Not-So-Fat Macaroni Salad

As I have mentioned before, for health reasons I am on a low-fat diet. That doesn’t mean I don’t like food that falls into that high-fat category.

I do.

A lot.

I use two strategies to satisfy my fatty-food cravings. The first is the simple one, I eat less of the food than I used to. The second strategy is to reduce the fat content without ruining the taste or texture. For me, texture is almost as important as taste. Here is one of my recipes that I have come up with that I find satisfies my craving.

Not-So-Fat Macaroni Salad:

1/4 cup Mayonnaise (not the non-fat or low-fat kind, I use the fully-fat kind)
3/4 cup Low-Fat Plain Yogurt
2 Tbsp. Mustard (I use a stone ground or course mustard with no turmeric, but you can use any mustard you like)
1 Small Onion, diced fine
1/4 cup Dill Pickle Relish (if you can’t find dill relish, you can chop up a dill pickle)
2 stalks Celery, diced fine
2 Eggs, hard-boiled and chopped (I sometimes double the eggs to make my husband happy)
4 cups Small Macaroni, cooked
salt to taste

In a large bowl mix the mayonnaise, yogurt and mustard until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and stir well until macaroni is evenly coated. Refrigerate. Best if refrigerated for at least an hour to let flavors blend.

I often add some of these optional ingredients depending on my mood and what I have on hand:

1 small can Black Olives, sliced
1 small can or jar Artichoke Hearts, packed in water, chopped
4 oz. Lean Ham, Turkey and/or Chicken, cubed
4 oz. Cheese, reduced fat (I prefer Sharp Cheddar, but my family likes Jack or Colby)

I hope you enjoy my not-so-fat macaroni salad. I often use the trick of substituting low-fat yogurt for some of the mayonnaise when a recipe calls for it. This works really well for potato salad and mayonnaise based dressings and dips.


Getting My Geek On: Preparing for Comic-Con

English: Panoramic photo of the people around ...

English: Panoramic photo of the people around Comic Con in 2011 as seen from a helicopter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Comic-Con International starts today in San Diego and I am going. Yay! I look forward to getting my Geek On. It is four days and one evening of running around with thousands of other geeks, listening to some of the most talented and creative people in movies, TV, art, books, and, of course, comics. It is four days and one evening of getting sneak peeks at some of the awesome things being released this next year. It is four days and one evening of trying to eat healthy with limited options.

But Comic-Con is at the San Diego Convention Center, in the Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Diego. For those of you not familiar with the Gaslamp Quarter, it is one of the premiere places for casual and fine dining in San Diego. Some of our best restaurants are located here, all within walking distance of the convention center.

So what is the problem? Time spent walking to and eating at the Gaslamp restaurants is time not spent at the convention. So far I only have about two one-hour slots that I don’t have something I absolutely must see. With the crowds at the convention, there simply is no way to “grab a quick bite” anywhere. I have been checking out the menus of the restaurants close by and I will have to be careful what I order. I will most likely have to make special requests (i.e. can you make that without mushrooms or Parmesan cheese?) which will also take more time. Last year I ordered a pasta dish without the mushrooms and found a mushroom in the first bite. Luckily, I found it before I ate any so I didn’t have to leave the convention.

What is my plan this year? I am packing fruit. Lots of fruit. I have unsweetened applesauce, sliced apples, strawberries, cubed watermelon, sliced nectarines, and raspberries packed in a thermal lunch bag tucked inside my World Fantasy Con bag. I will still need to find a source of protein, but with my fruit stash I should be able to survive without throwing my entire digestive system completely out of whack.

Wish me safe eating at Comic-Con.

Travel: A love/Hate Relationship

I love to travel. I love seeing new places, experiencing new cultures and meeting new people. I dread eating when I travel.

I recently was in New Orleans for a conference (also why I missed posting for a while). In preparation I sent my list of dietary restrictions to the event coordinator and even provided my cell phone number in case the chef wanted to talk to me. I received an email saying everything was taken care of. I briefly doubted but put my fears aside. They had my list and instructions. I had specifically put it together after the last conference I attended, back in November. Maybe the instructions were clear and no other information was needed.

The first day of the conference I showed up for breakfast and the protein dish was mushroom omelets. Mushrooms, a big no on my list so that was out, but they had a selection of cereals, 2% and nonfat milk and a large selection of fresh fruit. I was in heaven. I could work with this as long as I got protein at lunch. I also had an apple sauce squeeze pouch as a mid-morning snack (I packed enough for two per day in my suitcase just in case).

