Lori Wilson – Nutrition Rockstar

I can confidently define myself a number of ways: mom, wife, sister, daughter, friend, voice-over actress, writer, small-town girl, Western grad and lover of 80’s pop music. Those labels are 100% me. But “nutrition rockstar“? I’m not so sure.

Yes it’s true that I’m a plant-based foodie and that I love to prepare healthy foods for my family. And yes I’m willing to experiment with new ingredients and recipes to create culinary masterpieces in my kitchen. But here’s the rub – I fail just as many times (if not more) than I succeed. For every “Mmmm…mom this is yummy!” I get an equal number of “I can’t drink any more of this smoothie – I just gagged twice” and “quick get me a drink of water so I can swallow this stuff down!”

And it’s not just the kids – it’s me too. Most days I smugly start off the morning with lemon water followed by a glorious green smoothie. And then there are the days that I groggily hit up the Starbucks drive-thru for a grande soy latte and a sesame bagel. I can rock a Kathy Freston 21-day cleanse with as much vigour as I can spend the whole day lounging poolside sipping Prosecco and eating junk food with my girlfriends.

Like most people, I have a long and complicated relationship with food. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-30’s that I decided to make a major shift in my eating habits and it’s been a journey of self-discovery, successes and setbacks. And I certainly haven’t unlocked the secret formula- I still have a LOT to learn. But for me, a diet free of animal products and rich in plant foods (and the occasional hunk of chocolate) has been the best fit.

The good folks at Tuja Wellness in partnership with nutritionist Meghan Telpner are giving away a scholarship to the fall Culinary Nutrition Expert Program and I would dearly love to win it. They are looking for a “Nutrition Rockstar” and the more I think about it, I wonder if perhaps I wouldn’t fit the bill. I certainly don’t consider myself to be better than anyone else – quite the opposite. I’m just like most of you. A regular person weaving on and off of the path healthy living with more than my fair share of bumps along the way. But I am confident that there are some lessons to be mined (and connections to be made) if I take this incredible program and continue to honestly share the inevitable ups and downs and screw ups and successes that will unfold.

I have wanted to take this course ever since I took my first cooking class in Meghan’s pink kitchen back in 2011. I was immediately drawn to her passion for real, whole, unprocessed ingredients and her impressive knowledge of the transformational power of food. However with 3 young children, there has always been something else for me to spend the tuition money on (Do you know how much it costs to outfit a young hockey goalie? Or the expense of competitive dance? Or that kids grow so darn fast you have to keep buying them practically a whole new wardrobe every single year?!)

But maybe the time has come for me to really focus on myself. I’m open and willing to learn and I’m determined to keep steering myself and my family towards making more nutritious choices. And I’m not going to quit even when my 4-year-old tells me that his smoothie looks like brown mushy poop. Or when my daughter dramatically rolls her eyes when I announce what’s for dinner. Or even when I finish off a day of healthy eating by sitting on my butt watching So You Think You Can Dance with a big bowl of popcorn and a glass of wine. Because after I throw myself a little pity party – I will pick myself up and try again. In my heart I know it’s worth it. And all things considered – doesn’t that sound kind of like a Rockstar?

 

 

 

Mexican Quinoa Salad (with Bonus Wrap)

It’s not easy when a member of your family announces that they are radically changing the way they eat. I was in my mid-30’s when I embarked on a plant-based diet and this threw a real curveball at my meat-and-potato loving parents. Although I had long since moved away from home and started my own family – it still meant that every holiday and visit became a head-scratcher when trying to prepare a menu that would appeal to everyone. Thanksgiving and Christmas with no turkey?! Easter with no ham?! A BBQ with no burgers?! Holy crap!

veggie cartoon 2

I must admit that we’ve had more than a few heated “discussions” over the years about being flexible and open to trying new things. And there was also the inevitable questioning of the health benefits of a diet with no animal products. “You mean you aren’t giving your kids milk? How will they get strong bones?” “How will your family get enough protein?” “What the hell is quinoa?” and “Why do you have to be such a pain in the ass Lori?” All valid questions.

In the beginning I stood up on my soapbox and was overly eager to share all of the wonderful information I was learning about my new diet. I told them about the fact that there is actually more digestible protein in leafy greens and legumes than in meat (not to mention the animal cruelty associated with the meat industry). And that chickpeas and sesame seeds are much richer sources of protein than dairy. And that milk has been definitively linked to cancer. AND I made my entire family watch Forks Over Knives over one Christmas holiday (yes I was insufferable).

