Thursday, October 23, 2014

For Carrie - my philosophy about cooking and my meals

I got a great comment on a blogpost the other day, and an actual question! I don't get a lot of questions (maybe because I am insanely transparent and honest and you all already know everything about me?? hahaha)

Part of Carrie's comment was: "Currently, I am struggling with my weight again. I have lost and gained the same 20 pounds for 5 years now! So frustrating! I need to lose about 50 pounds and my biggest problem is nutrition. I exercise all the time, it's my poor food choices that hurt me. When I found your blog, I read an entry that you went from not being cook to loving making healthy, easy meals. I'm not a good cook! So I was wondering if you would be willing to share some of your favorite easy breakfast, lunch and dinner recipes. Your meals always look so good! I try to look up paleo meals on the internet and just feel so overwhelmed by it all."

I bet a lot of people out there are ALL too familiar with this situation - struggling with the nutrition part of the health equation. There are several parts to this equation, and I'll try to be clear on my thoughts:

1. Exercise is GREAT and it is immediately rewarding with tons of little happy chemicals that flood our brains during and after activity and the immediacy of that pride of knowing you did something awesome for yourself!

2. Eating a simple, healthy diet doesn't have the same immediate rewards or sensations of pleasure. In fact, it's the opposite! It's the stuff that isn't so great for us (sugars, fats, carbs in the form of cookies, cakes, chips, pizza, fries, whatever!) that gives our brains that immediate shock of pleasure.

3. And as I've said before - we are HUMANS. We are animals. We are biological creatures on this earth with physical bodies - and we are pleasure seeking animals, just like every other animal! We want to feel happy, fed, safe and warm. No shame in that.

4. With 1-3 in mind, it's important to remember that most people can undo HOURS of exercise with a few daily habits or a few weekly junk meals. You know the old addage, "You can't out-exercise a bad diet!" and I have found that to be, unequivocally true for myself! I'm glad I learned this, because a few times in the past few years, I've been laid up and unable to exercise, but was able to maintain my weight through diet alone.

So I try to be honest with myself and remember all of this when I go through the grocery store, when I prep snacks, when I make dinner, when I choose what to put into my mouth. It helps so much.

But she asked for some good solid information about how to cook EASY, healthy, meals. That's my forte! I love cooking, but I am not an expert, and I keep it simple at all times, pretty much :)

It starts at the grocery store. I buy a lot of the same basics every week that I know I can make filling, nutritious and delicious (to me) food from all week long. No thinking, no recipes, no confusion.

My staples:

Absurb amounts of sweet potato
Whatever other squash or root veggie is on sale (acorn squash, butternut squash, rutabaga, turnip)
Whatever fruit is seasonal and on sale
Frozen blueberries
Brocolli/cauliflower/brussel sprouts/etc
Frozen peas
Baby carrots
Tomatoes (canned and fresh)
Canned pumpkin
Ground meats (beef, turkey, chicken, pork)
Chicken legs/thighs
Bacon :D
Other various pork items - sausages, ribs, whatever
Lactose free cottage cheese (not paleo - but important part of my diet!)
Flax milk
Coconut milk
Olive oil
Coconut oil
Sunflower seed butter
A HUGE selection of spices

With these ingredients, I eat 3 meals a day and snacks every week, easily. We do a lot of prep on Sunday/Monday - roasting sweet potatoes, roasting beets, making a pumpkin-flax smoothie, making chicken legs or sausage for lunches/snacks

My best ideas:

For breakfast -

Well, I have EVERY DAY (I know, crazy) a serving of cottage cheese with frozen blueberries and sunflower seed butter.

My husband, on the other hand, pretty much eats a veggie and egg scramble every day. A hint: cut up veggies in advance to reduce prep time in the morning, throw them in a pan with oil, toss in eggs when ready, and you got breakfast in minutes! Need a big breakfast? Serve on a bed of spinach with pre-roasted sweet potatoes (I ALWAYS have pre roasted cubed sweet potatoes in my fridge!)

Sometimes I would throw leftover meat from dinner the night before into my eggs to bulk it out.

For lunch -

Well, this is an easy one. Lunch is dinner leftovers. We ALWAYS make more dinner than we need so everyone can have leftovers for lunch. One less meal to prep.

In my lunch box, I usually pack leftovers with roasted beets, baby carrots, a spinach salad, a banana/apple, pepitos and my pumpkin smoothie for snacks throughout the day (I don't like eating one big meal in the middle of the day)

For dinner - 

Now, this is where I differ from most people. People LOVE recipes, involved cooking, new tastes/textures/etc. Not me. I love simple and familiar and easy.

