Eat More Plants! 5 Tips on How to Start

It’s no secret that a plant-based diet is the way to achieve a healthy lifestyle and preserve your body and mind into old age. Well-known plant based diets, such as the Mediterranean Diet, are constantly in the headlines for their role in lowering blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, helping with weight loss, controlling diabetes, providing anti-inflammatory benefits for women with PCOS, and so on. Most people in the United States are raised on a “Western Diet” which is a diet heavier in meat, specifically red and processed meats, as well as refined grains and simple sugar.

Eggplant lasagna made with baked eggplant, topped with tomato and fresh basil and mozzarella.
Eggplant lasagna made with baked eggplant, topped with tomato sauce, fresh basil & mozzarella.

In my years of counseling people in different areas of the country on their diets, I’ve noticed that 1. people tend to eat how they were raised to eat and 2. meat is usually the focus at each meal. The reason I mention the first point is because, although it can be really hard to break a habit, especially a habit that we learned in childhood, there comes a time when adults must be held accountable for their eating habits. At what age can we no longer blame our poor eating habits on our parents? At what point does it shift from naivety to willful ignorance? If you find yourself saying things like, “Well this is how I’ve always eaten,” realize that this is an excuse. Change is not easy, but the choice is yours. Okay, I’m getting philosophical here but my main point is that, if adults tend to eat how they were raised to eat, then we as adults have an obligation to set our children up for success. How? That brings me to my second point.

We need a shift… a shift in our mindset from “meat is the star of the dish and everything else is a side” to “vegetables are the star of the dish and everything else is a side.” Before you stop reading and go grab a cheeseburger, hear me out. I’m not telling you to become a vegetarian, unless of course you’re into that sort of thing. The bottom line is this:

Eat more plants and less meat.

The extended version: eat more vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and whole grains and less red and processed meats.

Why?

  • Plants have fiber. Repeat after me: fiber is my friend. Fiber helps to regulate our blood sugar/energy level; it helps build immunity; it fills us up quicker and keeps us full longer; it pulls cholesterol out of our bodies; it prevents constipation and can help control diarrhea; it decreases our risk of colon and rectal cancer; it helps to prevent diverticulitis… need I say more? Most people do not eat enough plants, therefore, they don’t get enough fiber.
  • Meats, specifically red and processed meats, have more saturated fat than their white meat, seafood, and plant-based alternatives. Processed meats (like bacon, sausage, bologna, and hot dogs) can be loaded with sodium and preservatives too, yikes! Saturated fat leads to inflammation and makes us more insulin resistant, which is detrimental for people trying to lose weight and those with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or PCOS.

Tips for Eating a More Plant-Based Diet

  1. Eat 2-3 different vegetables at meals. While we downsize our meat portion we need to increase the plants at our meals so we don’t feel starving, since you should not be starving when eating a healthy diet. It might be a tad overwhelming to overflow your plate with asparagus (not to mention the dreaded “asparagus pee” you’d experience later on) so instead have a variety! Maybe you roast some asparagus, steam some broccoli, and have salad with your meal as well.
    • No time for roasting or steaming? Vegetables can be fresh, frozen, or canned! Microwave freezer bags are amazing, as long as they aren’t filled with a bunch of salty sauce. Don’t avoid canned vegetables, just choose ones that have “no added salt” or “low sodium” and rinse them under water.

      Spring lettuce mix topped with roasted Brussels sprouts, carrots, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, onions, and sunflower seeds.
      Spring lettuce mix topped with roasted Brussels sprouts, carrots, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, onions, and sunflower seeds.
  2. Use half the amount of ground meat you would normally use in a recipe and substitute that other half with plants! For example, when I make stuffed peppers or chili, I cook about 1/2 lb of ground meat then I dice 1/2-1 lb of mushrooms and toss them in with the meat. Mushrooms have a hearty or “meaty” texture and are so flavorful that you won’t even miss the meat. You could also use beans in place of the meat or try mincing onion, dicing zucchini, or shredding carrot and add them to your chili for a veggie-twist.
    • Not quite ready to swap your meats for veggies? Instead, try swapping ground turkey breast for ground beef or use half poultry half beef in your recipe.

      A vegetarian pepper stuffed with cauliflower and walnuts.
      A stuffed pepper filled with cauliflower and walnuts, seasoned to perfection. A dish like this is sure to please your vegetarian and meat-loving friends alike!
  3. Incorporate seafood into your diet. Seafood has so many incredible health benefits and can easily be substituted when you’d otherwise use meat. For example, instead of making chicken alfredo, try shrimp alfredo. If you typically order a burger for lunch, order a tuna sandwich instead. Throw some tuna steaks or salmon filets on the grill instead of your go-to ribeye. If the cost of seafood makes it prohibitive for you, choose frozen or canned options. Also remember, now that the meat portion of your meal is smaller, you can stretch a bag of frozen scallops or shrimp further than before.
Flavorful & healthy tuna in a toasted whole wheat sandwich with spinach, tomato, and avocado.
Flavorful & healthy tuna in a toasted whole wheat sandwich with spinach, tomato, and avocado.

