Get Healthy Month: Resources

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the final day of Get Healthy Month! You have all of the information about health and diet, and you have all the tools to help you customize and begin your diet. Now, I will share with you some incredibly valuable resources that will help you bring your journey full circle! These are all resources that I use regularly, with links.

Finding Meals and Recipes

My favorite resources for food:



Instagram: (users and hashtags…you can save posts just like on Pinterest!)

And of course — Pinterest!

The Food

My go-to app: Fooducate

My backup: Healthy Living

Online: Environmental Working Group (EWG)

The Household

My go-to app: Think Dirty

My backup: Healthy Living

Online: Environmental Working Group (EWG)

The Personal Care

My go-to app: Think Dirty

My backup: Healthy Living

Online: Environmental Working Group (EWG)

The Planning

For this, I have two methods of organization:

  1. A bullet journal with lots of customized calendars and text boxes
  2. Excel! I use spreadsheets (and Google Sheets) for meal planning and grocery lists. I love the organization and the auto-sum feature

How is that for short, sweet and to the point?! All of these resources I rely on regularly. I would say that my most frequent are the three YouTubers I listed (all of which I’m subscribed to), Instagram (where I save posts into two different folders — recipes, and plant-based), the Fooducate app, and the Think Dirty app.

With this, my friends, I leave you with the end of Get Healthy Month. I will leave all of the posts in the Get Healthy Month category under the Health tab, so you can go back and read any time you want if you need a refresher. I wish you all the best on your road to a healthier life!

And with that…coming up later this week I will update you on the goings-on in my world as of late, and more Mediterranean Mondays will be coming soon.



Breaking Patterns to Learn How to Cook and Eat Healthy

Dear Friends,

I hope this finds you healthy and well! We are just about to wrap up get healthy month, and in October I will start catching you up on all that’s been going on behind the scenes over the last six weeks or so since I started this series. I hope you’ll continue along for the ride! I always share Mediterranean Diet recipe posts every other Monday, as well as other diet and lifestyle posts. But I also talk more about my personal life, my kids, my relationship, and all that we have going on. I also love fashion and write occasionally about my thrifted fashion finds.

But for now, back to why you’re all here! They say that complacency kills, and I think that is seldom more true than it is in the kitchen. It is human nature to fall into a routine; a patter; a way of doing things that doesn’t require thinking. So when we set out to do something new that breaks away from our usual patterns, our brains don’t like it and sooner or later meet us with resistance. Part of our brain’s function is to make sure we are expending as little energy as possible on processing information, which is why we fall into these routines and habits that allow our brains to exist on auto-pilot.

Why do we always seem to cook the same meals, order the same foods at our favorite restaurants, snack on the same stuff week after week, etc.? Because we don’t have to think about it. We grab, go, and consume and that’s all there is to it. So if you’re adopting a new healthy lifestyle, you’re probably completely changing up your usual go-to meals and foods, That can present a lot of stress because you now have to be conscious and aware of your choices.

The good news is…you will fall into an auto-pilot state once again where food and cooking are concerned. You just need to be prepared for it to take time. As you learn new recipes, new foods that you love, and new ways of preparing foods, your brain will adjust and you will need to exhaust less and less energy as you move forward. You will learn new favorite brands, new go-to snacks, new ways to cook, new ways to meal plan and prep. And as you do, these new skills you are learning will start to become your new defaults. You will gradually learn new skills and lose your old ones.

The reason I feel it is important to talk about this is — I don’t want you to feel discouraged or give up because it feels hard, or maybe even impossible. I want you to know that is normal, and you should even expect it. The best thing you can do is plan ahead. Plan your meals ahead, plan your grocery list ahead, and even put together an action-plan ahead of cooking your meals.

What I mean by action plan is this:

What are the steps you need to take to prepare a certain meal or recipe? What do you need to do first? Second? Third? After that? What ingredients do you need for each step? How long will each step take? Laying all of this out in a step-by-step way will help you take the guesswork out of it. What you are preparing may very well be entirely new for you, so if you prepare yourself ahead of time it will make it less overwhelming. Sort of like studying for an exam…if you prepare ahead of time, when it comes time for the test you’ll feel ready and be confident that you can conquer it.

For example, let’s say I want to make some black bean stuffed peppers. This is how I would map it out:

  1. Study the recipe. Read it through a few times, until you know the steps pretty well. This will allow you to spend more time doing and less time trying to figure it out as you go.
  2. Get out your ingredients, and divide based on steps. When I make these I stuff them with brown rice, black beans, corn, tomatoes, onion and garlic. So the first step would be to start the rice because that takes the longest to cook.
  3. While the rice is cooking, I would spray an oven-safe dish and set it aside. Then cut the tops off and clean out the peppers and set them inside the dish.
  4. When the rice is close to finished cooking, I would put the rest of the ingredients in a pan, season it, and heat through. Then add the rice when it’s done cooking and mix it all together.
  5. Finally, fill the peppers with the mixture and bake.

Having this action plan lined out according to what takes the longest (getting the rice cooked to stuff the peppers) and the order in which things need done will lessen the time it takes you to prepare it. It will also take some of the overwhelm out of it since you’re learning something new. Once you get the hang of this new way of cooking, these steps will all become second nature and you won’t need to prep or plan ahead. In the meantime, however, this will help you greatly!

As time passes, you will develop new patterns and new routines, so just stay consistent and don’t give up. And keep planning ahead! Planning and being prepared is the best thing you can do when learning something new. Just think of it as taking a class to learn something you’ve always wanted to know. You know it’ll take several weeks to learn all of the information and store it in your memory. The same goes for learning this new healthy lifestyle.

