Your Health in Action: 5 Clean Cooking Tips for Newbies

For those of you who follow my social media or have been reading the blog for a while, you’ve probably definitely seen me post about my experiences with Whole30 and paleo living. If you’re not familiar with Whole30, it is a nutritional program that lasts for 30 days and is designed to help people discover food sensitivities and kick their junk food addictions. When I first started dabbling in this way of eating in 2014, I quickly realized that I needed to do a lot of my own cooking — something that I’d had virtually no experience with before that time.

For a lot of people, including myself, transitioning to a cleaner way of eating can be intimidating because of the level of cooking and meal preparation that is often involved. Even now, after several rounds of Whole30, I still do not claim to be a particularly talented chef. However, over the years, I’ve significantly improved my culinary skills and picked up a lot of tricks for simplifying the clean cooking experience.

If you’re looking to make a few lifestyle changes and don’t know where to start, check out my tips below!

5 Clean Cooking Tips for Newbies

  1. Prep your meals ahead of time.
    I’ll let you in on a well-known secret: I’m a big fan of #MealPrepSundays. I love to set aside a few hours before the week begins to chop up some veggies, whip up a few dinners for class nights (usually this simple veggie curry), and prep seasonings for other recipes I’ll try throughout the week. I don’t pre-cook all of my meals, but by getting some of the prep work done on Sunday, I can save some time in the kitchen after work. Meal prep will make the cooking process a lot less overwhelming, because a lot of the work will have already been done! I use this weekly organizer to plan my meals.
  2. Sometimes it’s just easier to buy your produce pre-chopped…
    … and that’s totally ok! If it saves time and doesn’t seriously compromise the health benefits of the food you’re eating, why not simplify? I chop most of my veggies on the weekend, but I buy my cauliflower and broccoli already chopped into florets, and often buy my carrots pre-chopped as well. If it makes your life easier and you don’t mind the added cost, go for it!
  3. The Internet is your best friend.
    When following a more complicated recipe or trying out a new cooking technique, look no further than YouTube and Google. Thanks to the Internet, I now know how to poach chicken — and thankfully, it does not mean that I have to hunt my own poultry!
  4. Find your easy go-to’s.
    When you’re in a pinch, having a few simple items in the house that are ready-made can make dinnertime that much easier. For example, I eat a lot of cauliflower rice, so I end up buying it frozen through Bird’s Eye and Trader Joe’s. Find those shortcuts that work best for you, and stock up!
  5. Learn the easy swaps.
    Making a stir fry? Skip the soy sauce and add coconut aminos. Not sure if you have a dairy intolerance? Try cooking with ghee or coconut oil instead of butter. Skipping gluten? Use almond flour or shredded coconut instead of breadcrumbs to coat your chicken. These are just a few examples of some of the ingredient swaps you can make. For more ideas, check out my list of paleo kitchen essentials here!

Hope these tips help you along your own health and cooking journeys! Have any tips to share? Sound off in the comments below!

One Year at a Time: Why Everyone Should Create a Mini Bucket List

If you’ve been reading my blog over the last two years, you’ve probably seen a lot of posts about my birthday bucket lists. For those who haven’t, a little background: in my first few years out of college, I worked hard but put very little time into my own interests and self-care. I never took a single vacation in that time (except to visit family in my hometown), rarely saw my friends, and was constantly telling myself “I wish I did more of [xyz]” without actually doing anything about it. I consider myself to be an unapologetically enthusiastic person by nature, and so I wanted to bring that excitement back into my life again. Thus began my bucket list adventures, starting with my 25 at 25.

One Year at a Time: Why It's Important to Create Mini-Bucket Lists

Creating that first bucket list for my 25th birthday was one of the best things I could have done for myself. My list was simple – just 25 things I hoped to do by the time I hit my 26th birthday – and it encompassed many of the things in my own backyard that I’d always wanted to do. It “forced” me to book a trip to the mountains, treat myself to a spa day, and visit local museums and performing arts shows. I also became a lot more social again, as friends began to join me on these adventures and suggested their own.