4. Try new vegetables and EAT MORE. Feeling stuck in a broccoli rut? Getting tired of salad? Does the thought of mushy steamed cauliflower make you cringe? My best advice is to try different vegetables in different ways. My favorite way to eat vegetables is drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, topped with minced garlic and a dash of salt and pepper, then roasted in the oven. Roasting brings out the natural sweetness in vegetables and the slight char from the oven gives them structure and crunch. Dee-licious! We all know that a raw onion tastes a lot different than an onion in a soup, right? So before you write off Brussels sprouts or beets forever, try them cooked in a different way than you’re used to. You might surprise yourself!

  • Don’t limit your non-starchy vegetable intake. Load your plate with them AND have a salad on the side. These are the things you want to fill up on and go for seconds on. These are your non-guilty pleasure foods! Examples: lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, beets, radishes, green beans, asparagus, brussels sprouts, cucumbers, onions, peppers, zucchini.

5. Follow my Plate Method at meals for a visual reminder and to keep it simple.

  • 1/2 of your plate is non-starchy vegetables vegetables
  • 1/4 of your plate is whole grains or starchy vegetables
  • 1/4 of your plate is meat or protein
A delicious bowl of vegetables to include asparagus, beets, and lettuce with salmon and sweet potato on the side!
A delicious bowl of vegetables to include asparagus, beets, and lettuce with salmon and sweet potato on the side!

What vegetables do you love and how do you prepare them!

 

Things I Love

Welcome to my very first “Things I Love” post! These are where I’ll share various products, foods, etc I’m loving lately. These items might be baby-related, food-related, pregnancy-related, beauty-related, who knows. Although I’ve linked to the item and I do benefit if you click and purchase it, all of these items are truly things that I use, love, and recommend. I plan to do these posts often, so let me know if you use and love something that I should try.

earth mama organics diaper balm cloth diaper friendly

Earth Mama Organic Diaper Balm. Get it. Love it. Not only does this diaper balm smell wonderful with hints of lavender and melaleuca, it’s made with organic ingredients including calendula, and it’s cloth diaper friendly- hooray! I have absolutely no qualms about rubbing this on Laurel’s delicate skin. I love this product and I love this company. They truly care about the health and safety of moms and babies.

whey protein grass fed non gmo powder unflavored

Reserveage Grass-Fed Whey Protein Powder, Unflavored. As a dietitian, I’m often asked what protein powder I use, seeing as it’s one of the most commonly consumed supplements out there. Because there are so many on the market, fear, confusion, and suspicion surround this supplement. I advise people to make sure you find one without a bunch of added “junk,” such as sugar, caffeine, and/or artificial sweeteners. I love this specific protein powder because it’s 1. grass-fed and 2. tasteless (or at least damn close). This is one of the few protein powders I’ve tried that didn’t actually taste like protein powder. The beauty of this unflavored option is that you can add it to anything for a quick protein boost.

prenatal vitamin vegetarian gluten free multivitamin probiotics

Rainbow Light Prenatal Vitamin. This is the prenatal vitamin I took before, during, and after (still currently taking) my pregnancy. This prenatal vitamin stands out from many other “natural” options I looked at for a few reasons. First, I loved that it was only one pill daily. I will admit that the pill is fairly large, but that wasn’t an issue for me. Secondly, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant women get 27 mg of iron daily and this vitamin provides that (while many other natural options are lacking). Finally, this prenatal vitamin is vegetarian, gluten-free, and contains no artificial preservatives, colors, or sweeteners.

self tanner natural organic earth sunless

Beauty by Earth Sunless Self Tanner. My search for a natural sunless tanner started recently when Ryan, Laurel, and I were heading to Florida for vacation. I was still breastfeeding at the time and, since I had sworn off tanning beds a long time ago, I wanted to find a self tanner. My skin is naturally fair and I knew I was going to be in a bathing suit quite a bit (with loads of sunscreen on) so needless to say, I needed a tan beforehand! I found this, made with organic ingredients including shea butter and witch hazel, and I haven’t looked back. I’ve used it a few times now and it continues to impress me. I feel confident using it knowing the ingredients are safer than your average tanning lotion but, the best part is that it actually works!

foogo thermos straw cup bottle insulated stainless steel

Thermos Foogo Insulated Stainless Steel 10-oz Straw Bottle. I offered Laurel her first straw cup with water at 6 months old and she was able to use it within minutes. I tell people to just offer a straw to your child and you might be surprised at how quickly they teach themselves how to use it. Remember that babies under one year should only drink breastmilk, formula, or water. This is now the cup that I keep in my stroller, as it’s leak-proof and insulated, it’s stainless steel since I try to avoid plastic when I can, it’s dishwasher safe, and they offer different spouts so the cup can “grow” with your child. Winner!

Pictures are from Amazon.com. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

 

Does What You Eat Affect Your Fertility?

