Category: Connect

My Dad, My Hero: 6 Lessons that Have Shaped My Life

While I write mostly about food on this blog, I also recognize the importance of taking a more holistic approach to life. Nourishment isn’t just about food. One of the most important ways we nourish ourselves is by how and what we think.

Being raised by two entrepreneurs who have been married for almost 36 years has given me unique insights into what working, living and loving can look like. They’ve shaped how I think and have encouraged me to think differently, to dream of what is possible.

My dad, in particular, has influenced me and served as one of my greatest mentors. With Father’s Day approaching, I thought this would be a perfect time to celebrate who he is in my life and to share with you lessons I’ve learned from him. dad-me-kid

He has taught me so much about pursuing work that I love, treating people with kindness, and dreaming big.

I spent some time reflecting on what I’ve learned from him, and I want to share those lessons with you – advice from my dad. Dad + advice = DAdvice 🙂

#1 Challenge Yourself

“Do something every year that scares the crap out of you.”

It’s one of the phrases I’ve heard my dad say more times than I can count. He practices what he preaches.

He celebrated his 66th birthday earlier this month by competing in the Raleigh Half Ironman triathlon. That’s a 1.2-mile swim in a lake (that was 81 degrees!) followed by a 56-mile bike ride and finished off with a 13.1-mile run. The very thought of those distances would be enough to discourage and intimidate most people, but my dad embraces races like these. dad-swim-run

As a 5-time Lake Placid Ironman finisher (2.4 miles, 112 miles, 26.2 miles), who is now training for his sixth race with my husband, who will be doing his first, my dad shows me and everyone around him that the greatest roadblock to what we can accomplish is our own limitations.

When he tells people he’s training for another Ironman, Half Ironman, or Olympic-distance triathlon, the first response is often a simple, “WHY??” followed by, “I get exhausted just THINKING about that!”

He’s not out to prove anything to anyone but himself. He knows that continuing to challenge himself in this way physically and mentally keeps him feeling and looking younger than he is. He learns new lessons with each race.

DAdvice #1: What’s one thing you can do in the next 6 months that excites you (and scares the crap out of you)? Make it happen.

#2 Question What’s “Normal”

My dad and I dancing at my wedding!

My dad and I dancing at my wedding!

What is “normal” anyway? Most of us decide that it’s “normal” to feel old and achy as we age, to be in a less than fulfilling job, or to settle for an “okay” relationship instead of an awesome one.

Why do we do this?

Because we don’t question it. We accept it. We assume it’s how things have to be.

It is what it is.

My dad has taught me by how he lives that those things don’t have to be normal. We can, in fact, shape our lives and the lives of those around us not by accepting what is but by thinking about what could be.

I’ve seen by how he lives that we can age and be well and have energy. That we can do what we love, love what we do, and get paid for it. That we can feel even more in love as we grow older instead of drifting apart or putting up with the other person.

My dad notices that most people his age have accepted that losing energy, feeling rundown, and having aches and pains are “normal” just because they’re common. But he refuses to accept that.

My dad and I at the summit of a mountain in Upstate New York last summer

My dad and I at the summit of a mountain in Upstate New York last summer

Because of his age, people often ask him when he’s going to retire. “From what, to what? I’m already doing what I love” is his response. That mindset has had a significant impact on my life and how I look at and pursue work.

He knows that moving his body and fueling himself with real, whole food are two of the keys to being able to compete in triathlons, spend his leisure time biking, swimming or running, and being so successful with his business. His life is a testament to Satchel Paige’s wise words:


DADvice #2: What’s one thing you’ve accepted as “normal” that might not be? What might the alternative be?

#3 Embrace What Makes You Different

If you’re someone who grew up feeling “different” from other people, you can likely relate to this one. File_000

My dad was always small for his age and maxed out at 5’6″, so he’s never been much of a physical presence. He was once asked whether his family was in the circus because of his size. He’s always told me that he liked being small because he could always make himself bigger. He felt badly for tall people because it was much harder for them to make themselves smaller.

He moved more than a dozen times when he was a kid due to his dad’s job, so he learned to be adaptable. He learned that humor is a great way to make friends, so he used it to his advantage throughout school (and to this day) as a way of disarming and connecting with people.

As a history teacher, he understands the importance of context, processes, and connections and uses what he has learned to help companies function more effectively, communicate better, and just “get along” as he says. I think he is brilliant at what he does, and he has helped thousands of people with his work.

He inspires me to do things differently in my work, just as he does with his. He’s totally comfortable doing things differently than everyone else. He embraces what makes him different and has taught me to do the same.

He and I recently co-presented a keynote session at the Frederick County SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) annual conference and infused the talk with our unique approach to work and life. It was SO MUCH FUN!


DADvice #3: In what ways are you “different” from other people? What makes you unique? If you can’t think of it yourself, ask your friends or someone else who knows you well.

#4 Pursue Lifelong Learning

If any of us buys my dad a DVD as a gift, we know to buy the “extended” edition that includes the director’s commentary because my dad will want to know the story behind the story…every time. He’s one of the most eager learners and voracious readers I’ve ever met. As a result, he stays relevant, offers new insights to his clients, and is always ready to share the latest and greatest teaching with anyone who will listen.

He describes his business as an “interest-driven” business and incorporates his new knowledge into how he consults with companies and individuals. One cool thing he’s helping companies do now is drive negativity out of the workplace using principles he and my mom have learned through marriage workshops they’ve attended.

Whether he’s reading the paper or a new book, talking to a sought after expert, or learning a new swimming or running technique, he constantly pursues new skills and knowledge, so he can continue to grow and feel alive.

DADvice #4: What’s something that interests you? What would you like to learn more about? This week, order a book, sign up for a class, tell a friend. Make forward progress.

#5 Be Humble and Grateful

In the spring of 2009, I almost lost my job. Health care reform legislation had been passed and the need for a full-time wellness person in a small firm was questioned. I remember when I was called into my boss and CFO’s office and was informed that I could stay onboard and take on another position or hang around for a few months while I found another job. It’s not like there was a resume service TX or something like that, that could help me get ready for a new job at the time.

I was stunned.

I remember calling my dad in anger and frustration, “Can you BELIEVE this?” I went off about my boss at the time and how I felt taken advantage of by her. I wasn’t feeling heard. I had even started copping a (noticeable) attitude with her when she asked certain things of me. At times, I told her “it wasn’t my job” to do what was, in fact, her job. (That phrase is, quite possibly, the LEAST effective thing to say…ever. I’d advise against it unless you have a new job lined up). My negativity began permeating other aspects of my work.

I had become indignant. My pride had gotten the best of me.

With his years of wisdom and a strong knowledge of my heart and how I’m wired, my dad did what he does best and helped me see things differently. He was the only person who could have lovingly told me what I needed to hear, not what I wanted to hear. “Honey, she’s your boss. If she asks you to get coffee every morning, you do it. You have a pretty good gig there. You get to do a lot that interests you, you have good benefits, good opportunities, and you work for a good person. Take all of that into consideration.”

He was right. I had gotten proud and felt entitled. What I needed was to be humble and grateful.

DADvice #5: How can you shift your mindset to focus on what is working and what you DO like instead of dwelling on what you don’t? What we focus on expands. One idea is to focus on 3 things you are grateful for each night before you go to bed.

#6 Go for It

Perhaps more than anything else, this advice from my dad has shaped my approach to what I do. Whether I’m pursuing an opportunity or a promotion or want to meet someone I admire, I hear my dad’s words over and over again and have shared them with others:

“The worst thing they’ll tell you is ‘no’.”

