Victoria BC Dietitian (Nutritionist) Kristen Yarker, MSc, RD Shares a Delicious Recipe for Almost-Raw, Almost-Vegan Brownies.Read More
I’m often asked my opinion about what vegetable is the healthiest. I also hear the “best-Mommy” contest that happens on the playground where each parent tries to one-up each other bragging about what weird & healthy veggie their child loves. It goes something like this:
“My Johnny loves carrots.”
“MY Suzie loves broccoli.”
“WELL, MY Nicolas loves kale.”
“Guess what. MY Olivia loves Brussels sprouts. Eats them like candy. Can’t get enough of them.”
You get the picture.
I understand why people ask me about veggies. And why parents feel pressured. The amazing powers of specific vegetables often are the subjects of headlines. It makes a great sound-bite. It’s a great way to sell newspapers & magazines.
But as is often the case, that which makes a great sound-bite isn’t always what’s true. Because it’s been pulled out of context, the sound-bite ends up being only partly-true.
Science’s understanding of exactly what it is in veggies that’s so good for us is crude. We’re constantly learning of new healthy nutrients. For example, when I was studying human nutrition as an undergraduate in the late 1990’s, I was taught that white veggies didn’t have any healthful substances. They may provide flavor and crunch, but they were nutritional zeros. However, we now know that onions, garlic, and their other cousins such as leeks, have healthful nutrients like antioxidants.
While science is constantly discovering new nutrients, what’s found again and again (and again) is that the people who eat the most veggies are the healthiest. Period.
I also like to balance current science with the tried-and-true. And, when I look at traditional diets around the world, I see that human beings have survived and thrived eating all sorts of plant foods.
Let me be clear. I’m not denying that dark green veggies (like kale) and brightly-coloured veggies (like carrots and purple cabbage) are really healthy. They’re fantastic choices! What I’m saying is to not consider veggies such as cucumber and celery as empty junk. While they’re today’s zeros, who knows if they will be tomorrow’s super-stars. And, they’re healthier than most processed foods which kids typically eat if they’re not eating veggies.
So don’t stress if your picky eater doesn’t like today’s super-star veggies.
When it comes to veggies, it’s about quantity. And, variety.
Instead of relying on the magic of any one vegetable (and trying to force your picky eater to eat it), enjoy a wide variety of veggies. Introduce your little one to many different veggies (and repeat those introductions, and repeat, and repeat…). Be a veggie variety role model yourself. Encourage your little one to enjoy the wide, wide world of veggies in all colours of the rainbow. Together explore all the different tastes and textures.
And celebrate when your little one eats ANY veggies - whether it’s kale chips or that French Breakfast radish that the Farmer convinced him to try at Saturday’s Farmers Market, or…
So, what’s my answer when I’m asked what’s the healthiest vegetable? Answer: The one that you’ll eat (because it doesn’t matter how healthy any veggie is – if you won’t eat it – it can’t do you any good).
Photo credit: Keenan Loo on Unsplash
At a workshop that I led last week, I was asked whether it was worth eating lettuce because it doesn’t have any nutrient value. I knew that this would be a great so-called nutrition “truth” that I can bust for you too.
All over the internet, in books, even in grocery stores, you’ll see vegetables ranked based on a score of nutrient value. But just because these scores are popular, doesn’t mean that you should believe in them.
You see, I am a true scientist. A true scientist understands what we know, and acknowledges what we don’t know. The real truth is that the scientific understanding is in its infancy regarding exactly what it is in each and every vegetable that is healthy. We know of many vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients. But there are likely tens, hundreds, thousands more that we haven’t yet discovered. And that’s just the nutrients that are healthy for our bodies. We’re also discovering more and more about the many roles that our gut microbiome has on our health. Science has even more of a rudimentary understanding of what it is in vegetables that makes our gut bacteria happy.
Let me share a few examples to illustrate my position. When I did my undergraduate degree in nutrition from arguably the best nutrition school in in Canada during the mid-90’s, I was taught:
- There is no nutritional value in onions and garlic. Their only role was to provide taste. Now we know that there are health-promoting phytochemicals in onions and garlic. Onions and garlic certainly do count in your daily servings of vegetables.
- Nothing about phytochemicals. That’s because the whole class of phytochemicals had not yet been discovered. All that science knew at the time was vitamins, minerals and fibre.
- That the gut microbiome simply helped digest food. It didn’t play any other role in human health. Now we’re learning that it may be linked to depression, heart health, obesity, food allergies, and a wide range of other health conditions.
Now I want to be really clear here. I’m not telling you that vegetables aren’t healthy. Vegetables certainly are healthy. In fact, I want about half of what you eat to be vegetables. I just don’t want you to buy into these various rankings of the “best” vegetables. Also, I don’t want you to buy in to the idea that certain vegetables have no nutrient value. Yes, even iceberg lettuce.
Instead of thinking that a vegetable has no nutrient value. I recommend thinking that science has not yet discovered what’s healthy about this vegetable.
So how do you apply my message? Eat lots of vegetables. Make vegetables be about half of what you eat. As wide a variety of vegetables as you can get. Eat any and all the vegetables that you enjoy. And, try new veggies often. Eat them raw sometimes. Eat them cooked sometimes. Because our bodies better absorb some nutrients when the veggies are raw. And, our bodies better absorb some nutrients when the veggies are cooked.
