From time to time, I like to examine things in my life that have become routine to see if I can make them a little bit better. Most of these are fairly healthy in the first place, but sometimes it's nice to sneak in a couple small positive changes while you're working on big positive changes in other areas. It never hurts to build on the good habits you've already established.
I've been eating the same breakfast at work for about two years now. It's a good breakfast: It fills me up, gives me energy, and hits a nice balance between too little and too much. It took me almost 30 years to figure breakfast out: From the age of 10 or so (as soon as I was old enough to grab that extra fifteen minutes of sleep and wake up right before I had to leave for school) until my mid-20's, I rarely ate breakfast. In university, I'd grab a giant cup of coffee and a doughnut. At my first job, I'd sometimes do the same thing (or a 700 calorie muffin if I felt like being 'healthy'). Usually, though, my daily eating came down to one super heavy meal in the evening and possibly fast food lunch if I was working.
Shortly after I started at my current job, a nice little breakfast restaurant opened up in my building. They make really good breakfast sandwiches: Perfect eggs, juicy tomatoes, lots of cheese and bacon, all on a nice, soft sourdough (and don't forget the hash browns on the side). After the first couple 'treats', I got into the habit of doing this 1300 calorie breakfast a few times a week. Not good for my waistline or my wallet. When I wasn't stopping at the restaurant downstairs, I was hitting one of the many other places downtown that made breakfast. It was good because I was finally conditioning myself to eat a real meal first thing in the morning, but not so good because my fat pants were starting bulge in bad places.
When I started Spark, it was one of those breakfasts that became the turning point for me. A week in, I caved and got my sandwich. Rather than beating myself up or promising I'd start over on another day, I tracked it, looked objectively at what it did to my daily calorie count, and decided I'd be better off saving those things as an occasional treat. I gave myself permission to splurge on breakfast on the third Friday of every month (what used to be our monthly jean day at work), and moved on. I started packing healthy breakfasts after that, and my menu hasn't changed much since.
So, following up on the idea of seeing where I can make some small positive changes to my diet, I've decided to start with a breakfast audit.
1 whole wheat english muffin (Dempster's or Safeway brand)
1 Banana (usually between 90 - 120 g)
1 Tablespoon of peanut butter (Kraft natural, smooth)
1 Activia yogurt cup (raspberry or strawberry)
1 travel mug of coffee, sweetened
1 glass of water
Total calories: around 460 (depends on the brand of muffin and size of banana)
Total carbs: around 70g
Total protein: around 18g
This is my biggest dose of carbs for the day and, unless I'm doing something heavier for dinner, it's usually my highest calorie meal.
Item 1: English muffin
I like these because they're manageable to eat at work (we have a kitchen and storage, but not a ton of space) and filling. The english muffins are typical store-bought whole wheat muffins, 150-170 each, 8g of protein.
How could I make it better: My ongoing goal with food right now is to move away from processed foods where I can. One option here is to find a bakery source to do that for me. Another is to make my own. If I make my own, I can track the recipe and control exactly what I use in it. Of course, I'd have to find a good one that's nutritionally similar to the store-bought brands (I'd particularly want to keep the protein up around 8g).
Here's a sample recipe (the first one that comes up when I search): www.recipetips.com/recip
The calorie and carb counts are about the same as my store-bought muffins. Protein comes out at 5.6, so it's not quite as high as what I'm aiming for. Sodium counts are similar in both and the ingredients are all pretty simple. It might be worth a try for fun, especially if I can find a slightly higher protein recipe.
Item 2: Bananas
I like my bananas. I do practice portion control and aim for around 100g (you can get some monsters in the store, so sometimes it's hard to find reasonably-sized bananas). I like the peanut butter & banana balance, and the fruit is highly recommended as long as you realize that they're not exactly low calorie compared to other freggies. Plus, I just think bananas work for breakfast. I eat other fruits and lots of veggies throughout the day, but there aren't many I can think of that I'd want to replace my banana with. So, I'm happy with this choice.
Item 3: Peanut Butter
The last part of my peanut butter breakfast sandwich. I use Kraft natural peanut butter, which contains only peanuts. There are lots of other brands out there, but I like the texture of the Kraft stuff best and when you're dealing with one ingredient, you're really not going to find much of a difference in nutritional content between brands.
