“Let food be thy medicine, thy medicine shall be thy food.” – Hippocrates
“Abs are made in the kitchen.”
“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.” – Brillat-Savarin
Good health starts with cooking your own food. It’s near impossible to achieve lasting health, weight, and strength building goals without a little blood sweat and tears in the kitchen (unless you are one of the lucky few who can pay someone to cook for you, and that’s not many of us).
I smile every New Year, as the number one resolution on everyone’s list is to improve their health in some way – eating better, exercising more, smoking and drinking less, etc. Each New Year, we pick out a diet plan that seems to fit our lifestyle, and we go for it whole hog starting January 1. Most people last a few weeks, but the majority of us seem to lose our dedication by the end of the month. Life is just too hectic to stick to a strict plan, a plan that most likely involves more time spent in the kitchen preparing healthy food.
Even without starting a new healthy eating plan, most of us know that to be healthy, we need to eat more fruits and vegetables and eat less sugar, bad fats, and refined and processed foods. But what we don’t always know how to do is COOK those healthy fruits and veggies, good fats, and healthy meats into fabulous meals three times a day. Rather than a new diet plan, what most of us really need is to a) come to the realization that we need to cook for ourselves most of the time and then b) find a strategy to do it while the rest of our life is going on.
Here’s the deal – life will ALWAYS be hectic, everyone is busy and no one wants to spend extra time in the kitchen (unless you are one of those who find it a creative and therapeutic outlet). The bottom line is that it is near impossible to achieve your health goals without cooking your own food. There is simply no other failsafe way to control what goes in your body.
I think it’s interesting how much time we all spend taking care of our exterior bodies – workouts, manicures, pedicures, facials, wraps, eyelashes, hair color, hair cuts, veins zapped, hair removed, botox, injections, and the list goes on. Why don’t we have the same awareness and desire to take care of the inside of our bodies? After all isn’t that what our bodies use for fuel, rebuilding, and repairing, eventually reflected in our outward appearance and also how our bodies function – our energy level, ability to focus, mood stabilization, sleep quality, etc.
While eating fast food and restaurant food might taste good and be convenient, it typically adds excess salt, seasonings, sugar, and unhealthy fats to your diet that you cannot control. And all those packaged convenience foods are also a substandard choice, as the ingredients are not fresh and usually include more salt, sugar, additives, colorings, and preservatives that are not present in a home cooked meal. Even the packages labeled “all natural” or “organic” are a step in the right direction but still include a healthier form of additives, sugar, salt, and still lack the nutrients in fresh food.
Your best bet to improve your overall health for the long term is to start cooking at home. In fact, if you choose one thing to do for yourself to be healthier, let it be preparing your own fresh food. If you are new to cooking or in general just really don’t like it, here are 10 tips that got me started:
1. Be prepared. Set aside time each week to grocery shop. Stock your fridge with fresh fruits, veggies, eggs, and meats, and line your pantry shelves with spices, condiments, oils, and healthy staples like canned coconut milk, canned pumpkin, and frozen berries. I find I do best when I plan to grocery shop at the same time each week. It becomes built into my weekly routine, and I always have healthy food ready to make into meals.
2. Make cooking a priority. Schedule time each day to prepare your meals. Your life will always be busy. Your life will always be hectic. You will always be going through something difficult or distracting. So do not use that as an excuse. In fact, when we are the busiest or having the most difficult time with life is when we need to feed our bodies with the best quality food. It is at those times that we especially need nutrients, so we can stay healthy and strong physically and emotionally.
3. Keep a clean kitchen. Remove the clutter from your counters, and wipe them down morning and night. A clean, uncluttered environment not only gives you the space you need, but it also creates a place of calm and order, which is inviting for cooking.
4. Buy high quality, fresh foods to use in your cooking. Why spend the time in the kitchen if you’re going to cook with a bunch of packages and poor quality ingredients. If you’re looking for shortcuts, buy pre-chopped fruits and veggies in the produce section. Check out the spice section for familiar spice blends to use like curry, chile powder, taco seasoning, Cajun seasoning, etc. Condiments like infused vinegars, mustards, and coconut aminos are an excellent way to make your healthy food taste good. Just remember to look at the label and choose pure spices and condiments without additives.
