Stress-Free Dinner Prep

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My clients are busy people, and yet they still carry surprisingly high expectations for themselves when it comes to having a full dinner on the table every night. It can be hard to let go of this notion, but listen to me: A full course dinner is not necessary. All those studies you hear about eating healthfully and eating together and the phenomenal success it’ll bestow upon you and your children? That success will come whether you’re eating gourmet or gas station. Seriously. So let’s let it go and figure out a strategy that leaves you less frazzled. Here’s how:

1. Forget Fancy

Some dinner ideas that can be whipped up in 20 minutes or less:

  • Sandwiches, fresh fruit, veggies and hummus
  • Eggs, toast, fruit and green smoothies
  • Veggie quesadillas (spinach, peppers and mushrooms) with fresh fruit, seasoned pinto beans (from a can, natch) and a fresh green salad
  • Ground turkey or beef tacos (pre-made taco seasoning packets, tortillas, pre-shredded cheese, salsa and any veg you have on hand) with fresh fruit and black beans
  • Peanut butter and banana sandwiches with fresh fruit and baby carrots

2. Don’t Shy Away From Convenience Foods

Give yourself a break by pairing quick-cooking convenience items with fresh ingredients and go to bed full, relaxed and happy. Here are some combos:

  • 90-second rice or quinoa packets. Add grilled chicken, fresh fruit and a salad.
  • Salad kits: Add quick-seared steak, grilled chicken, black beans, oil-packed tuna or smoked salmon to a kit for an ultra-quick dinner.
  • Tomato sauce: Look for a brand with no added sugar (Rao’s marinara is a fan favorite at my house) and add a quick-cooking pasta like angel hair (4 minutes from dry!?). Thinly slice some chicken breast and add to a sauté pan with some olive oil, salt and pepper while the pasta is cooking.
  • Tuna packets: Whip up a quick tuna salad sandwich or add tuna to a salad or pasta or eat plain alongside a fresh salad and fruit. You don’t even need to drain these. What’s your excuse?

3. Love Up On Your Slow Cooker

This one is a no-brainer. There are many recipes with an 8-hour cook time, perfect if you’re gone all day. Soups, stews and chilis won’t dry out – serve these up with pre-made cornbread or crusty rolls and a salad kit, or venture into meatier territory with a low ‘n’ slow pulled pork butt paired with a quick slaw (pre-chopped cabbage FTW) and fresh fruit.

4. Always Have A Plan B

Make a list of 10 meals to make when you just . . . cannot. Stocking your pantry and freezer with some easy go-to’s means no takeout, a more healthful meal and more time with those you love (or on the couch in front of the TV). Canned beans, frozen veg, frozen chicken and/or turkey/fish burgers, pre-cut vegetables, rice and other quick-cooking grains . . . there you’ve got it – a protein, vegetable and starch in under 30. Not fancy but gets it DONE.

 

 

 

Do You Know . . . Broccolini?

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Time to branch out from your usual ol’ broccoli at dinnertime. Broccolini, a cross between conventional and Chinese broccoli is more subtly flavored, and is tender and crunchy at the same time. It’s best quality is its versatility – tastes great in all cuisines from Mexican to Asian. Even better? It packs a one-two punch of fiber, bone-boosting vitamin K and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. Grill it, roast it, steam it, sauté it . . . but definitely try it!

·      Garlicky broccolini? Sign me up! Use this quick side dish as an accompaniment to chicken, beef or pork and up your veggie game.

·      Another wonderful quality of broccolini? It’s quick-cooking. Whip up Ina Garten’s recipe for roasted broccolini and eat it alongside a juicy-crisp roasted chicken this weekend.

·      Take your broccolini in a Spanish direction with Bon Appetit’s recipe for broccolini with smoked paprika and almonds.

·      Treat yourself to a spa-like supper: This broccolini with sesame and ginger would be super alongside some steamed fish – super-flavorful yet incredibly healthful!

·      Last, but not least – let’s take broccolini off the sidelines and put it at the center of the show! This frittata with roasted garlic and broccolini would make a lovely light dinner or lunch. And frittatas are great leftover from the fridge!

