Small Nutritional Upgrades for Big Results

20150929_182656078_iOSBaby steps count. It is so easy to feel overwhelmed when wanting to make a change in life whether the goal is to clean up the family’s diet, to institute a budget, to move toward more gentle parenting, or to become more organized. At the same time, it is easy to overlook the transformative power of small steps with consistency. Day after day. Month after month. Until we look back and stand amazed at just how far we have come.

Let’s say that your goal is to improve the nutritional quality of the food you provide to your family.

Generally speaking, I advocate beginning by upgrading those foods or products which are used on a regular basis since this will potentially offer the greatest health reward. However, you do NOT need to mess with your husband or child’s favorite food at the outset if there is resistance. Your relationship with your teenager is far more important than whether or not he eats store-bought ranch dressing!

Following are a handful of suggestions for easy nutritional upgrades, along with some recipes to get you started:

Rev up your morning coffee and creamer– In love with your morning cup of brew? Me too. But step away from that Timmy’s or (shudder) instant coffee and, instead, invest in a delicious, organic (and hopefully fair trade) bean to grind and prepare at home. Not only will you most likely save money but you will reduce your daily exposure to pesticides, AND the taste upgrade will surely boost your happy quotient. Upgrade further by ditching icky creamers and, instead, using full-fat, organic coconut milk in BPA-free cans or by making homemade cashew creamer. If you are currently using refined white sugar you could switch it up to coconut sugar, stevia, or just start by slowly decreasing the sugar you use. Bonus tip: add some ground Ceylon Cinnamon to your coffee grinds; cinnamon adds a natural hint of sweetness but also helps stabilize blood sugar. If you want to reduce your coffee intake, try a mug of chaga chai, dandelion latté or a matcha latté.

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Chuck your kids’ breakfast cereal-Teachers will thank you for not sending your child to them hopped up on all the sugar and food dyes present in many kids’ cereals on the market. A homemade batch of granola is incredibly easy to make and contains healthy fats and protein for better energy and concentration throughout the morning. Breakfast burritos (sprouted wraps, organic eggs/veg), Overnight Oats topped with frozen berries, or homemade breakfast cookies (grind up the seeds if necessary) with a side of fruit are other easy, upgraded breakfast ideas to consider.

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Swap out your family’s sandwich bread-If your family eats a lot of sandwiches this could be a great starting place. Make your own bread with ancient grains if you are so inclined but there are also decent brands on the market to save you time. Silver Hills offers organic, sprouted bread and buns and Ezekial Bread makes organic and sprouted English Muffins, wraps, and bread; both of these brands are fairly easy to find these days and taste great. If you are gluten-free, the yummy choices are few and far between but Costco sells a half-decent little loaf that is gluten/dairy/nut/soy-free from The Essential Baking Company.

Modify your kids’ snacks– Kids really do not need to eat sugary or processed treats every day. In fact, the definition of a treat is “an event or item that is out of the ordinary and gives great pleasure.” Out of the ordinary does not mean every day or even every week! When teens are working, they may choose to spend some of their own money on unhealthy foods, but otherwise, mom and dad control what comes into the home. An automatic upgrade would be to prepare homemade swaps for lunchbox snacks, thereby eliminating preservatives, food dyes, added sodium, refined sugars, etc. Fruit and veg, homemade smoothies in a thermos or jar, organic popcorn drizzled with coconut oil/honey/nut or seed butter, no-bake energy bites, hard boiled eggs with sea salt, or grain-free pumpkin muffins are all nutrient-dense snacks. If a meltdown ensues perhaps you offer Kind Bars or a homemade trail mix for your teen’s locker to nix an afternoon fix at the vending machine or concession, a few pieces of organic dark chocolate for yourself to replace your afternoon snickers bar or sugar-laden drink, or Inka plantain chips for your husband in lieu of his store-bought cookie habit. You start where you can.

Increase the veggie component of supper- Most Canadians are not eating enough veggies. One of the best nutritional upgrades we could make is to simply eat more produce. Why not aim to provide a few servings of veggies with each and every supper? A big salad or tray of roasted root vegetables can help achieve this. Soups and crockpot stews are other easy meals that can include a load of veggies. Prepare big enough batches to last 2-3 days to cut down on your work. Serve veggies in the half hour before you sit down to eat if everyone is starving and looking for snacks.  A further upgrade would be to buy more organic produce; use the dirty dozen/clean fifteen list to help you prioritize when it is most important to choose organic. Consider growing even small amounts of your own produce, checking out a local farmer’s market, or joining a local CSA (where you pay a fixed amount at the start of the season and receive a box of local veggies each week during growing season). And whip up a batch of homemade dressing for yourself like this Balsamic Vinaigrette which can lasts up to a month in the fridge or this Dairy-free Ranch.

