Balanced on a budget

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My balanced food haul on a budget using the tips below

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how to budget and plan a healthy, plant-based diet.  If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I work as a nutritionist for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, which helps low-income women and children get access to healthy food.  I really love educating and helping my clients make the best food choices, especially because many people think eating healthy is expensive.  Although it can be pricier if you shop at exclusively organic health food markets, healthy eating does not have to cost you your entire paycheck.  Today I’m sharing some tips on how to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to food.  Feel free to share any of your tips or advice by leaving a comment on this post or via facebook or instagram.

1.  Plan your meals

Before you do any food shopping, have a plan of what you’ll be preparing and eating for the next week or weeks to come.  This is super helpful because you don’t want to buy a ton of food but have zero recipe ideas or inspiration.  For inspiration, I like looking at vegan food prep ideas by searching the hashtags #veganmealprep, #veganmealplanning, or similar phrases.  Be realistic with how much time you want to put into preparing your meals and whether you want to prepare your meals for the week ahead of time or on an as-you-go basis.  Keep in mind that some food (especially fresh fruits and veggies) will only stay fresh for several days.

2. Stick to the basics

If you’re on a budget, now is not the time to buy several different varieties of truffle oil and exotic $30 tropical fruits.  Stick with produce that’s in season, and stock up on items that you use on a daily basis (for me, my staples are whole grains such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta, whole grain cereal).  If you feel like treating yourself, choose one specialty item that you’ll use sparingly.  For my “treat”, I like to buy a pint of chocolate coconutmilk vegan icecream, which is about $5-6/pint and treat myself to a serving once a week or less, which really does make it feel like a special occasion treat.

3.  Canned + Frozen are your friends

Fresh produce can be more expensive in the winter months, which is why canned and frozen produce can be more economical depending on the season.  You’ll typically find the prices of canned and frozen peas, broccoli, spinach, peppers, and berries are less expensive than the fresh varieties when it’s cold out.  If you’re buying canned goods, you can cut down on the sodium by rinsing your veggies before you use them.

4.  Befriend your local farmer (or become a regular at the Farmers Market)

During the warmer months, you’ll often find that locally grown, fresh produce is a lot cheaper than going to the supermarket (although it depends where you live).  Locally grown fruits and veggies have so many benefits to both you and your community.  Not only can it be the more economical choice, locally grown produce is typically higher in vitamins, minerals, and taste due to less time in transit from the farm to where it’s being sold.  If you have space and a green thumb, you might also want to try your hand at growing your own fruits and veggies (but be patient, all good things take time and skill!)

5.  All hail dry beans

I used to be intimidated by dry beans because I heard they were really labor intensive to prepare.  While it’s true that dried beans require soaking (usually overnight), the actual cooking process is pretty simple (just bring water to a boil, add soaked beans, lower the heat, and in 2 hours you’ll have a big batch of delicious plant protein!).  Dried beans tend to be cheaper per pound than the canned variety.  Another benefit to dried beans is that they don’t contain added salt or preservatives and you can control the amount of seasonings you add as you cook them.

6.  Shop around

Become a master at shopping on the cheap.  Compare prices at several stores.  Some stores may have inexpensive produce, but other items may be more costly, which is why it’s totally ok to do your food shopping at a few different stores (hopefully they’re close in location though).  If you don’t have a car, you may want to do your shopping in one location, so feel free to skip this tip.  In my experience, items like peanut butter, cereal, grains, and (some) produce like bagged spinach and baby carrots are less expensive at my local Trader Joe’s, but for other items, such as apples, cucumbers, dried beans, I’ve found them cheaper at my local non-specialty store.  I also like to visit local farms whenever I can and this tends to result in the least-expensive produce finds.

 

These are just come of my tips that I’ve found the most useful from my experience.  I try to practice what I preach and I know I’ll be using this advice throughout the next year as I do my (unpaid!) Dietetic Internship.  Happy shopping, eating, and occasional treat-ing to you!

-Jess

Relaxing and Running

Greetings readers!  It’s been a little while since I last wrote a blog post.  May was a pretty busy month for me because I graduated with two degrees!  I officially have a second bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in nutrition!  Graduating was such a huge accomplishment and a proud moment.  School has been a big part of my life for the past several years, so it feels a little weird to not be in class right now.  In September, I start the dietetic internship in order to become a Registered Dietitian, and I’ll have to take classes as a component of the program, so I should feel like my normal “academic” self in the fall.

Lately I’ve been relaxing as well getting back to some of my favorite activities that I didn’t have as much time to do this past year.  One of these activities is running.  I started running for fun and fitness in high school and it became a major stress reliever, until I got injured when I was 17.  I took a break from running and then started up again in my early 20’s, but this past year, doing cardio wasn’t my first priority.  Now that I have more free time, I’ve been running outside a bunch and going for trail runs, which I love because trail runs are challenging and I get to be surrounded by the beauty of nature.

