We have hit summer temps here in Ontario, and that always inspires some cooler dishes in the kitchen. Nothing says summer like BBQ and fresh salads, am I right? Ayla is a massive fruit monster. The kid would live off of fruit salad if I let her. So she was the inspiration behind this dish. It's fresh and has a nice balance of sweet and salty. The star of the show is definitely the mint, in my opinion, so if you're nurturing an herb garden this year, it's the perfect opportunity to snip some of those babies off the stem and toss them in. Although I didn't use any this time around, basil would also be a beautiful addition to this recipe.
You don't have to worry too much about a specific measurements and should definitely allow the number of people you are serving to guide you, as well as a little taste test. But here's what I used, which served 3-4:
For the dressing:
Combine all ingredients, chill, serve and enjoy!
As we start to settle into life as a family of four and find our daily rhythm, I’ve created a weekly routine for myself that I’m pretty happy with. I’m getting in regularly scheduled workouts (which, if you read my last post you know is a non negotiable for me), spending quality time with my family, and focusing on this blog and my own studies--all activities that I would classify as some of my favourite things. Maternity leave in Canada: it’s pretty sweet. It allows you time to really lean into the things you love. And it’s not to say that I don’t enjoy my job, but there’s nothing quite like making your own schedule and being really picky about how you spend your energy. A structured 9-5 doesn’t quite allow for the same flexibility.
Last week, I was hyper aware of how level I felt. And by level, I mean blood sugar wise. I wasn’t craving sweets the same way I have been known to (not saying I didn’t have my daily dark chocolate. Because I did. Let’s not be ridiculous). And I was just feeling super satisfied by all of my well thought-out, real food meals. I was motivated in the kitchen to create nourishing dishes for my family and feeling more creative when it came to our meal prep. Just because I am a health and nutrition enthusiast, doesn’t mean my level of enthusiasm is consistent. Like anyone, it ebbs and flows and from time to time, I fall into a rut. Sometimes life gets away from me and my planning isn’t as top notch as it needs to be, or I have a difficult time coming up with new and interesting meals that also meet my nutritional standards.
I began to wonder why, exactly, I was feeling this way. Why is it that my eating habits are better at certain times than others? When I really sat with this, I came to the conclusion that my eating habits are strongly correlated with my overall life satisfaction. When I feel fulfilled and generally happy, as well as minimally stressed (at least in a negative way), my food intake and eating patterns are optimized. Reflecting on periods of my life when I am not as satisfied by my daily routines, have less satisfaction by my close relationships, etc., I noted that my eating habits are more likely to stray from my ideal standards. There is an obvious emotional connection.
Ayla began eating solid foods at five and half months. We started with vegetables, slowing introducing each food group until she had tried most things by the time she was ten months old. I was thrilled that she seemed to be a great little eater, rarely turning down new foods that were offered (with the exception of broccoli). We primarily chose to follow the methods of baby led weaning, but threw a few purees into the mix as well. All in all, Ayla was exposed to numerous textures and flavours by an early age. She didn’t experience any obvious allergies or intolerances and we moved confidently forward, much to this nutrition nut’s satisfaction.
I have learned over and over again that, when it comes to babies, nothing lasts forever. If you’re going through a challenging phase, most of the time it will pass and you just need to put your head down and shoot for survival. Alternatively (and unfortunately), if you’re experiencing a good phase, learn to enjoy every moment… because there’s a good chance it won’t be sticking around either. Knowing all of this, I shouldn’t have been surprised when Ayla began to turn her nose up at most foods. It all began around 12 months (she is now 13 months). Trusty, staple foods were being left on her tray or thrown to the ground. Lunch time would result in very little food being eaten at all. Ayla began to create a rather short list of acceptable food items and before we knew it, we had entered the dreaded picky eater stage.
I thought for sure I had another year before hitting this phase of our lives that most mothers talk about. If I’m being honest, I was thinking maybe we would even avoid it altogether… you now… because I was using all of the right techniques and nutrition is "my thing". Spoiler alert: even if you think you’re “doing it right”, your child is their own person and will do exactly what they damn well please, whether you like it or not. And that is precisely what the universe is taking the opportunity to teach me, yet again. And one more note on "doing it right": we loved BLW, but Ayla’s current favourite foods are smooth or pureed. So if you went down the puree route, don’t worry too much about your baby having a “texture” issue later on. We are a prime example that it can happen either way.