As a dietitian, I strongly believe that what we eat plays a huge role in our fertility. I mean, food affects everything when it comes to our health, reproductive health included. There are so many physiological functions that have to run smoothly in order for conception to occur. Giving your body the nutrients it thrives on might not only help you conceive, but could also help you enjoy a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby to boot!

There are countless stages that couples find themselves in when starting or growing their family. You might be wanting to start trying to conceive in the next couple of months. Maybe you’ve already been trying for a few months. Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with infertility, because you’ve been trying for over a year. Maybe getting pregnant isn’t even on your radar! If you’re not actively trying to get pregnant, but you’re considering it as an option within the next few years, it never hurts to start making healthy lifestyle changes now.

I’ve counseled countless people on the many benefits of living a healthier lifestyle, but no patient population is more engaged and dedicated than those women, and their partners, trying to get pregnant. At some point during the baby-making journey, especially if it’s taking longer than expected, an assessment of diet and lifestyle choices is imminent.

While an overall healthy diet itself can boost fertility, there are some specific recommendations that those aiming to get knocked up should focus on. These recommendations come from the research led by Drs. Jorge Chavarro and Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health, which was ultimately published in a book, The Fertility Diet. Previous to their findings in 2007, research on the topic of nutrition and fertility was scarce. They used information from the Nurses Health Study, which looked at tens of thousands of women through their reproductive years, many of whom were trying to get pregnant. They were able to identify risk factors for infertility, specifically relating to anovulatory infertility, (when an egg is not released from the ovary as expected). Here are some of the specifics they discuss:

  1. Switch all grains to whole.

    Whole grains provide enormous nutritional benefits, such as fiber, protein, and vitamins that you won’t get in refined grains. The fiber itself helps to fill you up faster and for longer, a huge bonus if you’re one of those people that’s “always hungry” or never really feels satiated. By switching to whole grains, you are now omitting many simple carbohydrates from your diet. Why does this matter? Simple carbs cause blood sugar spikes -> blood sugar spikes can lead to insulin resistance -> insulin resistance is not good for fertility. Think of insulin resistance as your body not being able to regulate your blood sugar properly. A fluctuating blood sugar means that your energy level and mood will fluctuate as well. If you suffer from chronic “blah” feeling (yes, that’s a medical term I just made up), low energy, have been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), or have stubborn fat around your abdomen that you can’t seem to lose, you could benefit tremendously from switching to whole grains.

  • How to get started: Mix it up, literally! The next time you make white rice, make wild or brown rice as well and combine the two. Do the same with pasta, mix white pasta with whole grain varieties. Check cooking times on the box, as you might start one before the other. This could be a realistic way to ease into the transition to whole grains… and bonus, your family might not even notice!

    A bowl of brown rice (simmered in broth) topped with steamed peas, roasted tomatoes & sweet potato, and a scoop of cilantro cashew butter.
    A bowl of brown rice (simmered in broth) topped with steamed peas, roasted tomatoes & sweet potato, and a scoop of cilantro cashew butter.

2. Swap unhealthy fats for healthy ones.

Notice that I used the word swap. Don’t just start downing avocado and guzzling olive oil without eliminating fertility-killing fats, called trans fats. Trans fats are found in items such as fried fast food, powdered coffee creamer, donuts, some margarines, and “movie theater butter” popcorn. You’ll know if trans fast are in a product if the ingredients list contains “partially hydrogenated oil.” Limit foods high in saturated fats too, as excessive intake of these contribute to insulin resistance as well. These foods include processed meats like bacon and sausage, fried foods, butter, shortening, and coconut oil. As you work on limiting unhealthy fat sources from your diet, focus on increasing foods like avocado, nuts, seeds, and seafood like salmon and tuna.

  • How to get started:
    • Instead of -> ribeye steak choose -> salmon filet
    • Instead of -> chips choose -> nuts
    • Instead of -> butter, bacon grease, or coconut oil choose -> extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, or canola oil
    • Instead of -> salami, bologna, or spam choose -> sliced turkey breast or lean ham
    • Instead of -> deep fried choose -> baked or grilled

      wild Alaskan salmon with vegetables and salad greens
      Wild Alaskan salmon topped with goat cheese & pumpkin seeds + roasted asparagus, beets, and sweet potato (drizzled with EVOO and freshly cracked black pepper) over a bed of mixed greens.

3. Add one serving of whole-milk dairy daily.

This one seems contradictory since I just talked about limiting saturated fat, but according to the Nurses Health Study, it could decrease your risk of anovulatory infertility. The underlying mechanism is unclear, but you can’t deny the findings– in the study mentioned above, there was an inverse association between dairy fat intake and anovulatory infertility.

  • How to get started: Next time you’re tempted to reach for that fat-free yogurt for your mid-morning snack, instead choose the whole milk version and enjoy every scrumptious spoonful!

    Whole milk plain Greek yogurt topped with berries, pumpkin seeds, chocolate chips, chia seeds & ground flaxseed.
    Whole milk plain Greek yogurt topped with berries, pumpkin seeds, chocolate chips, chia seeds & ground flaxseed. Oh hey, I’m in the spoon!

