Category Archives: Food

100 Days of Real Food Mini-Challenges: Week 4 (Again)

Starting on November 25, I’m participating in the 100 Days of Real Food: 14 Week Mini-Challenges. Each week, I’ll post a reminder about my new weekly challenge and a recap of how my week went. I want to engage in this process mindfully and gently. My goal is to find a healthier path overall, which will be easier if I treat myself kindly. You can read the whole series here.

I forgot to post this on Monday, after trying to find a picture. Oh well, here it is, just before the end of Week 5.

Week 4: No Fast food and no deep fried food.

After a week-long hiatus for the holidays and a not-so-successful week 4.1, I’m returning to my 100 Days of Real Food Mini-Challenges. This challenge would have been impossible during my road trip to Nebraska. On the lonely sections of I-80, all that is available is fast food and deep fried food. And I ate it during my trip, while doing my best to eat healthy. This week, while slightly challenging, was so much easier than my past two weeks.

What I Ate This Week

I was off of work during this week, so there was a lot of home cooking. For breakfasts, I stuck with my standard yogurt and fruit, egg and avocado sandwiches, or fruit smoothies. For lunch and dinner, we made vegetarian split pea soup, chicken vegetable soup, salads, and chicken and veggie stir fry lettuce cups. We also ate out twice, at a local restaurant before a movie and at a sit-down restaurant in a neighboring city. For Christmas, my in-laws got me a food dehydrator, so I got to experiment a little bit with dehydrating food. I was able to make a successful batch of kale chips (yay!) and truly botched a batch of potato chips (boo!). I see myself continuing to experiment and find ways to make fruit and veggie chips on a regular basis. Unrelated to this challenge, I also received a secondhand bread machine and I made some pretty decent breads this week.

Successes and Challenges

Avoiding fast-food restaurants proved a minor inconvenience, rather than an impossible feat. Since I was home with my husband and daughter, I had control over where and what I ate. When we decided to eat out on Thursday and Friday, we chose sit-down restaurants and I monitored my food choices. I will confess that on Friday, at our sit-down restaurant, I did choose to eat Parmesan-encrusted asparagus spears that I realized were likely fried after I ate a few, but I let it go. They were tasty. Other than that slip, I stuck to the challenge.

What I’m Taking Away

Is it feasible to always avoid fast food restaurants? Probably not. Do I need to eat at fast food restaurants as often as I normally do? Probably not. This week was much easier than a typical week, because I wasn’t at work, tempted by the college’s fast food grill, where I eat more often than I should. I think going forward, I will do my best to limit my patronage of this restaurant and choose non-fried foods when I do eat there.


100 Days of Real Food Mini-Challenges, Week 4

Starting on November 25, I’m participating in the 100 Days of Real Food: 14 Week Mini-Challenges. Each week, I’ll post a reminder about my new weekly challenge and a recap of how my week went. I want to engage in this process mindfully and gently. My goal is to find a healthier path overall, which will be easier if I treat myself kindly. You can read the whole series here.

Now, pretend that it is Monday, December 23. That’s when I wrote this, before going on a trip to Nebraska…with no computer. Then, I noticed on the road that I had accidentally cut and paste half of my blog front page onto this post. So, rather than try to delete it on my phone or tablet, I just unpublished it. Real Food Mini-Challenges posts will resume next Monday, after my week hiatus.


Week 4: No Fast food and no deep fried food.

This week, my goal was to have no fast food or deep fried food. And I said that it should be a snap. (Direct quote from last week’s post.) Well…it was less of a snap than I anticipated, honestly. This was a surprising week for me, which gives me good insight into the ways I need to adapt my eating habits.

What I Ate This Week

On the surface, this was going to be a great week. I made a really nice salad for my week of lunches: hard boiled egg, bacon, avocado, garbanzo beans, blue cheese, lettuce and green onions. But then, I looked at my calendar. Hello, work lunch celebrations and work happy hours: all. week. long. The standard in most colleges is to work hard through the semester and then celebrate our successes at the end of the term. Well, last week was finals week, so I had lunch at a pizza joint, lunch at a fast food place, and happy hour at a sports bar. Oops.

