Healthy chicken and mushrooms in a sherry cream sauce

Healthy chicken and mushrooms


The biggest challenge in converting to a healthier lifestyle is finding ways to stay full without feeling deprived. Because I’m so used to scarfing down carbohydrates and large portions (and, you know, large portions of carbohydrates), meal times can pose challenges.

But we’re up for the task.

I recently stumbled upon Nosh My Way: a website with tons of delicious, healthy recipes with Weight Watchers PointsPlus values already calculated (four per serving for this dish). You certainly do not need to be on Weight Watchers to enjoy flavorful, lower-calorie meals — though having Marlene do the calculations ahead of time is awesome.

Her recipe for chicken breasts in a creamy mushroom sauce was delicious — and great for a weeknight. Spencer had a mess of mushrooms that needed to be used up ASAP, and most of these ingredients were already on hand. We made a few additions to the recipe, outlined below, but the original would be great, too.

I just have to add garlic, y’all. It’s a sickness.

We served with Brussels sprouts (because I’m obsessed with them), but it would also be tasty over brown rice. Totally your call.


Healthy chicken and mushrooms
in a sherry cream sauce

Just slightly adapted from Nosh My Way. Serves 4.


Ingredients:
• 16 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded thin
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 white onion, thinly sliced or chopped
• 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced baby bella mushrooms
• 1 tablespoon minced garlic
• 3 tablespoons dry sherry
• 1/2 cup reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
• 4 tablespoons fat-free half and half
• 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives or scallion greens
• 2 tablespoons cornstarch

Directions:
1. Season chicken with pepper and salt on both sides.
2. Spray a medium-sized skillet or Dutch oven with nonstick spray and heat on medium heat.
3. Add the chicken and cook, turning once or twice and adjusting the heat to prevent burning, until brown — about 10 to 12 minutes.
4. Transfer chicken to a separate plate and keep warm.
5. Add onions to the pan and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minutes.
6. Add mushrooms and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 2 minutes.
7. Pour in sherry; simmer until almost evaporated, scraping up any browned bits, about 1 minute.
8. Pour in broth and cook until reduced by half, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in half and half and cornstarch.
9. Return to a simmer. Return the chicken to the pan, turn to coat with sauce and cook until heated through, about 1 minute. Add the chives or scallion greens and serve immediately.


onion

mushrooms


Ten pounds — meeting my first weight loss goal

Bananas


The week I joined Weight Watchers, I was feeling pretty low. Despite getting engaged less than a month earlier and still feeling the jolt of excitement about that, I was overwhelmed — emotionally, physically, financially. Combined with getting in a minor car accident the night before, signing up for a weight loss program just felt like another source of guilt and frustration. Especially since I wasn’t sure I could succeed.

It was mid-January: gray and listless, cold and drab. I was out of sorts and anxious. After talking about wanting to lose weight for more than a year (and dealing with a health scare in December), my fiance suggested we join Weight Watchers together. Feeling as bad as I did, I agreed. Spencer met me at our local spot on a Wednesday night, arranging for us to sign up and do this together, and his presence calmed me . . . but I wasn’t convinced.

Because food is awesome.

Snacks and meals are more than sustenance: for so long, they were also comfort. Nothing makes me crankier than walking around feeling hungry, and nothing sets me up for a meltdown like being denied a good meal. “Good meals” for me were filled with my favorites: pastas and breads; cakes and candies; vegetables simmered in balsamic vinegar. Spencer loves to cook, and I love to chow down. A match made in heaven!

Here’s the thing: my story isn’t unique. Like many of us, I was physically active in college out of sheer necessity; going to school on a huge campus, I could easily walk five miles a day just getting from classes back to my car. Despite never being “skinny,” I could eat what I wanted because I was out and about so much. My weight wasn’t a huge issue.

