Exercise, Lifestyle, Nutrition

Client Spotlight!

Megan steps into WellMom’s client spotlight this week!  Since she started training at the end of last November, she’s increased her self-esteem, energy, and strength.  Oh and I did mention she also shed 25 pounds?

Congratulations on your wonderful accomplishments, Megan!  I look forward to seeing you continue to reach your goals in the months ahead!

Megan  

Mom to Ellie (7) and Jake (4)Megan Kerbs

What motivated you to work with WellMom?  What goals did you have?

I started working with WellMom because I wanted to get back to being the person I used to be. I wanted more energy and to be able to play with my kids without feeling winded or injuring myself.  Some recent medical issues scared me and made me think about my long term health.  I want to live a full and vibrant life but knew that I would need to feel more comfortable in my own skin in order to do this.

Two realizations marked a turning point and caused me to reach out to WellMom.

  1. I discovered just how bad my self image had gotten when my daughter asked if I knew how to swim. She had never seen me in the pool or ocean even though I actually love swimming.
  2. I realized that I avoid being photographed and that this might affect my kids someday. Would they wish they had more photos of me with them when they were young?

What are your accomplishments since working with WellMom?

Since working with WellMom, I have more energy, have lost weight and can run around with my kids more easily. My health has improved and I feel strong and proud of myself.

To what do you attribute those accomplishments?

I attribute my accomplishments to how hard I have worked and how committed I have been to training. Chris made me feel comfortable when I couldn’t do any of the exercises. She listens to me complain the entire workout but never gives up on me.  She has been my non-judgmental cheerleader and has gotten me to a place where I look forward to exercise.

What goals do you have moving forward?

Moving forward, I would like to get even stronger and master some of the more difficult moves Chris has introduced. I would like to lose more weight and would also like to be able to do more push-ups.

What health and wellness advice do you have for other moms based on your personal journey?

I understand just how hard it can be to set aside time for oneself and commit to self-care. I can always think of something else I need to do instead of exercising. I have had to actively ignore that nagging voice and remind myself that this inner chatter is moving me away from my goals. Once I started to see and feel the benefits, the voice has quieted down a bit and I find that I don’t dread exercise as much.

I have tried to set realistic and tangible goals related to something other than the numbers on the scale.  If I only focused on my weight, I would have stopped a long time ago. But seeing my strength increase from week to week has kept me going when the weight loss was uninspiring.

 

Exercise, Lifestyle, Nutrition

Client Spotlight!

These are my favorite posts to do.  🙂  WellMom’s newest client spotlight is Kara M.  We started working together at the end of June.  In less than 5 months, she dropped 25 pounds and drastically increased her energy levels, and she did it in one of the best ways possible: incremental improvements that over time built to sustained lifestyle change.  Her story is nothing less than inspiring.

Kara MMacek headshot

~Mom of Simon (4) and Alden (1)

What motivated you to work with WellMom?  What goals did you have?

I saw a photo of myself at a work event in May while waiting to board a plane home and couldn’t believe how heavy and unhealthy I looked.  I was also feeling really tired and sluggish, but the photo is what really prompted action.  I sent Chris an email from the airport to see if she was accepting new clients.

My original goals were to simply gain strength and energy and to be a better example for my sons.  I wasn’t necessarily looking for huge weight loss or diet changes.  I honestly didn’t realize how much nutrition and healthy eating choices played into Chris’s one-on-one services.  But I am so glad that they do!

What are your accomplishments since working with WellMom?

I have dropped about 25 pounds and gained strength, cardiovascular fitness, and energy.

To what do you attribute those accomplishments?

Macek side - 2017-11-19
…25 pounds less!
Macek side - 2017-07-15
Before…

I largely attribute my accomplishments to having someone to hold me accountable.  I also think that making some realistic, small dietary changes at the beginning and then gradually adding other changes was very helpful.

What goals do you have moving forward?

I would like to carve out time in my schedule to work out at least twice a week (once with Chris and once on my own). On the nutrition front, I want to have a plan for healthy weeknight dinners ahead of time every night to avoid scrambling for something quick (and likely less healthy) when crunched for time.

What health and wellness advice do you have for other moms based on your personal journey?

Take it one step at a time and don’t beat yourself up if you slip every so often.  Old habits diet hard, and it can take time to make lasting changes.  Be mindful about whatever you eat and notice your mental state when you eat it.  Stop and listen to what your body is telling you.  Are you actually hungry or just snacking because food is there?  It’s hard to be mindful when we are constantly juggling the competing demands of work and family life, but it really helps.

Exercise, Lifestyle, Nutrition

Client Spotlight!

Today’s client spotlight lost 47 pounds.  That’s the weight of your average first or second grader.

Rashawn is actually my “client” spotlight because she’s not a client at all – she’s my nanny.  Beyond modeling healthy behavior and allowing her to pick my brain from time to time, I played no role in her success.  She did it all on her own.

Client or not, Rashawn deserves some time in the spotlight.  Over the past 16 months, I’ve witnessed her completely transform herself through dedication, determination, and patience.  She succeeded above all because she recognized that a diet is a way of life – not something we go “on” and “off.”  I am so proud of Rashawn and grateful for the opportunity to share her story with you.


 Rashawn B

~Nanny Extraordinaire

What motivated you to make an improvement to your lifestyle? What goals did you have?

My motivation came from one day stepping on the scale and seeing it read 225 pounds.  I was 28 at the time and told myself, “you have carried this weight around since high school; getting weight off after 30 is much harder.”  With those thoughts, I made a goal to lose 30 lbs (minimum) and fit into a size 10 before my 30th birthday (Aug 28, 2017).

What are your accomplishments since pursuing those goals?

Since May 2016, I have lost 47 pounds (from 225 pounds to 178 pounds) and achieved better control of my exercise and eating habits.

To what do you attribute those accomplishments?

In the beginning, I did not enjoy the thought of exercise, and I lacked the motivation to get it done.  I decided, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it on my terms.  I love to dance, so I purchased dance DVDs and made a goal to exercise 3-4 times per week. I also made a goal to eliminate 1 bad habit a month.  The first habit I eliminated was drinking juice and soda.  I swapped these beverages for flat and sparkling flavored water (without aspartame). Then I eliminated red meats and fast foods and tried new low carb recipes (thanks to Chris and Pinterest).   After a month of the dance tapes, I found that I lost 10 pounds and had energy that was once lost.  Following the DVDs, I purchased a Fitbit watch, began walking a lot more, and joined a gym.  I focused on cardio and core workouts and using elliptical and ab machines. As I continued to familiarize myself in the routine of working out, I also began to make monthly challenges, such as no artificial sugars and no caffeine.  Months later, I began juicing and adding them into my regular diet. Each challenge started out hard, but as I continued the process, I began to feel mentally stronger, physically happy in my results, and more and more confident in myself as I gladly swapped my size 16 for a size 10!

What goals do you have moving forward? 

Going forward, I will continue to build my strength by working out and making more challenges for myself.  I have committed to a lifestyle change of healthy eating and exercise.  Overall, I desire to be confident, happy and live a long fulfilling life.

What health and wellness advice do you have for other women based on your personal journey?

It’s never too late and anything is possible.   Diving into lifestyle changes takes time.  Start slow, eliminate one bad habit at a time and replace it with a healthy one.  If exercise seems intimidating, start with your diet.  Good food choices will provide so much more energy – you’re going to want to get up and move!  Next, find time to get outdoors.  A nice walk and fresh air does wonders!! Lastly, do something you love and challenge yourself. You’re capable of more than you think. There will be bad days, but that is never a reason to quit.  Tomorrow is always a perfect day to start over.  Just make sure you start!

Rashawn before and after.jpg
Rashawn lost 9 inches from her waist, 5 inches from her hips, and dropped 6 dress sizes!

 

Exercise, Lifestyle, Nutrition

Client Spotlight!

I am so excited to announce WellMom’s new Client Spotlight!  Brittany Y became a WellMom client in December 2015, soon after the birth of her third child.  Over the past year and a half, Brittany has made AMAZING strides on both physical and emotional levels.  Physically she improved the shape of her body and gained strength and energy.  Emotionally she experienced boosts to her self confidence and improved her body image.  Brittany’s story offers great insight for others, so read on!  And make sure you read all the way to the end – it has the best part!

Brittany Y

Brittany
December 2015: 38 second plank and 15 push-ups
May 2017: 3 minute plank and 27 pushups!

