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I love to cook… sort of.

I love to spend a long, lazy Sunday afternoon in the kitchen, absorbed by cooking's sensuous colors, textures, sounds and smells. To me, it's more than relaxing; it's restorative.

But weeknight meal making (aka the reality of cooking) is another story. I find less pleasure in the rushed, staccato pace of assembling dinner for our family of four with competing schedules and priorities. Productivity experts suggest that the chaos of weeknight cooking can be quelled with weekly meal plans. But despite the well established benefits, I until recently, I had resisted this approach. I was concerned that the task of planning meals might further eclipse the enjoyment of cooking.

Enter MealBoard: a productivity app that combines recipe management, meal planning, and grocery-list making.

MealBoard Screenshot

The advantages to this simple, customizable app far outweigh (for me) the time required upfront to input recipes. Once a meal plan is set, MealBoard auto-magically generates a shopping list. The shopping list is grouped by items' location in the store, and non-recipe items (say, toothpaste) are easily  added. The more I use it, the more useful and efficient the app becomes.

Thanks to MealBoard I wing it less in the kitchen these days, and the making of weeknight meals is more calm. But what of the sensuous pleasures of cooking?

That's when I turn to Pinterest - where luscious photographs nourish the eyes, and culinary inspiration is a mere finger-flick away.

Passion restored, phew.

(Please note: Rather than continuing to post recipes here on I&D, I'm going to pin them on Pinterest. If you're interested, follow me on Pinterest.)

The 2012 Colorado Health Report Card was released last week. The Report Card tracks 38 health indicators across five life stages to provide a snapshot of Coloradans' state of health. This year's picture is not as promising as might be expected from the healthiest state in the nation.

“Even in the areas where we are doing ‘well’ compared to the rest of the country, some troubling trends loom on the horizon,” the report states. “Putting (adult obesity) figures in perspective, Colorado currently may be the leanest state, but if we reported those numbers in 1995, we’d be the heaviest.” The picture is particularly dim in the areas of prenatal care and childhood health, and leads me to reflect on my eight-year old's most recent pediatric wellness visit.

The pediatrician spent some time reviewing G's growth chart, and then announced that her weight-to-height ratio was "optimal." He said so twice.
Why the emphasis, I asked?
He responded that slender eight-year olds are far less common in the U.S. than they used to be and because of that Americans are inclined to perceive wiry pre-teens as underweight. He added, "I want you to have this in your mind because people are going to tell you that she's too thin. The reality is that she does not need to gain weight. Her weight is ideal and I want you to feel very secure about that."

I wasn't concerned about G's weight, but I did appreciate the pediatrician's perspective. It's interesting, isn't it, how we're subtly influenced by our surroundings? The conversation reminded me of LiveWell Colorado's 2011 obesity awakening campaign which sought to re-set Coloradans' perception of what constitutes a healthy weight. The campaign's  obesity quiz caught my attention when I scored poorly on it, failing to correctly identify a featured actor as "overweight."

BMI Visualizer

Another helpful tool in this vein is the BMI Visualizer (above), created by the Perceiving Systems Department at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems. It's deceptively simple: you input your gender, age, height and weight, and the "visualizer" calculates your BMI and generates a 3D Model to help you see the relationship of BMI to body shape, and what you would look like if you lost (or gained) weight.

I'm relieved that Colorado is embracing the spirit of our title as the "healthiest state" and am excited about the role will surely play in helping us get there.

At a recent annual physical, I was discouraged to see that despite a healthy diet and more frequent trips to the gym, I was gaining weight (the unwanted, non-muscular kind). “How could this be?” I asked my doctor.

Dr:   [glancing at medical record] Let’s see… oh, you’re turning 40 next week.
          Happy Birthday! And welcome to your 40-year-old metabolism.
Me:  For real? Doesn’t reaching my target A1c count for anything metabolically?
Dr:   Nope.
Me:  Here’s the thing: I don’t want to gain weight.
Dr:   Great! Do you count calories?
Me:  (Pause) No. I don’t count calories.
Dr:   Have you ever counted calories?”
MeNo. I count carbohydrates.

(She’s my endocrinologist. She knows I count carbohydrates. And fiber. She knows I consider exercise. And stress. And how much sleep I got last night. And what time of the day it is. And what day of the month it is. Every. Single. Time. I. Eat. Calories? Hell, no!)

DrOkay, so from now on you’ll count carbohydrates and calories.
(I’m sorry, did you not hear everything I just thought?)
Dr:  You get 1,500 calories per day. 50% carbs / 30% protein / 20% fat. Got it?

(Damn you, slowing metabolism, how dare you take more fun out of eating?
But… I don’t want to gain a pound a year either.)

Me:  Okay. I’ll do it. I’ll get an app.

That night I downloaded LIVESTRONG’s Calorie Tracker app and played with it for way longer than I should have. It's pretty cool. It incorporates a large database with nutrition info for most of the foods I eat. There’s a place to track exercise. At a glance I can see progress toward my daily calorie threshold. I like this app! It’s going to help me reach my goals. It’s even going to remind me to drink water. Awesome.


The following week, my schedule was dreamily predictable. I exercised, ate, worked, and slept at consistent times. I had complete control over the carbohydrates in my meals. There are were no unexpected twists, no curve balls. It was the perfect week to be a carb-and-calorie-counting diabetic.

But, really, who has weeks like that? Life is full of schedule-wreckers. Within three weeks I had fallen off the calorie-tracking wagon. And yet, I like Calorie Tracker and continue to reference it for counting carbs (and the odd calorie).

But as far as a strategy to prevent weight gain, it’s more time in the gym for me.
And maybe I'll consider drinking my coffee black.

Do you know the website Foodily?

You can use it to compare the nutritional content of different versions of a recipe. It's especially helpful if you cook for people with dietary (or gustatory!) constraints. Here's how it works:

Say you want to make tomato soup for a dinner party. And you want it to be low-fat and low carb. And one of the guests is allergic to dairy. You just input "tomato soup" and check the appropriate filters. In seconds, Moodily serves up a bunch of recipes that meet your criteria. The recipes are displayed in a side-by-side format (often with images), so it's ridiculously easy to compare ingredients and nutritional data, and determine which recipe is right for you.

One downside for me is how the nutritional content is calculated. It's calculated per recipe rather than per serving. That makes the site less helpful for calculating insulin dosages. (You can read here why Foodily doesn't generate per-serving data.) Even despite that shortcoming, I like the site a lot.

Thanks to Foodily, I'll be making this tomato soup tomorrow night.