Thursday Tips & Tricks

Healthy living doesn’t have to be hard.  When we make it complicated, we are setting ourselves up for failure.  Let’s face it, most of us lead busy lifestyles and struggle to fit everything in as it is.  We need to find ways to make it easier to meet our goal to live healthier, or we may end up failing.  Every Thursday, I will share with you one tip, or trick I currently use to ensure that I keep my life simple.

I love to cook and want to eat healthy dinners, but I work a full time job that requires long hours.  I’ve had to learn some new tricks to ensure I get healthy food on my plate each night.  Realistically, I can’t walk in the door at 6:00 PM and start cooking a full meal as we would be eating dinner way too late.  I need quick, healthy, home cooked meals on my plate in 30 minutes or less.

I want to eat home cooked food each night, but usually arrive home hungry.  My meals need to be simple, quick and healthy because if they aren’t, I’m going to go down that rabbit hole of eating junk instead.  Gone are the days of ordering dinner in each night, or picking something up on my way home.  That only led to unwanted weight gain and feeling just plain lousy.

This week’s tip is to invest in a well made, easy to clean grill.  If you live in a climate that allows outdoor barbecuing all year round, lucky you!  If you don’t, and don’t mind standing outside in the freezing cold, or rain, more power to you.  If you’re like me and prefer to cook inside, you should invest in an easy to clean indoor grill.  This will become your most used kitchen tool, that will enable you to have a healthy dinner on your plate in 30 minutes or less.

I’ve tried so many different grills and the sticking point for me was always the clean up.  I don’t want to eat fast and then struggle to clean the mess.  I also don’t want something that spritzes up my kitchen, so prefer a closed grill.  I want something compact, preferably portable, that comes apart for cleaning.

I have settled on the Optigrill for many reasons.  First and foremost, the food tastes amazing and there is no more cutting into it to check it’s doneness.  The machine has an automatic setting that tells you when your food is ready.  No turning or bothering with it once it’s on the grill.  Second, the whole grill comes apart and goes right in the dishwasher.  No scrubbing at all and it comes out perfectly clean each time I use it.  Third, if I forget to take something out, I can use the frozen setting and cook without defrosting. Great for quick hamburgers or turkey burgers.  Finally, grilled vegetables or panini come out so good.

The possibilities for cooking on this grill, or any grill you own, are endless.  Our favorites are grilled chicken and salad, or quinoa, or spinach, etc.  Today, we had hamburger with lettuce, tomato and avocado and a side salad.  Easy and on the plate in under 15 minutes.  There’s also a fish setting that allows you to grill delicious tuna steak or salmon.  I’m not a huge fan of fish, but it does come perfect anytime I’ve tried it.  I’ve also never had a bad filet mignon grilled on it.  Just set it and watch the color coding for the finish you want.

For all of these reasons and to ensure I can cook dinner without relying on a microwave oven, my tip is to make sure you have a working grill ready to use in your home.   It may seem like an expensive investment, but I’ve had mine for 3 years and use it at least 4-5 nights a week to cook.  It was worth every penny and I’ve certainly saved money not ordering in so much anymore.  Here’s a link to see what the Optigrill looks like. (*I don’t work for Optigrill and was not paid to recommend it.)

T-fal GC722D53 1800W OptiGrill XL Stainless Steel Large Indoor Electric Grill with Removable and Dishwasher Safe Plates, Silver

What’s your tip for healthy eating during the week?  Please consider leaving a comment below.

Is Your Cookware Safe?

You go out of your way to eat clean, organically grown foods.  You even spend time cooking and preparing healthy food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  You are well on your way to reclaiming your health and feeling pretty good about where you are right now.  You really think you’ve got a handle on this healthy lifestyle business.  I’ve just got one question for you to think about. What type of cookware are you preparing your healthy food in?

