Daniel Lee from Pleasant Valley is the winner of the Anniston Star’s Grocery Cart Makeover. Lee, age 44, told the Star he wanted to eat healthier because he has a family history of heart issues and diabetes. “I have tried multiple diets, but the problem is the information on the internet about dieting and weight loss is hit and miss,” he said.
THE CHALLENGES: Lee works in a restaurant, where it’s really easy just to grab fried foods for lunch. He also has an hour-long commute to work and often doesn’t get home till late. He usually winds up eating just once a day, around 2 or 3 p.m. He also tends to eat when he’s bored.
THE GOALS: Healthy grab-n-go breakfasts … lunches he can prep ahead and take to work … something to snack on besides a bag of chips … and ideas for seasonings, because chicken breast can get really boring. “Most of the stuff that’s good for you does not have flavor,” Lee said.
This week, Lee went shopping with Star fitness columnist Ann Angell and registered dietitian Louise Lockridge at the Jacksonville Walmart. They started where every day should start — with a healthy breakfast.
THE BREAD AISLE
“I’d suggest a breakfast sandwich with egg and bread, which could be prepared ahead of time, with some fruit on the side. That gives you fruit, protein and starch, which is more satisfying and will keep you feeling full,” Lockridge said.
She added that brown bread is more nutritious than white bread. “You want 100 percent whole wheat,” Lockridge said. Don’t rely on the words on the wrapper; go by the ingredients list. The first ingredient should be “whole wheat.” (If the first ingredient is something like “enriched flour” or “unbleached flour,” that’s not whole wheat.)
“Put two pieces in the toaster, fry an egg and grab some fruit,” Lockridge said. “Or you can scramble an egg in the microwave to save time,” Angell added.
“I have a sandwich maker, where I could toast an English muffin and cook the egg separately,” Lee said.
Lee put a loaf of whole wheat bread and a package of whole wheat English muffins in his cart, then added apples and bananas.
“Think about portion size when you are buying fruits,” Lockridge said. Compare the size of bananas, for instance, and choose smaller ones.
THE PRODUCE DEPARTMENT
Lee would be happy eating salads for lunch, topped with grilled chicken or steak.
“You could do lettuce, blueberries, some sunflower seeds and grilled chicken with an oil-and-vinegar dressing,” Lockridge said.
“Oil? Isn’t that bad?” Lee asked.
“Olive oil is OK, but be careful because it is pure fat. Just don’t use too much. Don’t pour the dressing on the salad. Pour it in a cup on the side, then just dip your fork in the dressing as you eat.”
They headed to the lettuces. “So the darker and greener the leaves, the more nutrients it has, so let’s look at the spinach and the dark green lettuces,” Lockridge said.
“Iceberg lettuce doesn’t have many nutrients at all,” Angell added.
“Lettuces, peppers, cucumbers — these are all non-starchy vegetables, and they are virtually calorie-free,” Lockridge said. “You should also try to eat as many colors as possible — orange, green, yellow, red vegetables.”
“The root vegetables here — turnips, beets — you can roast them. They’re like potatoes but much higher in nutrition,” Angell added.
Lee added a bundle of green onions to the cart. “You can add these to anything.”
They moved down to the fresh herbs. “I love basil. And dill is great. Fresh or dehydrated, either is fine,” Lockridge said. “Ginger root is wonderful too. It will add bite, a little bit of ‘pow.’”
Lee added a container of chopped basil to the cart.
Next stop was salad dressings to go with all those salads. “The salad dressings that are not milk-based are going to have fewer calories. So vinaigrettes are going to have fewer calories than buttermilk ranch dressing,” Lockridge said. Lee picked out a variety of bottled vinaigrettes to try, including a zesty lime he thought would be good for marinating chicken breast.
GRAINS AND BEANS
Just like we learned back in the bread aisle, Lockridge said that brown rice is more nutritious than white rice. Lee chose a box of quick-cooking brown rice, a container of regular brown rice blend (for the days he has more time to cook), then threw in some quinoa because he’d read about it and was curious to try it.
Lee is not a fan of beans. They’re too mushy. Lockridge talked him into trying lentils, which are smaller than other beans. “Maybe I can trick my mind into thinking they’re not beans,” Lee said.
Angell talked him into putting dried pinto beans and black-eyed peas in the cart, as well. “Soak them overnight or most of the day, cook them in salted water or broth, then saute some onions and garlic and add the cooked beans,” she said. “If you don’t like them mushy, then don’t cook them as long. Then you can put them on a salad.”
Lockridge paused to point out the outrageous sodium content in a package of instant ramen noodles before heading to the canned tuna. She recommended reduced-sodium tuna packed in water, rather than tuna packed in oil.
“Canned soups are quick and easy,” Lockridge said. “Anything in a clear broth is lower in calories than a cream-based soup.”
“So, chicken noodle?” Lee asked. “I’m thinking soup at 5 o’clock when I want a little something.”
Angell talked Lee into trying a can of sliced beets. Lockridge asked if he likes peaches. “I’ve tried to stay away from those because of the heavy syrup, because it’s high in calories.”
Lockridge explained that not all fruits are canned in heavy syrup. “Read the labels, and look for ones canned in their own juice, or in fruit juice. Even light syrup is better than heavy syrup.”
