Read an Excerpt
The Weight of the Union
Let's face it: America has become a hefty nation. About two-thirds, or 66 percent, of us have been classified by health officials as overweight or obese. In the late '80s and early '90s, that statistic was 56 percent. In the late '70s, it was more like 47 percent. The numbers show a dramatic increase. Even more disturbing is the fact that about one-third of our children and teens are overweight or obese--triple the rate of their parents' and grandparents' generations. Doctors are diagnosing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes in elementary school kids and, in some cases, predicting shorter life spans for them than their parents for the first time ever. What we eat today has an impact not only on our future, but on the future of our children. Trainers Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels on The Biggest Loser always shake their heads at the amount of fast food their contestants--and their families--are used to eating before they arrive at the ranch. "It's super-size this and super- size that," observes Harper, "with the result that portion sizes are out of control as well."
So how can you protect your family from our national health crisis? Two words: family meals. The demise of the once-hallowed ritual of family mealtime is emerging as a factor, say researchers, in this country's obesity epidemic. Studies indicate that dinnertime is the perfect opportunity to introduce healthy foods into your family's diet and to involve family members (that includes the kids!) in food choices, preparation, and cooking. But we're talking about more than just food. It's also a perfect time for family members to slow down and talk to each other. Parents might actually find out what's going on in their teenagers' lives! And when the dinner table is an enjoyable place--in terms of both food and environment--big strides can be made for the health of everyone sitting around it.
If family mealtime isn't already a part of your day, try to work it into your family's schedule so that it becomes a priority. Like soccer practice or day care, it will soon become an integral part of your day, and something you won't skip. If the kids are reluctant at first, start small. Gradually introducing change makes it easier for them to adjust. Start by filling everyone's drinking glass with water or skim milk instead of soda. Or turning off the TV during meals. And try to get your kids involved! Don't just put down a plate of food in front of them and say, "Eat it." Let them be involved in the shopping and meal preparation, and they might even try a few new vegetables.
We've witnessed firsthand the powerful influence of family on Season 6 of The Biggest Loser. Vicky and Brady Vilcan came to the ranch from Louisiana, worried about their weight but heartbroken about the example they were setting for their children, especially their daughter, who weighed 63 £ds at the age of 4. "I feel 100 percent responsible for my daughter. She's overweight, and I know it's because of me," said Vicky.
But after the Vilcans committed to a healthy way of life at the ranch, things changed. "Before my experience at The Biggest Loser ranch," said Brady, "We often ate whenever and wherever we felt like. Ninety percent of the time, we ate at a restaurant or took home takeout. Now I spend a lot of time planning what to get from the grocery store to prepare at home. The first thing I do at mealtime is turn off the television. Mealtime is now family time, where we all sit together at the same time and share thoughts about the day."
Frustratingly, eating healthfully these days doesn't always come cheap. Even the cost of basic staples such as bread, milk, and eggs has climbed significantly--not to mention the price of produce and other wholesome foods. A trip to the grocery store has become an exercise in sticker shock, while the low prices of many unhealthful, processed foods and fast foods has remained relatively stable.
Once The Biggest Losers leave the ranch and re-enter the real world, they're struggling with the same budgetary issues as the rest of us. But, as you'll see throughout this book, there's hope! "We have found that since we're not eating out like we used to, we actually have more money to spend on good, healthy food," says Stacey Capers, another Season 6 member. "So we've moved the 'dining out' part of our budget over to groceries. And we're always on the lookout for a good sale!" Cooking and eating at home not only ensures that you're eating healthy, nutritious foods--it also helps you save money.
Coleen Skeabeck of Season 6 adds, "For me, getting the best deal possible and not breaking the bank is so important. I shop at a local farmers' market to get the best prices on produce instead of buying it at the grocery store. As for the other groceries, I plan out what I'd like to eat for the next week or so and then buy only what I need instead of throwing a bunch of items in my cart. And although sometimes it takes a minute to flip through the ads, finding items you need that may be on sale really helps!"
So, how to prepare the best food at the best prices? To that end, Chef Devin Alexander has come up with more than 125 recipes specifically crafted to keep your wallet--and your family--healthy. These are true crowd- pleasing recipes that will get everyone in the kitchen and satisfy even the pickiest tastebuds. Since food prices vary across the country (groceries tend to be cheaper in the Midwest and more expensive in major metropolitan areas and on the East and West coasts), we've come up with recipe items that would fit a weekly food budget of $175 to $215 for a family of four. For more information on the cost of groceries around the country, visit one of the Web sites listed in Resources on page 215.
There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to these recipes, and there's plenty of room to adjust for your family's budget and tastes. If a recipe calls for fresh vegetables but frozen are on sale at your local grocery store, go for what works best for you. Also, take advantage of your regional specialties. If you're in central Pennsylvania, for example, an area known for its farms and dairy cattle, milk and produce will be cheaper. On the West Coast, you may find better deals on salmon than the rest of us. And if you live in Florida, you'll have much cheaper access to citrus fruits than folks elsewhere in the country. It all depends on where the product originates and what your family likes. For more information about what's in season where you live, check out the Web sites listed in Resources on page 215.
Put yourself in control. The idea here is to have fun, eat well, and enjoy your family--all without going broke!
Watch Your Wallet
You'll find budget shopping tips throughout this book, but here are a few hard-core essentials that will get you started on the right foot.
* Make a list and don't leave home without it! Plan your meals in advance, itemize what you need, and stick to it. That way you can avoid the potato chip aisle.
* Buy less-expensive store brands or try warehouse or discount stores.
* Stock up on sale items that are nonperishable, such as canned goods.
* Don't forget the lowly bean! It offers great nutrition at a bargain price.
* Shop the outer aisles of the grocery store. That's where you'll find fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and fat-free dairy products. The inner aisles contain most of the processed, less healthy stuff.
* Always check the unit pricing on an item, not just the total price, to make sure you're getting the best deal. The best savings aren't always on the largest quantity
* Study the store circulars carefully to make sure you're getting a real discount. Sometimes manufacturers pay to have an item included in the circular, so compare weekly specials to the non-"special" brands to find the best deal.
* Don't always buy the items on display at eye level. Cheaper items are usually on the bottom shelf, and not at the ends of aisles.
* If you enjoy cooking with fresh herbs, investing in a small window box filled with your favorites is a good option. You'll always have fresh herbs at your fingertips. To keep herbs that grow quickly from going to seed, clip and freeze as needed. Here's how: Wash and finely chop the herbs, then fill the sections of an ice cube tray about halfway with the herb pieces. Cover the herbs with water, pop the tray in the freezer, and freeze until solid. Once cubes are formed, transfer your "herb ice cubes" to an airtight container and store it in the freezer. Add the cubes while preparing moist recipes such as hot soups, stews, and sauces.