Why You Should Marie Kondo Your Kitchen (And The Rest of Your House)

When did Marie Kondo become a verb?  I would say that it happened when her book became the basis of a Netflix series.  Before then, she was just the author of that book about folding your clothes and throwing things away if they didn’t “spark joy.”  I was an early adopter to the KonMari method (yes, that is the official name) after reading Kondo’s book a couple of years ago.  While I didn’t Kondo the entire house it one fell swoop (seriously, I would need to take a leave of absence from my job to do it according to the Kondo specifications), I did do my own clothing – and later, the family books.  I will tell you that my sock drawer, my workout clothing drawer and my pajama drawer are still in tip-top shape.  Once you Kondo, you will never go back. 

 
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Getting the family to buy into this method was a different story.  I have teenagers, remember.  The whole idea of folding anything goes against their nature.  They hid my book on me.  They even hid my label-maker (gasp!)  So, tidying up the shared spaces in our home was going to take some buy-in from my husband and my kids. 

So what drove me to finally Marie Kondo the kitchen?  Well, there were a few driving forces.  First of all, we have limited space and our cupboards, where we store food, were getting very messy.  My dietary issues were really to blame.  I now snack on a lot of different nuts – which means that we had little bags of a lot of different nuts – and that was one big sloppy mess.  And that was all that my 15 year-old-son (Primary Eater of Cheez Its) could see when he opened the cupboard.  He complained that we had no snacks that he liked (because he couldn’t see them behind all my bags of nuts) – and none of us really had any idea of what was in the cupboard or what needed to be replenished.  But the biggest impetus for finally getting my act together in the kitchen? My husband and I were heading out for vacation for six days and my mother was moving in.  Enough said.   So, I followed a lot of organization experts on Instagram and got very inspired.  I ordered some containers from Target.com.  I demanded my label maker back.  And I went to town. 

 
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I found that by taking it one shelf at a time, organizing the kitchen cupboards really was a manageable task.  I ordered some of these small $4 containers from Target, a few medium sized containers for $6, and large containers (for cereal) for $8.  I supplemented with catch-all containers from The Container Store.  Was it an expense?  Yes.  But the containers definitely keep food fresher longer than if they were in their original container.  The biggest benefit, though, is being able to see what you have.  You immediately know what needs replenishing.  I also found that by having everything visible, my son (Mr. Cheez It) started branching out more.  I loved the day that I found him opening up the raisin container to snack on those. 

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Marie Kondo advises that you sort by category (not by area) – however, I find that it really is a mix of both.  Even when I watched the Netflix program, I found that at some point, Marie sent her clients to the kitchen or garage to sort & clean.  (I could only watch one of those, by the way.  When I realized that I was spending my evening watching people cleaning their garage, I thought I had hit a new low in middle age or suburban life – maybe both).  I really like The Container Store for their quick tutorials in how to tackle a problem area – like under the kitchen sink.  These guys truly have figured out some of the best solutions for organizing some annoying spots.  Follow their suggestions and you can do it quickly.

So, should you Marie Kondo your kitchen?  My answer is a resounding “yes.”  Even if you start with a small drawer, one shelf, or just the door of your refrigerator.  You will be amazed at what does not spark joy (or what is out of date) and how much lighter you feel when you unload it from your home.  Also, you only have a few more weeks that you will have any inkling to embark on such an activity.  When the truly nice weather sets in for good, you won’t be Marie Kondo’ing until January 2020.  So, do it now.

Questions?

What Do I Do With My Stuff That No Longer Sparks Joy?                                 

Great Question!  For food that is still in date, consider donating to the Mansfield Food Pantry.  Donations are accepted on Saturdays between 3 – 4 pm.  More information is available here. 

For clothing and other household items, church thrift shops are a good option.  My mother volunteers at her church thrift shop and she tells me that they are getting inundated with donations due to the Marie Kondo effect, so it’s good to check and see what is accepted.  Another forum that I have discovered is the Buy Nothing Project.  There’s Buy Nothing Mansfield or you can find your local neighborhood forum on Facebook.  When I cleaned out musical toys, for example, last fall, I posted them in my neighborhood’s Buy Nothing Project, put them out on the sidewalk, posted a curb alert, and they were picked up by a local parent who could use them – all in seven minutes. 

Chicken Soup for the Cold Soul

When did March become the new January?  Spring (according to the calendar) is a mere ten days away, and here we are, digging out from more weekend snow.  We’ll probably have skiing until the end of April – which is great – but by this time of year, I’m ready to shed my winter coat and gloves and just lighten up already.

There’s no fighting Mother Nature.  We can dress like it’s Spring, and eat like it’s Spring – but guess what?  We’ll freeze.  And so, I’ve settled into making my healthy version of homemade chicken soup until the weather breaks. 

