“Healthy” foods that aren’t so healthy

healthy foods that aren't healthyThere are countless products that are promoted as “healthy” but could really be holding you back from your health goals. I want to share a few examples with you and offer suggestions to swap for better options.

Activia has a great marketing strategy: their advertisements and packaging talk about probiotics, how good they are for you, and that Activia is full of them. Their clever advertising has led consumers to think that only certain brands of yogurt contain probiotics when in reality all yogurt has probiotics in it. The cultures are what make yogurt yogurt!

With that knowledge, the down side to flavored yogurt (not just Activia) is that they are full of added sugar. To be clear: the naturally occurring sugar in milk is called lactose. I’m taking about there non-naturally occurring sugar that is ADDED to the yogurt. When you look at the ingredient list which is listed in order of most to least weight you’ll find that sugar is often the SECOND ingredient behind milk, not fruit. The amount of sugar in yogurt in many flavors yogurt brands is pretty close to the amount you’d consume in a can of pop as we call soda in the Midwest. You don’t do yourself any favors by buying light/lite yogurt since artificial sweeteners ironically promote fat storage, not fat loss.

Alternative: Have you tried plain Greek yogurt? It’s the better option but has a bit of a sour taste to it. Some might suggest adding fresh fruit to it but to me it still tastes like a scoop of sour cream with a strawberry on top. Add frozen fruit instead. Throw some cinnamon & nuts in there for good measure. As the fruit thaws there juices ooze out so when you stir your yogurt at lunch time you’ve got strawberry flavored yogurt with strawberries in it.

Nut butter
Check the ingredient list because the term “natural” has no definition tied to it. Processed nut butters have added sugar and added cheaply made oils.

Alternative: Look for two ingredients –> nuts and salt. A little trick you can try: after you get your arm workout stirring your nut butter after opening the first time, store it upside down in your pantry. No need to refrigerate. This way you won’t have to stir it every time you open after that initial stir.

Costco has this beautiful, delicious salad mix that comes with a blend of kale, shaved Brussels sprouts, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, and a poppyseed dressing. What starts out as a nutrition powerhouse is brought down by dressing loaded with, again, cheap oil and sugar. You’ll find the same in store-bought dressing, even the kind that say “made with olive oil.” If you look at the ingredient list, olive oil is often AFTER the cheap oil like canola. A company can say a product is made with olive oil to sound healthier but there could be a teaspoon of it in the entire bottle and technically they could still say it’s made with olive oil.

Alternative: make your own. Don’t be intimidated; a mixture of balsamic vinaigrette and olive oil takes seconds to pour. Use a 1:3 ratio of vinegar to oil and store in a used dressing bottle or buy one of those dressing shakers with a pour spout.

Protein cereal/granola bars/drinks
Companies found a way to sell products by adding protein to it making it “healthier.” Three products that comes to mind are Kashi Go Lean Protein cereal, Nature Valley protein granola bars, and Bolthouse Farms Protein Plus drinks. More often than not, products that promote a high protein content are soy-based.

bolthouse protein plus ingredients

If you look at the ingredients of Bolthouse Protein Plus drinks you will likely find the starting line up of ingredients: low-fat milk, sugar, another kind of sugar, and a blend of whey & soy protein. They put a big sticker on the front bragging about the 30g of protein in a 15oz bottle but they forgot the bigger sticker that should say “AND 60 grams of sugar.” That’s almost a 1/3 cup of sugar.

If you are familiar with the balanced eating concept I refer to often you know that both cereal and milk both count as carbs in my book. With Kashi cereal, you get 6-9 grams per serving (3/4 cup) but that’s not enough protein for a meal (our protein needs vary but this is still too low for most adults) and you get 38g of carbs which is typically more than I’d recommend at a meal. Plus, who really only pours a 3/4 cup serving of cereal? Overall; you go under on protein and over on carbs for a meal. Instead of pouring milk over this and eating it as a cereal you could sprinkle 1/2 cup over plain Greek yogurt and add a handful of nuts for a more well-balanced PFC meal. That’s an option but I’m still a big advocate for getting your carbs from naturally nutrient-dense veggies which I assume you wouldn’t top on your bowl of yogurt… another reason why I’m such a fan of eggs for breakfast 😉

Alternative: Eggs, cottage cheese, plain Greek yogurt made as suggested above. These are all great, budget-friendly protein options to add to breakfast. If you claim you don’t have time to make eggs for breakfast, make egg muffins to keep in the freezer so you can pop one it two in the microwave before you run out the door. Simply crack an egg, cheese, and add chopped veggies to a muffin tin (or these silicone liners for super easy clean up) and bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes. Think of cereal as a side dish if you choose to have it and prioritize colorful veggies for your carb choice most of the time.