Most of us are afraid of rejection. It doesn’t feel good. It makes us feel inadequate, insecure, less than. But so does not trying. If we never try, we’ll never know what is possible.

So, why not ask?

Last year I was recognized as the #1 Health Promotion Professional in the U.S. by WELCOA and was in San Diego for their wellness conference and another conference. A renowned expert in the field whom I admired was to be one of the keynote speakers at the second conference. I had read his book and articles, watched him on videos, and was inspired and impressed by what he was doing.

So, I found his email address on his website and emailed him to tell him how much I admired him and how I would love to meet. Not only did he give me his cell phone number, but he spent nearly three hours at dinner with just me one night of the conference! I was incredibly honored. It was something I will never forget.

Simply because I took a risk…and asked.

Dr. David Katz and me after dinner in San Diego!

Dr. David Katz and me after dinner in San Diego!

DADvice #6: What is something you want that you’ve been too afraid to ask for? Who’s someone you want to meet or talk to that you think is too “big” for you? Ask. Reach out to them. The worst they’ll say is “no”.

I’m grateful to have the opportunity to learn so much from my dad and his example. I know that his influence has shaped my mindset around work, the body, my marriage and how I treat people. I hope the lessons he’s taught me speak to you today.

Remember to challenge yourself, question what’s “normal”, embrace what makes you different, pursue lifelong learning, be humble and grateful, and go for it!

5 Ways to Boost Your Mood…with Food!

I’ve had the privilege of teaching a two-part series about Eating Empowerment and creating a judgment-free, joyful relationship with food at the Institute for Integrative Health in Baltimore.

In the first session, we talked about reframing eating. We started with this funny video clip from one of my favorite comedians, Jim Gaffigan. He’s spot on and had everyone laughing!

We spent the rest of our time connecting with why we eat, how it makes us feel, and the impact it has beyond our plate. We talked about and experienced the power of slowing down enough to be aware of how we eat, so we can be more present and take time to truly taste and savor our food. We want to move away from guilt, shame, and judgment and toward freedom, joy, and enjoyment. I’ll be writing future blog posts to recap our discussion on each of those areas in more detail, so if you missed the workshop, stay tuned!

In the second workshop of the series, Dr. Chris D’Adamo and I highlighted the best ways to nourish ourselves, to eat in a way that makes us feel empowered instead of overwhelmed and powerless.

If you want to start feeling better, think more clearly, boost your mood, reduce anxiety, and get sick less often, then you’ll want to upgrade your eating by adding in more of these foods. You could use a Mood Supplement to try and improve your mood. However keep reading to see the benefits to your mood that can be found in different food items.


#1: Probiotic-Rich Foods

Since two of the most important mood-boosting neurotransmitters – serotonin and dopamine – are produced with the help of our digestive system (the “gut”), it’s important that we give our body what it needs to make that happen.

SerotoninThink of serotonin as the neurotransmitter that helps us maintain mood balance, reduce anxiety and keep calm. Patients with depression often take medication that affects their serotonin levels. These types of medications could include the use of trying alternative products, similar to those that you may find at Blessed CBD, to help with the reduction of depression and anxiety. Low dopamine production is associated with apathy and a lack of motivation. It’s often called the “motivation molecule” because it provides the drive and focus we need to be productive. It’s also in charge of our brain’s pleasure-reward system. We want to help our body produce enough serotonin and dopamine to help us feel calm, focused, and happy.

What we eat and drink can affect our serotonin and dopamine levels. Specifically, consuming probiotic-rich foods is one way to promote digestive health the production of these mood-balancing neurotransmitters. Many of us, including me, have taken lots of antibiotics, which wipe out all of the bacteria in our gut, so it’s important that we replenish the good guys and keep the bad guys in balance. Think probiotic = pro-life; antibiotic = against life. There are many supplements that are probiotics too. Dopify by Vitamonk is a prime example of this and will make you feel much more positive about the day ahead.
So, what are some food-based sources of probiotics?

Sauerkraut, miso, plain and fermented yogurt from grass-fed cows (if you can tolerate some dairy), tempeh (recipes here!), pickles, kimchi, and kefir, just to name a few.Probiotic Rich Foods

Some of my favorite kinds of fermented foods are:

  • Hex Ferments sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha (Baltimore-based. You can find them at Whole Foods, MOMs, Graul’s, and Eddies as well as at the farmer’s markets)
  • Bubbies pickles and sauerkraut (Click here for where to buy near you)
  • Tempeh (This is the brand we like)

#2: Focus on Folate-Rich, Antioxidant-Rich Foods

Folate is a naturally occurring B vitamin that is found in plant foods, including lentils, chickpeas, spinach, asparagus, pinto beans, beets, romaine lettuce, bok choy, cauliflower, broccoli, and broccoli. It comes from a Latin word that refers to foliage or leaves, so that should help you remember where to find it 🙂folate-rich-foodsFolate is important for a number of reasons, but one of its most important roles related to mood is helping our body convert amino acids (the building blocks of protein) into neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Neurotransmitters are the brain chemicals that communicate information throughout our brain and body. They send signals between nerve cells (AKA neurons).

Not only that, but folate-rich foods also tend to be packed with fiber and antioxidants. Think of antioxidants as the rust-busters – they help protect our body from damage from the inside out and reduce inflammation, which is linked to a wide range of health issues, including mood disorders. Fiber, which is only found in plant foods, protects our heart and it’s safe to say that food that is good for our heart is also good for our brain.

To experience how delicious folate-rich, antioxidant-packed foods can be, we enjoyed my Taste the Rainbow Kale Salad, which is always a hit!Kale aerial

#3: Power Up with Protein

Despite all of the fuss about protein these days, the good news is that very few of us are deficient in it. But that doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. Most of us aren’t consuming high quality versions of protein. Protein and the quality of protein we eat is important because of the role of protein’s building blocks – amino acids – in the production of our neurotransmitters, hormones, enzymes, and tissues.

Protein, specifically animal sources of protein, are packed with B-vitamins, which are crucial for energy and mood balance.

For years, I was not breaking down protein properly because all of the acid blockers I was taking were shutting off my stomach’s production of stomach acid, which helps the body break down proteins into amino acids. My energy was affected and my hormones were out of whack as a result, so I’ve experienced firsthand how important it is to make sure we are taking in quality forms of protein and that our body can break them down.

Protein is found in plants and animals. Here are a few sources of protein to consider: oysters; cold-water fish like wild caught salmon, sardines and mackerel; halibut; lamb; turkey; tuna; grass-fed beef; pastured chicken; cage-free/pastured eggs; beans, lentils, peas; nuts like walnuts, almonds, pecans, etc.; hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds; nut butters, peanut butter. You might also be surprised to learn that hemp protein is good for muscle retention and inflammation reduction, so give that a go too!protein-rich-foodsWhat I mean when I say “quality” is to aim for grass-fed, pastured meats or poultry; wild caught seafood; and cage-free eggs from chickens that were allowed to roam freely on pastures like chickens are supposed to do.

During the session, we munched on one of my favorite protein and fiber-packed snacks – rosemary Chickpeatos! They’re roasted chickpeas tossed with sea salt and rosemary, and I love them as a snack or as a substitute for croutons on a salad. They are SO GOOD!chickpeatos-bag

#4: Feel Good about Fat

60% of our brain is made up of fat, so we want to make sure we’re nourishing ourselves with high quality fat that our brain and body can use, so we can feel good. When it comes to fat, quality matters, so we want to opt for anti-inflammatory fats found in foods like avocado, walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and wild caught salmon.


Deficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids has been linked to mood disorders, as clinical, integrative nutritionist Jason Bosley-Smith shared in this blog post. He suggested consuming cold water fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines, as well as walnuts to up our omega-3 levels.

Another higher fat food that has other mood-boosting benefits (enhancing serotonin and dopamine production) is CHOCOLATE. So, we enjoyed some of my super food trail mix that is full of nuts, seeds, shredded coconut, berries, and cacao nibs!

trail mix

#5: Herb & Spice It Up!

Herbs are spices are often overlooked as tools in our food. Back in the fall, I had the pleasure of meeting and spending the morning with Rebecca Katz, a culinary nutrition expert and author who is incredibly passionate about using herbs and spices.

Mint is a powerhouse and boosts alertness and memory. Rosemary has been linked with better brain functioning and at keeping depression at bay. It helps us improve concentration and focus. Thyme contains brain-boosting vitamins A and C and contains some iron which is important for brain health as well. Other potent brain-boosting herbs include oregano, basil, and sage.

Spices like turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, clove, cardamom, and cumin also have brain and mood-boosting properties, so we want to include more of them in our diet. When it comes to cooking, Rebecca Katz shares a helpful tip:

And here’s what you need to get about cooking with herbs and spices: Spices go in at the BEGINNING of your cooking and herbs go in at the END.

Another way to add in more herbs and spices is by having tea each day. We shared in some Chamomile Lemon Tea from Numi. Here are a few of my other favorites:

  • Traditional Medicinals – Chamomile Lavendar (so calming!)
  • Organic India – Lemon Ginger (stress-relieving and reviving) or Masala Chai (energizing)
  • Pukka – Three Mint and Three Cinnamon (invigorating)
  • Truebroc Green Tea (calmness, relaxation)

We closed by talking about the importance of having your nutrient levels checked to ensure you’re not deficient in any of these crucial mood-boosting nutrients. I recommend seeing a functional medicine practitioner for further guidance on that topic.

So, there you have it! A look at some of the best mood and brain-boosting foods. You’ll notice that many of the recipes on my blog use a lot of those foods. I want to make it easier for you to eat in the most energizing, nourishing, delicious way possible!

Bill’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Energy Bites

My husband, Bill, is in the process of preparing his mind and body for an epic life event – his first Ironman triathlon in Lake Placid, New York this summer.

With only one triathlon under his belt, he knows what he is about to do in a few short months is no small feat, but he is determined to make it happen.

He’s training with my dad, who has completed five Ironman races since starting at the age of 56, and will be competing in his sixth Ironman with Bill at the age of 66.

Dad Bill Columbia

Bill has been diligent about his training, putting to use the discipline he’s learned as a lifelong athlete.  His training schedule is rigorous and requires activities like four-hour bike rides on a Saturday morning and 5:00 a.m. swims at the gym in order to be guaranteed an open lane.

People often ask me, “Are you going to do one?” (Translation: Are you going to swim 2.4 miles in a lake, bike 112 miles through the mountains, and then run a marathon (26.2 miles)?)

Hmmm, let me think about that…probably not 🙂 It doesn’t appeal to me in the least!

What does appeal to me and what I do enjoy is making sure Bill is well fueled and nourished. Eating well is an often overlooked aspect of athletic training. It’s critical for ensuring your body has enough energy and strength to endure long training hours and essential for speeding up the recovery process.

By modifying his diet over the years, Bill has connected why and what he eats with how he feels and functions. We eat as Michael Pollan suggests – real food, not too much, mostly plants – so our diet is packed with nutrient-dense foods. He eats the way he does to fuel and nourish himself, so he can perform physically at the highest level. One of his favorite fueling snacks, especially on the days of early morning workouts, are these chocolate peanut butter energy bites. PB Choco Bites

Packed with healthy fats, fiber and protein, these little no-bake bites are energy-dense, meaning a little goes a long way.

For someone like Bill, popping a few of these before, during or after all of those hours of training stokes his fire, since he’s burning a lot of energy. But for the rest of us, one or two a day will do.

Like most of my other no-bake bites, these tasty treats require a food processor, so if you don’t have one yet, I would highly recommend adding it to your wish list. They’re not super expensive but are incredibly versatile. We have a Cuisinart one and use ours just about every other day!

PB Choco Bites Title


  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (I love Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free oats or Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut
  • 1.5 cups Medjool dates, pitted (find these in the produce section of the grocery store)
  • 2/3 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup raw cacao powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt (add 1/4 tsp more if your peanut butter is unsalted)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Put oats and shredded coconut in the food processor fitted with the S-blade and run until it reaches a fine meal, about 45-60 seconds.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and process until everything is evenly combined.
  3. Form dough into 1-inch balls with your hands and roll gently between your palms to even out the edges. Store in the fridge or freezer.

From Under Armour to Belvedere Square: Jinji’s Inspiring Journey to Pure Chocolate Bliss

In case you missed the first post in this series about my favorite chocolates (and my #1 indulgence), click here. This post tells the story behind the chocolate and its inspiring owner and creator, Jinji Fraser!


Born in Germany (her dad was in the military) and raised in Baltimore, Jinji grew up without any particular interest in food.

She credits her uncanny smell memory with many of her creative inspirations.

Her first food memory is one that she draws on a lot for inspiration and is a key part of one of her favorite treats – Chocolate-Covered Date Poppers stuffed with raw honey, crunchy cacao nibs and sea salt.

date popper

The inspiration? Honeysuckles.

As a child spending her summers in Alabama, she and her brother would spend hours lying by her grandmother’s endless chain link fence, interwoven with honeysuckles, pulling them off one by one and soaking in the sweet nectar.

Inspiration can literally come from everywhere […] Inspiration is everywhere all the time.

As we sat at the table during the interview, she saw a bag of popcorn lining the counter of one of the food vendors and told me it made her think about her new corn-infused chocolates and how they would taste different if she incorporated popcorn instead of corn flakes.

Her creative wheels are always turning; she’s open to being inspired.

Jinji’s start in the chocolate business came in a rather unexpected way.


The Turning Point

After graduating with a college degree in Communication and Culture and completing her health coaching training through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, she returned to Baltimore, eager to become a nutrition counselor and teach classes.

Her first corporate job after college was working at Under Armour. At that point, she had no inkling she would a) have her own food business and b) have anything to do with chocolate.

One of her roles at Under Armour was designing nutrition and fitness programs for kids with Living Classrooms, a non-profit organization based in Baltimore.

living classrooms

As she was doing that, she had her first “aha” moment:

You know what? I’ve gotta do food. This is what I want to do.

With nothing holding her back or tying her down, Jinji left her corporate job and went out on her own. She started organizing events around food and got connected to the local healthy food and chef community, including Daniela Troia, owner of Zia’s Café & Plantbar (another favorite place of mine at Belvedere Square).

The turning point in her career came one night during an event she had organized at The Black Olive that centered on creating a delicious raw food dinner to introduce people to that way of eating.

Throughout the night, Jinji kept stepping over a postcard that was turned over on the ground. Eventually, she heeded the urge to pick it up and flip it over (after all it was her event and she knew she should at least pick up the trash). The card was advertising raw chocolate workshops.

I can’t imagine what compelled me to actually look into this thing. This is totally not me to go do this thing.

