Monday, March 26, 2012

Kids and Vegetables

Years ago, I stopped to visit a friend while she was preparing dinner for her daughter. She cooked while we chatted and at some point asked her daughter if she wanted broccoli or beet tops. The 3 year old child screamed out, "Beet tops!! I love beet tops!" I was stunned. Beet tops?! Are you kidding me?

I never forgot that moment, and am happy to report that now I too have kids that generally eat their vegetables (no, not beet tops... I'll never live up to that one). Another friend asked me today how I managed to pull that off. I am going to share what I told her. But kids can be capricious, so let's hope I don't jinx myself by posting this!

My best tip is to start them young. Or rather don't stop. Go right from Gerber's pureed squash to the real thing. If that ship has sailed, then the next best thing is to start serving vegetables every day and set the example by happily eating them yourself.

I notice a big difference in intake if I cut the snacks off about 2-3 hours before dinner and serve the veggies first. I also use these tips from Dr. Sears. My take on tip #1: At snack time, I set out an ice cube tray (I got some star shaped ones from the Dollar Store) filled with finger foods and dips (celery, carrots, granola, apples, raisins, broccoli, cheese cubes, peanut butter, ranch, yogurt, etc.) When I introduce something new, I'll dip some pieces myself and take a few bites saying stuff like "Mmmm, I like the celery with peanut butter" to get them started and show them what's good.

Presentation also does the trick sometimes too. Last week I wanted to introduce a spinach salad with shrimp. I arranged the food into a monster face (spinach hair, carrot slice eyes, cucumber mouths, and shrimp ears) using ranch as "glue". They ate it all. Even the shrimp.

If they don't care for something, however, my husband and I have agreed to skip the battle of wills at the dinner table. Although we are not above negotiating if it gets results. We don't allow the word "hate" at mealtime. They have been taught to say, "I don't prefer this" instead. I find it very rude when someone works hard preparing a meal and a kid pushes it away with a face and whines, "I don't like that." Especially if I am the one who made the dinner! 

Now let's discuss particulars if you don't even know where to start. I don't bother with canned foods anymore. Too many nutrients leach out during the processing and too much salt is added in. Frozen vegetables are great and, of course, I go for fresh whenever possible.

Here's what works the best with my kids:
  • baby carrots, raw
  • green beans, frozen or fresh, steamed*
  • broccoli, raw w/ ranch or microwaved*
  • corn, frozen or fresh, boiled or microwaved*
  • cucumbers, raw with ranch (leave some slivers of skin on when peeling)
  • asparagus, grilled w/ olive oil, salt & pepper
  • various lettuces or purple cabbage in salad with ranch
  • baby spinach, raw mixed into salad**
  • salsa w/ chips
  • snow peas, stir fried in sesame oil
Here are some others that they tolerate:
  • yellow squash and/or zucchini, sliced or cut into spears, grilled or sauteed in a pan with butter, salt, and pepper
  • Brussels sprouts cooked a very particular way
  • peas as a condiment (added to stews, chicken pot pies, etc)
  • onions and celery (if I chop them tiny and add them to ground beef, soups, or stews)
*I always steam my vegetables in the microwave by adding the veggies to a Rubbermaid container, covering just the bottom of the dish with water, and adding salt and pepper. I put my lid on loosely, microwave on high for 5 minutes, check and stir. Then cook for 2-4 more minutes depending on how firm I want them. Once they are done, I drain the water, stir in a pat of real butter, and add more salt and pepper to taste. If you are anti-microwave, feel free to steam on the stovetop with a colander.

**I can usually get away with swapping the less nutritious iceberg lettuce with fresh baby spinach in almost anything (salad, tacos, etc.). Lately I have been slipping fresh spinach into other dishes as well (lasagna, omelets, calzones, etc.).

And last but not least, involve the kids in the process. Let them help shop. Even better... help them grow their own. Last year I won my boys over to tomatoes by letting them plant some in a container on the front porch (BTW, if you want to plant from seeds, now is the perfect time to start). The yield was not great and the tomatoes were tiny, but my oldest picked one, popped it in his mouth, and declared that he liked it! I consider that a win. This year we are planting tomatoes and peppers.

So there you go. My secrets. Well... actually, I have one more secret. It's possible we are winning the veggie battle simply because we cut out the competition. My kids aren't saints. I'll be honest, if we had fruit snacks laying around all the time, they would choose those over the carrot sticks. But I save the junk for road trips and Grandma's house. They don't seem to be suffering.

