NNMC Picking Protein: What About Protein Powders?

First, let me start by saying that I can't believe this the last post of the National Nutrition Month Challenge! March sure has flown by. I'd love to hear your feedback about the challenge, how it went for you, and if you would like to see more challenges in the future. This blog is it's best when the content is relevant to you, so, as always, let me know what's on your mind. With that said, we are closing out this week about protein with some information on protein powders. From whey to soy to pea to hemp, there are a lot of options out there. Most people use them after a workout to boost muscle growth. Because protein is used in the body to build and repair, this makes sense. But is it really necessary? You won't be surprised to hear me say that I think using whole foods is always the best option. I like to have a little protein after a workout, but mine comes in the form of an egg, yogurt, or handful of nuts. Unless you're a professional athlete, I don't think it's worth it. Plus, we know that getting protein isn't difficult if you're eating a variety of nutritious foods and have enough to eat overall. With all that said, many people like adding a scoop of protein powder to a post-workout shake or a breakfast smoothie. If this is you, the important thing is to make sure you're getting a quality product. You don't want anything that has artificial sweeteners, flavors, or colors. But remember, this is still a processed food and, I say, you're always better off sticking to the real thing.

What was your favorite part the challenge? The most difficult? Would you like to see more challenges in the future?

NNMC Picking Protein: Garlic-Lime Shrimp Skewers

Putting something on a skewer instantly makes it seem fancier. Plus, it can trick you into eating less because the food takes up so much more room on the plate. If you don't have skewers or it isn't warm enough to grill, you can also cook the shrimp in a pan on the stove-top (that's what I did). Shrimp are a great lean protein option and they take on other flavors quickly so no marinating is required. A simple toss will do.

Garlic-Lime Shrimp Skewers

serves 4-6


2 lbs shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Juice of 1 lime*

3 cloves garlic

1/8 teaspoon salt

Pepper to taste


1. Combine extra virgin olive oil, lime juice, garlic, salt and pepper in a large bowl.

2. Add shrimp and toss to coat.

3. Put shrimp on skewers and grill. Alternatively, skip the skewers and sear in a pan over medium-high heat.

*Tip: To get more juice out of a lime, heat it in the microwave for 10-20 seconds. Then, roll the lime on the counter under your palm. Slice it in half and juice as usual.

NNMC Picking Protein: Chipotle Black Bean Burgers with Avocado-Yogurt Sauce

Ok y'all, this is possibly the best thing I've come up with to-date. The burgers are moist and flavorful and the avocado-yogurt sauce brightens it up and adds a creaminess without being too heavy. This is going to be a go-to dinner for me from now on and I hope it will be for you too! It's not just something you make for the vegetarian in your life. You'll be fighting them to get your hands on one.

Chipotle Black Bean Burgers

serves 4


3 cups cooked black beans, mashed

1/2 cup sweet potato puree

1/2 cup corn meal, plus more for dusting

1 chipotle in adobo, minced (comes in a can, freeze the rest)

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Juice of 1 lime

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 head green leaf lettuce


1. Combine all ingredients except oil and lettuce in a large bowl and mix until well combined (I use my hands).

2. Divide into 4 equal portions and form into patties, about an inch thick.

3. Heat oil in a medium pan over medium-high heat. Dust top side of burgers with cornmeal and put in the pan, cornmeal side down. Cook for about 2 minutes, dust exposed side with cornmeal, flip, and cook for another 2 minutes.

4. Serve on lettuce leaves with Avocado-Yogurt sauce (recipe below).

Avocado-Yogurt Sauce

makes approximately 1 cup


1 avocado, pureed

1/4 cup plain, organic yogurt

2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt


1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and serve.

You can also serve the burgers on whole wheat buns, but I find that, because the burgers are bean based, it ends up being too starchy. Plus, using the lettuce adds a nice crunch. Also, the avocado yogurt sauce would be great on pretty much anything. I dipped my fries in it with delicious results.