 
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I’ve been making homemade chicken soup for years.  My mother made it.  She learned, I believe, mostly from our Italian relatives, specifically my Uncle Ralph, how to take the leftover bones from a chicken (or turkey, or whatever) and make it into a stock (or broth) which would become the base of your soup.  Fast forward to today, where everyone is trying to add bone broth to their diets for its many benefits (speeds healing, fights inflammation, aids digestion, promotes strong healthy bones) – and I guess my mother was ahead of her time. 

 
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My “healthy” version of chicken soup is really an Italian Wedding Soup with a few twists.  I always start my chicken soup by roasting a whole chicken or four bone-in organic chicken breasts in my clay pot.  Wait – what’s a clay pot, you might be asking.  Well, if you don’t know, it’s definitely time to find out.  A clay pot roaster is just that – a roasting pan, made of clay.  The bottom is glazed, but the top lid is not.  You soak the top lid in water before roasting, and in the meantime, place your meat, vegetables and spices in the bottom.  Place the whole thing in a cold oven, turn up the heat and the results are amazing.  Everything comes out tender and delicious thanks to the steamy and even-temperature environment of the clay pot. I like to add fresh lemon, thyme and sage to my chicken.  I layer the bottom of the clay pot with lemon slices.  I also stuff the cavity of the chicken with lemon and fresh thyme and sage. I also brush the chicken with melted ghee and lemon zest.

 
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After getting one dinner of roasted chicken out of the clay pot, it’s time to make bone broth.  I reserve the excess chicken for the soup.  Then, I toss the bones in one of my big soup pots.  I cover with cold water, add whole black peppercorn and bring it to a boil.  You may also add vinegar to help leech the minerals from the bones.  Reduce the heat to a simmer.  Cook for at least four hours.  Strain the broth through a sieve to ensure all of the bones and cartilage are removed from the broth. 

From here, the rest is easy! 

Assemble your ingredients:

2 Cups Chicken Breast, cut into bite-sized pieces

4 Carrots, peeled and cut into rounds

4 stalks of celery, trimmed and sliced

2 cups cooked wild rice

1 head escarole, cleaned very well and cut into strips

1 pound lean ground beef, rolled into small meatballs

 

 
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Bring the broth back to a low boil.

Add carrots and celery.  Cook until fork-tender.  Add chicken.  Stir in escarole.  Cook until it turns bright green.

Add meatballs and stir until they are cooked through.

Add rice.

Add kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

 

I just know that one of these days, I’m going to look up from my bowl of chicken soup and see that the snow has melted, the robins have arrived and the trees have budded.  In the meantime, I’m going to stay warm and healthy.  And I hope you do too!

 

For more on how to make bone broth:  Dr. Mercola’s Recipe For Bone Broth

For a clay pot roaster:  Williams Sonoma Romertopf Cookware

In Their Words: Sheehan’s Nutrition Transformation Graduates

Last Fall, Tom & LeAnna Sheehan launched their first 6-week Nutritional Transformation program.  This was a group of 10 participants who re-set their eating strategies with guidance, meal plans, a weekly meeting, coaching, support, macro-counting, and on-line food journaling.  Together, this first group lost a total of 146 pounds and 81 inches.  Participants from that first group (which finished up in November) report that they have kept their weight off.  Tom and LeAnna ran another group in November with similar results.  They will soon open up registration for their March Nutritional Transformation program, which they limit to only ten participants in order to provide all the participants with due attention. 

I had the unique opportunity to catch up with several of the Fall and November program graduates and they are a truly inspirational group of people.  While they all joined the program for different reasons, they all came out feeling better, they all learned something, and everyone lost weight.  I would also note that everyone struggled at some point during the transformation process.  But what resonated through my on-line chats and emails with the Nutrition Peeps was the “tremendous support” they received through their process.

 
Dr. Diana Perry

Dr. Diana Perry

 

Dr. Diana Perry, a Boston-area physician and mother of two teenagers.  “I have spent my entire life putting everyone else’s health and well-being before that of my own.  It was Tom & LeAnna who expressed to me the importance of taking care of myself so that I can be there for my children and my patients.”  Diana explains that the program itself is straightforward and easy.  For Diana, who lost 40 pounds during last fall’s program, the nutritional transformation was an individual spiritual journey as well.  “Those were 40 pounds of fat, sadness and negativity and I have kept it off.  I replaced that unwanted weight and sadness with muscle and pure happiness to my core.”

 
Vicki Kane

Vicki Kane

 

Vicki Kane, an avid exerciser and already-healthy eater (mostly Paleo) was stuck.  “I had some health issues for the past 2 ½ years and the weight wasn’t coming off as easily anymore.  I had heard of the Keto diet and wanted to learn more, but quite frankly, I wanted someone to tell me what to do.  I didn’t want to spend the time doing the research.”  She joined the Sheehan Nutrition Transformation Program and lost 15.4 pounds!  So what did Vicki do differently? She learned about hidden carbs in foods, which helped explain why her body wasn’t responding the way she wanted it to.  She cut out alcohol - which was hard – but it’s a sugar.  Like Diana, Vicki graduated from the program a few months ago – and yet, she’s maintaining her weight loss.  “Eating out and social situations can be tough on the program, but I figured out the best restaurants for staying on track and suggest those when meeting friends out.  Also, I don’t mind having a seltzer in a cocktail situation.  If I do have alcohol, I make it a vodka with seltzer or an espresso martini without the Bailey’s.”

