My Food Philosophy: What Matters Most

Are you paleo? Vegan? Gluten-free? What diet are you on?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked questions about what “diet” I follow. I get it. It can be tempting to categorize ourselves and to label the way we eat.

We have a desire to know “the way” and what the right answer is when it comes to what we “should” be eating. But I’m not a huge fan of labels. They can be limiting, restrictive, and isolating.

If I had to describe the type of food I eat, I would say it is colorful, mostly plant-based, with a focus on whole, real ingredients that I can pronounce. I eat to feel good, not just for the next five minutes, but for as long as possible. I’ve found that gluten and dairy-based foods don’t make my body feel good, so I don’t eat them. I prioritize the quality of my food and want to know where it comes from and whom my purchase impacts.

But I’m not “on a diet,” and I don’t eat this way to prove anything to anyone.

A few years ago, I interviewed a local naturopathic doctor, Dr. Kristapps Paddock, and I’ll never forget what he said.

Dogma is a belief or set of beliefs that’s accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted.

Isn’t that true of most diets?

We don’t question them. We accept them as truth because some celebrity, health expert, or friend told us so.

Unfortunately, this has brought us to a place of not questioning things, not asking why, not getting curious. We don’t stop to notice if they are working for us. One of the most helpful and transformational things we can do when it comes to what we eat is to question everything. To get curious. To pay attention to our body’s signals.

We know more than we’ve ever known about food and nutrition, but there is still so much more to learn that it doesn’t make sense for us to be polarizing when it comes to eating. It drives a lot of people away from conversations about nutrition. While the same general principles are universal (i.e., eat food, not too much, lots of plants), the nuances may not be. Everybody is different, so what’s most important is that we get curious about what works for US (not our neighbor, co-worker, friend or family member).

So, instead of adopting a dogmatic attitude toward eating, I have a food philosophy. It captures my approach to eating, the mindset I have around food, and what I believe to be true. It communicates what I’m about and how I want to think and feel when it comes to food.

It’s not irrefutable. It’s not scientific. It’s not the only way.

It’s empowering. It’s clarifying. It reminds me of what is true for me and my body. It’s what I’ve come to learn works best for me.

As you read it, I invite you think about which parts resonate with you. If anything does, try to hold on to that idea and let it guide the eating choices you make this week. If you want to take it to another level, try coming up with your own version of a food philosophy!

My Food Philosophy

I believe food matters.
I believe my body matters.
I believe I matter.
I believe I’m more than a number.
More than a dress size, calorie count, or scale reading.
I believe in being curious about what I eat and noticing, without judging, how food affects me.
I believe in connecting with my food, how it makes me feel, where it comes from and the impact it has beyond my plate.
I believe food is a way to connect with my body, my community, and my purpose.
I believe in slowing down and savoring food, noticing its textures, aromas, and beauty; pausing to express gratitude for the beauty on my plate.
I believe in enjoying food without anxiety, guilt, shame or judgment.
I believe in elevating the quality of my food and eating the highest quality available.
I believe in upgrading my diet to crowd out whatever is not working for me.
I believe in eating food that tastes good AND makes me feel good.
I believe in being open to exploring and trying new foods.
I believe food is inherently amoral (neither “good” nor “bad”).
I believe I am responsible for my eating choices.
If I’m going to eat it, I own it (I’m not “cheating”).
I believe having energy, glowing skin, a strong immune system and a positive mood are signs that I’m giving my body what it needs.
I believe in fueling and nourishing my body with whole, vibrant, healing food, so I can feel alive and energized and fulfill my purpose here on earth.
But I believe food is only part of the puzzle when it comes to being our best selves.
Food matters, but there is more to living well than eating well.
Friendships, community, connection.
Peace, patience, kindness.
Faith, grace, joy.
Love.

8 Tips for Eating Healthy on the Go

Would you be shocked to hear that almost 20% of meals eaten in the U.S. are eaten in the car?

Sometimes, when I share this statistic, people are surprised it’s not higher, but notice the word MEALS. We’re not talking about the occasional snack or latte. One out of every five meals eaten in this country are eaten in the car while we’re driving.

It’s as though we’ve made food one of our last priorities, settling for what is convenient above all else. In doing so, we’re bypassing the power of digestion by rushing through meals at the same time we’re operating a vehicle. We’re making quick feel-good food choices when we eat away from home, not realizing that we could just as easily pick a nourishing meal that tastes delicious.

I’m here to help. Because I’ve learned how to do it, no matter where I am. My hope is that applying these ideas will boost your confidence in making choices that nourish your body and brain and don’t break the bank. You’ll be able to walk away from the table feeling satisfied instead of stuffed.

It’s totally possible to eat well, even when you’re on the go as often as I am. Here are my top tips for how to make it happen no matter how busy your life is or where you’re traveling.

1) Become a Menu Detective

Restaurants use lots of creative language to get us to order certain items off the menu. But we can outsmart them if we know what those words mean. Take a look at the two lists below. One contains words that describe foods I do my best to avoid because of how I feel after eating them (not good) and the other is packed with adjectives that I opt for when I’m making a selection off the menu.

Eat This: Roasted, Baked, Braised, Steamed, Poached, Broiled, Grilled, Pan-Seared, Sautéed (ask for less oil), Stir-Fried (ask for less oil)

Not That: Creamed, Fried, Smothered, Tempura, Crispy, Breaded, Charred

If you see a menu item prepared using one of the “Not That” options, ask your server if they can prepare it using one of the “Eat This” options above. If the food is fresh, there should not be any reason why they can’t accommodate your request.

2) Plan Ahead and Pack

Did you know that if you pack your lunch every work day and you work for 30 years, you would save $112,000?

That’s A LOT OF MONEY.

Remember back in grade school when you had a lunchbox and a thermos? They make them for adults! You can buy an inexpensive lunchbox at Target, Home Goods or on Amazon, among other places. I also bought a thermos that I use to put reheated leftovers in to keep them warm until lunchtime. I also pack smoothies, and the thermos keeps them cold for several hours as well.

