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Truth time – I don’t always like to cook.

I love making healthy meals for my family and myself, but I often run out of motivation and ideas for meals.  I can get into a rut just like everyone else.

So – I’m listing my best “fun” cooking tips for you!  (And also for me…because I need to remind myself of these, too!)

Fun Cooking Tip #1: Check Out New Recipes

Sometimes, just seeing the beautiful food photos and reading recipes can spark some inspiration and get your motivation going again.

Recipes can be found online or you may prefer to invest in a quality cookbook found at your favorite bookstore.  Did you know there are websites where you can put in the ingredients you have and it pops out a recipe??  AMAZING!  This is my favorite website for that very thing.

Super-Pro-Tip!!!…..  Set a timer!  Going down the recipe rabbit hole can easily burn an afternoon.  Before you know it, you’ve spent a lot of time looking…with no time left for cooking!

Here are a few of my favorite cookbooks to browse:

  • Jimmy Moore’s Keto Cookbook
  • Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain (If you’ve not read her story – it’s amazing!)
  • Thug Kitchen – Eat like you give a f*ck  (Sorry…no offense intended here…but this is one hella cookbook!)

Fun Cooking Tip #2: Make Grocery Shopping Fun and Inspiring

When planning your trip to the grocery store, try to think of things you haven’t had in a while.  Think back to a time in your life that felt less hurried and stressed – is there a food or dish that you remember enjoying during that time?  What about something you haven’t had since childhood?  Has someone served something at a get-together that you particularly liked?

You can also browse around the store for something you’ve never had if you are feeling daring!  Being adventurous can go along with way with keeping things fun in the kitchen.  Buy the ingredient and then go home to find the perfect recipe to match!

Fun Cooking Tip #3: Keep It Simple!

Seriously, y’all….I can NOT stress this enough!  Not every meal has to be a production.

There are those rare times when I’m inspired and feel like getting fancy, but on regular days…. I have a 4-5 ingredient limit (including spices!).  The second I see the ingredient list, I already know to scroll on past depending on how long that list is!

There are a few ways to keep things simple:

  • Search for recipes with fewer than X ingredients (you can decide your limit)
  • Search for recipes that can be made in one pot or pan
  • Search for recipes that are exclusive to crock-pot cooking (set it and forget it!)
  • Buy ingredients that are ready to be used such as pre-washed greens, diced vegetables, frozen vegetables, etc
  • Cookbooks with simple recipes:  5-ingredient Keto Cookbook, Trader Joe’s Cookbook

Fun Cooking Tip #4: Put on some music and have some company!

You should already have a “feel good” playlist – if you don’t…stop reading this and go make a playlist of songs that get you up and hopping!  Put on that playlist when you are cooking.

If you have kids that need to learn the critical skill of cooking, or have friends that would like to come over for a visit – invite them to join you in the kitchen.  Use the time to flirt with your partner or have a mock competition to see who’s better at chopping vegetables.

You could even have a party where everyone contributes one ingredient to the process.  Obviously…give them the menu unless you want a Frankenstein of a meal.  🙂   But that could be fun and interesting too!

Fun Cooking Tip #5: Buy some swag

Having proper kitchen tools makes cooking so much easier and faster.  When’s the last time you sharpened your knives (or just bought a new set)?  Is that dull, crummy blender taking the fun out of your smoothies?

Here’s a list of my favorite kitchen things and why I like them.

  • Immersion Blender – a must if you make soups.  I used to have to use the regular blender then transfer liquids to a pot.  Not any more!  I can put everything into one put and use an immersion blender to take care of it all.  Faster…AND less mess.
  • Silicon Baking Mitts – my husband thought I was nuts buying these, but I couldn’t keep my oven mitts clean.  Now, he loves them too and I can even use them to open jars because they are a bit “sticky.”
  • Instant Pot – OMG…if you don’t have an Instant Pot…you are missing out!  I steam my eggs (poached) in my IP each week, we can do ribs in less than 45 minutes (no grilling for hours), frozen salmon in less than 5 minutes!  The link shows the exact one I have, but there are bigger ones and ones with more technology as well.  Of course, be sure to read all the safety info….it is a pressure cooker after all!
  • Air Fryer – We’ve had 2 air fryers.  Our first one worked just fine but wasn’t big enough.  Last year, we upgraded to the one in the link.  We use the air fryer at least 3-4 times per week cooking fries and tots, wings, and steak (surprisingly good!). I’ve even cooked a whole chicken in the air fryer with great results.  I really want to try scallops in it, but haven’t had a chance.
  • Ulu Knife – I use my Ulu Knife to chop veggies, chicken, and even to slice pizza.  This is not the one I have, as my husband bought mine as a gift from a local knife shop.  But, I do have the bowl that comes with it and love it for chopping veggies.  It’s great for cabbage for my tacos!
  • Small Ninja Blender – I am NOT a big fan of traditional blenders. I’ve just not found one that can withstand ice cubes and frozen vegetables for smoothies.  But, I bought this little guy years ago and still use it a ton.  It’s a small blender that is super easy to wash.  I use it to shred chicken, vegetables, and even put burger in it when I want the burger small so it lays flat inside my lasagna.
  • Spiralizer – This is not the one I have.  Mine is almost 10 years old and I’m not even sure of the brand.  But, they all look similar and work the same way.  Zoodles anyone??  My favorite is to use this to make sweet potato ribbons that are baked and then I put them on super-spicy chili.

