Nuisance Or Awesomely Nutritious? What To Do With Nettles

We live in timg_4072he woods where nettles grow everywhere. My kids have become pretty adept at spotting them but that does not mean we don’t have regular run-ins with these stinging weeds while tromping around. I know they are not everyone’s favorite plant, but I want to make a pitch for nettles because I have come to love them over the years! Now I look forward to spotting them as one of the first signs that spring has really arrived and sunshine is (hopefully) not far behind.

So every year when the nettles are perfect I have a dear friend who comes to visit and we make a spring weekend of harvesting and cooking with nettles. I love that now the kids remember and look forward to it. Maybe this will become your new family tradition too!

Nettles are so delicious! Another friend who used to live in the mountains but has since moved to the city recently confess to me that he bought nettles at the local food coop last week because he loves them so much and couldn’t find them growing near his house. That made me laugh because there are some things that it kills me to pay for at the grocery store – zucchini, rhubarb, nettles. If you find yourself tempted to pay for these delicious greens just come visit me and I’ll hook you up.

Health Benefits

One of my favorite health benefits of nettles is that they help relieve hay fever symptoms. I just think it’s so magical that at a time of year when the pollen count is high and allergies are prevalent nature also provides this great remedy! Nettles are also an anti inflammatory and have been found to help reduce joint pain and the effects of osteoporosis. It is also used as a diuretic and to reduce eczema.

Nettles are also high in iron (I swear I feel stronger after drinking nettle tea) and a great source of bone strengthening calcium! A warning though – nettles are not considered safe for women who are pregnant as they can lead to uterine contractions.

Harvesting Nettles

The first thing you have to do when working with nettles is to find them! This can be a great spring treasure hunt to do with the kids – plus it helps them learn what they look like so they can avoid getting stung. Nettles often grow in the woods on the edges of disturbed areas like clear cuts or roads. If you are uncertain if what you are img_4062looking at is a nettle you can always ask for a volunteer to touch one and find out (just kidding. Don’t do that. Try looking it up in a plant book. This is my favorite one).

It is best to harvest nettles within the first couple weeks of seeing them come up. This is when they are most tender and scrumptious. Use gloves and scissors and maybe tongs if that’s helpful. Bring a bag to collect them in. Nettles will cook down a lot so you will probably want to gather more than you think you’ll need.

Preparing Nettles

The first thing to do when working with nettles is to take the sting out of them so that you can work with them and eat them without getting hurt. There are two easy ways to to this – blanching or drying.

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The first thing I like to do is give them a good soak in sink of cold water. This will wash off any dirt and soak off any little bugs that might have decided to journey home with you.

If drying nettles for tea at this point you can put them on your dehydrator in a single layer and just let them dry out overnight. In the morning put them in a container and you’ve got nettles for delicious nutritious nettle tea – just use them like you would loose leaf tea.

If blanching put a large spaghetti pot on the stove and bring the water to boiling. Next (remembering to use your tongs!) transfer the nettles into the spaghetti pot. They only need to be in the hot water for a minute or so to take the sting out. After that you can lift them out with the spaghetti strainer and place them in another bowl. I like to do it this way for a couple of reasons 1) because they will cook way down once their in the water so you’ll want to process more than one batch in the boiling water 2) the water that you blanch them in is extremely yummy and nutritious. You’ll see it changes to a deep brown color – don’t throw it out! Drink it like you would hot or cold tea.

What To Do With Them

At this point the options are endless. You can use the blanched nettles any way that you would use spinach. If you have more than you can use right away it freezes beautifully.

One of my favorite ways to use it is to make nettle pesto. My homesteading friend Corina has this delicious and simple recipe. Other ideas are to use it in place of spinach for lasagna, blend it in green smoothies, use it in baked goods, use it as an omelette filling. Or just saute them with a little butter and garlic and they are delicious on their own. If you do this last one no need to blanch first – cooking them over heat will also remove their sting. Have fun and get creative! I’d love to hear if you have other ways you love to use this delicious and oh so healthy plant.

Be happy, be healthy, be well!


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Scenes From A Health Coach’s Kitchen: Getting The Kids On Board

kidscookingToday I thought I would try something a little different. You know me, I love talking about food. I love reading food blogs and articles. I follow countless healthy foodies and food stylists and I drool over the glorious pictures of fresh beautiful food that looks so gorgeous. I do often get inspired to try new things because of it, BUT I’m also a mom and a business owner and I know how busy life can be. Realistically I am not going to spend hours perfectly placing each goji berry in my smoothie bowls.