So, how am I navigating this phase of Ayla’s nutrition journey? The biggest thing I do is try to keep my stress levels in check. It’s easy to be concerned about whether your child is getting all of the nutrients and calories they need when they seem to be surviving on yogurt and bananas alone. But trust that, if you remain calm, and continue to be their nutritional guide, they will get what they need. Even with a short list of acceptable food items, there are still little daily hacks that you can use to boost the nutritional profile of each meal. For example, as you may have guessed, one of the foods that Ayla is currently always down with is yogurt. Yogurt is a great food in and of itself. If you choose the right brand, it is high in fat, protein and probiotics. I flavour it with different foods so she continues to be exposed to various tastes (nut butter, unsweetened applesauce, mashed berries, cinnamon, etc.). I also always add a fat like chia seeds or hemp hearts. This is also where I toss in Ayla’s vitamins, like fish oil and D. So, although yogurt may seem like a simple food, it can be a catalyst for a ton of other nutrients. Another hack I use is adding things like grated zucchini and eggs to oatmeal! If you make your oats on the stove top, you can stir in an egg until cooked without changing the flavour or texture of the dish much at all. So, although Ayla doesn’t currently enjoy eggs on their own, I know she’s getting the benefits of this nutrition powerhouse in other ways.
The other main thing that we continue to do during this picky period is expose Ayla to a variety of foods. This can be frustrating, preparing food that you are fairly confident is going to be left on the plate. But I encourage you not to give up, because exposure is the only way they will ever have the opportunity to enjoy new food items. It may not happen tomorrow or even next month, but you can bet it won’t happen at all if they are never given the chance to try it. I try to choose foods that we are already eating for dinner and preparing anyway, or add simple foods to her plate like sliced cucumber or cheese (hey Ayla, remember when you liked both of those things three months ago? Good times). I am not a child-specific nutrition expert. My training is primarily rooted in adult nutrition. But I have done extensive reading on this topic, as it has definitely become a passion since becoming a mother, and the one word that comes up time and time again is exposure. Just keep at it. Build it and they will come…
Dave and I work very hard not to have any sort of an agenda during meal time (easier said than done). We serve Ayla a meal that includes a few (but not too many) flavours and textures, providing her with some choice. We try not bring many items of food to her mouth for her (even though we’re sure that, if she just got a small taste, she would love it!) and we try to keep the mood light. This may sound kind of dumb since Ayla is only 13 months old, but I am very confident that babies can read your mood and that she understands a great deal more than she can communicate to us. This is also just a practice that I hope we continue well beyond Ayla’s toddler years, in hopes that it will help her develop a healthy relationship with food. We eat as a family as often as possible so that she sees us enjoying a variety of foods and has proper eating behaviours modelled for her daily.
Finally, I try to keep in mind where we are in our lives right now. I just returned to work four weeks ago after a year of maternity leave, and Ayla began daycare. She cut her first teeth and has been hit with about 37 viruses since being exposed to so many new children (feels like 37, anyway). All of these things have the ability to drastically affect her appetite, which makes sense. I remember that she won’t have the same hunger levels every day, just like we don’t, and that’s ok. It will take time to fully adjust to our new routine, and once she’s accepted it as her new normal, we may see another shift in her eating.
So, that’s where we’re at! If you are experiencing anything similar with your little one, know that I feel your pain. It can be a huge source of worry and frustration as a parent. But know that you are doing great. Our children are not robots. They are likely still getting most, if not all, of what they need and their eating habits will probably change again before you know it. Remember the old saying: you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Keep pushing forward, as I will be, and let’s all take a deep breath together….
Parents of picky eaters, unite!
I admit that I didn’t understand the excitement that offering peas and carrots to someone for the first time could bring until I had a baby. It was actually embarrassing how excited I was to start Ayla on solid foods. So when she began to show readiness signs, the nutrition wheels immediately began turning in my head. What should her first food be? Should it be a puree or finger food? How slowly should I introduce each new food? Do I want to hold off on anything for a few months?
I am a planner and a researcher at heart. I have always liked to have all of the information before I get started on a project, and I instantly become a sponge for knowledge. My favourite research topics are health and nutrition related, and over the years, I have done a lot of related reading. But when it came to the world of baby nutrition, I was a pretty blank slate. Sure, lots of basic nutrition principles apply to all of us, regardless of age, but I knew there was a whole world of baby-specific nutrition articles and healthy mamas to be inspired by for this chapter of my life.
The first step was to decide: purees or finger foods? There are arguments for both, but in the end I decided to go with… both. Just like nutrition “labels”, I’ve never liked to limit or pigeon hole myself into one category of eating. The same was true when it came to feeding Ayla.
