November 13, 2017

The Holidays…Already? How About a Cornbread Salad!

Can it really be the holidays…already; how about a cornbread salad? It would be an understatement to say this year has flown by. I’ve been running full speed ahead the whole time so it seems like only 6 months have passed. Now it’s time to get my mind and menu ready for Thanksgiving. I’m not sure I’m prepared, but that’s probably beside the point. I have to get ready anyway.

In my family, the Thanksgiving crowd varies widely from year to year. Some years I’ve hosted 26 and some years there have only been two of us. That means every year requires a slightly different plan. This year my plan is to keep it simple, but I also want to keep it interesting!
Instead of cornbread stuffing, I think I’ll try a cornbread salad. I found this recipe in my mom’s recipe scrapbook. It was cut out of a newspaper and it’s called Mississippi Cornbread Salad. The recipe calls for cornbread mix.

In order to make it gluten-free, I’ll start with a Cooking2Thrive cornbread recipe.

Make some cornbread

1/4 cup shortening
1 cup yellow corn meal
1/2 cup white corn meal
1/2 cup sweet white sorghum flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 egg
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup buttermilk

Place shortening in cast iron skillet & put in oven to melt while you mix batter. In a medium bowl, mix together white and yellow corn meal, sorghum flour, sugar, and salt. Add baking powder and mix thoroughly. Add egg, milk, and buttermilk. Stir just until mixed.

Remove skillet from oven. Swirl melted shortening around in skillet until sides are coated. Pour hot shortening into batter and stir. Place batter in hot skillet. Place skillet in oven and bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown. Remove skillet from oven and place on rack to cool. Turn cornbread out of pan.

Gather the salad ingredients
Once the cornbread is cool, I’ll crumble it. In the meantime, I’ll gather the other ingredients:
bell pepper
One envelope of Ranch style dressing mix. (Hidden Valley does not currently contain gluten)
8 ounces sour cream
1 cup gluten-free mayonnaise
3 large tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup chopped orange or red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped green onion
4 cups cooked pinto beans, drained (or 2 16-ounce cans)
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
3 1/2 cups whole kernel corn, cooked & drained (frozen, canned, or fresh)
10 slices bacon, fried and crumbled

Make the dressing
In a small bowl, make the dressing by combining the dressing mix, sour cream, and mayonnaise until blended. Set the dressing aside.

Combine tomatoes and peppers
In a second bowl, combine the tomatoes, bell peppers and green onions and toss gently.

Assemble the salad
I’m going to assemble the salad in a large trifle bowl, but any 3-quart bowl will do. Place half of the crumbled cornbread in the bowl. Top with half of the beans, the tomato mixture, the cheese, the bacon, the corn, and the dressing. Repeat with a second layer. Cover and chill for 3 hours.

That’s it. The salad is done. Now, since I haven’t tried this yet, I can’t tell you if it’s going to be good, but all of the ingredients go well together. My only question would be one of proportion. When I make a combination like this, I eyeball it and add veggies until it feels right to me.

I’m fine with preparing a dish for the first time and serving it to guests. That doesn’t mean the recipe always turns out perfectly. It just means that I don’t worry too much about a failure. I’ll have plenty of food on the table even if I have to throw one dish in the trash. If it’s good, but not great, I’ll improve it next time.

So, let’s give this simple, interesting recipe a try and see whether we should make it a tradition! Join me?

Follow-up note: I made this salad for Thanksgiving. It was good enough that I have plans to come up with a Cooking2Thrive version that we’ll tweak and test until it’s better than good. After all, we always aim for superior deliciousosity!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

November 7, 2017

Make it Easier to Stick to Your Eating Plan

You can make it easier to stick to your eating plan by being aware of a phenomenon called ego depletion. Ego depletion results from an effort of will that is tiring. For instance, the effort it takes to stifle an emotional response or force yourself to do something you don’t want to do can cause this.
cognitive effort
If you’re like me, many days are filled with a significant number of these events! If it seems more difficult to stick to your eating plan on those days, it’s not your imagination. You are experiencing the results of ego depletion.

In the book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, Dr. Daniel Kahneman describes scientific experiments which have shown that our physical endurance is reduced following performance of an activity that requires emotional effort. When we are emotionally depleted, we give up more quickly. This can affect our resolve to resist the temptation to eat a piece of cake.

