CAMBRIDGE, N.S. - An hour before suppertime Bernie Oickle pulls a home-cooked meal out of his well-stocked cooler and drops it in his lunchbox, which he plugs into his '05 Freightliner's cigarette lig...
RECIPE FOR SUCCESS: Bernie Oikle enjoys a home-cooked meal prepared by his wife Joyce. Oikle's diet has helped him lose 27 lbs and he maintains the weight loss by bringing healthy meals with him on trips.
CAMBRIDGE, N.S. – An hour before suppertime Bernie Oickle pulls a home-cooked meal out of his well-stocked cooler and drops it in his lunchbox, which he plugs into his ’05 Freightliner’s cigarette lighter.
By the time his stomach calls out for food, his hot healthy meal is ready to eat.
After two years of dining on salads, fruit, his wife Joyce’s suppers and other good food they pack every Tuesday before he hits the road for David Brown United Ltd., in Cambridge, Nova Scotia, Oickle has lost 27 pounds.
He also has total control over his salt, fat and cholesterol intake – three insults that the trucker body needs far less of than usually get slapped down in front of it at mealtime. And the frosting on the cake, so to speak, is that he saves an estimated $5,400 a year in restaurant bills.
A trucker for 31 years, Oickle knows the usual road routine: All-you-can-eat sausage and eggs breakfasts, all day without a meal, the roach coach food – “Bacon sandwiches with lots of butter on the toast. Don’t you like those?” he asks.
Or, instead of supper in the city, the rush to beat the traffic: “A lot of guys boot’er out of Toronto, drive as far as Belleville and eat a monstrous supper. They eat all that grease. Then they drive 10 miles further and go to sleep,” he says.
Joyce, who sometimes travelled with him in the States in his cross-border days, recalls the food and the all-you-can-eat feeding frenzies.
“Everything down there is saturated with fat. Always bacon, eggs, grits. Some of the guys would make three or four trips to the buffet – not a word of a lie. And you had to pay extra for the milk. You never got whole-grained bread in those days. And they put icing sugar on everything down south.”
Oikle always did have fruit and peanut butter and crackers on-board to tide him over and ease the junk food temptations, but the sudden death of Joyce’s sister from a heart attack in the middle of a church service and Oikle’s own expanding waistline signalled that change had to come.
“Our lives changed drastically after my sister dropped dead. I realized I would have to change and Bernie is the type of person who could change,” Joyce recalls. Oikle adds, “We would go away on vacation and I would say, ‘I gotta get into some of these clothes.’ We were going away to Greece and I said, ‘Holy jumpins, I gotta do something here. Shorts don’t fit.'”
Still, Oikle was not an instant convert.
“I don’t think I was negative. I sort of just passed it off for awhile. You know. Chips. It is in the back of your mind that you shouldn’t eat this trash. I think I was like everybody, saying, ‘I’ll lose a few pounds,’ make yourself feel good. But my wife had to change, because of the cholesterol, and that got us talking about changing. I think I gotta give the credit to my wife. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have done it, period.”
Most truckers never compare notes on food or talk about their weight or diets, according to Oikle.
“For most people (the motivation for changing) is being cost-conscious on the road. For many that would probably be the first concern. You are not going to hear a lot about tofu in truckers’ vocabulary. It doesn’t go any further than talk.”
Fortunately, Joyce knows a lot about good eating. Her cooking style was already good, like not eating prepared food, not using salt and giving Oikle the choice of adding cream or butter to his mashed potatoes. She also was not bashful about telling him, “Bernie, you need to lose some weight too.”
Now fast-forward to any week in the last two years: Oikle needs food for a four-day, Tuesday to Saturday run between Nova Scotia and Ontario.
For his breakfasts, Bernie stocks the cupboard in his sleeper with boxes of cereal, and Joyce packs bowls of pre-cut fruit, like oranges, grapefruit and grapes, maybe with a bit of orange juice added.
Bananas, which go brown too quickly to be pre-cut, are to be eaten separately.
Breakfast is the one meal that Oikle occasionally tires of.
“Once in awhile it is nice to get into a restaurant and see some people and eat a big greasy meal. But I feel like hell afterward. It tastes good, but you don’t feel too good,” he confesses. Most of the time however, he orders porridge and poached eggs.
For lunch (dinner for them Nova Scotianers) Oikle and Joyce prepare four Tupperware containers (tried and true technology, Joyce notes) of salad, each of which begins as a base of at least two cups of pre-washed salad and some mushrooms and baby carrots.
At meal time Oikle doctors up the salad with a hard-boiled egg (he takes a ration of four every week) he peels and slices up, baggies of sliced cucumbers and tomatoes and maybe some cheese and cut-up roast or pork chops, also stored separately. He uses fat-free dressing or rice vinegar.
“I can eat a lot of salads before I get tired of them,” he says.
During the week Joyce cooks a few more veggies and meat than she needs for her suppers, packs the extra, with a half-cup of noodles or brown rice in tin trays she buys at the Dollar Store and stores them in the freezer.
On departure day Bernie picks out four suppers; the choice ranges from bean and ham, fish, roast beef, roast pork, turkey, pork chops or even lasagne, his favourite, in any given week.
Not everything works though. Cream of chicken soup with the veggies was axed, and potatoes, in addition to being a rather pointless food, do not freeze well.
For desserts or the odd snack Bernie likes fruit or yogurt.
“You never get tired of low-fat peach yogurt. Throw a little fruit in that and you get a nice sweet dessert and low calories.”
Oikle stays away from bread now, and has given up his gallon-or-so of orange juice (too much useless sugar) a week in favour of water and fruit – cheaper and healthier.
He does sin occasionally.
“Once in awhile I will hit a vending machine or catering truck for date turnovers. You can’t resist that,” he says. Oikle has a couple of pointers to help a fellow stick to his home meal plan.
“You want something easy to prepare. You don’t want to be in your truck slicing and dicing. You don’t want to be prepping anything.”
And probably the biggest challenge to sticking to a home meal plan is to always have food you can look forward to eating, he adds.
“If you’ve got to eat something you don’t want to eat, it is going to be a drag.”
Variety is really important, adds Joyce, who also counsels, “And when you do get tired of it, take a break. Don’t deprive yourself. Eat that restaurant meal, but eat healthier. Pick the better stuff from the buffet.”