Wednesday, March 4, 2009

You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!!

Yesterday, I put on my nicest suit, handed Ryan over to Daddy (aka Mr. Mom) for the day, and travelled to Annapolis, Maryland to testify on behalf of House Bill 601: legislation that would make all chain restaurants (fast food, not mom & pop shops) put the calorie count of each item on their menu boards. I walked into a huge hearing room full of 40 state delegates who had the power to keep the bill in committee or send it to the Statehouse for a vote. I wanted to share with you the written testimony I submitted. Here it goes...

Maryland House of Delegates
Health & Government Operations Committee
House Office Building, Room 241
6 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401

Dear Chairman Hammen and members of the Committee:

My name is Karen *****, and I’m a Maryland mom in support of Delegate Niemann’s menu labeling legislation (House Bill 601). I’ve also struggled to maintain a healthy weight throughout most of my adult life. Over the last five months, through mindful eating and moderate exercise, I’ve lost 29 lbs. I’m a new mom with a young baby, and my life is both fuller and more frenetic than ever. I need every resource available to help me stay on track. I want to be a good role model for my son, as well as to stay healthy to see all that he will accomplish in his life. For me and for so many others, staying on top of what we put in our mouths every day helps keep us accountable and able to stave off weight related illnesses. For this reason, I believe it is imperative that Maryland pass HB 601 to ensure that chain restaurants show the calorie counts of every item sold on their menu boards.

Whether I’m working to lose weight or to maintain a healthy weight, I look at calorie intake and output like a daily budget. When I make my food choices, I often think of them as line items. For instance, I have 500 calories to spend on breakfast. That breakfast needs to keep my hunger at bay for three or four hours before I eat again. When I enter an establishment, Starbucks for example, I want to be guided to make the best choice that I can for those 500 calories. If I see that one small muffin is equal in calories to a bowl of oatmeal with dried fruit, I know immediately that the oatmeal will get me to lunch. Alternatively, the muffin will most likely keep me satiated for only an hour. I’ve found that the key to staying committed to a healthy weight is not being hungry. I can accomplish this by making the right food choice for every meal and snack.

It is not enough for this information to be provided on a web site or for customers to have to ask for it in a brochure. Recently I visited a Panera restaurant. Since I hadn’t visited one for a while, I went online to research the options I had. I chose at least 5 menu items I liked that fit within my calorie budget and figured I’d make the final choice when I arrived. To my disappointment, NONE of the items I picked was available. And, of course, there was no nutritional information on the menu boards. With my baby son in tow and in need of his bottle, I needed to make a fast decision and chose a salad which did not look appetizing. In fact, it wasn’t appealing in taste or presentation. This particular experience was one I thought I had planned for well. There are times when I’m in an area I’m not familiar with or I’m stuck at a mall and have limited food choices. These are times when I’m hungry, and I haven’t had the opportunity to plan ahead. In these instances, calorie counts listed on menu boards are my only option to make good decisions. Of course, these are rarely available, and I must limit my food later in the day to make up for undesirable choices earlier. I’ll never forget the time I came home and searched the web to find that the single slice of Sbarro pizza I had eaten contained not only 710 calories, but also 27 grams of fat! Not only that, but the Sbarro website does not display this information. I had to search online for other websites that provided it. Because I do not have access to this important nutrition information, I cannot return to these restaurants until it is made available on their menus.

One stunning fact that is clear to me time and time again is how the power of knowledge affects our perception, as well as our decisions. For years, we’ve been introduced to items like 7 Eleven’s Big Gulp and McDonald’s Supersize fries. Our personal perceptions of appropriate portions were lost when these items became the norm. The simple solution is to offer nutritional information that is accessible and easy for everyone to see. Sometimes basic awareness will lead a person to take the action necessary to make one’s health a priority. In addition, the helpful sign nearby that explains that a 2,000 calorie daily diet is the general rule of thumb for healthy living will give additional perspective to the diner. Perhaps then 388 calories (or approximately 1/5 of an adult’s total calorie needs per day!) for a Big Gulp of soda will seem outrageous to most customers.

With all of this in mind, the restaurants that provide nutritional information on their menus have gained my loyalty. Isn’t creating customer loyalty the whole point of providing a service or a product? Shouldn’t this be in the business plan of all chain restaurants? By providing this information, I have a sense of good will toward the restaurateurs. They are showing me that they care about my health and that of my family. Clearly, they want me to return often.

Finally, as a new mom, I’ve been inundated with retailers telling me which formula is nutritionally the most sound, which bottle is the safest, and even which bassinet and crib will help prevent SIDS. Every commercial, every product packaging, and every radio jingle, promises to keep my child healthy and thriving. So tell me, why is this promise any less important when dining out? In the supermarket, I pick organic foods with wholesome ingredients and limited sugar. I’m able to do this because I read labels on each item before I buy it. Doesn’t it just make good sense for me to continue making these informed choices when ordering at chain restaurants? In conclusion, I need this information presented in a way that I find useful. Juggling a baby, a diaper bag and toys while leafing through a brochure just will not cut it. I need the nutritional information prominently presented next to the item I’m ordering.

I urge you to support HB 601.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Try couldn't hurt!