After comparing a lot of labels, Lee chose individual packs of mixed fruit with cherries, canned in fruit juice.
Lockridge suggested he try GoGo Squeez — pureed fruits and veggies in a squeezable pouch — as another healthy snack.
Lee agreed, even though he’d never imagined himself buying something called GoGoSqueez.
CHIPS AND SALSA
Lee’s go-to snack has been a bag of chips, sometimes with salsa and guacamole.
“Salsa is great on chips,” Lockridge said.
“Shouldn’t I be avoiding chips?” Lee asked.
“I’m not telling you to avoid anything,” Lockridge said. “Just eat all things in moderation.” She picked up a bag of tortilla chips and read the ingredients. “Contains corn, vegetable oil and salt. These are good. Just be careful not to overdo it.”
Lee declined the offer. “I’d rather just stay away from chips. They’re addicting.”
Lee decided that crackers would be a better snack than chips, because it’s hard to eat a whole box of crackers in one sitting.
Lockridge picked up a box of Triscuits and read the label. “This has 300 milligrams of sodium in 21 crackers. That’s not terrible. I would count these out and put them in snack bags and write ‘140 calories’ on each bag. That way I know how many calories I’m getting.”
Lee put Triscuits in his cart. “I’ll probably put salsa on them,” he said.
For when he wants something sweet, Lockridge recommended animal crackers or vanilla wafers, which are lower in fat and calories than other cookies.
THE SPICE AISLE
“Mrs. Dash is good,” Lockridge said. “Just be sure look at the label. Look for no salt.”
Lee picked up a jar of guacamole seasoning and squinted at the label. “I gotta get glasses,” he said. Then, “Pepper, onion, garlic. No salt. This sounds like it would be good on scrambled eggs.”
THE DRINK AISLE
Lee hardly ever drinks sodas, which is a good thing. He tries to stay away from sweet tea, because he works in a restaurant and he knows just how much sugar can wind up in a single glass of tea — about ¼ cup. But he does occasionally drink sweet tea, because “sometimes water doesn’t go with a meal. Water doesn’t go with steak.”
As an alternative to sweet tea, Lockridge and Lee picked out Gatorade G2 (half the calories as regular Gatorade) and some water flavor packets sweetened with stevia. “I like stevia because it’s plant-based,” Lockridge said.
“You could also buy fruit juice and pour just a little bit into your water to flavor it,” she added.
THE DAIRY DEPARTMENT
Lockridge picked up a container of flavored yogurt. “If you want a dessert, this is good,” she said. “Plain yogurt also makes a good breakfast smoothie, mixed with the fruit of your choice — especially frozen fruit. Vanilla almond milk and fruit would also be a great smoothie on the way to work.”
“It would be something different for breakfast,” Angell added.
In the milk section, Lockridge pointed out the range of milks, from nonfat (skim), to low-fat, to 2 percent, to whole. “Nonfat milk is like drinking water. Whole milk is like drinking cream,” she said.
Lee didn’t want any milk. “I’m not going to lie. If there’s milk in the house, I’m having milk and cookies,” he said.
Lockridge offered a compromise: Dark chocolate almond milk (100 calories per serving, as opposed to 120 calories for 2 percent milk). “This stuff is the bomb,” she said. “Try adding some strawberries and blending it up.”
THE MEAT DEPARTMENT
Choose lean meats over fatty meats, Lockridge said. “Pork loin and pork chops are good — lean and cheap. Sirloin, round steak, beef tips are good.” For beef, you don’t want a lot of marbelization (those white streaks of fat in the meat). For chicken, white meat (breast) is leaner than dark meat (legs and thighs).
“Just pay attention to portion size. A portion should be 4 or 5 ounces — about the size of the palm of your hand. Over time, you will be satisfied with less,” Lockridge said.
“Just try to stay away from the fryer,” she added. “Have fried foods maybe once a week. It’s a treat. Make it the exception, not the rule.”
THE SNACK AISLE
Lee added a can of mixed nuts to his cart. “Just watch the serving size. Those can be like potato chips,” Angell warned.
“I could get some little 6-ounce cups like we have at the restaurant, and use those as serving cups for snacks,” Lee said. He picked up a bag of raw almonds and read the label. “This whole bag is only 150 calories!”
He added a few more healthy snacks to the cart, including dried apple chips, sunflower kernels and Harvest Snaps (crispy sticks made from rice, beans and vegetables).
“So the three things I need to remember are portion control, watch the salt and calories, and only eat when I’m hungry,” Lee said.
Before heading to checkout, Angell talked about the importance of getting more exercise.
“Walking is a great place to start. It’s easy, and it doesn’t cost you any money. Start off by walking 15-30 minutes a day. If you can do that three or four times a week, it will jump start your weight loss.”
She suggested Lee keep track of his daily exercise using a digital fitness tracker or a written fitness diary, so he can see how he is improving.
She also suggested he make a fitness goal. “The Woodstock 5K is coming up in August. That could be your goal — to walk the 5K. There are tons of people who walk it every year.”
Lee accepted the challenge.
The Anniston Star will check in regularly with Lee in the coming months and update readers on his progress. Watch for stories here in the Life & Arts section. And we plan to be there in August, cheering him on at the Woodstock 5K.
Lisa Davis is Features Editor of The Anniston Star. Contact her at 256-235-3555 or firstname.lastname@example.org.