March is National Nutrition Month

And what better time to talk about it than 3 days before it’s over?! Just because National Nutrition Month is coming to an end doesn’t mean  April through February can’t be nutrition months too. I found a bunch of nutrition tips in an article from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly American Dietetic  Association) and thought I should share them with my readers! I’d love to hear your feedback on these tips, so feel free to answer any or all of my questions:

1. Which tips do you already incorporate into your lifestyle?
2. Which tips do you want to try out?
3. What else would you add to this list?

31 tips and tricks to help you boost your nutrition fitness this month and beyond.

  1. Try one new food today from the fruit group. Fresh, canned, dried or frozen varieties are all fine (but make sure none contain added fat or sugar).
  2. Drink at least 4 to 6 8 ounce cups of plain water. Keep a water bottle on hand that you can refill and be sure to wash thoroughly at day’s end.
  3. Have at least 1 cup of non-starchy, dark green vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, romaine, kale, or spinach, for example).
  4. Have at least 1/2 cup of beans or peas, preferably in a low sodium form.
  5. Have two healthful snacks each day that cover two food groups; examples include one green apple, sliced with 1 tbsp nut butter, or 1/2 cup low fat yogurt mixed with 1/2 cup berries.
  6. Drink at least one or two cups of skim or 1% milk; have it by the glass, in cereal, in coffee, or in recipes.
  7. Limit alcohol to no more than about 100 calories (about 5 ounces of wine, 1-1/2 ounces distilled spirits, or 12 ounces of light beer).
  8. Plan a treat that adds up to 100 calories (two small cookies, or 4 small pieces of chocolate for example).
  9. Leave a few extra bites on your plate at all meals.
  10. Drink all caloric beverages out of an 8 ounce cup ONLY.
  11. Have an ounce of nuts or seeds (preferably raw and unsalted) as part of a snack or meal.
  12. Don’t waste more than one bite on any food that doesn’t taste good (or is not worth the calories).
  13. Have breakfast within an hour or two of waking up; include 1 cup low fat/skim milk, 1/2 ounce nuts/seeds or 1 Tbsp nut butter or 1 egg, and at least one whole grain (oatmeal, whole wheat cereal, whole grain bread or English muffin or pita).
  14. Eat only while sitting down at a table.
  15. Brush teeth/rinse with mouthwash after each meal; floss at least once during the day.
  16. Make a big salad (2 cups worth) with lots of colorful non-starchy vegetables.
  17. Have 4-6 ounces of fish, healthfully prepared (unbreaded, unfried).
  18. Have a 1 ounce equivalent (oz Eq) of whole grains each time you eat. 1 oz Eq = 1 slice of whole wheat bread, 5 small whole grain crackers, 3 cups air-popped popcorn, 1/2 cup whole wheat pasta or brown or wild rice.
  19. Go meatless for the day; incorporate other protein-rich foods like beans, soy foods like tofu or tempeh, low fat dairy foods, and whole grains.
  20. Try one new food today from the vegetable group; opt for something bright in color (bright green, orange, or yellow).
  21. Instead of going out to eat, ordering in, or getting take out, cook or prepare all your food at home for the day.
  22. Have 1 cup of soup. Look for broth- or vegetable-based kinds, preferably with less than 400-500 mg sodium.
  23. To boost fiber, replace your usual 100% fruit juice with 1 cup or a piece of fresh fruit (like a whole orange, apple, or cup of berries or pineapple).
  24. Instead of cooking with salt, try to flavor food with sodium-free herbs and spices.
  25. Instead of having your usual fruit-on-the-bottom or flavored yogurt, go for plain low- or non-fat yogurt (or Greek yogurt) and add 1/2 cup of berries, 1-2 tbsp of nuts, seeds, or dried fruit, or 1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce.
  26. Before having your usual bed-time or after dinner treat, ask yourself “Am I really hungry or am I eating this out of habit?” If the answer is no, skip it and instead brush, floss, and rinse with mouthwash to end your day of eating.
  27. Instead of a whole sandwich, have only half; balance the meal out with fresh fruit or some grilled or raw veggies.
  28. Turn off all distractions (including your cell phone) at every meal and snack; really focus on your food.
  29. Clean out your refrigerator and freezer (and of course throw away all spoiled or expired food).
  30. Clean out your pantry (throw out all spoiled and expired food).
  31. Think about what you should eat more of, and not what you “shouldn’t” eat.