But she did, and it changed her life and career forever:

I went to this workshop that wasn’t very good. It didn’t need to be good. All I needed was to see this thing, to see chocolate being made and to see that process of making it and the amount of work that goes into it. I just needed to see that. And once I did, I said, ‘This is what I’m supposed to do. This is what I’m going to do.’

Jinji has been “completely in love with chocolate ever since.”

Her father, Guy, who retired from the military after 38 years of service, came on to help her with the finances and logistical and administrative details.

Jinji and her dad

Jinji and her dad

He’s a big heartbeat of the business,” she says. He’s also a welcoming, friendly face. I always look forward to seeing and chatting with him when I’m looking for my chocolate fix 🙂

The Path

Like most successful people, Jinji’s path has not been an easy one. I asked her what barriers she’s faced in business.

“ALL of them,” she said.

Her greatest challenge was figuring out how to work with chocolate and turn it in to decadent and carefully crafted bites of bliss.

chopped chocolate IMG_0308

Chocolate is so emotional. You have to get that in order to work with it […] It’s never the same from one day to the next. […] It takes on whatever energy you have. I swear it does. It knows how you feel, and it reacts to that […] When I was starting out, I don’t know that I really understood that. I thought it was just like candy, like everyone else does […] but I didn’t really get that there’s something much deeper to it than that.

When she first started, she would get stressed out trying to make the “perfect” piece of chocolate.

Eventually, she learned that if she was patient, wasn’t in a rush, took her time, and just loved the process of what she was doing, it was so much easier to work with.

melted hazelnut

I’ve found the same to be true in my career and life. When I feel like I’m forcing things to happen, it’s exhausting. It doesn’t feel easy. And often, it doesn’t feel quite right.

When I’m patient, enjoying the process and allowing myself to be “in the zone,” on the other hand, I feel alive, and I’m fully present and being the best and truest version of myself. I’m all of me, and things just flow. Whether I’m teaching a workshop, leading a cooking class, or speaking to a room full of people about WHY health matters, it comes easily to me, and I shine.

Think about what makes YOU feel most alive. What comes easily to you? What feels right and natural? Pay attention to that. Do more of it. Be open to what “ease” is trying to tell you.

The Future & “The Nod”

I asked Jinji what’s next and how she envisions her future, given the success she has had in such a short period of time since opening her business.

She wants to travel, see the world, and most importantly, connect.

I feel like enough people love chocolate that they could be connected by chocolate. I feel like enough people would be open to this world that I’m creating right now. There’s just so much happiness in it.

I really just want to travel. I want to get other kinds of inspiration. I want to taste things. I want to share with people the things that I’m doing. I want to keep teaching and doing workshops and talking to people and really just connecting people with chocolate.

chocolate class

But don’t worry, Baltimore, Jinji’s chocolates will always have a home here.

In some capacity, the chocolate will live on in Baltimore because I love Baltimore and I love what I’m doing here, but that’s not my story, that’s not the end of my story at all.

It is so much bigger than Baltimore. It has to be. It just has to be. I really have this dream of just seeing the entire world and all of the people out there […] I love what I’m doing. I love people.

Jinji loves what she does and is grateful for it.

I come and I make chocolate all day long. As bad as life could ever get, at the end of the day, I make chocolate for a living.

One of the greatest joys of her career has been meeting so many chefs and other people who truly love food, including her crew from Belvedere Square.

We have this saying, a couple of chef friends of mine: ‘At the end of the day, we do it for the nod.’ When someone eats something that we’ve made and they just nod, we’re like,

‘That’s the moment, that’s the thing, that’s why we do it.’

If you want to try Jinji’s chocolates, here’s where you can buy them, but to get the best of the best, visit her shop at Belvedere Square Market.

box of chocolate

How I Healed 10 Years of Heartburn & Reflux Naturally

It’s been almost two years since I filled my last prescription after taking a pill daily for almost a decade.

I was first diagnosed my sophomore year of college.

I had chronic acid reflux (more commonly known as heartburn or indigestion) and swallowed a pill daily to quiet my symptoms.

I was terrified to eat anything without taking my pill for fear of unbearable burning sensations in my chest or bloating and sharp pains in my stomach.

But what was the medicine actually doing to my body?

Why did I have reflux in the first place?


I kept my last filled prescription for Protonix, even though I never used it, as a reminder to myself of what I’ve done to heal my body

For years I didn’t think about it and didn’t ask.

Sure, I was “compliant” and took my medicine every day (sometimes twice a day), but I wasn’t getting better, and I hated that I depended on a pill to eat.

Over time, I learned that the medicine I was taking wasn’t helping me heal. All it was doing was masking my symptoms and keeping them quiet, so I could eat what I wanted and not change anything else.

It was actually harming me.

Lab testing over the past 18 months revealed that I had nearly a dozen nutrient deficiencies, including some pivotal to energy, immunity, and anxiety, like magnesium, Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D.

This, in spite of that fact that I was eating lots of plants and avoiding stuff like fried food, fast food, and processed and packaged food.

So, what was happening?

I learned that suppressing my stomach acid by taking pills was actually preventing me from fully breaking down food and absorbing nutrients.

The body needs adequate stomach acid to break down food, so nutrients can be absorbed.

My body wasn’t doing that properly, as I had shut off its natural ability to produce adequate acid by taking acid blockers every day.


Despite the fact that my grandparents, aunts and uncles and mom had reflux, I didn’t think it had to be my genetic destiny. I believed something could be done.

I knew I didn’t want to be medicated forever, so I read several books (like the two below) and dozens of articles on the topic of healing reflux naturally and learned through experts in my health coaching program that there was another way.

My nutritionist also helped me get to the bottom of the issues I was having, and I am forever grateful to her for that!


I started making some changes and am happy to report I have been COMPLETELY OFF of my acid blocking medicine for almost two full years! 🙂

Below are the eight steps that work for me.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, and this information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any health condition. Rather it’s a reflection of what I have learned on my journey to heal my body. Never stop taking medication without consulting your doctor, as there can be negative side effects to doing so. If you have concerns about a particular health concern, including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), I highly recommend seeing a health care provider who understands that there are and is open to trying alternative approaches to treating (and even reversing) reflux. I’ve shared my full list of links and recommended providers here but have also embedded links below:

1) Chew Your Food & SLOW Down

This might seem simple, but most of us don’t do it! Enzymes in our mouth help us start the digestive process. If we inhale our food, we bypass that step, which makes our stomach work harder to break down our food.

2) Drink Water BEFORE Not During Meals

When we drink liquid during a meal, we can dilute our stomach acid and fill up our stomachs too much, which can put pressure on the LES (lower esophageal sphincter). The LES is the muscle that prevents food from going back up our esophagus. Drinking room temperature water 10-15 minutes before a meal and only sipping water or warm tea as needed (if at all) during a meal has helped me. When we chew our food thoroughly, we don’t need as much liquid to “wash it down.”

3) Eliminate Trigger Foods.

For me and many other people, those foods were dairy and gluten. For others it’s things like coffee or fried food. Cheese, ice cream, milk, cream, yogurt, milkshakes triggered my symptoms the most. Every time I ate them, I felt like something was coming back up. This is not normal. I was embarrassed to talk about it because it was “gross.” Now, I know better, and I’ve found healthier ways to make (and enjoy!) those foods without dairy.