We don’t get too crazy around our house – but the items above are a few that we’ve found very useful and fun to use.  Not to mention time-saving…like the IP and the air fryer.  We’ve also switched to silicon utensils (spatulas, etc).

Conclusion…..

You know that cooking is key to healthy eating.  But, yes, it does get boring at times.

Try one, or all, of my fun cooking tips to inspire you to get back into your kitchen and cook yourself some great dishes.  Your body and mind will thank you!

Check out this recipe!

ONE-Skillet Fritatta

Serves 4

8 eggs
¼ cup almond milk, unsweetened
1 tsp olive oil, extra virgin

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 handful baby spinach
1 small zucchini, sliced into thin coins
1 clove of garlic, minced

1 handful cherry tomatoes, halved
1 dash herbs and spice to taste (parsley, sage, paprika, turmeric, etc.)

1 dash salt and pepper

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375F.

Whisk together eggs and almond milk.

Heat an ovenproof skillet (e.g. cast iron) on the stove with the olive oil.

To the hot skillet add garlic, spinach, and zucchini. Cook for 1-2 minutes until the spinach wilts and the zucchini starts to soften.

Add the tomatoes, herbs, spices, salt, and pepper.

Pour in the eggs.

Place the skillet into the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, until eggs are set.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Feel free to substitute your veggies and use what you have on-hand. Try diced pepper instead of tomatoes, or chopped kale instead of spinach. Have fun with this!

Ready to make that next diet be your last?  My online program addresses how to be 100% ready for your next weight-loss endeavor so you can finally be done with dieting forever.

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*What’s with all the links??….  Easy!  I’ve done a ton of research so you don’t have to.  I take what I use and know, mixed with other research, to provide you with products and services I feel are quality and could be of use to you.  I do make a small percentage from the sale of these products – but it costs you nothing extra to purchase them.  Please know that I’d never push a product I don’t believe in.  I value your trust in me more than I value making $0.75 from the sale of a product!  Always read reviews and do your own research before purchasing products and services.

The Nutrition Facts table is on the side of most packaged foods. It’s usually found close to the ingredient listing.

Two versions of a nutrition Facts label, the old and new version.

The purpose of it is to help consumers make better nutrition decisions. When people can see the number of calories, carbs, sodium, etc. in food, they should be able to choose healthier foods, right?

Whether you like the Nutrition Facts table or not, let’s make sure you get the most out of it, since it’s here to stay!

Here’s my four-step crash course on reading the Nutrition Facts table.

Step 1: Serving Size

The absolute most important part of the Nutrition Facts table is to note the serving size. Manufacturers often strategically choose the serving size to make the rest of the table look good. Small serving = small calories/fat/carbs. So, it’s tricky.

All the information in the table rests on the amount chosen as the serving size. So, for example in the label we see above (the one on the right), the serving size is 1 cup. This means when you eat 1 cup of this food, you’ll be eating 7 grams of fat, 30 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of protein, etc. And, since every manufacturer chooses their own, it’s often difficult to compare two products.

You may purchase this product and essentially memorize that one serving contains these particular nutrient values. However, if you purchase another brand – that brand may have the serving size be 2 cups. WOAH! If you aren’t careful and don’t notice that EVERYthing has doubled on that label, you may be under the impression that you can eat twice as much of the second brand. NO! Not the case at all.

In Canada, in the next few years (between 2017-2022), serving sizes will be more consistent between similar foods. This will make it easier to compare foods. The new labels will also have more realistic serving sizes to reflect the amount that people eat in one sitting, and not be artificially small. I’ve not heard if this is the case with U.S. labels.