Don’t feel like you need to do a complete overhaul and start making everything from scratch. You’ll get overwhelmed and feel defeated you can’t keep up. Instead, pick one change you want to make this week. When that becomes a habit and you don’t even think about doing it anymore, add another swap. No need for overkill and refuse dressing at a party because it’s the processed store-bought kind. It’s the majority of what you do, not the minority, that will lead to a LIFESTYLE of healthy choices.

What other swaps have you made?

If you would like help making swaps and upgrading your pantry while respecting your grocery budget I’m just a message away. Contact me budgetforhealth@gmail.com with the subject line “healthy food swaps” and we can chat.

Non-dairy calcium options

non-dairy calcium optionsAre you a female?
Are you pregnant or a mom of littles?
Do you have bones?

I would guess you can say yes to at least one of those categories. As a Registered Dietitian I work primarily with women and most of them are pregnant or young moms. I’m either pregnant or getting un-pregnant & breastfeeding in this season of life with a 3 & 1 year old so naturally I attract that niche. Your bones continue to grow through your 30s and beyond that is maintenance but calcium is a misunderstood and often neglected nutrient. Let me explain.

D comes before C
You need calcium but in order to absorb it you need vitamin D. Some foods are fortified with it but the best source is from the sun. However, if you live in Michigan where winter is hangs around longer than it should then you need some additional vitamin D support. I highly recommend a quality vitamin D supplement if you are not outside in the sun for at least 20 minutes each day.

Skip the milk, you don’t need it
With that said, let’s move on to calcium. Contrary to popular belief and billboards I see on the highway, you don’t need to drink milk. It’s fine to have in small amounts (count it as a carb if you do, not a protein. You can learn why in my article on balanced eating basics) but you can get all the calcium you need from other non-dairy sources.

Non dairy options
Aside from milk, calcium is high in yogurt and cheeses. If you are avoiding dairy due to lactose intolerance, a milk allergy, or just because you don’t buy it often, here are a few  non-dairy options that are non-fortified (meaning naturally occurring in the food, not added in) and will give you plenty of calcium.

Broccoli, dark leafy greens (think kale, Swiss chard, turnip greens, bok choy… make some stir fry), canned salmon with bones (don’t worry; the bones are so soft you can make salmon burgers and won’t even notice), almonds, almond milk. Be sure to check your nutrition label with almond milk; one cup has about 50% of your daily needs! Check labels though; I just learned that the Kirkland brand from Costco only has 2% of your calcium needs.

If you aren’t sure how much calcium you are getting I highly recommend keeping a food log for a week. You can either enter it in something like MyFitness Pal to verify your intake or simply look up the calcium content of each food I mentioned above. You need more calcium when you are pregnant so be sure to accommodate the higher need. Lastly, calcium is best absorbed in smaller amounts so don’t eat all the calcium-rich foods in one meal and can it good; space it out throughout the day. For example- sauté some kale with your morning eggs. Grab a handful of almonds (fat) with your small piece of fruit (carbs) and a hard boiled egg (protein) for an afternoon snack. Stream broccoli to serve alongside dinner.

Take good care of your bones, mamas! You need them to carry around those wiggly, talking 10…20…40# dumbbells.

What are your favorite calcium-rich foods? Any clever ways you use kale?

What We Ate: Summer edition

I started a tradition at Budget for Health by sharing various meals I’ve made and loved each month. This has been a fun post to write and it’s been a form of accountability because I want to lead by example when it comes to meal planning that is easy, budget friendly, and healthy. Be sure to check out what we ate in prior months.

what we ateIf you’ve been following my blog you are probably used to a monthly round up. I’m changing things up and giving you a seasonal update for two main reasons:

1. We typically eat the same 10 meals and change up the sides.
For the most part you see a lot of the same meals from month to month as I aim for simplicity (note: simple, NOT flavorless or boring) and stick with the PFC concept I am always talking about:

– At least once or twice a week we eat homemade protein pancakes or our perfected hashbrowns.
– At least once a week we eat some type of burger- salmon, pollock, grass-fed beef… served alongside a bowl of veggies and avocado. Thank you Costco.
– We usually share a meal with friends or family so that accounts for another meal or two
– I either pull out a pre-made meal from the deep freezer or rotate our favorites a couple times a month like mom’s meatloaf, chicken curry stew, or a whole chicken in a crockpot.

