A few of my favorite (free) things

I’m ramping up to do a blog series on alternative healing modalities like massage, acupuncture, and CranioSacral therapy and how those therapies can contribute to our healing. But before I started all that, I wanted to acknowledge the costly elephant in the room of autoimmune disease: being chronically ill can be pricey. From missed time at work to out-of-pocket medical expenses, the price tag for the autoimmune disease can get expensive, depending on your type of insurance and access to medical care. When you add alternative methods of healing to the traditional medical model, the money adds up fast.

While I deeply believe that every dollar I’ve ever spent on my healing was well worth it, I also want to control that cost as much as possible. Over the years I’ve discovered how I could give myself the best care while saving some money along the way. I’ve written several posts on how to reduce your spending while striving to clean up your eating and environment, but today I want to share those things that are free. We are lucky to live in a time when a wifi connection and a device of some kind can open up a world of quality teachers to assist you in your healing.

Yoga

Yoga is one of the best things out there to reduce pain, detoxify, and help heal our broken relationship with our bodies. And for my money…um…time, Yoga with Adriene is the best way to get all those benefits without having to go to a studio. She offers a variety of videos for free from yoga for weight loss to yoga when you are angry and several yoga challenges.  But the best thing is that you get an authentic teacher who is clearly passionate about bringing the healing power of yoga to everyone while having fun. I don’t know about you, but fun isn’t something I think of when I think yoga. But Adriene Mishler makes it happen.  So even if you think you hate yoga, give Yoga with Adriene a try. I promise you will find something useful.

Meditation

There have been hundreds of studies that have found that meditation does many positive things for us, from increasing our compassion to improving our health. For those of us with autoimmune disease, meditation can help to reduce our stress, inflammation, and decrease our fears. For beginners to meditation, the Headspace app is a great tool. Each guided meditation is 10 minutes long. The app is technically not free, but it offers 10 days of free meditation and you can take those 10 free days over and over again. The Calm app is also another great guided meditation tool with some free features. Like Headspace, it is a paid service with free guided meditations, but what they offer for free is quality guided meditations full of useful information.

Workouts

Working out is extremely important for those of us with autoimmune disease because it helps to reduce inflammation and to increase our levels of happiness. And who doesn’t want to be happy?  Gyms are often a good place to go to get your workout on, but they can be expensive. And if you take classes, you have to work around their schedule.  This is why I really like Fitness Blender. This free, online resource has a plethora of fitness videos in a variety of styles and times. The search feature should be the poster child for all searches. Only have a 20 minutes to do a full body workout for beginners? No problem. Just input your requirements and find a workout that’s right for you.

 

Chronic illness can be so expensive, but supporting your body doesn’t have to be. I would love to know what you think of these resources. Have you tried any? Have they helped? Let me know in the comments below!

 

New greens for a new you!

cauliflower-with-greens

or at least a new green to try.:)

Just the other day, I was experimenting in the kitchen trying to find the best way to make cauliflower tortillas without eggs or dairy. My experiment was a bust…ish because while I was busy failing with my tortillas I also “discovered” roasted cauliflower greens. Which means I chopped off all the greens to get to the cauliflower and realized that feeding it to my compost was going to be wasteful but storing it for a vegetable broth was going to take up wayyyy too much space.

So I did what I so often do with my vegetables; I covered them in coconut oil, sprinkled them with sea salt, and roasted them at 350 degrees. The result was AMAZING! I’m not going to lie, several of the lovely leaves did not make it to the table that night. But that’s just part of a test kitchen, right?

Roasted cauliflower greens

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  1. Cauliflower greens
  2. 2TBS coconut oil or olive oil
  3. Sea salt to taste

Method

  • Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Cut leaves from the base and rinse.
  • Message greens with the olive oil and salt in either a large bowl ocauliflower-greensr in a big freezer bag.
  • Lay each piece without overlapping too much on a pan that’s good for roasting. I like my TeamFar Stainless Steel Baking Sheet. Pictured here and available at the link above.
  • Roast for 20 to 40 minutes depending on how your oven works and how crunchy you want the leaves. I opted for 30 minutes and loved the little bit of crunch in the leaves and the flavorful stems.
  • Enjoy!

 

Here is what the greens looked like on my plate next to my quilupa. It was delicious!

quilupa-and-cauliflower-greens

 

Here is my recipe for cauliflower rice that has successfully graduated from the test kitchen. Coming soon, a dairy-free, egg-free cauliflower tortilla (darn it!).

