If you’re like most of us, this cozy holiday season is filled - to the top - with busyness. We have so many plans - for gatherings, for holiday activities, photo shoots and Santa visits, shopping, parties and more.
But how do you plan to stay well?
I’d like to suggest a few things:
Keep moving. Make at least 20 minutes of activity a priority every day: a quick walk outside, a simple yoga or stretching series, or any moderate form of exercise to stimulate the immune system.
Schedule sleep. Make a plan for the same bedtime every night and try to keep to it. Keeping sleep patterns as regular as possible – and with the number of hours per night that are right for you – is a key to a healthy immune system.
Stick to a well-balanced, whole foods diet during the meals that are in your control.
• Aim for plenty of good proteins from plants, fatty fish and organic and/or humanely-raised animals.
• Eat whole grains in their natural, minimally-processed form. Wild rice, quinoa, millet, brown rice make a great base for a quick stir-fry, stirred into soup for a satisfying whole meal, and eaten on fresh salads.
• Choose lots of vegetables – especially green veggies such as broccoli, greens (spinach, chard, kale, romaine), orange veggies like squash and sweet potatoes, red veggies – red peppers and beets, and good fruits, such as apples, berries (frozen is the best winter option), and mangos (in season right now!).
Go easy on sugar, alcohol and refined white starches. It takes your immune system 5 hours to recover from each dose of sugar from any of these sources, which is important to keep in mind during the time of year when you most want to resist catching a bug.
Remember to breathe. Take regular, deep, cleansing breaths throughout the day. Practice when you’re in your car at a stop light, practice when you’re in line at the store, practice when you’re in the elevator. It is calming and naturally stress-relieving.
Schedule downtime. Plan at least a couple of nights at home each week. Block the time, and make plans to do next to nothing – but with intention. Keep the television off and the computer closed and eat a good meal. Practice calming techniques that feel the best to you: take a long soak in a warm bath, cozy up with a book or magazine, listen to music or make a pot of soothing herbal tea.
Laugh often. Practice gratitude. Remember your blessings. Spend time with a good friend.
The basic idea is to allow for the excesses, within a framework of general good, healthy practices that sustain us. With awareness and attention to our health, we can arrive in the new year - not trying to spend months to undo, but to return with relative ease to our natural state of balance.
I wish you joy, balance, and a happy, healthy holiday season!
I recently took some time away in Colorado for a little getaway – one week by myself, and one week joined by my husband. For the first week, I made a priority to take care of myself - an intentional stretch of a few days without a schedule, computer, phone or any electronic intrusions of any kind. I also made it a priority to eat healthfully without spending a lot of time in the kitchen – since food of all ways - preparation, recipe creation, and teaching has become such a big part of my daily life.
So I planned ahead. I took with me 3 pounds of organic greens (baby greens mix, spinach and arugula) from my two CSA shares - Uptown Farmers and Burning River Farm. I brought two pints of MN grown cherry tomatoes and some MN grown hydroponic cucumbers; radishes from my CSA share; a head each of organic broccoli and cauliflower; and a variety of freshly cut herbs from the gardens of my mom in MN and my friend Austine in Denver. Planning was important because the nearest grocery store was a 45 minute drive each way from my cabin, and fresh, local vegetables wouldn’t be possible.
My non-cooking meal plan was simple: to have good ingredients on hand, prepare a few key items ahead of time that could be mixed or matched and seasoned to taste, to use different vinegars, oils, miso, tahini or yogurt to create a variety of salad dressings, and to have the rainbow of nutrients thought out in advance and available so that meals could be optimally balanced without needing to think about it when I was hungry.
Once I arrived at the cabin, I roasted a large sweet potato, cooked a pot of quinoa, soaked and cooked a pot of Colorado-grown borlotti beans (similar to a pinto bean), and cooked up a pot of lentils seasoned with onions, garlic and carrots. For lunch and dinner I ate big salads topped with a changing combination of all of my available ingredients: I never ate the same salad twice because I always varied the crunch and texture of the mix and I made micro-batches of different salad dressings.
