The Cost of Culinary Convenience

As I convalesce after a total hip replacement, I am a prime target for the convenience market. Because of my grocery shopping limitations, I decided to finally try a couple meal delivery services. Falling for the introductory deal pitches, I tried both Hello Fresh and Blue Apron. Quickly, though, Hello Fresh became more of a hassle than a convenience, as my promo code didn’t properly process and then I had to contact them for a refund. They promised a refund and gave me a credit, which subsequently led to another online chat session with customer support. Because I am off work at the moment, I was able to monitor and follow up on my account charges. If I was my normal working mom self, a huge demographic for these services, I may have not had the time or emotionally energy at the end of the day to communicate with customer service, which would have resulted in eating the extra costs along with my meal.

Financial Costs
It is not easy to see on either site/app how the promotional deal will shake out and what your weekly cost will be. There is a reason for this. Convenience is not cheap. Even with my “discount,” my second week of Hello Fresh would have been over ten dollars per serving. And this is for the “basic” offerings. More premium meals are offered at a higher cost.

Because of the costs, I quickly went down to one meal service. I dropped Hello Fresh first, as Blue Apron had the better meals and selections. At least better selections that did not come with additional charges. My Blue Apron meals were ones I would have not have likely made on my own: crispy curry chicken with mustard seed sautéed zucchini, cauliflower stromboli drizzled in hot honey, and a Beyond Burger topped with poblano peppers, Monterey cheese, and guacamole.

They were great meals to learn about cooking and new flavors. My 10-year-old son helped me make the crispy curry chicken, which was a fun family activity. Because of this, financially I could justify this as a fun occasional indulgence.

Environmental Costs
While I enjoyed putting together and eating these new dishes, I could not help but be horrified at all the packaging required to bring these meals to my door. My Beyond

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Burger meal ingredients were separated into seven packages, not counting the shipping box it came in. When I considered the travel fuel, ice packs, and packaging, ordering these meals stood out as my most wasteful environmental action for the week.

While studies point out that these meals reduce food waste, this was not the case for me. Some parts of the dishes I could not finish or eat, such as the pickled radishes. Also, it will only reduce food waste if this is an issue in your household. Ordering a meal kit could solve this, but so could better meal planning.

Final thoughts
Overall, meal kits can be great resource for the busy and homebound. They are a fun way to try new foods and expand one’s cooking repertoire. However, be aware that promotional pricing only lasts so long and may not be as cheap as you are led to believe. In addition, if possible, I would advise individuals to look for local kit providers to reduce the environmental impact of these services. Because of the convenience costs, now that  I am now four weeks post-op and able to push a cart, I’ll be returning to Pinterest and the grocery aisles to put together my meals.

Mindful Eating with MyFitnessPal

For my last post, I discussed how I developed mindful spending skills through my upbringing. This mindfulness did not translate, and actually at times interfered, with a mindfulness about food. Sometimes we ate just to extract value. To this day, my parents favorite type of restaurants are buffets. I also ate, and still do to an extent, for many other reasons other than hunger. Some I find to be perfectly acceptable, such as eating to celebrate. Others I find to be less justifiable, such as munching to break up the monotony of the day.

I am a grazer. While this means I have been able to avoid the pitfall of buffets and usually always leave a restaurant with a box, I am also constantly nibbling, usually when I pass by a kitchen or office snack table en route to a different task. I truly have no idea how many calories I usually consume a day, and I have always been resistant to the idea of tracking what I eat.

The term “self-monitoring” makes me feel like I am oppressing myself, enacting a more efficient type of discipline than the those exerted on us through institutional spaces.  Yes, I have read a lot of theory on social power, particularly the work of Michel Foucault. It makes me want to avoid any sort of “tracking,” especially when it is tied to a networked program, such as MyFitnessPal.

However, I am putting my paranoia aside for 30 days and giving this food journaling/calorie counting approach a try. Two of my co-workers have already lost 10 pounds through this process. I am a bit more skeptical, which means I may already be dooming myself to fail.

Today was my first day. I am hungry, but I am unsure if I want to max out and eat my remaining 214 calorie allotment. Overall, I did consume more sodium and fat than my app thinks I should. I could have eaten more protein and carbohydrates. Maybe I can squeeze in one more snack…

You can’t have your cake and burn it too

Today’s morning P90X workout was the full body equivalent of an ugly cry. Yesterday was a day of excess, more specifically daughter’s fifth birthday. One of my jobs as a parent is to orchestrate celebrations and participate in them. I do not want to be the person to turn down cake and ice cream. When one person refuses to ingest forkfuls of frosting, it diminishes the joy of others’ gluttony by reminding them that frosting is an unhealthy addictive substance made with animal fat and cups of powdered sugar. Quit ruining the party with your health nut rhetoric and practices!

Now, I am no stranger to the joys of junk food. However, I have been making more healthy choices since I began my own version of the Beachbody challenge. My chocolate chips have been replaced with cocoa nibs. I have replaced one of my cups of coffee with green tea. What is of endless fascination to me is how quickly the body adjusts to a new dietary reality. Yesterday’s cake tasted like heaven on the tongue, as the dissolving sugar sent a glowing beacon of bliss to my brain. Later though, as the cake and restaurant fare churned in my stomach, it was all I could do not to vomit. Apparently, I can now get food hangovers.