Why I am Opposed to Juicing

When you juice fruits, you are essentially creating a processed food. While the fruit juice may originate from a whole fruit, it is now processed. As a result, the nutrients in the fruit are now released quickly into the body and this includes the sugar. The fiber, (a beneficial part of food) is removed, and therefore there is no buffer between the sugar and your bloodstream.

When you eat a fruit, it takes about 30 minutes or so for digestion, while juice happens essentially immediately.

I have insulin resistance. For me, juicing would be a nightmare to my system. I see tons of "juicers" out there, and they don't warn people about sugar, they just push the vitamins and minerals aspect.

Quite a few of my friends are jumping on this bandwagon, and i don't know what the outcome will be for them. They rave about how awesome it is. I will not be going down this path.

Also, juicing can be EXPENSIVE. I saw the ingredient list that one friend put into a batch of juice...I'm telling you, this amount of produce could have fed myself, my husband and my son for a week. I would rather eat this food outright and have my tummy full.

I'll be saving juice for a delicious treat with sunday brunch.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

One Year Ago Today

So I was trying to find a phone number in my Gmail, and came across this "conversation" I had with my sister about whether or not to homeschooling. It's funny to see my how my ideas then are matching up to the reality of now.

These are really good questions to think about if you are considering homeschooling. If you don't have a sister to put you through the ringer, you can borrow mine.   ;)

Here's the conversation (her questions/concerns are in blue):
  • "us vs. them" mentality can form
agreed. I think I would like to treat this as if we were going to private school. I am not going to tell everyone that asks that I made this choice because schools suck so bad and good parents would never do that to their kids. I am not exactly sure what I WILL say yet....
  • avoiding whack-job, fear-mongering seems like that used to be the bulk of homeschooling parents, but maybe that's changed.
yeah, a good chunk of the homeschool blogs are christian moms, but there is a trend towards secular homeschooling. a lot of the people on the Meetup group I just joined stress in the profile that they want to participate in "secular" meetups and outings. I bet they are tired of being preached at. I will probably fall in with them. I DO want to start addressing the spiritual void that is in my family, but I am not trying to jump right into the deep end and be crazy.
  • finding social activities may become challenging and you're driving for 3-4 different kids.
True... but I think I would face that either way. If they are in school and one has chess club on wed/Fri and another has soccer on Tues/Thurs, and yet another has a band recital Wed. night.... I think this is just a logistics issue I am going to face no matter what and I will just have to be proactive and try and sign them up for groups that span ages. Like karate at the rec center has classes based on level and they are on the same day just at different times. Also, the plus to homeschooling is that we can have things going on in the evenings without turning into a disconnected madhouse. We will have all day to get stuff done and be together and can plan stuff in the evenings without rushing from here to there.
  • your house tends to be a little distracting in the video game department, changing that might make you feel like a nazi...especially because it would possibly involve trying to change your husband.
Jeff continues to surprise me... he is now okay with giving up cable and he has decided to sell all his Joes so he can focus on toys the boys are interested in. The video games don't get turned on until after dinner. I am more lax when we have company and on weekends, but that is pretty standard on weekdays.
  • that said, it might become tempting to let the computer be their teacher (nathan particularly) since it engages them so well, but that isn't balanced.
The biggest problem is definitely the computer. They only play educational games during the day and they all learn alot from them, but that can't be what they do alllll day of course. I will have to work on that, but I think as I work on planning our schedule and educational goals, that stuff will into line. I have also noticed that if I get into something, they jump on board. This will be important in the science/art department. I plan on figuring out ways to include them in my projects like woodworking, gardening, and cooking. Also the science kits like I mentioned before. 
  • you will lose your mind if you don't figure out a way to get yourself out of the house and have your own social MAJOR component of why parents send kids to school, and i don't think that's wrong. please don't underestimate this one...i am only just beginning to see how my happiness profoundly effects my husband. if i'm not happy, our marriage isn't happy.
This is true. I have a few things up my sleeve. School being one of them. Some small business ideas I have are another. I think the biggest key is that I love to work. I am at a crossroads... I thoroughly researched becoming a lawyer and am disillusioned. The market is so supersaturated and it is getting worse even as schools are becoming more expensive. Plus so many of them get jaded so fast because the system is so corrupt. All my life I have wanted to start a business. I need to stop being so afraid of failure and do something. That is a another discussion altogether though!
  • if you give up your GI money for school because homeschooling consumes all of your time, i will personally kill you. how does this idea effect your current plan?
Doesn't change much either way. Jeff's application was denied and he doesn't want to go anyway, so I am thinking I should just do what he was going to do... get my MBA. Goes along with wanting to run my own business in any case and gets me some start-up capital.
  • public school sports programs...particularly if one of your boys has the potential to play at a college level. they need the high school prep for that. i've heard that some school districts allow homeschool kids to participate...i suppose you can find out what your school district's policy is on that.
I have no problem sending them to high school if they are that interested in sports. I think the critical years for molding and shaping them will be the grade school/jr high years anyway. Or at least the critical years for keeping them from the molding and shaping that happens in school!
One of the things I am really excited about is the freedom to pursue an interest from beginning to end, exhaustively, until we are satisfied or lose interest. Not for an hour a day, stopping when the bell rings no matter where we are at. For example, I think I want to include learning Chinese as our foreign language. Those people are gonna own us in the next few decades, so how great would that be to unleash my boys upon the world speaking that language. Plus, I can learn it right along with them. Or at least try. So I don't have to just surrender myself to this role of teacher... I can instead also be a learner and just take the boys with me on my journey. They want to do anything I am doing anyway, so how cool is that if we are really learning together.
Has it really been only a year since I even started considering this?!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Homeschool Domination