 
Rick Studholme

Rick Studholme

 

Rick Studholme, joined the Sheehan Nutrition Transformation Program when he felt he needed a re-start.  “I had fallen on some old bad habits.  I was snacking and slowly that started to add the pounds back on.  Work and life had become so hectic that I had lost my focus on my nutrition.  This program was a good way to jump start my weight loss right before the holidays.” Rick cut out sugars and processed foods – and of course, the snacks.  He focused on eating one main meal a day.  He also learned meal planning strategies and techniques.  Rick commented on the weekly support group, “Many are feeling the same things you are.  It is uplifting to talk and hear that.  You are not alone and others are experiencing the same things you are.”  Rick exceeded his weight loss goal by 10 pounds!

 

Pat Donahue joined the Sheehan Nutrition Transformation Program not to lose weight, but just to learn more about nutrition.  “This was just a great opportunity to acquire additional information about nutrition and the impact that foods can have on your body.  While it was not my goal to lose weight, I did lose a few pounds.” Pat cut out occasional snacks.  Pat initially also missed having the occasional glass of wine when going out with friends.  However, she learned some valuable new lessons.  She learned about the importance of having real meals with real food (and how easily they can be prepared) – instead of relying on protein bars.  She also learned how to recognize and count macros – and how to determine their impact on her daily diet. 

One thing that all of the participants resoundingly said was that “YES” – if you are thinking of trying the Sheehan Nutrition Transformation Program, you absolutely should do it!  Whether you are looking for a head to toe, inside/out, spiritual + body journey like Diana, or if “nothing is working and I don’t know why!” anymore – like Vicki.  Or if you’ve slipped back into some habits and you need a kick-start like Rick.  Or perhaps you are looking for some new information, like Pat.  Or perhaps you have a different reason.  What have you got to lose?

Very special thanks to Dr. Diana Perry, Vicki Kane, Rick Studholme, and Pat Donahue for their contributions to this blog post!

Diana in Costa Rica

Diana in Costa Rica

New Year's Aspirations

The New Year is almost here! The days between Christmas and January 1st are fuzzy, aren’t they?  While I love the opportunity to lay low, sleep in, and just get off the relentless treadmill that modern life has become, somehow I emerge feeling not quite refreshed, but rather a little sluggish and well, puffy.  I believe that after six weeks of parties, celebratory eating and drinking, late nights, and frenzied schedules, this sudden and very much needed nap that many of us have the opportunity to take after December 25th, leaves us with aforementioned puffiness.  While some dread the austerity of January, I look forward to the cleansing, lightening and renewal of the first month of the year.

Here are a few little ways to get your New Year off to lighter start:

  •     Bring a healthy dish to that New Year’s Eve party. 

Yup, you still have one last holiday land-mine to get through:  the New Year’s Eve party.  We go to a great bash with neighbors – and I’m bringing this salad that I’ve adapted from Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Table cookbook.  It’s called the Layered Arugula Salad, and while I’ve yet to find the official recipe on any Magnolia site, I do think you can find it on Pinterest.  The beautiful purple that I’ve added are watermelon radishes from my Farmer’s Market.

 
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  • Get outside on New Year’s Day.

The forecast in New England looks amazing for January 1, with high temperatures in the 50s.  Take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and sunshine on that day.  If you like being with other people, why not opt for a community hike.  Here are 10 First Day Hikes being held in Massachusetts on January 1:  https://www.boston.com/travel/travel/2018/12/28/begin-the-new-year-outdoors-with-one-of-these-12-first-day-hikes  If solo hiking is more your thing, there’s plenty of places to go.  Borderland is beautiful right now!

 
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  •     Clean out Christmas.

As soon as you possibly can.  Christmas is over.  Start with any food that is left over.  We have some dark chocolate Hershey kisses that will be going.  And some Italian Pannetone and German Stollen that if not eaten by January 1st will be gone, gone, gone.   But don’t stop with the food.  You will feel lighter once the dried up tree is no longer dropping needles everywhere and the house feels less cluttered with decorations.  You can still keep a winter look with outdoor lights, window candles and a few winter decorations.

  •     De-puff.

There are so many easy ways to start de-puffing!  My favorite is to add lemons to my drinking water.  You can also add cucumber, turmeric, ginger, or mint.  Drink a lot of water.  A lot. 

  •    Consider a Detox.