A very girly post about body image

During summer breaks of college, I was on staff with Champion Cheerleading and taught hundreds of middle & high school cheerleaders how to stunt, tumble, cheer, and be leaders at their school. There were events each night, but one night I especially loved was called “Candlelight.” FYI, I gave this post its fitting name because I’d be surprised if any guy even made it to this sentence before checking out. Anyway, Candlelight was a time for the staff to share a story with the campers that served to encourage and inspire. I was privileged to share a few of my stories since I spent 3 summers with Champion. For this post, I added some lyrics at the end because I think they are relevant. It was the summer before my 3rd year of college when I wrote it, but I think women of all ages will relate since so many of us try to find our identity in beauty these days…I praise God for the changes he’s made in me and that I’ve found my identity in Him.

“I wish I didn’t have such a square torso, or that my hair would just dry straight so I didn’t have waste 20 minutes blow drying and straightening it to get rid of my frizz. I wish I had pretty girl nails and not round man nails. If only I could get rid of these stupid love handles. I wish I could just have perfect teeth and not have a fake tooth.” If I had to make a list of everything I would change about my appearance if I had the power to, I could set a new world record. The list would never end. Why is that? People have told me I’m pretty before, so why is it that every time I look in the mirror the first thing my eyes do is go straight to my stomach?

Even if my wish was granted and all of a sudden I had perfect hair or nails, it wouldn’t take me two seconds before I started thinking about the next thing I would change about my appearance. You’d be lying to yourself if you said you couldn’t relate to me. We’re girls- worrying about body image is one of our specialties. We’ve fallen into the trap and we believe the lies of this world that say “You are not enough.” I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of it. I don’t have a fool-proof plan to make you stop thinking about how you look, but I can share my story with you and maybe it will help you realize that you really are enough.

Three years ago I started my freshman year at Michigan State. I got a call during Welcome Week from the Co-Ed cheerleading coach saying I made the team. I was so excited I basically went down my contact list and told everyone. I show up at my first practice, and my stomach dropped.

The girls seemed so tiny, I felt like I should be lifting them, not guys lifting me! I would say I’m an average size girl, but the average size on this team was clearly different. I tried working out as much as I could, but I never felt satisfied with my body. On top of that, we wore two piece uniforms that showed your stomach. I hated pictures, I hated being on camera for games, and I wore my jacket as much as I could. Don’t get me wrong, it was an amazing experience cheering for a Big Ten School and I made some great friends, but not a minute went by when I wasn’t aware of my body.

This carried over to my life outside of cheering. I’d compare myself to every girl I saw on TV, and even my little sister who is blessed with a body that stays skinny no matter how much she eats. It wasn’t until I heard a talk by a man named Louie Giglio when I realized that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Did you know that the DNA in one cell of our body writes out 3 billion characteristics that make up who you are right now? 3 billion… Do you know how big 3 billion is? Louie said that if you read one character per second, it would take you 96 years to read them all off. One of those 3 billion characteristics is my square-shaped torso. Another one is my naturally frizzy hair… but if I could even think of 50 “flaws” about myself, that’s still only about .0000002% of 3 billion. Why do we focus so much on that and not the other 99.9999% of who we are? I could keep giving you more statistics and go into even more detail, but the point I’m trying to make is this: Instead of focusing on what can you see with your eyes, try to focus on what you can see with your heart. When someone says “Tell me about yourself,” you wouldn’t answer: “Well I think I’m too short, I have big feet, and I don’t like the shape of my nose.” It’s not a question of what you are, but who you are.