~ Mom of Isabelle (5), Sophie (4), and Ernest (19 months)

What motivated you to start working with WellMom?  What goals did you have?

I met Chris at Clarendon Day.  I remember she had Lily (her youngest daughter) with her and she was engaging people as they walked by her booth. I was not looking for a personal trainer at the time, but after talking with her I felt she had some interesting ideas of how to help me meet my fitness goals. Her website was comprehensive and it was clear she was knowledgeable and passionate about health and wellness, plus her flexibly to do in-home training convinced me to try WellMom. Originally my goals were to strengthen my back, help improve running endurance, close my stomach muscle split after my third baby, lose 10 pounds, and increase muscle tone.

What are your accomplishments since working with WellMom?

I am so much stronger! It has been empowering seeing myself meeting and exceeding specific weight training and strength training targets. My back is so much stronger; I don’t ache as much as I did picking up my kids. My endurance and energy levels are higher. The muscle split in my stomach is gone. While losing 10 pounds was originally part of the goal, and while I did lose some weight, as I saw my body shape change for the better and my clothes fit more comfortably for the first time ever I didn’t really care about the scale numbers. I think if you have ever struggled with body image being able to embrace strength and health regardless of your ideal weight can sometimes be a difficult and uphill mental battle. I felt like Chris helped me so much with this piece of my overall health and wellness.

To what do you attribute those accomplishments?

Regular training, defining specific goals, having someone who knows how to coach you to meet those goals.

What goals do you have moving forward?

Maintaining my current strength level and finding other areas of my life that could be made healthier, nothing radical just improvements like reducing (not eliminating) my daily sugar intake. Perhaps aiming for a 4-minute plank, just kidding, well kind of :).

What insights have you gained on this journey that might help other moms?

If you find time to take care of yourself physically and emotionally you will value yourself and your time more and that will make you a stronger, happier individual and Mom.  Sometimes this requires asking a spouse, friend, or family member for help or may mean hiring a babysitter or a trainer like Chris. If your kids see you taking a little time each week to take care of your health they will value their own health more and it helps to give you individuality in their eyes beyond being Mom.

Exercise, Lifestyle, Nutrition

Client Spotlight!

Wishing you all a Happy New Year with the announcement of another Client Spotlight!  Alissa G became a WellMom client in late October 2016 with the goal of dropping 11 pounds, and today she is just one pound shy of that goal!  Read on and learn more about Alissa and her accomplishments.   Awesome job, Alissa!  Looking forward to working with you to knock off that last pound!

Alissa G

~ Mom of two, ages 6 and 4

alissa-with-head-2
Alissa wanted to remain anonymous. I say she’s a convincing Giselle. 🙂 #excusemypoorphotoeditingskills

What motivated you to start working with WellMom?  What goals did you have?

I was motivated to start working with WellMom because I couldn’t seem to lose that last 10 pounds after having my youngest. I also noticed that with age it was getting more difficult to lose the weight. My goal was to feel better about my body and increase my energy level.

What are your accomplishments since working with WellMom?

I am close to my weight loss goal while doing so during Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I was proud that I could refrain from indulging in my favorite holiday goodies. I have also noticed I have more tone to my muscles and problem areas.

To what do you attribute those accomplishments?

I have become more conscious of what I am eating based on the meal plan and tracking program that Chris and I developed for my journey.  I have also increased my workouts per week.

What goals do you have moving forward?

My future goals are to continue building strength, muscle and positive energy.

What insights have you gained on this journey that might help other moms?

My personal experience through this journey has made me realize how much I missed working out, which not only keeps my body fit but my mind fit as well. I am happier overall because I carved out an hour of time to myself 3-4 times a week to exercise.

Exercise, Lifestyle, Nutrition

Client Spotlight!

I’m proud to put the spotlight on WellMom client, Kristen D!  Kristen started working with me in July and lost 10 pounds in just 8 weeks!  Her weight continues to fall, and she’s developing the body shape she desires as she simultaneously gains strength. Keep reading to learn more about Kristen and her accomplishments.  She also has some great advice for other moms there.  Way to go, Kristen!  

Kristen D

~ Mom to Dominic, 3 years, and Damien, 10 months

kristen-degischer
“My best advice is to make time for yourself…[and] to be kind to yourself.”
What motivated you to start working with WellMom? What goals did you have?

I became motivated to start working out with WellMom when my second son turned 8 months old.  I was done breastfeeding, back to work, and dissatisfied with my weight and fitness level.  I wanted to lose 10 pounds, fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes, and change my eating habits.

What are your accomplishments since working with WellMom?

Since working with WellMom, I achieved my 10 pound weight loss goal and am back in those pre-pregnancy clothes!  Importantly, I have gained core strength and overall stamina.  I have also made meal-planning and prep part of my lifestyle so that I am not scrambling to come up with dinner ideas and resorting to take-out or frozen foods.  I feel more satisfied eating whole foods and saving splurges for something truly worthwhile.  Chris really guided me through this process.  She was always accessible via text, which made it so easy.

To what do you attribute those accomplishments?

I could not have reached these goals without Chris’s support!  Every week I knew that we would meet and discuss my weight loss.  This accountability helped me reach for healthy food choices and get in my workouts.  I also really appreciate that she tailored workouts to my needs.  I can do the circuits that she designs for me at home or at the gym, so I really have no excuse not to work out.  The exercises are also both challenging and fun!

What goals do you have moving forward?

I have set a new weight loss goal, with a continued emphasis on core strength, glute shaping (!), and overall fat loss.  I also hope to continue building on the good eating habits I’ve established.

kristen-after
After losing 8 lbs (and she kept losing)!
kristen-before
Before

What health and wellness advice do you have for other moms based on your personal journey?

My best advice is to make time for yourself.  I am a much better mom, wife, and friend when I feel good about myself.  Part of that is physical fitness and a healthy weight.  I am so glad that I sought out personal training to jump start a new health journey as the mom of two young kids.  I would also say to be kind to yourself.  Perfection is not the goal!  Rather, feeling strong and energetic are the best rewards.  Well, that, and fitting into your old jeans 🙂

 

Lifestyle, Nutrition

Does Eating Well Make You Feel Deprived? Consider a New Perspective

I recently had a check-in call with a nutrition coaching client.  Like many people, she has a sweet tooth that she struggles to keep in check.  In the course of the conversation, she expressed a frustration I often hear from those who are trying to improve their diet and lose fat.  She said something like this:

“When I avoid ‘bad’ foods, I feel like I’m missing out or being deprived of something.”

Let me begin by saying I totally get this.  Let’s pretend you’ve got a five-pound fat loss goal, so you’re trying to watch what you eat.  Like my client, you struggle most when it comes to curbing your intake of sweets.  You have a special weakness for cheesecake.  It’s Fridaycheesecake night, and you find yourself out to dinner with some friends.  Your waiter clears the main course and offers you each a dessert menu.  The house specialty is – you guessed it – New York style cheesecake.  Each of your friends unapologetically orders a slice, and now it’s your turn.

How do you feel?  Um, frustrated, perhaps?  Or in the words of my clients, a little deprived?

Of course you do!  Why do they get to eat the cheesecake when you don’t?!

(Oh, and did I mention that each of your cheesecake-devouring friends is 5’10 and weighs 125 pounds?)

But now let me tell you two things that I told my client that will hopefully change your perspective and your relationship with food.

First, if you really want the cheesecake, order it.  Yes, that’s right.  Your nutrition coach said order the stinkin’ cheesecake.

But there’s a catch:  limit yourself to just a few bites, and send the rest home with one of your friends.  Or offer to share a slice with a friend and again just eat a few bites.

If there is something that you truly love, you are entitled to enjoy it.  You will have a much healthier relationship with food and be more successful at establishing sustainable eating habits.  When most people think of diets, they think of something you go “on” and “off”: I’m on a diet.  But a diet should be a way of life.  If you truly love cheesecake and always deny yourself it, you are all but destined to fail.

So that’s the first point.  Nothing is completely off limits, though certain things should be consumed in small amounts.  How small depends on you and your specific goals.  

The second point requires us to first figure out your PURPOSE for losing the five pounds.  And your purpose is NOT something like, “so I can fit into the jeans I wore in college.”  Your purpose is the REASON you want to fit into those jeans.  It runs deeper.  It’s emotional.

Your purpose might be anything.  For my client it’s about being happier and feeling more confident with her body.

