6 Basic Tips for Starting (& Living) a Real Food Lifestyle

Time to say hello to 2015; and hello to the possibility that this will be the best year of your life.  For those of you prepping (with me) for The Whole Damn Thing, it’s almost GO time!  While the prep and the weight of the ‘commitment’ itself can seem pretty intimidating as it approaches, I assure you, it will not be as bad as you think, and you will feel better than you can even imagine.

I’m going to say this now, but it might not mean anything until we’re closing out January (so don’t worry, I’ll repeat it): the real purpose, and the actual value, of this whole challenge has less to do with these next 28-30 days than may be apparent amidst the current build up.  The value is in the lifestyle change; the forming of habits and the conscious choice making of what food we buy, and where we buy it; the self-education that happens within the process; and most importantly, how we choose fuel our bodies to be strong and healthy.

So, lets get started with the basics.

1. Make meal plans, grocery lists, and buy what you need for the week.  Without food ready to cook, life will be tough.

2. Make time to prep in bulk (I typically recommend Sundays, just because that seems to work best for me and my crazy weekday schedule). If you’re planning two meals with spaghetti squash, make it in advance — if you’re using zoodles/spiralized zucchini, get them ready.  Seriously, whatever you can chop, prep, and store, do it in one effort.  You’ll thank yourself later.

Fuel Sweat Grow: Saturday meals, spaghetti squash

3.  If you’re a meat eater, buy it in bulk (or on sale when you can) and freeze it.  Whole Foods will frequently have sales on staple meat items (ground beef and chicken of all varieties).   You’ll save money and time if you take advantage of those opportunities, and you’ll be so thankful when you have backup ready if you’re ever in a pinch.

Fuel Sweat Grow: rib eyes

4.  Plan for leftover mix + match.  Leftover meat added to a simple salad makes for a great on the go meal; roasted cauliflower makes an awesome addition to scrambled eggs; brussel sprout hash is good in/on/with everything (just saying).

fuel

5.  Don’t leave the house without food.  Seriously.  There’s nothing worse than hunger panic, so don’t set yourself up failure.  Prep in advance, take food with you, and keep some emergency snacks with you at all times (nuts, fruit, etc).

6.  Take it one day at a time.  Like anything else all you can really do is deal with what you can control in the moment — everything else is a waste of energy.  Just focus on the plan for ‘today’ and keep the momentum going.

I actually started today (and yesterday if you choose not to count the end-of-2014 celebratory wine), so I can tell you with certainty that the future isn’t so bad.  I did a good amount of shopping, for meat anyhow, at Whole Foods yesterday and got away with making meals with what was left in the fridge, but I’ll be heading out to Trader Joe’s tomorrow to finish up the list, and get the meal plans cranking for the rest of the week.  Again, the work load is heavy on the front end, but it definitely pays off in the long run.

I’m already feeling more accomplished in 2015 so here’s to continuing in that direction!

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The Whole Damn Thing: The Yes/NO List + Helpful Tips

We’re just about 5 days out from kicking off the Whole Damn Thing, so it’s time to talk details: yes/no foods, the ‘why’ behind each method, and a few of the starter how-to guides.  So here we go!

This week this really great article came out as a summarized guide to how to eat Paleo, Whole 30, or even less restrictive with a focus on ditching processed foods.  So here’s the quick and dirty guide on what you can and CANNOT have if you’re eating Paleo.

fuel sweat grow: how to eat Paleo

(source)

Now, if you’re hopping on the 28toLife train, and coming into 2015 guns blazing, you’re also going to ditch the Honey and Maple Syrup.  No sugar is no sugar, with the exception of fructose in some fruits, which should still be viewed in moderation.  You’ll notice when my full grocery and meal lists come out that my preferred shopping list is really heavy on some items, and really light on some others….that’s not by mistake.  We’re going for nutrient rich foods; lean meats (local/grassfed and grass finished), nutrient rich vegetables, antioxidant rich (lower sugar/fructose) fruits/berries, eggs….so many eggs, and some staple items to support creative meal creation.

