Friday, August 10, 2012

Alternative Snacks for Healthy Eating

Well, folks, the self-guided weight watching is going well, at 9 1/2 lbs lost in 5 weeks. My friends and co-workers are asking me my "secret," but it's not a secret: it's a lifestyle. When I went to Weight Watchers many, many years ago, that's what our Instructor tried to drill  into our heads. It took all this time for it, like the Velveteen Rabbit, to become "real" to me.

What does it mean? Checking labels, checking calorie counts, choosing the lightest and healthiest foods: more fruit, more veggies, less bread, less sodium, less meat and measuring my portions. It means choosing a good low-fat or no-sugar "ice cream" instead of the calorie-laden creamery products.

I don't aim to be skinny, not at my age, but I plan to make sure Mike and I are as healthy as our bodies allow us to be. That's what it's all about, isn't it? So here are a few suggestions for healthier eating that seems to be working in our household. You may even find a few things you have never tried and really enjoy:
Life's the berries!

  • Frozen blueberries, with skim milk poured over the top: This makes a sweet treat that's pretty hard to beat. I would have added "in the heat," but that would just be wrong, given my lack of rapping skills. Try it, you may like it! It turns the skim milk into a frozen concoction that's so delicious. One of my all-time favorite snacks, any time of year. If you want, you can put a wee bit of sugar or honey on top, but I find the combo sweet enough.
  • Plain yogurt mixed with cut-up fruit and a bit of granola or finely chopped nuts sprinkled on top is another of my all-time favorites. It's sweet enough and the granola/nuts gives it that bit of satisfying chew. Any fruit can be used but berries and peaches are my favorite. Some folks like bananas (if you're not watching your potassium intake). If you want to make a fruit salad, just pour a bit of plain yogurt on top. If you prefer, you can make it into a parfait. A bit fancier but pretty much the same thing. Drizzling a bit of honey on it makes it sweet. Just watch the sugar in canned fruit if you prefer that to raw.
  • Smoothies: Another favorite in our home. The blender is our friend. Berries, yogurt and sugar-free juice blended with ice and a wee bit of honey; bananas and strawberries, yogurt, skim milk or juice blended with ice and a touch of honey; pineapples and bananas or mango for a "tropical" taste; the combinations are endless!
  • Use skim milk instead of "Fat-free" or 2%. You really can't taste much of a difference on your cereal, but you sure can on your waistline! And be careful of which creamers you select and how much you use in each cup of coffee.
  • Cut down on the soda and enjoy unsweetened fruit juice mixed with club soda. Totally fizzy and totally yummy! (tell kids that it's "fizzy fruit juice.") Don't overdo the "diet sodas" - the aspartame in them isn't healthy if you consume it in excess. They can also cause you to bloat and be uncomfortable. Choose mineral water or club soda or products such as Crystal Lite (in moderation) or other 0 calorie clear drinks instead. Remember: lite doesn't necessarily mean calorie free! Check labels!
  • Forego the chips and buttered popcorn and look for alternatives! I love apple chips (sweet and crispy, at 140 calories for a third of a small bag). I make my own oven "chips" using cooking spray instead of oil, with less sodium because I am careful of how much salt I put on top. If you have red potatoes, you can scrub them and leave on the peels for some fiber in your diet. If you want popcorn, you can shake on a topping and some folks even spray a bit of cooking spray on the popcorn first so the topping sticks - an alternative to butter or margarine. I prefer measuring just a bit of butter, melting it, and drizzling it on top. Whipped butter seems to go farther than margarine and is recommended in Weight Watcher recipes.
  • Instead of chocolate, choose another sweet treat. Peanut butter and a bit of honey on a graham cracker; peanut butter popcorn balls (recipe in archives); half a slice of bread with crunchy peanut butter and a tsp of preserves; canned or fresh fruit; sugar-free ice cream IN A CONE so you don't eat so much at one time. There are so many other choices than the obvious. If you really want chocolate, try just a drizzle of chocolate topping or syrup on your dessert or popcorn. It satisfies that craving.
  • Make your own trail mix. Raisins, dried cranberries, nuts, Cheerios or Chex, chocolate or carob chips, mini marshmallows or other stuff you have around the house is a tasty treat. Measure out half a cup and enjoy! Just be sure you don't overdo dry fruit or chocolate chips: they are pretty high in calorie. And nuts are quite fatty, so go heavier on the cereal than the other ingredients. Children and adults alike enjoy this treat.
  • 'Smores: Feel like a s'more or 2? 1 Tbsp of chocolate syrup is only 50 calories. Try that with your marshmallow instead of a square of chocolate. And let's face it, if it's something you really want, having one or 2 s'mores won't break your weight loss streak if you don't let it! 4 graham crackers are only 120 calories and 2 large marshmallow are only 45 calories. Yes, the chocolate adds to the calories, but no one said we were perfect! Not your healthiest snack around, but they sure can be tasty around the campfire :) 
  • Fries: Count your fries! 10 oven-baked fries at home are only 100 calories. One small order of McDonald's fries is 230 calories. A sweet potato baked in your oven and served with salt has just 105 calories; sweet potato fries prepared in the oven at home are much healthier than those at fast food places. Why? The grease! 
  • Don't eat too many sandwiches. An open-face whole wheat slice of bread "sandwich" of meat and thin-cut real cheese broiled til the cheese bubbles is just as satisfying as all the extras. Spread the bread with a bit of mustard for flavor before broiling and serve with a dill pickle and salad. Or try a pita bread pocket stuffed with veggies, sprouts and a light spreading of hummus inside instead of high-sodium deli meats. The sad thing is that commercial bread is one of the highest products for sodium in your diet! )the things you learn in the stalls at work!)
  • Be creative in making salads, but limit the dressing! You can get just as much flavor out of less dressing than having your greens floating in a pool. Vinaigrette is excellent, especially when home-made (see my recipe in the archives for a good traditional Russian Vinaigrette dressing). Control your own fat intake for your health. If you go to a buffet, as we often do, you can simply pour on your own dressing using twice the vinegar to oil ratio from the cruets they have there. Sprinkle a half pack of sugar on top if you want that sweet taste. You don't need to add salt.
Here's a good source to find out calorie counts, if you are in the mood to get healthy and stay that way. Just remember that as a rule, fresh and frozen beat out canned or commercial, and don't hesitate to measure and count your way to success. Good luck!

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