The Weekly Optimal Planner

Welcome to the First  Weekly Optimal Planner

After more than a decade running the Optimal Kitchen I think I may have finally come up with what we all actually need to maintain a healthy everyday diet. Even mainstream experts have caught on to the fact that trendy diets and food fads simply don’t work. They are not sustainable. We need to eat whole, primarily plant based food everyday. We can allow ourselves the occasional treat now and again, but be reasonable. This first month is a trial guide and please give me feedback which will allow me to make changes to better suit what you all want.

Feeding ourselves and our families isn’t rocket science but there is so much information, often conflicting, that it is almost impossible to not feel overwhelmed just going grocery shopping. I hope to provide you with a weekly framework to make your life a whole lot easier and more importantly tastier! Some recipes or ideas maybe outside your box but I promise all the recipes are easy, have been tested (not all recipes you find on-line are!) so that they work and taste great. Feel free to tweak recipes if you have food allergies or intolerances, but I do encourage you to try new things, maybe even things you didn’t like in the past.

Since the goal is to make weekly shopping and cooking easy we will aim to share ingredients in multiple recipes so there is little waste. The Optimal Planner also accounts for the fact that most people eat out a couple of times per week, consider these your cheat meals. The planner is based on 3 meals a day because that is what we should be eating essentially. If snacks are a big part of your families diet than those would be additional to the recipes and suggestions in the weekly Optimal Planner.

Breakfast is very different for individuals and is one meal that I find personal tastes and habits play a huge role. There are those who like smoothies, or maybe cereal, or eggs and avocado toast. It is also the meal I find that people eat the same thing almost daily, and you know what that is ok. Personally I am an avocado toast kinda gal and I admit I don’t always eat breakfast and when I do it is usually 4 or 5 hours after I wake up, keep in mind though I am a very early riser and cook for a living so that schedule works for me, but not most. Though I do think many people simply aren’t that hungry first thing, but become ravenous mid morning. Keep this in mind and if this is you, be sure you are prepared. The worst thing is to be hungry at 10am and then just wait until lunchtime at which point you are starving and end up eating way to much and not feeling great for the majority of the afternoon as a result.

Lunch should be your most calorie dense meal of the day, and is where you should consume the bulk of your starchy carbohydrates because you will have all afternoon and evening to use that energy. This is often a hard concept to wrap our heads around because we are so used to having a big meal at dinner. Change is challenging but shifting your caloric load to earlier in the day actually can have a significant impact on your health from promoting better digestion to improved sleep patterns.

Dinner is as much about connecting with our families as feeding them. If your family consists of growing kids, especially adolescents, I will often suggest adding perhaps a loaf of bread or a bowl of pasta or something else to satiate those never ending appetites, but remember just because you are living with growing kids who need a significant caloric load doesn’t mean you do.

The ideas and recipes below are suggestions to help make meal prep throughout the week simple and easy. The shopping list includes fruit recommendations based on grocery store sales and variety. Many of the recipes will leave you with leftovers so you can enjoy multiple meals. It is also much easier to have some kind of theme or region to base recipes on so that you can share ingredients. This week we feature Mediterranean inspired dishes which share some ingredients. It is crucial to remember that eating a varied diet is key to providing our bodies with the nutrients they need to thrive. Fruit is meant for breakfast and snacking. If smoothies are part of your everyday diet use frozen fruit for cost savings and ease, though limit to 3-4 per week and always add some greens and veggies!

Recipes and Meal Planning Ideas:

Breakfast is just the first meal of your day whatever time that may happen. After lots of back and forth about how many times a day we should eat, 3 meals a day is sufficient. If you are genuinely hungry, meaning you tried a glass of water first, have a snack, but this all day snacking is a big part of our struggles with food. Traditional breakfast foods are a completely modern phenomenon and you can eat whatever you want, if you want a salad have one. I often will just have last night’s leftovers. The key to every meal is to have plenty of fiber, from fruits, vegetables, and grains, some protein and a bit of fat, whatever form that takes is up to you.

Breakfast Suggestions:

AVOCADO TOAST, opt for sprouted breads, real whole grain (Dave’s is good) or sourdough

EGGS any way but a great do ahead the night before is a FRITTATA

SPINACH, POTATO AND MUSHROOM FRITTATTA

2 cups fresh Spinach

1 cup mushrooms, whatever variety you like

1 cup roasted new potatoes, or some of each

1 large shallot sliced

8 eggs

¼ cup flax meal or oat bran

¼ cup Fresh Herbs, spring chives are a favorite, parsley, thyme or basil

¼ cup shredded cheese, cheddar, mozzarella or even goat cheese (optional)

Oil for cooking

  1. Beat eggs and stir in fresh herbs

  2. In an oven safe fry pan toss in shallots and mushrooms in a bit of olive oil and saute until mushrooms begin to soften and shallots become translucent

  3. Add spinach and potatoes and cook for another minute or two

  4. pour in egg mixture (be sure pan is large enough or put vegetable mixture into a baking dish, be sure it is coated with cooking spray and then add eggs and put directly in oven)

  5. cook for a few minutes on the stove, bringing up the edges, sprinkle on cheese and place in a 375 degree oven until firm when shaken. If pouring the mixture into a baking pan the cooking time will be increased about 8 mins.