Coming up next is the final step for Get Healthy Month — resources! I will share with you my resources for finding recipes, finding food, finding cleaning products, websites for shopping, and what to find where. Coming up on Monday!

Until then…


Decoding the Grocery Store to Find Safe and Healthy Food

Dear Friends,

Happy Tuesday! I apologize for being a day late with this post. I have no excuse, except that I had a case of the Mondays yesterday and couldn’t focus to write!

Get Healthy Month is winding down, and now that you have a plan ahead of you for your healthy diet, it’s time to figure out the hardest part — finding the food that is good for you! American supermarkets are overflowing with options, the majority of which cater to the standard American diet; meaning highly processed and lacking in nutrients. Even the product packaging the claims to be healthy it’s usually not…so how do you really know what is good and what isn’t?

I have a few ideas, tips, and cheats to help you out with that. So let’s begin:

#1 — Buy Fresh Produce

What I mean by this is — choose fresh produce over frozen or canned. The reason for this is that fresh produce will not be processed, preserved, or packaged in tin or plastic (not good for you or the environment). There also isn’t a guessing game involved — you can see right in front of you just exactly what you’re getting, no ingredients list required.

The biggest plus to fresh produce is that you are getting a product that maintains 100% of its nutritional value, which means you are maximizing the benefit you get from eating your fruits and veggies. I know it can be intimidating to learn how to cook with fresh produce when you haven’t been used to working with it, but it really is simple, and with a little practice you’ll have it down in no time!

#2 — Know Your Grains

I find that one of the most difficult things to find that is healthy, is anything “whole grain”. There is an endless supply of breads, bagels, tortillas, chips….the list goes on….of products that say “whole wheat/grain” on the package, but isn’t really. This is where you will want to get familiar with your ingredients lists.

When it comes to any type of bread product, none of the first few ingredients should include the word “enriched”. And the very first ingredient should say “whole wheat”. One of the biggest things to look for is high fructose corn syrup, because so many bread products contain that these days; or if not that, then at least sugar. So I would also look at the nutrition label to see how many grams of sugar are in the bread. If it’s more than 1 gram, I’d leave it on the shelf.  Finally, you want to choose a product with a short ingredient list. The longer the ingredients list, and the more words you see that you can’t pronounce or don’t know what they are, the less healthy it is. Realistically, bread products only need a handful of ingredients, so a long list is a big red flag.

#3 — Watch for Hidden Sugars

Americans love their sugar, and for that companies have been adding it to everything. I was recently talking to a friend about tomato soup, and she had no idea it even had sugar in it…let alone 12 grams per serving! My boyfriend and I had the same conversation the other night, and he also didn’t realize that much sugar was in a can of tomato soup. Even the organic version they have at my beloved Aldi is full of sugar, which means tomato soup is one of those “convenience foods” that I will make homemade rather than buying canned!

There are also processed products that are marketed as healthy, that are about the same as eating a serving of cookies. One of the biggest culprits is granola bars. I love the Simply Nature brand at Aldi, but even their organic chocolate chip granola bars have 8 grams of sugar per bar, and 100 calories. You may as well eat a Chewy Chips Ahoy cookie — one cookie only has 6 grams of sugar and 70 calories.

You’ll find added sugars in so many things…juices, dried fruits, pasta and pizza sauces, protein bars, breads, condiments such as ketchup and BBQ sauces, even in processed lunch meats! So until you really start to get down your go-to products and brands, take some time while grocery shopping to check the labels on everything for sugar.

#4 — Stay Away from Convenience Foods

So much of the standard American diet has developed based significantly on the need for convenience. And believe me, as a working single mom and part-time college student, I get it. But I am here to tell you that it is so easy to throw a meal together in half an hour or less that is good for your health, your budget, and your busy life.

First and foremost, cooking with fresh produce cuts down a lot of cook time, because so many fresh veggies take only a few minutes to cook…and some don’t need cooked at all! Get yourself a steamer for the microwave and you can steam fresh veggies in just a few minutes. You can sautee fresh spinach or kale right in a skillet with a bit of olive oil and garlic for just a few minutes. Pop a few sweet potatoes in the microwave and they’re done in less than five minutes. Then of course there are salads, which require no cooking at all!

Basically, anything that comes in a box or a bag that you dump onto a cookie sheet and pop into the oven, toss into a pot or skillet with a sauce packet, pour form can to bowl and heat up, stick into the microwave to cook from frozen to done…even if it’s organic or marketed as healthy or says non-GMO…it’s processed and high in sodium and/or sugars, and is lacking in nutrition.

#5 — Don’t Buy it Just Because it’s Organic

This one almost hurts to say, because there are so many things that I love to buy organic — tomatoes, whole grain breads, crackers, pasta sauce, chicken and veggie broths. But, with that said, just because a product is organic does not mean that it is good for you. For example, you can find organic packaged mac n cheese. While it may be made using all organic ingredients, it is also usually a white flour instead of whole grain, and a processed cheese product.

Also, like I mentioned above with the sugar, those granola bars…they may have been organic, but they were also full of sugar. Organic sugar is still sugar, and sugar is only okay in moderation. So when choosing organic product, my rule of thumb is this:

Make sure it checks your boxes on being a healthy product first. Then if you have the option to buy the organic version, go for it! Just keep in mind that there are some things that aren’t worth it to buy organic. Organic onions, for example. You’ll pay more for them, and they’re a vegetable that is typically grown with minimal, if any, pesticides in the first place. For more information on what produce is safe and what produce is grown with lots of pesticides, check out The Dirty Dozen list from EWG, as well as The Clean 15.

#6 — Know How to Cheat the System!