Fish En Papillote

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We’re on the downhill to summer, my friends, and you might find yourself craving fish instead of heartier comforts like slow-cooker stews. And that’s a good thing, because not only is this protein healthy, it’s also quick and easy when you go the route of parchment recipes. That’s right, the name might sound complicated, but it really doesn’t get much simpler than this: fish and vegetables, steamed in a tightly sealed paper packet with vegetables and aromatics. Here are a few fish en papillote recipes that will have you saying “oui” to fish for supper, armed with nothing more fancy than your toaster oven and a few sheets of paper.

  • Asparagus is still fresh in your market, and this fish en papillote with asparagus, tomatoes and herbs screams spa cuisine.
  • This tuna with Italian salsa verde recipe calls for a dash of white wine, but you can easily substitute dry vermouth, or a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice and it’d be quite tasty.
  • Use parchment instead of banana leaves for this amazing Cambodian fish amok recipe featuring fragrant spices, shrimp paste and coconut milk.
  • Mediterranean fish en papillote has all the classic flavors of that sunny region with tomatoes, olives, capers, garlic, olive oil, wine and lemon.
  • Let this recipe for salmon en papillote introduce you to the luscious umami taste of miso butter . . . which you can use on lots of things. Try a dab on your next batch of steamed vegetables and maybe you’ll look forward to eating them!
  • Pro tip: Since bleached parchment paper might contain toxic dioxin, it's better to use the unbleached parchment paper.

 

 

Alt.Flours

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Several years ago, I discovered I had an intolerance to gluten – I’d had what we thought was chronic, painful arthritis all through my 30’s and finally, in my early 40’s when I stopped eating gluten? It disappeared. This was alternately amazing and crappy - I love to bake, and when I first started baking gluten-free, I was completely lost. At first, I would just replace the regular flour with a gluten-free flour I found at the store – usually brown rice – and give it a whirl. The results sucked and I soon swore off all baking. It made me sad.

As the years have gone on, I’ve decided to teach myself how to bake gluten-free. It’s an art: you need the right blend of flours, the right proportion of liquids, the right binders, the right leaveners . . . or else you end up with dough that’s unworkable – it’s gloppy, or crumbly, or tough and often? It’s flavorless. Through trial and error (and I’m still learning!) I’ve come up with some go-to flours. Today I’m going to share my top three favs with you.

1. King Arthur Gluten-Free Flour

After trying many competitors, this has risen to the top (like that?) as my preference. Whether I’m making muffins, cookies or a cake, I reach for this stuff. I have never been disappointed with the results, and most times, I’m delighted by the way things turn out. It’s the closest I’ve found to “real” wheat flour, for sure. A lil’ trick if you’re using this as a sub for conventional flour: Adding some xanthan gum works really well. Xanthan will help simulate the stretch you get from gluten – think of being able to roll out a pie crust, stretch a pizza dough. This gum will also help your basic cookie recipe be less crumbly too . . .The amount of xanthan will depend on the amount of flour you have, generally, I use about ¼ teaspoon for each cup of flour.

2. Almond Flour

This was my first alt-flour love. I love the rich taste of this stuff – it’s got a high fat content and you can taste it. If you buy true almond “flour,” it’s milled into a very fine grain and it bakes up into a lovely tender crumb because of all that fat . . . I’ve made some cakes with it that are AMAZING, but you have to tweak your recipes. There is no option to sub this 1:1 for conventional wheat flours! The rule is, increase your eggs, decrease your fat. The eggs provide more structure and moisture, while the flour makes up for some of the missing fat. You can try adding it in small amounts – like replacing ¼ cup of the flour that the recipe calls for and also removing1 tablespoon of the oil. The almond flour helps to keep my recipes moist and tender. Try using this as a substitute when breading chicken or fish!