5. Keep it simple. To begin with, choose recipes with few ingredients and fewer steps that include plenty of vegetables and a little meat and healthy fat. I love easy one-pot meals that combine veggies, a healthy meat, a little healthy fat, and lots of spices to make the meal taste good. If you don’t own a slow cooker or a steamer, invest in one. I use mine daily. I also have super sharp knives so I can prep produce efficiently.
6. Give yourself the freedom to be creative with your meals and the permission to fail. You don’t always have to rely on a recipe with numerous steps. Some of your originals will turn into family favorites while others will not. But taking the pressure off yourself to serve gourmet masterpieces every meal will increase your confidence and enjoyment in the process.
7. Record your favorite recipes as you go. Slowly build weekly meal plans with grocery lists of all the recipes that are hits with your family.
8. Cook in bulk, doubling a recipe so you can eat the leftovers throughout the week or freeze them for next week. I love to look in my fridge and see all the containers of fresh home-cooked food.
9. Have a positive attitude in the kitchen. Be thankful for your food, your kitchen in which to prepare it, and your loved ones with whom you share it. Just like everything else in life, your attitude in approaching it greatly impacts how much you enjoy the experience.
10. Create an atmosphere in the kitchen that inspires you. If you are one who isn’t fond of cooking, make the experience enjoyable. If you are one who has worked all day and just wants to relax, make the experience relaxing. Turn on music, light candles or adjust the lighting, focus on your breathing, use the time to be quiet and think, make yourself a pretty drink in a pretty glass. It doesn’t always have to be wine or a cocktail. My favorite is sparkling water with a couple of raspberries and lime in a stemmed glass. Or use your cooking time to catch up with your loved ones. Get your kids or your spouse in the kitchen with you to help or even just to visit. Put your phone on speaker and catch up with a friend while you prepare your food. Whatever makes the experience a good one for you and helps meet your needs at that moment – do it.
This spaghetti squash with sausage, Brussels sprouts, and apples is one example of a simple meal that I came up with using a variety of fruits, veggies, spices, and a healthy meat option. It has been a repeat meal at our house many times this winter.
Spaghetti squash is a delicious and nutritious alternative to traditional pasta. Roasting a spaghetti squash is almost as easy as baking a potato. Almost. To roast a spaghetti squash, I first need to soften the tough outer exterior by placing it in the oven while the oven is preheating to 400 degrees. Once the oven is preheated, I take out the squash and using a sharp knife, cut through the hard shell to halve the squash. Once cut in half, I scoop out the seeds, rub the insides of each half with a little olive oil, and place both halves cut side up on a parchment lined baking sheet. I roast the squash for about 45 minutes at 400 degrees. I make sure not to over-bake, so the squash doesn’t become mushy.
Next, I prepare the sausage, Brussels sprouts, and apples. I start by quartering the Brussels sprouts, and blanching them in boiling water for about two minutes.
I transfer the Brussels sprouts to an ice bath and let them sit while I chop the onion and apples.
I buy turkey or chicken breakfast sausage from the meat counter at Whole Foods. It’s fresh, and I trust that it is high quality meat. I brown the ground turkey sausage with the onion in a little coconut oil in a large sauté pan until it is no longer pink.
After the turkey sausage is no longer pink, I add the blanched Brussels sprouts and sauté over medium heat for about 7 minutes.
Next, I add the apples, sea salt, and thyme and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes more before lowering the heat to low.
It’s time to remove the spaghetti squash from the oven and fluff the squash “noodles” away from the shell using a fork. I place the squash “noodles” in a bowl and toss with a little olive oil and sea salt. Sometimes I add a little garlic or chile powder for additional flavor.
To serve, I layer the sausage, Brussels sprouts, and apples over the spaghetti squash on each plate. This recipe takes a bit longer and has a few more steps, so I choose a to make this one when I can look forward to spending some time in the kitchen.
