Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

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Easily Eat Six Veggies and Fruits a Day (Quick Tip)

AppleLast year, I had a one-month resolution to eat seven fruits and vegetables a day. I picked seven because it was right in the middle of the recommended 5-9 servings per day (which actually may not be enough). After a month of extra produce I learned two things. First, ensuring I got more produce made me feel great. Secondly, six fruits and vegetables was about the right number for me. Seven servings and up seemed to produce vastly diminished healthy returns and stressed me out, while five servings and below didn’t give me the same kind of healthy happiness.

This year, I’m doing 100 Days of Real Food’s 14 Week Mini-Pledge Program and last week’s goal was to eat two fruits and veggies with every meal. This forced me to dust off a few ideas I’d used last year and further challenged me because, unlike last year, I wasn’t supposed to take advantage of snack time. Here are some tricks that could help you eat more fruits and veggies too.

Ideas to Help You Eat Six Veggies and Fruits a Day

  1. Add a veggie to your eggs: To me, breakfast and vegetables just doesn’t seem to go together, but I found a few ideas to help sneak a vegetable into the beginning of the day. Now, I add peppers or spinach to my eggs. I keep these in the freezer, already chopped, so I can add them quickly in the morning.
  2. Avocados are great anywhere: My friend, Jossie, who writes My Diabetes Blessing suggested I build an avocado, egg and English muffin sandwich. Guess what? It is AMAZING. In fact, you can add an avocado to almost any dish any time of day. They are great on salads, sandwiches, as a side dish, topping and go well with salsa, too. Plus, they’re quickly turning into a health media darling since they’re high in healthy fats.
  3. Replace your juice with whole fruit: My doctor recently instructed me to equate juice with soda. Since then, I’ve replaced my morning cup with a piece of fruit and have found that I tend to stay full longer. Large pieces of fruit sometimes count as two servings.
  4. Eat a fruit and vegetable with lunch: That takes care of two portions right there and fruit is extremely portable.
  5. Have a salad and a vegetable side dish with dinner: That takes care of two more servings. Add enough tomatoes or avocado to your salad and you’ve just added another serving.
  6. Keep lots of frozen vegetables on hand: You can mix them with stir fries, pasta dishes, and serve dinners with one serving of frozen veggies and one serving of raw veggies like carrots. This tactic makes me feel like I’m eating a greater variety. Frozen veggies are also really easy to make in the microwave.
  7. Have a snack: My single best advice is to replace one of your snacks with a vegetable. If you have a piece of fruit for breakfast, a veggie for a snack, fruit + vegetable for lunch, and salad + veggie for dinner, you’ve got six! I like celery with peanut butter, carrots, or other raw, portable veggies.
  8. Eat fruit for dessert: In college, I studied abroad in Spain and there they eat fruit (with a fork and knife) for dessert! If you can make it a habit to replace over-sweetened desserts with fruit, you’ll kill two bad habits with one stone.

14-Week Real Food Challenge

100 Days of Real Food

One of the blogs I’ve grown to love is Lisa Leake’s 100 Days of Real Food. What started as a 100-day challenge for her family continued with another hundred days and another until eating the foods we were naturally meant to eat became…normal.

I mentioned during my November Food Challenge, that I love Michael Pollan‘s books and ideas, which can be summarized in his advice from In Defense of Food: Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants. In this season of excess and preparation for resolutions, I’ve thought many times about finally changing my diet — for good. The more I read, think, and eat, the more I am convinced that a proper diet will not only make you feel great on a daily basis, but will ward off many of the common (and sometimes fatal) diseases that tend to strike in mid-to-late life. Now that I’ve got young children at home, it’s more important than ever that I set the right example and set them up to be happy, healthy humans for life.

Real Food Challenge

100 Days of Real Food has a new e-program called the “100 Days of Real Food” Mini-Pledge Program and it aims to help you cut out processed foods in 14 weeks. Each week, Leake will send out a small challenge that you pledge to keep for 7 days. For example: “Eat two different fruits or vegetables each meal” or “Listen to your internal cues and stop when you feel full”. They all build up to the final challenge, which is “don’t eat any packaged foods with more than five ingredients”.

Since I was already thinking about how to start my own real food challenge, I signed up immediately (thanks to my friend, Maureen, for the link)! I’m excited to try this and form some better eating habits.  Would anyone like to join me?

It’s the perfect side challenge for my minimalist project, which I already consider to be a wildly successful life change.  Here’s to a happier, healthier 2015 and beyond!

November Food Challenge Accomplishments

My November Food Challenge was so fun, I wish it lasted longer. There is a lot more I had planned, but never got too, like finding more ways to eat healthier and diving into the The Minimalist Cooks Dinner: More Than 100 Recipes for Fast Weeknight Meals and Casual Entertaining. I never even cracked it open. Why? Because as I was organizing my existing recipes, I realized that I have more than enough delicious, easy recipes right now.  Plus, I just plain ran out of time and this wasn’t a high priority.  Realizing that you’ll never get to everything on your to do list and letting the lower priority things go takes practice and this project gives me a lot of practice.