My point is this: preparing healthful meals in minutes is possible with advance planning and cooking to minimize kitchen time and to avoid take out or packaged meals. Salads are a great option for minimalist eating this time of year because they fit with our natural inclination to eat lighter during warmer weather, they make the most of local and seasonal ingredients, and they supply our bodies with loads of Vitamin A and other nutrients. To use them as the backdrop for a meal ensures that we’re eating a nutritious, fiber-rich meal that can be adjusted to be a light or substantial summer main dish. In my case, I prepared a few items to have on hand, but a salad can be built around whatever is easy and available, such as leftover grilled meats or vegetables, baby new potatoes, or fresh sweet corn cut right off the cob.
I find the biggest key to a delicious and successful salad is homemade salad dressing: without additives, preservatives, emulsifiers and texture or flavor enhancers, salad dressing goes from being a nutritionally zero calorie bomb to being a healthy and flavorful key element of a delicious main-dish salad. We need healthy fat to be able to absorb and utilize the fat soluble Vitamin A-rich leafy greens and other vegetables and a good homemade dressing can provide just that, without all of the unwanted gunk.
Even if eating a main dish salad for every meal isn’t on your radar, it is certainly possible to enjoy a main dish salad a few times a week as a way to increase vegetables into the diet - and uncooked vegetables at that. In my case, they payoff was worth it. When it was all tallied I ended up with 10 days and 20 different salads: I felt great, I was able to throw together meals in a flash when I was hungry, I had plenty of energy for my 3 hour hikes and extra walks, and I lost a few pounds to boot.
Not bad for salad days.
Chop Salad with Creamy Basil Dressing
Dressing: (makes enough for several salads)
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 1/2 c. organic whole milk yogurt
1 cup of fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
generous grind of black pepper
pinch cayenne pepper
Blend until green and smooth in blender or with immersion blender.
Salad for One:
2 cups of leafy greens or arugula
1/2 cup chopped cauliflower or broccoli
1/4 - 1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup cooked garbanzo beans or black beans, drained
1/2 tablespoon raw sunflower seeds
1/2 tablespoon raw pumpkin seeds
freshly ground black pepper to taste
With such a cool, rainy spring, I’ve been extending my soup season much longer than usual. I love soup anytime – it’s a filling, naturally low-calorie and vegetable packed food. Instead of hearty soup this time of year, I aim for light and bright – focusing on what tastes best during spring cleansing period when we naturally crave lighter foods with inherent detoxifying properties.
Root vegetables are still available – and they can bridge the season from winter to spring vegetable dishes beautifully. I was craving the flavors of this soup a few weeks ago when I had Israel on my mind. Four springs ago we made a trip there to visit dear friends, and were treated to a grand tour around the small country. After one excursion, we returned to find that Grandma, who had generously offered to babysit, had also prepared a delicious borscht for us. It was a perfect soup - flavorful and bright, whether eaten plain or topped with crumbled hard-boiled egg, dill, diced potatoes, pickles and a little dollop of yogurt.
With that in mind, I created this quick beet soup. Beets are a lovely food – earthy, naturally sweet and mineral-rich – as well as a being a wonderful tonic for the liver. It’s a good idea to take a little extra care for our livers this time of year since they’ve (most likely) had a busy season cleansing our bodies from winter excesses of rich foods, alcohol, and sugar from the holidays that started at Thanksgiving and lasted up through spring. Beets are rich in folate and potassium as well as the antioxident betacyanin, found in deep red color varieties of the root. Betacyanin is one of the antioxidents that is especially important for cancer prevention, especially colon cancer. Beet roots also contain a little discussed nutrient called betaine which is important for cardiovascular health by helping to reduce homocysteine, a protein that can build-up in the blood and contribute to heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. Beets are great eating year round - whether shredded raw, roasted, or steamed - and added to salads, eaten as part of a roasted vegetable plate, or juiced with other fresh vegetables.
In this case, I was in the soup mood. For this recipe, adding a potato to the soup gives it a little more body, while garnishing it with fresh basil gives it spring-like and optimistic nod to summer. Use any tender herb that’s coming up in your garden, though - anything fresh will taste delicious.
