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eat the rainbow? not so much…

Posted by on Apr 18, 2011 in Blog Posts | 32 comments

I looked down on my dinner the other night and had to think of that “eat the rainbow” slogan. Ours was more of an “eat a few shades of brown and tan,” kind of meal. And, you know what? It was yummy! Fridge to table, under 30 minutes.

We had pan-seared thin pork chops, sauteed Vidalia onion and a Rice Pilaf from a box.

Dad was out of town, so I needed simple. M LOVES cooked onions. They are super easy, but do take a little time. (This is a great side dish for me too as it stays fresh in the pantry longer than other “standard” veggie sides…)

I started the rice pilaf, cut a vidalia in half and sliced it thinly and added it to a medium-hot pan with about 2 Tbspns olive oil and a pinch of kosher salt, then reduced heat to low after a few minutes. You have to really watch that they don’t scorch, and they take about 15 minutes to cook down and get really sweet. (Stir often.)

The chops took less than 10 minutes. Heated some olive oil over med-high. Popped them in the pan, sprinkled kosher salt and rubbed about 1/2 tspn of garlic paste on the side facing up. I flipped them after about 5 minutes. I had to add a splash of water so it didn’t scorch the garlic (I usually use broth, but I didn’t have an open box, and this was fine and made a few Tablespoons of a tasty little sauce after it cooked down a little.) It was all done about the same time. (The onions sat a little on simmer, and you have to keep stirring them.)

M declared the chops, the “best ever” and kept asking if she could have more onions (I did have to fend for my share.) The pilaf was good, but a little too chewy for both of us (it had barley and other things that could have used more time I think…) This wasn’t the most filling meal, so we had ice-cream for dessert. (I like Edy’s slow-churn.)

Anyway, I’m no nutritionist, but I’d say we were pretty well covered that night. She had fruits and veggies earlier in the day as well. So, “eat a rainbow?” Maybe sometimes, but eat what tastes good, what you’ve got on hand, what you feel like cooking and don’t let any food rules spoil that! (Or, think of the rainbow over a week, rather than every day, just like I tell my clients about the food pyramid and you’ll probably be fine!) The problem is that for many, even the most inocuous “food rule,” like, “eat the rainbow” brings that sense of guilt and “should.” I know I atually thought, “Gee, I don’t have any “fresh” veggies tonight, maybe we should just eat out…” It’s almost like, I can’t cook the “perfect” meal, so why bother?

Do you react that way to food rules? How do food rules make you feel? Helpful with meal planning? Guilty? Do they get you to cook more or less? (There are studies that show that simply having “heart-healthy” options on a menu increases the amount of the really “bad” foods people chose. I remember from a blog a while back one reader said something like, “If I see a Weight Watchers symbol, I won’t go near it, even if it seems like the most appetizing choice.” There is so much psychology to all of this stuff, it’s fascinating!)

My other “tan” dish that shows up fairly often? Home-made breaded fish sticks which I always make with mashed potatoes and cauliflower with a white sauce. M get some color when she adds ketchup to her potatoes :)

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  1. Jenny Islander

    IME some rules are useful and some are just frustrating and annoying. The deciding factor seems to be how feasible it is to follow them.

    For example, I did a stint in WW and came away with some useful rules:

    *Stay hydrated; you will feel more comfortable.
    *Drink before eating because you may actually be thirsty.
    *Satisfy your hunger. Don’t stuff, but don’t starve either.

    But these turned out to be non-starters:

    *Plan every meal and snack down to the tiniest detail. (Worked until my priorities were rearranged by a baby. Baby crying and clingy? Eat what you can grab with the other hand, dammit.)
    *Write down everything you eat and drink. (Ditto.)

    Going further back, my mother’s 1954 Betty Crocker cookbook taught me some common-sense rules:

    *The main meal should be a square meal because square meals are satisfying.
    *A variety of temperatures and textures on the same plate increases the pleasure of the meal.
    *Save sweets for filling in the corners because they don’t sustain on their own.


    *Every man likes a cup of hot or cold bouillon in his hand when he comes home from work. (Er . . . no.)
    *Bread and butter should be on the table at every meal. (Nobody ever ate it!)