Then came graduation. Leaving College Park for a desk job meant I was now sitting eight hours a day, and exercise and I have never been buddies. The constant advice to “find an activity you love!” has just never worked for me . . . because seriously? Don’t like running, don’t like dancing, don’t like the elliptical. My stint at the gym was a failure — and the fees piling on my credit card for unused passes another source of guilt. Though I initially liked Zumba and attended regularly for months, making the meetings became a strain on my schedule. But honestly, I just didn’t want it enough. Because I didn’t change my thinking or my eating, I saw no results.

As they always say: If you want it, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.

Well, I ran out of excuses. Less than a year from my wedding day, I was by far the heaviest I’d ever been. Despite being overjoyed at the idea of our marriage, I had triggers igniting stress in so many facets of my life . . . and I still do, of course. I just feel better equipped to handle them.

Because I took control.

I’m far from a health guru, and I can only speak to my own experience. I don’t work for Weight Watchers and am not an expert on the program, either, but here’s the thing: in less than two months, I’ve already lost 10 pounds. I’m back in pants I haven’t been able to wear in years. I no longer dread clothes shopping, and I loved seeing myself in my future wedding dress (that’s another post!). In celebration of meeting the first of my goals, losing 5 percent of my weight, I bought my first pair of “skinny jeans” — and am actually okay with wearing them in public. To work, even. And it isn’t the scariest thing I’ve ever done.


Skinny pants


The path still stretches out before me. At 5’2″, I’m still 25 pounds from the “high” end of my suggested weight — and am still considered obese. But 10 pounds? That would have been crazy to pre-January me. But seeing myself in photos from Christmas and getting a glimpse of myself now, I can already see a tremendous change . . . and I just feel better.

Happier.

More confident.

More in control.

And proud.

Does Weight Watchers mean giving up your favorite foods? Well, yes and no. Not giving them up, but changing your portion sizes. And the frequency with which you eat them. I won’t go into the ins and outs of the program, but the jist of it? Keep track of everything you consume and keep it under a certain limit each day. Do this — really, honestly do it — and you will lose weight.

I’m not forgoing cupcakes forever and ever. I am definitely still eating out. Heck, I’m not even exercising . . . at all. (Though I do plan on changing that soon, and I know it’s nothing to brag about!) What I’ve done? Realigned my thinking and kept serious track of everything I eat.

For an OCD list-maker like me, tracking my food and drink has been much simpler than expected. I actually love the science of adding points and tracking, and religiously update my personal tracker after each and every meal or snack. And here’s what else I’ve learned:

You can’t eat what you don’t have. This works both ways, y’all: I can’t eat the bad stuff if I don’t have the bad stuff, and I can’t eat the good stuff if I haven’t stocked up on it. I need healthy snacks on hand 24/7, and my favorites include the 100-calorie packs of almonds as well as fresh fruit and vegetables. And in that vein . . .

Keep it accessible. Look, I’m kind of lazy (see: hates to exercise). If a snack requires me to cut, peel or dice at work, where I spend most of my time, I won’t bother. Sitting at my desk means I have limited resources as far as cutlery is concerned, so I make sure to prepare my fruit in individual portions before I leave for the day. I wash and rinse grapes, for example, putting them in cute little bags, and then I grab them from our mini-fridge at work and get to snacking. Much better than rooting around in my coworkers’ candy bowl when the 3 p.m. munchies hit.

Watch your portions. Pre-Weight Watchers me didn’t necessarily eat terribly, but she ate too much of everything. Honestly track your portions and remember that eating several small meals rather than two or three giant ones can do wonders for boosting your metabolism — and keep you from crashing. I’ve shifted from eating a big lunch and bigger dinner to a small lunch (low-calorie soup and a low-fat cheese stick) with several healthy snacks before dinner. I rarely go more than an hour or two without eating something, and I make sure to eat a small snack after dinner, too.

Don’t walk around hungry. As soon as a twinge of hunger hits, I reach for an apple or the like. Allowing myself to get too hungry means I’m in danger of crash-eating later in the evening, overindulging in dinner or snacking like a maniac. This ties in with my first point, too: you can’t eat it if you don’t have it. So keep it around.

