10 Recipes Perfect for Your Thanksgiving Gathering

‘Tis the season for fall recipes, tastes of home and cooking with family or friends in the spirit of cooler temps and time together. Whether you’re bringing a dish to a Friendsgiving function or want to contribute a healthy dish to your family Thanksgiving, I’ve got you covered!

Below I’ve compiled 10 of my favorite seasonal recipes, and any of them will be a perfect addition to your holiday meal — organized by veggie-packed side dishes and a couple fruit-inspired desserts.

Bringing food is a thoughtful gesture to not show up empty handed, and it enables you to share your desire for a healthy lifestyle with others. It will give you the opportunity to show off how great quality ingredients can taste, and it allows you the comfort of knowing that there will be at least one thing available to eat at the gathering that’s aligned with your goals. And before you start cooking, if you’re counting macros or tracking your food, check out my step-by-step post on logging a recipe here.

Enjoy, and happy Thanksgiving!

Sides

1 | Butternut Hummus

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 pound cooked butternut squash (about 3 cups)

  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

  • 2 tablespoons tahini

  • 8 pitted green olives

  • 1 clove garlic

Directions:

Purée all ingredients in a food processor, adding 1 or 2 tablespoons water, if needed. Serve with raw veggies or crackers.

2 | Warm Cranberry Slaw

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag TJ’s Cruciferous Crunch

  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

  • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt

  • Juice of 1 lemon

  • Handful of dried cranberries

  • Handful of sliced almonds

  • 1/2 cup shaved parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add olive oil.

  2. When heated, add cruciferous crunch and sauté 3 minutes until slightly wilted.

  3. Remove pan from heat and pour contents into a large bowl. Add salt and lemon juice and toss until coated.

  4. Divide greens among two plates and top with a handful of dried cranberries, almonds and cheese. Serve warm.

3 | Everything Cream Cheese Crispbreads

Ingredients:

  • TJ's Gluten Free Crispbreads

  • 1 container whipped cream cheese

  • TJ's Everything But The Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend

  • Fresh Dill, for garnish (optional)

Directions:

Generously slather a crispbread with cream cheese. Sprinkle liberally with seasoning blend and top with fresh dill.

4 | Caramelized Cauliflower, Date, and Lentil Salad with Spiced Apple Cider Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

Salad

  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets

  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon

  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper

  • 1 cup uncooked green lentils

  • 1 cup pecans

  • 6 dates, pitted and chopped

  • 2 persimmons, sliced

  • 1 cup fresh herbs – such as parsley, cilantro, or basil

  • 6 cups mixed greens

Spiced Apple Cider Vinaigrette

  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F and spread the cauliflower florets and sliced onions out over a baking sheet. Mix the oil, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl, pour over the veggies and toss to coat. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes until the cauliflower is caramelized and golden on the edges.

  2. Meanwhile, cover the lentils with 3 cups water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook gently until soft, about 20 minutes. Drain the excess cooking liquid and set aside in a bowl to cool in the fridge.

  3. Remove the cauliflower from the oven and toast the pecans at 350°F for 5 minutes until fragrant.

  4. Whisk all of the ingredients for the vinaigrette together in a large serving bowl. Add the lentils, roasted cauliflower and onions, pecans, chopped dates, persimmon slices, herbs, and greens to the bowl and toss to combine. Serve and enjoy!

5 | Lemon Garlic Green Beans

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds green beans, ends trimmed

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

  • 3 tablespoons butter

  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced

  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Blanch green beans in a large stock pot of well salted boiling water until bright green in color and tender crisp, roughly 2 minutes. Drain and shock in a bowl of ice water to stop from cooking.

  2. Heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and the butter.

  3. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

  4. Add the beans and continue to saute until coated in the butter and heated through, about 5 minutes.

  5. Add lemon zest and season with salt and pepper.

6 | Mediterranean Pasta Casserole

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz box of Organic Chickpea Fusilli by Explore Cuisine

  • 1/4 cup red onion diced

  • 1 pint grape tomatoes

  • 15 oz of northern beans (drained and rinsed)

  • 3/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley

  • 3/4 cup fresh basil

  • 1/2 cup artichoke hearts (from a jar, chopped)

  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives halved

  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese shredded

Instructions:

  1. Prepare the pasta, per the directions on the box.

  2. In a 9x13 oiled casserole dish add in cooked pasta and remaining ingredients.

  3. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes.

  4. Top with additional parsley for a pop of color.

7 | Brussels Sprouts With Cranberries

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb brussels sprouts trimmed and quartered

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 42 grams walnuts chopped

  • 40 grams low-sugar dried cranberries

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Heat oil in pan on medium high heat.

  2. Place brussels sprouts in pan and saute until desired caramelization.

  3. Sprinkle with nutmeg, salt and pepper.

  4. Turn heat to low and add walnuts and cranberries to warm through.

8 | Cauliflower Potato Mash

Ingredients:

  • 450 grams cauliflower (1 large head), chopped

  • 100g Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered

  • 3 Laughing Cow Garlic and Herb Cheese Wedges

  • 30 grams low-sodium chicken broth or bone broth

  • Garlic salt to taste

  • 4–5 cracks of pepper

  • 2 stalks of rosemary

Directions:

  1. Boil cauliflower and potatoes until soft (stovetop or microwave, 10 minutes in boiling water).

  2. Add cauliflower, potato, Laughing Cow cheese wedges, herbs, spices and chicken broth into a food processor and blend until creamy. Occasionally remove food processor lid and stir to make sure everything gets blended evenly.

  3. If your food processor is small, it might be worth doing this step in two batches.

  4. Transfer into serving dish and set aside for 30 minutes to overnight to let the mash firm up. It’s easy to reheat.

Sweets

9 | Peppermint Hot Chocolate

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups almond milk or coconut milk

  • 1/4 cup cacao powder

  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

  • 3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

  • 2 to 4 marshmallows (optional)

Directions:

  1. Pour the almond milk into a small saucepan. Place over medium heat and whisk in the cacao powder and maple syrup.

  2. Bring to a simmer, and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 to 10 minutes, until the cacao lumps have dissolved.

  3. Remove from the heat and stir in the peppermint extract.

  4. Pour into 2 mugs. Top each mug with one or two 1-inch marshmallows, if desired, and serve.

10 | Pomegranate Coconut Chocolate Bark

Ingredients:

  • 10 ounces Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips or dark chocolate, melted

  • 1/2 cup finely shredded coconut flakes

  • 1/2 - 1 cup pomegranate seeds

Directions:

  1. Melt chocolate or chocolate chips in a double boiler or microwave.

  2. Mix in coconut into melted chocolate.

  3. Spread out coconut chocolate on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Spread out to about ⅛-1/4 inch thick.

  4. Sprinkle chocolate pomegranate seeds.

  5. Place in freezer and freeze for 1+ hours until hard. Break into pieces and serve immediately.

 Photo:  Social Style Co.  for Hey Preslie Nutrition

Photo: Social Style Co. for Hey Preslie Nutrition

Have any plans this weekend?

If you're looking for something fun to do on your next day off, look no further, because I have an idea for you that is fun AND helps you get an awesome start on your meal prep! What could it be?

Go visit your local farmers market! To get a list of the ones in your area, click here.

If you're not sure what the big deal is with farmers markets or shopping local, just hear me out:

First, it's the prime spot to buy locally produced food: The food looks and tastes betterbecause it’s grown in the natural season, picked at the perfect peak of freshness, and doesn’t need added preservatives to sustain travel time or to prolong shelf life.

There's an opportunity to discover foods you may not have tried before, and incorporate them into your cooking for new flavors and added variety of nutrients. Large retailers can't sufficiently stock very unique items, but a local shop can and often do bring character, charm and rare finds to places like the farmers market.

It's a great place to meet other community members who care about locally sourced food, as well as grab a bargain because the middleman and transportation costs are eliminated. And, you likely get to talk to the person who actually grew your food — how cool is that?!

When you shop at the farmers market, you're also supporting the environment.When items have to travel long distances it uses an enormous amount of fuel. If only 10% of ingredients were sourced from a state grower instead of corporate farm, it would save 310,000 gallons of fuel annually (source). Additionally, food that takes a while to get from farm to table demands special packing and storing methods that are typically not recycled.

Shopping local helps financially support those living in and caring for your community, and provides you the delightful opportunity to get closer to the root of your food source (no pun intended).

Go check out a farmers market near you this weekend, and reply back and let me know what you find in the comments below! :)

Recipe: You won't believe how easy (and delicious!) this spaghetti squash is

It's no secret I love spaghetti squash. In a previous blog post, I wrote about the health benefits and basically why it rocks, so check it out if you haven't already. This recipe is my latest take on the versatile vegetable, and it's easily now one of my favorites. With the perfect amount of flavor, it's a staple side or base to a main dish.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large spaghetti squash

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • Salt

  • Black pepper

  • 2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped

  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots

  • 1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees

  2. Cut spaghetti squash length-wise and scrape the seeds out with a spoon

  3. Brush the inside of the squash halves with 1 tbsp oil (1/2 tbsp each) and season generously with salt and pepper

  4. Place the halves face up on a baking sheet for about 30 minutes, or until tender when poked with a fork. Then, remove from the oven and let sit until cool enough to touch.

