The Vegan Whole30 – Why and How?

If you’ve been a long-time follower of the Born Again Minimalist blog you’ll know that I have been in the vegetarian end of the pool before (for a total of about a decade, on and off) and repeatedly swam back to the waters of omnivorism. Ethical omnivorism, I called it, or Humaneitarianism. I only ate meat, dairy, and eggs from ethical sources. Animals should have a healthy, happy life followed by one bad day – that was my line of thinking. After all, animal protein and fat have their place in a healthy diet.

Well, y’all, I’ve come back around and I’m feeling confident that I am now well equipped with enough knowledge and research to never feel deprived or lacking nutrition on a plant-based diet. I’m vegan and about 99% sure it’s here to stay. That 1% is for all the people who want to ask me if I’d kill an animal to survive on a desert island. I’ll write more about my decision to become vegan in later blogs. This one’s about the Whole30!

What is the Whole30?

Have you heard of it before? You can get the complete run-down on their website but here’s the basic premise:

Health starts with food. Everything you put in your mouth either helps or hinders your health. Many food types (such as dairy, legumes, grains, sugar, and alcohol) can cause chronic inflammation of the body. The Whole30 removes these questionable foods for a full 30 days and reintroduces them in a slow, controlled manner afterward so that you can test your observations and understand any unknown food intolerances you might have.

The Rules

  1. No sugar or sweeteners of any kind (no maple syrup, agave nectar, honey, coconut sugar, sucanat, cane juice, stevia, xylitol, etc.)
  2. No alcohol
  3. No grain (wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, rice, quinoa, etc.) or grain derivatives (rice oil, corn oil, cornstarch, rice syrup, etc.)
  4. No legumes (beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, soy)
  5. No dairy
  6. No carrageenan, MSG, sulfites (common additives)
  7. No making “healthy” or “compliant” treats or foods made with approved ingredients

That last one confused me at first. Why can’t I make banana ice cream, dang it? But their reasoning is really good:

Continuing to eat your old, unhealthy foods made with Whole30 ingredients is totally missing the point, and will tank your results faster than you can say “Paleo Pop-Tarts.” Remember, these are the same foods that got you into health-trouble in the first place—and a pancake is still a pancake, regardless of the ingredients.  – See more at: http://whole30.com/whole30-program-rules/#sthash.bF9lEqrQ.dpuf

The final rule was one of the hardest to follow: NO MEASUREMENTS OR SCALE FOR THIRTY DAYS. Yes. You can weigh yourself on Day 1 and Day 31, but no weighing in or taking measurements for the duration of the program. It’s about health, not weight loss. (On a related note, I lost over 9 lbs).

Read the full details and fine print here.

Why Vegan?

Most people on the Whole30 or a paleo diet rely  on meat. Vegans and vegetarians typically use legumes as a plant-based protein source, but I would be without those staple food items for my 30 day adventure.

Where do you get your protein?

This question is the bane of vegan/vegetarian existence. It is the most commonly asked question from meat eaters when someone mentions their plant-based diet.

protein-4

For the duration of the Whole30, I ate plenty of nuts, seeds, and seed butter for protein and fat. Also, many plants have a good amount of protein! Green veggies such as spinach and kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and asparagus have high protein content, and mushrooms are also a good source of plant-based protein. Green beans, snap peas, and snow peas are “approved” legumes on the Whole30 plan because they are in a green pod and are considered more veggie than bean.

Here is a question for you: Where did your grass-fed beef get all its muscles?

Can a vegan do a real Whole30 or is it modified?

The official recommendations of Whole30 say you can’t technically do the recommended Whole30 plan while vegan, because they recommend a moderate amount of animal protein. They include the following suggestions to doctor the Whole30 to minimally impact gut health while doing a Whole30-ish plan on a vegan diet:

If you simply choose to include off-plan dairy or plant protein in your Whole30-ish plan (this also applies to vegans, save dairy), here are our best tips:

Dairy: Prioritize pastured, organic, fermented sources like yogurt or kefir. You could also use a whey protein powder from grass-fed, organic sources, which would provide the protein you need with fewer downsides than other dairy products (including cheese). You may want to experiment with goat’s milk or sheep’s milk, if you know cow’s milk products aren’t well-tolerated.

Legumes: Your best choices are minimally processed, fermented soy products like tempeh or natto, or organic edamame (soybeans). You can also include non-fermented, organic soy (like extra-firm tofu) and various legumes in rotation. Avoid non-organic soy, processed soy products (like “burgers” and “cheese”), and peanuts.

Grains/Pseudo-Cereals: Avoid all gluten grains, including seitan (which is made from wheat gluten). Pseudo-cereals like quinoa are less likely to cause disruption to the gut or immune system than other grains.

Protein Powders: A hemp- or pea-protein powder is also an option for you, although you’d have to include quite a lot of it in your diet to get any substantial amount of protein. Read your labels carefully to make sure these protein powders include as few inflammatory ingredients as possible.

– See more at: http://whole30.com/2015/06/veg-whole30/#sthash.vOTVhyva.dpuf

But I like to go all in. I followed all Whole30 food restrictions and completed the thirty day experiment with no plant sources beyond those I already discussed. However, I did make a few adjustments to the plan due to my plant-based diet.

Snacks: The official guidelines advise you to have three meals a day and not have snacks. But let me tell you what happens when you eat only vegetables: they take up a lot of room in your stomach without a lot of calories. To get enough calories to function, I had to eat more frequently throughout the day. Check out this representation of caloric density:

Caloric-Density

Totally filling myself up with veggies or fruit would result in about 400-600 calories per meal. In order to eat 1800-2000 calories per day I needed to eat a couple snacks. My go-to snacks were trail mix (mixed raw nuts with raisins and coconut flakes) or an apple with nut or seed butter. Sometimes I would have a sweet potato or baked sweet potato fries as a snack as well, if I was feeling under-carbed.

Fruit: Official Whole30 recommendations advise limits around fruit. They’re not concerned with the sugar or calorie content, but if participants lean on fruit as a sweet treat, then they aren’t getting to the underlying habits and cravings the Whole30 can address and correct. However, following a plant-based diet means that my options for food are fruit, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. I ate a lot of fruit for breakfast every day. It gave me whole-food calories with plenty of micronutrients! Favorite breakfasts were sliced bananas with blueberries, melon chunks, pineapple chunks, or banana smoothies toward the end of the Whole30 when I desperately needed a change.