When I first started researching Alzheimer’s disease, I was shocked to learn just how many toxins we are exposed to on a daily basis.  I began cleaning up my act literally.  One area I had not thought of, at that time, as a source of toxins was my cookware.  Thankfully, I didn’t have many nonstick pots, or teflon, in my possession as those are some of the worst offenders. I’d like to share with you what I learned about the hazards of using certain types of cookware.  Ease of clean up should most definitely not be the deciding factor when purchasing pots, including disposable versions.

Studies of various cookware options have shown that many can be dangerous to your health as they have been found to leach various toxins into your food and body.  You’ve taken proactive steps to remove toxins from your food, please don’t introduce them right back in through cooking in unsafe pots and pans.  The biggest offenders appear to be the nonstick lines of cookware.  Touted for their ease of cleanup and nonsticking properties, these pots are the most dangerous to use.  In fact, if you own them, I recommend you throw them out today.

According to studies, one of the biggest problems with non stick cookware comes from the chemical that creates the nonstick surface – perflurooctanoic acid (PFOA).  This chemical releases when heated and can potentially leach into the food you are cooking.  Further, if they are scratched or have breakage to the surface leaching potential increases.  I no longer have any nonstick cookware in my collection.  I have slowly replaced all my pots and pans, including the pan I cook my eggs in.  That pan is the most commonly used nonstick pan most people use and I’m betting you have one in your collection as well.  Please take some time to take stock of your pots and pans and bakeware.  I’m sure you will find nonstick versions, especially in your bakeware and frying collection.

When I first started looking at cookware I realized I needed to make some changes.  I wasn’t able to afford to replace all my pots, pans and bakeware at once as good quality pots are quite expensive.  I began researching and looking at the best options for safe, healthy cookware.  I then began purchasing literally one pot at a time.  Before you jump into purchasing, I suggest you spend some time reading and learning about the safest and healthiest cookware options.  Then select the options that works best for your lifestyle.

Here are the types of cookware that have been shown to leach dangerous toxins into our food during cooking.  I’m betting all of you have one of these five in your current collection:

Aluminum
Speckled Metal Bakeware (think Grandma’s roasting pan)
Non stick Anodized Aluminum
Ceramic Non Stick Aluminum Skillet
Non stick Glass Bakeware

I know I had many of them in my collection.  You’ll notice that aluminum is repeatedly on the list.  I wonder how many of you, like me, line your roasting pans in foil when cooking to make clean up easier.  Or how many of you wrap food in aluminum (think baked potatoes) when baking.  Aluminum is one of the worst offenders and an item I used most often during the cooking process.  Aluminum is a very soft metal and one that causes an extreme chemical reaction between food and the pan.  For example, all vegetables cooked in aluminum produce hydroxide poison.  I hope you keep this in mind next time you reach for those disposable aluminum pans.  People make fun of me on holidays because I cook for large crowds in pans that need to be washed.  I’d rather spend time cleaning my pan than being sick down the road.

Many people purchase stainless steel pots and think they are safe.  If you buy cheaper lines of stainless steel you can still face potential risks.  Cheaper stainless steel cookware is made from different alloys, including scrap metal.  Most of these lines can potentially allow chrome and nickel to bleed into food as the salts and acids of foods react with the pots.  When purchasing stainless steel you should only purchase high grade surgical stainless steel, even at the higher cost.

Another common line of cookware is cast iron.  Cast iron is a highly porous metal and grease can turn rancid in the pores.  My mother in law has many older cast iron pots and she says you’re not supposed to scrub them with soap or Brillo.  This totally grosses me out, but I have read these directions about cleaning cast iron pots during my research.

Now that I’ve got your attention and you’ve taken stock of your current cookware, let’s make a plan to replace then with safer, healthier versions.  My first two purchases when I began replacing mine were a roasting pan and a 6 quart pot.  Both of these are staples in my collection and ones I use most often.  I recommend you start with the pots you use most often to cook.  Then, look for sales and slowly replace the others.  I even put a pot I wanted on my birthday list one year and wouldn’t be offended if someone gave me one as a present.