I’m Jessica. I love watching sappy chick flicks like P.S. I Love You over and over. I enjoy doing workout videos from the 80’s. I love to make people laugh and I love laughing until I cry. I am passionate about my faith and I do my best to reflect God by the way I live my life. I don’t have it all together, but I have friends and family who love me anyway. I am valuable because I exist. Not because of what I do or what I have done, but simply because I am. Ask yourself: “At the end of the day, how will people remember me?” Beauty fades, but a beautiful heart is what leaves a legacy.

Sometimes I think
What will people say of me
When I’m only just a memory
When I’m home where my soul belongs

Was I love
When no one else would show up
Was I Jesus to the least of those
Was my worship more than just a song

I want to live like that
And give it all I have
So that everything I say and do
Points to You

If love is who I am
Then this is where I’ll stand
Recklessly abandoned
Never holding back

I want to live like that

The Benefits of Meal Planning

“If you don’t plan, you plan to fail”
Do you know what you’re eating for breakfast tomorrow? How about for lunch on Wednesday? While you don’t have to plan every single meal and snack out and ensure you won’t diverge from the plan, having a general game plan can help in many ways.
It can save you time
I try to come up with 3 or 4 meals we can have for the week and do one big grocery trip. I don’t do 7 meals per week because often times there are leftovers. Breakfast is usually one of the meals I work in to the week since some form of eggs and potatoes is so darn cheap. I note what day of the week I’d like to have each meal since I know what meals may take more time to make and would best be prepped for the night before. For example, it would take an hour and a half to make and bake lasagna, so I make it the night before and all I have to do is throw it in the oven when I get home from work. Another time-saver is planning a meal with items you already have in your home. You might only need to shop for 2-3 meals if you can throw together something already in your fridge or pantry.It can save you money
Even if you just need to pick up a few tomatoes at the store because you forgot, your chances of buying something else while you’re there is pretty high. If you check your local grocery store’s weekly ad you can save money by planning your meal based off of what’s on sale or in season. Be careful you don’t start adding things to your list just because it’s on sale. Another way to save is by cutting down on the amount of meat you use and spread it out over a few meals. A little Italian sausage in lasagna, then a quiche, then on a homemade pizza. Just enough to flavor the meal. Making your own lunch versus going out can also save a lot. For example:

Restaurant 6” Turkey Sub ($3.79)
Homemade turkey sub

6” Wheat Hoggie ($0.44)
3 oz. turkey breast ($0.94)
1 slice Swiss ($0.32)
1 tsp. mustard $(0.02)
veggies ($0.20)
Total: $1.92

Planning can prevent spontaneous expenses
If you’ve got your pantry staples and get only the groceries needed for the meals you have planned for the week, you cut down on spontaneous runs to the grocery store or going through the drive through instead of making dinner altogether. I do take a 10-minute walk/ 1-minute drive to our local grocery store to pick up produce about twice a week since I can’t usually buy for the whole week without losing quality. I make sure I’m only getting what I planned to get going in to the store by making a straight shot for the item and heading to the checkout. No browsing around.

A weekly menu plan doesn’t have to be elaborate. If you want a simple place to start, you can download my Budget for Health Menu Planner document from Microsoft Word and create your own. I even included a sample of one of my days. I do have “snack” listed between each meal, but you don’t have to do this. I just put all the options out there. I don’t like eating a full meal at once, so I pack my lunch and eat something from it every few hours.

Do you meal plan? If so, what’s your strategy?

Nutrition labels now required on meat & poultry

This should have happened a LONG time ago. We started labeling packaged foods 20 years ago and now the time has come for the secret nutrition facts of meat & poultry to be revealed! On March 1st, the U.S. Department of Agriculture rule on meat labeling went live, and nutrition information is now available for ground meat and poultry as well as 40 cuts of muscle meat. The nutrition facts will be either on the package or a nearby poster.

You’ll find the same format as any other nutrition label. The focus should be on the serving size, calories, saturated fat and cholesterol since you won’t find any carbohydrates, fiber, or sugar in meat and poultry. When it comes to meat, you’re going to get about 7 grams of protein per ounce regardless of the cut. Since there aren’t any carbs in one-ingredient meats, the determining factor of calories will come from the amount of fat.

