A Week of Real Food Meals and Tips for Eating Away from Home

I am so excited for this week I can barely contain myself.  First it is a short work week. We are taking a few days off to extend this long holiday week, and trust me we NEED it. With our extra time we will get to visit a few of our besties, including FoodRN. We will also get to cuddle with their babies, catch up with family and eat some seriously good food. There really is no other way I want to spend this time.
A notable menu moment for this weeks is that there are two recipes I did not make from last week’s menus. They made their way onto this menu though. One thing I think is crucial for real food budgets and time savings is to be flexible with menu planning and meal prep. We are NOT afraid of eating leftovers. I repurpose our food regularly.  It saves so much money and so much time. Last week we had leftover flat iron steak from Father’s Day, so we ate it one night in a huge entrée salad alongside hefty slices of grain free foccaccia bread, and another night in stuffed potatoes. Both meals took less than 30 minutes to prepare and saved us from having to buy a new meat bundle for one more week…win-win for me!
So here is what we are planning for this week:

Erin – egg bake and Great Lakes gelatin latte with Swiss water pressed decaf

    1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
    2. Saute 1 pound mushrooms, half large onion diced, 2 small cloves minced garlic and 5 ounces arugula, then dish vegetables into 4 glass, oven-safe dishes.
    3. Beat 8 eggs and pour equally over vegetable dishes. Season liberally with salt and pepper.
    4. Put glass dishes into baking pan and fill with water about halfway up glass dish.
    5. Bake for 40ish minutes or until eggs are completely cooked through
     Nathan – high protein, green smoothie

      • Beef stew over zucchini noodles, recipe courtesy of Inspiralized
      • Salad
      • Freshly sliced bell peppers or carrots
      • Fresh fruit 
      • Organic whole milk yogurt for Nathan
      • Dark chocolate for Erin. This week I am trying Theo, and I am loving its rich, bitter flavor


      • Larabars for Nathan
      • Sunflower seeds for Nathan
      • Frozen berries for Erin
      • Bone broth for Erin
      • Hard boiled egg


      • Sunday – grilled polish sausage with grilled asparagus
      • Monday – grilled pork steak, roasted smashed potatoes, broccoli salad (I have not selected a recipe for this yet, but know that it will not contain traditional mayo. I will likely make it myself or use a bacon grease and rice vinegar dressing instead.)
      • Tuesday – leftover grilled pork stead, roasted plantain (current food obsession) and leftover broccoli salad
      • Wednesday – grilled wild caught salmon with cauliflower rice tabbouleh
      Even though we are not cooking meals at home beyond Wednesday, we will still honor our real food preferences.  While not all of my family makes the same real food choices as I do, they are accepting. There is always a grocery store close to our destinations, which means I have the ability to bring my own dishes for sharing.  Here are my top 5 tips for keeping it real away from home:
      1.  Take a real food dish as a contribution to the party.
      2. Build a plate that has more fresh vegetables than processed foods. This means raiding the relish tray before grabbing a handful of potato chips.
      3. Select protein carefully. I like to make bunless burgers wrapped in lettuce, and I prefer to eat chicken off the bone rather than gnawing on an overcooked boneless, skinless chicken breast.
      4. Avoid ewwwy-gooey side dishes with lots of creamy sauces – think potato salad, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese, and baked beans. These items are typically made with condiments that contain vegetable oils (read Confessions of a Real Food Dietitian post for my thoughts on those), added sugars (in about 14 different varieties) and other fake food (powdered cheese, preservatives and food dyes). Consider taking these as a way to follow tip #1 and ensure there is something real to eat.
      5. Have snacks stashed away in case there is not enough real food from which to choose. A few foods that travel well, oranges, beef jerky (I am loving Epic products right now), kale chips and bars (2 Moms in the Raw, Larabars, Kind bars.
      BONUS TIP: When determining if a prepared food or condiment is Grateful Guts worthy I always read the food label.  If it contains enriched flour, whole wheat flour, high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, modified food starch, soy sauce, food dyes or alternative sweeteners (acesulfame potassium or acesulfame K, aspartame, saccharin), then I put it back.  
      With all that in mind have a safe, delicious holiday weekend!

      Feel the (Not So Good) Burn

      Oh so many people have heart burn. It is also known as GERD, which stands for gastroesopohageal reflux disease. That is simply a more clinical name for chronic acid from the stomach that backs up into the esophagus. It technically does not have any relation to the function of your heart, but for some people the pain is situated in the center of your chest and can easily be confused with chest pain associated with cardiac complications. Other symptoms of heart burn can include a dry cough, problems swallowing or feeling that there is something stuck in your throat, hoarseness, sore throat and juicy burps that contain regurgitated food in liquid form that is very sour.