Here are the safest options available when selecting cookware:

High Quality Surgical Grade Stainless Steel

This type of pot will be more expensive to purchase, but totally worth the cost.  Remember, you don’t need a full set of pots.  Start with the one or two you use most often and forget the rest for right now.  There are many brands that offer high grade surgical steel stainless pots.  Many have aluminum inside the steel metals to aid in heat distribution.  Don’t be alarmed by this, as the aluminum never comes into contact with your food and stays perfectly encased inside the stainless steel.  My personal choice are pots from the 360 Cookware line.  I like the vapor seal that allows me to use less oil in the cooking process.

360 Cookware Premium Waterless Stainless Steel 6 Quart Stockpot with Cover

Ceramic Cookware

I am new to ceramic cookware and excited by its versatility.  Ceramic, or glass cookware, can be one of the best options out there to avoid toxins.  Additionally, it can be used in high heat and is dishwasher safe.  The downside of using ceramic cookware is that it is breakable, so you do have to be somewhat careful.  If you drop it on your ceramic floor, it will most definitely break.  I primarily use this type of cookware for cooking eggs and baking.  The line I use is Xtrema Ceramic Cookware and this is my egg pan.

Xtrema 7 Inch 100% Ceramic Skillet with Cover

Enameled Cast Iron

I am a long time fan of Le Creuset products.  The research, however, is mixed on using enameled cast iron as it has been found that heavy metals such as lead and cadmium found in the ceramic glazes can pose potential danger.  In researching this issue, I found that Le Creuset addressed these concerns and feel comfortable still using my two pieces from their line.  Basically, they stated that these chemicals were present only on the outside of the cookware and never touch the food.    These pans are very expensive.  I purchased mine at the Le Creuset outlet during their yearly sale.  Mine were also seconds, but you can’t see anything wrong with them and I was happy for the huge savings.

One final category of cookware worth mentioning, is slow cookers and crock pots.  Many of us use these cookers on a daily basis.  There is little information available about testing done on the safety of ceramic inserts found in many crock pots.  Also, I am not sure about the grade of stainless used in the stainless versions.  For this reason, I decided to take no chances for my slow cooking choice.  I purchased a very versatile slow cooker, which is actually a stand alone pot as well.  It is made by 360 and works beautifully.  Here is the link to check out this great option for a safer slow cooker.

360 Cookware Gourmet Slow Cooker and Stainless Steel Stock Pot with Cover, 4 Quart

I hope you will begin to think about cooking your food in three ways: 1) what you cook; 2) how you cook it, and; 3) what you cook it in.  Don’t overlook the importance of using safe, healthy cookware as part of your healthy lifestyle.

If you have already made this change, I’d seriously love to hear about it.  I am always looking for information on this topic and for new and healthier versions of cookware.  Please leave a comment below about what changes you have made to ensure you are using healthy cookware to prepare your meals.

Accountability

Personal success can be achieved through taking personal accountability for our actions. This shift takes time for many to achieve and is one I’m working toward.  It’s hard to accept that you and you alone are accountable for your success or failure on this journey. It’s often easier to blame genetics, health or other outside reasons for your failure to make progress. But, today I’d like to talk about taking control of your journey and accepting personal accountability for it.

Think about this, every single decision you make in a day is in your hands. You alone decide to sleep in, get up, work out, or to eat that cookie or apple. You alone must take responsibility for the things you do and don’t do in any given day. Recognizing and honoring this is a necessary first step toward making lasting changes in your health. It can also be a powerful tool toward changing unwanted behaviors and ways of thinking about yourself.

Many of us spend our days drowning in negative self talk, blame and procrastination. On this journey toward reclaiming our health, we first need to address the elephant in the room – blame and excuses. Yes, it is far easier to say I’m still overweight because I’m a middle aged woman, or my parents were overweight, or, or, or. Accepting these excuses and reasons for our struggle is like giving ourselves a free pass. Further, accepting these reasons can lead to accepting where we are and giving up on trying to change our way of life.