Lunch came and I got in line. When I got to the front I handed the catering staff person my lunch ticket with the word “Special” printed below my name. Cool, I’m special, but then my family and friends have known that for years. But they don’t always say it like it’s a good thing. Anyway, I was asked to wait to the side while someone went to the kitchen. A couple of minutes later a plate was handed to me. I looked at three large white cubes of tofu on a bed of some kind of grain and a pile of squash on the side. I called the server back and asked what he had just handed me and was told it was the vegetarian plate. I shook my head and said I can’t eat squash or tofu. He then asked if I wanted the gluten-free or the nut-free meal.

Apparently they had three types of “Special” meals and guessed at which one I should get. All three had squash as the vegetable side, and the gluten-free and nut-free had chicken in a mushroom sauce. I couldn’t eat anything being served. I located the event coordinator and explained what was happening. She apologized and told me she had forwarded my email to the head of catering. I waited while she went and talked to the chef, who she returned with about 5 minutes later.

The chef had never received my email and I had just been listed as special without any explanation. After about ten minutes of explaining my food restrictions he told me he would have something for me each day. He also suggested I could start with the salad on the buffet while he prepared my meal. I joined my friends, who were almost done eating by now, and munched on my salad. My friends finished eating and one by one excused themselves to go find their next session. My meal arrived, which was hot a delicious, and I quickly scarfed it down alone. I wasn’t feeling so special as I finished eating while the staff cleared the tables around me. I slipped into my next session late.

I’ll post on the rest of my adventures in eating in New Orleans soon.

They Just Don’t Get It: Girl Scout Encampment

Recently my Girl Scout troop (I am an assistant leader of a mixed troop with girls age 8 to 18) went to encampment. Now our troop has girls and parents with special dietary needs. We have a mom with a severe peanut allergy and a girl in another troop with a tree nut allergy. We also have people who cannot tolerate gluten, one of which has Celiac Disease. We also have one of our volunteers who, for health reasons, is on a low carb diet.

Note: peanuts are not grown on trees and are not in the same family as other nuts, they are actually legumes. Someone with a peanut allergy is more likely to also be allergic to beans than to other nuts.

Our troop leader spoke extensively with the head cook before the encampment explaining the various diet restrictions. The encampment was supposed to be nut free (that means peanuts and tree nuts) and there were to be gluten-free options at every meal. While everything was peanut free, some items had nuts as an ingredient. One menu item had cashews listed first on the ingredient list. The lunch and dinner menus were heavy on the carbs. One meal was pasta with meat sauce. There was no alternative to the pasta, so our girls and volunteers who couldn’t eat the pasta only had meat sauce as an option.

Our leader always plans ahead. She had a variety of gluten-free, and peanut and nut free foods with her to supplement what the cooks prepared, so no one went hungry. (We did have an incident with something that was supposed to be peanut free, but I’ll save that for a future post.)

After encampment our leader contacted Girl Scout headquarters. The person in charge of the encampment staff was very understanding and concerned. She asked a very important question: Did the cooks just not get it or did they not care? We believe they just didn’t get it. We have been assured that the training programs for the cooks will be reviewed. The director was going to personally review the training to help remedy the problem for future encampments. She also appreciated the feedback. If our troop hadn’t said anything then nothing would change.

It is important if you have special dietary needs that you speak up and be prepared to educate people. Many people do not have food allergies and do not understand what we have to go through to eat safe. They also don’t understand the consequences we face if we accidentally eat something we shouldn’t. They don’t put us in danger because they don’t care, they do it because they just don’t get it.

Be patient. Be polite. But be firm. When you see food preparation staff making these kinds of mistakes take the time to educate them. Yelling at them, insulting them or trying to get them fired doesn’t win them over to our cause. We need them to get it. We need them to learn that while it may be a pain in the butt to have to serve someone with food restrictions, it is a bigger pain in the butt to have to live with the restrictions.

Making Healthy Decisions

I went to the San Diego County Fair with friends yesterday.  I was weak and I am now feeling the after effects. Due to medical conditions I am on a low fat diet.  For those of you not familiar with SDCF the big advertising points is the everything with bacon (chocolate covered bacon, bacon kabobs, they even had bacon flavored root beer this year), battered and deep fried stuff (oreos, ice cream, bacon of course, donuts, etc. – the Twinkies were missing this year), and they even had Krispy Kreme Sloppy Joes.