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

 

Ghee, the miracle fat

ghee

Ghee (clarified butter) is a cooking oil that has been around forever. Okay, not forever, but a really long time. It is mentioned in the Ayurveda text as the best oil to use because it helps us digest our food and build healthier bodies. While these texts were written thousands of years ago, our modern science acknowledges that they had it right.

From an article entitled The effect of ghee (clarified butter) on serum lipid levels and microsomal lipid peroxidation researchers found that the consumption of ghee decreases “total cholesterol, LDL, VLDL, and triglycerides; decreased liver total cholesterol, triglycerides, and cholesterol esters; and a lower level of nonenzymatic-induced lipid peroxidation in liver homogenate.” So it’s good for your liver and your heart!

Dr. Susan Blum recommends ghee to those with autoimmune problems because it  “reduces inflammation and helps balance the immune cells in your gut.” To top it all off, even though it is a dairy product, people like me that have a sensitivity to dairy can use it because the dairy proteins are removed. Oh, and it tastes really magical, kind of like Christmas.

I use ghee when making eggs or cooking anything that requires fat.  I put a dollop in my coffee, and I have been known to soak dates in ghee to have a nice decadent yet health-supportive treat.

You can find this miracle oil at your fancier grocery stores (like Natural Grocers and Whole Foods), online , or at your local Indian stores. However, if you want to save money like I do, you can make it.

Ghee

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients and tools

  1. Stove top
  2. One-half to one pound grass-fed butter
  3. A heavy duty sauce pan
  4. A fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth
  5. Pint- or quart-sized canning jar

Technic

  • Place butter in the saucepan.
  • Turn the burner on low. ghee-foam
  • Once the butter is liquid, turn the temperature to medium.
  • Once a foam appears set your timer for 5 to 7 minutes.
  • A second foam will form, and you will hear a lot of crackling. (This part feels a lot like making popcorn. Listen and as the crackling starts to slow down, you know it’s ready.)
  • Once ready, pour the ghee through a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth into a pint- or quart-sized jar. Brown milk solids will be left in the strainer and at the bottom of your pan.
  • Be careful, it will be hot!

You can leave ghee on the counter for up to a month, which is a great way to remind yourself to use it for cooking.

Enjoy!

Detox 5: Cleaning up the kitchen

teflon

I’m still walking that tightrope between informing you and scaring the bejeezus out of you, so I thought it would be fun to look inside your kitchen and see what we can find to eliminate in our quest to reduce your toxic load. And no, I’m not talking about the processed food, the sugar, or the BPA filled plastic. (Although we should get those things out of our lives.) Today, I’m focusing on the pots and pans you use to cook your food.

Non-stick pans and pots are coated with polytetrafluoroethylene (i.e Teflon) which is a part of a family of chemicals called poly-fluorochemicals (PFCs), and they are highly toxic. And we have known that they are highly toxic for a very long time. As far back as the 1950s, DuPont (maker of Teflon) has been warning us to literally keep our canaries out of the kitchen when cooking with their product to avoid the bird’s untimely death. Talk about your canary in a coal mine. But of course, very few of you are canaries, so here you go. From the Environmental Working Group:

“PFCs have been found in nearly all Americans tested by federal public health officials. Chemicals from this family are associated with smaller birth weight and size in newborn babies, elevated cholesterol, abnormal thyroid hormone levels, liver inflammation and weakened immune defense against disease.”*

Cooking with non-stick pans not only expose you and your loved ones to toxins but it also damages one of your most vital detox pathways, the liver. That ain’t good!

You may say, thanks for scaring the poop out of me but I can’t afford to replace all of my kitchenware and now I’m terrified. Never fear, I have some tips for ya.

  1. Replace as you can. You don’t have to throw out all your pans and pots today but you can make a plan to replace things as you can. Start with your most used pan or pot and work your way through the rest when your budget allows by replacing them with one of the following:
    • Cast iron pans. Cast iron is your go-to solution when seeking to replace your non-stick pans. These pans last forever so you can often find them at estate sales, thrift stores, in a box of your great grandmother’s effects, etc., etc. I’ve had really great luck with these pre-seasoned Lodge skillets.  I plan to divide my cast iron set between my kiddos when I leave this earth.  There are many resources on how to resurrect or keep cast iron as smooth and “non-stick” as possible. I like this one.
    • Stainless steel pots. Stainless steel is what you want to replace your non-stick pots. I’ve never had a problem cooking anything in a stainless steel pot,  just make sure to add enough good fat (coconut oil and ghee are my go-to) to get the job done. Fun fact, if you aren’t sure if that metal pot you have is stainless steel or something else, see if a magnet sticks. If it sticks, it’s a witch…um…stainless steel.
  2. Practice good care. While you are waiting to replace your non-stick pots and pans be wise about how you use them. Don’t use metal spatulas on them, don’t use abrasive scrubbers, and don’t let them get too hot.** Basically, try to reduce your exposure to this toxic substance by keeping the non-stick component of the pans and pots as intact as possible.