That’s the second point.  When you start feeling deprived, flip your perspective: you are not depriving yourself of cheesecake.  Overindulging in the cheesecake is depriving YOU of achieving your purpose, whether that be confidence, happiness, or something else.  

From experience I can tell you how true this is.  I also used to have quite a sweet tooth, but now I’m rarely tempted by desserts.  When I find myself at parties and can freely pass on the brownies or easily limit myself to just a single cookie, I feel nothing short of liberated.  My heart goes out to friends when I see them struggle to exercise restraint and then, should they succumb to the temptation, be mentally preoccupied with guilt and regret.  Did I arrive at this place overnight?  Of course not.  It took several years of making incremental changes to my diet.  But it did happen.  And it can happen to you too.  To take your first step in getting there, ask yourself, “What’s my purpose?”

 

Nutrition, Pregnancy, Recipes

Sauteed Scallops over Green Lentils

I whipped this up the other day and felt mighty accomplished.

Sauteed sea scallops served over a bed of green lentils mixed with tomatoes and wilted arugula.

So far so good, right?  🙂

I’m willing to pay a bit of premium for things that I consume (is there any more worthy investment than our health?), and I like my foods simply prepared, so that the taste and quality of the ingredients stand out.  If I’m making a salad and it’s summertime, I’m going to the farmer’s market and getting fresh greens, heirloom tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, and maybe some fresh herbs.  Maybe I’ll even get all wild and crazy and toast some pine nuts to add to the mix.  Then I’m tossing it all together with nothing more than a bit of olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper to pull all the flavors together and really make them pop.  I can’t imagine, say, dumping a bunch of ranch dressing on that salad.  If I did that, I might as well just be eating ranch dressing because it’s all I’d taste.

This dish was no exception to that general rule.  When I took my first bite, I tasted only the medley of the fresh ingredients that comprised it.  The spicy arugula.  The sweetness of the tomatoes.  The robust and slightly peppery flavor of the lentils.  The sweet and rich taste of the scallops.

Technique was also important. Scallops are on the pricey side, and there’s nothing worse than splurging on them only to end up with a gross, rubbery mess!  I’ve found that two tricks are key to making sure they turn out just right:

  1. Placing them at room temperature 20-30 minutes before cooking to ensure even cooking.
  2. Ensuring a nice sear by patting them dry with a paper towel before adding them to the saute pan and making sure the oil and pan are nice and hot.

 

And did I mention how super healthy this is?!  I especially recommend the dish for moms-to-be because it has a lot of the goodies that pregnant women need in larger quantities, including omega-3’s, protein, folate, and iron.

Now that I’ve (hopefully!) sold you, let’s eat!

Sauteed Scallops over Green Lentilsscallops

Serves 2

  • 10 ounces sea scallops
  • 1/2 cup dried green lentils
  • 3 cups baby arugula
  • 1 roma tomato, diced
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • salt and pepper


Place lentils in a small pot with 3 cups of water and set burner to high.  Reduce the heat when the water begins to boil and allow the lentils to simmer until desired tenderness, about 30-40 minutes.  Drain any remaining water.

Remove scallops from the refrigerator about ten minutes into cooking the lentils.  Set aside.

While the lentils cook, add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a saute pan placed over medium heat.  Add arugula and garlic and cook until just wilted, about 2 minutes.  Stir in tomatoes, basil, and lemon juice.  Add to drained lentils and stir to combine.

Pat the scallops dry with a paper towel and sprinkle them with salt and pepper.  Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a saute pan (more if surface is NOT nonstick) and place pan over medium-high to high heat, depending on your stovetop.  After pan is hot but not smoking, add scallops.   Allow to cook undisturbed until the scallops have a caramel-colored sear, about 2 minutes.  Gently turn scallops over and cook another 1-2 minutes on the other side.

Divide the lentil mixture evenly onto two plates and top with equal amounts of scallops.

Nutrition, Recipes

Lemon Chicken Roulade

It’s June and time to fire up the grill!  But instead of grilling up plain old burgers and dogs, do something different this week and try out my recipe for Lemon Chicken Roulade!

The fact that you roll up the chicken makes it look impressive, and anything with “roulade” in the name sounds super fancy.  But in fact it’s really pretty easy to make.  The most time consuming part was pitting the cherries.  If that sounds too daunting, feel free to swap them out with dried cherries or another dried fruit.  Though I have to say that I really did like the subtle sweetness of the fresh cherries (plus they’re Rainier – yum!).

I think I’ll skip the commentary today and go straight to the good stuff.  As always, try it out and let me know what you think!

Lemon Chicken Roulade

Serves 2

  • 1 T lemon juiceIMG_0442
  • 1 t lemon zest
  • 4 t olive oil, divided
  • 2 t dried thyme
  • ½ t salt
  • ½ t pepper
  • 2 – 8 ounce boneless skinless chicken breasts, flattened to ½ inch thickness
  • ½ cup rainier cherries (about 8 cherries), pitted and chopped
  • ⅓ cup onion, finely diced
  • 1 t garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 T pine nuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 1 ½ cups packed fresh spinach
  • 3 T Parmesan cheese, grated

In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, lemon zest, 3 teaspoons of the olive oil, thyme, salt, and pepper.  Pour marinade over chicken and refrigerate for four hours, turning once.

Heat remaining teaspoon of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat.  Add onion and saute for three minutes, until onions begin to soften.  Add spinach and cook until spinach wilts, another 1-2 minutes.  Add garlic, cherries, and pine nuts, stirring until the garlic is fragrant, about one minute more.

Preheat grill to 400 degrees.

Remove chicken from marinade. Divide the filling in half and spread evenly over each chicken breast.  Sprinkle 1 ½ tablespoons parmesan cheese over each breast.  Starting from a short end, roll each breast up and secure with toothpicks.

Brush grill grates with oil.  Grill chicken at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes each side.

Nutrition, Recipes

Portobello Pizzas

Happy Monday!  I write with a recipe today: Portobello Pizzas!

It’s another of my gluten-free creations.  Even five years ago I don’t recall hearing much about problems that gluten can cause, and it turns out there’s a reason.  According to research by the Mayo Clinic, celiac disease (an immune reaction to eating gluten that can cause severe abdominal pain and diarrhea) is on the rise, now affecting one in every 100 people.  Even if you don’t have the full-fledged disease, you might still have a sensitivity to gluten, causing you to experience problems like loss of energy, acne, and various gastrointestinal problems.

No one in my family has a gluten problem, but I do try to reduce the amount of wheat in our diets where I can because I find that it’s just too easy to eat the stuff.  It seems to be in absolutely everything.  As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I can’t help but wonder: are more people suffering from gluten problems precisely BECAUSE our consumption is on the rise?  Consider it food for thought.

I must have had this in the back of my mind when I saw the portobello mushrooms because I immediately thought “pizza crust substitute”!   So I combined the mushrooms with caramelized onions, sauteed spinach, tomatoes, and mozzarella to create the recipe you see below.

If you’re looking for a quick weeknight meal, you’re going to need to bypass the caramelized onions.  But if you have some time on your hands, they are SO WORTH IT!  The key to making them properly is “low and slow.”  Like so many other good things in life, they can’t be rushed.  For this recipe, I sweated them out for 35 minutes, but truthfully they could have used another 10 minutes to develop the rich caramel color that gives them their name.  If you don’t have the time to invest in this adventure, DO NOT rush it by cranking up the heat.  You’re destined to brown or burn them.  Go low and slow, and you’ll be rewarded with the sweetest onions you’ve ever tasted.  Ones that are so soft they practically melt in your mouth.  I’m salivating just thinking about it.

If you don’t have the time or patience for this, just substitute the caramelized onions for another favorite pizza topping.

This recipe calls for fresh mozzarella cheese.  It does NOT call for reduced fat or – gasp – fat free cheese.  Like many things food-related, I have strong feelings on this subject:  if you enjoy cheese, you should eat cheese, by which I mean REAL, full fat cheese.  Yes, cheese does have a lot of fat, but we need fat in our diets.  Among other thing, it helps our bodies absorb vitamins and minerals in the foods that we eat.  That said, you shouldn’t go overboard on fat consumption, particularly if you suffer from heart disease or are looking to trim down.  This recipe calls for just 1.5 ounces of mozzarella per serving.  And a serving here is TWO rather large mushrooms.  You will be more satisfied with that 1.5 ounces than with three times the amount of yucky fat free Kraft singles.

