Fit Eating: Instant Steel Cut Oats

I admit it, I’m spoiled.   When I’m at my fiance’s house overnight during the work week — I wake up to a bubbling mini-crock pot of steel cut oatmeal.  He puts it on before he leaves for work, and by the time I get up — have a cup of joe — check some email or do some school work , it’s ready to dive into.   He makes these super creamy pots of tasty goodness.  I dribble in a touch of maple syrup, and a little pat of butter for creaminess.  Then that’s that — breakfast is in my tummy.  If have to leave the house early to make it to school (which is about an hour+ away) or to work/internship (if its during the summer months) I pack it away in a little plastic tub and eat it at my desk (maybe after a quick run in the microwave to make it piping hot).

So the first question I usually get when I eat at school or my desk is what is that — then some folks go on by asking what is the difference between regular oatmeal and steel cut oatmeal.  In all honesty — I looked this up for the purpose of this blog.  What I can say though is that I appreciate the thick rough texture of the steel cut oats over the more gloppy normal oatmeal.

According to the website BakingBites:

Steel cut oats, also known as Irish oats or pinhead oats, are whole oat groats that have been chopped into large pieces and make a minimally processed cereal with a good oat flavor and a hearty texture. They are different from regular oatmeal because of the way that the oats are processed. Most oatmeal is made by rolling the oats under heavy rollers until they are flat, then lightly steaming and toasting them. This process makes the oatmeal cook quickly and have a soft, tender texture to it. Steel cut oats resemble very small, coarse grains of rice. They have a coarser texture than rolled oats and the oatmeal has a chewier texture, as well as an even more pronounced oat flavor to it.

Further, here is an interesting article on Steel Cut vs Rolled Oats from MotherJones of all places that discusses the nutritional value and environmental impact of the two oat competitors: http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2010/04/steel-cut-rolled-oats-oatmeal.

However — today I am not at the Farm.  Today, I am at my other home.  I live most of the time with my mom, and then the rest with the fiance.  My plan is to be a one house woman by the end of the summer, but sometimes its just easier to crash at my moms.  I get to make sure she’s doing okay.  Make sure there is food in the house (usually not), and play with the Wonder Corgi.   So up I am this AM before my board meeting, and I spied some Instant Steel Cut Oats.   Hrm.  I’m sure I bought it — if it’s in my moms house and it is remotely healthy and/or fresh then I probably bought it.

The brand is Country Cook Organics Quick Cook Steel Cut Oats.  I really LOVE the Country Cook Organics Steel Cut Oats.  That is what we eat at the Farm when I can find it, if not we go to the bulk bin at our local co-op for a few refill scoops.  So I figured this would be good as well.   You open the box and there are packets just like old-school instant oatmeal.   You drop it in a deep dish with 3/4 cup of water, and then microwave it on 1/2 power for 2 minutes — stir, repeat, and then wait about a minute. Stirred in a bit of brown sugar and margarine (no real butter and maple syrup at me madres….sigh) and took a bite. [Nutrition Facts here — one serving plain is 4 weight watcher points)

So then you are left with the photo below — (if it looks a little yellow it’s because I photographed the dish over my sunny mustardy gold Isaac Mizrahi Coverlet ).  So my verdict is that it just isn’t the same.  By making it quick cooking — I get more of a normal gooey mushy oatmeal breakfast over that chewy, rough, thick texture that I have come to love waking up to.  I’m not saying it’s a bad product — but I am saying for me it is not a substitute for the real thing.  I’d rather just have regular oatmeal if I’m pressed for time.

oats

Fit Eating: Panera Bread Co.’s Power Salad

If you can’t tell already, Panera is my go-to fast(er) food restaurant. There at least incorporating a veggie or fruit is made easier than at most joints, and you can craft your meal to be healthier than normal. The downside in my opinion is that:

  1. The dressings for salad’s at Panera are tasty and delish, so I eat them — I know I could cut major calories going with a oil/vinegar combo — but my tastebuds aren’t having it. I believe that as long as you account for those extra tasty calories, then eat them. I do get extra dressing mostly because raw veggies do not work well with my Lap-Band (see THIS previous blog post for more information on the lap band and eating issues), and if I have to take a calorie/fat intake hit to get real veggies in my system — then that’s what I’ll do.
  2. The bread: some folks are low/no-complex carbs people. They shun bread, the white potato, crackers, chips, et al. I am not that girl. My grandmother onetime was consoling me when I was having a down day as a child due to my weight. She pointed out a very thin fit person and asked me if I knew what was going to happen to her in old age. I rattled of something about her being fit and trim and healthy. To which my grandmother responded that yes — she ate well, worked out, refused to eat things that might have given her a bit of pleasure all in persuit of health and a great body. But in the end — she was going to die just like all the overweight folks. What Grannie was trying to say is that for some of us, maybe giving up ALL that we love is a silly concept. If you like cupcakes, go to your local baker and get ONE — don’t bake a dozen in your home that you might eat all yourself during an episode of Scandal (best show ever, FYI). My fiance and I did that yesterday — we are in the process of picking favors of wedding cupcakes with our baker, so we went in and each got one we hadn’t tried. We don’t do this ever week, maybe once a month at most. But when we leave — there are two cupcakes in a bag. For us to share, and see if it makes our cut. I’m happy because not only did I get a tasty treat, but then once it’s gone — it’s gone. I count it into my Weight Watchers’ tracker as best I can, and then I move on. So if you like that portion of baguette at Panera with your meal, over the apple (me and raw apples usually don’t work sadly) then get it — count it in your Tracker, and move on.
  3. The cost: Panera is quite expensive folks, in comparison to other dine and dash restaurants. On one meal, a person could easily spend $10+ depending on the choices that they make. As a PhD Graduate Student, I know all too well about counting costs and watching what you spend. However, what I have decided is that if I *can* afford Panera over some other restaurant — then I will choose it. However, I have a list of other healthier options from places for when I’m on a tighter budget or not close to a Panera (e.g. the Grilled Chicken Sandwich at Wendy’s with a side salad or baked potato as the side + Diet Coke) .

So along with the Hidden Menu launch nationwide, Panera also used January to relaunch their Salmon offerings, and to launch a Spinach Power Salad. According to the website, the new salad contains

fresh baby spinach, roasted mushrooms and onion blend, diced egg, Applewood-smoked bacon, frizzled onions & smoky Vidalia onion vinaigrette.

They suggest using it in the “You Pick 2” offerings with the Bistro French Onion Soup. The “Pick 2” program pairs a 1/2 salad, cup of soup, or 1/2 a sandwich together at your choosing. Prices are lowest if you pick cafe styled foods (think the basic greek salad, and a turkey sandwich) and rises with every premium or signature offering you select. And that is exactly what I had for lunch last snowy Friday afternoon.

I did make a few changes. First, I did add a second serving of dressing. I still appreciate this method because it is measured out. Instead of dumping half a bottle on my salad, I know I am really just adding 2 additional tablespoons. Second, I added a serving of salmon on my salad. I happen to love salmon, but my fiance does not. So when I can have it while dining out — I typically choose to do so. It adds a punch of protein, which is a focus of lap-band patients — and helps keep me full longer. When the salmon is not available at Panera, I tend to add chicken to my salads.

The Verdict:

I am actually in love with this salad. Again, the appearance was a bit lacking — and we do eat with our eyes, but that pretty piece of salmon worked wonders.

Weight Watchers Points Values (keep in mind that you can tweak your intake by asking the staff at Panera to remove some items like the cheese in the soup, or choosing an apple over the baguette):

  • 6 points — 1/2 Spinach Power Salad with ONE dressing
  • 5 points — Cup of Bistro French Onion soup with Gruyere Cheese and Crouton Toping
  • 5 points — portion of Baguette served with meals

Taste: The dressing is great, a little sweet which pairs nicely with the rest of the dish. I am a big fan of raw spinach, because it actually 8 times out of 10 works with my band. The addition of roasted mushrooms and onions is a big hearty plus for me, and I loved the crunch of the “frizzled” onions (which reminds me quite a lot of those french fried onions that top holiday Green Bean Casseroles in my humble opinion…). Oddly enough, I am nonplused about the bacon. Take it out, leave it on — I didn’t feel like it added to the salad, but it didn’t detract either. I might consider leaving it off honestly.