Gluten (the sticky “glue-like” protein in wheat, barley and rye) disrupts the healthy bacteria balance in our gut and can trigger inflammation and digestive irritation, like reflux. Cutting out gluten was key to reducing bloating, gas, and other symptoms that tended to come along with digestive conditions like reflux.

*Every recipe on this blog is dairy-free AND gluten-free, including dairy-free smoothies like this one…*


4) Repopulate My “Gut” with Probiotics

The healthy bacteria in our digestive system (AKA our “gut”) need to be fed the right stuff to keep our body healthy and our digestion smooth. This is especially true for those of us who have taken countless rounds of antibiotics (yup!) and therefore repeatedly wiped out all of the bacteria in our gut – both the good guys and the bad guys.

Taking a probiotic daily helps me. I take one through my nutritionist that is specifically designed for people with sensitivities to gluten and dairy.


5) Relax with Magnesium

Magnesium plays a key role in relaxing our muscles, including the ones in our digestive tract that can act up and send food and acid in the wrong direction. I was deficient in magnesium and started supplementing with it through my nutritionist, and it helped me tremendously. I would encourage anyone facing the same issues I was to add magnesium citrate powder to your diet so it helped me a lot.

6) Protect with Licorice Root

Adding soothing foods like licorice in the form of teas and tablets help to coat my stomach and protect it before and between meals. DGL tablets are one option for this and can work wonders.

This is the primary way my MOM was able to stop taking Nexium after being on it for about 12 years! My mom was taking Nexium for years because her friend had recommended it to her but she recently found out that one of the Side Effects of the drug is a 20-50% increased risk of developing fatal kidney disease. This obviously got alarm bells ringing so she knew she had to find a way to get off the medication. She and my dad both switched from their traditional doctor – who told them they were his “best patients” even though my mom still took daily reflux meds – to Dr. Bill Rollow. He helped my mom safely wean off of Nexium (this is SO important) and transition to a natural way, and she is now Nexium-free! She swears by these DGL tablets and takes one 15-20 minutes before each meal.


7) Add in hydrochloric acid (HCl)**

(See important note about this below!). It turns out some people suffering from reflux have LOW stomach acid, not too much. Totally counterintuitive, right?? That was the case for me, especially after years of suppressing normal acid levels with daily medication. My nutritionist put me on a regimen of taking hydrochloric acid tablets (betaine HCl) with meals containing protein to get my stomach acid levels back up. This helped my body break down food into a form it could use to nourish and heal me and helped minimize symptoms like burping and bloating, which can be indicative of low acid. I make sure to avoid these 4 mistakes when taking HCl and have been closely supervised by my nutritionist throughout the process.

**IMPORTANT NOTE: SOME people with reflux symptoms have stomach ulcers, hernias and other bacterial infections, so it is CRUCIAL that you see a doctor for a proper diagnosis and not self-prescribe things like betaine HCl. I’m just sharing my story and what worked for me. A trained functional medicine doctor will be able to talk more in-depth about this option with you to determine if it’s the right path of treatment for your body.

8) Soothe with Aloe

Sometimes if I overeat or otherwise do something to upset my stomach, I like to have something on hand to “put out the fire.” For me, Aloe Force does that. Dozens of people have shared their testimonials about how this product has healed their digestive issues, including reflux. I’m not compensated by them in any way for saying this – I’ve just used their product and liked the results. It doesn’t taste all that great, but you can mix it in with water to dilute it.


The quality of aloe is important, so not just any aloe (there are a lot on the market) will work. The most important thing my nutritionist told me about taking aloe is to avoid the ingredient “aloin” which can have a laxative effective and be damaging to the digestive tract. Aloe Force’s aloe does not contain aloin. I called the company to ask. I buy Aloe Force at MOMs Organic Market.


Here are my top 3 resources for healing reflux naturally, including my favorite books, websites and local healthcare providers who ROCK! 🙂

PLEASE share this information with anyone you know who suffers from GERD, reflux, heartburn, etc. It may help them find relief from years of pain and discomfort!

My Husband Faces His Fears…And Celebrates with This No-Bake Peanut Butter Cup Pie {Vegan, Gluten-Free}

Sometimes we experience moments in our lives that are so profound, so impactful that we can’t help but be affected by them.

I experienced one of those moments today.

Bill and me

My husband, Bill, faced some of his biggest fears today as he humbly yet commandingly held the attention of a room full of people, sharing his story of growth through community over the past 6 years.

When our pastor and friend, Ryan, called Bill 3 weeks ago to ask if he would share his story at church, he stepped up to the challenge, despite his fears and reservations.

Like many people, Bill has had a lifelong fear of public speaking. And like most men, he wasn’t exactly jumping at the opportunity to share his thoughts and feelings with a room of over 100 people. When Bill was first asked, he panicked and decided he needed some proper training, so he spent the following twenty minutes googling public speaking courses. He found some good ones, but they were all UK based (Here’s some great public speaking courses to attend in London if these are of interest to you!). However, I managed to calm him down and he came round to the idea of no training and just practicing with me instead.

Being emotionally vulnerable isn’t something our culture encourages men to do, and those who do put their fragile egos at risk.

Bill opened up by highlighting the irony of how he can easily speak in front of a room of elementary school students in his job as a phys ed teacher, where conversations typically consist of debates over who did what, who likes whom or who has to go to the bathroom.

Speaking in front of a group of peers is an entirely different ballgame.

He shared how he used to be terrified of speaking in public. He would intentionally sit on the outskirts of a room full of people in our small group, sometimes dozing off as a result of the heat in the room, hoping to go unnoticed and not be asked to contribute to the discussion.

He talked about how he grew in his understanding of what it really means to be a man in a guys’ group he was a part of through our church as he studied the book The Way of the Wild Heart.

He got choked up as he shared how he felt years of emotional burdens lifted as he and the guys in that group shared their stories and struggles with each other.

He opened up about the impact of a retreat we went on last September on our ability to communicate more effectively and lovingly as a couple.

In Rhinebeck, New York for the Getting the Love You Want couples retreat

In Rhinebeck, New York for the Getting the Love You Want couples retreat

Sometimes what we are so afraid to share with other people is the very thing that will connect us to them, the very thing they are so frightened to unveil themselves.

Sometimes it just takes one person with the courage to be vulnerable.

I’m so proud of my husband for being that person.

I’m proud of the man Bill has become and the leader he is in our relationship, in his job, and in our church.

I’m proud of the example he sets for what it means to be a humble, teachable, gracious, forgiving, kind, caring and loving man.

I’m proud to be his wife.

Sometimes I wonder how I got so lucky.

I wanted to celebrate him and what this milestone means, so we grabbed brunch at one of our favorite places – Atwater’s – and I gave him a card letting him know how proud of him I am.

When we got home, I served him this pie. Bill and I both love the combo of peanut butter and chocolate, so we had eyed up this recipe before. I thought today would be the perfect day to make it for him.

If you like peanut butter and chocolate, you need to know about this pie. Talk about an indulgence! It’s chocolately, peanut buttery (trust me, it’s a word), and decadent.

no bakepeanut butter pie IMG_7936

Tempted to try it? Click here for the recipe**! I used cacao powder (not cocoa powder) because it has more health benefits! Click here to learn more about why CACAO is better than COCOA.

**I added 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract to the filling. For the crust I ground up 1.5 cups of whole almonds in my food processor until it was a fine consistency because I didn’t have any almond meal. Then, I just added the other crust ingredients to the food processor to combine them before pressing it into the bottom of the pie plate.