Since then, I create a new bucket list each year leading up to my birthday. I can get a little too focused on “serious” goals throughout the year, so I try to steer my list away from things like “clean out my closet” (which is on a completely different list!) or “write the next Great American Novel.” Some of my bucket list items may focus on personal development (i.e. pursuing public speaking opportunities, getting my writing published in a new place, etc.), but the majority of these relate to places I want to visit or activities I want to try.

Creating your own annual bucket list, rather than an exhaustive list of everything you’d like to do in your lifetime, makes everything that much more immediate. Breaking down your list one year at a time is a powerful thing, because it allows you to prioritize your happiness while thinking about what you can do now to attain it. It is my dream to go to the opera at the Palais Garnier in Paris someday, but based on current obligations, that isn’t feasible right now. I can, however, fit in a weekend trip to Savannah or a few hours at the nearby wildlife refuge.

If you’re like I was, and constantly putting off the things you want to do, I highly recommend creating a list that matches your own interests. Do you ever find yourself saying “I’ve always wanted to go there” or “I wonder what that’s all about”? Start with those items, and go on from there. Your list can be as wild, silly, serious, academic, wellness-driven, or creative as you want it to be — after all, it’s your life!

Stay tuned for my own bucket list for 27 in the coming weeks, as well as a recap of 26 as the year wraps up! In the meantime, share your own potential bucket list items in the comments section below!

When “No” is a Complete Sentence

Around my 25th birthday, I embarked on my year of yes. Inspired by Shonda Rhimes (and probably Jim Carrey in Yes Man), I took on new adventures, made travel a priority, and stopped waiting to do the things I always hoped to do someday. For the first time in years, I was finally creating the life I wanted.

If I’ve gained nothing else from the past two years, I do know this: I believe in the power of yes.

However, as I approach my 27th birthday, I’m also becoming a firm believer in the power of no.

The Power of Saying No

A chronic people pleaser, I’ve always hated the idea of saying no. Most of the time, I genuinely want to get involved in new things and spend time with others, but I also have the tendency to overcommit. I’ve said yes to social plans I’m not keen on. I’ve continued relationships past their expiration date simply because of my fear of hurting others. I’ve allowed people to talk down to me and treat me in ways I didn’t deserve in order to avoid confrontation and not upset anyone.

Ultimately, I’ve put myself last.

A lot of people fall into the same camp, hoping to make others happy and disappoint as few people as possible. But by saying yes to activities we honestly don’t enjoy or to negative behaviors from others, we are diminishing the value of our own time and self-worth. By putting energy toward the things that don’t nourish your soul, you are taking energy away from other areas of your life, and are less able to put forth the best version of yourself. It isn’t healthy for the relationships you do value or for your overall wellness.

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Saying “no” can come in many forms, from a simple “I can’t go tonight,” to telling someone that you’re uncomfortable being spoken to in a certain way. It’s okay to take a night to yourself (fellow introverts, I’m looking at you!). It’s okay to block dramatic people from your newsfeed, ignore passive-aggressive comments from frenemies, and unmatch with rude people on dating apps. The world is yours to enjoy just as much as anyone else, and saying no doesn’t make you any less of a kind person.

In recent months, I’ve gotten a lot better at saying no, walking away from negative situations, and not backtracking to explain every last decision I make. I’m not sure where this newfound ability came from, but a psychic I visited in Cassadaga a few months back did tell me that I would find my voice around my birthday. Whether or not my new knack for “no” came from the psychic’s predictions, it has helped me lead a happier and even more fulfilling life, allowing me to become a better friend who has committed to her own self-care.

In short, let go of the optional things in life that make you unhappy. Be open to new people and experiences, but don’t be afraid to say no when you need to. Life is short — shouldn’t we get to choose how we spend it? 🙂

Introducing: Wellness & Wanderlust

Introducing: Wellness & WanderlustHey there, friends!