Let’s use an example – plain, unsalted walnuts from Costco. 

As you can see, right under the Nutrition Facts header is the serving size. That is a ¼ cup or 30 g. This means that all the numbers underneath it are based on this amount.

FUN EXPERIMENT: Try using a measuring cup to see exactly how much of a certain food equals one serving. You may be surprised at how small it is (imagine a ¼ cup of walnuts).

Step 2: % Daily Value

The % Daily Value (%DV) is based on the recommended daily amount of each nutrient the average adult needs. Ideally, you will get 100% DV for each nutrient every day. This is added up based on all of the foods and drinks you have throughout the day. 

NOTE: Since children are smaller and have different nutritional needs if a type of food is intended solely for children under the age of 4, then those foods use a child’s average nutrition needs for the %DV.

The %DV is a guideline, not a rigid rule. It means most of the population will not be DEFICIENT in this particular nutrient if this DV is met.

You don’t need to add all of your %DV up for everything you eat all day. Instead, think of anything 5% or less to be a little; and, anything 15% or more to be a lot.

NOTE: Not every nutrient has a %DV. You can see it’s missing for things like cholesterol, sugar, and protein. This is because there isn’t an agreed “official” %DV for that nutrient. The good news is that the new Nutrition Facts tables will include a %DV for sugar. Keep your eyes out for that.

Step 3: Middle of the table (e.g. Calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, potassium, carbohydrates, and protein)

Calories are pretty straight forward. Look at the walnuts label, a ¼ cup (30 g) of walnuts has 200 calories.

Fat is bolded for a reason. That 19 g of fat (29% DV) is total fat.That includes the non-bolded items underneath it. Here, 19 g of total fat includes 1.5 g saturated fat, (19 g – 1.5 g = 17.5 g) unsaturated fat, and 0 g trans fat. (Yes, unsaturated fats including mono- and poly-unsaturated are not on the label, so you need to do a quick subtraction).

Cholesterol, sodium, and potassium are all measured in mg. Ideally, aim for around 100% of potassium and sodium each day. It’s easy to overdo sodium, especially if you grab pre-made/packaged foods, restaurant foods, or snacks. Keep an eye on this number if sodium can be a problem for you (e.g. if your doctor mentioned it, if you have high blood pressure or kidney problems, etc.).

Carbohydrate, like fat, is bolded because it is total carbohydrates. It includes the non-bolded items underneath it like fiber, sugar, and starch (not shown). Here, 30 g of walnuts contain 3 g of carbohydrates; that 3 g are all fiber. There is no sugar or starch. And as you can see, 3 g of fiber is 12% of your daily value for fiber.

Proteins, like calories, are pretty straight forward as well. Here, a ¼ cup (30 g) of walnuts contains 5 g of protein.

Step 4: Bottom of the table (e.g. vitamins & minerals)

The vitamins and minerals listed at the bottom of the table are also straightforward. The new labels will list potassium, calcium, and iron. Yes, potassium will drop from the middle of the table to the bottom, and both vitamins A & C will become optional. 

Manufacturers can add other vitamins and minerals to the bottom of their Nutrition Facts table (this is optional). And you’ll notice that some foods contain a lot more vitamins and minerals than others do.

Conclusion

I hope this crash course in the Nutrition Facts table was helpful. While you can take it or leave it when it comes to making food decisions, it’s here to stay. And it will change slightly over the next few years.

One of the best things about reading labels is truly knowing what you are putting in your body. Many food-tracking apps, such as myfitnesspal, have the ability to scan the bar code so this information gets transferred right into your food log! All you have to do is tell it how many servings you ate. It’s pretty nifty.

And don’t forget my general rule for SUGAR on these labels….If it has more than 10 grams of sugar per serving…consider it CANDY! Many health bars, cereals, etc are marketed as “healthy” when, in reality, they are the opposite! So, labels are of tremendous value if you are truly interested in optimizing nutrition for health.

Take a look at a couple labels of processed foods that are marketed as healthy and look at their labels!

My book Weight Loss that Works: Secrets to Restoring Confidence and Reclaiming Your Body is now available in the KINDLE STORE! Woot!

Recipe (walnuts): Delicious and Super-Easy Walnut Snack

Serves 1

8 walnut halves

4 dates, pitted

Instructions

Make a “date sandwich” by squeezing each date between two walnut halves.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Try with pecans instead.