The most important thing to remember is that you must read all ingredient labels.  Just even doing this exercise will change the way you look at food.   It’s not about calories or fat (processed foods labelled as gluten-free or fat-free typically have the highest sugar, carb, and chemical compositions and are worse for you can straight up butter or whole grain breads – unless you are celiac or truly gluten intolerant).  Look at the ingredient list, and if there are words you don’t know (or naughty words you do know like sugar or anything ending in -ate), put it down and run away.  Keswick Gourmet (pictured below) is honestly one of the only marinara/pasta sauces in a jar that you can find anywhere in town without added sugar, and happens to be made locally.  It’s at Whole Foods, thank goodness, and is one of the few things that will bridge the gap between eating clean and having convenience.

fuel sweat grow: keswick gourmet

The best things to do when shopping is shop local farmers markets, or, in a traditional grocery store shop the perimeter – produce, fruit, meat, eggs, and out!  And just for a little extra, check out this article on Superfoods that are healthier and more nutrient rich than the currently trend leading #kale.  It’s great that so many people are embracing kale’s deep leafy greens, but it’s not the King of the mountain when it comes to green Superfoods and nutrient density, so don’t feel like you need to load up on it unless you love it too.

Snacks are always the hardest, so we’ll do our best to put out some great snack options for eating at home, or taking on-the-go, but typically you’ll want to think within the boundaries of the basics and prepare some quick grab bags/containers.  Almond butter is a great dipping sauce for baby carrots, celery, apples, bananas…..the usual suspects that we’ve all known since childhood — just once again, opt for the fresh ground almond or cashew butters from Whole Foods or Trader Joes, and make sure you read the label….most nut-butters have added sugar.  If you’re looking for some approved vendors, from snacks and dressings to meat vendors, et all, check out this list that is Whole 30 approved, or as always, visit our friends from MODpaleo and enter the code ‘MadnessCville’ when you create your account to receive 10% off your first order (they make meals AND snacks).

fuel sweat grow: MODpaleo Pre-packaged meal delivery

As you get ready to stock up on some Staple Items, here’s a quick list of what you’ll need as serious basics, and my store preferences if you’re looking to shop around on price:

Coconut Milk: this will become a life-line of sorts, so stock up.  It’s $0.99/can at Trader Joes vs. $2.49 at Whole Foods, and when you’re buying cans 10 at a time it really adds up.

Almond Milk: this is expensive wherever you go, and most brands are on the naughty list thanks to added Sugars, so if you’re looking to save $ and do it right, buy raw (unsalted, non-roasted) almonds from Trader Joe’s and follow this guide to make your own.  It’s much easier and cheaper than you would think. [But if you’re in a jam and just need a latte, Milli Joe and GRIT Coffee both make their almond milk in-house and will steam it up right for you with a few shots of amazing espresso.  It’s worth the $4+ when you’re in a jam.]

Coconut Oil: Have at least 2 jars on hand at all times, you will use it more than you can imagine.  Trader Joe’s will be your best bet on price by $1-2/jar.

Coconut Flour: You don’t need a ton of this, it goes amazingly far.  You can find it at Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and most other general grocery stores (Harris Teeter, Kroger), just check the back and make sure it’s pure coconut.

Cinnamon:  You’ll want to make sure you have ground cinnamon on hand for coffee, coconut milk mixes, etc.  Once you quit sugar, spices will taste so amazing that you’ll find yourself getting excited to try new combos for veggie stir-frys and meat rubs.

Vanilla Extract: another label hunter. We’re going for pure/organic (not the alcohol/chemical rich generic brands); you’ll want this for making coconut milk coffee creamer, smoothies, etc.

Grocery Lists divided into best-of stores (Whole Foods / Trader Joes and local favorites like Stock and The Organic Butcher for meat) are headed your way tomorrow, but in the meantime, here’s a prep-post I put out prior to some of our clients doing the Whole30 earlier this year.  There’s a lot on the list, but I tend to find myself cooking for multiples, and the pre-making and packaging away leftovers habit has been known to save lives around here.

Until then, you know those cookies that have been eyeing you from the cabinet (or worse, the counter) every night?  Throw them out.  Let the wine linger a little longer so you don’t hate directly on 2014, and we’ll say g’bye after the ball has dropped….and remember, it’s only goodbye for now, you’ll be back at the end of the month.

