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January 30, 2014

10 ways food is changing my life

For quite some time I have been nurturing a love affair with food. It all sort of began when my youngest was diagnosed with food allergies and then later myself and over the last five years my love of nutritious, delicious food has become a large part of my every day life.  Food: it is most often on my mind and when it's not on mine, it is most certainly on the minds of my boys. I am usually asked what is for lunch at breakfast and what is for dinner at lunch. I keep an ongoing grocery list on my phone for my weekly shopping trips and an overflowing board of healthy recipes on Pinterest.
Not only do I love food because of all of the obvious reasons, the way flavor combinations taste and the way homemade baked goods smell and how great it feels to have a stocked pantry and refrigerator, there are other reasons why I love food and more importantly I love how it is changing my life.
1. Cooking and baking are an extension of creativity. I love being creative, and in fact it is something I need like the air I breathe. Without creativity, I become a sad creature. Over the years I have loved to paint, scrapbook, make collages and jewelry out of shells and other beach trinkets. I of course love to write and now my main outlet for creativity is cooking and baking, so today I combine my love of both. What used to be a monotonous chore when my kids were younger, picky and hard to cook for, has now blossomed into something rewarding and gratifying. Their view of food did not change over night, but through encouragement, reintroduction of foods they used to dislike and a complete lifestyle change, their palates have expanded, the list of healthy foods they love has grown and they feel the great effects of a nutritious diet as much as I do.

This is me drinking tea at work. A great testimony to how happy I have been lately. 
2. Food brings our family together. There is nothing like "breaking bread"; that time spent around the table talking, laughing, telling stories and just being a family. We eat almost every meal together, most certainly dinner as a foursome and over the years we have made this a special time to give thanks, talk about the important things going on in our lives and listen and value each other. The TV goes off, music goes on and we sit down each and every night collectively. It is something I cherish.

 Homemade, grain-free, fiber-filled bread.
 Sunday morning brunch with PB&J pancakes, bacon and scrambled eggs with greens.
3. Food allows us to try new things. Yesterday I made eggs over easy or "dipping" eggs as we lovingly referred to them growing up. It was my 5-year old's first time trying them as he has had an egg allergy up until this year. While I was busy cleaning up I heard him exclaim, "I can't believe I have one more thing to get used to. I have to get used to the yellow part of these dipping eggs and then I know I will like it." What a proud Mommy moment! Instead of immediately proclaiming that he doesn't like them and refusing to eat them, he took the attitude I have been trying to teach them over the last two years that sometimes we need to get used to new things before they become something we enjoy. I kept thinking about that statement all throughout the day and how this doesn't just apply to food. What if we could walk around with an open mind and tell ourselves, "I just need to get used to that person and then I bet I will like them", or "I just need to get used to that job, situation, circumstance before I grow to understand it.  I have applied this same technique with new foods in my own life. When you come away from eating processed foods which are made to entice a certain chemical response in the body and mind, it can be hard to switch to eating raw carrots, apples, new vegetables and find the same feeling of satisfaction you have biting into, say, a doughnut or juicy cheeseburger. Overtime, however, my body and mind have formed a strong connection between the sweet taste of a green apple and the vitamins they provide and I find I crave healthy foods and no longer desire foods that do not sustain me.
Baked Tilapia and vegetables in parchment paper pouches with a side salad

4. Cooking is love made visible.  I recently saw a beautiful picture of that quote and sent it to my husband. He wrote back that he strongly agreed. Last year I learned that my love language is "Acts of Service." The way I am most comfortable expressing my love for others and having love expressed back to me is through giving and doing. After discovering this I fully understood how nurturing, cleaning, laundry, cooking and baking are all ways I show love to my family. I cook almost three meals per day for my boys when I can and if I cannot cook breakfast then they eat a low sugar cereal with almond milk. They know when I wake up early and put together a special pancake stack with bacon and fruit, that they are loved. At dinner, because of their Daddy's example, they will often say, "Mommy, you cook the best food," or "Thank you so much for cooking for us," and they are never short on compliments. I think it is really important for parents to model table side manners for our children. My husband never says he does not like something or refuses to try something. He just quietly brushes it aside if it is something he would prefer not to eat (such as tomatoes) and he always commends me for a dinner well made. With two boys looking to their father for an example and knowing how important it is that my children be risk takers with new foods, I so appreciate his daily effort to support me in this way. I love to love my family and food is one tool I use to express that love.

