5 Small Ways To Eat Better.

I'm sure many of you, like me, are trying to do a little better in 2017. A new year always wipes the slate clean and gives us the chance to improve a bit - and I don't know about you, but I can always stand to do a better job with healthy eating. 

With that in mind, here are a few easy ways to clean up your diet. 

1. Watch added sugar. 

More than ever, experts are sure that sugar, not fat, is the culprit in so many American health issues like heart disease. And added sugar is everywhere -- from obvious places, like sugary cereals, to sneaky ones like pasta sauce and mayonnaise. Being mindful of the ingredients in what you eat can be a game-changer for your energy level, skin, and weight. This one can be especially important when reaching for something that sounds healthy, like an organic fruit popsicle, and then realizing that each individual pop has 18 grams of sugar. (Not that this happened to me this week. Oh wait. It did.)

2. Snack plan. 

Just like meal planning (which we'll get to), snack planning is something people rarely consider, but should. Back when I did The Whole30, I had to learn how to snack plan because there was so little I could "legally" eat. When I got hungry, I needed something immediate in my pantry or fridge to provide a little relief between meals, and I needed that thing to already be prepared - otherwise, I would head straight for the chips. When you get home from the grocery store, go ahead and make yourself a few little pre-portioned containers of snacks you can be proud of, like carrots and Greek yogurt, a small bag of grapes, or a container of nuts. It takes so little time and the payoff is HUGE. I actually bought the snack containers featured in the photo above and filled them up with snack food that I know I won't hate myself for eating. It's ready to grab in the fridge whenever I need it.  

3. Swap desserts for fruit. 

Ugh, I know. This one is annoying. And for the record, I don't mean you should do this 100% of the time because dessert is the best and sometimes you just have to go for it. But if you're anything like me, you eat dessert because you want something sweet at the end of a meal, and sometimes that means eating a dessert that isn't really that good. When we eat at home, I rarely make a dessert. Instead, Jordan and I have some plain Greek yogurt with granola and berries, or a couple of clementine oranges (that he makes me peel for him because he can't do it #marriage). It sounds like something on the truly skinny say, but it's a fact: fruit satisfies your sweet tooth. If it doesn't right away, give it some time - you'll be surprised how much you crave it. And if your sweet tooth doesn't ever completely go away, keep a secret stash of dark chocolate covered raisins in your cabinet that you don't tell your husband about. 

4. Meal plan. 

This one is similar to snack planning, but it lasts the whole week. I actually wrote a post on the benefits of meal planning that you can read here - suffice it to say that I'm a big fan. In addition to organizing your entire life and making your grocery store experience pleasant, it also allows you to be intentional about what you eat. I am definitely a grazer - I walk around the house eating a little of this and a little of that until I've accidentally spoiled whatever meal is next. Meal planning prevents that from happening because you aren't wondering, "What's for dinner??" 

5. Sit down and eat. 

Jord and I were talking about this just last night - making a meal an occasion is something we really try to prioritize. If I'm cooking (and I'm trying to cook at home at least 4 nights a week), then we set the table: placemats, napkins, cutlery, pitcher of tea or water on the table. We sit down, say the blessing, put on some music, and have dinner. Granted, we don't do this every time - we're still working on it - but on the nights we do, we both agree that it's so pleasant and a reminder that food is meant to be enjoyed and savored, not scarfed down or binged on. Sharing a meal with someone is really a holy experience, and it's so easy for me to forget that in the busyness of life. 

SO. Are you working on eating better? Tell me what your game plan is. I always need some tips. Come on, Eileen. Spill.

Make Your House Smell Like Christmas!

My parents moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2015 - just about the same time Jordan and I moved to Asheville. With my brother in Nashville, we're officially in three different states, so creating holiday schedules has become increasingly challenging. 

This year, since we were all already going to be together for Thanksgiving, we decided to celebrate ThanksMas - a new mashup holiday. On November 22nd, I decorated our whole house for Christmas and we opened presents in pajamas and ate our traditional Christmas morning breakfast (except we ate it for supper). The best part was that it was 7 o'clock - we got to have cocktails this time! 

