How to transition to better nutrition

Over the last few months, I have been asked several times to help with transitioning a family to a healthier lifestyle, especially as it relates to nutrition. Generally, the considerations of healthy choices for parents and young children, as well as budget and possible food sensitivities, shape the solution. Below are a few things that have worked for my family.

Transition to better nutrition

Just to give you a clear picture of our nutritional parameters at this point, one person in our family needs to stay free of gluten, cow dairy, and amaranth (which is present in many manufactured gluten-free foods and recipes). Another person is sensitive to beans and legumes, excluding green beans. These few sensitivities already eliminate so many possibilities from a standard American diet that they would seem daunting to most people. Thankfully, even before these food sensitivities showed up in tests, we have already chosen to follow a primal/paleo-style diet, making the additional adjustments a lot easier.

Our focus is on health. We do not restrict portions — in fact, since I’m nursing, I need extra nutrition to ensure that my own resources are not depleted. We do not obsess over weight. The results of the food sensitivity testing have given us a clearer view of our gut health. Via modifying our diet a bit further, we are looking to heal the gut. Once that’s done, we can try re-introducing some offending foods on a limited basis to see if (a) they cause any issues, and (b) we still enjoy them.

We do avoid

  • processed foods, even if marked gluten-free
  • sugary foods
  • cow dairy
  • non-fermented soy
  • GMO-containing foods

We do embrace

  • organic vegetables, greens, fruit and berries
  • antibiotic- and hormone-free meat
  • free-range eggs
  • occasional seafood, preferably wild
  • occasional goat yogurt and soft or hard goat cheese
  • buckwheat, quinoa, rice (including rice noodles and rice pizza crust)
  • healthy fats (coconut oil, good-quality olive oil, and avocados)
  • bone broth
  • green smoothies
  • organ meats (liver, kidneys, oxtail, pig legs, etc.)
  • nuts and seeds
  • quality spices
  • fermented foods (kimchi, sourkraut)

Budget considerations

We buy beef in bulk once a year in the fall from a local farmer and store it in the chest freezer. Throughout the year, we buy the rest of the meat and eggs from a local farm that does not use antibiotics or hormones, with a large part of animal food coming from grazing. We place an order about every 3 weeks when we are running out of eggs. Fish we buy on occasion and prefer wild Alaskan sockeye salmon that has a short life span (doesn’t have time to accumulate lots of contaminants), is not a predator (doesn’t consume other fish incorporating their contaminants), and is not subject to farming practices.

For the vegetables and fruit, we get a weekly all-organic vegetable and fruit box delivered, with mostly local seasonal produce. We can adjust the contents of the box online to include more of what we need. Ordering online and/or on sale allows for tighter budget control — if you don’t enter a grocery store often, you are less likely to buy things you don’t need. If we do shop at a grocery store, we stick to food that can go bad and rarely venture into the inner isles. In summer, we also have a garden that provides us with lots of greens, herbs, and fresh vegetables.

We get coconut oil and a few other staples at Costco or online. Whatever additional produce we need to pick up during a week, we aim to buy organic at Loblaws or local health stores like Rainbow Foods or Herb & Spice.

A simple approach to daily meals

Breakfasts are easy:

  • Eggs with variations. You can add chopped up veggies, ground meat, sausage, bacon, fish. You can make a scramble with paprika, coriander, fresh-ground black pepper, sea salt, or try cinnamon for a sweeter option. Lots of opportunities to integrate leftovers into an egg-based breakfast, you can bring in broccoli, mushrooms, peppers, etc. The variations are endless. Eggs are a powerhouse of nutrients, and there are recipes (such as egg muffins or egg zucchini loaf) where you can replace grains with eggs).
  • Buckwheat with raisins, berries or nuts and coconut oil.
  • Quinoa with chopped up veggies and greens, or with berries and fruit pieces.
  • Goat milk yogurt with berries or nuts and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
  • Oat-banana pancakes.

All of these are popular with our kids. We also give them a daily dose of probiotics by mixing it in water (for the baby) or in apple sauce (for older child). They also get vitamin D daily (a higher dose during the long Canadian winter) and the older child gets an EFA supplement and vitamin C.

For lunch, we often do pureed soups from sweet potato, beets, turnips, squashes – whatever is in season. The chest freezer comes in handy for storing these — in the morning, I pull out portions of whatever soup strikes our fancy on a particular day.