Research has shown that saturated fat actually raises blood cholesterol more than the cholesterol we eat in food like eggs and meats. When making your selection for meat, aim for the cut with a lower content of saturated fat. The occasional cut with high fat is okay, but for the most part, aim low. The USDA defines a lean cut of beef as a 3.5-ounce serving (about 100 grams) that contains less than 10 grams total fat, 4.5 grams saturated fat, and 95 milligrams cholesterol. Extra-lean cuts are defined as containing less than 5 grams total fat, 2 grams saturated fat, and 95 milligrams cholesterol per 3.5-ounce serving.

Twenty-nine cuts of beef now meet the USDA’s regulations to qualify as lean or extra lean. Of those 29 cuts of beef, these are considered extra lean:

  • Eye of round roast or steak
  • Sirloin tip side steak
  • Top round roast and steak
  • Bottom round roast and steak
  • Top sirloin steak

Mayo Clinic offers a few extra tips on how to select a cut of beef:

  • Choose cuts that are graded “Choice” or “Select” instead of “Prime,” which usually has more fat.
  • Choose cuts with the least amount of visible fat (marbling).
  • When selecting ground beef, opt for the lowest percentage of fat.
  • Limit consumption of beef organs, such as liver, to about 3 ounces (85 grams) a month since organ meat is high in cholesterol.

If we’re talking about poultry, the healthiest choice is white meat that comes from the breast. Removing the skin also helps to significantly reduce the fat content. Even though dark meat like thighs, drumsticks and wings are cheaper, they do contain more fat. Watch out for labeling tricks too- not all are created equal. “Ground poultry” can have as much fat as ground beef or more because it often includes dark meat and skin. “Ground breast meat” or low-fat ground turkey/chicken are actual leaner options.

I don’t buy red meat that often unless we’re making burgers or tacos. I usually buy chicken breast from our local store that offers a great deal on Saturdays. If you want to cut down on cost, try the flexitarian way and use meat to simply flavor your dish, not be the main feature.

Do you think the new nutrition labels will affect your decision on meat choice?

Blog Roll #1

I never followed blogs before my friend posted an article on facebook that her husband, Derek, wrote for his site, Life and My Finances. It was the first blog I subscribed to and I loved learning something new from each post. Following his site led me to discover other great bloggers out there and even inspired me to start my own site. I’ve loved it so far!

I want to share some great articles I’ve compiled from a few sites I’ve subscribed to and follow on Google Reader. I’ll do this every now and then when I round up a few posts that I really enjoyed. I hope they’re as helpful for you as they were for me!

101 more uses for vinegar by Andrea at Simple Organized Living
I’ve probably done 10 of these already!
How to Pick the Best Mutual Funds by Tim at Faith & Finance
I knew nothing about mutual funds before Dave Ramsey. This guy helps clarify a bit more. Plus he’s got a biblical viewpoint on how he does finances.
Monthly Earnings Report: February 2012 by Derek at Life and My Finances
This goes to show you can make money blogging! I’m not making any money yet, but maybe down the road I can make a couple extra bucks.
Mushroom Pizza Bites
& Homemade Chewy Granola Bars
by Kristin at Iowa Girl Eats

Haven’t made them yet, but I plan to!

It’s only 5 links, but I guarantee they’ll hook you in to read other great posts on their site! It might become addicting and you might suck up your time. You’re welcome.

Do you follow any sites on food, fitness, or finance?

Bulk Basics

I came across this very useful pamphlet from Whole Foods. It’s called “Bulk Basics: a simple guide to buying and cooking bulk foods at Whole Foods Market.” The cover is shown above. Even if you don’t shop at Whole Foods, try to get your hands on this pamphlet. It’s like a treasure chest of cooking tips that will open your eyes to new options! For example, the data on beans include soak or no soak, how long to cook, what they look like and serving suggestions.

