LIFE HACK: An App For People Who Have Trouble Staying Focused

forest

I have a problem. I try to do multiple things all at the same time which leaves me feeling agitated and depleted. Why sit and peacefully watch t.v. when I could also scroll through my emails on my laptop (is what my brain constantly tries to tell me)? What’s the problem with reading emails while watching t.v., or scrolling through your Instagram feed while walking the dog, or trying to reply to a text while also have a conversation? Well for one thing, when we multitask, nothing is ever done really well. It also leaves our brains feeling fried and for many of us we wind up feeling on-edge and irritable. I have also started to notice a link between how much time I spend mindlessly online and the amount of energy I have to do other tasks. Being online literally drains me.

According to this Time Magazine article, trying to multi-task, especially with electronic devices, can hamper our attentiveness, mindfulness, and ability to learn. In fact, higher amounts of technology use has been linked to mental health problems in adolescents. It’s no wonder, with kids constantly seeing images of “perfection” on their peers’ social media feeds. I have found that the more time I spend on social media (as a 43 year old), the more agitated and anxious I get as well. This article does a good job of explaining why that is. One positive of technology use in adolescents is that more frequent texting appears to help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. perhaps because they are reaching out to real friends and connecting rather than perceiving that everyone else has perfect “Insta worthy” lives.  Read the article to find out more.

So, what am I doing about this problem? I found out about an app called Forest, and have been using it for a few days. So far it has really made a difference. You can plant virtual trees and set a time for how long you want to focus on a task without looking at your phone. When the time is up, your tree has grown. By planting trees and growing trees, you earn virtual currency to use towards buying and planing a REAL TREE through Trees For The Future. The app costs $1.99 for iPhone and it’s free for Android.

This might be the sort of thing where I use it for a relatively short amount of time to rewire my brain and seal in a new habit. I’m perfectly ok with spending $2.00 for that life hack!

P.S. I wrote this entire blog post without checking email, reading my texts, or inexplicably ending up shopping on Bananrepublic.com. WIN!

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Summer Intentions

Midweek Mashup

MIDWEEK MASHUP

It’s the most wonderful time of the…

You know how the rest of it goes. Is it truly the best time of the year? For many of us, yes! The beautiful lights, the nostalgic music, the opportunities to spend time with people we love. For many others, not so much. So much stress, so many additional responsibilities, poor eating habits, a few too many extra cocktails, and obligations, obligations, obligations.

Wherever you land on the spectrum of Holiday cheer, one thing is for sure: we all need ways to help manage it all. I like to ramp up my Green Smoothies this time of year. I feel like no matter what else happens on any given day, I’ve at least had lots of veggies and fiber. Sort of like a little insurance policy.

Some years I’m simply too overwhelmed to consider adding intentional exercise to the mix. This year I’m feeling like I really want to get to the gym a couple of times a week in addition to walking my dog and playing platform tennis. I have been using Aaptiv on my iPhone and love it. It’s full of personal trainer-led workouts that can be customized to your level of fitness. Choose from treadmill, outdoor running or walking, yoga, indoor cycling, strength training and even 5k, 10k, half and full marathon programs. All workouts are set to really great music you actually want to listen to.  It’s not cheap. At $75/year it’s a commitment. But I’ve more than gotten my money’s worth since I got the app this summer. (I was not compensated for recommending this app. I just really like it!)

And finally, here is an easy recipe for zesty three bean salad. I made it for a party in October and loved it. It’s the perfect healthy dish to make on a Sunday to eat all week for lunch.

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New Recipe: Easy Peanut Butter Balls (and an update on the elimination diet).

NEW RECIPE! Kale Chips

Headspace

Midweek Mashup

MIDWEEK MASHUP

Happy Wednesday. It’s a short week! For that let’s celebrate. Surely all the kids are back in school and this week is probably hectic for many. Here’s some good information and a quick recipe to get you through to Friday.

I’ve always believed that if more people got in the kitchen and cooked meals for themselves and their families, they would be healthier overall. An acquaintance once lamented that she felt like there were so many nutrition rules that it felt impossible to feed herself and her daughter “the right way”, so she gives up and resorts to takeout. I say that the nutrition and wellness community has failed her if that’s what she (and likely so many others) feel. The truth is, a jar of decent quality pasta sauce and a box of whole wheat noodles with a bagged salad on the side is vastly healthier than a drive-thru burger and fries. So, if that’s where you are starting, that’s ok. Trust me, you will progressively become more confident in your cooking and before you know it you will have a repertoire of healthy and delicious meals that don’t feel overwhelming to make on a weeknight. I loved Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl’s take on this in her article “The Cure Is in the Kitchen” in  Experience Life’s recent issue. Take a look.