  6. Let cool for a few minutes before cutting and serving to allow it to tighten up.

Frittatas are a great way to use up extra veggies, both raw and cooked and still get yourself a solid dose of protein making it and ideal dish for any meal of the day. I often use oat bran or bread crumbs to help bind it and make it a bit more solid, but if you are gluten free you can easily just use potatoes, grated or shredded potatoes are great for this! Simply start with the egg base, keep proportions in line and keep in mind this recipe can easily be cut in half or even quartered,and just as easily doubled, then just go from there. Be sure to cook vegetables, especially those with a high water content before adding to the dish, I guarantee even the barest of fridges can yield some treats that will suit a fritatta.

Panko

Parsley

Asparagus

Tomato

Onions

Cheddar

Oat Bran

Rosemary

Broccoli

Olives

Garlic

Mozzarella

Shredded Potato

Basil

Zucchini

Spinach

Scallions

Goat Cheese

Wheat Germ

Oregano

Red Pepper

Roasted Potatos

Chives

Feta

Flax Meal

Rosemary

Mushroom

Green Beans

Leeks

Gruyere

Aim to have one from each column but by all means throw in lots of mixed fresh herbs and veggies to use up what you have on hand.

SMOOTHIE/SMOOTHIE BOWL, be sure to add greens like spinach or kale and other vegetables like cucumber or celery to cut down on the sugars. Also add some fiber and protein with choices like flax meal, chia seeds, hemp seeds or nuts. If you choose to use a protein powder opt for plant based fiber rich varieties.

OATMEAL

Classic 5 minute oats are a great way to start your day because they are high in fiber and protein that work to fuel you and keep you full. Add nuts, berries even some dried fruits for extra flavor and maybe a drizzle of maple syrup or honey for a touch of sweetness

LUNCH SUGGESTIONS:

WHITE BEAN AND BASIL HUMMUS (great in wrap with lettuce and tomato, or as a dip for veggies or chips )

½ lb. (1 cup) white navy beans or 1 can rinsed

4 to 5 cloves of garlic

¼ cup basil threads

zest juice from 1 lemon

olive oil

sea salt and cracked pepper to taste

1.soak beans overnight

2.rinse beans, place in pot and cover with water, cook for approx. 20-25 until beans are tender but not mushy

3.place garlic, basil, lemon zest and juice and beans in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth, when necessary drizzle in olive oil and a bit of water to obtain proper consistency

WHITE BEAN TOMATO AND GREENS STEW

1 lb of winter greens (kale, spinach, cabbage or a combo)

1 lg can diced tomatoes

1 large can of white beans, rinsed and drained or 2 cups of soaked and cooked dry beans

3-5 cloves of garlic

1 quart vegetable stock

½ cup fresh herbs (parsley, basil, oregano or a combo)

olive oil for cooking

salt and pepper for seasonings

  1. saute greens in olive oil over med/high heat until they begin to wilt then add the garlic
  2. once the greens have been reduced to half add the tomatoes and lower heat to a simmer
  3. add white beans, the rest of the tomatoes and vegetable stock and continue cooking for an additional 10-15 mins until flavors have melded
  4. season with salt and pepper and then add the fresh herbs before serving.

ORZO TOMATO AND SPINACH SALAD

1 box of orzo

1 pint of cherry tomatoes halved or any tomato diced

several cups of fresh spinach

½ cup olive oil

¼ cup red wine vinegar

¼ cup basil threads

2 cloves garlic minced (opt)

sea salt and pepper to taste

  1. Cook off orzo and run cool water over the pasta to cool it down
  2. Toss pasta with the rest of the ingredients and serve at room temperature

BEANS AND GREENS

1 box pasta penne, farfalle or whatever type you like

1 15 ounce can white beans beans or chickpeas

a few cups fresh spinach

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

olive oil for cooking

fresh or dried basil or oregano for seasoning

¼ cup shredded parmesan, mozzarella or asiago (optional)

sliced black olives (optional)

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add pasta. Two minutes before pasta is ready, add spinach and then drain.
  2. Coat the same pot with olive oil and toss in onion, garlic and dried herbs. Sauté until clear.
  3. Add the rinsed beans to the pan and toss. Put pasta and spinach mixture back in the pot and sauté for another minute, adding fresh herbs and cheese. Stir gently to thoroughly incorporate all ingredients, and serve.

DINNER IDEAS:

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER SALAD

½ head cauliflower

2 tbs. Olive Oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

1 tbsp capers

1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, or more to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Cut florets into small pieces and toss with half the olive oil and the minced garlic
  2. Roast in a 400 degree oven for 10 mins. And then remove from oven and using tongs toss cauliflower so it cooks evenly on all sides
  3. Remove and let cool and then combine with the parsley, capers, olives, left over oil, lemon juice and seasonings, serve room temperature

CAULIFLOWER, POTATO AND HERB PUREE

½ head caulifower

3 medium Red Potatoes

1 tbs. Chopped fresh Rosemary or 1 tsp dried

Olive Oil

Parmesan Cheese opt.

  1. Wash potatoes and boil until they start to become tender

  2. Add cauliflower in small chunks and cook until it is soft and potatoes are completely tender

  3. Strain potato and cauliflower and place in a food processor, or use an old fashioned masher and blend until smooth, add oil if necessary

  4. Add chopped fresh rosemary and season with salt and pepper

RIBBON SALAD WITH GARLICKY VINAIGRETTE (RAW/VEGAN)

3 medium sized Zucchini

3 medium sized Summer Squash

1# bag of Carrots, peeled

2 cups Cabbage (green or Savoy) Shredded

DRESSING

4 cloves of garlic

¼ cup fresh parsley

¼ cup other fresh herbs you have on hand basil, cilantro or thyme choose just 1

¼ cup Raw Apple Cider Vinegar

½ cup cold pressed Olive Oil

Sea salt and pepper to taste

  1. Using a mandolin, or veggie slicer julienne thick threads of carrots and squash
  2. toss in the shredded cabbage
  3. in a blender, food processor or with an immersion blender, add the next 4 ingredients and blend while slowly adding the olive oil which will help to emulsify the dressing
  4. toss the dressing with the vegetables, season with salt and pepper and serve