Created by: College At Home

This is fresh off the press from my homeschooling mentor. I think it is well worth the re-post. I find it very telling that graduation rates have been stagnant since the 70s despite the lowering of standards.

Hungry For Change - Movie Review

I just finished watching the premiere of this movie (available for free until March 31st). Although the information isn't new to me anymore, I still find it fascinating. The first half of the movie lines up perfectly with the "clean eating" aspect of this blog.  I wish everyone in America would watch at least the first 50 minutes.

My favorite quote:
"We're overfed [...] but starving to death."
They make the point that a human could easily eat 10,000 calories a day but still desire more because we are not getting what we need from the "edible non-foods" that make up most of our diets. I totally agree with that and I think the average shape of the average American today backs up that fact.

I related very much to the stories about dieting and deprivation. I also like their first few suggestions for change:
  1. Focus on adding in good food instead of forbidding the bad (e.g. serve a salad with dinner) 
  2. Replace overly processed bad foods with it's exact same healthy equivalent (e.g. replace hormone filled and anti-biotic laden milk with local, fresh milk)
  3. Watch out for MSG, HFCS, and other addictive, harmful chemicals
Towards the middle of the film, the focus shifted away from hard facts to what I felt was more speculative. They encourage you to spend time visualizing how you want to look and feel and loving yourself. It all comes off as a little hokey, but at the same time rings true, if that makes any sense. I do know that we are masters of shaming ourselves, however, and that certainly is not working!

I am also not loving the juicing plug. I guess if you are cutting out so many other foods, you almost have to juice to get enough calories into your body. To be perfectly honest, the one time I tried a "green" drink, I could barely choke it down. Besides, I have no moral or health reservations against buying a happy cow and using it all up over the course of a year. So while I am very supportive of giving our bodies more natural foods, I consider eating happy cows and chickens to be perfectly natural.

I also don't like that they talk up the diets of our ancestors, but only propose a diet super high in vegetables as optimal. In fact, any traditional ethnic diet is optimal. The Inuits lived almost 100% off of animal products (which they do mention in the film, but then use that to justify adding wild-caught salmon to your menu). But Inuits did not just eat salmon. They ate seal, caribou, polar bear, and whale (including blubber). And their health was off the charts.

I guess my big problem is that I don't think we are going to win over the population by promoting veggies and juicing. But I do believe that good foods can crowd out bad foods so we can at least start there.

So overall, I highly recommend at least the first half of this video. If you can bring yourself to follow all the suggestions in the last half, by all means do so. But anything that shines a light on the problems with what we are putting in our bodies and calling food is a winner in my book.

UPDATE (3/26): After discussing this movie with a few others, I felt I needed to update my review. I really want to stress that I do not agree that juicing is critical to a healthy lifestyle. I actually think it is rather wasteful. I completely agree with what my sister posted today about juicing fruit. If you have the fortitude and resources to juice and drink that quantity of vegetables, however, I am not going to try and talk you out of it. I really don't want anyone to feel like juicing is the only way to a healthy life though.