      At some point everyone experiences acid reflux, but most people do not truly understand its cause. Acid reflux actually occurs when the band at the bottom of your esophagus (known as the lower esophageal sphincter or LES) cannot stay closed. When the LES is open highly acidic content from the stomach can move back up into the esophagus where it does not belong. So how do we manage acid reflux without using medications that have unwanted side effects and lead to other digestive disturbances?
      Grateful Guts top 10 tips for lifestyle changes to manage acid reflux:
      1.  Work with a registered dietitian nutritionist, like yours truly, to complete a short elimination program to determine which foods may be considered triggers. Often we become de-sensitized to signs of dis-ease because these symptoms have become so common. Know that a common symptom does not mean it is normal function. The best example of this was a client who went through an elimination and re-introduction program with me in order to identify the cause of gas, bloating and abdominal pain. Interestingly though the first thing she noticed was that her persistent dry cough disappeared when she eliminated gluten. It returned when she tried to reintroduce gluten-containing foods. She had not even considered her persistent dry cough as a sign of dis-ease because she was so used to having it. Not until it was gone did she notice how it affected her quality of life.
      2. Eat real food! Shocking that I would say such a thing. Most real food, consumed in a form that is as close to its natural source as possible, is going to be lower in acidity and therefore will not be trigger foods. These real foods include whole muscle meat products from grass-fed, free-range, sustainably raised animals, as well as fruits and vegetables and wonderfully gelatinous bone broth. I also recommend avoiding all dairy products (milk, yogurt and cheeses), along with gluten containing foods (barley, wheat, rye, soy sauce, processed lunch meats, most convenience foods and products containing modified food starch and maltodextrins). This is where #1 is important. People like me can really help with this part.

      3.  Get exercise that strengthens your muscles. Try yoga, Pilates and functional movement training.  Cardio exercise like walking, swimming or riding your bike are helpful in maintaining good heart health, but these forms of exercise are not as effective for maintaining muscle tone (think diaphragm) as strength training.
      4. Eat slowly. Put down your eating utensil between bites and do not pick it up again you have swallowed the first one. It takes approximately 20 minutes for your body to recognize that you are full. If you are still eating when you start to feel full, then you have over eaten. You will continue to feel full for at least another 20-30 minutes. Remember that overeating creates excess pressure in the stomach, which can prevent the LES from closing thereby causing the acid to back up into the esophagus…ouch! If you slow down the speed at which you eat, then your brain can keep up with your body and you will be able to recognize when the physical sensation of hunger is gone. That is when you should stop eating.
      5. CHEW your food. Do not just chomp and swallow. Help your stomach work more efficiently by actually chewing. Chewing breaks down your food into tiny particles. The acid in your stomach continues breaking down those tiny particles into their most basic forms. If the particles are still too big when they hit your stomach, then the chemical breakdown from the acid can create gas, in your stomach, increases the pressure in your stomach and can prevent your LES from closing.  Gas in your stomach escapes as a burp. Have you ever noticed that the faster you eat the more you burp?
      6. Eat more frequently throughout the day, but consume smaller quantities in one sitting. This is important so that you do not overeat. I feel like a broken record now. Eating smaller portions will prevent you from overeating. And once again overeating creates excessive pressure in your stomach and prevents the LES from closing…sigh.
      7. Avoid ALL sodas and any carbonated beverages. Carbonation is a gas. Gas inside your stomach can create pressure…you get my point. Also sodas and chemically created beverages made in a lab or factory contain a lot of sugar and A LOT of acid. Don’t put extra acid in if you do not want to feel it come back up.
      8. Stop drinking alcohol and stop smoking. These damage your health, including your GI tract. Enough said.

      9.  Consume your last meal at least three (3) hours before lying down. Myth, eating too close to bedtime makes you gain weight. Fact, eating too close to bed can cause acid reflux.

