Hot dogs and Quinoa: It’s time you and I Ketchup

Here is what I knew when I started all this:

It is really challenging to eat healthy.

Changing your eating patterns happens gradually.

You have to try new foods a couple of times to learn how to work with them and how to make them taste good.

When you have a family to feed it is important to get them on board with the changes.

Healthier food is often thought to be more expensive.

Eating better means learning about foods and about cooking.

Maybe you have thought these things, or dealt with these challenges? How do you tackle them? I have been tackling these changes by eating familiar foods and slowly making better choices. This is something that the me&my wellness health reboot talks about. It is easier to incorporate healthy habits into our lives if we make slow and gradual changes. I’m trying to help our home get to that halfway healthy space. I’m going to get specific about those changes I’ve made and how I have brought my family along.

The first change to being healthier was making a grocery list. This works like a food plan for the week. At my house, it is Wednesday when the grocery advertisements come out. I’ll grab a cup of coffee and we will all sit at the kitchen table and chat while we look at what’s on sale. I ask my son what he notices about them. He notices that there is only a small section for vegetables. That most fresh fruit is very expensive, and so is meat. He sees that cookies, chips, and pop are on sale.

Then it’s time to start making a grocery list. We try and shop according to what is on sale and we discuss the price of foods. If you are like me, cost factors into how we eat. Also, while we are looking at the grocery ads, we pay attention to any new foods that are interesting or that we might like to try. We will talk about this because the best time to try a new food is when it goes on sale. This week lychee fruits are on sale for 10 cents each. Also, whole beets are a dollar a pound. We put both of these on our list.

The grocery ads and the grocery list lead right into another change towards being healthier: cooking. I cook most nights, but for one night every week, we as a family make the meal together. So, as we are compiling the list, we will also chat about what foods we could make that week for our meal. This is a collaborative project, from planning the menu to shopping for ingredients, then preparing them, and cooking the different components. My son loves this time and looks forward to our cooking night, but what he doesn’t realize is I’m teaching him life skills about making grocery lists, paying attention to sales, budgeting, shopping, and cooking.

Our family has tried things like kimchi, tofu, cactus pears, rambutans, a Japanese marble drink, mole sauce, sardines, blue cheese, rainbow carrots, mini popcorn, mung beans, golden mangos, lavender honey, chocolate-dipped freeze-dried blueberries, real vanilla beans, dates, aloe vera juice, cotton candy grapes, pearl mozzarella, dandelion tea, Juici apples, sumac, fresh peanut butter, and poblano peppers. Often, I will make it a taste test. For example, we tried regular honey, ate a couple of pretzels as a pallet cleanser, then tried the lavender honey. This meant we could compare the two, describing one against the other. (This is a delightful way to introduce new foods, and even if you don’t have kids it could be fun with a couple of friends or as a date night activity.)

Back to the grocery store. While we are shopping, we also are always on the lookout for clearance products. These are products that are short-dated, not big sellers, or no longer being carried at the store. Usually, they will be discounted because the retailer is trying to clear them out. This is where the aloe vera juice, sumac, dandelion tea, and lavender honey came from, by the way. I can usually find some really neat stuff in the clearance sections.

Something anyone can do to make their grocery budget stretch is to cut back on meat. Meat is expensive, so using less means it costs less. This can look like choosing a meatless meal a couple of times a week, reducing the amount of meat that you would normally use, or substituting in a meat alternative. I do this in my Cheddar and Mushroom Meat Loafs replacing half of the meat with textured vegetable protein (TVP). Still want that deep, meaty flavor? You can always add beef or chicken bouillon to the TVP, or try adding mushrooms, beets, zucchini, kidney beans, or olives.

When I am shopping, I am not just looking for the cheapest price, because it is usually the junk food that is the cheapest. The chips, the cookies, the soda pop, are all foods with low nutritional value, and always on sale. For some things, I am willing to pay more for them because they offer more nutritionally. Bean pasta versus regular pasta, for example, because I know the bean pasta has more fiber and protein for roughly the same calories. Another place I will pay more is for a product that is made without corn syrup.