Monday, March 19, 2012

An Open Letter to Corporate Food Producers

Dear corporate food producers of America,

First let us get one thing us who feeds you, and not the other way around.

You can lobby congress, you can make your advertising slicker, you can make your packaging more convenient, but you know, and i know, that the dollars upon which you feast are going to begin to come in less steadily.

It is because you produce food irresponsibly, and unsustainably, and now we know. those of us who know are tweeting it, posting it, blogging about it, and regularly conversing with our friends and families.

We know that you buy unnatural crops planted in dead soil, treated with poisons...and we know that those farmers who supply them to you wouldn't even serve these crops to their own families. we know of the foul conditions the animals are confined to, and the chemicals and hormones that they are fed. we know what pink slime is. we know what nitrates do to the environment. and those who don't know...we are telling them.

We know.

We are not feeding you with our dollars anymore.

You can stamp "organic" on  you products if you like, and thank you for trying, but we don't believe anything you say anymore. just because they don't spray chemicals on food, dosen't mean your suppliers bothered to grow things properly or well. we know that mass producing a single crop of anything is unhealthy.

I met the family who will be supplying my family with beef, chicken, eggs, and fresh produce. they are wonderful people who care for the soil and care for their animals. I have learned how to can and freeze this food for my family.

I am one, but 5 years ago I knew nothing about this. Today I know, and so do my friends...they also subscribe to CSA's and shop farmers markets now.

We are a market segment that you will never have back. Would you like to know why? It is because of my baby son, who you will NEVER get your claws into. My friends would say the same about their families.

Our numbers are growing and your bottom line will be shrinking. I don't know if there is karma for corporations, but this will be close.

Gretchen Adamich

Friday, March 16, 2012

14-yr old Buys a House

I find stories like this so inspriational! This girl not only raised half the money to buy a home, but it seems she also put in a lot of sweat equity to make it fit to rent out. What an incredible opportunity! Not to mention what she must have learned about economics and commerce from buying and selling items on Craigslist to raise the funds.

Now I am not making the argument that homeschooling is superior because there's a homeschooled girl out there doing something incredible. But I do think homeschooling allows more opportunites for this type of... greatness. Nathan asked me what I was thinking just now because I was staring off into space trying to finish that sentence. I said, "I am just wondering what will happen when there are no limits on what you can do."

I am so excited for my boys' futures. I can't wait to see what will spark their imaginations and fuel their dreams.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Edible Forest

(Edible Forest)

This is such an amazing concept it makes me want to weep! I want to see this happen here, there and everywhere! Where do I sign up?!

From Skinny Kid to Fat Chick

I am sure I am not the only overweight woman who traces her food issues to her childhood and thinks, "what if…" and "if only…."

I am always quick to say I don't blame my parents for my choices in life. At the same time, the habits ingrained in me as a child have made it hard to change my patterns as an adult.

I really believe that people try to do the best they can with the information they have. If the truth is elusive and confusing now, how much worse was it for our mothers? Women who were figuring out how to be working mothers while still living up to impossible standards as caregivers and homemakers?

That doesn't change the fact that I grew up thinking water could only be consumed with Kool-aid mix and a cup of sugar. That a lunch consisting of deli meat on white bread, a Little Debbie snack cake, and a juice box was healthy because I threw in an apple. And if you ask 20 random people today if Honey Nut Cheerios is a healthy breakfast, I bet at least 19 of them would say "Yes", so how was my mom to know any better back in 1985?

But darn it all... I was a skinny kid so I must've been healthy, right? I played a lot of sports, rode my bike to school, and was outside every evening until it was too dark to see. Maybe that kept the weight at bay, but I don't think a return to that lifestyle is the answer for today's children. For one… it's just not going to happen in a world where recess is being cut, parents don't feel safe letting their kids roam the neighborhood, and free time takes the form of "play-dates" in order to fit it into the family's calendar.

For another, you'll still wind up with me. The minute I entered the adult world, that level of activity was not sustainable. Things changed drastically in college. I got out of class, went to work, came home and studied. All I wanted to do during my free time was sit at Denny's with my friends. Not much changed when I entered the workforce. And the weight crept on. 