4. Eliminate processed meat intake, limit red meat intake, and increase plant protein intake. 

The bottom line here is to try to replace some of the animal protein in your diet with plant-based protein. Intake of vegetable rather than animal-based protein was a dietary factor prospectively reviewed and related to lower risk of ovulatory disorder infertility. Processed meats like sausage, bacon, salami, and hot dogs contain loads of sodium, saturated fat, nitrates, and nitrites, which are all known fertility-killers. Excessive red meat intake can cause you to take in excessive amounts of saturated fat, potentially leading to inflammation and weight gain. Healthier protein choices than the aforementioned options include lean poultry, seafood, beans, peas, lentils, eggs, nuts, seeds, dairy, and nut butters.

  • How to get started: The next time you plan to use ground beef in a recipe, use half the amount you normally use and combine it with ground turkey breast or diced mushrooms.

    A sprouted whole wheat pita half stuffed with baked falafel, cucumbers, tomato, and creamy tzatziki sauce.
    A sprouted whole wheat pita half stuffed with baked falafel, cucumbers, tomato, and creamy tzatziki sauce.

5. Eat more vegetables.

Do you eat enough vegetables? If you hesitated before the answer to that question popped into your mind, you could probably benefit from eating more. While all vegetables are nutritious, those higher in iron and folic acid, including spinach, kale, and asparagus should be included into your daily diet. Although iron and folic acid may not necessarily increase your fertility, these nutrients are essential for a developing fetus, especially during those early weeks before some even know they’re pregnant. Vegetables promote health due to their high fiber content, high vitamin and mineral content, and their antioxidant benefits. It’s also a good rule of thumb to take a prenatal vitamin if you’re trying to get pregnant, but remember that a supplement does not replace a healthy diet.

  • How to get started: Add a salad to your lunch and dinner meals. If you often find yourself buying salad ingredients but they go bad before you use them, try this. Find the biggest bowl you have and make one huge salad. Keep it covered in the fridge.* You can scoop from this bowl over the course of a few days (depending on how much you make) until it’s gone. You’ve made it once but you benefit from it over and over. *Put a paper towel in the bowl with the salad to absorb any moisture that might accumulate. This keeps the veggies fresh for longer.

    A salad of mixed greens, Brussels sprouts, carrots, tomato, onion, sunflower seeds, and garbanzo beans.
    A salad of mixed greens, Brussels sprouts, carrots, tomato, onion, sunflower seeds, and garbanzo beans. Salads don’t have to be boring!

6. Exercise & maintain a healthy weight.

The physical and mental benefits that exercise provides makes it an essential ingredient in the recipe for getting pregnant. Not only does exercise reduce stress, improve blood flow, and regulate blood sugar, but it also aids in weight loss. For both women and men, obesity is associated with infertility. Maintaining a healthy weight is easier when exercise becomes a part of your lifestyle. Interestingly enough, exercise, regardless of your current weight, has fertility-boosting benefits in itself, according to the National Infertility Association.

  • How to get started: You know yourself. Set realistic goals for how often and how long you will exercise. Start with going on a daily walk and eventually make that walk longer and faster. If you don’t have a ton of motivation to work out on your own, consider joining a gym with group fitness classes. Enlist a workout buddy. Hire a personal trainer. It’s worth the money if you actually use it! Your body, and future baby, will thank you.
Pictured below: Laurel and I practicing yoga, an exercise I did frequently before, during, and after my pregnancy.

8 Tips for Eating Healthier Meals at Home

I am often asked if I meal plan. Not only is meal planning a very trendy thing to do, it can help people eat healthier, save money, and achieve their health and fitness goals quicker. Although meal planning has a ton of benefits and I definitely think it’s a great idea for a lot of people, I do not do it. The reason I don’t meal plan is because I’ve found a good system of being able to make “last minute” meals based on the foods I have at home. I determine exactly what I’m craving for that meal or snack, and I make it on the spot! I typically eat 3 meals and 2-3 snacks daily.

Even when I was working full-time and hitting the gym after work, I was still able to get home and prepare dinner for myself and my husband. I continued throughout my entire pregnancy, while I was still working full-time and exercising regularly. I still continue to cook meals for my family which now includes an almost-toddler. My point is that no matter what season of life you are in, if you prioritize your health, you’ll “find” the time to eat smarter. Healthier eating has endless benefits from boosting energy, battling bloat, clearing brain fog and acne, weight loss, menstrual cycle regulation, boosting fertility, and so much more!

If you’re serious about trying to cook and eat healthier meals at home, I would encourage you to have a conversation with the other people in your household. I’ve seen numerous relationships where one partner was trying to eat healthier and the other would bring home tempting desserts or complain about the changes. If you and your partner are on the same page with starting a new routine, chances are you’ll be more successful long term.