Personal accountability is not meant to be a way to blame yourself for all that’s wrong in your life right now. Rather, it is meant to be a means to accept that despite where you are right now on your journey, including the reasons for being there, you have the power and responsibility to improve your health and make lasting changes.

Two of the most common reasons for not achieving our goals can be tied to making excuses and not having strong enough reason for doing something. Excuses can often lead to loss of motivation in any endeavor we take on. Motivation will quickly fade over time, especially as we begin to make excuses for our failures. Once we begin to blame outside sources for our lack of progress, we begin to lose our focus and drive. Having  strong reasons for getting healthy can help improve your focus and drive. Losing weight for a special event, while motivating in the short term, won’t sustain you over the long haul. Generally after the event is over, so is your motivation and drive to continue. Centering your why around longer term goals can keep you move forward when the going gets tough. In my case, my why is to maintain optimum health as I move into the next phase of my life. Seeking to avoid getting a disease such as Alzheimers keeps me focused and on track, even when I fall off the wagon for a few weeks here and there.

Success on this journey will require action. This action includes accepting personal responsibility for actions and not allowing yourself to make excuses when you fail to follow through.

Here are a few of the ways I have been holding myself accountable:

Planning

They say a goal without a plan is just a dream. That definitely applies to any health journey you are on. Planning is the biggest key to success. When I fail to plan I always end up on a bender. Planning includes shopping for healthy food, meal planning and scheduling workouts. Using a calendar and developing a schedule is the easiest way I get my daily workouts in. Blocking out a time to do it is critical. I am a morning person and I know that excuses will get the best of me if I try to workout at night. Knowing this, I plan my day around my workout. I get up early enough to fit it in each morning.

Menu planning and food shopping go hand in hand. If I don’t plan out my meals I end up cooking whatever is easy – pasta, junk food, etc. Whenever I am off target I know that it means I haven’t been diligent about shopping and planning. This is your best line of defense for success.

Share the Journey

For me, writing has allowed me to share my journey. It also holds me accountable. I find writing this blog very therapeutic as I work through issues I am facing myself. Making my journey public has also provided a means to hold myself personally accountable for my actions. I can’t sit here and write about things others should do if I don’t believe in them, or do them myself. This blog helps remind me of my why and keeps my focus on my goals strong. You don’t have to blog to share your journey. I imagine you all have people in your life that are on a similar journey. One of the best ways to stay strong and focused is to share your journey with a friend or loved one. Find yourself a partner and support each other along the way.

Positive Self Talk

Blame, negativity and excuses are hard to stave off. I’m working hard on using positive self talk to replace them whenever they rear their ugly heads. Find yourself a means to use positivity and gratitude to keep your spirits up. This will be a difficult journey and there will be times when your emotions take over. Having an outlet, or means to keep it positive will go a long way towards keeping you moving forward.

Tracking Progress

At the gym I always hear this, “What get’s measured gets improved.” It was on a radio playback. This is so true. Tracking progress will greatly improve your motivation and drive. Don’t just weigh yourself and lament over lack of weight loss. Measure all progress – This week I worked out six out of seven days, Today I ate three healthy meals, I slept through the night, etc. There are so many areas of our life that we can look to for progress. The scale is only one way to track our progress. In past blogs I’ve talked about taking your measurements as an alternative to the scale. Taking photographs is another positive way to see progress. Recognizing the daily and weekly successes to change our thinking is also a great place to celebrate process.

What are some ways you hold yourself accountable?  How do you maintain your positivity?  I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on this as it surely can be a struggle for me.  Please take a moment to share your ideas in the comments below.  Also, consider sharing this blog with a friend who is on this path with you.

Lighten Up

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Purchasing healthy food is really just the entry point to healthy eating.   Think about it.  You purchase beautiful, organic zucchini at your local green market.  What a healthy decision that was.  Then you go home, batter it up and fry it, or fry then douse in mozzarella cheese for zucchini parmesan.  Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?  Does that mean eating delicious zucchini parmesan is out for life?  Certainly not!  How we cook our food makes all the difference when it comes to healthy living.  But, that doesn’t mean our favorite foods should be completely off limit.  Learning how to lighten up your recipes is the best way to keep your comfort foods in your rotation.