Now that my summer semester has come to a close, I’m excited to announce some changes here on the blog. As of today, So It Must Be True has officially taken on a new identity. Meet Wellness & Wanderlust, your one-stop shop for all things health and travel! 🙂

Why the change? Over time, I noticed that my blog had taken a natural shift away from college advice and pop culture pieces, and had begun to focus more on my health journey and travels. I had always loved to travel and create itineraries, but in my first few years out of college, I never once left the state of Florida. After walking away from an all-consuming relationship, I began to reevaluate my priorities and started to do more of what makes me happy. I made time for at least one out-of-state trip per year, and discovered hidden gems in my own city.

Introducing: Wellness & WanderlustI know what it means to be busy, for lack of a better word. I’m in my second year of my MBA program, which I juggle with a full-time job and a social life. Because of this, I know about the struggles of limited vacation time and “not enough hours in the day.” It’s hard to live that perfectly balanced life — you know, the one where you somehow cram meditation, exercise, a gratitude journal, homework, and an acai bowl into your morning before 7 a.m., and visit a new exotic location every month (all while running your own business).  With limited time, I’ve learned to make the most of every weekend that I can to explore a new corner of my world. On my health and wellness journey, I’ve also learned a lot of timesaving shortcuts, and I’m so excited to share all of that and more with you!

Look out in the next few weeks for more changes to the blog. In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section. I look forward to sharing more soon! 🙂

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Veggie Curry

Over the past few months, my Sundays have become synonymous with a few things: brunch with old friends, relaxation, and meal prep. Friends in the paleo world have always preached the importance of preparing meals ahead of time, but I didn’t realize how much time I would save throughout the week by chopping veggies, boiling eggs, and having full meals ready to pop in the microwave after work or before classes. Thank goodness I finally listened to them! 🙂

One of my staple meals is Veggie Curry. Most curry recipes I found online incorporated rice or quinoa and garbanzo beans, but I wanted something that would work for me if I was on Whole30 or simply avoiding grains and legumes.

Whole30 Veggie Curry Recipe | So It Must Be True

This recipe is incredibly nutrient dense and flavorful. It’s also easy to make! I prep this meal almost weekly and heat it up before class. This recipe makes about 3 meals.

Whole30 Veggie Curry Recipe | So It Must Be True

Ingredients:

  • 3 bell peppers, chopped (any color – I like to use red, yellow and green)
  • 1 medium sweet potato, chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, shredded or chopped
  • 4 cups cauliflower rice (I use frozen Birds Eye Steam Fresh or Green Giant, but you can also make your own by grinding cauliflower in your food processor)
  • 1 cup chicken broth (use vegetable broth to make the recipe vegetarian/vegan)
  • 3 tbsp petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp garam masala
  • 1/2 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • Optional: Salt and garlic to taste

Instructions

  1. Heat olive oil over low heat.
  2. Add in chopped peppers, carrots, and sweet potato, along with spices. Let cook on low heat for five minutes.
  3. Stir in cauliflower rice, tomatoes, and chicken broth.
  4. Cover and continue to cook on low for 15 minutes.
  5. Uncover, stir, and heat up to medium low. Cook for another 15-20 minutes or until the cauliflower rice has soaked up the rest of the broth.
  6. Serve or store in meal prep containers. Bon appetit!

Your Health in Action: 5 Tips for Cleaning Up Your Sleep Hygiene

5 Tips for Better SleepWhen it comes to sleep, it often feels like we just don’t get enough of it. When I first started wearing a FitBit, I was astonished to learn how restless I can be at night and how little sleep I tend to get on average. Lack of sleep affects every aspect of my world, from my productivity at work to my concentration in grad school (which is difficult enough after a traditional 8-hour day!), and even plays a major role in weight loss and food choices. One of my resolutions for 2017 has been to clean up my sleep hygiene, and while this is an ongoing process, I’m excited to see how much better I feel as I incorporate more of these healthy habits into my routine!