Nowadays, I’ve learned to shut my mouth more often and to be appreciative of how far we’ve come in incorporating more plant-based foods into all of our diets. But I’ve gotta give credit especially to my mom for really giving vegetarian cooking a college try. My family recently spent a few days at my parent’s home and I was totally delighted when she announced that she would be making Zesty Quinoa and Black Bean Wraps for dinner. She’s come a very long way from the woman who once told me she would never eat a vegetarian diet because there just wasn’t enough variety.

This recipe evolved from that wrap – which was delicious by the way (my son even turned down cheese pizza to gobble up a second helping). It’s simple to prepare and packed with protein, fresh veggies, herbs and spices. It just might be the best salad I’ve ever made! And as a special bonus, I turned the leftovers into a grilled wrap the next day that rivals the gourmet quinoa wrap sold by a very well-known coffee chain.

So if someone in your life announces that they are suddenly going to eat a different way – be it gluten-free or paleo or vegan or flexitarian…..be patient with them. When they come down off of their high horse – they just might make you something yummy to eat.

Mexican Quinoa Salad (with Bonus Wrap)

mexican quinoa 1

1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pepper (any colour) diced
2 ears of corn- cooked, cooled and cut off of the cob
1 pint cherry tomatoes, diced
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
1 avocado, diced
Juice of 1 lime
3 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook quinoa according to package directions. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, corn, garlic, pepper, tomatoes, cilantro and avocado. Squeeze the lime juice over top. Pour on the olive oil and toss to coat. Add red pepper flakes, cumin, chili powder and salt and pepper and toss again. Enjoy!

*Bonus Wrap*

mexican quinoa 2

2 whole wheat or gluten-free wraps of choice
1/2 cup grated regular or vegan cheddar cheese
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 cups Mexican Quinoa Salad (above)

Heat a frying pan with olive oil over medium heat. Lay wraps on a flat surface and put a line of quinoa salad down the middle of each. Top with cheese. Fold in both ends of the wraps and roll together. Place the wrap in the frying pan and grill on both sides. Remove from heat after both sides are gold brown (approx. 3 minutes per side) and let cool for a few minutes. Slice and serve. (You could also use a Panini maker in place of the frying pan to make life easier).

Ruby Red Smoothie

I make a smoothie pretty much every single morning. Greens, banana, pineapple, superfood add-ins, frozen berries- blend and repeat. And although I know the ingredients are colourful and healthy – more often than not the resulting drink has more of a greeny-brownish hue. Not the most visually appealing (in fact the other day my youngest told me that his smoothie looked like diarrhea…..sigh)

My friend Lisa always says that the experience of eating (or drinking) begins with your eyes. And if that’s the case then perhaps a cup of poop coloured smoothie isn’t how my family wants to start their day. Fair enough. So I started tinkering with my smoothies to make them more eye catching.

I recently enjoyed a weekend away with a good pal and she gave me an awesome suggestion for a wonderful bright red vegetable that I’ve been overlooking in my smoothie recipes. This particular veggie has been proven to lower blood pressure, alleviate depression, boost stamina, fight inflammation, detox the body and is rich in vitamins and minerals. What magical ingredient did I find that not only makes my smoothie look beautifully ruby-red but also ups the health factor? Beets! These gorgeous and often unappreciated gems of the vegetable kingdom add brilliant redness and a subtle sweetness to a smoothie that is not at all overpowering.

beets

So kick those brown drinks to the curb and add a burst of colour to your next smoothie! And if you want to get extra fancy – try slicing a strawberry to pop on the side of the glass. Voila – beautiful and nutritious.

Ruby Red Smoothie

beet smoothie

4-6 cups packed spinach
1 banana
1 small beet (or 1/2 a medium beet)
1 2-inch ring of pineapple
1 -2 cups frozen strawberries (or raspberries)
Superfood add-ins (optional)

Place all ingredients in a high-powered blender and whir for 1 minute. Drink up the goodness!

Oh and one thing to keep in mind if you decide to add beets – you need to brace yourself because they will actually turn your poop just as red as your smoothie (believe it or not – this is actually a pretty effective selling feature for kids ; )

Asian Noodle Salad with Seared Tofu

I was busy grilling the tofu for this recipe when a friend popped by to pick up his daughter from a play date. “Mmmmm…something smells good Lori – what are you cooking?” he asked. “Marinated tofu steaks!” I proudly replied. “Oh gross – that’s nasty!” he quickly shot back. Guess I won’t be inviting him to dinner anytime soon ; )

Tofu (and soy products in general) might just be one of the most controversial foods out there. Depending on which research paper or magazine article you are reading- it’s either touted as a wonderful superfood or a hormone disrupting poison. And frankly there appear to be good arguments on both sides of the fence.