One of my favorite food resources for inspiration is Lisa Leake who founded 100 Days Of Real Food. The reason I originally found her was because she has a photo gallery on her website where she snaps a quick picture of the lunches she had packs for her girls each day. As inspiring as the beautiful food stylist photos are I’ve found Lisa’s school lunch pictures to be a million times more helpful and practical in my regular day to day.

So occasionally I want to start sharing with you some things that are actually happening in my kitchen as a real life snapshot of possibility. And to start it off I thought I’d share a little bit about how I’ve involved my kids in the cooking over the last couple of weeks. There are a lot of ways to encourage kids to grow a love for healthy food, but one of the best ways I know is to get them involved with the cooking. Here are a few recent scenes from our kitchen:

Top Left: The boys making black bean brownies. There are a million black bean brownie recipes out there. I’ve had some pretty epic fails in this department, but the one we’ve been using and loving lately is this Flour less Black Bean Brownie by Chocolate Covered Katie. My kids get excited by even being in charge of the smallest job. This recipe is so easy that all there is to do is dump the ingredients into the food processor and push the button. But even that is exciting for them, and the pride they have when they eat something that they helped cook is really fun to see.

Top Right: I know it sometimes seems like more work to involve the kids with the cooking but how many times have you been trying to get dinner on the table with the kids clamoring in the background with a million requests? Trust me it is much easier to give them a knife and some vegetables to chop. Ha! Okay maybe that sounds strange but check out these salad knives made for kids you can find on Amazon. They are still a little sharp and require some supervision, but if you are selective about what things you give them to chop (think start with banana) and talk about knife safety as you go, it’s a great skill for them to develop early on. There are also some good you tube videos for kids on how to use knives safely that you might think about watching together before jumping in. Kids will take forever carefully chopping peas or peppers leaving your hands free to finish up the rest of the dinner prep. And as a bonus I’ve noticed in our house it’s common for vegetables to get nibbled on along the way – so maybe a good way to encourage those kiddos who aren’t so sure about veggies?

Bottom Left: Making your own tortillas is a really fun project and so easy. We picked up our tortilla press years ago at a local Hispanic food store. I think it might have been $10, but you can also find them on Amazon. Look for masa in the Hispanic food section of your grocery store. It’s magical for the kids to put the balls of masa on the press and lift it up to find perfect tortillas. They are delicious (way better than store bought in my humble opinion) and an added health benefit is you know exactly what is in them – a surprising number of tortillas in the grocery store are loaded up with preservatives to help keep them shelf stable. Here is a link for an easy tutorial if you are looking for more directions.

Bottom Right: On Valentines Day the kids wanted to make heart shaped pizzas. What kid doesn’t love pizza? And by making your own at home you can make it so much healthier! You can of course make a delicious crust from scratch if you have the time. But if you are looking for something quicker for a mid-week meal one that I’ve found and like is Trader Joe’s Whole Wheat Crust. It just has 6 ingredients – all recognizable – and the same ingredients that I would use if I were making it from scratch. The other great thing about making pizza at home is that kids LOVE to put the toppings on so put bowls of chopped vegetables in front of them and you might be surprised just how many veggies end up on your pizzas. On this day our pizzas had grated carrots, chopped red pepper, pineapple, and artichokes. Delicious!

I’m determined that when my boys go off to college they will love to cook and will know how to do it well. This is a gift that my mom gave me and it’s important to me to pass that on to my own kids. It is a skill they will be able to use every day for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Even the simplest cooking projects done on a regular basis is really exciting for them. Yes, sometimes it’s easier to do it myself but when I see how much they love to be a part of it, how it encourages them to try new foods, and how proud they are of what they’ve done it’s worth it. “Mom! I think this tastes better because I helped!” Is something I hear a lot in my house.

What are your family’s favorite projects in the kitchen? I’d love to hear about them!

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

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5 Free Apps For Better Health And Wellness That I Love

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Maybe you’ve heard that sitting is the new smoking? I have had a little bit of a love/hate relationship with technology over the years. For a long time I resisted it as much as possible. I was the last one in my office to get on Facebook back in the day.  It’s hard to ignore the fact that as a society technology has played a major role in moving us indoors more and making us more sedentary – contributing significantly to the obesity epidemic and all kinds of other health problems our nation is now facing.