      10.  Sleep with the head of your bed at a 30 degree angle. OK not every person needs to actually measure the incline of the head of their bed, but know that sleeping at an incline can help keep the stomach acid from moving up into the esophagus.
      To understand why these are my top 10 tips, let’s do a quick anatomy/physiology review. The gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) is technically a one-way street. It starts when you put solid and liquid items in your mouth. Mechanical digestion occurs through the act of chewing and your tongue in needed to move the food back to your throat so that it can be swallowed. Once swallowed it moves down a tube called the esophagus, hence the E in GERD. At the bottom of the esophagus is the stomach. The LES is the band where the esophagus and stomach join. In this same general vicinity is a sheet of muscle that runs horizontally across our upper abdomen known as the diaphragm. This muscle is important for breathing and it helps maintain closure of the LES, thereby preventing stomach acid from sloshing upward into the esophagus. Now let’s understand part of the physiology of the GI tracts. The environment inside the stomach is very acidic. It contains hydrochloric acid (HCL), which is important for chemically digesting nutrients, especially protein. HCL can also activate other digestive enzymes in the small intestines needed for absorbing nutrient. There are cells inside the stomach that create a protective lining in the stomach that prevents acid from causing damage. There are no such cells in the esophagus, which is why we often feel a burning sensation when stomach contents back up.

      So, the burning question is what prevents the LES from closing all the way? Unfortunately there could be many explanations for this. For example obesity, pregnancy and overeating can cause excess pressure in the stomach that prevents the LES from closing. Occasionally older adults can develop a hiatal hernia, that occurs when the top of the stomach protrudes into your chest. When this happens the LES is above the diaphragm and therefore no longer has the musculature support that helps keep it closed. Lifestyle factors such as smoking, alcohol and caffeine consumption can cause damage throughout the GI tract, including weakening the LES and causing heartburn. There are also some medications that can weaken the LES. Anecdotally I have had clients with food intolerances experience heartburn after eating an offending food, and I attribute this experience to inflammation occurring within the GI tract that temporarily prevents LES closure.
      Regardless of the cause, the pain associated GERD is exacerbated by highly acidic foods like alcohol, caffeine, soda (regular and diet…don’t even get me started…there will be an entire blog post dedicated to the syrupy, bubbly poison), tomato and citrus based products and even chocolate. Other triggers can be foods that create acid when they are digested, such as dairy products and simple sugars, especially those that are refined and added to processed foods. And of course there are those pesky food intolerances which can be both a cause the LES dysfunction and can be a trigger that can create excess acid.
      Treating heartburn is often multi-factorial, and being the crunchy-not quite hippie-let’s try a natural approach-kind of girl, I prefer to start with lifestyle changes rather than medication…and here is why. More often than not, too much acid is not the actual problem; rather the problem is that the acid from the stomach is simply in the wrong spot. We want acid so that we can actually digest our food, especially protein. We also need acid to activate other digestive enzymes in the small intestines to aid in nutrient absorption, especially calcium, magnesium and vitamin B12. Problems associated with not digesting or absorbing nutrients properly cause many of the side effects listed in the fine print of these medications, which interestingly enough are also symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – bloating, gas, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

      There are a number of natural remedies such as DGL (licorice) and slippery elm, along with other supplements that complimentary healthcare practitioners recommend for symptom management.  While I truly believe these can be very helpful when used appropriately, it is important to work with a qualified practitioner to ensure the appropriate use of such remedies.

      I could probably write an entire dissertation on this topic, but I think we have covered enough for now. If you have questions, then please leave them in the comments. And once again cheers from my cup of gelatinous bone broth to yours.

      Welcoming Summer and Previewing a Week of Real Food

      It is officially summer. Today is the summer solstice, which is also the longest day of the year. Of course there is science and a solar system that explains the positions of the sun and earth and why the amount of sunlight is longest on this day, but I really prefer to focus on its symbolic representation. Om Times posted an article that really resonated with me this year, and within it stated, “Sun represents the soul and when it is at its northernmost elevation, the light within the consciousness is also shines brilliantly, opening possibilities of tremendous growth and evolution.” I find so much inspiration and optimism in this line; especially as I embarking on new personal and professional endeavors that will allow me to align passion with profession. 
      There are innumerable rituals surrounding both the winter and summer solstices. Today I completed my own version of a yoga mala during which I performed 108 sun salutations. One hundred eight is evenly divided by three, which is representative of mind, body and spirit. In addition to connecting movement with breath, I also focused on affirmations. The first 36 sun salutations included mind affirmations. The next 36 were body affirmations, and the last 36 were spiritual affirmations. I also took advantage of technology and used the laps on my stopwatch app to keep count. In all it took me about an hour and a half to ease into practice, then finish with restorative yoga poses. It was a powerful practice that serves as my personal reminder of how important it is to stay balanced and connected with my passion and purpose.    
      Turning the tables now…Happy Father’s Day to all of men out there. This weekend turned out to be a mostly sunny change of pace from the previous week’s daily deluge. We were grateful that the weather reports from earlier in the week were wrong. Of course more sunshine means more grilling. I can certainly appreciate a perfectly grilled morsel of goodness. In fact we planned our Father’s Day celebrations around our grill. It was so simple, and had so much flavor. Grilled flat iron steak from our local butcher, avocado tomato salad, grilled corn, spinach and berry salad, and roasted smashed red potatoes. It was 80% locally sourced, real food, made with love.