Look around... I am certainly not alone in this. We have got to learn to eat right. For ourselves and so we can teach our kids. Skinny kids are NOT healthy because they are thin. They are walking time bombs. Just like me.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Out of Town and Unprepared

The weekend before last we went down to my parents' place for my son's fifth birthday party. My sister and I have talked with my parents about our new eating habits ad nauseum; they are both interested in what we have to say but don't see our new lifestyle as being practical or sustainable.

Poking around their cabinets, I see exactly what they mean. I forget just how much tasty, convenient stuff is on the shelves in grocery stores. And my mom has always had a knack for "doctoring up" store bought foods. She was the master of "semi-homemade" before Sandra Lee ever set foot on the stage.
I brought dinner for the party Saturday night because my son made a special request, but I woke up Sunday morning hungry and unprepared. Now I am not a stickler about what the kids eat at Grandma's house when I'm not around. If she wants to feed them cookies all weekend... whatever. She's the one that has to watch them bounce off her walls all day. But it didn't even occur to me that I would miss the routines I have established for myself over the past year.

My mom was ready for guests. I found plenty of cereal, bagels, muffin and pancake mixes.  But nothing had an ingredient list that worked for me. It made me recognise just how foreign my eating habits have become.

It's true.. once I start eating sugar, I just can't stop!
I chose a bagel and it left me snacky by 9:30am. I added a bowl of cereal, but was ready to eat again when my dad started fixing our waffle brunch an hour later. I ate a large Belgium waffle with strawberries and whipped cream but was already jonesing for more when we got in the car to drive home that afternoon. We only made it forty minutes down the road before I was directing Jeff to pull into McD's for a "snack". Oh and did I mention the leftover cake I grazed on every time I walked by the kitchen?

And it's just that simple to fall back into the downward spiral.

The strange thing is that I went into this "lifestyle change" with a goal of 80/20 (eat right 80 percent of the time and don't sweat the other 20). Even as I type "lifestyle change" in quotes, I laugh at myself. Like Chris Farley doing air quotes on SNL's Weekend Update, I use the phrase "lifestyle change" as if it is a concept that I pretend to strive for but don't really believe in down deep. Those quotes that I used without thinking reflect that subconscious belief.

It never occurred to me that the 80 percent clean eating habits would become the ones I enjoyed. That the 20 percent wouldn't feel like an indulgence. I always figured people who ate right all the time managed it because either they were lucky enough to have grown up ingrained with good habits or they exercised a  major feat of willpower each and every day. I just never believed down deep in my heart that people didn't eat fries nonstop or swill Coke all day because it just didn't taste good to them. Inconceivable!

But the paradigm is shifting. I no longer view a tasty Marie Calendar meal as a treat. It's a salt pie that sits in my stomach and makes me feel bloated. I eat McDonald's and feel like crap immediately afterwards. I drink a Coke and can't wait to have some water to wash the syrupy taste out of my mouth.

While I am happy that these foods no longer have such a powerful hold on me, it also feels like I am severing a bond with humanity. Okay, maybe that's a bit melodramatic... but seriously. Food is such an important part of community. To turn my nose up at something my mother puts on the table is unthinkable. I never want to do that, and I don't want to teach my boys to behave that way. And for the record, I still enjoy everything my mom prepares. But it's unrealistic to expect breakfast, lunch, and dinner from scratch when I go visiting family. At the same time, my body just feels so much better eating real food. I can't go a whole weekend eating out of boxes anymore. It's not a welcome break; it's no longer a treat.

So I need to learn how to be better prepared. I am sure I can live off of oatmeal for at least a few days....

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Blank Canvas

I am not a very creative person. I am excellent, however, at copying ideas, finding inspiration in books or on the Internet, and adapting those ideas to suit my purposes. I have created framed art projects from mementos, built a triple L-shaped bunk-bed from dimensional lumber, and put together a fair share of lovely digi-scrap pages. Yet I am immobilized by a blank canvas.
by: John Jonik

This blog post about Pinterest echoes these sentiments nicely. I am often paralyzed in this age of information overload. My problem isn't that I can't think of anything to put on that canvas; my problem is that I can think of 100 things and I fear the best one is yet to be discovered.

So what about the children? Do I empower them to create? Do I ever present them with a blank canvas? Do I let my own hang-ups interfere?

A few weeks ago, I bought a roll of paper 4' x 100' to make a giant wall timeline for history. After it came in the mail, I let it sit in the corner for a week while I planned and re-planned this project. My kids kept pestering me about it so I finally ripped open the box, tore off a huge sheet and threw it on the floor with a box of crayons. My expectations were low since none of my kids like to color, but the creativity I saw that day was unmatched in the history of my household!