But as with most things in life the issue of our society becoming technologically driven is not clear cut good or evil. There are of course many great things that technology provides us with. I get pretty excited when it contributes to helping us live healthier, happier lives. I keep an ongoing list of health and wellness apps that I use myself or have been recommended to me by clients. Here are 5 of my favorites that are free:

  1. 1 Giant Mind – If you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and like you don’t have enough time a daily meditation practice can help. Here’s the thing though, you can’t use meditation like a band-aid. It would probably help a little  to sit down just on those days that you are feeling particularly under the gun and meditate but much more effective is a daily practice. 1 Giant Mind makes it very accessible, it walks you through the basics of meditation and runs a 30 day challenge  where you unlock more great teaching along the way. I can’t recommend this app highly enough. I honestly can’t believe it’s free.
  2. Fooducate – Fooducate is touted as an app that helps you with weight loss, but that’s not why I like it (you know me, I like to focus on your health not your weight). You can certainly use it to track calories if that’s your gig, but what I like to use it for is as a way to learn about products and get ideas for healthier alternatives. The Food Finder feature allows you to scan barcodes on any products you are considering and then it will give it a “grade” and more information about it. But what I especially love is that it will provide you with alternative ideas for healthier items. Other fooducate users can post about ways that they have used that food. Fooducate does a great job of making you feel like part of a community of people who want to eat healthier. There are paid features to this app, but you can do a lot with it for free. It’s definitely worth checking out.
  3. Runtastic – If you are ready to get moving and are looking for an app that will track your workouts Runtastic Pro is a great option. I used this fitness tracker for years and found it to be really user friendly and accurate. It used to be that this tracker was just for running and walking, but now you can track all kinds of activities from rock climbing to cross-country skiing to wakeboarding. Seriously if you can think of it they can probably track it. One part I love about Runtastic is that they will give you a map of a course you’ve been on with the mileage and time, making it easy to challenge yourself to work on improving your time. Again their are some fun paid features (i.e. you can pay for stories while you are running), but the free version is pretty powerful and all you need to get started.
  4. Water Time – Drinking more water is a goal that a lot of women I work with have and it’s a good one! Drinking plenty of water flushes out toxins, it transports nutrients to your cells and helps your body to work more efficiently. But sometimes it’s hard to remember to stop and take the time to do it! There are lots of water apps out there but I found this one to be simple and easy to set up. It gives you reminders throughout the day to stop and drink (you just have to remember to have your water bottle with you!). With the free version there are some ads, but if they bother you an upgrade to the ad-free version is just $0.99.
  5. Lotus Bud – This sweet app is surprisingly simple and often exactly what I need. Throughout the day at random times the lotus bud app will “ring” a meditation bell reminding you to take a deep breath and be mindful of the present moment. It’s funny because my kids love it too. If they hear the bell go off they stop whatever they are doing and say, “time for a deep breath Mom!” A great app for all of us!

I’ve come around to embracing technology, especially when it can help us with our health and happiness. I’d love to hear what apps you use and would recommend. Leave me a comment below if you have one that you love.

Be happy, be healthy, be well!

 

Mindful Eating 101

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I was first introduced to the idea of mindful eating about 10 years ago. A friend of mine had just returned from a week long yoga retreat where they had been taught and practiced mindful eating at every meal. She raved about the way she was able to slow down, how much faster she felt full and how eating had become a transforming experience.  It sounded totally awesome – and like something you just did when attending a week long yoga retreat. But as it turns out mindful eating is something that when practiced as part of our daily lives can have a huge impact on our health.

So what exactly is mindful eating?

Let’s start with the opposite of mindful eating. Have you ever caught yourself watching a movie and munching away on chips when you reach for another and realize all of the sudden that you’ve eaten the entire bag? Or, maybe after a long day at work you come home tired, get the kids fed and down for bed and then dive into a bowl of ice cream, because you’ve had a long day and you feel like you’ve earned it?  Have you ever bolted your lunch in the car while driving between meetings or bought the same food every time you go to the grocery store even though you know it’s not the best for you but because it is what you always get and is familiar? I have to admit to having done all of these things at one time or another.

Unless you are a mindfulness master (I’m a mindful master, I can mindful faster…okay, okay, sorry!) these are examples of very real scenarios that many of us go through. Mindful eating is about raising our level of consciousness when it comes to the way we think about food.  It is important not only to pick healthy whole foods that will sustain and nourish us, but also to adjust our mindset when it comes to the act of eating. It is about the gratitude that we express for our food and recognizing what it took for it to reach our plate. It’s about slowing down and really appreciating what the food is doing for our bodies and tuning in to how it makes us feel. It’s about becoming more aware of ourselves to understand whether or not we’re even hungry in that moment. It’s about taking the time to look at our patterns and habits and critically asking ourselves if they are serving us.

