If you don’t have it, you can’t eat it.
That’s one of the Weight Watchers mantras. When I first heard it at a meeting last week, I took it to mean that if you didn’t have the bag of chips or the box of chocolates in the house, you wouldn’t be tempted.
I joined WW about seven years ago and had a lot of success with it. I lost 75 pounds in about a year. I gained it all back, of course, as soon as I stopped going to WW meetings. I joined again last Tuesday because I had to admit to myself that I didn’t really know what the hell I was doing in terms of how many calories I was supposed to eat or how many calories I was actually consuming. WW makes everything fairly easy by converting nutritional values into “points” and then giving everyone a points value to hit every day.
Getting back to the point of this post, I had forgotten how much planning went into the first couple of weeks of WW. Just planning a day’s worth of eating to make sure you’re staying within your points but not eating them before noon is exhausting at first. I spent large chunks of time last week contemplating committing armed robbery at fast food restaurants, but instead of making off with the cash drawers, I’d be demanding burgers and fries. (I decided against it after realizing I’d have some horrible nickname. Leave your suggestions in the comments. Best one will win a prize as yet to be determined.)
Back to the point again! As I acclimate to life on the WW plan, I came to realize that the mantra means more than “don’t keep tempting foods around.” It also means keeping healthy foods around for easy, healthy meals and snacks.
Because I was a former weight watcher, I haven’t lost the habit of buying certain healthy foods at the store and keeping them around to build meals. Here’s a few suggestions:
I think I’ve mentioned my obsession with Trader Joe’s. We don’t have one in my little corner of Pennsylvania (someone get ON THAT PLEASE!) but when I visit my folks in Virginia, I always go over and stock up. I usually get two boxes of Trader Joe’s brand Whole Wheat Couscous, which I use like brown rice. It takes literally 5 minutes to make. I also pick up a couple of sauces to add zip to meat and veggies. Among my favorites are the green curry simmer sauce, satay peanut sauce and pesto sauce. None of the three are what you would consider low-cal or low-fat, but used in moderation, they all fit into my eating plan. I usually also have some jarred spaghetti sauce, one that is low-salt and has no added sugar or fat, on hand.
Additionally, I pick up a couple of BIG bags of lower-carb trail mix when it’s on sale at Target or the grocery store and then portion it out into single servings with my trusty kitchen scale. I also have mini-bags of microwave popcorn (again, read nutrition labels carefully) for night-time snacks. Quick-cooking oats, Minute brand brown rice and whole wheat pasta round out my pantry basics. All three are high in fiber, which bring down their net carb content, and are easy to cook.
A quick note: With the exception of the TJ’s items, most of the pantry staples go on sale once a month or so. I stock up when they’re on sale, or find a coupon, to bring the cost down a little. I buy the Sunday paper each week and go through the grocery store sale circulars and the glossy coupons circulars and plan my meals and “stock up trips” around what’s on sale. A little planning and the store club cards usually saves me $500+ a year.
I buy family packs of boneless, skinless chicken breasts when they go on sale. Then I separate them out into packs of two in freezer bags (make sure you write the date on the freezer bag!). Then I can pull out one bag for each meal. Ditto on ground beef, steak and pork — wait until they’re on sale, portion it out at home and then fill your freezer with a month’s worth of meat.
I also buy frozen veggies, usually the kind you can steam in the bag but with no added fat or sugar. In addition to using these in stir fry dinners, I also can heat some up and eat them as a snack with a little pesto or cheese. Frozen edamame (the kind still in the pod) is a delicious snack. Heat it up and shake some low-sodium soy sauce on them to add a little more flavor.
Deli flats, small pitas and low-cal, high-fiber English muffins can stand in for toast, be used as a base for mini-pizzas or sandwiches or even as a snack with some hummus. I keep them frozen and just pull one out at a time. Twenty seconds in the microwave should defrost them, and then I toast them or stick them in the oven to warm ’em up.
I also buy sugar-free popsicles — usually fudgesicles and the cherry-grape-orange ones — as a sweet treat. It’s not the same as ice cream, but it’s often a decent substitute.
Finally, I keep a couple of frozen diet meals around. I know they’re high in sodium and they don’t taste as good as a homemade meal. But if it’s really busy at work, a Lean Cuisine can help me stick to my eating plan.
I usually pick up some apples and a grapefruit because they have a longer shelf-life than more delicate fruits (like peaches and strawberries). Since I’m REALLY REALLY picky about fruit (I will not eat fruit that’s the least bit squishy or brown. I know how weird it is), staying fresh for more than a few days is a good selling point.
I also buy a bag of lettuce mix for quickie salads and a bag of spinach, which does really well as an omelette filling. Sliced mushrooms (also for omelettes), roma tomatoes and a big bag of baby carrots are also regularly occurring cast members in my produce drawer.
Finally, I keep a bottle of low-sodium soy sauce and a bottle of minced garlic in the fridge, as well as some bottled sparkling water, a couple of containers of Greek yogurt and some low-cal string cheese.
And that’s about it, in terms of what I *ALWAYS* have in the house. I replenish these as I use them, so the spaghetti sauce might need to be replaced once a month or every other month. Fruit and veggies get used up faster, as does the chicken, the string cheese and (sadly) the popsicles.
Keeping a well-stocked pantry takes away some of the difficulty of planning a meal. Because (say it with me!) you can’t eat what you don’t have.
Your turn: What’s in your pantry, fridge and freezer?