The Whole30 guidelines also recommend you eat fruit WITH your meals, not alone as a snack. My issue with this is that fruit tends to digest faster than other foods, so I typically try to eat it on an empty stomach to avoid gas and bloating from fermentation in my stomach or digestive tract as the fast-digesting fruit gets stuck behind slower-digesting vegetables and starches. No thanks! I usually eat my fruit for breakfast on an empty stomach.

My Experience and Results

My experience of the Whole30 was basically this:

  1. First week: Massive “sugar hangover,” tired, sluggish, cravings, weird dreams about bread
  2. Second week: Feeling REALLY GREAT about all food options available to me, creative meal planning and recipes
  3. Third week: Coasting. Same old-same old on foods I knew I liked and could cook easily.
  4. Fourth week: Boredom. Ready for this to be over. Not because I can’t wait to have a bean-rice-pizza binge but because this is expensive and I want to be able to eat other things
  5. Bonus: I don’t crave sugar anymore. I get plenty of natural sweetness from fruit and have no desire to run back into the sugar bowl for solace.

Grocery Costs

Yes, I spent more on food than I usually do. In a typical week I spend $50-$75 on groceries to happily feed myself and my boyfriend. On a typical Whole30 week I spent an average of $100 per week. Some of that was random one-off stuff like buying a jar of tahini to make some truly terrible squash based hummus. That is ten bucks I’m kind of mad about. But I am hoping to make actual chickpea hummus with it later so I reserve judgment. (Can you return an open jar of tahini to Whole Foods? Let me know).

Could I have done the Whole30 on a budget? Yes, I think I could. If I do it again, I will be much more careful about my meal planning and grocery budgeting and try to do it on about $50-$80 per week instead of $100+.

I did my grocery shopping at the following places:

  • West Side Market: LIFESAVER. Were it not for the market I could have easily spent twice as much money on produce.
  • Aldi
  • Earth Fare
  • Whole Foods

Exercise and Sleep

I didn’t stick to a workout regime on the Whole30. When I start juggling lots of balls at once, I have a tendency to stress myself out, over-fixate on perfection, and go down the path of disordered eating or thinking. I worked out if I felt like working out, and I slept in when I felt like sleeping in. My main focus of the Whole30 process was to (1) get control of my food habits, and (2) integrate healthy sleep habits into my routine.

 Mood

I feel pretty great! I had highs and lows in my mood as anyone would throughout a month. I was a little irritable in week 1, but not the evil scary monster I expected myself to be. I felt well rested and energetic most days. I feel “lighter” in spirit and body.

Physical Changes

I noticed in the mirror that my belly bulge was going away. Starting the Whole30 at 213.8 pounds, I expected a few pounds of fat loss but wasn’t holding my breath for a big change. Color me surprised when I weighed in on Day 31 to see the number 204.2 staring back at me! That’s a 9.6 pound loss in 30 days with minimal exercise, just focusing on healthy food and sleep.

What’s Next?

The reintroduction phase of Whole30 allows you to slowly reintroduce potential problem foods one at a time and notice any changes or symptoms. Here’s the sample 10-day reintroduction schedule from Whole30:

  • Day 1: Evaluate legumes
  • Day 4: Evaluate non-gluten grains
  • Day 7: Evaluate dairy
  • Day 10: Evaluate gluten

After each day, go back to Whole30 eating for two days while noticing any symptoms or effects from the food. Decide how, how often, and how much to incorporate these foods back into your diet, if you choose to continue eating them at all.

Since I don’t eat dairy as a vegan, I get to evaluate my foods in the reintroduction period over a seven day period. Here’s my plan:

  • Day 1: Evaluate legumes (peanut butter with breakfast, chickpea falafel with lunch, black beans with dinner)
  • Day 4: Evaluate non-gluten grains (oatmeal with breakfast, corn with lunch, rice with dinner)
  • Day 7: Evaluate gluten (sourdough bread with breakfast, Field Roast meat substitute for lunch, non-dairy pizza for dinner)

About Gluten

For a couple of years now, I’ve been largely gluten free. However, I do occasionally have some sourdough bread (the fermentation of the starter helps to break down the gluten to make it easier to digest) or sprouted grain bread (same deal, easier to digest). These foods don’t typically cause me any symptoms that I have noticed. I have had accidental gluten to varying effects, sometimes experiencing bloating and gas afterward and sometimes not. So I know something is going on with gluten and me. In the spirit of trying things, I’m going to reintroduce it to note its effects once and for all.

The Sugar Dragon

My primary goal for this Whole30 process was to eliminate sugar from my diet and destroy my sugar cravings. Before the Whole30, I was eating oatmeal with brown sugar and maple syrup once or twice a day, having dark chocolate several times per week, and enjoying other sugary snacks. For me, sugar is a really tricky food item. It’s 8 times as addictive as cocaine and I have a hard time keeping it in “moderation.” I can quickly become obsessed. For me, sugar is not a healthy food. I don’t plan on reintroducing sugar to my diet anytime soon. If I figure out a safe moderation steam-release on my sugar dragon, I will report back. For me, I think I will stick with fruit.

Soy: Friend or Foe?

There is a lot of research out there on soy. Some sources sing its praises as a heart-healthy, protein-rich superfood. Other sources say it is full of phytoestrogen and gives you man boobs. Since there is so much soy controversy, I plan on keeping my intake limited and not relying on it as a staple food item.

Chipotle

Can’t stop, won’t stop.

Exercise

Since I can only focus on one giant project at a time without treading the edge of mental dysfunction, I didn’t spend a lot of time focusing on exercise during the Whole30. Afterward, though, I am planning a new fitness regimen that I am very excited about! I’ll be training for a 5K using the Couch to 5K program as well as doing strength training three times a week. The combination of long cardio and strength should help to bust me out of the plateau that the Whole30 helped me break!

Onward and Upward!

Is a vegan Whole30 possible? Yes.

How does it make you feel? Like an unstoppable plant-powered badass.

Would you do it again? I am really not sure. I think I might do a Whole21 or a 30 day sugar detox instead of a complete Whole30.

