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Meal Ideas: Super Healthy Heart Sausage Soup

This post is part of the Meal Ideas series. Finding something to eat that is simultaneously affordable, quick to prepare, healthy, AND delicious can be next-to-impossible sometimes. In this section I post pictures of the food I make, links to recipes I love, and some tips for saving time and money while still cooking great-tasting healthy food.

Awhile ago, I wrote two blog posts (Part One and Part Two) about what I eat for breakfast and how that has gradually changed as I have figured out the sort of diet that works best for me and as I have shifted towards a focus on nutrient-density in all of my meals. Since then, my food choices have continued to evolve as I uncover more information about how to optimize health with food, so today I want to share the recipe for my current go-to breakfast.

The inspiration for this breakfast was Stacy from The Paleo Parents, who has written about how she eats soup for breakfast every morning. In January, bored with the breakfast I’d been eating nearly every morning for six months (yes, it takes me that long to get tired of a food – I’m a creature of habit), I decided to try throwing my homemade sausages and veggies into some broth to try to mix things up. The warm soup was a wonderful way to start a cold, Canadian winter day, so I decided to stick with it, making adjustments along the way to optimize both taste and nutrition.

Beef Heart Sausage Soup with Carrots, Parsnips, Kale, and Ginger

Beef Heart Sausage Soup with Carrots, Parsnips, Kale, and Ginger

NOTE: Follow the links in the ingredients list for details on the health benefits of each of the components of this soup.

MAKE AHEAD — In order to keep breakfast prep time to a minimum, it’s important to make the bone broth and the sausages ahead of time. These instructions will make enough for one week’s worth of soup, but they can be halved, doubled, or tripled easily.

Ingredients

  • 2-3 lb beef or chicken bones
  • water
  • 1-2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 lb grass-fed, grass-finished beef, minced
  • 1.5 lb beef heart, minced (this can be done in a meat grinder or a food processor)
  • Salt and pepper (or other seasonings if desired)

Tools

  • Stock pot or slow cooker
  • Large mixing bowl
  • 2 baking sheets (or 1 large)
  • Parchment paper

Method

  1. Place bones in stock pot or slow cooker. Fill pot with water. Add apple cider vinegar.
  2. Bring water to boil. Reduce to simmer. Leave to simmer for 12-48 hours (the longer it simmers, the more nutrients will be in the broth). When the broth is done, store it in glass jars or other containers.
  3. Preheat oven to 400F
  4. Combine ground beef and ground beef heart in a large mixing bowl. Mix in salt and pepper or other seasonings.
  5. Place parchment paper on each baking sheet.
  6. Form the beef/heart mixture into patties (approximately 4 oz each – 14 total). Place 7 patties on each baking sheet.
  7. Bake for 18-20 minutes.
  8. Remove from the oven. Let cool. Store.

DAY-OF — With the broth and sausages prepared ahead of time, there won’t be as much prep to do on the day-of. If you don’t have enough time in the morning, consider also steaming the vegetables ahead of time (while you’re making the sausages) so all you have to do the day-of is reheat and season the soup.

Ingredients

Tools

  • Chopping board
  • Knife
  • Medium saucepan
  • Wooden spoon
  • Measuring spoons

Method

  1. Chop carrots, parsnips, and kale to your desired size
  2. Combine carrots, parsnips, gelatin, ginger and bone broth in the saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium.
  3. When carrots begin to soften, add kale and sausage to the pot.
  4. Season with turmeric, sea salt, and pepper. Add coconut oil.
  5. Simmer until carrots are soft enough to be pierced by a fork. (Total cooking time may be 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the carrots).
  6. Remove pot from heat. Serve and enjoy.

My Meal Rotation: Low-FODMAP AIP Recipe Roundup

This post is part of the Meal Ideas series. Finding something to eat that is simultaneously affordable, quick to prepare, healthy, AND delicious can be next-to-impossible sometimes. In this section I post pictures of the food I make, links to recipes I love, and some tips for saving time and money while still cooking great-tasting healthy food.

In the guest post I wrote for The Paleo Mom blog, I suggested that a useful way to save time in the kitchen is to use a standard meal rotation: a list of several recipes (enough for a few weeks’  worth of meals) that you know how to make quickly and easily and that your family loves. This can be helpful because, by using the same recipes frequently, you’ll learn to make them faster and more easily and, by using the recipes on a rotating basis, your family won’t get tired of eating the same food all the time.

After I posted that, I received several comments asking for examples of this sort of meal rotation. I have decided, therefore, to share with you the meal rotation list that I currently use, including links to some of my favourite go-to recipes.

Because the meal ideas shared below are the ones I currently use in my rotation, they all adhere to a low-FODMAP, autoimmune protocol (AIP) paleo diet and contain modifications to that effect. For those of you who are able to tolerate high-FODMAP vegetables and/or nightshades, I highly recommend that you include a larger variety of vegetables in your side dishes. More advice on how to modify this meal rotation to fit your individual lifestyle and needs will be listed later.

