My parents, the original 1980s health nuts, were always watching themselves. “No thanks, I’m watching myself,” was an often heard response to an offer of a cookie. This was the decade when they routinely headed out for four mile power walks in matching Gore-Tex track suits.
In contrast to dieting, “watching yourself” is less high stakes. It’s for maintenance and not true weight loss. It does not mean counting calories or entering food into a journal all day long. That’s nuts. And for someone like me, who is, at times, actually nuts; A less high stakes and sensible approach to dieting is crucial to my well-being. My parents’ approach basically works for me when, like them, I combine it with consistent exercise.
Now that I’m riding the pine as they say, I have to take “watching myself” to the next level. A flip through the magazines in the checkout line leaves me wondering if I have to be a straight-up foodie these days to eat healthy. I don’t like recipes that require me to buy ingredients I would otherwise never buy, like green onions or pine nuts.
I scan recipes and wonder, who the fuck has time for cumin. Really. My parents had one kind of lettuce, and that was iceberg, and it was bought by the head, and neither of them ever laid eyes on a salad spinner.
I own a salad spinner. Out of insecurity or ignorance I assumed spinning salad is what all the cool kids are doing now-a-days. And I buy the organically-sourced mixed greens marked “triple washed” and dump the contents into the plastic basket before rinsing it under the tap. Then I place the basket in the unwieldy spinner contraption, close the lid, and awkwardly, uncomfortably, spin the handle round and round, always doubtful, never certain, how many rotations of the salad spinner are sufficient before I can stop the spectacle of quadruple washing my triple-washed lettuce leaves and begin salad-making in earnest.
As you can imagine, a lot of rotting lettuce gets purged from my fridge along with other moldy salad fixings. What is my problem with the salad spinner, anyway? I don’t know. I just know that I can’t stand the sight of it, and it stops me from making salad. Thanks to Gretchen Rubin and her endless plumbing of the human psyche, it occurred to me that
this problem I’ve identified has an obvious solution. Doesn’t the benefit of regularly eating healthy salads outweigh the slim chance of exposing myself to microscopic fecal matter that may be on the lettuce straight from the bag? Didn’t previous generations of blotchy and freckled Sullivans, Murphys, Mannings, and Derains that came before me get by without a salad spinner?
Since we’re on the topic of food borne illnesses, I might add that I have an impervious constitution. I have my mother, who considers sell-by-dates more of a BTW, and reuses plastic bags The Boston Globe is delivered in for food storage, to thank for this. Not to mention the fact that I have a grandmother on my father’s side whom is from the island of Inishmaan,
which is lit-er-al-y a rock off the coast of Galway. There might not be a single tree. Not a one. Why people ever lived there, I cannot imagine. It’s not fit for lepers, and this is where I derive a quarter of my DNA (she says with more than a little pride). All of this is by way of telling you that I am from hardy stock and I am not losing sleep over my decision to eat several salads this this week straight out of the lettuce bag marked triple-washed. Who says a somewhat incapacitated suburban mother of two can’t live life on the edge?
I must insert a qualifier here before any moms get grow concerned for the wellbeing of my children. I will wash their lettuce, and also any actual dirty lettuce, like the straight from the ground kind. I’m not an animal, I’m just Irish.
Here are some other leaves, in addition to the leafy green variety, I am turning over in my convalescence (there’s that word again).
- Switching out breakfast cereal for 2% Greek yogurt and a handful of granola. I do not buy granola because in my opinion it is too expensive for what it is, but it was on sale this week.
- Buying kale salads in the prepared food section of Whole Foods. I can eat kale, but I cannot abide shoving enormous bushels of the stuff into my refrigerator so it can stare at me and judge me every time I pass over it when I open the refrigerator door for the next 10 days. In other words, I do not like to prepare kale. I want Edward Scissorhands on speed dial whenever I am confronted with an unruly mess of raw kale. No cutting board can contain that madness. Super Food 1, Creaky Joints 0. I am the only one in my family that wants to eat kale, and buying one at Whole Foods once a week equals about three servings for me, which is the difference between no kale and a reasonable amount of kale on a weekly basis. So there you have it.
- I’ve upped my celery game. This is another vegetable that dies a slow and pitiful death in my refrigerator. A bunch of celery is the least appealing item in the entire produce section. It looks even more pathetic at home in my refrigerator. But a little carton of neatly chopped celery sticks sitting pertly on the shelf? They look like little soldiers lining up for their execution! That, I can get behind, with some peanut butter, of course. This purchase also passes the cost-benefit analysis (if it means I eat less goldfish crackers).
- La Croix sparkling water will (hopefully) replace a few caloric beverages. That’s the idea, anyway. I can’t believe I’m becoming a sparkling water person. I never thought I would see the day, but here I am.
- For entrees, I’m keeping it simple (because I know no other way). My usual rotation consists of chicken breasts, hamburger meat, steak tips or fish with a side of either broccoli, string beans, mixed veg from the bag, and/or roasted potatoes. That’s it. Nothing fancy. No sauces. No marinades. No funny business.
- Cutting out certain carbs (beer and wine), and cutting back on others (cinnamon toast, aforementioned goldfish crackers). That’s (really) it. That’s my diet.
I don’t know what came first: foodie culture, or the rise of magazines and television networks that feed it (pun!). I do know that for me, the trick to eating healthy is to make it as simple and convenient as humanly possible. The less thinking I have to do about it, the better. So thanks, Mom and Dad, for imparting your habits on me before “organic” became a thing people cared about, and ensuring that I have the blandest palette and lowest food expectations imaginable.
What’s a non-foodie to do in a fancy food world?
Do you have any healthy eating hacks that help you stay on track?
What is your favorite hi-cal indulgence? Mine is probably mid-day chocolate chip cookie cravings.