3. Coconut Flour

I love this stuff . . . mostly because I’m a HUGE coconut fan. But this flour is completely different from wheat flour and also from lots of the other GF flours out there! It’s super absorbent, but doesn’t have a lot of binding power. Great fiber content, though! You’ll need to use eggs with this stuff - recipes using coconut flour tend to use a lot of eggs and very little flour. The eggs provide moisture, act as a binder, and also give the baked good some structure. If you’re building a coconut flour recipe from scratch, a good rule of thumb is that for every ¼ cup of coconut flour in a recipe, you need two eggs. If you’re mixing in other dry ingredients, like cocoa powder, your egg ratio will need to go up even higher. Does it taste coconutty? Well, sorta. I love the flavor; and so, in something plain like pancakes, I don’t mind that you can taste it a little. But if you have other strong flavors in your recipe, like chocolate or pumpkin, then you really can’t tell it’s coconut. Which pleases my husband because he hates the stuff!

Peas, Please

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We don't usually think about green peas as a superfood in terms of nutrient composition —but we should. Because of their sweet taste and starchy texture, we know that green peas must contain some sugar and starch (and they do), but they also contain a unique assortment of health-protective phytonutrients. Those provide us with key antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Even more surprising? They’re a GREAT source of plant-based protein. One cup of green peas has eight grams of protein!

Only about 5% of the peas grown are sold fresh (pro tip – Trader Joe’s often carries them in their produce section, and they are delicious!); the rest are either frozen or canned. When trying to decide between frozen or canned, know that frozen peas are better able to retain their color and texture so they’ll taste better to you. Both canned and frozen peas may contain relatively high levels of sodium. Unless labeled as low/reduced sodium or something similar, you can expect 650-800 milligrams of sodium in one cup of canned green peas. Some of this sodium can be removed by thorough rinsing, and I’d encourage you to do that.

So now you’re curious, right? What’ll you do with them?

Since peas are in season in the spring, now’s the perfect time to work more of them into your diet. Whether you choose pea soup, sprinkle them in a salad, blend them into a smoothie (they’re really sweet once frozen!), use them in a dip, or just cook them into an entree of your choice, peas are a win.

This post originally appeared on the Health Sciences channel at Pharmative.com - a soon-to-be launched social network dedicated to all things healthcare. Sign up now, so you're first in line to enjoy all the great content!

EZ Fajitas

 Sheet Pan Fajitas from Cooking Classy

Sheet Pan Fajitas from Cooking Classy

I am ON A ROLL. Tonight I made these sheet pan chicken fajitas and once again, the whole family enjoyed them! I subbed avocado oil, and sprinkled garlic powder all over everything before cooking. Served these with warmed corn tortillas for my husband and daughter, and warmed Siete cassava and coconut tortillas for me (b/c they are expensive and I keep them all for me. I'm selfish like that!).  Make these. 

Quickie Weeknight Delights!

 Photo from Flo Lum - Chicken Adobo!

Photo from Flo Lum - Chicken Adobo!

Gang. Two for two, I am this week! Greek meatballs to top off giant Greek salads on Monday night, then tonight, a Philipino chicken adobo recipe. Both were whole-famliy-ate-it meals. If you have kids, you know what a score this is.  I did the adobo recipe with boneless, skinless chicken thighs, marinated them for about 2 hours, skipped the browning and cooked them for only 8 minutes. I thickened the sauce with a little potato starch. Served over rice (cauli rice for me, natch) - delicious! Greek salads last night contained the usual suspects - feta, grape tomatoes, cucumber, chopped romaine, kalamata olives and then I used some diced avocado for more richness. I just used Cedar's tzatziki thinned w/a little lemon juice (you could use vinegar too, it's delicious that way as well) as the dressing. Daughter had a warm piece of naan to go with it. I just drooled and mourned gluten. However you serve these, work 'em into your weeknight rotation and lemme know what you think!

Got Your Grill On? Make This Chicken!

Wowee wow. We made this Cooking Light recipe tonight and it was FABU. I made up the marinade in the a.m. and let the thighs sit in it all day - probably about 9 hours. I didn't make the salad - my peeps don't like cukes. Instead, I just oiled, salted & peppered some fresh asparagus and we threw it on the grill, too. Charcoal grilling, like we do, is the best for this, but you'll like it grilled any which way, I'm sure - even on your indoor cast-iron grill pan if you've got to do that!