What are 3 simple ways we can start practicing mindful eating in our daily lives?

  • Think of the end at the beginning – before you put something in your shopping cart or your mouth take a minute to pause and think about how you are going to feel after you eat that food or have that second helping. Is this a food that you are going to feel guilty about after you are done, or one that will make you feel more energized and vibrant and maybe proud that you are making a healthy choice? Fill your cart up with the latter and there won’t be room in your fridge or life for the former.
  • Express gratitude at every meal – You don’t have to belong to any kind of formal religion to take a moment before each meal to express gratitude out loud for the food you are about to eat. Somewhere someone grew the food you are about to eat. Without the sun, the rain, the soil, the farmers, you and the food would not be here. Meal times are a great break in our day when we can take a moment to remember that and be grateful for it. It can be as simple as just saying out loud, “I’m grateful for this food.”
  • Slow down-Do you remember when we were kids an our well-meaning parents or grandparents told us to chew our food at least 32 times.  I remember mechanically chewing my food and counting and swallowing kind of like it was a game. That is not what I’m talking about here. Next time you are eating try this. Pay attention to when you are chewing and swallowing and don’t scoop up the next bite with your fork or spoon until you’ve completely swallowed the last one. It sounds simple right? But if you are like most people it’s easy to put food in your mouth bite after bite without really even realizing if you’ve finished the last bite.

What are a few positive impacts mindful eating can have?

If you are new to the idea of mindful eating it may sound a little unconventional but while I’m not going to make any guarantees that you will lose 30 pounds in the next 30 days, there are real physical positive impacts that mindful eating can have on your health.

Did you know that studies have shown if you take two people – lets say a person who is regularly taking the time to slow down and practice mindful eating and another person who leads a highly stressful rushed lifestyle – and feed them the same foods their bodies are going to process them in totally different ways. When we’re chronically stressed out our body is in constant fight or flight mode causing our hormones to think we need to hang onto every bit of extra energy that we can (you never know when the next famine might hit and we’ll need it right?). So even if a person is making an effort to really eat healthy whole foods, but at the same time are under a lot of chronic stress they can find themselves gaining weight and becoming frustrated because they don’t know why.

Don’t wait until you sign up for that week-long yoga retreat. You can start practicing mindful eating now. It’s something you can do every day that doesn’t have to take too much extra time, but that can have huge positive impacts on your health and wellness. Happy mindful eating!

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

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It Starts With Food.

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Here is one thing I know. You simply cannot live your healthiest life without getting what you eat dialed in. You might love running or working out or meditating and journaling every day but if you aren’t putting the best fuel in your body possible you are doing yourself a disservice. I learned this first-hand after developing gestational diabetes with my second pregnancy. I lived with the mentality for years that I could eat whatever I wanted as long as I was active enough. This way of thinking came back to seriously bite me in the butt. In the long run it also was a blessing because it ultimately led me back to school to study nutrition but if I could have know all this before and avoided diabetes I would definitely have taken that route.

Food and nutrition are a personal passion of mine but up to this point I’ve kind of avoided writing too much about it in my blog posts. Why, when it’s something I care about so deeply? Well because food is so darn personal and whether or not you even realize it most people have very strong feelings about food going way back to the kinds of things they ate growing up, to being scared that they are going to be told they should never have their favorite comfort food again, to feeling absolutely positive that certain foods should never be eaten by anyone ever, or thinking that changing the way they eat is too inconvenient or hard to the point of being borderline impossible.

People sometimes also discover and can identify with a way of eating so passionately that it is almost a like choosing a religion (I hope that’s not a sacrilegious analogy!). But what I mean is it’s like you find something and it works for you and there is another great big tribe of people out there that agrees and you start to feel like it is “the way”. And it’s possible that’s not a bad thing! – you’ve found something that makes you feel great and resonates with the way you want to live. You “become” Paleo or Vegan or Vegetarian or Gluten-free or whatever it is and if it’s working for you (and your doctor agrees) and you remember that a different way might work better for other people I say that’s great!