Photo credit: Petra Cigale on Unsplash
My favourite topics to write about are the topics that you, community members, ask me to address. Today’s topic comes from a community member. She asked: “Is there any truth to the idea that we should be soaking our nuts and grains to make these foods more digestible, more nutritious or to avoid so called ‘anti-nutrients’?”
Ah, the internet, such a double-edged sword. I love it – after all, it’s how I’m communicating with you today. And, I hate it. In my 23 years of experience in nutrition, I’ve never seen so many people so confused about nutrition.
This question is yet another example of how people are confused about nutrition. Both because of the powerful nutrition fear-mongering that unscrupulous people use to make money. And, because of well-intentioned people taking a fact so out of context that it no longer makes any sense.
In a nutshell (pun intended): no, you don’t need to soak nuts and grains.
Let’s get down into the details – because I know that’s what you like to get from me – the detailed story.
Anti-nutrients sure are a hot topic in the media (on-line and off-line). People are making a mountain out of a mole-hill. While the community member didn’t mention beans/ lentils in her question, I’m going to add them to the conversation because others of you have been asking me about the “poison” they’ve heard about in beans/ lentils.
Yes, it’s true that nuts, seeds, whole grains, bean and lentils have molecules called phytates in them. Phytates bind to nutrients, such as iron, making us humans less able to absorb the nutrients. Hence the term “anti-nutrients”. Note that the phytates make us absorb less of the nutrients – not zero. So their presence doesn’t render the foods devoid of nutrition. Also, these phytates aren’t poisonous – they don’t harm us.
Quite the opposite of being bad for us, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils are a key part of the foundation for a healthy diet. Combine these with vegetables and fruit and you’ve got a gold star in the eating habits department.
Whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils have been eaten by human beings for generations. If they were poisonous, we would have stopped eating them a long, long time ago. Humans have figured out many ways to reduce the phytates in these foods:
- Roasting nuts
- Leavening bread made from whole grains
- Soaking beans before cooking
- Fermenting foods (e.g. making miso from soybeans)
- Sprouting of grains, seeds, beans
So while you don’t need to soak these foods before eating them. Soaking, roasting, sprouting, fermenting is a great idea because it frees up more of the nutrients for us to absorb. In other words, it’s the concept of “need” with which I take issue.
Great choices to increase your nutrient-absorption:
- Try new recipes that involve soaking, roasting, sprouting, and fermenting.
- If you have a choice of sprouted whole grain bread or un-sprouted, choose the sprouted bread. But if un-sprouted is your only choice, it’s still a healthy choice.
- Soak beans before you cook them (and throw away the soaking water) because it makes them less “musical”.
- Many of the nuts that you find in the store are roasted, e.g. cashews, macadamia nuts.
- If you find that you have a hard time digesting some of these foods in their un-processed state, give them a try soaked/ sprouted/ fermented and see if your digestion improves.
Note: Raw sprouts aren’t recommended for children under 5 years due to the risk of microbes (e.g. salmonella, e. coli) causing food-poisoning.
Photo credit: chuttersnap on Unsplash
Choosing food for what isn’t in it has been the gateway to a whole lot of ridiculous food trends. I’m old enough to remember when everyone was talking about avoiding eating cholesterol. Like weeds, up sprung “cholesterol-free” labels on all sorts of foods in the grocery store. Highly processed foods like cookies, crackers, sugary breakfast cereals all had “cholesterol-free” emblazoned across them. People heard that cholesterol meant heart attacks so choosing low-cholesterol foods must be healthy choices. Right? Boy were people wrong. These foods were just as unhealthy as they were before they were marked with “cholesterol-free”. What’s worse, is that many people were happily scarfing down huge portions of these foods because they were cholesterol-free.
An example of this type of thinking/ behaviour: before, I might have had a couple of handfuls of potato chips but now I can eat an entire large bag because they’re cholesterol-free.
It sounds ridiculous when I break it down this way but it was happening. A lot. A particularly amusing label that I remember was bananas sporting “cholesterol-free” stickers. Why is this amusing? Because cholesterol is a fat made by some animals. That’s why it’s found in red meat…and us. Bananas, are a fruit (not an animal). They never did contain cholesterol. Bananas hadn’t changed. But here they were now labeled “cholesterol-free” and people were flocking to them.
I’m seeing this now with the gluten-free trend. “Gluten-free” is announced across all sorts of foods. Many of which never contained any gluten in the first place (thus, like bananas and cholesterol). These foods range from healthy choices to unhealthy choices. People are choosing them because “gluten-free” now equals “healthy” in many people’s minds. But the presence or absence of gluten has nothing to do with it. A chocolate cupcake isn’t a healthy choice suddenly because it’s gluten-free. It’s still a treat to be enjoyed once in a while – not by the dozen.
I’m not commenting on whether eating cholesterol was healthy or unhealthy. Nor whether people should eat or avoid gluten. That’s completely beside that point. What I want to draw your attention to is that when you choose foods for what isn’t in them, you leave yourself at risk for falling for these marketing traps.