  5. Use a fork to scrape the inside of the squash, creating spaghetti-like strands. Set aside.

  6. Heat the remaining oil in a large saucepan over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and shallots, season with salt and pepper, and cook until lightly brown (about 3 minutes).

  7. Turn off heat, add cheese and reserved spaghetti squash to the pan. Use tongs to evenly coat.

  8. Enjoy!

Note: If you want to use this as a main course instead of a side dish, just add protein! Ground turkey, lean ground beef, chicken sausage, shrimp, salmon or chicken (grilled, baked, rotisserie) are all great options.

To have extras for later and/or use as the base of a meal, consider cooking 2 spaghetti squashes at the same time.

Nutrition: Per serving (about 1/4 of recipe): 3g carb, 3g protein, 8g fat - 96 calories

Recipe: Turkey Stuffed Peppers

I tend to keep my cooking pretty easy by focusing on rotating between a few staple items and mixing things up with spice and flavorful, nutrient-dense complimentary ingredients. For more on my simplistic approach, check out my meal prep strategy here. But in this case, it was a chilly evening and I was feeling creative, so I decided to try something new in the kitchen and it did not disappoint. These turkey stuffed peppers are full of flavor, perfectly satisfying and packed with wholesome goodness. Give them a try, and let me know what you think!

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb 99% lean ground turkey
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup onion, minced
  • 1 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped 
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 large red bell peppers
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
  • Nonstick spray
  • 6 tbsp shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 400°F.
  2. Lightly coat medium skillet with nonstick spray and turn to medium heat.
  3. Add onion, garlic and cilantro to pan and sauté about 2 minutes
  4. Add ground turkey, salt, garlic powder and cumin to pan. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until meat is cooked through.
  5. Add 1/4 cup of tomato sauce and 1/2 cup of chicken broth to pan, mix well and simmer on low for about 5 minutes.
  6. Combine cooked rice and meat together.
  7. Cut the bell peppers in half lengthwise, and remove all seeds. Spoon 2/3 cup meat mixture into each pepper half and place in a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Top each with 1 tbsp cheese.
  8. Pour the remainder of the chicken broth on the bottom of the pan. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for about 45 minutes.
  9. Be careful when removing the foil. Let cool for a few minutes before eating, and enjoy! 

Nutrition:

1 serving = half a pepper, makes 6 servings. Per serving: 30.4g carb, 24.2g protein, 4.5g fat | 259 calories

final 8.JPG
 

15 Tips for Super Bowl Sunday

What doesn’t bend will eventually break. If your nutrition regimen is so strict that it allows for zero flexibility, you’re far more likely to binge eat, create an unhealthy relationship with food and feel deprived. I hope you realize that none of those three side-effects are desirable results, or ones you’d associate with a sustainable lifestyle.

Cultivating a healthy, high quality of life and reaching your goals is a long-term game, and consistency is key.  I’ve compiled tried-and-true strategies and suggestions to help you enjoy your Super Bowl Sunday while keeping your nutrition goals in mind.

  1. Eat before you hit the party! Don’t show up starving so that you only eat the things you really want. In your meals/snacks prior to the game, load up on veggies and lean proteins to help your body feel satisfied of those valuable nutrients. By eating something before you arrive, you’ll only want to eat something there if it’s absolutely worth it.

  2. Make your indulgences worth it. Splurge a little on the really good stuff, not store-bought cookies or so-so potato salad. Consider that every time you eat, you’re making a choice. You’re saying “this is good fuel for my body, and/or what I want to spend my calories/macros on today.” Do you feel confident saying that about a crappy, store-bought cookie? Make your indulgences count.

  3. There are plenty of foods that don’t seem indulgent that you may eat at while watching the game that you wouldn’t ordinarily, like a hot dog bun, or nachos. I challenge you to be mindful in your choices and eat things you really want, not just because they’re there.

  4. Skip the hamburger or hot dog bun, wrap it in lettuce or eat it naked.

  5. Feel free to pack your plate, but then don’t go back for a second helping.

  6. Pickles have ton of salt, so snack some of those instead of potato chips for the salty satisfaction without the extra carbs and oils.

  7. Use your hand as a guide; have only that much (in size) of any potato, egg, or chicken salad. Aim for a minimum palm size of protein, and a thumb size of sauce or dip.

  8. Drinks lots of water: it will make you feel more full (and is really good for you, bonus!). Flavored sparkling water is a great substitution for soda or alcoholic drinks.

  9. Distance yourself from the temptation by picking a seat that’s not near the food table.

  10. Chew gum so you don’t nibble on something just for the sake of nibbling.

  11. Bring one of your favorite healthy dishes to share, so you’re in control of at least one item available to snack on.

  12. Don’t think about what you can’t/shouldn’t eat, instead add more good stuff! Pack on the veggies, fruit, and wholesome ingredients to whatever you’re eating -- which in turn, makes less room for the junk, both on your plate and in your belly.

  13. Look for better options, regardless of the options you’re given: when possible, pick leaner proteins like chicken, turkey or fish over beef.

  14. Moderation is key. Let’s say you eat 4 meals a day: breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner. That’s 28 times you eat in a given week. Now if you “cheat” or eat something less than ideal for one of those meals, that’s not even 4% of all the food you ate in those 7 days. I can assure you that in most cases, if you’re doing something quite well 96% of the time, the 4% won’t make a huge detrimental impact to your overall success. LeBron James, one of the best basketball players of all time, has a career shooting average of only about 50%. If he misses almost half the shots he makes and is still that good, you’ll be okay going a little off track on one meal in a week.

  15. Get right back on track Monday! Don’t let your flexible Sunday evening turn into an off-track week. The problem most people have with getting off track is the ability to get back ON track. A “cheat” meal is that: a meal. If you choose to have all of the food, calorie, indulging freedom during the game, keep it to a meal and remember that the next meal, and next day, should go right back to normal. In this situation, it can be really helpful to have your next meal planned. Your body may crave sugar or extra calories a little more once you’ve given it some, so already having a healthy meal in mind and the ingredients on hand helps you steer your wagon in the right direction quickly, and avoid detours.

Enjoying yourself without guilt isn’t an easy feat, but I encourage you to embrace life balance. Your nutrition goals, friends and family, and happiness will thank you for it.

All things pumpkin: part two

Last post, I told you what to ditch/replace to improve your seasonal treats, but the vegetable doesn't deserve a totally bad rap.

Here's what you can love about pumpkin (when it's not covered in icing):

  • The orange color is derived from beta carotene, which provides vitamin A to the body and is good for eyesight and immunity
  • It also packs some vitamin C, Iron, Calcium, Manganese + Potassium (more than a banana!)
  • Pumpkin is a member of the squash family - doesn't everyone love it's sister spaghetti squash?
  • The seeds have an average of 12g fiber per 1 cup - you'll feel fuller, longer using them as a crunchy, satisfying snack

Get in the kitchen: roasted pumpkin seeds

Roasting pumpkin seeds yourself is an easy, hands-on activity for kiddos. Once you've carved the pumpkin and scooped out the seeds, rinse and roast for about 20-30 minutes to dry. Then, toss in 2 teaspoons of butter and a pinch of salt, bake in a single layer (on foil, for easy clean up) at 300 degrees for 45 mins or until golden brown. That's the traditional method, but there's lots of ways to change up your pumpkin seed flavor:

  • For a spiced seed, add in 1/8 teaspoon garlic salt and 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce.
  • For a deeper profile, mix in 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (skip the salt)
  • Feeling Italian? Mix with dried Oregano and parmesan 
  • For something a little different, skip the salt and use butter and 1 1/2 teaspoons ranch seasoning mix - yum!
  • For my southwestern friends, mix butter, 1 teaspoon lime juice, 1 teaspoon taco seasoning and a tablespoon of fresh cilantro
  • For a barbecue feel, toss in 2 teaspoons brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of chipotle chile powder and 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Everything is better with bacon - cook 3-4 slices separately and crumble over the roasted seeds
  • Make a tasty trail mix: once roasted, combine with dried fruit (cranberries, raisins), almonds and cashews

Bonus: the science behind the craving

Less relevant to nutrition, but equally fascinating, I thought I'd touch on the "why" behind your craving for pumpkin spice, that seemingly only happens a few months out of the year. 

Pumpkin spice isn't really pumpkin (especially in syrup form), it's actually a combination of ground cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, ground allspice and ground cloves. Because these spices are commonly used in home cooking, the scent brings feelings of comfort; perhaps family gatherings, home cooking and warm memories. We learn and create associations with odors over time, and generally speaking, all the associations with pumpkin spice are all very positive. When the spice is created synthetically, it mimics the aroma of butter browning with sugar, giving your senses the illusion of freshly baked pie.