I hope this has given you another way to reduce your toxic load. Stay tuned for more in this series!

 

*If you would like information on how else to avoid PFCs check out this handy dandy guide by the EWG.

**The higher the temperature, the more toxic the pan.

Detox 4: The lovely liver

 

liver

For this fourth part of the detox series, we are going to look back into the body to talk about the miracle that is the liver. First, let’s learn a little about this amazing organ. The liver breaks down nutrients, stores vitamins and minerals, produces red blood and Kupffer cells, and flushes out all the toxins we take in or create.

So how does it do its magic?  Toxins are mostly fat soluble which makes it really difficult for the body to excrete. So first, the liver must break down the toxins using a two-phase process to convert the toxins to a water soluble state so the toxins can be sent out through our bile or our kidneys. Goodbye, toxins! However, if we aren’t very nice to our liver, then it can’t do its job well and the toxins start to back up and accumulate in our bodies, harming our health. For example, when our bodies are done with the estrogen it has used, it sends it to the liver. In a healthy liver, the estrogen is converted and sent out of the body. In a gunked up liver, estrogen goes through the first stage of conversion but it can’t go to the next stage so the liver dumps the estrogen back into the blood supply to be recycled. This is not the kind of recycling we want because when this slightly changed estrogen goes back into our bodies we are more susceptible to reproductive cancers.  Cleaning up your liver is vital.

But how, you ask, does the liver get all gunked up? In her book The Immune System Recovery Plan, Dr. Susan Blum explains that the chronic exposure to toxins causes our liver to become clogged up and unable to send toxins out of the body. And as we’ve learned, that applies to most of us. The air we breathe, the foods we eat, the products we use, and even the amount of stress we feel creates this heavy load of toxins our liver is supposed to deal with.

Tips for supporting and ungunking your liver: 

    1. Eat lots of vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Of course, I would say this. But really, if you want to give the liver what it needs to do its job, you are going to need to give it the nutrients it needs. Stick to non-starchy vegetables, included lots of green leafy plants, and make sure they are organic. Remember, eating a bunch of pesticide-laden vegetables is just going to give the liver another job to do.
    2. DO eat protein. According to Dr. Blum, the liver needs amino acids to complete phase two of the conversion process. This means that those juice fast aren’t great for your liver because the toxins are just getting stuck between phase one and phase two and that’s actually a really dangerous place for toxins to be. This is not to say don’t juice, just make sure you are giving your body all the nutrients it needs and keep it organic!
    3. Reduce the sugar. Sugar (fructose) gets stored in our liver as fat. This is bad for our liver and our waistline.  Reduce the amount of sugar you consume, which often means taking a good look at where you are getting your sugar from. Hint! It’s not often where you expect. Check out your jars, cans, and boxes. Even your organic, whole grain cereal bars are packing a heavy punch of sugar. Health Coach tip: Divide the amount of grams of sugar by 4 and you get a rough estimate of how many teaspoons of sugar are in each serving.
    4. Reduce or eliminate your use of Tylenol/Acetaminophen. According to Drug Watch “It (Tylenol) is the leading cause of acute liver failure in the United States.” That is big and crazy and really, really needs to be screamed from the mountain tops. When Tylenol loads up in the liver, it gunks up the processes and the liver sends it out to the body as a toxin. For frequent users, this is a big, dangerous deal. There are several ways to reduce pain that doesn’t require popping pills, like bodywork, yoga, meditation, and essential oils. For those of you in the Austin Area, we are very lucky to have Jesse James Retherford at the Art of Fitness to help with pain.

I hope this helps you understand a little more about our amazing detoxification processes and how you can do your part to ensure they keep you healthy and happy. Next week, detoxing your kitchen!

Detox 3: Reduce the toxic load in your home

toxins 3

You are breathing in toxins as you read this. . . and so am I.

As I was preparing to write this post, I couldn’t help but think about the SNL sketch from several years ago in which a news team does a series of terrifying teasers for that night’s broadcast: “Common household item — something we all have in our homes and are probably using right now — is found to be full of lethal poison. We’ll tell you what it is at the end of the hour.”

