One of those things I’d always get stuck on when I would decide to lose weight is healthy eating.  I have not been a “eat at home” type of gal, well, ever.  How shall I say this… the cooking that came out of my house was not exactly to my tastes.  I would not say my mother was a horrible cook (at least not in public…kidding), but she was working with a lot stacked against her in my eyes.

My parents are both huge carnivors, prefering huge chunks of meat, with a huge salad (that had things I hated back then like radishes and onions, plus I hated all salad dressings – why can’t I still hate dressing???), and some veggies and MAYBE a baked potato if we were lucky (with molly mcbutter, anyone remember that stuff?).  I have always preferred to have meat as a condiment, with a healthy dose of carbs and veggies as the main dish.  Plus, my dad had high blood pressure, so everything was low salt.  Now I know how to flavor without it, but I still see the challenge. So there I am, eating flavorless dry meat, slimy veggies, the bits out of the salad I could pick out, and the highlight of my meal was a baked potato with butter flakes sprinkled on top.

I remember the daily struggle culminated in a meal of liver and onions, with okra and eggplant on the side.  As a kid, there was literally NOTHING there I liked, and when forced to eat it, I spent the evening yakking over the garbage can (for drama only, it’s not as if I *couldn’t* eat it.  I just hated it).  Shortly after that, I was told that if I wanted something else for dinner, I had to make it.  I totally took my mom up on that.  When we went to the store I would have her buy me ramen, microwave dinners, cans of soup, anything chef boyardee, and canned tamales, and I would cook them.  She made me eat enough of the good stuff (veggies and forced some meat down my throat) but let me get the carbs they didn’t eat.  Which is probably a good thing for a kid that pretty much was active constantly.

Since I didn’t like what came out of the kitchen, I never really learned any recipes from my mom.  Since we were such different animals, there was no point.  At eighteen, I was thrust out into the world of making my own damn food, and I pretty much relied on things in cans or boxes, frozen veggies, and fast food and/or coffee shops.  I think I gained/lost/gained about 15 lbs until the last year of college, where I pretty much ate bar food or Applebees (because I worked there and it was 50% off).  Couple that with binge drinking and moving my partying from the dance floor to a bar stool, it was not pretty.  But, enough about my 21st haze of a year…the point I’m trying to make here is twofold.  First, I didn’t gain an excessive amount of weight in the first 3 years without eating at home, like, ever.  Second, if I, queen of the prepackaged meal, can learn to cook healthy food, so can you.

This revelation is very recent.  Two years ago, Marie Calendars prepared most of my meals if I didn’t go out.  It took a commitment to eating better, a kitchen I had more than 1 square of prep space, and being so sick of everything packaged and frozen that I almost would rather stop eating than make another Lean Cuisine Chicken Alfredo.  Only the first is necessary.  I don’t actually suggest #3 and you can still work with #2 unless you’re looking for excuses.

To start, don’t aim too high.  Take the packaged pasta roni you’re eyeing for dinner, buy a bag of frozen veggies and some precooked chicken.  Voila, you’ve got two fairly balanced meals – actually, and the calorie count isn’t that horrid.  Aim to add extra veggies to EVERYTHING, the packaged stuff NEVER has enough.  If you must have that can of chicken and stars soup, balance it out with a big leafy salad with lots of veggies and a protien source like beans or turkey pepperoni.  Love mac and cheese?  Add a mess of frozen veggies, a can of tuna, some onions and celery, and instead of a thousand plus calorie bowl of orange flavored carb, you’ve got 2-3 helpings with some better staying power.  If you can only do one thing, I suggest adding 2 servings of frozen veggies to whatever your eating.

Then, once you realize, hmmm, maybe I could make this better on my own, you’ll start branching out.  I started making my own sandwiches, wraps, and salads instead of ordering them – sounds easy, but it was a start.  After a while, the world was my oyster and I made my own tortilla pizzas and calzones, stir frys (though Zliten took those over and rocks them better than I can), soups, tacos, and burritos.  Then, we found the wonders of the BBQ and now dine on fish, chicken, kabobs…it’s amazing how much BETTER meat is on a grill!  Soon, you’ll never open a package again.  Yeah…right, like that could happen (for me at least).

This week, we have a particularly “package-y” menu, so it’s a perfect week to showcase!  Today for dinner, manwhiches!  That is extra lean ground beef, lo cal sourdough bread, manwhich can, fat free cheese, and a mess-ton of frozen veggies on the side.  Tomorrow, I’m taking a package of lipton fettucini alfredo, adding a chicken breast, and another ton of veggies.  Wednesday, we’re splitting a package of stouffers lasagna (the 3 serving size), and adding a huge salad w/a lo cal bread to sop it up.  Thursday, we’ve got some beef stew/pan pot roast thing, adding veggies and a big ol’ salad as well.  Friday is more of a home cooked kinda thing, but it’s so easy – fish tacos and garlic black beans.  Take 2 frozen costco tilapia filets, cook in pan with garlic, add hot sauce, cilantro, olives, lettuce, sour cream, and cheese to a corn tortilla, and feel good in your belly.

The beauty of these meals?  Nothing is over 500 calories, and they’re way easy to make.  Next time I talk about recipes I’ll get into some of the more complicated stuff, but from the start, I just wanted to stress that ANYONE can eat healthier with very little effort or knowledge in the kitchen.  The reason I’ve let this post sit for so long?  I never remember to let the food stay in it’s cooked/not eaten stages long enough to take pictures.  Ah well.  There’s always next time.