Friday Professional Group


meals

Seasons May Change, Winter to Spring...

As I’m sitting here writing this, the temperature in Calgary is still -17, and it’s hard to believe winter is ever going to be over. Happily, however, I have access to a long-range weather forecast and know that as early as this weekend, we could be getting right into spring.

The cliché about spring is that it’s a time for new beginnings and it’s a cliché for a reason – both in the world and for you personally, as the days get longer and warmer and the hibernation mindset of winter moves aside to make way for the energy and focus on the “clean sweep” mentality of spring. We here in Calgary know better than almost anyone that the transition period between the two can be interesting, however, as the temperature fluctuates and the snow squalls roll in. I thought today would be a good day to talk about both winter – spring food and winter – spring workwear as we all prepare to get through what promises to be a tumultuous March and April and into real, sustained spring.

According to this article from February 2012, now is a good time to be eating citrus, cauliflower and sweet shrimp – all lighter-tasting alternatives to the root vegetables and stews that pop to mind when one thinks about ‘winter’ food. I love the look of this Dijon yogurt cauliflower recipe as a side dish – it’s healthier than smothering the cauliflower in cheese and still is tasty and hearty enough to feel like an appropriate side dish on a cold almost-spring day. EatingWell.com suggests strawberries, mushrooms, eggs and mixed greens as foods which help to promote natural weight loss, which may be beneficial if you’ve picked up a few extra pounds to keep warm over the winter! (Sounds like the ingredients to a pretty good make-ahead salad!) According to About.com, we in Alberta are now on the tail end of the availability of locally-grown produce until May, but with the use of greenhouses by local farmers it is possible to get all kinds of locally-grown vegetables and fruits all year round.

As we move into spring eating, we’re also moving into spring clothing, and it can be so hard to know how to dress for the Calgary weather in these early spring months. (I, for one, still have my fleece-lined tights in heavy rotation). Winter clothes are getting boring and tired, but it’s nowhere near warm enough to move into a full-on spring wardrobe. This is where layering comes into heavy play – instead of a black blazer, consider one like this beauty. Bright colours and florals help to enliven your spring look as you phase out the winter clothes, but can still be worn underneath cardigans and blazers as necessary to keep warm and professional. I think scarves have a big place in layering, as well as wearing long-sleeved shirts under dresses (like in this slideshow, which also has some other interesting ideas! It is for “transitioning into winter”, but the points work just as well in reverse). A lot of the articles I read while researching this post also recommended booties, cropped pants and adding lots of colour and prints as we move into spring.

 I would love to hear some male opinions on changing the wardrobe from winter to spring. Is this as big of a concern as it is for women, or do you find that weather-wise, your wardrobes hold up pan-seasonally? Email me at friday@friday.ca or visit our Facebook or Twitter accounts to weigh in! I also am still always looking for recipes and breakfast or lunch ideas to share with our followers, if you have a particular favourite. I hope everyone is staying warm and toasty as we get through this one (hopefully last!) cold week! (I see that it’s supposed to warm up on Monday – maybe I’ll get to retire the fleece-lined tights!)

 

            -Rae, First Impressions Coordinator

Photo Credit:  http://hikingwithbarry.com/2011/05/05/bowness-park-calgary-hiking-alberta/

This is Your Brain on Lunch

Shabana, our social media expert, passed along some interesting articles to me last week as I was writing about finishing up my Meals Challenge and starting to look at other ways food impacts workers and the workplace – so today, referring to Brain Food: The Ultimate Lunch for a Productivity Boost by Abigail Tracy and Seven Foods That Reduce Stress & Seven Foods That Boost Your Brainpower, both by Barbara Mendez, let’s talk about clear heads and workplace productivity!

In last week’s blog, I talked about  how eating breakfast and lunch on a more regular basis had helped me feel happier and more focused throughout the day – and this week, where I’m regrettably back on the two-cups-of-coffee-and-no-protein-for-breakfast bandwagon, it’s interesting to read these thoughts about why that is.