1. Slow-cooked whole chicken with lemon and rosemary / roasted carrots and parsnips / steamed zucchini

2. Beef roast with gravy (omit the garlic, fennel, and Yorkshire pudding) / mashed rutabaga / roasted green beans

3. Panfried fish (any kind) marinated with herbs de provence and lemon / mashed turnip / cucumber salad (only use green parts of green onions)

4. Slow-cooked beef tongue / mofongo (mashed plantain with bacon) / braised kale

5. AIP hidden-liver meatloaf  (omit the celery, onion, garlic, paprika, fennel, and cayenne) / mixed green salad with olive oil and red wine vinegar / roasted carrots

6. Shrimp stir fry with kelp noodles, shredded carrots, baby bok choy, bamboo shoots, and water chestnuts (based on this recipe for shrimp chow mein)

7. Bun-less burgers (replace guacamole with homemade basil pesto) / kale chips / carrot fries

8. Bacon-wrapped chicken thighs / plantain chips / steamed zucchini

9. Zucchini lasagna (follow the low-FODMAP modifications) / mixed green salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar / roasted parsnips

10. Panfried shrimp marinated in herbes de provence and lemon / zucchini “pasta” (omit garlic and walnuts) / steamed carrots

11. Beef liver (omit onions) / mashed rutabaga / braised chard

12. Beef heart soup with ginger, carrots, parsnips, and kale (recipe coming soon)

13. Herb-crusted pork loin (omit garlic and paprika) / carrot and ginger soup (omit onions and garlic) / braised kale

14. Beef stew with turnips and greens (omit onions and garlic)

In my household (two people and occasional guests) these 14 meals generally last us for 4 weeks: I make 4-6 servings of each, enough for one freshly-cooked meal and one meal of leftovers. (A serving size in my house is generally 6-8 oz of meat with 2-4 cups of vegetables on the side). To modify this for a larger household, I recommend doubling or even tripling the recipes so that they can feed more people.

To devise your own meal rotation, pick out recipes that you know well and that you really enjoy. Pay attention to how long each meal takes to cook: if you don’t have much time for cooking, opt for slow cooker recipes and ones that can quickly be fried up in a pan on the stove. Also pay attention to the relative prep times and cooking methods of your side dishes: don’t plan to cook two things in the oven at the same time but different temperatures, because it’s not going to work. Moreover, it’s important to balance the relative difficulty-level of the main dishes and side dishes: if you plan to prepare an elaborate main dish, keep the side dishes simple, and vice versa.

Once you have your meal rotation planned, test it out. Pay attention to how long it takes to prep and cook a certain meal and how to time your prep so that everything’s ready for the table at approximately the same time. This sort of information can be really useful when you’re deciding when to use that recipe again: is it more suited to a weeknight? or a weekend? should you prep the side dishes 30 minutes before the main dish is out of the oven? If you’re particularly keen, you can take a moment to write these notes on the recipe so you’ll have them for future reference.

While it’s nice to rely on the same meal rotation all the time, it’s a good idea to switch a few of the meals up every so often, especially to account for seasonal availability and cooking methods. The meals listed above are part of my winter menu and therefore contain a large number of starchy root vegetables, which are the only local veggies available in my area this time of year. I also opt more for roasted vegetables and wilted/braised greens in the winter, whereas in the summer I go for fresh salads. Modifying your meal rotation every three or four months to fit the seasons can also keep your meals from getting boring or repetitive.

However you choose to modify your meal rotation plan, I hope you’ll find it to be a helpful, time-saving tool for your kitchen.

Have any other meal rotation ideas or tips? Post them in the comments below!

Treats and Cheats: Re-Thinking “Forbidden Foods”

This post is part of the Tips From a Student series. The student lifestyle can sometimes be non-conducive to health. In this section I share my own strategies for balancing health, school, and social life.

Fruit Salad

Last week, in my post about orthorexia, I wrote about how important it is to think about food in a healthy way. No matter how healthy the food you’re eating is, mindset is key — especially if you have a history of disordered eating habits like so many of us do. Having a healthy mindset, however, is much more difficult than it sounds: there’s no switch you can flip to suddenly change the way you relate to food on a subconscious, emotional, or psychological level. This week, therefore, I want to share some tips about how to alter your mindset to think about food, especially treats, in a healthy, sustainable way.

In a search for health and/or fat loss, it is inevitable that you will stumble upon a program (or many programs) that advises you to eliminate something, to treat something as “forbidden”. This may be a particular group of foods (meat, grains, dairy, etc.), a particular micronutrient (fat, carbs, or protein), or something else (calories, sodium, cholesterol, etc.). Any program that wants to help you gain health or lose weight will almost certainly eliminate (or dramatically reduce) at least one of these elements. Leaving aside the issue of whether any individual program’s recommendations are in fact conducive to health, we can assume that these recommendations are at least intended to be healthy.

By categorizing any food or food group as “forbidden,” however, these recommendations have the potential to feed into the disordered mental processes of many individuals. An obsession begins over foods that are “allowed” and “not allowed,” and things like self-worth begin to hinge on those choices. On one end of the spectrum, this can lead to orthorexia: obsessive adherence to a way of eating characterized by self-punishment at the prospect of failure. On the other end of the spectrum, it leads to failure to adhere to the program: overwhelming guilt and often resignation from the program after a supposed “cheat”.

A low-carb dieter might sometimes give into the temptation of a bowl of pasta. A low-calorie dieter might binge on chocolate bars and ice cream. These are common experiences, but they create the illusion of a lazy, weak-willed population, unable to resist temptation. I personally, however, find it hard to have so little faith in humanity: I refuse to believe that all of those people out there trying so hard to get healthy are failing just because of a lack of will power. (NOTE: This is a multi-faceted issue that lies at the very heart of my interest in health and nutrition. Today I’m looking at the mental health side of the problem, but in future posts I will address the issue further).