 

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3 Ways meal planning improves your life

Scenario 1: You get home from work and look around in the pantry and fridge to decide on dinner. You find a box of pasta and a jar of sauce. There’s even some spinach in the fridge you decide to add to your sauce. And you know you have italian sausages in the fridge from the last time you went to the store. You also plan to make a salad.

While you’re boiling the pasta, you dig out the sausages only to find that they have gone off and smell terrible. Oh no!

Scenario 2: You get home from work and look around in the pantry and fridge to decide on dinner. You see plenty of food but nothing looks like it goes together and you’re too tired to think about it. You throw your hands up in the air and order takeout.

After three days of this, you realize all your fresh produce has started to turn bad in the fridge and is no longer usable. Oh no!

Solution: Meal planning can help you prevent these and other kitchen problems.

I started meal planning in the past few months, and it has really helped me in 3 main areas:

  1. Budget
  2. Health
  3. Sanity

Meal planning for your budget

If you plan out meals and snacks for the week, you have a different frame of mind when you approach your food. You know that there is a plan, so you don’t just mindlessly snack and haphazardly throw a meal together. The plan helps you budget for your groceries and stick to the budget. It is so easy to wander aimlessly through the store and buy whatever looks good at that moment. But that method of shopping is not conducive to a strict budget or to balanced meals throughout the week.

I am a strong believer in the cash envelope method of budgeting, so all of our family’s grocery money goes into an envelope. When I am done spending, I’m done buying groceries for the month, so I really need to make it last. A detailed plan allows me to spend our grocery money in the best and wisest way.

When you plan your meals to help your budget:

  • Review your grocery store’s sales – plan meals involving foods you can get at a bargain
  • Comparison shop – this takes a little more time, but comparison shopping between a few stores can cut down on spending (especially if different stores have different items on sale)
  • Buy in bulk – shopping trips with multiple “staple” items may seem more expensive, but if you stock up on things in one trip you should just have to do a lower-cost maintenance trip the next week. These could be items like oats, rice, beans, nuts and seeds, coconut oil, potatoes, ketchup (yes, in my house ketchup is a staple food and I have made a vow to always have a supply in the house), or even freezable items like meat and cheese if they are on sale. Buying in bulk saves money in the long run and allows you more freedom with your week-to-week ingredients budget.
  • Do the math – Take your phone or a calculator with you and be a grocery nerd. Calculate out the cost per pound of pre-packaged items vs. buying from the deli or meat case. Compare sale prices to bulk prices. I recently opted to buy chicken breasts and legs separately instead of a whole chicken because the sale prices came out cheaper to buy them already butchered – and the whole chicken is usually the most frugal option! It always saves money to cost compare.

I also strategize and review my grocery budget before I even leave the house. Step #1: Meal plan. Step #2: Groceries we need to make the meal plan happen.

I break my grocery list into the following categories:

  • Produce (fruits and veggies)
  • Bulk (rice, beans, seeds, nuts, flour, sugar, refills of water)
  • Dairy (milk, yogurt, eggs, cheese)
  • Meat (Beef, pork, bacon, sausages, chicken, lunch meat)
  • Frozen (waffles, veggies, occasional ice cream)
  • Grocery (crackers, bread, tortillas, condiments, baking stuff)

Then I estimate the cost of each item, add up the total budget, and adjust as needed, removing items if necessary to get to my target budget range.

I know, personally, that if I just go to the store and throw things in the cart willy nilly, I will over-spend and probably bring home random items that don’t make sense to the plan. The plan will save the budget.

Meal planning for your health

When you plan out your meals, you can ensure a healthy balance of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fat). I am a person that doesn’t enjoy many vegetables so I have to actively and purposely PLAN for my vegetables. I make it a goal to eat 3 servings of vegetables per day, on top of my morning shake that’s already full of vegetables. Meal planning also ensures that you are set up to create nutritious and healthy meals instead of just grabbing something weird from the back of your freezer that expired in 2007 and throwing it in the oven. Don’t eat mystery meals – planning allows you to cook healthy meals with less hassle.

When planning your meals, consider:

  • Vegetable servings: Try to get a couple different vegetables in with dinner. Bonus points for different colors! Corn doesn’t count, it’s a grain. Don’t just rely on potatoes all the time. Think about broccoli, carrots, greens, mushrooms, onions, peppers, squash, and more. Search for new recipes. Sign up for a CSA to get a share of fresh vegetables in the summer and fall, then plan your meals around them!
  • Protein sources: Be creative and resourceful with cuts of meat that can be re-used for other meals later. Recently, we purchased a pork shoulder roast. We made roast pork with roasted vegetables one night and pork carnitas with the leftovers. You can do the same with chicken – make baked chicken and use the leftovers for chicken salad, quesadillas, or soup. The possibilities are endless. You can also have an omelet bar for dinner one night and allow family members to pick their toppings like mushrooms, tomatoes, cheese, crumbled bacon, and more. For a meat-free option, check out recipes for tofu, tempeh, beans, or protein-rich vegetables that can be the focus of the meal.
  • Healthy fat: Cooking with coconut oil is much healthier than refined oils such as soybean or canola. “Vegetable oil” is inflammatory and can do considerable harm to your body over time. Avoid hydrogenated and trans fats as well. To be honest, I cook most of my food items in bacon grease or butter. I also use coconut oil, and we use olive oil for salad dressings or low temperature cooking. Olive shouldn’t be used in high temperatures. I also strongly encourage the consumption of avocado and full-fat dairy if you eat dairy. Just remember: When you see the words “Low cal” or “Low fat” as marketing terms, replace them in your head with “Chemical shitstorm.”
  • Carbohydrates: I generally limit myself to about four servings of carbohydrates per day, things like rice, waffles, tortillas, corn, etc. These are simpler foods that break down into sugars in the body. Too much sugar is a bad plan for your health – it is the number one culprit for weight gain and inability to lose weight. I limit my sugar intake as well (including fruit) because sugar is a dangerous food for me. It can spark cycles of cravings for carbohydrates that are contrary to my goals. Carbs give us quick energy but meal planning helps you to plan out better quality meals so you don’t need a quick fix.

Meal planning also means packing your lunch, which will save you from take-out at your desk during the week. Fast food and restaurant portions are not doing you any favors. Pack your lunch for your health and your budget.

