Something to Chew On

A Guide to Eating Right and Living Well

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Becoming Stronger Than Your Excuses : Part Three

a slow cooker Oval Crock Potcrockpot

Taking on healthy eating habits, typically does not occur over night, rather it’s a gradual progression of gaining knowledge and understanding between health foods and less-healthy foods and finding strategies to make health foods fit into one’s lifestyle.

When someone states “I don’t have enough time to make a healthy meal”, my first two questions are “do you have a crockpot” and “do you have a day off during the week”?

Prepare meals ahead of time on your days off. One cooking approach I took up in grad school was cooking my proteins in bulk. On Sundays, I would bake or grill several chicken breasts or fish to have on reserve for my lunches and dinners for the next several days. Doing this saved me time and energy in preparing healthy and well-balanced meals when I would get home after a 12-hour work day as an intern. Using a crock pot is a great method for cooking for those with busy schedules. Home-cooked meals are often lower in sodium than those purchased away from the home.

Purchase pre-cut vegetables or ready-made salads. Purchasing whole vegetables and cutting them up ahead of time will save you a lot of money, but not necessarily time. What’s great about most grocery stores is that they offer pre-cut vegetables that can be thrown into a stir-fry, salad or consumed raw as a snack. Most supermarkets also offer freshly prepared salads which are often bigger (so you can use them for more than one meal) and more cost-effective than a single-serve salad purchased from a fast food restaurant.

Consistency is key. You must be consistent to make any change. This principle applies to many aspects of health. In order for a post-workout protein snack to be most effective, it needs to be taken consistently (for those participating in vigorous strength-training programs). Good habits are as addictive as bad habits. Form a new one now! Eating breakfast can jumpfood3_MP900411701start your metabolism, but it won’t have a lasting effect if you only consume breakfast 2-3 days per week. Exercise can have similar effects on muscle cells just like  Metformin, a common diabetic medication. However, these beneficial effects of exercise last less than 48 hours, raising the importance of daily physical activity. Forming healthy habits can be a challenge for some, but when we identify barriers (our excuses) we can find ways to overcome our challenges and lead healthy, active lives.

Every day is a good day. Some days are just more challenging than others.

I’d love to hear from you! Share your favorite healthy crock pot meals that you have made below in the comment section.

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Cleaning Up Your Habits

Do your eating habits need a little “spring cleaning?’food_MP900443279

If I could give only one piece of  nutritional advice to everyone, it would be “Eat Clean.”According to Diane Welland, MS, RD, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Clean”, clean eating is described as choosing foods that are natural and wholesome—particularly foods that are free of chemicals, additives and preservatives and refined, processed ingredients. In delivering my own message regarding clean eating, I tell patients to focus on the foods that Mother Nature gives us and consume less of the foods that come from a factory/plant. It’s amazing how different one feels when they cut out processed foods from their diet. The benefits that are associated with eating clean can include increased energy levels, improved sleeping habits, weight loss/weight management, improved nutritional intake and healthier bowel movements.

Eating clean is especially important for individuals desiring to lower their sodium intake. Only 5-10% of our sodium intake actually comes from using the salt shaker. The majority of one’s salt intake comes from the consumption of processed foods with some of the biggest culprits being: yeast breads, chicken nuggets, chicken-mixed dishes, pizza, pasta and pasta dishes, cold cuts, condiments, Mexican mixed dishes, sausages, hot dogs, bacon, ribs, regular cheese, pastry desserts, soups and beef and beef-mixed dishes. Eating clean helps naturally reduce one’s sodium intake since fruits and vegetables are all very low in sodium or sodium-free food choices.

Here are some tipsfood3_MP900411701 to help make clean eating a part of your lifestyle:

  Stick to the perimeter at the grocery store. This is a message that many are familiar with; however, it is not put into practice as often as it should. You won’t find the most nutritious foods in the grocery store in the canned soup aisle or next to the boxed potatoes. The most nutritious foods are the ones that often do not come in a box or package. Along the perimeter of most grocery stores, you will find the fresh produce, fresh/unseasoned meats, eggs and dairy products. Stock up with all these items first and then use the aisles of the grocery store as needed for items such as whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Maximize your wholesale shopping trip. It makes me very sad when I see individuals not taking advantage of the wonderfully fresh foods offered at wholesale shopping stores such as Sam’s Club and Costco. This is where I often find the best prices on items like cut broccoli, bananas, spinach, mushrooms, chicken and butternut squash. It’s far too common that you see shopping carts stocked full of frozen pizzas, fruit roll-ups, giant muffins, hot pockets and pop tarts. Sometimes buying produce in bulk can be overwhelming; but if you plan ahead and utilize your produce in multiple ways, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your family can go through it.