I was stunned... my oldest, Nathan, later told me that the battles he wanted to draw wouldn't fit on regular paper. But here I was thinking that if he couldn't even be bothered to color or draw on scratch printer paper, why present him with a big, blank, canvas (that would intimidate the hell out of me).

I'll admit this is an area where teachers have an edge over me. They simply have more experience with kids than I do. They know kids love big, blank canvases. They know that girls (for the most part) are happy to sit and color and cut long elaborate projects and boys just want to scribble through it and get it done unless he is inspired to so something epic. (They also know when you hand a toddler a piece of candy, he's going to want one for his other hand).

So what does this post have to do with my theme? I don't know. Maybe I am realizing there's something to be gained from experience. Maybe it's reminder not to put my kids in a box, but give them freedom to explore and create. Maybe I just needed to see that I just need to get up an do something and not worry all the time if it's going to turn out perfect or exactly like the vision I have in my head.

I don't know. I do know that it's time to get off this computer and get out the crayons!

Friday, March 9, 2012

John Taylor Gatto - A Review

I just finished another book by John Taylor Gatto. After I turned the last page, I closed it , turned to my husband and said, "That might have been the best book I've ever read and that makes me so very sad."

He asked why (as any good husband would know to do when a wife asks such a question). Actually he asked if it was better than Les Mis, but then he asked why. (FYI it's probably not better than Les Mis, but is it really fair to compare a treatise on modern schooling with  the greatest French novel of the 19th century?)

Anyway, it's a profoundly great book because his ideas strike at the heart of the problems that disease this nation. For example, by separating out the young and the old and locking them away from the rest of society in various institutions we are perpetuating a society with no past and no future.

The reason this book makes me sad is because I will probably never actually meet one other person in the flesh who has read this book. It makes me sad that a powerful book written to open our eyes to the absolute decay of the system we trust to raise our children, will never be read by the parents who need it most.

So there's my backward book recommendation. I want to buy this book and send it to everyone I know. But I don't think they would read it. Like clean eating, a person has to be ready for this kind of information. They have to already intuit that we have a problem and be hungry for a change. And once you are ready for it, reading the book is like preaching to the choir. Although if you only vaguely sense that something is seriously wrong, this book will help clarify those feelings and put them into words. Maybe it will make you into an activist. I want to become an activist?

BTW, A Different Kind of Teacher is not about homeschooling. Whilst it would seem that Gatto is impressed by homeschooling, he does not present it as the solution for our society's ills.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Moment That Started It All

In case my kids ever wonder about the moment that so profoundly changed the course of their lives… here it is documented for posterity.

This RSA speech by Ken Robinson blew me away. I knew we had a problem in this country with public schools. I didn't have any kids in school at the time, but I didn't live under a rock. But for the first time I had an inkling of why schools are failing. They were designed to meet the needs of a different way of life.

Now if you have read any of my other homeschooling posts, you will know I give a lot of credit for my decision to homeschool to CNut over at Marginalizing Morons. His blog isn't really about homeschooling, however. I found his blog because he makes scathing & witty observations about government and society. The title says it all... how can I not like such a site?

I do remember having been impressed with his son's amazing progress, and curious if I could emulate it. I was thinking I would work with our kids on our own time, however, and just supplement their educations (some other time I would like to talk about why this was a bad idea).

I remember all this so clearly because I had read enough of CNut's blog to know he would appreciate the video. I sent it to him, he posted it, and after taking a moment to savor seeing my name in print, I clicked the "homeschooling" label off to the right and checked out what else he had to say on the topic.

Shortly thereafter I was reading John Gatto, and from there it's all history.

I am always interested to hear how other's came to the decision to homeschool. It wasn't a hard one for me. Once I saw other homeschooled kids and read the statistics I was ready to jump on board. But I am weird like that. I have made some pretty major life decisions on the spot. Convincing my husband was the hardest part.

I love homeschooling so much, nothing would make me happier than to be a part of introducing the joy to someone else. Please e-mail me and I would be happy to answer any questions. Or comment and share your story! I would love to hear it.

Friday, March 2, 2012

My Weight and Clean Eating

I haven't discussed my weight gains or losses yet and it occurred to me that I should disclose this information. I am not changing my lifestyle solely to lose weight, but it was the quest for weight loss that brought me to this point.