A few weekends ago I even did a 5k race in a nature preserve with some friends, but it was definitely not my best race time!  The weather that day was 90+ heat and the humidity was high but it was fun, and that’s all that counts.

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Before the race started 

In addition to relaxing and running, I’ve also been cooking a ton and taking advantage of the farmers market season by using locally grown fruits and veggies in as many meals and snacks as possible.  If you want to see more details on my running hobby or my food creations, follow my instagram account @vitaminvalentine or keep checking my blog, as I intend to share a delicious recipe or two in the coming weeks.  Thanks for stopping by and reading my update!

-Jess

Busy yet balanced

February has been a busy month for me, but one of my goals is to write more on Vitamin Valentine.  This month has been filled with school assignments (I’m working on my master’s thesis) and some very exciting (yet nerve-racking) professional developments.  I submitted my dietetic internship applications this month and I’m hoping to get accepted into an internship.  If you’re new to my blog, I’ve been working on a B.S./M.S. in Nutrition for the past four years in order to become a Registered Dietitian (RD).  It’s extremely competitive to get into a dietetic internship (DI) and completing the DI is a requirement of the education and training to become an RD, so I’m hoping I match.  Nutrition is my passion and I hope to get into an internship in order to gain the knowledge necessary to help people.  Registered Dietitians are truly the experts in the nutrition field because of the training and education they receive.  I’ve dreamt of becoming an RD for so long, so wish me luck!

Because I’ve been so busy lately, I’ve been finding ways to save time when it comes to preparing healthy food.  Sometimes I make a big batch of food and eat the same thing for lunch for a few days during the week, and other times I try to mix it up.  Either way, I try to stick with the same formula for making my meals as balanced and colorful as possible.  I try to include at least two veggies, a source of protein, and a healthy fat.  Sometimes I’ll also add some whole grains, but today I skipped that component.  For a “side dish” or snack, I usually stick to fruit or a protein bar.  Lunch today was so colorful and delicious.  It consisted of a purple potato on top of collard greens, 1/2 a medium avocado, some cherry tomatoes, and a serving of hummus.  For my snacks, I had a fruit salad (sliced papaya, kiwi, and pineapple) and a gomacro bar (a vegan protein bar).  I also took an apple with me but I decided to save it for another time.

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Delicious, colorful, and easy!

It took me about 10 minutes in total to prepare this.  Instead of baking the potato, I put it in the microwave, which saves a lot of time.  I love preparing my meals ahead of time like this, especially because when I’m hungry at work it’s so tempting to go out and buy something.  Do you have any ways to save time or money while staying healthy?  Feel free to share below, or connect with me via facebook or instagram @vitaminvalentine

-Jess

Authenticity, Compassion, and Omega 3’s

Have you ever felt morally conflicted?  I have, and today I’m sharing why.  If you’ve been following my blog or instagram page for a while, you may have noticed that I try to follow a plant-based/vegan lifestyle.  I say “try” because I’m human and I’m not perfect.  As you’ll read below, I’ve had moments when I’m not 100% vegan.  I still wear my old leather shoes and belts, but I no longer buy these items.  I do this because I personally do not want to contribute to violence and pain in this world, but I understand people may have other beliefs when it comes to what they do.

A few months ago, I started having intense cravings for meat, poultry, and fish.  This is not a new occurrence for me.  I became a vegan at age 15, and honestly, I’ve taken a few short breaks in the 12 years since then due to health issues and intense cravings that were related to anemia and B-vitamin deficiencies (pro-tip: take your vitamins).  The most recent series of cravings motivated me to pay closer attention to my diet.  Even as someone who (almost) has their Master’s in Nutrition, I still have to remind myself what balanced eating looks like.

I tried adding more protein to each meal, but the cravings persisted.  I tried going outside more too, because I tend to get low in vitamin D during the winter, but I still craved salmon constantly.  Every time I really wanted a piece of chicken or fish, I reminded myself of the torture animals face, so instead I would buy beans, tofu, veggies, and some form of carb…followed by another carb because I wasn’t really satisfied and I found myself overeating on desserts (vegan muffins, vegan cookies, etc.).

Finally, sometime in the past two weeks, I decided to just eat a piece of chicken.  It tasted delicious, I felt satisfied, but I did not sit right with my morals.  I brushed it off, and tried to convince myself to listen to my body.  This worked, and a few days later, I ate a wrap containing meat and cheese at Whole Foods Market.  However, this time something felt so different.  In all my years of being a vegan, it was really mostly for my own health.  I felt it was easier to not overeat on a vegan diet, especially because all my “trigger foods” used to be dairy-based (ice cream, froyo, cheese, and baked goods, the latter of which you can find all sorts of vegan versions).  Over the past year or so, I’ve become more aware of how eating affects the environment and the animals I love.

