Sunday, February 7, 2010

First Things First - Working Out and Eating A Healthy Breakfast

(my monthly food column for Heartland Women)
January 2010 

Working Out

Last January I did something shocking and totally unexpected. I made a commitment to add some healthy activity to my life – as in workout! – at least three times a week. It wasn’t really a New Year’s resolution so much as a life-changing experience.

I’d put it off as long as I could, believe me. Sure, there had been some minor flings with exercise in the past, but nothing ever lasted. Even though I had been an active and reasonably able athlete as a kid, that was pre-Title IX, so sports were not ever a big part of my life.

In my twenties I tried jogging but found pounding the pavement to be painful, even to my relatively young joints. Then I sat out the whole aerobics era – loud music, leotards, leg warmers and lady drill sergeants shouting at rooms full of sweaty women. Not for me!

Walking was OK for a while, but eventually even it fell by the wayside. Besides being boring, after two or three years of circling the same neighborhood, I could no longer tolerate looking at homes with unappealing color schemes, cookie cutter landscaping, or hideous holiday decorations. When I began to seriously consider issuing my own personal citations to the offending homeowners, my very own neighbors, I knew it was time to give up walking.

So, by 2009, after decades of avoiding the wisdom of the experts, I thought I was finally ready to give up the excuses and get moving. After all, they said regular exercise would make me healthier, happier, stronger and more flexible. Well, that and help me lose weight but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. None of my usual activities – reading, sitting at the computer, watching television and movies, sewing, etc. – required any actual activity. I had to find something a little more strenuous.

As luck would have it, my friend Dianna mentioned that she also wanted to find some form of exercise she could commit to doing for the rest of her life, too. It was just the exact life affirming “ah ha” moment both of us needed! Right then and there we agreed to begin working out the next day. And so we did!

The place we chose for our workouts fits us perfectly, which is the undeniable key to success. The atmosphere is friendly and the staff is supportive and encouraging. The workout adapts itself to our increasing strength, is easy to learn and safe to perform – no injuries! We can also take our routine on the road and workout at other facilities when we travel. The best thing is that it is so close to our homes that we have to drive past it everyday.

A year later, I am happy to report that we consider our workout-for-life plan to be an overwhelming success! Without even realizing it was happening, we began to look forward to workouts. No one was more surprised than we were to discover we actually missed working out when we had to skip for some reason. We always try to go together, but we are just as likely to go alone when one of us can’t make it.

Dianna says, "In addition to the pride I feel from actually sticking to a physical fitness routine, the laughter and the bond that we share after a year of working out are a great bonus." I second that!

And we hate to admit it, but they were right about working out on a regular basis. We are happier, healthier, stronger and more flexible. We have more energy and more stamina. Both of us have lost a few pounds, but that was not our goal.  They also say regular exercise replaces fat with muscle, which weighs more anyway. OK, we can live with that!

Call us crazy, or call us wise, but I think we both knew intuitively that it would be easier to take it one step at a time in our plan for a healthier lifestyle. We’re happy with our first step – our personal fitness plan – for now, even if it still sounds a little strange for us to have one!

So here goes. We’ve tasted success and we want more! This year we really want to focus on eating habits, but we are still not going on a diet! Our experience with diets is almost identical to my pre-2009 experience with any form of exercise. Nothing works for very long, and as soon as we let down our guard, the old habits and old pounds come back, plus some.

Instead, we want to transfer the reasonable and flexible goals of our workout plan to our eating habits. Our commitment is to make good healthy choices about the food we eat and to lose weight. They say it can be done and they were right about working out, so . . . here’s hoping they’re right again.

I know if we can be half as successful this year as we were last year, we will be thrilled. Maybe I should start out by making healthy eating choices just three days a week. Or maybe focus on healthier choices on days I don’t exercise. I’m not exactly sure how to proceed, but I have lots of options to explore until I find what works for me. And Dianna and I will be sharing our experience again, because having someone to share your accountability is helpful to both of us.

