I enjoy writing to you in the early hours of the morning. This quiet time is best for thinking about what is working in my life that could also help you feel a little healthier, happier and more content in yours.
Today, my mind wanders back to last Friday in Napa, where I was speaking with my sister-in-law about meal planning. If you remember, I used to be an avid meal planner, before the whole thing became a little time-consuming. Since then I have focused on one meal at a time, rather than a weekly menu. Flying by the seat of our dinner pants did suit our schedule for a surprisingly long time. But recent life changes — namely my pregnancy penchant for eating at 6 pm — have required us to go back to the tried-and-true meal plan concept.
Which is why my little tete-a-tete in Napa was such an eye-opening conversation. My sister-in-law, a spreadsheet whiz, decided to make a monthly meal plan to use on repeat. She created four weekly menus, with many nights following a similar theme, and has been repeating it each month.
Aside from the time she saves thinking about food, the benefits of this routine include:
Having a ready-made grocery list
Knowing how much food will cost each week
And not defaulting to cooking the same meal night-after-night.
I imagine that Steve Jobs would have like this method of menu organization. The billionaire computer genius may have been famous for creating Apple, but he also makes a fascinating case study of daily habits. Jobs’ uniform of blue jeans and black turtleneck wasn’t a fashion statement, but rather a statement of intelligence: limiting the number of (useless) decisions one needs to make every day leaves more brain power for thinking, conversing and deciding on things that honestly matter. The choice to wear a turtleneck or a button-down pales in comparison to figuring out how to create the most revolutionary tech company in history.
Decision fatigue is a real thing, and when it comes to healthy eating, it can be your downfall. Figuring out what to eat every meal of every day is exhausting, but not pre-planning is a recipe for living on takeout, packaged food or grilled cheese sandwiches.
My sister-in-law’s strategy is excellent for anyone who wants diversity on their dinner plate without reinventing the wheel every single night. On the hour-long flight back from Sacramento to LAX, I actioned her suggestion and came up with 28 dinner recipes to repeat for the next three months.
(I used this same technique to pre-plan my prenatal workouts and can see myself getting addicted to Excel organization charts…Sorry, Nate!)
Interested in making your own batched meal plan? I hope so! Here’s a video that shows you exactly how to do it:
I don’t tend to share many recipes on this blog. The reason being that when it comes to helping women improve their health, I believe that we need to start with how we think and feel, before we can confidently change how we act.
Also, as much as I love food — and I really love food — my weekly meals are very simple and not particularly blog-worthy. There are only so many times that I can share a photo of grilled salmon, chicken curry, veggie stir-fry, overnight oats or broiled lamb chops until we all get a little sick of it!
Even if I kept a more food-focused blog (as I did hilariously, and with terrible photography, at Blushing Strawberries in 2010/2011), that alone won’t make YOU a healthier eater.
Because here’s the thing: it’s not your access to healthy recipes that’s the problem, it’s your unwillingness to cook them.
Today I want to tell you how proper nutrition was essential in my recovery from binge-eating.
Full disclosure: I am not a psychologist or dietitian, nor do I have any training in the field of eating disorders. What I do have, however, is my own experience, and my understanding that it was a combination of self love practices and proper nutrition that helped me create a healthy relationship with food.
If you’ve ever binged, or regularly tend to over-eat, you’ll know how physically and emotionally exhausting that process is. My personal experience was that I would restrict calories throughout the day and then binge at night. By the time I went to bed my stomach was so tight that you could have popped it with a pin. After every episode I would cry myself to sleep, and the next morning I would wake with equal parts indigestion and massive guilt. The cycle continued.
To overcome binge eating I tried to place (further) restrictions on myself:
Certain foods wouldn’t be allowed in the house
I’d eat with smaller bowls
Breakfast became my biggest meal and I would attempt to eat a peasant’s dinner (this was awful…dinner is my favorite!)
I would avoid eating snacks at parties, only to go home ravenous and polish off three bowls of cereal
I asked my husband to “not let me go back for seconds”
Every morning I would blame and berate myself…unsurprisingly, not a terribly effective strategy.
I’ve since learnt is that wasn’t the fault of the food, the crockery, the willpower, etc. The simple truth was that I was starving,and you might be too.
If you’re not eating your fill of nutritious foods throughout the day (yes, fats and carbohydrates are included), then your body will always be crying out for more. The problem is that when you’re running on empty, when its dark outside, and you’re wearing your sweatpants… that more tends to be easy-to-access, processed crap, and a lot of it.