Instead I want you to turn it completely upside down. Choose food for what IS in it. Your body needs to be nourished. You need to fuel it with good food and all the vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants, energy and other nutrients that it needs. Make most of what you eat be foods close to the way that Mother Nature made them (i.e. minimally processed) where all the good stuff hasn’t been removed through processing. Sometimes enjoy foods that you eat solely for pleasure.
Respect food for what it can offer. Respect your body and feed it well. Yes, in a world where we’re almost constantly told to hate our bodies, this act of choosing to nourish yourself can feel like a small act of rebellion. And so, I say it again:
Choose food for what IS in it. You’re worth it.
You asked for a healthier alternative to the famous (and delicious) chocolate hazelnut spread (you know which one). Today I'm sharing not just one, but 4 alternatives. All are much lower in sugar and have no palm oil. Just in time for back-to-school. I mention back-to-school because you'll not only be looking for packed lunch ideas, but also breakfast ideas for rushed mornings and quick after school snack ideas.
All of these contain nuts or seeds. That's the foundation of this foodstuff afterall. Some preschools and schools are nut and seed-free, some are nut-free (i.e. seeds are okay), and some are peanut-free (i.e. nuts and seeds are okay). Always check with your individual facility to find out exactly what is and what isn't allowed.
An important note, especially if you are introducing these to picky eaters who already are familiar with the famous chocolate hazelnut spread, none of these taste exactly the same. So, don't try to pull a fast one on your little one and swap one for the other. They'll notice the difference - kids have keen observation skills with their food. Call this spread by a different name. This way they will be expecting something different.
A huge THANK YOU to student volunteer Carla for her help with these recipes!
Healthy Nut-Free Chocolate Spread
- 2 cups toasted sunflower seeds
- ½ cup cocoa powder
- 4 tbsp icing sugar
- 1/2 cup milk (optional)
- ¼ to ½ cup canola oil
- In a pan over medium-high heat, toast the sunflower seeds until light brown and fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- Using a food processor, process the sunflower seeds until powdery. Scrape the sides.
- Add the cocoa powder, icing sugar, milk (optional), and canola oil. Blend until smooth.
Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread
- 2 cups hazelnuts
- 3 tbsp icing sugar
- ½ cup milk (optional)
- ½ cup cocoa powder
- ¼ to ½ cup canola oil
- In a pan over medium-high heat, toast the whole hazelnuts with their peels on for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- Once the whole hazelnuts are cool, rub them in between a kitchen towel to loosen and remove the skin.
Habibi's Chocolate Tahini and Powerplant's Chocolate Sprouted Seed Spread
(Note: In the spirit of being fully transparent, both of these were given to me for free. I did not receive payment to review either. I'm super picky about what foods I'll share with you in my reviews.)
I brought both of these to my co-working space last week so that everyone could try them. Yes, there are perks to having dietitians as friends and co-workers! Both received very positive reviews. Some people preferred one and an equal number preferred the other. Both products have a short ingredient list with only recognizable foods. They're made with nuts or seeds, providing healthy fats (and no palm oil). Each has just a touch of sugar/sweetener. Check each product's websites for a listing of what stores you can find them in.
Powerplant's spread has an intense chocolate taste for you dark chocolate lovers. It has a chunkier texture but smooth mouthfeel. So it's perfect for spreading on a cracker but not on soft bread. It totally screams to be included in your next smoothie.
Habibi's Chocolate Tahini has a milder chocolate taste. A few people found the tahini and chocolate flavours fought eath other. Most of us thought it was delicious (me included). This spread is the more classically kid-friendly of the two.
It's back, my annual home-made ice pop recipe collection. Some may call these homemade popsicles or paletas. Or, frozen smoothies. Whatever you call them they're a delicious summer treat. I want to give a big shout out to Carla, the dietetic student who is volunteering with me for creating these recipes. My directions for her: the recipes need to be simple, include no added sugar, include fruit and even veggies, and only include easy-to-find ingredients. Oh, and of course, that they needed to be delicious. She sure delivered.
The directions for each recipe are the same:
- Combine all ingredients in a blender.
- Blend until smooth.
- Pour into molds.
Enjoy her work!
P.S. For more delicious, healthy frozen recipes, check out these links:
Inspired by: http://www.kiipfit.com/spinach-kiwi-popsicles/
Packed with fruit and leafy greens, the vibrant green color of these popsicles comes from blending both kiwi and spinach.
- 1/3 cup spinach
- 1 kiwi
- 2 drops lemon juice
- 1/3 cup water
Inspired by: http://revisfoodography.com/2015/04/mango-lassi/
Inspired from a classic Indian cold drink, mango lassi is a blend of yogurt, fruit and spice. Not a fan of cardamom? Simply omit the spice and you can still enjoy it as a mango-yogurt blend.
- 1 mango
- 160 ml greek yogurt
- 1 small pinch cardamom (to taste)
This very simple and refreshing recipe allows you to use ripe or extra ripe cantaloupes. No added sugar necessary.
- ¾ cup cantaloupe
- ¼ cup water
Get more healthy home-made ice pop recipes here:
The most common mistake with picky eaters that I see parents make is that they stop serving their kids foods that they don’t eat. I understand why parents make this choice. It seems futile to go to the effort of making food only for your child to ignore it. Or, loudly announce that they hate it. Or, melt down from just seeing it on their plate. It seems like a waste of your precious time, a waste of food, a waste of money, never mind the heartbreaking feeling that your child is rejecting you. However, stopping serving the dreaded vegetables/ meat /[insert the foods your child doesn’t eat] is the wrong way to go.