How, then, can we change the way people are thinking about these “forbidden” foods? How can we avoid self-punishment, guilt, and failure? The following are four tips that helped (and continue to help) me immensely in fighting my disordered mindset.

Reframe the Question

One useful way to avoid thinking about “forbidden” foods and therefore opening yourself up to ideas like “failure” is to reframe the project in your mind. Instead of thinking about the foods you can’t eat, think about the ones you can. Instead of thinking about eliminating/reducing carbohydrates, think about adding protein, fat, and non-starchy vegetables. Instead of thinking about avoiding sodium or trans fats, focus on choosing real foods like vegetables and unprocessed meats (they’ll have less sodium and trans fat than low-sodium processed food anyway). By thinking about food with positive statements instead of negative ones, you set yourself up to be more positive about your food choices.

Make Things Clear

If there are specific foods that you have chosen to avoid, make sure you know why you have eliminated them. Decisions really only have power behind them when you make them for you. Just because your doctor (or partner, or friend, or diet guru) tells you something is healthy, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you really believe them or that the choice was really yours. Before deciding to avoid something, make sure you really believe it.

Food intolerances and allergies make this part really easy. If you know that a certain food is going to send you running to the washroom, give you a rash, or put you into anaphylactic shock, it’s a lot easier to avoid it: there is a clear, short-term consequence. Similarly, moral, ethical, or religious food decisions are easy to make because there is strong mental structure behind those choices.

On the other hand, avoiding something just for the heck of it or because someone told you to will be extremely difficult, setting you up for failure. If you’re in this situation, think carefully about why you are really eliminating those foods. Are you reducing your carbohydrate intake to lose fat? Are you avoiding soy and corn products because you oppose genetic modification? Whatever your reasons are, make them clear so that you know why you’re making the decision to avoid that food.

Turn It Into a Lifestyle

We’ve all heard it before: this isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle. Often what people mean when they say that is that it’s a long-term diet program and/or that it incorporates lifestyle factors apart from food, like sleep and exercise. When I say lifestyle, I’m talking about something much more encompassing: a mentality that allows for sustainability. In the space of a three-week detox or a quick fat-loss plan, you might be able to avoid a long list of “forbidden” foods entirely. In the space of a lifetime, however, total avoidance is difficult to maintain without falling prey to some form of mental disorder. Sometimes, as in the case of allergies, intolerances, and moral/ethical/religious convictions, it is necessary (and therefore easier) to avoid certain foods. For others decisions, however, like avoiding sugar or genetically-modified products, it is sometimes better to be flexible and make peace with the idea of occasional treats — it will depend on the food and your own situation how often these treats should be incorporated.

NOTE: Be careful not to turn these exceptions or treats into rules (for example, I can have one piece of chocolate cake each week or I can only have french fries on days that I also go to the gym). These sorts of rules have good intentions behind them, but they can easily be incorporated into an orthorexic mindset. Think instead about what treats are acceptable to you and give rough guidelines about how often you can have those treats without interfering with your original goals. Most importantly, don’t think about the treats as “cheating” or “falling off the wagon”: if you can have a slice of cake now and then without de-railing your health goals, GO FOR IT!

Make Conscious Decisions

The biggest factor in all of this is woven through all of the above tips: make conscious decisions. The difference between a treat and a cheat, between a choice and a failure, is the level of involvement you had in that decision. A craving for a bowl of chocolate ice cream is fine and completely understandable: does that mean you should grab the whole carton and a spoon and start chowing down? Probably not. Does that mean you shouldn’t have any ice cream? Not necessarily. Food tastes great–there’s no denying it–but the taste only lasts a few moments: after that you have to deal with the consequences to your health. By giving into cravings for taste without thinking about the long-term consequences, we set ourselves up for guilt and self-punishment. By making a conscious decision to eat something, despite any negative consequences, we can fully enjoy it and then move on to make a lifetime’s worth of healthy decisions. Similarly, we are empowered by decisions to avoid something or to opt for a healthier option.

None of these tips will necessarily change anything about what you’re eating, but by incorporating these elements into your mindset surrounding food, you will set yourself up for success and for healthy mental processes.

Orthorexia: When Health Choices Turn Problematic

Strawberry

On a morning in June 2013, I woke up from a nightmare in a cold sweat. My heart was pounding. I could still feel the echoes of stress and emotions the dream had inspired in me. Part of me was convinced that the dream had been real. I tried to pull my thoughts together, to get a grip on reality. What had I been dreaming about? Food choices. I dreamed that I ate a bowl of strawberries.

Yes. I literally had a nightmare about eating fruit.

I should put this into context for you. Last June I had recently completed a half-marathon, and during the final weeks of training I had been carb-loading (mostly on fruits and starchy vegetables). After it was done, I was still having cravings for high-sugar foods even though I was no longer participating in any glycogen-demanding activities. I wanted to break this cycle of cravings, so I decided that for three weeks I would avoid all sugar. In addition to grains and refined sugars which I regularly avoid, I removed unrefined sugars (i.e. maple syrup, honey); starchy vegetables (i.e. potatoes, rutabaga); fruit; and alcohol from my diet for three weeks. My reasoning was that these three weeks would break the cycle of carb cravings and get me out of the habit of eating sugary snacks and desserts every day.