Fortunately, that doesn’t have to be your future reality. If you want to find food freedom in your own life, then you have to stop being afraid of eating.
When you eat well — when you eat enough of the good stuff, and mindfully enjoy some of the treat stuff — it becomes easy to enjoy your food and your good health, without willpower, deprivation, or the obsessive need to check your weight at the end of any big meal.
So your goal for this week is to take a keen look at your plate and ask if depriving yourself of proper food is actually your biggest health and nutrition downfall.
And to help make things a little easier, I thought I would post a recipe today! These are my spinach and feta muffins, and they’re wonderful to grab as breakfast-on-the-go, a healthy snack, or as a side to a luscious lunch salad.
Gluten Free Spinach Feta Muffins
2 cups spelt flour or all purpose gluten free flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 large handful baby spinach leaves, torn
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup (125 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup full-fat plain yogurt
1 cup pumpkin puree*
1/2 cup (4oz, 100grams) crumbled feta
1. Preheat your oven to 350°F / 180°C. Line a 12-hole muffin tray with muffin liners.
2. Combine the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, stirring with a fork to break up any clumps. In a separate bowl, mix together all the wet ingredients EXCEPT for the feta.
3. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour the wet mixture into the dry. Use a large spoon to fold together until combined.
4. Spoon batter evenly into the muffin liners and crumble feta over the tops of each muffin.
5. Bake in the centre of the oven for 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the muffins comes out clean.
5. Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the tin and then remove and continue cooling on a wire rack.
*Purchase pumpkin puree cans in the supermarket. Check the ingredient label, they should read pumpkin only. This is different from pumpkin pie filling which has sugar and spices added. To make your own puree: peel and chop a medium butternut squash or 2 pounds of sweet potatoes. Place in a pot of boiling water and cook for 8-10 minutes or until soft. Drain and then puree in a blender. Measure out about 14oz or 400g for the recipe. Freeze the rest to use next time.
The Los Angeles wellness obsession has gone bonkers.
This isn’t new information— I live in a city where people pay thousands of dollars to have their fat frozen and spend a week’s take-home wage on juice cleansing — but it’s gotten out of control.
The straw that has broken this camel’s back came last night when I popped into the supermarket. As I quickly dashed about filling my basket with veg, milk and eggs, my inquisitive-journalist ears picked up the sounds of a conversation that would only take place in a city like L.A.
Following the treble tones, I turned into the aisle to find two women having an anxious and in-depth conversation about which brand of water they should buy.
I kid you not.
It went like this:
“This one is reverse osmosis”, says the brunette wearing a red neckerchief and holding a $6.99 bottle of H20.
“But this one has added electrolytes,” counters the blonde, pointing her manicured fingers at a label that has flown halfway across the world to sit on this mid-Wilshire shelf.
“Perhaps we should buy the glass bottles?” suggests the first. “To avoid BPAs.”
“Sure, that works…just make sure you read the nutrition label,” replies the second, a little more quietly as she catches me watching, transfixed.
I tear my eyes away, stash a few (home-brand) club sodas into my basket and head to the self service checkout, trying not to giggle at the scene I just observed.
Read the nutrition label on your water? Now that’s a new one!
Look, I’m not scoffing at these women’s determination to hydrate — drinking clean water is very, very important. And if you have the luxury of being able to afford the brand that is alkalized, charcoal-filtered or lovingly bottled at a cold mountain spring, and drinking that type of water floats your boat, then power to you.
But the reality is that it’s totally unnecessary to take a simple health habit — drink more water — and make it something complicated, and frankly a little bourgeoisie. Honestly, do YOU have the time or mental bandwidth to deliberate the pros and cons of various water brands? I sure as heck don’t!
As your wellness coach I suggest that you spend more time drinking water and less time worrying about the ideal way to do it. (Insider tip: the tap turns to the left.)
This goes for any new healthy habit…the easiest way to make progress is by simply starting.
Want to get fit? Lace up your sneakers and walk around your neighborhood.
Want to eat healthier? Load up your basket with fruit, veg and whole grains, and stop buying brightly colored boxes plastered with words like “healthy!” and “fiber!”. (These words are often there to disguise the whopping amount of sugar, sodium or trans-fats that the product contains.)
I know that I’ve talked about this before, but I will continue to beat the drum until we all get the message that being healthy is actually very simple.