Here is where I’m going to introduce you to one of my favorite apps — Fooducate. It has a database of just about every food you can think of, and all you have to do is scan the label (or search for a product if you want to look something up while making your grocery list) and it pops up with a score from A to D.  It gives an explanation as to why it gives the score that it does, as well as shows nutritional information and provides a list of alternatives. If you really want to take the guess-work and the label reading out of your shopping — then go armed with this app!

Just know that when you do, you’ll want to always read the explanation. For example, the photo below of the C+ rating is for the Simply Nature Organic Multi-Grain Tortilla Chips that I use. It is a true whole grain product with only a couple of ingredients, but it gets a low rating simply for being a chip. So sometimes you will have to weigh the pros and cons for yourself on some products, but this app has definitely been a life saver for me!

I hope this has been helpful! I’ll be providing even more resources on the last day of the month that will help you out with adopting your new healthy life. Coming up on Thursday: Breaking Patterns to Learn How to Cook and Eat Healthy.

Talk to you soon!


Creating Meal Plans and Shopping Lists + Prepping Whole Food

Dear Friends,

Welcome back to Get Healthy Month! We are entering the last half of the series, where we are focusing on how to manage the day-to-day of a healthy diet. When you’ve been set in a specific pattern or routine with your cooking, shopping and eating, it can be tough to transition to something new and different. We develop these routines as a way to simplify our lives, so changing it up can consume more of our time and create a feeling of challenge and difficulty. That is one of the big reasons why trying to adopt a healthy way of life can fail pretty early on, and that is what I want to work through with you for the rest of the month.

Meal Planning

This is an integral part of my ability to eat healthy, because it takes the guess work out of, 1) what to buy when grocery shopping, and 2) trying to figure out what to make for dinner or pack for lunch. When you plan ahead, you can create a shopping list based on the ingredients you actually need for meals and snacks, which will make your grocery shopping trips faster and less expensive. You also have your meals figured out ahead of time, including what ingredients you need for them, so when it’s time to make dinner you can just grab ingredients and get started; no endless staring into fridges and cabinets while racking your brain as to what you can make with the stuff in front of you.

Building a Database

Here is how I do my meal planning. I’ve compiled a list of bloggers, YouTubers and Instagrammers (and hashtags) over the years that regularly put out new recipes and meal ideas. I follow them or subscribe to them, so when they post something new I get notifications and can view or watch it. If it’s something I like and want to try, then I save it or print the recipe and save it into a folder on my computer. I also have a spreadsheet with meal ideas for dinner, lunch, and kid-friendly recipes. Any time I have a new one I want to try that I think would be a good one to come back to often (i.e. weeknight friendly with familiar ingredients that isn’t too complex), I add it to the spreadsheet and include a comment about where the recipe is (saved on Instagram, on a YouTuber’s channel, in my recipe folder, etc.).

It definitely took some time to build this up, as I kept adding to it week after week. But now I have a big spreadsheet of meal ideas, saved Instagram posts, saved YouTube videos, and indexed blog recipes that I can go to for ideas when making my meal plan. I try to do three meals per week, with enough for leftovers a couple of days per week so that I don’t have to cook every single night. I can browse through this stuff and usually know what three meals I want to do for the week within about five minutes. This kind of planning ahead has been a huge game-changer for me over the years.

It’ll likely take some time to compile a list of people and channels and hashtags and pages to follow that you really like, so be patient with yourself. But once you have a good base started and meal and recipe ideas saved to go back to, your meal planning will be quick and painless! It might even be beneficial to just set aside a block of time to really dig into these social media avenues, blogs, Pinterest — whatever you use — to get a good base of sources going right off the bat. And once you have enough experience — you will start coming up with your own creations too because you’ve learned what works well together!

One tip I will give on this — don’t save meals just because you like the picture and it looks good. Take a look at the ingredients and the preparation details. If it is something that uses a lot of ingredients, especially any that are unfamiliar or won’t be easy to find, I wouldn’t suggest saving it as a go-to. The point of this is to build a base of budget-friendly and life-simplifying ideas for you. If you do want to save things that are more complex, maybe save them into a “special occasions” category so you don’t inadvertently choose one of them for a weeknight, where you end up browsing three different stores for one ingredient and spend an hour and a half cooking the meal!

Planning the Week in Food

Now for the actual planning part. Once you have a good database of meal ideas to rely on, you need to figure out your week. My boyfriend and I (we’ve been together almost six months so we do dinner together regularly, but have our own separate households) share a Google calendar, so that is my first stop for meal planning. I need to see what we have on the calendar for different nights of the week. That way I know if there are nights where I have plenty of time for cooking, and if there are nights we are busy or won’t be home and need to rely on leftovers or a quick throw-together meal.

For example, every Wednesday my son has a class from 6-7:30, which is right in the middle of the evening and a big disruption of our normal dinner routine. So I know that I need to do leftovers or have stuff to just throw together sandwiches or something that night. So I’ll do meals on Monday and Tuesday, with plans for leftovers on Wednesday. Then I’ll do another meal on Thursday, with leftovers for Friday. Every Friday night is either family movie night so we rarely cook, or I’m taking the boys to their dads, which is a 4-hour drive and we have to leave at 5:30pm, so there’s no time to cook.

On weekends, at least for me, I don’t usually plan much for meals. I might have one thing that I make (like this weekend I’m going to make enchilada soup in the crockpot, plus stuff to throw together some quesadillas) so that when someone is hungry they can just eat it. None of us need to stop what we’re doing to cook a meal so our weekends can stay more casual and less structured. I also keep stuff around for sandwiches and snacks for the kids for that same reason. If they want lunch on Saturday and I’m busy with the weekly house cleaning I can send them to the kitchen to make their own sandwich (granted my kids are 12 and 14 and can get it themselves!).