When I eat foods with corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, I perceive them as sweeter than foods sweetened without corn syrup. These very sweet foods are exciting for my brain; my brain really likes how sweet they are. If I eat lots of these foods than my tolerance of very sweet foods will increase. Eventually, it can alter my tastes until my preference and cravings are for very sweet foods all the time.

“If you start me up
If you start me up I’ll never stop
If you start me up
If you start me up I’ll never stop”

-The Rolling Stones

Corn syrup is everywhere. You will easily find it in candy, marshmallows, and soda pop. The problem is that it ends up where it doesn’t need to be. I can find it in jellies, pasta sauces, pickles, relish, mayonnaise, canned soup, pickled beets, barbecue sauce, baked beans, salad dressings, and ketchup. I try to make purchases that don’t have high fructose/corn syrup. I buy real maple syrup for our waffles and pancakes. I also pay more for ketchup made with sugar.

I do leave room for some flexibility on the corn syrup issue, however. Every now and again we might have some candy, or I’ll make a pecan pie knowing corn syrup is an ingredient. There are also the nights we have a campfire in the backyard. On those nights, I’m going to do it up big with real, fluffy, soft, melty in the middle, lightly toasted marshmallows, and all of their corn syrup goodness.

When we are at the grocery there are lots of canned food options. These foods are less healthy usually because of added sugars and salt. I still use them because sometimes that is what is available and what I can afford. Even when I am choosing canned products, I can still make choices that are better for our bodies. Ever have canned peaches? Canned fruit usually comes packed in a liquid. My store brand canned peaches in heavy syrup (yes, made with high-fructose corn syrup), weigh-in at 100 calories for a half cup. They have 25 grams of carbohydrates and 18 grams of sugars. An easy swap is to move from those peaches in heavy syrup, to peaches in extra light syrup. The same ½ cup serving is only 60 calories, 16 grams of carbohydrates, and 15 grams of sugars. This little swap is how it starts. Moving from what you already know, to something familiar that is just slightly healthier. This method of stair-stepping from a familiar food to a substitute is how I have been able to introduce healthier foods without compromising the taste that my family loves.

Many times, my family doesn’t even notice these swaps. Then, once they are used to the light syrup, we move to the next choice. In this example, it is going from peaches packed in light syrup to peaches packed in 100% fruit juice. Our half-cup serving of these peaches is still sitting at 60 calories, but the carbohydrates are reduced even further to 14 grams, and only 11grams of total sugars. As an added bonus the peaches in juice offer almost twice the potassium as the peaches in light syrup, going from 81mg up to 152mg.

Another way to make canned food healthier is to choose the low sodium or sodium-free versions. This can mean things like sauces, soups, or canned vegetables. Also, canned vegetables or beans can always be tossed in a colander and rinsed to help remove some of that extra salt.

Since produce is usually pricey, I would also suggest shopping in the freezer section. My grocery has everything from pineapple and strawberries, to already chopped onions, okra, stir fry mixes, and spiralized squash all washed and ready to quickly become a meal. I find they go on sale pretty regularly. This week it was eight bags of frozen veggies for only 88 cents each. These foods are usually less expensive than the fresh variety, are easy to use and store in your freezer, and retain almost all of their nutrients along with the fiber of fresh vegetables.

Involve your family, check out the ads, come up with a food plan, make a list, shop sales, watch out for corn syrup, buy veggies fresh, frozen, and canned, try a new food, what else? A quick update on my gratitude journal, I am still at it. I missed another day last week, but I am learning to be gentle with myself. I find that if I miss a night, I grab the book and fill it out first thing in the morning. It is not perfect it is progress.

Oh, I remembered what else, the beets!

“We got the beat
We got the beat
Yeah, we got it!”

-The Go-Go’s

Blog written by Sarah Holtz on 3rd July 2021