Lunch at the Office

I have to admit, my least favorite part about living in New York are the inflated prices on almost everything! Since I’ve developed a seemingly good habit of buying fresh produce/food, and like to make my own meals, often the task can be difficult, or at least financially stressful. Determined to stick to it, I’ve had to force myself to figure it out and budget appropriately. Luckily, my favorite part about working in New York is that many companies, including mine (yay!) offer complimentary accounts through which to order lunch. While I recognize how lucky this is for my wallet, it is also still difficult for the human in me who could easily order free pizza, milkshakes, or grilled cheese everyday…especially when this is typical of my friends and colleagues.

I will admit I’ve had the occasional soup and sandwich on those gloomy, rainy days when comfort is required, but for the most part I have been able to get into the habit of rotating my favorite healthy choices throughout the week. The trick was first determining what these choices should be. For a while I just stuck to what I knew – a simple green salad, no cheese, plenty of veggies and a favorite vinegar dressing. Everyone has their own taste and even though I LOVE a good salad, eating the same one five times a week even with variations here and there was bound to become pretty boring. I decided to allow myself to try something new every time I felt this boredom creeping in, however the deal was it had to be something healthy that wouldn’t leave me feeling blegh. To be completely honest, as much as the thought of something greasy or fried sounds good, I truly recognize that me and my body feel much better when I avoid foods like this.

So after several weeks of trying out different places in the city – some forgettable and some life-changing, I finally developed a routine. Delivery in New York can be tough, not just for the unpredictability. I had my first experience speaking out as a dissatisfied customer when one of my favorites continually let me down. I didn’t want to stop eating their food, so I just explained my feelings and they were appreciative of the constructive feedback and even offered me a few additional free meals! Ultimately, though, the biggest challenge when ordering online is being essentially blind to the ingredients/prep behind the food you are eating. Since New York is such a big city and has a lot of random laws when it comes to food service, I found with a little research I could often find allergen and dietary information online. Just as well, every food industry business in the city has a health inspection grade that they are legally required to make public to their would-be customers. I focused on this information, as well as reviews on local directories mentioning quality ingredients and positive experiences to guide me in my journey. While I’m still trying new places every so often, I’ve narrowed my favorites to the following five! They’re all available to order from my corporate account, and I’ve enjoyed eating from these places so much that I’ve ventured to try them all with family and friends on the weekends, too.

Hu Kitchen
Definitely my favorite of the few – Hu Kitchen is, by design, “food for humans.”
 Most of their menu is made from organic ingredients, and all of their offerings are gluten free, dairy free, and soy free, plus contain no GMOs, cane sugar, canola oil, bread fillers, preservatives, or emulsifiers. Literally. Their entire menu. It’s so easy to order from Hu knowing I can even add a brownie or other chocolate goodie for dessert and not feel weighed down. My favorite is definitely their 1/4 garlic rotisserie chicken meal option – it comes with your choice of two sides. I usually choose as Cashew Milk Pineapple, and Roasted Sweet Potatoes, but the photo to the right shows their mixed green salad instead of the tates. Yum. Yum. Yum!

Chop’T
If I’m being completely honest, Chop’t is probably my FAVORITE place to order from meal-wise, but I almost never get exactly what I order. To be fair I have to add a lot of additional instructions when ordering from Chop’t because their menu, while pretty easy to work-around, is organized in a way that is not super allergen friendly. My go-to order is their “first-time favorite” Chicken Tinga salad. The pre-made ingredients include spicy chicken tinga, cotija cheese, tortilla strips, kale and broccoleaf, with green onions and wild quinoa. I don’t like raw kale, so I ask for their “Chop’t Lettuce Blend” instead, which includes a mix of greens like spinach and mesclun (my favorite!). I also always omit the cheese and tortilla, plus add apples and dried cranberries. The dressing really makes the taste – referred to as Mexican Goddess, it’s a spicy + creamy blend that sets all the tastes on fire, literally!

