Can you tell our readers a bit about what led you to write the book?
A: Oh, it’s such an honour to share a bit of my journey with your readers! You know, I didn’t always feel as good as I do today. I didn’t always understand food, nutrition, and how to find my best health. I was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition when I was 20 years old. At the time I was eating a low-fat diet consisting of tons of packaged and processed food – high in sugar and lacking nutrients. I was literally starving myself of the exact nutrients that my body needed to cope with the constant pain and inflammation I was experiencing. Thankfully, I had an “aha” moment, realizing that if I felt this way at 20, how bad would it be by the time I reached 40? Well, I’m past that age now and I feel great! That’s due in no small measure to my becoming a registered dietitian, RD, in 1999 and embracing the idea of really feeding my body with good food for optimal health and healing. Fast forward two decades, and I’m still here, evolving my food journey day by day!
Tell us about your evolution! When and where did it start?
A: It started with learning to cook. Just because I knew about the benefits of good food didn’t mean that I knew how to prepare it in nourishing ways. So, by the time I became a mom, I had begun teaching myself to make food that not only tastes great, but is nutritious and can be prepared quickly. And there, in my kitchen in 2008, was “aha moment #2” for me. It was the beginning of what I call “the dance.” Suddenly, all the family and food values that my mother instilled in me really meant something. I mean, growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan, we had a garden, my grandmother shared her love of baking, and my mom gave us every single night what she herself had enjoyed while growing up – healthy, home-cooked family meals. No Pop Tarts and Pizza Pops for us! I remember feeling a bit deprived! But as soon as I had my own family, I looked back on all of that rather differently. Marrying into an Italian family contributed, too. For Italians, food is everything! It’s a culture that truly embraces wholesome, fresh, and real food.
Now tell us more about “the dance” – and what you mean when you say your kitchen is for dancing.
A: The dance is the good life, which comes from the kitchen, the heart of the home. A family’s most memorable moments usually occur in the kitchen – we remember the smells, sounds, laughter, meltdowns, celebrations, as well as the sorrows and the prayers – all the big and small moments that shape our lives. So, this book is really a celebration of the “dance” that happens while preparing food for yourself and the people you love. Like my readers, I’ve navigated through just about every food challenge possible, from picky eaters, with their strong likes and dislikes, to food sensitivities, to the perpetually hungry teens with their on-the-go eating. There have been birthday parties, play dates, and so many school lunches. I am the chief cook in our family, and the majority of days I need to have dinner made and the kids fed long before my husband gets home from work. Some days we eat in shifts because of after-school sports schedules. Some days I’m stressed and impatient, but mostly I just feel proud and brave – proud that I take such a passionate interest in feeding my family under not-always-easy circumstances and brave for committing to this while also working full-time. I feel grateful, too, to have been able to dance my way through over 10 years of feeding my family.
I’m sure our readers would love some details on how you’ve managed to not only incorporate healthy meals in a busy family, but enjoy it!
A: It’s been one of the most complicated “dances” in my life. When I look back at my twenties, when I thought I was busy (I was), I just wasn’t caring for four other people! I can’t help, but pat myself on the back. It’s been a crazy life, but also a beautiful life. And the key has been adaptation. As Darwin said, “It’s not the strongest or the smartest who survive; it’s those who can adapt.” I can’t imagine an adaptation of greater magnitude than becoming a mother and caring for a family.
For many families, adapting can mean relying on fast food or convenience meals. But you took a different path?
A: Oh yes. I understand how people come to rely on food that comes from a drive-through, or in a box, bag, or can. Our packed schedules combine with the pressure to somehow do it all – it’s hard, and I completely get it. But we have to remember what’s important, which is that food is for nourishment. What we put in our body on a daily basis influences our health and our overall zest for life. Going back to the basics of food and nutrition will not only restore our health, but it will also provide a sense of coziness and calm. Eating good food at home allows us to sit back and reflect on our priorities at the end of the day.
But, where to start? How do we go about making our own kitchens places for dancing?