I was a skinny kid growing up and was a "normal" weight all through high school. Once I reached my full height, I maintained that healthy weight for quite some time. So let's call that weight T for target*.

When I left college, I was T + 20. I thank cafeteria food and my job at Cracker Barrel.

After college I wanted to join the military. I had to take off those 20 pounds, however, to qualify. After 4 months I got down to about T + 3. I know it was 3 because that was the exact maximum weight for my height allowed by the Air Force.

I left the Air Force at about T + 10. I yo-yoed a bit while in the service but they keep tabs on you, so I never got that out of control despite my severe Mt. Dew habit. 

I got pregnant right away. After the baby was born and a year of breastfeeding I was T + 20. After the second kid it was T + 30. After the third it was T + 40. I then used breastfeeding as an excuse to eat whatever, whenever, and before I knew it, I got up to T + 65.

When the kids were young and not yet eating big-people food, I occasionally tried counting calories, mini-fasts, or bouts of exercise to get my weight under control. But I was getting so tired of trying to change my habits through will-power alone. The old adage to "eat less and exercise more" stopped seeming simple and obvious. I could not muster up the resolve for more than a day or two at a time.

Not to mention having kids makes you rethink everything.
I decided to stop dieting and slowly start a lifestyle change by cooking all dinners at home. I decided to find a way to maintain a healthy weight by just living life. A life that was healthy for everyone in my family, not just a goal for "fat" people. I knew there had to be a way that wasn't a constant battle, because while millions of people struggle with weight, millions of people don't struggle. What are they doing different?

Then I discovered Erika's blog. The phrase "clean eating" just spoke to me. It was the answer. I knew it in every fiber of my being. Because of her blog I found renewed purpose. I went back and read every post, joined a CSA, and resolved to eventually cut out ALL processed foods. 

In that first year I didn't really lose any weight. But I stopped gaining. After putting on another 25lbs after my 3rd child was born, maintaining was kind've a big deal to me. I should've been T + 90, but instead I halted the upward spiral at T + 65.

The second year (this last year up until now) I did start losing. I cut out cereal and switched to oatmeal or scrambled eggs for breakfast.  I lost 10lbs last year just by changing my breakfast habits. And it's not that oatmeal has less calories, it is most likely because I feel satisfied and don't graze all morning anymore.

Now 10lbs may not seem like much in an entire year, but let me tell you what I haven't yet cut out:
  • Nightly dessert (usually popcorn, but occasionally ice cream)
  • Friday night pizza
  • Homemade cookies or brownies a few times a month
  • Pop several nights a week
  • Take-out several times a month
  • Hot dogs and chips at lunch
  • White rice, pasta, and some white flour (I am migrating over to whole grains, but slowly so my family can adjust)
Also did I mention that I have not counted calories, measured portions, or routinely exercised this past year? All that and I lost weight. 

So currently I am T + 55. I will report regularly on how that's going. I imagine my credibility will rise as I lose weight. Like I have said, this journey is not just about weight loss anymore. I will concede, however, that if my body does not respond to clean eating by moving towards a healthy weight, then my ramblings may not worth the bits they are using up in cyberspace! But I really think I am onto something. So we shall see.

*Yes, I also like the play on T minus something for shuttle launch countdowns.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Calorie Counting Alone Won't Cut It

I said something in my post yesterday that I want to elaborate on:

Many children's "main sources of food" are "school lunches and convenience foods (Kraft dinners, Tyson nuggets, Betty Crocker pot-pies, Lean Cuisines etc.). The problem with those foods is not so much that you can't make a meal plan of them that fit the dietary guidelines because you most definitely could."

I used to count calories when I needed to lose weight. Admittedly it is a very useful strategy to expose and examine your current lifestyle. For awhile I chose to believe the "calorie is a calorie" hype and ate whatever I wanted while "dieting" and just stopped eating when I hit my meal totals. I clearly remember days where I would eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast, grab a Twix bar and a pop for lunch, and a Happy Meal for dinner and be well within my calorie limits. Obviously this is a ridiculous way to eat, but I was a "normal" weight in college and arrogantly thought that meant I was healthy. I did not even suspect that I was sabotaging my body.