    I started reading that book about the Rules for Eating or whatever and came to a screeching halt at the one about shopping at the farmer’s market. First there has to actually be a farmer’s market.

    • katja

      This is such a rich comment! The Rules for eatin one got me, and it’s part of what makes the food movements feel inaccessible. Farmer’s market? Maybe in some places, but not others. If I shopped the greenest of the green, I’d be at one place for meats, another for veggies and fruits, another for basics. Our lives aren’t that way anymore for the large part. I’m working on a bit about the Blue Zones book which is similar. Live to be 100? The secret is having a daughter who you can live with and who will take care of you…
      Love those food rules from the Betty Crocker book, and Iike how they talked about sweets… Very little judgment there.

      • Jenny Islander

        This’ll blow your mind. Here’s Betty’s advice on snacks: “At snacktime, we eat what we like, we eat for fun.”


        Now, all of this sensible advice (“Right size pan prevents a flop/So measure it across the top!”) was paired with an explicit promise that a woman who cooks for her husband and children will thereby earn their love and respect, but we eat the meat and spit out the bones, so.

        About the failure of the WW program once I had babies: I would plan a “good” lunch and the baby would need me. So I would fall back on Plan B, but then the toddler would fall down and get hurt. So on to Plan C, which involved whatever would fill us up quickly. I know that Plans B and C (and usually A for that matter) were supposed to involve WW convenience foods, but 95 percent of the really filling foods contained soy products, which gave all of my nurslings screaming gas pains if I ate them and made my husband uncomfortable if he ate more than a tiny amount. The other 5 percent were canned soups. The same three kinds, over and over. Depressing.

        I guess the take-away here is that everybody’s situation is different and assumptions must be checked before rules are proclaimed.

  2. lyorn

    Food rules make me feel that it is my duty to thwart them. My duty to my self-esteem, to my body, and to society. I do not want to be the woman who has the salad with the low-cal dressing and takes skimmed milk in her coffee. I’ll get the roast pork with dumplings, and a whole milk mocha. (Not in the same meal, though. I’ll have a dark beer with the pork. That’s a stereotype I can live with.)

    If something is marked as a “healthy choice”, my first though is that it will be made of ersatz foodstuffs and full of chemicals that I’m allergic to.

    Trouble starts when I actually *want* the salad. Or the chicken breast with brown rice. And I do, I want all those shiny pretty fruits and veggies, and nuts and whole grains and what-have-you. I like them prepared in a way that they keep their taste and texture (and colour). But I feel I am letting my side down and am giving in to sanctimonious meddlers if I order it in public. I tell myself that I do not have to prove anything, but it has not taken hold yet. The fact that I grew up with home-made food insecurity and developed a binging habit does not help either. If I do not take the most energy-laden item on any menu, I fear that I’ll end up hungry.

    Fortunately this is not a problem when no one sees me eating. I can do all my healthy cooking at home, and I do.

    It’s not just food rules. I have never smoked more than two a year, but the spreading smoking ban really makes me want to light up.

    My favorite tan dish is whole grain oat porridge with dried fruit and dark honey.

  3. Alexie

    I’ve never followed a food rule in my life, except the one time I tried the Atkins diet. That lasted about a week. I just can’t approach food that way. To me, that’s the equivalent of saying “hmm, I know you’re supposed to do oral sex at least once every sexual encounter, but I don’t feel like it right now, so if I skip it this time, maybe I can do two next time”.

    On the other hand, I DO really like the posted calorie counts. I go to London a lot where they often use them, and the calorie counts are useful for me not because I want to lose weight, but because they often show that a food isn’t what it says it is. If it LOOKS good but it has a skyrocketing calorie count, then that alerts me that it’s probably full of sugar and other additives.

    • katja

      Hmm, I’m not a sex therapist, but I get the analogy… someone else likened it to another bodily function, peeing. If we thought about how much we peed all the time, tried to manipulate it etc, we’d be pretty miserable.
      I think it’s not coincidental that you have never followed a food rule, and that calorie counts don’t bother you. I think, alas, you are in the minority. I also see the utility in rare situations, in the past for example, I’ve wanted a burger, but thought, “oh, no, I shouldn’t, I’ll have the chicken wrap, or the salad,” and when I saw the wrap, or salad, or other “healthy” option had as many calories or fat as what I really wanted, I felt like I could get what I wanted. Luckily, I’ve come some ways in my eating and don’t worry about it anymore. If it does show people that the “healthy” options aren’t, maybe it’s a good thing. I just know that our collective consciousness around food is so messed up, that the calorie counts are likely to get a lot of negative and triggering reactions, another road-block to tuning in to internal regulation of hunger and appetite.