I loved the concept of baby led weaning (or baby led feeding, as it is sometimes referred to) for several reasons. Because baby is in charge of what goes into her mouth and how much, it fosters a positive relationship with food from the very beginning. The self feeding method supports fine motor development and offers a variety of sensory experiences. Even though constant supervision is required, of course, it frees up mom and dad’s hands so they can eat at the same time. That means that family meal time can be established from the get-go, allowing parents to model eating skills at the dinner table.
I think it's natural for many to step away from a doing a whole lot of baking during the warmer months. We are more inclined to look for refreshing food choices when the sun is beaming down. But, as the weather turns colder and my nesting instincts grow stronger, I find myself being drawn back into the kitchen. There's something about the winter months that make me want to bake up a storm on the weekends. I am constantly looking for ways to turn traditional comfort baked goods into something a little more nourishing, and this past weekend was no exception. I had a few zucchinis waiting to be used, so I thought, what better way than to whip up a loaf of zucchini chocolate chip bread! After a little research, I was able to adapt a few different recipe ideas to make this version of a gluten-free, dairy-free, refined sugar-free bread. I generally try to avoid a lot of food labels, but "paleo" was a lot easier to fit into the title. This loaf turned out moist and fluffy with just the right amount of sweetness, in my opinion. There are a couple of interesting things to note about the recipe: one of the key ingredients is a mashed banana. This not only adds to the natural sweetness, but also helps give it a great texture. The second thing is that the recipe requires quite a few eggs (6!), but that's stretched out over an entire loaf and helps to add a good dose of protein and healthy fats.
Nutrition Fun Fact of the Day: Egg yolks contain a high level of lecithin, a fat molecule that helps with a number of bodily functions. It not only helps you digest fat, but plays a valuable role in moving waste out of cells and allowing nutrients to move into cells (it helps maintain cell permeability). The take away here is to not be afraid of the yolk! As of recent, I do feel like this message has been received by the general public. The fear of yolks is passing with the increase in available information regarding the health benefits. Some professionals may suggest to limit your yolk intake IF you struggle with high cholesterol. Otherwise, you're probably fine (and will reap the benefits) of consuming the entire egg.
Ok, back to the recipe...
I used dark chocolate chips for this recipe, which I enjoy more than a milk chocolate, personally. This also helps ensure your loaf remains dairy-free, if that's important to you. I am not dairy-free myself, but I do limit the amount of cows milk in my diet to usually yogurt and a little bit of cheese from time to time. Many people, of course, find that cows milk causes digestive distress or other side effects. If you suffer from this, but are not sure why, it's one of the first foods I would suggest removing from your diet as it can be highly inflammatory. There are a couple of brands of dairy-free chocolate chips. For this recipe, I used Enjoy Life, available at most health food stores.
If you're a regular "healthy" baker (if you like to think of it that way),
I would say most of the ingredients needed for this recipe can be found
in your pantry. I didn't have to go out and grab anything special (other
than another carton of eggs so my husband still had breakfast
in the morning), as I use all of these items on the regular. So, without
further ado, let's get into how to make this yummy treat a reality
in your kitchen!
I hope you enjoy this yummy treat on a cold day as much as I did!
When Dave and I found out we were pregnant, we were filled with a myriad of different emotions: joy, wonder, excitement, nervousness, anxiousness… the list goes on. With all of life’s uncertainties, nothing can prepare you for the overwhelming feeling that comes from knowing that, together, you created life. And now that life will continue to be sustained inside of you for the next nine months. To say that this is a miracle is an understatement. Even now, 17 weeks in, there isn’t a day that goes by that I am not amazed by what is happening inside of my body. There are so many couples who have difficulty conceiving. I think about these individuals daily and am sure to never take this miracle for granted. Even through the difficult days (and there have been quite a few), I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to become a mother.
Excitement is an emotion I have felt every day since finding out we were pregnant--excited to meet our little bean, excited for the ways in which our family is about to change, and excited for Dave and I to take on our next big gig: becoming parents. That said, my first trimester was anything but easy. As many mothers-to-be do, I experienced a variety of unpleasant symptoms that early pregnancy brings. Of course, I knew all of the possible symptoms that I may be faced with and how common they were. I knew about the ongoing nausea and un-heard of levels of exhaustion and inability to eat or live in ways you were used to, pre-baby creation. And yet? It still hit me like a ton of bricks.
It's been months, but I am back with a new blog! And after a lengthy hiatus, I thought I would ease myself back into things with a simple recipe.