A: In this age of social media, I saw my knowledge grow as I started to follow food, nutrition, mommy and lifestyle bloggers, so many of whom are creating and photographing these incredibly beautiful and nutritious meals. It made something stir in my soul. I thought, “If they can do it, so can I.” Then I just began trying things. I started by recreating dishes and recipes I had seen before. I also had dreams of different flavours and ingredients that I could use to make similar or completely new dishes. The food I prepare now is wholesome, real, flavourful, yet simple. We still enjoy sweet treats, muffins, and cakes, they are just made with nutritious flours like spelt or oat. We use fat in everything, but focus on extra virgin olive oil, avocado and coconut oils, rather than processed and refined oils. That’s something I want to point out: Variety really is the spice of life. I learned at a young age how unhealthy it can be to eat by a specific set of rules. When I was a low-fat foodie, I was avoiding fat but eating tons of sugar and little protein, which left me feeling exhausted, anxious, and in pain. As I started to nourish my body with a fuller range of foods, including healthy fats, I could actually feel my vitality return. As I said earlier, marrying into an Italian family helped me continue on my path to healthier eating. I learned the ways of the Mediterranean diet, with its fresh, simple foods, made from scratch, full of flavour from healthy fats and good-quality cheese, and usually served with red wine. This nutritious and soul-filling bounty is always accompanied by music, laughter, and conversation, and it takes place at a table, never on the run.
It sounds like you’re a big believer of family dinners.
A: Absolutely! Sunday dinner is my personal favourite, because it’s the only day of the week we can gather around the table without interruption. Aside from church, we avoid outside commitments, including kid sports and social invitations, anything that might conflict with our time together. I use Sunday dinner as an opportunity to cook something special, set a beautiful table, and even make a dessert. For these meals, I get the kids involved in the kitchen, too. It doesn’t have to be a Sunday dinner; maybe it’s Friday or Monday. The point is to reserve a special time just for family, gathered around a special meal. While nutrition is important, so is the social and emotional impact of being together, working together, enjoying together. These contribute to our health and happiness, too!
Can you offer some tips for feeding a busy family on a budget?
A: Sure! Write down your meal plans each weekend for the week ahead. Then shop based on the list, watching for sale items to stock up on and buying in bulk when appropriate. Aim to make extra grocery trips during the week only for things like fresh produce. Waste costs money, so while buying perishables as you need them can feel like a bother, it saves money. Double your recipes and freeze half for those times when planning fails. A vacuum sealer can be a good investment for those who make good use of a freezer. Make breakfast the night before, perhaps with an overnight oats recipe that will provide breakfast for several days. Save preparation time by putting something in the crockpot in the morning or using an instant pot in the evening to shorten cooking time. And get your kids involved in all the things that take you away from cooking – emptying and loading the dishwasher, setting and clearing the table, and when they’re old enough, washing and even chopping vegetables.
What trends and nutritional news are catching your attention these days, as a nutritionist?
A: Well, the growing popularity of homegrown gardens and fermented foods is exciting to see. These coincide with our understanding of the role the gut plays in health and the peace that comes from growing, preserving, and preparing our own foods. It’s good, too, that people are paying more attention to portion sizes. We have completely lost perspective on what a proper portion size is, so we overeat. We all need to get in the habit of leaving the table a little hungry, because it benefits our guts, minds, and bodies – not to mention budgets! Overall, I really like food author Michael Pollan’s advice: “Eat food, mostly plants, but not a lot.” In a few words, that says just about everything, doesn’t it? All I would add is this: Love yourself, honour your body, and give thanks for this beautiful dance!
|Assortment of nutritious flours – oat, coconut, almond, spelt.||Salts, spices and flavourings – sea salt, pink Himalayan salt, pepper, nutritional yeast, oregano, thyme, rosemary, garlic powder, mustard, red pepper flakes, tamari.|
|Sugar alternatives – coconut, maple syrup, raw honey, apple sauce.||Nuts and seeds – cashews, almonds, sesame seeds, hemp, chia, flaxseed meal, pumpkin, sunflower.|
|Super grains – quinoa, buckwheat, rolled oats, couscous||Meat, eggs, dairy and nondairy alternatives – free range and/or organic chicken, lamb, beef, eggs. Wild fatty fish including salmon, cod, halibut. Stock and broths including chicken, vegetable, and beef. Non-dairy milks including almond, full-fat canned coconut milk, coconut yogurt, full-fat Greek yogurt, ricotta.|
|Nutrient boosters – cacao powder, matcha powder, turmeric powder, plant protein.||Fruits and vegetables – berries, tomatoes, oranges, lemons, limes, apples, grapefruit, bananas, avocadoes, spinach, kale, leeks, celery, fennel, carrots, sweet potato, garlic, ginger, beets, romaine lettuce, arugula, mushrooms.|
|Healthy fats and oils – coconut, ghee, avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil, grapeseed, walnut, pumpkin oils.||Kitchen utensils/gadgets – high-speed blender, food processor, cutting boards, sharp knives, lemon zester, lemon press, garlic press, heavy-duty baking sheets, large Dutch oven, pots and pans, mini and full-size muffin tins, ice cream scooper, waffle iron, casserole dish, glass storage containers.|