Successes & Challenges

Breakfasts and dinners were fine. I ate at home and I didn’t go out. Considering that I am breaking a 2-3 bagel per week habit, I consider that a success. But, lunches and happy hours, OMG. Not so successful. I did my best with the menus I encountered, but I wouldn’t say that I followed this week’s directives.

What I’ve learned is that my eating is not always in my control. This is when my eating is challenged the most. I want to be part of the group and enjoy food as the social connector. So, do I advocate for myself and suggest healthy restaurants (in a small city with not a lot of healthy options) or do I go with the flow and order the best options on the menu? This week, I chose the latter. I did eat a serving of french fries (oops) and some tortilla chips that were probably fried (oops, again). But, I didn’t pig out and I didn’t get the worst stuff on the menus.

What I’m Taking Away

In the middle of this holiday season, I’m doing my best and forgiving the rest. As I’m typing this, I’m about to take an 8+ hour trip from Wisconsin to Nebraska and I know that our meal options will be fast food only. So, I’m having a healthy breakfast at home and hopefully finding the best options I can on the road. When I get to Nebraska, I am going to again make the best choices I can, knowing that others will be making the food choices with me.

That being said, I’m going to put a little pause on the challenge. I’ll resume the challenge after my holiday trip and I’m going to start again with Week 4, since it didn’t go so well this week. The first three weeks have given me such a good base to grow from and I’m going to do my best to retain their directives during my trip: 2 veggies/fruits per meal, real beverages only, and less meat (when possible).

See you in a few weeks!

100 Days of Real Food Challenges, Week 3

Starting on November 25, I’m participating in the 100 Days of Real Food: 14 Week Mini-Challenges. Each week, I’ll post a reminder about my new weekly challenge and a recap of how my week went. I want to engage in this process mindfully and gently. My goal is to find a healthier path overall, which will be easier if I treat myself kindly. You can read the whole series here.

Pinterest Collage bw

Week 3: Eat only locally raised meat, only 3-4 servings per week.

During this week, I pledged to eat no meat or only locally-raised meat for breakfast and lunch. As you can see from the above link. the goals was to eat only locally-raised meat for the entire week and to limit consumption to 3-4 servings. However, this is not viable for my family for two reasons. First, Nora is a very picky eater, yet one of the only things she agrees to eat is meat. So, we are heavier in the meat eating than before we were parents. Second, we cannot afford local meat, especially since we eat meat at most dinners. I feel like these are connected, of course, because if Nora likes meat, we should be helping her to eat healthier meat. This was on my mind a lot this week and, as you’ll see below, I did some research to think of solutions.

What I Ate This Week

This week, I ate mostly vegetarian for my lunches and breakfasts. Breakfast was a no-brainer for me, because I don’t eat meat in the morning. I tend to have fruit & yogurt, fruit & oatmeail, or egg, veggies & toast for breakfast. For lunch, I made a vegetarian minestrone soup, with two types of beans. I ate out once during the week at the college grill, but they served local meat. During the weekend, we ate at my favorite local Mexican restaurant, and I ate likely non-local meat. Honestly, I intentionally ate meat, because there were no good vegetarian options and I knew that before going there. Oh well, 6 out of 7 days is laudable.

Successes & Challenges

I spent the week researching local meat resources, after my friend Jenn recommended in the comments of the previous post to find some farmer friends. Here is what I learned:

  • I found Homegrown Cow through a friend. I cannot afford the prices now, but it’s good to know it exists.
  • A local market/restaurant, Bushel & Peck’s, sells whole chickens for $4.99 each.  Now that is more than affordable. Over winter break, I’m going to try to buy one, roast one, and make homemade broth from the bones and some veggies, using this video series from Mama Natural.
  • Bushel & Peck also offers, through their farm Grass is Greener Gardens, a local meat CSA.There are two 4-month seasons, December-April and June-October. I’m going to see if we can try to participate for the summer, if we save a little money. Pricing is: small $450, medium $600, large $740, poultry only $400 and they allow for payment in 4 installments. We also save 10% for picking up in Beloit.

I also started using my Pinterest account again, which had been languishing, so that I can find a place to store all of my various recipes and ideas.

What I’m Taking Away

I think that I’ll continue to eat mostly vegetarian or local meats, when available. I’ll also try to think of ways to afford local meats for my family, perhaps by starting with the local chickens and moving up to the meat CSA in June.