This sort of cold-turkey approach works for some people. For other people, like me, challenges like this can be really problematic. For people like me, having a list of “forbidden foods” that cannot be eaten for any given period of time can lead to a disordered way of thinking about those foods and about eating in general. This type of thinking is known as “orthorexia nervosa.” Though orthorexia is not an officially recognized disorder, it is a widely-recognized label for this common sort of disordered thinking. The National Eating Disorders Association defines orthorexia as follows:

“Those who have an “unhealthy obsession” with otherwise healthy eating may be suffering from “orthorexia nervosa,” a term which literally means “fixation on righteous eating.”  Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity.  They become consumed with what and how much to eat, and how to deal with “slip-ups.”  An iron-clad will is needed to maintain this rigid eating style.  Every day is a chance to eat right, be “good,” rise above others in dietary prowess, and self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts and exercise).  Self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the purity of orthorexics’ diet and they sometimes feel superior to others, especially in regard to food intake.” (Karin Kratina, PhD, RD, LD/N)

Orthorexia can present as strict calorie-counting, adherence to a specific diet, or obsessive exercise: these are things we see often in North American society, but the important thing to remember is that it is the thought process behind orthorexia that is problematic. Choosing to eliminate soda from one’s diet, for instance, is arguably a healthy decision. However, if giving into temptation and having a single soda leads to overwhelming guilt and self-punishment, then that is not a healthy way to live.

It’s ironic that such an unhealthy way of thinking could be associated with a search for health. Looking back on the last few years of my life, I know I have had quite a bit of personal experience with this sort of thinking, but it was only on that day in June 2013 that I really recognized it in myself and knew I had to fight against it. When I woke up from that nightmare, in which I was genuinely freaking out at the idea that I had failed in this challenge I had set myself, I knew I had to change something about the way I was thinking about food.

I won’t claim here to be completely “cured”: I’m sure that elements of this disordered way of thinking will follow me for my entire life. I have in the last seven months, however, figured out a few things to help deal with it. The first is being aware of how I’m feeling and reacting to food choices: am I choosing to eat or not eat something because it’s my conscious choice? or because it’s a “rule”? The second is making sure that I never feel deprived: I may choose not to eat grains or processed foods most of the time, but it’s always a choice, and when I feel like having a chocolate bar, I have one. The third is focusing on adding good stuff to my diet instead of eliminating bad stuff: instead of focusing on not eating pasta, I focus on eating more of my favourite vegetables at each meal. The more I consciously think this way, the easier it gets to avoid more problematic ways of thinking about food, but I’ve still got a long way to go.

I’m putting this out there today because I don’t think I’m alone in this. I have battled with binge eating for many years, and I thought I’d overcome it only to find that I’d just replaced it with orthorexia. Eating disorders come in many forms, but besides anorexia and bulimia very few are widely acknowledged. It’s beyond painful to admit to yourself that these are issues you need to face, but it’s important to be open about it, to talk about it, and to hope that doing so may help someone else.

Book Review: Practical Paleo (by Diane Sanfilippo, BS, NC)

Practical PaleoI bought Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo in March 2013, so I’m writing this review with more than seven months of experience with this book under my belt. After that much time, I can say confidently that this is one of the most useful books in my collection. At 416 pages, this is not a book that can easily be carried around, but in my kitchen it has become a go-to reference guide  for both health and cooking questions.

Health Information (4.5/5)

Although I most frequently use this book as a cookbook (it contains over 100 recipes), I didn’t originally buy it for the food. The first part of the book (124 pages) is devoted entirely to what Sanfilippo calls “The Why–Food and Your Body”. As a Certified Nutrition Consultant, Sanfilippo has lots of experience both learning about how food impacts health and advising clients on how to heal themselves with nutrition. This balance of knowledge and practical experience comes through in the easy-to-understand explanations in this first section, which range from “What is Paleo?” to “Your Digestive System.”

She gives basic information about how the body systems work and how food interacts with those systems. She also provides tips for how to tell if something is wrong and recommendations for how to deal with many issues. One of the most useful pages in the whole book is page 75: a “guide to: your poop!” On this page is a cartoon “poop pageant” which gives hilarious visual representations of what you might be seeing in the toilet. Beneath the cartoon is an explanation of each type (there are seven), what causes that kind of elimination, and tips for how to deal with any non-ideal types.

Beyond this sort of health information, Sanfilippo also supplies useful, practical tips for how to implement a paleo or real food lifestyle. As much as people may like to joke about paleo and “living like a caveman,” it is actually a lifestyle that is relatively easy to fit into modern North American society. By providing guides to grocery shopping, eating out, and travelling, Sanfilippo makes transitioning to real food even easier.

The only thing I’m not wild about in this section is the lack of detailed references. There are references for specific statistics and quotes, but largely the book relies on you to trust in Sanfilippo’s Nutrition Consultant certification. As an academic, I prefer to see clearer evidence that an author has done lots of research on these subjects. This is a book geared more towards a lay audience, however, so many the citation style used is acceptable in this case.