I like an eating plan that focuses on unprocessed, whole foods.  Cooking Light has been running a New Year’s 3-Day Detox for a few years now.  Sadly, Cooking Light just published their last print magazine last month, but they are continuing with their online version (yay!).  So the 2019 3-Day Detox is alive and well.  Here is a link here: https://www.cookinglight.com/eating-smart/3-day-detox-2019

  •     Set mini-goals.

An extraordinary amount of New Year’s resolutions fail.  Why?  Because they are either too vague – as in I’m going to exercise more!  Or they are too ambitious – as in I’m going to lose 45 pounds! Why not try mini-goals?  Something like, I’m going to reach 10,000 steps per day every day in January.  It’s something you can track with a wearable device.  It’s time-boxed with a beginning and an end.  Or, I’m going to practice yoga every day for 10 minutes a day in January.  These goals can be tiny.  But they can make a big difference. 

 

  •   Commit to Dry January

If you haven’t tried Dry January, I urge you to give it a whirl.  I tried it last year for the first time and it’s a rewarding experience.  OK – I do miss having a glass of wine – especially on Friday night.  And Saturday night.  And at book club.  And I could go on, but I’ll stop.  The point is that we live in a society where alcohol is everywhere.  Try taking one month off.  You will feel better, have more energy, sleep better, feel less puffy, save money, and maybe even lose weight.  If you don’t believe me, see this link on what scientists have to say about the benefits of Dry January: https://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/why-scientists-say-dry-january-is-the-best-way-to-start-2019-off-right/

 

  •      Recommit to Fitness

If holiday plans uprooted your fitness routine, January is the time to recommit to fitness.  Are you getting bored with your routine?  Maybe it’s time to try something new.  If you’ve spent all of your time in the group fitness room at Sheehan, maybe it’s time to go over to the other side and try Personal Training.  Tom & LeAnna are offering a wonderful promotion right now – sign up for 3 months and get your 4th free.  And you get all of your group fitness classes and cardio equipment access as well.  Check it out soon as spaces are filling up quickly:  http://www.sheehantraining.com/jan-2019-personal-training-special/

Happy New Year Everyone!

A Salad for the Holidays

A Salad For The Holidays

And just like that we’re into the chaos of the holiday season!  Our calendar gets booked up with open houses and parties every weekend.  It’s a wonderful time of year – but the festivities and frenzied pace can quickly take their toll on your body and soul if you aren’t careful.  One strategy I’ve put into play for a long time is to bring something plant-based to every gathering.  For my own Thanksgiving last week where we hosted family, I added this Make Ahead Salad from Real Simple Magazine.  I wanted to try it out ahead, so I first made it for a Friendsgiving that we held at my office earlier in the week.  To be honest, the first time I made it I was cursing the editorial staff at Real Simple.  While the ingredient list is rather short (kale, Brussels sprouts, hazelnuts, pomegranate seeds) – each ingredient needs quite a bit of attention.  The hazelnuts need to be roasted and then you need to rub the skin off.  The Brussels sprouts need to be chopped up very finely in a food processor (and I only own a very small food processor). 

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My daughter was helping me de-seed a pomegranate on a Sunday night, way past her bed-time, when she said to me, “You know – you can buy pomegranate seeds already out of the pomegranate.  They come in a plastic container.”

My second making of the salad went so much more smoothly.  What did I do differently?  Well I bought the POM Pomegranate Fresh Arils.  I also bought hazelnuts that were already de-skinned.  They toasted up just as nicely in the oven. 

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This salad is a little bit of effort, but it’s worth it!  At the Friendsgiving, I had several people tell me it was their favorite dish of the event.  One of my colleagues told me that he is an avid meat-eater, but the salad was what he liked the most.  The salad was also a bit hit at Thanksgiving – and it was just in time for the news of the E. coli outbreak linked to Romaine lettuce

A few more benefits of this salad:

·         You can make it ahead – even put some of the dressing on it – because the kale and Brussels sprouts hold up so well.  I made it the night before each event.  Make Ahead Salad is a good name!

·         It holds up for days.  This salad has some serious staying power!  We were able to eat leftovers for a couple of days after. 

·         It adds something green to the table.  So often the holiday spreads are all carbs and butter. 

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·         You can keep it healthy – or add some “celebration.”  The recipe calls for homemade bread crumbs (which I made) – and they smelled amazing.  I’m gluten-free, so I kept them separate from the salad. 

·         It’s not Romaine.  I just had to say it again.  I’m so glad that I didn’t serve my entire office a Romaine salad the week before Thanksgiving. 

We loved this so much, we’ll be making it even after we ring in 2019!

Make Ahead Salad recipe is here.

For more holiday tips, check out my 2017 post, the Twelve Days of Stress-Less Christmas.  There are some good nuggets in there.  I’m pretty sure that if you’ve gotten to the bottom of this post, you are the Knower of All Things in your household and you are already feeling a little bit stressed about the upcoming holiday.

Here’s to a healthy holiday season!