About 80% of flavor comes from smell; largely why when you're sick and congested, nothing tastes or sounds good. That's also why the pumpkin spice smell is strong enough to make us crave and enjoy it.

It's truly marketing genius. The pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks unofficially marks the beginning of fall, and the drink even has its' own verified Twitter account. Since the roll out of the drink by the coffee chain in 2003, there have been more than 200 million cups of PSL sold.

As mentioned above, real pumpkin provides great health benefits, and all spices come from nutrient-packed plants. Enjoy more of the real thing this season, and less of the artificial versions.

Cheers!

A healthier take on the pumpkin spice craze

Do I think it's silly that every girl (+ the guys who won't admit it) obsess over all things pumpkin this time of year? Yes. Will I still partake in the seasonal nonsense? Also yes. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em - you can have your PSL and drink it, too. ️

Here are some things to keep in mind this fall to keep indulgences in check:

  • Order a low-fat latte (non-fat or almond/coconut milk), add 1 pump pumpkin spice, ask for pumpkin spice sprinkles on top and skip the whip. That cuts the originally 340 calorie drink in HALF (literally). PS: the actual pumpkin spice sauce has dairy, so the alternative milk doesn't make it completely dairy-free, if that's something you're cautious of.
  • For an even lighter coffee, order an Americano (espresso + water) with some steamed cream or coconut milk (the steaming makes the milk taste sweeter), and add 1 pump pumpkin spice. Boom! 
  • Snag some pumpkin spice K-Cups for your Keurig.
  • The store bought pastries are hefty: running 380-500 calories (+ lots of sugar) per muffin or scone. Make baked goods yourself with healthy tricks like utilizing apple sauce, Greek yogurt, egg whites and/or protein powder. Test one, and give the rest away. I found a handful of ideas (complete with nutrition facts) on Cookie and Kate and on Amy's Healthy Baking.
  • Treat pumpkin pie like Thanksgiving food, not "because Costco has them already" food. You're in control of your choices, not the supermarket.
  • Pick up some pumpkin spice tea on Amazon for all the warm-your-heart-deliciousness and none of the calories (seriously zero, it's just tea).
  • To make a macro-friendly pumpkin spice hot chocolate, steam 8oz of chocolate almond milk (or heat in the microwave), add 1/2oz pumpkin pie sauce and top with cinnamon, nutmeg and if you're feeling super festive, finish with a dollop of whip (15 cals per 2 tbsp). This version: 132 calories. An 8oz pumpkin spice hot chocolate at Starbucks: 438 calories. Whoa!

Lastly, below is a shake recipe I love to make this time of year. By utilizing real pumpkin and no added sugar, it satisfies the craving without the added empty calories. And, sneaking protein in throughout the day is always a plus! This blended treat has good sources of protein and carbs, and is low in fat -- perfect for a post-workout meal.

Recipe: Pumpkin Protein Shake

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon honey or agave
  • 1 scoop protein powder (chocolate or vanilla)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 banana
  • Ice cubes (about 6)

Directions

Throw it all in a blender and mix until ingredients look smooth. Top with nutmeg and cinnamon. 

Macros

32g carb, 6g fat, 27g protein (290 calories) for one shake.

Modifications/Suggestions

  • For extra protein, add 1/3 cup Greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons of collagen protein, or 2 tablespoons of powdered peanut butter.
  • For extra fat, add a tablespoon of almond butter or MCT oil.
  • For extra sweetness, add 1 tablespoon cocoa nibs, a pinch of stevia or a few drop of liquid stevia.

Enjoy, 'tis the season!

Resources:

Starbucks Nutrition Facts

 

Eat, Breathe, Work Hard, Repeat

I’m going to tell you something, and you may be shocked. Drum roll please… I eat ice cream sometimes. Gelato specifically, it’s my fav. And cheesecake, like on my birthday last month. And even chocolate, because every 20-something girl loves chocolate, it’s science. I know, I know -- you’re totally shocked. A nutritionist eats things full of fat, sugar, processed ingredients and insane amount of calories sometimes? Sometimes, yes.

Every time I’m at a social gathering and indulge in something less-than-nutritionist-worthy, heads literally explode and I hear comments ranging from “oh my God you eat things like that?” to “how do you look like that and eat like that?” -- there’s flaws all in, out, and around the logic of those statements and I’m going to break them down for you really quick. Partially for my sanity, but mostly to help you take better control over your approach to nutrition as well.

Eat

First, I eat things like that sometimes. I’m a BIG advocate of balance, and my clients know this well. If you hate what you’re doing, you’ll grow resentful and create an unhealthy relationship with your approach and possibly foods. Anything that doesn’t bend will eventually break, and your “diet” should allow for flexibility.

Balance is open for interpretation, but with something like sugar, it’s fair to assume it should be consumed far less than the higher-priority, nutrient-dense foods like vegetables (especially the green ones), lean proteins, whole grains and fruit.

Next, I’m not actively trying to lose weight right now. I’m eating for maintenance, which supplies my body enough calories to train hard, be less strict with my calorie intake and/or macronutrient distribution, have plenty of energy, and hold consistently at the same body weight. If your primary goal right now is to lose weight, it’s also fair to assume your balance should be more strict than the person who is trying to maintain. Note: you can still eat delicious things and lose weight, but as a general rule of thumb, less frequently.

Furthermore, maintaining is pretty easy (especially once you’ve been doing it a while). Basically: keeping abs is generally easier than getting them. So don’t fret if you are trying to drop pounds, you’ll have even more flexibility once you’re trying to maintain, too.

The 80/20 approach means eating nutrient-dense food 80% of the time, and enjoying other things 20% of the time. Of course, these percentages will vary based on if you have specific goals you’re working toward, but for maintaining weight and overall wellness, this structure works well for most people. So if you’re absolutely just craving that doughnut, consider it part of the 20% for that week. Keep in mind: in order to stay within that 80%, you want to get right back on track after an indulgence -- be mindful of that, and don’t let one meal turn into a weekend.

Breathe

It’s so important for your mind, body and overall health to not beat yourself up when you do indulge. Way easier said than done, I totally get it. But the practices below really help me keep that “guilt” in control.

I make the meal count. I don’t eat indulgences in my car, alone at home (unless that’s your happy place, no judgement), or at the office. Don’t let your circumstances dictate your decisions; you can always find an excuse: it’s so-and-so’s birthday, but there’s a work happy hour, someone else is in town and your aunt is having a baby shower -- if you indulge every single time something comes up, you’re probably further from the balance concept we just addressed. You are in control of your nutrition choices, the food sitting on the break room counter is not.

Try to eat well most of the time so you can really enjoy the pieces that don’t fit in the “most”. Do you ever eat something and think “man that wasn’t worth it?” — “it” being the calories. I strive to avoid that feeling. If I’m going to splurge on something sweet, it’s going to be planned and in-line with what I’m really craving. This notion can be applied to events, too: if you know you’re going to a dinner party, eat well most of that week to allow yourself to embrace whatever delicious items are available in that scenario. Be in control when you can, so that when you aren’t it doesn’t set you back (thus, ladies and gents, an example of the 80/20 approach).

Another thing that really helps with the breathe component is meditation. I used to think meditation was rah-rah yogi stuff and totally not for me. Since I’ve let that assumption go, I’m in the process of writing a piece on how much guided meditation has positively impacted my, and many of my friends’ lives, but in the meantime, know that I use an app called Headspace. Download it on any smart phone -- your first 10 sessions are free. It REALLY helps with the whole “letting things” go thing. Seriously, look it up, right after you finish this post.

Work Hard

Lastly, work hard! My clients know we don’t call them cheat days, we call them reward meals (not “cheating” because you’ve earned the indulgence, this is a lifestyle not a diet, and it’s not full days). Reward meals are earned for, you guessed it: following the plan 80% of the time, not making excuses, and working hard.

Truth be told, in addition to the ongoing comments aforementioned during the introduction, the inspiration for this blog post came from a conversation with my CrossFit coach. On the first Friday of each month, our gym does Fran (a famously terrible workout in the functional fitness community). After everyone sweats their heart out, our coach brings in something fun like snow cones or a waffle truck. It is his intention (and him and I are quite aligned on nutrition-based things) that members eat well most of the time, work really hard during the workout, enjoy the indulgence with their fellow CrossFit friends, and then don’t stress about it and get right back on track the next day. Hmm… it’s almost like, that is what I just outlined as my approach, too! :)

I hope you find these concepts helpful and apply them to improve your mental health, quality of life and relationship of food. Cheers!

How to Beat Nighttime Sugar Cravings

Craving some sweet, chocolaty and delicious before bed is totally normal -- but it's no basis for derailing your progress. The best thing you can do is to know the craving is coming and be prepared with a strategy to win the day. Plan for your roadblocks to happen so you're ready to get through them, until they don't happen anymore.