Just as a little update, I spent my summer writing an email subscription course for Leanfit Protein, a company based in British Columbia. This was an incredible opportunity, and I had a blast doing it. However, it didn't leave a lot of content in the writing bank for blogging. That said, I submitted my final drafts yesterday and am ready to dive back into Eat.Move.Live.!
Today, I am sharing a very simple "breakfast" cookie recipe that I threw together yesterday. Now that I'm back at work and into a routine, healthy baking has made its way back into my weekend activities. Although the name suggests a breakfast food, these cookies can be easily enjoyed at any point throughout the day. Personally, I knew that a "cookie" wasn't going to cut it for breakfast, so I chose to make mine smaller and just have it as a morning snack. That said, if you're not a huge breakfast person, you can pump up the volume, add in more healthy fats and be left with a perfect grab-and-go food to fuel your morning.
The nice thing about a recipe like this is that it's hard to go wrong. You can substitute ingredients right left and centre, and still be left with something delicious. This was my second recipe of the evening, so I went for fast and simple:
2 cups oats
1/2 cup peanut butter (I used half sunflower butter)
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2tsp all spice
1/2tsp baking powder
1/2tsp baking soda
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup chopped pecans
chia seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp hearts, pumpkin seeds, almond butter, coconut, etc.
Combine oats, nut butter, banana, spices, baking powder/soda, salt, vanilla, and honey. Fold in cherries and pecans.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and spoon on batter at desired size. Cook at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.
And voila: cookies for breakfast!
Originally written for www.leanfit.com
1. It’s not always as simple as calories in vs. calories out.
For people looking to lose weight or gain muscle, it isn’t always as simple as eating in a calorie deficit or calorie surplus. Depending on where you are in your nutritional journey, this may be a good starting point, but it will only take you so far. The type of calories (or macronutrients) consumed will have an impact on how much energy you expend during your daily activities. Various foods have a different metabolic effect on your body, and that’s an important consideration when working towards composition goals. Protein, for example, has a high thermic effect, which means the body literally burns more calories when breaking it down than, say, carbohydrates. For example, when you eat 100 calories of carbs, and 100 calories of protein, your body will actually burn more calories processing the protein. This is quite a complicated topic, with plenty of related science to consider, but if you can remember that a calorie is not just a calorie, this information will take you a long way.
2. What works for your neighbour will not necessarily work for you.
Nutrition is a complex topic, and our bodies are even more complex. People are often quick to jump on the diet bandwagon as soon as they witness someone having success with a particular eating plan. When they don’t experience the same success, they are left feeling confused and discouraged. Instead of playing the never-ending game of musical diets, jumping from one nutrition fad to the next, be consistent. Make simple and realistic changes to your daily eating habits. Choose sustainable practices that you can maintain and that work with your lifestyle. This is the first step on the road to healthy eating.
3. A little tough love: you might be eating too much.
This is a bit of a sensitive topic, because I meet many women, in particular, who are actually not eating enough. They’ve been on a calorie-restricted diet for years, and as a result, are experiencing some level of metabolic damage. Or, people limit their calories for days at a time, resulting in a huge binge at the end of the week, and consuming far too many calories for their body type. However, more often than not, people are fooling themselves. They believe that as long as they make healthy choices and are consuming nourishing foods, they should be good to go. The fat will take care of itself. And, although I wish it were as simple as this, calories do play a role. Now, this may seem contradictory to my first point of calories in vs. calories out, but we can’t deny that calories are important. If you are eating too much on a consistent basis, you will gain fat. It’s science. So that extra handful of nuts in the afternoon, eating mindlessly straight from the cereal box (guilty), or taking too many samples from the lady in Costco can really add up. All of the sudden, you’ve eaten 400 calories over your daily goal and you didn’t even notice! 400 calories x 7 days = 2,800 extra calories a week! Another example is falling into what I call “the smoothie trap.” Don’t get me wrong—smoothies and shakes are a convenient, nutrient dense meal to add into your nutrition routine. I have at least one every day. But, too often, people begin loading in the fruits and fats, without being cognizant of serving size. And, sure, every ingredient is real, nutritious food. But, suddenly, they’ve made a 900 calorie smoothie without even knowing it. It’s important to gain an understanding of what you are consuming in a day. Try tracking your food for a week, using an app like My Fitness Pal (see my previous post for more info). This will provide you with an overview of what you are consuming on a daily basis and areas of nutrition where you may be falling short (or going over!).
So, to sum here, here are the top 3 things I wish everyone knew about nutrition:
1. It isn’t always as simple as calories in vs. calories out. Our bodies process different foods in different ways. Pay attention to the types of foods you are consuming and find a balance between macronutrients.