This is the thermos I have. I like it because it has a folding spoon built into the lid!

Here are some ideas for what to pack in your lunchbox:

  • Oatmeal with berries and nut butter
  • Overnight oats like these three recipes from my blog
  • Smoothies (thermoses keep food cold, too!)
  • Leftover soups, stews, chilis (this is our #1 go to)
  • Mason jar salads like this one
  • Canned wild caught salmon with brown rice and sugar snap peas or served on top of a salad
  • Rotisserie chicken from the grocery store served with a salad and quick cooking brown rice
  • Bean/lentil and rice blends from Eden Organics (sold at MOMs Organic Market, Wegmans, Whole Foods, and Target). I like to add in some sautéed spinach
  • This simple Chipotle-style burrito bowl

3) Snack Smart

I also like to have snacks on hand for when I haven’t planned meals and need something to sustain me between meals. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Fresh veggies with hummus, guacamole, almond butter (cut up celery & carrots and put in glass baking dish with water in fridge, swap water after 1 week = fresh veggies for 2 weeks)
  • Fruit: apples, clementines, pears, grapes; apples or pears with almond butter / peanut butter / sunflower seed butter squeeze packets
  • Trail mix like this recipe
  • Nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds)
  • Crispy roasted chickpeas (brands like The Good Bean, Chickpeatos, Saffron Road, Biena)
  • Forager Project yogurt topped with Purely Elizabeth granola
  • Mary’s Gone Crackers pretzel sticks or crackers with Wholly Guacamole packets, nut or seed butter, or hummus
  • Some of my favorite brands of bars that use whole, real ingredients are Ever Bar, KIND (opt for 6 grams or less of sugar), Soul Sprout, Paleo Krunch, Rx Bars, Hemp Heart Bar. Ideally you want less than 10 grams of sugar along with some fiber and protein. My hubby’s faves are Epic Bars and Mighty Bars.

4) Know Where to Go

When you’re on the road and need to stop or are meeting someone for a meal, knowing where to go is half the battle. It sets you up for success to go to a place that serves nourishing food. I intentionally seek places that are farm to table or that prioritize using fresh ingredients.  You can use the apps in Tip #5, but the ideas below should help you, too.

  • Hit up the salad bar or “to go” counter at a grocery store. Try Whole Foods Market (especially Health Starts Here options), Wegmans or Harris Teeter ($4, $6, $8, $10 meals). If we can find a Whole Foods while on the road, we know we’re golden.
  • Go global and try Indian, Thai, Greek or Mexican food. Other cultures tend to eat more colorfully than we do in the U.S. They also are much more liberal with flavorful herbs and spices, which can enhance a dish. As a gluten-free, dairy-free eater, I find that Indian or Middle Eastern restaurants are packed with lots of options I can enjoy!
  • Pick a place that lets you customize your order and fill your plate with lots of veggies. Try places like sweetgreen, Cava Grill, Chipotle, Qdoba, Roti, Chop’t, freshii, Baja Fresh, and Nalley Fresh.
  • Starbucks is my go to breakfast place because I can get steel-cut oatmeal with nuts. I sprinkle some cinnamon on it and often travel with packets of almond butter or sunflower seed butter that I squeeze and stir in to the oatmeal to make it creamier and heartier.

If you’re in the Baltimore area, check out my healthy Baltimore dining guide, which sums up my top places to eat in my hometown!

5) There’s An App for That!

When I’m traveling and don’t know where to go to find a healthy meal, I use a few apps on my phone. I wrote about each of them in this blog post, but thought I’d mention them while we’re here:

  1. Happy Cow
  2. yelp!
  3. Food Tripping
  4. Healthy Out
  5. Eat Well Guide

I highlighted the two I use most often. Happy Cow is great because it highlights plant-based options, which is how I eat, but yelp! is often more inclusive. When I’m searching in yelp!, I use words like “vegan, gluten-free, farm to table, organic, healthy” to find places that will align with my eating preferences.

6) Modify the Menu

Yup. Be that person.

The way I look at it, it’s your money and your body, so you can decide what you eat, so you feel the way you want to feel, even if you’re not cooking it yourself.

I look at the menu as a list of everything that is back in the kitchen. If I see a dish that has a side I don’t want but see another dish with one that I do (maybe roasted Brussels sprouts instead of mashed potatoes?), then I politely and graciously ask the server if they can swap them out.

Sometimes I create a meal from scratch using a variety of ingredients on the menu. I make sure I tip the server a bit extra and ask them to thank the chef. Almost every time, my request has been accommodated.

Remember, it’s YOUR body and YOUR money. Ask for what you want. The worst thing they will say is, “No.”

7) Upgrade Your Order

No matter where I am, I try to keep a simple formula in mind when deciding what to eat: 50% veggies; 25% starchy veg or whole grain; 25% protein (plant-based or animal). It helps me pick meals that are colorful and packed with antioxidant-rich foods. This plate from my health coach training is a visual of that. I opt for half the plate veggies vs. fruit, as most restaurants don’t serve my prefered fruit (berries) with meals.

Image from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition

Here are a few additional tips to help you upgrade the quality of your meal and make it more nourishing:

  1. Hold the bread. Ask for raw veggies instead. You are better than the cold, stale dinner roll!
  2. Start with a salad or broth-based soup
  3. Load up on veggies and ask to swap your starchy side dish for an additional side of veggies. Roasted veggies are my favorite!
  4. Ask for a veggie side dish as your appetizer. Roasted Brussels sprouts, anyone?
  5. Ask for vinaigrette on the side. See if they will give you lemon juice, red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar and olive oil so you can make your own
  6. Add as many veggies as possible to a sandwich or burger and forego at least half of the bun. Lettuce wraps are all the rage these days!
  7. Make the best choices for condiments. Opt for things like guacamole, mustard, salsa, hummus, tahini, and chimichurri.

8) Be the Anchor

In his book, Eat Move Sleep, lifestyle expert Tom Rath shares a simple tip that has stuck with me ever since I read it.