Check out these five tips for better sleep hygiene, and share your own in the comments section below!

1. Incorporate essential oils into your bedtime routine.
I fell in love with essential oils last year, when I attended an aromatherapy workshop at East End Market, and not long after that, I began using them at home. (After all, when you’re cooking alotof cauliflower, diffusing peppermint oil in your kitchen can be the perfect way to mask the smell.) I used the oils to help with headaches, immune health, and cravings. What I didn’t realize was that oils like lavender can actually help with relaxation, so I have now begun diffusing lavender in my bedroom about a half hour before I go to bed. The scent does provide a sense of calm, but it also makes my room smell amazing!

2. Keep work out of your bedroom.
Save work and school assignments for another area of your home. It can be tempting to work from your laptop in bed, but it will also cause you to associate your bedroom with actual work, which can keep your mind racing after your head hits the pillow.  Find another place to get your work done, whether it’s in another room or out of the house.

3. Eat clean.
Did you know that certain vitamin and nutrient deficiencies can be linked to shorter sleep duration? Lack of sleep is also correlated to overeating and junk food cravings, so this can become a vicious cycle. Break it by sticking to a more balanced diet and including a lot of variety in the carbs and proteins you consume. Avoid the processed frankenfoods out there and save them for special occasions only – not only can they disturb your sleep patterns, but they can also be bad for your skin, digestion, heart, and waistline. (Also, does anyone else remember that time on Hey Arnoldwhen Helga ate pork rinds before bed and ended up sleepwalking to Arnold’s house? Please don’t eat pork rinds before bed… or ever.)

4. Get some exercise.
Research shows that even 10 minutes of exercise each day can improve your sleep and overall stress levels. Whether you decide to hit the gym hard or simply go for a short walk, incorporating more physical activity into your routine can be a major game changer when it comes to the quality of your sleep.

5. Stay away from electronics.
If you’re anything like me, you’re still glued to your phone when it’s time for bed. Often I’ll lie awake, scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, guided by the nearly blinding glow of my screen in the dark. Common sense alone will tell you this is not good for your sleep quality or for your eyes. Try to shut off electronics about a half hour before you go to sleep if you can, but at the very least, refrain from using your phone in bed – this will help your brain to shut off as well.

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Following these tips will help you to create the perfect sleep environment for you. Another way to improve your overall sleep environment? Making sure you have the right mattress! It’s important to change out your mattress every 7-10 years. If you’re in the market, check out Leesa and learn about their luxury mattresses.

Looking for more tips for excellent sleep hygiene? Check out this awesome infographic from Leesa and read more about their mattresses here.


What are some of your tips for better sleep? Share in the comments section below!

Introducing: No Stress November

funny-no-shave-november-no-job-decemberHey readers! Can you believe it’s practically November? In the past month, we’ve experienced a major hurricane, countless Halloween parties, and the devastating aftermath of the Brangelina split — and yet somehow, it feels like October went by in a flash.

November tends to be one of my busiest months of the year at work and in school, with my calendar filling up with events and deadlines well before the month even begins. This year, to stay sane at an admittedly crazy time, I’m implementing No Stress November, a 30-day wellness challenge designed to decompress for a few minutes each day. I invite you to join me!

Below is my list of 30 items to complete throughout the 30 days of November. The rule is to do at least one of these things per day (with repeats allowed!), and you are welcome to customize the list to meet your own needs. Planning to tag along? Use the hashtag #NoStressNovember on social media and share what you’re up to! 🙂

Below is my list for the No Stress November challenge. Feel free to use all of these or switch them up based on your personal preferences. I’ll check in throughout the month with my own progress and reflections. Enjoy!