So before you plan your meals, definitely take a look at your week to figure out what nights you’ll be home to cook, what nights you need something quick and easy, and what nights you need leftovers because there’s no time for making meals at all. Figuring out your schedule first and then working your meals around it will definitely help take the stress out of dinner time!

Snacks and Lunches

The final important component in meal planning for me is snacks and lunches. I work a mile from home, so I make the five minute drive home every day to eat lunch. That means I need to have stuff around for my lunch. And I also need to keep stuff around for snacks for work, and for my kids when they get home from school and on weekends. I usually have one additional recipe or meal idea that I do specifically for lunches and make early in the week, that can last for the week. For example, this coming up week I’m doing black bean burgers (I can get an 8-pack for $6 at Walmart) and a corn and avocado salad. I’ll make it Sunday evening in a double-batch, divide it between me and Michael so we each have some for the week, and then I can just grab and eat when I get home for lunch.

For snacks, I keep healthy things around that are easy to grab and go. Each of my kids has a preference. For Hunter, my 14-year-old, he loves snacking on peanuts and an ounce of cheese. For Logan, my 12-year-old, he likes fruit and yogurt (I buy organic plain Greek yogurt, then sweeten it with stevia and flavor it with vanilla extract). I also do organic multi-grain tortilla chips with salsa, brown rice crackers, and fresh veggies like mini bell peppers, broccoli, carrots and celery with hummus. And I will sometimes make things like date-based energy bites, or the low-carb granola bars that Michael loves.

So once I have my three meals chosen, my lunch for the week chosen, and our snacks picked out, I can then move on to the shopping list.

Creating a Shopping List

Let me preface this by saying that I have some OCD tendencies, that have honestly worked very much in my favor when navigating the grocery store and staying on budget. For whatever reason, I am very hyper-aware of wasted time, and do everything I can to limit wasted time and maximize time that serves a purpose or brings me joy and peace.

Now that I’ve put my neurosis out there for you… Spending time in the grocery store is definitely necessary, especially toward accomplishing my goal of health, but at the same time every minute I spend in the store is a minute I won’t have at home to get things done (which makes me feel pressured and spikes stress) or spend with those I love. Which means I keep my grocery shopping as efficient as possible so I can get back to what is important to me, and minimize stress. So I have a two-step process for creating my shopping list in a way that will get me in-and-out of the grocery store in an insanely short amount of time.

Step 1 — Ingredients

Once I know what meals I’m making for the week, I list them out by day in a spreadsheet, the put the ingredients to make them out to the right, with the price of each ingredient next to it. This way I can make sure that everything I need makes it onto my shopping list and I don’t find myself running back to the store for something I forgot. I also include ingredients that I already have and don’t need to buy, because I use this spreadsheet when actually making the meal so I can reference it to get out all of the stuff I need to make it. For the items that I don’t need to buy, I simply leave a price off so that I know it doesn’t need to go on the shopping list.

shopping list

Step 2 — Making the List

I have a very specific way that I set up my shopping list, which is why I don’t just print out my meal plan list and take that to the store. I frequent the same stores every week and I know their layout well, so I make my list in the order of where things are in the store, so I can go straight to it, grab it, mark it off, and move on. There is no back tracking, there’s no wandering around looking for ingredients, and since I’ve figured out exactly what brands and products I like I can reach straight for it without needing to peruse countless options for the one ingredient (more on that on a later post).

Something else that I always do, is write the price of the item out to the right, then total it up at the bottom so I know exactly how much I will be spending before I ever set foot in the store. When you’re regularly buying a lot of the same products, you can get familiar with the prices. I actually used my receipt to create a spreadsheet to reference my usual stuff until I reached a point where I could recall the price from memory because I was buying it every week or most every week; like almond milk or organic salad greens, for example ($2 and $5 at Aldi). Whatever the shelf price is, I round up to the nearest dollar so that my grand total also accounts for tax.

All of this means that, 1) I can get in and out of the store super fast (Aldi and Neighborhood Market are right next door to each other, and I can usually hit both for an entire week’s-worth of groceries and be on my way home within 30 minutes, maybe 45 if they’re overly busy, short on cashiers, or people are being especially indecisive or slow), and 2) no surprises at the cash register! I can set a grocery budget and always be able to stick to it. If I’m making meals that are blowing my budget out of the water, then I know I can nix those and stick to things that are more simple and use fewer or less expensive ingredients.

I will never forget the first time Michael went shopping with me. It was a day I needed some personal care items so we had to throw in a third store stop at Target, which is across town, onto the schedule. He was on the quiet side on the 10 minute drive to Target, so I was afraid I might’ve overwhelmed him with how quick I moved in the store and trying to keep up with me. When I asked him, he said, “no, that was awesome! I never want to go shopping without you again! We’ve already been to two stores and are almost to the third and we’ve only been gone 45 minutes!” It’s actually even better when he goes with me, because he can stay with the cart at the end of the aisle so I can just dart down the aisle and grab stuff without trying to navigate my cart around people.

Prepping Whole Foods

This is another component to planning ahead for the week. I mentioned above the snacks I like to keep around for myself and the kids. Since I do veggies and hummus, I need to clean and cut the veggies, which I then store in a large container in the fridge for grab-and-go. I also wash berries and grapes in a baking soda and vinegar wash. Place in large bowl, generously sprinkle on baking soda, pour white vinegar halfway up the bowl, then fill the rest with water and soak for 15-20 minutes.