Paula Deen was often criticized for her love of butter.  I can still recall her clearly saying “add two sticks of butter”, as she seemingly thumbed her nose up at her critics.  We all know what happened to her.  Now, Paula has changed her views and revamped her recipes to create healthier versions without sacrificing taste.  She’s lost weight and reclaimed her health without giving up the food she loves.  That’s the key really, learning to revamp recipes and looking for excess additions that are not needed, like two sticks of butter.

Before I start cooking any recipe, I preview it looking for excess oils, butter, sugar or cheeses.  These are often the easiest thing to substitute out or modify.  Other areas are the methods of cooking,  for example, sautéed lightly in olive oil vs battered and deep fried.  For example, I like to bake my meatballs and chicken cutlets in place of frying them in oil.

Here are some tips you can use to modify your favorite recipes to create healthier delicious versions.

Bake Don’t Fry

I don’t fry meatballs or chicken cutlets anymore, especially if they are going into a sauce for further cooking.  This saves me the unnecessary calories and fat from the oil and produces a delicious lighter version of this staple Sunday dinner.  For my meatballs, I still use meat, but have substituted ground bison as a healthier option.  My family really hasn’t caught on as the taste is similar.  I have also used ground turkey, but when I do I don’t bake the meatballs prior to entering the sauce.  I just roll them and place them in.  This keeps them moister as baking seems to dry them out.

For chicken cutlets, I place them in egg and then bread crumbs.  I make my own bread crumbs to ensure quality ingredients, but store bought could work as well.  To make bread crumbs, I personally use gluten free bread.  I slightly toast it in the oven on a cookie sheet then place into my food processor  (I use this in my meatballs as well).  You can season the crumbs anyway you wish.  I keep it simple and just use some aged parmesan cheese and Italian flavored seasoning.  Once the chicken has been dipped, it goes onto a cookie sheet which has been sprayed lightly with avocado oil.  I bake it for no more than 20 minutes (depending on thickness) if eating as is.  If you spray the top with a mist of avocado oil it will brown nicely.  If I am using in a chicken parmesan dish, I cook for 15 minutes then top with cheese and small amount of sauce.  No longer do I drown my chicken in sauce as it’s totally not necessary.

Grill don’t Fry

Rarely will I sauté my vegetables in oil anymore.  I have an Optigrill that I purchased after a sleepless night watching infomercials.  It was the best investment ever as I use it for almost everything.  As a reformed vegetable hater, I have come to love the simplistic flavoring of vegetables. In the past I would douse my vegetables in sauces and cheeses and cook them to the point of mush to get them down.  All this just added necessary calories and fat and likely destroyed any health benefits found in the vegetables.  When cooking eggplant parmesan, a favorite addition to Sunday meals, I stopped frying the eggplant.  I don’t dip them in flour or egg anymore either.  Overhaul of that recipe included grilling the eggplant (no oil required) , then just adding a small amount of sauce and cheese.  I leave mine right on the cookie sheet and personally love it this way.  If I eat the fried version now I find it often repeats on me.  Try it out and I think you will be pleasantly surprised.  If cooking for a crowd, you can assemble in the pan just like you would after frying.

Here’s the link to see the Optigrill.  What I love about this is the ease of cleaning.  The whole thing comes apart and goes in the dishwasher, unlike the Foreman grill that I never used due to my inability to properly clean it.  Additionally, this grill has automatic settings so you literally set it and it tells you when it is done.  No more cutting into things to see if they are cooked, or dried out overcooked food.  I’ve never had a bad steak on it.  No, I am not a dealer, nor do I make any commission on this item.  Just love it.