But just in case you have not found that perfect food lifestyle that is working for you and would like a little guidance I want to share with you some of what I’ve learned through my studies over the past few years. It’s a place to start and it’s backed up by science and just like many religions share some overarching principals many nutrition scholars would agree that these are the foundation of a healthy diet:

  • Cut out the processed food – This is the number one thing on my list, if you do nothing else that I suggest do this. Become a label reader. If you don’t know what an ingredient is there is a very big chance you don’t need it in your life. A great rule of thumb when looking at labels is to look for items with less than 5 ingredients and all things that you recognize. Here is a great list of ways to cut out processed food by one of my favorite real food bloggers.
  • Steer Clear of Added Sugar – This another biggie. Sugar is pervasive. You may have heard the increase in sugar consumption in the American diet has been tied in studies to the increase in the obesity epidemic (and many other health issues) that our country now faces. When I first started learning about this stuff I was shocked by how many things sugar is in that you wouldn’t expect – I mean stewed tomatoes! Really?! Consumers are getting smarter about this but so are marketers. Did you know there are over 50 different names for sugar? They are just different names for something your body doesn’t need. The American Heart Association recommends women consume no more than 25 grams of sugar/day (or 6 tsp). It adds up quickly! To put that in perspective a Starbucks mocha contains 35 grams of sugar putting you over your daily recommended value right there.
  • Add in More Fruits and Veggies – I love this because instead of being about things you shouldn’t eat it’s all about things you should eat and fruits and vegetables are beautiful and delicious and just so good for you! Crowd out those foods that aren’t serving you with more fruit and vegetables. Try planning your meals around whatever fresh fruits and vegetables you have available. Most people do not eat the recommended daily amount of fruits and veggies. Here is a great visual to give you an idea of just how much you should be aiming for each day.
  • Include Healthy Fats-Fat has gotten a bad rap over the years but the latest nutrition studies are showing that healthy fats actually play a really important role in contributing to good health. This is such a great shift in the way people are thinking about food not only because it leads to better health but because there are so many healthy fats that are really delicious! Avocados, olives, nuts and seeds, coconut, dark chocolate, whole eggs, full-fat yogurt are all great sources of healthy fats. Yum!
  • Stick to Complex Carbs-In a nut shell ditch your refined and simple carbs (white flour, white rice, sugar) and replace them with complex carbs.  Carbs have also been demonized over the years and here is part of what I think about it. The gluten-free movement has exploded and for people with a true gluten allergy or intolerance that may be a great thing. For most people though when they cut out gluten they start feeling better because along with the gluten they are cutting out simple carbs (refined flour and sugar) that are often found in the same foods. Complex carbs on the other hand – and there are so many great ones – are an important fuel for our bodies and should make up about 50% of our diet!
  • Eat Lean Protein (Mostly Plant-Based) – Last year the World Health Organization published it’s findings that processed meat is carcinogenic and that red meat is most probably carcinogenic. It was a pretty big deal. People often ask me what big changes I’ve made to my diet over the past couple of years of really diving into this stuff. This has been the most challenging change for me. Growing up steak was my favorite dinner. Still occasionally if my parents are BBQing steak or if a friend gives us some great elk burger I will still partake but now we almost never purchase red meat – we stick to getting our protein mainly from plants, fish, and poultry.
  • Bonus! Amp Up Your Superfood Intake – Although it sounds kind of trendy and maybe a bit mystical the term superfoods is just a word for foods that are rich in nutrients. They are often high in antioxidants and micronutrients. There is no definitive list of superfoods out there – it seems a new superfood is always being “discovered” but here is a list of common ones that are easy to incorporate more of in your meals.

Does that seem like a lot? Hopefully it’s not too overwhelming! I know this was a longer post than usual but it’s a really big important topic that we’ll be visiting together often. Really most of it can be boiled down to one of my all time favorite quotes by one of my all time favorite authors.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. -Michael Pollan

In school they liked to use the analogy of our bodies being like cars. We wouldn’t put anything in a car other than the right kind of fuel because it wouldn’t run well and eventually it would break down completely. While I appreciate the straightforwardness of this analogy I don’t particularly love it – mostly because I think it lacks poetic intrigue. The way I like to look at it is:

Feeding ourselves nourishing healthy whole foods is a form of gratitude and self-respect.

On a final note I just want to say it’s not about being perfect. It’s not about never having another piece of chocolate cake in your life (oh! just writing that down makes me sad). I truly am not one to judge someone for eating a burger. Honestly despite considering myself fairly healthy I did not give most of this a second thought just a few years ago but I wish I’d had a friend or coach or someone spell it out clearly for me back then.  Hopefully, if is something you want to learn more about, I can help be that person for you.

Be happy, be healthy, be well!

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