I don’t know about you but my arteries are hardening just writing all that stuff. They had a few, and I stress the word “few,” healthy options.  They have corn on the cob grilled in the husks and roasted artichokes, but by far, the selection of food options are not healthy.  For that reason I brought food with me.  I had plenty of fruit.  I cut up a pear, some strawberries and watermelon, and had some apple slices.  I also brought some cheese slices and deli turkey meat.

I was good for lunch, I ate fruit and my turkey and cheese.  I wasn’t too bad for dinner, I had more fruit, an all beef hotdog (the lowest fat protein option I could find that I wasn’t allergic to) and a few nibbles from my friends turkey leg (I avoided the skin, but it was still higher in fat than I would have thought).  I had never had Dippin Dots so I decided to try some. I couldn’t decide which flavor so I had Chocolate and Java Delight. Of course I just got the same size my friend got, large (which is actually their middle size, Mega is their biggest). The other snack I had were the Cinnamon-Sugar coated mini donuts. This is one of those things I look forward to each year.

My mistake wasn’t eating any one thing.  Each thing I ate was something I could handle.  My mistake was having them all in one day. If I had skipped the Dippin Dots (or at least gotten the small), ate less of my mini donuts (I had eight and usually I have six, four would have been enough) and not nibbled the turkey leg I would have been fine.

The hard part about living with food restrictions is watching everyone else freely eating all those things you can’t, but want to. It doesn’t matter. I need to take responsibility for my health and make good decisions.  Am I going to beat myself up for not being strong? No! Will I make bad decisions again? Probably.  But that’s ok.  I did better than I did just a few years ago.  At one time I would have eaten so much bad stuff I would have been sick for days. And I would have whined about not being able to eat whatever I want.  Now, I accept that I have limitations.  I can eat what I want, but within reason.  I have to make decisions, smart decisions.  Do I want Dippin Dots or do I want mini donuts?  Next year I will stick with my mini donuts. I will get half a dozen, and be content to eat three or four.

Keeping a Food Diary

You might wonder how I know to avoid all the foods I avoid. By keeping a food diary.

I learned about food allergies in my teens. I had a severe reaction to clams causing my throat and tongue to swell. The doctor suggested I avoid all shell fish, since most people who are allergic to one type of shell fish are allergic to other types as well. This is a cross reactivity food allergy. I later discovered that while I am allergic to mollusks (clams, oysters, scallops, etc.), I could eat lobster and shrimp.

I was fortunate to see a doctor who was thorough and asked about all of my symptoms, not just the ones that landed me in urgent care. The doctor explained that I was allergic to clams (an immune system reaction), but that the other symptoms we discussed were not likely allergic reactions. A food allergy is an abnormal response to food triggered by your immune system. A food intolerance is NOT triggered by your immune system.

A battery of tests revealed that I had a few allergies, but not nearly enough to explain the symptoms I frequently had. These included hives, itching in my ears and throat, headaches, blisters in my mouth, gas, intestinal cramps, blurred vision, asthma and chest pains. The doctor asked me to keep a detailed diary of everything I ate, came into contact with and my symptoms. I recorded dates, times and amounts.

I returned to the doctor after a month. We went over the diary and discovered I had several food intolerances. Over the years I have used the food diary to help me identify all the foods that give me problems.


What does it mean to be Dietarily Challenged?

Hi, and welcome to Adventures of the Dietarily Challenged. What does it mean to be Dietarily Challenged? In the most basic sense you are not free to eat anything you want. For me this is due to a variety of health issues.

I’m sure you’ve heard of allergies (think Howard’s peanut allergy on The Big Bang Theory) and you may have heard of food intolerances (Leonard is lactose intolerant, another Big Bang Theory reference). You may also have heard of food sensitivities. I’m not an expert; I’m just someone who suffers from all three. For health reasons I am also on a low fat, moderate fiber diet.

Here is the list of foods I must avoid or suffer the consequences:

Mollusks (clams, oysters, scallops, etc.)
Freshwater fish (most salmon, tilapia, catfish, craw fish, etc.)
Parmesan cheese
Any type of blue cheese
Any type of squash
All artificial sweeteners
Food tenderizers
Raw tomatoes

In future posts I will explore how I cope and live happily with all of these restrictions.