One of the easiest ways to get myself into the Christmas spirit is to make it smell like Christmas. There are certain scents each of us ties to certain events - we always get a real tree, for example, so that's one of mine. Aside from that, this extremely simple stovetop recipe does the trick every single time, and will have your guests asking, "What smells so good??" 

Ingredients: 

1 cinnamon stick
2 T ground cinnamon
1 can of cranberry sauce
2 bay leaves
1 T cloves
1 T ground nutmeg
1/2 a navel orange
1/2 a lemon
2 c (or so) of water

Directions: 

This is the easiest thing of all time. You literally dump everything into the pot, stir, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. 

Once it starts boiling, your house will fill with the most delicious, Christmas-y scent. It smells like a warm cider mixed with a Christmas cookie mixed with...just general goodness. Trust me. Try it. 

The best part about this is, it keeps FOREVER. As you boil the water out, you can simply add more water and it starts the whole process over again. I keep this on the back burner of my stovetop all season long, and add more cinnamon and cloves as necessary to give it that nice pop of holiday smell. 

A word of caution: after you bring to a boil, make sure to reduce it to a simmer. Otherwise, you'll end up with scorched cranberries! 

You probably have most of these ingredients in your pantry already! So - get to work. A perfect Christmas house awaits you! 

How to Meal Plan in 5 Steps.

Until about three years ago, I had never even heard of meal planning. It wasn't until I did The Whole 30 in 2014 that I became a disciple of this technique, which is absolutely guaranteed to save you time, money, and brain cells. 

The idea behind meal planning is that you carve out 15 minutes at the beginning of your week to (you guessed it!) plan your meals. I used to do one of two things: make multiple trips to the store (time consuming) OR make one trip, but just kind of grab whatever I thought I'd need (expensive and inefficient). By planning meals at the beginning of the week, I save myself hundreds of dollars a year, make my trip short and succinct, and, to my surprise, enjoyable. 

Walk with me.

I start by deciding what I want to make for dinner. This particular week, we're eating in all 5 nights. Other weeks, depending on what we have going on, I may only plan for 3 or 4 nights - it varies. Make it work for you! 

A note: I don't formally plan breakfasts and dinners, but I do include ingredients for what I know we eat every morning (eggs, granola, yogurt, berries) and what Jordan will need for lunch (bread, cheese, apples, etc.) on my list for the week. 

I have a little spiral-bound notebook that I do this in each week. In the top margin, write your name in the upper right-hand corner. 

...that was a reflex from teaching. Sorry. 

1. In the top margin, I write what we'll be eating: 

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2. I create my categories. Here are the codes I use:

"P" for produce;
"D" for dairy;
"M" for meat;
"C&B" for canned and boxed;
"H" for household;
"F" for frozen. 

I learned this from a meal-planning service years ago - make your grocery list according to sections of the store *mind = blown*. That way, you aren't running back and forth between aisles because you listed "broccoli" right after "chips" and "eggs." Listing by category allows you to get everything on your list the first time you're in that part of the store - then you can move on! It's a game-changer. 

3. I take a look back at Monday night's dinner. What do I already have in the pantry? I've got several of the ingredients already covered. So - what do I need from the grocery? 

 Ignore the "berries" and "grapes" in the "P" section. I got a little carried away. I will not, in fact, put either of those things in my chili. 

Ignore the "berries" and "grapes" in the "P" section. I got a little carried away. I will not, in fact, put either of those things in my chili. 

4. I'm now ready to move on to Tuesday's dinner. I list what I'll need to get. 

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5. Then I complete the process for the week's dinners, also adding in anything "extra" that doesn't have to do with dinner (La Croix, dog food, eggs, etc.). PS - I know eggs are not dairy, but they're in the dairy section

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That's it! 

Of course, we have some things in the house that will be used for our meals/snacks that aren't on this list since they're already in the pantry/fridge. But that's the beauty of meal planning: you don't buy anything you already have, because you check as you go to see what you need.