Speaking of making things easier in the kitchen, one approach that I’ve always practiced is to make extra for the freezer or fridge. When making soup, I often double the recipe and fill up Ziploc gallon bags with the excess. Lay them flat in the freezer for easy stacking. On busy nights just pull out a bag and reheat. Sides like roasted veggies are delicious warmed up or cold from the fridge all week long. In fact, I just bought another rimmed roasting sheet on Monday so I can easily make even more.  After this hectic week of back-to-school and houseguest coming on Friday,  I will also start using my weekends or Mondays to make a big batch of quinoa or other healthy salad that I can eat throughout the week for lunch. 

And finally, here’s a simple and delicious looking recipe for your next Meatless Monday or whenever you want to load up on veggies. These Vegan Thai Curry Vegetables look fantastic for a cool fall day, and the gentle spice should be well tolerated by all in your house. I would serve them over brown rice and fruit on the side and call it a day. In fact, it’s what’s for dinner tonight.

That’s it for this week. I hope you enjoyed reading. As always, please pass it along, post it to your pages, and subscribe if you did! And I would love to hear what you think in the comments.

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Hearty Lentil Soup

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Oat Muffins

New Recipe: Easy Peanut Butter Balls (and an update on the elimination diet).


Today is day 10 of my daughter’s modified elimination diet. Tomorrow is the first day that we start adding foods back in. She gets to eat 5-6 servings of one of the food groups that we’ve been avoiding, followed by two days of “watch and wait”. She has chosen nightshades  because she really misses tomatoes, peppers and potatoes.

I’ll be honest: neither one of us has seen or noticed any changes since starting the elimination protocol. Maybe when we introduce things back into her diet she’ll notice something. Hopefully there won’t be a big reaction which would indicate a sensitivity and a need to avoid.

The last 10 days have been trying for her. I get it. When you’re told you can’t have something it only makes you want it more, right? But she is still being a trooper and I commend her for it. There has been no whining, no tantrums, no pushback. She’s stoic (like her dad) and while she really has disliked this experience intensely, she’s persevered.

We just took a three day girls’ trip and I packed much of our food. Eating out was a challenge but we found some places willing to work with us. Two of the restaurants specialized in vegan and gluten-free which usually means that they are more open to special requests. And both happened to be featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, so that was cool. Shout outs go to At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Cafe and Duluth Grill!

Now on to the new recipe I promised. These Easy Peanut Butter Balls are full of protein, healthy fats, and healthy whole grains. They really couldn’t be easier to make and they are guaranteed to please just about anyone. Make a double batch and keep them in your fridge for an easy grab-and-go breakfast for busy mornings and after school snacks.

EASY PEANUT BUTTER BALLS

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup natural peanut butter (I really like the no-stir Whole Foods creamy)

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup vanilla protein powder (I couldn’t get by without Orgain, which happens to be vegan)

1/2 cup honey (use local if you have seasonal allergies, as it’s thought to help with symptoms)

Optional: chocolate chips

METHOD:

Stir all the ingredients together, then form into balls the size of a golf ball. If they are too sticky, add a bit more protein powder or oats. Likewise, if they are too dry, add a bit of honey or peanut butter. Keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

Will you try these? Do you have a variation you like?  Tell me in the comments!

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NEW RECIPE! Spelt Pancakes: better than you’d imagine!

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NEW RECIPE! Spelt Pancakes: better than you’d imagine!

If you’ve read my blog recently, you know my daughter is currently doing a modified elimination diet. Even though not one person has made a disparaging comment, I feel a little defensive about this decision. I don’t take drastic dietary changes lightly, even as a holistic nutrition student. Making big diet adjustments can be really hard on anyone, and for kids even more so. But, here we are, and on day 5 no less.  It has not been fun for her, but I’m doing my best to make foods for her that are similar to what she already loves.  Yesterday I made a quesadilla using brown rice tortillas and goat’s milk cheddar.  Let’s just say that wasn’t a home run.

But on Saturday morning, I made chocolate pancakes using the spelt flour that was recommended by our nutritionist. They were delicious and she asked for them again yesterday. SUCCESS! Sadly I forgot to snap a photo for the blog, but rest assured they looked fantastic.

They aren’t gluten-free, but rather wheat-free which is part of our protocol. They were fluffy (but also dense, if that makes any sense?!). And the taste was on par with traditional pancakes. Here’s how I made them:

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups spelt flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/3 cups milk (we used Ripple milk, a new milk made from green peas)

A generous sprinkling of dark chocolate chips or blueberries

Butter (we used Earth Balance vegan butter)

METHOD:

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

Mix the wet ingredients together in a separate bowl.

Slowly fold in the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing thoroughly.

Add in chocolate chips (you can also use blueberries or whatever add-ins you prefer). I didn’t measure the chips, but rather eyeballed to our preference.

