This week I’m turning the idea of a food budget on its head. Your first thought may be, how many dollars to spend on food?
But what about how many calories to eat in a day? The strategies can be as hard-core as writing down every little thing that goes in your mouth, or a simple swap like skipping dessert so you can have a beer. We’ve all done it — but have you ever thought of it as a budget?
Most people do manage calories for weight loss or maintenance. Few of us need to worry about “busty” budgets, unless you are a body builder or a college football lineman. For me, it has always been about losing.
A few years ago I had real success. After years of being a pudge, it took a weight loss contest at work to get me kick-started. I began making healthier choices. I stopped eating fast food and instead purchased fresh, whole foods. I cut back my portion sizes, only eating what would satisfy my hunger. All of this gave me a deep appreciation for food.
I credit these changes in my life for the foodie that I am today. I became curious about cooking for myself and learning where my food comes from. I began to appreciate simple things, like the beauty of the vibrant color of a farm-raised egg yolk or the taste of fresh tomatoes just picked off of the vine. I feel like an explorer of foods.
All of my past experience developed my take on calorie budgeting.
It’s simple math, of course. To lose weight, you need to burn more calories a day than you take in. While I was able to do this mainly through smart food swaps and cutting back on portions, I also began exercising, which helped a great deal. But even if you’re not a marathon runner, you can see results by changing what you eat and how you consume your calories.
Here’s the hard part: In order for any budget to work, you need to know how much you are “spending,” or, in this case, “consuming.” This means writing down everything you eat. This is where I want to throw my hands in the air and cry … “Why???” It’s daunting, it’s hard, and some days I just don’t want to remember the plethora of sweets. But in order for real change to occur, you have to face the numbers. To know where to cut back, it helps to know what is really going into your body.
We are not alone in this! Even great chefs, like Jose Andres, have tackled the belly bulge. So, when I think how hard it is for me, I can only imagine what it must be like for a professional chef tasting food all day!
Yes, it’s simple … count your calories. But find strategies that keep you on track. These little strategies have worked for me over the years:
- The competition with my peers helped push me along. We cheered each other’s successes, but also held each other accountable when we faltered. If you don’t have work buddies willing to compete or your friends are far afield, try out an app for your phone or other web tools. For example, Lift for the iPhone helps you set goals, make plans and allows your friends to cheer you on.
- Learning to eat fresh, whole foods kept me interested and excited to eat healthier. I gained an appreciation and respect for where my food comes from.
- Cutting back on my portion sizes alone cut my calorie budget quite a bit. I just wasn’t eating as much in one sitting. Instead, I ate smaller meals and snacks throughout the day. An apple, a handful of almonds, or a Greek yogurt; these all helped curb my cravings to overindulge.
- Making smart swaps, no matter the size, helps not only in cutting calories but also made my meals more nutritious. The perfect example of this was cutting out salad dressings and other condiments high in calories, fat, and/or sugars. Instead, a little salt and pepper fresh from the grinder kick up my salads and veggies. Even throwing on a little dried fruit or sunflower seeds contribute better nutrition to your meal. Think power foods!
No matter what strategies work for you, the truest one of all is … the calorie budget!
Sarah’s Amazing Salad
This is a variation of one of my favorite lunches to bring to work. I tend to mix it up – sometimes meatless or with different veggies like beets – but the key is to keep it vibrant and interesting. This makes one salad. Simply adjust the amount if making for more.
2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
3 quail eggs or 1 chicken egg
1 tablespoon soft goat cheese
1/4 cup unsalted walnuts
1 cup raw spinach
Prepare the chicken by rubbing olive oil onto both sides and follow with thyme, salt, and pepper. Note, I use a freshly ground, larger grained salt. This helps give the chicken a nice crust when cooked. Cook either on a grill or on in a non-stick pan on the stovetop. Thighs will be quick to cook. Just make sure they are fully cooked all the way through. When done, set aside and let rest.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the quail eggs and let boil for 5 minutes. Remove them from water and allow to cool before peeling. Since they are quite small, you can run them under cool water. The shells will come off easily, often in one or two pieces.
Assemble the salad by placing the spinach in a bowl then adding the chicken thighs, goat cheese and walnuts. Finally, sprinkle some salt and pepper, rather than dressing, and enjoy!