Now let’s take these same noodles with out the dressing and do something completely different

  1. Toss in a pan with olive oil and garlic and cook until soft and top with Marinara or a Spicy Puttanesca
  2. If you have some pesto maybe you froze or a jar in the fridge saute up the noodles in that
  3. you can even add to some cooked spaghetti for a hearty pasta primavera

MINESTRONE

1 quart vegetable broth

1 15 oz. can kidney beans

1 cup ditalini pasta or rice if you are gluten free

1 15 oz can chopped tomatoes

1 onion diced

2 celery stalks diced

3 carrots diced

1 zucchini diced

1 tbs. dried oregano

1 tbs. dried basil

olive oil for cooking

salt and paper to taste

  1. In a large stockpot sauté garlic, onions, celery and carrots until soft
  2. Add tomatoes, beans and herbs, then cover with broth and bring to a boil
  3. Add pasta and zucchini then reduce heat and simmer for 10 mins until pasta is cooked

SHOPPING LIST

This weeks menu was chosen because many of the items are on special. My fruit suggestions are sale items. I encourage you to buy organic when you can as far as produce but following the dirty dozen is the most important. That said many organics are priced almost as low as their conventional counterparts, example carrots, bananas and sweet potatoes so I encourage you to make those choices, but staying on budget is important as well and any vegetables are better than none. I also realize many people using the planner will still be eating meat and may be supplementing these dishes with chicken and fish which is fine.

There are some basic pantry supplies I assume most have on hand. If you don’t, add these items to your weekly grocery list.

olive oil

red wine vinegar

cider vinegar

garlic

onions

celery

dried herbs and spices (oregano, basil, rosemary, crushed red pepper)

capers

sea salt

pepper

nuts

dried fruit

frozen fruit

PRODUCE

cauliflower 1head

potatoes

4 -5 zucchini

4 summer squash

5lb bag organic carrots (if you shop at Shaws it is a 2lb bag)

1 medium green cabbage

1 bunch basil

1 bunch parsley

lemons (much cheaper in the mesh bags)

large box of organic baby spinach

tomatoes

avocados

fresh fruit (cantalope, berries, grapefruits and oranges are on sale)

eggs

DRY GOODS:

2 cans diced tomatoes

white bean 1lb dry or 3 cans

1can of garbanzo beans

1 can of red beans

1 box orzo

1 box ditalini

1 box of penne

oats

2-3 quarts vegetable stock

I assume you will need additional items such as breads, tortillas, peanut butter and snacks that your family likes.

Keeping the Holidays Healthy

Keeping the Holidays Healthy

Each year the holidays come and between the stress and parties it is no wonder we all end up feeling lousy and unhealthy. Statistically Americans will gain an average of 3-5 lbs from Thanksgiving to New Years and 1 of those lbs will stay with us forever. Over a period of 10 years we will have gained 10 lbs just from Holiday indulgence. However it isn’t just the weight gain, it is also the time of year, due primarily to stress and lack of sleep, we inevitably end up getting sick. Believe it or not with a few simple changes you can keep yourself fit and trim and feeling energetic and healthy.

Boosting our Immune Systems:

Between all the decorating, shopping and partying we tend not to focus on taking proper care of our bodies. Feeding our bodies the right foods will help our immune system protect us from all the bacteria and viruses we are exposed to at crowded gatherings, which are unavoidable this time of year. The most critical of the antioxidant vitamins and minerals are Vitamins A, C and E and Selenium.

Foods Rich in Anti Oxidants:

All Fruits and Vegetables , Nuts, Omega 3 Eggs and Cold Water Fish

*Winter Squashes, Leafy Green and Orange vegetables are especially high in Vitamin A

*Citrus Fruits, Berries and Cruciferous vegetables are especially high in Vitamin C

*Wheat Germ, Almonds, Sunflower seeds and Tomatoes are high in Vitamin E

* Brazil Nuts, Dried Apricots, Eggs and some Whole grains are high in Selenium

*Cold water fish are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids which attacks inflammation

Simple ways to incorporate these foods into your everyday diet:

1-Homemade snack mixes; put together some nuts and dried fruits and keep with you at all times so when you do feel hungry you have a healthy choice on hand

2-Soups are a great way to cram a ton of vegetables into your body without even noticing

3-Keep raw vegetables cut up and on hand and snack on them throughout the day

Confidently battle Over-Indulgence :

When it comes to over eating during the holidays I have discovered 3 major causes

1)Food Gifts

2)Holiday Parties and Gatherings

3)Rushed for time; we grab whatever is easy

The solutions are almost as simple as the problems are themselves.

1) When it comes to food gifts the cardinal rule if it is not homemade, re-gift the item or throw it away. At least homemade gifts tend to be made from whole foods so they aren’t loaded with preservatives and chemicals.

2) As tempting as it may be to fast all day to make up for gorging at that evening’s party there is truly no bigger mistake. Instead be sure to have a protein and fiber rich snack before heading out. Think Hummus and Carrots or whole wheat pita or even an egg and whole grain toast. Don’t skip meals it shuts down your metabolism and if you go to a party famished don’t be surprised if you pig out.

3) We may not always have time to sit down and have a proper meal but having whole fruits, clementines and apples are a great choice this time of year because they are easily portable and full of vitamins, nuts are another must to have on hand.