The healthiest people that I know are not the ones who agonize over every last detail to make the perfect choice. They don’t obsess over what they eat, how they move, or what they weigh. They don’t trap themselves into rigid lifestyle habits or overload their days with unrealistic goals and expectations. And they certainly don’t spend Sunday evening in the supermarket, analyzing the merits of drinking water.
So your goal for this week is to commit to becoming one of the healthy ones.
You can do that in three steps:
Pinpoint an area of your life that is being held back by perfectionism, analysis-paralysis or straight up laziness.
Set an intention to change one single habit related to that area.
Take swift action, today, tomorrow, the next day, and so on; improve as you go, and know that each day you choose to do something different is the day that your life will change.
Here’s a potentially embarrassing confession: I’d get a real kick out of writing for the Dear Abby column. I love sharing helpful advice and thoughtful opinions from the comfort of my own living room…just ask my husband!
However, considering that it’s been almost seven years since graduating with my journalism degree, and Jeanne Phillips — the current owner of the “Abby” pen name — hasn’t yet reached out to me on LinkedIn, I feel that the time has come to take matters into my own hands.
So we’ll be trying a little experiment for the next month or so…
Every Wednesday I’ll dedicate a post to one simple solution or strategy that will make it easier for you to squeeze more healthy habits into your every day life.
I’ll get the ball rolling, but I’d love for you to join in the discussion (see details at the end of this post).
My mission is to help women get back in the driver’s seat of their own health and happiness, by making healthy living simple AND enjoyable. This series should help.
Now on to today’s question…
What is one thing that I can do this weekend to make meal prep easier (if I only have one hour to spare)?
Even an hour spent in the kitchen on the weekend will ultimately save you time and money— and make it easier to stick with your healthy eating habits. It’s a great way to get a head start on your weekday meals.
If there was only ONE thing that I could get done each weekend, it would be to cook and freeze my grains and starches. Preparing foods like rice, quinoa and sweet potatoes during the week is time-consuming, and it doesn’t make sense to do it on a meal-by-meal basis.
Instead, one Sunday a month my husband and I bulk cook these staples, and freeze them in portion sized freezer bags or tupperware containers. Come a random Tuesday evening I’m thrilled to thaw a bag of rice, bake a piece of fish, and cook some veggies with a dollop of butter. While dinner would have taken an hour if we were waiting on the grain, it comes together in 15 minutes (and there’s less washing up).
What can you cook and freeze?
Lots of things actually! We’ve had great success with the following, but I encourage you to experiment (note: these are listed in order of how long they take to cook):
Beans (black, white, kidney, chickpeas…)
Rice (basmati, white, brown and black)
Sweet potatoes (cubed and roasted)
Mashed potato or sweet potato
Butternut squash (cubed and roasted)
TO COOK: Double or triple your regular quantity. Cook as normal. Allow to cool. Freeze in portions that are suitable for you and your family.
TO USE: Defrost in the fridge overnight, or use the microwave; heat in the oven, or use the microwave.
TIP: Start with the ingredient that takes the longest to cook — such as roasting sweet potatoes or boiling rice — and then move on to a quick-cook, like quinoa or pasta. That way everything should be done around the same time…roughly 45 minutes later.
Now I’d Love To Hear From You (Dear Abby…)
What are you struggling with in your health, fitness or self care / self love routine at the moment? What healthy habits do you see other people doing and you wonder — how do they do that? Nothing is too silly or too small!
Let me know in the comments below, and I’ll answer those Qs over the next couple of weeks.
So you’ve decided to make healthy eating a priority this year. You want to have more energy, maintain your ideal weight, and feel comfortable and confident in your beautiful body. Trouble is, you have no idea where to start, which begs the question: what’s the best diet for you?
Sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. For many years I struggled with food and my body. I believed that I couldn’t find the perfect diet, or if I had I must have been doing it wrong. (In the words of my inner critic I lacked motivation,I wasn’t good enough,I would start again tomorrow)
Truth is, I hadn’t actually found an ideal diet for my body, so it made sense that I was having a pretty rough trot with the whole eating thing. But once I figured it out, everything fell into place and questions of motivation were wiped off the table. Because you don’t need to be motivated to eat foods that make you feel great.
Today I’m sharing five actionable steps that will help you also discover your best personal diet. Read on my foodie friend.
Diet Versus Dieting
Before we dive in to the meat and potatoes — i.e. figuring out what you need to eat in order to feel healthy, happy and filled with delicious delight — I need to clarify the distinction between YOUR diet and dietING.