      I would like to address, and effectively debunk, the myth that quality, real food is unaffordable. Let it be known that I live on a budget. I eat really well, and my husband never goes hungry. My most important budgeting strategy is planning. On Fridays I create a menu for the week. We tend to have the same breakfast and lunches all week because we make them in bulk on Sunday evenings. This saves us so much time during the week. On Saturdays we shop, first at the farmers’ market for 90% of our produce. Anything that I cannot get locally, like quality fish or coconut milk, I typically buy at Whole Foods. My grocery bill for this past week amounted to $105, and that included the extra items needed for hosting Father’s Day. Another very important money and time saving strategy is sourcing quality animal products locally. I am so grateful for a local butcher shop that sells meat bundles. Our bundle has beef, pork and chicken and provides around 40 pounds, which averages approximately $4.25 per pound. I can stretch this bundle out for three months with careful planning. 
      Our meals for the next week are detailed below. I linked recipes when I plan to use them, otherwise recipes include the ingredients listed and eyeballing quantities and cook times.
      Breakfast this week:

      • Erin: spring mix salad with two over-easy eggs, homemade oil/vinegar dressing and high protein Swiss water pressed decaf coffee
      • Nathan: green protein smoothie

      Lunch this week:

      • spaghetti squash with bacon, ground cube steak, mushrooms and roasted broccoli
      • spring mix salad with tomatoes and homemade oil/vinegar dressing
      • carrot sticks
      • full-fat, organic yogurt for Nathan
      • fruit for both of us
      • dark chocolate for Erin

      Snacks this week:

      • fresh fruit
      • homemade pickles
      • homemade roasted plantain chips
      • sunflower seeds for Nathan
      • a cup of bone broth for Erin

      Dinner this week:

      • Tuesday:
        • sweet potatoes stuffed with leftover flat iron steak and coconut oil
        • roasted asparagus
      • Wednesday:
        • Grilled sausages served over zucchini noodles
        • leftover grain free focaccia bread
      • Thursday – eating out at Chipotle for work fundraiser

      Hope you have a great week, and cheers from my cup of gelatinous bone broth to yours!

      Food Shaming – Stop It! Entering a Judgment Free Zone

      Stop food shaming.  Seriously, stop it now! I am talking to myself and the catrillion other people who have looked at some one’s lunch and either thought or said, “I can’t believe she’s eating that.” I am talking to myself and the catrillion other people who have deprived themselves of nourishment because it had too many calories, too much fat or too many carbs. I am talking to myself and the catrillion other people who have felt guilty about eating something. I am talking to myself and the catrillion other people who have been labeled as picky, high maintenance, difficult or too good because we asked for no cheese, we wanted to know how the sauce was made or we decided not to indulge in the delicacies brought to some celebration.

      In an article from the Huffington Post, Michelle May, M.D was quoted as saying, “When we judge food as being ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ we also judge ourselves and other people as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ depending on what we ate.” It is my belief that these judgments are cultivated through social norms and misguided perceptions of the perfect body, clearest skin, roundest ass, perkiest boobs, flattest abs, longest legs or whichever body part has been assigned highest value for the moment. Somehow these physical traits have been assigned moral values, while the purpose and intent of the food itself has been disconnected from the act of eating. As if not eating to be skinny means we are nice or having an extra piece of cake to keep our curves and have big boobs means we are fun.
      The purpose of food is to fuel our bodies and maintain optimal health. It is not inherently good or bad.  It does not make us more enlightened, and it certainly does not make us better or worse than the next person. As a dietitian I know how different types of foods affect our bodies and minds.  I have strong opinions about foods I choose as fuel and why, because I understand the science and can explain digestion. I will serve as a guide to making food choices that support the highest quality of life and optimal health, not the food choices that achieve a specific physical shape.
      Since health is individualized it should not be measured by the size of our pants, the numbers on the scale or how our assets compare to Kim Kardishian’s. While there are some markers of health that can guide us towards making appropriate lifestyle changes, we get to determine what feels best and how we want to live, and there is no shame in that. Consider this a judgment free zone.