Meal planning for sanity

Before meal planning, we often opted for takeout simply because I was too exhausted to care about cooking. Having a plan is instrumental in reducing the stress of preparing a meal for the day (or the next day’s lunch). Now, when I get home from work, I wash my lunch containers and re-pack my lunch for the next day. I eat the same thing. Every day. Boring? Not really. Predictable, but it’s all food I enjoy so I don’t yet feel the need to change it. I plan out the food that will go in my lunch each day and buy it at the beginning of the week. I could go so far as to pre-pack five lunches on Sunday but I haven’t gone that far yet. Plus I don’t want to buy that many food containers to pack.

Meal planning for dinner allows for prep work to be done ahead of time. Say you’re going to make tacos on Monday and spaghetti on Tuesday. Maybe hamburgers are Thursday. You buy two pounds of ground beef at the store on Sunday, form half of it into patties, and freeze them. Brown the rest in a pan. You now have taco meat for Monday and sauce meat for Tuesday, and you won’t have to cook that hamburger during the week.

Foods you can prep in advance:

  • Wash, peel, and chop or shred vegetables for meals
  • Wash and portion snack items like celery, cucumber slices, grapes, berries, etc.
  • Cook meat for the week at one time and freeze or portion for later meals
  • Create crockpot meals, freeze in freezer bags for easy thawing and pouring into a crockpot (talk about sanity saving, this one cooks while you’re at work)
  • Soak and cook bulk rice and beans for the week
  • Shred or slice block cheese for sandwiches, quesadillas, omelets, etc.
  • Make fridge oats by mixing oatmeal, yogurt, milk, and fruit in a jar, placing in the fridge overnight, and having as a cold porridge (these keep in the fridge for a few days, or you can make a bunch and freeze, then thaw overnight)

An additional sanity saver when it comes to prepping meals? Move your sister into your home and let her mad kitchen skills create culinary wonderment for you to enjoy. Seriously, my sister moved in, and it’s awesome. She has improved my diet so much in just a few weeks of living with us – so many wonderful vegetables and tasty Nicaraguan recipes.

Tell me all about your meal planning adventures – do you meal plan? Would you like to?

How I cut my family’s grocery budget nearly in half

When I started the “Dave Ramsey thing” and created my first monthly budget, I settled on $300 a month for groceries, including cat food and household stuff like dish soap and toilet paper.

So, when I moved in with my co-human, I just doubled it to a budgeted $600. If $300 worked for one person, $600 would be logical for two. We wound up spending upwards of $700 per month on groceries. Yikes. To top that off, comment threads from favorite Facebook pages asking about budgets were showing me that many people were doing a whole foods budget for more people with less money than we were spending. Obviously something was amiss. I discussed this a bit in an earlier post in March.

What was jacking up the cost?

  • Lack of planning – buying haphazardly without a plan led to a lot of impulse purchases and even some food waste.
  • High standards – I buy only humane animal products and prefer organic foods.
  • Luxury purchases – Co-human was really digging some expensive cheese there for several months. Not saying that was the only thing going on (I was also addicted to almond meal cookies) but we were spending a lot of frivolous luxury dollars at the grocery store.
  • I was being snooty – I didn’t even LOOK at other grocery stores other than Earth Fare. I admit this was a personal flaw.

Bringing the cost down

Not only did I reduce our budget to below $600, I have even gotten it to a solid $400-$450 depending on the month. I think I can even get it down to $350 if I really put my mind to it. Feeding a whole extra person on only $50 more than I used to budget to feed myself… I shudder to think of what I could have been saving when I lived on my own!

I still shop mainly at higher-end grocery stores like Earth Fare and Heinen’s. I strategize my shopping trips so I only need to go once a week to either of those stores and can supplement if needed at Giant Eagle, which is a mile away and way more convenient. Marc’s has surprisingly come up as another low-budget source – organic sweet potatoes are a downright STEAL at the local Marc’s store.

I still buy whole food ingredients, fresh produce, fresh humane meat, and humane/organic dairy and eggs.

How the heck are you feeding two people your snooty food on only $400?