Now that I'm the "jewish mother" I've always longed to be, I'm going to nag you a little. Just a little, I promise. If you're working on your weight loss or simply trying to maintain your weight, trust me on this one. Have a cup of soup at least once a day. I have mine before my main meal, which for me is lunchtime. First of all, you can't stand up and eat soup. Though I'm sure many have tried. Instead, you'll find yourself sitting down and taking your time to savor the flavors. Soup forces you to eat slowly and enjoy your meal. I think eating slowly gives you an opportunity for your belly to tell the brain it's full. These natural cues for hunger and feeling satiated are half the battle when it comes to practicing portion control.

In a pinch, I've tried low sodium canned options like Amy's Organic soups - which are pretty darn tasty, but nothing really compares to the homemade variety. Here's one of my recent favorites. Picture & recipe by Weight Watchers.

Creamy Mushroom Soup


1 spray(s) cooking spray
1 cup(s) leek(s), chopped
2 medium stalk(s) celery, chopped
2 medium garlic clove(s), minced
1 pound(s) button mushrooms, sliced
3 cup(s) fat-free chicken broth, reduced-sodium
3/4 cup(s) fat-free evaporated milk
1/8 tsp table salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp black pepper, or to taste


Coat a large saucepan with cooking spray and set pan over medium-high heat. Add leeks, celery and garlic; sauté until soft, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms; sauté until they release juice, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add broth to pan and bring to a boil; reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and puree soup in saucepan using an immersion blender. Or puree soup in batches in a blender until smooth (be careful not to splatter the hot liquid) and then return to saucepan. Add milk to pan and simmer 1 minute to heat through. Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Yields about 1 1/2 cups per serving. Points value is 2 per serving.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Stew & the slooooow cooker

Got ten minutes? Great. Then, you've got time to make a fabulous stew. I'm totally serious. All you need is a slow cooker and the confidence to let the cooker do the work for you. And if you've got nerves of steel, leave the house while it's on. I know, I know. That's what they're built for, but I'm a nervous nellie and I don't even leave lights on when I'm heading out the door. But I know YOU can do it. You're probably a lot less anxious than me.

Anyhoo, getting back to this fantastic stew from Weight Watchers. All you need is this:

Middle Eastern Lamb Stew (for the slow cooker) from Weight Watchers


1 pound(s) lean leg of lamb, stew meat, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 cup(s) canned beef broth
1 large onion(s), chopped
1 large garlic clove(s), minced
14 1/2 oz canned diced tomatoes, undrained
15 oz canned chickpeas
2 tsp ginger root, freshly grated
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Place lamb in a 5-quart slow cooker. Add remaining ingredients (add a pinch of saffron threads to tint stew orange & enhance taste), except lemon juice; stir well. Cover and cook on LOW setting for 7 to 8 hours. Stir in lemon juice and let stand for 5 minutes for flavors to blend.

Yields about 1 1/2 cups per serving. Each serving is 6 WW points.

  • Seriously, the hardest part of this recipe was finding the stew meat. And that wasn't even so bad. I didn't see it out with the rest of the meat at the grocery store, so I just rang the bell for the butcher (insert visual of "Sam the Butcher" from the Brady Bunch) and he brought out a package from the back of the kitchen. He pointed out to me that some stew meat is "marbelized" with fat and that I should use meat that I can trim. Because getting fat out of marbelized meat is impossible. So pick wisely when you have choices.
  • If you don't have a microplane like me, then you easily pick up minced ginger (near the jars of minced garlic) in the produce section.
  • When you have a moment, check out I buy most of my spices there and I'm lucky to have a store nearby. But the majority of their customers buy online or through their catalog. I mention this because I truly believe that their cinnamon is superior to anything I've ever had before. And believe me, the scent of that cinnamon through the house while your cooking this stew is worth the price of admission.
  • For those of you following the Weight Watchers program, 1 1/2 cups of this stew is incredibly filling for 6 points. And the flavor is to die for. I can't wait for you to try it and let me know what you think.

2009: A return to blogging!

Hello friends,

It's been six months since I've become a mom and so much change has happened in my life. I feel so incredibly fortunate to be Ryan's mom. Happiness & peace have been the baseline of my life since his arrival. These feelings have affected every part of my life. Including how I view my own health and vitality.

Full disclosure now: the first three months of adjustment were not easy. I pretty much gave up on cooking and exercise due to throwing my entire energy into caring for our newborn son. This lack of caring for my own self caused me to drag from lack of energy. As happy as I was to finally be a mom, I wasn't enjoying it fully because I felt...well, crappy. So after the inevitable weight gain, my husband and I made a plan. We would put "me" back on the map and schedule in time for him to take care of Ryan and for me to focus on healthy cooking and moderate exercise. Also I took charge of my own destiny on November 4 and started a food diary which took the form of a wipe off board on my fridge. I'm still cooking with whole grains, lean meats, veggies and fruits, but I'm careful to eat the appropriate portion for my 5'3 stature. All these changes did not happen overnight, but they've been easy to maintain because I didn't go overboard. My mantra is slow and steady wins the race.

The last three months have been infinitely better. First, I lost 20 lbs (Yay!!!) but more importantly, I'm relishing every single moment of being a mom because I have a skip in my step again. It's not over yet, though. You'll start to see some changes in this blog due to my efforts. I'll start to share more about portion control, exercise and finding balance in life. I'm working on learning habits that are realistic and sustainable...I'm definitely not trying to be a perfect person when it comes to food. Just to be more accountable to myself.

I've missed this blog and all of my friends online. I'm looking forward to sharing with you again the adventures of Test Drive Kitchen.

All the best,