Focus on “wet snacks”. This is a recommendation that I give to both children and adults. Think of snacks as a mini-meal that will provide your body with energy and nutrients. “Wet snacks” are foods with a natural moisture content to them such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, peanut butter, cheese sticks and yogurt. Choose “dry snacks” less often since these items typically are refined carbohydrate items like crackers, pretzels, chips and granola bars.

It’s plain and simple—drink water. Make this beverage your first choice and try to get at least six-eight 8-oz glasses per day. While diet soda also contains no calories, it is still composed of unnatural products such as chemicals, coloring and artificial sweeteners.Water_iStock_000021518121Large

Clean eating is a simple lifestyle approach to eating well. It’s a basic method of “choose this more often and consume this less often.” Sometimes, nutrition by the numbers isn’t always the best approach. The moment one has to count calories or carbs, they may feel trapped by the word “diet.” Yes, in order for some people to get on track with healthier eating, a more accountable method such as counting calories is needed. However, it may be better for lifelong success to focus on dietary patterns, whole foods, fresh ingredients, fat quality instead of quantity, cooking food rather than re-heating frozen foods and consuming fewer processed foods.


Couponing- Is it Always Worth It?

We’ve all watched the show in complete awe and wonder. The shopper pushes their four loaded-down carts of groceries to the cashier and the ringing up begins; $20.00, $130.00, $650.00. Luckily, the shopper has come equipped with a binder full of coupons and the grand total is…$4.74. I’m usually left speechless for several reasons:

  • Where are they going to put all that stuff?
  • How much time did it take to prepare for that one shopping trip?
  • Did they seriously need 100 Hershey bars?

According to the show, Extreme Couponing, the shopper featured spends an average of 35-40 hours per week preparing for one shopping trip. That’s a full-time job’s worth of buying newspapers, printing online coupons, cutting, organizing and mapping out a plan of attack at the local grocery store. Some may view this as complete obsession while others see it as a way to make ends meet. But, is this type of couponing always worth it?extreme couponing

Time. This may be viewed as the biggest downfall to extreme couponing. Scouting newspapers, magazines, and online ads, then organizing it all is critical to making an extreme shopping trip work. For many of us who work full-time, these are discretionary hours that we just don’t have.

Space. In order to support these large grocery trips, you need to have the available storage space to keep and organize all your purchases. Preferably, this needs to be a pest-free, dry, climate-controlled room so your bounty is not spoiled by humidity or insects.

Expiration Dates. From a food safety perspective, this one worries me. When you see what appears to be a warehouse full of cereal, crackers, cookies, granola bars and condiments, you can’t help but think “how can they possibly eat all that food before it expires?” Expiration dates do not apply exclusively to foods.  Medications like Tylenol can become toxic if consumed after its expiration date. A good method to practice is the FIFO inventory principle-First In First Out. Remember to pull older items forward when restocking a similar item.

Nutritional Value. This is my biggest concern with most of the featured individuals’ purchases on the show. Saving hundreds of dollars on a shopping trip is definitely a commendable feat; but what will the shopper pay nutritionally? Loading up on sugary-sweetened cereal, candy bars, chips and soda comes with a hefty calorie bill. Consuming these foods on a daily basis (which you would have to do so they don’t spoil, right?) indicates a diet that is low in fiber, B-vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

I know what you’re thinking, “But Amanda, fruits and vegetables are so expensive!” I’m here to tell you, that is not always the case. First and foremost, sign up for your local grocery store’s rewards program. Often, you are only eligible for the sale prices or “deals of the week” if you have a rewards card membership. You also are entitled to store-specific coupons with many of these rewards programs. A friend of mine told me about the mPerks programs at Mejier and how she saves all the time on grocery items, meat and produce. Did you hear that? PRODUCE! Each week I log on and virtually “clip” coupons that get automatically added to my account. When checking out, I simply punch in my code and just like magic, my grocery bill goes down.

