My name is Lisa Tsakos, Registered Holistic Nutritionist, corporate speaker and author. This blog provides professional advice from a nutrition and weight loss expert (me!) about corporate and family health. Here you'll find recipes and articles that address work-related challenges like eating on-the-go and maximizing your productivity with the right foods. You'll also find out about how you can help your children develop strong immune systems and healthy bodies. As a nutrition instructor, I often found myself thinking, "When I have kids, this is how I will feed them." With two toddlers, I have the opportunity to practice what I have been preaching and to try out my theories. So far, they seem to be working! Follow me on my journey and also on Twitter @NuVitalityHW.

20 Dec 2016

Holiday Eating Do's & Don't's!

Edited Dec. 2016  (Originally published December 2015)

It's mid-December and I may not be exaggerating when I say that this month, I've consumed as many calories from crackers, cheese and wine as I've consumed from all other foods collectively. Yikes. Such is the nature of the holiday season. This article seems to get circulated every year and is based on one of my most popular end-of-year seminar topics, "Holiday Eating: The Survival Guide." While these tips might seem obvious, a little reminder never hurt anyone. Happy holidays! 

Normally, I prefer to focus on nutrients, not calories, but the holidays are an exception. Here's why:
Turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, and of course, dessert – it all adds up to about 3,000 calories in ONE meal! That’s significant when you consider that an extra 3,500 calories will cause you to gain one pound of fat. Maybe it isn’t quite enough to tip the scales, but Christmas is not just one day or one meal.
It begins with the Thanksgiving feast and the leftovers, holiday parties, colleagues bringing leftover desserts to work, chocolate truffles handed out at the mall, fast food while shopping for gifts, family dinners, cookies and baking and more. It all adds up.
In fact, we eat an average of 300 additional calories every day between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. That translates to 5 or 6 extra pounds by January! To help you avoid the weight gain, here are some Holiday Do’s & Don't’s:

DO: Stock up on supplements before the holiday chaos begins
DON’T: Take them on an empty stomach 
First things first…
Don’t skimp on your vitamins during the holidays. The excess calories, most of them empty, create a need for even more nutrients.
The important supplements to have on hand throughout the holiday season include:
Vitamin B complex. B vitamins help you manage holiday stress. A B-complex supplement taken with meals supplies the vitamins necessary to make brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that help you stay alert during the day, sleep well at night, and feel less overwhelmed/more in control during stressful times. Food sources include dark leafy greens, whole grains, beans and lentils. Ensure that your meals also include protein (needed to make neurotransmitters) and magnesium.
Vitamin D3 is key this time of year, especially because of the lack of direct sun exposure. It helps to boost your mood and immunity during this time of over indulging. 
Probiotics help combat the effects of excess sugar consumption during the holidays so that you aren’t left with uncontrollable sugar cravings in January. Sugary cookies, egg nog, desserts, alcohol, bread, and all the starchy carbs we eat over the holidays feed the scary microbes in the gut that can lead to cravings, yeast infections, inflammation, a bad mood, weight gain and other undesirable symptoms. Feast instead on probiotic-rich fermented foods and take probiotic supplements daily. Beans have been shown to increase the microbial strain that promotes a healthy weight. Make smoothies with plain kefir instead of your usual milk. Add fermented veggies (like sauerkraut or DIY fermentations) to salads, sauces, meat dishes or as a side dish.
Digestive enzymes. Taking one or two digestive enzymes before a big meal helps your stomach digest a meal. As a result, you’ll feel lighter and more energized after eating. The best part is, enzymes help prevent the bloating and gas that often accompany a large meal.