How to Stock a Healthy Pantry: My Top 10 Everyday Essentials! {Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free}

This post has been a long time coming, so I’m super excited to finally publish it!

A few of you have asked if I could put together a list of pantry items that I always have on hand and use frequently in recipes.

I’m going to be doing this a few times over the next few weeks starting off with two rounds of Everyday Essentials as well as Baking Basics, Smoothie Staples, and Herb & Spice It Up. All of these items will be gluten-free and dairy-free because that’s how I cook, and when I eat that way, my body feels its best and my skin glows 🙂

I could just give you a simple list of 10 items, but one of my goals is to get back to WHY eating these things is so good for us, rather than just “telling” you what to buy, so for each item, I’ll share:

  1. Why I love it
  2. How I use it (including all the recipes I’ve posted using that ingredient)
  3. Where you can find it

You don’t have to go out and buy all of these things tomorrow. Maybe add one or two a week to your grocery list and work up to having most or all of them on hand.

Remember, the health journey is a marathon, not a sprint!

I would love to hear your feedback about this post, so please take a moment to comment if you find this to be helpful!


Raw Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)

Why I Love It: I dedicated an entire post to ACV, so you can head over there to learn all the details about why I love this ingredient so much. In general, it supports healthy digestion, clear skin, and knocks out just about any incoming cold. My dad calls it “the concoction” and uses this detox drink at the first sign of a sniffle.

How I Use It: I use it as a staple ingredient in this salad dressing and this one, as a “splash” to cut the bitterness of sautéed greens like kale, collards, spinach or just drink it with a straw in a detox drink. One of my college professors now swears by the ACV detox drink for her family. I had the privilege of doing lots of research with her as an undergrad and she really encouraged me to pursue my passion for nutrition.

Where to Find It: The kind you buy is VERY important. You want to buy Bragg’s Raw Apple Cider Vinegar with “The Mother.” It has all the tummy-friendly enzymes in it that we want that the heat-treated, pasteurized versions of ACV lack. Most grocery stores sell Bragg’s ACV these days (I saw it at Safeway the other day), but I find it cheapest at MOMs Organic Market. You can also find it at Whole Foods, Wegmans, any natural food store, Health Food Online from Wholesome Hub or online at Vitacost and Amazon.



Why I Love It: Tahini is basically just a fancy name for sesame seed butter. It’s one of the main ingredients in hummus and makes salad dressings creamy. It’s a rich source of key minerals and healthy fats that our body needs to maintain healthy skin and muscle tone, and it’s higher in protein than most nuts. Check out this article about the top 10 reasons to add tahini to your diet.

How I Use It: Whenever we want to make a creamy salad dressing, we use tahini. It’s one of the key ingredients in our favorite kale salad and in this beautifying detox salad. You also use it to make hummus.

Where to Find It: You can usually find it in the international aisle at your grocery store. Otherwise, check out an ethnic grocery store near you or go to Wegmans, MOMs or Whole Foods. They all carry it. It’s also available online (like everything else these days!), so check out Amazon or Vitacost. We get ours from a little Mediterranean Café in Towson called Cedar Cafe because it’s cheapest there AND tastes the best (the one in the picture above).



Why I Love It: It’s a gluten-free alternative to soy sauce, so it typically does not contain wheat. Check out another blogger’s post about the differences between soy sauce and tamari. Gluten is a sticky protein found in wheat, barley and rye that is often found in condiments, so if you’re eating gluten-free, you can still have the flavor of soy sauce by using tamari. Even if you don’t have a gluten allergy or intolerance, you may find that you have fewer issues with bloating and other digestive annoyances when you remove gluten. Check out this blog post from one of the world’s top nutrition experts about going gluten-free. To avoid soy AND gluten, you can also use Coconut Aminos instead of tamari (surprisingly, they don’t taste like coconut!).

How I Use It: Whenever you would usually use soy sauce. We use it in salad dressings (including our favorite kale salad) along with these other recipes: Beautifying Detox Salad, The Ultimate “Noocho” Cheese Sauce!, and in these walnut tacos. We also use it whenever we make stir fries, so stay tuned for a simple stir fry recipe in the next 2 weeks!

Where to Find It: In the Asian food section of the grocery store, sometimes in the international aisle. Every grocery store I’ve been to sells it. If you opt for coconut aminos instead, you can find them at any natural food/health food store, Wegmans, Whole Foods, or online at Vitacost or Amazon.


Coconut Oil

Why I Love It: For years, it has gotten a bad rap because of its high saturated fat content, but coconut oil contains a different kind of fatty acid that your body is more likely to burn as energy (without spiking your blood sugar) vs. store as fat like most other oils. It also has a higher smoke point and is heat stable, so you don’t have to worry about things like “does coconut oil go bad“, as this makes it a better option for cooking (we use it instead of olive oil, which is more delicate and heat-sensitive). Not only that, but the lauric acid in coconut oil can kill bacteria, viruses and fungi, helping to prevent infections and illness. Check out this post about coconut oil’s benefits from Kimberly Snyder, one of my favorite nutritionists.

How I Use It: Coconut oil is one of the most versatile items in our pantry. Whether I’m using it to saute or roast vegetables, make a crumble topping for a fruit crisp, glazed roasted peaches, firm up seductive raw chocolate fudge, create a chocolate shell for raw cookie dough bites OR moisturize my skin or lips, coconut oil is a must-have in our kitchen (and bathroom!). Read this article from Wellness Mama about 101 uses for coconut oil.

Where to Find It: We buy ours either online at Vitacost or Amazon OR wait for the sales at Whole Foods or MOMs Organic Market. I’ve also had some great coconut oil finds at Home Goods in their pantry section. Most grocery stores sell it these days, and I’ve even seen it at BJs Wholesale Club, so check out any of the stores above or your wholesale club for the best deal on coconut oil! Look for organic, unrefined, extra virgin, cold-pressed as keywords for the highest quality coconut oil.


Raw Honey

Why I Love It: Raw honey is not treated by heat (which is why it is solid vs. runny and amber-colored), so it contains lots of health-promoting, illness-preventing, beauty-boosting nutrients that the commercial bottled bear honey lacks. In addition, locally produced raw honey often contains little bits of local pollen that can actually help with your seasonal allergies!

How I Use It: From salad dressings and cupcakes to raspberry lime popsicles, chia jams, and honey mustard sauce, we use this ingredient a lot! I try to use it most often in raw (uncooked) preparations because exposing it to high heat destroys a lot of the enzymes. I just find that I like the taste of raw honey better than the bottled bear stuff, so it’s become my go-to for honey in general. Here is a link to all my recipes that use raw honey.

Where to Find It: You can find raw honey at any natural food store, Wegmans, Whole Foods, MOMs and sometimes at farmer’s markets as well as online. If you are looking at manuka honey for sale, a lot of e-stores like Steens Honey and similar others sell raw, unpasteurized honey straight from mother nature herself. It is a fact that honey is beneficial for both our skin and body, the demand for raw honey, thus, tends to be very high.This is the kind we buy (pictured above).

IMG_5289veggie broth banner

Vegetable Broth

Why I Love It: It’s a great way to add flavor to food and is something we always have on hand in the fall, since we like to make soup, especially when we have veggies to use up and nothing else to do with them. It’s versatile and flavorful.

How I Use It: I use it as the base for most soups (can’t wait to share soup recipes this fall and winter!). I also use it as an oil-free way to sauté or cook down vegetables on the stove. You can use it as an alternative to butter or oil but need to add enough to prevent your food from sticking to the pan, so add as you go. I also add a few splashes of it in with greens (kale, Swiss Chard, spinach) when I’m sautéing them on the stovetop to help them cook down.