Going to the grocery used to be a slog for me. Ever since meal planning came into my life, I take my neat little list, pop in my headphones, listen to a podcast, and enjoy. Everything is laid out for me! It makes the process so. much. more. enjoyable. 

And if we can make the mundane not just tolerable, but enjoyable, then haven't we won? 

So. Do you meal plan? What's your method?? I love learning tricks from people who also do this. 

Happy eating! 

5 Reasons To Go To The Gynecologist.

Aaaaaaaaand every straight male reader I have just closed their browser. 

I know, it's kind of unsavory. But really it's not, which is what we're going to talk about today. 

I live in the deep South, and down here, we do not discuss such things - particularly in mixed company, particularly on public forums. Topics like gynecology are met with a wince. "Do we really need to talk about that?" 

Yep. We really do. 

It's because of this taboo that many women are terrified and/or unwilling to see their doctors. We don't talk about it in everyday conversations because of what is associated with that area of our bodies - sex, babies, and intimacy. And that's all totally understandable - privacy and decorum are important and have their place. 

The other side of the coin, though, is that a gynecologist is not just a doctor for sex, babies, and intimate questions - a gynecologist is a doctor for women's HEALTH. That includes all of those less-than-dinner-appopriate conversations, but it also means that someone is giving you a good solid once-over - checking the miracle that is your body for trouble spots and medical puzzle pieces that, when put together correctly, paint a picture we just can't see on our own. 

So here are five reasons you should go to your gynecologist, with a little help from Dr. Mindy Lahiri, our favorite OB/GYN. And I'm only going to say the word "vagina" once. Ready? Okay. 

1. Prevention.

People, if this isn't a reason enough, I don't know what is. Even if you only see your doctor once a year, that's a guarantee that someone who is not you will check for things like cervical and breast cancer EVERY YEAR. Of course, self-checks are key, but taking advantage of an objective set of medically-trained eyes never hurt anyone. In fact, quite the opposite. You taking initiative and asking questions could be the difference in your quality of life for years to come. 

2. Building a relationship. 

This may sound weird, but I love my gynecologist. It took me a few tries to find exactly the right person for me, but I am so happy that my doctor is someone in whom I trust and can confide. Every visit, she carves out at least 5 minutes to sit and talk to me about what's going on in my life so that she has a whole picture of me as a person, not just a patient. I have laughed and cried in her exam room, and I feel totally at home with her. The fact that this woman will deliver my future babies is actually thrilling to me. 

Similarly, there are lots of doctors who won't be your type. But, as with dating, one bad apple shouldn't spoil the bunch. If you're unhappy with your current gyno, make a change. Somewhere out there is your gynecological soulmate, and you have to find them. Go! Right now!  

3. Education. 

If I ever had a wake-up call about how little some of our young people know about sex, it was teaching middle school. WOW. Nope, you actually can't get pregnant from oral sex. No, you can't "wash off" an STD by showering. And The Clap isn't a fun dance move. 

But the education piece goes beyond young people. Every woman needs to know about her specific, particular body - how it functions, what it looks and feels like when it's healthy, and what warning signs to watch for if it's not.

4. Normalizing. 

In my short 27 years, I've met several women who are terrified to go to the gynecologist. Some of these women were afraid something about their visit would hurt; others were under the impression that they only needed to go to the doctor when they became sexually active. 

The way to face a fear is to face it. If you are afraid of the doctor, go to the doctor. This is your health we're talking about - not a roller coaster, or heights, or some other avoidable anxiety. And for the record, your vagina (there it was!) is just as important whether you are sexually active or not. In fact, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women see their doctor for the first time between 13 and 15, not at 18 as is the common practice in the US. 

And the truth is? Nervousness is totally normal - your doctor expects it! The right doctor will make you feel comfortable and relaxed, and they've seen everything you've got before. Probably right before and right after they see "yours." 