While I have no intention of scaring you or making you paranoid, I do not think I could have a series on detoxing without addressing the places that we do most of our living; namely indoors. Between work, home, the car, and the store, the majority of our lives will be spent inside, which is where we are constantly exposed to toxins.

Any indoor dwelling is basically a big human sized box holding all manner of materials made with chemicals that can harm us. And because we are very concerned about outdoor air pollution (or maybe just our heating and cooling bills) our homes are sealed to make them more energy efficient. This means that all the toxins in the house are just hanging around making us sick. Toxins like…

Microbiological toxins. These are things like mold, animal dander, mildew, and mite poop. These suckers can live in those hard to reach places in your bathroom or under your kitchen sink or (most unsettlingly) in your pillows and comforters. As we breathing all that mite poop in, our respiratory system becomes inflamed, and that can exasperate conditions such asthma.

Gases. Volatile organic compounds or VOC are found in just about everything. Office equipment, furniture, even craft supplies. You know that “new car smell?” Well, that is just your new car releasing a bunch of VOC by off-gassing. Congratulations! VOC can cause immediate allergic reactions and might have long term ramifications like damage to our liver, kidney, and central nervous system damage, and may cause cancer.

The list of toxins in our home can go on and on, such as toxins we put on our body or those that live in our cookware, and I will address some of those things in a later post. For now, I want to give you some practical and inexpensive ways to reduce the toxic load in your home by cleaning up the air we breathe.

Simple Steps to Detox Your Environment

  1. Clean cleanly. The best way to keep microbes at bay is to keep your fabrics clean, especially your pillows and comforters. And when you do clean, make sure to forgo strong smelling detergents (no matter how lovely mountain breeze might sound) and opt for some “you-friendly” cleaners like lemon juice to get out stains or hydrogen peroxide as a bleach alternative. Check here for some ways to clean cheaply and safely, and check in with the Environmental Working Groups to find out what cleaning supplies are healthiest for you and your family. The EWG has tested over 2,500 products so that you can have the power to make healthy choices.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3230460/
From “Planting Healthier Indoor Air”
  1. Clean your air. The air we breathe indoors is often more polluted than the air outside. For example, all those pieces of equipment and furniture shed their chemicals and become dust; and dust, as you know, can enter our body easily through our airways. So make sure dusting is a regular part of your cleaning routine and then run a vacuum with a HEPA filter. But probably the cheapest, most passive, and coolest things you can do to improve the air quality of your home is to buy yourself some plants. A NASA scientist did experiments with houseplants to see if they couldn’t help clean up the toxins that would be released by all the equipment jammed in tight confined spaces, like a space station or our homes. He found that plants were really great at absorbing all those nasty things.  So go get some clipping of some house plants from a friend or run to your nearest nursery to start reducing the overall toxicity of your home.*

 

I hope you feel empowered to reduce the toxic load in your own space by making your air cleaner. Check out the other post in this series.

 

*”For maximum benefit, multiple species of houseplants would likely be needed on a site to remove the relevant toxicants in a particular space, given that houseplants vary in the types of chemicals they are able to remove from the environment and the efficiency …” from “Planting Healthier Indoor Air” by Luz Claudio

Detox 2: Love your lymphatic system

 

lymphatic

Our lymphatic system is amazing. I think of it as the vacuum of our body, just sucking up all the toxins so our bodies can keep on keeping on.  This system runs throughout our bodies and keeps things flowing by bathing our cells in nutrients, recovering fluid (waste created by our circulatory system), cleaning it up, and returning at a rate of about 3 liters of fluid per day. It also helps our digestive system by taking toxins and pathogens that weren’t Lymphatic_system_(vector).svgdestroyed by the process of digestion out of our gut and either flushing them out or organizing an immune defense against them.

The lymphatic system works with our skin, lungs, colon, liver, and kidneys to remove the toxins coming into our bodies and created by our bodies. This amazing system touches every cell, every organ, every tissue and is vital to life.  If the lymphatic system were to stop, we would become very toxic quickly and die. Unfortunately, the only time this system gets much love is when your doctor goes poking around your neck looking for a poor little lymph node that became inflamed fighting off an infection.

In order to help the lymphatic system do its job, we need to give it a little love. Here are some ways that you can start nourishing your lymphatic system today.

1. Move. Possibly the coolest thing about the lymphatic system is that there is no pump moving the lymph throughout our system so our movement is the pump.   So move, especially when you have been sitting for a long period of time. Even if it’s just a brisk walk or some chair stretching. Better yet, get a sweat going so you can really help your body get those toxins out.  You move = your lymph moves. You sweat = toxins move out of the body.