There are a couple things I’m really happy I did accomplish during November’s food challenge:

  1. Analyzed and fixed my grocery budget (parts I, II, and III).  Ever since I cut back on meat and dairy, my weekly bills have come in an average of $20 under budget.
  2. Explored other ways and places to shop for groceries and realized that shopping online (which I was already doing) was the best option for me.
  3. Cut back on disposables, I use far fewer paper towels and switched one kid to cloth diapers this month!
  4. Revisited a couple of sane dieting methods and read up on the diabetic diet. I didn’t write about this, but I gave up sugar for most of November (something I do periodically because it makes me feel GREAT). Now, I usually drink water instead of soda when we go out to eat.
  5. Remembered a sneaky way to cook for two nights at a time and get people to eat reasonable portions.
  6. Took the time to be thankful. This was by far the blog post that made me happiest.
  7. Organized all my recipes (and shared some)!

As far as accomplishing my original goals goes, I give myself a B.

My four original goals

Original Food Month Challenge

I accomplished #1 & #4. I started work on #2 (I’m not being too hard on myself, because this is a lifelong process). For #3, I thought about eating out a bit and decided not to change anything.  We go out once a week as a family and try to stay under $25.  It’s a wonderful time for us to do something together and, while eating out less would be healthier and cheaper, this is a part of my life that I love and want to keep.

So, here’s to food and how wonderful it can make our lives.  In December, I’ll be concentrating on our monthly bills and how to reduce those.

Weeknight Dining Rule & Recipes

Last weekend, I organized all my recipes and developed a single rule for weeknight dining happiness:

Nothing we make during the week should take longer than 30 minutes.

As I sorted recipes, I put them into categories: weeknights, weekends, CSA (all the recipes with weird ingredients we normally only get in the CSA – like broccoli rabe), sides/appetizers, and desserts.  In doing so, I unearthed some long-lost recipes and was reminded of some of our favorites, which I thought I’d share today.

Here are a few of our favorite, easy weeknight recipes:

Cheddar Dogs

Weeknight dining - cheddar dogs

Photo Credit: Pillsbury

8 hot dogs
Pillsbury Crescent Rolls
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Separate and flatten the crescent rolls on a baking sheet.  Place one hot dog in each crescent roll, add a little cheese, then roll the hot dog and cheese up in the roll.  Bake for 10-13 minutes.



Crunchy Asian Chicken Salad

Crunchy Chicken Salad

Photo Credit: Betty Crocker

This recipe takes about 20 minutes and is always a hit – even with company.  You’ll find it in the Betty Crocker Cookbook, which is one of the few cookbooks I kept, and online here. It’s easy, delicious, and healthy!

Overnight Tuna Casserole

I got this recipe from my mom and it is a fantastic weeknight recipe!  Mix everything together the night before, then heat it in the microwave for 15 minutes when you get home from work.

1 can cream of chicken soup
1 cup milk
1 can (6 oz) tuna, drained
1 cup uncooked elbow macaroni
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup chopped green onions (I usually just sprinkle in some onion powder)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided

Combine soup and milk until smooth.  Add tuna, macaroni, peas, onions, and 3/4 cup of cheese; mix well. Pour into a greased 2-qt microwave-safe dish. Cover and refrigerate overnight.  Microwave, covered, on high for 15 minutes or until bubbly. Uncover, sprinkle with remaining cheese and let stand until melted. My mom also adds: “You probably don’t need quite that much cheese if you want to conserve.”

Stir Fry

Stir Fry

Photo Credit:

This is a great way to clean out the fridge every week and you can even cut vegetables ahead of time to make this even faster. Our basic stir fry includes:

Brown Rice (cooked ahead if you want to come in under the 30-minute mark, but this is easy to start as soon as you get home)
Chicken, Pork, or Beef
Sitr Fry Sauce (I like Trader Joe’s Soyaki Sauce)

Cook the rice. Chop everything else up, mix it together and cook until the meat is cooked through and the veggies are tender, but not floppy (10-15 minutes).



Photo Credit:

1 lb hamburger
taco shells
salsa or tomatoes
shredded cheddar cheese
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp hot sauce
1 tsp cayenne pepper

This is another good dish for clearing out the fridge because you can add all kinds of things to tacos (peppers, olives, etc). Cook the meat and sprinkle in the chili powder, hot sauce, and cayenne pepper at the end; mix. Assemble the other ingredients and have everyone make their own tacos!


Cooking Extra Food & Saving It (without Eating it Right Away) – Quick Tip

As Thanksgiving approaches with its glorious promise of leftovers, I find myself wondering whether I could master the art of cooking extra food and saving it for another meal all year round. The main problem we have is that people in our family just eat more if more food is available.

Cooking Extra Food

Stealth Leftovers

Enter a trick I used a few years back when I was the main cook in the house. As soon as I was done cooking, I would package up half of the food and put it in the fridge or freezer — before we dished out the plates for that evening’s dinner. That was the only way I could ensure we’d have enough extra for leftovers. No one goes hungry, but everyone takes more reasonable portions this way. This trick works great for my husband, but only when he doesn’t know about the other half.

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