 

Rethinking Eating

Rethinking Eating

It’s officially sweater weather.  My weather app says it is 33 degrees, (brrrr) and we are moving briskly towards Thanksgiving and yet another holiday season.  How did that happen?  At this time, we find ourselves in a lot of situations where we may make less nutritious food choices out of a sense of nostalgia, or even just seasonal routine.  “It’s not a football party unless I have that chili and beer.”  “It’s not Thanksgiving unless I have the turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing and pie.”  “I’m at the movies so I just have to get the movie popcorn.  With butter.  I know it’s not really even butter, but I have to have it!”   “It’s cold, I’m tired of salads. I’m just going to get hot soup every day for lunch.”

Let’s take these one at a time.

Football Food

Living where we do, just a stone’s throw from Gillette Stadium, there’s no escaping weekend football gatherings.  Whether you are a season ticket-holder, tailgating every weekend, or just a casual Patriots fan, you are finding yourself at a football party of some sort.  For me, it was our neighborhood block party.  This year’s theme was football.  There was even a chicken wing contest! But instead of bringing another wing recipe, or another cheesy dip, I decided to make something for a small subset of my neighbors.  There are a few of us who follow a gluten-free diet, (and some other food restrictions) – and I wanted to bring something that we could really dig into (other than the obligatory veggie tray.  So, I came up with this Shrimp Quinoa Salad.  I started with a bag of Trader Joe’s large de-veined, raw shrimp  that I sautéed in coconut oil.  I tossed the shrimp with 3 cups of cooked quinoa, a diced red pepper, a cup of cherry tomatoes (halved), chopped cilantro, lime juice, sea salt, and olive oil.  It was delicious!  And at the party – my Shrimp Quinoa Salad was gone in a flash!  You can eat something more nutritious than traditional football food – and still have a great time.  

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Holidays

I used to buy into the “It’s not <insert special event name>, unless I eat <insert unhealthy food name>”.  On Thanksgiving, I would eat dinner and then have dessert. Then later, I would have a turkey sandwich (on a roll, with cranberry sauce and gulp, mayo) and then, even more dessert.  All in one day!  Did you know that the average American consumes 4500 calories on Thanksgiving?  It’s crazy!  And maybe that would be OK.  Except for some, Thanksgiving is not just a day.  It is the first day of an entire four-day weekend of eating like the day I just described. 

So, as we sprint towards the holiday, let’s remember that Thanksgiving is a meal and not a 4-day eating bender.  Those are LeAnna Sheehan’s words of wisdom and I blogged on them last year at this time.  If you are looking for a way to reframe your thinking on Thanksgiving, check out that post.  And here are a couple of additional tips:

·         Instead of the food, what is it about the holiday that gives you the most pleasure?  How can you emphasize that?  For me, it has been making sure that all my guests have a few moments to privately reflect on gratitude.  I have a “What Are You Thankful For” Jar in a quiet place so that everyone can write words of appreciation.  We share them later – usually after our meal.

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·         Consider adding a salad bar to your holiday menu.  I know, I know – anyone who is hosting the holidays is going to say “WHAT? You want me to make dinner – AND then a salad bar too?”  Let me explain.  My sister first implemented this idea last Easter – and it was fantastic!  We both deal with some food allergies/sensitivities – and so the holidays can be difficult.  If we end up eating something we shouldn’t (lactose, garlic, onion) – we will be miserable for days.  So, when she hosted Easter last year, she made up a salad bar along with her traditional Easter spread.  It really helped those with food allergies and sensitivities to enjoy the holiday right along with everyone else.  And as a regularly very healthy eater, my sister is in the habit of preparing her salad greens, veggies, and protein anyway – so it really wasn’t extra work.  It was so successful, that I did the same when I hosted Mothers’ Day.  If you don’t want to do an entire salad bar, be sure to add a great salad to the Thanksgiving menu, like this one from the Oh She Glows blog.

·         Add activity every day to that 4-day weekend this year.  I remember the first time that I went to an aerobics class on Thanksgiving morning.  It was probably 1995 and I went with my mother and my sister.  It seemed like the most insane thing in the world – to be working out ON Thanksgiving Day.  But now – I couldn’t even imagine not beginning my Thanksgiving Day without a powerful workout in the morning.  Even if you are hosting, it can be scheduled in.  Plan ahead and you can absolutely do it!  Then, skip that Black Friday shopping and plan an outdoor hike on Friday instead.  Plan for one of LeAnna’s BarreMax or Pound classes on Saturday.  On Sunday, try Athletic Stretch if you haven’t yet.  It’s the perfect way to wind down before launching into the next busy season.

Movies

All the best Oscar-contending movies come out at this time of year, and with the early sunsets and colder nights, it’s time to head to the cinema. I’ve been at the movies lately (so many amazing ones out right now!) and it is hard to resist that movie popcorn, isn’t it?  Here’s a fact:  A large AMC popcorn (with butter) has 1030 calories and 41 grams of fat.  Yup.  AMC. That’s exactly where we went to the movies recently.  Loved those seats you can reserve!  I also love the popcorn that I make at home – with a tiny bit of oil, popped on the stovetop.  Then topped with melted ghee and just a pinch of salt.  It’s a little bit of an indulgence, but not even close to those 1030 calories and 41 grams of fat.  And no one has stopped me from sneaking in my homemade popcorn!

