Jen Emmert

Jen Emmert writes at PriorFatGirl, candidly documenting her journey of losing 100 pounds through all of life's dramatic moments including new jobs, the death of her mom, wedding planning and, most recently, tornadoes. Jen's story has been seen in SHAPE Magazine,, Woman's Day Magazine and many local news outlets. Follow her journey as she continues to fight for healthiness in an unhealthy world.

Posts about Healthy eating

Eating with the Blackbird.

Posted by: Jen Emmert Updated: August 21, 2011 - 3:43 PM

One thing you'll learn about me is I believe we each must determine what healthy is for our own individual journey. Healthy may be one thing to me but for someone who is managing their diabetes or Celiac disease, what I do may not be the right choice. Our own journey is as individual as our finger prints. Sure there is probably a common theme of "move more, eat less" but how we do that is individual based on multiple variables. The hard part about being healthy is in the end we each are responsible for figuring out what healthy means to ourselves. That's my opinion - yours may differ. While I don't boast clean or non-processed eating 100% of the time, I do love when I can find opportunities to eat food not scientifically created in a lab.

Enter Blackbird Restaurant:

Situated on a bustling corner in South Minneapolis, you'll find Blackbird Cafe. While new to me, Blackbird Cafe has been around for awhile although not in its current location. Reopening a little over a year and a half ago after a fire ripped to shreds its insides, Blackbird Cafe confirmed a fire can't stop 'em now. Blackbird Cafe takes pride in a menu cooked from scratch. From their website:

Blackbird is a casual restaurant, serving lunch and dinner, plus breakfast on the weekends. Our menu items are prepared from scratch in our tiny kitchen. No frozen fries, no pre-fab desserts.

We use high quality ingredients and transform them into our versions of homespun classics. Our menu changes occasionally to showcase the best ingredients in their seasons, and to accommodate the fickleness of Mother Nature. But, we also like to keep your well-loved faves on the menu too!

My fiance, Carlos and I walked into Blackbird Cafe on an evening earlier this week, both starving and desperately needing to relax. Free yoga was a great escape but I also needed some quality one-on-one time with Carlos. We were shown to a tiny two person booth toward the back of the restaurant. As we walked toward our booth, I couldn't help but find my eyes darting around the mismatched decor consuming the walls. Every section of the wall seemed to have its own theme which didn't connect but seemed to somehow match its neighboring decorations. The hodgepodge of decor worked in a way I'm pretty sure would look tacky and unorganized if recreated in my house. I was impressed and a little jealous.

I sat down with a heavy sigh as if I was letting stress escape from within the sigh itself. I opened the menu and found familiar thoughts racing through my head. There is often an internal struggle in my mind when I look at menus because I want one of everything. I'm the type of person who eats because food tastes good, because I love the textures of food and because I crave the sensations dancing on my taste buds. I envy those who eat to live and work every day at trying to force a much needed paradigm shift but often get distracted by dreams of what I'm having for dinner. {Note to self: talk to therapist about eating to live and not living to eat.}

As we scanned the menu at our delicious main meal options, we ordered the crusty baguette with chickpea spread and whipped honey butter. I know some who can resist bread but that isn't me. The chickpea spread was a play off a popular hummus flavor but twice as good. It boasted a bold flavor but lightly complimented the crusty bread. The whipped honey butter was good enough to be eaten with a spoon however I resisted and thinly spread it on the second half of my crusty baguette.

While the menu had a lot of really creative dishes, making a decision was not difficult for me. Blackbird Cafe had a dish on their menu that sang melodies to my heart. Spicy peanut noodles: udon noodles, sauteed veggies, fried egg & spicy peanut sauce... add chicken.

In my world, an egg makes everything better. Carlos and I had conversations while a light murmur of conversations floated through the air around us. It was an August evening fit for a paragraph introduction in a book.

Portion sizes are a struggle when eating out because most places give us what we scream for - more for less. Blackbird Cafe challenges that request and instead strives to plate meals that are closer to appropriate portions. Over the past few years, I've allowed myself to adjust to leaving satisfied from dinner, not stuffed beyond comfort.

My spicy peanut noodles with chicken and egg were better than the high expectations I had set. I tasted every unique flavor choreographed together. Each bite made the world turn a little easier. How can a girl eat to live when made from scratch promises to emphasize this kind of live to eat mentality! I finished my egg and half the noodles & chicken. I paused and made a conscious decision not to eat everything on my plate.