The first person to announce what he or she is ordering sets the anchor for the entire group. If the first person ordering chooses a healthy option, it puts a little pressure on everyone else to do the same.

If you’re committed to nourishing your body with what you eat, be the first one to order when you go out to eat. Your decision will influence the rest of the people at your table. Maybe there are other people you’re dining with who were tempted to get a cheeseburger and fries. When they hear you place your order, they give it a second thought and instead order something that will nourish them and make them feel good for more than 10 minutes they’re eating it.

I typically look up the menu ahead of time if I’m going to a place I’ve never been. That way, I don’t even have to look at the menu when it comes and be tempted by something other than what I know what will make my body feel its best (and taste good, too!).

Give it a try the next time you go out to eat; be the anchor!

And, that’s a wrap! I hope those tips give you some ideas for how to better nourish your busy lifestyle no matter where you are.

Which one stuck with you the most? I love hearing from you!

Coconut Chocolate Brownie Bites {Paleo, Vegan}

It’s been a while since I’ve poster a new no-bake bite recipe for you to try, so I’m excited to share today’s recipe for coconut chocolate brownie bites!

A few weeks ago, I was at a women in business event with a group of consultants, human resources professionals and business owners. Before the session, Susan, a friend and fan who attends my cooking classes in the community, walked in. She was holding a bag of Emmy’s Cookies that she had bought at Starbucks that morning. Knowing what I do, she came up to me and said, “These are so expensive! I bet you know how to make them at home!”

Since I’m always up for a challenge, I started experimenting! What I’m sharing with you today is the final outcome of playing in the kitchen to come up with my own version of those chocolate coconut no-bake cookies. Like most of my no-bake bites, they start with a base of nuts and dates. They’re a great option for a snack or a sweet treat and are perfect for someone who is on the go (kids love them, too!).

I had a few coworkers sample them today for me to give me feedback, and everyone loved the sweet and salty combo paired with the rich chocolatey taste. As someone who used to h-a-t-e coconut anything, I really love these, and so does my husband, who isn’t much of a coconut fan either.

One of the fun, new things I’ve started doing with no-bake recipes like this is experimenting with vanilla powder instead of vanilla extract. I find that the taste isn’t as bitter, but you can totally use vanilla extract in this recipe if you prefer.  If you use the powder, it’s a 1-1 substitution for the extract. I buy the Nielsen-Massey brand of vanilla powder at MOMs Organic Market. Most natural food stores and Whole Foods carry vanilla powder, in case you’re interested!

I have a feeling these are going to become one of your new favorites, so let me know if you give them a try 🙂 They’re gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, paleo, and raw, in case that helps you decide!

Coconut Chocolate Brownie Bites

Yield: ~24 bites

Ingredients

2 cups raw walnuts
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/3 cup raw cacao powder
1 1/3 cups Medjool dates, pits removed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla powder
2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
1 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut

Directions

  1. In a food processor fitted with the S-blade, process walnuts and salt for about 15 seconds. Add cacao powder and pulse to combine.
  2. Add dates, vanilla, and maple syrup, and process until a dough begins to form.
  3. Add coconut and pulse several times until just combined. Shape into 1-inch balls and roll between your palms. Toss balls in shredded coconut (optional) and store in a glass container in your fridge.

14 Valentine’s Day Sweet Treat Recipes {Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free}

Bill and I love holidays and find ways to make them special. My family always did that growing up, so it’s a tradition I’ve carried into my marriage.

This past week, I thought it would be neat to buy a card and a treat for Bill for each day leading up to Valentine’s Day.

I put a card and a treat in a brown paper bag with “Happy <3 Week” written on it and put it in his backpack each day.

heartweek

It was fun for me to do and I know it will be at least one bright spot in the midst of his hectic days as an elementary school phys ed teacher. I’m not sure what he has planned for this weekend, but I’m looking forward to it!

When it comes to Valentine’s Day, one thing is for sure – BOTH of us love chocolate.

We are fans and followers of our favorite Baltimore-based chocolatier, Jinji, and know that Valentine’s Day is not complete unless we are eating some of her amazingly delicious chocolate creations. It’s seriously the purest, richest chocolate I’ve ever tasted.

truffles

Truffles galore! They’re always so creative and decadent.

If you can’t make it out to your favorite chocolate shop, or you just want to make a delicious sweet treat at home, try one of these 14 Valentine’s Day-worthy recipes below.

They are all dairy-free, gluten-free, and made without refined sugar. Many of them are paleo-friendly as well, so give at least one of them a try!Vday Collage.jpg

The first recipe holds a special place in my heart because dark chocolate caramels are pretty much the best thing ever.

Homemade Rolos by oh she glows

homemade-rolos-7159.jpg

Photo Credit: Angela Liddon. Used with permission.

Oatmeal Heart Cookies by Nourishing Meals

oat heart cookies71

Photo Credit: Nourishing Meals. Used with permission.

Sweet & Salty Super Food Chocolate Bark by RNK

Superfood Bark

Cherry Dark Chocolate Chip Almond Butter Cookies by RNK

cherry choco chip cookies

Two Layer Raw Chocolate Brownies by oh she glows

Brownies.JPG

Photo credit: Angela Liddon. Used with permission.

Cacao Mousse & Raspberry Parfaits by Begin Within Nutrition

mousse

Photo Credit: Begin Within Nutrition. Used with permission.

Cherry Chocolate Brownie Bites by RNK

cherry choco bites

Seductive Raw Chocolate Walnut Fudge by oh she glows

fudge2.jpg

Photo Credit: Angela Liddon. Used with permission.

Easy Strawberry Cheesecake by Kasia Kines (my nutritionist!)

Chocolate Hazelnut Truffles by RNK

Dark Chocolate Berry Cups by Yuri Elkaim

Healthy Valentines Berry Cups

Photo Credit: Yuri Elkaim. Used with permission.

Peanut Better Balls by oh she glows

PB Balls.JPG

Photo Credit: Angela Liddon. Used with permission.