NNMC Picking Protein: The Vegetarian Way

It's a common misconception that it's hard for vegetarians to get the protein they need. The truth is, if you're eating a variety of foods including nuts, seeds, dairy, eggs, legumes, and grains, this usually isn't a problem. The major concern for vegetarians is ensuring they get all of the essential amino acids they need. You see, proteins are made up of amino acids. Some of these amino acids are non-essential, meaning we don't need to consume them in the diet because the body can make them on its own, and others are essential because we must get them from outside sources. Animal products contain all of the essential amino acids. This is called a complete protein. Meat falls into this category, but so do dairy products and eggs, which most vegetarians eat. So the next question is, how do you make a complete protein from non-animal sources? This is where using complementary proteins come in. You can combine foods to make a complete protein as one food will fill in the holes for the other. The standard rule for this is pairing a grain and a legume. Examples include whole wheat toast (grain) with peanut butter (legume) or brown rice (grain) and beans (legume). Also, these foods don't have to be eaten together to get the desired effect. A vegetarian should just eat them both within the same day. This is a great rule to know even if you're not a vegetarian because meatless meals are becoming more commonplace all the time. Also, if you have a vegetarian in your life this can help you plan balanced meals when you're cooking for them.

Are you a vegetarian? Do you have a close friend of relative who follows a vegetarian diet?

NNMC Picking Protein: Lemon-Herb Roasted Chicken

Roasting a whole chicken is a delicious way to get dinner on the table that is also economical. Plus, you can use leftovers to make new dishes like soup or, in my case, quesadillas. Don't forget to save the carcass to make some homemade stock!

Lemon-Herb Roasted Chicken

serves 4-6


4 lb. organic chicken

1 lemon, quartered

6 sprigs each of fresh sage, thyme, and rosemary

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pepper to taste

Kitchen twine


1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.

2. Pat the chicken dry and place on a cutting board used for meats. Remove any organ packets that may be in the cavity. Then, stuff the cavity with lemon wedges and half of the herb sprigs.

3. Mince the remaining herbs and combine in a small bowl with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Rub some of this mixture under the chicken's skin into the breast, leg, and thigh meat.

4. Truss the chicken to maintain a compact shape for even cooking. This video from Alton Brown gives great instructions (it's how I learned). He's using a turkey, but you get the idea.

5. Now, spread the rest of the herb/oil mixture onto the skin of the chicken, rubbing it in and ensuring even coverage.

6. Place chicken in a roasting pan on a wire rack. Distribute you favorite veggies in the bottom of the pan for roasting or add a little water or stock to prevent any drippings from burning and setting off your smoke detector. Cook for 1-1.5 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 165°F.

7. Allow the chicken to rest for 20 minutes and then slice for serving. Enjoy!

NNMC Picking Protein: Be a Picky Eater

The quality of the food you eat can make a huge difference in your health. This is especially true when it comes to animal products. The methods used to produce dairy products and meat are far from being natural processes and this trickles down to us when we ingest these foods. For example, conventional beef is raised in crowded feet lots where they are fed corn, rather than the grass they are designed to eat. This causes changes in the environment of their digestive tract which allows for the growth of potentially harmful microorganisms, such as E. coli, which would normally not be present. Also, the fatty acid content of the meat is much different from its grass-fed counterparts. In addition, these animals are pumped with antibiotics to fight off diseases that wouldn't be a major concern if the animals weren't raised in such deplorable conditions. The antibiotics also serve a second purpose of boosting growth. It's unknown how this works, but it's effective, so we do it anyway. Then some growth hormones are thrown in for good measure. This is why it is so important to be a picky eater when it comes to your meat and dairy. Choose organic in the grocery store and go the extra mile to seek out local producers who you can talk to directly. They will often use practices that go even farther than the federal organic standards and you'll also be supporting your neighbors and local economy while forging new relationships that help build your community. To find a local producer in your area and start a conversation about the way they raise their food, go to eatwild.com or visit your local farmers market.

NNMC Picking Protein: You're Getting Enough

Because protein is so important to our health, there seems to be a lot of concern with getting enough. Well, I'm here to tell you that, if you have enough food to eat and you're getting the variety you should, this won't be a problem. Now, I'm not saying that getting adequate protein is not an issue for some people. Lots of people around the world are struggling with this right now because of lack of access to food or a lack of resources to purchase food. It is a real problem that I do not want to minimize. But, for those of us who have an adequate diet, getting enough protein is usually not a concern. So how much protein do we need? Well, we're gonna have to do a little math. For the average, healthy adult, the standard is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram body weight per day. For example, if someone weighs 150 lbs, you divide that by 2.2 to convert to kilograms. This comes out to 68.18 kg. Then, multiply this number by 0.8 to get 54.5 grams of protein per day. That's not a lot. What does that look like in real food? 4 oz lean meat has approximately 28 grams alone (and most meat-eaters eat a much larger portion). A cup of black beans has 15 grams and a cup of milk has 8g. Add in two slices of whole wheat bread (about 3 grams of protein each), and we're at 57 grams of protein total.