Another key to surviving holiday overindulgence is to come up with some good alternatives to family favorites. I find this critical when it comes to Thanksgiving. If you have ever cooked the entire Thanksgiving feast yourself then you are aware of how much butter is used, for those of you who don’t cook but instead just eat, how does roughly 4lbs. of butter per 8 guests sound to you! There are some simple ways to change family recipes to make them healthier and there is nothing wrong with trying some new healthier recipes that are just as delicious.

One of the best ways to control Thanksgiving indulgence is starting the meal with a delicious velvety soup which can help fill you with fiber rich goodness but can also be the main course for the vegetarian or vegan guests at your holiday table. The soup is a classic squash bisque that uses sweet potato instead of cream to give it the beautiful texture and uses the same spices as our beloved pumpkin pie.

SQUASH AND APPLE BISQUE

2 lbs winter squash, peeled and cut in 1 inch pieces

2 lbs apples, roughly chopped

1lb sweet potato peeled and cubed

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 inch piece of fresh ginger grated

1tsp cinnamon

½ tsp clove

½ tsp nutmeg

1 quart+ vegetable stock or water

  1. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat; coat pan with cooking spray. Add garlic, ginger and onions and sauté for 5 mins or until onions are clear, add cinnamon
  2. Add apples, squash and the sweet potatoes and saute
  3. Add 1 quart + of broth and simmer until potatoes are very soft
  4. Let cool a bit and using a blender or food processor blend until smooth adding a bit more stock or water to get the tight consistency
  5. top with toasted pumpkin seeds or nuts for a bit of crunch and extra flair

Traditional Mashed Potatoes, instead try substituting chicken stock for the butter and milk and to give it some creaminess toss in a handful of parmesan cheese. Also substitute cauliflower for half the potatoes to up the fiber and lower the calories and starch. Be sure to use lots of fresh herbs like rosemary, garlic and parsley to give them great flavor without all the extra saturated fat.

Candied Yams or Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows: Instead opt for some roasted winter squashes which have lots more fiber and a much lower glycemic load and sweeten with a touch of blue agave or maple syrup instead of brown sugar.

Stuffing: again try using some chicken broth to reduce the amount of butter and if you are sautéing onions and other veggies to add to your stuffing use olive oil instead of butter, keep in mind oyster stuffing is a better option than sausage because those oysters are rich in heart healthy minerals which may counteract some of the other foods we eat that day! Even better add lots of veggies to your dressing and always cook your stuffing in a casserole dish, not stuffed in the bird to avoid food borne illness

Opt for a free-range turkey, when animals eat their natural diet, rather than a grain fed diet, their meet has the correct balance of essential fatty acids and is thus much healthier for us to eat, these are available for order at Friends

Make your own cranberry sauce and try using a little stevia or blue agave syrup to sweeten it rather than sugar. Also add some cinnamon which helps regulate insulin production

Green Bean Casserole: I think it is high time you encourage your family to give this one up if it still has a place on your holiday table, instead try blanching some fresh or frozen green Beans and then toss with some olive oil, lemon zest and some sliced almonds for a much healthier dish.

ROASTED BRUSSEL SPROUTS WITH CARAMELIZED ONIONS

1lb brussel sprouts

2 onions peeled and thinly sliced

olive oil for cooking

sea salt and pepper to taste

  1. in a bit of oil over low heat saute the onions stirring occasionally for 15-20 minutes or until caramelized

  2. trim brussel sprouts and cut an x in the bottom

  3. blanch brussel sprouts lightly and rinse in cool water

  4. toss brussel sprouts together with onions and a tablespoon of oil, season with salt and pepper

  5. place in a 375 degree oven for 8-10 minutes and serve

If you are in charge of bringing a side dish try bringing a salad for a change. You’ll be amazed at how well it goes over and for a festive touch toss in some dried cranberries and walnuts with a simple vinaigrette.

Pies: Here is the thing, as a food purist I have to say why mess with a good thing. Instead be sure to control your portion size and opt out of the ice cream. If you really love pumpkin pie and can’t imagine a small piece, skip the crust which has many more fat and calories than the filling. Also if you are making the pies opt for whole wheat pastry flour rather than regular bleached all-purpose flour, it is a change no one will notice but will add a bit of fiber to those pies.

During the Holiday season it is important to come up with some healthy snacks to have on hand to prevent you from over indulging on the many unhealthy foods you might find yourself surrounded by. It is far to easy to be tempted by the dishes of candies or cookies all over the place so the key to finding success is to make sure you don’t get too hungry. Hummus or bean dips are great this time of year because they are the perfect combination of protein and fiber to help keep you feeling full longer. Eat with fresh vegetables or make into a wrap tih some lettuce and sprouts for a hearty and healthy on the go snack.

CURRIED SWEET POTATO HUMMUS
1 large sweet potato, roasted until soft
1 can rinsed white beans
1 can rinsed garbanzo beans
3 garlic cloves
1 tbs curry powder
1 tsp. cumin
juice and zest of 1 lemon
olive oil and salted water** to get desired consistency

Peel Sweet Potato and place in a food processor with the next 6 ingredients.
Slowly add the oil and salted water alternating small bits of EACH to get desired consistency.
Making a salted water solution of 1/2 tsp Sea Salt per 1/4 cup water is the key to a perfect Hummus consistency without adding all the fat from oils.

If you have a sweet tooth the holidays can be a treacherous time of year. There are treats everywhere and were as the recipe above is designed to help keep you from getting hungry, this next recipe is a healthy treat that seems utterly decadent. Always use dark chocolate because once you introduce dairy to chocolate the ant-oxidant properties are wiped out.