Our simplest meals involve us cooking  pound of ground meat in a cast iron skillet with tons of veggies (onions, mushrooms and  tomatoes are standard - plus whatever else is around). We put this on top of salads or sweet potatoes and boom. Done.

We also like to make burgers, meatloafs/balls, chilis with the ground meat - sometimes we eat it taco style in lettuce wraps. Or easy cook sausage or pork chops.

But whatever it is that we make - we almost never have to go get special ingredients or follow a recipe. We know how to spice our food to our liking (which matters a LOT!) and we know how to cook meat so that it's not dry. We got cooking our veggies down pat (not too al dente, not too mushy). 

I have a lot of posts in the past where I share what a day in my food life looks like or what my groceries look like:

And there is more, but I will admit to being lazy and not wanting to look through 775 posts to find them :)

I hope I helped and didn't sound like a rambling lunatic. My philosophy is simplicity and nutrition that tastes good. And what tastes good to me NOW took years of training my taste buds, because I sure as hell did not eat like this 5 or 10 years ago... I would have thought current me is crazy :)

It's a long road of exploring what works for you.

Don't feel like you have to copy any specific diet or recipe book or blogger! It took me and my husband a few years to get our routine down!

And I am weighing in at 122 right now - at my low end - so I love the way I eat :D


  1. I'm a lot like you - I don't like cooking much and used to struggle a bit but now I cook all the time and very much as you do. That was a really helpful post!

  2. When I read her question, I had the same reaction - don't get hung up on the concept of recipes, just prep and eat whole foods.

    Sometimes prepping just means washing them.

    Sometimes it means washing and cooking it on top of stove (I personally never cook in oil, I spray the pan lightly and then add water as needed for sticking) or in oven.

    Feeling the need for recipes I think is a common reaction. I get asked that question all the time. My reaction is the same as yours - a list of foods I eat, almost no recipes, just whole foods in various favorite combinations. And I spend very little time "cooking". Shopping is super simple because my list stays pretty much the same. My kitchen stays stocked with the foods I eat. I am never thinking "what in the whole wide world do I want to eat?" Instead I think "of the foods I eat, what do I want for this meal." And it is available,

    1. I eat healthy fat regularly, in the form of raw/plain tree nuts and a whole small avocado every day. I do eat oil on salads. I do not, personally, eat heated oil.

    2. I would also say the majority of my healthy fats come from non-heated oil! I know there is some research out there about the good properties of oils breaking down when heated?

  3. Hi Jeanette,
    Thank you so much! This helped a ton! Your grocery list is giving me ideas of meals and snacks. I love that you keep your meals simple and easy. Thanks for the advice on not having a recipe, but just make it fun and play around with what tastes good to me. I'm such a novice in the kitchen that I will have to research how to cook some of the veggies and what spices go best with what foods. This will be fun for me to learn!

    I'm impressed with your weight loss and maintenance. This hit home with me "able to maintain my weight through diet alone". I have to change the way I eat!!

    You have inspired me to start making a change and walking over my lunch break :)

    Have a great day!

  4. I have a sweet potato question. Do you peel them before you roast them? Do you eat them with the skins on? Help a sweet potato newb out! ;)

    1. I almost always leave the skins on - one, because I love the extra sort of earthy taste and two, because I don't want to lose any nutrients! We usually cube them into 1/2 inch pieces and then roast, sometimes we make steak fry looking pieces for roasting, and we also mash the sweet potatoes with skins on (for mashing, I will boil cubes with a bit of brother and them mash up with a little butter and tons of pepper and garlic).

  5. ain't nuthin that can be grilled, broiled, or sauteed in coconut it's easy peasy! Meats, veggies, voila! Add favorite seasonings (I love Penzey's), and life is good!

    Great article!

  6. I love all your tips! I love to cook, so I have no problem spending hours in the kitchen, but I know not everyone is like me!

    If I am short on time though, I make a potato crusted quiche over the weekend - it makes 4 portions and I've got four breakfasts ready to grab and go and reheat at work. Pair with some fruit or a Chobani - done!

    And I LOVE buying rotisserie chickens! Pick off all the meat and use it throughout the week. So far this week I've had chicken fried rice, chicken and corn tostadas, a bbq chicken and habanero cheese panini, and I still have a ton leftover to make a chicken tortilla soup. :D