I also had a good, but hard, conversation with my husband this week about my own relationship with eating and food. It’s not a new thing, in fact, I wrote a book of poetry about it. He reminded me that we already eat really well as a family and eat far less processed food than most. When we went to the grocery store, I was happy to see a cart filled with mostly fruits and vegetables. I need to remember all of this and be gentle with myself as we continue to make these small tweaks.

Starting today, I’m joining Week 4, which is no fast food or deep fried food. This should be a snap, since coincidentally, the college grill is closing on Wednesday.  That’s my main source for fast and deep fried food during the work week, so I just (really) need to make it through Wednesday.

100 Days of Real Food Mini-Challenges, Week 2

Starting on November 25, I’m participating in the 100 Days of Real Food: 14 Week Mini-Challenges. Each week, I’ll post a reminder about my new weekly challenge and a recap of how my week went. I want to engage in this process mindfully and gently. My goal is to find a healthier path overall, which will be easier if I treat myself kindly. You can read the whole series here.

mug 1

Week 2: Real Beverages

For this second week of my 100 Days of Mini-Food Challenges, my goal was to drink only “real” beverages: water, tea, coffee (which I don’t drink), milk (which I don’t drink) and moderate wine consumption (an average of 1 glass per day). All of the beverages could only be sweetened with honey or maple syrup. For a Diet Pepsi aficionado (nice way of saying addict), this was my most dreaded week. Every time I give up soda, the detox is horrible and I only last a few weeks. This was going to be quite the test.

What I Ate (Drank) This Week

With all that lead-up, and my own sense of impending doom, I have to say that it wasn’t that bad. I drank a bottle of water with lemon slices on most days and tons of tea. I actually left my honey at home, so most of my tea was unsweetened. I barely noticed the difference.

Carrying over last week’s challenge was another matter. I did fine for the first half of the week, but then I went to a conference out of town. All of my food choices were dictated for me and there was nary a fruit or vegetable in sight. I chose every piece of produce I could find and I still was way under for each meal. *Sigh* Luckily, we brought some apples and clementines with us, so I was able to sneak back to the room to get snacks every now and then.

Successes & Challenges

My main success: I did not have any soda or carbonated water at all this week. I drank tons of water and tea. I thought I would miss hot chocolates, but I honestly didn’t miss them that much. I stayed within my limit for wine. So, I basically did it! And the detox was not that bad.

However, I had two slip-ups. One was completely intentional and one was mindless. For my intentional slip-up, the conference had tons of teas, but only non-natural sweeteners. I chose a chai tea during breakfast and it was incredibly bitter. I used a sugar packet with the tea, because honey and maple syrup was not available. And the world kept spinning. My second slip up was interesting. It was Friday night, I had just successfully presented at the conference, and Aaron and I went to a restaurant. I ordered a margarita, as I would normally do at a restaurant. About halfway through the meal, I remembered my mini-food challenge. Oops! I enjoyed that margarita and let it go, because at that point, what else could I do?

What I’m Taking Away

I’m definitely going to stick with this week’s mini-challenge. If I have the opportunity for margaritas as a restaurant, of course I’ll take it, but for the most part, I’m going to focus on real beverages during my average day. I’m also going to continue to focus on eating my two vegetables and fruits per meal.

In fact, the next challenge is to limit meat consumption. It’s actually to eat only local meats, but we cannot afford that in our budget. (I’m still thinking through how to make some swaps in our spending.)  Instead, I will be limiting meat consumption to dinners only. Wish me luck!

100 Days of Real Food Mini-Challenges, Week 1

Starting on November 25, I’m participating in the 100 Days of Real Food: 14 Week Mini-Challenges. Each week, I’ll post a reminder about my new weekly challenge and a recap of how my week went. I want to engage in this process mindfully and gently. My goal is to find a healthier path overall, which will be easier if I treat myself kindly.

Mason jar 2

Tuesday’s pretty breakfast

Week 1: Eat 2 fruits and vegetables at every meal

To start this 100 days (98, really) of real food, the first mini-challenge builds the foundation of a healthy diet – fresh or frozen produce, preferably organic. (I did not buy organic, for financial reasons.) I know in my heart that this is the right way to eat, but I always have challenges sticking to it without a tangible goal. This week’s challenge was specific and tangible and it allowed me to check in with myself at every meal.