Then there’s divvying and measuring bulk items. Both of my boys, but my oldest especially, will sit and eat an entire container of something if I don’t divide it into servings, so that’s something I make sure I do. Hunter loves peanuts, a serving of which is 1/4 cup. We have little metal cups that are exactly 1/4 cup, so I will pour peanuts into them, wrap them with plastic wrap, and place in the cabinet so he can grab a cup and is getting one serving. He also likes cheese with his peanuts, so I will buy it by the block, then cut it into one-ounce servings and put in a bowl. He knows to pull out one chunk of cheese to go with his peanuts and that’s a serving for his snack.

For Logan, I don’t care how much fruit he eats, but he loves yogurt and I definitely don’t want him over-eating that since it’s dairy. I have little storage containers that hold a little over 1/2 cup, so I will scoop out 1/2 cup of yogurt into these containers, sprinkle in a little stevia and vanilla, stir together, then put on the lid and pop the containers into the fridge. I will do the same thing with tortilla chips and salsa. I don’t care how much salsa they eat, but I’ll divide the chips into baggies by the number of chips that are considered a serving.

Washing, chopping, and dividing these things out ahead of time most definitely simplifies life throughout the week! And since Michael and I combine our shopping and our meals, I’ll also separate things out among our houses. For example, I might make Monday’s meal at my house, but we’ll do Tuesday’s meal at his house. So I pack up the ingredients for the meals we do at his house and he takes them home with him. I also double whatever I do for lunch for the week (I make that ahead too) and send half of it home with him.

Planning ahead, making a shopping list for efficiency and budget, and prepping and dividing food keeps the week so much easier. It might take a little extra time to do the planning and prepping on the weekends, but it is well worth it when the busy week comes around. Maintaining a sense of peace and making sure we all have time to get in some downtime or time for things we enjoy is a huge part of overall health. And if we didn’t plan ahead and prepare, there would be a whole lot more pizza delivery and Chinese take-out in our lives.

Next Up:

Decoding the Grocery Store to Choose Safe and Healthy Foods

In Monday’s post I will be talking about how I choose foods. Once upon a time, it meant a whole lot of label reading. Luckily modern technology has taken a lot of the work out of it by use of apps and information at your finger tips. I will dig into this and share with you great ways to find out if something is good for you or not without needing a degree in chemistry to understand an ingredients list.

And for a little word of encouragement — prepare yourself for this to be a little time consuming in the beginning. Remember, it’s like riding a bike — you’re learning a new way of doing things, but with practice and repetition it will become second nature soon enough. You’ll know what products are good for you and develop your very own go-to’s once you’ve put a little experience under your belt. So as with everything else I’ve shared this month — be patient and give it time.

See you on Monday!




How to Customize a Diet that Works for You in 9 Steps

Dear Friends,

We’re just over one-third of the way through Get Healthy Month, and it’s time to start talking about your diet! Not the one you’ve been doing, but the one you want to do from this point forward. The most important thing to note before we begin is this: you are not going on a diet. This is not a diet plan. This is a way of life. This is the proverbial fork in the road between where you’ve been, and where you are going. Your new healthy life begins now!

If you are new to the blog, this is the point where you will want to go back and read the previous posts under the Health tab, in the sub-category “Get Healthy Month: The Basics”. All of the information you will need to know to help you formulate your own personal diet is found in the five posts preceding this one. The key to knowing how to choose a way of eating for you is having all of the information; learning and understanding how food effects your body and your overall health. Knowledge is power, and knowledge about food will give you power over your health.

Now that you’ve read-up on that information, let’s get started! Grab yourself a pen and paper, so you can write down your brand new diet plan!


Step 1 – Pick your Top 3

What do you love? We all have different favorite foods that we just can’t imagine life without, and let’s be honest — it’s rarely anything healthy. My number one step to customizing a diet is determining what your top 3 favorite things are that you do not want to give up. Because giving those things up is the most sure-fire way to fail at your new healthy life. What we are going to do is make sure that you work these favorite things into your diet in a way that will allow you to both be healthy, and still enjoy your favorites.

Here are my three:

  1. Chocolate (especially chocolate cake)
  2. Cheese
  3. Cured Pork (Bacon, Prosciutto, Capicola, etc.)

Now chocolate is relatively good for you as long as it is dark chocolate with low sugar and small portions, but nothing else about these three is healthy. But could I sustain a way of eating that excludes them all? Never!! And that is why, as we build your diet plan, I want you to specifically work in your top three. For me, I follow a Mediterranean Diet way of eating, which allows me to have all of these things in moderation — cheese three times per week and the pork and chocolate (with the exception of pure dark chocolate, which I eat a more often) about once per month. It is up to you to decide what moderation looks like for you, just as long as you’re being honest with yourself about what is good for your long-term health in the decision process.

I chose three times per week for cheese (or yogurt, which I also eat occasionally), for example, because the recommendation from the USDA is three servings per day (which you now know is not good for your body), so three times per week is an 86% reduction in cheese consumption. That’s a pretty huge number that I can feel good about, but doesn’t stop me from eating it entirely. The Mediterranean Diet pyramid also recommends dairy, poultry and eggs a few times per week, so I feel like I’m pretty in line with that.

I chose monthly for the chocolate and cured pork, because I know that sweets and red/processed meats are especially harmful, so I don’t want to eat them very often. I had to be honest with myself about how frequent feels “safe” to me. I considered weekly, but honestly felt that was too much. I chose to look at these things as a “treat”, and monthly just felt like a good choice. It wasn’t so often that I felt it would hurt me, but was still often enough that I knew I could look forward to it and be able to stay on track with my healthy lifestyle. Another rule of thumb I give myself on the sweets, beyond just chocolate, is to limit it to special occasions and celebrations only.

So now you need to look at your top three, and if any of them are unhealthy foods, you can decide how much of each is your idea of moderation, and work that into your plan. Once per week? Once per month? Special occasions only? It’s totally up to you!