5. Because you deserve it. 

It's easy to think of gynecology as a specialty, and technically, it is. But in my own mind, seeing my gynecologist is just as important as seeing my general physician. There are so many pro's to seeing my doctor. My annual appointment was yesterday, and I love knowing that all systems are "go" so that I can live my life to the fullest and not fret over my health or my fear of going in to get something checked. It's empowering, and everyone is entitled to that feeling.

You are fabulous, and you deserve to live a long, healthy life. Your doctor can play a huge role in allowing that to happen. So, while you might be fearful, or just dragging your feet to finally make that annual appointment for this year, DON'T. Go. Go to the gynecologist. Be a woman who is proactive about her health and takes charge of her body. Mindy Lahiri and I want you to. 

Thanks, girl. 

Cooking Hacks

Recently, Jordan and I baked a cake together (for more on that, tune in to my Snapchat @MCMScott). It was kind of a hysterical experience. But the thing I loved most about it was hearing Jordan say, "Wow - you really do know what you're doing." He's never in the kitchen when I cook or bake, so he was pleasantly surprised that I do, indeed, have a basic knowledge of how things work in a kitchen.

Mmhmm. Men. Amirite, ladies? 

I have a few friends who are professional chefs and pastry chefs, so I hope they'll just close their browser at this point because I'm inevitably going to say something wrong and/or dumb. BUT, in the spirit of sharing, here are some things that make my life easier in the kitchen: 

1. Counter garbage. 

"Ew, you put garbage on the counter??" Well...kinda. 

Back in our first house in Birmingham, our kitchen had very limited storage space. I'm talking about we had ONE DRAWER. Yep. You read that right. 

That being the case, I decided that I wanted to try to conserve as much space as possible while I cooked. Thus, "counter garbage" was born. This is the most unattractive tip on the list, but I love it. I take a grocery bag, put it on the counter, and use it for all my food-related waste: the ends of vegetables, the outside of onions, little plastic wrappers on bottles or cans - anything. Then, when I'm done, all my garbage is in one place. All I have to do is tie it off and chuck it. It saves me time while cooking to not have to constantly carry a cutting board or a handful of food trimmings to the garbage can. 

There are lots of cute little counter garbages you can buy offline, or you can be like me and stick a bag on your counter. Because, I'm classy. 

 

2. Mise en place.

This one is in French, so I hope it's clear that I didn't invent it.  

"Mise en place" means "everything in its place." The idea is that, before cooking a meal, you pre-set all the equipment and all the ingredients you'll need. Although this seems like a lot of work on the front end (and may not be necessary for recipes you know by heart), this takes A LOT of guesswork out of making a new recipe. Once you get started, you can just add the ingredients - BAM! No measuring, no stopping to double-check - just dump it right in. 

One of the best part of employing this technique is that successfully doing it requires you to read the recipe carefully. The number of times I've ruined a dish because I didn't read the recipe through first are...well, too many to name. 

And of course, it makes for a beautiful, organized workspace - that always helps to yield a more delicious recipe, right?  

 

3. Crack an egg on a flat surface. 

I'm sure half of you are like, "Yeah. Duh." But I recently heard someone say this and it changed the game. I have two eggs every single morning for breakfast, so this actually made a pretty big difference in my kitchen. 

Never. Crack an egg. On the side. Of a bowl. It's that simple. Why? Doing that cracks the shell into the egg, making it more likely that you'll end up with bits of shell in your final product. Instead, crack the egg on a flat surface, like your counter or a cutting board, and the crack will distribute more evenly across more surface area. That way, you can just pull the egg apart. 

In the meantime, we'll all be working up to this: 

 

4. Oven bacon. 

This one was taught to me a couple of years ago by a fellow dentist wife (shoutout to Tara Hulgan!) and I have never looked back. 

Instead of frying bacon in your cast iron skillet, put your bacon on a piece of foil (make sure the foil comes up and over the sides of the pan), stick it on a cookie sheet, and pop that sheet into a COLD oven. Once it's in, preheat your oven to about 425 degrees. 