But let's paint this picture with shades of gray and see how it gets more complicated. Here is an example of a nutritionist approved meal plan from my gestational diabetes days:

Nutritionist Approved Meal Plan:
1 cup Cheerios cereal -- 110 calories
3/4 cup skim milk  -- 85
1 cup Tropicana OJ -- 110

Yoplait Light Yogurt -- 100

Turkey sandwich on white bread -- 320
1oz pretzels -- 110
1 mozzarella cheese stick -- 100
Lite applesauce -- 50
Pepsi -- 150

Lean Cuisine Sweet and Sour Chicken -- 300
12 oz Crystal Light -- 10

1 cup Edy's Slow Churned Rich & Creamy Light Chocolate Chip Ice Cream -- 240

Total: 1,685 calories

That looks perfectly acceptable on paper, doesn't it? At my current weight and activity level, my body will burn 2,300 calories a day. So 1,600-1,700 is a great caloric intake for weight loss. The above looks like the perfect plan. All those items can be purchased at any grocery store and whipped together quickly and cheaply. And since meal plans like this are all over the Internet for free, I don't even have to think ahead or plan! So here you go everyone.... go forth and be fat no more!

But wait... why isn't this happening?!  No one is pulling this off!  I like all of the above foods. This really sounds like a diet I could stick to. It has ice cream and pop in it for crying out loud!!

To be honest I have pulled this diet off in my day. When I was 21 and needed to lose weight to get into the Air Force, I ate like that for four months and lost 20 pounds. I lost weight this way again when I was put on the military's "Fitness Improvement Program." I even managed to lose a few pounds eating like this once I was diagnosed with the gestational diabetes (no small feat when you are pregnant).

But are you noticing a pattern here? Is there something wrong with this picture? Whilst I lost all this weight by counting calories, I also put the weight back on every time. Undoubtedly the calorie counting works to lose. But I never kept the weight off or was able to stick to this sort of plan to maintain. It was never an enjoyable lifestyle. And each time I tried it, I fell off the wagon sooner. My body wasn't going to live that way and my brain could not overcome what my body wanted.

So for contrast's sake, here is the clean eating menu I (mostly) stick to now:

Daily Clean Eating Meal Plan
Quaker Old-Fashioned Oats w/ Craisins and whole milk -- 225
Coffee w/ stevia and heavy cream -- 50
1 medium banana -- 100

1 cup homemade vanilla yogurt from whole milk -- 135

Chicken sandwich (leftovers on homemade bread) -- 500
Apple slices -- 60
Carrot sticks -- 10
Iced tea w/ lemon and stevia -- 0

Large slice homemade meatloaf -- 300
Potato wedges -- 100
Green Beans -- 25
Side Salad (bacon bits, no dressing) -- 50
Water -- 0

2 cups popcorn, oil-popped 110

Total: 1,665

Most of my dinners clock in around 450 calories, lunch is around 600 and breakfast is generally 350 with two light snacks. But I am never hungry. On weekends we make homemade brownies and on Fridays we order pizza. But I am slowly losing weight. If I can eat well, not be hungry, splurge every weekend, and lose weight… what more can I want in life? And I am not dieting. I am eating real food with realistic portion sizes.

So why is it that I can't maintain the first plan? Well for starters… I don't eat those portion sizes. 1 cup of cereal? Maybe I pour exactly one cup the first few days of a new diet, but I am never satisfied, and that never lasts. And am I going to teach my kids to weigh and measure every bowl of cereal as well? Is that the lifestyle I want for them? Counting every mouthful? Is that realistic or the recipe for an eating disorder. Or rebellion and an obesity epidemic?

The point is, the first menu gets a USDA stamp of approval. You could find something like it on most of the big food manufacturer's websites because they are happy to promote the myth that losing weight is simply a matter of cutting calories with the occasional splurge. All of them reformulate and repackage their products to line up with the newest government health claims ("Low Fat", "Whole Grain", "No HFCS").

But the first menu does not lead to a healthy lifestyle. Improvements are temorary. It doesn't last! You don't feel good eating this way. You don't feel full and you never feel satisfied. You roam around your kitchen opening and closing cabinets and poking your head into the fridge. These processed, refined foods turn immediately into sugars that go right through your system and send you scrambling for more.

I don't like to talk about weight loss on this blog, because I don't think we should wait until we are obese before re-evaluating our food priorities. Especially where the kids are concerned. I wasn't raised to eat right but I was thin. I didn't even know I was "broke" until the weight packed on in college and I didn't know how to stop it. My parents were great in every other way, but they didn't have this information. We do. Let's change.