Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Real Food: It's What's for Lunch

One day last year I forgot to pack a lunch for Darling Son #1. Did I mention it was his birthday? Oh yes. Mother of the Year!

The really sad thing is I didn't even notice I had forgotten. It wasn't until I picked him up at the end of the day, all aflutter to hear how his birthday at school went, that he blurted out, "It was great! You didn't give me a lunch so I got pizza and chocolate milk!"

Apparently they let you buy on credit if you don't have a lunch. So I paid $3 for the pizza and chocolate milk plus a $2 service fee and had to endure pleading for several months hence for a reprisal of the pizza and chocolate milk. From then on, I redoubled my efforts to a.) pack a tasty, healthy lunch and b.) not forget to send it to school.

The Not-so-skinny on School Lunches

School lunches are notoriously lamentable. The I Quit Sugar website recently rated American school lunches as 'the worst in the world.' Apparently things like tomato paste on pizza are classified as vegetables, along with french fries. The First Lady's efforts to improve things have just resulted in smaller portions, not better food.

Now, you know I'm not totally down on french fries or chocolate milk. I've blogged about both (chocolate milk here and fries here.) But these are sometimes foods. Certainly not something I want my kids eating everyday.

Not to mention the cost--$3 is alarmingly cheap, but still, the bill for two kids to eat pizza and chocolate milk everyday would run us close to $1000 over the course of the school year. I'm certain I can beat that with better quality, homemade food.

I also pack lunch and breakfast for the Darling Husband. So we have quite a packing operation here in the mornings. Here's how it goes:

Gather the Supplies

I spent this summer researching the vessels into which I would pour out my mother/wife love in food. Wow. There are a lot of options, but I became quite specific with my requirements. I needed:

  • Insulated bags for everyone.
  • Glass dishes for the DH, so he could heat things up in the office microwave.
  • Unbreakable containers and wide-mouth thermoses for keeping hot foods warm for the small people.
  • Some sort of alternative to the hundreds of plastic baggies I contributed to landfills last year. 
I read some bad things about plastic. Apparently plastic will kill us all, but I was unsatisfied with some of the other options, so I bought a variety of BPA-free plastic containers.

These Pyrex glass containers for DH:

And these stainless-steel thermoses for the small people:

One of my favorite purchases is this fabulous ice-pack bag!
I send DH's food in this everyday. It has ice-pack stuff IN the bag! Brilliant! He brings it home every evening, folds it up...
and pops it in the freezer.
Then we just fill it up in the morning. I'm in love with this bag. Not like I love DH, but you know, the way you love a lunch bag.

Sometimes I send a salad, too. I found this container:
It has an ice pack and salad dressing holder in the lid:
ETA: The DH doesn't love the salad container. It is a little flimsy, and he says the ice pack makes the dressing so cold it becomes somewhat congealed. So, FYI.

All the above items were deals. Most I bought at TJMaxx. You can find them at places like The Container Store, but I'd encourage you to shop around.

The only somewhat pricey things I bought were DS1's lunch bag. We went to LLBean because I expect him to use it for the rest of his life.

And I found a very interesting product called Lunchskins:

These are reusable sandwich/snack bags. They function like plastic baggies, but you can wash them out and reuse them. (I also wash out plastic bags and reuse them, but Lunchskins are very durable and can be reused many more times.) You can even put them in the dishwasher. You can't do that with a plastic bag.

Everything about Lunchskins appeals to me except the price. I spent close to $30 on four bags (two large sandwich-size and two smaller snack-size.) I could buy a lot of plastic baggies for that, but I like the concept of Lunchskins. They had good reviews and so far, we're happy with them.

What do I pack in all these delightful vessels?

Leftovers. I've taken to doubling or tripling my dinner recipes and I send everyone off with the leftovers.

For DH's breakfasts, I'll send egg casseroles or quiche, or just regular food. He doesn't have any hang-ups about consecrated breakfast foods. Sometimes I'll make a batch of steel-cut oatmeal and/or a couple hard-boiled eggs and a piece of fruit.

The small people need both a snack and lunch, so it's leftovers for lunch and some combination of carrot sticks, cheese or fruit for snack.
Gucamole, peach cobbler, carrots, cheese and leftover-I-don't-even-remember-what

And water. Always water.

If you're looking for more ideas, check out 100 Days of Real Food. Blogger Lisa Leake specializes in school lunches.

How I Make it Easy on Myself

I pack what I can the night before. As I'm putting away food after dinner, I just put everything in the individual containers then. The kids stuff has to be reheated in the morning and put in the thermoses, but that's about as tough as it gets.

I set it all up assmebly-line style and just pop everything into the bags.