Mighty mighty muffins

 Coffee flour makes these dark, but not coffee-like at all!

Coffee flour makes these dark, but not coffee-like at all!

Some people live for the weekend, I'm beginning to live for Wednesday. It's the only day of the week that my daughter doesn't have a soccer-related activity after school/in the evening and she gets out early from school. I have to hang all afternoon to be around if she's chilling with friends and because she meets her Mandarin tutor late afternoon, so I can catch up on stuff around the house, and most importantly, I have some time to tinker in the kitchen. You KNOW I love me some tinker-time.

I've been talking on my Facebook page (you can follow me here and get all my public posts) about how I want to do more experimenting with gluten-free baking. I used to be a mad, mad baker when I was eating gluten. I was in pain, but man, do I love baked goods. Breads, cookies, cakes, pies . . . . really, I haven't met a baked good I don't like. It's so hard to find stuff that's worth the calories that's GF, frankly. But more and more people are getting hip to this and so there are better flour alternatives by the week, more recipes to make and riff off of, etc. 

I'm also on a not-wasting-food kick. I had some very ripe bananas on the counter and some walnut pieces that have been around for a while - didn't want them to go rancid. Banana-bread something-or-other was clearly what needed to happen. Couple that with my recent coffee flour acquisition, and some extra-fine almond flour from Bob's Red Mill (NOT almond meal, that's coarser, this is actually a flour-like texture!) and . . . well, I wanted to bake today.

I riffed off this recipe. The fun thing about muffins and quick breads is that you can fool around with ingredients a little, and not worry about your goods not rising, or falling. 

Changes I made (is it possible for me to make a recipe as written? probably not.):

  • I subbed 1/4 c. coffee flour for the coconut flour - they're both pretty dense and dry
  • Because I didn't have tapioca flour, I subbed 1/2 c. King Arthur GF Baking Mix - which has a blend of flours and also some xanthan gum and leaveners.
  • I left out the cream of tartar altogether
  • I subbed avocado oil for the coconut oil
  • I subbed raisins for chopped dates

These bake up dark brown - they look chocolatey, but they sure don't taste it - they are tender and banana-y, with some nice texture and crunch from the add-ins. Interestingly, coffee flour does not have a coffee-like flavor at all - it has a pleasant sweet, nutty taste. Perfect in this muffin recipe. You could make these without the add-ins, for sure. You could change 'em up depending on your preferences. Chocolate chips would NOT be a bad option. Just putting that out there. I'm trying to cut added sugars right now to help get rid of what I think's an arthritis flare, but I am not opposed to a lil' added sugar in life.

These are GF & DF - great with a slab of butter on 'em, or try this date paste. It's dreamy stuff to spread on bread or apple slices, dollop on your oatmeal, whatevah - and you can also use it as a sweetener sub in other baking that you do, too!

FYI - muffins and quick breads freeze like a DREAM. So let these cool thoroughly, throw 'em in a freezer bag and voila! Fresh muffins on demand. WHAT could be better than that?

Stuck Inside Today? Whip Up Some Healthy . . . .

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I don't know about the weather where you are, but in Boston, it's disgusting. Rainy/sleety/snowy and cold. And so NOT spring-like. Comfort-food season lingers here, and yet, true spring weather is just around the corner . . . as is the time where we'll go from heating to air conditioning in the span of a week. That is to say, keep your eyes on the more scantily-clad prize and focus your comfort food cooking on lightweight, healthful favorites like this pureed broccoli soup from Eating Well magazine.

I make this as-written, except that I omit heavy cream (you could add coconut milk or soaked raw cashews for creaminess if you wanted to keep this vegan/dairy-free), add a ton of garlic and I like to use my own homemade chicken broth, if possible. More nutrition, more anti-viral effects, richer, more delicious taste. Today, I had on hand a package of organic shiitake mushrooms which I threw in too. Mushrooms will add a rich, earthy undertone to this. Sorta meaty. And shiitakes have a zillion health benefits too. Win-win.

