Making the Switch: Cheryl's Story

 

This is the premier post in the Lexie’s Kitchen series Making the Switch.

This series, spotlights women and men who are making the switch in the way they shop for, cook for and feed themselves and their loved ones. These are everyday people openly sharing their struggles and victories in their journey to better health and well-being simply by changing the way that they eat. Each has a story—a reason for their switch from processed to pure foods.

For some, it has been gradual. For others it was a complete about-face. As each shares their story, you will learn what motivated them and how making the switch has changed their lives.

Putting the modified diet focus of this blog aside, Making the Switch is open to all. The point of it being to bring personal stories to light that encourage America to get back into the kitchen to cook real food. As Jamie Oliver puts it, “make only a few small changes and magical things will happen.” Whether it’s weight loss, improvements in a child's behavior or the regaining of health, magical things will happen.

It is my utmost pleasure to introduce to you, Cheryl. Cheryl is a young wife, mother and former U.S. Marine. She and her family live in Casper, Wyoming. Cheryl's enthusiasm for her new-found love of cooking is infectious as is her passion for encouraging others to make the switch.

_________________________________________________________________________

My name is Cheryl. I grew up in a home that ate a lot of prepackaged food—think Hamburger Helper and Little Debbie snack cakes. Vegetables were corn and potatoes. No, I haven’t always eaten healthy but for the benefit of my health and that of my family, we’ve made the switch. Here is a little of my story and proof that you can do it, too. You just have to choose it.

Make a Shopping List. Stick to It.

One of the first things you should know about me is that years back I became a little obsessed with grocery shopping. I have a bit of an impulsive streak when I enter a store. I always seem to find something I have to take home much the same way hogs sniff out truffles deep in the earth. Back in 2009 I took a “Language and Society” course that discussed the ways stores market products. I finally understood why I couldn’t control myself. These companies do so much research to get your business that it affects where they place the healthier fare—oh so inconveniently in the back! To find it, you must pass the wafting odors of the bakery, aisles of preservative-laden packaged foods and end caps of “sale” items.

Learn to Cook. Make it Your Hobby.

My husband and I have been married for five years. For the first sixteen months we were mostly apart. We served back-to-back deployments—me in Iraq and he in Japan. When I returned stateside, and with him Japan, I found myself with tons of extra time. That’s when I took up cooking. The Food Network was my teacher. I learned to sauté, julienne and simmer. I astonished my friends with the meals I made. What I learned is that anyone can cook with a little practice and a good recipe in hand. Make it your hobby.

Scan a Recipe's Ingredients List First.

One problem I have is finding a recipe I adore, only to tally up the calories after the fact and find that the meal easily exceeded 800 calories per serving. Yikes! Like many women who’ve had children, my body just doesn’t allow me to consume as many calories as I used to and I don’t want to be pining for years for my body to be a comparable substitute of its former self. Now, when I find a recipe, I will look at the ingredient lists first to see if it might be remotely healthy and then I tally up the calories (I use a pocket-sized calorie counter book and online calorie counters). I also use food websites that provide nutritional information.

Save Money. Buy Fresh.

Prepackaged meals can be expensive—averaging $2 to $6 for a single serving, excluding sides. And so many are laden with calories, sodium, fat and preservatives. Do we really need to be eating food that can sit on a shelf for six months plus? I don’t think so. On the occasion I buy prepackaged snacks, I choose those free of preservatives. I think the best advice I can give to anyone trying to save money is to buy fresh, unprepared food. Most of my grocery purchases are fruits and vegetables that must be washed and chopped, raw meat, poultry, eggs and milk (in opaque containers—it tends to stay fresher longer). In all honesty, I can't afford to buy everything organic so I try to make the most of it by purchasing the "dirty dozen" (produce with the highest levels of pesticides) organic when possible and organic milk. When the budget allows, I will buy organic meat.

Keep a Food Journal.

The biggest challenge for me in eating healthy is not knowing when my husband will home so that we can eat as a family. He is a Marine Corps recruiter operating out of two offices and has the largest recruiting area in the continental United States. There are days we think he’ll be home by seven and he walks through the door at nine. Often I eat alone. I’ve found that keeping a food journal helps me steer clear of unhealthy snacks and extras. This journal also helps me track the progress I’ve made in establishing healthier eating habits.

Encourage Others.

To this day my family struggles in making healthy eating decisions. I was home for a visit in February and the pantry was still stocked with junk like Pop-Tarts, pudding snacks and chips. My dad and step mom have three teenagers living at home. With different work, school and extracurricular activities schedules, it’s not often that they find time to eat as a family. This dilemma is one my daughter and I will face as we return home to stay with my dad while I complete an internship with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (N.C.I.S.). I hope that while we’re there I can encourage them to embrace new eating habits and start eating as a family again.

Prepare Ahead and Freeze Meals.

While I’m away, my husband will be going solo. I know that on the days he works late he won’t feel like cooking so I’ve spent this summer freezing leftovers and meals that he can easily reheat. This weekend I went through our chest freezer to see how many meals I’d accumulated for him. He has forty dinners and over the next few weeks I’ll add a couple more. I’ll feel good knowing that he’s eating the likes of Thai Macaroni and Cheese, Turkey Pot Rice Pie, Kale Butternut Squash Soup, Lemon Chicken and Chickpeas and Ratatouille.

A Peek at This Week's Grocery Purchases

I am including a photo of this week’s grocery purchases. I received my Bountiful Baskets organic basket and four kilos of mangos. I purchased two half gallons of organic whole milk. The basket and the milk totaled $39.94. The only other items I'll need to purchase this week are meat and poultry and if I use my numbers from last week, I can get one pound of organic ground beef and 12 ounces of organic ground chicken for $17.44—so my weekly total will be around $58.00. If I do any more meat this week, I have one pound of ground turkey and two pounds of turkey sausage links in the freezer so I don't have to buy anything else. Got a bunch of free oranges this week from a girlfriend, bonus!

In April of 2010 I had my first child, and like many moms, struggled to lose the baby weight. Over the past 18 months I have managed to lose all 53 pounds and regain my energy simply by choosing healthier foods. By reading labels and counting calories, I’ve learned that a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread, a snack cake, chips and a Capri Sun is not the healthiest lunch! I've known for many years that eating all that junk was doing me no good. I want to lead by example and hope that my daughter will see and feel the benefits of eating fresh, wholesome food. I know she is watching me and that a few others are, too. I hope they make the choice to make the switch.

_________________________________________________________________________

If you would like to be a featured in Making the Switch, click here and drop me a line.

I would like to thank Jamie and the Food Revolution “cast” for inspiring this series.