Welcome to our program dietitian, Vicki Bovee, and her husband Bill’s healthy lifestyle challenge. Because we can always do better to live a healthier lifestyle Vicki and Bill decided to work on a weekly challenge together to provide support and accountability for each other. Follow along with them as they tackle a variety of challenges to eat better, eat more mindfully, and improve physical health and emotional well-being. Vicki and Bill invite you to participate and accept the challenges to improve your lifestyle too. Some of them may be difficult and please feel free to modify the challenges to accommodate your dietary needs and physical abilities.

Challenge #2–Eliminate cheese eaten as an ingredient.
Did you know that Americans eat three times more cheese now then in 1970? Did you know that cheese is the major source of saturated fat in our diet? How did this happen?
I was born and raised in Wisconsin, America’s Dairyland (that’s the slight accent you hear). Cheese was a condiment, not a staple, in my home. My mom cooked dinner every night and the only things I remember eating with cheese were grilled cheese sandwiches or occasional homemade macaroni and cheese. She didn’t put cheese into every recipe, nor did we snack on cheese or eat it in processed foods.
So how did we come to eat 33 pounds of cheese and fake cheese per person a year? Well, you can thank the food industry and government. Briefly, the government encouraged us to drink nonfat or 1% milk to reduce fat intake and we did. Then the dairy farmers were stuck with a lot of leftover milk fat. Government subsidies bought the excess milk fat and made cheese. Now the government had too much cheese on its hands, so it went to the food manufacturers and asked them to develop foods with cheese and sold them the cheese at a bargain. Cheese became a cheap ingredient to add to processed foods. Just walk down the middle aisles of the grocery store and you will find cheese added to snack foods, frozen foods (chicken nuggets with cheese?), pasta and rice mixes, soups, prepared sauces…. You get the idea. I took the grocery ads from three stores and checked for featured processed foods with added cheese. They averaged almost 10 products per store from frozen pizza to crackers. And that is how we have come to eat so much cheese. (If you want to learn more, read “Salt, Sugar, Fat” by Michael Moss. I highly recommend it.)
Our challenge this week was to eliminate cheese as an ingredient. I have been thinking about this one for months but kept putting it off because of the difficulty. As it turned out, it was much easier than I expected. Bill is not much of a cheese eater, or so he thought.
Saturday, day 1 of our challenge, and we have decided to take a day trip up to the Lake. I knew we would not feel like making dinner and normally a take-out pizza would have been the solution but now this was not an option. We planned our dinner, went shopping the day before, and made a main dish salad when we came back down the hill. Bill still wanted pizza but for the sake of the challenge he ate salad.
My biggest challenge came with my lunches at work. Three days a week I usually bring one of those pre-packaged salad bowls from the produce department. Guess what? They all contain cheese so no salad bowls for me. I checked our freezer and most of the frozen meals included cheese but I did manage to find a couple that were cheese-less. One day I went over to the hospital cafeteria (St. Mary’s has pretty good food) and I found the ladle with au gratin potatoes in my hand. Alarm! Alarm! There is cheese in there! No potatoes for me and it was a trip through the salad bar. And just to show myself I could do it, I didn’t have any string cheese for a snack. I ate more fruits and vegetables for snacks which are much lower in calories (no fat) and are more filling than cheese.
Bill was out of town on business and figured he would have no problem. That was until he went to a restaurant that is famous for its cheese bread. “How am I going to not eat that cheese bread? I may never be here again!” (This is called souvenir eating.) He had them make him garlic bread and he did just fine.
The last night of this challenge I made a chicken Caesar salad for dinner. Oh, to add Parmesan cheese or not? Bill, “I didn’t give up that cheese bread to eat Parmesan on my salad tonight.” It was no Parmesan but since I make my own Caesar dressing the salad was plenty tasty without the cheese (or croutons with more cheese added).
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t eat any cheese but the cheese you do eat should be real cheese and not the stuff in a squirt can, a jar, plastic wrapped slices, or a foil-wrapped loaf in a yellow box . Those products are classified as cheese food or cheese product. When you do eat cheese, eat quality cheese in a small quantity and savor it.
Your challenge this week, should you choose to accept it, is eliminate cheese added to other foods as an ingredient. Your cheese should be eaten by itself and not hidden in other foods.
As for last week’s challenge…I continue to catch myself eating while standing in the kitchen. I’ll keep working on this one.
Stay tuned for next week’s challenge where we both started off grumbling but after two days we were hooked on this change. It looks to be a keeper!
Eat Smarter…
Vicki Bovee, MS, RDN, LD

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The road to success is always under construction. Introduction

Challenge #1 Eat everything sitting down. Week One