Make this, eat it all week. Even if you use boxed/canned broth? Still TOTALLY worth your time. So much veggie goodness in one bowl. Super low-cal. Will increase your feelings of fullness if you have a cup of this before/along with a meal. And won't bulk you up for when the sun FINALLY COMES OUT.

Riff Off This

I wanted something healthful, and I've been trying to clean out the cupboards lately. I found this delicious looking recipe in a Buzzfeed email re make-ahead lunches, and decided to riff off of it - figured that it'd be great leftover for lunches the next couple of days. 

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I used a bunch of lacinato kale (removed the thick stem and sliced it thinly), about 1 c. of shredded carrots I had leftover, used about 1/4 c. of raisins and 1/4 c. of dried cranberries (pantry cleanout!), about 1/2 c. of salted pecans (chopped 'em roughly). I used pre-made curry powder and used that and salt on thinly sliced chicken breasts - did those up in the frying pan. Super quick. I made a quick dressing of the juice of a lemon, some raw honey, a little bit of good EVOO - massaged that into the kale. Instead of "Minute Rice," I cooked up some sprouted brown rice (it cooks in the same time as white rice, but is more nutrient-dense). Mix it all up. Adjust your seasonings. Eat it up!

Point is, this is a forgiving salad. You could make this up and eat it every day for lunch, and it'll be better leftover, for sure! Or do what I did, feed it to a select few (my kid'll never eat it) and enjoy the leftovers as a reward for your efforts.

Salad for days . . . .

You going to the grocery store today? You might want to grab the ingredients for this salad - Thai Carrot Salad With Curried Cashews. You can mix up the dressing and salad separately and the salad will keep for several days in the fridge. You can dress as you go - bring some to work, pull it out for dinner or lunch, you name it. Whip up an easy protein (fish, chicken, beef, tofu - if it's plain enough it'll ALL GO) and voila! A yummy meal. 

A couple notes - I used lacinato kale, AKA dinosaur kale, it's more tender. I also used pre-shredded carrots, and used 1/2 carrots and 1/2 Trader Joe's broccoli slaw, for variety. My red onion was nasty inside, so I chopped up a bunch of scallions and threw those in, and I used an ENTIRE bunch of cilantro - chopped that up and tossed that in. The more veg variation, the bettah!

In addition, for even EASIER prep, I used Trader Joe's Thai Lime & Chili cashews instead of making my own curried cashews. Point is, you can tweak this to your tastes and what you have on hand. What more can you ask for in a recipe?

Enjoy.

 Thai Carrot Salad With Curried Cashews: Image from  Minimalist Baker.com  

Thai Carrot Salad With Curried Cashews: Image from Minimalist Baker.com 

Making this for . . . like . . . the hundredth time in a few weeks!

 How gorgeous are these bowls? My fam digs rice noodles or you could use  any kind of veggie noodle: zoodles or carrot or sweet potato noodles. How amazing would spiralized beets look here?? Colorful, full of veg & delicious!

How gorgeous are these bowls? My fam digs rice noodles or you could use  any kind of veggie noodle: zoodles or carrot or sweet potato noodles. How amazing would spiralized beets look here?? Colorful, full of veg & delicious!

Banh mi meatballs. And if you're lazy, you can make them as burgers. My family LOVES THIS RECIPE and Facebook followers who've made it are raving too. You might want to give it a try! Lil' tip to make it easier - pick yourself up a bag of shredded carrots. The shavings look marvelous but it's a lot more work. The shredded add gorgeous color and they're easy AF. You're welcome! 

Bringing back food blogging?!

So those of you who follow my Facebook page know that I often post re food. And lately, I've gotten SO MANY requests to start food blogging again. It's flattering! I love that I'm inspiring people to try new things. It's such an honor and it's definitely part of what I want to be doing. 

But. I stopped food blogging for a few reasons. 