  4. Courtney

    OK, I do try to follow the ‘don’t make your entire meal one color,” rule, but it’s pretty much only for aesthetic reasons. I think having some color on the plate makes it ‘happier.” That doesn’t mean I am always successful (because chicken and potatoes or rice == awesome, and awesomer with cauliflower, and awesomest with shortbread for dessert.)

    • katja

      I agree. I like to have a “pretty plate” sometimes too, but when the pantry is bare, you gotta do what ya gotta do :)

  5. Sarah

    “If I see a Weight Watchers symbol, I won’t go near it, even if it seems like the most appetizing choice.”

    Oh, that is so me. Or the healthy choice check mark, or little hearts, or anything else of that nature. I try my best not to ‘see’ things like that on menus and just pick what sounds good to me, but they are sometimes hard to miss and such a turn off. I don’t eat out very often and when I do, it feels like something special so I want something particularly tasty. Diet food, healthy food, and all that other crap, doesn’t sound tasty, so I avoid it, even if it does happen to be tasty. The sad part is that I do like a lot of “healthy” foods, but as soon as it gets labeled as such, it suddenly seems lacking in flavour, or I just don’t feel satisfied after eating it. I know its psychological and not physical, because if you placed plates in front of me without telling me which was ‘healthy’ or ‘diet’ I’d probably end up really enjoying some of it.

    • katja

      again, the psychology of food is so fascinating. It’s like the three year old who has a tantrum every time he gets put in a highchair, or needs de-sensitization therapy just to have food on the plate in front of him. It’s not the food that makes him panic, or gives him the fight or flight response, it is what has happened to him in that high chair- the pressure, the force-feeding, the gagging, the tears, the tension, the fighting… There is real trauma people have around food, and calorie counts are a dangerous trigger for many, many people… Folks who have not had trauma around food, physical or emotional or psychological don’t get it, and they seem to be the ones in charge of public food policy. Or, am I way off base?

      • unscrambled

        nope, you’re right on.

        I actually think this is quite applicable to other forms of trauma and violence. If one hasn’t experienced it, it takes a lot of listening to people that have in order to come up with any thoughts/strategies that are anything but waaaaaay off base. And generally, when you’re on base, it’s because you’re parroting someone else’s ideas (not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you give credit + compensation).

        And I think people that haven’t experienced various forms of trauma and are Doing Just Fine end up in charge of things because they have the privilege to believe that their ideas are the best ones.

        There’s another variant to this, which goes back to your ED/nutrition science thing, that lots of people were ‘fat kids’ and aren’t fat adults and they got that way with obsession/control–and thus everyone else needs to too.

        • katja

          Thanks for this. I also see lots of really naturally lean folks who love to eat kale and groats and think anyone who doesn’t is lazy and/or stupid (my father for example.) As someone once said, the folks “who were born on third base and think they hit a triple.” I think what turns me off the most is that they are not even open to hearing others’ experiences. So convinced and self-righteous. It’s hard to try to engage or have a dialogue…

    • jaed

      For me, it’s more fear of fake foods and substitutes that caused me to be repulsed by “Healthy Choice!” checkboxes and similar signals. I know this is not always true – simple pasta primavera or chicken caesar salad can get a designation like this. But I’m used to seeing really grotesque items in recipes and food items that are labeled “Lo-Fat!” and “Heart Healthee!”, and so the phrases have bad associations for me.

      (One recent example: a grocery store has “Skin Supreme” milk, and I noticed they also have regular non-fat milk, so I checked the label out of curiosity. It turns out that Skim Supreme is nonfat milk with carrageenan gums and artificial colors and flavors added to make it feel thicker and taste and look a bit more like whole milk. Blecch.)

