Ladies and Gentlemen, I haven’t posted in quite a while, but I want you to know that, as the song lyrics would have it, “I’m alive and doin’ fine!” Each summer I spend 5 or 6 weeks on the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s campus teaching and chaperoning middle school and high school summer camps as a part of the college of Engineering and Information Technology’s outreach efforts. I’m on a one-week break from the programs, so I have a moment to breathe, blog, and recover from the non-stop goings on.
I wrote several posts anticipating my time on campus this summer and my anxiety about how to stay on track with my healthy eating patterns while there. Previous summer camp meals looked like this:
As a nutritionally-literate adult, I look back at meals like this and literally feel sick to my stomach. My meals today consist of 3 ounces of lean protein such as fish or chicken, one serving of whole grain, such as 1/3 cup brown rice, and a serving of vegetables — either 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked. This meal is loaded with simple carbohydrates which bring a sugar rush and then vanish, tons of saturated fats, no lean proteins, and vegetables which offer little to no nutrient value other than fiber (and which are all slathered with fat).
Thinking back on meals like this one, I packed my bags accordingly when I set out for this summer’s first session. I bought peanut butter for a high-protein source of fat, cans of tuna and chicken for a source of protein that I could throw into my go-bag and eat without heat or cooking, whole wheat bread and crackers for low-fat carb options, and baby carrots and green beans for my vegetables. I’ve learned that it’s best to come prepared than to be left with nothing to eat but bad options.
In the cafeteria, I surveyed the scene, and this was all I could come out with:
I chose chose broccoli and a salad, which was just iceberg lettuce. When I took the first bite of broccoli, I nearly spit it out. Butter. Grease. Fat. Something was coating it, and it wasn’t as healthy as it looked. What’s a guy have to do to get a clean vegetable on this campus?
For a couple of days, I ate my canned tuna and crackers, remaining on the lookout at each meal for something in the cafeteria that was compatible with my needs. One evening there was a pork roast, but it was covered in gravy. I ate it anyway, eager to have some variety.
Meals for summer programs at this campus are pre-purchased. That plate of lettuce and greasy broccoli cost my camp director somewhere in the neighborhood of $10.00. As my personal supplies of groceries were running low, I grew frustrated knowing that there was “food” already paid for that I was having to re-buy with my own money. I had a visit with the catering manager in a tone that I’m not particularly proud of. She asked me to send her an email with my specific needs in writing, so I did.
It is so good to see you again this summer. I appreciate you taking time to print off a copy of the upcoming meals this week. I was able to locate the nutrition facts calculator on your website, which is very helpful in keeping within my caloric budget for the day.
As you know, I have lost over 250 pounds through diet and exercise, and I have a following of over 1,000 people on Facebook in addition to my blog readership at http://needlesspounds.com who keep close tabs on me and my eating decisions. I share my successes and my failures very candidly in both writing and photographs.
I wrote recently on my blog about how my need to stay within my nutritional boundaries will be a challenge while living on UALR’s campus this summer. Here are some relevant links to my blog which reference UALR’s dining services and/or Sodexo:
In a less formal way, I also share my day-to-day food experiences with my personal Facebook network, which is about half the size of my blog readership. Most recently, I posted photos of today’s meal at which I only ate iceberg lettuce and broccoli.
(You might have to be logged into Facebook to view that link)
My general meal pattern is 3 ounces of a lean protein such as grilled or baked chicken, fish, or pork; 1/2 – 1 cup of non-starchy vegetables, preferably steamed, roasted, or otherwise prepared with no extra fats; and a complex carbohydrate such as a whole wheat bread, brown or wild rice, or beans. The system I use is referred to as the Diabetic Exchange System. Here’s a link to a page that gives examples of foods and their appropriate portions for the system:
Looking at Friday’s lunch, I’m having difficulty locating a lean protein. I see that there are burger patties, fried fish, and “Buffalo Meltdown,” which your own website shows to contain 57 grams of fat. In an entire day, I only eat 30-40 grams of fat. For a non-starchy vegetable, I see that you have summer squash and carrot medley. Can you verify what type of cooking preparation is used and whether or not oils, butters, or other fats will be added? Finally, I’m looking for a complex carbohydrate. Simple starches like the roasted potatoes, fried potatoes, and white bread which “turn to
sugar” are a concern for me.
In the past two weeks, I have spent over $100 on groceries to supplement the meals at which I didn’t find the nutritious options I require and that I would hope we would be offering to the children while their parents entrust them to us. Although I had great
expectations after our initial meal of pork roast, steamed vegetables, etc., I was let down to find that most days are more like this coming Friday than not. With the exception of next week, I will be with you for the greater part of July.
You and the entire crew have always taken good care of me, and I appreciate that. Please excuse the tone I used this afternoon when venting my frustration about not finding the foods I had hoped to find on the menu. A few days of eating canned tuna can
make a person irritable. I hope this letter better explains the situation that I’m in, the types of foods that I’m allowed, and my frustration today.
Again, I am very glad to be back with you this summer, and I hope you’ll forgive my crankiness.
The catering manager passed my concerns along to the executive chef who very kindly offered to ensure that my needs were taken care of. Additionally, he shared with me that he, too, has been on a similar weight loss journey. I found it very refreshing to be able to discuss dietary needs with someone not only professionally trained in cuisine, but also who has personal experience with the effort and dedication it takes to reach and maintain a healthy weight through diet and exercise.
Chef P. prepared grilled chicken with quinoa for me which I paired with the salad (which included more greens), and the cauliflower that was part of the regular meal. The servers warned me that the cauliflower was prepared with butter, but I picked it up anyway. After one bit, I put it back down. Unbeknownst to me, the chef had prepared me a unseasoned portion, which he personally brought out to me. Such a pleasant surprise!
My next UALR Sodexo meal was Cajun Swai with Barley and Steamed Broccoli. I had never had swai or barley, but they were both absolutely delicious. So flavorful and perfectly cooked, in fact, that I went immediately to my computer to write the catering manager another email.
I wanted to take a moment to thank you so much for putting me in contact with Chef P. He and I have been in frequent contact by email, and he has done a wonderful job identifying and delivering alternatives which are perfectly-suited to my mealtime restrictions. The anxiety and frustration that I voiced to you in my previous email
have been completely rectified through the excellent communication, flexibility, and understanding that you, Chef P., and the entire Sodexo crew have shown me.
I thank the chef daily by email, but if you get a chance, would you pass along in person how grateful I am to him for his willingness to accommodate my needs? Today’s lunch of Cajun Swai was remarkable not only for its perfect fit for my dietary needs, but also for its delightful flavor. I haven’t opened a can of tuna in days!
Thank you so much for helping me stay on track!
The title of this post is “Holding My Own.” I have managed to hold my own in terms of maintaining my weight loss while being unable to exercise while completing my recovery from surgery. I have managed to hold my own in terms of getting the healthy meals I need. I’ve been holding my own in a lot of dimensions. I haven’t, however, been blogging as actively as I would like to. Sometimes life happens, and things must be prioritized. My campers are safe. My meals are arranged. My bills are paid. My room is clean. My blogging will be sporadic, but I’m still here!
How’s your summer?