2. Dry Skin Brushing. Seventy percent of your lymphatic system is located right under your skin.  Before you take your shower or do yoga, get down to your birthday suit and  grab a dry brush like this one. Now brush all over your body, but remember to be considerate of those sensitive areas like nipples. I found this video by a lymphatic drainage therapist and fellow Lupus conquer to be very informative, and it completely changed the way I do my own skin brushing. Bonus: Skin brushing is a great way to improve how your skin looks.

3. Reduce your stress. According to Dr. John Douillard, stress hormones create a very acidic environment which gunks up our lymphatic system’s ability to do its job. I know that this recommendation sounds overwhelming; it did for me for several years. But stress management is paramount to health, and it can be done through little tweaks to our lives. Check out my stress management series here for some practical tips. There’s an added bonus to using deep breathing exercises to de-stress because the lungs are one of those pathways the lymphatic system relies on to get toxins out.

I hope these tips help you to start thinking about how you can support your body’s natural detox processes and provide you with concrete ways to actually do it. Of course, the lymphatic system can’t flush those toxins if the rest of the detox pathways are clogged, so stay tuned to learn more about ways to support those processes as well. For more in this series

 

Health on the cheap: Buying in bulk.

bulk

Part of the cost of moving to a more nutrient-dense diet is the increased cost of dried goods. Brown rice cost more than white pasta, quinoa cost more than rice, and nuts are just plain expensive. Even adding in new herbs and spices can set you back a pretty penny. However, this does not have to be the case. More and more grocery stores are incorporating bulk sections. Here in Austin, you can find a bulk section at the local co-op or even in the main chain grocery store. Which is probably not surprising given Austin’s crunchy reputation. But just recently on a trip home to my very not-crunchy hometown of Odessa, Texas, I found a pretty well-stocked bulk section. This leads me to believe that bulk sections are becoming more mainstream. And it’s a good thing too.

Buying in bulk allows you to buy just the amount you want. I love this for a few reasons. First, I’m not always sure how I will like something. If I can buy a cup of a new grain or a few teaspoons of a new spice, then it gives me the freedom to stretch my recipe arsenal without spending a bunch of money on items that are just going to take up room in my pantry. Secondly, I love fresh spices. Spices get old. Did you know that? Well, they do. And when they get old, they lose their flavor. Buying spices in bulk allows me to always have cheap, fresh spices on hand, often for only a few cents each shopping trip. Third, I love bulk because it does away with that .035768 serving that is always left in the bag. You know what I’m talking about?  The manufacturers’ inability to fill their bags with a round number of whole serving sizes, so you get just a bit leftover. It annoys me! Finally, buying in bulk allows me to buy the highest quality of items. Organic, sprouted rice is pretty expensive if you are buying it off the shelf, but buying the two cups I need for that week in the bulk section is very doable.

I’ve been buying in bulk for years now, starting in grad school. I was a poor, poor student in need of some nuts and grains, but didn’t have the cash or the need to buy off the shelf.  Since that time I’ve picked up some helpful pointers.

Don’t be intimidated: It took me a long time to feel comfortable buying in bulk. It’s a self-service process without a lot of clear direction.  Here is what you need to know. There will be a bag of some kind, a scoop, and a way to seal and identify. Find the bag, use the scoop provided (usually attached the bin of your choice) to fill the bag with the serving size you want, and then tie it off and write down the code provided on the bin. Occasionally, you will have electric scales that print out a weight along with the price. I like these, but more often than not you will find a sticker to write down the product information or the tie is meant to be the identifier so you write the number and name on that.

Do try that weird grain: Take some time to really explore the bulk section. You are going to find flours, nuts, beans, grains, and maybe even dried fruit that you haven’t used before. Getting a cup or a half a cup of most things isn’t going to set you back much so buy it and experiment. For instance, a box of quinoa is going to run you around $6 and give you something 7.035768 servings. What if you make one serving and you hate it? Buying in bulk allows you to buy just the amount you want to try without committing more money and space than you would like.  If you like it, you have a new ingredient to work with, if not you are out very little money and have gained some real insight about yourself.

Go nuts in the spice and herb section. The best deal in the grocery store is the bulk spices and herbs. They literally weigh nothing, so while some fancy chili powder might say $12 a pound you are never going to pay anything near that. The last time I bought star anise I paid $.57 for an amount that will last for several pots of Pho. While a bottle of spices off the shelve might run you anywhere from $3 to $5, buying what you need from the bulk section is almost always going to be well under a dollar. So now is the time to pull out those recipes you have been putting off because they called for 5 or more spices.