Where to Find It: UPDATE! I’ve found that it is SO much easier and A LOT cheaper to make my own vegetable broth from vegetable scraps I would have otherwise thrown away. Check out the simple process here for how to make your own vegetable broth.


Lemons/Bottled Lemon Juice (Santa Cruz)

Why I Love It: In an ideal world, I would buy 5 pounds of lemons every week and squeeze out the juice as I go, since I use it in so many recipes. But, sometimes convenience prevails, and that is definitely the case with bottled lemon juice, which is always always in our fridge.

**I used to buy the lemon juice in the green bottle AKA “Real Lemon” but it turns out there are way more ingredients in it than just lemon juice, so I stopped buying it. It’s not the same as squeezing juice from a lemon, so opt for the Santa Cruz bottled kind instead if you’re making a recipe that calls for fresh lemons (or use the whole lemon!).

How I Use It: Mixed in with slightly warm water and a pinch of cayenne to get things moving in my morning detox drink, in smoothies (it helps break down oxalates in greens like kale, which get in the way of calcium absorption), and in everything from salad dressings and frosting to creamy, dairy-free cheesecakes and homemade pesto.

Where to Find It: In the bottled juice section of specialty food stores like Wegmans, MOMs, Whole Foods, and other natural food stores. Or just buy whole lemons. Every grocery store sells those!


Nutritional Yeast

Why I Love It: Aside from its pretty awful name (can we opt to change it to “Nooch”?), this stuff is great. Since removing things like cheese, milk and cream from my diet, this ingredient, which is loaded with energy-boosting B vitamins, has been a lifesaver for me when I want to give foods a cheesy taste without using cheese. I wrote an entire blog post dedicated to nutritional yeast, so check that out for the 411.

How I Use It: Sprinkle it on popcorn, use it to make the BEST paleo parmesan cheese substitute (coming from someone who used to buy parm cheese by the family-sized container), noocho cheese sauce, pesto, and one of my favorite beauty detox salads.

Where to Find It: Every health food store sells this stuff, as do Whole Foods and Wegmans. You can also find it online at Vitacost or Amazon. I bought it the first time in a jar (above) and now I just get refills from the bulk foods section at MOMs Organic Market. It’s super cheap!



Why I Love It: Beans are one of Dr. Fuhrman’s GBOMBS foods, making them one of the top anti-fat, anti-cancer foods we can eat. They are full of soluble fiber that keeps us energized and full for a long time (lentils fill me up longer than any other food!). According to one of my favorite nutrition experts, they “act as an anti-diabetes and weight-loss food because they are digested slowly, having a stabilizing effect on blood sugar, which promotes satiety (fullness) and helps to prevent food cravings.”

While it’s best (and cheapest!) to cook dried beans yourself, this is another situation when convenience wins out, so we usually opt for the Eden Organics line of canned beans. We always have black beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), kidney beans, and pinto beans on hand. Eden’s Aduki beans tend to be more easily digested than other beans, so they’re a good one to start with if you don’t eat a lot of beans now.

How I Use It: We put beans in lots of recipes! From soups, salads, and burgers to no-bake cookie dough bites (seriously!) and burrito bowls, beans are a staple at our house. Change up your beans and try different ones each week. Here is a link to all of my bean recipes.

Where to Find It: You can buy dried beans at any grocery store. We buy the canned Eden Organics beans at Wegmans, MOMs, or Whole Foods, but Amazon now sells them in their Amazon Pantry section, so check that out if you don’t live or work near a store that sells them. If you buy another brand of canned beans, make sure the cans don’t contain the chemical BPA (should say “BPA-free” on the label).


Dijon Mustard

Why I Love It: I have to start by saying I used to HATE mustard. Well, I was so picky I actually didn’t eat any condiments until college (truth be told!). Unlike other condiments that tend to be loaded with chemicals and sugar, mustard tends to have a very simple and short ingredient list, and there are lots of varieties depending on your taste. I like Dijon the best.

How I Use It: It’s a great ingredient to have on hand for making your own simple salad dressings. You can combine it with lemon juice, olive oil and whatever herbs and spices you like for a tasty, healthy dressing that beats a bottle of store-bought dressing any day! I used it in this kale waldorf salad, crunchy chicken tenders, and easy honey mustard sauce.

Where to Find It: In the condiment aisle of the grocery store. We like the Organicville brand, which you can find at Wegmans, Whole Foods, MOMs, Fresh Market or a health food store. You might also be able to find it in the organic section of your grocery store.

So, what did you think? Was this helpful? Useful? Drop me a line and let me know!

Baltimore Healthy Dining Guide {Gluten-Free, Vegan, Paleo Options}

Dining out + healthy choices.

Is it possible to have both?

Fortunately, the Baltimore area has lots of great, convenient, delicious AND healthy dining options. When traveling to and around the city with Atlantic Coast Charters, be sure to make a stop at any of them that take your fancy. Many of them source high quality, often organic, fresh, and nourishing ingredients from local farms. At the very least, these restaurants offer much healthier, fresher options than what you’d find at a typical fast food joint or deli. This city has so much to offer, from fine dining to wonderful Baltimore gifts ideas and places.

Whether I’m cooking for myself or dining out, a simple food rule I use to guide what I eat is:

“Eat (real) food, not too much, mostly plants.”

(Thanks to Michael Pollan. To learn more about my food philosophy, click here.) One thing all of these restaurants have in common is that they make eating more plants easier, tastier and even exciting! Perhaps it’s their use of high quality equipment (like those on that’s making their food preparation second to none.

Some of the restaurants are geared toward vegetarians, vegans, and those with food sensitivities and allergies, while others are not. I’ve indicated the best options for vegan and gluten-free diners below. Most of these places cater meals, too, so if you’re looking to bring some healthy options to your workplace or event, be sure to check out their websites for catering options! If you’re looking for a company that can provide your business with lunch catering in Denver, you may want to take a look at the sort of services offered by Cater2Me.

Don’t live in/around Baltimore? Scroll to the bottom and check out how to find healthy dining options near you!


sweetgreen (Baltimore, MD – Harbor East; Multiple locations in DC, VA, PA, NY, MA, CA)

I’ve been waiting for almost 7 years for this place to make its way up from DC and open an location in Baltimore. I first found out about them at a client health fair in DC years ago and loved their food. Since then, I’ve made it a point to go there almost every time I’m in DC for lunch.

Started by three guys who were seniors at Georgetown University at the time, sweetgreen now has over 30 locations nationwide and will continue to expand. Their farm-to-table, sustainable, passion + purpose philosophy is totally aligned with how I live my life and what many of strive to do. Their food is second to none, and they rotate their menu seasonally, too. In the fall, my #1 pick is the Roasted Turkey & Brussels Sprouts Salad with roasted sweet potatoes and a cranberry vinaigrette. You have to check them out!


Naked Lunch Cafe (Inside MOMs Organic Market Baltimore, Rockville, Washington, DC locations)

When the new MOMs (My Organic Market) opened in Baltimore City earlier this year, I was stoked to check it out, even though we live within walking distance of the Timonium store. I was most excited about the addition of the Naked Lunch Cafe, which sells a variety of plant-based dishes for lunch, dinner or just a snack! Their butternut squash and chickpea soup is one of my favorites, and their bowls will cover you for two meals. My favorite bowl is the Crowder Bowl, which is made with brown rice, cashews, fresh veggies, tofu and a coconut curry dressing that is divine! You have to try their cauliflower steaks and vegan cauliflower nachos, too, because both are delicious. You’ll never look at cauliflower the same way again. They also sell fresh pressed juices and rotate their specials seasonally.