Mint Chocolate Crunch Bliss Balls by RNK

Mint Chocolate Chip Bliss Balls

Peanut Butter Cup Pie by The Detoxinista

no bake

What are your favorite sweet treat recipes?

Feel free to leave a comment below and share!

 

6 Ways to Boost Your Immune System Naturally

It’s that time of year again…cold and flu season.

It’s funny how the flu is the only illness that gets a whole season named after it, isn’t it?

What changes this time of year that increases our susceptibility to getting sick? Are colds and the flu inevitable, or can they be prevented?

As someone who used to come down with bronchitis, sore throats, and sinus congestion multiple times a year, I know how inconvenient and uncomfortable being sick is. Over the past few years, the changes I’ve made to my lifestyle and diet boosted my immune system, so I rarely got sick and felt better than ever. Even my husband, an elementary school phys ed teacher, who is exposed to countless sick kids every day, stays well, too.

I can usually get through this time of year without getting sick, but this winter has been a tough one for me. I got sick – sore throat, feeling totally run down, and a bit feverish. Not the full-blown flu, but I felt pretty crappy. I am the worst patient and hate being sick! But my body was sending me a message that I wasn’t taking care of it, so I got run down as a result.

Looking back, I can attribute my weakened immune system to NOT doing all of the things I’ve outlined below on a consistent basis. When I’m following these steps, I don’t get sick. My immune system is strong and fights for me.

So, what are the secrets of those who stay well?  What if we could naturally boost our immune system, so we could thrive through instead of simply survive this time of year? Can we do more to protect ourselves than solely relying on the flu shot and a bottle of hand sanitizer? Most of the medications we take just suppress symptoms but don’t get to the root of why we’re sick. They also interfere with our body’s natural healing process. And we all know washing our hands is certainly important, but…

We can do better.

Here are six tried and true steps you can take to supercharge your immune system and stay well in the winter.

1) Catch Some Zs

Lack of sleep (usually staying up to late) is the #1 trigger for me to get sick.

Though not the most glamorous piece of guidance, getting adequate, quality sleep is one of the best things we can do to boost our immune system. Our body uses sleep as a time to rest, repair and restore itself, so when we shortchange ourselves, we compromise our body’s ability to fight back. Sleep disturbances not only reduce our immune response but have also been linked to increased susceptibly to the common cold. One of the best things we can do if we start to feel like we’re coming down with something is to prioritize sleep and get a few extra hours of shut-eye.

Since millions of people have trouble sleeping, try one of these tips to better sleep:

  1. Check out The Sleep Doctor, Dr. Michael Breus’s book, The Power of When, to understand how to optimize your daily activities and sleep based on what he calls your “chronotype.” Click this link to take a quick quiz to identify YOUR chronotype.
  2. Set your phone to Night Shift to reduce exposure to stimulating blue light. If you have an iPhone, go into Settings — Display & Brightness — Night Shift. I have mine set to turn on at sunset and turn off at sunrise.
  3. Take a warm bubble bath or lavender epsom salt bath. Taking a bath before bed raises our core body temperature. Stepping out of the bath drops our temperature, which stimulates the release of sleep-promoting compounds. The magnesium in the epsom salts have a calming, anti-anxiety effect, too.
  4. Set your room temperature to 65F. You know how hard it is to sleep in a room that is too warm. A cooler temperature promotes better sleep.
  5. Use the Calm app to find a soothing meditation or relaxing adult bedtime story to prepare you for rest.

2) Begin with the Gut

They might look like Cheetos, but these puffy tubes are actually bacteria. Did you know that bacteria cells outnumber human cells 10:1? That’s right. We’re mostly bacteria.

Because 70-80% of our immune cells are located in and around our digestive system, one of the first places we should focus on to boost our immunity is our “gut.” The bacteria in our gut play a crucial role in the development and maintenance of our immune system and our Western diet, rich in processed packaged foods, and the overutilization of antibiotics has been linked to gut dysfunction and imbalances in our gut bacteria

Increasing our consumption of prebiotics and probiotics is one way we can boost our digestive health and, therefore, our overall health. Prebiotics are fermentable fibers that feed probiotic bacteria. Sources of prebiotic foods include buckwheat, chicory, burdock root, onions, garlic, asparagus, green tea, and blueberries, to name a few. We also want to increase consumption of traditional probiotic-rich foods like miso, natto, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir to promote a healthy gut.

Another option is to take a probiotic supplement. If you do, make sure you go with one that is high quality and proven effective. This review of the top probiotic supplements should help you.

3) Supplement with Vitamin D3

Vitamin D is a powerful immune system regulator. Some experts even suggest that the collective reduction in sun strength and exposure (one of our primary sources of vitamin D) this time of year is what sets most of us up for reduced immunity. Deficiencies in vitamin D have been linked to increased susceptibility to infection, colds and the flu, and many Americans are deficient in this immune-boosting nutrient. 

 The best form to take is vitamin D3. Most supplements are D2, so make sure you check and get D3. Recommendations vary, although the Vitamin D Council suggests 1,000 IUs (international units) for children and 5,000 IUs for adults daily. Vitacost is a great resource for supplements, including D3.

See your doctor to have your vitamin D level checked. It should be at least 30 ng/ml and closer to 50 ng/ml or more for optimal health and cancer prevention. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so it should be consumed with some source of fat for optimal absorption. Check out the chart below from the Vitamin D council.

4) Eat Your G-BOMBS

Chronic stress depletes our body of nutrients, so upgrading our nutrition to support our body is especially critical during this time. All of us have heard about the importance of having a colorful diet, but this catchy acronym from Dr. Joel Fuhrman puts a new spin on that age-old advice.

G-BOMBS stands for Greens, Beans, Onions, Mushrooms, Berries and Seeds. I’ve written in more detail about them here. These nutrient-dense foods are packed with anti-inflammatory phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that work together to supercharge our immune system. Leafy greens like kale, spinach, Swiss chard and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower have antiviral and immune-boosting properties. 