  1. Go for a 30-minute walk outside.
  2. Cook a meal you’ve never made before.
  3. Color in an adult coloring book.
  4. Donate your time to community service.
  5. Get your hair professionally done.
  6. Spend 30 minutes meditating.
  7. Take a full day away from social media.
  8. Lay out by the pool.
  9. Buy yourself fresh flowers.
  10. Test out a new makeup tutorial.
  11. Practice 30 minutes of yoga.
  12. Visit a place you have never been before.
  13. Go out for brunch.
  14. Perform a random act of kindness.
  15. Clean out your purse/briefcase.
  16. Lift weights.
  17. Write a love letter (or kind note) to yourself.
  18. Watch a documentary or TED Talk.
  19. Take extra time to pamper yourself.
  20. Write down 50 things you are thankful for.
  21. Connect with an old friend.
  22. De-clutter an area of your home.
  23. Make a list of places to visit in the next five years.
  24. Dedicate 30 minutes to writing.
  25. Create a fun playlist.
  26. Revamp your monthly budget.
  27. Build something with LEGOs.
  28. Watch stand-up comedy.
  29. Use essential oils.
  30. Spend the day with family.

Participating with me? Let me know in the comments section below, and share your progress on social media with the hashtag #NoStressNovember!

Summer Snack Challenge: Fun Fruit Sliders

Hey there, readers! Today marked the last day of my first semester of MBA school, and I can’t believe how quickly the time flew by. Juggling two graduate-level business classes with a full-time job was no joke, so I’m definitely looking forward to having a nice little break from school between semesters. July may be nearly over, but it feels like my summer is just getting started! 🙂

Every good summer requires a trip to the beach, time spent outdoors, and at least one cookout with family and friends. I love creating fun little side dishes to bring out to social gatherings, so when I heard that Nuts.com was holding a recipe contest to create a summer snack using specific ingredients,  I knew I had to participate! 🙂

From there, these fruit sliders were born. Sprinkled with super foods like goji berries, which are filled with antioxidants, and chia seeds, which are rich in Omega-3, this snack is the perfect combination of healthy and delicious. These fruit sliders are so easy to make that they barely require a recipe, and the best part is, you can swap out the fruit depending on what you are in the mood for. I chose bananas, but apple slices would also go great with these ingredients!

This recipe serves one person as an individual snack, so adjust your quantities accordingly.

Healthy Fruit Sliders

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  1. Peel and slice banana.
  2. Spread each slice with cacao butter as desired.
  3. Top with cacao nibs and goji berries (about one goji berry per banana slice should suffice, depending on how big your slices are).
  4. Sprinkle with chia seeds.
  5. Serve. (It’s really that easy!)

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For more fun summer recipes and other cool food products from a family owned business, visit Nuts.com. 🙂

 

The Weekend Five: Movie Night Snacks That Won’t Throw Your Diet Off Track

Ever since I began my MBA program in May, schoolwork has consumed a lot of my free time on the weekends that I would normally spend with family or friends. As I start to develop more of a routine, I look for little ways to add balance to my life so that work and school aren’t my only focuses. From a beach day with one of my best friends to berry picking adventures in Ocoee, I still try to make time for myself to enjoy the world and everything it has to offer.

On the weekends when it’s harder to get out, there’s nothing better than a night in with the perfect movie, a warm blanket, and delicious snacks. Of course, when we think of movie-related snacks, we tend to think of super-buttery popcorn (admittedly a guilty pleasure of mine), giant soft drinks, and boxes of Junior Mints — all very high in calories and not particularly good for you. Luckily, I’ve mastered the art of selecting guilt-free movie night snacks that still pack a lot of flavor, and I’m excited to share those with you this week!

The Weekend Five: Movie Night Snacks That Won’t Throw Your Diet Off Track

Healthy Movie Night Snacks1. SkinnyPop Popcorn.
Anyone who has ever lived within a 5-mile radius of me knows how much I love popcorn. What I don’t love is seeing how much my skin breaks out and how bloated I feel after I eat it! SkinnyPop has been a deliciously satisfying alternative for me. Their popcorn is low in calories (just 39 calories per cup) and doesn’t have any of the hard-to-pronounce artificial ingredients that comprise so many of our grocery stores’ snack aisles. They offer several flavors (the white cheddar is another one of my favorites!), and they also sell individual 100-calorie packs if you want to have them pre-portioned for you. SkinnyPop was the perfect treat for last night’s viewing of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof!

