What’s the most important part of a ‘healthy diet’? That you do it! Finding a way of eating that nourishes your body appropriately, but is also realistic and can be maintained over the long term through busy work lives, family demands, unexpected changes in routine, budget and energy, can be daunting! I don’t claim to have it all figured out, but in my years of developing a sustainable way of eating for me and my family, I’ve come to rely on a few foods, recipes and strategies that I’d like to share - you don’t have to go from zero to making your own coconut milk from scratch in one day (although it’s actually pretty easy!)
My partner and I mostly avoid grains, processed foods, sweetened foods and dairy, and emphasize loads of organic veggies and fruit, grass fed and organic meat and eggs, unprocessed fats and bone broth and organ meats. From a Chinese Medicine perspective, we eat a diet emphasizing damp reducing foods and seasonal eating. These tips and recipes reflect that, and I hope will be especially valuable for those who have been precipitated into dietary change by illness and need easy and immediate ways to start eating in a way that helps them feel better.
Number 1: Planning and Prepping
How much of this you need to do depends on where you’re starting from. If you’re doing an elimination program or following a whole foods diet for the first time, you might need to invest in a kitchen overhaul to have some basic equipment and pantry supplies. Here’s some great advice from the Whole30, and my must-haves include:
- A good knife and cutting board
- Storage containers so you can make food ahead. I like mason jars and tiffins or glass ware, but you can also put a plate over a bowl like granny did before tupperware!
- A good basic cookbook like Whole30, Practical Paleo or 30 Day Guide to Paleo. These three all have helpful ideas and instructions for ‘building blocks - see below!
- Spices! Get a few mixes if you are starting from scratch, and honestly, quality matters with spices. If you don’t have a local fancy spice shop or that’s a pain, shop at mine! Think curry, chili, pumpkin pie spice and italian seasoning
2. Building blocks
This is my single most important recommendation. If you’re pressed for time or energy, don’t worry about following complicated recipes. Cook simple single foods that can be combined to make a meal. Think proteins, carbs or starches, veggies, toppings and sauces. If you have a couple from each category on hand, you can always throw together a yummy meal that fits your food needs without having to create anything from scratch. Here are a few of my faves and check out my Healthy + Easy pinterest board for more.
- Oven roasted chicken drumsticks + cooked greens + baked sweet potato + mustard vinaigrette
- Grilled porkchop + mashed butternut squash + steamed green beans with slivered almonds, melted ghee and pumpkin pie spice
- Baked salmon + chopped romaine lettuce + kalamata olives + chopped apple + capers + balsamic vinaigrette
- Chopped cooked chicken + mixed cooked veg + coconut milk + thai curry paste + fish sauce
- red lentils with ghee and curry + sliced hard boiled egg + braised red cabbage + mashed potatoes
3. Canned Fish is your Friend!
Many ‘grab and go’ foods are grain based, sweet or carb-heavy, super processed, or just not satisfying enough to serve as a meal: granola bars, crackers, protein bars, trail mix. Canned fish is a healthy, fast and economical protein source and more versatile than you might think! (here’s an article about safety concerns with eating fish - upshot, benefits outweigh the risks!)
My go-to faves: tuna or salmon salad with homemade mayo and mixins like apples, grapes, capers or pickles. Tuna or salmon patties with salsa, vinaigrette or caper mayonnaise. Sardines on a big salad. Canned salmon ‘pasta’ with zoodles. There's loads more on Pinterest.
4. Think outside the bun
Looking for substitutes for super easy foods like crackers and bread? Don’t bother with fussy imitations, think about vehicles for easy speedy proteins. Try the current instagram star, sweet potato toast
- Chard or lettuce leaf rollups
- Thickly sliced oven fried potatoes
- Baked Potato
- Cucumber slices
- Apple or melon slices
If it’s flat, you can use it as toast.
My fave combos:
- Tuna salad on green apple slices
- Salmon salad on potato wedges
- Chicken salad in chard rollups (remove the stalk from a leaf of swiss chard (look for a tender one)
5. Know your search terms
If you’re looking for recipes and inspiration, try using these search terms to get useful results. I used to use “gluten free” but as gluten free has become more mainstream, I now find many of the recipes include premade mixes as well as high sugar content, margarine etc and are really just gluten free versions of standard american foods. If that’s what you want - a fluffy frosted birthday cake for your friend with celiac - perfect, but if you’re looking for whole food, unprocessed and low or no sugar options, try these instead:
Search Terms to try on google or pinterest: Paleo, primal, nourishing, whole foods, whole30 grain free
6. Have a Sh*t Hitting the Fan Plan
It happens to all of us: everything goes to hell, and the time you set aside to chop or shop or cook is swamped by emergencies, work or illness. Now what? Stop right now and think of a few emergency back up plans - they will vary depending on your food restrictions and preferences, as well as the options available where you live, but some of my faves are:
- rotisserie chicken from the health food store,
- throwing leftovers in the freezer to pull out in an emergency (cook double for this purpose),
- pre-chopped and ready to steam veggies or salad from the grocery store,
- takeout like thai curries, prepared foods from the deli case or salad bar.
- grocery delivery including ready to eat options such as Good Eggs .
- ask for help!
I hope this has given you some food for thought in transitioning into a whole foods way of eating or dealing with temporary food restrictions. There’s a mountain of material available in books and online with tons more hints, tips and strategies, but whatever you do, stop and enjoy what you’re eating, keep the focus on your health and the benefits of nourishing your body and the planet wholesomely, and remember that sometimes your best is good enough. Ess in gezunterhayt! (Eat in good health!)
PS why do I talk so much about food? Because I’m a holistic physician as well as a skin care maker. Happy skin comes from the inside out as much as from choosing the right skincare. Stay tuned for my best skin healing recipes coming soon.