Our server came by just enough to let us know he was still there but not to bombard us with intrusions. When he noticed we were slowing down on our meals, he asked the tempting question surrounding the subject dessert. Would we or wouldn't we? I entertained the thought. I even went so far as to ask for descriptions of heavenly creations and begin the process of elimination deciding which one I wanted in my stomach.

As I looked up at the server, I noticed a monster-sized antique looking door on the wall behind him. A symbol, I'm sure of it. The door represented all I'd hope for, fought for and dreamed of. This door was colorful as if alluding to the promises met on the other side. It also appeared to be a heavy door of which one would need to use all the fight they had to push open. It looked simple yet screamed of strength and power.

The server was calmly waiting to fulfill my dessert dreams but my thought process revolving the door helped me realize my stomach was truly satisfied. I had bread and chickpea spread and honey butter. I had udon noodles with a spicy peanut sauce and chicken and an egg. I was satisfied and did not need dessert. {Trust me, I'll talk plenty in the future of dinners when I decide dessert is the perfect end to an evening.} As the server walked away, I looked up as if my decision had been influenced from above. A wall full of mismatched framed mirrors looked down at me.

I smiled and snapped a photo. Doors and mirrors. An entrance to possibilities and a reminder of responsibility. Out in the real world, healthiness exists. We just have to slow down and take a breath long enough for it to make its presence known to us. Blackbird Cafe gives us the space we need to take a breath long enough for us to slow down in a fast paced world. It is a reminder we can be healthy by looking in the mirror and seeing ourselves making responsible decisions.

Have a healthy week, my friends!

Healthy Comfort Foods

Posted by: Jen Emmert Updated: August 7, 2011 - 5:58 PM

Healthy comfort foods. Until recently, I thought it was an oxymoron. Can it really be true that comfort food can be healthy, and dare I say, enjoyable? Comfort food, by a general definition, is food that we associate with childhood and/or home-cooked foods. Comfort food can be things like:

  • Spaghetti
  • Pizza
  • Meat loaf
  • Mac & cheese
  • Lasagna
  • Pot roast
  • Chicken strips

hhmmmm.... is that your stomach growling or mine? Just typing that list brings back memories of coming home from school. I'd pull open the screen door and instantly be greeted with whiffs of food being delicately mixed together with passion. Aromas that would float through the air and head straight for my nose as if the aromas only purpose was to comfort me through the sense of smell. Running up the stairs, typically two at a time, I'd find my mom in the kitchen by the stove. She'd look somewhat flustered as she'd rush from the stove to the kitchen table, shuffling five daycare kids down from the table. Mom's words often sounded as if they were tied together like musical notes. She brushed crumbs from the table with one hand and into her other hand while talking to the kids who were laughing and no longer eating but now playing with their snacks at the table. "Okay kids, snack time is done. Jump down and go find toys!" Mom would notice me standing in the door way and because her to-do list never seemed to get any shorter, she'd quickly glide back over to the stove to stir what was cooking while words flowed over her shoulder and toward me "Hi Jenny, how was your day at school?" I'd answer in a typical teenager way with "good" or "fine" or "okay" but only because my mind was more interested in trying to guess by smell what was for dinner.

Memories. Comfort food evokes so many memories.

But how does one make the jump from comfort foods to healthy? Can one not be healthy while eating comfort food? Dare I propose being healthy can be a balance of both? In my quest to find healthy things to do here in the Twin Cities, I stumbled on KitchenWerks. KitchenWerks was founded by Stacy Klone who spent more than three decades in the food service industry including multiple leadership roles on the corporate side of the industry. My path crossed with Stacy's a little over a year ago after being introduced to her because we shared something in common - weight loss and a passion for food, healthiness & helping others.

On a recent Saturday, I attended a class called Healthy Comfort Foods by KitchenWerks. It was an interactive class and by interactive, I mean we got to eat all the glorious foods cooked. The class started at 11:30am. There were about 20 of us in the class. I walked into the class room and was greeted by Stacy who, as she walked closer to me, I recognized she smelled not of any teenyboppers most recently launched fragrance but instead, the scent of spices and fresh produce. If you had any doubt that Stacy did not bleed passion for cooking, you would see the replica spoon earrings hanging from her ear lobes it would be confirmed that she eats.lives.breaths.sleeps this kind of stuff. 

The right & wrong way to eat mac & cheese:

Stacy started the class with an introduction to herself and what made her the self-proclaimed expert she says she is. Then, she rolled up her sleeves. We started with mac & cheese. Stacy talked about a general misconception about mac & cheese in that most people eat it for dinner which is the wrong way to eat mac & cheese. Whodathunk that mac & cheese is not dinner, but instead, a side dish served next to your protein, veggies and fruit?! Yep, it appears the correct way to eat mac & cheese is a quarter cup serving on your plate.

