What we don't know CAN hurt us. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but in my quest to figure out what's in the food we're eating, I've learned some pretty scary things. Restaurant salads are often the most calorie-laden things on the menu. Lean meats and vegetables are often prepared with oil and butter in restaurants. Eating a roll or two from the basket before your entree arrives can add 400 calories to your meal. My favorite CHICKEN sandwich at the fast-food restaurant near us has 800 calories -- in JUST THE SANDWICH. Don't even get me started on the fries. A restaurant-sized portion of pasta is often 3-4 times the recommended serving size. That adds 600-800 calories to your meal in JUST the pasta, never mind the sauce, cheese, sides, bread, etc. The restaurant margaritas I investigated had 500-1100 calories -- EACH.
Here are some additional things I figured out during my discovery:
1. Cooking at home can be fast
2. Cooking at home can shave thousands of calories off your DAILY intake
3. Cooking at home saves money
4. Cooking at home (even healthy cooking!) can taste just as good, if not better, than eating out
So I throw down the oven-mitt (sort of like a gauntlet, right?)! Here's the challenge! For one week, prepare healthy meals (lean proteins, veggies, whole grain carbs and only heart-healthy fats) AT HOME. This really is the perfect time for it, with the chilly February weather even here in Charleston (and in some parts of the country, even more snow on the way!). Use what's already in your pantry, fridge, or freezer -- and if you find that you've stocked your kitchen with unhealthy options, head to the grocery store. If you do venture out, stay away from prepared and processed foods -- microwave dinners don't count as home-cooking! And steer clear of the drive-through, take-out and deli!
Maybe you cook everyday and want to use this challenge to make your meals more healthy. Maybe your spouse does the cooking and you want to try your hand at it for a change. Or maybe neither of you cook and what you've just read above makes you want to make a change for yourself and your families. Whatever the reason, please give it a shot! I can tell you this -- eating in, cooking for myself and understanding what was going into the recipes (and thus, into my body!) was what made me lose weight. No crazy diets, no starving. Just eating the right foods at home. It shaved thousands of hidden restaurant calories from my diet. It's a no-brainer, right?!
Here are some tips to get you started:
1. At the beginning of the week, make a pot of soup. It's quick to reheat, lasts for several days and feeds you several times. The Creamy Broccoli Soup is a good choice because it's filling, low in calories (only 75 per 1 cup serving!) and packed with fiber. Keep the soup in the fridge and heat some up throughout the week for a quick lunch or a healthy snack -- or dinner if you don't feel like cooking!
2. Leftovers make great lunches during the week, or you can put them in the freezer for future dinners. I make The Svelte Gourmet Skinny Lasagna and Sweet & Spicy Chili regularly for the purpose of storing leftovers!
3. Banish the potatoes! They are simple carbs, they add unnecessary calories to your meal, they take a while to cook and you will still have enough to eat without them -- I promise!
4. Plan each meal to include a lean protein and lots of veggies. I typically plan meals that include whole grain rice or whole wheat pasta twice a week.
5. If you need recipe ideas, consult this blog or The Svelte Gourmet cookbook! Both are loaded with healthy choices, so you can't go wrong.
I'm taking the challenge, too -- over the past couple months, I've fallen into some bad behavior. Eating on the run, letting my passion for baking take over, seeking comfort food as the mercury falls. I'm ready to get back to it! Spring is right around the corner. Are you with me?!
Please comment below and share with us what you're cooking -- if you're trying this for the first time or if you already cook every day anyway! We can all use some inspiration and every challenge is easier with friends. If you need help or want an idea for what to do with some of the random things in your pantry, comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Maybe we'll come up with some new recipes together!
Take the pantry challenge! Eat in, eat right, lose weight, feel better. That's it. Good luck!
The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. A portion of sales will be donated to Louie's Kids in the fight against childhood obesity.