Step 2 – Fruits and Veggies

What do you need? Now that we have your must-haves down on paper, we can move on to what your body needs. In short — it needs lots of the plant stuff! Veggies and fruits, in that order. My recommendation for you is to make sure that you have at least one vegetable at every meal (excluding breakfast, but I definitely suggest getting veggies in even then if you can), and specifically make it the center of your meal rather than just a side dish! The general rule of thumb is that the dark green leafy vegetables are the best, followed by the bright colors (tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, etc.), with the starchy vegetables (corn and potatoes) coming in last.

I want you to get experimental with this if you’re not normally a veggie eater. Go browse the produce section (stay away from canned and frozen if at all possible) and choose something that looks interesting or inviting. Look up a recipe for it. And give it a try. You don’t have to have all of the answers straight out of the gate. Take your time and try new things, gain experience with vegetables and produce, and keep trying until you get the hang of it. Be patient with yourself so that you don’t give up too soon. You are learning a new way of cooking and a new way of life. For now, just plan on making some vegetable the center of every lunch and dinner, until you figure out just what you like and can stick to as part of your new healthy life!

When it comes to fruit, try to set a goal for at least once per day. Just like the veggies, venture out a little and try new things because you might be surprised to find you love things you never thought you would. I discovered that my favorite fruit is grapefruit. I also discovered that my favorite vegetable is beets, which I never thought in a million years would be something I’d love (my boyfriend does not share my love for these — bless him for giving them a try the last time I made them, but he gave them a hard pass!).

I also suggest finding plant based recipes on Pinterest, Instagram, blogs, or even just google. Even if you do not go plant-based in your diet, this will at least open you up to a brand new world with vegetables. It will teach you flavor combinations and meal ideas that you would never have thought of on your own, that will help you fall in love with eating your greens! In my experience, this is the toughest part of getting healthy because the standard American diet is plant-poor and people often do not know where to start with getting their veggies in a way that isn’t boring and flavorless. Find a few things you’d like to try and start there. Look at this as a process, rather than something you need to flip a switch and immediately be able to do.

I will also be sharing sources with you at the end of this month that will give you lots of places to go to find help with this!

Step 3 – Carbs

Let’s talk carbs. You need whole grains in your diet. The one exception to this is if you are trying to lose a great deal of weight and are cutting carbs in your diet for the sake of shedding pounds quickly. However, that is intended strictly for weight loss and not long-term maintenance, so this will give you a plan for when the weight is off and you’re ready to start moving forward with your new healthy lifestyle. For that, I suggest a grain at every meal, just like your veggies. Now…the serving size will be much smaller, and it’s also extremely important to read labels and make sure you’re really getting whole grains.

This is the time to break your love affair with all things white when it comes to carbs. You might totally love white bread and white pasta, but (unless this is one of your top three that you’re giving yourself in moderation) the goal is to feed your body, not your poorly-conditioned taste buds. Once again, you don’t need to flip a switch and toss out everything in your pantry. But as you run out of white carbs, start replacing them with wheat or whole grain. The next time you buy a loaf of bread, opt for whole wheat or multi-grain. And be sure to read the label and make sure the first ingredient is “whole wheat/grain”, and that you do not see the word “enriched” anywhere on the ingredients list.

Something else to look at is sugar. Look for high fructose corn syrup in the ingredients list, and grams of sugar on the nutrition facts. If you see corn syrup or more than 1g of sugar, I would suggest leaving that loaf on the shelf. Another suggestion for finding good bread — look in the freezer section. The best real whole grain breads are not shelf stable for very long, so they are usually frozen. This is because one of the big things that makes bread not good for you are the preservatives used to make it shelf-stable, as well as the conditioners used to make it soft.

Other grains are easier — whole wheat pasta, brown rice, couscous, farro, oats, barley. These can be found easily and are shelf stable since they’re dried. A tip on the oats — try to avoid quick cooking as they are stripped of a lot of their health benefits to make them cook up in a minute flat. I prepare my oats in the morning in a jar, then take them to work with me and cook them two hours later, once they’ve been soaking in the almond milk for a while. Overnight oats are also super simple, so quick-cooking isn’t necessary. However, if quick-cooking helps you with your busy life, then go for it! Just avoid the pre-made oatmeal packets as those are always full of sugar.

Step 4 – Protein

What is meat, and how much should you eat? Red meat includes beef, pork, and lamb, and is the hardest meat on your body. Since cured pork such as bacon is one of my top three, I allow it in my diet once per month. But when it comes to beef, I personally only eat it about 1-2 times per year. This is another one of those areas where you need to figure out for yourself what your limit is. Maybe you love yourself a good steak, so where I will only eat steak about once per year, maybe you want it once per month. You know what your preferences are, but again, just make sure you are keeping your new knowledge of food and health in mind so you can make a smart choice regarding red meat in your diet. Don’t make yourself wrong, make yourself healthy!

Then there is poultry, which is anything feathered. While it’s considered safer than red meat, it is still an animal protein so I highly recommend keeping this to small and moderate portions as well. I usually do poultry about two meals per week. Eggs also count in this category.

There is also fish and seafood, which is something I personally eat as much as or more than poultry because of the healthy fats (something that no other animal protein has). You’ll want to be mindful of mercury, which is basically higher the larger the fish. But otherwise fish and seafood is another good protein to consume a couple of times per week.