2. I have been shifting my focus to my social media accounts.
On any given day you can see me posting a meal I’m eating or a workout I’m doing on Instagram. If you head over to my Facebook page you will likely see a 3-minute video of me sharing a tip or trick I’ve learned and have been applying. Nora and Etta are also likely to be featured in said video and may be slightly distracting but you are simply getting a glimpse into my life as a busy mom doing her best to take care of her own body and her family! I pull out articles from my archive and share those on my page as well. I like to share my journey as I go so as you follow me you can see first hand that eating healthy does not have to be difficult, expensive, or boring.

summer meals

I still plan to write posts although they will be less frequent. This blog has been an amazing platform that started my career as a dietitian and I frequently direct those in my nutrition/fitness accountability groups here for practical tips and ideas related to food, fitness, and finance since the 3 are so closely linked. I’m so thankful for your support as I pursue my passion as a dietitian.

What meals do you regularly have each month?

What We Ate: March 2016

What we ate-March 2016I started a tradition at Budget for Health by sharing various meals I’ve made and loved each month. This has been a fun post to write and it’s been a form of accountability because I want to lead by example when it comes to meal planning that is easy, budget friendly, and healthy. Be sure to check out what we ate in prior months.

Another round, shall we?kid friendly mealKid-themed potluck
I’ll just start with this and get it out of the way: chicken nuggets, pigs in a blanket, ants on a log, mac and cheese. Not the best night nutritionally but it was a lot of fun. Also, as a dietitian I’ll chime in and add that I don’t think kids need to eat “kid” food and can eat the same as adults. Here’s a list of ideas for kid-friendly snacks if you’re curious. For example, Nora’s got salmon (protein), avocado (fat), and sweet potatoes (carbs) for a balanced meal in the photo above. She doesn’t have to like it (not a fan of the salmon some days, other days she asks for more) but she does have to try it.

Mama’s house
We’ve been staying the night at my parents once a week to give Dave an extra night of studying for an engineering exam coming up in April and we also visit on weekends occasionally. My mom makes the best food and never has a recipe written down. This month we had corned beef, turkey legs, ribs, stir fry, homemade meatballs, and grilled BBQ chicken. Sides are always veggies &/or a salad and I find some way to throw a lot of butter on something to round out a balanced meal. I didn’t realize how often I eat dinner at my parents until I wrote that all out. She always has the best homemade chocolate chips waiting for Nora too. Thanks, mom!

Crockpot Rotisserie Chicken, etc.

I say etc because I thaw a whole organic chicken on Thursday, make it on Monday, and it stretches into multiple meals for the week. We had the legs & wings with sides Monday & Tuesday, burrito bowls Wednesday, and I used the carcass to make overnight chicken stock which led to Thursday and Friday’s meal- zuppa toscana (Olive garden inspiration with spicy Italian sausage, kale, & potatoes). We did this again later in the month but the soup I made was just a mix of veggies like kale, bell peppers, and spiralized sweet potatoes instead of noodles.

Coworker surprise
Dave’s coworkers graciously put together a meal for us to give us a night off from cooking. It was like a Greek salad- chicken, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, olives, feta, and some muffins that had bran, flax seed, raisins, and dark chocolate in them.

sweet potato hash skilletBreakfast
Per usual, we had breakfast for dinner twice a week this month. It’s a cheap option and we love it. We always have eggs and alternate between making a skillet with shredded sweet potatoes, homemade hashbrowns, or homemade protein pancakes.

Pan-fried Cod or Salmon
I stocked up on fish when I found a great deal on wild-caught varieties. I’ve made black bean salmon or just pan fry some kind of fish to serve alongside asparagus & sweet potato coins/fries or as a burrito bowl.

marinated chickenMock Chipotle burrito bowl
I marinated 5 pounds of chicken in a Thai marinade and another that just had a mix of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, rosemary and garlic. I cooked, diced, and froze them in a ziploc so we could throw them in a salad for our lunch or in a burrito bowl for dinner. I even mixed the rice with cilantro, salt, and lime 😉 We did the same with ground beef and homemade taco seasoning another night.