DO: Plan your calories & strategy
DON’T: Get caught unprepared
A little preparation goes a long way – even during the holidays. When you know you're going to indulge for dinner, plan your other meals carefully and monitor your food intake.
If you think you might consume more than 800 calories in one sitting, eat small protein- or fiber-rich meals throughout the rest of the day. For example, drink a green juice with added protein or a smoothie for breakfast and eat a lighter lunch so you can prepare to splurge for the night out. Low glycemic foods like oatmeal with fresh berries or a bowl of quinoa with tuna are also great options. Since they metabolize slowly, you'll feel fuller longer.
Most importantly, avoid any unnecessary and unhealthy snacking during the day.
At the dinner party, how will you respond when you’re asked if you want seconds or you’re offered foods and drinks that you’d rather not have (without launching into a nutrition lecture)? Write your answers down in a journal or make a sign for your refrigerator or wallet to remind you of your strategy!

DO: Eat before a party
DON’T: Save your appetite
A small, fiber- or protein-rich snack eaten before heading out the door will help you control your nibbling at a party. Suggestions: apple slices topped with nut butter or half a cup of Greek yogurt.

DO: BYOF (Bring your own food)
DON’T: Hope for the best 
If appropriate, bring your own dish to a holiday event. It's a foolproof method of ensuring that you'll have at least one delicious, healthy option that you actually like. Don’t hope that there is something healthy on the menu – often that isn’t the case.
At a sit-down dinner…
Make your first helping a small one. That way, if you’re expected to take seconds the total amount will be about the same as a normal-size portion.
Fill up on fiber first: Eating a raw salad of mixed greens before each meal – or as a meal – fills your tummy (fiber!) and promotes good digestion. Green vegetables also supply nutrients that may be harder to come by over the holidays: vitamins, minerals, roughage, and enzymes. Steamed greens help to prevent constipation and are an excellent source of minerals.
The 20-minute Rule: Eat slowly, chew each bite carefully. It takes 20 minutes for the brain to realize that you’re no longer hungry (that’s not the same thing as feeling full!). Also, hold off on seconds for at least twenty minutes. Still hungry? Have a few more bites.

If the meal is buffet-style…
DO: Be a picky eater at the buffet
DON’T: Try to taste everything
Take just 1 trip to the buffet and be selective! Try only the foods you really want. Take only 1 bite or 1 tbsp. portions of each food, and then move your socializing away from the buffet table. In fact, studies show that if you aren’t facing the buffet table, you won’t be as tempted to go back for more food.

DO: Donate or throw out leftovers
DON'T: Feel the need to eat leftovers just because they’re in your house 
Here are a few suggestions for dealing with leftovers:
While guests are mingling, pack leftovers in “doggie bags” for them. If you get the leftovers out of the house, you won’t eat them later on.
If you’re stuck with trays of cookies and other sweets, don’t bring them to work! Your co-workers are in the same boat you are in. They don’t need any more tasty temptations.
Donate them to a food bank. If you can’t take leftover treats to a food bank right away, freeze them (at the bottom of your basement freezer where you won’t see them each time you open the door!) and drop them off later. Food banks likely have an abundance of holiday treats around Dec. 25, anyway, and will appreciate a later delivery.
Throw them away! There is nothing wrong with discarding unhealthy food. Better in the food composter than in your belly (or in someone else’s), where they will wreak havoc on blood sugar levels and add to belly fat.

DO: Stay hydrated
DON’T: Drink your calories 
Each gram of alcohol provides 7 calories! A 12 oz. serving of beer loads on an extra 150 calories, and each 5 oz. glass of wine adds 90 calories. Cocktails made with soda – a whopping 200 calories!
Worse than that, alcohol on an empty stomach will stimulate your appetite and raise your blood sugar levels. Always pair alcohol with some protein (this is why we have wine & cheese parties!).
Drink a glass of water for every serving of alcohol, and nurse your drink as long as you can. If you drank more alcoholic beverages than you should have, drink two or three large glasses of water or an electrolyte drink before bed to prevent a hangover. A hangover is partially the result of dehydration.

DO: Stay active
DON'T: Use the holidays as an excuse for inactivity 
No time for the gym? No problem. Try interval training at home (you’ll find all sorts of HIIT videos on YouTube). The time commitment is small but the results are great! Encourage your friends to join you in seasonal activities that don’t involve food, like a night out dancing, mall walking before the stores open, skiing, ice skating or bowling. Every little bit of activity counts. Break movement into short spurts throughout the day for convenience and to take advantage of the afterburn effect.