Below are a bunch of strategies you can utilize to kick those cravings, overcome them completely, or simply make a more mindful choice. If you find any of them helpful for you, please feel free to comment and/or share with a friend!

Try these out:

  • Plug in something small and sweet into your food log for the evening before logging the rest of your day so you can account for it and it's planned in later; like a piece of dark chocolate. Then, you can look forward to it all day and it doesn't throw you off when you have it.

  • Have some fruit, its naturally sweet and will curve the craving a little bit. Fruit breaks down into sugar the same way sweets do, and they have way more micronutrients (vitamins + minerals)! Try: strawberries with a little whip cream on top, peaches warmed up and topped with granola, apple slices topped with cinnamon or a little peanut butter, frozen grapes, or some raspberries topped with Stevia.

  • Drink more water at night; that helps with cravings -- and you could do something fun like add orange, cucumber or lemon slices to your water.

  • Have some hot, decaffeinated tea. There's plenty of naturally sweet teas (no added sugar) you can find at a local Fry's or Sprout's store, or via Amazon that come in decedent flavors like caramel and actually promote restful sleep.

  • Brush your teeth right after dinner so you're less likely to snack on something.

  • Set an alarm to go off on your phone about the time this usually happens at night; change the name from "alarm" to "you've got this!" or a brief message about your why behind your goal you're working toward. This literal reminder will come at the perfect time to re-instill that motivation.

  • Ask yourself: are you tired, stressed, bored, or upset? Those feelings may increase your cravings, and I encourage you to recognize that you are in control of your actions, not your emotions at the time.

  • Journal about what you're craving -- seriously! Write down why it might be, how committed you are to your goal, and then how proud of yourself you are that you stuck to the plan. Then, in your next moment of weakness, you'll have this to reference.

  • Distract yourself: go do some meditation (Headspace, for example), go for a walk outside, or write in your gratitude journal.

  • Just go to bed -- seriously! I know that one seems silly, but really, you probably just need to catch some zzz's. I promise you'll wake up being glad you stayed strong. If you need some ideas for before bed rituals to get your mind off the candy drawer and on the pillow, check out this blog post.

Good luck, and cheers to empowered, healthy evenings! :)

Set up for success: Eating while traveling

Hitting your macros, eating well, resisting temptation: those things are all hard enough when you’re in your usual environment such as work or in the comfort of your home. Once you throw traveling into the mix, people tend to completely fall of track. Finding healthy options and maintaining some sense of positive nutrition habits while flying, on the road or in unfamiliar towns can be challenging -- but it’s absolutely doable.

Many of my clients travel often for work and have utilized many of these strategies already to consistently work toward their goals, regardless of where they are. I’ll reference tracking macros in the information below, although even if you’re not diligently following your protein, carb and fat intake, these tips will help you stay on track and feel your best while on vacation.

Restaurant research

Prior to arriving to a new city, or first thing when you get there, scout out a couple top-rated restaurants in the area; you might as well try the best food while you’re there! Once you’ve identified ones within your proximity and price point, pull up their menu online and look through some options of things that fall within your macros from an estimated perspective. 

Example: if I know I’m trying to keep my carbs within reason, a dish with a pasta base, served with bread, topped with something crusted and breaded, probably isn’t the best choice.

Doing this research ahead of time ensures two things: you have some places to go ready to reference when you’re hungry which helps you avoid stopping at some semi-decent hot dog hut, and secondly, you already know what on the menu sounds appealing before you get there and are tempted by smells, other customer’s plates, and so forth.

If the restaurant's nutrition facts are available online, great! Definitely reference those to get an idea of the composition of their dishes. Consider that if their veggie-based plates are super high in fat, they may be cooking in a lot of oil or butter. You can use this information to eat less fat throughout the day to maintain some balance, and/or to track the actual macros.

Estimated nutrients

The reality is that when you’re eating out, protein is expensive and served in small portions. Always look for ways to add lean protein to your meals, and ask your server what’s available for cooking methods: grilled is more ideal than fried, for example. Fat is usually used in excess (because it tastes so good!), everything has more salt than you can taste to preserve ingredients longer, and most things are carb-dense. This doesn’t mean you should just eat less, but rather be more mindful of the nutrients you’re looking for. If you haven’t had many vegetables that day, add some in at dinner on the side. If you had a huge omelette at breakfast, maybe skip the cheese or bacon to keep your fat in check. These small tips go a long way and require no measuring or counting. And always, always, always: drink more water. Being out of your element, it’s easy to forget to get those fluid ounces in.

Reasonable expectations

It’s a good idea to have a conversation with your traveling partner or family in regards to your restaurant suggestions, and share ideas for healthy snacks and ways to stay active during your trip. It’s also important to remember that consistent progress is key: whether or not you got significantly closer to your goal while on vacation isn’t important, but as long as you made some conscious healthy decisions and made an effort to stay enough on track to continue working toward progress, you’re golden. Don’t be too hard on yourself; having unrealistic expectations of eating perfectly and working out every day while traveling will only make falling short of those more upsetting. Let go of the perfection mindset, and prioritize consistent progress.

The adherence “rule”

Let’s start with this: we’re always shooting to hit your goal nutrient intake about 90% of the time to move consistently in the right direction on the progress scale. If you’re eating four times a day (for example), in a given week you’d not want to stray too far off track for more than two meals. 90% of 4 meals per day x 7 days per week = 25 meals to crush perfectly. Over the course of months and a year, you really do have some wiggle room to allow yourself to go a little off track while still achieving progress.

With that said, there’s always going to be some flaw in your measuring -- even at home. Sometimes we don’t have our food scale or measuring cups (like, at a work lunch or on vacation) and we have to eyeball the ounces of chicken or cup of rice. When eating out, you don’t always know how much or what oils food is being cooked in, so we do our best to guess. And furthermore, nutrition labels aren’t 100% accurate, but we go off the information anyway. This small, common discrepancy is called what I refer to as your margin of error. If you’re not totally new to tracking food, you probably have a good sense for what portions looks like. If you tracked everything on vacation pretty closely, you’d probably only be off about 10% (or less) of the time, given all the mentioned variables. That would still put you in the 90/10 area of adherence we’re striving for.

This is a lifestyle

Whether you’re eating healthy or counting macros, it’s a lifestyle -- not a short-term gig. Consider the importance of balance and quality of life before you make yourself miserable avoiding treats or “cheat meals” on a trip. Consider that every time you eat, you’re making a choice. You’re saying, “This is good fuel for my body, and what I want to spend my calories/macros on today.” Make your indulgences count and cash in on really good, tasty food that’s worth it if you’re going to stray away from your norm.

Back on track

The problem most people have with getting off track is the ability to get back ON track. When you get back in town, your body may crave sugar or extra calories a little more once you’ve given it some, so already having a healthy meal in mind and the ingredients on hand helps you steer your wagon in the right direction quickly, and avoid detours. Consider ordering some food ahead of time to have ready to go when you get home, or have some easy-to-prep ingredients on hand so vacation doesn’t roll into a week of “off” eating once you’re back in town.

Come prepared

Bring snacks that don’t need to be kept cold in your suitcase: protein powder (and shaker bottle!), protein bars, those kind of things. If you have access to a cooler, pack in tons of veggies, fruit and extra water. For some more snack ideas that are easy to bring along, check out my recent blog post here

On my most recent road trip, I ordered pre-portioned meals from FitChoice Foods to eat during the day, with the intention to treat myself to a restaurant meal each night. These stay great in the cooler, and can be quickly heated in a microwave at a gas station, hotel room, or hotel dining area if there’s no microwave in your room.

Due to my own recent traveling and busy weekends, I looked into ordering my meals from a prep service to make sure I stay on track consistently when my time to meal prep falls short. After ordering from FitChoice several times over the last couple months, I reached out to the owner (based in Mesa) and asked if they'd consider a partnership because I'm a big fan of their service. I'm stoked to announce they provided me a discount code to share with you all!

Here's a brief rundown of why I’m a big fan:

  • You order your meals online, choosing from pre-selected options OR create your own meals by picking a protein, veggie and carbohydrate to pair together

  • You can select your size of protein with each order, and the macros are listed on the container

  • There's a TON of options for carbs, proteins and veggies -- and each meal comes with your choice of a sauce (score!)

  • You can have it delivered to your house, or choose to pick it up at a gym located near your house during set times given on the website

    • Make note of the order cut-off times for ordering listed on the website.
      Tip: I put these deadlines in my calendar, so I don't forget to order!

And, bonus: I've been buying one meal for lunch and/or dinner every single day, and I'm spending less on food each week than I was when I was meal prepping all my food.

If you give it a try, please let me know how much you love it, and don't forget to use heypreslie10 at checkout for 10% off your order for the discount, and so they know I sent you their way. :) If you need suggestions or have any questions while navigating the site, please don't hesitate to reach out to me.