I like to give non-food analogies because food is such an emotional issue that it can be hard to see what’s going on. So here’s my non-food analogy for kids and challenging foods:
Deciding that you’ll serve your child vegetables [insert the foods your child doesn’t eat] once they like them is like deciding that you’ll take your child to the pool once they know how to swim. Of course, you need to take your child to the pool so that they can learn how to swim. They aren’t going to suddenly wake up one morning knowing how to swim.
The same goes for foods your child doesn’t like. They won’t learn to like them if they never see them. Research shows that kids need to try foods somewhere between 10 – 30 times before they learn to like them. That doesn’t count the number of times that a child needs to see a food before they’re willing to try it. Of course each child and each food is going to vary in the magical number of times. I just learned to like Brussels sprouts last year and trust me, I’ve tried them way more than 30 times.
A study showed that parents usually give up after trying 5 times. So you haven’t even made it to the minimum number of presentations never mind the top end of the average range.
So what’s the solution? Plan meals that include both safe foods and challenging foods. One meal for the whole family that includes at least one safe food for your child. Yes, if you have more than one child you will need to include safe foods for each of them. What should the challenging foods be? Foods that you eat in your family. This way you aren’t making separate foods just for your child, which, when they aren’t eaten, feels like that waste of time. You’re cooking food that you’ll eat. If the kids don’t eat it – then more leftovers for you! No wasted time, food, or money.
The powerful word in this situation is “yet”.
Your kids don’t like it yet.
Serving a food again and again is how they learn to like it. Just like how a child who is starting swimming lessons doesn’t know how to swim yet.
Keep up with the practice and trust that your child will get there.
To celebrate the end of Nutrition Month, I caught up with fellow dietitian Claudia Lemay, RD to find out about her new nutrition children's storybook. It's available on Amazon. And, the e-book version is free today and tomorrow!
KY: Claudia, how old are your children now?
CL: My happy-go-lucky son is 9 years old and my CEO/corporate lawyer in-training (I swear!) daughter is 5 1/2 years old.
KY: Why did you write the book?
CL:I wrote it because my daughter, who never takes "no" for an answer, started asking for candies at every single meal and snack. She is a very insistent person and just explaining why she needs to eat healthy wasn't enough, so I had to think of something else. I made up a story for her (Stargold the Food Fairy) and when I saw the spark of real understanding in her eyes, I knew I was on to something.
KY: What ages is the book for?
CL: Children of elementary school age is who it was written for, but I would say anyone from age 4-12 would enjoy and learn from it. The story is also available on my website as a PowerPoint presentation for teachers to use in a classroom setting.
KY: What is the book's message?
CL: The story is about a young girl, Lucie, who travels to a magical land of elves called Growland after she gets a "no" from her mother at her request for a candy dinner. In Growland, Lucie learns from Stargold the Food Fairy that every food she eats becomes a different building material for a house that is being built for her. The main message is that a house in Growland actually represents the body of a person, and so, by eating a healthy, balanced diet the house (and hence her body) will grow up strong and healthy.
KY: What's your favourite part of the book?
CL: Well, many of the people who have read my book said that their favourite part is when Lucie truly "gets it." Near the end of the story, after Stargold explains that every part of her body used to be the food she ate, Lucie looks down at her hands and has that "wow" moment where she truly "gets it."
KY: Where can people buy the book?
CL: On my website at www.stargoldthefoodfairy.com, under the Shopping Corner tab or directly on amazon.ca (search for Stargold the Food Fairy). It is available in hard copy and ebook, in both English and French. The ebooks will be offered for free for the last 5 days of March as a promotion for Nutrition month.
KY: Are you writing any more books?
CL: Yes, I am working on my second book for children to teach them about diabetes. It also involves Stargold the Food Fairy helping a boy named Brody understand living with diabetes.
KY: Anything else you want to share?
CL: Part of the proceeds of this book will go to Malala's fund, which helps promote children's education worldwide.
While it may be considered poor table manners (and perhaps somewhat gross) to spit food back out, it’s actually a good strategy for helping picky eaters gain the confidence to try new foods. Yes, spitting out is okay.
For toddlers and preschoolers, trying a new food is scary. One way to make it less scary is to know that if you do choose to put something in your mouth, and it doesn’t taste good (or has a “yucky” texture), you can spit it back out.
For some picky eaters, “tasting” the food by touching it to their outstretched tongue is even less intimidating than putting the food in their mouths. This too is okay. Because it’s them taking steps towards trying the new food.
Now just because you allow food to be spit back out, doesn’t mean that you need to allow the drama that often goes along with it – the loud exclamation of “yucky!” and over-exaggerated action of spitting the food back out (perhaps accompanied by the classic wiping of the tongue to get rid of the “disgusting” taste).
Even young children can be taught how to politely take food out of their mouths without the fanfare. And, as they get a little bit older, you can teach them how to subtly spit the food into their napkin.
Bottom Line: Spitting food back out is okay. Making a big fuss about it isn’t.