  1. It was isolating. I was alone in my kitchen (hey? here I am again?!) creating content and although I knew there were lots of peeps reading it, I didn't get to interact like I like to. I'm a social animal.
  2. It's a lot of work. Keeping track of all the modifications to recipes, typing them up, writing witty copy to go along w/the content, trying to take a decent photo . . . All while your family is waiting, for, well, frickin' meals, is tough. And it sucks some of the joy out of it all, to be honest.
  3. I wasn't creating radical change in anyone's life. What can I say? I wanted to really help people, women in particular, change their lives for the better. Sure, the recipes were helping people eat better and have more variety in their diets, but . . . .

So, I formally ramped up the coaching biz side of things and that's been EXACTLY what I was looking for. Flexibility to mom hard while doing something that's rewarding for me, and which helps women feel better about themselves. I get to problem-solve. I get to motivate. I get to nag people!

Here's my compromise. I'll start posting the food stuff here - mostly a log of things I've been trying and loving with a few notes on tweaks I may have made - so if you're not on Facebook, or are trying to be on it less, you'll get notified of new posts. The stuff will also all be here on the blog, so you can scroll through and find things more easily, hopefully. 'Cause food posts won't be interspersed with cute baby pics of my daughter (or my dog) or political rants or updates on my latest workout exploits.

Lemme know what you think! Comment! Ask questions! I can never get enough interaction. 

Reimagining the 100-Calorie Pack

One of the very fun things about being a former food blogger and current fitness and lifestyle coach is that I get offered the opportunity to meld my two loves, food & fitness, all the time. Recently, I was contacted and offered an advance copy of The Perfect Portion Cookbook, by Anson Williams (yes, you recognize that name, “Potsie” from Happy Days!?), Bob Warden and Mona Dolgov. It arrived the other day, and now that I’ve had time to look it over, I wanted to let you know about it.

This lovely paperback has great illustrations and you can actually OPEN IT to lie flat on your counter (user-friendly cookbooks are always appreciated by this cook). The book has 150 family-friendly, comfort-food-y recipes like French toast, lemon bars, chili and lasagna, but they’ve swapped in better-for-you ingredients that bulk up the portions, increase things like fiber so they’re more filling and don’t sacrifice taste or flavor.

So what’s the 100-calorie thing about? You know I think calorie counting can be vital to weight loss and maintenance success, right? Apparently, Anson Williams does too and was inspired to write this cookbook after seeing all those “100-calorie packs” at the supermarket. So often, those are filled with nutrient-free foods that don’t even taste good – the fats are removed, sugars are added and there’s really nothing satisfying or nutritionally redeeming about them. Williams set out to write a cookbook where all the real-food recipes are divisible by 100-calorie portions – genius. So you can eat what you love in 100-, 200-, 300- or 400-calorie portions – each recipe spells it out for you.

The recipes look terrific, and many of them contain interesting tips – some things even this kitchen pro hadn’t thought of: For instance, when making chicken salad, their recipe uses all breast meat, to save on fat and calories. But to give the salad the mouth feel of more traditional deli chicken salad, they suggest you chop half of the breast meat and pull the other half, thus recreating the texture of meat from a whole chicken. Love this idea!

There are recipes for entertaining (sweet & sour meatballs, pork potsticksers, gauc-stuffed cherry tomatoes, anyone?) that’d be so great if you’re counting your calories but hosting or attending a party – I always tell clients to bring something to the party that they know they can eat . . . these apps are not “weird diet food” and will appeal to everyone – and you can gauge how much to enjoy, based on your calorie budget for the day. A win-win! Same goes for the desserts. These are mainstream, crowd-pleasing favs: Lemon bars, chocolate chip cookies, brownie bites, cheesecake minis . . . Good to have on hand if you need a “little something,” or to wheel out for guests and/or your family while sticking to your goals.

Criticisms of the book? They’re few. I’d like to have full nutritional information for each recipe (you know, protein, fiber, fat) instead of just the 100-calorie portion information. And some of the 100-calorie portions are far-fetched. Honestly? Who will eat a mere 1/3 grilled cheese sandwich or 1/2 chicken thigh?

Notwithstanding that tiny critique, the photos are great, the recipes are solid, and this would make a super addition to your cookbook shelf. Give it a go and see if you can cook up some goodies your ENTIRE FAMILY can eat for a change! The book will be published on February 23rd, and you can pre-order it on Amazon if you're ready.