My Grocery Shopping Habits & List

There are 4 main places I buy groceries: Whole Foods, Mom’s Organic Market, Harris Teeter, and Costco. When farmer’s markets come back around in the Spring, I’ll buy produce from there as well. Everywhere we’ve lived, there’s been a place like Mom’s Organic market- it’s a health food store, comparable to Natural Grocers (where I went in Colorado). Harris Teeter is a typical grocery store, comparable to Publix (but obviously not as good), King Soopers, or Safeway. I go to each place for various reasons, either due to quality, availability, or price. This winter, I’ve gone to Whole Foods only once or twice since I typically walk there when it’s warmer out.

Weekly I shop at either Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, or Mom’s Organic Market for everyday items including:

  • Proteins: sliced turkey breast, sliced cheese, canned tuna, almond butter, shrimp, plain Greek yogurt, nuts (mixed, walnuts, almonds), seeds (pumpkin, sunflower), grass-fed organic beef, ricotta cheese
  • Vegetables: sauerkraut, onions, garlic, others (seasonal)
  • Carbohydrates: taco shells, fruits (seasonal), potatoes, whole wheat pasta, whole grain tortillas, rice cakes
  • Snacks: I try to avoid that aisle
  • Other: condiments (mayo, mustard, ketchup, sriracha, jelly), butter, honey, seasoning packets (Simply Organic brand of spicy chili, vegetarian chili, fajita, and fish taco)

    Baby helping with groceries
    Laurel “helping” with the groceries.

Bi-weekly I shop at Costco for large amounts of certain items including:

  • Proteins: eggs, fresh cheese (mozzarella or goat), seeds (chia, hemp), organic meats (chicken breast, ground turkey), seafood (scallops, salmon), peanut butter
  • Vegetables: lettuce (Spring mix, spinach), asparagus, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, frozen varieties (broccoli, cauliflower)
  • Carbohydrates: whole grain bread (Dave’s Killer Bread), frozen varieties (peas, berries), apples, kiwi, avocado
  • Snacks: cheese sticks, dried fruit, pretzels
  • Other: chicken broth (low-sodium), extra virgin olive oil, pasta sauce (red, pesto), pure maple syrup
IMG_1515.jpg
A recent Costco haul of some of our staple foods (+ books for Laurel).