T-fal GC704 OptiGrill Stainless Steel Indoor Electric Grill with Removable and Dishwasher Safe plates,1800-watt, Silver

Use Broth instead of Oil

When stir frying quick meals, you can use a couple of tablespoons of low-sodium vegetable broth in place of oil or butter.  This method adds a nice flavor to your food as well as moisture.  You will save calories and fat from the oil during the cooking process.  Since we know that healthy fats are an integral part of our diets, when eating you can serve these broth sautéed vegetables with a salad.  I like to use avocado oil and lemon juice as a nice dressing over the top.  Since I cooked it in broth, I don’t have to worry about having too much fat in one serving and can add a drizzle of oil to the salad.

Be Choosy about Cheese

Cheese is something I love, but don’t often cook with.  For those recipes that call for cheese, I’ve learned to substitute healthier options.  No, I don’t buy low fat, part skim cheese.  Not only is regular cheese not that bad for you, the reduced-fat version has several drawbacks to it.   Low fat cheese has a very high sodium count (20% more) and the taste and meltability are just plain awful.  Next time you are buying something labeled low fat, I beg you to read the label.  You will see a long list of ingredients and that’s really not cheese in my book.  Truly sounds more like genetically modified fake food.

One of my favorite choices is Cabot cheddar cheese. It has four ingredients: pasteurized milk, cheese cultures, salt, and enzymes.   When using mildly flavored cheese, you need to add more cheese to taste it. Instead, choose a cheese with intense flavor like feta, sharp Cheddar or aged Parmesan.  Try mixing one of these soft cheeses on your chicken parmesan instead of shredded mozzarella.  With the sauce and cheese combination you likely won’t notice the difference. Since I don’t eat parmesan often, I stick with the mozzarella, but purchase freshly made mozzarella from my local store.

Substitute Ingredients

When a recipe calls for a significant amount of ricotta cheese, you can substitute half the amount with cottage cheese.  This will retain taste and texture while reducing some of the fat and calories.  This works really well in baked ziti and lasagna.  When making cream based recipes, you can substitute half and half for heavy cream.  You will still get the same creamy taste with half the fat found in heavy cream.  For any recipe that calls for mayonnaise, you can substitute a homemade dressing made from Greek yogurt and dijon mustard.  When mixed properly it tastes like mayonnaise and is far more healthier.  I use this all the time on my tuna salad.  Lastly, substitute out any pre-made salad dressing or marinade.  They are all laden with chemicals and sodium and totally unnecessary.  For salad dressing, I am a big fan of avocado or olive oil with lemon juice or vinegar.  Simple, easy and healthy.  For marinades, I use wine or vinegar and lemon juice with spices.  They contain far less sodium, yet they tenderize and flavor just as well.

I’ve talked about giving up coffee creamer. My recipe for coffee includes ingredients that are similar to Bullet Coffee. I’ve substituted out my sugar filled creamer with healthy superfoods. You can see my coffee recipe in many of my past posts, or email me directly for it. Here’s the link to the site where I purchase my coffee, Ghee and collagen protein.

Bullet Proof Coffee

There’s something about eating clean delicious food that is not laden with unnecessary oils, cheeses or spices.  I’ve become a minimalist when cooking these days and have come to truly love the taste of my food.  I used to add so much salt to my food and now find it not needed.  It didn’t happen overnight, but making these simple changes to my cooking over time have allowed me to wake up my taste buds.  Why would anyone need to add sugar to a dish of fruit?  The fruit alone is sweet and delicious.  I’ve only shared a few of the many ways you can revamp some of your favorite recipes.  Thankfully, the internet offers many ways to search for healthier recipes.  Cooking Light is a great magazine that carries many simple to cook, healthy dinner options.  Have fun with your menu planning and be brave.  Be willing to try new things and be open to experimenting with food.  I am willing to bet you too will come to love the new versions of your recipes.

If you have healthier versions of your favorite food, please consider sharing. I’m always looking for new ideas.  Here are two of my favorite cookbooks for light, healthy meals.

5 Ingredient Fix: Easy, Elegant, and Irresistible Recipes Clean Eats: Over 200 Delicious Recipes to Reset Your Body’s Natural Balance and Discover What It Means to Be Truly Healthy

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