Bulk really has been a great way for me to provide nutrient-dense food to my family for very little money. I hope this has inspired you to got out there and explore the bulk section of your store for yourself! For more tips on living healthy on the cheap, check out Health on the Cheap: Have a plan! ,  Health on the Cheap: Eat all the produce! , Health on the Cheap: Use every bit!, and Health on the Cheap: Clean cheap and healthy.

PS Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about living healthy on a budget, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Health on the Cheap: Clean cheap and healthy

cleaners

When we think about being healthy, we spend a lot of time focusing on what we put in our bodies. We think about what we eat or don’t eat, what we drink or don’t drink. But we don’t often think about the things that get into our bodies through the air we breathe and the things we touch.

Sometime around puberty, I started having a horrible reaction to the cleaning product aisle in the grocery store. Luckily, I had a sweet and understanding mom that didn’t make me go down there. But as I got older and started having to buy my own cleaning products, I had to venture in. It was horrible. I tried to hold my breath, but it was difficult, and my lungs just felt like they were trying to jump out of my body in the hopes of getting some fresh air.

And honestly, it’s no wonder. From the Environmental Working Group (EWG):

Our research has turned up products loaded with extremely toxic compounds banned in some countries. Some of their ingredients are known to cause cancer, blindness, asthma and other serious conditions. Others are greenwashed, meaning that they are not, as their ad hype claims, environmentally benign. Still more hide the facts about their formulations behind vague terms like “fragrance.”

The EWG has found chemicals in household cleaners that damage red blood cells, bones, eyes, and lungs and are known carcinogens. Do we really want this stuff around us? Around our kids…pets…friends we like? I say no. Now, you could go replace the cleaners you have with ones that are safer. If that’s your jam, I recommend checking out the EWG amazing database to see which cleaners score the best grades. If, however, you are like me and need/want to save some money, then I have some tips for you. The only main ingredients you will need are spray bottles, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and white vinegar. I buy the biggest containers of vinegar and baking soda for under $5 every six weeks or so.

  • Mirrors and kitchen and bathroom surfaces — Mix equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle and spray down your surface or mirrors and wipe away. I tend to do an initial spray on all my surfaces, set up my podcast, and then start wiping away.
  •  Toilets and stains — If the vinegar spray isn’t strong enough to get the job done, then I add in some baking soda. A little baking soda with a bit of elbow grease gets most stains on your counter out (at least in my experiences), and adding baking soda to the bowl of your toilet is an excellent and safe replacement for toilet cleaner. The only drawback is that it doesn’t have the clever little spout to get the goods under the bowls rim. If one of you smart people figure this one out, shoot me a line. Until then, I just use my toilet brush to scrub the baking soda around and clean my toilet.
  • Ring around the tub or sink — For ring o’ kid around your tub and other surfaces that have a build-up of film, I fill a bowl with baking soda, add a squirt of dish soap, and just enough water to create a nice paste. I’ve found that covering my tub in the paste before I clean my other surfaces significantly cuts down the time I need to scrub the tub.
  • Clothes — Dryer sheets are horrible for you. Almost all (even the organic ones) get a D or F by the EWG because of the potential damage they do to our skin and respiratory system. So instead of putting a sheet of “spring flowers” in your dryer, use vinegar. My ingenious husband has recently discovered this formula.
    • 4 rags (we cut up old washcloths)
    • a 1/4 cup of vinegar
    • a jar with a fitted lid.
    • (Optional) a few drops of essential oils. Make sure that none of your people or pets are sensitive to EOs before you use them in this mix.

We throw a rag or two (depending on the size) into the dryer with our wet clothes. When the clothes are              dry we put the rag back in the jar, shake it up, possibly add some more vinegar if it’s getting low, and like            that, we are ready for the next load.

These are just a few ways I keep my budget in check and work to create a safer and healthier environment for all the living beings in my life.  I hope this inspires you to investigate what you are exposing yourself to on a daily basis and take action if those things don’t serve you. For more tips on living healthy on the cheap check out Health on the Cheap: Have a plan! ,  Health on the Cheap: Eat all the produce! , and Health on the Cheap: Use every bit!.

Health on the cheap: Use every bit!

throwing-money

We throw away a lot of food every year. Literally tons.  One third of all the food worldwide gets thrown in the trash. That’s crazy! Not only are visions of starving people flashing through my mind as I type this, but it’s like taking money, crumpling it up, and tossing it into the trash. In the US alone, we crumple up those dollars to the tune of $48.3 billion every year. Every year!