HOLIDAY FRUIT AND NUT BARK

½ pound good quality dark chocolate, aim for at least 60% cacao

¾ cup chopped dried fruits (use what you like apricots, cherries, raisins or a combo)

½ cup walnuts

½ cup oats

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground clove

  1. on a rimmed cookie sheet spread out the oats and walnuts and sprinkle with cinnamon and cloves

  2. toast in a 325 degree oven for 8-10 mins or until lightly brown

  3. in a microwave or double boiler melt chocolate

  4. stir in nut and oat mix and chopped fruit

  5. line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper and press out the chocolate mixture into a thin even sheet about ¼ inch thick

  6. chill in regriferator until firm, break into bite size pieces and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for several weeks

Above all else, be smart about portions, if you eat until you feel sick, blame no one but yourself. By all means taste everything but most times a simple taste will do, and do try to load up with the veggies and turkey and go light on the stuffing and potatoes, never forget that the original Thanksgiving was a celebration of the harvest, and by the way after this feast most families survived on very little in the ensuing winter months.

 

Understanding our 21st century food systems, the series.


I began my career as chef in the mid 1990’s just as the Food Network was gaining steam and chefs were beginning to be regarded with what only can be compared to rock star status. It was here the world of food began to change significantly. Food took a huge shift from being something that sustains us and gives us energy to thrive, what I like to call everyday food, to almost mythic status. Elaborate dishes that no home chef would ever make because of the multitude of ingredients or the amount of time it would take. A truly unsustainable way of feeding yourself and your family especially if you are subject to things like a busy work schedule, children and of course a budget.

Food and how we feed ourselves has become increasingly complicated, but ironically rather than hosting shows that actually teach people how to cook, the cooking shows now drawing an audience are all competitions, which serves only to make more home cooks feel even more inadequate. The desire for these foods pushed many of us into restaurants and out of our home kitchens. The result has been an enormous increase in obesity and all the diseases associated with it. Even worse we have become a nation of eaters who rarely sit down around the table for a family meal, and eat on the run from fast, casual restaurants in disposable packaging that isn’t just destroying our health, but the health of the planet as well.

I am trying desperately to gauge when exactly we became so disconnected from the food chain that we now simply ignore where our food comes from and how it is prepared. It was not that long ago. I teach cooking classes to seniors quite often, and when I speak to this generation of 70 and 80 somethings, they all distinctly remember milk delivery in glass bottles, going to the butcher to pick up their meat wrapped only in butcher paper and twine, and their kitchen gardens, a must have for all rural dwellers. Even my childhood growing up in the 1970s, grocery stores were a fraction of the size because we simply did not have all these packaged and processed foods and drinks. We drank water out of a tap or a water fountain, not disposable plastic bottles. So my best guess is about 30-35 years ago we had a major shift in how we view food and where it comes from.

Most of the time I tend to fall into the trap that it is America’s addiction to cheap food as the major driver, but a trip to Europe last winter proved me wrong there. Every meal we went out to, was probably ½ or 2/3 of what I would have spent in the U.S. for much lower quality food. So in fact our food isn’t quite as cheap as you think, and when people consistently eat out, it is quite expensive. We could then blame many of the additives and ingredients in packaged food that trigger those same dopamine receptors as heroin, causing us to become actually addicted to those junk foods. While we all talk about how to deal with the opioid epidemic and the growing numbers of deaths related to it, why aren’t we talking about addiction to sugar which kills more people annually through diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and even cancer than drug addiction. Perhaps the sugar industry has a better lobbyist than the drug companies.

As I continued to struggle with the idea of when and how we made this shift, my husband who is a bit older and a child of the 60’s, reminded me it was all about convenience. As women made the shift into the workplace, this did not absolve them of their so-called wifely duties, such as cooking and cleaning. However there are only so many hours in the day, so companies designed products to help those busy women. We started with items like Hamburger Helper and Shake and Bake, but in 50 years we have evolved into complete frozen meals and aisles and aisles of packaged foods to help cut your cooking and prep time. All of this created in the name of convenience and making life easier.

Here is a fundamental question, Is all of this convenience food making our lives easier and better?

I don’t have an answer but, I can confidently say as convenient as all this may be it is causing a whole host of environmental and health degradation that are having a significant impact on our communities. It is great to have all this convenience food that makes dinner prep quick and easy, but if the ingredients in those foods can lead to poor health outcomes and chronic illness perhaps we should think twice about purchasing these products. I tell clients all the time that those these foods seem inexpensive and convenient at the time, but you will pay with your health later on.

The conversation could go on and on, but the why’s at this point aren’t that important to me. What is important is how do we change our patterns of behavior and learn to embrace, or should I say re-embrace a simpler way of life, which inevitably includes how we feed ourselves. The task is monumental and when looked at as a whole, rather overwhelming. Like most change, it is hard to do but if you approach it in small reasonable ways, you can successfully change how you do anything.

So here are 3 easy steps to get you on the path towards a better way of feeding yourself and your family. If you get coffee out, which why would you when home brew is a fraction of the cost, use a re-usable thermal mug with a lid and never be without your re-usable canvas shopping bags. 2 small steps which can make a big difference for the planet but the last one is for your health. Aim to eat 1 meal everyday that is from only whole plant based foods, aim for absolutely no plastic films as well. These small steps go a long way to improving your health and the health of the planet.