Recipes (5/5)

The recipe section in my copy of this book is covered in post-it notes: all of the recipes I love or want to try are marked. A large portion of the recipes are basic, everyday types of recipes like the “citrus & herb whole roasted chicken” (pg. 256), the “perfectly baked bacon” (pg. 236), and the “mashed faux-tatoes” (pg. 344), but many are more experimental like the “tomatillo shrimp cocktail” (pg. 312) and the “vanilla bean tahini truffles” (pg. 396). The recipes are divided into several sections: kitchen basics, which includes a recipe for bone broth as well as instructions on how to chop vegetables; breakfast; poultry; beef & bison; seafood; lamb; sides & salads; sauces & dips; and, finally, treats & sweets.

Many of the go-to meals in my kitchen come from this book. I love the “rainbow red cabbage salad” for a summer party or potluck because it is bright and colourful (from the cabbage, carrots, broccoli, and mango) and it is really easy to put together: no cooking required. Many of the vegetable side dishes like the “sautéed red cabbage with onions and apples” are also favourites.

What’s really great about each recipe is the information provided in the sidebars. On each page, it is noted whether a recipe contains nuts, eggs, nightshades, or FODMAPs (four common intolerances explained in the first section of the book) so that anyone looking to avoid those foods can have a quick-glance way of determining whether a certain recipe is OK. The sidebar also contains notes on possible substitutions for people avoiding one or more of those foods.

There are also suggested meal plans in the book that give specific suggestions for different health conditions (like autoimmune conditions, neurological health, and cancer recovery) and goals (like athletic performance and fat loss). I’m not a big fan of meal plans in general, so I can’t speak to their utility specifically. However, they do seem well put-together, and there are shopping lists for each of the meals plans that are accessible on Sanfilippo’s website.

Food Photography (5/5)

As much as I may love the recipes, the food photography in any cookbook is really what decides whether I use it or not. A cookbook with few or no pictures will remain on my shelf, largely untouched, but one that contains beautiful, colour-filled pictures will frequently be used. All of the pictures in Practical Paleo were taken by Bill Staley of The Food Lovers Kitchen and really the only way to describe them is as food porn. Each recipe contains at least one full-page, full-colour picture of the prepared dish, and some also contain process pictures to guide the reader through the preparation of the recipe itself.

Overall Layout & Appearance (4/5)

Just like the photos, the overall appearance of this book is excellent: the text is colourful and well-formatted (the author’s experience in graphic design is evident). Even in the health section, where the information could easily have been presented in a textbook-boring way, there are colourful cartoons and charts to keep the reader engaged.

The only real complaint I have about this book is how large it is. All of the information is very useful, but I often wish that it had been divided in two: a health book and a cookbook. It always seems awkward to me to pull a book off my cookbook shelf when I have a question about my digestive health. Also, with the book being so large, it is difficult to keep it propped open on the counter while I cook.

Overall, I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about nutrition and health in an accessible way or to anyone who just wants some really good recipes to use on an everyday basis. 

Meal Ideas: Chicken Thighs with Squash Fries and Braised Greens

This post is part of the Meal Ideas series. Finding something to eat that is simultaneously affordable, quick to prepare, healthy, AND delicious can be next-to-impossible sometimes. In this section I post pictures of the food I make, links to recipes I love, and some tips for saving time and money while still cooking great-tasting healthy food.

Chicken thighs with butternut squash fries and braised rainbow chard

Chicken thighs with butternut squash fries and braised rainbow chard

As the weather has gotten progressively colder over the last month, I have found my mind more and more frequently turning to meals like this one. There’s something about fall weather that just begs for roasted squash or root vegetables, and the chicken — with crispy skin right out of the oven — seems like the perfect pairing.

This is a great meal to make for company because all of the prep can be done ahead of time: all that’s left to do right before dinner is to quickly braise the greens and to take the chicken and fries out of the oven.

Ingredients

  • 6-10 Chicken thighs (however many will fit on your baking sheet)
  • 1 Butternut squash (a few sweet potatoes would also work well)
  • 1 bunch swiss chard (or kale or spinach or a combination)
  • 3-6 Tbsp coconut oil (or other cooking fat)
  • 2 tsp herbes de provence
  • salt and pepper
  • water

Tools

  • vegetable peeler
  • 2 baking sheets
  • parchment paper
  • frying pan

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 F
  2. Peel and cut the squash according to these instructions. Cut into fry-shaped wedges or 1″ cubes, depending on your preference.
  3. Place parchment paper on each baking sheet
  4. Melt coconut oil
  5. Spread out squash pieces on one baking sheet.
  6. Toss with 1-2 Tbsp coconut oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  7. Place chicken thighs on the other baking sheet
  8. Mix the herbes de provence with 1-2 Tbsp coconut oil. Spread over the chicken thighs.
  9. Place both baking sheets in the oven for 40-45 minutes. Flip squash half-way through (20 minutes).
  10. After about 30 minutes, roughly chop the greens, removing the stems.
  11. Place frying pan on the stove over medium-high heat and add remaining coconut oil to the pan.
  12. Sauté greens along with coconut oil and some water according to these instructions.
  13. When the greens are fully wilted, serve alongside the chicken thighs and squash fries.

How To: Afford Real Food on a Budget

This post is part of the Tips From a Student series. The student lifestyle can sometimes be non-conducive to health. In this section I share my own strategies for balancing health, school, and social life.