This article is based on the seminar, "Healthy Holiday Eating: The Survival Guide." For more information or to offer this workshop at your company, email me: Lisatsakos@Rogers.com

29 Sep 2016

Fun & Allergy Friendly School Lunches

Parents and caregivers love to complain about school lunch preparation. It's yet one more thing to do at the end of a long day. Word on the playground is that parents are already getting tired of the routine… and it’s only October!

There is a lot to consider when you're planning a packaged lunch: What is safe to eat at room temperature? Will it get soggy? Will it smell? And the all-important question, will it get eaten. It’s disappointing when lunches come home untouched. The other day, my daughter threw out $5 worth of smoked salmon because she thought the dark meat was rotten. Sigh.

For parents of kids with food allergies or intolerances, preparing lunch for school isn’t just another cumbersome daily task. It’s risky. Even life-threatening.

The most common food allergens are: 
·      milk
·      eggs
·      peanuts
·      sesame seeds
·      soy
·      wheat
·      tree nuts
·      fish
·      shellfish
·      and the food additive, sulphites, found in dried and canned fruit and vegetables, many condiments, deli meats, dressings, jam and more.

These ingredients account for 90 percent of allergic reactions in kids. The remaining 10 percent includes practically anything - oats, strawberries, kiwi, chocolate... You name it, someone's allergic to it.  

And then there is gluten. Whether or not a child has been diagnosed with celiac disease, many parents have found that removing gluten from the diet has resulted in improved behaviour, better digestion, and fewer symptoms overall.

How do you prepare a packaged lunch for a child who must avoid gluten, dairy, nuts, and eggs, especially when homemade meals are the only safe option? Just as importantly, how do you ensure they won’t end up back at home uneaten at the end of the day?

Start by making a list of the foods and ingredients safe for your kids to eat, and foods that they will eat. From that list, prepare a list of specific ingredients needed to prepare those foods. Keep both lists handy – on the fridge, your phone, at the office for the after-work stops at the grocery store. 

Presentation is important in food prep, so put your creative thinking caps on and let’s have fun with our food! Here is a little inspiration to help you keep lunches interesting.

Pancake Sandwiches
Sandwiches have come a long way from bologna & cheese (hello Taco Tuesdays and Falafel Fridays), but they're as popular as ever.

For kids with gluten or wheat allergies, preparing sandwiches with gluten-free bread is the obvious go-to, but GF breads typically contain a lot of ingredients – many that kids with allergies can’t consume. Instead, how about sandwiches made from gluten free pancake batter? If you make your batter from scratch, you control exactly what goes into the mix.

It’s a Saturday morning ritual at our house. We make a double batch of pancake mix – one batch for breakfast and a batch to use for sandwiches throughout the week. They should keep in the fridge but can be frozen for later use. Use your favourite pancake recipe or try the recipe below.   

And now for the fun part… break out the cookie cutters! 

Sure, heart-shaped sandwiches are cute and easy to handle, but a T-Rex sandwich – now, that’s something else entirely. If your child isn’t into dinosaurs, check out the princess, safari, farm animal and Star Wars cookie cutters available (Williams-Sonoma has an awesome selection!), or tap into your inner artist and create your own designs.

Pancake Sandwiches Recipe
Dry ingredients:
1 cup flour or gluten free flour* (read the ingredients label carefully to ensure your child is not allergic to any of the ingredients used to make the flour)
1 tsp. baking powder (gluten free if avoiding gluten)
½ tsp. baking soda
2 tbsp. ground flaxseed
¼ tsp. sea salt or Himalayan salt
*I use Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour. Ingredients: garbanzo bean flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, white sorghum flour, and fava bean flour.