Lastly--no one gets a choice. I take preferences into consideration, but I never say, "So, little Darlings, what would you like for lunch today?" I might offer a choice between leftover option one or two, but that's about it. You get what you get and you don't get upset.

So that's it--that's what's for lunch. DS1's birthday is coming up and he's angling for pizza and chocolate milk. Should I relent? Make it a birthday treat? I'm open to suggestions...

Friday, September 19, 2014

Ten Tips for Your First Trip to the Barre

The main reason I started A Mom Walks into a Barre was to share my love for this most wonderful and effective form of exercise. For me, barre is the workout holy grail, and I love it when readers tell me they're getting into it, too. Yay! Love to share the barre love!

Sometimes people send me messages along the lines of 'I'm going to my first class and I'm terrified.' Oh dear. Let's not quite think of it that way. It's your first trip to the barre! Have someone take a picture. What a rite of passage! You'll never forget it.

But I can relate to the terrified. I remember my first class... A beginner level with Ashley Yeater at Physique 57 in New York. Even though I had been doing barre videos for months and months, I was still, honestly, kind of scared. What were they going to do to me? How badly was this going to hurt? Were they all going to be total babes? It sort of felt like my first day of middle school.

And I was afraid I might look a little like Lucy:

But it was OK. I did fine, and so will you. Here are a few tips for newbies:

1. Dress the part.

PLEASE NOTE: This does NOT mean you need to spend two month's salary at Lululemon. Yes, barre tends to cater to an upscale crowd and that will be reflected in workout wear, but you can absolutely get by with something from the clearance rack at TJMaxx.

Form follows function: wear something comfortable and ideally fitted so your instructor can see the positioning of your limbs. This is not the time for baggy sweats and a t-shirt you got at a fraternity party in 1987. It's also not the best time for shorts and a sports bra. Yes, you'll be hot, but you want to use that heat to your advantage. Covering your midriff and thighs will keep those muscles nice and warm. You want them to be warm because trust me--you'll be making good use of them.

And wear grippy socks. You need grippy socks. Plank, flat-back chair, they're hard places to be. You don't need to make them harder by sliding all over the place. And you don't necessarily need the studio branded socks, though they make for a nice keepsake.

2. Get there early.

Plan to arrive a good ten to fifteen minutes early. You'll probably have a release form to sign, and you want to scope out the place. Find a spot by a mirror. You need to see yourself. Lots of novices tell me they don't like to look at themselves. PLEASE. Look at yourself. A glimpse of your reflection is invaluable! Take the time to get your equipment ready and...

3. Talk to the instructor.

Tell her (or him, but it will usually be a her) that you're a first-timer. Even if you're not new to barre, each studio has it's own schtick, and it's good to give the instructor a head's up that you may not be down with their lingo.

Also, be sure to tell the instructor if you have any injuries or wonky parts. That way she can offer you modifications for exercises that might be problematic for you.

4. Don't worry about how you look, or that everyone is looking at you.

Really. They're probably not looking at you. Everyone is in her (or his) own zone at the barre. Most of us are looking at our own reflections and just trying to get through the set. If you notice someone seems to be looking at you, it's probably just that she spaced out and missed the cue and is trying to figure out what's going on.

5. Try not to space out and miss the cues.

Really listen to what the instructor is saying. If she tells you to move an inch, she means... an inch. It's tempting to think if one is good, two must be better, but no. It isn't. Movements in barre are very precise. Moving your body in a very slightly different angle works different muscles, so try to stay focused.

6. Control all your movements and extend your limbs on every move.

Barre is all about really carefully controlling your muscles. It is not the place to be flailing around. This is not Zumba. (I'm not picking on Zumba, I'm just saying this is different.) Even in a really fast-paced class like Physique 57, you should not be bobbing up and down and flinging your limbs around. Keep everything really controlled. This is important.

Also, unless your instructor cues otherwise, you're going for extension. Fully extend your limbs on every move. Try to get your arms and legs as straight as you can. Usually extension is more important than height. I guarantee you will feel the difference when you focus on this.

7. The shaking? It's totally normal.

Instructor Suzanne Bowen of Suzanne Bowen Fitness uses the hashtag #shaketochange. Working your muscles to the point that they quiver is what you want to see. At my new studio crush, The Bar Method, they tell you to work to the point that you're shaking. If you're not, they'll tell you to get down lower. You don't need to back off from the shaking. It means you're doing it right. Those delicious endorphins I call the la-las? They live just beyond the shakes... #shakeforlalas.

8. Don't be intimidated by form corrections.

Welcome them! That's why you're here. We all need form corrections. They are not only for newbies. We all need form corrections. Can I say that again? Well, it's true.