When deciding how much of each type of meat you are going to consume, you need to factor in something else — alternate sources of protein. This comes from beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. In fact, I like to consider this particular source of protein when planning meals for a week before I consider any animal-based source. For me, I do a 50/50 split when planning dinner — half plant-based protein and half poultry or fish protein — because I have a family to feed. When I’m only responsible for feeding myself and don’t have to worry about what the family prefers, it’s more like 75% plant protein and 25% poultry and fish. For lunch I only have to feed myself so that is the meal where I almost always do plant proteins only. The less animal-based and the more plant-based you can do, the better…but it is up to you and your preferences to decide what you should do for your new healthy diet. If you want to go completely plant-based and do 100% plant and 0% animal protein — go for it!

So here is your protein assignment — 15-20% of your diet should be protein, so figure out how much is going to come from plant-based sources, and how much is going to come from animal-based. I would start with deciding how many times per week you are going to eat red meat, poultry, eggs and fish. Then for the rest of your meals I would factor in a plant-based protein. This truly is not as hard as you think — chili, bean burritos or tacos, soups, black bean burgers, and so many different salads out there with beans and nuts, just for a start. Something else to consider is that any and all living thing, including plants have protein, so it’s much easier than you realize to get enough without eating lots of animal products. Need proof? Here is my protein level from my last health screen:


Step 5 – Snacks

Don’t forget about snacks! This is a great place to get in an extra serving of anything you need more of, including protein. One of my favorite work snacks is a serving of mixed nuts. I also found some seed crackers (which I am soon going to be testing a new recipe for) that have the same protein content as a serving of mixed nuts. Some hummus (made of garbanzo beans/chickpeas and sesame seed butter) and veggie sticks is a good protein and veggie source. A serving of peanut butter with apple slices is a great source of protein and fruit.

I make granola bars that are nut-based, so they are low in carbs and higher in protein and fiber. I shared the recipe for them last week on Mediterranean Monday, so feel free to check out that link. These are my boyfriend’s favorite, and I make them every week for him.

Another huge suggestion of mine is this — focus slightly less on meals and slightly more on snacks than you’ve maybe been used to. It is better for your metabolism and your body’s digestive process to have smaller meals more often (probably not big news to you), and you will notice a huge shift in body regularity when you do this. I plan dinners every week, with at least one recipe for lunch, as well as a few things I can use to throw together to make lunches that aren’t planned (like keeping black bean burgers in the freezer). And I always have a snack on hand to take to work for an afternoon snack as well. So I guess for me I kind of blend my lunch and my afternoon snack.

Step 6 – Calcium and Dairy

Your body needs calcium, that much is true. But where is the best place to get it? If you’re a heavy consumer of dairy, I strongly urge you to cut back. Quit cold turkey if you can, but if you love dairy, then for the sake of your health I hope you’ll commit to cutting it back to just a few times per week, especially the milk. The fact is, you do not need dairy for calcium. As you know now from reading my previous blog posts, the dairy myth is something that has been perpetuated by lobbying and the government.

I only eat three servings of dairy (primarily in the form of cheese, and never milk) per week. Yet my health screens always show that I have the perfect amount of calcium in my body. Test result photo below for evidence:


How is this possible? First of all, I will tell you up front that I do not take any supplements or vitamins at all, whatsoever. There is calcium in so many more food and plant sources than we realize. Plant-based milk is a great start. I use unsweetened almond milk in place of cow’s milk in everything. Chia seeds also have a lot of calcium (and protein too!). I make oatmeal for breakfast every morning using oats, chia seeds, walnuts or almonds, raisins or dried cranberries, unsweetened coconut, stevia, cinnamon, and almond milk. Just that one bowl of oatmeal alone gives me 54% of my daily intake of calcium (plus 52% fiber and 12% protein)!

Those beans and leafy greens you’ll be eating more of now? Also have lots of calcium. So my assignment for you where calcium is concerned is this — break the link in your mind between dairy and calcium. You can and will get enough calcium without overrunning your body with dairy products that raise cholesterol, feed cancer cells, and create acidity in your body, as long as you’re eating whole, unprocessed veggies, fruits and proteins. So don’t even worry about calcium…you will be covered!

Step 7 – Break Your Bad Habits

Break your bad habits. This was a tough one for me, because I was a sugar addict…and I say that literally. They say sugar is as addictive as cocaine, and I sincerely believe that is true. Before I got myself healthy, I craved it all the time. The funny thing about sugar is, it begins a downward spiral. Even now, years after changing my lifestyle, when I eat something sweet I get strong cravings…not only for more sugar, but also for fatty, fried, processed, total junk foods. I had to quit sugar cold turkey, and when I do have it now on special occasions, I choose to be mindful and keep my portions small because I know the effect it’s going to have on me. Something else I have to be aware of and watch is drinking wine — because every time I have a glass of wine it sets off a sugar craving.

Which brings me to my next point — substances. If you smoke, drink heavily, use recreational drugs…it won’t be possible to achieve total health until you stop. Smoking and drugs especially, as there is no benefit at all to be derived from them, only detriment to your health. Drinking is a bit trickier, because red wine has been shown again and again to have benefits to both your heart and your immune system. But it is still something to be consumed in moderation, because at the end of the day alcohol is also a carcinogen when used too heavily.

How much alcohol is safe? No more than one drink per day is the doctor-recommended guideline, and I personally choose a little less than that because I’m not sure that daily is a good idea as the last thing I want is to become dependent on it. I have a small (meaning 3-4 ounces rather than the standard 5 ounces) glass of red wine about five days per week. I’ve figured out that amount is just enough to keep me from having sugar cravings. And if I reach a point where I start to feel myself craving wine, I take a break from it for a few days, just to keep myself from developing a dependency. I want my good judgment to have control over my body, rather than letting my body control me.

