“You eat healthy foods all the time. Don’t you ever just crave junk?”
This is a question that I’ve been asked over and over again, and every time I try to think of a good answer. Let me preface this by saying that I don’t really like the idea of assigning certain foods to the “good” camp and others to the dark side. I’m a believer in eating what you crave in moderation. After all, deprivation only sets us up for even stronger cravings, right?
Back to the question.
I’ve tried several times to think of “junky” things that I crave. For many of my friends, it’s things like chocolate, cookies, cheesecake, ice cream, or a combination of all of the above. It’s been roughly six years since I lost 70lbs of what-was-once-me, and I am by no means going to claim that I’m a perfect eater. I’ve certainly had my fair share of food babies and overindulgences, and I know exactly how it feels to want to lay on the couch in stretchy pants all day after a night of one (or a few more) too many beverages. However, over time, all the feelings of bloatedness and sugar hangover headaches have taught me a few lessons. For example…
- Deep fried anything means serious revenge from my stomach. I’ll spare you the details.
- Most fast food has the same effect as the above.
- Fruit and veggies make me feel awesome.
- Anything more than a few bites of a rich dessert gives me the shakes, a bit like the way people hyped up on caffeine get when they’ve had a few too many cups. An hour later, you better make sure I’ve got Advil at the ready because it feels like someone is taking a hammer to my head.
- When it comes to working out, incorporating chicken and fish in my diet helps me feel strong when I run. Red meat makes me feel like I’ve got a belt of bricks strapped around my waist.
- Sushi? Delicious. Puts me in a mid-afternoon coma, but I’m ok with that. 😉
So do I crave “junk”? My honest answer is not really. Over the past 6 years, I’ve learned what makes my body feel like death and what makes it feel amazing. Older, wiser me would rather eat whole foods over “bad foods” because I want to feel good when I’m finished. I can’t say I have mad cravings for bars of chocolate and buckets of ice cream, but put a watermelon in front of me and I’ll devour the entire thing!
Now that I’ve answered the question, let’s talk a bit more about what I originally intended to write about: take-out food. There are some people that crave sweets, and others that crave more savoury things. In a quick poll of some friends, these included pizza, Thai, and Chinese. While there’s nothing inherently non-nutritious about any of these cuisines, their take-out versions can carry some pretty hefty calories, saturated fat, and sodium. However, the great thing is that they’re super easy to re-create at home.
This weekend, I set out to healthify sweet and sour chicken. This typically consists of battered chicken, cornstarch, bell peppers, pineapple, and sweet and sour sauce (which is often a rather un-natural looking colour depending on where you’re ordering from). I researched the stats for various fast food Chinese chains, and found some reasonable numbers (370 cals, 17g fat, 3g saturated fat, 320mg sodium in 5.5oz) to some hideous ones – up to 800 calories and 31g fat!
I can’t say I’ve created something better than homemade Chinese food, but I can guarantee that the recipe I’m about to share is lower in calories, fat, and sodium than your average take-out. It’s also packed with lots of colourful veggies, so you’ll be getting more fiber (read: feeling more satisfied) and vitamins at the same time.
Sweet and Sour Chicken (or Tofu)
- ½ cup fresh pineapple chunks (plus about 1/4 cup pineapple juice – you can use the canned type if you want, but avoid pineapple canned in syrup because it contains lots of extra sugar. I usually chop an entire pineapple and store it in a container. The juice drips to the bottom – voila! Fresh pineapple juice sans juicer!)
- 1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
- 1 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 225g raw boneless skinless chicken breast or cubed firm tofu
- 1 tsp corn starch
- 1 raw egg white
- 1 cup mixed bell peppers, cut into chunks
- 2 cups broccoli florets
- 2 spring onions, cut diagonally
- 1 cup sugar snap peas
- cilantro, to garnish
In a small bowl, prepare the sweet and sour sauce by stirring together 1/4 cup pineapple juice, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and 2 tbsp water.
In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tsp oil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, place chicken strips (or tofu) in a resealable bag with the egg white and corn startch. Toss them around to coat evenly, then pour them into the pan and cook until golden on the outsides. When cooked, transfer to a plate.
In the same skillet, add the bell peppers and broccoli. Season with sea salt and black pepper, and cook, stirring until peppers are just softened, about 2-3 mins. (Add a little water if the pan is getting too dry.)
Add the chicken (or tofu) back to the pan with the snap peas, spring onion, and pineapple. Pour the sauce into the pan and cook a few minutes more until everything is hot and liquid has reduced. Serve over noodles or rice and garnish with fresh cilantro if desired.
Nutrition per serving (with chicken): 261 calories, 4g fat (1g saturated), 65mg cholesterol, 395mg sodium, 29g carbs, 3g fiber, 12g sugar, 33g protein
Nutrition per serving (with tofu): 199 calories, 5g fat (1g saturated), 0mg cholesterol, 393mg sodium, 25g carbs, 3g fiber, 13g sugar, 15g protein.
You can even put it in a box and eat it with chopsticks if you really want to be authentic. 😉
Other Fake-Out Take-Out dishes:
So tell me…
- What are foods that you crave the most?
- If you were going to order one take-out meal, what would it be?