It’s been unavoidable this past week. Every newscast seems to be talking about how the low Canadian dollar is going to mean increasing food costs. Ugh. Not exactly the news that we want to hear after the expensive holiday season. But, in looking for the silver lining, I’m choosing to see this as one more reason for you to plan your meals. Why? Because when you plan your meals and shop for the food that you’ll need to make those meals, you end up wasting less food. Less food in the garbage means more money in your pocket. Period.
Not convinced yet? When I suggest creating a meal plan, often people respond something like:
“I’m already crazy-busy. How am I supposed to add one more thing to my life?!”
I agree that at first it seems like making a meal plan is adding more to your already overly full schedule.
But, in reality it actually saves time and stress.
A good portion of the stress of making dinner each night is figuring out what the heck you’ll make. Many parents admit that this thought (and it’s stress/ worry/ fear) starts creeping into their minds at about 4pm.
Not having a plan leaves you multi-tasking to come up with some idea while you’re finishing up your work day, rushing to pick the kids up from daycare, and fighting the traffic to get home and/or to extra-curricular activities. Not having a plan likely means creating an extra task of running in to the grocery store, with kids in tow, when the store is at it’s busiest. Not fun.
While it does take time to sit down and create a meal plan, doing so will save you hours of stress each week.
Does the structure of a meal plan make you feel constrained? Remember that it’s your plan – change it whenever you want! Did you plan to make a complicated, new recipe tonight but you had an awful day and all you want to do is order pizza? Order the pizza! And revise your plan so that the ingredients that you bought for that new dish are used up before they go bad.
Not convinced? Give it a try, just for this month. What do you have to lose?
This is a powerful technique that I’ve used for a long time with clients who want to gain control of their cravings. I use it in my own life too. I learned about it so long ago that I can’t remember where I heard/ read it. I may have even changed the story in my memory over time, so apologies in advance if you’re a health professional who knows of the exact case and recognizes that I’ve inadvertently taken liberties with the story. Regardless of whether or not I’ve remembered the exact details, it’s such a powerful technique that I feel compelled to share it with you. So what’s this story? A woman couldn’t control herself around ice cream. Over her lifetime she would go for periods where she was “good” and didn’t eat any. She also had periods where she would devour whole tubs of ice cream, barely taking a breath between bites. She hated feeling so out of control with ice cream. She also wanted to lose the extra weight that she was carrying (that the ice cream was contributing to). You may be guessing that she was told never to eat ice cream again. Quite the contrary! The astonishing recommendation that she received was to enjoy a small amount of ice cream every day. You know what? It worked! She no longer felt out of control with ice cream. If she started to feel panicky and out-of-control with ice cream, she could reassure herself that she will be able to enjoy some more ice cream tomorrow. Knowing that she could eat it every day removed her drive to eat as much as possible at a sitting. There was no more panic about scarcity. And, she successfully lots weight.
Now some could argue that she could potentially weigh less if she didn’t eat ice cream every day. Perhaps. But from her past history she knew that any weight loss that she experienced from not eating ice cream would just come back (and more) when she reverted back to eating mass quantities of ice cream. Along with that weight would come the feelings of guilt, shame and defeat. Allowing the daily enjoyment of ice cream freed her from that unhealthy cycle.
I was inspired from this story and I make sure that I enjoy a treat every day.
I use this technique with clients who express a similar feeling of being controlled by their cravings. And for clients who truly want to get off the yo-yo dieting roller coaster.
There are two key aspects of this technique that I believe are vitally important:
- Reasonable Size: Choose a reasonable size for your treat. One measly bite likely won’t be enough to reassure yourself that you can enjoy your treat every day. You’ll still feel deprived. At the other extreme, enjoying a jumbo-sized treat each day won’t likely allow any weight loss. So what’s the “just-right” size you ask? I don’t have a firm answer for you. Because everyone is different with how much they need to eat to no longer feel the power of that scarcity. If my memory is correct, the woman in the story had a ½ cup of ice cream every day. I can tell you that I personally need more. You’ll have to do some experimenting with yourself to find your “just right” size.
- Enjoy your treat. Pleasure is the whole purpose that we eat these foods (it certainly isn’t for the nutrients). If you mindlessly shove it in your face then that food truly was a waste of calories. Pay attention to how your treat looks, smells, tastes, and feels in your mouth. Enjoy the experience.
I'm often asked for fish recipes that kids will eat. This is a good one for several reasons. First, halibut is a very mild (read: non-fishy) fish. Second, lots of kids enjoy "deconstructed" or "build your own" style meals because they get to have control over what's on their plate. The result is that they'll eat things that they wouldn't have otherwise. There's also something inherently fun in make-your-own tacos.
I've shared the basic recipe here. Feel free to add other veggies to make it your own. Examples include: shredded cabbage (particularly purple cabbage), thinly sliced radishes, tomatoes, shredded raw zucchini or even cucumber slices.
Halibut is widely available frozen, year-round. Fresh halibut season is typically in May. Feel free to substitute any other white fish (or even salmon) in this recipe.
Halibut Avocado Tacos Ingredients
- 8 taco shells
- 480 g (16.9 oz) raw halibut
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 lime, juiced
- 1/2 tsp spices, cumin
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp oregano, ground, dried
- 1 dash cayenne pepper
- 1 dash black pepper
- 1 dash salt
- 1 cup chopped lettuce, green leaf or romaine
- 1 avocado, ripe
- 1/2 cup (4 fl oz) sauce, salsa, ready-to-serve
Halibut Avocado Tacos Directions
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Place the halibut in a non-stick or parchment-lined baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and lime juice; sprinkle with spices and herbs.