2. Just because a particular eating plan works for your neighbour, does not necessarily mean it will work for you. Find sustainable and healthy practices that fit your lifestyle and be consistent.
3. You may be eating too much. Try tracking your food and begin to gain an understanding of what you are actually consuming in a day and changes that may need to be made. Knowledge is power.
Originally written for www.leanfit.com
Client question: What is the best way to track my nutrition?
Tracking nutrition is a great tool for those looking to gain a better understanding of what their daily food intake is. It helps build awareness of nutrition and often shines light on areas of our diet where we may be falling short. Although it isn’t for everyone, and certainly not a strategy that needs to be used daily, all year long, it is a tool that people can utilize to get their nutrition on track and learn how their eating style may be affecting their body composition and goals.
In today’s era of technology, tracking is easier than ever. Numerous aps and online programs have been developed that allow people to simply track their daily food intake. By far, the most popular of these aps is My Fitness Pal. MFP offers a variety of features, including goal setting, macro, calorie and exercise tracking, progress reports, and sharing your journey with friends.
MFP is an awesome tool, particularly for those who are working towards a specific goal. Remember: the more specific your health and/or fitness goal, the more dedicated you must be to your diet. MFP allows you to track each meal and lets you know when you have hit your calorie and macronutrient goals.
As much as I love this tool, there are certainly downfalls to be aware of. First, anyone can add foods to the MFP database, and it’s not always clear whether the nutritional information on these items is correct. The best way to combat this problem is to use the barcode scanning feature (available through the app, but not the online interface) if the food is packaged, or look for similar foods with the green checkmark beside them. This means the content has been verified. Another tip to remember when tracking your food is that “eyeballing it” isn’t always the most reliable method. Serving sizes may be misjudged, and that can be enough to throw you into a calorie surplus when you’re trying to eat in a deficit (or vise versa). Unless you are loosely tracking to ensure you remain relatively on point with your diet, I do recommend weighing and measuring your food when possible. Again, this is for those individuals who are striving to reach a specific goal within a given time frame. Otherwise, a more relaxed approach to tracking is acceptable and recommended.
Another factor to be aware of is that, by no means, is tracking a perfect science. Not only can there be error in the data, but everyone processes calories and nutrients differently. So it’s very difficult to know how your body will absorb and utilize the amount of calories documented for a specific food.
If you are working with a professional, nutrition tracking may be as simple as keeping a food journal. Your coach or nutritionist can then view your log and provide suggestions moving forward.
In conclusion, I think food tracking is an excellent tool to have in your nutritional toolbox. It can help build food awareness and support you in reaching your goals. That being said, it can be time consuming and inaccurate. So take it with a grain of salt and only use it if it makes sense to do so. Tracking is not a strategy that needs to be employed 24/7, so take advantage of it when it can be most useful to you. If you find yourself obsessing over the numbers, it may be time to opt for a less all-consuming nutrition approach.
I know that naming recipes is not one of my strengths. So if your creativity is sparked, please feel free to shoot alternative name suggestions my way. Trust me: ideas are appreciation, and I could use all of the help I can get.
I am forever making batch after batch of granola. I top my cottage cheese with it nearly every day, and find my own recipes far more satisfying than what I can purchase in-store. It's also one of the simplest things you can make, and doesn't require specific steps/ingredients.
It's that reason that I end up with a different batch every week. I just throw stuff in a bowl and see what happens. However, using my regular laissez-faire method last weekend, I turned out my best batch to date. So then I was presented with the challenge of remembering what I put in it, and how much. Using my best estimating skills, I wrote down the recipe (a big thanks to my friend Taryn for giving it a shot and confirming that it is, in fact, delicious, and made for the exact texture I was aiming for).
Why was this batch better than the rest? I think it had something to do with the perfect balance of crunchy, sweet and nutty. Hard to say. Anyway, if you're a granola lover, but are not interested in paying the astronomical prices charged for the packaged stuff, which is always way too high sugar/fat anyway, give this one a go:
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a small sauce pan, bring the oil and syrup to a slight boil. Remove from heat, and stir in the vanilla. Pour the liquid mixture onto the dry goods and combine until covered. Put a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet and spread the granola on the pan, evenly. Press down slightly using a spatula. Put the pan into the oven and let bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the pan, and allow to bake for another 10-15 minutes, or until the edges start to brown very slightly. Remove, and allow to cool. When transferring to a container, you will need to gently break the granola up into smaller pieces, as it will most likely lift in large chunks.
Voila! My best batch yet.