- 1 spaghetti squash
- olive oil
- sea salt, to taste
- 1 pound breakfast sausage (I use chicken or turkey)
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 bag Brussels sprouts, quartered
- ½ purple onion, cut into slivers
- 2 apples, cut into slivers
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon thyme
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and place the whole spaghetti squash in the oven while it is preheating.
- After a few minutes, remove the spaghetti squash, cut it in half, and scoop out the seeds.
- Place cut side up on a parchment lined baking sheet, and rub a little olive oil over the inside of the squash.
- Bake for 45 minutes, and then fluff spaghetti squash "noodles" out of the shell with a fork.
- Transfer the "noodles" to a bowl, and toss them with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt to taste.
- Meanwhile, blanch the Brussels sprouts in boiling water for two minutes, and then transfer to an ice bath.
- In a large saute pan, brown the sausage and onion in the coconut oil until no longer pink.
- Add the Brussels sprouts, and saute for about 7 minutes.
- Add the apples, thyme, and sea salt, and saute for 5 minutes more.
- Divide the spaghetti squash onto 4 plates, and top each dish of squash with ¼ of the sausage, Brussels sprouts, and apples mixture.
Boy, October came and went before I had time to blink twice. I always think I am prepared for the frenzy that is fall, but looking back, I never am. The culmination of crazy for my family is always the first weekend of November, as both of my children’s birthdays fall at this time…one day apart.
- November 3rd, 3:42am – Kayley’s 14th birthday
- November 4th, 4:30am – Ben’s 12th birthday
Two years and one day separates them. Wow. I’m always excited but never ready for them to turn another year older. Kayley is frighteningly close to learning to drive – yikes! – and only one more year before we are officially the parents of two teenagers – yikes again!
We’ve tried every which way to celebrate their birthdays so that they each will feel special. And man, when they were small, I would break my back trying to do it. But in the last few years, we’ve settled into a nice tradition that both the birthday girl and birthday boy seem to be happy with. We pick one night for our family to celebrate together (with separate celebrations with friends for each plus a few extra little surprises on their actual days). Most years, our family consists of my parents, my brother, and his girlfriend. The kids pick a location for dinner or a meal for me to make, I bake 2 cakes of their choosing, we sing to them both, and they open their presents together. But this year is the first year we’ve celebrated with just the four of us – grandparents are enjoying two weeks in Italy, and my brother is getting MARRIED in Bora Bora! Congratulations Cam and Brandi! We love you!!
It’s a busy time for our family, and now that the weekend is over, I’m beat. Whenever I start feeling this way, it is time for me to cleanse. I try to detox once every season, and I find that after the whirlwind that is September and October, I have a couple of short down weeks at the beginning of November, after the kids’ birthdays and before Thanksgiving and Christmas festivities begin, when I can hunker down and focus on me. Here are a few of the indications that I need to detox…
- I don’t feel like myself
- I feel tired
- My temper is short for no reason
- I feel overwhelmed
- I’m not sleeping well
- I feel “puffy”
- A little too much sugar (even natural sugar) has seeped into my diet
- My self-control with food is slipping
- We are eating out at restaurants too much
- I just need a good re-boot or re-start to get me back on track
- I need a week to get my life back in order
Cleansing is so much more than just cleaning out my insides. It is a mental and spiritual detox too. After a week of cleansing, I feel like a new person. Not only does my energy bounce back, but I feel really good “in my skin”. I sleep better, and I have a better, more positive outlook on life. When I cleanse, I take time out from EVERYTHING because it is so much more than food; it’s like hitting the reset button on my life. I will fill you in next week on how my week of detoxing goes…
This carrot ginger soup is an example of a meal I will be eating this week. The inspiration came from the Vitamix carrot ginger tofu recipe. I don’t eat tofu, so I made some simple adjustments to the recipe to come up with a comforting winner. And it’s beyond easy to make. I don’t do hard while cleansing. Everything I will be preparing this week will be a breeze.