Hot Lunch

It’s cold.  You’re cold.  I’m cold.  We might be warm again, in, I don’t know – June!  So, I totally get the natural inclination towards comfort food.  You want something that will stick to your ribs, create a warm glow inside, and give you a feeling of fullness.  A cold salad sitting in the office fridge is not going to do the trick.  Soup becomes a popular choice at this time of year, but you should definitely check the sodium content if you can. 

Instead of soup or a salad, I layer together a bowl (or really a rectangular microwavable dish) that has just as many vegetables, some protein and some grain.  Once heated, my layered dish is a warm medley of fresh flavors – a little different each day, depending on what I add.  Here are some things I typically add:

Grain Base Layer: Quinoa, Polenta, Brown Rice

Protein:  Chick Peas, Goat Cheese, Pumpkin Seeds, Hemp Seeds, Chia Seeds, Chopped Cashews, Shrimp, Scallops

Vegetables:  Kale, Grilled Eggplant, Bok Choy, Grilled Summer Squash, Grilled Zucchini, Roasted Butternut Squash, Halved Grape Tomatoes

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The tomatoes, cheese, and some kind of nut or seed are the key to making this dish feel hearty and homey.  I’m not typically a huge fan of the microwave as a kitchen appliance (uneven heating!) but in this case, it really does the trick of turning your basic ingredients into a warm and satisfying dish.  Experiment with some layered dishes and I promise you, you’ll find some favorites that will get you through some cold, dark days.

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Before Microwaving After Microwaving

 

At this time of year, nostalgia plays a big role.  Do we cling to old behaviors when faced with cold weather and a harsher climate? It’s wonderful to practice time-honored traditions and customs.  But it’s by opening ourselves up to new practices and new ways of thinking that we move on and grow. 

Quinoa For Breakfast?

The feel of fall is definitely in the air.  And while I am always so sad to see the summer go, there is so much that is beautiful about the fall too.  Those first few crisp autumn mornings make me crave a warm breakfast.  Oats are something I can no longer have, due to food sensitivities, so I’ve been exploring some alternate grains for breakfast.  I was so excited to find I Heart Keenwah toasted quinoa flakes.  I originally found these at Roche Bros, but have since spied them at other markets as well.  I Heart Keenwah has some other quinoa snack products too.  What do I love about I Heart Keenwah Organic Hot Cereal the most?  They have only one ingredient!  That’s right.  Just one.  Toasted quinoa flakes.  I have used them as a substitute in recipes too, in place of bread crumbs. 

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To prepare this delicious bowl of yummy warm goodness, I heated hazelnut milk to a simmer.  You could also use water, regular milk or any other plant-based milk.  I stirred in a half cup of toasted quinoa flakes and cooked them for two minutes, stirring occasionally.  That’s it!

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Chances are good that your Saturdays are like mine – busier than the weekdays!  I like to get a workout in early (barre with LeAnna is the best!) and then fuel up with a power-packed breakfast.  To this hot cereal, I stirred in cashew butter (yum!), and then topped it with fresh blueberries and chia seeds.  My other favorite stir-in is pumpkin seed butter.  And I’ve also topped with fresh raspberries, chopped pecans and hemp seeds.

The most amazing thing about this cereal is how sweet it tastes – even if you stir in nothing at all!  Toasting the quinoa somehow brings out the best in this grain. 

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When you shop at a grocery store, you have to sift through a lot of products to find a gem like this one.  The typical grocery store houses somewhere between 35,000 and 47,000 products on their shelves.  And every year lists are published, such as Best New Products of the Year.  But how cool would it be to have a list of the Best Products with 3 Ingredients or Less? Products that are not just nutrition juggernauts, but that taste great too.  Like Erehorn Corn Flakes.  Just two ingredients in that cereal.  Two!  Organically grown corn and sea salt.  Compare that to the ingredients on a well-known other brand of corn flakes:  milled corn, sugar, malt flavor, contains 2% or less of salt. bht added to packaging for freshness. vitamins and minerals: iron, vitamin c (sodium ascorbate, ascorbic acid), niacinamide, vitamin b6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride), vitamin b2 (riboflavin), vitamin b (thiamin hydrochloride), vitamin a palmitate, folic acid, vitamin d, vitamin b12.  The well-known brand has added sugar and the controversial additive bht. 

 

The Power of Planning

As summer has shifted into fall and we’ve all returned to a more brisk pace with busy schedules and routines, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon in my hometown.  As I drive my daughter home from swim team practice, often at dinner time or much later than that, the line of cars at Wendy’s seems to be growing longer and longer.  I get it.  Parents are out of time.  They have dealt with long commutes and then evenings spent driving kids to sports, lessons, tutoring, volunteering, CCD, you name it.  Wendy’s is an easy and quick solution to dinner when time is of the essence. 