My goal with this particular series is to help you save money while getting the nutrients you need. There’s an easy way for you to save on your grocery money every month: Stop throwing away food!  Done!

Kidding!

I know it’s harder said than done. We throw away food mostly because we never got around to cooking it or we don’t eat the leftovers. I have been guilty of both of those things. But we can fix this problem if we are more intentional about what we do with food.   These ideas and tips will help you save money and keep delicious food out of the garbage.

  1. Plan for those leftovers. The first step really is to have a plan, as I discussed in the first post of this series.  I cannot stress how important it is to have a menu that reflects the time and energy you have to prepare food. Part of that plan should include what you are going to do with leftovers. I like to make more food than we will eat in one sitting so that I have food already prepared for lunch the next day. As we are cleaning up after dinner, my husband portions out the remaining food and puts it in to-go containers so that the next day we just grab and go. Done! No food waste.
  2. Don’t make more than you need. If you are someone who does not like to eat leftovers, then be conscientious about how much food your family will really eat. If you always have leftover food, reduce the amount you make or figure out a way to incorporate the excess into the next meal. If you always make too much quinoa, you can either reduce the amount or use it in another recipe. For example, you can make a quinoa porridge for breakfast by sautéing a chopped banana in some coconut oil and adding the leftover quinoa and a few splashes of coconut milk until you get the consistency you like.  It’s delicious with cinnamon and pecans, too!
  3. Rescue the produce! Even the best planning in the world can’t keep your produce safe. There may be times when things just come up and you weren’t able to roast that squash or use those herbs like you had planned. But before you let them compost in the crisper drawer, pull them out and toss them into a freezer bag. I freeze vegetables, herbs, and scraps to make vegetable broth. In addition, every time I juice, peel, chop off an end of a vegetable, herb, or fungus (mushrooms are the best), I put the leftover odds and ends in my freezer bag. Before you know it, you have a bag of rescued produce and scraps that will soon shine as broth. Check out my how-to here.

No one wants to throw away money, especially on nutrients that heal our body and give us the energy we need. I hope these tips inspire you to be more intentional about the food you buy and the food sitting in your fridge.  I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic, so let me know what your thinking in the comments.

For more in this series check out Health on the Cheap: Have a plan! and Health on the Cheap: Eat all the produce!

Health on the cheap: Eat all the produce!

chardWe all know that vegetables and fruits are so good for us and that we should be eating them every day, several times a day.  Vegetables and fruits are packed with nutrients and healing properties that our bodies need, but many of us shy away from loading up our shopping carts with a rainbow of colors because produce seems really expensive. And I get that. You can buy an entire box of pasta that will feed a whole family for the same cost as one avocado. But the nutrient density of that avocado out weights the pasta a million fold. (That’s hyperbole, so don’t go quoting me on that.)  When we think about spending money on food (i.e. our health), we should spend it in a way that gives us the biggest bang for our buck nutrient-wise, as opposed to filler-wise. Having said that, it can still be really expensive to buy all the vegetables and fruits we should be eating, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are some tips for saving money while satisfying our nutrient needs.

  1. Have a produce plan. Have a plan for all your produce so that none goes to waste. The most expensive vegetables are the ones we throw out. Check out last week’s post on meal planning for  some tips.
  2. Buy in season. One reason fresh produce is so expensive is that we buy them out of season. A tomato or strawberries are going to cost a whole lot more in January than it will in the summer, and they will be missing a lot of flavor. The ideal time to buy a vegetable or fruit for both your taste buds and your pocket is when they are in season. You can check out your state agricultural agency or your local CSA for information on what vegetables are in season near you.
    1. Know the organic rules. Organic fruits and vegetables tend to be more flavorful and more expensive. While organic foods are better for the environment and our health by reducing our exposure to pesticides, it might not always be feasible to buy all organic produce. For those of you concerned about your families exposure to pesticides, I will point you to the Environmental Working Group’s lists of produce that you can get away with buying conventionally and those you should pay a little extra for.                                                            If you have access to a farmers market, speak to the farmers to learn about their farming methods. I’ve found that though not all farms can pay to be certified as an organic farm, but many do practice organic farming. You may get a better price at these stands if they are trying to compete with larger farms with organic certification. Also, buying organic vegetables frozen (see tip #5) is a great way to save some moolah.
  3.  Buy in bulk and preserve. If you really like tomatoes, berries, basil, peppers, or whatever and need them all year round, then you can buy them in bulk when in season and preserve them. Some farms will have special deals on seasonal produce if you buy it canningin bulk. For several years my good friend and I have made it a point to buy several pounds of tomatoes in June and make salsa, pasta sauce, ketchup, and crushed tomatoes to use at a later date. You can tell from this picture (it was late!) that it’s a lot of hard work. But it’s well worth it when you can reach into your pantry in January and grab some crushed tomatoes for dinner.  If canning doesn’t float your boat, you can always freeze berries, peppers, and herbs for later use.   I have a friend that makes big batches of pasta sauce when tomatoes are cheap and freezes servings for later use. It may take a little work, but you really do reap the rewards (pun intended).   Check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation for instructions and information on food preservation.
  4. Don’t forget the freezer section. I prefer buying fresh vegetables and fruits, but if I can’t, then I’ll buy them frozen. Frozen vegetables and fruits are typically cheaper than buying fresh and because they are picked at the height of freshness , and they are pretty taste, too.  Throw frozen vegetables into a chili, a soup, or other one pot meals helps you to get more vegetables in without all that pesky cutting. You can even roast frozen vegetables, which is one of my all time favorite methods. 