Hummus & Pita Co.
For some reason still unbeknownst to me, I didn’t discover Hummus & Pita until way too late in life. I mean, I’ve always loved hummus, but I really had never had Mediterranean food at all until moving to NYC, and now that I’ve had H&P I don’t think that falafel I had from a street cart in Union Square last summer really counts. It’s really easy to avoid gluten and dairy at Hummus & Pita, too, other than a whole-wheat pita for stuffing. But of course, this isn’t necessary if you just want the goods. As long as you don’t opt for cheese, and choose a spice-based sauce – a platter or bowl meal is super filling and super light on the gut! A typical order for me would include Gyro or Chicken Taboon as my meat. I prefer Gyro because I eat a lot of chicken elsewhere, and I sometimes feel the Taboon is a little fatty comparatively. I love their Israeli Couscous and always get extra! The rest of my “fill its” come in the form of white pickled cabbage, grilled eggplant, mixed vegetables, or just spicy carrots. I then top with fresh tomatoes and their homemade blend of chimichurri. It’s always such a large serving of food and so reasonably priced for Manhattan – this is the place from my list I most often find myself ordering from outside the work week.

Just Salad
Just Salad has a forever one-up on Chop’t because of their ability to accommodate your fantasy salad with premium ingredients included in the base price of creating your own salad. For example, adding those apples and cranberries at Chop’t is a pretty penny compared to Just Salad where I can throw in the same, plus sweet potatoes, double chicken, and an extra dressing all for the same price. Just Salad falls behind Chop’t for me because their allergen information isn’t available online so I remain a little skeptical about their ingredients. All the same, a salad is still a salad, which isn’t something worse than a salad…so I’ll keep it in rotation

Muscle Maker
Last but definitely not least is the lil hidden gem of Muscle Maker. While they don’t seem to work too hard toward marketing themselves as an all around healthy, “no-frill,” all clean eats type of place, that’s exactly what they are. I can get plain grilled chicken with plain grilled vegetables – no oils, no butter, just salt and pepper, and the servings are enormous! I like ordering from MM when I know I’m really hungry and my body just needs what it needs. This is also a great spot that didn’t require I do a lot of research into before ordering because of how everything is just described as “plain,” which I would take any day over added ingredients or fillers!

Overnight Oats

I make overnight oats almost every day! It’s so easy for a quick and healthy breakfast, and the best part for me – I can usually get away with prepping the entire thing at my office using ingredients I can keep in our staff kitchen!

The necessary ingredients really come down to your personal preference! Of course you’ll need some type of oatmeal then just your favorite milk, flavoring, a source of protein (if you want), and fruit of choice! My recipe varies from time to time, depending on what I have available. (Added: I had to really make some changes during my elimination diet). I almost always use Almond Milk, but recently have tried homemade Cashew Milk, too! Both are great, in my opinion, but I sometimes find I like the taste of Cashew Milk better. For flavor I typically turn to cinnamon, vanilla extract, or honey, and while I rarely use peanut butter, it’s certainly an appropriate substitute for those who aren’t a fan of almond butter.  You can always add more than one of these depending on what you like! When it comes to added protein, this of course isn’t mandatory. I like to make sure I’m getting a lot of protein in my breakfast because I typically do a heavy workout in the mornings. I like adding a half scoop of my protein powder or Hemp seeds. Keep in mind, you can also trust you are getting protein from a nut butter or milk! 🙂

Add all your ingredients into a container (mason jars are my go-to!), and make sure it’s mixed well. Throw it in the fridge before going to bed and in the morning, add your fruit of choice on top and you’re good to go! It’s that easy! You don’t have to leave it for a super long time, but it also doesn’t hurt to leave it longer. I have prepped mine for as little as four hours, and have even saved a large batch I couldn’t finish for the following day. Allowing ample time for the oats to soak in the milk is what makes them soft and delicious, as if you had boiled them like quick oats.