Tips for Planning & Eating Healthier Meals at Home

  1. Keep a running list of items you need now or are running out of. I keep my list on my phone in the Notes app. I refer to my note often and add items to it frequently. Right now, my list includes honey, taco shells, walnuts, and cream of mushroom condensed soup (I like Pacific brand). I used the last of the honey the other night making spicy Thai peanut chicken. A few nights before that I made tacos and used the box of taco shells we had. Taco shells are a staple item I always have for a last minute dinner, since we also always have frozen meat, seasoning packets, avocados, cheese, and “sour cream” aka Greek yogurt to complete the meal. (Ryan didn’t notice for the longest time that we top our tacos, quesadillas, and chili with Greek yogurt, as I usually just put some in a little bowl with all the other fixin’s.) Be sure to look for taco shells and tortillas without shortening or hydrogenated oil.
  2. Always keep staple foods at home. What I mean by this is, always have foods at home you could throw together to make a complete meal, if in a hurry or you get home late. Since these will be foods you “always” have on hand, they will need to either be shelf stable or freezable. Build your meal by picturing your plate containing a protein source, a healthy carb, and vegetables. For protein, I always have chicken and seafood (usually shrimp and scallops) in the freezer and canned beans in my pantry. I also always have rice (wild, long grain brown, and short grain brown), quinoa, and whole grain pasta varieties on hand (and I always have red pasta sauce in the pantry and pesto in the freezer). For vegetables, I typically have salad ingredients in my fridge, along with several fresh vegetable options but I also always have vegetables in the freezer that I could steam in a pinch. Remember that a meal doesn’t have to be an intimidating fancy concoction with special sauces and exotic seasonings. Throw some chicken, veggies, and brown rice in a stir-fry with some salt and pepper and call it a day.
  3. Keep convenience items on hand too. Okay, so obviously the idea of cooking at home is so you can eat healthier, cut back on sodium, etc, but that doesn’t mean that every item in the meal has to be homemade. If you pair convenience items with lots of vegetables, lean protein, and/or whole grains, “semi-homemade” is still way better than eating out.  Some of the convenience items I usually have on hand include: seasoning packets, microwave steamer vegetables, microwave steamer grains (like rice or quinoa), meats/seafood/poultry that come in marinade or seasoned already, jarred pasta sauce, minced garlic, and canned beans. Throw a meal together incredibly fast by thinly slicing chicken breast and throwing it in a pan with canola or olive oil and a seasoning packet (like fajita, one of my favorites). Load the cooked chicken onto a bed of brown rice and sliced red and yellow bell pepper and Voila! The seasoning packet did all the work for you by flavoring the meal. Forgot to thaw your chicken and you’re hungry now? Make a quick bean chili with canned beans, seasonings, a splash of chicken broth, and top with avocado chunks and shredded cheese.
  4. Don’t buy something unless it fits into a meal or snack. People often tell me how they spend so much money at the grocery store but then get home and feel like there’s nothing to eat. Or they get home from work starving and stuff their face with “junk” foods. I ask them why they had the junk foods in the house in the first place. “For the kids” is a typical response. You know my response to that? Your kids shouldn’t be eating junk either! Don’t keep chips, Little Debbies, Oreos, soda, or Fruit Loops at home if you’re likely to eat them when you get hungry. I’m not saying that you should never have a treat or a dessert but spend your time, energy, and money more wisely when at the grocery store.
  5. Always cook enough for leftovers. It can be frustrating when you take the time to cook a meal and its gone in the 5 minutes it takes you to scarf it down. What makes it worth the effort is being able to enjoy that meal again, especially if eating those leftovers saves you from yet another takeout meal. My husband usually takes our leftovers for his lunch the next day. I know if he didn’t bring those leftovers with him, he would likely either skip lunch or grab fast food.
  6. Pack your lunch. Step 1: Buy a lunchbox. This is not a joke. I know you might think that using a grocery store plastic bag will suffice, but you’ll enjoy your lunch a whole lot more if it’s not squished or hot from sitting in your gym bag all morning (this is true, it’s scientifically proven). Seriously, go to Target and get yourself a cute lunchbox or cooler and grab one of those gel things you freeze and put inside to keep everything cold. Personally, I’ve found that having a lunchbox encourages me to actually pack it. Bringing your lunch to work could prevent you from skipping lunch or grabbing fast food, both not ideal options.
  7. Prep ingredients, not necessarily whole meals. What I mean by this is wash and cut fruit, slice or dice onions, clean mushrooms, chop vegetables, and/or mince garlic. Keep all of these items in a container in the fridge until you can eat or use them. You’re more likely to reach into the fridge and grab a few strawberries to eat if they’re already washed and stemmed, right? Are you more likely to eat an apple if its sliced? I noticed that sometimes Ryan’s apple would come back in his lunchbox whole, but if I sliced it, it never did. You’d be more likely to eat a salad if the ingredients were already prepared, right? I always keep sliced onions in my fridge. 50% of the time I have sliced cucumber and carrots too. I like to slice my veggies using a mandolin so its quick and uniform.
  8. Always eat breakfast. I never skip breakfast. If you typically skip this meal, it should be one of the first things you add to your day. If you’re thinking, “I’m not really hungry in the morning” or “I don’t have time to cook a breakfast meal,” my answer is, you still need to eat breakfast. Breakfast doesn’t have to be this elaborate meal like you’d get at IHOP. For me, breakfast is something quick. I’m usually getting ready to run out the door to workout, but before I can do that I get Laurel and myself ready and fed. Breakfast is important because it physically regulates you for your day. By eating breakfast, you’re stabilizing your blood sugar which in turn stabilizes your energy, mood, and stamina. This is especially important if you have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), insulin resistance, or diabetes. My daily breakfast is one of three options: toast with avocado and eggs (takes an extra 5 minutes to cook the eggs), toast with peanut butter and cinnamon (quick & easy), or chia seed pudding (made the night before).
toast
Toast with avocado and egg & toast with peanut butter and toppings.

Implementing Healthier Meals with Kids

To put it simply, your kids should eat what you cook them. Yes, I understand that kids can be picky eaters and temperamental when it comes to food. I’m here to empower you to offer your kids healthy foods, whether they like it or not. Notice, I used the word offer. It’s their choice to eat or not. Will your child scarf down all the asparagus on their plate the first time? Maybe not. That doesn’t mean that you should stop offering it. If your child throws a tantrum because they wanted a hot dog but you made salmon instead, for goodness sake, don’t then make them the hot dog. You’ll have just reinforced that behavior and non-verbally told your child, “If you throw a tantrum, I’ll give you whatever you want to eat.” It’s okay for a child to go to bed without dinner one night because they refused to eat your veggie chili. Under normal circumstances,* a child will not starve themselves. When they realize that they won’t get mac and cheese after refusing what you cooked, they will eventually eat their dinner. It might take time. It will take consistency. It definitely takes you and your partner being on the same page. Kids watch and model their parents behavior. If dad complains about the meal or doesn’t eat his vegetables, why would 7-year-old Timmy want to?

baby eating vegetables (broccoli, peas, carrots, cauliflower)
Laurel loves vegetables! I keep them frozen and heat them as needed (in the microwave).

Don’t make a big deal about the changes you implement and they might even go unnoticed. For example, if you switch to whole grain pasta from white, your family might not notice the difference once the sauce is added. But if you start the meal with, “This is a new healthy thing we’re trying…” you’ve already set the tone for the meal as Proceed With Caution.

*If your child is picky to the point of eating less than 10 different foods, throws tantrums when offered new foods, doesn’t want certain foods on his/her plate, or avoids certain textures of foods, discuss these issues with your pediatrician or registered dietitian.

 

A Breastfeeder’s Guide to Nutrition

The #1 question I hear from postpartum women is: How do I lose my baby weight while still maintaining my milk supply? Oftentimes, when women try to lose weight by restricting their calorie intake, it impacts their milk supply. Exhausted and frustrated, this is about the time they come to see me. So what’s a mama to do?