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2. Bowl of fruit.
I love to wash a bowl of grapes for an easy, no-mess movie snack, but the world is your oyster. Slice up a banana and combine with strawberries and blueberries for another healthy choice, or raid your fridge to mix up a fun fruit salad. That way, you’re getting plenty of nutrients while still enjoying yourself, and even if you go a little overboard, you probably aren’t doing yourself a whole lot of damage.

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The Better Chip3. Vegetable chips.
I’m obsessed with The Better Chip‘s Spinach and Kale chips, which have very few ingredients and still fulfill any chip cravings you might have. They have a variety of flavors to choose from, or you can go ahead and make your own. Love sweet potatoes? Try the Minimalist Baker’s Sweet Potato Chip recipe for something healthy, delicious and homemade.

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4. Veggies and hummus.
I don’t know about you, but I love to dunk baby carrots and other raw veggies in hummus! Hummus is filling enough that you’re likely to stop yourself from going completely overboard, and although there is some debate on the health benefits of legumes (sorry, paleo friends!), there is no denying that they taste absolutely amazing. 🙂

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ApplePizza5. Apple pizzas.
Cut up some apple slices, lather with almond butter, and sprinkle on raisins, unsweetened shredded coconut, and cinnamon! I could eat these for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, but they also make for a delicious movie night snack. These are as much fun to make as they are to eat. They are filled with fiber and healthy fats, but will still satisfy your sweet tooth when you are looking for a healthy dessert.

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What are your favorite guilt-free movie night snacks? Share yours in the comments section below! 🙂

Adventures in Florida: Blueberry Picking in Ocoee

Hey there, readers – it’s been a while! A lot has happened since my last post, most notably that I started an MBA program and seem to know more about regression analysis these days than who’s who on The Bachelorette. It has been a wild ride so far, hopefully to be shared in another blog post soon!

Last month, as a much-needed break from studying, I decided to knock another item off my 25 at 25 bucket list. Just days before the season’s end, I took a little road trip out to Ocoee and stopped at the Tom West Blueberries U-Pick Farm.

TomWestBlueberries

I may stumble in and out of the world of paleo living, but one thing is for certain: I will always love my fruits and veggies. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that – as someone who lives in a warm climate hospitable to many types of produce – I would have to go berry picking someday.

In Florida, the peak strawberry and blueberry seasons run in the early springtime from around March to May, depending on your farm and crop of choice. Tom West Blueberries is a family owned and operated farm, offering activities for all ages during the U-Pick season.

TomWestBlueberriesThe process, while simple enough, was a whole lot of fun. Once I arrived, I grabbed a bucket and hopped on a tractor, which dropped me off in the nearby blueberry fields. There I had the opportunity to taste and pick the emerald blueberries, a very large and sweet variety of blueberry that I would highly recommend to anyone who visits in the future.

Tom West Blueberries

By the end of my blueberry-picking adventure, I picked and purchased about 3 pounds of delicious, perfectly blue blueberries, which I shared with friends, classmates and family over the next week. In hindsight, I wish I’d picked more so I could freeze them and enjoy even longer! Not only were the blueberries perfectly in season, but there was something so rewarding about eating something I had personally hand-picked at the farm, rather than in the grocery store. (Sorry, Publix – I still love you!)

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Whether you’re looking for fresh produce or simply a fun way to spend the afternoon, I highly recommend visiting a local U-Pick farm! The experience really does appeal to all age groups, and if I ever have children, this will be a must-visit for them too. I look forward to returning to Tom West next season, and can’t wait to visit other local farms for different U-Pick experiences soon!

What types of U-Pick farms have you visited? Share in the comments section below. 🙂

For recaps of my other bucket list adventures, click here!