Breakfast really does matter. Old me would either skip breakfast completely or eat a measly granola bar, then walk around hungry for hours before going for a huge lunch (which would just sit in my stomach until dinner). New me doesn’t let herself get to the point of “starving,” and makes sure to eat something healthy and protein-rich — like low-fat Greek yogurt and bananas — each morning. Though I’m far from a breakfast person and don’t like to eat big meals in the morning, this has made a huge difference. It really does matter.

The buddy system works. Let others know about your journey. Starting on this get-healthy journey with my fiance has made a huge difference — and just having the support of another person is so crucial. I’m also very lucky that my friend and officemate is also on Weight Watchers, so we swap tips all week long! Another friend has just joined the program, too, and we met for a “Weight Watchers-friendly” lunch earlier this week. Letting others know about your goals really will make a difference.

Have a plan. When I know I’m going out for a meal, I pull up their menu ahead of time to figure out the best options for me. This eliminates awkwardness when out with others (I hate having to be on my phone at the table, perusing the Weight Watchers app), and keeps me from making impulsive decisions. When I know I’m cooking, I calculate various ingredients and actively work on “lightening” the recipe.

It’s okay to be tempted. Before embarking on this change, I would still eat dessert — but feel terribly guilty about it. Here’s where I go all Weight Watchers very-unofficial spokeswoman on y’all, but that’s the great thing about this particular program: it doesn’t require you to follow a diet. No food is “banned.” I simply keep track of what I’ve eaten that day, budget in the cupcake or candy, and go about my business. Guilt: eliminated. As long as I’ve stayed within my daily points allowance (or even if I haven’t), it ain’t a big deal.

And that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned so far . . . I can do it. I am strong enough. Just because I can’t have a cupcake today doesn’t mean I can’t — or won’t — tomorrow. I’m not eating weird things; I’m not unfulfilled and chowing down on diet food. I’m still sharing meals with my loved ones, still enjoying cool meals out with friends, still doing all the normal things I’ve always done . . . I’m just making smarter choices while doing it.

And physical success aside, it feels good to have found an aspect of my life where I can make positive changes and see real results. Not having “need to start losing weight!” in my headspace has opened me up to new opportunities, and I haven’t dreaded seeing doctors for routine appointments. I’ve proven to myself that I can lose weight, and that feels amazing. Regardless of whether I drop another 2 lbs. or 20, I’m just seriously proud of myself for altering something I once considered set in stone.

And that’s what I’ve been up to.


Just a little taste

Menu tasting


I could totally go to food tastings every day.

Well, maybe not every day. But most days. Maybe the ones ending in “-day.” Or something.

Spencer and I had our menu tasting at the venue over the weekend with our awesome wedding coordinator, Jennifer, and I’m even more excited about the big day having sampled a certain apple-glazed chicken that will dance in my memory for a while. Even with saving a cache of my Weight Watchers anytime points, I didn’t go crazy last weekend — and managed to try a little bit of everything without quadrupling my caloric intake. And I totally stayed on plan.

It’s a struggle. But I’m doing it.

In four weeks, I’ve actually lost 7.6 lbs. — a feat I would have thought impossible just a month ago. My favorite dress pants, the ones I bought when I got my first office job, actually fit again. I’m back in my “normal” dress size, the one I wore for about a decade, and actually find that most of my pants are a little baggy. And this is all very exciting!

I have a long way to go — and I realize that the weight won’t continue to disappear with every grape and apple and orange slice. But by making small changes to my eating habits and altering my diet, especially when it comes to portion control, I’m already seeing results — and actually look forward to weighing in each week.

Who would have thought?

Though let’s see how I do at the cake tastings . . . can we say gateway food?


Meats

Appetizers


Staying on ‘Plan’

Donuts

Only a real masochist would put a photo of doughnuts
at the top of her post on weight loss.


