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!

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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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.

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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!

Reigniting The Spark: How To Get Your Health Goals Back On Track

Reigniting The Spark: How To Get Your Health Goals Back on TrackFor many of us, the beginning of a diet program can often feel like the beginning of a relationship. We’re excited to embark on something new, enthusiastic about the changes in our lives, and looking forward to the possibilities ahead. Of course, after that honeymoon period runs its course, sometimes it can be difficult to maintain that same level of enthusiasm toward the program, as we become complacent or begin to recognize the uncomfortable moments more often than we used to.

I began experimenting with a paleo lifestyle back in 2014 by completing my first Whole30, and since then, the program has played a significant role in my health and wellness. However, I sometimes struggle with motivation and consistency, and find my health journey to be a work in progress. The more that I talk to others in the Whole30 community, the more that I learn that a second, third, or fourth Whole30 can often be much harder than the first, because many of us do have difficulty staying on track even after we’ve experienced positive results.

Sounds a little counter-intuitive, right? Luckily, I’ve dedicated the better part of 2016 thus far to really focusing on ways to re-motivate ourselves once the magic wears off. Read below for my tips on keeping up with your program and remaining empowered even after the honeymoon period is over! 🙂

Reigniting The Spark: How To Get Your Health Goals On Track

How To Get Your Health Goals Back On Track1. Dedicate time for meal prep.
Let’s face it — eating healthy can be time-consuming! You’re preparing most of your own meals from scratch, avoiding a lot of the quick but nutrient-deficient shortcuts a lot of us fall victim to. Because of this, it can be so easy to give up after a long day of work and other responsibilities, and order takeout instead. An easy way to save time and take out a lot of the guesswork is to create a meal plan ahead of time and do a lot of the prep work early. For me, Sundays are the perfect day to decide what I’m going to eat each day (and yes, I do incorporate my social outings into that plan), buy the appropriate foods at the grocery store, and begin prepping those foods.

So what does “meal prep” mean to me? Typically, I’ll put on some vintage Keeping Up With The Kardashians (or another show that entertains me but doesn’t require too much concentration), and set aside an hour or two to chop up veggies for dishes I’ll eat throughout the week, wash fruit for easy grab-and-go access, and hard-boil some eggs to have a convenient protein source available at any time. Your meal prep can be as elaborate as you choose — some like to prepare all of their meals to reheat, and that works too! For me, having my veggies pre-washed and pre-chopped makes it easy to just throw them on the stove or in the oven later in the week, and saves me a ton of time!

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2. Make things exciting in the kitchen.
Browse Pinterest for cool recipes you can try (check mine out here for inspiration!), or invest in a new kitchen gadget you look forward to using. Find ways to spice things up in the kitchen — literally! When I started to grow sick of scrambled eggs, I started adding cumin and turmeric for a bold new flavor profile. When I’ve enjoyed a new ethnic dish and wanted to make a healthier version of it at home, I’ve often searched “lightened up __” or “paleo ___” to expand my culinary horizons. Figure out those routine favorites that you can make quickly and regularly, but continue to branch out so that things don’t become too stale. Why not aim to try one new recipe each week?

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How To Get Your Health Goals Back On Track3. Incorporate positive mantras into your program.
I’ve struggled with body image issues for as long as I can remember.  Since I was in middle school, I always associated health and weight loss goals as something negative, something to be ashamed of, instead of as a way to improve your overall well-being. A few months ago, I decided to flip the switch on that mindset by giving myself motivational notes to wake up to each morning. These quotes and messages give me a positive affirmation to focus on throughout the day, and remind me of how far I’ve come. The notes were so successful for me that they even went viral on the Whole30 Instagram page! 🙂 I try to create new words of encouragement for myself each and every month.

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4. Hide the scale.
If you’re anything like me, then you’ve let that little number either make or break your whole day. One of the rules of the Whole30 program is to not weigh yourself for the entire 30 days, but over the years, this was the rule I always broke. I found that if I wasn’t losing weight fast enough, then even if I felt other positive changes from my diet (better skin, more energy, etc.), I often gave up halfway through the month. This January, I finally stowed the scale away in my guest room (out of sight, out of mind) and fully avoided it for the entire month. Taking a break from weighing myself multiple times per day was extremely helpful for me and showed me just how unhealthy my relationship with the scale truly was. If you consider yourself overly dependent on the scale, I challenge you to hide it for a month!

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5. Find accountability partners.
Use social media or find people in your real life with whom you can be accountable! I belong to a few private groups on Facebook, some dedicated to Whole30 and some more focused on clean eating as it differs by individual, and having a strong support system makes it that much easier to stay on track. Whether you join one of those private groups or simply find a gym buddy to keep you on your toes, find others who are just as health-focused and turn to each other!

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What are your tips for staying motivated? Share yours in the comments section below!

Keeping It Frugal: Fun Ways to Enjoy the Weekend

Keeping it Frugal: Fun Ways to Spend Your WeekendIf you’re anything like me, you marched into 2016 armed with New Year’s Resolutions and high hopes for an incredible year. On this blog, I often discuss my journey to better physical health, but one aspect of wellness that we don’t always talk about is financial health.

If you haven’t set your New Year’s Resolutions yet (hey – we’re only 11 days into 2016 anyway!) and you can’t figure out what areas to improve upon in 2016, your finances are a great start. Nearly everyone I know, regardless of salary and socioeconomic background, admits to eating a few too many meals out at restaurants, spending $150 at Target when they only meant to buy paper towels, and going over budget simply to hang out with friends. Why not work to change that — to save money for the moments that really matter?

