10 Tips for On-The-Go Salads

When I’m packing lunches to take to campus for busy school days, salads are one of my go-to options. They’re easy to throw together last minute, they help you get plenty of veggies into your diet each day, and they are incredibly versatile. However, when you’re having a salad as your main dish and bringing that salad on-the-go instead of eating from a giant bowl at home, there are a few things to take into consideration so that your salad fills you up and satisfies your cravings.

salad with pumpkin seeds

The most nutritious recipes generally consist of a combination of protein, fat and carbs. With salads, I usually follow a more specific formula: something leafy, 2-3 different kinds of chopped veggies (or fruit!), a source of lean protein (which can be either meat or plant-based), a source of healthy fats, delicious add-ons (for extra flavour, crunch, and nutrients), and a dressing.

lettuce and toppings

Below I have outlined the top ten tips I follow so that my on-the-go salads are delicious and nutritious every time.

1. Use the right containers

I find that the best way to transport my salads is a BIG container with a clasp lid to hold the main salad, and a small container for the dressing  (also with a clasp lid, to prevent leaks). I use a glass container like this one, although I have a few different shapes and sizes. You’ll want to use a really good sized container when you’re bringing a salad on the go, because it will generally take a large volume of veggies to keep you full until your next meal. If you skimp on the container, your salad may end up being a snack before a bigger meal (and usually a less healthy one) that you purchase while you’re out and about. I also like to use a lunch bag with an ice pack in it to keep my salad cold.

2. Pack the protein

Including a source of protein is an important part of preparing a nutritious and filling salad. If you don’t have any meat prepared, a hard-boiled egg is the perfect option! Just place your egg in a small pot, cover it with water, and bring it to a boil. Once it starts to boil, remove the pot from the heat and wait for 10 minutes before draining the pot. Then, peel the shell off your egg and add it to the salad! I like to boil a few eggs at once and then store them in the fridge so I can easily access them for snacks and salads later in the week. The other easiest source of protein I use is canned tuna. Other options include poached and sliced chicken breast, or some baked fish, broken into pieces.

3. Dress with Apple Cider Vinegar and/or Tahini

If you’re taking your salad dressing in a separate container and adding it while you’re at work or school, dressings that have a lot of oil can get messy. When I bring salads to school, I love dressing with apple cider vinegar because it’s healthy, tastes great, and helps minimize the mess. Tahini is also great for a creamier dressing. If you drizzle it on top prior to heading out the door, it won’t make your lettuce soggy by the time you eat it, like many other dressings do. Plus, it’s a great source of healthy fats and with a little effort you can transform it into a healthy Cesar dressing like this one from Naturally Ella.

4. Put rice on the bottom of your salad

Now, this may be heading out of salad and into nourish/macro bowl territory, but putting a layer of rice on the bottom of your salad adds some carbs to help keep you full. It’s also great because it soaks up any excess apple cider vinegar that reaches the bottom of the container. And, if you are in need of some extra protein, add black beans to the rice and you’ve got a complete protein!

5. Top with healthy fats

Did I include this tip just so I could add a picture of an avocado? Possibly. But aesthetically pleasing avocados aside, adding healthy fats to your salads will help you stay full (and they promote glowing skin!). Avocados are a great source of monounsaturated fatty acids, they’re full of fibre, and they contain more potassium than bananas. Other sources of healthy fats that are great on salads include walnuts, and salmon.

avocado

6. Mix up your greens

While lettuce salads are great, experimenting with different leafy greens is a great way to add some variety (and some extra micronutrients) to your salad. While I occasionally make my salads with lettuce, most of my salads contain baby spinach, which is a great source of vitamin A and antioxidants. I also like to use kale, which is one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can consume.

7. Get colourful

There’s nothing better than a beautiful rainbow salad. Not only will adding a variety of vegetables improve the taste of your salad, different colours also come with a whole host of valuable micronutrients. To create your colourful salad bowl, I recommend adding cherry tomatoes, corn, cucumber, celery, any colour of bell pepper, blueberries, purple cabbage, or red onion.

8. Use fresh herbs

Chopping and adding fresh herbs to a salad is the ULTIMATE secret for taking a good salad to a fantastic one. Honestly, this piece of advice completely changed my meals. My favourite herb to add is cilantro, but mint, basil, and parsley are other great options.

cilantro

9. Add sweet potato

Sweet potato is a miracle vegetable in salads. It adds colour, helps to balance savoury flavours with sweet, and is an excellent source of healthy carbohydrates. It tastes great boiled or roasted, depending on the texture you prefer. If I prepare a batch of roasted sweet potato at the beginning of the week, it is easy to add a little to my salads each day.