Now, I'm not suggesting that you should limit or track your protein intake. For some medical conditions, protein restrictions are necessary, but, if you are healthy, you don't need to worry about it. Also, it's important to note that it's not hard for those who follow a vegetarian diet to get enough protein either, as long as they are not living on chips and cookies. Eating foods like beans, whole grains, eggs, and dairy products makes meeting the protein requirements more than doable. So, while protein is essential to living a healthy life, try not to get wrapped up in all the hype. If you're eating a variety of whole foods and have enough food to eat overall, you will likely be just fine.

National Nutrition Month Challenge: Picking Protein

For the fourth and final week of the challenge, we'll be talking all about protein. This macronutrient gets lots of time in the media. From exercise to weight loss to vegetarian and vegan diets, it seems like everyone is talking about it. Protein is essential in our diet as it provides the building blocks for things like tissue repair, growth, making hormones. This week, I'll be writing about protein sources, how much protein we need, and also posting some recipes. Good luck in this final week and happy cooking! With love,


NNMC Whole Grains: Hooray For Oats!

To finish up this week of the challenge, I wanted to say a little something about oats. Oats are a yummy grain that can be great for you. They're a good source of fiber, phosphorus, and selenium and a very good source of manganese. Plus, they're filling and easy to cook. The problem is, they often show up on people's plates in highly processed forms, such as granola bars and instant oatmeal packets that are full of additives. The best way to enjoy your oats is the regular/rolled and steel-cut varieties, which you can buy in bulk for cheap. They do take longer to cook, but an easy way to get around this inconvenience is a slow-cooker. Cook them on low overnight and you will have breakfast ready when you wake up in the morning. You can get started with my recipe, but once you know the basics you can change it up to fit your tastes. Another option is to top plain oatmeal with an egg for a savory version.

What are your favorite ways to enjoy oats?

NNMC Whole Grains: Change Your Pasta

When making the change to whole grains, a simple switch you can make is to use whole grain pasta. Nowadays, not only can you buy whole wheat varieties, but other grains are being used too, such as spelt, kamut, and even brown rice. Some people might be worried about the taste or texture of whole grain pastas compared to those made with refined flour. However, it has been my experience that most people don't see a difference when they switch over and, if anything, find that the whole grain pastas have a heartier texture. Another plus is that dried pasta is a cheap and quick meal that can be made on a busy weeknight and can be totally transformed depending on what toppings you use. It can also be added to soups or used in a casserole (lasagna anyone?). If you're still unsure, try mixing refined and whole grain pastas 50/50 in a dish and see how you like it. This can help you transition to eating only whole grain pastas by gradually increasing the amount of whole grain and decreasing the amount of refined pasta.

NNMC Whole Grains: Try Grain Salads

Making a grain salad is a versatile method for preparing and serving your favorite whole grains. They can include fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs, beans, and meats and can be served hot or cold. Also, you can use them as your main dish or a side and they work great as leftovers because the flavors meld together even more while it hangs out in fridge. I came up with this recipe as my last hurrah for winter, incorporating some of my favorite cold weather veggies. Enjoy!

Farro Salad with Sweet Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts

serves 4-6 as main dish, 8-12 as side dish


2 cups dry farro

5 cups water

1.25 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

6 oz Brussels sprouts, trimmed and shredded*

1 teaspoon organic, pastured butter

3/4 cup raw almonds, chopped

Juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon salt

Pepper to taste


1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

2. Add farro and water to a large pot and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to a simmer until cooked, about 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, toss sweet potato cubes with extra-virgin olive oil. Arrange on a baking sheet in a single layer and roast in oven for 30 minutes, or until softened.

4. Add butter to a medium pan and heat on medium high heat. Cook Brussels sprouts until browned, 5-10 minutes.

5. Strain excess water off farro and add to a large bowl. Then add the sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, almonds, lemon juice, cumin, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Mix together and serve.

*To shred the Brussels sprouts, I trimmed the ends, cut each sprout in half, and then thinly sliced from the trimmed end to the top.

NNMC Whole Grains: Get Poppin' (with popcorn)

Believe it or not, popcorn is a whole grain. However, it gets a lot of flack because it’s usually covered with too much salt and butter. It’s a situation we see quite often, where the food itself is not unhealthy, but the preparation method or toppings take it to a bad place. As with any food, the best way to eat popcorn is to start as close to the raw ingredient as possible so you know what’s going into it. I prepare my popcorn using an air popper. If you don’t have one, they are quite affordable. Mine cost me about $20 and if you eat popcorn often, you will save money in the long run because you will only be paying for the unpopped kernels rather than all of the processing and packaging that goes into microwave varieties. Plus you only need a small amount of kernels (about 2 tablespoons) for a hefty serving. Then, you can add your own toppings like your favorite herbs and spices or grated parmesan. Here’s to healthy snacking!