Goodbye Frank
We ate the last cut of our beef share this month. It was a roast and it was a delicious one. Frank was a great cow and we look forward to our next bovine friend that makes it’s home in our deep freezer.

Stuffed peppers
I mixed rice with some spicy pork sausage, diced peppers, onions.

A favorite choice, especially when we have a BOGO coupon.

What were some favorite meals you enjoyed this month?

What we ate: February 2016

I started a tradition at Budget for Health by sharing various meals I’ve made and loved each month. This has been a fun post to write and it’s been a form of accountability because I want to lead by example when it comes to meal planning that is easy, budget friendly, and healthy. Be sure to check out what we ate in prior months.

What we ate February 2016Well, that month went by fast. Clearly, since my last post was what we ate in January! I’m happy to write up a summary of meals I make each month since I know many of you are always asking me for the recipes when I share a meal on social media and I want to show you that it’s possible to make healthy, simple meals without spending all day in the kitchen. Here we go with another round for February:

I tallied up how many times we had breakfast this month: Homemade hashbrowns & eggs 4 times, homemade protein pancakes and eggs 2 times.

We had an Asian-themed potluck with friends. I made my infamous chicken curry stew and there was a shrimp curry stew, Thai steak salad, Korean BBQ chicken, and other good stuff.

Turkey chili with butternut squash
Dave’s coworker made us a meal after Etta was born and we kept it in our deep freezer until this month!

Fish taco bowl
Bowl-based dishes are our go-to. I just cooked up some cod and sauteed veggies we had on hand then topped it with avocado. Protein + fat + carbs for a balanced meal.

free burritoChipotle
Did you get your free burrito from Chipotle?! It was phenomenal and I didn’t even get E.Coli. Sorry if you missed this delicious opportunity.
Mama made this one for us when my parents came to visit for the day. There’s just something about a mom’s home cooked meal that’s always so comforting. We had brats on the grill with my parents the next day too. Summer can’t come soon enough!

Another homemade meal from my mom. She made these massive meatballs and froze them awhile back so all she had to do was heat them up and serve them alongside some mashed potatoes, salad, and broccoli.

what we ateTaco night
Our friend invited us over for tacos and the meat was this SUPER tender and flavorful beef brisket that fell apart when you just pulled at it with some tongs.Rotisserie chicken
This whole chicken in a crockpot is so east it shows up on the menu at least once every month since we can stretch it out to a few meals. We had it with bbq sauce, broccoli, and sweet potato with butter one night, paleo pad thai with cabbage the next night, and taco soup the next 2 nights. It helps when I use the chicken as PART of a meal instead of having it as a centerpiece like the first night because I can stretch it into more meals. I used the homemade crockpot overnight chicken stock as my base and threw in random things I had like shredded chicken, corn, beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions and homemade taco seasoning.Photo_2016-02-27_03-29-52_PMGrilled cheese
We try to have dinner with some good friends of ours every couple months and our meal of choice is always grilled cheese with an egg on it with tomato soup.

We grilled up our last steak from Frank, our beef share. It was a whopping 3.75 pounds so it was our dinner for 3 nights in a row!

Other meals:
Salmon burger (from Costco) and roasted cabbage & sweet potato coins
Black bean salmon with roasted Brussels sprouts
BBQ chicken with sweet potato and broccoli

Shrimp stir fry
Meal prep tip: Cook extra batches in your rice cooker and freeze flat in a quart-size bag. It makes for a quick dinner. I had a giant bag of stir fry veggies in the freezer so all I had to do was thaw & cook the shrimp & veggies while the rice warmed up.

Family visit
We got to meet our precious niece this weekend! We had pizza the first night for dinner and I savored 2 big slices and decided to pass on the breadsticks. It’s all about balance, right? Dave’s mom made a delicious soup the next day with ground turkey, kale, butternut squash, and white beans. Our third meal before heading home was rotisserie chicken, sweet potatoes, and a kale salad mix from Costco.

What are some go-to meals you make at least once a month?

What we ate: January 2016

I started a tradition at Budget for Health by sharing various meals I’ve made and loved each month. This has been a fun post to write and it’s been a form of accountability because I want to lead by example when it comes to meal planning that is easy, budget friendly, and healthy. Be sure to check out what we ate in prior months.What we ate- January 2016Homemade rotisserie chicken 
We got a few meals out of this one 4-pound chicken. We ate just chicken with some delicious sides and had quesadillas and paleo pad Thai for the next few dinners.