Eating A Healthy Breakfast

The first meal of the day is the logical place to begin making healthy food choices. Remember, first things first. Both of us have good breakfast routines already. For starters, we both eat breakfast, which they say is important for healthy eating and weight loss.

Breakfast is simple at my house. My favorites are eggs, oatmeal, or Greek-style yogurt. I eat one of these almost every day of the week. My Favorite Husband likes Cheerios with milk and a banana and a glass of tomato juice. And I like that he can make it himself!

Food has got to taste good, as well as being good for me, so I have a few favorites, even for breakfast. The best oatmeal I’ve ever found is Christine and Rob’s* from Oregon. It is thick cut, slow-toasted, organic and it makes oatmeal that is as far from gruel as you can get. Jazzed up with a few extras, or just a light dusting of cinnamon and sugar, it is the perfect beginning to cold winter days.

Eggs are one of the best sources of protein around and they are also versatile. Usually, I eat them poached with whole grain toast, but because of all the wonderful ways to embellish eggs with vegetables and sauces, omelets and frittatas are perfect for a special breakfast. And they’re perfect for lunch or dinner, too.

And finally, there is yogurt. I am crazy about Greek-style yogurt, especially Oikos vanilla, which is organic and fat free. The thick, custardy texture blends perfectly with the crunchy goodness of my favorite Bear Naked Vanilla Almond Granola and any kind of fresh fruit. It is my go-to breakfast – or dessert! – any day of the week.

When I started crunching numbers to develop a calorie strategy for my personal weight loss plan, I decided breakfast should be about 300 calories a day. Calories really do count, so consult someone who can help you determine your range for maintaining or losing weight. All of my morning favorites fall into the 300-calorie range, so I don’t worry if I have a splurge day every now and then.

I’m looking forward to getting into the kitchen and trying lots of new recipes for the other meals of the day. If you have any helpful tips or great recipes for real food prepared in healthy ways, please share them. I’ve printed a few here that might simplify your breakfast routine, whether you want to lose weight, or just take the first step toward maintaining healthy eating for a lifetime.

With a goal and a plan, the first step to losing weight with healthy food choices in reasonable amounts is so easy – just start everyday with a good breakfast! 

Oatmeal (1 c. cooked = 150 calories) Plus Add-Ins
Fruit & Nut – ½ c. chopped apples, 5 chopped pecans = 300
Banana Split – ¼ c. strawberries, ¼ c. bananas, ¼ c. pineapple, ½ carton vanilla yogurt, 5 chopped pecans, 1 maraschino cherry = 300
Pumpkin Pie – ½ c. canned pumpkin, ¼ tsp. pumpkin pie spice, 1 tbsp. brown sugar, 5 chopped pecans = 300
P B & J – 1 tbsp. peanut butter and 1 c. fresh strawberries = 300
Banana Pudding – ¼ c. vanilla yogurt, ½ c. sliced bananas, ½ graham cracker or 2 vanilla wafers, chopped = 320
Ultimate Oatmeal Cookie – ¼ tsp. cinnamon, 1 tbsp. raisins, 1 tbsp. chocolate chips, 5 chopped walnuts = 320
Fluffer Nutter – 1 tbsp. peanut butter, 2 tbsp. marshmallow fluff, 1 honey = 325
Not So Chunky Monkey – ¼ c. chopped banana, 5 chopped walnuts, 1 tbsp. chocolate chips = 325
Chocolate Chip Cookie – 1 tbsp. chocolate chips, 1 tbsp. brown sugar, 5 chopped pecans = 330
Tropical Paradise – 1 tbsp. coconut, ¼ c. banana, ¼ c. pineapple, 5 chopped macadamia nuts = 335
Apple Pie – ½ c. apple, ¼ tsp. cinnamon, 1 chopped graham cracker, ¼ c. vanilla yogurt = 350
Christine & Rob’s Oatmeal* – available online at
Print Recipe