- Chop lettuce and slice avocado.
- Bake fish 12 to 15 minutes, or until just cooked through. Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Heat taco shells in the oven for 1-2 minutes.
- Coarsely flake the fish. Stuff the taco shells with lettuce, avocado, salsa, and flaked fish.
Halibut Avocado Tacos Deconstructed:
- Serve taco shell on the side.
- Bake a small portion of halibut just brushed with olive oil.
- Serve in separate piles or small dishes, the lettuce, avocado and salsa.
- Serve a small portion of the “spiced” halibut.
How great would it be if it was easy to start new healthy habits? Everyone would be perfectly healthy. I’d be out of a job. Some days I fantasize about working in a fabulous boutique. But my job in a boutique will stay a fantasy because the reality is that starting new habits takes effort. The funny thing is that the difficult stage isn’t the first few days. For the first few days, most of us are gung ho about our new habit. To use some of my 1980’s childhood slang “we’re totally psyched”. We’re taking action and everything is smooth sailing. Then one day we just don’t feel like getting out of bed to go for that morning yoga class. Or, the junk food in the convenience store calls out our name as we walk past after work. Pretty much all of us will fall off the wagon. My post this week is inspired by both my personal experience and a recent conversation with a client. Both of us fell off the wagon with our new healthy habits. If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you will have seen that I’m challenging myself to meditate every day for 1 year. I started August 23rd. And, as expected, it was smooth sailing for over a month. Then one day I came smack up against a wall. I didn’t want to stop what I was doing during the day and meditate (not that what I was up to that day was especially important). I fell off the wagon. I didn’t meditate. It would have been so easy to slip back into my old routine (i.e. not meditating). But I dug in, changed things up, and did an active meditation. Since then it’s been smooth sailing again. In other words, I got back on the wagon.
Pretty much all of us will fall off the wagon with our healthy habits. What’s important is getting back up on the wagon again. It’s so easy to let the negative self-talk take over when we fall off the wagon. Do thoughts like this sound familiar?
“Now you’ve done it. You’ve lost your 365 days challenge. It’s all over now. There’s no point doing anything today. What were you thinking in doing it anyways, there’s no way that you could achieve that. It was unrealistic. You’re not consistent enough at anything. There’s no point in trying new things.”
If we don’t make the effort to stop it, that voice can spin out of control, applying our “failure” to more and more aspects of our life.
Here’s what to tell that voice. Wellness doesn’t require perfection. The benefit of these habits is realized over time, when we do them more often than we don’t. I will enjoy reduced stress from meditating for 364 (or 363, 360, or 355) days instead of 365. You will reduce your risk for heart disease, cancer and diabetes if you eat 7 servings of veggies and fruit most days. You will become stronger if you make 8 out of the 10 weeks of that strength training for women class.
I’m going to go even further. I have a suspicion that falling off the wagon is actually a good thing. When we get back on again, we show ourselves that we CAN recover. We believe in ourselves even more now because we are no longer afraid of falling off the wagon. We know that if we fall off, we can just get right back up on it. As my friend, executive and sports coach Vic Lindal says, it’s not IQ or EQ (emotional intelligence), that sets successful people apart. It’s AQ (adversity quotient) – how well you do in the face of adversity, that will determine your success in achieving your goals.
When you fall off the wagon (and you will), get back on again.
Something that I recommend for almost all of the women whom I’ve worked with is eating protein at afternoon snack. Why is this a nutrition game changer? Because in my experience, it helps with a lot of the problems that women come to me for help with regarding their eating in the afternoon and evening. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?
- Cravings for junk food in the late afternoon.
- Energy crashing at about 4pm.
- Constant nibbling while you’re cooking.
- Getting too hungry to last until you can actually make dinner so instead you pick up take out/ go through a drive-through/ eat out.
If so, then eating protein at an afternoon snack is worth trying. Here’s why:
Human beings digest a meal and get hungry again in about 4 hours. As our blood sugar drops, our body sends signals to us that we’re hungry. If we don’t respond by eating something that subsequently raises our blood sugar, our bodies send more and more urgent messages. Messages that drive us towards the high sugar, fat, salt, very tasty foods. It’s what the feeling of ‘hangry’ is all about.
Assuming that you’ve eaten lunch at about noon, it’s natural that you start to feel hungry again at about 4pm. The food choices that you make at lunch will impact how long you last before you start to get hungry. Some choices will mean that you will feel hungry again in less than 4 hours. But that’s the topic of a whole different blog post J
The longer that you wait until you eat again, the more your body will drive you towards those high sugar, fat, salt, very tasty foods. It’s a physiological drive, not a lack of will power, that causes you to eat those foods before dinner.
The secret to making healthy food choices in the afternoon and evening is to prevent ‘hangry’ by having an afternoon snack. Including protein at your afternoon snack can help your body digest your snack more slowly, thus causing more even blood sugar and fewer cravings for junk foods.
Pair your protein food with some veggies and/or fruits for a perfect combination of nutrients. Examples include:
- A piece of fruit and a small handful of nuts.