One of the most difficult parts about a switch to a Real Food lifestyle is learning how to deal with how expensive real food can be in comparison to processed alternatives. When you’re on a tight budget, it can be really tempting to just grab a bag of pasta and a can of tomato sauce (which will cost only a few dollars and will feed you for days), but in the long term that sort of diet could lead to all sorts of nutrient deficiencies and other health problems. On the other hand, the price tags on fresh vegetables and meat can definitely make you think twice about making healthy choices. In the last year, I’ve learned a few things about how to make healthy eating financially feasible on a student budget.

Budget Priorities

The first thing to decide is what level of priority food has in your budget. How important is it to you? This is different for everyone, and sometimes it changes over time. If you have very little income and a lot of student debt, you’re probably going to be looking for the least expensive options for everything, including food. However, if you have some flexibility with your budget, maybe you’ll decide that buying more tender cuts of meat or opting for organic vegetables is something that matters to you. It may cost a little more, but if you feel it’s important to your health, maybe it’s worth it. The important thing is to evaluate those priorities so that you know what to spend your money on once you get to the grocery store.

Eating Out

Eating out (or ordering in) is generally a major part of the student lifestyle. It’s an easy way to meet up with friends, and it’s often more convenient than cooking something at home (because who has time to cook or do dishes when there’s a paper due?). However, it can often get VERY expensive, especially when a dinner out turns into an evening of drinks with friends. Plus, for the type of food that can usually be found at a student pub, you’re being massively overcharged. If you’re looking to be more healthy on a budget, eating out is a great thing to cut out: you save money, and you can redirect that $20-30 you would have spent on one meal with a drink towards a quality real food meal at home.

If you usually eat out with friends, try inviting them over to your place for a meal instead. It’s pretty easy to make a large meal for under $20, so you wouldn’t be spending any more money (probably less), and you would get to keep the leftovers. Your friends will probably love saving the money too, and they might even chip in for ingredients, bring over a side dish or dessert, or reciprocate sometime by cooking dinner for you.

Meat (and other protein)

Now I’ll give you some practical tips for grocery shopping. The first thing to do is find a good grocery store: one that frequently has good deals on produce or sales on meat, and preferably one with a 10% student discount (many Loblaws stores have student discounts on Tuesdays). Convenience stores ARE NOT a good place to buy food: even if they have anything worth eating, it’s going to be marked up outrageously. (Yesterday I was in my local convenience store and saw canned bamboo shoots — which I buy from Loblaws for less than $2 — for $3.99!). Definitely find a real grocery store.

Protein can be one of the most expensive elements of any diet. Meat and fish, especially, are hard to afford on a budget. Eggs are a great, inexpensive alternative, with a dozen usually selling for between 3 and 4 dollars. For meat, the best options are usually ground meat and organ meats. Conventional ground meat (the type from grain-fed animals that can be found a grocery stores) is usually sold for $3-4 per pound, and organ meat is even less expensive because it’s not very popular (though it is the most nutrient-dense meat available). Fresh fish is generally very expensive, but canned fish is usually more reasonable, and it often goes on sale. Canned fish like sardines and wild salmon ($1-4/can) are excellent sources of omega-3 fats and calcium.

Grass-fed or pastured meat is generally more expensive than the conventional type, so it depends on your budgeting priorities whether you think its health benefits are worth it. This is a useful post from The Paleo Mom which ranks the health benefits of various different types of meat and fish; it can help you decide if something is worth the price. If you do decide to eat good quality meats sometimes, try to get them directly from the farmer. Some butchers will carry grass-fed beef, but it’s usually more expensive than getting it from the farmer. A grass-fed beef farmer who I met at my local farmer’s market sells me 5 pounds of ground beef for $20 and organ meat for $2/lb.

If you prefer more expensive cuts of meat like steaks or roasts, I recommend waiting until they’re on sale at the grocery store and then stocking up. Often grocery stores will give big discounts for any meat that’s approaching its best-before date; buy it and freeze it until you want to use it. That goes for any type of meat on sale: chicken thighs and whole chickens go on sale frequently for as little as $2/lb. I periodically go to Costco to stock up on inexpensive meat; the picture below is about $400 worth of meat at an average of $4.50/lb.

What my freezer looked like after my last Costco trip.

What my freezer looked like after my last Costco trip.

Vegetables

Vegetables are a little harder to budget than meat because most types of veggies are harder to freeze and save for later. However, vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, cauliflower, and broccoli are always good ones to chop up and keep in the freezer. Similarly, tomatoes can be made into huge batches of tomato paste and sauce to be preserved or frozen and kept for later. This can be useful in cold climates where very few vegetables are in season over the winter.

The best idea for buying vegetables on a budget is buying seasonally. Usually, if something is in season and local, it will be less expensive than something that had to be shipped a long way. Plus, if it’s in season, there is plenty available to meet the demand, so the prices will be lower — unlike when you’re looking for strawberries in December. Most grocery stores will have signs that tell you in which country the vegetables were grown. If you’re in Canada like me, opt for veggies from Canada or the US instead of from Chile or China.

Alternatively, find a few staples that are inexpensive all year round to use as go-to options. Things like cooking onions, carrots, mushrooms, and bananas don’t vary in price much during the year and are all fairly inexpensive. Similarly, squashes are generally sold for about $1/lb for a large portion of the year.