Simple Changes, Huge Rewards

Last  week’s blog post talked about new beginnings and how to start a new healthy regimen.  In it  I spoke of 4 simple changes to get you started and if you missed them here they are again:

1) Eat more plants, 1/2 cup servings 6 vegetable, 3 fruit EVERYDAY

2)Avoid meat and dairy as much as possible, perhaps a few days a week or before 6 everyday

3)Avoid white sugar

4) Eat your carbs at lunch

I know it is hard to imagine that simple changes can reap huge rewards, but it is a very real fact that the small incremental changes we make towards achieving a healthier lifestyle have a far greater impact than grandiose measures.  Why is this?

Simple, when we make small changes to our everyday lifestyle, they are manageable and thus sustainable.  Going vegan 3 days a week is realistic, going completely vegan for most is near impossible.  It is our nature that when we make huge changes and then fail to meet those challenges we set forth, we simply give up.  However when we achieve a goal, albeit a small one, we are enervated  and ready to face the next challenge.

So if you take nothing else from this here is the key:  EACH DAY AIM TO MAKE A SMALL POSITIVE CHANGE TO YOUR NUTRITION LIFESTYLE. Perhaps today is saying no to cream in your coffee or resisting that candy in the dish at the Post Office, our small choices do in fact have a huge impact as they grow organically each and everyday.

So what’s your small change today?

September means a New year =a New You

I don’t know if it is due to the fact that I have kids who start school after Labor Day or perhaps it is my Jewish roots, but September always seems like the new year to me.  September brings winds of change in so many ways, and for me it always holds the promise of positive change.  It is a new beginning, a chance to re-invent ourselves or the way we live our lives.  At the Optimal Kitchen it is no surprise that our focus is on positive changes to the way we eat, so let us sow the seeds of change in your nutrition life.

Summer can be a challenge, especially for those of us living in summer tourist destinations.  The temptations are endless, whether it is ice cream, fried clams or a burger on the grill.  Here on Cape Cod, summer is an endless party so adhering to a healthy nutrition lifestyle is even more daunting.  But it is September and the party is over and now its time to think about some positive changes.

When looking to make changes in how we eat, it is human nature to start with an extreme, such as no wheat, sugar or dairy.  As great as it is for you to give these things up, the realist in me informs us that it is not the most realistic option.  Instead aim to give up just one of these items, or try to give up all 3 during the week but allow for some indulgences on the weekend. Remember balance is key to sustainability, and this can be a delicate dance to find what works for you.

So hear is a list of suggestions, all quite simple changes in your lifestyle that will help get you on a better path.  They are not groundbreaking and there is no magic elixir or pill, but if you start applying some of these simple changes you may find yourself feeling great and slimmer by the Holiday season.

1)Eat more plants, aim everyday to have 6 fist size servings of vegetables and 3 fruit, if you do this you simply have no room for many other foods

2)Try to avoid all meat and dairy at least 3 times a week.  No doubt you have seen recent articles touting a vegan lifestyle , however I realize this can be extreme for some so instead try to be vegan at least 3 days a week or try the Michael Pollan trick, vegan until 6pm

3) Avoid white sugar, there is nothing anyone can say to make me think white sugar is ok.  It is amazing how Molasses, which is what sugar is refined from, is so full of nutrients, such as potassium, that gets completely stripped away during the refining process.  Sugar leads to all sorts of unhealthy outcomes, diabetes and the proliferation of malignant cells being the 2 major reasons to avoid white sugar.

4)Eat carbohydrates at lunch.  Carbs are fuel and if you are active you need these foods in your diet, in fact, I don’t like anyone to isolate out an entire food group unless you have allergies or another medical condition.  However eating carbs late in the day when you are less active leads to higher resting blood sugars and possible weight gain.  Eating these foods at lunchtime and doing something active in the afternoon, taking a walk or yoga class for example uses up that excess blood sugar.

Start here with these 4 simple changes and you might just be amazed to see the changes that start to emerge!!!!!!

Mourning a Culinary Legend

It is remarkable to me how the world is reeling from the loss of Anthony Bourdain,who will be remembered as the every man’s culinary hero of the early 21st century.  The outpourings of grief from such diverse circles shows what an impact he had on contemporary society.  I have a very different perspective.

As a rising female chef on the mid  1990’s I read Bone in the Throat, Bourdain’s first novel about the culinary underbelly, which might I add is dead on.  Ironically my life was a bit of the flip side of Anthony Bourdain’s, I was a trained writer with a degree in English working as a chef on a Caribbean Island.  I grew up in Manhattan and at that point wanted to distance myself as much as possible from that world.  When I left the Caribbean I headed to Cape Cod where my husband and I have been raising our two daughters, now teenagers.  See that is supposed to be one of the perks of being a chef, you get to live and work in these supremely beautiful places people spend all year saving up for a week long trip to visit.

So my journey has brought me to where Bourdain’s journey began, but though our paths may be an inverse of each other his love of food and adventure has profoundly affected my work and many of my fellow Culinarians.  Food is a powerful thing, it manages to cross political and social boundaries like nothing else.  Food brings us together, food sustains us, food brings us pleasure.  It is a profound part of the human equation and Anthony Bourdain sought to teach the masses how important this aspect of the human condition was to society.  Food is unique to geographical and cultural regions, just like flora, fauna and even language.  Food can tell us so much about a society or region, in a way that nothing else can.  Food allows social connections that profoundly affect families and communities.  I think this is part of why Bourdain’s tragic death has affected so many people, he helped us see the power of food and its ability to cross social divides that nothing else can.

His death is a tremendous loss to not just the culinary world, but to all of contemporary society that seeks to find meaning and connection.  A shared meal is a powerful thing that should be savored and respected and Anthony Bourdain did his best to help the world try and understand this simple fact.