In one experiment, participants were first asked to eat radishes and celery while resisting the temptation to indulge in chocolate and rich cookies. Later, these subjects proved more likely to give up sooner than normal when faced with a difficult task. The researchers established that there is a long and varied list of situations and tasks that are known to deplete self-control.

Actions that indicate ego depletion are also numerous. They include deviating from one’s diet and overspending on impulse purchases. And, take it from me, saying yes to a date with a man even though you know you’re not interested.

A few years ago, I surprised myself on a day when I had handled a customer conflict while fighting a cold. A potential date offered to come over and make me Theraflu laced hot tea and I let him, all the while wondering why I was doing it. I knew I didn’t want to date him. Looking back, I’ll chalk that up to ego depletion.

The mental load of working through the household budget at the same time that you’re resisting the urge to grab a bite of the kid’s pizza will make you more likely to eat the pizza even when you know you will suffer later from ingesting the gluten.

How does knowing any of this help me?

Armed with this knowledge, you can see the importance of putting in place life systems that support your goals. When you are in a weakened state of resistance, a system can provide the support you need to get past temptation. You can also stop punishing yourself for being weak when you manage to resist eating gluten, but still give in to the temptation to have an extra scoop of ice cream. You are not weak. You are normal.

You’ll also be happy to know that Dr. Kahneman and his colleagues note that mastery of a skill reduces the effort required to perform that skill. Once you are practiced at avoiding gluten, it will no longer require maximum effort to do so. Knowing it will get easier can help you follow your diet plan until you reach the point of mastery.

How does this feel?

You may have experienced ego depletion as a feeling of, “I just can’t do it” or dragging your feet. For instance, I do a lot of cooking and I hate doing dishes. Sometimes I’ll envision myself doing the dishes and I’ll feel unable to get up, go in the kitchen, and get started because the task seems so huge.

Now I know from experience that the actual work is never as bad as I imagine it will be. It just seems that way In my head because of the effort I am expending to force myself to do something I don’t like.

One way to get past that hurdle is to approach doing my dishes as if I’m doing a friend’s dishes. Why? Well, I know that when I help out a friend by washing their dishes, it never seems like a big deal because I don’t think about it. I just do it.

Working out can be like that too. When I just get out the gear and work out, it’s no big deal. It’s when I think about how much time it’s going to take out of an already busy day that I begin to feel an urge to skip the workout.

One way to get past that obstacle is to choose workouts that leave me feeling better than I feel without doing them. Then I can focus on the anticipated good feeling as motivation. That reduces my cognitive effort and thereby increases my physical stamina while reducing my temptation to make other bad choices.

What works for you may look totally different from what works for me. As long as you’re aware that success will be easier when you reduce ego depletion, you’ll be able to figure out a system that supports your goals. That will make it easier to stick to your eating plan.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

October 31, 2017

Technology as a Health Advocate

There are many ways to use technology as a health advocate! Being an informed patient can help you make better decisions regarding nutrition, fitness, disease prevention, disease management, and disease treatment.

DNA Analysis

My daughter-in-law was adopted from Korea. She arrived in the US without an extensive family medical history. When she learned she was expecting her first child, she and my son decided it could be beneficial to know more about her DNA. In addition to the battery of early screening tests offered by their doctor, they chose to have DNA analysis done by 23andMe®.
After some initial problems with FDA approval, 23andMe is now approved to offer DNA screening for genetic markers that may indicate a high risk for certain conditions. The list of approved tests include those for genetic variants that may make you more likely to have Celiac Disease (gluten intolerance), Age-Related Macular Degeneration, Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (can lead to COPD or emphysema) , Hereditary Hemochromatosis (the body absorbs too much iron from the diet), Hereditary Thrombophilia (abnormality of blood coagulation that increases the risk of blood clots), Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, and Parkinson’s Disease. A complete list of currently available tests is listed on the 23andMe website.

While this service is not intended for diagnosis of any disease, the results provide important knowledge that you can share with your physician. If this additional information lessens the time it takes to secure a diagnosis, it may increase the treatment options available to you. That’s more than worth the $199 price tag.

For that price, you’ll receive additional wellness reports for things such as lactose intolerance, muscle composition, deep sleep and genetic weight; and reports for traits like male hair loss, earwax type, earlobe type, and sweet taste preference. Also included are over 40 reports identifying whether you carry a variant gene for diseases such as Bloom Syndrome (short stature, higher cancer risk, genomic instability), Cystic Fibrosis, Sickle Cell Anemia, Hereditary Fructose Intolerance, and Glycogen Storage Disease Type lb (plus 35 more).