Melt a little butter in the skillet and add a mixing-spoonful of batter to the hot surface.

Cook, checking for doneness frequently. When the pancake is firm enough to flip, turn over and cook until done.

ENJOY! Please let me know what you think of these pancakes if you make them at home! I always love comments and shares. 

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Elimination Diet

This past week my 11 year old daughter was put on a modified elimination diet by a nutritionist. She has some GI stuff going on, plus eczema and keratosis pilaris (“chicken skin” on the backs of her arms). As a nutrition student, I understand that there are people who have food sensitivities and that sometimes those sensitivities lead to inflammation in the body, which can present itself in lots of different ways. Skin issues, headaches, GI distress, mood imbalances are just a few ways in which food sensitivities can show themselves. 

So, off to the nutritionist we went. After a thorough intake she suggested a modified elimination diet (she has 30 years of experience and has a master’s degree in nutrition, so I feel quite comfortable in her expertise). Doing an elimination diet with an 11 year old growing girl who is an adventurous eater is a major bummer. But, it’s only for a few weeks so we will give it a try.

The foods she has to avoid completely for 10 days are:
1. Corn. This includes corn starch and high fructose corn syrup. I am realizing corn is in A LOT of packaged foods.

2. Nightshades (peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant). This is a bummer because she eats peppers and tomatoes in large quantities. And, you know, french fries.

3. Cow’s dairy. Again, in so many different foods. Sheep and goat dairy is ok.

4. Wheat. This doesn’t mean gluten-free. She can have spelt and rye and barley, etc. I realize after looking at oodles of gluten-free packaged goods that most have corn starch or potato starch in place of wheat.

Last night we went out to dinner at the Yard House, a restaurant that has an extensive menu. After much back and forth with the waitress, who was really accommodating, we finally settled on grilled shrimp, jasmine rice, and steamed broccoli.  All of their sauces contain corn starch or soy sauce (wheat). The orange chicken, the chicken rice bowl, the street tacos, the chicken teriyaki — all were off limits. If it were me at age 11 I would have cried and thrown a fit, but my daughter rolled with it.  That’s not to say she’s happy, for last night she announced that “I’m ok but I *hate* it”. I get it, it stinks. But it’s a short period of time and hopefully we will be able to identify any foods that are causing issues, cut them out for a period of time, and then reintroduce them slowly back. The end game is hopefully a healthier kid.

I dabbled with the idea of doing the elimination with her in solidarity but I quickly realized that I needed my energy and focus to help her through these next few weeks. When she’s done it’s quite possible I will give it a try. Don’t expect me to give up coffee or wine, though.

I’ll keep you updated on our progress! This is day 3, and I’m sure there will be lots to share in upcoming days.

Midweek Mashup

MIDWEEK MASHUP

Welcome to Wednesday! You’ve made it this far, you should be proud! There’s a lot of health and wellness information coming out this week, and I’m excited to share some of it with you.

Have you ever wondered what might happen if you gave up sugar for an entire year?  Like, really gave it up.  No white sugar, no fruit juice concentrate, no maple syrup, no honey? If I’m being honest, the thought of giving up sweet stuff altogether makes me shudder. I grew up in a house in which my sugar consumption was very strictly monitored. My sister and I would ride our bikes to the corner store to buy candy bars behind our mom’s back. For years afterwards, I was a total candy and soda addict and couldn’t control myself around sugar. I finally figured out how to regulate. Now I raise my daughter differently, to have access to sweets in moderation and to teach her how to self moderate. It’s not easy though, and we sometimes get off track. A reboot sounds like a good idea from time to time. Not a year, but maybe like a week? Read this to find out how one family did it, and how they felt at the end of the year. Thanks to my friend Annie for forwarding this along to me!

I have been subscribing to HelloFresh for a few weeks now, and overall I’m pretty pleased. I love their vegetable boxes because they are more affordable and we are also trying to eat more vegetarian meals. I cringe at the waste of packing materials but we are recycling them so I feel better about that. I love that we get to try new recipes that helps me get out of my meal ruts, especially when time is short and I have less time to give it thought. Tonight I made black bean quesadillas with caramelized onions and they were so good even my 11 year old gobbled them up. Click on the link for the recipe so you can make them at home! Use whole wheat or gluten free tortillas if that’s what appeals to you.

And finally, if you’ve been thinking “Gee, I really wish there was a funny food blog I could read today” look no further than ProntoPup. His most recent post on his attempt to go vegan, only to realize that he’s really a “vaguean” (not that there’s anything wrong with that) is hilarious, honest, and will make you wish you could have dinner with him. Spoiler alert, I get to have dinner with him, and it will probably consist of tofu steak!

Have a great rest of your week, you guys.  Don’t forget to check back on Friday for a new cocktail recipe!