Luckily, there are still plenty of ways to maintain a social life without breaking the bank. (For other FREE tools for managing your finances and saving for the future, check out Personal Capital.) 🙂

  • Attend local community events.
    I live close to several expensive tourist attractions, so it can be easy to overlook all of the amazing local events and lesser-known attractions from time to time. That’s why I love to check my county’s convention and visitor’s bureau website for free or cheap upcoming events in the area! From art shows to film festivals, many cities offer an awesome variety of activities that will appeal to multiple age groups and interests. Check Facebook as well for event ideas near where you live.
  • Visit an educational venue.
    Take a trip to the zoo, a museum, the planetarium, or a wildlife sanctuary. Many of these places have a relatively low admission price (I spent $6 last month to attend a planetarium show) and even offer student discounts for those of you who are still in school. This gives you a chance to broaden your horizons and learn about something new, and can be just as fun to do with friends and family! My friends and I had such a great time visiting the planetarium last month that we even decided to attend the (free) Winter Sky Festival they are hosting this weekend.
  • Participate in community service.
    There are few greater feelings than the way you’ll feel by giving back to others less fortunate. You don’t need to write a big check to make a difference in the world — there are a lot of kind things you can do to help others. My parents volunteer for a food pantry and an animal rescue, so when I visit, I often join them to pack food or help out with the rescue dogs. Volunteering your time can be a lot of fun to do with your family and friends, but it can also be enjoyable even if you go alone.
  • Go outside.
    If weather permits, spend some time out enjoying nature. Go to a park or beach, grab a frisbee, have a picnic with friends, go on a hike, or just spend sometime outside together with a refreshing change in scenery. Not only is this an inexpensive way to hang out with friends, but it is also scientifically shown to make you happier and more productive. 🙂 Who knew?

What are your tips for a frugal but fun weekend? Share your suggestions in the comments section below!

Link Love Wednesday: Dark Lord Funk

maxresdefaultHi everyone! As always,  I hope you are having a wonderful week. 🙂 Unfortunately for me, since last week’s Link Love, I have been a little under the weather with pharyngitis and laryngitis. When I do talk, I sound like a 13-year-old boy whose voice is finally starting to change! Thankfully, between cups of tea and bowls of hot soup, I have been relatively productive, going through some spring cleaning, publishing a few guest articles, and (of course) collecting our latest batch of Link Love. The Internet sure is a wonderful place to go when you’re not feeling well enough to do much else!

What are some of your favorite links and articles from the week? Bloggers, did you post anything you’re particularly proud of this week Share in the comments section below! 🙂

The Weekend Five: Healthy Recipes to Try in 2013

stock-photo-healthy-diet-fresh-food-in-a-paper-bag-110601509For many of us, a new year provides the chance to reinvent ourselves. This can take place in a number of ways – through a more presentable appearance, a brand new hobby, a switch in career or even a change in overall health. Last semester, I began spending more time in the kitchen to prepare more nutritious meals for myself (instead of resorting to my typical trips to McDonald’s and Asian Chao during breaks from work and class). However, because my culinary skills are extremely limited and uncreative, I wound up resorting to sites like Pinterest to find easy-to-make, delicious meals.

To help each of you on your way to healthier living, I would like to share links to five of the successful recipes I have tested out. Post links to your favorite healthy recipes or food blogs in the comments section below, and feel free to follow me on Pinterest for more ideas!

The Weekend Five: Healthy Recipes to Try in 2013

1. Popcorn Broccoli (link to video).
This recipe, posted by Dani Spies of Clean & Delicious, is great for those looking for a yummy side dish with a lot of flavor. If you’re anything like me and you’re looking for a healthy way to curb salt cravings, this recipe is for you. I have made the popcorn broccoli as a side dish several times, and it’s always a big hit with friends and family. Roasting the broccoli in the oven brings out the taste and gives it a bit of a crunch.

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cheesey-chicken-and-rice-bake-cropped-410x3072. Cheesy Chicken and Rice Bake (link to recipe).
My mom baked this casserole, posted on Tasty Kitchen, just a few weeks ago, and my family loved it. This one is packed with delicious ingredients, but replaces a lot of the bad stuff with healthier alternatives. It’s also pretty convenient to put away and reheat as leftovers, and can last you a long time.

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3. Garbanzo and Rice Salad (link to recipe).A few of my coworkers like to make fun of me for this one, because it happens to be one of my go-to lunches when I need something filling and easy to pack! For my own purposes, I’ve altered Fat Secret‘s directions a bit by replacing the rice with quinoa, taking out the tomatoes (I’m not a tomato person) and adding olive oil to the mix. Another way to add flavor to the recipe is to use a pre-chopped tri-color pack of bell peppers so that you aren’t limited to just one. This salad takes about five minutes to make and tastes best cold.

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742b3f66-5a90-4f49-85ca-9fee0d396b2a4. Oatmeal Banana Bakes (link to recipe).
This one is becoming another favorite among my friends, and most of the ingredients will likely already be in your kitchen. These cookies are mainly a mix of banana, oatmeal, apples and cinnamon, and have a lot of natural sweetness already. The first time I made these, I used about half of the sweetener that the recipe called for, and the second time, I used only a quarter of it. Incredibly easy to make – and addictive too!

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5. Healthy Baked Falafel (link to recipe).
Ever since my trip to Israel in 2011, I have been a big fan of falafel (fried chickpeas, more or less), which is a very common food there. However, because of its fried nature, falafel isn’t exactly the healthiest food on the planet. I was determined to find a more nutritious version of this Middle Eastern staple, and was very excited to find one on The Picky Eater. The ingredients are good for you, and the site offers a gluten free version as well. The falafel is baked instead of fried, but equally fantastic. I have cooked these up for guests before, and served with all the popular toppings!

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What are some of your favorite healthy recipes/recipe blogs? What are you doing to stay healthy in 2013?