This most recent fall-off-the-wagon made me realize some important things.  First of all, it’s important to eat a balanced diet.  If something feels off, it probably is.  If you’re constantly craving something, it may be a sign that you’re deficient in a nutrient.  I realized I’m really lacking in omega 3’s (an essential fatty acid found in fish, but also found in plant sources such as flax oil and chia seeds).  I’m also sensitive to some of the proteins I was eating, especially large amounts of legumes eaten in one sitting.  I realized that it’s important not to judge yourself, and to not judge others.  I felt an immense sense of guilt when I was eating chicken, and I felt equally guilty after I overate on vegan junk-food when I couldn’t seem to satisfy my hunger and cravings.  No one is perfect.  We do enough self-criticizing that I would hope I don’t face criticism from vegans and animal-rights activists.  I learned from this recent experience what is important to me and that is my health, the planet, and living in accordance with my values. Because of this, I’m making it my mission to plan out my meals more carefully, supplement my diet with a vitamin/mineral supplement, take an omega-3 supplement, and try to eliminate foods that don’t agree with me.  I don’t plan on ending my veganism, in contrast, I’m really interested and excited to develop a more nutrient-dense, plant-based way of eating using the knowledge I’ve gained from my nutrition classes.

I hope to help people who have struggled with similar issues.  I also hope to spread a message that even adding more plant-based foods and eating less meat is great and something to be proud of.  Have you gone through a similar experience when it comes to veganism or any issue related to how you eat and how you feel?  Feel free to comment, email me, or connect on facebook or instagram @vitaminvalentine.

-Jess

Bye to 2016 and the winter blues

Happy 2017!  I hope everyone had a healthy and happy new years celebration.  I was going to write a post about making new years resolutions, but this year I decided to not make any new years resolutions. I decided not to try to make any specific goals for the next year for two reasons: 1.  I think it’s easier to work on short-term goals, without using the calendar year as motivation 2.  Northeastern winters don’t exactly scream “LET’S GET MOTIVATED!” to me.  Instead, today I’m sharing some tips about improving your mood during these cold months.  I decided to share some things that have helped me stay happy and sane during winter because I’ve noticed that every year I start to feel less like my usual upbeat self as soon as November/December rolls around.  While I don’t personally suffer from full-blown seasonal affective disorder (SAD, so aptly abbreviated), it’s always a good idea to consult a mental health professional if you feel your mood going seriously sour during any time of the year.  If you feel like you just need an extra happiness boost during the winter, here are some things that have helped me.

My Winter Mood-Improving Habits

  1. Get outside!

Unless you live close to the equator, your skin gets less exposure to sunlight during the winter (in the northern hemisphere).  Sunlight is important because it’s a major source of vitamin D.  Vitamin D has effects on the hypothalamus which regulates sleep, hunger, and other factors that influence mood.

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These ducks have the right idea, although I didn’t take a dip into the frigid water, I did take this photo on a chilly winter walk

Another reason to get outside is just to enjoy the outdoors.  Although being outside during the winter requires some extra layers, being amongst nature has so many benefits, both for the mind and body.  Try going for a walk outside a few times a week (for the most benefits, aim for mid-day, especially when it’s sunny out).  If you’re feeling more adventurous, go ice-skating, skiing, or snow-shoeing if you live in a snowy climate.

2.  Eat (healthy) carbs!

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a toasted whole-grain bagel with a healthy fat, such as melted natural peanut butter makes for a deliciously warming winter breakfast

Complex carbs can health boost serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that influences mood.  I feel best when I stick to minimally processed whole grains and avoid white flour. Examples of complex carbs include sweet potatoes, brown rice, whole grains and 100% whole grain breads.  Paying attention to portion size is important.  It’s easy to over-do pasta, bread, and rice, especially because these foods can be so comforting.

3. Exercise

I love moving all year round!  Exercise always puts me in a good mood. If you can’t exercise outside, indoors is just as good.  I try to exercise daily for 30-60 minutes, or at least most days.  New to exercise?  Try to find something that you enjoy and that you’re willing to commit to.  Walking, running, yoga, weightlifting all count.

4. Sleep, but not too much

It’s so tempting to sleep more during the winter and go into “hibernation mode”, but I’ve found that (for me) this makes me feel lazy which then affects my mood.  Instead of staying in bed all day, try to get moving and accomplish one productive thing a day.  Oversleeping can be a symptom of depression, so if you find yourself preferring to stay in bed for an excessive amount of time and you also feel symptoms of hopelessness and apathy, it’s important to talk to someone.