      Confessions of a Real Food Dietitian

      All of the reasons I LOVE nutrition are the same reasons why I make specific food choices.

      I eat a lot of fat. It is the nutrient that I consume in the largest quantity, but guess what…I am HEALTHY. I am not obese and I am not at any increased risk for having a heart attack on my next run or stroking out as I climb the stairs at work. Mainstream medical professionals and functional medicine practitioners alike would look at my cholesterol panel (total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, HDL:LDL ratio and triglycerides) and give me a double thumbs up.
      I choose fat from high quality sources. My favorites are avocados, whole olives, cold-pressed coconut oil, cold-pressed olive oil, real butter and fat that is found naturally in grass-fed, pasture-raised animal products. The major difference between my favorite fats and those found in the standard American diet (SAD) is that my list of fats are either real food or easily identifiable from their real food source.  Vegetable oils, that supposedly promote heart health, go through extensive processing, bleaching and deodorizing. Just watch this short video from Discovery Channel on how canola oil is made. It is gross, and certainly does not fit within my perception of a quality sourced product. 
      My favorite fats have an optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are readily available in the standard American diet (SAD) with an over abundance found in vegetable oils. Excess omega-6s can increase inflammation and oxidative stress. On the other hand omega-3s are more abundant in grass-fed, pasture-rasied animal products, fatty fish (wild caught of course) and in nuts. These fatty acids can reduce inflammation and among other fabulous benefits have a positive effect on heart health. 
      Not only am I eating a lot of fat, much of it is coming from saturated sources. These fats are solid at room temperature and are more stable. They better withstand heat and do not go rancid as quickly as unsaturated fats. By the time an unsaturated fat is processed and makes it to your kitchen it has been exposed to heat, air and light, all of which further contribute to its breakdown and produce off flavors. When consumed, unsaturated fats are oxidized in the body which creates free radicals that cause cell damage and once again…inflammation. 
      Besides all of the health benefits associated with my favorite fats I also have to admit that I am most grateful for their flavor. Seriously…why eat something that does not taste good? Try this for a quick meal and a burst of flavor.

      Sauteed Greens 
      2 strips of bacon
      1/2 cup chopped onion
      1 minced garlic clove
      4 handfuls greens of choice (I prefer kale)
      salt/pepper to taste
      Chop the bacon and pan fry.  Remove bacon from pan, keeping bacon grease over heat.
      Sautee chopped onion and minced garlic in gacon grease until translucent
      Add greens and wilt to desired consistency
      Season with salt and pepper to taste
      Roasted Plantain
      1 plantain
      1-2 tablespoons coconut oil
      salt to taste
      Preheat oven to 375-425 degrees
      Slice plantain into thin discs
      Melt coconut oil
      Toss plantain with coconut oil
      Season with salt
      Roast in oven until it smells good and looks done.  I like mine crispy, so a little brown is best.

      Keeping It Real

      Six years ago I had the brilliant idea to start a blog and share my wealth of nutrition and fitness knowledge. A quick review of the handful of posts on what was originally Living Inside Out serves as a testament to how much I have changed. The one professional constant through the years has been my passion for nutrition and wellness. All other aspects of my professional life look drastically different, and for that I am forever grateful. 

      “So,” you ask, “what has changed in the last six years?” And to that I respond, “absolutely everything.” I quit a very rewarding job to change careers and complete a master’s degree in nutrition, built and then left a successful personal training practice, competed in a half-iron man competition, moved across the state of Indiana, became a registered dietitian, started working as a clinical dietitian and taught nutrition classes for the hospitality program at a community college. 

      From a nutrition perspective I went from a MyPlate, USDA junkie who believed that whole grains and Greek yogurt improved my health, to the current version of my real self. Now I embrace real food from farms and vendors that are as close to my home as possible. Most meals include grass-fed, pasture-raised animal products for protein, plenty of fat for flavor and fullness, along with an abundance of colorful vegetables and a few fruits as my primary carbohydrate sources. I know that dairy gives me zits and grains whack out my insulin response. I avoid products with food labels and  added sugars.  I buy organic when possible, and believe that consuming food as close to its natural source tastes the best and provides the best nutrition. 

      You are invited to peruse earlier blog posts, gain a better understanding of where I began this professional journey, then stay tuned for what will be a wonderful journey filled with all of the deliciousness in life that makes us feel good…so cheers from my cup of gelatinous bone broth to yours.