The friendly nerds who contribute to Wikipedia (my darling husband included) tell us that: diet is the sum of food consumed by a person or other organism (1). They go on to talk about dietary choices, the ingestion and absorption of vitamins, minerals and macronutrients for energy, health and longevity. Basically your diet is just another way of saying the foods that you eat.
What makes this word tricky, and almost taboo, is when it ends with “ing”,or sits in a sentence with words such as follow, start, stick to, new, strict, struggle, celebrity and fad.
Going on a diet, or the act of dieting, is synonymous with restriction and deprivation. These are also words that make me think of a short-term commitment, something that you’ll (miserably) try for a while before going back to your regular diet, aka what you normally eat.
It’s a tricky distinction to make, but it’s really important that you do so. You should be able to talk about YOUR diet without people thinking that you’re going on A diet.
I’ve even had comments from women visiting jenniferdenewellness.com who have blasted me for being another so-and-so who is condoning unhealthy body image for women. Hmmmm…guess they didn’t see this post about flaunting your dimplesor this one where I helped you get back in touch with being beautiful you.
Honestly I don’t want to always say “the foods that you eat” or “your nutrition choices” just to be politically correct. A healthy diet means that you eat foods that have a high nutritional value and do wonders for your longterm health. It’s a word that has outlived any single dieting trend, and it’s what we’re talking about today.
Should You Stick To One Type Of Diet?
We’ve established the difference between diet and dieting, which is my cue to step off the soapbox!
Now you may be asking but what about things like the Paleo diet or being a vegan? Are they diets or dieting?
Unfortunately it’s in our culture to label everything we do, which leads to many people using these diets to self-identify — I am Paleo or I am vegan. But restricting yourself to the boundaries of a certain label makes it difficult to honor your body’s needs.
For example, a woman who is trying to get pregnant requires a certain amount of carbohydrates to ensure healthy hormone levels for fertility (2). This becomes a problem if she’s following a strict Paleo or Keto diet that focus on very low carbohydrate intake.
Or what happens when a man who thrived on a vegan diet for years starts experiencing depression, joint pains or fatigue? Will he be open to eating animal foods that will quickly boost his B12 and iron levels, or will he feel unable to make that choice because he has told the world he doesn’t eat meat? (3), (4)
The point is that we shouldn’t have to limit ourselves to stay within the boundaries of a certain label, and we should never, ever be held hostage to the food that we eat. That’s why I see these diets as guidelines…more like a cuisine than a strict set of rules.
I see enormous benefit in the principles of enjoying a vegan, paleo or mediterranean diet. But what works best for me is not following any of them to the letter, and rather taking a mix-and-match approach that suits my body’s unique needs.
With that in mind, here’s the mindset I want you to have as you start to incorporate the following tips into your lifestyle:
Food is just food, it’s not your enemy and it’s not your gate-keeper
I give you all the freedom in the world to combine the best bits of each diet to suit your unique needs — like mashing together potatoes, peas and gravy at Sunday lunch!
How to create the best diet for you
Below you’ll find my five top tips for discovering your best diet yet.
Keep it simple and enjoyable
Overcomplicating anything leads to confusion. A statement that is especially true when it comes to improving personal habits.
Planing 7 days of meals in advance may seem smart, but it’s actually very overwhelming…meal prep is absolutely a skill.
And while I used to do the big Sunday cook-up, I no longer do. These days I prefer to spend a little more time in the kitchen each day, to prepare the right meal for my body on that day. This shift has helped me reconnect with my physical needs and conquer old habits of overeating and emotional eating.
So instead of playing Martha Stewart during the working week, you can simply plan to have a few staples on hand — such as cooked quinoa or rice, roasted sweet potatoes, hardboiled eggs and plenty of washed green veggies. These form the base of an easy meal that you can top with other yummy things.
Get educated (but take other people’s advice with a grain of salt)
Here’s the deal — you can’t succeed at something that you don’t understand. Learning why it’s a really good idea to kick your sugar habit, or that drinking diet-soda is linked to dementia and stroke (5) will make it a heck of a lot easier for you to stick with your new way of eating.
Saying that, it’s also not a good idea to blindly trust every piece of diet advice that you hear. Glossy mags tend to publish the Cliff’s Notes version of any given dietary theory. While this may spark your interest, you really need to understand the why behind the what. I recommend working with a professional who can explain what is the best diet for you, why that’s the case, and how you can follow it.