I loved the way these turned out!  I had them for lunch, but they’d also be super for entertaining.  You could use baby bellas instead of the larger mushrooms and make fun party appetizers.  🙂

Portobello Pizzas

Serves 2IMG_0497

  • 4 large portobello mushroom caps
  • ⅔ cup canned crushed tomatoes
  • 3 ounces fresh mozzarella (get the good stuff, people!)
  • ½ yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups baby spinach, packed
  • 2 T olive oil, divided
  • salt and pepper

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat.  Add the sliced onions and ½ teaspoon of salt, stirring to coat the onions in the olive oil.  After 2 minutes reduce heat to low.  Allow the onions to sweat for about 35 minutes, stirring every 2-3 minutes to ensure they do not brown. The onions are done when they are quite soft and a light caramel color.

While the onions cook, set the broiler to high.  Gently remove the gills from the mushroom caps with a spoon.  Rinse the mushrooms and pat dry.  Brush the mushrooms with 2 teaspoons of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place the mushrooms on a cookie sheet or shallow baking pan, lined with aluminum foil.  Broil the mushrooms for 6 minutes on each side.  Remove the mushrooms from the pan.

Turn off the broiler and set the oven to 450 degrees.

Heat the remaining teaspoon of olive oil in a saute pan over medium-low heat.  Add the spinach, garlic, and a dash of salt and saute, stirring constantly, until the spinach wilts and the garlic is fragrant (about 2 minutes).

Line another cookie sheet or shallow baking pan with aluminum foil.  Transfer the mushrooms to the pan and layer them with equal amounts of the toppings:  tomatoes, spinach, onions, then cheese.  Bake for 5-7 minutes, until the top of the pizzas just begin to brown.

Nutrition, Recipes

Ingredient Combinations to Make Your Own Recipes

You’re in a cooking rut, making the same things over and over again.  You are bored.  You head to the grocery store to pick up some ingredients for dinner, hoping to make something different this time.  You find yourself in the middle of the produce section, overwhelmed by all the choices, thinking to yourself, “Where do I begin?”

spice drawer
Arial view of my spice drawer. Way more convenient than storing these in a pantry, btw.

Sound familiar?

Lately it seems several friends, family members, and clients keep telling me the same thing: I want to experiment with new foods, but I have no idea WHAT GOES TOGETHER.  I’m ok when I have a recipe that I can follow, but if I find myself in the store without that guidance, I’m at a loss for what to buy.

I used to be the same way.  When I first got into cooking, I was slave to the recipe, following everything to a T, afraid of deviating in the slightest way, lest I screw something up.  Gradually, I started taking a little creative license.  I still used recipes as a starting point but would swap one ingredient for another here, one cooking method for another there.  Now I’ve progressed to the point where I feel confident enough to create recipes on my own.

Today I’m sharing some of my “Go-To” flavor and ingredient combinations.  The lists are by no means exhaustive, but they provide a good starting point, and all of the items complement each other pretty well.  I’ve arranged them in what I like to call “Chipotle style,” where you pick your carbohydrate base, add the veggies you want, heft it up with your protein(s) and healthy fat(s) of choice, then flavor as you prefer.  The nice thing about organizing items this way is the flexibility it affords.  Feel free to omit categories as you like (maybe you’re watching your carb intake and want to skip this one, for instance), and choose as many or as few items from each category as suits you.

And if it STILL seems overwhelming, pick just one ingredient and go from there.  I do this all the time.  Have some avocados in your refrigerator that need to go?   Avocados always get me thinking Mexican, so pick up some black beans, tomatoes, onions, corn, bell peppers, lime, and cilantro.  Dice the veggies, chop the cilantro, and toss everything together in a bowl.  Stir in the lime, maybe a bit of olive oil, and salt and voila!  You have a fresh salad for lunch, with plenty of leftovers for tomorrow.   Looking for a heartier main dish?  How about combining all of the Mexican “flavors” below with some salt and olive oil and using it as a beef marinade?  You could then simply top the meat with sliced avocado or make a guacamole.  The “start with one ingredient” strategy works equally well if you find yourself hankering for something (“Gosh I am REALLY in the mood for some eggplant tonight, but what should I make?”) or want to experiment with a new ingredient (“How do you cook tofu anyway?”).  In the latter case, remember google is your friend.  And don’t be afraid to mess up.  If you destroy the tofu, you can always omit it from the dish.  Or feed it to the dog.  Assuming dogs can eat tofu.  I don’t have a dog, so I’m really not sure.  But you get the picture.

Oh and everything on the lists fits my definition of healthy.  I almost always opt for whole grains over refined ones, so you’ll see brown rice on the list but not white rice.  Fat is critical for good health, but not all fats are created equal.  My lists include those that I use and consider healthy.  I’m also not a vegetarian, so animal proteins make the cut.  I simply suggest that you opt for lean varieties.

Speaking of protein, look closely, and you’ll see that every list has the same protein choices.  This simply reflects my belief that proteins go with just about anything.

So go on!  Step outside your culinary box, and unchain yourself from the recipe!

Mexican

Carbohydrate: brown rice, black beans, pinto beans, corn, whole wheat or corn tortillas, plantains

Vegetable: bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, zucchini, crispy lettuce (e.g. romaine)

Protein: tofu, lean animal proteins (beef, chicken, pork, etc), fish

Healthy fat: avocado

Flavor: cumin, coriander/cilantro, chili powder, paprika, oregano, lime

Asian

Carbohydrate: brown rice, brown rice noodles

Vegetable: snow peas, mushrooms, bell peppers, broccoli, baby corn, green onions, bean sprouts

Protein: tofu, lean animal proteins (beef, chicken, pork, etc), fish

Healthy fat: peanuts or peanut butter, cashews, sesame seeds or oil, coconut oil or milk

Flavor: soy sauce, fish sauce, sriracha, red or green curry paste, lemon, lime, cilantro/coriander, ginger, rice vinegar

Indian

Carbohydrate: brown rice, potatoes, daal/lentils, whole what naan

Vegetable: tomato, okra, french or green beans, eggplant, zucchini, onion

Protein: tofu, lean animal proteins (beef, chicken, pork, etc), fish

Healthy fat: coconut, coconut oil, coconut milk

Flavor: Cilantro/coriander, cumin, garam masala, turmeric, chutney, curry powder, lime, ginger, mustard seed

 

 

 

 

Exercise, Nutrition

Book Recommendation: “The Men’s Health Big Book of Exercises”

Among the resources in my PT library is “The Men’s Health Big Book of Exercises.”  I’m here to tell you why I like it and why you should consider picking up your own copy.

The Book

The lion’s share of this book is the exercises – 619 of them, in fact.  Of the book’s 15 chapters, nine of them pertain to the exercises BBE Coverthemselves, with a separate chapter for various body parts – chest (chapter 4), back (chapter 5), shoulders (chapter 6), etc. Each of these chapters begins with a just-technical-enough description of the muscles involved and corresponding pictures.  The well-illustrated exercises follow with key points on proper form highlighted.

The book also includes chapters that discuss the importance of resistance training, answer common questions about training (e.g. how many reps should I do? what weights should I select?), offer diet and exercise plans, and discuss nutrition.

Why I Like It

My favorite thing about this book are the exercises themselves.  Even with all the resources available online, it’s nice to have a physical book to pick up and leaf through.  I often find myself turning to this book when looking for inspiration for new exercises for my clients, and the illustrations are top notch.

I also think the author strikes the right balance between technicality and simplicity, making it a good resource for BOTH trainers and a more lay audience.  For instance, the rank and file may really appreciate the anatomy material, while more informed readers can probably skip this over.  At the same time, there’s other more detailed material that lay readers may skip over but fitness professionals may really appreciate.

The nutrition chapter has a section entitled, “The Simplest Diet Ever,” which I largely endorse.  Many people struggle with how to eat for fat loss, largely because there’s so much information out there, a lot of which is conflicting.  When working with clients who hope to trim down, I emphasize what I consider the key points, many of which the author outlines in this chapter: eat a lot of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein; eat healthy fats in moderation; reduce your intake of starch and sugars; watch your total caloric consumption.  Certainly the EXECUTION of these principles may still prove daunting, but at least the reader knows where to begin.

A Minor Quibble

Overall, I think this book is great, but there is one change I’d like to see.  Many of the 619 exercises in the book are variations on a more basic move.  The barbell squat, for instance, has ten variations, including wide-stance, front-loaded, and quarter squat.  My issue is that often the author fails to explain WHY someone might want to select one variation over another: are different muscles recruited? does one variation put less stress on certain joints and is therefore better for certain populations?  Is it just about variety?