Ultimately, the reason we choose to breastfeed is to provide our babies with the best nutrition this planet has to offer, right? Although you might feel pressure to get your “body back” right away, remember that the main goal during this time is optimizing your nutrition. Why? You want to have energy, feel emotionally stable, provide all of the nutrients your baby needs, and of course bond with your baby in the process. Are you ready to have your mind blown? A woman needs more calories when she’s breastfeeding than when she was pregnant! A breastfeeding mom needs approximately 450-500 extra calories per day. Yes, you need more calories to produce milk than you did when you were growing a human being. Your newborn is growing at an exponential rate, so it only makes sense that your body will be working overtime to facilitate this growth.

Women are often torn because they want to lose the baby weight so badly, but they don’t realize the impact that excess calorie restriction can have on milk production. Think about it this way, the average ounce of breast milk is about 20 calories. A new baby could drink up to 32 ounces of milk in a day. That means that in one day your body can produce over 600 calories worth of liquid gold! Goosebumps.

I’ll break it down and share some of the most important nutritional tips I tell breastfeeding women. These tips are not only important for maintaining a healthy supply of milk to nourish your little one, but also to facilitate healing your own body.

  1. Drink water. Lots of water. Remember those 32 ounces of breast milk you’re producing in a day? If you’re dehydrated your body would have a really hard time doing that. I recommend you add 32 ounces of water to the typically recommended 64 ounces daily. This means you want to drink about 96 ounces (or about 12 glasses) of water every. single. day while breastfeeding. An easy way I keep track of my water intake is by filling my 32oz EcoVessel at least three times a day. I actually received it as a gift and now I swear that it’s the absolute best thing anyone can give a postpartum woman.. along with food, banana bread muffins, peanut butter-filled anything.. okay I’m getting off topic. Bottom line: keep a water bottle or cup of water at each place you might rest your body during the day and night, such as the couch, next to your bed, the bathroom, everywhere.
  2. Have 2-3 snacks daily. Although you might feel like you’re always eating (which can’t be too bad right?) keep snack items at home and in your diaper bag for between meals. Snacks are optional but provide a nice energy boost and help to prevent you from going into your next meal ravenous. The key to a snack is that it has carbohydrates and protein. You can even add veggies for a bonus dose of fiber. *Snacks are crucial if you find yourself losing weight too quickly after having your baby.
  3. Try to eat two 6 oz servings of omega-3 fatty acid rich fish per week, such as salmon, anchovies, or chunk light tuna. The omega-3 DHA is passed through your breast milk so your baby can reap the benefits of optimal brain and eye development. If fish isn’t typically part of your diet, I would suggest a fish oil supplement that provides at least 200mg DHA. Looking for a vegetarian option? Incorporate nuts and seeds, such as walnuts and flaxseeds, along with DHA-fortified eggs into your diet, or consider taking a vegetarian DHA supplement, usually made from algae. Continue taking your prenatal vitamin throughout breastfeeding and beyond, as those vitamins and minerals are beneficial for healing and overall health.salmonbowl
  4. Eat three meals daily. Since life with a baby can seem like a blur and you’re not sure if it’s 6am or 6pm or what planet you’re on for that matter, the main idea is to eat a meal every 3-5 hours. This keeps your blood sugar stable and keeps a steady influx of calories your body can use to produce lots of milk. Every time you eat, you want to be taking in quality calories so your body can function as best it can, even on top of sleep deprivation and lack of personal hygiene. Ditch the empty calorie foods like chips and sodas that leave you still hungry and even more exhausted.
  5. Try to eat from all of the major food groups every day (is peanut butter a food group?) so you get a variety of beneficial macro and micronutrients. These include:
  • Fruits & Vegetables: Try to consume a ton of fruits and vegetables throughout the day so you can benefit from the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber (ahem… help with going #2) they provide. Stock up on frozen varieties so you have plenty of options to pair with a sandwich for a quick lunch, (microwave steamer bags are your friend). When your neighbor asks if she can bring anything when she comes to meet the baby, ask for a veggie tray or a homemade salad. That’s an easy task for her but a huge help for you since making a salad is the last thing on your to-do list right now. Other quick ways to get in more fruits and veggies:
    • Keep celery and carrot sticks in the fridge to dip in hummus for an easy late-night snack.
    • Fill little baggies with nuts and unsweetened dried fruit, such as raisins or apricots, to munch on during your afternoon feedings.
    • No time to cook eggs in the morning? Slap some peanut butter on a slice of whole grain bread and top with a 1/2 banana for a quick breakfast.
    • Enlist your significant other, mom, or friend to cut up a bunch of fresh fruit to keep in a bowl that you can just grab as you walk by.
    • Roast a ton of vegetables to keep in a container in the fridge, since they taste even better the longer they’ve been sitting in garlicy goodness. Spread chopped onion, bell pepper, zucchini, squash, broccoli, and/or cauliflower on a sheet tray and coat with olive oil, minced garlic, and salt & pepper. Bake at 375 for 10-15 minutes or until you see a slight char on the veggies.