Buying fruits and vegetables in season is another excellent way to save. For a complete list of what’s in season this summer, please visit:  Shopping at your local Farmers’ Market is another great approach to purchasing fresh produce in season. In fact, Illinois Products Farmers’ Market sponsored by Springfield Clinic is providing opportunities to earn free “market bucks” for the Illinois Products Farmers’ Market. Each week a new recipe is handed out at the Springfield Clinic booth. Individuals are encouraged to make the recipe and then take a picture of the finished product. Market bucks can be earned by posting the recipe photo to the Springfield Clinic Facebook page. Come join us each Thursday from 4:00-7:00pm at the Illinois State Fair Grounds-Commodities Pavilion.

My intent of this post was not to bash extreme couponing but rather to highlight some of the pitfalls of the experience. I think it’s wise to stock up on items like Ziploc bags, diapers, or cleaning supplies, but there’s no real “savings” to experience with mass quantities of chips or soft drinks.



Convenience Foods: How to Make the Right Choices

flatbreadWork, dentist appointment, grocery shopping, baseball game, laundry, dinner for four, help with homework…and it’s only Monday. For most people, this is a snapshot of everyday life. Living a fast-paced lifestyle finds many individuals relying on quick, convenient food items throughout the day. Unfortunately, we are drawn to drive-thrus, vending machines and whatever is available at the gas station. Quick, easy menu items do not always have to be unhealthy. Here is a list of foods to keep handy at the office, in your car and stocked up at home.


  • Oatmeal packets: No kitchen should be without this hearty, fiberful breakfast staple. Look for the low-sugar or high-fiber varieties for the best picks. For $3.00 a box with 10 packets per box, this is a better choice than purchasing a oatmealMcDonald’s oatmeal meal that will cost $2.00 for a single serving.
  • Hard boiled eggs and cheese sticks: One nutrient that is usually lacking at breakfast is protein. Taking 15 minutes on the weekend to boil eggs can give you a quick, grab-and-go protein-powered breakfast addition or a quick snack. Cheese sticks are also convenient because they don’t take up a lot of space in the fridge or a lunch bag.
  • Greek yogurt: This yogurt packs in twice the amount of protein compared to regular yogurt. Extra protein can help you feel fuller longer. One setback to Greek yogurt is that it typically contains half the amount of calcium compared to the regular varieties.
  • Breakfast sandwiches: Special K flatbread sandwiches, which can be found in the freezer section, are excellent choices for people in a morning rush. At 180-240 calories, these protein-filled choices are much better than a Hardee’s Bacon Egg and Cheese Biscuit, which contains 450 calories.


  • Frozen entrée meals: Frozen entrée meals, formerly known as TV dinners, have come a long way since they were first introduced in 1954. Thanks to Healthy Choice, Lean Cuisine and Smart Ones, you can now find lower calorie options with reduced sodium. Look for meals with less 600 mg of sodium.
  • Frozen Green Giant vegetable boxes: One common thing I see in patients is that they are not consuming enough vegetables. Vegetables are Mother Nature’s weight loss pills. Vegetables are low in calories and packed with nutrients, a win-win food choice. Each box contains at least two servings of vegetables. I’ve tried all the varieties and have been very pleased. Stock up on them when they go on sale, which is usually every third week at the grocery store.
  • Grilled fast food sandwich: If you absolutely have to go through a drive-thru, your best choice is to order a grilled fish or grilled chicken sandwich with one minor change: forgo the buns and add a side salad. By doing this, you will save yourself 200-300 calories worth of refined carbohydrates.
  • Pre-made salads: Most grocery store chains now offer pre-made salads in their produce section. You may find varieties like chef, Greek, Californian and strawberry spinach. Missing out on protein? Head to the deli section for some pre-cooked grilled chicken strips.


  • Pre-cut vegetables and fruits: If you don’t have enough time to cut up vegetables and fruits to take for the day, purchasing pre-cut varieties is a great option. I’ve seen mixed fruit, carrots and celery, broccoli and cauliflower, mixed bell pepper strips and more in the produce section at the grocery store. The only drawback is that these options are slightly more expensive because you are paying for someone else to cut the food for you.
  • Nuts: Nuts are great to always have on hand. They do not need to be refrigerated, which makes them perfect to keep at the office, in your purse, car, gym bag, etc. Watch out for pre-made trail mixes since they tend to be higher in added sugars from their dried fruit and chocolate candies.
  • Tuna packets and whole grain crackers: Due to its higher sodium content, this snack you would want to have less often. However, it is still better than most other vending machine items. The protein in the tuna will help keep you full. Try serving it on Special K multigrain crackers or a few whole grain giant

Convenience foods don’t always have to be unhealthy. With a little training, we all can become much savvier shoppers.


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