  6. Twistie

    You know, sometimes I wind up with a mostly white meal, or a mostly red meal, or a mostly green meal… whatever. I figure if I eat what I want when I want it, over the long haul I’ll get what I need in more or less the amounts I need.

    Then again, the color of the food doesn’t always reflect the nutritional value people expect. We tend to think that white foods don’t have vitamins, for some reason, but potatoes are brimful of vitamin C and potassium, among other things. Onions, milk, and plenty of other dreaded white foods are also nutritional powerhouses.

    Food rules bring out the worst in me. I’m not sure it was me who said that about the Weight Watchers symbol on the menus, but if it wasn’t I was definitely nodding in both agreement and recognition, because that’s absolutely how I react.

    Oh, and going into a Cold Stone Creamery a couple weeks ago and seeing the caloric content of every shake, sundae, and cone? Almost made me order a bigger, gooier treat than I actually wanted just to show them… whoever they are. I took a deep breath and ordered the small shake I walked in for, but I really wanted to order half the damn menu just because I could. All I actually wanted was the first milkshake I’d had in six months. I’m glad I got what I really wanted.

    • KellyK

      I hate calorie counts on the big fast food menu displays. Absolutely despise them. Because they create that “I’ll show them!” response, and because they create the false impression that fewer calories always = healthier. They make me a little squirmy, and I hate the fact that they’re probably triggering people with eating disorders who just wanted to eat lunch. And not least, because they steal space from useful information relevant to the actual food. Chipotle’s boards used to describe what was in each item and what the kinds of salsa were, but that went away to make room for the all important calorie counts. Calorie counts that are available online and that most places have available in pamphlets or on separate posters anyway.

      • katja

        I’m not a fan of calorie counts either. it’s almost like Q tips to me. Everyone knows people don’t use Q-tips in a “healthy” way (i.e do not stick then IN the ear canal) Kind of like calorie counts. Many, many people will make poorer choices, be triggered, have that, “oh yeah!?” response- in essence, cram them into their ears and jam them around vigorously- but that’s not how they are “intended” to be used. Again, another half-formed thought here…

        • cindy

          I love the Q Tip analogy! It’s like all Q Tip buyers are pretending they bought them for some other reason, when really it’s to stick them right where you’re not allowed to. Deep dark yet widely accepted secret. I’ve never thought of this before (really I thought I was just one of not many who does this, which produced a low level of shame that I don’t usually acknowledge, but is it many many people? if so, yay) – and I’m not expressing myself very well re. the recognition this sparked in me. Blanket conspiracy? I’m not sure what to call it, and how it ties in with food, and the things we are told we’re supposed to do, which change constantly, and what we really, maybe secretly, do, which can create shame that keeps adding up. I’ll stop rambling now, thanks for this post.

    • katja

      yes, yes yes, see above… It’s the reaction to interference, the drive for respect and autonomy, and so much more. I remember my Mom saying, “you don’t need that other pork chop, do you?” and thinking, “hmm, maybe not, but now I want three more…”

  7. unscrambled

    “It’s almost like, I can’t cook the “perfect” meal, so why bother?”

    I think you’re really getting at something with this–I think the rules and restrictions and this stupid ‘whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it wrong’ culture leaves people feeling so incapable of doing the ‘right’ thing that they throw in the towel before they start.

    And that stinks on many levels, but mostly because you don’t get pork chops!

    • katja

      I think that was really the point that I was struggling with. If I ever actually took time to really craft a post, I might get to the point sooner! You said it nicely. Wait till my next post, it’s all about this topic…

  8. Carol Gwenn

    This entry makes me think of the great M.F.K. Fisher’s musings on eating a balanced DAY’S food rather than a number of balanced MEALS, since some of us don’t eat three meals a day and we all have varying appetites.

    Will try the onions — they sound delicious!

    • katja

      I’ll have to check her out. How had I not heard of her? What would you recommend for a new reader?

      • unscrambled

        “How to Cook a Wolf” is a classic, written during WWII.

        She has the colonial attitudes that were normative of the time, but her writing is classic food writing, indeed.

  9. KellyK

    That sounds like a fantastic and balanced meal. I like your rule: “eat what tastes good, what you’ve got on hand, what you feel like cooking and don’t let any food rules spoil that!”