A Plateful of Kitchen Sense

By Alex Navarro

Eat this. Do that. Don’t eat this. Don’t do that. We’re hearing commands and getting directions all the time on this site, but sometimes it’s a good idea to take a step back and assess what’s actually realistic for your lifestyle, especially when it comes to your relationship with cooking—and that relationship’s interplay with your eating-out habits.

What are you capable of doing in the kitchen? What’s your experience level with cooking? Do you know how to turn on the oven? Would you rather not cook at all?

If you’re following—or planning to follow—either Carb Back-Loading or The Carb Nite Solution, you need the answers to these questions before you start, otherwise you’ll eventually run into some trouble. Obviously, the best way to expand your choices and add variety and creativity to your plan is to cook your own meals at home. That, however, is something a surprising number of people have no idea how to do, despite the preponderance of recipe articles that assume this knowledge in every magazine and on every website.

Here are some things that will help you catch up:

Your Own Kitchen

The first concept you’ll need to master is learning how your oven and stove work, but this doesn’t have to be difficult. I’m a big fan of convection ovens, because they’re fast and easy to cook with if you’re not preparing a huge amount of food. They heat up rapidly, and the cleanup process is a breeze. They toast, they broil, and they’re far more efficient—and less intimidating—than using a conventional oven.

You’ll also be able to save yourself some time, at least with vegetables, if you know how to use a microwave. If you don’t want to steam vegetables, you can do this in a microwave with freezer bags. Punch some holes in the bag and put it in the microwave, and you’ll alleviate the hassle of cleaning up afterward. Either way, the key here is to use as little equipment as possible.

When you’re cooking on the stovetop, you’ll need a large frying pan with a lid—ideally one that seals and won’t let any air escape. Buy a large pan so you can cook more things at once. I’d also suggest purchasing a large pot, a spatula, and a serving spoon. A set of mixing bowls is a nice thing to have in any kitchen if you have the money and the space, but a large bowl will work just as well. I’ll typically mix everything in one bowl, and as things are cooking on the stove, I’ll wash it, then use it again to eat.

Eating Out With Common Sense

Once you can get used to a few modifications in the way you patronize restaurants, eating out gets easier. If I have a place I want to go—or that I know I’ll be going to with others—I’ll always look at the menu ahead of time. A perfect example of this is my favorite pizza place. I’ll order from there all the time, but rarely ever will this entail eating pizza. They make amazing meatballs and sausages, so it’s nice to know, in advance, that I can go to a carb-filled place and still be able to get something I like that fits within my guidelines.

eatingoutIf you’re not sure what’s in a certain dish—like meatballs, which usually contain breadcrumbs—it’s acceptable to call and ask. You’re a potential customer, and they want your business. If there’s something you don’t want, there’s always an alternative option. When you call ahead of time, you’ll already know what you don’t want. Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions, because restaurants are always happy to make modifications if it means keeping your business.

My clients tell me stories about this sort of thing all the time. I train a couple who never cook at home. They move frequently for professional reasons, so their kitchen stuff is usually in boxes—and they’re sometimes in places for such short periods of time that they don’t even bother unpacking. Because of this, they eat out for every single meal, and they’ve essentially mastered the eating-out process. They know what they can and can’t modify within specific dishes on the menus of various restaurants. They were able to do this because they asked, and they rarely experienced a problem when doing so.

Again, restaurants won’t mind if you do this, especially if you’re asking for something simple, like replacing a starch or a carb with a vegetable. Simply say, “I don’t want the rice. Give me some broccoli on the side.” What works about this in terms of CBL and CNS success is the fact that restaurant veggies will more often than not be cooked in butter or oil, so you’ll be getting some extra healthy fat in, too.

The 12-Hour Workday

When you’re working long days without being able to come and go as you please, you have some very basic options that tie into the restaurant modifications I just covered. Let’s say you get to work at 7 AM, take lunch around 1 PM, then train when you get home from work. If this is your schedule, I feel your pain, but this is reality for many people these days. It’s also a prime scenario for Carb Back-Loading.

One of my clients works in a building that has a cafeteria and deli, and he does something interesting for lunch that’s easily repeatable elsewhere. He’ll ask the deli clerk to double the meat, to give him more lettuce, and to leave off the bread. He’ll then throw in some pickles and mustard, cut it up, and eat it with his fork, turning his sandwich into a salad. He varies this by getting different types of meat each day. This makes for a very fast, efficient lunch option. You don’t have to wait for someone to cook it for you, and you don’t have to prepare it yourself. Simply wait in line, get served, and either eat it there or take it back to the office.

Your Workday: Simple Framework

In practice, the workday meal plan would look something like this:

Upon waking: Coffee with heavy cream.

Early lunch? Cut it in half and eat the second half later in the afternoon, or order two servings of the same meal and eat the second one before training.

Late lunch? Have another cup of coffee with heavy cream to tide you over. If you have an office refrigerator, keep heavy cream there for your midday coffee.

Snack (pre-training): Depending on when you’ve had lunch, you can either have your second cup of coffee later in the day, or you can stash a bag of almonds in a drawer and eat a handful before meetings or phone calls.

Training: Follow your session with a post-workout shake.

Home for dinner.

The Quick and Easy Fridge Load

I always keep my refrigerator stocked with Romaine lettuce, spicy Dijon mustard, two different kinds of deli meats, and a variety of cheeses. When I don’t have time to cook and I want something that falls within the guidelines of what I’m allowed to eat, I’ll use this stuff. Lay down the pieces of lettuce, sprinkle them with some mustard, layer the cheese and the meat, then roll it up and eat it. It’s super-easy and super-fast.

delimeatsRegarding deli meats, you’ll want to order from the actual deli department of your supermarket. If you can’t, make certain your packaged cold-cuts aren’t mechanically separated. With chicken, for example, this means they’ll remove all the meat, then take the bones and tendons and everything else and run it all through a sort of sieve—and yes, they actually sell this slurry as “chicken.” Also, be careful regarding the carb count on some of these. With flavored meats like honey ham, there can be extra carbs you don’t want.