- Raw veggies with white bean dip.
- Chia coconut pudding topped with fruit.
- Collard leaf wrapped around sliced hard boiled egg and bell peppers.
- Plain Greek yogurt topped with fresh or dried fruit.
- Apple slices or a banana dipped in nut butter (e.g. peanut butter, almond butter).
- Protein powder smoothie made with fresh or frozen fruit and leafy greens (e.g. spinach).
Eat protein at your afternoon snack. It’s a nutrition game changer for preventing craving junk food in the late afternoon. And, it’ll help buy you enough time to make a healthy dinner before ‘hangry’ hits.
What's your favourite afternoon snack that includes protein? Share it in a comment below!
Curious about how I can help you achieve your health and nutrition goals? Schedule a (free) call to find out.
It may be Tuesday September 8th, but for me it’s the first day of a new year. It’s the day after Labour Day. For many kids it’s the first day of a new school year. And while it’s been 12 years since I was in school, I can’t shake the itch to start fresh at this time of year. Regardless of how long it’s been since you went back to school, this week is a fantastic time to start something new. I mean, any day is the first day of the rest of your life. Why not start a new healthy habit today?
If you’ve been connecting with me on Facebook or Instagram you’ve seen that 2 weeks ago I started a new daily meditation habit (that picture above is a shot from 1 of my meditation spots). I started meditating sporadically many years ago. Over the winter I increased the frequency to several times a week. I liked what it was adding to my life. So one random Sunday I decided to pick up my game and meditate daily. I’m aiming for 365 days. I admit that I’ve been tempted to skip days. But so far I’m proud to let you know that I’m 15 for 15.
What new habit will you start this week? Here are a few ideas to spark your inspiration:
- Pack a lunch. Not only is this a healthier habit than eating out every day, but you’ll save money too.
- Turn off the screens during meals. It’s a simple way to enjoy more pleasure from your food. And, by being more in-tune with your body, you’ll likely eat less (or should I say, over-eat less).
- Buy a water bottle to stimulate yourself to drink more water.
- Meal plan for the week.
- Make a point of trying 1 new vegetable each week.
Share you’re new habit in a comment below. Articulating your commitment increases the likelihood that you’ll do it!
Sometimes the classics are a classic for a reason. Bananas and peanut butter simply taste great together. Here's a fun way to bring this classic duo together in a healthy kids snack. I'm choosing to share it today because it's easy for young hands to manage. Perfect if you're gearing up to pack snacks or a lunch for little ones with back-to-school next week. This works well with peanut butter, other nut butters (e.g. almond butter) and the non-nut butters if your child attends a nut-free facility.
Hey, it's also a delicious idea for those of us who are young at heart :)
Banana Roll-Ups Ingredients 2 small tortilla wraps, whole wheat ¾ medium banana 1 tbsp natural peanut butter, nut butter or non-nut butter ½ tsp honey (optional) 1 dash cinnamon, ground
Banana Roll-Ups Directions
- Slice banana.
- Spread nut butter or non-nut butter on wraps.
- Top with bananas.
- Drizzle honey and add a dash of cinnamon.
- Roll (pack in lunch boxes) and enjoy.
Get more healthy, simple, kid-friendly recipes.
Last month I introduced the concept of nutrition game changers. Nutrition game changers are foods or simple habits that can make a big impact in your health. Some might use the term ‘nutrition hacks’. Today, I had planned to share with you a different habit. But I noticed that, with the nights cooling off again, I’ve been using this habit again. I do it a lot myself. And, it’s helped a number of clients too. I realized that this one simple habit can have a big impact on your health because it makes it easy to eat a lot of healthy foods that you might not otherwise eat. So, what’s this simple habit? Cook the night before.
Cook the Night Before
It’s a nutrition game changer for two huge reasons:
- It lessens the stress of getting dinner on the table.
- It makes it possible to eat healthy foods like whole grains, beans cooked from scratch, and longer-cooking veggies.
I’ve heard it called the witching hour. You know, that window of time between finishing work, commuting through traffic, picking the kids up from daycare, and making (and eating) dinner. For many people, it’s the most stressful time of the day. No one I know has an hour (or more) to cook dinner. Most people have somewhere from 20 – 30 minutes. Our modern lives have squished this time so much that it’s no wonder that take-out, drive-throughs, and pre-prepared food sales are through the roof. They’re survival techniques. You always ask me for help to get from survival to thriving. Cooking the night before can be a huge help.
No, I’m not talking about spending hours in the kitchen in the middle of the night! I’m talking about multi-tasking. You are likely home for several hours in the evening, after dinner but before you go to bed. Use this time to cook.
There are lots of healthy foods that take almost no work, but they take a long time to cook. Take a few minutes for prep, get the food cooking, set a timer, and then set off with your other evening activities. I personally do the prep while I’m already in the kitchen cooking my dinner for this evening. I don’t have kids so that works. If doing anything else besides preparing tonight’s dinner will take you over the edge, then do the prep later.
When the food is cooked, simply allow them to cool at room temperature and then store them in the fridge. They’ll store for several days in the fridge. On the day that you want to eat them for dinner, simply re-heat them in the microwave or steam them. (Place at least 1 inch of water in the bottom of a double boiler. Bring to a boil over high heat. Place your food in a bowl inside the double boiler. Steam until heated).
