Sunday, August 23, 2009

Breakfast? Sure! Lunch? Sure! Dinner? Um...

Since I was maybe twenty, I've been trying to figure out how to eat meals. This perhaps sounds stupid, but I'm sure I'm not the only person to have this problem. It's the paradox of choice: with so many food options before us, it actually becomes more difficult to make good decisions about eating. When combined with the daily trials of modern life, this can lead to some ridiculous eating habits, and three squares goes right out the window for many of us. The wisdom of the three-meal-a-day eating structure is of course debatable, as many to most of us will benefit from eating smaller meals more frequently. But for a person like me who became totally lost in the food forest, it's a good place to begin when trying to find some gustatory structure.


A while back I worked out breakfast. It's not a complicated solution either: it's cereal. Now, granted, I'm picky. I don't drink soy milk because I don't want to have a constant stream of soy in my diet. There are may other types of "milks", like rice and oat and hemp and mixed grain and every kind of nut you can think of, but they frequently have high sugar content - often 15 grams per cup or more. (Soy milk of course also has this issue.) It took me a long time to discover the miracle that is unsweetened Almond Breeze almond milk, now my breakfast cornerstone.

Then of course there's the matter of the cereal itself. Talk about added sugars! Naturally I want something whole grain, multi-grain, and prefer a cereal that features little if any wheat. Lately I've been eating Barbara's Shredded Spoonfulls, which has an acceptable sugar content and is composed largely of oats as well as corn, rice, and a few other staples. I try to switch it up so that I get a variety of nutrients. Quantity of course matters - I do half a cup of cereal and half a cup of milk. In the winter I sometimes like cooked things like the Bob's Red Mill cereals; I find the warm meal really sustaining when it's freaking fifteen degrees outside.

Alright, I'm fed, I can leave the house.


If I tried to wait until 1 pm, my work-designated lunch hour, to eat again, I'd pass out. So I have my 11 am snack: Whole Soy & Co. vanilla yogurt. The fruit flavors have way too much sugar, and the plain is too blah. I like this company, or at least I like it way better than I like Silk, who at this point I downright hate. I tried eating other items here, like granola bars or fruit, and for whatever reason they just didn't do the trick. The yogurt seems to have just the right amounts of sheer volume, indulgence, and I dunno, maybe plain old fat and sugar to get me through till lunch.


Recently I finally, finally got lunch together. This has taken years! The inspiration came from a silly "health food" take-out place called The Pump. From them I was purchasing overpriced meals which consisted largely of a bed of rice smothered in some type of bean, and topped with hunks of baked tofu, or variations on that theme. Well it didn't take long for me to realize that I do not have to spend ten bucks a pop for this type of dish, and that it's easily recreated at home.

So lunch becomes a meal that is based usually in brown rice, rarely in pasta, or occasionally in steamed vegetables - or sometimes a combination of steamed vegetables and one of the first two starches. Then is added veg chili or lentils or black beans or something of the like. And finally there's usually a protein (not that there isn't plenty of protein in the beans, but I mean something more dense) like smoked tofu, or seitan maybe, added on top. Vegetables are often mixed in, really, in the form of spinach or steamed broccoli or diced tomatoes - they add lots of flavor and texture and other goodness. For flavor I use tomato sauce or peanut sauce - something in the sauce genre really. Sometimes if there's enough fresh tomato in the mix and it's good enough tomato, that alone provides plenty of flavor. Lemon is also a good booster, and pepper.

The only thing to really watch out for here is salt content, and to make sure that I'm not eating the same items every single day. Ideally I will begin to experiment with other grains here too, like barley and maybe wheat berries. Love those. Ooh, and quinoa. I've have some fledgling success with that one. I believe that one of the keys to good nutrition is variety, so I don't want to eat brown rice five days a week.

Home from work - more snacky!

Here's where I start getting into trouble. I get home from a long and grueling day. I've just used public transportation with a few hundred thousand other tired grumpy New Yorkers. I'm exhausted. I'm annoyed. Various parts of me hurt. And I start looking for sugar. If it's here, I'm going to eat it - as much of it as I can get. Newman's O's? Half a package without blinking. Pint of Tofutti? A pint becomes a serving. This is bad news.

You're thinking, there's an easy solution to this! Don't keep sugar in the house - done! Oh, but you don't know me too good. See, there's a grocery three blocks away. And when the craving is bad enough and there's nothing in the house, I'll just go get the cookies. It's kind of like when a smoker wants a cigarette. Will he sit there not smoking, or will he find the nearest Quickie-Mart? Don't get me wrong - I don't make a habit of keeping junk food around the house. But we get things sometimes. And because of this tendency of mine, we may have to stop entirely.