I have done quite a bit of research on my own and came across a great article on the Harvard School of Public Health website that gave a comprehensive overview of “smart approaches to choosing protein for your diet.” This particular quote came from the end of the “Straight Talk about Soy” section:

Eat soy in moderation. Soybeans, tofu, and other soy-based foods are an excellent alternative to red meat. In some cultures, tofu and soy foods are a protein staple, and we don’t suggest any change. But if you haven’t grown up eating lots of soy, there’s no reason to go overboard: Two to 4 servings a week is a good target; eating more than that likely won’t offer any health benefits and we can’t be sure that there is no harm.

One thing to also keep in mind when buying tofu is that over 90% of soy bean production in the US is genetically modified and the crops are heavily sprayed with toxic herbicides. So be sure to read the labels and choose a tofu brand that is non-GMO and organic.

And now there is the matter of taste – most people assume that it will either taste bland or disgusting. But believe it or not I actually like it and so do my kids. With the right marinade and seasonings, it can be really delicious. We eat it approximately once a week just cut up and sautéed in a stir fry, marinated and breaded in crispy tofu wraps or seared into steaks.

So – to tofu or not to tofu – that is the question? At the end of the day there is no magic bullet, one-size-fits all approach to healthy eating. Do your own research, read labels, listen to your own body and do what’s best for you. This salad would be tasty with our without the tofu but if you are a tofu fan or would like to try it for the first time then go for it! This salad will make you a tofu-lover for sure.

Asian Noodle Salad with Seared Tofu Steaks

tofu salad 3

1 package of organic non-GMO firm tofu, drained
1 cup of tamari (soy sauce)
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tbsp. agave nectar
2 tbsp. pure sesame oil
2 tsp grated peeled fresh ginger
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil
6 cups chopped romaine lettuce
1 package of soba noodles (buckwheat)
1 head of broccoli, chopped small
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup shelled peanuts

To marinate tofu: cut the block of tofu into 1 inch slices and place in a shallow dish with a lid. Cover with tamari and sprinkle with garlic powder and shake it around to marinate the slices. Place in the fridge for an hour, shaking occasionally.

tofu salad 1

To make the dressing: combine vinegar, agave, sesame oil, ginger, salt and pepper in a jar with a lid. Cover tightly and shake vigorously.

Cook soba noodles according to package directions – adding broccoli florets into the boiling water at the same time as the noodles. Drain noodles and broccoli and set aside.

tofu salad 2

The tofu can either be seared on a hot frying pan on the stove or on the barbecue. For stovetop: Heat olive oil in a large skilled over medium-high heat. Add tofu slices and cook approximately 5 minutes per side until lightly browned. For BBQ: Heat to medium high and place marinated tofu slices directly on the grill. Cook 2-4 minutes per side. Cut each slice in half lengthwise for serving.

Arrange lettuce on 4 large dinner plates or 6 smaller plates. Top with a portion of noodles/broccoli and tofu slices. Drizzle with dressing. Garnish with fresh cilantro and peanuts.

Enjoy!

On Turning Four

When my first son was born almost 13 years ago, I was a complete basket case. I was totally unprepared for the punch-in-the-face-like shock of motherhood and literally spent the first 48 hours with my finger stuck under his nose making sure he was still breathing (I also faithfully tracked every single one of his pees and poops in a journal for 3 months and had him sleep on a heart rate monitor for almost a year…..you get the point.)

When my daughter was born 2 years later, I was a much calmer and more confident mom but I was also busy with a toddler and in the middle of a home renovation and frankly just so darn frazzled that I’m afraid I forgot to savour most of her baby years. I do however remember that she was a beautiful and happy bundle of joy -unless I dared to put her down and then she turned into a screaming she-devil!

And then 4 years ago…just a month before I turned 39….I had my last baby – a boy. Almost 9 years younger than his brother and 6 years younger than his sister, he came into the world a whopping 6 pounds and as serene and content a little babe as I’d ever encountered. I  made a promise to him and to myself in that hospital that I would stay present and focused and not let the hustle and bustle of everyday life sweep away his infancy and toddlerhood and childhood in the blink of an eye. I was going to cherish the moments goddamit because I only had to look into the eyes of my 2 older children to get a reminder of  how fast time flies by.

k1

But here’s the thing – no matter how much I vowed to relish every milestone, somehow they still whirred past. The downy softness of his newborn hair, the weight of him on my shoulder as he fell asleep snuggled in a tight ball, his first gummy smiles and sweet gurgly laughs, watching his sister gently give him his first bath, his brother’s peels of laughter when he fed him his first taste of apple sauce, watching my husband bundle him up in the stroller and set off around the neighbourhood for yet another attempt at getting him to sleep……he just kept changing and growing and there wasn’t a darn thing I could do about it.