Cheers to happy, safe traveling and a summer full of progress toward those goals!

Nutrition Survival Guide: Memorial Day Weekend

What doesn’t bend will eventually break. This concept applies to many situations, and in this case: your diet and lifestyle. If your nutrition regimen is so strict that it allows for zero flexibility, you’re far more likely to binge eat, create an unhealthy relationship with food and feel deprived. You’ll realize (I hope) that none of those three side-effects are desirable results, or ones you’d associate with a sustainable, enjoyable lifestyle.

Being satisfied and actually liking the food you eat while simultaneously working toward your goals, AND having a social life is not a lifestyle only found in a mythical land far away. It can be your reality! It does take time, and you’ll get there through small steps and little efforts at a time. I’ve compiled tried-and-true strategies and suggestions to help you enjoy your Memorial Day celebration while keeping your nutrition goals in mind.

Eat before you eat

Pre-eat. You read that right. You’re thinking “you want me to eat...before I go to eat?” Yes. Your body craves the good, basic stuff: proteins, fats, and carbs. Protein is found in chicken breast and egg whites, just like it is found in hot dogs and hamburgers. Fat is in avocados and dairy products, and in the mayo that makes chicken salad so tasty. And, in simple terms, your body sees the carbs in brown rice and fruit the same way it does hot dog buns. Therefore, eat some wholesome food (such as what you’d meal prep for lunch during the workweek) before you head to the BBQ, so you’re already quite satisfied of the things your body needs and craves, before you’re put in a will-power testing situation. 

This practice has a dual purpose: in addition to being content from a macronutrient perspective, you won’t be as hungry. We all know what happens when you grocery shop on an empty stomach, and a pool party is no different. You end up buying and eating things you didn’t even know you wanted (and in most cases, really don’t want). Set yourself up beforehand so when you arrive, you’ll only want something if it’s absolutely worth it.

Friends don’t let friends eat grocery store dessert

“Worth it”, what does that mean? Great question. You know that favorite dessert you have? Maybe it’s a certain flavor at the Cheesecake Factory, or that award-winning combination at Coldstone Creamery. Picture that item in your mind for a moment. Now, think of what a cookie from the box at the grocery store bakery tastes like, or a brownie from the gas station. Would you say they are comparable? Probably not. Consider that every time you eat, you’re making a choice. You’re saying “this is good fuel for my body, and what I want to spend my calories/macros on today.” Do you feel confident saying that about a crappy, store-bought cookie? Make your indulgences count. This philosophy has really helped me, and I have a post dedicated specifically to it you can check out here.

Similar to the dessert example, there are plenty of foods that don’t seem indulgent that you may eat at a pool-side BBQ that you wouldn’t ordinarily. An average hot dog bun is 21 grams of carbohydrates, 2g of fat and 3g of protein. And be honest with yourself: do they even taste that good? If you do love it, try having half of the bun with the whole hot dog. This concept introduces moderation, which is further explained in the next tip. 

Moderation is key

I know you hear this a lot, largely because it’s true. Let’s say you eat 4 meals a day: breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner. That’s 28 times you eat in a given week. Now if you “cheat” or eat something less than ideal for one of those meals, that’s not even 4% of all the food you ate in those 7 days. Any dietician or statistician can assure you that if you’re doing something quite well 96% of the time, the 4% won’t make a huge detrimental impact to your overall success. LeBron James, one of the best basketball players of all time, has a career shooting average of only about 50%. If he misses almost half the shots he makes and is still that good, you’ll be okay going a little off track on one meal in a week.

The nice thing about a wagon, is you can get back on

It’s your wagon; you’re the one driving it! If you fall off, stop your own wagon, dust the dirt off your pants, and get right back on. The problem most people have with getting off track is the ability to get back ON track. A “cheat” meal is that: a meal. If you choose to have all of the food, calorie, indulging freedom on Memorial Day, keep it to a meal and remember that the next meal, and next day, should go right back to normal. In this situation, it can be really helpful to have your next meal planned. Your body may crave sugar or extra calories a little more once you’ve given it some, so already having a healthy meal in mind and the ingredients on hand helps you steer you wagon in the right direction quickly, and avoid detours.

Wait, there’s more!

For some additional practical tips and healthier picks, here are some ideas:

  • Ditch your hamburger bun, and wrap it in lettuce
  • Grab a single plate and toss it when you’re done, instead of grabbing a second helping
  • Pickles have ton of salt, so snack some of those instead of potato chips for the salty satisfaction without the extra carbs and oils
  • Use your fist as a guide; have only that much (in size) of any potato, egg, or chicken salad
  • Keep the condiments to a minimum; try having less than you usually do. Two tablespoons of ketchup packs 10g carbs, and you’ve likely spread on more than that in the past out of habit
  • Drinks lots of water: it will not only keep you hydrated in the heat, but feeling fuller as well. You’ve heard this tip before, but actually do it — have some water, and then have some more.
  • Add fruit to your water for some flavor and summer flare. Skip the carbonated beverages, even those without sugar, such as diet soda, dehydrate you and can make you feel bloated
  • Don’t sit by the food table: distance yourself from the temptation by getting out and enjoying the pool water, weather, green grass and outdoor activities
  • Chew gum so you don’t nibble on something just for the sake of nibbling
  • Bring one of your favorite healthy dishes to share, so you’re in control of at least one item available to snack on
  • Don’t think about what you can’t/shouldn’t eat, instead add more good stuff! Pack on the veggies, fruit, and wholesome ingredients to whatever you’re eating -- which in turn, makes less room for the junk, both on your plate and in your belly.
  • Look for better options, regardless of the options you’re given: when possible, pick leaner proteins like chicken, turkey or fish over beef. Choose whole-grains or plant-based carbs (like corn or rice) instead of highly-processed ones like breads and desserts. 

And at the end of the day remember: you’re building a healthy lifestyle, this is a long-term game. Enjoying yourself without guilt isn’t an easy feat, but I encourage you to embrace life balance. Your nutrition goals, friends and family, and happiness will thank you for it.

Prepping for success: Snacking secrets

Many people only think about breakfast, lunch and dinner when they’re meal prepping for the week. Snacks serve a handful of beneficial purposes, including:

  • Keeping your hunger in check between meals
    • You’re a lot less likely to want your healthy, prepared meal if you’re absolutely starving – avoiding reaching the “hangry” state keeps your appetite in a good place.
  • Getting extra nutrients in
    • I don’t love huge meals, so it’s hard for me to stomach all the protein I need during the day in a few portions of chicken. I use snacks as a tool by having small amounts of protein in between meals to ensure I hit my protein goal by the end of the day.
  • Making a healthy diet work with your lifestyle
    • Depending on your job and/or schedule, it’s not always possible to sit down, find a microwave or utensils, and eat a typical meal. Nutrient-dense snacks help you avoid going long periods without eating in these situations.

My tips and tricks:

  • Cut any fruit that won’t brown. I’ve found after slicing apples, they only stay good in the fridge for a couple days. I’ll slice and portion 2-3 apples at a time, and then repeat midweek. This works well for watermelon and strawberries, too.
  • Don’t leave chips, or anything that’s easy to grab and eat too much of, in the bag you bought it in. Separate them out into reasonable portions, so they’re perfectly sized for snacking. I pair these with hummus for a salty, satisfying snack.
  • Cucumbers are refreshing and crunchy, and you can eat a ton of them for a small caloric-value. When you get an itch to snack on something at your desk, these are an easy go to.
  • Hard boiled eggs are a great source of fat, protein, Vitamin A and Potassium. If you don’t like the consistency of the hard boiled yolk, or don’t have enough fat to spare, consider eating just the whites for quick, accessible protein. Hard boil a dozen or two with your meal prep, and then peel just a few at a time; repeat midweek to keep the outside fresh.
  • Portion out your favorite granola into small containers and pair with your favorite non-fat yogurt.
  • In terms of macros, rice cakes are pure carbs. They come in a ton of great flavors, and simple to take anywhere when you need to get some fuel in. They stay good for quite a while, so have plenty of these separated out on hand.
  • Sliced turkey is a great way to get some extra protein, especially if you get sick of chicken, beef and fish during your regular meals. I prefer the kind sliced by deli counter (as opposed to pre-packaged) to maintain a fresh texture and taste. It rolls up great by itself, or with a piece of cheese, tomato, hummus or lettuce wrapped in.
  • Salami, similarly to the sliced turkey, is a protein option that you don’t have to cook. It’s higher in fat than some alternatives, so you don’t need as large of a portion to feel satisfied.

When a food is nutrient-dense, it contains vitamins and minerals your body needs, outside of what you’re measuring by tracking macros. The most nutrient-dense foods come from the earth in the form of real foods, which you can read more about here. I think about nutrient-density as “more bang for your buck” kind of items, asking myself: how many vitamins, minerals and grams of fiber can I get in this food, for the lowest amount of calories?

