Recently, I have been trying to live a healthier lifestyle (ie: being more active, eating healthier, etc). My sister Rachel is a total health nut when it comes to her diet so I figured I better take some notes. I took some time to chat with her and find out how she does it. Here’s what she had to say:
Tell me about some of your main eating habits/rules.
I don’t eat hydrogenated oils, palm oil, high fructose corn syrup, deep fried foods, foods with more than 10-15 ingredients, soda, artificial colors and flavors (if possible), aspartame, MSG, preservatives, refined grains, and if there is anything that I don’t know what it is, I won’t eat that either.
Things I do eat are fruits and vegetables, skim milk, plain Greek yogurt, whole grains, hummus, dark chocolate, peanut butter if it follows my other rules, unprocessed meats, fish, cheese, pure maple syrup and honey, and I believe that any homemade goodies are always acceptable.
You didn’t always eat this healthy, what motivated you to change?
It started towards the end of my sophomore year and going into that summer, so I would have been 16. At some point it just hit me that I didn’t necessarily know what I was eating, and I wanted to be more conscious of what was in my food. I started out without very strict rules about it; I would just do it as much as a could, but I was lenient about the rules. Like, if we were eating frozen pizza for dinner, I would eat it because that’s just what we were having. But when it was up to me, say for breakfast or lunch, I would make something healthier. Going into my junior year, I started making my own food for school lunches and taking more ownership of what I ate. In January 2016, I started volunteering at Healthy Community Kitchen, where we make food that follows my rules, and is even more strict. I started getting into cooking more and taking more ownership of what I was eating, instead of just going along with what my family was eating. The next summer, I really hammered out my official rules and started cooking more. That basically leads me to where I am today. It was kind of a process, it didn’t just spring up over night that one day I was going to change my whole life. I am at the point now where I am okay passing up an unhealthy dinner that my family is eating and having a salad instead or another healthy alternative.
One of the main things that contributed to this though is the fact that I have always had to be more conscious of what I eat because of my food allergies; I’ve always had to read ingredients. If I never had food allergies, I wouldn’t be where I am today, because I never would have had to worry about what was in my food.
What do you eat for breakfast?
Plain Greek yogurt with fresh fruit, a banana with natural peanut butter, homemade whole grain muffins, whole wheat pancakes with pure maple syrup, or (not instant) oatmeal with flax seed, berries, cinnamon, and a hint of brown sugar.
What about lunch and dinner?
My lunches are really on the go: hummus with veggies (like carrots, zucchini, cucumbers, or peppers), or a whole wheat pita pocket filled with the hummus and veggies, with some fruit on the side. I also like No-Bake Energy Bites and salads. The ideal salad consists of either romaine lettuce or a mix of greens, any fresh or seasonal veggies (like cucumbers, peppers, or cherry tomatoes), fresh fruit (berries, apples, or pears), a protein like tuna, grilled chicken, or garbanzo beans, some fresh basil if it’s available, and feta cheese (with Mediterranean herbs for extra pizzazz!). Feta seals the deal. I need feta. For a dressing: olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I like to mix it up with different flavors of oil and vinegar. Garlic olive oil is my favorite. Sometimes I’ll sprinkle on a little fresh lemon juice for some extra flavor. I like these salads because they incorporate all the food groups.
For dinner, I’ll make things like chicken stir fry with brown rice, homemade pizza with fresh mozzarella and whole wheat homemade crust, baked chicken with roasted veggies, zucchini pasta (made by spiralizing zucchini or other vegetables), or bruschetta on homemade French bread with tomatoes, basil, and fresh mozzarella.
I eat snacks. Any fruit or vegetable under the sun is acceptable anytime. Also, plain salted popcorn, No-Bake Energy Bites, homemade whole wheat muffins, and natural beef jerky without added MSG.
Do you eat desserts?
YES. In order to eat clean, you don’t necessarily need to give up all the things you love. As long as its made from scratch, I usually deem it acceptable. However, I always replace canola oil with applesauce in any recipe. I generally use whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour. When it comes to chocolate chips, I use a simple brand like Trader Joe’s. If you are looking for ice cream, I would suggest Breyer’s natural vanilla or chocolate. Both are very simple and natural. If you don’t want to bake, another option is dark, dark chocolate. Like 85% cacao. It’s really good for you.
Are there other “less healthy” exceptions that you never want or plan to give up?
Yes. Occasionally eating out, I will break the rules. Also s’mores, although I will use natural marshmallows and dark chocolate. I will eat homemade pie, regardless of hydrogenated oils from the shortening. I will always eat brats; they are not even that unhealthy besides the fat content, but being a proud Wisconsinite, I will always eat brats. And cheese. Cheese is always okay. Unless it is Kraft. Or American cheese. Or Cheese Whiz. It has to be natural cheese. I won’t eat deep fried cheese curds. I have a weakness for frosting and taco dip and I am not ashamed of that.
Any other comments or advice?
Eating clean, whole foods isn’t something you have to do overnight. It has taken over a year for me to really get into it and I am always looking for ways to improve. The best places to get clean, healthy foods are Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and local farmers’ markets! I prefer Trader Joe’s because it is more affordable.
And just because foods at any store might be marked as natural or organic or found in an organic aisle doesn’t mean they are clean. The most important thing to remember is to read the ingredients and just be conscious and aware of what you’re eating.
Looking for more information about clean eating and healthy alternatives? Check out Rachel’s blog, Roots!