Mom’s meatloaf
My mom’s meatloaf recipe with some homemade mashed potatoes are a winner on cold days like we’ve been having in Michigan.

Beef roast in the Crock Pot
We now only have one steak and one roast left from our beef share. Sad days a comin’…

beef roast, meat loaf, chickenBreakfast
Always. Eggs with either homemade hashbrowns or my protein pancakes.

Zuppa Toscana
This is a homemade version of Olive Garden’s zuppa toscana. Spicy Italian sausage, kale, potatoes, and homemade overnight chicken stock I made in the crockpot with the leftover bones from our rotisserie chicken.

Thai chicken salad with homemade Thai peanut salad dressing
Oh my word I couldn’t stop talking about how good this was! You can get the dressing and the chicken marinade in the link above.

We love having friends over for dinner. One couple had recently learned how to make Pho so we picked that for our next meal. It was so so good!

Stir fry bowls
Shrimp, lots of veggies, and rice I pre-cooked and kept in the freezer for a night like this when we needed a quick and easy meal.
thai chicken, stir fry, breakfast, phoPaleo Pad Thai
Instead of noodles we sauteed cabbage and I mixed up chicken and green onions with the Thai peanut dressing.

hello fresh meals

Hello Fresh
My oh my all three of these meals were phenomenal! We’ll just pretend I took these photos 🙂
Here were the 3 meals we got this time:
– Oven roasted chicken with roasted brussels sprouts, carrtos, and parsnips over lemon-thyme basmati rice.
– Marinated flank steak with roasted zucchini, potatoes, and bell peppers
– Ground pork & apple burgers with rosemary potatoes and a side salad with balsamic vinaigrette

What new recipes have you tried out this month?

2016 goals

2016 goalsI never set real goals for myself until I started this blog 4 years ago. We’ve been able to accomplish so much in less than 5 years! It’s one thing to set a vague example (like “try to make extra payments our mortgage”) compared to setting a SMART goal like paying an extra $10,000 toward your mortgage this year.

Here’s to another year of smart goal setting!

2016 goals

#1 Max out our Roth IRAs
We have automatic withdrawals set up to fund our Roth IRAs but now that we are only budgeting off of Dave’s income our scheduled monthly allocations alone will not get us to this goal. We budget in a unique way in that we only budget for income from 2 paychecks per month but there are two months each year when there are 3 paydays in the month. I’m sure these two “extra” paychecks will go toward this goal as well as any annual bonus or raise Dave gets.

#2: Help more people with their nutrition and fitness goals
I had the false understanding that if I wasn’t employed by someone and working a “real” 9-5 job that I wasn’t making use of my dietetics degree. I started off with a few “real” dietetics jobs by working for a hospital, teaching at a community college, and at and local health department. Since I knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom someday this was one of my reasons to start Budget for Health. I know I shouldn’t expect feedback from people I’ve inspired but it really fuels my excitement for what I’m doing here. Now that I’m running my nutrition and fitness challenge groups I’ve loved seeing how much more I can help people by still being a stay-at-home mom since I get to set my own hours and “work” from home. I’m confident that lives will be changed this year and I get to be a part of people’s journey by offering accountability and support.

#3 Start building our home gym
Dave and I love lifting weights and dream about having our own home gym. We aren’t looking to become body builders but it’s one of our favorite forms of exercise and being able to do some kind of physical activity every day has a huge impact on our mood and energy levels. However, the only weights we currently have in our home are 2-pound dumbbells since we’ve used weights at a gym in the past so we are basically starting from scratch. Having our own equipment would definitely pay off within a couple of years compared to paying a monthly gym membership since we’d use it every day. Dave has his eyes set on a barbell set that will cost around $1,000 with the amount of weight we want so that’s first up on our list. We bought a chin up bar as a Christmas present for each other so it looks like birthday and Christmas gifts are going to be adding to our home gym from here on out!

#4 New City Catechisms
I typed out all 52 catechisms and put them on notecards last year but we fell behind and eventually stopped going through them. Dave and I set this goal together to focus on one each week. It would be great to memorize them all but the long term plan is to go through them every year and they will stick to memory more over time. There’s even a shortened version for kids and an interactive iPad app we love!

Here are our goals from 2012, 2013, and 2014, and 2015 if you want to see all we’ve accomplished. Some are my own goals but I say “our” because Dave plays a huge role in most of them.

What are your 2016 goals?