Check these guys out on Facebook, and on Twitter and Instagram (@100calportions) too! More information on The Perfect Portion site.

 

*NB I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my review, but the opinions I express in this review are entirely my own. 

Protein In a Nutshell (or is it a meatball?)

Those of you who've worked with me know I'm a freak about protein. It's a total game changer for the 40+ woman. Most women who come to me aren't eating a lot of protein and are confused by protein requirements. I've helped countless clients up their protein intake (whether it be vegetarian or animal sourced) and it's assisted them in their nutrition, weight loss and physique goals. You'd be surprised what a little tweak in what you eat can do for your body and your mind.

To help you understand protein better, I'm linking to a great article on Girls Gone Strong that talks about protein and suggested protein intake for women, and which includes some good ideas for meals and snacks. Even if you don't want to lift like a beast at the gym, you STILL NEED ADEQUATE PROTEIN.

Have a great weekend, gang!

xo

Sarah

Sarah's No BS Guide to Handling Halloween

Halloween is Saturday. Are you ready? What’s “ready” mean to you? I have seen a barrage of email from all the fitpros in my network on Halloween readiness. And so much of it infuriates me. I mean, one suggested that you start associating all “bad” food with negative thoughts, essentially to self-hypnotize yourself so you’ll stop eating “naughty” foods. Every time I see this dichotomy of foods set up, I want to scream. Please repeat after me. There are no bad foods. And let’s stop using words like “naughty” for foods that are delicious and satisfying. It’s OK to gain pleasure from food. You just need to figure out how to do that and have it jibe with your health and wellness goals. I do this ALL THE TIME with clients. And you know what? It works. Self-deprivation and shame = binging and gain.

Then there’s the Halloween candies you should “never” eat – they contain artificial colors and flavors and OMG, they can kill you. Like candy corn because of the dye, Dots because they’re chewy and will lead to tooth decay and/or Necco wafers because a roll has more sugar than you should be consuming in a day. People? Are you listening? A steady diet of these I do not encourage. But an evening spent enjoying a few of these treats? Especially if followed by a thorough brush-a-brush of the teeth before bed? OK by this trainer. I can’t think of a “never” food. There are “sometimes” foods and “more often” foods. No nevers.

What about the ubiquitous “how long does it take to burn off a fun-sized Snickers?” chart . . . with all your tiny favorites neatly charted out next to various forms of physical exertion. These reduce your fitness to the old “calories in, calories out” approach, which is, folks, just way too simplistic. It’s far more complicated than this – your metabolic rate, your body composition, your weight, the intensity of your exercise . . . all a factor in your calorie burn. What’s more, the quality of food you’re eating matters. So yeah, a Snickers isn’t as good a choice as an apple, but um, far be it from me to try to sell you on an apple if you’ve got a Snickers calling your name. Let’s be real.

It’s the truth. Halloween can put panic into the heart of any person trying to better their health. A giant bowl of candy sitting in your front hall? Who has the “willpower” to walk by that and head for the baby carrots? It’s not realistic.

I’m far from urging moderation. Moderation doesn’t work for a lot of people, including me. You need a plan. One that’s customized for you and your particular situation. Are you trying to lose weight and don’t want to undo your calorie deficit from the week leading up to the holiday? OK, you need to act and react differently than the woman who’s at her ideal weight. Are you a person who can just eat a couple treats and quit? Party on – choose your own treats, find a quiet moment, and savor them. Are you the opposite and once you open one delightfully crinkly wrapper you’re halfway down the rabbit hole . . . looking up in an hour to find you’ve eaten the equivalent of a couple (maybe more?) full-sized candy bars? (This is me.) Then you need to figure out whether you’re going to have anything at all outa that pumpkin-shaped bowl on Saturday night.