Compounds from onions and other members of the allium vegetable family, like garlic, leeks, shallots and scallions thin mucus and have been found to have anti-asthmatic and antibiotic effects. Beans are rich in prebiotic fiber that helps feed the good bacteria in our digestive system. I eat beans almost every day. Believe it or not, mushrooms are also a significant immune booster and have strong antiviral and antibacterial properties. For more about the power of mushrooms, check out the TEDTalk below.

Whether you enjoy them in salads, smoothies, soups, stews, stocks, steamed or sautéed, eat your G-BOMBS to boost your immunity. Most recipes on this blog are packed full of G-BOMBS. Here are a few GBOMBS-rich soup recipes.

5) Chill Out

This time of year is characterized by heightened levels of stress from travel, holiday shopping, reduced exercise, increases in consumption of alcohol and sugar-laden foods, family get-togethers, time management, and, for many, holiday blues and depression. Do what you can to increase your resiliency to stressors because stress significantly suppresses our immune function.

If you want to thrive through the winter, make time for relaxation and fun, whether it takes the form of meditation, yoga, massage, a mani/pedi, dancing, taking a day off from work, a soothing epsom salt bath or calling a friend, going on a date, playing a game, or spending time in nature, even if it is chilly outside.

You can also just watch this video and search “laughing babies” on YouTube for instant stress relief!

6) Move Moderately

As the weather gets colder, we tend to spend more time indoors and less time moving. Moderate exercise may have a protective effect on the immune system, while excessive exercise and overtraining can depress our immune response.

I love this infographic from Precision Nutrition that gives all the details on exercising when you’re sick.

If you feel like you’re coming down with something, mild to moderate movement is the way to go. Try a dance class like tai chi, yoga, dancing, Nia,or go for a brisk walk, jog or indoor swim. My favorite place to take classes like this in Baltimore is Movement Lab.

So, there you have it! If you want to stay well this winter, thrive instead of survive, and feel the best you’ve ever felt, follow these tips to supercharge your immune system.

Is there anything I’m missing? Any tips you swear by that help you stay well? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

The BEST Dairy-Free Yogurt: My #1 Pick

About six years ago, I went through a protocol called an elimination diet to get to the root of why I wasn’t feeling my best. I wanted to get off medications and not be bothered by recurring health issues.

Through that process, I discovered that dairy products and gluten-containing foods were triggers for years of congestion, bloating, gas, skin problems, indigestion, and sore throats. Like most of you, I loved cheese, ice cream, yogurt, and other dairy products. Finding out that they were one of the root causes of my health issues was upsetting.

Ever since then, I’ve been on a quest to find alternatives to foods I used to love but could no longer eat if I wanted to feel my best. My journey led me to find this dairy-free option I’m sharing with you today.

Like many people, I took yogurt to work nearly every day as part of my lunch or for an afternoon snack. I had bought into the media hype that yogurt was a health food. I wasn’t paying attention to all of the sugar and other processed ingredients that were making their way into my daily snack. A few years ago, an organization called the Cornucopia Institute came out with a ranking system of yogurts, placing my top two brands – Dannon and Yoplait – at the bottom of the list of 129 brands.

Once I realized yogurt was contributing to my health issues and saw how little nutritional value most brands contained, I cut it out. I was frustrated that I couldn’t find a replacement for the smooth and creamy texture and dessert-like taste only yogurt seemed to have. For years, I didn’t eat it. None of the dairy-free options on the market were very appealing. They were full of processed ingredients; had weird, gelatinous consistencies; or just didn’t taste very good. I had all but given up on finding a replacement.

That’s when I found this.

Meet, Forager Project Yogurt

Fortunately, just over two years ago, I came upon the company Forager Project after seeing their line of nut milks (i.e., almond, cashew, etc.) at a grocery store in San Diego. I had the opportunity to try their products at the Natural Products Expo and became a fan.

Then, this past September when I was at the expo, I was stoked to find out they had added a new product to their line – dairy-free yogurt.


What I love about this yogurt is that it has the texture and creaminess of the yogurt I used to eat.

It’s an upgrade, too, because instead of using artificial flavors and colors, Forager uses ingredients like turmeric (to make the lemon yogurt yellow) and beet juice to make the strawberry yogurt pink. They’re also organic, not genetically modified, and the plain, unsweetened yogurt (perfect in smoothies and sauces!) contains only two grams of sugar per serving, which is the lowest I’ve seen on the market.

Instead of cow’s milk, cashews are the base of Forager’s yogurts. I’ve used cashews to make dairy-free cheese dips, cheesecake, and even caramel dipping sauce, so I had a feeling a cashew-based yogurt would be equally delicious and creamy. And it is! They have plain, lemon, blueberry, vanilla and strawberry flavors, which are some of the most popular and familiar. The vanilla version contains real vanilla bean that you can see instead of artificial vanilla flavor.

I love Forager’s brand promise on the side of the yogurt container:

I love what they stand for and appreciate and value how much TLC they put into their products with a focus on quality, sustainability and taste.

Where to Find Forager Project Products

To find a store near you that carries Forager’s products, use this search feature on their website. Availability will be expanding, but you should already be able to find them at your local Whole Foods, Safeway (soon!) and other independent retailers.

While you’re at it, pick up a bag of their tasty vegetable chips pictured below! You can find these at Whole Foods and MOMs Organic Market, or use their search link above to find them near you.

One thing I appreciate about Forager is that they constantly assess customer feedback and have already incorporated that feedback in the new and improved version of their chips. Both Bill and I tried all three and are fans! 🙂

Disclosure: I received free product in exchange for writing this review. All opinions are my own and maintaining the integrity of all content on this site is of utmost importance to me. I only promote brands and products I actually use and want to take some of the guesswork out of that for you, so I will never promote products I don’t love and use myself! 🙂 

Is information like this helpful to you? Would you like to see more reviews of products to help guide your shopping decisions? Let me know in the comments below!

