Eating Clean and Living Green

So, how do you do it?
January 15, 2012, 2:05 pm
Filed under: background and research, clean eating, meal plans

This is a question that’s been posed to me a couple of times from the few folks that know we’ve made the switch. So in an effort to be as helpful as possible, here’s some info:

How much does it cost?

I’ve had a couple of folks comment to me about how expensive eating whole foods must be, and they wanted to know how much we spend. So far, our average shopping trips (one to Earth Fare and one to Wal-Mart) for the week total $75. Before switching to this way of eating, we spent around the same price. And remember that’s for two adults, a 2.5 year old who eats everything we do (just smaller portions), and a nearly one-year-old who is just getting into the whole eating schtick.

Here’s a great article I ran across this week on the topic of cost.

What do you spend the most money on?

Definitely the produce. For example, today, I’m making a rigatoni casserole with Brussels sprouts, blue cheese, and figs. Keep in mind that I’m doubling the recipe (so two 13″x9″ pans), but the figs were $7, Brussels sprouts were $11, and the blue cheese was $5. Everything is fresh and whole foods, though, so definitely worth it. Plus, it’ll make dinner for the four of us for four nights. With all the other ingredients involved in the recipe, we calculated that it will cost $2 per person at each dinner. Try to get such a delicious and nourishing meal anywhere else for that same cost!

How do you find time to plan meals and chop all those veggies?

I’m type-A, so it’s all about organization for me.

Friday night, I print out my Meal planning grid. It accounts for breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, and dessert for every day. I keep back-week plans to see what I might want to revisit for the next week that we really liked or what we want to take a break from or whatever. It helps us avoid falling into a rut. It takes around an hour to plan out every meal and snack for our week, but it’s pretty fun. I only want to cook dinner three times a week, so that turns into a game of sorts to see what recipes in Bittman’s The Food Matters Cookbook I could stretch for several nights—without any need for side dishes.

While I’m planning meals, I’m making my shopping list as well. I have five categories: cold, produce, dry goods (i.e. whole wheat flour or pasta), wet goods (bulk honey or olive oil), and random (toiletries, etc). Saturday morning, I go to Wal-mart alone to get as much of our list as possible. They carry a lot of the same brands as Earth Fare for a lower price; you just have to be willing to dig around a bit. For example, Wal-Mart carries organic tofu for nearly $1 less than Earth Fare, but it’s buried in the produce section near the greens.

After the girls wake up from their afternoon nap, we all go to Earth Fare to round out the list. They usually have samples throughout the store, so the girls get to indulge a bit while cruising in the cart. I want them to have pleasant memories of the grocery store and look forward to going (hence why I go to Wal-mart alone—not a pleasant experience most times).

I’m on Earth Fare’s email list, and every week, they have some sort of free merchandise deal (usually produce or meat) if you spend $10, so I incorporate that into our meal plan to save a bit more money. The first week of January, it was spend $10 and get a 1/2 pound of organic shrimp for free. The second week, it was spend $10, get a free pound of organic pinata apples. This past week, the deal was $10 off a $25 purchase, and because of that, our Brussels sprouts were nearly FREE. Yay!

So we get home Saturday evening, unload the groceries, and have our “clean out the pantry” dinner. Basically, it’s just rice (pulled out of the freezer as noted below) plus whatever greens and veggies we have left over from the week, stir fried together in olive oil and soy sauce. Delish!

Sunday morning before we head to church at 11am, I boil a huge pot of brown rice (takes around an hour) and chop up all the veggies we’ll need for the whole week. This morning, that meant peeling and slicing 15 carrots, 4 bell peppers, a yellow squash, and a zucchini. I had everything chopped and the cutting board washed before the rice finished. Once the rice is cooked, I divvy it up into 2-cup portions in freezer bags and freeze them flat. For every cup of uncooked brown rice, you get about 3 cups of cooked. I’ll take it!

How do you deal with cravings?

I still have them. Just last week, I remember having a rough day with the girls, and once David and I got them into bed, I said, “Hun, I really just want some break and bake cookies. Like now. AHH!” That’s how we used to cope with stress: eat ourselves into a sugar coma. Instead, David opted to make cookies from what we already had and used whole-wheat flour and pecans for added health benefits. Obviously, cookies aren’t good for you, but whole-wheat pecan snickerdoodles made from scratch are a whole lot better than the packaged variety. Plus, we portioned them out into separate containers, so we weren’t facing a huge bowl full of cookies to eat through—just a baggie with 4 in it (they were really small).

Sounds like it’s not too bad. I want to try the switch. Tips?

Do your research. We started really digging into this last summer—as in over six months ago. We made slight changes to our way of eating (making our own whole-wheat baking mix instead of buying Bisquick, making our own granola bars, getting away from drink mixes, etc), but didn’t make the “big” switch until January 1.

You’ve got to know why you want to change in order for this to work. Anytime I feel weak, I can think back to all of the articles I’ve read and documentaries and videos I’ve watched. “This isn’t a diet!” I tell myself. “It’s a whole new way of life.” You can’t approach this like, “Ok, I’ll do this until I’ve lost ___ pounds, then back off a bit.” This is all or nothing. But you can do it!

Here are some resources you may find helpful in starting, and feel free to comment with questions. I’m no expert, but I will do my best to help out.

Some of our research:
1. Documentary Food, Inc (this is fascinating and lit a fire under us)
2. Mark Bittman’s What’s Wrong with the Food we Eat (and anything about/by him)
3. Mark Bittman’s book Food Matters
4. Michael Pollan on Bill Mayer’s show (anything by/about him)
5. Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food
6. 10 Foods you thought were healthy
7. The Dirty Dozen foods with high pesticide residue
8. Why Skim Milk isn’t as Healthy as you May Think
9. Harvard Declares Dairy NOT Part of a Healthy Diet

Once you start going to sites like those, you’ll stumble upon many, many other articles and videos…let me know if you want help finding more!

Cooking/practical items
1. Staples for a healthy kitchen pantry
2. The Food Matters Cookbook
3. Meal inspiration blog (Kath is a registered dietician and eats whole foods. She logs photos of everything she eats every day)
4. A Little Fancy (Sarah is my friend who helped me kick start this dietary change and maintains a food blog)