  • Buy in bulk when possible – Rice, beans, oatmeal, flour, nuts, etc. are almost always cheaper when you buy bulk. Bulk also helps you save on meat! This spring, my dad purchased a portion of a local steer and split it with me. I spent $80 on 30-40ish pounds of beef, some of which is still in the freezer. If you’ve got the freezer space and the up-front cash, this is a way to save some SERIOUS dough. I also buy chickens whole and cook them in the crockpot, which is cheaper than buying just breasts. I buy 2lb rolls of butter, divvy it up into mason jars for storage, and save lots of money over buying it in sticks ($8.99 for a 2 lb roll vs. 5.99+ each for a 1 lb box of comparable butter).
  • Buy on sale and know your price points – Earth Fare is pretty much the only store I trust for meat, because of their humane treatment policy. But I buy on sale. Grass fed beef is usually $8/lb – I stock up when it’s on sale for $4/lb with a coupon. Ground pork is usually $5/lb, so when it’s on sale for $3 or $4/lb, I stock up on that too. I buy chicken breasts or thighs when they are sale priced around the same cost as buying the whole chicken. Other items can be found strategically on sale too, whether you shop specialty stores or your average neighborhood grocery.
  • Compare stores – This requires some preparation and initial time investment. Make a list of EVERYTHING you commonly buy. Then go to several stores and compare the costs. Check online too – sites like Amazon and Vitacost can save you some money on grocery items. I am working on a pretty hefty spreadsheet comparing costs. When you find out which stores have consistently better deals or prices on certain items, strategize your shopping trips to make the most of your dollars.
  • Compare products – You need to be sure you are comparing apples to apples when you compare products in the store. You might opt for a bag of frozen organic berries because it’s only $3.29, but it’s eight ounces. That’s $0.41 per ounce. A pound of fresh organic strawberries at $4.99 is $0.31 per ounce. Ten cents an ounce is a lot of savings to buy fresh! Yes, there’s a little more work involved (you must wash and dry, then eat before they go bad or freeze them yourself) but if you have the five minutes to do the work yourself, you can save a bit of money. Same for lunchmeat – a packet of Applegate turkey is more expensive per ounce than getting it by the pound at the deli counter. It pays to do the math.
  • Dirty Dozen/Clean 15 – Some items are very important to buy organic. These fruits and vegetables have the highest concentration of pesticides on conventional produce. I always make sure to buy root vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, etc.), berries, grapes, apples, and greens organic. I buy conventional melons, citrus, onions, mushrooms, bananas, pineapples, avocados, and frozen peas. Here’s a list of 48 fruits and veggies listed from “most pesticides” to “least pesticides.” I also purchase summer squash, zucchini, and corn organic or at least non-GMO, as these are common GMO foods.
  • Keep inventory – Knowing what you have on hand in your kitchen will allow you to plan better. If you have a bunch of broth, make soup. Beans and tomato sauce? Plan for chili. Don’t just keep buying things because you know you might cook with them someday. It can be very beneficial to have a no-spend week or month in which you use up the food in your pantry and freezer instead of buying additional groceries. There’s been a box of veggie burgers in my freezer for over six months… Oops.
  • Meal plan – Plan what you will cook for the week before you do your shopping trip. You can plan for leftovers or low-maintenance nights where you just make a sandwich or soup from a can. I won’t judge you, I do it too. There are “toast for dinner” nights in this house. There are also “cook three things to prep for the rest of the week” nights. Which brings me to my next point…
  • Cook smart – If you are cooking ground beef for spaghetti sauce on Monday night, and you’re having tacos on Wednesday, cook all the ground beef at the same time and set aside the stuff for Wednesday. Ta-da, taco meat is pre-prepped, you just have to heat it back up and add spices. Tonight, I made french toast and bacon for dinner. But I also cooked pasta with Italian sausage for tomorrow night. Or maybe the night after. Because…
  • Be flexible – If you go off the meal plan, it’s not the end of the world. Sometimes the weather affects my cooking plans (making the meal that requires an oven on a cooler day, for instance – I hate heating up the house in summer, ugh!), sometimes I just don’t feel like cooking, and sometimes I have a lot of leftovers we need to eat up before I cook something new (I hate wasting). It’s all good. Don’t totally abandon it, but be okay with moving some meals around and re-arranging your plans.
  • Budget – This is the most important thing. To save money on groceries, you have to plan out the money you will spend on groceries. If it helps you to separate meat, dairy, produce, etc. in your budget, do that to keep yourself on task. Otherwise just plan your trip and budget what you will spend for the month total and for each shopping trip. Use CASH instead of a card to keep yourself accountable – when the cash is gone, no more groceries. Spend wisely.

Sample meal plan and shopping list

Here’s my meal plan and shopping list for the week of 6/1/14:

  • Sunday: Italian sausage with pasta
  • Monday: Chicken breast, peas and carrots
  • Tuesday: Burgers and beans
  • Wednesday: Brinner
  • Thursday: Chicken nuggets, tater tots, beans
  • Friday: Chinese?
  • Saturday: Meatloaf, mashed potatoes

Shopping list:

  • Produce: Apples (3 lb bag), strawberries (1 lb box)
  • Water gallon refills
  • Dairy: Eggs (3 dozen), milk (1/2 gallon), yogurt (large container), cheese (1 pack)
  • Meat: Bacon (1 lb), chicken breasts (coupon for $2.99/lb)
  • Grocery: Pasta
  • Bakery: Sourdough bread (2 loaves)
  • Giant Eagle: Mushrooms, watermelon

That was my whole plan to cook for the week. We already had ground beef, italian sausage, pasta sauce, and chicken nuggets in the house. But… the chicken breasts were sold out and co-human wanted to try a new brand of cheese slices. We opted for bratwurst instead of chicken, and we got two packs of cheese instead of one. I still came in under-budget for the shopping trip.

What I have actually cooked this week:

  • Sunday: Bratwurst and bean casserole. My onion in the pantry had gone bad (note: Buy onion on Monday).
  • Monday: Bratwurst and bean casserole. Yes, I made it again. It was delicious.
  • Tuesday: Cooked myself french toast and bacon, made the man a sandwich. Cooked pasta and italian sausage for Wednesday.

What I expect to cook later this week:

  • Wednesday: Italian sausage and pasta (already made, just heat!)
  • Thursday: Chicken nuggets, tater tots, beans (weather says a high of 66, so I don’t mind turning on the oven)
  • Friday: Burgers and beans (it’s thawing in the fridge. I am cooking it).
  • Saturday: Brinner

For breakfast, we usually have eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee. I like orange juice too, but I make half a gallon last two weeks because I buy expensive juice – organic, fresh pressed, no flavor packets, all that jazz. I have switched to Uncle Matt’s organic brand because it’s a few bucks cheaper than my usual brand and has no flavor packets.

For lunches, I pack my partner a sandwich, fruit (bananas, strawberries, and pineapple are favorites right now, but he also enjoys apples), usually a small square of dark chocolate, and sometimes a bag of chips. He works close to home so sometimes he comes home for lunch and has leftovers. I usually have fruit and yogurt, fridge oats, or leftovers for my lunches. I sometimes get takeout on Fridays with other ladies in the office.

Things that are life-changing and wonderful blessings to meal planning:

  • An eating partner who doesn’t mind eating the same thing multiple times in a week
  • An eating partner who is more thrilled about eggs and bacon for dinner than a complicated recipe that costs $50 to make

Things that I imagine are meal planning wild-cards:

  • Children – their picky days, fussiness, specific cravings, hunger strikes, and endless desire to turn meals into arts and crafts. I imagine that would be stressful.

 

 

Cut back on waste by using the whole buffalo

Yesterday was Earth Day. I missed getting this post done in time for it but it’s a great Earth Day concept I share with you today – the concept of reducing waste. I firmly approve of the notion that the native American Indians “used the whole buffalo” when they hunted. A buffalo provided many useful things, including:

  • Meat: for food
  • Bones: for ceremonial uses, weapons, tools
  • Hooves: for glue, rattles
  • Hair: for ornamental use, ropes
  • Hide: for clothing, shelter, blankets, bags (could be tanned into tough leather or left soft)
  • Organs: for food, brain used for tanning leather
  • Sinew: for thread
  • Tail: for whips, ceremonial uses
  • Poop: for fueling fires

While I am not hunting buffalo, I do try to use a similar mentality in my life as a minimalist to reduce my impact on the environment and to reduce the amount of things I need in my home. I hate waste. Throwing away food that has gone bad upsets me – especially if it’s meat or dairy, because those items impacted the life of another living creature. Sorry plants, I get sad when you go off too, but you can’t look at me with sad eyes. Except the potatoes. Sorry about the eyes.