Returning to MADville + Real [Clean] Food

Last Monday was the official first day of business for MADabolic Charleston, and if you told me it was two months ago, I would believe you, 100%.  The last four weeks have included a ton of travel, way too many hoops to jump through, and a complete and total sense of chaos that is just beginning to settle.  Along with the MADness, there was lots of food — great food — and wine.

The great part of opening fitness concepts is that you typically get to workout a decent amount, but the restaurant hopping really took it’s toll on my energy and overall wellbeing.

Prior to leaving for Charlotte and Charleston I had committed, along with several of our clients in MADville, to kick of 28toLife this week.  While I always tend to teeter on the edge of a modified version, and typically try to eat 80/20, the detox from the last four weeks had me SO incredibly ready to get back into the full routine of planned eating.

On Wednesday night I hit up Trader Joes to get some of the most essential staples for survival.  I had gotten into the habit of making the quick trip to Whole Foods out of convenience, and forgot just how much more expensive it is — which will have to be a post of it’s own.

fuel sweat grow: trader joes grocery cart

So, starting back at the basics, here’s the note that I sent out to our small (but mighty) group of real food freedom eaters to kick off the next 28 days:

The Rules:
-no grains
-no dairy
-no sugar
-no alcohol
-no legumes (soy, beans, peanuts, etc)
Basically, nothing comes out of a box or package.  Below is my most standard grocery list for survival :
– Chicken (breasts or thighs)
– ground beef (or turkey / chicken)
– applegate farms chicken sausage
– yellow & purple onion
– zucchini / yellow squash
– red/orange/yellow bell pepped
– mushrooms
– cauliflower
– celery
– carrots
– spaghetti squash
– avocado (MANY)
– asparagus
– (local) Keswick Gourmet Marinara Sauce (this is the local option at Whole Foods — and they typically carry the most local brand in each market)
– kale
– romaine
– cucumbers
– broccoli slaw (only at Trader Joe’s)
– blueberries
– green apples (usually 6, but if i’m making the streusel recipe about a dozen+)
– bananas
– strawberries
– almond butter
– coconut oil
– sesame seed (or safflour) oil
– coconut oil
– coconut milk (light)
– eggs
– plantain chips (only at Trader Joes — NOT to be confused with banana chips)
– almonds (whole, slivered)
– sunflower seeds
-lemons
-limes
This isn’t totally exhaustive, but for the most part every recipe that I make that is an ‘everyday’ recipe includes these ingredients.  Every once in a while I’ll really branch out, but that’s if I’m trying to follow a recipe from someone else, or get a little creative.  When I do 28toLife everything else (for the most part) gets totally cleaned out and only the good stuff is left, and that makes it so much easier to pick the right things and really prep food.
The easiest thing to do is on a Sunday night (or any night really) make a big dinner with several sides and spend some extra time chopping things up (like zucchini or celery, etc) to have ready for cooking or snacks.  I’ll also usually roast a spaghetti squash or two on Sunday while I have time and will then have it ready in the fridge for meals that I don’t have a ton of time for during the week.
Here’s a post with our favorite quick breakfast option (Apple Streusel ‘Muffins’) which do require some time to make in advance, but are easily kept in the fridge or frozen
This Thai Chicken Stir-Fry is probably my favorite rainy-day or winter meal, but it’s still awesome in the summer with cauliflower rice OR over spaghetti squash. There are no exact measurements, but the feedback we’ve come up with is that adding a little more coconut milk for a thinner sauce is better than a really thick one.
This is by far my favorite meal and the best replacement for spaghetti and meatballs/meat sauce.  It keeps AMAZINGLY well as leftovers, so this is a great one to make in excess and pack up for lunches during the week.
And that’s where it begins.  Tomorrow morning, it begins with breakfast, and most likely the biggest Almond Milk Latte that Milli Joe can make.
Lets do this!