What Healthy Foods Can You Cook the Night Before?
- Whole grains. E.g. pot barley, brown rice, wild rice, farro. They all take 45 – 60 minutes to cook. But the prep is easy. Just add them to a pot with water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer, set your timer and you’re done.
- Winter squash. E.g. spaghetti squash, butternut, acorn squash. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. For all but spaghetti, cut the squash in half lengthways, scoop out the seeds. Pour a splash of water in the seed cavity. Place in a baking dish. Cover with tin foil. Bake for 45min-1 hour (until the flesh is soft when you test it with a fork). For spaghetti squash: leave the squash whole, pierce all over with a fork. Cover with tin foil. Bake for 1 hour or longer (until the squash gives easily to your touch).
- Root veggies. E.g. beets, yams. There are lots of ways to bake these veggies. Techniques vary by veggie. But unless you take a long time to prep them by cutting them into small pieces, they’re going to take 45min – 1 hour to bake. Here’s one minimal prep time technique each for beets and yams: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Wash but don’t peel the beets. Remove any stems or skinny roots. Rub with olive oil. Wrap in tin foil and place in a baking dish. Roast until soft to the touch. The time will vary based on the size of your beets. Yams can be cooked at the same temperature. Wash but don’t peel the yams. Pierce all over with a fork. Wrap in tin foil. Bake for 45min- 1 hour.
- Dried beans. Cooking beans from dry is not only cheaper, but it avoids the exposure to BPA in the liner of most cans. Beans take 2 simple prep steps – one the morning before and one the night before. In the morning, measure out your beans, place in a bowl, cover with water (at least 1 inch above the beans), and sit at room temperature all day. At night, drain the beans, place them in a large pot, add fresh water to cover at least 1 inch above the beans, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer, set your timer and you’re done.
Extra Tip: All of these foods make fantastic whole-meal salad ingredients. Cook extra the night before and enjoy them both (cold) as a whole meal salad for your lunch and warm as a part of dinner.
Looking for new recipe ideas? Find lots of great healthy recipes here.
I wish that I had discovered this recipe earlier in my life. It’s creamy, smooth and delicious – just like ice cream! Banana ice cream.
While it’s vegan and sugar-free, the best thing about this recipe (besides the taste) is that it only includes 1 or 2 ingredients. How great is that!
The secret is very ripe bananas. Buy them when you see them in the store. Slice and freeze them. Then you’re ready to make ice cream anytime you wish.
Blending the bananas does take a little while. At first they will break into a chunky slurry and you will likely think that this “ice cream” idea doesn’t work. Be patient. Next it will form one big ball. Then, suddenly, it will become a beautiful, smooth, whipped texture – just like ice cream. If you haven’t added any strongly coloured flavourings, the colour of your bananas will also suddenly lighten considerably to a creamy off-white. That’s what you’re looking for – your “ice cream” is ready!
There are likely hundreds of flavor combinations. I’m sharing the plain version (so you know the base recipe) along with 3 flavour ideas. My favourite is the cinnamon.
Banana Ice Cream Directions
- Peel and slice bananas. Freeze.
- Place frozen sliced bananas in a blender. Add flavouring ingredients. Blend until smooth.
Banana Ice Cream Ingredients
1 cup sliced bananas
1 cup sliced bananas
¼ tsp cinnamon
1 cup sliced bananas
½ - 1 tsp cocoa
Half a teaspoon of cocoa results in a banana ice cream with just a hint of chocolate. One teaspoon gives a full chocolate flavour. Choose a level that you enjoy.
2/3 cup sliced bananas
1/3 cup strawberries
This combination works best if you partially blend the bananas first until they are just about to start creaming. Then add the strawberries. The result will be a creamy ice cream with strawberry flavour. Adding the strawberries at the same time as the bananas results in a more icy rather than creamy texture (more sorbet-like rather than ice cream-like).
Check out more healthy recipes.
Is your cereal as healthy as you think? Lots of cereals that are marketed as healthy don’t have a lot going for them. They’re marketed for what they don’t have in them, “low fat”, “low calorie”, etc. Many famous "healthy" cereals fall into this category. Many people are surprised to find out that their favourite cereal is actually contributing to their weight gain.
Instead of choosing a cereal for what it doesn’t have in it, I want you to choose your breakfast for what it does have in it. Choose to nourish your body instead of depriving it.
One of the most common things that I do when working with people is change their breakfast. You will likely benefit from changing your breakfast if you:
- Find yourself hungry again by 10am (and looking longingly at those donuts and croissants).
- Crave sugar mid-afternoon.
Choose a breakfast that naturally has lots of fibre so that it is slowly digested. Grains and pseudograins that are minimally processed have most of their fibre attached. Puffed cereals are digested quickly. Flakes are digested at a medium pace. Look for intact grains that take lots of chewing. Steel-cut oats are a fantastic example. So is making a cereal out of quinoa or buckwheat.
Ready to take your breakfast bowl up another notch? Or, not ready to switch cereals but want to reap the benefits of a healthier breakfast? Help your breakfast last longer by adding nuts and seeds (or their butters). Their protein and healthy fats will help you digest your breakfast even slower, keeping you full longer.