For example: 100g of pretzels is about 380 calories, and contains vitamins such as Potassium, Iron and Magnesium. For the same amount of calories, you could have almost 450g (that’s 4.5x more!) of sweet potato and score more of the three nutrients found in pretzels, along with tons of Vitamin A, Vitamin B-6 and Vitamin C. In this case, the sweet potato would be a much more nutrient-dense carb to choose.

The above example also highlights the concept of volume eating. It’s similar to nutrient-density in that you’re looking for the most “bang for your buck” in food quantities.

For example: 200g of spaghetti squash is about 60 calories; 1.2g protein, 1.2g fat, and 14g carbs. For roughly the same amount of calories and carbs, you’d only be able to have 46g of whole-wheat spaghetti. A plate of 200g of spaghetti squash vs. a plate of 45g of pasta will look and feel very different when you’re eating it. Certainly, the spaghetti will fuel your body differently than the spaghetti squash – however the concept here is how much food you can eat to achieve more volume without necessarily eating more calories. Eating high-volume foods can help you feel fuller, and easily increase the overall nutrient-density of your diet.

Idea: One of my favorite ways volume eating habits is to mix shredded cauliflower and rice together for the base of a stir-fry meal. 1 cup of jasmine rice is about 250 calories; 5g protein, 2g of fat and 52g carbs. 1 cup of shredded cauliflower is about 25 calories; 2g protein, 0g fat and 5g carbs. They both have similar consistencies, color, and take on flavor really well. By mixing the two, say 1/3 cup of jasmine rice and a full cup of cauliflower, you now have a bigger portion overall and get the best of both worlds: some hearty rice, more food on your plate (volume eating), and all the nutrients that cauliflower contains (nutrient-density).

For a refresher on what macros are, check out my blog post here.

So you wanna eat healthier...

Let me rephrase, so you’re going to start eating healthier; because truth be told you probably don’t want to. If we could eat pizza and ice cream all day and achieve the same results as chicken and broccoli, well, we would all probably opt for the first option. But because it doesn’t work that way (damn), you’ve taken it upon yourself to spruce up your diet. Whether you want that 6-pack you’ve been thinking about, to fit into old jeans, impress your peers at holiday gatherings, or just feel better, the list of motivators goes on.

People contact me all the time wanting to improve their physique and performance, but are clueless as to where to start. To no fault of their own, they usually ask the wrong questions and ignore important factors in their success and make changes to ones with small impact. Based on common mistakes, here’s a couple examples of what I’m talking about: being worried about your post-workout recovery drink when you aren’t eating at all (or are eating crap) before you workout; being concerned about the aspartame in your diet soda, when you are still drinking that high-calorie, sugar-saturated coffee beverage in the morning; obsessing over calories, rather than quality.

Look folks, getting in a groove with your nutrition isn’t an easy feat. It takes time, trial and error, self-motivated education, planning and the forming of good habits, amongst other things. That’s not at all to say it’s too difficult for you to accomplish, however it is a tremendous lifestyle change and mindset shift, and especially if you’re new to the “healthy eating” concept, getting it perfect right off the bat is both unlikely and overwhelming. Shoot for excellence, not perfection.

Pick your battles: identify your largest barriers to success, and attack the biggest threats first. Create good, sustainable habits there, and then move forward. It’s like how in the Chinese Olympic Weightlifting methodology, they’re forced to execute movements time and time again with an empty bar, achieving flawless technique almost mindlessly, before graduating to adding weight. In your kitchen, make sure you’re focusing on the most important components of your diet first, before worrying about the smaller stuff. Think of it like a pyramid, the smaller stuff at the top (supplements, micronutrients, nutrient timing), doesn’t matter much if your foundation (quality, quantity, consistency) is rocky.

Okay, soap box rant over, on to the good stuff.

Cut the crap

Identify the worst parts of your diet and fix those first. If there are several, it’ll be pretty tough to eliminate multiple unhealthy behaviors simultaneously. But work on them one or two at a time, and replace them with better habits. If you always eat Taco Bell for lunch and you cut fast food, then you won’t have lunch; by replacing Taco Bell with a more nutritious lunch, now you’re cultivating healthy habits. Before I give you my list of what to “cut”, I must mention the disclaimer that an expectation to eat clean 100% of the time is unrealistic — I’m not saying to never eat fast food again, what I am saying is that it should not be a regular thing, rather an indulgence, and a very infrequent one to achieve an overall healthy lifestyle.

Now, these are your biggest offenders:

  • Fast Food (including delivery, pizza, or frozen meals)
  • Soda (including diet)
  • Sugar (candy, desserts, fruit juice)
  • Snack foods (chips, for example)
  • High-fat dairy (butter, 2% milk)
  • Processed carbohydrates (white bread, bagels)

I encourage you to try and eliminate these behaviors (slowly, if needed), as they are inhibiting your progress holistically. Going back to the introduction, it doesn’t matter if you’re getting all your supplements in and having a healthy dinner once in awhile if you’re eating/drinking all of the above on a regular basis.

Challenge:  Cook more! If you’re intimidated by the kitchen, start slow and easy. I’m in the process of writing a post on what I make week to week, as it’s simplistic and definitely indicative of my lack of chef skills. By preparing your food at home, you know what’s in it and it’s immensely cheaper than eating out.

Portions

Do you eat breakfast because it’s morning, or because you’re hungry? Do you eat chips and salsa while watching football, just because the game is on? I advocate that you live deliberately, and less out of mindless habit when it comes to eating patterns. Give your metabolism a chance to work, and it will return the favor by expending the energy you intake. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. I realize that’s much easier said than done, here’s some tips to help:

  • Eat dinner at the table, not in front of the TV
  • Don’t eat in your car (unless it’s a quick, pre-planned snack)
  • After serving your plate at home, put the rest of the food away
  • When eating out, ask that half of the entree be placed in a to-go container
  • Wait 15 minutes before grabbing a second helping at home
  • ALWAYS drink water with your meal
  • Drink water when you feel hungry, before grabbing food (often we think we’re hungry, when we’re actually just dehydrated!)

Consistency

In all my time helping friends, family, clients and members of my gym, this has, without a doubt, been the most common barrier to success. Eat the same amount, day to day. Notice I didn’t say “foods”, but rather quantity. Your body can’t get in a groove if you’re starving it one day, and overfeeding it the next. Get in a routine so it can balance the energy and use the excess calories for fuel. Furthermore, if you’re doing something consistently, you can tell whether or not it’s working. If your quantities are all over the place, it makes it practically impossible to identify what needs to be changed to foster success.

Especially if you’re new to a healthy lifestyle, I strongly recommend tracking everything you eat. Whether that’s in the MyFitnessPal app, a notebook, whatever your preference. Results are generated by analyzing data. Create the data.

Note: generally speaking, the above explains why macro “dieting” works so well for people, especially over time. To understand more about this topic, read my previous posts about what they are and how to count them.

I hope you find this information helpful. Share with a friend who might need some ideas, and I sincerely appreciate any comments/feedback.

“The absence of disease is not health”

“Filling up your cup” can be interpreted as pouring energy into your passions and what makes you happy. And while mine are often related to health, I also really value the opportunity to be learning whenever possible and feel that my cup is more full when I’m investing time in self-improvement and personal growth.

One of my favorite recent habits is to eat breakfast over an intellectually stimulating video. When I have a few extra moments, I’ll go through websites like Tedtalks.com or Youtube.com and save a few that look interesting, and then start my morning with one of the 10-15 minute presentations.

This Saturday’s breakfast was accompanied by a Ted Talk led by psychologist Shawn Achor. I kid you not, I was cracking up in between bouts of “that’s a great point” thoughts. It was really an entertaining balance of provocative ideas and humor.

The title of this post is a quote that stuck out to me from this video. I completely agree, and would argue that many people believe they don’t need to improve their health because they aren’t diagnosed as sick. This general concept is just one of the many takeaways I got from Anchor’s speech, reaffirming the benefit of this newfound habit I’ve cultivated.

I believe getting thoughtful, creative gears going early in the day is good for productivity and confidence. And it turns out, happiness and productivity have a direct relationship according to this particular Ted Talk. Achor explores this concept, the background to happiness as it relates to success, and gives actionable suggestions to improve and optimize your well-being — both in and out of the workplace.

I hope you watch and enjoy the video as much as I did, and I encourage you to try embracing a little inspiration with your coffee in the morning.

Quick tip: Consider the circumstances

I stumbled upon this thought sometime ago, but I’ve found keeping the concept in mind keeps me on track. So I’d like to share it with you.

Consider this: it’s 10am and you’re at work. You’re a little hungry, which is normal between meals or when it’s about time for a snack. Then, a co-worker brings donuts into the office. Do you have one?

My answer would be no. I’ll get the disclaimer out of the way: I wholeheartedly believe in a balanced approach to nutrition. A healthy lifestyle includes small indulgences in “non-clean” food to maintain happiness, and frankly sanity. However, I still wouldn’t eat the donut in this case.