Lots of times lunch consists of leftovers from dinner. I often cook in advance, which means we have a variety of protein and veggie options in the fridge ready to be combined for whatever meal we want. I generally base each meal on a protein: eggs, meat, seafood. Then I add lots of veggies – stir-fried, steamed, roasted, fresh. Our staples are sweet potatoes, beets, green beans, mushrooms, bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage.

Dinners often include roast meat or fish, or ground meat cooked with spices, stir-fries, salads, stews, steamed veggies. I love Thai cuisine, so curries and rice noodle dishes make an appearance often. We use olive oil, vinegar, avocado, sesame oil, lime and lemon juice for salad dressing, instead of buying store-based ones. Sometimes I venture into recreating a staple such as pizza by using rice or cauliflower crust, organic tomato sauce, fresh veggies, ground meat or sausage pieces, and shredded goat cheese, or remember one of my Russian recipes, such as borsch or marinated eggplants, to add more variation.

We always have lots of different nuts and seeds on hand for snacking and adding to salads, stir-fries, yogurt. Mark’s Daily Apple has great guides to nutritional content of nuts and seeds.

Some of our usual snacks

  • We make smoothies with kale, spinach, other greens, adding in an apple or a banana to sweeten, frozen berries, and hemp, chia or ground flax seed for additional nutrition.
  • Cut up veggies (carrots, bell peppers, celery, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) with hummus.
  • Apple or pear slices with almond butter.
  • Olives and pickles.
  • Fresh and dried fruit and berries.
  • Avocados with freshly-ground black pepper.
  • Nuts and seeds.
  • Dark chocolate.

Habit creation

One of the first steps to transitioning to better nutrition is to stop buying junk food. If it’s not in your house when you are hungry, you are not going to eat it. Another step is not to succumb to convenience of getting pizza or fast food delivery – instead, keep your freezer stocked with ready-to-heat healthy prepared meals. All you have to do is make a bit extra whenever you cook and freeze it. It comes in very helpful if you or the children are sick and you have less time to cook — feeding your family nutritious meals instead of conveniently-available junk will speed up their recovery. Eating out often or impulsively getting food delivered is also a sure way to go over budget.

People are creatures of habit. When you create the habits of healthy eating, you would have mastered the transition. People are also lazy creatures, in that we are looking for the most efficient and least time-consuming way to do things. Make it easy for yourself to not eat junk food or order in, by having healthy, quick and easy meal options in your fridge or freezer instead.

There are books written on this subject and it’s easy to keep going, but I think I’ll stop here. There are lots of organizational and budgeting nuances and culinary possibilities, but my formula is to start with non-contaminated ingredients, cook them lovingly, share them with my loved ones, and save some for the future.

What are your strategies for better nutrition?

Challenged to focus on the bright side

I must say, this past weekend has truly been testing my ability to stay positive and look for the best in life. There I was Friday, singing to my baby as I went about my errands, and planning a bbq with a couple of friends on Saturday. Saturday morning, I woke up with an extremely sore throat, my voice gone, and a snow storm outside.

Now, normally I’m not a wimp – sore throats come and go and my voice should come back in a few days. However, this time the pain was from hell. Unable to sleep due to coughing that would leave my throat more raw, triggering more coughing, waking up the kids who they would have to be cuddled and fed back to sleep. I couldn’t swallow even tea without pain, let alone trying to have some food. I would howl, only a mere thought of using my vocal chords almost reduced me to tears.

Beautiful start to a weekend, wouldn’t you say? It would be easy to stay in bed (or at least attempt to do so with two kids around), but I am easily bored, and, equally important, stubborn. And so I went about my day in as productive and positive a way as I could. My concession was to slow down and take things one at a time. I took a shower and then made my family breakfast of boiled eggs, avocado, cucumber, and pork pate, followed by some black tea with lemon, ginger, and cloves. I have then called and rescheduled the bbq, which could not happen in the snow storm in any case.

I had decided to give doTerra oils a try, and some have arrived this past week, so I thought this would be a good testing ground to see if I can speed up the recovery using the oils. I’ve tried diffusing a few different blends and oils throughout the day, gargling with some, putting some on my neck and feet, all while consulting with the groups online to determine a protocol to follow. An immediate relief came only from gargling with oregano and lemon, but as oregano is not recommended while breastfeeding, I have not repeated that one. Everything else alleviated the pain very marginally, making my tongue feel like it has been scraped in the process. I think I will stick to external applications, except for lemon and lime oils, for now. I also made sure to have garlic with every meal, including breakfast, took elderberry syrup, made myself a salad with fresh onions, took echinacea, probiotics, vitamin C, and tripled my vitamin D.