To start, I soaked a third of a cup of raw cashews in a 5.4 ounce can of Native Forest Coconut Cream in my large Vitamix container. The healthy fat in cashews and coconut helps you absorb the fat soluble carotenoids in the carrots. Plus, fat makes everything taste better, bringing out the natural flavors in the veggies. Most of us grew up fearing the fat, but good fats are not only beneficial for your body, but they are also absolutely necessary for good health, especially brain health as the type of fat in coconuts has been shown to improve cognitive function and memory. In addition, coconuts are packed with vitamins C, E, Bs, and magnesium, potassium, iron, phosphorus, sodium, calcium, and selenium.
While the cashews were soaking in coconut cream, I steamed a one-pound bag of organic baby carrots, a small purple onion (peeled and cut up), and about 8 cloves of garlic (peeled) for about 30 minutes in my George Foreman electric steamer. I love this appliance. I can prepare freshly steamed veggies in minutes. Carrots are naturally sweet vegetables. I choose to steam them over roasting them for this recipe, so less of their natural sugar will caramelize and they won’t be as sweet. The high fiber and nutrient content of carrots makes them a good cleansing food, and the sulfur-rich onion and garlic provide a key component for liver detoxification plus lots of other valuable vitamins, minerals, and flavonoids.
I added 4 cups of chicken broth (either homemade or organic, free range from a box), sea salt, pepper, and about a 1 ½ to 2 inch piece of fresh ginger (peeled and chopped) to the Vitamix with the cashews and coconut cream.
I added the steamed carrots, onion, and garlic to the Vitamix and firmly secured the lid. I placed a towel over the top to avoid getting burned by any splatter and turned on the Vitamix on low first, and then moving to high. I blended the ingredients into a soup for about one minute and then transferred it to a medium saucepan to thoroughly heat the soup over medium heat. I plan to enjoy this carrot ginger soup with a simple green salad.
- 1 pound bag of organic baby carrots
- 1 small purple onion, peeled and cut up
- 8 cloves garlic, peeled
- ⅓ cup raw cashews
- 1 5.4 ounce can Native Forest coconut cream
- 4 cups homemade or organic chicken broth
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1½ to 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
- Soak the cashews in the coconut cream in the large Vitamix container.
- Steam the carrots, onion, and garlic for at least 30 minutes.
- Add the chicken broth, salt, pepper, and ginger to the Vitamix container.
- Add the steamed carrots, onion, and garlic to the Vitamix container.
- Firmly secure the lid on the Vitamix, and cover with a towel to avoid injury.
- Turn on the Vitamix on low, then moving to high, and puree the ingredients into a soup for about one minute.
- Transfer to a medium saucepan and heat thoroughly over medium heat.
Ugh. It’s allergy season, and it seems like everywhere I go people are sick. Sneezing, coughing, miserable. As a life long sufferer of seasonal allergies, I know that spring and fall are the worst times of year – when pollen counts are the highest. Spring is notorious for tree pollen and in the fall, it’s ragweed. Seasonal allergies leave you with chronically inflamed sinus cavities, itchy eyes, drainage, and a nagging cough.
Since cleaning up my diet, I’ve experienced relief from my allergies I never thought I could. They aren’t completely remedied – certain times of year I can tell my body wants to rev up and fight for no reason – but there is no comparison in how I used to feel to how I feel now.
If you’ve read anything about me on my blog, you know that I truly believe food has the power to heal and drastically improve how you feel. Food is information that actually communicates with your genes and influences your gene expression. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet gives your body nutrients that provide information so your body can accomplish necessary processes that reduce overall inflammation. For example, omega 6 fatty acids tell your body to ignite an inflammatory response, necessary to initiate healing when you are injured or sick, and omega 3 fatty acids tell your body to calm down and decrease inflammation.
Those of us that suffer from seasonal allergies have an immune system that recognizes various pollens in the air as foreign and potentially harmful, stimulating the processes necessary to take care of these threatening particles. Basically, our bodies immediately call all the troops into battle to fight and protect the body. During peak allergy season, our bodies are constantly in contact with these pollens, so our bodies are in a constant state of inflammation – in full attack mode all the time. When our bodies are perpetually inflamed, we feel sluggish, foggy-headed, and just plain yucky. Plus, inflammation puts us in a weak and vulnerable state, susceptible to other opportunistic viruses, bacteria, and fungus.