I am a big egg fan and relied on them near-exclusively to complete my Meals Challenge breakfasts – eggs, it turns out, provide a ‘necessary building block’ to one of the neurotransmitters in the brain which allows for increased concentration and better recall of information. Even when we’re going off the admittedly limited evidentiary proof of my Meals Challenge – especially when compared to today, as I’m having more trouble staying completely focused on just writing this piece – I would feel confident in saying that breakfast in general and eggs in particular helped me keep sharp and focused last week without near as much of the caffeine that’s been a mainstay for this one. I did grab a gluten-free oatmeal cereal for Tuesday, which is said to contain elements which aid in boosting serotonin production and calming anxiety, but I hadn’t had a lot of sleep Monday night and didn’t notice much help brain-wise. I don’t feel like my work has suffered by not eating breakfast, or that eating breakfast made me Super-Employee, but the level of mental effort I am expending helped along by caffeine is definitely higher this week. (I will be getting back on the eggs as of tomorrow, with a firm dedication to the Egg Cause).

One thing I have remained on top of this week has been bringing a lunch for every day except Monday! Even with skipping breakfast, having a well-balanced lunch has made a noticeable difference in my brain in the afternoons. I’ve been bringing leftovers from dinner the night before, which means lean meat, vegetables, and fruit; and I find it really nice to get through an afternoon without being hungry or feeling unsatisfied or greasy (like one can feel after, say, Mexi-Fries and a small Jugo Juice…) That being said, I like the ‘seven’ lists above for reducing stress and increasing brainpower – turkey in a dark-green salad with chickpeas, blueberries and orange segments? That sounds delicious, and easy to throw together the night before so that I can grab it as ‘leftovers’ in the morning and go. I said in my blog last week that I was hoping to spend some time putting together lunches that were easy to grab in the morning, and I am still holding to that – I think salads are really the perfect idea for this if there aren’t leftovers ready to grab. I have a great little Tupperware container that is the perfect size for holding a lunch-size salad’s worth of dressing and fits perfectly in my lunchbox, too!

I feel like the best part about all the pieces we’ve looked at today is that they give you solid reasons to make these healthy choices and tell you why they work. There is no ‘superfood’ to help reduce stress or improve brainpower, but there are lots of little 'great foods' you can eat to give your brain what it needs. I like all the suggestions on both lists of foods to help with brainpower/reduce stress, and I find the idea of the 10-minute lunch to boost productivity intriguing even though I don’t care for green tea. (Our service team, however, drinks it like it’s going out of style – maybe that’s how they’re so amazing!)

Check out this delicious-looking (and adorable!) turkey and orange salad recipe from the BBC if you, too, are planning to bring some brain food for lunch next week; and as always, you can find us on Facebook and Twitter if you’d like to chat about recipes, food or anything else!

-Rae, First Impressions Coordinator 

Photo: Sara Asnaghi, "What have you got in your head?"

Rae Made Meals - Challenge Update

When I survey the landscape of last week’s Meals Challenge, I actually think I maybe came out ahead. Let’s have a look at what I said I was going to do, and what actually ended up happening….

 

For breakfasts, I said I was going to a) make some truly ‘grab-and-go’ breakfast items and b) actually grab them on the way out of the house. I linked to some sites with great ideas – you can see them if you look at last week’s blog – and while I still think all those ideas were great…I ended up making none of them. For me, it turned out, it was enough of a challenge to eat two boiled eggs with a glass of water on the way out of the house and then follow up with tea or coffee at work. I’m counting this as a win, because I did eat breakfast all five days last week – also, one morning was a Kind Plus cranberry-almond bar. That’s not homemade, but it is different than eggs! I discovered this article, as well, which at least validates my breakfast choice for busy mornings. (I also discovered, much to my delight, that I am far from the only person in the world that eats her boiled eggs with a touch of buffalo wing sauce. Thanks, Twitter!)

