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Yes, you can eat healthy in Manteca

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POSTED May 3, 2014 1:23 a.m.

Manteca, the Family City. I’ve called home since 2009 and wouldn’t trade it for any other city in California. I love it even with the five McDonalds, three Taco Bells and abundance of taquerias, and I don’t mind it, because I learned my lesson years ago. 

I was born and raised in Slovakia, a small land-locked country in the middle of Europe. It was the melting pot of nations and nationalities for centuries, long before the phrase was replaced with today’s multiculturalism. Depending on your family’s origin, you can eat goulash, pierogi, schnitzel or potato dumplings and it was the meal that your mom and grandma used to make every Sunday. I was never too handy in the kitchen and with my aversion to meat I relied heavily on vegetable soups, sandwiches and potatoes. 

After I moved to the USA, I feel like I’m in the Promised Land that never requires cooking or learning to cook. Convenient restaurants at every step! I can just come in and order! I can go to any grocery store and graze through the never-ending isles of frozen food and my dinner will be ready in five minutes! Say goodbye to slaving over a hot stove, say bye to wasting time in the kitchen trying to master the art of making roux.

For two months I lived with my in-laws, until my husband and I got out first apartment. My days were filled with cruising in a car and exploring, eating out and shopping. I lived in shorts, because summer in California lasts until October. We moved out on Nov. 1 and on Nov. 2 I discovered that almost none of my clothes I brought with me from Europe fit me anymore. In two short months I gained 10 (or 15) pounds, mostly from eating out and driving everywhere. I was shocked. What was supposed to be convenience and joy became my sole source of stress. Something had to change. 

So my new American lifestyle lasted less than Kim Kardashian’s marriage.

I started walking everywhere again. Grocery stores, library, post office. It took me considerably longer than driving, but I would have to spend that time in the gym anyway. I cut out fast food and eating out in general. McDonalds was fine up to the point where I couldn’t zip my pants up. The biggest problem was Starbucks. We don’t have Starbucks in Slovakia (and I highly doubt we ever will, if you want Caramel Macchiato or White Chocolate Frappuccino you have to travel to Austria or Czech Republic) and to live right next to one and not to go there every day – ouch. 

I started cooking from scratch, just like my mom always did. Soups, because what can go wrong with water with some vegetables and spices, lots of cauliflower, spinach, casseroles and sauces? In two months, I was 10 pounds lighter and started going to restaurants again. This time more carefully. 

Straw Hat or Round Table buffet? Yes. With a plate full of salad instead of a plate full of pizza, splashed with vinaigrette instead of drowned in thick and creamy blue cheese dressing and only one or two slices of pizza at the end. Applebee’s? Yes. An appetizer to share and only half of the portion of pasta, just because they serve it as one portion it doesn’t mean that I have to eat it in one sitting. I learned to put more vegetables than noodles in my Mongolian barbecue, found a hidden gem of a Thai restaurant at Main and Alameda and excitedly welcomed the addition of Mike’s Coffee, Raw Juicing, Yogurt & Spirits. I learned not to sip calorie-laden sodas and Frappuccinos every day and even though it’s convenient, it’s not necessary to eat out every day. I can imagine several more restaurants in this town, especially on a Friday or Saturday night when the average wait at the mighty trifecta of Applebee’s, Chili’s and Red Robin is more than an hour, but I can comfortably eat out and not worry about the size of my waist or amount of cholesterol in my arteries. 

You can eat a healthy and low-calorie meal at almost any place in Manteca; it just takes a little research. It doesn’t matter what is and isn’t here, but how you make it work for yourself. I did it, and you can do it too. 

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