 2 ingredient pancakes (plus cinnamon and vanilla) with homemade blueberry "syrup"
Cinnamon puff cereal rolled in unsweetened shredded coconut 
5. Food is great for sharing!  If I could afford to host a dinner party every week I totally would! It is rewarding to cook a great meal for friends or family and invite them over to celebrate a special occasion or just for fun. I love being able to share new recipes our family loves or introduce them to nutritious foods they may have never tried before. This year we hosted "Friendsgiving" and I cooked a sustainably raised, pastured, organic turkey for the first time. For my sister's birthday we invited her family over for stuffed spinach and feta chicken, roasted butternut squash and salad plus wine and gluten free cupcakes. Another great and simple way to pass on your favorite foods is by sharing a meal with a family in need. There are many great ideas online about what you can cook for a family bringing home a new baby, battling sickness or suffering a tragedy. Relieving the burden for someone and providing a meal is one of the kindest and most caring things you can do. I have been the recipient of meals like that during hectic times in our lives and I promise you, it will always be appreciated!
Sweet potato, kale and turkey meatball soup in homemade chicken broth. Soul soup, as I call it, can be a great meal to deliver to a family in need. I have even sent soup to work for my husband's coworkers in the past.
6. Discovering all of your favorite take-out meals, healthier and homemade. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a super health freak and I still sometimes crave all of the things we used to get as take out more so because of the convenience it brought to my life.  Last week my husband stated that he could really go for some Kung Pao Chicken from the local Chinese food joint. Mmmmm. Chinese sounded so good at that moment and I really did not feel like cooking that particular evening, but as soon as I thought about all of the salt and fat and who know what else hiding in the delicious take out boxes, and imagined how terrible I could feel the next day, I shook my head no. That week I bought all the supplies needed to make my own version of Kung Pao, substituting brown rice for white, using low sugar ingredients and organic chicken. He was won over by the home cooked version and enjoyed it for lunch the next day. If we do eat out, we often choose Chipotle as this is the best option for our family. We can get behind what they try to do in the community with sustainable agriculture, supporting local farmers and using fresh and wholesome ingredients. Even then, I was excited to create my own version of the infamous Burrito Bowl using organic meats like ground turkey or shredded chicken, spinach, quinoa, soaked black beans, goat cheese and homemade salsa. It's always nice to have an option when needing a place to eat out in a pinch, but this was such a quick and easy meal to make that it is now a staple on busy weeknights.

"Knock-off " Burrito Bowls
Homemade Gyros with Greek salad and rice pilaf
Cauliflower pizza crust pizzas, our new favorite "take out" food.
7. Putting our money where our mouths are. We get to vote with our paycheck. Each time we shop at the grocery store or eat at restaurants, we are padding the wallets of the companies that we buy products from. For our family, this means paying attention to what type of ingredients are being used in our favorite foods like cereal, for instance, and I often spend time investigating the companies and what contributions they are making in society or whether they are hindering the sustainability movement that we support. We often take advantage of farmer's markets, getting to know where our produce and meats are coming from, whether the animals are being raised ethically, pastured versus caged, organic versus conventional and supporting local businesses when we can. We live in a town with great local restaurants and two farmer's markets each week during the farming season. Local produce is so much less expensive than produce in the grocery stores and the best part is that it is fresh! Last year we took part in a farm share where we were delivered a basket of produce each week. We are also part of a cooperative that participates in buying health items at discounted prices and other essential products from companies we feel happy supporting. These small changes make a difference in supporting a healthier, greener future for our children and planet. It is not the only avenue we must walk in our quest for social responsibility, but taking a deeper look at the food we put in our bodies is certainly a great place to start.
Stuffed peppers with peppers from our local community market 
8. Food is medicine. We have all heard this before, but the truth of this statement has become very relevant in my life as I heal a multitude of illnesses that I have struggled with for years. I admit this does take some investigation which takes time, but I find it fascinating all of the ways which food can help different ailments and all the vitamins and minerals food provides. We all know that eating a lot of oranges can help provide much needed Vitamin C for colds and flu's, but did you know that sunflower seeds are an excellent source of Vitamin E, the body's primary fat-soluble antioxidant, and they supply significant amounts of magnesium and selenium? Sunflower seeds also have Phytosterols which lower cholesterol. Everything we put in our body can have a healing or harming effect. Supporting my health with nutritious, whole foods has had a wonderful outcome on not only myself but the well being of my whole family.  This year alone we have been sick less often, I have not struggled with the seasonal depression I normally deal with in winter and I feel happier and less irritable, a major bonus when dealing with rowdy, growing boys! My youngest son, who exhibits behavioral changes when exposed to sugar and dyes in food, has been much calmer and happier since going off of refined sugars and processed foods. There is a great quote I often see floating around that says "We can pay the farmer now or pay the doctor later."