So how can we use food as information to tell our bodies to stop the inflammatory process? Eat those foods that provide nutrients that communicate to our bodies to calm down. An anti-inflammatory diet is really very simple looks like this: eat all of those natural foods that are not processed or packaged like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, pasture-raised eggs, wild fish, and naturally raised meats.
One example of an anti-inflammatory meal is this curry salmon salad. It’s quick and easy to make, and I can double the recipe to feed our family more than one meal.
I started with two 6 ounce salmon fillets – seasoned them with salt and pepper and then baked them at 325 degrees for 17-19 minutes. Do not over bake or the salmon becomes dry. I chose wild salmon from Alaska, which is rich in anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids in the most easily used form for our bodies – DHA and EPA. After the salmon fillets cooled, I used a fork to break up the fish.
Next I made an easy homemade mayonnaise with eggs from chickens fed an omega-3 rich diet. Packaged condiments are notorious for containing hidden sugar and gluten (which both promote inflammation), so I find it healthiest and freshest to just make my own most of the time. My favorite homemade mayonnaise recipe is from Mark’s Daily Apple: Homemade Ghee Mayo.
I chopped some purple onion, celery, and purple grapes to go in the salad. All three of these have anti-inflammatory nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin A, quercetin, and sulfur.
Spices with a kick are a potent decongestant, so whenever my allergies or a cold is flaring up, I liberally add them to my meals. Anyone who likes spicy foods knows they stimulate those mucous linings to break up and release, relieving congestion. Curry is a spice blend that originated in southeast Asia and usually contains mustard seeds, coriander, cumin, red chili powder, and turmeric (which is famous for its anit-inflammatory effect) and sometimes ginger, cinnamon, cloves, garlic, cardamom, and fennel too.
I combined the salmon, onions, celery, grapes, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, curry powder, slivered almonds, and a little sea salt in a medium sized bowl. After stirring the ingredients together, I served the curry salmon salad over a bed of spinach.
- 2 6 ounce wild salmon fillets
- ⅓ cup homemade mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon curry powder
- ¼ cup chopped purple onion
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 cup halved purple grapes
- ½ cup slivered almonds
- salt to taste
- Season salmon fillets with salt and pepper, and bake at 325 degrees for 17 - 19 minutes.
- Let salmon cool, transfer to a bowl, and break up fish with a fork.
- Combine salmon and the remaining ingredients in a medium sized bowl, and stir together.
- Serve over a bed of greens or wrapped in a lettuce leaf.
“Mom, this is the best salad you have ever made…” says my 11 year old. This summer, while spending his days on the golf course followed by swimming at the pool at our nearby country club, Ben developed a love for Caesar salads. Traditional chicken Caesar salad usurped his usual order of chicken strips with honey mustard and fries – he made a step in the right direction in my book by adding in some greens.
But chicken Caesar salad is not gluten free, so to make his new favorite at home, I decided to come up with my own gluten, grain, and dairy free version. Ben gives this recipe two thumbs up (he and his two friends walked into the kitchen right after I made this salad, and the three of them quickly polished it off), and so do I because not only is it made with healthy whole food ingredients, but it was super easy to make when in a pinch for time.
And most evenings, I am just that – pinched for time. To make life a little easier, I picked up a rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods to use for the salad. Their chickens are pasture fed and gluten free and $2 cheaper on Wednesdays.
The most tedious part of making this salad is removing the chicken meat from the chicken carcass. Kayley and I have gotten quite speedy at this process after volunteering at the Ronald McDonald house where our main job was to remove the meat from 5 birds and chop it for sliders. Our first chicken was a mess…we were s-l-o-w and wasted a good deal of the chicken. But then we got in a rhythm and discovered the best way to do it was just to dig in with our fingers and pull off anything that resembled meat and set it aside to chop later.