Anyway. Here are some ways I reduce waste in my home:

  • Buy in re-usable containers. I buy some brands over others because they are packaged in glass wide-mouthed jars. I re-use the heck out of glass jars!
  • Avoid plastic wrap. I hate things in plastic wrap. I hate using “biodegradable plastic” produce bags, because I’m just not sure if they’re lying to me. The only thing worse than plastic wrap over a container of produce (looking at you, mushrooms) is plastic wrap over a styrofoam container of produce. Styrofoam. Humbug!
  • Re-use food items. Leftover mashed potatoes become potato pancakes. Bones from making broth are re-used two or three times. One whole chicken can make several days’ worth of meals. Food scraps are put in the compost pile.
  • Garden. Growing food in a garden means you don’t have to drive to the store to buy produce packaged in containers!

Just for fun, and because people love recipes, here’s how I “Whole Buffalo” a chicken.

“Whole Buffalo” Chicken Recipe:

  1. Obtain a whole chicken.
  2. Remove giblets.
  3. Rinse chicken.
  4. Put chicken in crockpot.
  5. Add spices – salt, pepper, garlic, onion powder, rosemary, whatever you want.
  6. Cook on low, 8 hours.

Congratulations, you now have a cooked chicken!

Make some meals with it! Like:

  • Chicken quesadillas
  • Chicken salad
  • Chicken breast with pasta or quinoa salad
  • Chicken and rice
  • Chicken soup
  • White chicken chili
  • Buffalo chicken dip (hey, THE WHOLE BUFFALO!)

BUT WAIT. Keep those bones and the broth from the crockpot. Put the bones in with the juices from cooking the chicken. Fill the crockpot up with filtered water. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar and some pink salt. You can add herbs or veggies if you like. Cook it on low for 8-48 hours, adding water as it cooks off.

This is bone broth. It’s awesome. Cook it for a shorter length of time (~8-12 hours) to achieve a gelatin-rich broth (it will look like chicken jello when it’s cooled. Don’t be grossed out. It’s magical). Cook for a longer length of time (~24-48 hours) to achieve a collagen-rich broth. You can preserve broth by canning or freezing. My goal this summer is to learn how to can and preserve.

If you cook for a shorter length of time, you can re-use the bones once or twice, they are good to use again until they crumble when you pinch them. Those are pretty tapped out. You can throw them out, OR… grind the cooked bones up into bone meal and feed them to your pets! The added calcium helps them with their teeth and bones. However, you should not feed cats any bones that have been cooked with garlic or onions, as these vegetables are toxic to cats.

And that’s how I buffalo a chicken.

What do you buffalo?

Shopping smarter: Earth Fare vs. Heinen’s

It is said that ignorance is bliss. But ignorance about food can cause major health issues. However, being informed about food means that the pool of acceptable food choices grows ever smaller. Pesticides, GMOs, artificial dyes and flavors, growth hormones, and antibiotics are all chemical concerns from food. Then you add ethical issues of animal treatment, environmental hazards, and community impact. The more you know, the harder it is to just stop on the way home and pick up something for dinner.

My co-human describes my eating and food-shopping habits as “fussy.” I suppose they are, but I think I’m fussy with good reason.

My grocery budget living alone was $300 per month. Adding another person, it has grown to a budgeted $600 per month but winds up being more than that. It’s become a grocery budget black hole. Obviously this is driving me slowly insane as money leaks out of our combined income un-budgeted.

Between February 21, 2014 and March 3, 2014, I spent over $250 on groceries and supplements. One of the northeast Ohio Earth Fare stores was having a 30% off liquidation sale and I went a little crazy. The wellness inventory was a whopping 40% off so I stocked up on supplements, castile soap, and cold remedies because co-human and I were both fighting off some respiratory bug.

Ahem. Anyway. I shopped a bit stupid instead of shopping smart, and I am now more resolved to shop smarter and spend less at the grocery store. I think it’s ridiculous to be spending $700ish per month on two people. This has to be able to be done on a better maintained budget.

My first move was to suggest a no-spend March, save for fresh food items like bread, eggs, dairy, and meat. Nothing in a packet, jar, can, box, or bag. This way, we could deplete our stores of foods in the pantry instead of just buying more shelf-stable items that would likely sit around indefinitely. (Our first attempt at this limited-spend month was about 90% successful – we still ended up buying some condiments and a box of granola).

In an effort to shop smarter and cut the grocery bill, I also took co-human’s suggestion to try a different grocery store. I primarily have been doing the shopping at Earth Fare, a chain store based out of North Carolina with a food philosophy I feel comfortable with. At Earth Fare, there is no high fructose corn syrup, no artificial fats or trans fats, no artificial colors, no artificial flavors, no artificial preservatives, no artificial sweeteners, no antibiotics or synthetic hormones in meat or dairy, and no bleached or bromated flour. Earth Fare also has a humane treatment policy on all their animal products. When I shop at Earth Fare, I feel safe. It’s a big relief to know that anything I pick up in that store meets my bare minimum of food-fuss. I am aware that I pay a premium for that safety, though, and it’s possible to put in a little effort and find similar food in more affordable venues.

Enter Heinen’s, a regional supermarket chain in Ohio. Heinen’s has a selection of organic and natural foods similar to Earth Fare, though they also sell the conventional processed food items of the Standard American Diet. While I scoff at the fact that they sell GMO-Os next to the organic granola in the cereal aisle, I relent to my co-human’s growing frustration with my high maintenance shopping standards. Let’s give Heinen’s a shot. Note, there’s also a local Giant Eagle I have started casing for Caitlin-approved groceries. More research needed.

First, the commute. Earth Fare is roughly 18 miles away from home, and it takes around 25 minutes to get there. Heinen’s is about 10 and a half miles from home and the drive takes just under fifteen minutes. Point, Heinen’s. (Also a point for Giant Eagle, because it’s less than five minutes from home, but it’s not my top choice).