Wet ingredients:
1 cup milk alternative
1 egg (or egg alternative)
2 tbsp. olive oil (do not use coconut oil. You’ll end up with fried pancakes)

Preheat a lightly oiled griddle over medium heat. In a bowl or large measuring cup, combine the dry ingredients. In another bowl, beat the eggs (or egg alternative), milk alternative and oil. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix well. Using the measuring cup or scoop, pour some batter into the pan or right into metal cookie cutters. When the pancake bubbles, gently flip and cook on the other side.

Fiber-rich ground flaxseed promotes good elimination and thickens the batter so you get the perfect density for shaping pancakes.

By the way, if you’re using plastic cookie cutters, make a giant pancake that fills the pan and cut out your shapes on a cutting board after cooking.

Fill pancake sandwiches with practically anything! A protein source is ideal, since it may be the main source of protein in a packed lunch. Popular filling options around here include:

·     SunButter (or other seed butter) and banana slices
·     Turkey slices (always antibiotic- and preservative-free)
·     Shredded chicken, tuna or egg mashed with avocado, hummus, other creamy spread
·     Organic cream cheese
You may have to use your cookie cutter again for the sliced meat. Add some leafy greens and veggie (tomato slices, cukes, lettuce, avo…) wherever you can.

Because we use this recipe so often, I make several batches of the flour in advance and store it in tightly sealed jars.

Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese Giraffe and Triple Layer SunButter & Banana T-Rex

Another super fun food for kids is lunch on a stick. There are so many combinations, you can make a different kebab every day of the week. 

Break out the skewers and let’s explore a few options:
·      Cherry tomatoes, carrot slices, mini cucumber rounds, broccoli, red peppers, cheese if not allergic (we like goat’s milk mozzarella)
·      Chicken and pineapple
·      Pesto chicken and noodles (macaroni or penne)
·      Chicken + mini potatoes
·      Salmon, red peppers and cherry tomatoes
·      Blueberries and strawberries
·      Strawberries, raspberries and blackberries
·      Tri-coloured grapes (white, red and black)
·      Pineapple, melon and watermelon
You can also add cheese cubes, mushrooms, olives, banana slices, and so much more!

Tip: Make pancake kebabs by combining mini round pancake sandwiches with fruit or any of the options above.

Many kids will eat real sushi. Not my kids. They will, however, eat something resembling sushi. At least a couple of times a week I break out the vegetable peeler and use up some dinner leftovers to make various roll ups. 

Here are a few ideas:
·     Thinly sliced cucumbers rolled with shredded chicken and hummus or organic cream cheese (add some leftover veggies, grains, or potato)
·     Turkey* or beef* (always antibiotic-free) roll ups filled with a strip of spinach and sweet potato, brown rice or quinoa
·     Raw or lightly steamed greens cut in strips and rolled with any meat, grain or vegetable
Tip: Cut a hole in a thick cucumber round and stuff with any filling on hand.

Healthy School Snacks
Kids love their snacks, and while there are gazillions of options, if you stick to the natural food section of your grocery store, you’re likely to find tasty allergen-free and gluten free products that are safe for your kids to take to school. Still, many products labelled ‘natural’ contain ingredients like yeast extract, torula yeast and annatto that are known to cause reactions, especially in kids. Whether your kids have allergies or not, read ingredient labels carefully and avoid any products with ingredients you aren’t 100 percent sure about. 

New snacks pop up all the time and my kids easily lose interest, so we’re always trying something new, like Luke's Garden Vegetable crackers and Z-Bars. Our current fam-favourite is SkinnyPop popcorn. It’s rare to hear my 6 year old beg, “Please get these away from me, I can’t stop eating them!” and it's even more rare for me to chuckle rather than panic that she ate too much sugar or spoiled her dinner. It's nice not to worry about the kids eating too much salt, sugar, MSG, GMOs, HFCS or any other acronym. My little guy loves SkinnyPop because it's lightly seasoned (not overpowering like other snacks) and it's the only popcorn that doesn’t get stuck in his teeth! The only downside: fighting off the kids at school who insist on sharing.

Got any of your own creative ideas for allergy-safe lunches? Please share in the comments!