Even the most experienced students need form tweaks. When you're fatigued at the end of a set, it is totally normal that your body tries to shift the work to muscles other than the ones being used in the exercise. Our bodies are always looking for the path of least resistance, and that's why we're in class. As wonderful as home videos can be, the advantage of a class is a trained instructor looking out for you, helping you through those moments when you start to cheat--even if you don't mean to.

A wise barre-ista despiseth not correction. 

9. Expect to be sore.

Even if you're a total badass at whatever form of exercise you usually do, barre is different, and different activities usually make you sore. Stretch, foam roll, rest. And...

10. Go back.

You need to shake more than once to change. The best way to deal with your soreness is to just get back on the barre.

Not literally *on* the barre, but you know what I mean. 

Lastly, have fun! You've done it! You've found the holy grail! Yay!
He doesn't look like the lalas have kicked in yet...
Image: Lucasfilm

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Barre Crawl: The Bar Method!

A few months ago, I was chatting with a few women before a barre class. We were talking about how we always seem to gravitate to the same spot at the barre. Mine is usually where I can see myself in several mirror angles so I can check my form (or check out my bum, depending on the day.) One woman said, "Oh, I always head to the back, in the hopes that the instructor will leave me alone."

Huh? I think I gave her a look similar to this:
I know. Pretty.
Ok, to each her own, but really? I don't get that. The last thing I want in a barre class is to be left alone. I've paid the money and schlepped my way over there, spending a precious small people-free hour, plus travel time. If my form is off, I want to know. And even better is when the instructor really challenges me. Don't we all want to grow and learn and better ourselves? (Cue inspiring music...) Well, I do. Otherwise I'd just stay home and rearrange my spice cupboard.

So anyway, last week I packed the small people off to school and started a month of unlimited classes at the shiny new Bar Method studio that recently opened near me. Let me tell you, there is no metaphorical 'back of the room' in that place. But I don't want to get ahead of my story. First I'll tell you a little bit...

About The Bar Method

TBM was founded by the legendary Burr Leonard. Burr started out teaching the original Lotte Berk Method in the early 1990's, but after noticing some students struggling with aches and pains, Burr consulted a physical therapist and reworked the exercises to make them safer and more effective.

In 2001 Burr and partner Carl Diehl opened the first Bar Method studio in San Francisco. TBM now operates on a franchise system. There are over seventy-five Bar Method studios throughout the United States and Canada.

My Local

Is beautiful. Really. It's all shiny and sparkly. See?

I like pretty as much as the next person, but what I really like are the functional features of the studio. The carpet is really cushy, which is standard at TBM studios. They all have an inch of squishy loveliness under the carpets, which makes being on releve for an eternity just a tiny bit less painful. When your thighs are going numb, you don't need the balls of your feet to be numb, too.

My local is also light and airy with ceiling fans!
Image: Bostonmagazine.com
This extra ventilation is key for us heavy sweat-ers. And there are... wait for it....

Towels! I was so psyched about the towels, I almost jumped up into one of the ceiling fans.

Pretty is nice, but honestly I'd workout in a barn for the sake of a good class. If it was good enough for the baby Jesus, it's good enough for me. What's really important is...

The Class

In a Bar Method class, you'll perform many of the classic moves with which any barre-ista is familiar--pretzel, flat-back abs, c-curve, fold-over seat, etc. The movements are almost always very small--moving an inch means just an inch. Bar Method classes are particularly isometric, and the pace is very slow and controlled.

But what I'm really loving about Bar Method are the very attentive instructors. They undergo months of intense training involving hours of study, practice teaching and written exams. And it shows. Jen and Sarah, the owners of my local studio, are very attentive to form. If you slip out of position, they are right there to get you back into it. They are warm and encouraging, but they won't let you away with anything.

This is a good thing. Even the most experienced students need form corrections. The better your form, the harder the exercises. When you are fatigued at the end of a set, it's common to tense your shoulders, slump forward, or lower your heels. Good instructors keep on everyone to make sure form is pristine to the very last rep. That's where the money is, people.

TBM instructors will call people out by name, rather than just correcting people privately off-mic. I knew about this beforehand and wasn't sure how I would feel about it. But even after only a week, I've come to like it. When I hear Jen or Sarah telling Susie to stand up a little straighter, I stand up straighter, too. This way we all benefit from the form corrections. And you never stop needing them.

What I Don't Like About The Bar Method

It's not next to my house. And it's not free. You can't have everything in this life. A single TBM class costs a little more than other studios in my area, but there are deals to be had. In fact, my local is offering a first class FREE deal during the month of September! Any natives looking to join me?

Remember--they have towels!