5.  Participate in life

Sometimes during winter, I feel like hibernating and going into my shell, but I’ve noticed that this makes me feel down and withdrawn.  Find an engaging hobby that will keep your mind active.  Social support is also vitally important, so make some time for friends and family.

These are just some simple things that have helped me.  I hope you feel amazing today and every day of this winter season 🙂

Rest and a Fresh Recipe

Have you ever changed your diet and felt amazing…only to go back to how you were eating and feeling before?  It can be hard to stick with eating healthy, even if we feel the benefits.  I often wonder why this is, and I’ve noticed that for me I’m a creature of habit and habits are hard to change, especially when you’ve been doing something or eating something for so long.

I mentioned in early August that I was taking a break from drinking coffee.  I quit coffee cold turkey and was coffee-free for over 35 days until I decided to indulge in an iced coffee. For the next week, I was drinking about a cup of coffee in the AM.  I also got on average about 4 hours of sleep each night that I had drank coffee in the morning.  Although caffeine shouldn’t affect my sleep so much, it does and I came to the conclusion that I’ve become extremely sensitive to caffeine and (for me) it just isn’t worth it any more.

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Of course I documented my iced coffee indulgence!

I’m happy I realized coffee was affecting me in a negative way instead of drinking even more coffee to make up for lack of sleep, which is something I used to do on a daily basis.  I’m also happy to share what I learned during this self-realization coffee experiment: don’t beat yourself up!  If you slip up on a health goal, diet, or exercise routine, etc., instead of berating yourself and feeling like poo, simply note the difference in how you physically, mentally, and emotionally feel when you’re doing something good for yourself vs. how you feel when you do something that doesn’t benefit your overall health.  Then, decide which feelings you’d rather feel.  In my case, if I kept drinking coffee, I’d probably feel energized for a few hours, but ultimately miss out on sleep and feel really tired at work, in class, and during my free time.

Being coffee-free also made me realize the importance of eating energizing foods.  I pride myself on practicing what I preach, but sometimes quick convenience foods are an easy option that I rely on.  These foods are ok in a pinch, but real, wholesome, unprocessed foods provide so much more.  I’ve decided to share a delicious meal filled with fresh veggies that I made recently.  It took me about 10 minutes to make the entire meal and it’s packed with fiber, lycopene, vitamin A, vitamin C, and deliciousness.

Zucchini Noodles with Tomato-“Cheez” Sauce

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Ingredients (serves 1-2):

  • 1 large zucchini
  • 2 vine-ripe tomatoes (or use about 1-1.5 cups of ripe cherry tomatoes)
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. oregano
  • 1/4 tsp. basil
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of pepper
  • 5 kalamata olives
  • 1/4 cup raw cashews

Directions: * you will need a food processor and a vegetable spiralizer (or buy spiralized zucchini at a supermarket)

  • Spiralize the zucchini into spaghetti-shaped noodles and set in a bowl or plate
  • Using a food processor, blend the tomatoes, spices, cashews, and olives together for about 3-5 minutes, or until a sauce consistency appears
  • Top the noodles with the sauce and use whatever garnish appeals to you
  • Enjoy, and take care of yourself!

 

-Jess

Spring Super Smoothie

Today is the first day of spring and I’m excited! I love spring because it signifies new beginnings. As you go through your day today, try to meditate on what it is you’d like to start doing today, this week, this month, this season, or even this year. Now is a great time to dive into some exciting plans to improve your life.

For me personally, I’m going to try to eat more greens everyday. Even though I do eat vegetables every day, I’ve noticed that I could incorporate more nutrient-dense greens into my favorite meals. To get started on my new goal, I’ve created a deliciously healthy smoothie packed with nutrition. This is a green smoothie similar to what I’ve posted in much earlier blog posts but with a few twists. Feel free to try this smoothie and give me some feedback because I love hearing from my readers! You can email me, write a comment, or get in touch via facebook or instagram @vitaminvalentine 🙂

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  • 2 cups chopped kale
  • 1 banana, fresh or frozen, cut into chunks
  • 3/4 cup frozen or fresh mango
  • 6 oz. plain So Delicious Greek Coconut Yogurt (this is my favorite non-dairy yogurt because it has extra fiber and a unique texture that is great for smoothies, but if you prefer a different kind, use whatever you’d like)
  • 1 cup unsweetened plain or vanilla almondmilk
  • 1 tsp. spirulina powder (optional)

Cut and prepare fruits and kale. Measure almond milk and other ingredients. Add all to a blender and blend well until liquified. This smoothie is on the thick side, so if you want, you can add water or a little more almond milk. This can either serve one or two people depending on how hungry you are. Enjoy and keep in mind: what can you start doing today?

-Jess