If this was any other day when your co-worker had not brought pastries, would you still have gotten one? Would you have driven out of your way to intentionally go get a donut? Probably not. You made healthy choices all morning, brought your lunch and are on track to crush today’s goals. So why are you going to let what someone else did impact your success? You are in control of your nutrition choices, the food sitting on the break room counter is not.

Drink some water and move on with what you were doing before you were distracted by the big box of sugar cakes. You’ll forget about them before you know it.

Furthermore, I try to eat well most of the time so I can really enjoy the pieces that don’t fit in the “most”. Do you ever eat something and think “man that wasn’t worth it?” — “it” being the calories. I strive to avoid that feeling. If I’m going to splurge on something sweet, it’s going to be over quality conversation with a friend, or during a movie in the comfort of my home, planned and in-line with what I’m really craving. This notion can be applied to events, too: if you know you’re going to a dinner party, eat well most of that week to allow yourself to embrace whatever delicious items are available in that scenario. Be in control when you can, so that when you aren’t it doesn’t set you back.

The 80/20 approach means eating nutrient-dense food 80% of the time, and enjoying other things 20% of the time. Of course, these percentages will vary based on if you have specific goals you’re working toward, but for maintaining wellness this structure works well for most people. So if you’re absolutely just craving that donut, consider it part of the 20% for that week.

Consistency is key. Stay on track this week: plan your indulgences, and intentionally set yourself up to succeed most of the time

In my moments of doubt, I’ve told myself firmly; If not me, who? If not now, when?
— Emma Watson

Improve (or start!) your meal prep process

First, if you aren’t already meal prepping — you should start. All the cool kids are doing it.

But seriously, it makes things immeasurably more efficient. It also boosts your likelihood to stick to a healthy diet, saves money and time, and creates a self-awareness and pride in regards to the food you’re eating. Often when I talk to people who do (or did) meal prep, they absolutely dread it and think it’s a tedious undertaking. I also used to feel that way, until I changed my strategy and perspective. Therefore, in the list below I’ve explained some of my favorite tips for meal prepping gained through my personal experience that should make a world of difference for you going forward. And regarding perspective, take a moment to consider that this process is perhaps a blessing in disguise. Use this time to collect wholesome food, organize your materials thus setting yourself up for a successful week, and enjoy some calm kitchen time where you can reflect on your intentions and embrace the opportunity to be in control of how you nourish your body.

  1. Make a plan and a list

Have some structure for the week ahead by planning out your meals and snacks ahead of time. If it’s too overwhelming for you to forecast 7 days out, plan 3-4 days. All it takes is a piece of paper, a pen and 10 minutes of goal-oriented thoughts and you won’t be aimlessly wandering aisles at the grocery store or realize you forgot something when you’re already unpacking bags back at home. In your head, walk yourself through the process of cooking and eating it, too. When I skip this step, I always forget things like baggies to put food in, spray for the cooking pan or cinnamon for the decadent finishing touch to my morning oats.

  1. Schedule the time

This may be one of the most magical steps of the method: meal prep as you’re unloading the grocery bags. If you pack it all in the fridge and cabinets with the intent to meal prep later, you may never get to it, or waste time digging it all out again trying to figure out what’s old and what’s new.

When you get home from the supermarket, put the cold stuff away (such as bacon, dairy products, freezer items), and leave everything else out. Then ask yourself what takes the longest: baking before steaming, cutting and separating last. Preheat the oven and place all items to be baked (i.e: potatoes, chicken, veggies) on their appropriate sheets prepped to go. Next, place eggs in a big pot covered in water ready to be hardboiled. Then, while those two items are cooking slice up all your cold veggies and fruit and place in containers (more information on containers in tip #3). Lastly, sort snack items like cheese slices, almonds or granola into easily grabbable zip-tight bags and put away. By executing the steps in this fashion, everything finishes about the same time — saving you minutes in the long run, and making cleanup a breeze.

  1. Those darn containers

Plastic containers can be a pain: you can never find a matching lid, they’re a nuisance to wash, and you never have the right size for what you need. For these reasons, keeping everything in gallon-size zip-tight bags is a great method. However, I still like the look and feel of rectangle containers so here’s my approach for those: use big containers of the same size. The small, individual container system is why I believe most people are emotionally scarred from meal prep. The large ones stack nicely and it’s easy to see what’s inside when you open the fridge. Keep all of one food product in a container and measure it out as you use it.

For example: if you know you want to eat 4 oz. of chicken everyday for lunch, it takes less than a minute to complete that measurement in the morning before you take it with you to work. It takes a wasted extra amount of time, containers and fridge space to measure out several portions of 4 oz. of chicken for the week.

  1. How much to buy: bulk shopping and wasting less food

I eat a lot of food, and I still can’t finish the container of fruit you buy at Costco before it goes bad. Buy in bulk what stays good for a while such as frozen fish and chicken or oats, for example.

If you’re new to meal prepping: you probably need more food than you think you do. Consider that two bags of broccoli will only last you a couple days, or one potato won’t get you very far.When you give it your first go, do your best to guess based on portion sizes listed on the label (or how much you’ll actually eat, who really eats just 2 tablespoons of peanut butter?) and then either keep your receipt or write down how many of everything you purchased while you’re prepping. That way, you’ll have some data to reference for making modifications to quantities next grocery trip.

What I’ve discovered works well is to pick a central couple foods from each category to eat that week, and rotate to maintain variety. I suggest picking two or three to eat in a given week; then buy the others the meal prep after and rotate. It takes more money and time spent prepping for an unnecessarily wide variety.

For example: chicken and beef this week, fish and turkey the next.

  1. Keep it easy breezy

It’s not practical that you’re going to made slider burgers, BBQ this, lemon-crusted that and rosemary something or the other every single week, or want it every day for that matter. Complicated recipes can be exhausting to repeat and the extra ingredients make tracking macros a little harder. I stick with basic stuff for the week, and let myself spend extra time on the weekends to have a culinary experiment. Spices have a long shelf-life, and simple ingredients like spinach, bell peppers or onions can be thrown in to add a pop of flavor (and nutrients!) to many dishes.

For example: bake sweet potatoes plain for the week and add cinnamon when you’re heating them up to eat. Mrs. Dash makes great salt-free seasonings that I love to sprinkle on vegetables, Old Bay is killer with beef and chicken, low-sodium soy sauce or olive oil in small amounts go a long way, and a pinch of salt and pepper are the perfect touch for many things.

We’re in this together

It’s probably rather silly how much I enjoy both meal prepping, and talking about this stuff. I suppose I have a soft spot in my heart for it, because I’ve learned all of these things first-hand and can emphatically say there’s no way I’d be able to maintain a healthy lifestyle without taking time to meal prep — it’s a conscious decision to prioritize your nutrition. Afterall, the saying goes, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail”.

Don’t let it stress you out, enjoy the adventure of learning a technique that works for you. I hope you find this list helpful, and please share with a friend who needs to take control of their kitchen, too! If you have additional suggestions for how to make meal prep even more awesome, or feedback on these ideas, I would love to hear from you in the comments below. Happy prepping!

 An example of my meal prep

An example of my meal prep

Nature’s Pasta: Spaghetti Squash 101

I’ll be the first to admit I was a little skeptical of this imposter-like vegetable. Quit trying to be something you’re not, spaghetti squash. You’re not pasta and I will not be tricked into thinking so.

That’s how I felt anyway, but as of late you could say I’m pretty obsessed with this piece of produce. I cut it some slack and gave it a shot, and now I’m a big fan. I’ll get into a few ways to enjoy it, but first I want to explain why it rocks. And if you’re anything like me and may have been too intimidated to buy it because you don’t know how to cook the darn thing — well, I’ll cover that too.

First, it’s a nutrient powerhouse! Those little strands are packed with fiber, vitamins C, A, K, B-6, thiamin, niacin, folate and riboflavin and the minerals manganese, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, phosphorus and zinc. Friendly reminder/disclaimer: some of these are found in smaller amounts than others, but beneficial nonetheless.

Secondly, spaghetti squash is a big bang for your buck kind of ingredient. You can eat a lot of it without consuming a copious amount of calories. I like to think of it as a macro-counter’s secret weapon. At approximately 42 calories/10g carbs and little to no fat or protein per one cup serving, it makes a great substitution for traditional pasta. It’s also naturally gluten-free and Paleo-friendly.

As I mentioned in the beginning, it’s not a pasta and this is true. However, it’s an extremely versatile vegetable and can add tons of volume to your meals (volume meaning eating lots of food for not all the gross fullness feeling). It helps you stay on track with your healthy eating regimen and doesn’t make you feel sluggish like a big bowl of pasta would. I don’t consider it a substitution for spaghetti, rather a completely alternative ingredient that can be used how pasta can.

Lastly, there’s dozens of ways you can serve it, which keeps the creative juices flowing in the kitchen and the feeling of variety in your diet (read more about how variety leads to success in another one of my posts here).