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If you already have these upgrades underway, next steps might include upgrading your water by investing in a quality water filter that removes chlorine/fluoride/trace pharmaceuticals, making batches of bone broth to freeze and which will greatly increase the nutritional profile of future meals, sourcing good quality local animal products, or hooking up with an organic food coop for some of your staples. Just keep in mind that the goal is progress, not perfection.

Happy eating,

Krista xo

Need quick & easy help to transition to a Real Food way of eating? Check out this Real Food Planning Challenge – only $8.99 USD (affiliate link)

10 Calming Strategies for When Tension Mounts

20150921_192644000_iOSYou create your menu plans and a weekly rhythm and have a half-decent system for managing your finances. You work to stay organized and even have a strategy in place for self-care. But life throws you a couple curve-balls and you miss some sleep and someone dies and Revenue Canada audits you. And the tension mounts.

Here are 10 strategies I use to calm myself and keep focused on WHO and HOW I want to be in the world when the waters of life become a little agitated:

I aim to get quality sleep. When life gets a little more hectic than usual there might, in fact, be a clear reason that you cannot sleep as much as normal (new baby, dying family member, you procrastinated on a work deadline). But we should understand the significant impact of losing sleep on our physical and emotional health and genuinely do our best. It is during sleep that our bodies and minds repair and rejuvenate. Perhaps we can take a 20 minute nap in the afternoon or before supper even if it means the floor remains unvacuumed. Perhaps we can cut out evening news or a favorite TV show and climb into bed an hour earlier. Adequate sleep is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing I do to manage my health and well-being.

*A book I recommend that delves into the importance of sleep is Sleep Smarter, by Shawn Stevenson (amazon store affiliate link).

I eat a mood and hormone-balancing diet. Ensuring I eat plenty of greens, protein and healthy fats keeps my blood sugar and moods balanced. Ensuring I actually pause to eat at regular intervals works wonders too:) I also focus on magnesium rich foods (cashews and other nuts, seeds, dark chocolate or cacao, dark leafy greens, fish, beans, whole grains, avocados, yogurt, bananas, dried fruit) as magnesium is a crucial mineral for coping with stress. Our soils tend to be deficient in magnesium and chronic stress can deplete our magnesium stores even if we do eat a diet abundant in magnesium-rich foods. Health Canada estimates that an average of 42.9% of Canadians have an intake below estimated required intake although many consider this to be a very conservative figure. I also treat myself with calming teas like Tulsi (Holy Basil) or a herbal blend with extra dried lavender thrown in (like this Easy Day Tea or my daughter’s Fairytale Tea. I’ve included these links so you can check out the ingredients and create your own blend or look for something similar from a local shop). Something I will try this fall (my budget forced me to wait 🙁 ) are drinks made with adaptogenic mushrooms like these (affiliate link). Adaptogens help our body adapt to stress and exert a normalizing effect upon bodily processes.

*Before ingesting mushrooms (or any herb/supplement), do some research if you have allergies or are taking medications in order to avoid an unpleasant reaction.

I take certain supplements that help with stress. Certain B vitamins help modulate stress and may play a role in alleviating anxiety and depression. B vitamins work synergistically to promote overall health and energy production; it is usually best, therefore, to take a complex. In the morning I take a methylated B-complex which provides more bioavailable forms of different B’s. Gut health is critical to overall wellness including mental health (gut-brain axis). As such, in addition to eating fermented and prebiotic foods, I take a quality, multi-strain probiotic supplement.  I have already addressed magnesium earlier in this post and mentioned its use for stress but it can also help with tension (sore muscles/migraines) and encourage restful sleep- all useful when life feels hectic. I supplement with magnesium oil (a magnesium chloride solution that you spray onto your skin and rub in), enjoy epsom-salt baths (magnesium sulfate), and we have a powdered product called Natural Calm (combo of magnesium carbonate and citric acid which creates magnesium citrate) that we add to liquid and drink before bed during seasons of stress. Zinc is another mineral that plays a part in modulating the brain and body’s response to stress and which supports a healthy immune system (it is so easy to get run down during times of stress). I use a zinc-copper balance supplement to avoid creating a mineral imbalance.