Embrace the Plant Based BBQ

This past holiday weekend had lots of outdoor BBQ grills fired up and grilling everything from hot dogs to hamburgers to sausages and steaks.  It is the beginning of the grilling season and our grills are usually crowded with loads of meats, but there is so much more to grill and these choices will not help your health and the health of the planet.  This summer BBQ season why not break with tradition and instead of meats let those delicious summer vegetables take center stage.

Vegetables soak up those same delicious marinades the way meats do so if you have a favorite one don’t throw it away.  Another bonus is the quick cooking time vegetables have on the grill so there is very little cook time, ideal for the hungry masses.  Even better, the novice griller need not worry about under-cooking  their foods and making someone sick because vegetables simply don’t do that!

Lots of vegetables work on the grill but here is a list of some of my favorites that work great, be sure to always clean your grill before putting the veggies on so they don’t stick.

1) Mushrooms (portobello, and shitake are my favorite)

2)Summer Squashes

3)Peppers (all varieties including hot)

4)Asparagus

5)Eggplant

6) Wedges of Radicchio or Bok Choy

7) Cauliflower Steaks

Even better here are some fantastic marinade recipes to help you take this vegetables to a whole new level.

GINGER SOY MARINADE

¼ cup Sesame oil

½ cup Canola Oil

¼ cup Rice wine vinegar

¼ cup Good quality soy sauce

¼ cup Honey

¼ cup Orange juice (optional)

2 tbs. freshly grated ginger

Juice of one lemon

3tbs. Toasted sesame seeds

1 tsp. Crushed red pepper

  1. Combine all of the ingredients and whisk together

LEMON HERB MARINADE

Juice and zest from 2 lemons

2 tbs cider vinegar

1/3 cup olive oil

¼ cup fresh basil

¼ cup fresh parsley

¼ cup cilantro

2 garlic cloves

sea salt and pepper to taste

  1. Combine the ingredients in a food processor or blender and slowly add oil while running to help it emulsify

.

CILANTRO MARINADE

½ cup Fresh Cilantro

¼ cup fresh lime juice

Few cloves of garlic

Hot sauce to taste

2/3 cup Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

  1. Place first 4 ingredients in blender, while blending slowly add olive oil so that marinade emulsified
  2. will keep tightly sealed in refrigerator for up to a week
  3. Make a smoked chili variation on this recipe by adding 1 or 2 chipoltes in adobo, perfect for corn and bean salads
  4. So make the shift this year and embrace those grilled veggies!!!!!

 

The Past, Present and Future of Grocery Stores

I love teaching my culinary classes to seniors because it affords me the opportunity to talk about how our food systems  worked 50-60 years ago, and how much has changed in what is relatively a short period of time.  Most of my students remember  when milk was delivered in glass bottles to your front door every morning.  Yesterday a gentleman asked me if people still canned, as he fondly remembered his childhood  basement stocked with jars of fruits and vegetables lovingly canned by his mother to feed the family through the winter.  We often wax nostalgic about trips to the local butcher for a fresh cut of meat wrapped in nothing but butcher paper and twine, or the green grocer which offered a selection of colorful fruits and vegetables, but only what was in season and nary a plastic bag or wrapper in sight.  How we feed ourselves and our families has dramatically changed in the last  century, and in this humble food advocates opinion, not for the better.

History tells us the rise of the grocery store started just about 100 years ago with the Astoria Market in Manhattan.  It was an attempt to bring products together in a single marketplace to provide customers with greater convenience, the birth of the convenience food era which we are still in the throes of.  The Great Depression enhanced the growth of these stores as merchants went out of business and everyone was looking for the best deals. The emergence of home refrigeration which allowed customers to shop in bulk for perishables that they were never able to do before, also had a profound effect on the growth of these stores.  The rise of the automobile further changed how we shopped because we could purchase greater amounts on fewer trips.  In fact changes in  transportation was one of the biggest game changers in the food system, because what was always regional or local food systems got stretched and was now crossing state and  even international borders.

These brought big changes to how we as Americans view food.  First off,  most of us have very little understanding of seasonality, and why would we when you can go into an American grocery store and by fresh strawberries anytime of the year, or corn or any other fruit or vegetable for that matter.  But the impacts of the rise of these mega stores is far greater than any of us can begin to imagine.  The greatest threat these stores pose to humankind is that they have completely disconnected humans from the food they eat.  Let us remember our most basic human elements, providing food and shelter for our families so they can survive.  That is it, all humans are designed to do, and by breaking the connection humans have with feeding themselves, you disrupt the balance.  There is a unique satisfaction gleaned when we provide a healthy meal for our family, especially if you have had to grow or raise some of the food on your plate, but most Americans have absolutely no understanding of this anymore.  Dinner may be heating up a frozen entree or a drive thru at a fast food restaurant on your way from one over-scheduled activity to the next.  This is how the majority of us feed ourselves and then wonder why we are a nation in a health crisis whose roots are found in poor dietary choices.

The rise of Amazon and on line grocery shopping is poised to change the system even further, in ways I am not sure we can yet understand.  However I don’t want to see these changes, I want to return to a time where we shop for goods from our community and locally owned stores.  Already the trend of the farmer’s market is beginning to wane as Americans attention span, shortens and the next new trend comes into favor.  How we feed ourselves shouldn’t be a trend.  Your dollars speak louder than anything else so use them wisely and shop local whenever you can!