If you happen to make this soup in the weeks to come, be sure to save the green tops from the beets to use just as you would kale, chard or spinach – it’s delicious simply sautéed with a little garlic and olive oil while providing a phenomenal source of iron, calcium and magnesium.
Spring Beet Soup
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 large beets*, scrubbed, trimmed of tough peel
1 small Yukon Gold potato*
1 medium carrot*, scrubbed and diced
1 large leek*, white and tender green parts only
2 large shallots or 1/2 sweet or red onion*, chopped
1 large clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
4 cups (one quart) water
freshly ground black pepper
large handful fresh basil (or fresh parsley, oregano, marjoram, dill, or tarragon), chopped just before serving.
Heat a medium saucepan or soup pot over medium heat. When it is warm to the touch, add the oil, leeks, shallot and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes until tender and starting to color. Add beets, potato and carrot, season with 1 teaspoon of sea salt, and continue to sauté, stirring occasionally, for an additional 5 minutes.
Add the water and stir with a wooden spoon to release any browned bits of potato that have stuck to the bottom of the pot. Bring the soup to a gentle boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat, and to allow to simmer for 25 minutes. Season to taste with additional salt and freshly ground pepper, add fresh herbs and serve immediately.
What’s standing in the way between you and a good dinner most evenings? If you’re like most people, you’ll say some combination of time, expense, lack of skills and a shortage of ideas.
So, what can we do about it?
We can’t get more time in the day, but we can free up more available time by simply shifting our attention. Maybe it doesn’t exactly mean killing your television, but by turning it off or allocating more time to making real food we have the potential to have a real impact on our health. One of the best things you can do for your health and the health of your family is to make it a priority to prepare real, whole foods meals with nutritious ingredients that are organic, locally and sustainably sourced as much as possible - this week, next week, and all year.
Why cook? Because you were born with one amazing machine, my friends - emphasis on one - and the best way to fuel your machine is with nutritionally-dense real, whole foods. Period. We may get extra chances now and then to clean up our act and shift our eating style, but most of us wait until something drastic is staring us in the face to make those tough decisions about doing the best thing for our bodies. (Nutritionally dense foods are essentially foods or ingredients that are as close to their original state as possible as when they were grown or harvested - unprocessed, unrefined, and with a correspondingly high nutrient value.)
You may need a few more resources to help you on your way if you’re ready to get started right now. By asking friends whose healthy lifestyle inspires you to share a few recipes, subscribing to pra approachable food magazines like Real Food or Whole Living, taking a cooking class, or following a healthy food blog, you’ll get access to new ideas and tested recipes to start moving in the right direction of learning how to prepare great food.
To keep things affordable, consider shopping for staple items in bulk at a co-op grocery or at most grocery stores. Foods purchased in bulk allow us to buy more without paying extra for packaging, plus we contribute less garbage to the waste stream and we can buy just what we need, eliminating excess food being thrown away or not used. To save money while keeping it local, shop for pantry basics when they’re on sale, sign up for a CSA share this summer and plan to frequent a farmer’s market throughout the growing season to make use of fresh foods while they’re in season. Learn how to preserve foods for later – by freezing or canning fresh foods when they’re at their peak of flavor and nutrition – to eat fresh and locally on a budget throughout the year. If your family eats a lot of meat, consider sharing a portion of a large animal to freeze to have access to top quality, ethically-raised meats without paying the highest prices in the grocery store.
No matter what, using any of these thoughts to help shift us toward adopting a more nutritious way of eating will have us spending more time in the kitchen. That’s not a bad thing. The kitchen is typically the heart of any house, so let’s bring it to life and start cooking up some better stuff for our bodies with the goal of simply living better.
Curried Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup
adapted from the Cafe Brenda Cookbook
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red onion, diced
6 - 7 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 cup fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1.5 tablespoon curry powder
1 cup carrots, diced
1 jalapeño, minced (optional)
1 cup red bell pepper, diced
5 cups sweet potato (choose one with deep orange flesh), diced
1 14-oz. can organic coconut milk
2 cups dried red lentils, sorted and rinsed
8 cups vegetable stock or bouillon
juice of one lime
1 bunch cilantro, minced
Sauté red onion, garlic and ginger in olive oil for 15 minutes in a large soup pot. Add curry powder, hot pepper, carrots, bell pepper, and sweet potatoes. Sauté another 5 to 10 minutes.