 Lunch: Stuffed lettuce wraps with tuna and avocado salad, roasted broccoli and fiber packed oatmeal cookies.

Meal prep! When I have time on Sundays I will prepare food for a couple days which takes the burden off of me when I am home with the boys without my husband's help. Salad, zucchini patties, snacks, stuffed peppers, green smoothies and chia breakfast pudding with blueberries.
9. Growing our own food. Many people I know and love are already growing their own food. Seeing a garden in the average backyard is pretty common where I live, but until this year, I have been a bit afraid and unsure of where to begin. I have managed to grow herbs in pots but I am not much of a green thumb. My desire to save money and have my own source of vegetables is really great this year, so with the help of some veteran garden growers, I am going to make the leap into home growing! My hope is that I will learn the ropes of outdoor gardening and someday have an indoor hydroponics garden in my basement for winter produce as well. Next month I will plant my seeds, grow my seedlings inside and be ready to start my spring, summer and autumn garden in my own backyard. This is an incredible way to take health into your own hands, get outside in the sunshine, and involve children in caring for and tending to a garden. I have heard that when you involve children in the care of a garden the same way you involve children in the kitchen while cooking, they are willing and eager to try new foods.

10. Food helps my self esteem. I don't mean that eating makes me feel emotionally better although I do recognize the contentment chocolate can bring to a woman (haha!), but instead that cooking and providing nutritious meals for my family contributes to a great sense of self worth. As moms, many of us hold the responsibility of preparing many if not all of the meals, and this can be a great weight to carry on top of all of the other motherly things we do! I remember in the past just NOT wanting to cook dinner and it mostly stemmed from not knowing what to make that would please my whole family coupled with exhaustion at having little ones running around. Now that my boys are older and a little less demanding (except when it comes to food), and with some great guidelines in place, I have regained great pleasure in cooking and baking again. When I first took things like grains including wheat out of my diet it was hard to know what to eat. Slowly I learned that I could alternate typical flour with almond meal or coconut flour and my baking options expanded.

Homemade birthday cheesecake with almond crust, stevia and blueberry topping. Who says you can't "cheat" and be healthy?

Raw honey and stevia replaced refined sugars, spaghetti squash, zucchini noodles, and sweet potato noodles on my vegetable spiralizer replaced carb laden pastas, almond milk replaced store bought cow's milk, homemade sunflower seed or almond butter for peanut butter, coconut oil for processed cooking oils, fresh vegetables and fruits for unhealthy snacks, etc. The options are really endless and the healthy foods that are available, even in the closest grocery store are plentiful. Now that I am maintaining a higher level of health, I don't suffer so tremendously if I have an occasional cheat. I still love chips, particularly the salt and vinegar variety or an occasional glass of wine, but researching and making the connection between my health symptoms and the foods I eat has been life changing in so many ways. I have freedom that I have never known before. Although I love food, I am no longer a victim of poor dietary choices. I like to think of myself as one of the many voyagers into the new world of sustainable eating.  If it were not for the arduous journey of food allergies when my boys were younger and my own past suffering, I would have never stumbled upon all of the great information about healthy sustenance. But as Maya Angelou says, "When you know better, you do better."