Keep A Food-Mood Journal
In terms of intelligence, sometimes your body is smarter than your brain. A food diary traditionally tracks calories and quantities. A food-mood journal explores how different types of food make your body feel. I prefer the latter.
Here’s how to get started:
Start a new word doc (or grab a notebook), and create four columns
Column A: record each meal that you eat, listing as many ingredients as possible
Column B: make a note about how you felt physically immediately after eating
Column C: note how you feel 2 hours after eating; this is useful to highlight digestive reactions, note fatigue or energy, return of hunger, etc
Column D: this is a spot for any notes, thoughts or comments that you might have
Your food-mood journal can help you pinpoint the meals and ingredients that make your body thrive.
Be Consistent & Avoid Squirrel Syndrome
Once you’ve found a way of eating that works for you, you’ll need to stick with it. And yes, that includes ignoring the latest trend in Women’s Health or on Dr. Oz.
Again, feel free to gather information, but don’t jump ship on something that’s working well for you. Put your healthy blinkers on and commit to eating your ideal diet for 3 months before making any big changes.
Your Needs Will Change, So Be Adaptable
Avoid squirrel syndrome but also keep in mind that your dietary needs will change over time. Variable factors include: your age, lifestyle and immediate health needs; the climate in which you live; your menstrual cycle (are you pregnant, peri-menopausal, going through menopause or postmenopausal); holiday season and festive eating; and even life events that cause stress, physically, mentally or emotionally.
Creating YOUR own perfect diet is what serves your beautiful body at every stage of life.
You Don’t Need To Do It Alone
Would you like help in discovering your perfect diet? Are you committed to dropping the weight of deprivation, and slipping back into your ideal body and life? Why not find out more about working with me in my Fit, Feminine & Fabulous coaching program. Click here to learn more.
For as long as I can remember I’ve loved planning menus, organizing dinner parties and generally just daydreaming about food stuff.
At school I doodled appetizer ideas in the margins of my math book — calculusequations would morph into lists of fried zucchini flowers, smoked salmon blinis, and morsels of sweet splendor.
After class I would come home and pull down every cookbook from the shelf above the fridge, sit down with a cup of tea and a notepad, and get to work on organizing what the family would eat for dinner that week.
My suggestions regularly included things like:
Tuesday: 8 hour lamb ragu over polenta
Wednesday: braised quail with wild mushrooms
Thursday: spinach and ricotta stuffed conchiglioni with scratch-made marina sauce
By the time my mum got home from work I had the shopping lists made, the recipe pages marked, and I was ready to hit the grocery store and start work in the kitchen.
Oddly, Mum wasn’t as keen on whipping up a three-course meal as I might have thought, which always confused me as she loved food and cooking as much as I did. All she had to do was work an 8+ hour day, look after two kids, a dog, and a massive garden, pay bills, exercise, stay up to date on current affairs…I mean, what gives?
Fast forward ten years and the ball has dropped. I totally get it. The last thing that I want to do after a busy work day is spend hours in the kitchen on a meal that, to be honest, I may end up eating in front of an episode of Grace & Frankie.
(In hindsight my mum was actually a domestic goddess, serving up exotic stir-fry, handmade chicken pot pie, and incredible salads on a nightly basis.)
That isn’t to say that I don’t still spend an inordinate amount of time daydreaming about dinner parties and planning lovely menus, but my weekly rotation is a heck of a lot more simple than it used to be.
These days I’m happy with simple food, like baked salmon and veggies, chicken and rice soup, or tossing something on the grill.
Because as my mum knew, choosing food that is tasty, nourishing and quick to prepare makes it easy to consistently eat healthy meals.
With that in mind, try using these three tips this week, to simplify your healthy weeknight cooking routine.
Make Healthy Weeknight Cooking A Breeze
Tip #1: Use one cooking method
You can boil, steam, roast, grill or serve raw…but don’t try to do them all at once.
Roast: In the same oven you can roast vegetables (zucchini, asparagus, tomato, fennel, sweet potato…) and cook a bit of protein (chicken, fish, tofu, lamb chops, meatballs…).
Steam: Use a large saucepan with a steaming insert to simultaneously cook rice, and steam greens and chicken or fish on top; squeeze with lemon and drizzle with sesame oil to serve.
Grill: Cut vegetables into thin strips, brush them with coconut oil and season to taste, then cook alongside whatever meat or fish you’re grilling; it’s also delicious to skip the meat and serve with grilled haloumi cheese instead.