Stall 11 (Baltimore, MD – Remington @ R House)

You know an eatery is good when you’ve eaten about half of the items on their menu, and they’ve only been open for a few months. I LOVE THIS PLACE. It’s a hot spot for vegetarians and has lots of gluten-free options. Some of my favorites are the carrot bean smash with raw veggies, Korean BBQ Cauliflower (addictive and incredible), Kale Caesar Salad with Black Garlic Dressing, Kyoto Bowl, and any soups they serve.

Everything is fresh, delicious, colorful, and flavorful. You need to know about this place!

Harmony Bakery (Baltimore, MD – Hampden)

I was bummed when I first found out that Breathe Bookstore in Hampden was closing but was excited to find out about this bakery and cafe that has some similar menu items for lunch. Their kitchen and products are 100% gluten-free. They have lots of vegan options and change their menu seasonally, a sign of a true farm-to-table restaurant, which is something I look for when I’m picking a place to eat.

Baba’s Mediterranean Kitchen / ARBA (Baltimore, MD – Locust Point; R. House)

You know you’ve arrived at a cool spot when you meet the CFO – Chief Falafel Officer – on your first trip there. When we’re in the mood for Mediterranean, Baba’s is where we go. Whether you’re in the mood for a hummus platter (order the veggies instead of the pita), kabobs, or platters with a gluten-free base of quinoa, this is the place to go. It’s a hole in the wall, so don’t expect to find a table, unless you’re there off hours, but make sure you check out this place. It’s one of our favorites!

They opened up a second location at R. House in Baltimore, my favorite spot to hang out, so visit them for a platter if you’re there!

Atwater’s (Baltimore, MD – Towson, Belvedere Square, Catonsville, Bare Hills)

If you’re looking for an amazing cup of soup or a beautiful fresh salad, look no further than Atwater’s. I’m fortunate to live within walking distance of their Towson location, so we love walking there for dinner on warmer nights (or on snow days – which we have done multiple times before!). All of their meals are made with fresh, often organic and seasonally local ingredients. They usually have vegan or at least dairy-free soup options, too, which is a huge plus for me and any others with food allergies or sensitivities who still want delicious food.

Zia’s Cafe & Plantbar (Baltimore, MD – Towson, Belvedere Square, Harbor Point)

Zia’s Cafe focuses on local & organic ingredients and has healthy choices for meat-eaters, vegetarians, vegans & gluten-free eaters. They serve fresh fruit & vegetable juices and smoothies, fair-trade organic coffee, and a variety of delicious lunch options, including salads (Moroccan is my fave), soups (SO good), sandwiches, and black bean burgers. Their dairy-free desserts, especially the fruit-inspired dairy-free cheesecakes, are incredible. Zia’s also caters corporate meals and special events

Zia’s opened a sister location called Plantbar in my favorite place in Baltimore – Belvedere Square! Plantbar focuses on fresh pressed juices and smoothies but also carriers Zia’s signature line of delicious gluten-free, vegan eats. (Ideal for vegans, vegetarians, and dairy and gluten-free diners.)

Alma Cocina (Baltimore, MD – Canton)

My friend, Jinji, who owns an award-winning chocolate shop in Baltimore (seriously the best chocolate of your life), recommended this place to us. We’ve been back about 5 times since because we love it so much! They serve authentic Venezuelan food, and their arepas (think pita pocket but not) are gluten-free, so we always get at least one each. Their salads, ceviche, soups, entrees, appetizers and sides have always blown us away and are beautifully and artistically presented.

You have to try the cassava bread (gluten-free) with three dips.

Great Sage (Howard County – Clarksville, MD)


Celebrating my birthday at Great Sage!

This is the BEST vegan restaurant in the Baltimore area. We stumbled upon this place a couple of months ago, and it has quickly become one of our favorites! The restaurant is located just outside of Columbia in a place called Conscious Corner and serve amazing plant-based meals. Everything from their Israeli hummus appetizer to their seasonal salads, soups, sautéed greens, smoothies, and rich, dairy-free desserts are phenomenal. (Ideal for vegans, vegetarians, and dairy and gluten-free diners.)

Sweet 27 (Baltimore, MD – Hampden)

This cafe, bakery, bar and restaurant combines the best of all things, and they ‘re open late, too. Featuring a completely gluten-free menu and lots of options for omnivores and vegans alike, Sweet27 serves brunch, lunch, dinner and dessert. Their multi-cultural flare means you’ll find a variety of unique options inspired in South Asian and Caribbean flavors.

Woodberry Kitchen (Baltimore, MD – Clipper Mill)

This is our absolute favorite restaurant in Baltimore when we want to have a date night or are just looking for an amazingly delicious meal. They cater to the gluten-free and dairy-free crowd, labeling their plates with clearly labeled stickers to identify dishes as GF and DF. They partner with local farmers and value sustainability and top notch ingredients. Their head chef, Spike Gjerde, was the first Baltimore chef to win the prestigious James Beard Award.

The atmosphere is super cool, too. If you’re visiting Baltimore, this should be on your list!

Whole Foods (Baltimore, MD – Harbor East, Mount Washington, Annapolis)

Sure, the stigma is that Whole Foods = Whole Paycheck, but they’re trying their hardest to debunk that mentality. They have an awesome salad bar and a prepared foods counter that serves lots of healthy, tasty AND affordable options, including seasonal kale salads, slow roasted sweet potato wedges, and a variety of delicious proteins. The best part? All of the ingredients are natural or organic and as many as possible are locally grown. That means no artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, preservatives or heart-clogging trans fats.

Nalley Fresh (Baltimore, MD – Hunt Valley, Downtown, Towson, Timonium)

Think Chipotle in terms of the “make your own” approach…and then think of every salad topping you could possibly imagine, and that sums up Nalley Fresh. I’m a fan of their “SuperBowls” that feature either proteins, sweet potatoes, or brown rice as a base followed by your choice of dozens of veggies and finished off with broth, if you choose, or dressing. Their ingredients are not organic, so be aware of that. I prefer Zia’s, Plant Bar or sweetgreen for those reasons. You can even order online and pick up to avoid the long lines at lunchtime.

The Flying Avocado Cafe (Owings Mills, MD)

I used to live just up the street from this cafe, and it’s my go to spot whenever I meet someone for lunch in Owings Mills. I love their roasted vegetable salad with balsamic vinaigrette and roasted salmon. They also have smoothies, soups, homemade guac and hummus, salads, a variety of vegan dishes and a huge selection of herbal teas.

One World Cafe (Baltimore, MD – Near Hopkins)

With a variety of gluten-free, plant-based options that are both “planet and wallet friendly,” this popular spot near Hopkins’ Homewood Field is a great option for breakfast (yummy smoothies), lunch or dinner, and they’re open late (until 2:00 a.m.), so no matter when you’re looking for a healthy option, you can find one there.

A few others worth checking out:

  1. Grind House Juice Bar in downtown Baltimore
  2. Liquid Earth in Fells Point
  3. The Land of Kush in downtown Baltimore

Don’t live in Baltimore? Check out this post about five apps and websites to use to find healthy options near you!

What are your favorite healthy dining places where you live or have traveled? Feel free to share below!

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