Trendy Diets: The Ketogenic vs. Whole Foods Plant Based

Anyone who knows me and my work at The Optimal Kitchen, knows I am continually striving to further my education and knowledge of food and food systems. The field of nutrition, and really just about anything these days is dynamic, constantly changing and evolving, and in order to stay on top of things you need to continually educate yourself. Anyone who follows nutrition is aware there is a new fangled diet coming out every few years and there will be some scientific data to support it. But does that mean it is the best way to feed ourselves?

There is a lot of hype these days around the ketogenic diet and almost as much buzz about a whole food plant based lower fat diet. Both have various scientific studies to support their claims and even as a professional in the industry it is significantly challenging to decide what is best for our bodies. First off we are all individuals and as such, many of us have starkly different nutritional needs than friends and even members of our own family, but isn’t there some kind of common ground?

First let’s lay out exactly what these diets are and how they work.

The Ketogenic diet: there is not much difference here from the Paleo Diet , the Atkins Diet or even the South Beach Diet since they all work on the same premise. These high fat, high protein diets drastically reduce the amount of carbohydrates a person eats forcing the body to use ketones for energy instead of carbohydrates. Foods that people eat on these diets consume are avocados, nuts, seeds, grass fed meats (including lard), olive oil, vegetables, fish and eggs. The ketone diet is anti-inflammatory in nature and has proven extremely successful, especially among children with Autism. By depriving the body of carbohydrates, it forces the body to convert fat to energy, resulting in an initial weight loss for so many which is great. For many suffering from chronic diseases with inflammatory origins this diet works and has profound positive affects on their illness.

Whole Food Plant Based: No animal products of any kind, meat, dairy, eggs etc and no processed foods of any kind. The diet is includes whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits. The benefits of a plant based diet is an abundance of phytonutrients from fruits and vegetables and the balancing of your body’s ph. This diet has been proven to lower total cholesterol levels and starve cancer cells, as well as helping many to lose weight.

So now we know what they are and the question is which is best? Well, that is a matter of how you look at it. There are benefits to both of these diets for the human body, but when I look at the bigger picture I always find myself going back to the Whole Foods Plant Based Diet. Here are my reasons:

1)Sustainability: the reality is that our population is growing by leaps and bounds and in order for everyone to have enough food to eat; we need to stop growing crops for animal consumption and focus on growing foods for human consumption.

2)Environmental: consuming animal products, even pastured and grass fed have a significant impact on our environment. Our agricultural production is one of the biggest polluters of our water systems not to mention greenhouse gases, and even rainforest destruction due to the increased demand for pastures.

3)Cost: pastured meats are expensive, much more expensive than whole grains and legumes which makes this way of eating out of the financial reach of so many.

4)Body ph: Every now and then the nutrition conversation shifts to the body’s ph and how the acidic body, a result of a diet that is made up of animal products and processed foods, leads to a myriad of poor health outcomes. It is in the acidic state that cancer cells flourish and inflammation takes hold. The only way to reduce your body’s ph is to consume huge amounts of fresh raw fruits and vegetables which help to bring the body into a more alkaline state

5)Ethics: How we raise and slaughter animals these days is not always humane. This is not to say there are not small regional farmers doing their best to humanely raise livestock for human consumption, it is simply that this is not the norm and often out of financial reach for so many.

So I will continue along my path of trying to show everyone how easy it can be to shift to a Whole Food Plant Based Diet by offering these food from The Optimal Kitchen. Yes, we are omnivores and having a bit of meat every now and then is ok but remember there is a reason meat rhymes with treat. If you want to feed yourself and your family well, have it be affordable all while being a good steward of the planet this is the best change you can make.

To educate yourself I suggest you watch 2 documentaries, each profiles these ways of eating and decide for yourself which you think is the best choice for you and your family.

On Netflix:

Hungry For Change (Plant Based Whole Food)

The Magic Pill (Ketogenic)

 

Summer will be here soon!

Even though it may not feel quite like spring,  the calendar says we are deep into spring ,which means that bathing suit season is just around the corner.  This can be a stressful time for many of us as we start to peel off those winter sweaters and turtlenecks only to realize we are a bit squishier and a tad larger than we were last fall before winter came.  First off give yourself a break.  It is entirely human to pack on pounds for the winter to keep us warm and prevent starvation from a lack of food.  However, modern society and food systems ensure that it is no longer difficult to access food in the winter, but the evolution of our digestive systems  still likes to hold onto those calories when it gets cold because that is what nature tells us.

This is a constant challenge for humans and their weight, and it doesn’t matter what special diet program you try or what food you decide to eliminate in a desperate attempt to have that beach ready body by Memorial Day weekend.  The simple fact is that our bodies are still designed to handle periods of starvation, which simply never come anymore.  Another example of advances by modern man which rather than making life much easier has layered on even more challenges and a whole host difficulties related to our weight and health.

However the solutions can be easy.  Get active, whatever you do, get that body moving.  Our bodies are designed to move and when we don’t, problems arise.  Eat real food.  Stop trying magic potions or powders, they may work in the short term, but it is not a realistic solution.  Focus on consuming copious amounts of fruits and vegetables balanced with a bit of meat and grains and of course those healthy fats, which are key to our health and yes even our weight management.  I won’t lie to you, most of us eat too much, simple.  And  when I say we eat too much, I am not talking about fruits and veggies, it is usually the junk, or even the food disguised as healthy, such as cereals, granola and health bars and the like, that doom us.

So  stop beating yourself up for gaining weight this winter, instead start living by this easy to follow rule “If your grandparent would not recognize it as a food product or if you can’t pronounce more than 1 ingredient, put that food back, or better yet get rid of it.”  Respect your body by feeding it what Mother Nature intended.