So. Because I’m getting married in 10 months . . . and because I’m getting older . . . and because I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been . . . and because I want to be well enough to travel the entire world someday . . .

We made a bold move last week: my fiance and I joined a popular weight loss program. Just nine days into the regimen, I won’t pretend like changing my eating habits hasn’t been challenging — and a little depressing at points! — but I actually feel more in control of my life and diet than ever before. Something about the adherence to fresh, healthy foods and focus on protein has forced me to pay attention to everything I’m consuming, and here’s what I’ve already learned . . .

I stress eat. When the emails stack up and my calendar fills, I reach for whatever is handy and convenient — and if that’s a bar of chocolate, so be it. This requires pre-planning on my part — and having good things on hand. I’ve already loaded our office mini-fridge with oranges, apples, celery, low-fat cheese and Greek yogurt. Much better than the granola bars, crackers and Peeps I typically keep on hand.
I mindlessly eat. If I’m waiting for dinner, I think nothing of reaching for a few cookies to tide me over until it’s served. I don’t even think about it. If desserts are stacked on the counter, I just reach over and take one. And I eat it. Another 200 calories — and I didn’t even blink.
I don’t like eating lunch at my desk. Though I realize it’s not financially awesome of me to eat out most days, I enjoy the experience of getting out of the office for an hour. Which means I need to be really strict and faithful about tracking what I’m eating when dining out, and research menus beforehand so I’m not making (the wrong) split-second decision. It’s all about points.

Yes, friends: points. My life has been consumed by points. Every food and drink has a point, and each point is measured . . . up to my daily total of 27. Twenty-seven points. I can’t say “27” had much significance for me until last week, but now I’m constantly tracking and adding and adding and tracking every little ol’ thing up to that magical digit.

The weird thing? It’s really not that bad.

I realize that, only a week into the program, the rosy glow of new love hasn’t yet rubbed off. I’m speaking from a place of early excitement at having found something that might work for me — 1.2 lbs. down last week! — and know that, eventually, my enthusiasm will wane.

But in the meantime? It feels good to have made a decision about my health — and to be doing something about it. That’s what I told Spencer yesterday: it isn’t enough to just talk about things, of course; we must do them. And for someone who struggles with her weight, just being on a ‘Plan’ — even a tough one — has cleared up so much space in my brain. Every time I try on something that doesn’t fit or I feel tired or I have to squeeze into a pair of pants that fit just months ago, I think, It’s all right — I’m working on it.

And the great thing is, I actually am.


Beginner’s cooking with Meg & Palmer: Chicken & vegetables

My boyfriend graciously offered to make dinner for my family the other night! And, since we’re all trying to eat better and Palmer is steadfastly improving his own diet, we had to go healthy.

I’m not embarrassed to admit Palmer is a much better cook than I am! We all know about my adventures (and extreme misadventures) in the kitchen. I was happy to lean back, relax and take some tips from someone else for a while. And hey, Palmer bought us a really nifty vegetable steamer! Which was a very nice complement to the chicken, sliced thin, he seared.

We had fresh green beans (steamed with the new gadget, served with just a little butter) and chicken with seared peppers and zucchini. I was getting a little nervous listening to all the sizzling and popping coming from the pan, but I’m told this is normal. I just have a little PTSD from the oil poppin’ incident of early October ’08.

But everything turned out great! Palmer carefully watched the meal and whizzed around the kitchen like a pro. I, of course, swooped in still in my work clothes toting my digital camera to document the process. He cooked whole wheat pasta to be served beneath the chicken and vegetables, and it tasted quite delicious. I wasn’t sold on the idea of whole wheat after last week, but I realize that — like everything — it’s all in how you prepare it. He added some butter and, I think, a little onion? Very good!

Delicious! Healthy, quick and easy. Though my parents aren’t big on the peppers and zucchini, they gamely went along with it! It’s definitely a nice, fresh alternative to eating leftovers — or the crazy stuff I concoct. But don’t worry, I’m getting back in the culinary ring very soon!