Lesson number one: mac & cheese is a side dish, not dinner.

Stacy walked us through how to make home-made mac & cheese. Throughout her instructions, she often interjected variations and suggestions for alternatives to what she was doing, giving us additional ways to umph up our mac & cheese. For example, Stacy suggested adding a little flax seed (for added fiber) to the top of our mac & cheese right before baking instead of bread crumbs because the flax seed will give the mac & cheese a crunchy topping and added fiber. Also, Stacy suggested adding broccoli or red peppers to the dish to incorporate vegetables.

A spaghetti dinner minus the pasta:

I know you are cringing at the thought of eating a spaghetti dinner without pasta but trust me when I tell you it is (1) possible and (2) enjoyable. Stacy showed us how to make a quick and easy home made pasta sauce (and even hid some vegetables in it.) Then, Stacy dared us to think out side the [pasta] box. 

Believe me when I tell you I actually enjoyed eating my spaghetti with the crunch of the romaine lettuce! I also liked eating spaghetti served broccoli slaw. Stacy also recommended serving the spaghetti sauce over spaghetti squash, which I already do often at home. (And let me confirm my carnivore eating, meat & potatoes fiance actually likes spaghetti squash as an alternative to noodles!).

Lesson number two: pasta isn't mandatory

The key takeaway for me was to try something new because I'd never know if I like it until I try it. Even if something doesn't sound appealing right away, you may actually enjoy it!

Breading without the bread:

There was no magic involved as Stacy moved on in her cooking lessons and showed us how to bread chicken strips without bread or bread-crumbs. A simple and easy mix of finely pulserized cashews and flax seed served as our "bread crumb" like coating for chicken strips.

Moms & dads pay attention because if you've ever fed your children out-of-the-bag frozen chicken strips out of convenience, than this lesson was for you! Within 4 minutes, Stacy had cut up chicken into strips, coated them with the healthy alternative and carefully laid them on a sheet pan. This was a recipe that is sure to send the frozen convenient food manufactures crying to their mommies because no one is buying them anymore.

Lesson number three: chicken strips aren't just for kids.

As we dined on crunchy breaded chicken strips, Stacy gave us ideas on how her clients use these for salad toppers throughout the week for their lunches, used them in wraps for quick and easy dinners and even kept them in baggies in the fridge for grab-and-go snacks.

As we worked through our last recipe, healthy pizza, it dawned on me. Not only was I enjoying quick & easy comfort foods, just like what I grew up with, but I was enjoying it without guilt. Over the duration of the two hour class, I felt inspired to think about comfort foods like I had never thought of before. I felt inspired to think about the possibilities with food and not what I couldn't have.

I had debunked my own myth. This tiny nugget of a class, right here in the Twin Cities, had done it. The KitchenWerks class helped proved to myself that it was possible to eat healthy comfort foods and actually enjoy it.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some healthy comfort food to make!

I'm a priorfatgirl.

Posted by: Jen Emmert Updated: July 31, 2011 - 5:47 PM

Being healthy in Minneapolis & St. Paul.

It's possible, right?

I mean, I've lived here for almost thirty years {whoa, that was hard to admit in writing!} and despite the fact I have been chubby, obese or morbidly obese for twenty-six of those years doesn't mean being healthy in the Twin Cities isn't possible, right?

I'm an expert?

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Jen, a priorfatgirl. I'm mostly known for sharing my journey of losing 100 pounds while fighting life events like new jobs, grad school, dating & getting engaged, planning a wedding, the death of my mom and most recently, a tornado. 

This was me, at my heaviest:

 The baby is adorable but not mine, I live with my fiance & furry child.


And this is me now:


Since 2007, I've publicly shared my struggles, frustrations, emotions and experiences through my blog. Don't let my current size fool you - I struggle just as hard now to maintain my weight loss as I did to fight through weight loss. I've become a self-proclaimed expert at how to be healthy here in the Twin Cities.

Sharing Proof

The devil behind being healthy has thrown every possible external reason for me to walk away from my healthiness journey and instead, swallow my problems while eating glorious foods. But I'm a fighter. And this is real life. Real life healthy living in the Twin Cities. It is possible to be healthy in the Twin Cities and I'm proof. I'm proof that you don't have to spend thousands of dollars on a fancy program or resort to becoming a hermit to avoid the temptations life has waiting for us.

Join me here at Star Tribune every Sunday as I share my adventures of being healthy in the Twin Cities.

At any point you have an idea, please send it my way by leaving a comment here or emailing me at





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