Simple Vegetable & Chickpea Soup

Nothing hits the spot on a cold winter day like a warm and cozy bowl of soup. This recipe has quickly become one of our favorites and is one we’ll be making again soon.

About five years ago, I was trying to get to the bottom of years of acid reflux, frequent colds and congestion and seasonal bronchitis, so I removed certain foods from my diet for about 10 days. It was during that time and in the months that followed, that I discovered dairy products to be the #1 trigger of my sinus and respiratory issues. Once I removed dairy, my health issues practically disappeared.

It was amazing.

I had been learning about the health benefits of food for years at that point. But I never realized how connected my diet was to why I got sick so often and wasn’t feeling my best.

Since that time, I’ve continued to “clean up” my diet with the goal of feeling as good as possible as often as possible. I take supplements and probiotics to repair and restore my health after taking years of antibiotics and acid reducers. In addition, I’ve found that foods containing gluten trigger me as well, so I steer clear of them.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been taking my body through an experiment. It’s kind of like an investigation to better understand why I’ve been feeling a little “off” for the past few months. Because I wanted to get to the root of what my body is trying to tell me, I’ve been following the protocol in the book The Elimination Diet. It’s written by renowned nutritionist, Tom Malterre, and his wife, Ali Segersten, who also authored the Nourishing Meals cookbook.

One of the recipes I tried was for a simple vegetable soup. I used the concept behind the soup as my guide and created my own version of it, which I’m sharing with you today.

It’s full of nourishing, calming, anti-inflammatory ingredients that promote healing and a sense of warmth and comfort. It makes enough to feed 8-10 people, so we like to make it at the beginning of the week to take care of 4-5 meals for both of us. You can enjoy it for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and serving it with a few hunks of avocado on top is especially delicious!

Veggie Lover Chickpea Soup

Ingredients

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups celery, chopped
2 cups carrots, chopped
2 cups cremini mushrooms, chopped
2 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 (15-ounce) cans garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon fresh thyme OR 1 tsp dried thyme
8 cups sodium-free vegetable broth (check out my super EASY recipe here)
3 cups kale, destemmed and chopped
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons Herbamare OR 1 tsp sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Heat the oil in a 4 to 6-quart pot over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the remaining chopped vegetables, beans, thyme (if you have it) and vegetable stock. Cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
  3. Add kale, parsley, salt and pepper, and simmer for 5 more minutes.

This soup serves about 8-10 people.

We store it in glass mason jars. If you are going to freeze it, leave about 2 inches of room at the top of the jar to allow for expansion in the freezer.

Be Free: A Tribute to My Grandmother

Yesterday, we celebrated the life of my last biological grandparent, Anne Bryant, who passed away the day after Christmas at the age of 90.

She was a delicate, graceful Southern woman with a beautiful smile and a contagious laugh who touched the lives of more people than I will ever know.

She was the closest thing to a matriarch at her church in Wilmington, North Carolina, where she was fondly known as “Miss Anne.” She loved to sing, was a member of the choir for nearly a decade and served as an integral part of the children’s ministry. Her former pastor, my relatives, and her friends, neighbors, and fellow church members had such wonderful things to say about her life during her service, which she insisted be a joyful celebration of her life.

My grandmother is in the middle of the picture just above me.

She raised three children, including my dad, and was a schoolteacher. She loved children.

She loved to garden.

She loved to ride her bike.

She loved to sing.

She was incredibly creative and gifted with her hands. She made dresses for me and my dolls, Christmas ornaments and my Christmas stocking. Both of us collected Willow Tree figurines and loved to sing, read, write, and travel.

She had a strong faith that she carried with her until her last day. She wanted to “go home” and be with my grandfather in heaven and was at peace with that transition.

Of all of the grandparents I had, she’s the one who knew me the best. I remember phone calls with her and my grandfather when I was a kid. I was very studious and committed to doing well in the classroom. After winning spelling bees and other academic competitions at school or sharing a report card, they would send me letters, sometimes with a special memento inside like a Bible verse on a wallet card or a bookmark she made at church.

They always told me how excited they were for me and were so supportive of me throughout my life. I can still hear my grandmother saying these words:

“Oh, Rachel, granddaddy and I are so proud of you.”

In the final years of her life, there was some tension in my family that created a bit of distance in our relationship. Looking back, I regret not spending more time with her in her last years; it saddens me, and I feel a sense of loss. I have many happy memories about her, but I know I could have had more.

If you have a family member that you can’t seem to “get right” with, I encourage you to be open. Be open to grace and seek forgiveness. Love them. Be kind. Set aside your pride and try again. It might not look the way you expect, but at least you’ll know you tried the best you could and offered that person all you had.

Bill and I visited my grandmother and spent time with her on a trip to North Carolina last spring. I had a final phone call with her in the week before her passing to tell her how much I appreciate who she was to me and how much her support and love meant to me.

When I think back to the times we spent together, the conversations we had, and the letters we exchanged, I smile. I know she’s proud of me and who I’ve become as a woman, a wife, a daughter, a Christian, a sister, an aunt, and a friend.

As I was sifting through my bins of mementos (I’m a bit of a sentimental packrat), I stumbled upon a book called Grandmother Remembers that she filled out for me as a gift for my high school graduation.

I had given it to her as a gift when I was little, and she took the time to complete every single page with facts about our family, pictures of relatives, and memories and stories about herself, me, and the rest of our family.

It’s such a treasure and a special piece of history for our family.

What makes it even more symbolic for me right now is the image of the butterfly on the front cover. For those who have been reading this blog for some time, you’ve read about my connection to butterflies and how prevalent and symbolic they’ve been in my life.

One of the final pages of the Grandmother Remembers book is dedicated to her wish to the future for me. She wrote, “Since Gramdaddy’s death, I have experienced ‘being given wings’ and my prayer is that this will continue.”

And it has.

She has been given wings and is looking down on all of us now. She is happy, at peace, and flying free.