In terms of what I could learn from this, I think I’m going to try and make space on my weekends to put together a few more options for breakfasts. I definitely noticed that starting the day with something in my stomach made it easier to make it to lunch without getting crabby. The Kind Plus bar day was a good one, and since I know myself, I know that stocking up on those will be a more likely happening than me making granola bars for myself. The best part about having breakfast every day was that I really did notice a different in my mood and work – I had gotten used to being achingly hungry by 10:30 AM. I liked just being “normal hungry” by the time my lunch rolled around at 11:30.

 

I was hoping to get out of the “using-up-the-expensive-gluten-free-bread” trap for lunches, and I did…not bad. I loved reading the links I provided in last week’s blog, especially the “16 non-sandwich options”…but again, my planning skills and time got away from me and I didn’t end up making any of them. I actually did utilize the bounty of my fridge – leftovers from dinners made frequent appearances (turkey and feta burgers were a particular highlight), as well as lots of apples, oranges and yogurt. I did bring a sandwich on two of the five days, but was happy to have a) managed to bring a lunch and b) gone a bit easier on the pricey bread. Again, I feel like having a day on the weekend to do a bit of supplementary grocery shopping and meal planning would be a good idea for me. In the near future, I think I’m going to whip up this and the tomato and almond salad here, and bring those as “leftovers” like I did this week with whatever we had had for supper the night before. Continuing on from what I realized about breakfast, by lunchtime I was hungry, but “normal hungry” – and eating my healthier lunches was very satisfying. I had noticed that on days when I didn’t eat breakfast, I was more tempted to make unhealthy lunchtime choices. (Mexi-Fries, anyone?) I found my leftovers or sandwiches and fruit very tasty and filling, and combined with my Coke Zero (a vice, I know, but a caffeine addiction is not kicked in a week), a huge help to get me through the afternoon happy and focused.

 

Speaking of suppers, this is the one I was most proud of! I challenged myself to make one supper for my family (for this particular Thursday night, that meant my parents, my fiancé, and my brother and his girlfriend), which needed to be healthy, gluten-free, and delicious; and also ready in time for my dad and me to leave for choir at 6:45. My very patient father stood behind me and directed me through making a stir-fry of chicken thighs, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots and onions with rice vermicelli and a Korean-inspired sauce. I noticed my cooking skills have deteriorated steadily since I’ve been living somewhere where I don’t have to cook every day (or really at all). The vegetable prep took the longest – the cutting board looked like I’d had a fight with the cauliflower – but by the end of the cooking process it was like my brain had gotten back into the rhythm. I get the feeling stir-fries for six people don’t usually take more experienced cooks an hour and fifteen minutes to finish, but it did turn out deliciously and gave me a little bump of self-confidence. I struck a deal with my dad that I’m going to hang out in the kitchen with him one night a week so he can help me gain more assuredness in the kitchen and help me try out some of the recipes I’ve been reading! (That buffalo chicken salad is still looking really appealing, I’ll be honest). It also made a great lunch on Friday!

 

So, I’m going to give myself a 6/10 for the meals challenge. I did expend effort in making sure I lived up to the letter of the challenge – I ate breakfast and brought lunch all five days, plus made a family dinner – but I think I can do better on the spirit of the challenge – finding ways to make breakfast and lunch easier, healthier and more interesting. I think I’ll see how I can do on these ideas on my own and maybe run the challenge again in March or April once I’ve had an opportunity to make some of these thoughts habits. In the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be talking more about snacks, food and food’s role in the workplace – if you have any thoughts, send me an email!

 

-Rae, First Impressions Coordinator

 

Do you have any secrets to good meal planning or some good tips or gluten-free recipes for me? Send me an email at friday@friday.ca!

Photo: My mise-en-place for Thursday’s dinner. Not pictured: chicken thighs – they were still in the sink defrosting.

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