References:

http://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/eating-nutrition/label-etiquetage/changes-modifications-eng.php
https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/understanding-food-labels/percent-daily-value.html
http://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/eating-nutrition/label-etiquetage/regulatory-guidance-directives-reglementaires/daily-values-valeurs-quotidiennes/guide-eng.php#p1

You totally want to ditch your scale, don’t you?

I mean, that number you see on there doesn’t define you (obviously)….you know that, RIGHT?

What you weigh does matter but only to a certain extent. Did you know that waist circumference can be a better indicator of your health risks?

Let’s look at your waist circumference (well…you look at yours and I’ll look at mine).

Waist Circumference (AKA “Belly Fat”):

Do you remember the fruity body shape descriptions being like an “apple” or a “pear”?  The apple is kinda round around the middle (you know – belly fat-ish, kinda beer belly-ish) and the pear is rounder around the hips/thighs.

THAT is what we’re talking about here.

Do you know which shape is associated with a higher risk of sleep apnea, blood sugar issues (e.g. insulin resistance and diabetes) and heart issues (high blood pressure, blood fat, and arterial diseases)?  

Yup – that apple!

And it’s not because of the subcutaneous (under the skin) fat that you may refer to as a “muffin top”.  The health risk is actually due to the fat inside the abdominal cavity covering the liver, intestines, and other organs there.

This internal fat is called “visceral fat” and that’s where a lot of the problem actually is.  It’s this “un-pinchable” fat.  

The reason the visceral fat can be a health issue is because it releases fatty acids, inflammatory compounds, and hormones that can negatively affect your blood cholesterol, blood sugars, and blood pressure.

Apple-shaped people tend to have a lot more of this hidden visceral fat than pear-shaped people do.

So as you can see, where  fat is stored can be more important than how much you weigh.

Am I an apple or a pear?

It’s pretty simple to find out if you’re in the higher risk category or not. The easiest way is to just measure your waist circumference with a measuring tape.  You can do it right now.

Women, if your waist is 35” or more you could be considered to have “abdominal obesity” and be in the higher risk category. Pregnant ladies are exempt, of course.

For men the number is 40”. 

Of course this isn’t a diagnostic tool. There are lots of risk factors for chronic diseases.  Waist circumference is just one of them.

If you find yourself measuring at or around these numbers, please schedule an appointment to discuss with your physician. You can also find a specialized weight loss physician to help you via the ABOM website. These are physicians, such as myself, who have extra training and certification in weight-loss medicine.

Tips for helping reduce visceral fat:

  • Eat more fiber.  Fiber can help reduce belly fat in a few ways. First of all it helps you feel full and also helps to reduce the amount of calories you absorb from your food. Some examples of high-fiber foods are brussel sprouts, flax and chia seeds, avocado, and blackberries.
  • Add more protein to your day.  Protein reduces your appetite and makes you feel fuller longer.  It also has a high TEF (thermic effect of food) compared with fats and carbs and ensures you have enough of the amino acid building blocks for your muscles.
  • Nix added sugars. This means ditch the processed sweetened foods especially sodas and juice (even 100% pure juice).
  • Move more.  Get some aerobic exercise.  Lift some weights.  Walk and take the stairs.  It all adds up. Moving means getting up outta that chair at least every 45 minutes and walking around, stretching, marching in place, etc. Just MOVE.
  • Stress less. Seriously!  Elevated levels in the stress hormone cortisol have been shown to increase appetite and drive abdominal fat.
  • Get more sleep.  Try making this a priority and seeing how much better you feel (and look).

My book Weight Loss that Works: Secrets to Restoring Confidence and Reclaiming Your Body is now available via KINDLE! But, if you’d still prefer the PDF form for printing, you can find that here.

Recipe (High fiber side dish): Garlic Lemon Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Serves 4

1 lb brussel sprouts (washed, ends removed, halved)

2-3 cloves of garlic (minced)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

dash salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400F.  

In a bowl toss sprouts with garlic, oil, and lemon juice.  Spread on a baking tray and season with salt and pepper.

Bake for about 15 minutes.  Toss.

Bake for another 10 minutes.

Serve and Enjoy!

Tip:  Brussel sprouts contain the fat-soluble bone-loving vitamin K.  You may want to eat them more often.

References:

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/research-abdominal-fat-and-risk
http://www.precisionnutrition.com/visceral-fat-location

http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/weights-poids/guide-ld-adult/qa-qr-pub-eng.php#a4

https://authoritynutrition.com/6-proven-ways-to-lose-belly-fat/

https://authoritynutrition.com/20-tips-to-lose-belly-fat/