I have a big stockpot that I put any part that is not meat – the skin, bones, ligaments, tendons, etc., so I can make a large batch of bone broth to use in making a soup for dinner the next day. Real bone broth is soooooooo much better than the boxed or canned version. And it’s one of the most healing foods for your body, as it’s chocked full of gelatin, collagen, hyaluronic acid, chondroitin sulfate, glucosamino glycans, and lots of minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus. Homemade bone broth is good for healing your gut lining and building strong bones and joints, and it’s beautifying too – nourishing your skin, hair, and nails. After pulling off all the meat, I placed the entire carcass in the pot with the rest of the shrapnel I’d already pulled off, filled the pot with purified water and a splash of apple cider vinegar (helps to leach out the minerals and goodness from the bones), and let it simmer on the stove for the next day.
Now for the romaine lettuce…the morning before serving the salad, I cut off the end of the head of romaine and thoroughly washed the leaves. I like to lay the washed leaves out on a stream of paper towels and then roll up the paper towels with the leaves inside. I lay the rolled up leaves in the refrigerator to crisp throughout the day. Romaine lettuce is definitely my kids’ favorite green because it’s crisp and refreshing without the bitter taste of some of the other greens. And it’s one of my favorites to use because they will actually eat it, getting in a serving of those nutrient dense leafy greens which are the most lacking in most of our diets.
When ready to make the salad, I chopped the romaine and placed it in a medium sized salad bowl.
Next…on to the dressing. I used my Vitamix to make the Caesar dressing with olive oil, water, 2 egg yolks, 2 cloves of minced garlic, juice of 1 lemon, salt, pepper, and some pine nuts as a substitution for Parmesan. The dressing initially tastes pretty salty but once on the salad it’s delicious.
The only thing left to do is to layer the romaine lettuce, chopped chicken, another sprinkle of pine nuts, and fresh cracked pepper in a salad bowl. I drizzled on about half of the dressing and tossed the salad. After tasting, I drizzled on a little more dressing and tossed the salad again. Perfect. I saved the remaining dressing in the fridge where it will be good for about 3 -5 days.
- 1-2 heads romaine lettuce, depending on the size of the head
- 1 rotisserie chicken, meat removed and chopped
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- fresh cracked pepper, to taste
- 2 cloves garlic
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 2 egg yolks
- ½ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup water
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Tear off leaves of romaine lettuce, and wash. Lay flat on a stream of paper towels, and roll up leaves inside paper towels. Let crisp in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
- Remove meat from a rotisserie chicken and chop. Set aside.
- Remove lettuce from the refrigerator, and chop.
- In a medium sized salad bowl, layer chopped romaine lettuce, chopped chicken, ¼ cup pine nuts, and fresh cracked pepper to taste.
- In a Vitamix or other blender, blend together garlic, ¼ cup pine nuts, egg yolks, olive oil, water, lemon juice, sea salt, and black pepper.
- Drizzle half of the dressing over the salad and toss. Taste and add more dressing if desired.
- Serve immediately or chill in the refrigerator.
- Save the remaining dressing in the refrigerator for 3 - 5 days for another use.
When we first moved to Frisco, Texas from Snoqualmie, Washington, our kids were 1 ½ and 3 ½. We had a teeny tiny little backyard in our first house with not even one tree or shrub, no outdoor grill, pretty much nothing but a slab of concrete and a few chairs. But Rob and I would sit outside in the ridiculously hot summer evenings just watching our kids run around in circles. Because we could. It was our summer to “thaw” and enjoy being outside with no jackets, no goose bumps, no chance of rain. I don’t think we complained about the heat once that summer because we were so happy to have the sunshine. Now we did make a pretty big trade off for that sunshine; we lost the mountains and water and evergreen trees and crisp clean air of the Northwest. Texas is home now and I love it, but I hop on a plane and travel to a beautiful part of the world any chance I get.
Moving into our second home here, we now have a pool and an outdoor grill, so we spend many summer nights outside together as a family. This routine provides such a good way to wind down and relax at the end of the day. As my kids get older and their sports and social lives expand, we have fewer and fewer nights when all four of us are at home together, so we have to make more of an effort to plan family time.