Raw: Go vegan and make a chopped salad with any raw vegetables that you like, a can of drained chickpeas, and lashings of olive oil and lemon juice.
Tip #2: Cook once, eat thrice
Cooking from scratch every day is not time-efficient.
In fact, it takes the same amount of time to roast one or two chickens, to bake multiple sweet potatoes, or to cook four cups of quinoa. You can even batch make salads and leave undressed until serving. (Cheeky salad!)
Leftovers become the saving grace of healthy eating during the week, so I recommend that you regularly plan to cook more than you need and reserve the rest for another meal; store in the fridge for quick assembly over the next couple of day, or freeze them for future use.
(We’ve just discovered that chopped and roasted sweet potatoes actually defrost really well…this was a very happy realization in my house, where the sweet potato currently reigns supreme!)
Tip #3: Keep it simple
The benefit of simple cooking is three-fold:
It eliminates the challenge of meal planning and makes preparing food feel manageable, even for the novice cook
You’ll save money on groceries as you’ll buy fewer ingredients and use them all
And it helps keep you honest about what is on your plate and how much you’re eating
This week I challenge you to keep it simple in the kitchen: choose one meal, one cooking method and use six ingredients or less. Make a double batch and repurpose it for lunch or dinner the next day.
Here’s What I’m Doing Tonight — Grilled Lamb Chops
Lamb loin chops
Salt and Pepper
Cut the vegetables into 1/4” strips, brush with coconut oil and season with salt and pepper. Preheat the grill to medium-high. Cook the lamb chops and vegetables until done to deliciousness. Serve.
Leftovers: slice leftover lamb and vegetables and toss it over lettuce for a lunch salad.
Let me know how it goes by leaving a comment below.
In just a little while I’ll be celebrating with the handsome Nathaniel, a glass of Moet and some very good cheese. But before I kick off my shoes and pop open that bottle of bubbly, I’m taking some time to reflect on the last (almost three) decades.
I sometimes look around at my life and think: huh, who would have ever thought that’d happen. Every year brings with it new surprises and adventures, and we never really know what will transpire next.
Growing up as girl in a beautiful yet small Australian country town, I never would have expected that I would find myself living in Los Angeles, married to a Southern boy, and teaching women how to feel fit, feminine and fabulous through healthy living and self care.
In fact, this life that I’m living never really crossed my mind…it just sort of happened!
At various times throughout my childhood I wanted to be: a gas station attendant (I loved washing windshields with a squeegee); a bank teller (I got a real kick out of counting coins and shuffling notes); and for a few years my aspiration to become a lawyer (which would justify the owning of a briefcase) butted heads with my desire to be a marine biologist (and swim with the dolphins every day).
What actually happened was that I got a degree in journalism and started teaching fitness.
Since then, a series of unforeseen events, saying yes to new opportunities and rolling with the flow of life has brought me to where I am today…sitting in the Miracle Mile, thinking that pre-breakfast mimosas sounds like a very civilized idea.
The road that takes us to where we need to go is rarely clear and often tricky to navigate. But what we discover with every step will shape us in ways that we could never have realized, had we not dared to step off the beaten path.
With that in mind, and in honor of turning 29, I wanted to share 29 things that I’ve learnt about healthy living and loving the skin you’re in.
And then I’d love to hear from you.
What one nugget of knowledge would you tell your younger self? Like a rising tide lifts all boats, sharing our words of wisdom with one another makes us all stronger. So please, leave a comment below!
29 Things That I’ve Learnt About Healthy Living (And Loving The Skin You’re In)
Today we’re talking about home cooking and why you need to get on board, for your body, your wallet and the environment . If you commit to only one thing for your health this week, let it be this.
I am so very grateful to my mum for not only setting an incredible example of what it means to be a home cook, but for teaching me how easy and enjoyable it is to put food on the table. I’m also grateful to my Nan, who taught us that we should never serve more than we can eat, and always reuse your leftovers and wash your ziplock bags!
In fact, most of my favorite childhood memories are linked to the family kitchen. Dad’s famous spaghetti bolognese, Nan’s boiled potatoes with dollops of butter, Mum’s spinach and ricotta stuffed pastry, Mandy’s pavlova, Chella’s gratin…So many happy moments have been shared digging into a home cooked meal with people I love.