10. Add-ons for texture, crunch, and sweetness

Last, there are so many options for delicious toppings that will add a little extra flavour and texture to salads. You can mix and match your add-ons depending on what flavour profile you’re going for. Options include: raisins, dried cranberries, chopped walnuts, slivered almonds, goat’s cheese, hemp hearts, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds.

What are your favourite salad ingredients? Any favourite dressing options?

 

 

 

Healthy Holiday Habits

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is over already! I finished my last exam in the evening on the 21st, so when I got back home on the 22nd I had to jump right into buying some last minute Christmas presents and making holiday treats. I didn’t have time to experiment with any of my own dessert recipes, so I made two of my favourite recipes from Running on Real FoodOatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls and Double Chocolate Raw Vegan Brownies. Both recipes were a hit! It was mostly just me and one of my aunts who enjoyed the desserts, but we got one of my uncles, whose favourite phrase is “gluten-free, taste-free,” to try the brownies and he said they were very tasty. Success!

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Energy Balls

Yesterday we had a Christmas party with my dad’s side of the family, and one of my cousins is vegan. With the treats I made from Running on Real Food, I used honey as a sweetener (rather than the maple syrup called for in the recipe), meaning they’re not technically vegan. So a couple days ago I decided I’d give myself a little recipe creation challenge. I had a ton of dates left over from when I bought ingredients for Christmas, so I wanted to create a vegan Chocolate-Orange Energy Ball recipe, inspired by one of my fave Christmas treats, Terry’s Chocolate Orange. I was hoping I’d be able to share the recipe in the first few days of the New Year…but unfortunately it didn’t turn out exactly as I’d hoped. The flavour was good, but the texture could use a little work. Maybe I’ll give it another shot once I get back to school. I don’t think I’m going to try out any more dessert recipes for a few weeks. I never thought I’d say it, but my sweet tooth has been completely satisfied after the past week of celebrations.

With sweet treats everywhere and endless holiday festivities, it’s definitely been a challenge to keep up with the healthy habits I try and maintain while I’m at school. Coming into the holiday season, I had the best intentions to work out regularly, keep the treats to a minimum, and cook plenty of healthy recipes. It was a good plan, but somehow I still ended up elbow-deep in a giant bag of Jelly Bellies on Christmas Eve…

Christmas Cookies

The combination of having an abundance of less-healthy foods nearby, being home at my parents’ house, and on top of that being sick for the past few days, has thrown me off track with healthy eating and fitness – it’s been way too long since I last did something active, and I’m pretty sure there is liquid chocolate running through my veins.

But that’s okay! Taking a break is healthy, and enjoying sweet treats is part of the holiday season. However, it has been a good reminder that when I don’t eat well and stay active, I don’t feel very good. So while I’m not upset that I indulged a bit over Christmas, I’m definitely ready to finish out the rest of my holiday by getting back into some healthier routines.

Add, not subtract

Even though I’m eager to get back into ~health mode~ it’s not realistic (or enjoyable) to say something like “Starting tomorrow I’m not eating any more sugar and I’m going to stay away from all salty snacks.” Making a statement like this cultivates the kind of all or nothing mindset that makes it challenging to get back into a pattern of consistently healthy choices.

Instead of strictly “subtracting” all unhealthy foods from my diet, I’m going to get back into my healthy routine by adding beneficial habits back into my day. I’ll still have some chocolate and an afternoon snack of popcorn, but I’ll also be having some extra fruits and veggies.

New Year’s Resolutions

Usually I don’t set any definitive resolutions for the New Year. I like to set goals throughout the year on a rolling basis, so I don’t think it’s necessary to have one specific date to start working towards my goals. But this year, while I was spending some time with my cousins over Christmas, we all sat down and wrote out a list of our goals for 2018.  When I set goals, I love to make a BIG list. We’re talking 80+ items on this list. And something that extensive may seem a little overwhelming, but I like having everything compiled in one place. That way, as I’m going through my day, I can pull out the list and ask myself, “What am I doing today to work towards my goals?” If my schedule for the day doesn’t align with my goal list, then I re-evaluate my schedule. So while I don’t think you need a New Year to embark on new goals, it’s as good a time as any to start working towards things you’d like to accomplish. Many of the healthy habits that I’m trying to put back into my routine are also on my list of goals for the year. I’ll carry these habits into the New Year, and I plan to continue them throughout 2018.

Healthy Habits

Here are five of the healthy habits that I am adding back into my life as the holiday season draws to a close.