Here’s how you do it:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and cut the squash in half lengthwise. Use an ice cream scoop or large spoon to remove the seeds in the middle, then drizzle olive oil and dash some salt and pepper, and any other handy cabinet spices you enjoy, all over. Next, turn the two halves facedown on a foil-covered sheet (yay for easy cleanup!) and bake for 25-35 minutes or so, until you’re happy with the texture (test this by scraping the inside with a fork). Lastly, let cool and scoop out the squash with a fork to get the spaghetti-like pieces.

My Tips:

  • I usually do this while I’m doing something else (like making a different meal, cleaning, studying, etc.) because most of it is baking time and doesn’t require hands-on work.
  • Cook 2-3 squashes at a time so you can enjoy it for a few days following without having to get the baking pan out everyday; it stores perfectly well in a big container in the fridge.
  • Keep the seeds, roast separately, and enjoy as a snack later.
  • If it’s too hard to cut in half initially, try cooking it in the microwave for 2 minutes to soften before cutting. If only you could see the several times my roommate and I have switched off max effort attempts and different knives trying to get some of these suckers open. I’ve read you can poke fork holes in the squash and roast it whole (though it takes a little longer to cook) and cut it after to get to the stringy-goodness.
  • Lastly, use it as the base of a meal and get creative! It goes well with most proteins and vegetables and takes on the flavor of added ingredients wonderfully. I like to start with a heaping amount, and then use up whatever’s in the fridge and eat a big ‘ol bowl style dinner.

Try adding things like:

    • Bacon! Bacon goes with everything, duh
    • Mexican-inspired ingredients like black beans and salsa
    • Lemon juice and shrimp
    • Shredded cheese and avocado slices
    • Sautéed mushrooms and spinach
    • Ground beef, ground turkey or shredded chicken
    • Steamed zucchini and broccoli
    • Grilled asparagus and light soy sauce
    • Tomato sauce – mmm! Remember: you don’t need much sauce to get plenty of flavor, and either use real tomatoes, make your own sauce or be mindful of the ingredients of a store-bought brand. Packaged tomato sauce usually has lots of added ingredients, especially sugar.

Now go enjoy a big plate of spaghetti squash for me! I’d love to hear your favorite things to pair it with in the comments below.

Everything you didn’t know you wanted to know about hormones in milk

The idea for this post was sparked by an encounter I had with a customer at work, a local coffee shop.

I was at the drive-up window when a lady asked for a coffee with a cream base, only if our milk was hormone free, but wanted almond milk if it wasn’t. I was stumped by this question, but eagerly asked her to explain what she meant to help her get the right drink, and because I was personally intrigued.

She asked to see the container of milk and almost immediately smiled and pointed to a sticker. On the lower front-side was blue sticker that said “rBGH free”, so small that my co-workers and I had never noticed it. She explained to me that she was breast-feeding and it’s not good to give your newborn these kinds of hormones, so she’s careful with things like milk.

Before this experience, I would have assumed all store bought cow’s milk have hormones in it. So naturally, I did some research.

The hormone bovine somatotrophin naturally occurs in cows, though a genetically engineered version named rBGH (also called rBST) is sometimes given to the animal to expedite the maturity process and thus produce more milk, faster. This process was first used in 1993, and continued to grow in popularity in the years following. However, as personal health ownership and public health education have become more prevalent, fewer cows are being injected with it to appease consumer requests. So why do people care if it’s in their dairy products?

According to the Center for Food Safety, the hormone injection prompts a chain-reaction type problem, starting with a correlation between cows treated and those that develop numerous health conditions such as lameness, udder infections (mastitis) and infertility, just to name a few. To combat the growing amount of cows’ health issues, farmers are using more antibiotics, which can leave residue in the dairy products sold on the supermarket shelves. Some studies report that these residues can be linked to human allergic reactions and encourage the build up of antibiotic resistant bacteria, which in turn undermines the effectiveness of human antibiotics.

Additionally, a hormone called “insulin-like growth factor-1” (IFG-1) is said to be found in the milk produced from cows treated with the rBGH hormone. There are several sources that claim IFG-1 is a factor in the development of breast, colon and prostate cancer. According to Breast Cancer Action, there is conflicting evidence on whether IFG-1 survives in the digestive system or not, but the inconclusiveness is enough to raise concern. The potential health consequences were enough to convince places like Japan, Canada and the 27 countries of the European Union to ban the use of rBGH in their cows.

The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed rBGH treated products safe to consume for humans. Some companies like Shamrock Farms acknowledge this position, but pledge to keep their cows free of this hormone to satisfy their customers requests.

In the FDA’s report on the safety of rBGH, last updated in late 2014, they claim the connection between rBGH and IFG-1, as well as IFG-1 to cancer are both insignificant.

In a published review of the hormone by The American Cancer Society, a study was presented in which the levels of IFG-1 were measured in subjects who drank cow’s milk or soymilk, and discovered the amount to be similar. This finding suggests the possibility that it’s not rGBH, and rather another element in milk, as a factor for increased IFG-1.

Grace Communications Foundation published an interesting piece which amongst other things, expressed that the gentleman responsible for writing the FDA labeling guidelines regarding this issue, was formally a lawyer for Monsanto, before working for the FDA. Monsanto is the original producer of the rBGH hormone (it was sold to Eli Lilly in 2008). This kind of conflict of interest, lobbying and/or political influence is not foreign amongst matters that affect public health and marketing, though rarely gets noticed by consumers.

The American Cancer society takes no formal stance regarding rGBH, and notes on their report of the hormone that there is correlation between the use of the substance and cow health, but the evidence regarding the impact upon human ingestion and specifically as it relates to causing cancer, is inconclusive.

Not all milk has contains this rBGH, although unless it’s labeled “rBGH free”, it’s a possibility.

I’m certainly in no qualified position to make a recommendation on whether or not you should eliminate products made from cows injected with rBGH from your diet. Though because it isn’tdefinitely safe, I now understand the precautions the mom I met at work took, avoiding hormone ingestion when it concerns the health of a newborn child.

I hope that my efforts to both compile information for this post and understand this issue better can save you some time and this piece serves as a tool you can use to make your own decision, or at the least, be a more informed consumer.

Sources:

http://www.babycenter.com/0_bovine-growth-hormone-and-milk-what-you-need-to-know_12493.bc

http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/athome/recombinant-bovine-growth-hormone

http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/issues/1044/rbgh/about-rbgh

http://www.organicvalley.coop/why-organic/synthetic-hormones/about-rbgh/

http://www.shamrockfarms.net/health-wellness/rbst-pledge/

http://www.sustainabletable.org/797/rbgh

http://thinkbeforeyoupink.org/past-campaigns/about/dairy-breast-cancer/

Keeping variety in your diet

Sometimes people think eating healthy is boring or dull, that they’ll always eat the same thing. Giving yourself variety is a key to staying on track and not feeling deprived.

I truly  am never bored with my meals. I try to incorporate different vegetables throughout the week and really take advantage of spices and cooking techniques. Investing in a collection of good spices is a relatively small price for the amount of possibilities you’ll create in the kitchen. By cooking techniques, I mean try things grilled, ground, shredded, baked and sauteed for a difference in texture.

I designed a list of some of my favorite foods to rotate between. I hope you find it helpful!

Navigating the grocery store

If you’ve ever walked into the grocery store feeling a little lost, especially when you’ve shown up with some motivation to clean up your diet, you’re not alone. The old suggestion used to be to shop the perimeters of the grocery store to keep wholesome food in sight. But the store structure is adapting with our attempts at wellness and some are placing the processed junk on end caps and nuts right in the middle by the candy.

Friendly reminder: anything advertised “low-fat”, “lowers cholesterol”, “high fiber” and the like, usually isn’t stamped on a real food product. Don’t fall victim to these claims; notice real things like meat, vegetables, fruits and eggs don’t have any marketing on them. (Check out my last post on on eating real food here: Back to basics: Eating real food)

As a college student who has to watch how much I spend, I typically buy all my produce and packaged items at a regular grocer (especially the places where you earn points), and my meat or poultry items somewhere with a little higher meat and seafood standards like Sprouts or Whole Foods. These products at a typical supermarket are usually packed with water and salt, driving the weight, and therefore price up, while ripping you off and increasing your sodium intake. Now if grabbing chicken or beef at a higher-end grocery store is not an option for you, whether due to transportation or financial reasons, I would definitely recommend eating chicken breast from Wal-mart or a traditional grocery store than not at all; the nutrition benefits from these kinds of foods are outweighed by the potential additives they may contain in my opinion (just make sure you cook them thoroughly, but you should do that anyway no matter where you buy it).

My second effective strategy is to come armed with a list. Plan out what you’d like to eat for the week (meals, snacks, spices/extra ingredients as needed) and write it all down in your phone or on a piece of paper to reference in the grocery store. Staying on track with what you’ve already planned is good for your wallet and sticking to your goals.

Happy shopping!