What I Ate This Week

My breakfasts were probably the biggest overhaul. I feed Nora alone in the morning, while Aaron gets ready. Therefore, I must have food that is available, fast, and something that our somewhat picky eater will actually eat when she would rather play. We ate  a lot of variety: plain whole milk yogurt with fresh or frozen fruit, oatmeal with apples and peanut butter and fruit on the side, and when I ran out of fresh fruit, Thanksgiving leftovers.

Lunches were a little easier. My mom was in town, so we ate out a bit more than normal. I just analyzed each menu to find the healthier, vegetable-ier choices. I ate sandwiches with vegetables and vegetable soup sides, a not-so-great beet salad with chicken, an also not-so-great pumpkin ravioli dish, and again Thanksgiving leftovers.

Dinners are simple – we eat pretty balanced meals at dinner. Aaron is the dinner cook and he does a phenomenal job providing us with good, real food. We ate split pea soup,  my mom’s latkes with my homemade applesauce, and lots of Thanksgiving leftovers. My Thanksgiving was pretty balanced: carrots, salad, apple sausage stuffing, cranberry sauce, and turkey.

Successes & Challenges

Overall, the week was very successful. I casually planned my meals with the two fruit/vegetable requirement and double checked my work before eating. This small shift guaranteed that I ate 6 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, which is a great way to structure my day.

I had a few (small) challenges. I under-bought for breakfast foods, so I had to resort to my leftover pear salad (which was  a nice breakfast). I had only one meal in which I skimped. For Thanksgiving lunch, I didn’t really eat a meal at all, but didn’t eat any fruit or veg. As I mentioned, I didn’t buy organic fruits and vegetables. They aren’t ready available locally in the winter and I can’t afford it much, so I’m looking into fruit and vegetable washes.

What I’m Taking Away

I am definitely carrying this easy challenge forward for the foreseeable future. It’s a simple way to provide a good solid foundation for my day. I noticed that my snacks (not covered in the challenges) didn’t often include fruits and vegetables. I’m hoping to work on this going forward.

Starting today,I’m starting my most dreaded challenge: Week 2: Drink only real beverages: coffee, tea, milk, and water, sweetened only with honey or maple syrup. No sodas, no sparkling waters, and no hot chocolates. Sigh. Wish me luck!

Resetting My Eating Habits


As I mentioned a few months ago, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to reset my eating behaviors.  Whenever I’m deep in survival mode, my eating habits go to hell. I’m not proud of it, but I resort to poor eating habits (mostly sugar consumption and eating out too much) when I’m stressed. And then I feel guilty for eating poorly, which makes me more stressed, which makes me eat poorly. Not awesome.

Over the fall, I’ve been doing a lot of healthy eating reading. Recently, I stumbled along a set of “real food” blogs, through (once again) my beloved Mama Natural. (Check out my Blogs I Love page for examples.) Similar to Paleo but much less restrictive (in some ways), real food eating focuses on healthy fats, whole foods, healthy sweeteners, avoiding processed foods, and eating local foods. In other words, mostly how I ate before I got pregnant. I can get on board with that.

My challenge is I have no idea where to start.  Since summer, I’ve tried dramatically changing my habits and I fail after a few diligent days. And then, while researching eating real food on a budget, I found 100 Days of Real Food. The author, Lisa, started her real food journey and blog by challenging herself and her family to eat real food for 100 days. She hosts on her blog several different challenges, including the original 100 days of real food, 100 days of real food on a budget, 10 days of real food, and 14 weeks (98 days) of real food mini-challenges. I’m drawn to the 14 mini-challenges, because I can rebuild my eating habits one at a time, scaffolding my new practices.

So starting on today, I’m going to try these challenges. Here are the details, with links: (Edited 12/29/2013)

I’ve already started to adopt some of these practices, like cutting out most refined oils. But some of these will be incredibly difficult – like the refined sweeteners and the no sweeteners at all. I’m hoping that some of these practices will make their way into my regular eating habits and some I’m willing to try for the week.