Once someone is gone, they don’t have an opportunity to say what is on their heart and mind to comfort those of us who are left behind. What I’m about to share is what I think grandmother would say to all of us here now. I wrote this poem and read it at my grandmother’s memorial service. I hope it gives you peace, comfort, and hope when you think of someone special that you’ve lost.

Be Free

As I look down on all of you, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.
Each of you holds a special place along my journey.
Thank you for being here to celebrate my life.

I know that you’re missing me.
Maybe you’re feeling sad, mourning, hurting, angry that I’m no longer with you.
I understand.
It’s hard to let go of people we love.

But I want you to know that I’m okay.
I’m finally free.

I prayed to the Lord and He freed me from all my fears.

Free from sadness.
Free from discomfort.
Free from pain.

Full of love.
Full of joy.
Full of light.

As you sit there remembering me, I want each of you to do something to honor me and my life.

Don’t wait for death to free you.

Choose to be free now.

Free from grudges.
Free from judgment.
Free from resentment.
Free from hostility.
Free from anger.

Open up.
Release.
Let go.

Be free. Live fully.

We are called to be free.
Free to dance.
Free to sing.
Free to laugh.
Free to play.
Free to love.

I give you my wings, so you can soar and fly freely, releasing anything that holds you down and embracing that which lifts you up.

Savor the sunny days, and spend time in your garden.
Appreciate the beauty all around you.
Notice the birds chirping, the flowers blooming, the smiles of children.
Pause and notice what a beautiful world we live in.

Be kind to and gentle with one another.
Give each other permission to make mistakes, especially those closest to you.
Be quick to offer forgiveness and grace when that happens.
Even when it’s hard.
Even if you’re angry.
Forgiveness frees you as much as it frees them.

Be free. Live fully.

Speak the truth in love.
Not just to prove a point, but with the intention of loving the other person.
Sometimes I wish I’d spoken up more instead of staying silent when I felt unheard.
Unmute your voice, and set yourself free from what you’ve kept locked up in your mind or in your heart.
The Lord calls us to love and serve one another, to be bold and courageous with our lives.
Use your voice for good and your words and actions to love.

Never stop learning, and remember to make time for play.
As a schoolteacher, I embraced a love of learning and dedicated my life to sharing that with my students and my family.
Approach the world with childlike curiosity.
Ask questions, look for the good in people, share, play, laugh, dance, sing, read, travel, be silly.
Spend more time playing and less time working.

I once gave my granddaughter a bookmark for her Bible that she has since passed along to another friend who needed the message on it more than she did.
It had this scripture on it from the book of Jeremiah:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

No matter what you’re dealing with right now, the Lord knows about it and can use it.
To grow you, to strengthen you, or to equip you to serve in some way.
Trust His timing.
Trust His plans.

Heaven is a beautiful place. We are having the best time up here!
Seeing all of my old friends and loved ones again has been such a joy for me.
I feel alive, renewed, whole, and free.
So, don’t be sad.
Celebrate my life and all that it was. Remember all of the happy times we had. Thank God for giving you another day on this beautiful earth, until we are reunited some day.

Until that day comes, be kind and gentle.
Savor the sunny days.
Spend time in your garden.
Find your voice.
Forgive each other.
Never stop learning.
Dance, play, travel and sing.
Live fully.

I’ve given you wings.
Be free.

The Easiest Kale Salad Ever

I’ve been making this salad recipe for OVER FIVE YEARS and can’t believe I’ve never shared this recipe with all of you before!

It’s the simplest recipe and the first way I ever tried eating kale.

If you’ve ever been turned off to eating kale because it tasted bitter or was difficult to chew, give this recipe a try. I bet it will change your mind!

Most of us don’t crave salads this time of year because the weather has gotten colder for many of us. As a result, we tend to be drawn to more warming, grounding foods like soups, stews and chilis. Because I tend to eat seasonally, I’m more apt to saute or steam green veggies or throw them into soups, stews, or frittatas instead of having cold salads everyday.

When I do want a salad, I opt for heartier greens like kale, Swiss chard, or peppery arugula in my salads instead of lighter, more watery greens like romaine or Bibb lettuce.

Another benefit to eating a salad like this in the winter is that it is packed with immune-boosting ingredients. Since 70% of our immune system is located in and around our digestive system, what we eat really does matter!

  • Kale is a cruciferous vegetable, which have antiviral and antibacterial effects. Their pungent, bitter flavors are health-promoting and detoxifying.
  • Lemons have antiviral and antimicrobial activity
  • Garlic may help the immune system function better during times of need such as in cancer
  • Chickpeas are packed with protein and fiber that keep us feeling full and our blood sugar balanced, which helps keep inflammation at bay

Not only is this salad loaded with ingredients to keep your immune system strong, but it will stay fresh in the fridge for at least two days! Check out the recipe below, and feel free to change it up by adding your favorite toppings.

Easiest Kale Salad Ever

Ingredients

1 bunch curly kale, stems removed and leaves torn into pieces
Juice from 1 lemon
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
A few pinches of coarse sea salt
Fresh black pepper, to taste
1 clove garlic, minced

Optional add-ins
2-3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup sunflower seeds

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, massage lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic into kale leaves with your hands until they start to turn dark green and shrink by about 1/3 in size. If you’re using nutritional yeast, toss it in with the greens. Store salad in fridge for about 30 minutes to allow lemon juice to break down bitterness in greens.
  2. Add chickpeas and sunflower seeds and enjoy!

Ditch Your New Year’s Resolutions {And Do This!}

I’ve never been one to make New Year’s Resolutions.

The idea that a simple date change could be a powerful motivator just never made much sense to me. It seemed to be an excuse to “let go” from October through December, only to return to taking care of ourselves in January. And it was clear that most people’s resolutions failed by February anyway, which served to demotivate them to make any further changes and then commit to trying it all over again the following year.

If we don’t make resolutions, what do we do instead?

Two years ago, I was in a bookstore in an eclectic neighborhood in Baltimore and was drawn to the cover on one of the books. I started reading the first few pages and was intrigued.