I like to try new recipes, but I don’t like when they call for ingredients I don’t already have or haven’t tried before. I worry that I won’t use the whole package or I won’t even like it. This is a great opportunity to buy in bulk because you can choose the amount you want to purchase. I’ve made bulk purchases for rice, barley, lentils, nuts, dried beans, and even sesame seeds…because it’s not often that I need a whole pound of sesame seeds…

Whole Foods provides four great reasons to buy in bulk:
– Bins are replenished often so ingredients are super fresh.
(I never thought of this point before; how old is that rice I bought last week?)
– Because you can buy as much or as little as you need, you can experiment with new products without getting stuck with a lot of something that doesn’t suit you.
– Many of the bulk offerings are organically grown.
– You save money by not paying for fancy labels.
What can you buy in bulk?
I love the bulk bins at whole foods. They’ve got all different types of flours, rice, grains, pastas, nuts, trail mixes, and a machine to grind your own nut butter. They also carry bulk food items like spices, herbs, dried fruit, soup mixes, salts, peppercorns (I didn’t even know there was more than one type of peppercorn…), beans, cereals, teas, coffees, snacks & treats. I got a few canisters from Bed Bath & Beyond from our wedding registry that helps to keep our rice and flour fresh since I don’t want to leave it in the bag I buy it in. Sometimes bulk costs the same as the packaged items, but there are items that will cost you a fraction of the packaged item (spices & seasonings). Aside from Costco, I can’t find quinoa cheaper at any store besides Whole Foods. If I try a new item I’ll be sure to let you know what I think about it. I probably won’t start with flageolets since I couldn’t even pronounce it right [fla-zhoh-LAY would be the correct way, not flag-ee-oh-lets.]
What foods do you buy in bulk?

Buy in season, do some freezin’

If you haven’t read yesterday’s post on how to find what fruit & vegetables are in season, be sure to check it out in addition to today’s post.

Strawberries were on sale last week for $1 a pound, so I bought 6 pounds, cut them up and froze all but one pound. We kept one pound fresh and packed whole strawberries in our lunch this week. I usually scoop out a few frozen ones and put them in my yogurt. They thaw out overnight since I pack my lunch after dinner. Strawberries aren’t always that cheap, so when I see the sale, I stock up! If a pound of strawberries usually costs $2.50 per pound out of season and I find the $1 per pound sale, I’ve saved $9 on the 6 pounds I bought! If you have a deep freezer, you could save some mad money by grabbing seasonal produce when it’s cheap. We only have a standard bottom fridge/ top freezer in our apartment, so I can’t go too crazy with these sales. Someday…

If you want some awesome tips on freezing produce and all sorts of food, check out this helpful post from Andrea at Simple Organized Living. You’ll find great ideas on how to freeze foods like baked goods, dairy, baking supplies, and whole meals. She’s developed a freezing system that works for her and uses various sizes of Ziploc bags, Tupperware, and even shoe boxes to make sorting and stacking foods easier. There’s even a Freezer Cooking FAQ from all the questions Andrea got after the first post. Her site is definitely in my top favorite sites I follow, so check her out. Just don’t forget about Budget for Health as you browse in awe through her savvy organizing/decorating/kitchen skills 😉 Another useful article I found from Eating well shows how to prep 16 fruits & vegetables.

Even if you don’t have a freezer, there are other ways to preserve foods like canning or making jams. I made 6 jars of jam when blackberries were on sale for 50 cents a pint. Believe it or not, I actually got my recipe to make jam from Andrea. Other foods I buy in bulk and freeze are bread, berries, chicken (our local store has Michigan-farmed chicken breasts for $1.79 per pound on Saturdays), broth (I buy the 32oz carton since it’s often cheaper and just freeze the rest in little Tupperware bowls), and vegetables (I buy bulk red & orange peppers when on sale, chop, and freeze for soups, tacos, stir fry, omelettes, etc). It’s important to keep an eye on your grocery budget when buying in bulk so you don’t go over, but you can typically save a good chunk of change from this practice!

Do you stock up on produce in season? What else do you freeze in bulk?