made them dairy-free, they are also good with a sprinkling of feta cheese – like a magical dusting of snow on a winter morning. Serve ’em up with mashed potatoes like snowy hills…
Enough of the imagery – on with the recipe!
Savory Pumpkin Spiced Chickpea Quiche Muffins
makes 12 standard size quiche muffins
- 1 cup Libby’s 100% Pure Pumpkin Puree
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- dash of sage
- generous splash of cinnamon
- small dash of ginger
- 2 spoonfuls water
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1/2 of a red bell pepper, diced
- 8 eggs
- 2/3 cup plain almond milk
- 1/2 cup chickpeas/garbanzo beans
Line a 12-cavity muffin tin with 12 liners. Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit.
Spray a medium pan with nonstick cooking spray. Cook chopped garlic cloves for a few minutes, until they begin to brown.
Place garlic, pumpkin puree, and a couple spoonfuls of water in blender. Blend until smooth. Add sage, cayenne, cinnamon, and ginger. Blend. Set this mixture aside.
In the same pan used to cook the garlic, sauté the red bell pepper using this no-oil method: basically, pour water on the pan as needed and move the pepper continuously. Remove from heat when edges are brown and pieces feel somewhat soft. Place in a large bowl.
Beat in the eggs. Add almond milk and beat it in as well.
Carefully fill muffin liners with egg mixture. WARNING: If you spill any of this on your muffin tin and it gets baked on, it will be impossible to get off and will haunt your kitchen for eternity.
Swirl pumpkin mixture into each quiche. Reserve about 1/3 of the pumpkin mixture. Mix this with the chickpeas.
Bake muffins at 350 for 15 minutes. Then, remove from oven and top each muffin with a dollop of pumpkin sauce and chickpeas.
Return to bake for another 5-7 minutes, or until eggs are cooked through.
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