Research Participation

As a 23andMe customer, you can also choose to be a research participant. According to the website: “On average, a customer who chooses to opt into research contributes to over 230 studies on topics that range from Parkinson’s disease to lupus to asthma and more.” This participation has led to publication of 84 research papers since 2010.

Other research participation is facilitated by Apple’s ResearchKit app. For instance, you can participate in the Mount Sinai Asthma Health and Stanford Medicine MyHeart Counts large-scale
medical studies through this software. And the number of research and disease management apps is growing. Hopefully, the ease of using personal electronic devices to participate will increase the number of volunteers for research studies and give researchers an easy avenue for providing research results to participants – an often neglected follow-up.

Disease Management Apps

Health related phone apps reach far beyond research. There are disease management apps that focus on education and awareness, behavior tracking, medication reminders, community and networking. Visit any app store and you’ll find a long list of medical apps in addition to health and fitness apps. That’s great progress in making technology available as a health advocate.

In spite of such progress, obstacles remain. Last week while I sat through a meeting at the local teaching hospital, I was struck by how many times meeting participants were told that the hospital, med school, research institute, and clinic records are not integrated. The systems will not talk to each other. Information is not shared.

I had two thoughts – 1)This is horrible. Fixing that problem would save the staff time and improve user friendliness and patient care. 2)This could be a good thing. If all records were integrated there would be a huge increase in privacy and accuracy concerns. At least everything gets a 2nd look now because there’s no way to avoid it.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this mixed response. While I’m excited about the knowledge leaps we can make using technological tools, privacy and accuracy are legitimate concerns when using technology as a health advocate. At this specific moment in time, we must carefully weigh how much privacy risk we’re willing to take in order to move knowledge forward or make our healthcare easier.

Should I use the technology?

There are many reasons to embrace the integration of technology into our personal health plans. It can be a great health advocate. If I could have taken a genetic test to my doctor that showed I had a variant marker for Celiac Disease when I was attempting to get a diagnosis for whatever was causing me to break out with unbearably itchy rashes, have abdominal pain, weakness, fatigue, and achy joints, perhaps it would have improved my experience and lessened the time I continued to suffer. I also love the ease with which 23andMe customers can contribute to research. And I can see the benefit of using software to assist with a variety of aspects of disease management.

I suppose any decision regarding technology as a health advocate should be guided by the premise that knowledge is power. Before swabbing saliva or downloading an app, read the
privacy policy. Before participating in a study, ask lots of questions. But beyond that, apply self-knowledge and personal boundaries. If you know that you’re not likely to use a disease management app, don’t download it. Figure out another system that works better for you. If you’re not comfortable participating in research that tests drugs, choose other studies. It is possible to help advance medical knowledge without doing something that violates your boundaries.

For fun, you can let yourself be curious! After all, DNA testing can also help you locate long-lost or surprise relatives.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

October 24, 2017

No Need to Argue Over Dinner

There’s no need to argue over dinner, even if everyone is hungry for something different! Ever decided to start cooking dinner at home only to meet resistance from family members who are used to customized choices in a restaurant? Your husband wants Indian, your son wants Mexican, your daughter doesn’t want either of those, and you just want dinner on the table.
pot pie
When you’re trying to get in the swing of regular meal prep, resistance can be discouraging. You may be willing to cook so that your family will eat more fresh food, but that doesn’t mean you’re all that excited about the added work you’re taking on. Before frustration grows or food fights begin, it can be helpful to explore some ways you can customize without changing your overall plan.

Using a little creativity can help your family transition to meals at home without feeling like personal preferences are limited. Once everyone realizes there’s some flexibility, they’ll relax. That doesn’t mean you have to be a short order cook. It means that you recognize that years of eating out have conditioned the family’s expectations and some retraining is required.

During the transition, it is important to set some boundaries while keeping the atmosphere positive. How can you accomplish this without laying down the law that you eat what’s put in front of you…period?

Here are some ideas:
Flexible seasoning.

With the family in the mood for Indian and Mexican and something else, you can take a flexible approach to seasoning. In other words, establish that the cook chooses the protein, but each family member can choose how his/her serving is seasoned.

Before you let the idea scare you, here’s what dinner could look like: Four pork chops seasoned as follows: 1)Simple – seasoned with salt, pepper, & garlic powder. 2)Indian – seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic powder, garam masala, and applesauce. 3)Mexican – seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and cumin. 4)Alternative Mexican – seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic powder and mole sauce.