I use essential oils and deep breathing. Research on aromatherapy, including the use of essential oils in conjunction with deep breathing, is limited. However, many people including myself, find that it is super effective at reducing stress and anxiety. The idea behind it is that it stimulates smell receptors in the nose, which then send messages through the nervous system to the limbic system — the part of the brain that controls emotions. There are many calming essential oils (ex. Chamomile, Yuzu, Neroli, Vetiver) but two of my staples are Lavender and Sandalwood, although smell is so individual (meaning you might hate what I love). My favorite company right now for essential oils is  Living Libations with both U.S. and Canadian sites, although I also enjoy other brands including Mountain Rose Herbs in the States and Saje Wellness in Canada.

*none of these are affiliate links

I practice gratitude. Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside and author of The How of Happiness (a book I thoroughly enjoyed- link to my amazon astore), tells us that gratitude boosts happiness by helping people cope with stress and trauma (among its NUMEROUS other benefits). Robert Emmons, another happiness researcher and writer, defines gratitude as “a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.” There are, of course, many ways to practice gratitude but my favorite is to bookend my days with bringing to mind three things that I am grateful for when I wake up and as I lay down to sleep at night. I feel that this practice sets me up for success by regularly drawing my attention back to all that is beautiful and positive in my life.

I move my body. Exercise is a fabulous stress-reliever and mood-booster. Depending on your personality and current life situation you may need to modify your typical exercise; rather than your usual hard-core workouts, for instance, this might be the time to do more gentle stretching or yoga or to take long walks outside (if you fail to build rest and repair time into your life, exercise can actually raise cortisol which can increase stress and belly fat). On the other hand, some people simply feel best and experience stress-reduction only when they really work up a sweat. The important thing is to listen to your body as you move through different seasons of life and adjust your movement accordingly. In general, it is also best to avoid living a sedentary lifestyle and then trying to compensate with a couple intense workouts each week. Consider ways to simply move more throughout the day: create a standing desk; do some gentle stretches or squats in between clients or classes; take a brisk walk at lunch time; begin each day with 10 minutes on your mini-trampoline.

I reduce or eliminate numbing agents or distractors. Mindless surfing on social media, extra caffeine or wine, TV, a nightly habit of marijuana use, a tub of Haagen Dazs- these are examples of things we might use to numb out and distract from our uncomfortable feelings or situation. These things can mess with our hormones and sleep and keep us from being real about how we are feeling. They often lead to procrastinating on the action we need to take which only exacerbates stress! Become conscious of your preferred method of numbing when stressed and set some healthy limits on this habit.

I take a close look at my agenda and cross off anything that is non-essential. Seriously, if it doesn’t have to get done now, postpone it. This is not the time for painting your bathroom or guestroom (my girlfriend totally does this) or saying yes to hosting a baby shower. Prioritize. You may even want to go back and simplify your perfect menu plans. A frozen organic pizza with salad eaten with peace in the home is immensely better than a four-course meal with a stressed-out family. My point is, simplify wherever possible (although not to the point of sabotaging health)* to alleviate stress and workload. Consider freezing some healthy meals or posting a list of quick but humble and healthy meals that can be prepared at times such as this.

*I am referring to short-term adjustments for a life that is mostly calm and health-promoting

I focus on three main things to accomplish each day. This is an offshoot of the previous point regarding eliminating the non-essential. Take a hard look at what remains and consciously choose the three things that if you do this day, will have the biggest positive impact on your life. At the end of the day, if you have done these three things, you will feel satisfied. Your Top-3 will depend on your specific situation and responsibilities, of course. It will vary each day and might include items such as: spend time cuddling and reading with my children; complete two hours work on my client’s Program Plan; brush my teeth and shower (new baby, anyone?); make a double batch of healthy muffins for kids’ snacks; pay online bills; or move my body! Living very purposefully in this way (as opposed to running around frantically) can increase a sense of control over life which can, in turn, decrease stress.

I stay inspired. Some people love to listen to music as they find it supports them in mood balance. I find music agitating, for the most part. Instead, I love to listen to podcasts or to read to stay inspired. It is soooo easy to get off track when life feels busy or stressful, and to start behaving in ways that do not align with how we envision our ‘best life’ or ‘best self’; I find that through the storms, it is incredibly helpful to keep before me models of health, resilience, and strength. Like most of you, I am not rolling in buckets of free time to read at leisure. But I can listen to podcasts as I work in my home, exercise, or in the vehicle. I can bring a book with me (or just leave it in the car) for those little stretches of time when I am waiting to pick up a child, waiting for an appointment, or at a child’s piano lesson. Finally, when I find articles/blog posts online that I want to read, I save them to an app called Pocket; then when I have a ‘pocket of time’ to read but am without a book, a queue of articles is ready and waiting for me.

I hope you find a few nuggets of inspiration here to support you this week,

Krista xo