From the Fridge to the Plate: Everything Taco Salad

A few weeks ago, amidst one of the most brutally cold days of the winter, I found myself staring into my fridge around 5pm, desperately hoping that I didn’t have to head out for groceries.  I really do love grocery shopping and meal planning, but when I have a ton going on I hate the last minute obligation of it.

Thankfully, I had some of my clutch grocery items, and after a minute of working it around in my head I decided on Taco Salad.  It had been forever since I made this, and the first time without rice or any sort of cheese, so I wanted to make sure I had enough variety to keep me interested.

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The key for me is mild seasoning — I don’t love a ton of seasoning, and never actually liked the packet mixes — so I sifted through the spice cabinet to find some chili powder from Savory Spice shop and got to work.

The basics: onion, zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, yellow and red bell peppers, and mushrooms all sautéed in coconut oil until tender, and then add in (local, grassfed) ground beef.

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Enter my beloved Chili Powder and some fresh ground pink himalayan sea salt, and the meat portion was finished and ready to cool.

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The completed product (once cooled) then topped chopped romaine, avocado, and cucumbers.  And I have to say, this is one of my absolute new (old) favorites, remade into a clean and 28 to life acceptable meal.

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Even my most faithful sidekick and kitchen assistant loved it — despite what she may imply with her saucy little face.

Bug

These types of simple and basic recipes are so critical for me and my lifestyle in order to stay on plan, keep things clean, and also allow for the ‘everything in the fridge’ type meal while still being damn good.   It’s also incredible for leftovers and lunch planning — just make sure you package the meat and lettuce separately to  avoid any slimy/gross wet lettuce situations.

Here’s to hoping the coldest of the cold weather is past us, and we can all sail sweetly into a premature spring.   Or at least that’s what I believe when my glass is half full of wine.

Grocery List, Breakfast Favorite + Monday Things

From the moment I opened my eyes this morning I could just feel the monday-ness looming in the air.  I had the classic weekend where I had more to get done than I could have ever reasonably accomplished, and it was actually a struggle for me to admit defeat at 10pm on sunday night to allow myself a good night sleep.

It was totally worth it.  The still-unpacked box that was abandoned in the corner is still staring at me, but I don’t care.  I’m prioritizing me this week – my sanity, my health, and my own piece of mind.

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I committed to an 80/20 style 28toLife program with Sarah and Georgi, good friends and trainers from MADabolic, and it started today.  Over the past year I’ve gotten pretty used to cooking according to Cristina’s preferred plan and can make a meal out of just about anything at this point — as long as there are groceries stocked.  That’s one of the challenges — making sure that there is good, fresh food, constantly stocked in the fridge.   Meat, fruit, vegetables, and a few other critical essentials to allow for spontaneous meal creation.   The point is not to feel hungry and deprived — it’s to change what you’re using to fuel your body and teaching it to run on good quality food.

Depending on what your preferred tastes and meals are, you might want to meal plan ahead of time and buy groceries a little more frequently than usual, or, you might want to go all-out on Sundays in preparation for the week.  Totally your call.  I do a little of both, but I would say that I do have a staple MUST-HAVE-THESE-THINGS at all times list:

Basics:

  • Coconut Oil
  • Coconut Milk (canned from Trader Joes)
  • Sesame Oil
  • Almond Butter (Fresh ground from Whole Foods if you can)
  • Sea Salt
  • Cinnamon
  • Pure Vanilla Extract
  • Chili Powder

Meat:

  • Chicken Breast
  • Ground Beef
  • Flank Steak (get a big one so you can take advantage of extra)
  • Chicken Sausage ( Applegate Farms)

Fruit & Vegetables:

  • Zucchini
  • Yellow Squash
  • Cauliflower
  • Spaghetti Squash
  • Lettuce / Kale
  • Cucumbers
  • Avocado (MANY)
  • Carrots
  • Broccoli Slaw
  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Bananas
  • Lemons

Additional staples:

  • Whole and/or slivered Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Sunflower Seeds

It looks like a huge list — and it is, but for the most part you can ALWAYS find these things in my fridge, and they are the best and most versatile basics I’ve found.  There are certainly other things I like to pick up at times — beets, arugula, and spinach included, but usually only when they’re planned in a specific meal.