I held on to the moments and at the same time watched them slip through my fingers as he grew – crawling across the floor and then taking his first tottering drunken steps around the living room. And I had to constantly keep reminding myself to focus on the present and to not waste my time mourning the past or worrying about the future.

So here we are 4 years later. The serene little baby has blossomed into a feisty and funny and wild and tender and unique little boy who has completely stolen all of our hearts. He’s a lover of swords and hockey and scooters and climbing trees. He’ll be the first in line for a good game of mini sticks with his favourite cousin, he’ll hang with a group of 12-year-old boys like he’s part of the gang and (sadly) he’s not averse to dropping the occasional swear word. He loves to snuggle in bed reading stories, he insists on twirling my hair in his fingers when he’s tired and he often sneaks into my bed at night to wedge himself between my husband and I.

My little K – he’s my last baby and he’s turning 4. Just like that. In the blink of an eye.

k2

 

 

But What If I’m Wrong?

When I was a young child, my mom told my sister and I that if we ate candy before noon we would get worms. She even cited an example of this very horrifying thing happening to my dad when he was a kid. And I wholeheartedly believed her – so much so that I was still trying to convince my peers not to ingest gummy worms for breakfast in university! (I actually called my mom after that incident and she confessed to her very impressive trickery that successfully worked on me for 19 years).

Then there was the time I lovingly wrapped my arms around the back of my brand new husband only to find out that I’d actually snuggled up to my brand new father-in law! And the time more recently that I was absolutely certain I’d checked my rearview mirror and then proceeded to back directly into my neighbour’s brand new Mercedes resulting in thousands of dollars in damage.

In each instance I was absolutely convinced that I was right….until I learned I was wrong. And trust me, there are many more examples (which my kids would be only too happy to share if you ask). I’ve screwed up, made a fool of myself and been wrong countless times. And my point in sharing these stories is not to convince you that I’m a complete bird brain but rather to suggest that perhaps there is more vulnerability, honesty and connection in our foibles than in our certainties.

The thing is that most of us (myself included) identify much more closely with our own beliefs about life than with the things we don’t really know or understand. We think we are absolutely right about our views on politics, parenting, relationships, lifestyle, career choice, religion, exercise, sports, nutrition and on and on and we are only too happy to share our stalwart views if we are asked. So what does this unwavering loyalty to our own convictions do to our relationship with ourselves, each other and the world?

“The attachment to our rightness keeps us from preventing mistakes when we absolutely need to and causes us to treat each other terribly.”

Kathryn Schultz

A good friend recently sent me the link to this brilliant Ted Talk by Kathryn Schultz called “On Being Wrong“. It is totally worth the 20 minutes to get some insight into the importance of not only admitting to our mistakes but also to owning up to the possibility that we might be wrong…..about everything. And since I’ve already seen it I’ll busy myself with preparing my breakfast of Kit Kat bars and sour keys (take that mom ; )

*Email followers – you may need to go to my site at www.lorileighwilson.com to view the video.

The Upside of Crying at Target

I recently had a really good cry. A long and stressful week culminated with a Friday morning trip to Target where I ended up at the cash with a big pile of goodies. After frantically checking my purse- I realized that I had no money and no phone! Shit! As I loaded the toddler back into the van to head back home the tears just started flowing. “Why are you sniffling like that mommy?” my little guy kept asking.

My oldest son was at home when I came to collect my wallet and immediately asked what was wrong. I told him it was nothing – I was just feeling a little sad and he said “it’s okay mom – it’s good to let your feelings out.” So darn wise for a 12-year old.

After I dried my tears, stopped my blubbering and blew my nose- I really did feel much better. I headed off for a coffee and repeat trip to the store in a much better frame of mind. I was able to laugh at myself and the absurdity of sobbing over something so ridiculous. (As a side note I’m pretty sure I freaked out the cashier at Starbucks because she asked me at least 5 times if everything was ok – guess the red puffy eyes totally gave me away.)

My son’s words got me thinking about how often I rush through life and suppress or ignore my emotions or just totally numb them out with coping mechanisms. My go-to’s – chocolate, reality TV, red wine, Candy Crush and People magazine just to name a few. Especially with the advent of our cell phones, it’s so much easier to zone out with mindless games, Facebook, Twitter and texting than to stop, breathe and really check in with ourselves and how we are feeling. And what I realized in that moment was that by feeling that sadness, I made way to feel better, to laugh and to move forward.

This video features the comedian Louis C.K. He’s actually talking about why he refuses to get cell phones for his children but the overall message is much more powerful. Have a watch and remember that as much as we all love our devices, it’s a good idea to put them down every now and again, to slow down and to let ourselves just be……even if that means crying in the check-out line at Target ; )