If you have the time and/or inclination, growing some of your own foods would be a useful budgeting tool. However, if you’re a student, you probably, like me, don’t have enough time or space to do any gardening.

Pantry Items

Pantry items are things that can really tie a meal together. It is important to have a stock pile of herbs, spices, oils, vinegars, cooking fats, condiments, etc. on hand to make a meal really interesting. These are the sorts of things that you don’t need to buy every week: you can stock up on them once and then just replace them gradually as they’re used up. Unfortunately, they tend to cost a lot when you do need to buy them.

The most important thing to do when stocking pantry items is to keep an eye out for sales. If you have a favourite brand of olive oil, buy 2 or 3 bottles when it goes on sale. Also try buying in bulk when possible. Spices, especially, can be bought in bulk and are less expensive that way than when they are sold together with jars or containers of any kind. Buy the spices in bulk and store them in reused condiment containers or jars from the dollar store.

The type of pantry item that I have found to be most unnecessarily expensive is baking ingredients. “Healthy” baking (with grain-free flours and natural sugars) ends up being a very expensive undertaking. If that’s important to you, try finding the ingredients in bulk (Bulk Barn is a great place to look). Personally, I just don’t bother baking except on special occasions, and I save my money for the vegetables and meat that I care more about.

 

These are the tools I use to eat real food on a student budget. If you have any other ideas, please post them in the comments below. I’d love to hear more suggestions 😀

 

Personal Hurdles: Weight Fluctuations

I admire people who don’t own scales. I admire people who don’t know what they weigh.

I am not one of those people. I own a scale and I know exactly what I weigh. In fact, after so many years of obsessing over the number on the scale, I can now look in the mirror and accurately estimate my weight (within 1 lb). Even if I got rid of my scale tomorrow, I’d still know exactly how much I weigh.

Weight has been an important measurement for me since middle school. Like many (if not most) people in our society, I saw weight as being the most significant indicator of health. Thin people were healthy; fat people were not. Obesity was the cause of health issues (heart disease, diabetes, joint pain, etc.).

I have since realized that my assumptions here were false. Sure, obesity is often correlated with health issues, but it is false to assume that those who have a low BMI are automatically healthier. Being a “healthy” weight does not guarantee health; thin people are also plagued by IBS, infertility, cancers, autoimmune conditions, and all manner of other issues (including type 2 diabetes which many people I encounter seem to think is related to weight alone). Obesity may be correlated with ill health, but it is very unlikely to be the root cause.

I saw this first hand. From when I was 19 to when I was 20, I lost more than 60 lbs (from a BMI of 34 to one of 23). I had gone from obese to “normal” in a year, but my health hadn’t really improved. My asthma was better, yes, but not gone, and during the course of the year I’d developed a circulation condition called Raynaud’s Disease. On top of that, my knees had started to hurt (just a little) when I exercised — at the ripe old age of 20. These are relatively minor health issues, so I brushed them off as irrelevant and pushed on to reach my weight loss goals. Looking back, however, I realize that this should have clued me into the fact that 60 lbs were not the only thing standing between me and health.

As I write this today I am approximately 140 lbs. It’s about 10 lbs heavier than my lightest weight and about 5 lbs heavier than the weight at which I feel most healthy. I’m still not able to say I don’t care about these numbers. There’s a voice in my head telling me that if I just lost those 10 (or maybe 15) lbs, that my thighs/calves/stomach/arms will look better. That voice still pushes me to lose that weight in any way possible. I can’t tell you that voice doesn’t exist, but I can tell you that I no longer listen to it. What I am able to say today is that I no longer think of weight as the sole marker of my health, and my goal is not to lose weight but to become optimally healthy.

Maybe in the future I’ll put on muscle and look smaller, even at the same weight, or maybe I’ll put on both weight and muscle, or maybe I’ll stay exactly the same size and weight I am right now. I don’t know how my body will change in the future, but I do know that I will continue to ignore that voice in my head and one day (maybe soon) I’ll throw out that scale entirely.

Meal Ideas: Liver and Onions

This post is part of the Meal Ideas series. Finding something to eat that is simultaneously affordable, quick to prepare, healthy, AND delicious can be next-to-impossible sometimes. In this section I post pictures of the food I make, links to recipes I love, and some tips for saving time and money while still cooking great-tasting healthy food.

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Grass-Fed Beef Liver and Onions with Mashed Rutabaga

It took me a long time to work up the courage to try making this meal for the first time. Like many people, I grew up with a socialized prejudice towards organ meat, especially liver. This was not helped by the fact that one of the only times I ever tried it  was in a restaurant where they’d overcooked it. (Yuck). When I started eating paleo and decided to seek out the most nutrient-dense foods, I discovered that grass-fed beef liver is one of the most powerful superfoods out there. It’s full of vitamins, including (but not limited to) iron, zinc, B12, folate, A, D, and K2. Still, I was hesitant to try it because all I could think of was that overcooked liver taste.

This is now one of my favourite go-to meals for several reasons. First for me, of course, is nutrient density, but believe me when I say that that would not be a good enough reason to put it on the table in my household. My non-paleo boyfriend couldn’t care less about nutrition and nutrient density, but he loves this meal — the first time I made it he asked if we could have it “every night”. This is for three reasons. First, it’s inexpensive: organ meat is some of the least expensive protein around, and I buy 1.5 lb bags of grass-fed beef liver from a local farmer for $3. That’s $2 per pound! Second, it’s quick to make, so it’s an excellent candidate for a quick weeknight dinner. Third, if cooked correctly, it tastes really good. The trick is to not overcook it.