Typically, our nights at home are the most relaxing time of my week. This weekend, however, I had a hard time winding down. It occurred to me that it’s because school has now started and with school comes a higher level of stress. Gone are the lazy days of summer and back are the worries of being a middle school parent…homework, grades, social circles, social media, sports team tryouts, service opportunities, a faster pace of life…it’s all resuming, and I could feel my body revving up in response.
I make it a priority to take good care of my body with food and exercise, so I can live my life feeling good, but what about stress? Am I making it a priority to keep it in check? Stress can sabotage all of my good intentions and efforts to keep my body healthy. In particular, there’s this important little hormone called cortisol – our fight or flight hormone – that can get stuck in the permanent “on” or high state. While cortisol at a normal level helps us meet the challenges of every day, too much of a good things isn’t so good. High cortisol levels trigger our bodies to always be in a state of emergency. Our bodies then do anything and everything to turn on the life saving strategies, going into survival mode. Adrenal levels are elevated, metabolism slows and we store extra weight around the middle, sleep is difficult to come by, and we feel stressed out and anxious all of the time.
A few cortisol lowering tips I will be incorporating into my life as school is back in full swing and I feel my stress level rising…
- Pray, pray, pray, pray, pray, pray. No peace is like the Lord’s. I am on my knees daily asking for it.
- Write down everything that is on your mind in your journal. In your head, picture placing each of those worries on a tray and handing them over to God. Then let it go and trust. Someone in college gave me that tip, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
- Take time out to breathe. Slow and deep breathing works wonders to reduce anxiety and stress in the body. I breathe in for a count of 7, hold for a count of 4, and breathe out for a count of 8 and repeat it several times.
- Spend time with people you love and those who make you laugh. For me, this is my family. They are my favorite people in the world.
- Watch your caffeine intake as it stimulates your adrenal glands as well.
- Drink water. Lots of it. Pure, clean water. Even slight dehydration is stressful on your body.
- Watch your sugar intake and focus on those low glycemic foods to keep your blood sugar stable. High blood sugar is super stressful on your body.
- Increase your omega 3 fatty acids (fish, walnuts, flax seeds, etc.), as they lower cortisol levels and reduce inflammation in your body.
- Give yourself permission to take a time out, and do something that relaxes you. I like to read, listen to music, or take a hot bath.
Another reason our family nights spent in our backyard help me relax is that my husband does the cooking. He’s come a long way with his grilling skills – we’ve traded those hockey puck hard burgers for fall-apart-in-your mouth grilled salmon. His latest favorite to make is these jerk chicken and mango skewers. Jerk is a spice rub or marinade from Jamaica that actually originated in Africa and is known for being spicy hot with a little bit of sweetness.
To make the skewers, Rob started with one pound of pasture raised chicken breasts.
He cut them into cubes the right size to thread on a skewer.
To make the jerk chicken marinade, he chopped a purple onion and minced two cloves of garlic. In a medium sized bowl, he combined the onion and garlic along with the juice of 4 limes, tamari, maple syrup, olive oil, and lots of spices: sea salt, black pepper, cayenne, chili powder, allspice, thyme, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Freshly grated nutmeg is the best.
He submerged the chicken cubes in the jerk sauce and marinated them in the refrigerator for at least two hours.
We cut chunks of mango, red bell pepper, and purple onion to add to the skewers. He alternated threading the mango, red bell pepper, onion, and marinated chicken cubes onto eight skewers.
He grilled them for about 6 minutes, flipped them over, and grilled them for 6 minutes more.
For a side, one idea is to “rice” a head of cauliflower in a food processor. Heat the remaining jerk sauce in a medium sauce pan and let it simmer for a few minutes. Then add the “riced” cauliflower to the sauce pan and cook for a few minutes more. Serve the skewers with the cauliflower “rice”.
- 1 pound pasture raised chicken breasts
- 3 mangos
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 purple onion
- ½ purple onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ - 1 teaspoon cayenne, to taste
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- juice of 4 limes
- 1 tablespoon tamari
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ½ tablespoon thyme
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated is best)
- Cut chicken breasts into cubes and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, combine diced onion, minced garlic, and the remaining ingredients to make a jerk marinade.