Today the party continues at my mother’s house. There were be more cake, ice cream, and plenty of Easter treats. Do I say no and experience the negative backlash? Why is there so much social pressure to ingest items that are bad for us?

30-day Gluten-Free Challenge Wrap Up

One of the big lessons I took away from my 30-day gluten-free challenge is not to enter in diet modifications lightly. The times I felt the most significant changes to my overall well-being were when I removed gluten from my diet and when I reintegrated it. Neither times were positive, bringing headaches, mood swings, and a digestive retooling. Do not enter this type of challenge lightly.

The second lesson I took away from this is how quickly something becomes a habit. After a few weeks, I honestly did not miss gluten. Not eating baked goods no longer became a will power issue. It was mostly an inconvenience, as in, I am hungry and see nothing easily accessible that I can eat. I now find it difficult to eat gluten after 30 days without it, not physically difficult, but mentally. I have become so use to rejecting it that I no longer desire it. Not that this stopped me from eating birthday cake on my birthday or pizza on vacation.

The big question for me remains, is gluten really the culprit? Or is it a heavy starch-based diet of processed foods? Obviously, for those with celiac disease gluten is the problem. But what about the others who claim miraculous transformations from cutting out gluten?

Moving forward, I will do my best to follow a clean, whole food diet, not as a 30-day challenge, but as part of my everyday life. This means less processed foods and more time at the farmer’s market.

Day 21 – Gluten-Free Challenge Check In

I have now completed three weeks completely gluten-free. So far, I do not feel any miraculous change. My stomach is still sensitive. I am not thinking more sharply nor am I less moody. Perhaps the only change is that I am a bit more energetic. However, I can easily attribute this to the change of season. It’s hard to keep all the other variables in my life the same. For instance, since my children’s school let out for summer, I have not made it to the gym. I have, though, been generally more physically active: bouncing on the trampoline, swimming in the pool, and taking care of household messes both indoors and out.

Still, while I do not think I will remain gluten-free after my thirty days are up, I think I will remain more gluten conscious. One of the greatest benefits from doing this challenge has been a sense of mindfulness about what I eat. Usually, I just finish my children’s food or grab a handful of whatever is in the cupboards without any thought. Without the ability to eat pasta or crackers, this practice became much more difficult.

Despite my mindfulness, I did not lose any weight. My body has remained at a state of homeostasis for so long, through new exercise regimens, holiday binges, and seasonal changes, that I would fear a terminal disease if I began to lose weight. I also found a way to replace the calories from the foods I cut. The first five days of my challenge I ate an entire pound of almonds! This wouldn’t have been so bad if most of those almonds weren’t followed by a dark chocolate chaser.

It’s important to note that a gluten-free diet is not necessarily low-carb diet. My bunless burgers sometimes came with French fries on the side. After I finish this challenge, I plan to engage in a different healthy eating plan, which will include less carbohydrates and processed foods in general.

Day Two: Wheat Opiate Withdrawal

In my current English class, one of my students is doing a 30-day challenge to quit smoking. The toll it is taking on him is clearly visible — the fidgeting, the irritability, the need for candy to dull the pulsating physical need for nicotine. When I see struggles like these, I always feel a profound sense of gratefulness that I never had to fight a powerful addiction. My new 30-day challenge is a humbling exercise in empathy.

Steadily over the years, I have made increasingly healthy choices when it comes to breads, abandoning white bread for whole grain breads, and recently only eating the 35-calorie breads. I eat the low-carb versions of flour tortillas and healthier versions of pasta as well. So, honestly, I thought doing a gluten-free challenge would be a nuisance more than anything, a restaurant inconvenience.

This morning I woke up at 5 a.m. paralyzed with anxiety about the policy changes at my children’s daycare. Yes, childcare is a good reason to stress, but usually I can control my worries and focus on the task at hand, in this case sleep. I’m notoriously easygoing, at least I am when I am pumped fuel of gluten.

As I shopped in the morning for my healthy substitutes and emergency microwavable meals, I was reminded of those late night runs to Meijer’s in college, when the bars closed and suddenly someone wanted a bag of combos. A somnambulant haze descended on me, and I had to constantly remind myself to focus. At the time, I blamed on the hunger. For breakfast, I scooped slices of bananas out of a peanut butter jar, which had the appetite-suppressing shelf life of two hours.

However, later, after I gorged myself on Indian cuisine, leftover tofu, and lime flavored corn chips, the mental fog remained. The issue was larger than my appetite, which is saying quite a lot.

In addition, I found it more difficult than usual to deal with the sibling squabbles and general shenanigans of my children. I estimate I used the word “hush” approximately 108 times tonight. Everything bothered me. My son was tipping a water bottle back and forth, making a slight swooshing sound. The repetitious low noise nearly drove me from the house. Luckily I am a rational person who could recognize the abnormal signs of crazy.

When I searched for answers on Google, I was not surprised to find an array of articles discussing gluten withdrawal. However, I was surprised to read that there are gliadin-derived optiates in wheat. I had no idea the depth of physiological changes that could happen just from removing this one ingredient from my diet. I mean, come on, it is not like I am cutting out sugar. The associated withdrawal symptoms are numerous: fatigue, moodiness, constipation, joint pain, headaches, etc. Often, the symptoms a gluten-free diet is suppose to cure get worse before they get better. While I am comforted to know that my crazy is temporary, I am less comforted to know the temporary state varies from several days to several weeks. Let’s hope it is several days.