If it wasn’t for my upbringing I would probably find this whole healthy eating thing to be quite challenging; from an outsiders perspective it can seem rather daunting to know what to eat and how to prepare it. (This is especially true living in Los Angeles where fad-diets reign supreme and the number of ‘superfoods’ in your pantry acts as a status symbol.)
There has never been an easier time to find recipes, watch cooking shows, or learn how to prepare ingredients on YouTube, yet we’re living in an age where people are cooking less than ever before. Part of this may be due to time (we’ll get to that) or not knowing how to cook (we’ll get to that too). However, I can also see that simple home cooking has been elevated to something gourmet, putting pressure on busy women to not only get food on the table, but to make it look like a Martha Stewart centerpiece.
Home cooking shouldn’t be seen as something elitist, expensive or complicated; it should be simple, enjoyable and affordable.
Healthy home cooking also doesn’t mean eating an undressed salad, or a meagre piece of fish with steamed asparagus. Making food from scratch let’s you be in control of the quality and quantity of ingredients that you’re using. This let’s you cut back on sodium, choose the best quality fats and meats, and bulk out the meal with lots of vegetables. It’s more economical, much better for you, and puts things like pizza back on the menu!
A 2015 study from Johns Hopkins University found that people who cook at home (without consciously trying to eat healthier or choose low calorie foods), eat at least 140 fewer calories per day. While that may seem small fry on a single day basis, at the end of the week that’s 980 calories, at the end of the month it’s 3920 calories, and at the end of the year you’d be saving over 47,000 calories — that’s all without ever looking at a calorie-counting app.
(And yes, I did have to use my calculator during the writing of that paragraph. If we want to talk about other traditional habits that are going down the gurgler, my math would be one of them.)
Apart from your waistline, home cooking also saves time, money and food waste. This last point is absolutely huge! Did you know that the biggest source of CO2 emissions on the planet is food waste? And that’s not by the big industry players, but by the everyday person throwing away groceries that they don’t use, or leftover food that they don’t eat. This is really troubling and should make us all feel more responsible for how we treat our food.
So let’s talk about why you’re not cooking more often at home, and I challenge you to give it a go every day for this week.
“Why I Don’t Cook” Myth 1: I Don’t Have Time
I don’t know about that. While I don’t have a scientific study to link to, I know how long it takes Nate and I to order food versus cook a meal at home. The latter wins for speed, hands down.
Going through the rigmarole of deciding where to go and what to eat, then ordering, picking it up or waiting for a delivery, unpacking things at home (discarding the packaging waste), reheating if needed…it’s a long process only to realize that it wasn’t even what we felt like.
On the other hand, the following meal takes about 15 minutes and will leave leftovers for lunch if I cook double:
Fill a big saucepan with cold water and some scrubbed, chopped potatoes. Boil the spuds until they’re soft enough to stick a knife into. Just before they finish cooking throw in a good handful of chopped broccoli and cook for 1-2 minutes. Drain the lot, put it back in the saucepan (no heat) and add a good bit of butter, salt and pepper. Meanwhile, grill a piece of salmon or some lamb chops under the broiler, for 8 minutes or until done to your liking. Pop it all on a plate and enjoy.
This is one I hear all the time, but it’s just not true. Yes, making those ridiculous smoothie bowls that you see on Instagram would be expensive, but you also wouldn’t make them. It costs Nate and I about $20 to cook a big chicken curry with rice and greens (and yummy leftovers), but when we get Indian takeout we never walk away with change from a $50 note.
This is true even on the low end of the scale. To feed a family of four at McDonald’s (burgers, nuggets, fries and drinks) would cost you almost $28. For that same amount you could serve a whole roasted chicken, sweet potatoes and green vegetables. You’d probably have leftover chicken for lunch sandwiches, and you can even use the carcass to make homemade soup.
Plus there’s the very valid argument of investing in your health. So while these sweet potato brownies may cost more than opening a box from the supermarket, in the long run eating home cooked meals will save you a fortune in medical costs.
“Why I Don’t Cook” Myth 3: I Don’t Know How To Cook
That’s ok, it can feel overwhelming to learn new habits. However, cooking can be very simple and enjoyable. Start where you are and don’t try to be a gourmet chef — in my opinion some of the yummiest meals are the most simple). Buy a basic cookbook and learn one new dish each week; before long you’ll feel really comfortable in the kitchen. Challenge yourself to sticking to recipes that use 6 ingredients or less and you’ll be golden.