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  • Grains/Carbs: You want each meal you eat to contain starchy vegetables or whole grains, such as potatoes with the skin, corn, wild rice, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, or beans. Repeat after me: carbohydrates are my friend. The key is selecting high fiber carbs like the ones mentioned above, while limiting refined carbs like white pasta. Tip: Buy convenience items, such as the microwave pouches of brown or wild rice, just make sure nothing besides oil and salt are added. Also look for frozen varieties of chopped squash, potatoes, peas, and corn.

*Anecdotally speaking, women I’ve counseled seem to notice the biggest drop in their milk supply when they limit carbs. Although this tends to be the go-to diet practice when trying to lose weight, it seems to be the most detrimental when trying to maintain a plentiful milk supply.

  • Protein: Lastly, don’t forget the protein. You have increased protein needs when you’re healing and breastfeeding which is why it’s important to incorporate protein into meals and snacks. Chicken, turkey, lean beef, and seafood are all wonderful options to cook up with your meals. Meats, poultry, and seafood can be purchased in bulk, separated into single serving bags, and frozen. Remember that you also get protein from yogurt, milk, eggs, nuts and seeds, nut butters, beans, peas, cheese, and tofu. Hard-boil a dozen eggs and keep them in the fridge for a quick, protein-rich snack. Canned beans are a versatile pantry staple, as you can add them to everything from chili to salads. When purchasing canned goods, always look for “no salt added” or “low sodium” varieties.

Meal Ideas:

Breakfast:

Option 1: 1 slice of whole grain toast smeared with avocado, topped with 2 eggs and a side of strawberries

Option 2: 2-3 egg omelette with spinach, minced onion, and bell pepper with a whole grain English muffin or

Option 3: Slow Cooker Oatmeal (Before bed, put 1 cup steel cut oats in your slow cooker, along with 4 cups milk or water. Turn on low and cook all night. Keep extra in fridge, reheat by adding a splash of liquid and microwave until hot. Suggested toppings include: walnuts, slivered almonds, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon or nutmeg, a scoop of peanut butter, diced apple or banana, chia seeds, or hemp seeds). Pair with 1-2 boiled eggs.

Lunch:

Tuna sandwich (tuna mixed with avocado, diced onion, and celery on whole grain bread), a salad (with a variety of vegetables, topped with sunflower and pumpkin seeds), and a pear. *Substitute diced hard-boiled eggs for tuna for another sandwich option.

Dinner:

Baked chicken breast (marinated in olive oil & garlic pepper seasoning) with a medium sweet potato (skin on; drizzled with olive oil), roasted asparagus (coated in olive oil and minced garlic), and a salad (with balsamic vinaigrette dressing). *BONUS: this entire meal can be cooked in the oven!

Snack Ideas:

yogurt (preferably plain; Greek or regular) with berries added

6 whole grain crackers with 1-2 scoops natural peanut butter

a small handful of nuts & unsweetened dried fruit

a rice cake topped with 1-2 scoops of almond butter and cinnamon

a piece of fruit with a cheese stick

1 cup of edamame pods (often sold in the freezer section in microwave steamer bags)

A granola bar (look for ones with lots of nuts, such as KIND bars) or protein shake

*Consider meals/snacks that can be made in bulk, separated into containers, and frozen such as chili, lasagna, and soups.

The recommendations above are what I personally think should be your focus if you are trying to eat healthy while breastfeeding. If you’re overwhelmed in any way, remember that the important thing is keeping your sanity and providing your baby with what he or she needs. Sometimes this means that you might supplement with formula or transition your baby to formula altogether. From one mom to another, that is okay. You are still a rockstar.

I truly understand breastfeeding is not easy and that all of this can be overwhelming. #thestruggleisreal. I’m going on eleven months of breastfeeding my baby girl, the first six were exclusive breastfeeding, and I too have experienced its trials and tribulations. Although Laurel latched within minutes of being born, my first five days of breastfeeding were absolute torture. I felt like her mouth was full of razor blades and every time she would latch, my face would turn beet red and tears would flow, ugh. After seeing a Lactation Consultant I learned how to get Laurel to latch deeper and our problem was solved (Thank you baby Jesus!). It took the next four weeks for my nipples to heal, since they were so scabbed and tender from that first week. Just as things were starting to get easier, and actually enjoyable, I was hit with mastitis. Uncontrollable shaking, a fever of 106, and a trip to the ER.. if you’ve ever had mastitis you know it’s not fun.

When I was pregnant I was told that the first six weeks of breastfeeding are the most difficult and that if you can get past that time it gets easier. In many ways I agree with this statement and I think it’s good advice. As things like breastfeeding and learning your role as a new mom gets “easier” with time, new challenges enter the scene constantly. I guess that’s what motherhood is, new challenges to conquer all while trying to keep your heart from growing out of your chest.

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