Zion Nat'l Park, Columbine

Kitchen Zen

Holiday Survival: Eat Well, Eat Smart!

Do you equate the holidays with food free-for-all time? Is it possible to enjoy, yet survive, holiday eating? Can you maintain your commitment to optimal health through the holidays? Yes! With a little forethought and awareness, you can eat well, eat smart, and enjoy the holidays. These sensible tips are my holiday gift to you.

Remember the basics:

  • Eat 5 small meals per day. This approach to food is recommended to maintain efficient metabolism and minimize hunger, allowing for healthful food decision-making. You know what happens when you become ravenous—you will eat any and all food put in front of you!
  • Choose from the plant foods. The carbohydrates from grains, beans, legumes, vegetables and fruit are filling. They will take up room in your stomach, perhaps diminishing the chances of choosing high fat or processed foods. Not to mention the many physical health benefits of eating plant foods, such as the antioxidant, mineral, and vitamin properties.
  • Drink plenty of water. Water can be filling, and again, this may diminish hunger and allow for healthful food decision-making. You can dilute juice drinks with water, which will lower the amount of sugar and calories you take in. If you are partying, I recommend alternating water with alcoholic beverages—to prevent overdoing the alcohol as well as decrease your simple carbohydrate and calorie intake (and minimize the morning after headache…).

Survival Skills:

  • Nibble on a healthy fat, 10 minutes prior to sitting down to a meal or leaving for a party to activate the satiation hormone. Examples are 1 ounce of nuts, ¼ avocado, or 1 teaspoon of nut butter; the richness of the fat, as well as the time it takes to digest, will again, displace feeling hungry and allow for healthful food choices later.
  • Plan ahead, balancing your food intake for the day. If you are going to a party in the evening, choose well for your two earlier small meals and small in-between-meal snacks. If you have had an indulgent family holiday breakfast, eat lean and light for the remainder of the day.
  • Arrive with a success strategy, which will allow you the permission to splurge, but to do so with intention and awareness.
  • State a positive affirmation prior to arriving at the party or family dinner. Consider “I will nurture my health and eat well” or ”I intend to enjoy small tastes of my favorite foods”. Positive affirmations are very powerful and will influence the outcome of your choices.
  • There is no need to deprive yourself! You might however, cruise the buffet table before taking a plate, to increase your chances for choosing wisely. Use a small plate, and take small tastes of several well-chosen foods.
  • Select what you eat wisely. Combine protein and carbohydrates, such as veggies, bean salad, grain casserole, cheese, smoked fish, and chicken skewers from the buffet table. Eat these foods prior to considering desserts.
  • Bring a healthy dish to share, increasing your chance to eat well.
  • Move away from the buffet table. This will minimize the temptation to keep nibbling. My formula is: standing + talking + laughing + nibbling = overeating.
  • Sit down to eat. Create a meal mentality. Eat slowly, savoring the distinct flavors and textures. That old adage to put your fork down between bites really does work!
  • Eggnog and punch or any beverages with alcohol, when consumed sensibly are perfectly reasonable holiday choices. If you have 2 generous portions of eggnog however, you might consider modifying the food choices you make later in the evening, or better yet, have a couple of small sips of eggnog, eat well at the party, and enjoy a glass of red wine with your meal!
  • Wait at least 15 minutes before selecting dessert. This trick will allow time for your brain to catch up with your stomach. You might get lucky and realize that you are not hungry for dessert! If you do have dessert, take a small piece of whatever you choose, and eat it slowly, savoring the flavor.
  • Be prepared with a cheerful retort or two when the hostess, or your mother, tries to give you seconds: “What a fabulous meal, I am so satisfied”… or “Thank you, I am taking a break to make more room”…
  • Brush your teeth! After you have eaten slowly, and have enjoyed each bite on your small plate, excuse yourself to the bathroom. You will change the flora of your mouth and feel less inclined to eat more food. This works! (I carry a travel toothbrush and paste with me, always!)
  • If it is in your house, it will end up in your mouth! Do yourself a favor and leave the goodies to be enjoyed at the party, restaurant, or someone else’s house.
  • Cultivate mindfulness to balance holiday stress. Find alternative self-soothing techniques such as intentional relaxation or regular physical activity.

Happy Holidays!



Turn Salad into a Meal — a cooking demo on WEHT, Evansville

In preparation for an upcoming cooking demo, I am posting these educational handouts to which I will be referring. Happy reading!