1. Stop hitting the snooze button

Ideally, I want to be getting enough sleep that I don’t feel the need to constantly hit snooze when my alarm goes off. But even when I do get 8 hours, sometimes I still wake up a little groggy and want to roll over and go back to bed. If I’m going to get 30 minutes of disrupted sleep during the time I’m hitting snooze, I really should just set my alarm 30 minutes later and get some extra uninterrupted rest.

I find that when I spend time snoozing it’s harder to get a productive start to my day when I do get out of bed. Also, with a simple Google search I found many articles describing the negative health impacts of hitting snooze in the morning. They didn’t all give the same reasons, but the consensus was that it’s a habit you should kick. Here’s one interesting article from The Independent that provides a behaviourist perspective on the subject (I found this one interesting because it related to some of the psychology concepts I studied this past semester).

alarm clock

2. Drink at least 3L of water each day

When I’m away at school, I drink a lot of water each day, but for some reason I get out of the habit when I come home. When I’m being extremely diligent with my water consumption I probably get closer to 4L a day, but 3L is usually enough to keep me feeling hydrated and refreshed. Everyone’s water needs differ, so if you’re going to try this one out, don’t take 3L as your magic number. You may have to experiment a bit to see how much water you have to drink for your body to feel its best.

3. Stop eating after dinner

Whenever I eat after dinner, it’s not because I’m hungry, it’s usually just because I feel like snacking on something as I complete the last few tasks on my to-do list for the day. When I eat too close to bed time I don’t sleep as well, and I’m also more drawn to sugary foods at this time of the day. So it’s definitely a better choice to eat a filling dinner and then avoid food after that.

4. Drink lemon water

Lately I’ve been trying to get in the habit of drinking a glass of warm lemon water in the morning, before I have my breakfast. Adding lemon to your water in the morning provides an extra boost of vitamin C, is beneficial for digestion, and some studies have shown that it boosts metabolism. Drinking a big glass of water in the morning as soon as I get up will also help me meet my goal of having 3L of water each day.

lemon water

5. Do ten minutes of body weight exercises each morning when I wake up

This is a new habit I want to try out to see whether it helps me shake off some of my sleepiness in the morning and start the day on a positive note. Each day when I get out of bed, before I make breakfast or start the coffee machine, I’m going to set a timer for ten minutes on my phone, and do a few basic exercises until the timer goes off. This will consist of body weight moves like push ups, crunches, planks, squats, and lunges. I haven’t decided whether each morning of the week will have a different focus (like arms and abs one day and legs another), but I’ll play around with it a bit until I find a routine I like. Out of the five habits I’ve decided to add in to my day, this is the only one that I haven’t tried out in the past, so I’m interested to see how it will work out (pun intended).

bicycle crunch

If you think any of these habits would help you improve your health in the New Year, give them a try! And let me know in the comments how it goes.

 

What I Eat During the Whole30

21 days ago I started my first Whole30. For those of you who have not heard of this program, the Whole30 is a dietary “reset” that is 30 days long. After the 30 days are over, you slowly reintroduce the foods you cut out during the program in order to determine how specific food groups affect your body. You can read more about the specifics on the Whole30 website, but essentially this diet plan involves removing refined sugar and sweeteners, dairy, all grains, all legumes, soy, and alcohol from your diet.

I had several reasons I wanted to give the Whole30 a try. First, I was hoping it would be able to help me control my eczema, which has flared up lately. I was also hoping I’d be able to reduce my sugar cravings, increase my energy levels, and finish the program with a clearer complexion.

So, what’s happened so far?

Well, first, I feel great! I went through a couple low energy days last week, but for the past few days I’ve been feeling very energetic, and I move through the day with the feeling that my body is functioning optimally. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any improvement in my eczema, but I’ll see how it goes in the next nine days. If nothing changes, I may have to try another dietary experiment next month. Despite my lack of success with improving my eczema, I have noticed a little improvement in my facial complexion. My skin seems slightly clearer and definitely less inflamed; however, this could be because I recently started using gentler and more natural skin care products, so I’m not sure how much of a contribution my diet is making. In addition, I’ve definitely been having fewer sugar cravings. Early on in my Whole30 the cravings were fairly intense, and I realized how dependent my body was on sugar prior to cutting it out. Fortunately, I’ve stopped thinking about cookies ALL THE TIME. Besides cutting sugar, I didn’t find the other dietary changes very challenging – I already do not eat dairy and gluten, so going a step further and cutting all grains as well as legumes wasn’t very difficult for me. One thing I did find early on is that it was difficult to stay full for a long time. It seemed like I’d eat a meal, and then an hour later my stomach would be rumbling again. But as the program progressed I became more aware of the amount of food I had to eat to get from one meal to the next.