Here's the important step: the first few times you do this, you'll need to really babysit your bacon to see how your oven is going to behave. Once the temperature hits 425, if your bacon isn't done, you'll want to increase the time the bacon is cooking, not increase the heat (otherwise, your oven just gets hotter and hotter until your bacon burns). Instead, hang out by the oven door and pay attention to how long you waited. Next time, once the oven preheats, you'll be able to set your kitchen timer for exactly that long and when it goes off, TA DA! Perfectly, evenly cooked, mess-free bacon. And you can still save the fat. 

(Also, buy your bacon from the butcher and not from an airtight package in the deli. Because #cancer.) 

 

5. Microwave corn to de-silk and shuck. 

This one sounds a bit weird, but I'm telling you - you will NEVER be covered in those weird, sticky corn silks again. And who likes that? (Not me, just so I'm clear. I do not like that.) Shoutout to my grandmother, Nonnie, for sharing this one. 

I actually found a video of a chef doing this! It's SO effective every single time. Trust.  

What are your cooking or kitchen hacks?? Tell me! I want to keep impressing my husband with my endless knowledge on this subject. 

A Kale Salad You'll Actually Like.

I did not subscribe to the kale craze. I don't get it. It's a vegetable. I mean, I get it, it's supposed to be super good for you, blah blah blah. But there wasn't a dish that featured kale that I had tried and liked. It's kind of bitter and weird. Why were people so obsessed with it? (Probably because kale has a publicist. No, that's not a joke.)

Then, while visiting Jordan's family, I ate this salad. We lovingly refer to it as "Missy's Kale Salad," because Jordan's aunt Missy is the queen of this recipe. It's often one of a few healthy foods served in a sea of ribs and mashed potatoes, so it usually gets gobbled up. 

It's not a complicated recipe - the only thing that takes a second is de-coring the brussels. 

What's so great about it? 

  • It lends itself to large portions, so I make a double serving and we use it as our salad with dinner for the week.
  • It's insanely healthy, obviously. 
  • The lemon/mustard/garlic combo in the dressing is so delicious and tangy - really gives it a nice "bite;" the almonds are buttery and give it a great texture; and the pecorino is the perfect topping. 


(To make this recipe Whole30 approved, remove the cheese and make sure the mustard is sugar-free. It's compliant otherwise!) 

  A note: I was out of Dijon mustard (I only had yellow), so the ground mustard was just a substitute for this photo because it's prettier. I didn't actually use it! Hehe! 

A note: I was out of Dijon mustard (I only had yellow), so the ground mustard was just a substitute for this photo because it's prettier. I didn't actually use it! Hehe! 

Ingredients: 
The salad:
1 bunch of kale (usually 5-6 large sprigs) de-stemmed and rough chopped
8-10 brussels sprouts, de-cored and rough chopped. 
1 cup pecorino cheese
1/2 cup slivered almonds
Salt and pepper to taste

The dressing: 
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about one lemon's worth)
2 T Dijon mustard
1 minced garlic clove
1/4 cup olive oil

1. Wash your kale carefully and set it aside. 

2. Begin de-coring your brussels. The way that I do this is: take the outer leaves off, cut the brussels sprout in half, then de-core it by carefully cutting out the hard, white center. After it's de-cored, I add it to the pile and give all those yummy brussels a good rough chop. 

3. Now, for the dressing. This is a "dump" dressing - you can toss all the ingredients in a bowl at once and whisk them together. (Sorry there's not a whisked photo attached. Ha!) 

4. Spread your slivered almonds out on a sheet of foil. You can toast them however you like - I like to use the toaster over so that I can monitor them (others broil them in the oven or toast them in olive oil on the stovetop). Almonds burn very easily, so whatever your method, be vigilant! 

5. Almost done! Mix your veggies together, toss them in dressing, add the almonds and cheese, and voila! 

Super simple and VERY yummy. A crowd-pleaser for sure - even for people say they don't like kale. I was one of those people. I am now a kale fan. What happened to my life? 

Happy eating!