The instructions below are just for liver and onions. I recommend having one other side vegetable as well, but the type of veggie is totally up to your own tastes. My favourites with this meal are Mashed Faux-Tatoes from Practical Paleo or mashed rutabaga because they are useful to soak up the liquid from the onions. Both of those suggestions take awhile (around 45 minutes with prep usually), so if you don’t have that time, I recommend just putting something like carrots or broccoli on the stove to steam while you prepare the liver and onions.

Ingredients

  • 3 large white or yellow onions
  • 2 Tbsp cooking fat, separated (I usually use bacon grease or tallow for this)
  • 1-1.5 lbs grass-fed beef liver, strips
  • red wine (or red wine vinegar), to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Tools

  • Large-bottomed pan (preferably stainless steel)

Method

  1. Slice onions thinly
  2. Melt 1 Tbsp cooking fat over medium-high heat
  3. Add onions to the pan; sauté until translucent (usually 15-20 minutes)
  4. When onions are done, remove from the pan
  5. Melt the second Tbsp of cooking fat in the pan
  6. Add strips of beef liver to the pan
  7. Cook for 60-90 seconds on each side (just until the outside is all browned — the inside should still be pink)
  8. Remove liver from the pan
  9. Add onions back to the pan and deglaze with a splash of wine or vinegar
  10. Sauté a few minutes longer (until all the tasty brown bit from the bottom of the pan have become part of the sauce)
  11. Add salt and pepper to taste
  12. Serve onions over liver and with a side of vegetables.

Getting Lost In the Science: How the Health Industry Is Leaving People Behind

Awhile ago, I read a blog post by Kevin Geary on The Rebooted Body whose title read, “The Health and Fitness Industry Is Dead. (And that Includes You, Paleo).” My first thought on seeing that title was that it would be another off-the-mark criticism (like Paleofantasy or Sally Fallon’s arguments in the WAPF newsletter) of this lifestyle I’ve chosen to adopt. What I found, however, was an incredibly insightful critique with which I almost entirely agree.

In the article, Geary attacks what he terms “high fact diets” — the sort we’ve all been exposed to from all different angles. Everywhere you look in the health and fitness industry, people are throwing “facts” at you. Someone is always trying to tell you what your macronutrient ratio should look like or how long you should exercise and at what intensity. One person might cite a study about how red wine prevents cancer and then another person might cite a study about how any alcohol at all leads to nutrient deficiency. It can get confusing and — more importantly — it can hinder people’s progress towards health.

Focused on facts, facts, and more facts, the proponents of real food diets like Paleo, Primal, Weston A. Price, Clean Eating, the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), Perfect Health, and even Raw Food and Vegan get caught up nitpicking about issues of carb and protein sourcing and whether agave nectar is a legitimate form of sweetener. They get so caught up in this that they forget about all the people out there still stuck in an endless cycle of yo-yo dieting and poor health. As Geary states, “This [paleo] revolution failed because it got lost in the science — it got lost correcting the record of mainstream medicine and forgot about developing a way to help people who are alone in the trenches, bruised and muddy from years of trying and failing.”

Now, being a nutrition nerd, I personally love learning about the science behind food choices, but even I confess to being frequently overwhelmed by the amount of information out there. And let’s face it: even if we were somehow able to find the perfect formula that would give everyone in the world perfect health, there would still be people who wouldn’t follow it. Why? Because issues of food choice and fitness are a lot less dependent on facts and information than on psychology. “The new revolution is about the psychology of success,” asserts Geary.

I’m happy to say that this fact has already been recognized in many areas of the paleo community. Bloggers like Stefani Ruper from Paleo for Women, Stacy Toth from Paleo Parents, George Bryant from Civilized Caveman Cooking Creations, Sarah Ballantyne from The Paleo Mom, and Jason Seib from Everyday Paleo have all been talking about issues of psychological motivation, disordered eating, and body image, among others. More people, however, need to join in.

This is an important issue for me because one of the major reasons that I have fully adopted a paleo lifestyle is that it helped (and is continuing to help) me work through a lot of psychological and emotional issues associated with both food and exercise. By talking about these issues, by focusing on psychology rather than nitpick-y facts (like whether or not to eat rice), real food diets like Paleo and many others can affect people’s lives in bigger ways than through health and fitness alone. As Geary states, “[T]he information alone isn’t helping people: it stands no chance when confronting the enemies of addiction, dependency, low self worth, unhealthy body image, low confidence, depression, anxiety, and learned helplessness. It can’t correct the consequences of physical, mental, and emotional abuse, which in varying degrees is far more pervasive than anyone wants to admit.”

It clearly won’t be easy, and there isn’t just one way to address this issue, but what is clear is that it needs to addressed. We need to stop getting lost in the science and reach out to real people who are dealing with issues much bigger than whether or not potatoes are “paleo”.

 

(To read more about this, take a look at the original article on rebootedbody.com/health-fitness-dead, buy Jason Seib’s book The Paleo Coach, and check out The Paleo View and EP Lifestyle and Fitness podcasts).