Here is what is NOT GOING TO WORK. Telling yourself, “I’m gonna be good.” “Sugar is poison.” “I’m going to have zero treats and be happy with my tossed green salad with vinegar and baked chicken breast.” Yeah, right. My best suggestion? If you’re at any risk of FOMO (fear of missing out), figure out an alternative by Thursday. What’re you going to do for yourself on Halloween so that you have something fun and delicious to look forward to? Maybe that’s Butterfingers. Maybe that’s fruit parfaits with some sort of whipped topping. Maybe that’s an uber-satisfying dinner that’ll fill you up with yummy goodness so you’re not white-knuckling it as you toss out candy for the next few hours. Maybe it’s leaving the house and shutting out the light. Whatever it is, chart it out. Write it down if you need to. Gather your supplies. Shore up your bunker. ‘Cause leaving it to chance? That’s for amateurs. And it never, ever works. You are awesome, but you are human.

I will remind you that there is nothing magic about Halloween candy. Candy is available 24/7, 365.  It always has the same number of calories, the same sugar content, often the same crap ingredients. Those don’t magically disappear if you’re sneaking treats from the bowl and eating them in the bathroom. And Halloween is not your only chance to procure the goods.

I urge you to think ahead to how you want to feel on Sunday and Monday. How would you like to look back at the weekend? Maybe you LOVE Halloween and you’re having a party. You decide to indulge and have a super time, that is awesome. Enjoy. It. All! Maybe you are trying to lose the last 10 lbs. and you really want to avoid the awful Monday morning dread that comes after eating stuff that’s incompatible with your goals – then girl, you need to figure out some alternatives. Stat. Maybe you want to be in the middle somewhere, enjoy a few treats, but not go nuts. Again. Make a plan for that. How much is OK? How will you signal to yourself it’s time to stop? Distraction and gum are powerful.

Me? I use a one-two-three punch of a delicious and healthful dinner I’ll look forward to, a special dessert (but that’s not candy – likely fruit with coconut whipped topping – something I rarely have), mint gum and distraction. I am that crazy woman who designs and orders her holiday cards at Halloween (there are often discounts to reward this lunacy). I love to hand out candy and see the kids’ costumes, but I really don’t care about Halloween. So I participate, but I also keep myself out of the candy bowl with a project. Because otherwise? BUTTERFINGERS.

But wait, there’s more. I have a TREAT for you. Want to know how I kill cravings? Halloween and every day of the year? My Craving Crusher Cocoa. I learned about this from my good buddies over at Metabolic Effect, and I’ve used it for years now: One to two tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder (like Hershey’s baking cocoa, Cocoavia or raw cacao powder), stevia to taste and hot water. Mix it all up. Drink it all down. Watch your cravings disappear like magic. Cocoa is a woman’s BFF. Cocoa powder is jam-packed with phytonutrients and chemicals that make us G-O-O-D. One of the most well-known is phenyethlamine which helps the body release endorphins while boosting the neurotransmitter dopamine.  Endorphins and dopamine gives one a sense of well-being – a little uptick in mood.  Cocoa also contains serotonin and tyramine, which make us calm and help reduce anxiety. So mix one of these up for yourself if you like – and feel free to add add cinnamon, cardamom, any spices and/or extracts you like (peppermint or almond extract are favorites of mine) to jazz it up. Sometimes I also make “ProCoa” – stir in a scoop of protein powder and my hunger and cravings are kicked to the curb, stat. You might want to try this on Saturday night. A little warning though – cocoa can be stimulating for some, so be aware of how close to bedtime you have this treat.

Here’s my parting thought. It’s one night. If things don’t go your way, move forward in a healthy way the very next chance you get. Sunday morning, get up, reset, restart. Don’t try to atone with hours at the gym, a juice cleanse, or any other such nonsense. Leave the guilt behind. Enjoy some vegetables. Drink water, drink teas. It’s not shameful to be human and to be tempted. It happens to the best of us. EVEN THE FITPROS. You will mess yourself up ten times worse if you dwell on it all, let it make you feel humiliated and awful. In fact, you will likely send yourself further down the rabbit hole. Better to admit you messed up and just move forward. Life’s too short to feel shitty. Let’s maximize the good.

Big hugs! Happy Halloween!

Sarah