One good solution I have found to this is frozen fruit bars. They have enough sugar in them to satisfy the craving, but not so much that I'm really wrecking myself. I get the kinds that really are made with fruit juice and don't have high fructose corn syrup in them. Sure they have sucrose, but it's still a far cry from eating a whole box of Tofutti Cuties. (Oh yes I would. I have. There are witnesses.)

What also helps - and this is going to sound silly, but I'm serious - is drinking a large quantity of good water. It's not a cure, but it makes me feel nourished. And I need to drink more water anyway.

Dinner...? Like, every day?

Once I'm at home and settled, I need to think about dinner pretty quickly. On a good day I get home at 6, and often I don't get home until 7 or 8 or even later. My man and I have a bad, bad habit of procrastinating, and we end up not eating until 9:30 or 10 at night. This is ridiculous for so many reasons. Eating an hour or two before bed is never a good idea. Waiting for eight hours after lunch to eat again is also bad. And so on. The other half of the problem is that by that point we're often just ordering Thai delivery. While tasty, it's pretty much entirely starch, salt, and fat - and way more than enough of each. It's a stupid pattern of behavior that we've got to stop.

But in order to stop behaving this way, we have to have some system to replace it with. Jonathan and I comprise a very modern American household, with all of the problems that presents. By the time we get home at night, we're tired. He carries stress particularly badly, and I have a host of physical problems. Often, neither of us feels up to spending an hour or even a half hour in the kitchen preparing a meal. We can never decide what to eat. Having very different metabolisms and palettes, he tends to want to make dishes with lots of salt and fat while I insist that foods are whole and fresh and healthy. All of this is what leads to the procrastination in the first place, and it makes dinner seem like a very hard thing to do.

But I believe, perhaps, we've stuck upon a solution. It's going to sound absurd. And yes, it is going to take some self discipline, and us doing some work in the kitchen when we might not want to. But it might work. And it's... salads! Not just green salads, because often I can't eat raw greens. But all kinds of salads. Black bean and corn salads. Pasta salads. Potato salads. Tofu salads. Chickpea salads. Whatever kind of salad you can think of, on a cracker or not.

We will, of course, also eat all-vegetable salads, including green salads. Especially when our landlady has brought us bags of arugala and raddiccico and fresh tomatoes from the backyard. There's also tomato and cucumber salad, a personal favorite. And I'm sure we can think of others. Vegetable salads that incorporate fruits and nuts are wonderful...

I know. It sounds a little ridiculous. But I think it'll work maybe. While it's still warm out at least. And when it starts to get cool, we're going to get a slow cooker. Then we can have stews and such, with I believe just a bit of prep time in the morning or the evening before.

* * *

So that's the plan. And I hope to enact it just as soon as I can eat solid foods on a regular basis again - right now my IBS is rockin' and my daily food intake is more like a little bit of miso soup and maybe a few crackers. *Sigh.*

Ah, eating. So basic, so complicated.


Tom said...

I loved this. A few years ago I made friends with a couple who are vegan, I guess mostly out of health issues, but that's not even the point. The point is that they make some of the best stuff to eat, and I'm always asking them, "What can I eat that's going to taste good and not kill me?" They end up giving me all sorts of great ideas, especially since one of them can't eat beans. Yeah, a vegan diet without beans, but apparently it can be done. He just got a six out of five star health rating from his doctor, and he's in his fifties.

I get in the habit of eating the same thing every day. When you're single, who the hell wants to stand at the stove for even thirty minutes, and then eat it out of the same pan at the same stove? I mean, what's the point? Many days I'm not even home long enough to boil water, let alone cook something in it! It leads to not so great habits, but, eh - what can you do?

At least I'm not eating at 9:30pm! Hah!

Woman of a Certain Age said...

Ha--I just finished barfing out this whole post about food choices and how difficult they are. I was thinking from more of an emotional standpoint but the bulk of your post addresses something I should think more about--how even people with very consciously healthful lifestyles live, well, American lives in which we get home late and tired and live with partners with different food traditions. This wasn't something we dealt with 100 years ago either--the idea of couples trying to prepare food that was pleasing to both, instead of the wife just catering to the man, or both parties coming from the same cultural background. (And I love that salads are a part of your compromise.)