Place all 4 chops on the same broiling pan and broil. Any of these will be delicious served with rice and a salad, thereby keeping the menu simple while accommodating several flavor preferences.

This could also be accomplished using steak seasoned multiple ways or grilled with basic seasoning, then sliced and finished with various sauces — salsa verde, chimichurri, teriyaki, and blue cheese for example. Steamed spinach, sautéed mushrooms, and mashed potatoes will round out this steak menu.

Grilled or broiled chicken is easy to season independently, but cook simultaneously. Baked chicken can be shredded and served over salad or added to sour cream and green chile peppers then served over black beans and lime cilantro rice. It can be tossed in barbecue sauce and served as a sandwich. It can be added to enchiladas or used in chicken spaghetti.

In short, independent seasoning doesn’t have to take additional time or add another trip to the store. All you need is a little flexibility and creativity.

Choose a pot.

If weekends are when you have the most time to cook, make several one pot meals at the beginning of the week, then let the family help themselves to their preference each day. Include vegetables in the pots or steam a few separately to serve as sides. In addition, stock the kitchen with fresh fruit and salad components to compliment your prepared items.

Consider one pot meals like chicken & rice with broccoli; ground turkey with sour cream, Parmesan, and English peas; tuna with pasta, cheese, and spinach or kale; ground beef with taco seasoning, black beans, and cheese; beef stew; or chicken pot pie.
broccoli salad
Beat the heat.

In the summer, you may want to offer salad samplers — chicken salad, tuna salad, and egg salad paired with 5 bean salad, broccoli salad, black bean & corn salad, caprese salad, or a build-your-own green salad. There are so many options with salad!

If your kids like to help in the kitchen, creating salad recipes can be a great introduction to experimenting with flavor combinations. The more involved they are the more likely they are to consume the end product.

Warm your insides.

Soups can give you nutritious variety in the winter. There’s something about soup that’s extremely satisfying — especially in cold weather. Prepare two or three types for the week and let the family choose a preference at meal time. Chicken vegetable, chicken with rice, chicken noodle; tomato, cream of tomato; chili; clam or corn chowder; potato; minestrone; white bean; matzo ball; and split pea are all good options. This list could go on and on and your family is sure to have some favorites. Most soups freeze well, so your prep could be as simple as taking something out of the freezer.

Soup can be supplemented with bread, cornbread, or crackers; raw vegetables with a favorite veggie dip; sandwiches; or salads.

Make breakfast a wild card.

Obviously, it’s important to establish that meal choices when you’re cooking are not a free-for-all. If you don’t, you’ll have chaos and a full time job on your hands. On the other hand, there’s no reason for anyone to go hungry because they simply can’t stomach steak when that’s what you are serving.

Preparing for this possibility in advance can prevent a power struggle later. One way to do this is to make breakfast a wild card. If your daughter can’t stand steak, she can play a wild card and cook her own breakfast for dinner. As long as she uses ingredients already on hand, cooks it herself, and cleans up her dishes, you agree to refrain from comment on her choice.

Of course, you can set age limits and weekly limits for use of the established wild card. (No wild cards until you are in first grade and only 1 wild card per week.) The wild card doesn’t have to be breakfast. It could be sandwiches, loaded baked potatoes, salad, pasta, or something out of the freezer.

Keep track on a calendar or dole out printed monthly coupons to be redeemed. The rules are yours. Just make them clear, concise, and consistently enforced. For the best chance of success with this plan, all negotiating should take place prior to a rule’s instatement. Review dates can be established in advance to insure that the system can be improved without diminishing its enforcement.

Inspiration may be a side effect.

Cooking at home has many health advantages. The key to making it a habit is removing the obstacles that prevent you from cooking on a regular basis. Families that are used to custom ordering in restaurants may resist a sudden change to one-size-fits-all meals. That doesn’t mean you need to argue over dinner.

Using the techniques listed here to create an easier transition from restaurant ordering to uniform meals can help you avoid complaints and resistance and the resulting emotional fatigue that may make you feel like implementing a healthier lifestyle is too much trouble.

As an added bonus, providing variety in a way that only requires a tiny bit of additional thinking and no additional work could actually turn out to be fun! I love the process of visualizing new menus, unexpected combinations, and solutions. It’s the kind of mental activity that inspires me.

Try these ideas and who knows, you may get inspired along the way too!