How could I make it better: Portion creep is one area to watch for. I try to stick to a tablespoon, but I don't measure it exactly when I'm at work and I know I'm grabbing a little more than that sometimes (especially when I don't mix it as well and end up with denser peanut butter towards the end of the jar). Rather than getting stricter about only taking a tablespoon, I think the better option would be to track it as 1.25 tbsp (I know it's not a full 1.5 because I've measured that out before and it threw off my delicate muffin balance. If I put that much on, I know it). I'm happy with the amount I actually use, and that'll give me a little more accuracy on my tracker.
In terms of the peanut butter itself, I'm happy with the brand, but I could support local brands by buying from the nut stand at the farmer's market. They make some fantastic nut butters (and some dangerous ones - I could eat the honey peanut butter with a spoon). Speaking of other nut butters, it might not hurt to switch in some different nuts from time to time. I could try an almond or cashew butter instead.
Item 4: Yogurt
I have a funny relationship with milk products. I have an extreme aversion to certain dairy textures (and visuals - it's weird), so it's tricky for me to find things I can eat without gagging. I worry about my calcium because of this, so even though the Activia yogurts aren't the purest, they work for me for now.
How could I make it better: I've started to experiment with greek yogurt as a way to bump up my protein. I was worried that the texture would set off the aversion part of my brain, but I seem to do all right with it (as long as it has some colour). Switching brands will keep me at the same calorie count, but has half the fat, half the sodium, and double the protein. Plus, I like it!
I could go one step further and buy plain greek yogurt with my own fruit/honey mix to flavour it, but I don't think I'm quite there yet. I do want to experiment with smoothies this year, but I'll leave that for the weekend breakfast audit.
Item 5: Coffee
Once upon a time, I rarely drank coffee. These days, I have a cup most mornings. Back when I started tracking my food, I was probably giving myself at least a hundred extra calories in each cup, since I'd stop at the convenience store on the way to work and make heavy use of their creamer dispenser. I thought I was only adding a tablespoon, but, uh, not so accurate there. These days I'll occasionally do some (carefully measured) flavoured creamer as a treat, like I've done this morning, but for the most part I just fill my travel mug and add some sweetener. For the coffee itself, we use a local brand.
How can I make it better: For one thing, I'm not liking the sweetener. Back when I started occasionally having coffee as a teen, I drank it black. There was a logical reason behind this: My mom drank hers black, my dad used sugar, and I didn't get along with my dad at the time so I sure as hell wasn't going to take my coffee the way he did. See? Logical.
I drank it black for years, but somewhere along the way I started adding sugar. I think it was after I went through a couple years of ordering Tim Horton's double doubles with my work buddies (have you seen the calorie counts on those? Horrifying). I just got used to the sweetness. I even started adding cream, which I'd never done before our workplace coffee runs. Really, it's amazing I didn't pick up smoking with them at the same time. When I stopped buying coffee and started making my own, I cut the creamer and switched to artificial sweetener... and honestly, I'm not sure that's the right decision. I mean, I don't think it actually makes that much of a difference, but philosophically, an extra 15 calories of sugar fits with how I want to eat better than 0 calories of chemicals. So, ideally I'd like to wean myself off of sweetening my coffee (it might be nice to appreciate the taste of the stuff we get), but if I do need to sweeten it, I'm better off using sugar.
Plus, there's always tea!
Item 6: Water
Nothing wrong here. I don't actually go out of my way to have a glass of water with breakfast, but I do make sure I grab my first glass when I'm getting the rest of my food ready. If I have it sitting at my desk, I'll drink it throughout the day.
I could go for juice if I wanted to add some extra in (I'm considering doing some juices on long run days once I need the extra calories), but for a normal work day I think I'm fine with what I have.
So, how'd the breakfast audit shape up?
I think I'll stick to my usual muffin/peanut butter/banana combo, but bump up the peanut butter tracking to be more accurate. I also want to try making some of my own english muffins so I can have that available as an option. I might stick to store-bought, or it might be like granola, where I end up preferring my own to anything I can buy on store shelves.
I'm definitely going to switch over to the greek yogurt now that I've finished up my last pack of Activia. It's just plain better in every way, and I need the protein.
I'm going to say goodbye to the artificial sweeteners for my coffee and work on getting my taste buds back to enjoying it black. Until then, a little sugar won't kill me.
By making these changes, I gain a few extra calories (mostly on paper, since I'm not changing how much peanut butter I'm actually using), but I'm losing a whole bunch of ingredients I don't want and I'm gaining a decent little chunk of protein that I do want.
Not a bad trade-off there at all!