Add coconut milk, lentils, and the stock. Simmer, covered, until lentils are done and sweet potatoes are tender, approximately 45 minutes. Add lime juice and cilantro and serve.
To make this in a crockpot, prepare soup on the stove through the addition of adding coconut milk, lentils and the stock, then transfer to a crockpot on low to cook for 6-8 hours. Reduce stock by 1 cup and add lime juice and cilantro just before serving.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but our food systems are under attack. And no, they’re not under attack from some foreign terrorist organization, but they’re under attack by the biotech agriculture industry, industrial ag trade groups and their power to influence the US Department of Agriculture (from the inside out, as well), and worst of all, by the behemoth of industrial ag, the corporate food giant Monsanto.
One of the biggest concerns on the table is the lack of truth in labeling and consumer protection from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and from industrial-scale factory farms, or Contained Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). As of right now, consumers have no protections to choose NOT to eat foods grown with genetically modified ingredients, or if the animal products that we’re eating have been raised in confined feed lots – because there is no requirement by the government to label foods produced this way.
Think it doesn’t affect you? Consider that up to 90% of all major US grown crops are grown with genetically engineered seed and can be used in human and animal foods without any safety testing or labeling to let us know what’s been used. This includes US GMO-grown corn, soybeans, canola, and sugarbeets and cotton, which have made their way in to approximately 80% of current grocery store items. (Don't know if you're eating GMOs? If you’re not buying organically produced foods or growing your own vegetables and raising your own animals for food, you’re probably eating genetically modified foods in most of the foods you’re consuming today – breakfast, lunch and dinner.)
If you’re a meat eater, the US Department of Agriculture statistics show that the majority of animal products produced in the US today are raised on confined feed lots, or CAFOs, are fed with genetically modified feed, and are injected with genetically engineered hormones and vaccines.
Genetically engineered recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST), also manufactured by Monsanto, is a genetically engineered variant of the natural growth hormone produced by cows. Sold under the trade name Posilac, cows injected with this hormone forces them to increase milk production by about 10% – with the unfortunate side effect that they need massive doses of antibiotics and vaccines to counter increased incidence of mastitis, lameness and reproductive complications from having to withstand the stress of being milked 3 times a day and producing larger quantities of milk. It also shortens their lifespan down to about 2 years. (No worries! They’re turned into McDonald’s patties after that, so no food gets wasted.) Milk produced with rBGH or rBST has been linked to higher rates of breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer. Is that really surprising, that an animal injected with a growth hormone would affect hormone levels and hormone-related cancers in humans? Yuck. We’re way behind as consumers in the US in demanding the reversal of the use of GM growth hormones: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, the European Union, among other countries, have already banned rbGH because of its impacts on human and animal health.
Genetically modified foods are grown not to make healthier food for you and for me, but so that crops can withstand repeated, heavy application of weed killers – and still survive and be turned into food. Yum! GE crops were first introduced in the 1990s, and pesticide use has only increased – it hasn’t eliminated weeds or the need to reduce weeds. Instead, weeds have become stronger (they’re weeds - quickly becoming super weeds) and our food has become more toxic.
Just how toxic are these GMO foods? Even though there is no government regulated safety testing done on GMOs, independent scientists are warning that GMOs increase cancer risks, trigger allergies, have damaging impact on soil fertility, harm food quality, create ever upward spiraling antibiotic-resistant pathogens, create super pests and super weeds, harm beneficial insects, bees and butterflies, and create increasing dependence on heavier pesticide producing toxic by-products including contaminated water. And, of course, they contaminate organic and non-GMO crops because of airborne pollen drifting from GMO fields to non-GMO fields.
How safe do you feel knowing that all of this is happening without having a right to choose which foods you will buy based on how they were grown? I don’t feel safe at all. At the very least, we have the right to know what is in our food - and food labeling is the most basic of requirements for the consumer to be able to make a real choice.