I would say, the day went in as normal and productive manner as it would were I not sick. I even managed to provide a healthy lunch to my partner and son (thanks to advance planning resulting in sweet potato soup residing in the freezer) and to go get groceries in the evening, after the snow has stopped (thanks to advance planning once more that had me put together a list of recipes and ingredients I needed for the week a day before). I have also managed to review all the treasuries I’m curating on Etsy (of which by now there are over 70) and update the ones missing sold or removed items. I did not set myself a goal to update all of them, but I’ve chipped at it throughout the day and ended up finishing the task.

The marinated chicken breast purchased for the bbq the day before, grilled in the oven and supplemented with a stir-fry of cauliflower, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, and cranberries, became dinner. That took all of 15 minutes hands-on time, including serving and cleanup.

The night was rough with coughing and baby cluster-feeding, and Sunday morning brought no relief for the throat. I had to opt out of a Consumers Supporting Midwifery Care meeting on Sunday night, as without voice I would not have been of much use. However, I did manage to gather my thoughts and provide some input via email.

More experimentation with the oils, another healthy breakfast, and another healthy lunch (thanks to the gingered zucchini and beet yam soups in the freezer), breastfeeding and playing with the kids, and generally taking the day slowly, gave me the energy I needed to address the weekly cooking session. Chopping ingredients when I had a free moment and using the slow cooker and the oven to simplify the preparation allowed me to end the day with a dinner of baked salmon, fresh veggies, and cocoa-toasted cauliflower from Well Fed (which was absolutely delicious!). We also now have almost all of our weekly meals ready: piƱa colada chicken, roasted spaghetti squash, Italian pork roast, Taj Mahal chicken, grilled skewers that didn’t make it to bbq, and a few chopped veggies and greens. Given the energy, I’ll be making the crispy chicken livers with crisp-sweet collards (from Well Fed 2) tonight, as they have to be consumed right after preparation.

It’s Monday and I’m still in pain. However, looking back on the weekend, everything that had to be accomplished, has been. Thanks to my partner, my son got to a skating rink on Saturday and to a toy store to get crayons on Sunday, so he’s been entertained even though I was under the weather. We did some colouring and building with wooden blocks. Kids got food, sleep, baths, and playtime; my partner got food, rest, and watched hockey on Saturday night; and I have done the planned cooking, learned about essential oils, completed the Etsy treasury maintenance, finished a 1000-piece puzzle, packaged a couple of Etsy orders, photographed the new potion vial pendants for Etsy, cuddled with kids, and got as much rest as I could despite the cough. Since I had some quiet time when the kids were asleep, I’ve also listened to more Wheel of Time – The Fires of Heaven, while doing the puzzle and cooking. I’d say I would rather remember all the accomplished things than focus on this hell of a pain that’s still piercing my head. Wouldn’t you?


What strategies do you have for sore throat? What do you do to motivate yourself when you are not feeling well?

Blessingway and a weekly cooking session

This past weekend, I have participated in a beautiful Blessingway ceremony for an expectant mama. We had put together a Blessingway bead necklace from stones and two of the beads made by me (Summer blooms tree of life and Red rose white lily key), painted a sunny design with henna on the mama’s beautiful belly, shared in delicious potluck snacks, love, laughter, and baby cuddles. We also each took home a candle, to be lit when the labour starts. Such an inspiring ceremony and such loving energy – it has stayed with me throughout this entire week.

Sunday was spent in a weekly cooking session interspersed with caring for my little ones. And even with all the interruptions for breastfeeding, playing, cuddling, serving meals, and getting them to sleep, I was able to complete everything I had planned before midnight (mind you, I started around 2pm). I have been exploring recipes from the Well Fed and Well Fed 2 books by Melissa Joulwan, and am quite impressed. The results of my cooking session consisted of a paleo cottage pie (a shepherd’s pie variation with beef instead of lamb and mashed cauliflower instead of potato), a large portion of Blue Ribbon country captain chicken, cauliflower rice, some tuna salad with homemade mayo, a paleo version of pad thai (with spaghetti squash replacing the noodles), a portion of coconut-almond green beans, Velvety butternut squash, and a few vegetables cut up for snacks or steamed and ready to be used in a stir-fry later in the week.

It is Thursday, and I have not had to cook since Sunday (and will not for a couple more days), since all I have to do is warm up the already-made food. This means it takes me about 5 minutes to get dinner on the table in the evening, with less than that time in clean-up since there are no pots or pans to clean. So I’ve got more time to spend with my partner, play with the kids, read a book or indulge in a puzzle.

What are your tips to save time making dinner?