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At the risk of sounding a wee bit smug, I have been inside of Wendy’s in Mansfield only once in the eighteen years that I’ve lived in this town.  It was when my children were pre-school age and one of them needed to use the restroom and could not wait the six more minutes for us to get to our house.  I did have a year when I succumbed to the McDonald’s happy meal fix (with apples, not fries) for my children, once a week when they were about five and three years old.  I remember that on Thursdays we went from day care to swim lessons to another sports class.  What’s a mom to do?

Fast forward ten years and you would never see that happen in our house now. What changed?  Gosh – so much!  I invested a lot in my own (and my family’s) nutritional well-being by educating myself, by dedicating time to planning and shopping and by spending more time in the kitchen.  I also involved my kids in planning, cooking and in trying new foods.  I had the great fortune (just at that time when I was swinging through the Mickey D’s drive through once a week) of working for NuVal, a fantastic start-up which created a scientifically-based nutritional scoring system that we implemented in supermarkets, hospitals and schools. 

One night as I drove by the long Wendy’s line, snaking out of the parking lot and spilling onto the main road, I asked myself, if there was one thing that changed to keep you from being in that line tonight, what was it?  After all, I’ve had a day.  I’ve done two soul-crushing commutes, raced into the house with just enough time to change into comfy clothes, and have now driven my daughter to a late team practice and back.  We’re now getting home for dinner after 8 pm.  Why are we not in the Wendy’s line?  Planning.  You’ve got to plan.  There’s no getting around it.  And you need to devote some time to the process.  But in the end, it will save you time and you will eat more nutritiously.


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Here’s our method that we’ve developed over time:

·        Plan your meals for the week:  Set aside a time every week that works for you.  I promise – you will come to enjoy it.  My husband and I do this Saturday morning over coffee.  We look at the week ahead – and all the activities that are going on during the upcoming week.  Extra busy nights call for a slow cooker meal.  You also might take other factors into consideration when menu planning (what’s on sale, what’s in season, what makes great leftovers).

·        Create tools that work for you – or find tools that do!  We have created a shopping list (old school style – in Excel) that we can print out and use for weekly shopping.  However, we also use Cozi.  I LOVE Cozi’s shopping list feature as I can create lists for different stores I go to (I even have one for Sephora) and when I’m shopping I can check things off as I buy them.  You can download recipes and all the ingredients will appear in the shopping list.  It also has other great features, such as shared calendars, to do lists, and reminders.   Our family would be lost without it.

·        Power cook.  Every person I know who is successful at the healthy eating thing does this.  We spend a few hours each week cooking ahead.  Typically for us, this in on Sunday.  We steam, roast or grill some vegetables.  I make salad.  We make one or two meals ahead so that they can me re-heated or slow-cooked during the week.  Not only does this keep us out of the Wendy’s line, it keeps our lunch bags full of healthy and delicious eats during the week which is much cheaper and more nutritious than eating out all the time.

·        Recycle your menus, but try new stuff too.  Through this menu planning process, we’ve developed a great repertoire of tried and true favorites.  For those, we now have a binder where we keep those recipes (again, old school, but it works).  However, it’s important not to get stuck in a rut, so we do try new stuff.

·        Change it up.  We’ve had weeks when we let the kids plan the menu.  That was interesting!  And when I travel for business out of town, the rest of the family will enjoy a Mom-free night where they don’t have some of my food restrictions.  Let’s just say there is a lot of gluten!

·        Be flexible.  Life happens.  We’ve been known to switch nights, to scratch plans, to just make omelets instead. 

Menu planning, shopping, cooking – it all times time and commitment.  But it is key to healthy living. With a little time and planning, you can eat well all week long. 

What I Eat In a Day – The Weekend Edition

One of my favorite features in People magazine is “What I Eat In a Day.”  You know the one – where celebrities open their kimonos and show you just what they ingest on any given day.  Usually a Registered Dietitian weighs in (pun intended) to tell you how nutritious this famous person’s diet is – and how (if at all) they can improve.  There is usually a total calorie count too.

So, I thought I would take the plunge.

Of course, the day I chose was not exactly a typical day in that it was a very stormy Saturday in August.  I say this because we made a pretty elaborate dinner, we ate in, we had family movie night – it was more like a winter weekend night than summer.  

Breakfast – Veggie Egg Scramble

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This is my After-Saturday-Morning-Barre-Class-With-LeAnna-Breakfast.  To make my veggie egg scramble, I start with 1 Tbsp coconut oil heated in a frying pan and add 2 cups of baby spinach and chopped grape tomatoes.  After these soften, I whisk in 2 beaten eggs and 1 oz. shredded cheddar cheese. Then I just scramble it all together. It’s not as pretty as an omelet.  But I’m all about getting as much spinach in there as I can – so who cares about aesthetics. I enjoy this with a side of fresh blueberries, coffee with almond milk and a big glass of water.  