Second, the selection. Heinen’s has a decent spread of organic produce, a humane treatment policy on their house brand animal products, and select brands for sale that I trust. Selection is acceptable and comparable between stores, though at Earth Fare there’s less research involved because I already have a baseline of trust based on their food policies and philosophy. Point, Earth Fare, but Heinen’s an acceptable second. (Giant Eagle definitely third place in this competition but does have some acceptable selection).

Third, the price. I will readily admit that Heinen’s won on some price points, but Earth Fare does continue to have better deals on other items. Giant Eagle wins my heart with my preferred brand of ice cream at a serious deal ($3.99 per pint vs. $5.99 per pint at Earth Fare) but I haven’t compared prices on other common items with GE vs. the more natural-based stores. Overall, point to Heinen’s, but some items just make sense to buy at Earth Fare.

A breakdown of common items on my list below:

Bacon: Depends on who we’re buying for

  • Canadian Bacon (his favorite) – Earth Fare sells a brand called Garrett Valley, sold for $5.99 for an 8-ounce package. Heinen’s house brand Canadian bacon is thicker cut, has less annoying packaging, and is $5.75 per pound. Point, Heinen’s.
  • Thick-sliced bacon (my favorite) – Earth Fare’s house brand is $21.99 for a 3lb package. An 18-ounce package of Garrett Valley at Heinen’s was $10.99. Point, Earth Fare.
  • Applegate Uncured Sunday Bacon (his second place favorite) – Earth Fare, 6.99. Heinen’s, 5.59. (Target, $5.00!). Point, Heinen’s, unless we’re at Target.

Lunch meat: Earth Fare is ideal, Heinen’s is acceptable in a pinch

  • Applegate Turkey, prepackaged – Earth Fare, Heinen’s, and Giant Eagle, all around 5.99 or 6.99 per 6-ounce package depending on sales.
  • Applegate Turkey, from deli counter – 11.99/lb at Heinen’s, a much better deal per pound.
  • Deli counter turkey – Earth Fare’s house brand is 8.99/lb. I didn’t check Heinen’s house brand because I am waiting to hear back if it falls under the same ethical treatment policy as their other meat (it’s a different brand name, and I am still gathering data). I trust nothing from Giant Eagle’s house brand. Point, Earth Fare, especially when comparing to the Applegate at the deli counter of Heinen’s.

Dairy and Eggs: Earth Fare

  • Snowville Creamery milk – I can drink this, so it’s the winning brand. Snowville Creamery pasteurizes at the lowest possible temperature for the shortest possible length of time to be deemed legally pasteurized. As such, it still contains many of the beneficial enzymes available in raw milk. Raw would be my ideal, but I’ll take Snowville as a reasonable second place. Half a gallon is $3.89 at Earth Fare and $4.29 at Heinen’s. Point, Earth Fare.
  • Snowville Creamery yogurt – NEVER WITNESSED AT EARTH FARE. Comparable product pricing pending a visit to Earth Fare. $5.29 at Heinen’s. Point, Heinen’s, for the selection if not price.
  • Butter – Based on my cursory evaluation of the selection at Heinen’s, I give this point to Earth Fare. We didn’t need to buy butter this time around so I didn’t pay close attention.
  • Cheese – I didn’t get a good look at Heinen’s selection, so I am unsure if they carry my preferred raw farmer’s cheese. They do have Organic Valley American-style slices, however, at the same price as Earth Fare, $4.99. Tie.
  • Eggs – Grade A, Large, from happy chickens. $2.27/doz at Earth Fare. $2.89/doz at Heinen’s. Point, Earth Fare.

Bread: Earth Fare

  • Sourdough bread – I have found out that I can tolerate sourdough bread without any ill effects on my stomach, hooray! A boule (round loaf) at Earth Fare is $3.59, while a smaller loaf at Heinen’s is $4.29 and has questionable ingredients. A big sandwich-style loaf is $3.99 at Earth Fare, making sourdough a no-brainer win for Earth Fare.
  • Sandwich bread – Co-human does not dig sourdough sandwiches, so we often buy a softer bread like challah or “english muffin” bread. For price and ingredients, the points still go to Earth Fare.
  • Ezekiel bread – This bread is made from sprouted grains and is also tolerated by my digestion, woohoo. It’s far cheaper at Earth Fare and Giant Eagle than at Heinen’s. I didn’t look closely at the price, but I tentatively give this point to Earth Fare. Giant Eagle an acceptable second in a pinch.

Produce: Heinen’s

  • Apples: $2.99/lb at both Earth Fare and Heinen’s. Tie.
  • Mushrooms: $2.59 for a package of button mushrooms at Heinen’s. Similar at Earth Fare, $3.99. Point, Heinen’s.
  • We didn’t buy much else in the way of produce so I will have to evaluate more over time, but Heinen’s appears to have better prices on organic produce

Meat: Undetermined

  • We bought no meat this week, so this will require more research.

Overall impressions of Heinen’s are good, and I will be evaluating our actual receipt with a comparison of what we would have paid at Earth Fare for the same amount to get a better idea of how to prioritize our shopping trips. I really do want to get bread, dairy, and eggs at Earth Fare if possible but I am very optimistic we can reach a compromise on grocery shopping that makes us both happy!

Update: I worked out a comparison between a few staples so far.

EF vs Heinens

Minimalist Weight Loss Program

I didn’t even know it was happening, but a couple years ago, I was steadily and sneakily gaining weight.  At doctor’s appointments, I was used to saying “Start it at 250,” but one day they had to move that big metal counterweight over to the next slot on the scale.  Ka-CHUNK. Over 300.  I was used to being stuck at 280, but where did an extra 20 pounds come from, and how could I make it go away?

Being fat, or large, or overweight, or obese, or whatever you want to call it – being fat doesn’t necessarily mean you are unhealthy.  I believe in the health at every size movement and I believe that you can have a healthy lifestyle while wearing double-digit pants sizes.  However, I was not healthy.  Not only was I obese, I had low energy, I could hardly get up the stairs, and I was depressed.  Something had to give.  And I sure wasn’t happy with that big 3 in my weight.

I did workout videos.  I joined a gym.  I drank more water.  Blah, blah, blah.  I got back down to about 280 where I stayed for over a year.

Last year in the summer, I began a goal of taking a walk each day.  And I did.  It wasn’t always a long walk, but I took a walk every day.  It helped boost my mood and made me feel overall better in my body.  Sadly when the weather turned cold, I stopped going outside to walk.  So I joined a gym, and promptly ignored my gym membership.  I have gone to the gym 5 times in 6 months.