For those who are reading this post and do not know where to begin, I offer some links and tips to help you begin your journey. Clean eating is the first term I ever "googled" and there are so many resources online. We are in the age of information and I find that the Internet and library are great places to go for healthy eating tips and recipes. I was surprised at how many cookbooks for sensitive eating and whole food/clean eating our local library has on hand.

Tips for eating healthy on a budget:
My very part-time job provides the finances for all the food in our house. Eating healthier does cost a bit more money, but for us it was not an option to buy convenience, prepackaged foods any longer. I found that cutting back in other areas of our life helped us save money, for instance not eating out, cutting our entertainment budget (we tend to like to stay home anyway),  hand making Christmas gifts, budgeting and formulating a weekly meal plan. Here are some additional resources:

Turning your unhealthy favorite foods into healthy ones:

How to convince yourself that you really like fruits and vegetables:
For me this was mind over matter and still is! When I first tried coconut water, which is beneficial in so many ways, I really could not stand the taste, yet I had researched all the reasons I should be drinking it to prevent dehyration and so I kept trying it. It was obvious that my body really needed it but my mind just couldn't make the connection at first. After a few days of persistently trying and telling myself that I liked it, I loved it, I needed it, etc, I grew to actually like it! My oldest son saw me do this as well, and he attempted it himself. He found that after about the fifth time of drinking coconut water, he loved it! It's amazing how powerful the mind can be!

Finally, my personal top 5 tips to remember..

1. Eating healthy is not just a diet, it is a lifestyle change. When we tell ourselves that we are dieting, we tend to think about all of the foods we cannot eat, but changing your life to include healthier options is really more about gaining than losing! Keep a list of all of the things you believe you will gain and focus on that list every day, especially the first two weeks when cravings get the best of you.

2. Do not give up. There are really no mistakes in this journey; if you fall off the horse, just get back on. So you caved and gave into that doughnut at work? Be mindful of your lunch choices. New recipe did not turn out? (I get this, it can be frustrating especially if you bought special ingredients for it!) Try a different recipe next time or try the same recipe again. There is no right or wrong way of transforming your health if you are willing to keep trying!

3. Be patient. This is a journey and not a destination (cliche right?!) No one arrives at great health overnight. Our bodies first go through a detoxing period and you may feel worse before you feel better. This is to be expected. Don't give up on vegetables if you end up in the restroom more often. We have to be patient as our bodies adjust to this new healthy way of eating. It was a very long journey to get to where I am and it involved a lot of trial and error. Give yourself time!

4. No one has the perfect solution for you except YOU. Each of us is formulated perfectly unique, our genes, body structures, taste buds, chemistry, etc. The paleo diet might suit one person fine but an all vegan diet is better for the next. When I began learning about candida and healing chronic yeast issues, there was competing information everywhere and it left me with my head spinning! Some said to cut out all sugar including fruit while others said to eat only fruit! If I tried to adopt one specific way of eating, I often failed. So I came up with what worked best for me and my family, picking and choosing a little of each with the help of a nutritionist and alternative doctor. Even today I try things that I believe will be beneficial but due to sensitivities, end up making me bloated. Don't get frustrated if Jane's perfect diet does not work for you. Which leads me to the last tip...

5. Listen to your body, it will provide you with the answers. When I began to adopt a healthier way of eating, becoming more in tune with my body by paying attention to food cravings, symptoms, hunger pains, etc., I found all the wisdom I needed by listening to what it was saying. For instance, before I drank enough water, I never felt thirsty, so I just assumed that my body was getting enough. It wasn't until I realized how dehydrated I was, after drinking 16 ounces of water when I first woke up each morning, that I became more sensitive to the feeling of thirst throughout the day. The more I feed my body what it needs, the more it tells me what is working and what is not. It is easy to ignore our bodies cues, but they are there for a purpose, so listen closely and you will discover what is best for you!

Many blessings for good health and wellness!!

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