Lunch – Spinach Strawberry Almond Turmeric Smoothie

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After a late breakfast, I’m not typically hungry until early afternoon.  Also, I’m usually on the go with errands, kids’ sports or activities - or on sunny summer days, beach or pool.  So, I literally eat lunch while driving. This is the opposite of during the week when I eat breakfast while driving.  So, it makes sense that I swap my weekday breakfast for weekend lunch. I have been experimenting with my smoothies to find the right mix for my taste and my stomach.  I love this version that I learned from Kate Scarlata’s new cookbook, The Low FODMAP Diet.  I start with one cup frozen strawberries, ½ cup fresh baby spinach and 1 cup almond milk.  After blending that together, I add in 4 ice cubes and crush those. After that, I blend in 1 Tbsp of almond butter.  I finish by blending in 1 Tbsp of turmeric powder.

Snack – Blue Corn Chips and Wine

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When we get home from errands, I am ready for happy hour.  I am loving these No Salt Added Blue Corn Chips from Garden of Eatin’

Dinner – Pan Seared Salmon with Kale

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Dinner – We typically set aside part of one weekend day to do some “Cooking Ahead” for the upcoming week.  Weekday nights are easy when you open up your fridge and find vegetables already grilled or roasted, chicken already marinating, salad greens already washed.  With the stormy weather, we did these sorts of things on this particular day – and we tried a new recipe. So, on this night, we had Pan-Seared Salmon with Kale (again from Kate Scarlatta’s new cookbook).  For veggie sides, I made a few roasted potatoes (oven roasted with coconut oil and fresh rosemary – my own recipe), grilled eggplant, grilled summer squash and grilled zucchini.

After Dinner Snack – Popcorn!

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Movie Night Snack – With rainy weather still, we settled in for a family movie night which meant popcorn for everyone.  We make ours the old-fashioned way – on the stove with a small amount of oil. It’s crunchy and the perfect complement to the 80s retro movies that we’ve been viewing with the kids.  This night’s was My Cousin Vinny (technically early ‘90s, but felt like the ‘80s).  

Water:  I drink regular water throughout the day.

Dietitian’s Verdict:  I haven’t asked a dietitian to weigh in on this specific day but I have been working with two dietitians over the past few months and both have given me an A+ for my daily eating habits.  They feel like I’m getting enough (more than enough) fruits and vegetables and plenty of protein. I’ve been cautioned to keep an eye on sugar (the wine, the chocolate – which I have cut back on).  

Calorie Count:  I use the Lose It app (which I LOVE!)  It helps me to keep track of what and how much I’m eating, and finds patterns in my eating that are useful to me.  According to Lose It, my day was a little over 1500 calories.

Please weigh in!  What do you eat in a day?  Share your comments and let me know.  I’d love to hear!

 

Spiralize This!

Just in time for the summer harvest of so many fantastic vegetables, I became the very excited owner of a spiralizer.  This was thanks to my sister Julie, who knows me so well. I’ve been a huge fan of zoodles (spiralized zucchini) and all other spiralized veggies (carrots, butternut squash, potatoes, beets), typically buying them at Wegman’s.  Now – when I buy them already in their spiralized state they are expensive. As in $7 for a little tiny package of zoodles. The other problem with buying your veggies already spiralized is they have a shelf life of zero. They get scary-mushy well before their sell-buy date.  

My sister Julie is an avid gardener.  She harvests loads of fresh vegetables all summer long, so it was only natural that she would become a spiralizer-owner early on.  She strongly recommends investing in a quality spiralizer. She gave me the OXO Good Grips Table Top Spiralizer. I was in love at my first spiral!  Like so many OXO products, it did not disappoint. It’s solid. It has great suction and really fastens itself to my counter-top. It’s super-fast. Julie works from home as a Pilates instructor and she spiralizes vegetables in-between clients.  

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Knowing I had my spiralizer, I bought some extra zucchini at Ward’s Berry Farm and put my new gadget to the test.  It was so easy to use, right out of the box. I was able to whip up a fun side dish by sautéing the spiralized zucchini in a teaspoon of olive oil, adding some grape tomatoes, Kalamata olives and a little parmesan cheese.  Delicious!

The OXO Spiralizer goes for about $40 at Bed Bath & Beyond.  I figure it’s worth it considering all I was spending buying pre-packaged spiralized veggies.  I can’t wait to try it out with all the amazing vegetables that we’ll be receiving in our CSA box this summer.  Spiralizers are so popular, there are whole blogs dedicated to spiralizing. Check out the Inspiralized blog for inspiration.

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I highly recommend investing in a quality spiralizer.  It will encourage you to eat more vegetables (always a good thing).  I’m so glad I have one and I’m looking forward for a summer of new recipes!