- Marinate the chicken breast cubes in the jerk marinade in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
- Cut mango, red bell pepper, and purple onion into chunks.
- Alternate threading the mango, red bell pepper, purple onion, and chicken cubes onto 8 skewers.
- Grill over medium heat for 6 minutes. Flip, and grill for 6 minutes more.
I have always loved summer and the change of pace it brings – no school or schedules and plenty of sun, swimming, and sleeping late. When my kids were little, I remember them staying in their pjs well into the morning and me planning activities to get us out of the house during the long and sweltering days. But now that they are older, at 11 and 13, our summers have changed quite a bit. During the hectic school year, I dreamed about those lazy, slow paced summer days, (that’s how my mind still wants to think about summer) but now that summer is here, it feels anything but lazy and slow paced. No need to plan activities to keep us busy anymore as my children want to pack more than enough into each day. They have sports they want to play – golf for him, volleyball for her – and between those activities, spending time with friends, catching up on doctor appointments, and trips to the Snow Cone lady and the swimming pool, I wonder – will I ever get to be out of my car? I have finally realized I am just not going to get a darn thing done for the next 10 weeks, and rather than drive myself crazy, I have decided to just GO WITH IT, welcoming all the noise and fun and messiness because I know in a very short bit of time, they will again be back in school, and I will miss them.
Part of what happens when my kids are home during the summer is this – I become a human ATM machine. Can anyone relate? All of those fun summer activities come with quite a price tag I’m finding out – $2.50 for frozen yogurt, $20 for the movies, $25 for water balloons and crud war supplies, etc. I am determined not to raise entitled kids, which I find increasingly difficult in the year 2013, so I have declared that my kids will work for their money this summer – not at a “real” job, but for me. In addition to their required chores they do for a set allowance, I came up with a list of chores, each for a set amount of extra money, so they can earn spending money for activities like those listed above. I laid out the rules for them and warned that I would not be open for loans, so they’d better be working a little each day, so when they are invited to do something fun, they will have the cash to fund it. So far so good – they have both jumped on board and I think even like having their own cash and choosing how to spend it.
Several of the chores I listed are also life skills I would like them to be learning like making dinner for the family. They have each taken at least one turn with me in the kitchen, preparing a simple meal. This week, Ben made these Thai spiced turkey burgers. He loves any kind of food he can mix together with his hands – like making kale chips and meatloaf – so burgers was an appropriate choice for him.
To make these Thai spiced turkey burgers, he started with some ground turkey and an egg in a large mixing bowl. He created the Thai flavor by adding several other ingredients to the turkey. He loves using any kind of kitchen gadget, so he cut up a red chilli and a bunch of green onions with a knife, shredded a zucchini with the grater, and minced the garlic with a garlic press. He added ginger, coriander, and a little sea salt also.
The very best part is mixing all of the ingredients together using his hands and forming 4 – 6 patties.
He pan-fried the turkey burgers in a little sesame oil (chili oil is also very good) over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes on each side.
I picked up a loaf of Paleo bread from the freezer section at Whole Foods. It’s made with almond and coconut flour and is gluten and dairy free. He toasted pieces of Paleo bread and layered the toast, a piece of Romaine lettuce, the Thai spiced turkey burger, and a few avocado slices on top of each.
- 1 pound ground turkey
- 1 egg
- 1 small zucchini, grated
- 1 red chilli, diced
- 1 bunch green onions, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon coriander
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 1-2 tablespoons sesame oil
- Optional: 4 - 6 slices of paleo bread, 4 - 6 lettuce leaves, and one avocado, sliced
- Combine all ingredients except sesame oil in a large bowl, and mix together well using your hands.
- Form 4 - 6 patties, and place on a plate.
- Heat sesame oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat, and fry each patty for 5 minutes on each side or until cooked through.
- Serve each patty on top of a slice of paleo bread and a lettuce leaf, and top with avocado slices.