BBE Cover-close up
Here’s a close-up, in case you’re having trouble following me here.

There’s also a book out there entitled, “The Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises.”  I don’t own this one, but from what I understand, it’s basically the same book, but the language is geared more towards women (more talk of getting “tone” rather than “cut”), and the illustrations contain women performing the exercises.  Personally, I think the author missed the mark here.  I mean, do you see the eye candy on the cover of this book?  I guess we can call that a second quibble.  🙂

All-in-all, this is a great book!  I picked up a cheap used copy online.  And even if you dislike the content, it’s hard to argue with the eye candy.

Nutrition, Recipes

Banana Blueberry Muffins (Sugar- and Gluten-Free)

Whoever said that baking is a science wasn’t kidding.

I learned that the hard way in the process of creating the recipe I’m offering today.  It took me somewhere between six and nine tries (at some point I lost count) to get it right.

I wanted to make a sugar- and gluten-free version of an old favorite: the banana muffin.  I took as my starting point a traditional recipe (read: one with wheat flour and lots of sugar) and brainstormed ways to adapt it.  The problem is, when you change one thing, you risk throwing off the entire recipe.  It’s not like cooking where you can take a lot of creative license with little risk.

The first thing I knew I wanted to do was substitute almond flour for the white wheat flour.  Google told me I could substitute these 1:1 if I increased the leavening agents, but it failed to offer details.  My recipe called for three leavening agents – eggs, baking soda, and baking powder.  Was I to increase one, two, or all three of them?  And by how much?

There were other unanswered questions too.  I planned to entirely remove the sugar, but should I replace it with something?  If so, what, and how much of it?

So I guessed.  And I guessed again, and again, and again. I’ll spare you the gory details of my various attempts and instead illustrate why I went to all the trouble with a side-by-side comparison of calories, macronutrients, and sugars in the revised and original versions of these muffins:

Gluten & Sugar-Free Muffin      Traditional Muffin
Energy 206 cal 293 cal
Total Fat 17.2 grams 26 % DV 14.6 grams 23% DV
Saturated Fat 1.3 grams 6% DV 2.2 grams 11% DV
Protein 5.8 grams 12% DV 3.0 grams 6% DV
Carbohydrates 11.7 grams 4% DV 39.9 grams 13% DV
Fiber 3. 0 grams 12% DV 0.9 grams 4% DV
Sugar 5.3 grams 26.6 grams

If you’re watching your calories, you’re saving almost 100 of them with the sugar- and gluten-free muffin.  Thanks to the almonds, the new muffin offers twice the amount of protein, half the amount of saturated fat, and three times the amount of fiber as the old one.  And while the old muffin has 27 grams of sugar, the new one has only 5 grams, all of which are natural sugars that come from the fruit.

The chart above doesn’t say anything about vitamins and minerals.  If it did, the new muffins would again be the clear winner.  The almond flour is loaded with ‘em, including vitamin E, manganese, magnesium, and copper.  The white flour used in the old muffins is essentially void of all these goodies.

There you have it!  Give the recipe a shot and tell me what you think!

Sugar- and Gluten-free Banana Blueberry Muffins

Makes 8 muffins

  • 1 cup ripe bananas (about 2 medium-sized bananas)muffin
  • 1 egg, divided
  • 3 T canola oil
  • ½ t vanilla
  • 1 ½ cup almond flour, sifted
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 ¼ t baking powder
  • ½ t cinnamon
  • ½ t nutmeg
  • ½ t salt
  • 2/3 cup blueberries
  • 8 baking cups

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line a muffin tin with the baking cups and set aside.

Mash bananas in a medium-sized bowl, using a fork or potato masher.  Mix in egg yolk, oil, and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, blend almond flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Gently add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring just to combine.  Fold in blueberries and egg whites, again stirring just to combine.

Divide batter evenly among the lined muffin cups and bake for 30 minutes.

Nutrition, Recipes

Ode to the Mango: Part II (The Recipe!)

Last Monday I said a yummy mango recipe was headed your way today.  Have you been unable to sleep since then?  Been like a kid counting down the days til Christmas? Okay, so maybe “waiting with bated breath” is an exaggeration, but I do write today with the recipe!  It’s is a little on the fancy side but not terribly challenging to prepare.  I’d say it has an elegant simplicity that is worthy of a special occasion.  Even the name sounds a little fancy: Pepita-crusted Turbot with Avocado Mango Salsa Another Nutritious Meal (and what the heck is a pepita anyway?) If you think you’re unfamiliar with pepitas, you’re probably wrong.  It’s just a fancy (or Mexican) way of saying “pumpkin seeds.”  Pepitas have a lot to offer nutritionally.  One-quarter cup provides 3 grams of fiber (12% DV), 2.7 mg of iron (15% DV), and 9 grams of protein.  If you’re watching your saturated fat intake, keep in mind that pepitas do have a relatively high amount of this.  A serving contains 20% of your saturated fat intake for the day (4 grams), twice as much as peanuts.  But pepitas are also loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which peanuts lack.  Among other things, omega-3 fatty acids reduce triglycerides, decrease blood pressure, and lower your risk of heart disease. Omega-3’s are actually a theme in this recipe.  Not only do the pepitas have them, but so does the avocado, along with vitamins A, C, B6, and E; folate; potassium; and magnesium. Turbot is a mild white fish.  It packs a protein punch while being relatively low in fat and calories.  Each six-ounce serving in this recipe has 162 calories, 27 grams of protein, and five grams of fat, very little of which is saturated. Taken together, this dish provides an excellent balance of micronutrients and explodes with essential vitamins.  It was quick and easy to prepare.  I really liked it, and I hope you do too!

Pepita-crusted Turbot with Avocado Mango Salsa

pepita final
So pretty!

Serves 4

  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 2 ataulfo mangos, diced
  • 1 green onion, diced
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • dash of salt
  • 1/3 cup toasted pepitas, coarsely ground
  • 2 t cumin
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 4 – 6 oz turbot fillets
  • 2 T olive oil

Remove turbot from refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Gently combine salsa ingredients (mango through “dash of salt”) in a medium-sized bowl and set aside. Combine petitas, cumin, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a wide, shallow bowl.  Pat turbot fillets dry with a paper towel.  Brush the olive oil on both sides of the fillets, using a pastry brush. Gently roll the fillets in the pepita crust to coat. Transfer the fillets to a shallow baking pan, lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil.  Bake for 10 minutes, turning halfway through, until the turbot flakes easily with a fork.  Top the fillets with the salsa.

 I simply can't help but throw pictures of Siyona into the blog whenever I have an excuse to do so.  Here's a pic from back in the day.  Avocado was her first food, and she's taking one of her first bites!
I love making excuses to throw pictures of Siyona into the blog. What can I say? I’m her mom. Here’s a pic from back in the day. Avocado was her first food, and she’s taking one of her first bites!

Nutritional Information (per serving)*

  • Energy: 379 calories
  • Total Fat: 21.7 grams (36% DV)
  • Saturated Fat: 4.25 grams (17% DV)
  • Protein: 31.2 grams (62% DV)
  • Carbohydrates: 15.8 grams (5% DV)
  • Fiber: 4.9 grams (20% DV)

*Daily values (DV) are for the general population.  Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding need additional energy, particularly in the form of protein, than non-pregnant, non-breastfeeding women.

Nutrition

Ode to the Mango: Part I

Mmmango.

If you forced me to identify my favorite fruit, it just might be the mango.  Now that Spring has (finally!) arrived, they are piling up in the produce department!

But not just any mango – the Ataulfo mango, also known as the Champagne mango.

In other words, this guy…                       ….not this guy.

Ataulfo tommy atkins

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other guy is the Tommy Atkins.  He’s pretty good too, but he’s nothing like his cousin.  The Tommy Atkins is more fibrousy with stringier flesh.  The Ataulfo has a much creamier texture.

I love mangoes so much that I’m going to devote the next two weeks to them.  Today you get Part I, where we cover the awesomeness of the Ataulfo, and I share some tips on how to unlock their juicy goodness (read: how to cut the darn things). Next week, I’ll share a recipe where you can put those knife-cutting skills to use.