The Sensible Back-Load

Your back-loading nights don’t have to entail any excessive preparation, either. I’ve been trying to do two back-loading days per week lately, usually after a heavy lifting day—or after I train a body part I’m really focused on, like my legs or my shoulders. When I’m in control of my back-loading menu, I like to keep it gluten-free and fairly low-fat. Some of the mornings where I look and feel my best are after I’ve had something really simple with dinner, like a sweet potato, or some gluten-free cookies dipped in coconut milk.

On occasion, I’ll also have Cocoa Pebbles with fat-free milk, and I’ll add some liquid egg whites to the milk to get more protein included. Prepackaged rice pudding also works great with back-loading, because it’s an individual cup. You eat it, and it’s gone. You don’t have to worry about it being in the house anymore, and you won’t be tempted to eat it when you’re not supposed to.

Any diet plan is much easier if you simply avoid keeping things in your house that you’re not permitted to have. This way, if you really want something, and you go hunting around your kitchen to see what’s there, you’re forced to eat only what you’re allowed to eat. That’s where knowing how to cook gives you a serious advantage when it comes to sticking to your plan. If you know how to prepare things you like, using ingredients you’re allowed to have, you’re already well on your way to winning the fight.

  • bluprint

    FYI – I’ve toured a plant producing deli meat for a very well known company famous for selling turkeys. If you get sliced turkey from the deli it came from the same slurry.

    They basically form the turkey into a liquid, add a bunch of chemicals (the guy showing me couldn’t explain what all they put in or why) then put it into a plastic bag that’s sealed. These bags go down a conveyor and are kind of flat, like you imagine if they were filled with water. They go directly into an oven and cook (while in the plastic). When they come out the other side, they are done. If you are looking at the large hunk of turkey in a bag at the deli, it was cooked IN that bag.

    They will also produce their “premium” product. The difference is they add a piece of what they call “whole muscle meat”, meaning it’s an actual chunk of meat. So in that product, it’s like a hunk of real meat surrounded by the slurry then all cooked the same way.

    • http://www.facebook.com/alexvictorianavarro Alex Victoria Navarro

      Wow, that’s scary! Thanks for sharing. I guess that’s all the more reason to buy local meat, if and whenever possible. I purchased some amazing meat from a local farm that I got to visit. i got to see the cow, alive first, how it was taken care of and the process that it went through before being delivered to my door. I knew exactly what I was eating, which isn’t the case when buying from a store.

  • Jonathan Blough

    That’s a great point about taking your kitchen habits and cooking style into account. I keep buying potatoes and yams only to have them go bad and get thrown out because I think they’re boring for a carb-nite, I don’t have the patience to cook them if I’m backloading and if I prepare them in advance I’ll eat them when I’m not supposed to.

    I think it’s time for me to just accept that potatoes aren’t part of my diet.

    • http://www.facebook.com/alexvictorianavarro Alex Victoria Navarro

      I’ve had a similar experience and revelation myself. If I’m going to cook, which I love to do but still don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen for hours at a time, I always try out recipes that I know won’t take me longer than 30 min. If it does and I realize that the dish wasn’t satisfying enough for the amount of time I put into it I won’t make it again. or I’ll try to figure out a way to cut down the time. That’s one of the reasons why I post recipes here that are quick, have under 10 steps and taste great!

  • Julie Lacouture

    Alex,
    Thank you for this article. It’s always refreshing to hear the female perspective. I loved the biojacked radio interview Kiefer did for women. i wish it covered more aspects of CNS eating etc. ( it focused more on HIT and fat burning differences.) I know this article was written for everyone; but at the end where you discussed what you eat for carb nite or back loads was insightful. I have been on CNS for almost six weeks and have had some progress but it has been really slow, I am 41% bodyfat so I dont expect to look amazing overnight but I look forward to the changes and its nice to get female specific information. I am always looking for ways to tweak and optimize. You go on FB or the forums and men get amazingly fast results and they have these parades of gluttony for carb nite. I myself can put away a ton of food but question the proper amount to aim for, I am thinking it is drastically less for females. I enjoy listening to the podcasts and have learned a ton about the power lifting world. I would be real excited to hear about optimization for the average Joe and Jane that maybe are trying to just not be fat and be healthy. I really took to heart what Kiefer said about the fact that people are just a lot fatter than they need to be. The mainstream information out there led my astray for years. I am so happy I stumbled upon CNS. I look forward to more articles and information. Thank you.

    • http://www.facebook.com/alexvictorianavarro Alex Victoria Navarro

      Julie, I’m happy to hear that this article and the Biojacked episode was helpful and insightful. It is a learning process and it varies greatly from person to person, especially from men to women, unfair I agree! Keep working with what you know and have learned from paying attention to your own body…that will always be your best guide!

  • tarius729

    Alex, i loooove eating out ;D

  • Alex Fergus

    Great article with some awesome tips. I will be sharing this with some of my Corporate clients for sure!
    heres a few things that work well for me:
    -If you do have some time pottering around at home, roast up some beef. carve it up and leave that in the fridge for the week ahead – your own (grass fed) cold cuts!
    -Limited to fastfood choices for a meal – Hit Subway – get the salad option, double meat, with some avo and bacon, with olives and a bit of Mayo. Theres alot of food in there!
    – And trying to stay Low carb but wanting to take your date out somewhere flash – find a classy Greek restuarant. You’ll be spolied for ULC choice!