Turn salad to a meal

Eat Often

90-Minutes of Kitchen Zen™

Local Food resources

The impact of plastics on hormonal and brain function in children

Early Puberty, Hypospadias, and Behavior Disorders in children related to exposure to Phthalates, via food and food containers, plastic toys, and skin care products (this was the original title, but it seemed too intense upon editing…)

After much reading and research, I sat and thought about this particular writing segment with trepidation. I returned time and again to the science, to the surprisingly scant literature regarding Phthalates (pronounced f-thalates—get familiar with the pronunciation—this is a very important issue), and felt queasy and worried and nearly overwhelmed.

Why, you wonder? I don’t want to be an alarmist, but…

I have learned a lot over the years about processed foods, the corporate greed that drives the sales and distribution of less-than-real food, and the misinformation that is perpetuated by those corporations who produce these foods and food products. While I know that there is much that I still don’t know, I am crushed by the new learnings I have gained this past week about Phthalates. And I wonder how to share what I’ve learned with others, without inviting angst and guilt, yet I clearly wish to educate the masses and raise a call to action.

Where to begin…?

I do believe that back in the day when companies were moving quickly and making great strides in development of products that would bring a heightened convenience to our lives, that good intentions were what drove the exciting discoveries of new uses of man-made synthetics and chemicals. The scientists of the day weren’t diabolically planning to bring us disease and to compromise our health. I do believe now however, that there is a suppression of the evidence regarding the potential harm from this largely unregulated exposure to synthetics and chemicals, complete with a greed element involved. There have been small scientific studies of the potential health hazards related to the relentless exposure we face, and we do not know enough at this time, yet the corporations producing these products continue to assure us of the safety of their synthetics and chemicals—even as they permeate the food chain.

I am talking about Phthalates, a group of chemicals used in the manufacturing of plastics and plastic products. Imagine the thrill those early scientists must have experienced when it was discovered that Phthalates enhanced the manufacturing of plastics by making plastic products more flexible.

Many millions of pounds of Phthalates are produced each year and 95% of Americans have measurable levels of Phthalates in their urine. Phthalates are found in:

  • plastic food and beverage containers
  • coating on pills
  • vinyl flooring and carpet
  • pesticides (which means they then enter into the food chain)
  • skin care products [think baby lotions, ointments, and shampoo]
  • medical supplies (IV tubing and bags, gloves, NG tubes…studies show that neonates are exposed at five-times higher the allowed daily tolerable intake—how ironic and scary is that?)
  • electrical cords
  • your car dashboard
  • laundry detergent and
  • insect repellent, just to name a few sources of our continual exposure.

Endocrine Disruptors

Perhaps most distressing is the strong correlation noted between exposure to Phthalates, known as “endocrine disruptors”, both in utero and via our daily food chain exposure. Much of the scientific analysis yields a “might increase the risk, and needs further studying” summary as the science addresses the increased incidence of asthma and allergies, ADHD, early puberty, sexual organ malformation and fertility issues—all noted in the most precious of humans, our children.

Somewhere along the way,  a concern was raised regarding the risks associated with a continuous exposure to Phthalates, leading to the invention of a modified product–a low-molecular weight version Phthalates. Their low-molecular weight allowed for the assumption that these next-gen Phthalates were safer than their predecessors, and the newer version was added by the barrel-full to the skin care products used for both children and adults. The most recent data indicates that the continuous and cumulative exposure to the low-molecular weight Phthalates, has in fact, more of an endocrine disruptor effect, especially in-utero.

Early puberty

Look around at the boys and girls in our families and communities. There is evidence, although not definitive, to suggest that exposure to the “endocrine disruptors” found in many household plastics, body care products, and cleaning products has an influence over the age at which boys and girls enter into puberty. This is one of those areas that scientists agree that further studies are warranted. How about we get started on those studies? Early puberty is linked to increased risk for breast cancer as one concern, and there is much dialogue in the world of pediatric social science regarding the correlation of early puberty with early and unsafe sexual behavior.

As a side note, obesity is another contributor to early onset puberty. The correlation to an increased intake of High Fructose Corn Syrup is strong, and I will cover that in another writing session. I’m feeling too emotionally overwhelmed from these two days of research into Phthalates to dive into HFCS for the moment…But, it’s important to point out here that there is a suspected correlation between exposure to Phthalates and Insulin Resistance, which is a precursor to obesity…so the cycle continues regardless of how you look at it.