A Nutritional Powerhouse

Mangoes have over 20 different vitamins and minerals, leading some to call them a “superfood.”   Eat just a cup of Ataulfo mango and you’ll get half of your vitamin A intake for the day, 70% of your folate (a B vitamin), and 320% (!!) of your daily requirement of vitamin C.  These are all vital nutrients for a healthy pregnancy, which helps explain why I often see them on lists of foods most recommended for moms-to-be.  Mangoes are relatively high in sugar and calories compared to some other fruits though, so don’t go totally nuts with them, especially if you have a fat loss goal.  To give you a frame of reference, one cup of Ataulfo mango has 110 calories and 18 grams of sugar, while one cup of strawberries has about 50 calories and seven grams of sugar.

But How Do You Get INSIDE?

Last week while lunching with a friend and client, I pulled a mango out of my bag.  She told me she never buys them even though she really likes them.  Why?  Because she doesn’t know the best way to eat them.  Tragedy!  But I get it.  Mangoes certainly aren’t like grapes, strawberries, apples or the myriad of other fruits that you can simply rinse off and enjoy.  Nor are they like bananas or oranges which, even though they have peels, are still pretty darn easy to figure out.

I’ve seen people cut mangoes a few different ways.  Here’s the way that works best for me.

The Ataulfo has a large, flat pit that runs both the length and width (the widest width, if that makes sense!) of the mango.  First, cut the mango in half by running a very sharp knife down either side of the pit like so:

IMG_0361IMG_0366

 

 

 

 

 

Try to get your knife as close as you can to the pit, so you’re left with two very large “cheeks.”  And please, please, please watch your fingers!

Next, simply slice the mango cheeks into pieces by running your knife through the flesh, being careful not to cut through the skin.  Then invert the skin, so mango chunks pop out:

IMG_0369IMG_0365

 

 

 

 

 

To remove the chunks, either run your finger or the knife between the skin and each chunk of fruit.  If you’re just snacking on the mango, you can also just bite the chunks off.  🙂

To be fair, mangoes ARE more work and messier to eat than a lot of other fruits, but they’re not nearly as bad as, say, the pomegranate.  And once you’ve EXPERIENCED the mango and all its sweet, juicy goodness, hopefully you’ll find – as I do – that they are well worth the effort!

That’s all for now.  Tune in again next week when I offer a recipe that features the mango.  You’ve got seven days to stock up!

 

 

 

Kids, Lifestyle, Nutrition, Recipes

Five Make-ahead Healthy Breakfast Ideas

You’re a mom, so by definition you are busy.  And the busier you are, the harder it is make sure you and your family are eating nutritious meals.

A client and friend recently expressed this feeling with regard to breakfast items.  “Do you have any suggestions for fast healthy breakfasts in the morning?” she asked.  She noted that cereal is fast and always popular at her house, but she was looking for “real food’ alternatives that she could pull together in a few minutes in the mornings with minimal clean-up.

What a great question!  Who can deny the allure of placing a pile of Cheerios in front of your child to occupy her while you get ready for work?  And though we might love to make veggie and cheese omelets for the entire family every morning, who has time for that?

Fortunately, there ARE ways to improve your breakfast menu AND still make it to work or drop your kids to school on time.  They do require prep time, but you can do the preparation in advance.  Here are five ideas.

1. Overnight oats.   Instead of cooking your oats, blend them with yogurt, milk, mashed banana, frozen blueberries, cinnamon, salted and roasted almond butter, and some ground chia and/or flax for good measure.  Toss in the fridge before bed, and it’ll be ready to eat in the morning. My palate tells me it lasts a good three days before it starts to lose its integrity, so make a bunch.  I actually thought I invented this one until a friend told me about this “cool new recipe” that she read on some blog.  To my credit, I do make mine differently – and better, obviously 😉 – than the one she read about, but the basic premise is the same. You’re limited only by your imagination with the ingredients, so don’t feel wed to the ones I use.  I make these for myself, but they’d be good for anyone in the family.

2. Plain yogurt and fresh fruit.  Note the word “plain” here.  Yes, you can buy your yogurt with the fruit already inside, but you’re also going to get a lot of added sugar.  Nobody needs that.  Save time in the morning by mixing it all together the night before.  Buy your fruit pre-cut from the grocery store if that helps.  Frozen blueberries also work well.  If you want to take it on the go, invest in some travel containers.   If you’re looking to up your protein intake, eat plain Greek yogurt instead of regular.

Eggs and veggies on plate
…The cheesy broccoli and sliced grape tomatoes rounded out the meal. 🙂
Siyona eating eggs
The frittata can make for a nice lunch too! Here’s Siyona enjoying hers – and the sun (finally!) – on our deck last week…

3. Veggie frittata.  This is one that my toddler eats.  I saute frozen chopped spinach and kale then add that mixture to beaten eggs. I then pour it into an even layer in a frying pan, flip it once, and it’s done. A three-egg frittata lasts me three days.  I use a LOT of greens, referring to the egg as a mere means of binding it all together, but you needn’t be as heavy-handed. 🙂  I think it’s tastiest fresh, but my daughter eats it straight from the fridge with no problem. If you want to really stock up, you could pour the same egg mixture into cupcake tins and make crustless quiches that you freeze.  Then thaw in the fridge the night before you plan to eat one. Cheese would make a tasty addition to these too.

4. Make-ahead oatmeal.  Is it just me, or does instant oatmeal taste gross?  The science behind it mystifies me, since I think instant oatmeal is just pressed more thinly than rolled oats.  Maybe the Quaker people just use gross-tasting oats?  In any case, I know I prefer the taste and texture of the regular rolled oats, and I’ve heard at least some sources say they are nutritionally superior.  If you feel similarly, you can make a huge vat and then freeze individual portions in ziptop bags.  If you do this, definitely freeze them in a very thin layer to expedite future thawing.  You can freeze them plain or as you plan to eat them.  Cinnamon, blueberries, and a touch of salt make nice additions.

5. Hard boiled eggs.  These are so portable!  If you do plan to take these with you and are worried that you won’t have somewhere to put the cracked shells, you can peel them the night before.  People boil these a lot of different ways.  Here’s how I like to make mine:  place the eggs in a pot and cover with water.  Heat on high until water begins to boil.  Lower heat and let the eggs slow boil for one minute.  Remove the pan from the heat, cover the pot, and let them continue cooking for another 12 minutes.  Immediately cool in an ice-water bath (this prevents the yolk from turning gray on the outside) before storing in the fridge.

And if you absolutely MUST have your breakfast cereal (and I’m  not throwing stones here.  I fall into this category), you know there are healthier and more natural choices out there than Lucky Charms, right?  Some brands that get my general approval are Barbara’s, Nature’s Path, and Arrowhead Mills.  I can’t speak for all their varieties, but I know the ones I eat are made with whole grains, have very little added sugar, and have no preservatives.  Check your boxes carefully and abide my general rule of passing on any option with ingredients you can’t pronounce.

Kids, Nutrition

Five Tips for Eating Well When Eating Out: The Toddler Edition

Often you’ll hear people discuss how difficult it can be to eat well when dining out.  This is true not just for us big people, but it’s true for little people too.  So today I thought I’d share some strategies for helping your little ones eat well when a restaurant controls the menu.

I actually think it can be even HARDER for kids than adults to eat healthy meals at restaurant.  A big reason for this is the items you tend to find on children’s menus.  On a recent dinner out, here’s the menu the waitress handed me for my daughter:

  • Beef hot dog with fries
  • Cheeseburger with fries
  • Chicken tenders with fries
  • Cheese or pepperoni pizza
  • Kids pasta with cheese sauce, tomato sauce, or butter

Before I continue, I simply can’t resist the urge to get on my soapbox for a minute.  And it’s my blog, darnit, so I’m climbing up!  All too often I hear people say things like, “Kids don’t eat X,” where “X” is anything healthy and often something green.  And I can’t help but find this a self-fulfilling prophecy: to the extent that this is true, it’s true because we make it true.  When our children first start eating, they eat what we select for them. If they aren’t eating broccoli, it’s because we’re not feeding them broccoli.  If instead we feed them items like you see on the menu above because “that’s what kids like,” then guess what?  That’s what they WILL grow to like and expect.

And the longer we wait to introduce healthy foods to our kids, the harder it becomes to change preferences and behavior. Growing up my conception of vegetables was limited to green beans and corn that you get from a can.  And you know what?  I LOVED canned green beans and corn.  On the rare occasion that a fresh green bean wandered my way, I thought it tasted terrible!  I have a vivid memory from childhood of eating chicken noodle soup over at a friend’s house.  I was expecting Campbell’s and was hugely disappointed when my friend’s mom placed a steaming bowl of homemade soup in front of me.  It had carrots in it.  HUGE chunks of carrots.  I tried one – the first time I think I ate a carrot.  It was disgusting.