I hope this helps you feel inspired to go out and buy those vegetables. Look for recipes in the coming weeks that use seasonal vegetables in typical meals.

For more in this series, check out the post Health on the Cheap: Have a plan! and watch this space for more.

Health on the cheap: Have a plan!

Compass_rose_CantinoChanging the way you eat to include more vegetables, whole grains, good fats, and pasture-raised meat and meat products can be expensive. This is especially noticeable if you compare whole foods diets to diets based mainly on processed food or fast food. As I discussed last week, making the dietary shift may require you to change your perspective on food and money. However, while you may find you have to shift more of your funds to food, a diet with more whole foods does not mean you have to break the bank. In fact, there are several small, basic things you can do to keep the cost down, such as having a plan before you go to the store.

Meal planning (for all your meals) is an important part of keeping cost down and reducing waste. I bet I’m not the only person that has bought a bunch of greens with good intentions and no plan only to pull the almost liquid remains out of the crisper a few weeks later. Luckily, adopting a practice of meal planning has pretty much stopped all that, which makes cleaning out the fridge a much more pleasant experience. Here are some habits I’ve picked up along the way that make meal planning work for me.

  1. Take the time to create a menu. I’ve been meal planning for a while now, so I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Last Saturday I timed myself and found that it took me 30 minutes from start to finish. That includes creating a menu and turning that menu into a grocery list, with a few stops to google things here and there. While half an hour might seem like a long time, it saves me time later in the week; and, of course, it saves me money. When I know what I’m going to make, I won’t just throw in the towel and order takeout.
  2. Find inspiration. Vegetables inspire me! I build my menu around vegetables since vegetables change from season to season while most proteins and grains stay the same throughout the year.  I do this by either going to the farmer’s market (I set a budget for myself and only buy a vegetable if I can think of several ways to use it) or by looking online to see what vegetables are in season. In Texas we have this really cool chart from the Texas Depart of Agriculture to help with that. I bet you have something like this in your area. In the US you can also visit the website of your local Community-Supported Agriculture to get a sense of what’s available. If veggies don’t inspire you, find a different source of inspiration. For example, you might choose a theme for each night, like taco night, soup night, and breakfast-at-dinner night.
  3. Make a menu that reflects your week. When creating my menu, I think about our schedule and what nights are busy, like those nights I see a client or my husband has an event or I just know I’ll be tired from a long day. These busy night are the ones I start with.  I pick quick and easy meals for those nights, like a crockpot chili or make-your-own stuffed sweet potato. Once I get those nights sorted, I can add meals that will take a little more time, such as meals that require a sauce or that just have a little more going on.
  4. Don’t recreate the wheel. I like to cook and create new recipes, but I temper that with the amount of time and energy I have during the week. I have several meals that I come back to over and over that use the same grains or proteins but allow me to use whatever vegetable is in season, like stir fries and curries. I also save copies of my menu each week so I can go back and get ideas when I find myself with “menu block.”  I have about 10 meals that I cycle through every few weeks with a new recipe thrown in here and there to satisfy my creativity.

Meal planning is the foundation of a diet made up of nutritious food. Without a plan we spend more money and time than we want; we eat less of what we should and more of what we shouldn’t; and we stress about food far too much. I hope you find these tips helpful and that they make your next excursion to the store a bit less strained.  Share your tips for menu planning in the comments!

Next week: how to eat more vegetables without going into debt.