This morning’s breakfast was straight out of my critical ingredient handbook, and was the perfect way to start off this Monday.

Fuel Sweat Grow: Egg Scramble
Saute broccoli slaw, zucchini, and yellow squash in coconut oil
Add chicken & Eggs
Add chicken & Eggs
The finished, and delicious, product.
The finished, and delicious, product.

Lunch was a salad with chicken from a little spot next to my office, accompanied by about 10 huge cups of water that were strategically consumed to help me prepare for (hot) yoga at Y2 tonight — more on yoga tomorrow.

Dinner tonight was grilled chicken, cucumber, avocado, and sea salt seasoning all chopped and mixed together for a chunky chicken salad.  It was super quick to make since I had some chicken already cooked and awaiting it’s destiny in the fridge.

And that marks the end of this super long monday.

Goodnight.

 

Kitchen Therapy: Thai Chicken Stir-Style

I’ve been feeling pretty anxious and overly committed lately, so last weekend I made a very concerted effort to take time to do some of the things that too often get dropped from my schedule.  Aside from taking full advantage of the additional hour of sleep, I managed to squeeze in two massages (yep, two), a mani/pedi, and back to back trips to Home Goods.  That last one might not sound restful, but for me it’s damn near a spiritual experience for me these days.

And while all of those things were great, and definitely contributed to a few necessary zen moments, the most important thing I did for my overall well-being was an extended  (un-rushed) and completely unplanned full-cart adventure at Trader Joe’s.

Trader Joes

It had been a while since I strolled through TJ’s Isles, and it felt great to be back.  It’s so easy to fall into the routine of going to Whole Foods, and blindly adapting to the $250/trip sticker shock until it almost seems uncomfortable to spend less.

I held back at nothing — I bought enough meat, produce, and ‘extras,’ to last through the full week, and a few bottles of wine to make it (me) whole.

On Sunday night I roasted the chicken, cauliflower, and spaghetti squash — all which turned up in Monday’s meal of leftovers.  I also took some extra time on Sunday night to revisit the Apple Streusel (Egg) Muffin recipe, thanks to a special and fresh delivery of Granny Smith apples from Carter’s Mountain Orchard.

Apple Streusel

These are pretty easy to make, and this time just by switching to coconut oil spray (rather than trying to manually spread oil with a paper towel…) and letting the apples cool before mixing them with the eggs, the batch turned out just a little better.

With the fridge stocked full of groceries (and some pre-made daytime meals), I got to have a little fun with dinner this week.  Ingredients included:

  • Chicken Breasts
  • Red + yellow bell peppers
  • Zucchini
  • Mushrooms
  • Celery
  • Cauliflower
  • Almond Butter
  • (light) Coconut Milk
  • Sesame Seed Oil
  • Coconut Oil

vegetables for sauteing

And of course a glass of wine on the side, which is optional (just not if we’re going to be friends).

The idea for this meal was to make a (non-peanut) Thai Chicken Stir Fry.   And, if you ask me, it worked.

I started by (cutting up &) sautéing the chicken in some sesame oil.

stir fried chicken

Once it was a light golden brown I placed all the chicken on a plate, and threw the cauliflower (finely chopped) into the remaining oil to fry it up like rice.

cauliflower fried rice

 

Vegetables were next.  Cut in long slivers (where possible) and simmered in coconut oil to give it a sweet flavor, they cooked until they were tender

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Then came the ever-too-simple part that made all the difference in the world – I mixed almond butter and coconut milk in a little tupperware, and shook it until it blended into a nice sauce and poured it over the vegetables to finish.

non-peanut thai chicken stir fry

 

Despite being born out of zero planning, and mostly just a desire to use what was stocked in the fridge, I have to say this is one of the best meals I’ve cooked in the last six months…. humbly speaking of course.

thai chicken and rice dinner

 

There’s really nothing like taking time in the kitchen to create when things are getting a little too stressful and real — and if you do it up big enough, mass quantities of leftovers can also help to ease the burden of lunch-time hunger games.

Well, there’s nothing like it if you get to reap the benefit of eating it.  Spectating, apparently, isn’t the jam when you’re a hungry little bug….

Bug