Over time my eating habits improved, but it took a LONG time.  At some point during college I started eating vegetables because I wanted to improve my diet.  At first I didn’t like them at all; then I started to tolerate them; and eventually I started to enjoy them.  Now I eat roasted Brussels sprouts like they’re candy.

[Chris steps down from the soap box]

So change IS possible, but we don’t have to make it so hard.  We can start our kids eating well when they are young.  And that takes us back to the issue at hand.  What do we do when menus like the one above greet us at restaurants, as they so often do?  Here are five suggestions.Children's menu

1. Pass on the children’s menu.  The host or hostess will almost surely offer a children’s menu when you arrive.  Glance it over quickly and say, “No thanks,” if it even remotely resembles the one above.

2. Share your entree with your little one.  Ok, so now you’re at the table without a children’s menu, but your little one still needs to eat.  Now what?  For young children who don’t strongly desire their own meals, order something for yourself that you can share with your child.  I often do this with my two year old, Siyona, and she’s perfectly happy to share.  If you’re committed to seeing your child eat well, this can be extra motivation for you to eat well too, which sometimes we need!  Plus, little kids often don’t have the appetite to eat their own meals, so you’re saving money AND avoiding waste.  I die a little inside when I’m dining out and see the server clear away the hardly-touched plate from the toddler sitting at the table next to me.

3. Make healthy side dishes and appetizers your friends.  For slightly older children who really want something of their own and/or for those with slightly larger appetites, order them something but not a full meal.  Now that Siyona is getting a little older, I might share part of my meal with her but also order her a healthy side dish, such as sauteed vegetables or brown rice.  Good choices for a healthy appetizer might be chicken satay, shrimp skewers, or tomato basil mozzarella salad.

4. Reinvent the menu. I will often ask my server to make simple modifications to the menu.  You know how restaurants often have protein “add-ons” to salads, such as grilled chicken or salmon?  Those make a wonderful main dish for a little one, and not once has a server declined this request.  If you see avocado anywhere on the menu, you could ask for a bit of this at a small additional charge.  Same goes for any fruit or vegetable you know is a hit with your child. You can create your own children’s menu by just making simple requests like these.

5. Have something in your back pocket.  Or more specifically, have something in your purse or diaper bag.  I will often bring something simple from home for Siyona to eat as a last resort.  This is useful in cases where the menu options are SUPER scarce, if she needs a little something to fill out her meal, or if she’s just being picky.  (In general, she’s a great eater, but hey, she’s still two. Give her a break).  If you join me for dinner and search my bag, there’s a good chance you’ll find a bag of nuts, some raw veggie slices, plain yogurt, or my (not so) famous oatmeal (I feel like I link to this recipe in every blog post.  But it’s good!  I’m tellin’ ya!). The really nice thing about the nuts is that they take her forever to eat, and they don’t make a mess.  In other words, they keep her entertained for a LONG time.  Who needs crayons?

Some restaurants ARE coming around and offering healthier options for kids, but it never ceases to amaze me how many places still list chicken tenders and fries as the featured kids’ item.  And that’s in the DC-area where you might expect more enlightened thinking.  But at least now you’ve got some tips to make sure your little one is eating well while we wait for the rest of the world to catch up!

Nutrition, Pregnancy, Recipes

I Heart Trader Joe’s – Ten of My “Go To” Items (bonus recipe included)

Today’s post is going out to my longest standing client, Tracy.  During a recent training session, she told me she sometimes asks herself, “What would Chris think of this item?” while shopping at the Trader Joe’s.  She suggested I compile a list of my “go to” Trader Joe items in a WellMom post, and I’m here today to do just that!

Tracy also noted her tendency to pick up too many “snacky” products at the store and not enough “real food.”  I agree that the lure of packaged convenience foods is quite tempting, and by no means do I eat “real food” 100% of the time.  But I do my best to keep processed foods to a minimum, and most of the items below fall into the “real” – or at least “minimally-processed” – category.

I’m a girl who likes a deal, so you’ll notice that a lot of the options below are inexpensive relative to comparable items at other grocery stores.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA1. Salted and roasted creamy almond butter.  I never understood the hype about almond butter until I tried this kind.  I now realize that roasting AND salting is key. The kind I find most often is raw without salt, which tastes stale to me.  And compared to other brands of roasted and salted almond butter, the Trader Joe’s variety wins out in texture too, which is rich and creamy.  It’s also a great value at $7.99 per 16 oz jar.  I’ve seen the same size jar cost twice as much other places!   I blend this into my daughter’s oatmeal, and I like it mixed into plain yogurt along with a bit of mashed banana and cinnamon.  Oh and on a spoon.  I like it on a spoon.  🙂

2. Organic avocados – 4-pack.  These are an awesome deal, coming in at just over a dollar per avocado!  My toddler, Siyona, and I eat avocado basically every day.  I typically dice it and add it to salads or omelets.  Siyona likes it as a stand-alone side dish with her lunch (it was actually her first solid food). The only drawback is that I have a hard time finding ripe ones, so I often have to buy them a few days before I want to eat them.

wild blueberries3. Frozen berries.  Frozen berries are GREAT for mixing into yogurt, smoothies, and oatmeal.  They’re especially nice at this time of the year when you can’t – or shouldn’t? – get fresh ones. One of my favorites are the organic frozen wild blueberries.  They’re smaller than regular blueberries, which I love.  At $3.99 for a 12 ounce bag, it’s hard to find a cheaper organic blueberry anywhere!

4. Grill pack of organic chicken.  The grill pack of organic chicken contains two bone-in chicken breasts and four drumsticks.  I typically don’t grill with these.  Instead I’ll bake the chicken breasts, shred them, then add the meat to a variety of different entrees.  What do I do with the drumsticks, you ask?  Well, a drumstick happens to be the perfect size for Siyona, so I’ll freeze them individually and use as needed.  Comes in handy on nights when my husband and I are going out and I need something to leave home for her.  Bone-in is admittedly more work than the boneless, but I happen to think it tastes a lot better, and I save the bones to make homemade chicken stock. Oh and did I mention it’s only $2.99/lb?  And that’s organic chicken!

5. Organic frozen chopped spinach.  This is such a versatile product.  I put it in everything from smoothies, to eggs, to pastas and stir frys. I’ve even been known to put it in my chicken enchiladas.  It’s a great way to up to veggie content of your favorite dishes!

6. Organic Power to the Greens.  This is Trader Joe’s blend of kale, spinach, and Swiss chard – three dark leafy greens rich in vitamins and minerals.  It’s the base for a lot of my salads.  $2.49.

7. Barbara’s Multigrain Spoonfuls.  Ok, ok.  So this one comes in a box.  Michael Pollen might be ashamed.  Cereal is a notable exception to my general tendency to abide by his mantra, “eat food, not food products.”  I guess you can call it my Achilles heel – I love starting my day with a bowl of it splashed with unsweetened almond milk.  And as far as I’m concerned, there are worse vices, especially when Barbara’s Multigrain Spoonfuls is one of my cereals of choice.  It’s pretty natural as boxed cereals go (read: no icky preservatives) and has only 5 grams of sugar per serving. If you enjoy Quaker Life cereal you will like this one, and your body will thank you for the omission of BHT, Yellow 5, Yellow 6…). And a HUGE 24-ounce box costs me a mere $3.99!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA8. Canned salmon.  Some of you serious seafood eaters might balk at this one, but you’ll almost always find a can of TJ salmon in my pantry.  No, it’s not nearly as tasty as a fresh filet, but I really enjoy it as a salad where I combine the salmon with plain yogurt, kalamata olives, and capers.  If I have lemon on hand, I sometimes add that too.  Trader Joe’s also sells a nice kalamata olive tapenade spread that I sometimes substitute for the capers and olives.  Canned salmon is an economical way to get in those healthy omega-3’s! $2.49.

9. Brown rice and quinoa fusilli.  You’ve got me again.  This one also comes in a box.  Well, a bag actually.  But I’m giving it a pass because it has just two ingredients (I’ll let you guess what they are. Hint: they’re in the name of the product). And while no one in my family has a gluten problem, I happen to think we can all stand to eat a little less wheat.  I have no scientific basis for saying this, but I can’t help but wonder if the rise we’ve seen in gluten allergies is a result of the rise in gluten in our diets.  Someone should fund this study. $2.99.