NNMC Whole Grains: Try New Grains

We hear lots of talk about variety when it comes to our fruits and veggies. When you're eating a variety of foods you're likely to have a more balanced diet that provides all of the vitamins and minerals you need. I think we should extend this philosophy to the grains we eat as well. Most of us eat only a few grains including wheat, corn, and oats. However, there are so many different grains out there, such as kamut, farro, quinoa, and teff, and they are becoming more readily available all the time. These are often referred to as ancient grains because they have been around for thousands of years and have not been subjected to the industrial breeding that the more predominant grains have. This means that they have varied flavor, texture, and nutrient profiles, which can also help to make your meals more interesting. If you'd like a little background on the origin and flavor properties of some of these grains, be sure to check out this article from the Wall Street Journal.

Have you tried any interesting grains? How did you prepare them and what was the result?

NNMC Whole Grains: Switch Your Flour

Using whole grain flours in your cooking isn't as difficult as many people think. I have found, in most cases, that you can simply substitute in the whole grain version with great results! When it comes to wheat flour, use regular whole wheat flour in heartier products like bread and biscuits. If you're making a more delicate food, like waffles, cookies, or a cake, opt for whole wheat pastry flour. It's made from a softer wheat variety, giving the flour a softer texture. Also, be sure to store your flour in the refrigerator or freezer to keep it from spoiling, because whole grain flours are not as shelf stable as refined flours.

In this recipe, I use spelt, an ancient strain of wheat. If you can't find it or want to make it with traditional whole wheat pastry flour I'm sure it would work just as well.

Apple Spice Spelt Pancakes

makes 8-10 pancakes


1 cup whole spelt flour

1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground clove

3/4 cup organic milk

1 large egg, beaten

1/2 tablespoon honey

1 apple, unpeeled and grated


1. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and clove. Mix with a whisk to distribute ingredients.

2. Create a well in the dry ingredients and add milk, egg, and honey. Whisk slowly, starting from center, until ingredients are mixed and there are no large lumps. Be careful not to over-mix.

3. Carefully fold grated apple into batter.

3. Oil a griddle or large frying pan and warm over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add batter using a 1/4 cup measuring cup. Cook on one side until the tops are bubbly and the edges are dry. Then, flip and cook the other side until browned.

4. Serve with your favorite toppings like maple syrup, fresh fruit, or nuts*.

*If everyone you're serving can agree, feel free to add your favorite chopped nuts, such as walnuts or pecans, to the batter before cooking.

NNMC Whole Grains: Read Labels

To begin the Whole Grains week of the challenge, I wanted to go over some label reading with y'all so you know how to find those whole grains you'll be working with. This is the same information from my post during the Toss the Junk week of the challenge: Lose Refined Grains. However, it can never hurt to review this material again because it can be confusing.


This means that several different kinds of grains are present in the product, but it doesn't speak to whether these are whole or refined grains.

Made with Whole Grain

This means just what it says: the product was made with whole grains. However, refined grains are likely included as well. It's like labeling a cookie that has orange zest in the batter "made with oranges."

Whole Grain

This sounds like just what we want, until you find out that in order to be labeled this way a product only needs to be made with 51% whole grains. In my book, that doesn't cut it.

100% Whole Grain

This is exactly what we want. When you see this, all of the grains in the product are whole grains. However, this doesn't get you off the hook from reading the ingredients list.

Now that we understand these front-of-the-box phrases, it's time to move on to the ingredients list on the back. Here is another place they can trip you up. This is what you need to know.

Wheat Flour

Many people think this is whole wheat flour, but it's not. The standard flour we use in cooking is all made from wheat. The only difference is the level of refinement. This is simply white flour in disguise.

Unbleached Wheat Flour

This is the same thing as "wheat flour" except they try to make it sound even better by adding the word "unbleached." While this is better than bleached flour, it's still white flour and that is not what we want.

Enriched Wheat Flour

White flour again, but here they add "enriched" hoping to give an air of health. However, all white flour is enriched by law because of the way refinement removes nearly all of the nutrients. Also, this comes nowhere close to the nutrient content of the original whole grain.

Whole Wheat Flour (or any other whole grain)

Jackpot! When you see this in the ingredients it means that the flour is whole wheat.