So what do you say, are you willing to cook at least one meal at home each day this week? I’ve thrown the gauntlet and would love to hear that you’ve picked it up, so please do leave a comment below.
Remember: healthy living is simple, eating well is not restrictive, and YOU CAN choose to create a body and a life that you love.
Today’s recipe for sweet potato brownies will be a hit with even the most finicky of eaters. If you think that brownies can’t be healthy, or healthy food can’t be delicious, think again!
Last week I told you about the new 21 day eating plan that I started, you can catch up on that here. I’m eight days in and all is going well so far. I’m inspired to be more creative in the kitchen — something that you’ll benefit from in a moment — and I’m spending more time on non-food related lifestyle stuff.
There is one thing though…in a cruel twist of irony, Nate and I attended a sourdough bread making class the day before this all began. So in my freezer are two delicious loaves of organic, heirloom grain, homemade bread. How’s that for bad timing?!
I’ve also noticed that it’s much easier to stick to my menu when my husband isn’t at home. He travelled for the first part of last week, and I didn’t give my food a second thought. The night he returned home, however, I was suddenly missing that glass of wine and bowl of pasta.
This reminded me that food is a social beast, and breaking bread with those you love is a legitimate way of feeding the soul. You CAN be healthy and eat really well, without giving up everything you love.
That’s not to say that I’m obsessing over food or feeling resentful of this experiment. As I mentioned last week, this is a very finite and specific arrangement. And while I’m definitely noticing some positive health boosts, I also realized that I wouldn’t be ok to deprive myself of foods that I love (and that love me back) for a lesser cause…like losing those last five pounds.
Fortunately, I have some fantastic recipes to fall back on, which are gluten free, sugar free, caffeine free, dairy free and grain free. (It’s ok, they’re not “fun” free!) I thought I’d share some of them with you over the next few weeks.
Today’s recipe is for sugar-free sweet potato brownies. These tasty, fudgy-wudgy little morsels will fool even the fussiest of eaters. They’re also easy to make, only require a couple of ingredients, and they freeze really well.
The Benefits Of Sweet Potato Brownies
Sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamins A, C & B6, as well as manganese and copper. They’re also rich in potassium, dietary fiber, niacin, vitamin B1, vitamin B2 and phosphorus. All that’s to say that sweet potatoes are a healthy carb to add to your diet, that help to heal inflammation in the body.
Many other “healthy” dessert recipes rely on ingredients like dates, maple syrup, agave and raw nuts. While these foods are ok in moderation, and they’re still better than noshing on a snickers bar, we can’t deny that sugar is sugar, and for many people nuts are really hard to digest. These brownies are gentle on your belly — in fact, they’re good for your belly — and they are sweetened with stevia, which doesn’t impact your blood sugar.
Finally, if you eat these brownies cold they are a good source of resistant starch (RS3), which feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut.
Resistant starch? Huh?
Resistant starch is a type of dietary fiber found in starchy foods such as potatoes, grains and beans, once they’ve been cooked and cooled. As an undigestible form of fiber, resistant starch moves through the digestive tract without the carbohydrate ever entering your bloodstream. Once it hits the large intestine resistant starch gets fermented, turning it into a prebiotic that feeds the healthy gut flora (i.e. microbiome). The resistant starch in a sweet potato is only activated once that potato has been cooked and cooled; this occurs through a process called retrogradation, which changes the cell structure of the carbohydrate.
A public service warning…
These bad boys are good for you, but they are still treats and should be eaten in moderation!
Sweet Potato Brownies
Melissa Ambrosini created the original recipe; I’ve pared it back and made the method even more simple.
1 large sweet potato
4 tablespoons each: coconut oil & butter
4 organic eggs
2 tablespoons coconut flour
1/2 cup cacao powder (or carob for caffeine free)
40 drops vanilla stevia
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of sea salt
Preheat oven to 325ºF / 140°C.
Halve the sweet potato lengthways, then press it back together and wrap it in foil like a burrito. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until soft.
Once cooked, scoop out the sweet potato flesh using a spoon. Blend the sweet potato, coconut oil and butter, until smooth.
Add the remaining ingredients to the blender and mix until smooth.
Line baking tray or pan of your choice with parchment paper.
Pour in brownie batter.
Bake for 20-30 minutes (a longer time gives a firmer texture, while shorter is more soft and gooey).
Allow to cool and then cut into small squares (about 15 pieces). Store then in the fridge or freezer.
I hope that you’ll give this recipe a try this week, and do let me know how you go.