10. Bagged nuts.  I have four go-to types of nuts at the TJ: roasted and half salted peanuts, roasted and half salted cashews, raw almonds, and raw pine nuts.  Nuts are a great “real food” snack, and we eat the peanuts, cashews, and almonds for that purpose.  I find the half salt a nice compromise – no salt is so bland, but full salt is so salty!  I toast the raw almonds in my toaster oven and eat them warm.  You have to try this!  They’re done when they start to crackle.  They don’t need salt!  I like the pine nuts for my homemade pesto.  I’m including my recipe for that below, just for good measure.  🙂

Basic Pestopesto crop

  • 2 cups basil, packed
  • 1.5 T minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • 1 t crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 t salt
  • ⅔ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ⅔ cup Pecorino Romano cheese,* grated

Combine basil through salt in a large food processor.  While blending the dry ingredients, drizzle in the olive oil until smooth.  Then stir in the cheese.

*Frugal tip: Traditionally pesto is made with Parmesan cheese, but Pecorino Romano is WAAAY cheaper.  The flavors aren’t identical, but with all the other strong flavors in the pesto, my palate can’t detect a difference.

 

Nutrition, Pregnancy, Recipes

Hearty Chicken Sausage Soup

I am very much a warm weather person.  There is basically nothing I like about the winter.  I’m pretty sure my blood is about the consistency of water.  I am always cold!

One coping mechanism that gets me through the long, cold winters is soup.  I used to find them intimidating to make until I realized that there’s really no wrong way to make a soup.  It’s kind of like making a salad.  There really aren’t any rules.

Recently I whipped up this recipe for hearty chicken sausage soup.  I like it for many reasons.  First, I love the in-house sausage sold at the Whole Foods.  I tend to steer clear of most packaged sausages because of the junk that comes along with them (nitrates/nitrates, MSG, propyl gallate — say what?).  But the Whole Foods sausage I buy contains none of these mysterious items.IMG_0411

Second, the recipe contains only “good carbs,” by which I mean beans, legumes, whole grains, and starchy vegetables.  Both the barley and the chickpeas in this recipe are loaded with fiber – important for digestive health and also good for fat loss – and vitamins and minerals.  In fact, I find soups are a great way to experiment with all those good carbs you can find in the bulk bins at the grocery store.  Ever try cooking with wheatberries?  You should!  You could easily swap out the barley for them in this recipe.

Oh and here’s a cook’s tip:  barley and a lot of other whole grains can take a LONG time to cook.  Make a huge batch and then freeze leftovers in smaller portions for future use.  I find that it helps to freeze them in zip-top plastic bags in a thin layer, as the increased surface area makes for faster thawing.

The third thing I like about this recipe is the rainbow chard.  I think I read recently that “chard is the new kale.”  When you look at all it has to offer, the reputation is warranted.  One cup of cooked chard has four grams of dietary fiber (15% DV) and is also a good source of vitamins A, C, and K, among others.  Pregnant women – who need about 50% more iron in their diets than non-pregnant women – should know that a one cup cooked serving offers four milligrams of iron, or 15 percent of their DV (22 percent for non-pregnant women).

Now, I always make my own chicken stock, but I appreciate that I’m a bit of an odd duck when it comes to this sort of thing.  🙂  I really do think it tastes way better than what you buy in a can or carton, but I appreciate the time and effort that goes into making it.  This may spell F-U-N for me, but it won’t for everyone!  So feel free to use what makes most sense for you!

And if you have little ones and you’re worried they won’t eat it, here’s a picture that begs you to reconsider. 🙂

IMG_0407

Hearty Chicken Sausage Soup

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 links Whole Foods made in-house spicy Italian chicken sausage (about 1 – 1 ¼ lb)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 celery stalks, diced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 1 bunch rainbow chard, roughly chopped
  • 6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups barley, cooked
  • 2 cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a stainless steel dutch oven over medium heat.  Slice the sausage into rings, then cut the rings in half.  Add the sausage to the pan and saute until cooked through, about 4-5 minutes.  Remove the sausage from the pain but leave any remnants behind.

Stir in the onion, celery, carrots, and a bit of salt to the pan, scraping the bottom of the pan to free up any sausage remnants. Saute until the vegetables are tender, about 5-10 minutes.  And the rainbow chard and saute until wilted, about 3 minutes.  Mix in the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.  And the chicken stock, barley, and chickpeas.  Stir.  Bring to a low simmer.  Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.  Feel warm and happy.

 

Nutrition, Pregnancy, Recipes

Quinoa Salad (Vegan)

I love salads.  In part because there are no rules.  A salad is the perfect thing to make when you need to clean out your pantry or produce drawer.

Salads are also great if you’re an expectant mom suffering from food aversions because of their flexibility.  Distasteful ingredients can be easily swapped out for others that you find more palatable, if not dropped altogether.  Can’t stomach garbanzo beans?  No worries.  How about cannellini beans or maybe some green lentils?  Mushrooms make your face turn green?  Perhaps some roasted squash is in order instead.

And you know, I actually like to think of food aversions as food opportunities.  When your formerly A-list foods drop to the D-list, pick up something completely new (to you) the next time you’re at the grocery store, and start experimenting with it.  You can even start your experimentation with this recipe!IMG_0249

Speaking of that recipe, the one I’m providing today happens to be vegan, which is perfect for breastfeeding moms with a baby who suffers from a cow’s milk protein intolerance, a common allergy in babies and children.  I actually whipped up this recipe when my own daughter suffered from this allergy, which she (thankfully!) outgrew (See photo to right.  I miss the hair).

And this salad is so nutritious!  It’s packed with kale, which has been hailed as a pregnancy “superfood.”  One cup of it contains over 100% of the recommended daily value of three key antioxidants: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Vitamin K.  Expectant moms suffering from constipation may find relief from its five grams of fiber.  Kale also provides 15 percent of your daily value of calcium per cup.

This dish is also quite high in protein, despite being vegan.  This is especially important for pregnant or breastfeeding moms who struggle to get enough protein in their diets, either because they can’t eat meat or dairy or because they prefer to avoid it.  Owing in large part to the garbanzo beans and quinoa, the dish has 19 total grams of protein, which is 27 percent of the recommended intake for pregnant women and 42 percent of the recommended intake for non-pregnant women.

Shortcuts:  If all the chopping below sounds too arduous, don’t forget you can typically find your veggies pre-diced in the grocery store.  I’m a bit of an odd duck – I find the chopping kind of therapeutic.  🙂  And frozen chopped kale works equally well as fresh.

Quinoa Salad (Vegan)

  • 1 cup cucumber, diced (about 1/2 large or 1 small cucumber)
  • 1 cup red bell pepper, diced (about 1 bell pepper)
  • 3/4 cup green onion, chopped  (about 3 green onions)
  • 3 cups cooked quinoa (1 cup dry)
  • 1 15 oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 4 cups crimini mushrooms, diced (1  1/3 cooked)
  • 2 T olive oil, divided
  • 1 t salt, divided
  • 9 cups kale, chopped
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 4 teaspoons of garlic,divided
  • 1 lemon, juiced and grated
  • 2 T olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Combine cucumber, bell pepper, green onions, cilantro, garbanzo beans, and cooked quinoa in a large bowl.  Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat.  Add mushrooms and half teaspoon of salt and saute for about 10 minutes, until mushrooms shrink to 1/3 their original size.  Add 2 teaspoons of garlic and immediately turn off the heat.  Stir 1 additional minute.  Add to the salad bowl.

Saute kale in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1/4 cup water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt over medium high heat for five minutes, or until desired doneness.  Add 2 teaspoons of garlic and immediately turn off the heat.  Stir 1 additional minute.  Add to the salad bowl.

Stir salad ingredients.  Add lemon juice, lemon zest, and two tablespoons of olive oil.  Stir to combine.  Add additional salt and pepper to taste.  Serve hot, at room temperature, or cold.

IMG_0246

Nutritional Information (per serving)*

  • Energy (calories): 372
  • Total Fat: 4 grams (5% DV)
  • Saturated Fat: 0 grams (0% DV)
  • Carbohydrates: 69 grams (22% DV)
  • Dietary Fiber: 11 grams (52% DV)
  • Protein: 19 grams

*Daily values (DV) are for the general population.  Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding need additional energy, particularly in the form of protein, than non-pregnant, non-breastfeeding women.