What I eat in a day

If you’re starting the Whole30, especially if you’re coming to it from a Standard American Diet, it can be difficult to figure out what to eat. Before I started, I wrote out a rough plan for what I was going to eat over the four weeks of the program. This changed a little as I went, but my initial plan helped guide my weekly grocery list.  Below is a sample of what I ate in a day earlier this week, along with my suggestions for food choices that will help you make it through the Whole30.

Breakfast

Egg and veggie scramble – 2 eggs, leftover roasted broccoli, onion, orange pepper, avocado.

Roasted potatoes – I tried out a new method of preparing these potatoes. I parboiled them first, then put them in the toaster oven to roast. Using this method, I was able to make crispy potatoes without using oil to roast them. Now, there’s nothing wrong with oil – when you choose a healthy variety like olive, avocado or coconut it’s a great source of healthy fats. But I was also having avocado with this meal, so I wanted to cut the oil to ensure I wasn’t having a giant portion of my daily fat intake at breakfast. Then, I added a little bit of salt and pepper before I ate them.

My favourite Whole30 breakfast options are apple and nut butter, baked sweet potato with poached eggs on top, and any kind of egg and veggie combination. Occasionally I’ll have some chicken or salmon and roasted veggies for breakfast. In the beginning, it was always difficult to decide what to eat for breakfast. My go-to breakfast was eggs, but occasionally I’d want to have hard-boiled eggs on the go for lunch, and then I’d have to think of another breakfast idea so I wasn’t eating a huge number of eggs every day. One of the mindset shifts that helped me with this dilemma is that I stopped thinking I had to have typical “breakfast foods” for my first meal of the day. When you just think of breakfast like any other meal, it opens up your options for what to eat.

Lunch

Salad – chicken, boiled sweet potato, celery, cucumber, kale

I took this salad with me on the go for lunch on campus and enjoyed it with a dressing I made that combined tahini and apple cider vinegar. Salads are definitely a convenient option during the Whole30 – you can fit in a lot of greens, and top it with protein to stay full. Often I’ll add avocado to my salad for some extra healthy fats. As for other lunch options, I’ve been a big fan of smoothies lately. I’ll add some hemp seeds to my smoothie for protein and fat, and chia seeds for fibre. I have an awesome recipe for an ultra-creamy chocolate smoothie that I’ll share on the blog next week! Roasted veggies and some kind of protein option is another lunch favourite – usually it will be fish or chicken, with any combination of potatoes, carrots, broccoli or zucchini.

Snack

Fruit salad – half an apple, half a banana, grapes, part of an ataulfo mango, clementine 

Usually for my afternoon snack I’ll have a piece of fruit, some chopped veggies, or a handful of nuts and dried fruit. If I’m fairly hungry, I’ll whip up something more substantial like fruit salad or some celery with almond butter and raisins (“ants on a log”).

Dinner

Baked salmon with garlic-tahini sauce (recipe up on the blog soon!), boiled broccoli, roasted carrots and potato.

Fish and veggies is a fairly typical dinner for me during the Whole30. When I roast my veggies, I toss them in olive oil, pepper and garlic salt, and bake on a baking sheet at 400º. If I’m just using root veggies, I’ll mix them all together and roast them on one pan, since they all take about the same amount of time to cook. Other dinners I’ve made in the past few weeks include chicken taco bowls (which I plan to make again next week), and this Turkey and Sweet Potato Pasta Sauce, which I enjoy on zucchini noodles.

What’s next?

Over the next nine days, I still have some things I want to work on as I finish up the Whole30. Mainly, I want to focus on moderation. Since I haven’t been eating refined sugar, I’ve been having A LOT more fruit. Of course fruit is amazing and very nutritious, but I need to make sure I’m not overdoing it and simply substituting one craving with another. Also, I want to be more cognisant of my intake of nuts and dried fruit. Because these foods provide the perfect combination of sweetness and crunch, I’m often tempted to overeat when I have them in the house. In addition, I want to make sure I’m sleeping a sufficient amount, and minimizing stress (which is a little difficult because exams are starting!). I know that lack of sleep and stress contribute to my eczema and cause my face to break out, so I don’t want that to interfere with seeing results from the Whole30.

Once the 30 days are over and I complete the re-introduction period I’m going to write another post on my results, so stay tuned for that!

Disclaimer: This post is not a recommendation that anyone should begin the Whole30, this is simply a dietary experiment I am doing to see how it affects my health. Make sure to complete your own research before beginning any new eating program, and talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.