The serving size is adjustable depending on your personal preference, as well. I usually can finish an entire 8oz jar with a full banana and bunch of blueberries, but I know many of my friends have mentioned they like a smaller serving. Keep in mind the oats soak up the liquid and added ingredients, so even as you are preparing them, it may seems they are well nourished, but it’s not a bad idea to add a little extra milk to ensure everything stays covered in the container. I sometimes even splash more milk on top with the fruit! My standard recipe is below, which is gluten free and vegan – Happy exploring! 🙂

Overnight Oats:

3/4 C Oats
1 tbsp Almond Butter
1/2 tsp Honey
1/2 tsp Chia Seeds
3 tbsp Hemp seeds
1/8 tsp Cinnamon
3/4 C (or more) Milk
Banana, Blueberry, Raspberry for topping

Crying in the Steamroom

Today didn’t feel like hump-day: making it to Wednesday is supposed to be a triumph. I finally made it to my first yoga class since my injury. The doctor told me i could go back to the gym on Monday, but there was a laundry emergency, and last night I had a doctors appointment. If it were up to me I would have been back on the mat last week. I was honestly proud of myself for resisting the urge just to stretch! But I wanted to heal, and I knew I needed to be patient for that to happen. So I was patient. I even tacked on a couple additional days, and I set my alarm last night for 5:15am: excited, and relieved as if I knew moving again would make me feel so much better!

I woke before my alarm went off, and at first I couldn’t figure out why. I laid in bed for a few minutes but then sprang up to get ready for class, and it was as if all at once I got hit with a ton of bricks – directly over my left shoulder. I felt pressure and pain, searing and stabbing in places I’d never felt pain before. I knew it was this injury though; it was letting me know it was still there. I got dressed anyway, powered through my morning routine, and even had time to whip up a piece of peanut butter toast on my way out the door. Nothing was keeping me home from he gym another day. By the time I made it to class, I had considered at least a dozen times already to just go back home. I didn’t get a seat on the train and was knocked the whole ten minute commute. I must’ve been nervous because I somehow worked up a sweat as I was preparing to settle into a comfortable seat. Long story short, I realized only after a loose few downward facing dogs that I needed to stop. The first one hurt like hell, but I held it with strength. The second one hurt worse than the first and I had to bend to readjust my arms after only one breath. Finally, on my third attempt to meet in an otherwise familiar position, my body said no mas. I collapsed to my knees and fought back tears.

“I’ve never been here,” I thought to myself, “I’ve never struggled like this with yoga.” Of course, I’ve struggled with learning a new posture, or meditating after a long day, or being able to remove my long day from my practice. But to me, all of those struggles are learning struggles. I love learning more and more ways in which I can optimize my practice. I’m so obsessed with it all, that those struggles aren’t struggles to me. They’re me developing my passion. Of course it’s no easy feat, and so I don’t expect it to be. In fact, I prefer when it isn’t. But this struggle is different. I’m not in control of it and I finally realized it. When I hit the mat today, it hit me. And I felt hopeless, and lost.

I spent the rest of the class landing in child’s pose anytime a posture required the support of my arms or hands, and I directed my body very slowly and very mindfully between any postures that’s didn’t. As I moved, I breathed. I was so angry. I moved a little more, and I breathed a little more. I was so frustrated. More moving and more breathing, but when it was time to transition to savasana, it was certainly time to lie down. I knew lying down would be risky, as this injury affects the muscle used to sit up, but I didn’t care at the moment. It was exactly what I needed, and it felt amazing.

I realized after class (crying in the steam room), that I was being selfish. I wanted to go back to work so badly, and I wanted to push through the class, despite the pain. My body didn’t want those things. My body was enjoying the rest and needed more of it. That’s why laying down was the best part of the class this morning. It was when my body finally chilled out for a second, and in turn, I felt super relaxed. My body was even yelling at me for waking up earlier than I have been. I didn’t hear a thing because I was listening to whatever was going on in my head, which was “I’ll be fine,” and “I can’t wait!”

It can be extremely frustrating not being in control, especially when it’s something like your body. I don’t want to stay away from the gym, but I do want to be able to work out again and feel healthy. So I have to take the backseat. It’s been less than a day, and I’m already stressed about it, but I know it’s for the best. My first-favorite yoga instructor was from Australia and had the best non-Australian accent and the best mantra: “listen to your body.” He used to say it between every posture. Literally, every other breath. I always felt as if I was listening, but maybe she’s never been as loud as she was today.