Easy Poached Eggs - 75 calories
1.  Break each egg into a small bowl.
2.  Fill a straight-sided skillet or Dutch oven with 2 inches of water; bring to a boil. Add 1/2 c. vinegar. Reduce to a gentle simmer; the water should be steaming and small bubbles should come up from the bottom of the pan.
3.  Submerging the lip of each bowl into the simmering water, gently add the eggs, one at a time.
4.  Cook for 4 minutes for soft set, 5 minutes for medium set and 8 minutes for hard set. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggs to a clean dishtowel to drain for a minute.
Print Recipe 

Microwave Sunny Side Up Egg Casserole – 305 calories
1 slice whole grain bread
2 tbsp. grated cheese
2 eggs
1 tsp. chives (fresh or dried)
Toast bread and cut into small cubes. Coat the inside of ramekin with cooking spray or olive oil. Place toast cubes in bottom of ramekin. Sprinkle grated cheese over toast cubes. Crack two eggs and place over cheese. Sprinkle chives over eggs. With a toothpick, prick the yolk of each egg to prevent bursting in the microwave. Cover ramekin with paper towel and cook in microwave on high for 1½ - 2 minutes, until eggs are cooked. Time and power setting may need to be adjusted for your microwave. Serve in ramekins, or remove to plate.  
Print Recipe 

Microwave Scrambled Egg Casserole – 305 calories
1 slice whole grain bread
2 tbsp. grated cheese
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. Herbes de Provence
Toast bread and cut into small cubes. Coat inside of ramekin with cooking spray or olive oil. Place toast cubes in bottom of ramekin. Sprinkle grated cheese over toast cubes. In another small bowl, crack eggs and then stir until thoroughly blended. Pour eggs over cheeses. Sprinkle Herbes de Provence over eggs. Cook in microwave on high for 1½ - 2 minutes, until eggs are cooked. Time and power setting may need to be adjusted for your microwave. Serve in ramekin, or remove to plate.
Print Recipe

 Cora’s Favorite Yogurt Parfait – 290 calories
1 c. mixed blueberries, raspberries and strawberries
1 small container Greek style vanilla yogurt (I like Oikos*, I purchase at my local market)
1/4 c.granola (my favorite is Bear Naked Vanilla Almond Crunch*, which I purchase at my local market - 1/4 c. is equal to 120 calories)
In a bowl or pretty glass, spoon in half of berries, add half of yogurt and then half of granola; repeat layers with remaining ingredients. Serve chilled. Note: other fruits may be substituted and will not alter the calorie count significantly; however, some granola is much higher in calories so be sure to read the label.
Print Recipe

 Pumpkin Pie Protein Shake – 260 calories
6 ice cubes
3/4 c. water
1/4 c. fat-free half & half
1 scoop vanilla protein powder
1/4 c. pumpkin puree
1 tbsp. honey (or artificial sweetener, if desired)
1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/4 c. Reddi-Whip* whipped cream (other varieties will have different calorie counts, but are acceptable)
Place all ingredients except Reddi-Whip in a blender and process until smooth. Pour into a glass and top with a generous squirt of Reddi-Whip and sprinkle with a pinch of pumpkin pie spice. Make 1 serving. 
Print Recipe

* I do not receive any compensation or free products from Christine & Rob's Oatmeal, Oikos Yogurt, Bear Naked Granola, Cheerios, or Reddi-Whip - or any other products I may mention.
Brand names are included here for the purpose of calorie counts and just because I like them!


CottageGirl said...

Good for you, Cora! Thanks for the recipes! They look very yummy, especially the parfait!
Continued success!

Maris said...

Congrats on one year of an exercise plan! I bet you feel much better when you're active. I know I do.

Unknown said...

Great Pictures Cora! Love the Oats & Eggs!

Cora said...

Thanks Emily! I'm working on it!