Also, remember that if you are buying whole foods, you won't have to do nearly as much label reading and it's nowhere near as confusing. Best of luck and let me know if you have any other questions about labels in general or a specific product you're unsure about!

National Nutrition Month Challenge: Whole Grains

This week, we will work on switching over to whole grains. As I outlined in my post about refined grains during the "Toss the Junk" week of this challenge, this is an area that can be tricky. With so much confusing lingo on labels, you really have to know your stuff to make sure you're getting what you want. To help you with this change, I'll be giving you whole grain recipes to try as well as easy ways you can incorporate more whole grains into your diet. I know some people have the misconception that whole grains don't taste as good as their refined counterparts. However, I find that, in many cases, I can't tell a difference at all and, if there is one, it is only that the whole grain version has a heartier feel. With that said, I hope you're excited to embark on this next part of the challenge with me! With love,


NNMC Increase Produce: Make Produce the Star

As we finish out this week of the challenge, my last tip has to do with the way you structure your meals. In our society, meals are usually built around meat, with other food groups coming in to take a supporting role. I'm asking you to flip this on its head. Instead, focus first on the vegetables and fruits and then add in your meat or other protein option. When you do this, not only will you increase the quantity of produce in your diet, but you'll also be filling up on those fruits and veggies, which may help with weight loss, if that is your goal. For some, this might be difficult. If you're so used to thinking about your meals with only one structure, you may feel lost for how to switch it up. To ease into this idea, a likely familiar option is a stir fry. Choose a variety of veggies that you love and cook them in a pan with a little oil. Then, consider your protein option, whether it be chicken, grass-fed beef, pork, or tofu. Serve over brown rice and you've got an easy, plant-centric meal that is sure to please everyone. Another great way to get inspiration for this style of cooking is to look at websites like 101 Cookbooks and Vegetarian Times or buy a couple of vegetarian cookbooks. Resources like these will often have recipes that are chock full of produce and you can always add in a little meat if that is a deal breaker for you. However, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and try a vegetarian recipe now and then (come on in, the water's warm). By simply incorporating these recipes into your repertoire you'll start thinking about food in a whole new way and increase the produce in your life. So get out there and get cooking!

NNMC Increase Produce: Visit the Farmers Market

Frequenting your local farmers market is an excellent way to become more involved in your community. It also gives you access to locally grown, seasonal produce and the ability to talk directly with the farmer who grew it. Eating food that is in season and hasn't traveled thousands of miles to your plate means that the product quality is superb. The flavor of these foods is so much better than anything else you could buy. When I hear that people don't like a particular fruit or vegetable, I often wonder if the real issue is that they haven't had it at the peak of freshness. You may find that you enjoy something that you previously thought you didn't like at all. Another plus is that you'll be able to purchase produce that you can't find at the grocery store. From heirloom varieties of the classics you already know to vegetables you may have never heard of, the options will amaze you. Having this kind of variety in your diet will help to ensure you're getting all the nutrients you need, keep you from getting bored with your meals, and allow you to discover your knew favorites. To find a market in your area, check out Local Harvest or the USDA National Farmers Market Directory. Happy shopping!

NNMC Increase Produce: Mix in Purees

A great way to sneak in more fruits and vegetables is by adding them in to the foods you already eat. It's an easy method

for boosting the nutritional content of your favorite dishes. Now let me clarify, I'm not talking about doing this in place of eating fruits and veggies on their own. It's still important to have those foods on your plate, especially when it comes to kids. You don't want to send the message that produce isn't important. This is in addition to any other produce you might eat. Simply puree any fruit or vegetable of your choice and then start experimenting. For example, you could add these mixtures to pasta sauce or a stew. In baking, simply replace some or all of the oil with an equal volume of puree, like I did in these sweet potato waffles. One tip, if you need to cook the food before pureeing, is to steam or roast it rather than boiling to retain as many of the nutrients as possible. This way, you're not pouring them down the drain with your cooking liquid. So get creative and try something new! Who knows, you might just stumble upon a delicious combination.

NNMC Increase Produce: Make Soup

Making soup is an easy way to get more veggies in your life that can be tailored to fit any taste. With a great recipe or a little creativity of your own, you can whip up something that can be satisfying as a meal, a side/starter, or even a snack. One of the best parts about soups is there are no rules. You can add in whatever ingredients you have on hand or use up food that you don't think you'll be able to eat before it spoils.If you make a big batch, you can freeze the leftovers and have your delicious soup whenever you want a no-fuss lunch or didn't make it to the store and have nothing to cook for dinner. This is also a great place to use any homemade stock. So go make some soup and enjoy the yummy results!