How, how, how could I focus on getting healthier and losing some of the excess weight?

As my regular readers know, I changed my eating habits a few months ago and reintroduced meat into my diet  after a year of being nearly-vegan.  I also cut gluten.  A funny thing happened as I started eating eggs and bacon (sans toast) for breakfast.  My pants got looser.   Diet change alone lost me about 15 pounds in about four months.

I was intrigued.  Now that I was eating a healthier, more mindful diet that was helping my body to thrive, perhaps exercise would help really kick it into gear.  I am still struggling to exercise each day, but I do find my body “craving” movement if I sit too long.  I want to get up and move, to go to the gym, to go for a walk.  Just incorporating a little bit of exercise here and there has lost me another ten pounds.

At last weigh-in, I was at 254.4.

Do I have a goal weight? No.  Well, sort of.  I have a target weight that I think I will end up weighing, but I’m not stuck on the numbers.  My goal is to be able to get up my stairs without breathing heavily.  My goal is to be able to jog a mile without stopping.   My goal is to provide a healthy role model for my friends and family.

Caitlin’s Minimalist Weight Loss Plan

Step 1: Food.  You cannot out-exercise a crappy diet.  Stop eating processed food.  At least 80% of your diet should NOT come from a box, bag, or jar.  Eat what makes you feel good, but eat real food.  Mostly plants.  High-quality meat, eggs, and dairy (from humanely treated animals).  If it says “low fat,” put it away.  (A) You’re not supposed to be eating things with labels in a box, and (B) the words “low fat” can be effectively be replaced with the words “chemical shit storm.”  No.

Step 2: Exercise.  Devote 30 minutes each day to intentional movement.  If you want to include household chores in your “movement” count, that’s fine, but really be moving for those 30 minutes.  Sitting on the floor sorting a box of stuff is not high-octane physical activity.  Be honest with yourself.  Go for a walk, go to the gym, run around in the yard with your kids.  Just MOVE.

[EDIT] Step 3: Water.  I cannot believe I forgot to mention how important water is to your health, wellness, and weight loss goals.  Your body NEEDS water, and many times what you think is hunger (cue mindless snacking!) is actually thirst.  I don’t always succeed at getting enough water in my day but I find that if I start early, I continue drinking it all day.  If I forget to get a cup from the dispenser at work in the morning, I’ll forget until lunch and then I am way behind.  I have read that you should divide your body weight by 2 to find the number of ounces you should drink.  If I’m 250, that’s 125 ounces of water that I need each day.

You do not have to join a gym or eat special diet food.  In fact, special diet food is mostly crap.  Joining a gym is great IF you want to spend the money and IF you will actually go.  I have not been utilizing my membership and I’m out $20 a month to stay at home and write blogs about why you should be exercising.

The importance of food

I write a lot about food.  I think food is miraculous.  We take in something from the earth, or from an animal, and turn it into fuel for our bodies.  When you understand the function of food, you appreciate the importance of good, healthy foods instead of processed food-like things.  I used to mow down candy bars, and now the sugar in a piece of fruit is sometimes too sweet.

The most important thing about changing your diet is that you understand it’s not “going on a diet.”  It is changing. your. diet.  Your diet is the food you eat.  Change the food you eat, change your diet.  For me, it’s quite simple to turn down food that I know is bad for me, because I simply do NOT eat those foods.  Hot dog at a fair? No, I can’t eat the bun and I am certain the meat doesn’t meet my standards.  Popsicle from the ice cream truck? No, I don’t eat processed sugar or corn syrup.  Doughnut at the office? Absolutely not.  (In fact, office visitors have started to bring me apples, strawberries, and salads instead of doughnuts).

I was told on a recent vacation that I would probably have to relax my rules s a little because it would be hard to find food that met my high standards.  Challenge accepted and met.  I didn’t eat a thing that I would normally avoid.  You just make a commitment to only allow certain foods into your body. And then you do it.  Once you understand that food has a direct impact on your wellness, you eat differently.  Or at least I do, your mileage may vary.

The moral of the story

I am apprehensive about sharing my weight on such a public forum, but it helps me to share my journey with my readers, even this journey.  When you don’t like something about your life, you need to change it.  I didn’t like weighing over 300 pounds, so I changed it.  I didn’t like weighing 280, so I changed it.  I have weighed at least 250 pounds since high school.  I am currently at my lowest weight in seven or eight years, and it’s great.  I feel more energetic, I have far less joint pain, and I feel happier.  My weight does not define me, but it is something I have to literally carry every day.  By deciding to change it, I am taking control of my life and my health.   It really is as simple as eating and moving.

Growing groceries

I joined a CSA for the summer.  Every week, I get a box of produce!  So far, I have been blessed with greens like lettuce and mizuna (which I didn’t know was even a thing), turnips (with greens), beets (with greens), carrots, garlic, pearl onions, sage, and oregano.

Here are some of the reasons I love my CSA:

  • I know where the food comes from.  I went to see the farm, I walked around the beds.  I know where it comes from, I know who plants and picks it, and I trust it!
  • Low carbon footprint.  The plants are grown in Cleveland and they travel to Lakewood.  Not a far commute.
  • It’s fresh. So fresh.  This stuff comes out of the ground and goes into a box and then into my fridge and then into my belly!
  • It’s sticking it to the man.  Planting a garden is a revolution against corporate control of our food system.  I am supporting local farmers!
  • It forces me to try new things.  I never had turnips before.  I can tell you that I am not a huge fan so far, but I have to make them work!  I am also reading up on how to freeze my greens because there’s no way I will eat them all before they turn bad.  Then I will have fresh, seasonal greens available when they are no longer in season, because I’m saving them now. Planning ahead is a great thing.

My friend is in two CSAs, providing her family with local quality produce, meat, and eggs.  If you can’t grow your own food, supporting a local farmer is the next best thing!

Speaking of growing your own, I have planted a garden with potatoes, carrots, zucchini, spaghetti squash, and basil.  My mom and I are also going to add peppers and tomatoes.  Updates to come 🙂  One day I hope to have chickens to “grow my own” eggs too! Currently I buy eggs from a few local farms.  I just love keeping it local.

Do you grow your own groceries? Buy local?