If you're concerned, I would urge you to ask your federal, state, and local politicians to commit to truth-in-labeling and your right to know as a consumer by supporting mandatory GMO labels on all foods. Protect your health by buying certified organic foods, and supporting small farmers who are committed to growing with sustainable, organic methods by buying a CSA (community supported agriculture) share or by shopping at a local farmer’s market.
If you’re really mad, consider marching at the Minnesota State Capitol tomorrow, Saturday, March 26 in the Millions Against Monsanto campign from noon to 2pm. (Don't live in Minnesota? Find out where to march in your state here.)
Our consumer protection, food freedom, our health and the health of our children depends on us demanding a right to know.
In the best possible world, we would always have access to the freshest, most life-giving food - whether from ingredients used make our own meals – or from some terrific person who prepared them for us. The meals would be balanced, chock full of nutrition and delicious. Quite simply, there is no better way to give your body the most optimum diet than to eat whole (real!) foods that have been thoughtfully put together and prepared from scratch.
On a daily basis, though, in spite of all logic that would guide us otherwise, we consider the nutritional needs of our body a hasty afterthought. Life gets in the way, of course.
So what do you do when the light has gone on and you know what you should be eating, but anticipate having busy mornings, afternoons or evenings when you’ll be on the run?
Plan ahead. Keeping healthy and convenient food items stocked in your refrigerator will make grabbing a quick meal simple and practical.
Consider “wrappers”, pockets or vegetables for quick foods. Sprouted whole grain tortillas, whole grain pita pockets, nori seaweed sheets, or collard greens are all perfect vehicles for rolling and stuffing with nutritious ingredients. They’ll work for breakfast, lunch or dinner and are easy to vary depending on what you choose to put in them.
Make a practice of cooking a batch of rice and beans (or lentils, quinoa, hummus and wild rice) on the weekend to have available all week long. It is a good habit to make basic foods to us as the backbone of filling for your quick wrap or pocket meals in addition to eating them a variety of ways throughout the week. Chopping greens, crunchy brassicas like broccoli or cauliflower and peeling whole carrots to store in airtight containers will make filling your wraps, pockets or green rolls with abundant vegetables a fast, easy choice.
Keep a fruit bowl available on the kitchen counter. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to remember a piece of fruit or two to take with you on your way out the door if you see it. Fruit will last just fine on the counter for a few days and can be replenished from extra stored in the refrigerator.
Blend up a smoothie and pack it along with you in a glass jar. This is a good way to have a healthy option ready in advance - blended up with fruit, some greens, and a little nut butter it will keep just fine without refrigeration for several hours - just shake it up before drinking.
Make your own snack packs with raw nuts for a healthy between meals option, as is preparing your own sandwich snack crackers made out of whole grain flatbreads (Ryvita, Wasa or RyCrisp) – filled with nut butters and a little honey or raisins, or hummus and sliced veggies, or cheese. Or take along big slices and chunks of raw organic vegetables - whole peeled carrots, big wedges of red pepper, thick slices of cucumber - and pack along a small container of hummus or nut butter. Any choice will fill you up and help you to avoid resorting to unhealthy snacks with zero nutritional value.
Even if you took one of these options and incorporated it into to your need for quick meals once, twice or a few times a week you’d be doing yourself a HUGE favor by reducing bad fat, sodium or sugar grams in fast food options. It will also cost less, it will contribute less garbage to the waste stream and you’ll feel better at the end of the day.
Don’t beat yourself up when you can’t achieve the optimum, but keep an eye on making these small changes become the new habit - and you’ll make a big impact on your health in no time.
Collard Green Wrap
1 collard green leaf
1/4 cup hummus
1/2 sweet red pepper, cut into strips
1/3 cucumber (skin on) cut into spears or flat slices
Cut the spine out of one large collard leaf (washed and patted dry). Lay each half flat on a cutting board and spread with hummus. Fill with avocado slices, sliced red pepper, cucumber wedges or a small handful of spinach. Roll up starting at one pointed end. Secure with a toothpick and fill the second collard leaf half in a similar manner.