This is a salad that I would order in the full size happily. I just hope they keep it around for longer than a season (if you’re reading this Panera Executives — please keep this salad, seriously. And salmon on the menue as long as possible. Thanks!). If not, I think the next salad I will try is the hidden menue turkey one, since it also uses spinach as a base. Does anyone know if you can order spinach as a salad base on a regular basis?

Fit Eating: Panara’s Hidden Menu

Have you heard about Panera Bread Company’s “hidden menu” of new food items? Well it’s not really a secret menu, like the one at In and Out Burger (which my fiance dearly misses having spent some time on the West Cost to move back East where we have no idea what an In and Out burger is…). Panara merely says that they tested these few items on a smaller scale, and now are realeasing them nationwide but with little fanfare. The items will not be on the menu board, there are only slick food porn shots of them on-line at their website. The items are a lower carb set of dishes: two breakfast, four lunch/dinner items. The items (with some nutritional values) are:

  • Power breakfast egg white bowl with roasted turkey (180 calories; 25g protein)
  • Power breakfast egg bowl with steak (230 calories; 20g protein)
  • Power chicken hummus bowl (330 calories; 33g protein)
  • Power Mediterranean chicken salad (360 calories; 35g protein)
  • Power Mediterranean roasted turkey salad (320 calories; 22g protein)
  • Power steak lettuce wrap (280 calories; 28g protein).

I was sort of excited to see this. Panara is my go-to fast food joint, because I know I can get food quickly that is good for me (or at least better than any other fast food). I stick with their salads (the Greek one + a protein is my favorite) and soups. I use dressing because LapBand Fun Fact we really don’t do well with lettuce and many other raw veggies, so I need some sort of lubrication to try *crosses fingers* and keep a few bites down (which does not always work, but I try) Plus dressing just taste good, and yes I get extra. I also eat the bread. I am no low carb-er. There are so few things I can eat (for a food refresher see my earlier blog post on the LapBand and Eating) that I eat what works. Sometimes a toasty baguette piece with my soup works, and so I eat it. Sometimes it does not. Regardless, I was impressed with the nutritional stats of the items, so I thought I’d give it a try.

I ordered the Power Breakfast Egg White Bowl with Roasted Turkey (180 calories, 7g Fat, 7g Carbohydrates, 2g Fiber, 25g Protein — 5 Weight Watchers Plus Points (and the idea of it also being a serving of veggies). The bowl contains egg white, roasted turkey, spinach, and roasted peppers. I pulled up to the drive thru of a local Panera on my way to work, and bravely ordered. They did know what I was talking about, after asking for clarification a few times.

Visuals: When I opened up my bag, I was excited — but then visually I was dissapointed. The meal looked very small and very sad. I wished that it had far more than the five spinach leaves. I wished that the peppers were even increased. The egg white portion was very large though, and the turkey was on the smaller side. They did a great job of food porn photography on the website, none of which was passed into actual execution.

Taste: It did TASTE good. The turkey was the best –a warm and juicy surprise for a morning meal. The egg white was very plain, and I wished I had had some hot sauce or salsa to go with it. The five wilted spinach leaves were good, but again I wished I had had more. And the roasted red peppers perked up the bland egg whites. Again, for a healthy breakfast on the go from a fast-food joint — it was good.

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Verdict: I most likely would order it again. I wonder if I could ask for more spinach, or if this is something that came out of a package for them to slide into the box. I really was looking forward to a nice serving of veggies for breakfast to continue to try and (1) eat breakfast and (2) make my daily quota of fruits/veggies which I generally do not do (since for veggies to work they usually need to be cooked). Would I go out of my way for it — no. Not unless my o

 

rder was a fluke, and it really should look closer in size to the photo on the website (and by size I mean more spinach, more peppers, and more of the pesto that makes the eggs go from bland to better — I wouldn’t complain for more tasty turkey either but that was reasonable).

Has anyone tried any of the other items? I am sort of curious about the lunch/dinner turkey meal, and the chicken meal. I like that the turkey ones come with spinach which I can usually tolerate, even when raw.