Instead of making an uninspired (and, often overwhelming) “to do” list at the turn of each new year, the author suggested we identify how we want to FEEL. Then, get curious about what we’d have to do to feel that way and do that more often.

The process of doing this is what Danielle LaPorte, author of The Desire Map, calls declaring our “core desired feelings.”

How do you want to FEEL?

It seemed simple enough and made sense to me, so I decided to give it a try. My husband joined me along the journey.

Over the past two years, I’ve wanted to feel RADIANT, WORTHY, CONNECTED, FLOWINGCLEAR, ABUNDANT, and FREE.

As a result, I started to think about what would make me feel that way. From the incredible communities I’ve joined, I’ve received connection, reminders of my worthiness, and permission to radiate.

I’ve met and aligned with dozens of incredible professionals in my field, and we are collectively bringing kindness, health and wellbeing to the workforce. I’ve been drawn to new friendships and communities of women that make me feel loved and safe. My husband and I found a new small group to join through our church and have made new friendships through that as well. I’ve become part of an incredible community of women and men committed to finding joy and freedom through movement at Movement Lab in Baltimore.

With some of the awesome people from Movement Lab. I am on a trampoline in the back left!

I’ve pursued and have been given countless opportunities to radiate, get in flow, and connect with people by speaking to organizations, human resources professionals, my church community, and the public through presentations, retreats, and cooking demonstrations. I received recognition from a national organization that identified me at the #1 Health Promotion Professional in the U.S. from a pool of over 200 of my peers and was invited to speak at a national conference last spring. I’ve become a recognized expert in my field and in my community and am grateful to be in a position of leadership.

I started to feel how I wanted to feel, and what I was hoping would happen did. I received infinitely more than I had imagined was possible. 

My husband, Bill, declared ENERGIZED, MOTIVATED and ACCOMPLISHED as his core desired feelings. He said he wanted to spend more intentional time with a group of guys from our church, who are honest, supportive, fun, and willing to be open. They meet on a monthly basis and get together in between to play and watch sports, grab a beer, or share a meal.

Bill said that training for and completing a triathlon would help him feel how he wanted to feel, too, so, he committed to doing that as well. In July of 2016, he became an Ironman after completing a grueling 140.6-mile course of swimming, biking and running in Lake Placid, New York.

Yesterday, he and I continued our New Year’s Day tradition of reflecting on the moments and memories of the previous year and identify our core desired feelings.

Throughout the year, we write these memories on little pieces of paper and put them in a glass jar that we empty out on New Year’s Day. We write all of them down in a journal and then add any others that we forgot to record. Finishing graduate school, paying off our student loans, Bill completing the Ironman, having my articles published in mindbodygreen, welcoming the births of our friends’ babies, renovating our kitchen, and reminiscing about the trips we took.

We take time to celebrate all that happened and reflect on the memorable moments that were sad as well. We think about what we are leaving behind in 2016 and not taking into 2017, what we are letting go and releasing.

And we identify how we want to feel in the coming year.

Bill wants to feel FREE, SECURE and COURAGEOUS. His desires are getting stronger and more specific. I’m excited to see what the year will bring him and to witness the growth he will experience as a result of shaping the year around generating those feelings.

My feelings have changed a bit this year, but some have remained the same.

I was seeing a therapist earlier this year, and one of the questions she asked me was to think about what I would want to tell my 10-year-old self, if I had the chance to go back and talk to her.

I paused. My lip quivered, as tears began rolling down my cheeks.

“Play,” I answered. “I would tell her to play more.”

For much of my life, I’ve taken things too seriously, been embarrassed by and uncomfortable with silliness, focused too much on striving and doing and not enough on just living and being. I haven’t made playfulness a priority.

But we are not called to take ourselves so seriously or treat ourselves so harshly. We are called to be childlike, to be humble, curious, and dependent on others and on God, a higher power than us. In today’s society, it’s easy to ignore that, to let pride rule, to think we know it all, and to convince ourselves that we can do everything on our own and be self-sufficient. But that is not how we were meant to live.

I feel PLAYFUL when I’m dancing, doing Nia and AntiGravity, playing games, spending time with little kids, being silly with Bill, getting surprise gifts for people, going on travel and food adventures to new places, blowing bubbles, jumping on a trampoline, skipping, walking on the beach, splashing in the water, hanging out with playful people, and laughing until it hurts.

I feel FREE and OPEN when I’m speaking my truth, as I’m doing here. I feel free and open when I dance, speak, present, teach, leave cushion in my schedule, spend time with friends who love and celebrate me, dream about the future, offer grace, forgive, overcome fears, go for a run on a beautiful day, spend time in nature, hike, give of our finances, and declutter my physical space.

I feel RADIANT when I present about a topic that I’m passionate about, write and speak from my soul, dance and twirl like a joyful little girl, wear a brightly colored outfit, serve others, and share my story and invite others to share theirs.

I feel DEEPLY CONNECTED when I spend undistracted (i.e., iPhoneless), quality time with people I love, have phone calls or meet-ups with close friends, go away on retreats and have time to reflect, go on getaways to new places with my husband, grab a meal with a friend, or have a soul-baring conversation with someone who trusts me and feels safe enough to share with me.

That’s how I want to feel this year. PLAYFUL, OPEN, FREE, RADIANT, and DEEPLY CONNECTED.

Now, it’s your turn. Ditch your New Year’s Resolutions, and do this instead.

  1. Ask yourself how you want to feel in 2017. If you need help with ideas, click here.
  2. Decide what you’ll do to generate those feelings. What do you do or can you do to make yourself feel that way? Refer to my lists above for some ideas.
  3. If you want to create one of the cool word picture images like the one you see above, download the free Word Swag app here. If you do, post it in my Facebook page and/or tag @RachelsNourishingKitchen on Instagram! I’d love to see what you create.

I wish you joy, peace, happiness, and love in 2017! Thank you for being a part of this community and for allowing me to be so open. I’m grateful for you!

Want a video summary of our New Year’s tradition? Check out my video below.

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