FYI--If you don't live near a studio, The Bar Method also has DVDs and a streaming video service with a pretty large library. Check it out at www.baronline.barmethod.com.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Three Tips for Healthy Eating

We recently joined a CSA. If you're unfamiliar with this particular acronym, it stands for Community Supported Agriculture. You buy a share in a CSA. Share holders pay a lump sum and receive a box of produce straight off the farm every week. It's fun! A host of new and different veggies! Our CSA is also certified organic, and costs much less than you would pay at the farmer's market... or any market. As I said over on Instagram, we're going to be consuming so many micro nutrients, we're going to shine like the sun. (Follow me @momsatthebarre on Instagram for more on what I'm doing with the #CSAhaul.)
Yesterday's haul

The nice thing about the CSA is trying new recipes to use up some of the different ingredients that arrive in the box. The first thing I made with all those tomatoes was ratatouille--Julia Child's recipe, which is, as is customary for Julia, quite labor-intensive. But the result was divine!

As I was cooking, the three-year-old said, 'Mommy, what's for dinner?' 

I replied, 'Ratatouille!'

He said, 'Oh, like the show?' 
That was me yesterday--minus the rat. Image: Disney

Anyhoo, the bevy of healthiness exploding out of my kitchen reminded me of some comments readers made over on Facebook about a recent post. I had written about cultivating an exercise habit, and several readers mentioned they struggled far more with healthy eating than exercise.

WORD. That's historically been my struggle, too. I love to exercise, but tend to slip up on the eating. However, I have recently enjoyed some progress in this area, and so I humbly propose the following suggestions, should they be helpful:

Write it down
A lot of people suggest keeping a food diary. It's been proven quite successful for many who struggle with weight or food issues. Even without calculating calories or macro nutrients, the simple act of recording what you are eating holds you accountable. You find yourself thinking, I could tuck into that brownie, but then I'd have to write it down... though, I'd sometimes just eat the brownie and not write it down. 

And that's why I've never been a huge fan of keeping a food diary. That and for me, it just felt weird and obsess-y to write down everything I'm eating. However, it remains a very useful diagnostic tool. When I feel like I've sort of gone off the rails, I'll write things down for a few days. 

I did this a few months ago and it highlighted something I always knew to be true: I'd eat very healthfully and moderately until the afternoon, then I would tend to go off the rails. I'd start foraging and pretty much hoover anything that wasn't nailed down.

What I learned from my 'food diary', which on this occasion was recorded on the back of an envelope, was that I really wasn't consuming enough earlier in the day. I was eating quite a healthy-but-spartan breakfast and lunch, and my body was compensating for it in the afternoon... and evening... and sometimes, into the night.

So I shifted more of my food intake to the morning and mid-day. I started taking breaks instead of eating on the fly. Now I make sure to eat more. More protein and I....

Eat More Fat
The fat-phobic 1990's taught us (erroneously) to fear fat. The idea was not without logic--fat contains 9 calories per gram, versus the 4 calories per gram found in protein and carbohydrates. The theory went that eating more fat meant consuming more total calories and that would, in turn, make us fat. 

But our bodies are far more complex than a simple mathematical equation. 

Fat is necessary for absorption of certain nutrients. It's also filling--and yummy! I'm just more satisfied when I eat a meal with some good fat. And I don't mean just a tiny drizzle of olive oil. 

I'm not suggesting we eat margarine or Crisco--nasty trans fats are... well, nasty. But fat that occurs naturally in real food is not bad for us. Now I eat lots of avocados and crispy chicken skin. I chew the fat on bacon. I don't skimp on delicious, grass-fed butter. I also don't binge on these things--I don't want to. I enjoy them. Then I am full and move on with my day.

A big part of the reason the fat-free movement has been such a disaster is that when we take fat out of food, it just doesn't taste good, so food manufacturers replace fat with sugar. We're now eating more sugar than ever before, which leads me to my next and final point:

Eat Less Sugar--WAY LESS
I've written about the sugar fast I did earlier this year. It was a little extreme for the first couple of weeks--absolutely no sweet--not even fruit. But it completely reoriented my sense of taste. I just don't like a super-sweetness anymore. I'm back to enjoying fruit and a drizzle of maple syrup on my (full-fat) yogurt, but more than that just tastes yucky to me, and I don't crave it like I used to. 

It's also trickled down to the family. I didn't 'require' it of the Darling Husband or Sons, but since I do the cooking, everyone's been eating less sugar. DH recently had one of those 'made with real fruit and loads of sugar' popsicles. It was 'only 60 calories!' but it gave him a headache.

Best part? We're noticing sweetness in all kinds of foods I used to consider savory. A couple of weeks ago I made sweet potato fries from scratch and we had them for dessert. They've always liked them, but I've never quite marketed them as 'dessert' before. The small people gobbled them up and were thoroughly delighted with sweet potato fries as a treat. They may have thought a nutrient-dense, classic Provencal dish was a Disney movie, but if they'll take a vegetable for dessert, then I'm satisfied.