Each week starting on Monday, I’ll post a reminder about my new weekly challenge and a recap of how my week went. I’m hoping that helps me to stay on track and identify the areas where I’m successful and where I’m struggling.

As a note (mostly to myself), I want to engage in this process mindfully and gently. I don’t want to turn this project into all the ways I fail at healthy eating, but as a way to identify in tangible terms where I can improve my diet and where I need support. My goal is to find a healthier path overall, which will be easier if I treat myself kindly.

Recipe: Hunter Gatherer Vanilla Granola

granola 1
Photo from my Instagram feed

My main concern (lately) has been eating healthier. Since my pregnancy, my sugar intake has gone through the roof. I have always had a sweet tooth, but between pregnancy, then breastfeeding, then moving states and starting a new job, I have been stress eating like nobody’s business. I love my candy, pastries, and hot chocolates a little too much. This summer, I have been trying (with limited success) to get my sugar intake under control.

As part of this effort, I have been reading a lot about the Paleo Diet. I like the main concept of the Paleo: eat whole foods, because that’s what our bodies have evolved to eat. For me, it resonates with the Michael Pollan/Food Rules sort of eating that I loved so much, before I got pregnant with Nora. I just don’t know if I can commit to the details of Paleo: avoid all processed foods including breads and most grains, refined sugar, dairy, and legumes. That’s a lot of avoiding. My sense though is that Paleo recipe books are a good source for healthy recipes, especially for treats that don’t involve refined sugar.

That’s how this weekend, I found myself spending fifteen minutes chopping almonds while Nora napped. I came across Tyler Daniels‘ Kindle Book: Paleo Breakfast Recipes: For Busy Moms and Dads, through Mama Natural’s Facebook page. (Pro tip: She often provides links to free Kindle books on a variety of healthy eating/living topics, so she’s a good person to follow on Facebook or Twitter. However, even at full price, these books are a steal – often $2.99 a piece.) I read through the recipes and found the perfect solution to my afternoon candy bar cravings: grain-free granola. Daniels’ book has five recipes for grain-free granola and I decided to try Hunter Gatherer Vanilla Granola. It has easy to locate ingredients, important when you live in a small town, and it seemed simple to execute.

My caveat: I am not an accomplished cook, by any means. I am someone who loves to cook when she has the time, which is the privilege of the non-primary meal preparer in a house with a toddler. So, I cook maybe once a week, if that. If I can accomplish this recipe in about 40 minutes, give or take, anyone can.

Hunter Gatherer Vanilla Granola
(reprinted with permission from the author)


  • 3 cups almonds, chopped
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup raw honey (Note: I used a combination of the last of my Tupelo honey and wildflower honey, if that matters to other honey snobs out there.)
  • 1 tbs. warm water
  • 1/4 tsp. salt (Note: My pumpkin seeds were salted, but I still used this same amount of kosher salt, and it turned out fine.)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (165 C).
  2. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients.
  3. Spread mixture onto a greased baking sheet. (Note: I used a shallow cake pan, which helped when I was stirring and when I was transferring it to jars.)
  4. Bake for 20 minutes, but stir the granola after 10 minutes so it cooks evenly.
  5. Cool before serving, then store in a resealable plastic bag or airtight container.

The most challenging part of this recipe was chopping the almonds, which could be easily remedied by using a food processor. Nora was sleeping, so I used a knife and patience. Everything else was as simple as this recipe sounds.

granola 2
Photo from my Instagram feed

Let me tell you, when I was baking this granola, my house smelled like heaven, thanks to the combination of vanilla, coconut oil, and honey. I recommend trying this recipe, just to smell it as it bakes.

As soon as it was finished cooling, I spooned the still slightly warm granola into my Ball 4 ounce jelly jars, which made about 12-ish portions. I’m not as solid on the portions, because as I was transferring it, Aaron, Nora and I nommed a full portion. In fact, Nora kept stretching over me to get more out of the pan, she liked it so much.

The result, for me, is a highly addictive and satisfying snack. I eat about half of the jelly jar, because it is filling enough, with the protein, fat, and fiber, to last me in the afternoon. I highly recommend trying it, and the other recipes, in the book.

What recipes or techniques have you found that satisfy your sugar cravings? Let me know so I can try them!