Hypospadias is a condition in which the urethra within the penis of a male fetus is not properly developed, rendering the urethra to be improperly positioned away from the tip of the penis, requiring surgical repair. This occurs in 1 in 125 boys. Oh my gosh. This is a horrifying and unacceptable rate of incidence, in my opinion.

“The CDC’s analysis of the changes in the frequency of hypospadias in the United States revealed a striking pattern: the rate has more than doubled since 1970. Indeed by 1993, hypospadias was detected in one out of every 125 boys born in the United States.” Holy Moly, what a terrible statistic. And that there is a whisper of a chance that this increased incidence is related to exposure in utero to Phthalates is mind boggling. Per the CDC report, “the percentage of severe cases has increased over this time period, suggesting that other explanations should be sought.” SHOULD be sought? Pardon me, but how about if we start that information seeking right this very minute? Please and thank you.


Everyone has heard of ADHD, a now common health concern for preschool and school-aged children, the incidence for which has risen exponentially over the decades. Is this merely a coincidence that as the exposure to chemicals in children has increased, so has the incidence of ADHD? This, from an NIH review of the literature, “CONCLUSION: The present study showed a strong positive association between phthalate metabolites in urine and symptoms of ADHD among school-age children.”

Clearly there are other contributing causes to the increased incidence of ADHD [think: preservatives, food dyes, too much sugar especially of the HFCS variety, and violent TV shows–this is my opinion of course, as the definitive science is not present at this time, but I am willing to trust my intuition on this]. But the fact that in utero and during the precious infant/toddler years, there is a known correlation between brain development/behavior issues and Phthalates is simply unacceptable.

A Call To Action

Bottom line summary, from my heart: Do I want to wait—for either definitive evidence that there is a direct connection or do I want to follow my intuition that strongly tells me that there is enough correlation already in existence to direct me away from plastics, especially those used to hold food, as well as pesticide-laden produce to minimize my exposure to Phthalates? As consumers, and especially those of you with children or thinking of having children, it seems especially prudent to research your food sources, minimize your use of plastics in the kitchen as well as in your home wherever possible, and to raise your voice actively by sharing your concerns with your family and friends, as well as with the companies that produce these products.

Next up is the research required into the hair and body care products that I personally use so I can determine whether I will keep or toss them…

Simple, Spectacular, and Savory Soup Recipe

Yes! Another soup recipe being offered to you, for a quick, yummy, and healthful dinner.

Minestrone Soup

Prep time: 30 minutes

28 ounce jar of diced tomatoes
15 ounce can of cannelloni beans
pasta (elbow or penne)
1 large purple onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
2 small zucchini, cut into bite sized pieces
3 carrots, sliced
3 celery stalks, sliced
pepper and salt
dried basil and oregano
olive oil
a full-bodied red wine, to sip as well as to add into the soup


  1. Place all of the chopped veggies in a glass casserole dish; toss with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. At 10 minutes into the roast, stir up the veggies, then finish the roast. Set aside.
  2. While the veggies are roasting, cook the pasta just to an al dente texture, and consider enjoying a glass of wine. Drain the pasta, saving the water to thin the soup stock, and set the pasta aside for a moment.
  3. In your soup pot, mix the tomatoes, beans and the roasted veggies, pour in 1/2 cup of red wine, and add the spices to meet your palate desires. Add about a cup of the pasta water.
  4. I’ve learned over the years to cook just enough pasta to put 1/2 – 3/4 cup cooked into the bottom of each soup bowl, then ladle the soup on top. If the pasta is added to the soup pot, it tends to get mushy, especially when you reheat the leftovers later.
  5. Enjoy! This is a rich, high protein and fiber, delicious dinner. For an easy side dish, I saute greens with garlic in olive oil, or I’ll slice a good quality baguette, layer the slices with swiss cheese, and broil for 3 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and yummy. Or I make both side dishes!


"With you guiding me through the HeartMatters program, I was able to achieve a level of physical fitness that made regular and focused exercise feel more like a natural part of my day. I had slipped into a malaise that meant exercise could be ‘put aside’ for work or other important activities. Getting past this is a subtle but powerful accomplishment.

I really enjoyed playing and exercising with you outdoors (my preferred MO for our time together). The joy you bring to your work is wonderful. This flexibility put a kind of structure into my day that helped me ‘choose’ again – showed me how to take back some control of my schedule for important things like meditation and exercise.  It was also part of my journey of re-learning how to say NO to things. This represents additional forward movement for me.

Thanks Robin – I have really benefited from your work in more ways than just the obvious fitter, leaner, stronger me."

---J.E., Northern California,  Communication Consultant

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