Caffeine is another common addiction, whether it’s coffee, tea, energy drinks, soda or any other source, and it was definitely a bad habit of mine. I used to drink a pot of coffee per day. I drank it black, so I thought “at least it’s not full of cream and sugar”. But what it was, is full of caffeine, and too much of a good thing is usually a bad thing. I was having trouble sleeping and focusing, so I decided to nix the coffee habit to see if it helped. I cut myself back to two cups per day, usually in the morning but never after mid-afternoon. The result? Better sleep and better focus.

This is just something else to be mindful of — black coffee and tea are fine; even good for you if you don’t overdo it. So be careful not to overdo it. If you’re doing energy drinks and/or soda — the choice is ultimately yours but I beg of you to please stop. The sugars are terrible for your health and your waistline, and the artificial sweeteners that are in the diet variety are terrible for your brain and joints. Not to mention the chemicals in energy drinks are cancer-causers.

The best way to quit any bad habit is simply cold turkey. It won’t be easy, but it’s the quickest way to get the garbage processed out of your body and allow yourself to start to heal. Be patient and don’t give up on yourself — you can do it!

Step 8 – Planning

This one is less about the specifics of a diet, and more about maintaining it. Plan ahead. Write or type out the details of your diet:

  • how many times per week will you eat meat?
  • how many times per week will you eat dairy?
  • how often will you eat sweets/allow yourself a treat?
  • how often will you allow yourself your top 3 from step 1?
  • how many times per day will you eat vegetables?
    • what kinds of vegetables do you like eating or cooking?
  • how many times per day will you eat fruit?
  • how many times per day will you eat grains?
    • what kinds do you most like eating and cooking?

Once you have these details laid out, you can start planning your meals and snacks for each week. Eventually you may not need to do this as you become experienced with your diet, but in the beginning I strongly suggest doing a meal plan. Figure out what you want for breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, and maybe even dessert (a good place to work in some fruit or grains, or the occasional treat). This way you can look at the whole week and make sure that you are getting the number of servings of everything you have mapped out for yourself, then make your shopping list and get started.

If you don’t know where to start with meals or recipes, I would start basic. Pick a protein, grain, and vegetable you know you like and make that your dinner, for example. Then you can use that as a guide to look up recipes. Pinterest has a wealth of food ideas for you to browse. If you’re looking for something that uses beans for a protein source, you can just type in “bean recipes” and lots will come up. Another place I’ve found that is awesome for ideas is Instagram. I love both the #plantbased and the #mediterraneandiet hashtags. Sometimes you will find recipes in the description, but sometimes you’ll only find a picture with a description of what the dish is, but at least you can see what ingredients go into it and you can get ideas for what to put together.

Sitting down and planning out your week, making a shopping list, and getting your groceries all bought will give you a big leg up on your new way of life. Being prepared will take the stress and frustration out of learning new things. And I promise, after a few weeks it will start to become familiar, and after a few months it will start to be automatic. Which brings me to the final step…

Step 9 – Patience and Practice

Have patience, and practice practice practice! Remember learning to ride a bike? How many times did you topple over, hurt yourself, and get mad? But you stuck with it and you learned how to do it. Once your body learned the motor coordination needed, it became second nature and you had a new skill for life. Learning this new way of eating is the same. It’s unfamiliar, and your body isn’t used to it. It will take time and practice to discover new foods and new recipes, to fine-tune your shopping and cooking skills (a topic coming up soon on the blog), and for your body to adjust.

That’s something else I want to give you a head’s up on before you begin. Some of you may eat relatively healthy now, and some of you may be making a total lifestyle change. Depending on the diet you’ve been consuming, and especially if you have an addiction or bad habit to break, switching to this new way of eating might have some surprising unexpected effects on you. If you’ve been especially accustomed to sweets, meats, alcohol, and fried and processed foods, you will likely experience a detox as your body gets the break it needs to rid itself of the toxins those foods have put in it.

Here are some things you may experience:

  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Restlessness and/or fatigue
  • Breakouts, or maybe even rashes or other skin reactions
  • Headaches or body aches
  • Nausea

These things are the most common, particularly in people who have been eating especially unhealthily, so if you experience them it is important to understand that it is normal. Symptoms of detox may last from a few days to a couple of weeks. Maybe even a few weeks in special cases. I’m telling you this not to scare you, but to prepare you so that you don’t quit, thinking that your new diet is doing your body harm. It is actually quite the opposite…your new diet is allowing your body to heal itself, so be patient during this time.

Once your body detoxes and adjusts to your new healthy life, your skin will be clearer, your energy level will be higher, and your mood will be better. You’ll also likely start to notice aches and pains you may have had will start to fade, and you will experience less brain fog. There will come a day (for me it was probably six months to a year in), where you’ll realize that all of the stuff you used to eat doesn’t even sound good anymore.

When I was growing up, I loved Coca-Cola, sweets, and most anything fried — mozzarella cheese sticks especially. Now the thought of all of those almost makes me nauseous. It takes time, but you will find that as you start to unlearn your old ways and adopt your new healthy habits, your mindset on food and health will change completely.

I grew up with no concept of health whatsoever and was pretty much allowed to eat whatever junk I wanted. It wasn’t until a major health problem came up in my family (my grandmother was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia) that it all came to a crashing halt for me and I started to learn and care about diet and health. My wish for you is that you don’t wait until there is a health crisis to get serious about your health. You have the power to start any time, including right now in this very moment. If you slip-up, that’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up. Just chalk it up to a lesson, dust yourself off, and pick right back up where you left off.

There is no such thing as perfection, and if you demand that of yourself you’re sure to fail. What you can do is learn, come up with a plan, practice, and give it the best you have to give. Do what works for you, and live your best life as your best self. You can do this, I know you can!