Archives for August 2012

Tips for building a beautiful salad! Plus 5 salad recipes to make your very own

Those of you who’ve dined at my table know that I make a killer salad. I rarely follow salad recipes, preferring to follow my instincts and senses. Although I occasionally glean ideas from magazines and Pinterest, I usually end up modifying and substituting to get the exact dish I want!

tips for making beautiful saladsI do, however, follow a general set of principles that I’ve developed over years of daily salad making. Principles that are guided by texture, taste, juxtaposition and aesthetics. Call me the ‘salad whisperer’, if you will.

My salad recipe making “rules”?

  • 5 ingredients maximum; I can’t stand a kitchen-sink salad. Too many flavours and consistencies vying for my attention. Simpler is always better and takes less time to prepare! (Hubby, are you paying attention???)
  • contrasting colours are key; choose at least two very different coloured ingredients to add visual interest and pique the diner’s curiosity. I love blueberries with spinach!
  • combine tender and crisp; different textures will add flavour and depth to your salad experience. Try pecans and goat cheese.
  • pair sweet with salty; these two opposing flavours work well when combined and are often synonymous with the ‘tender and crisp’ rule above. Strawberries and feta. Or cranberries and seaweed.
  • under-dress rather than drown; I used to be a ‘dressing on the side’ girl. Too many bad experiences with salads wilting in thick, sugary sauces. When done properly, a dressing enhances the primary flavours of the salad. Subtle is best, so use a light hand.
  • salads aren’t only side dishes; at lunchtime, a salad is usually my entire meal. To get me through the afternoon, it needs protein and sometimes a bit of starch. I often use : to ‘beef up’ my midday meal. Warm or cold, leftover chicken, fish or tofu can be a tasty addition to your greens!

Be creative! You’re really only limited by your imagination (and what’s in your fridge…)!

5 salad recipes – Use them as guidelines to create your personal signature salad

1. Spinach salad with strawberries or blueberries and feta

  • Ingredients: spinach, strawberries or blueberries, sliced mushrooms, crumbled feta chess and toasted almonds
  • Dressing: EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) and balsamic vinegar (3:1); whisk and drizzle over top

salad recipes


2. Raw kale salad with sun-dried tomato and pine nuts

  • Ingredients: kale, sun-dried tomato slices, toasted pine nuts, sliced avocado
  • Dressing: EVOO, lemon juice, crushed garlic, cracked pepper and parmesan cheese

salad recipes

3. Mediterranean style veggies with boccincini

  • Ingredients: cucumbers, grape tomatoes, red peppers, sliced onions, boccincini rounds
  • Dressing: Basil pesto, EVOO, crushed garlic

salad recipes

4. Quinoa salad with chicken, kale and cranberries

  • Ingredients: cooked and cooled quinoa (leftovers are great), chicken breast chunks, blanched and cooled chopped kale, dried cranberries
  • Dressing: canola oil, rice vinegar, red pepper flakes, crushed garlic

This salad is so good that I never remember to take a photo before I’m all finished!

5. Field greens with green onions, shrimp and sesame-citrus vinaigrette

  • Ingredients: field greens (including romaine, arugula, spinach), green onions, cooked and cooled shrimp, julienned peppers
  • Dressing: orange juice, sesame oil, crushed garlic, grated fresh ginger, toasted sesame seeds 

salad recipes


Do you have a ‘signature’ salad recipe? Tell me!

Better yet,  make one of the above your own and share your modifications and substitutions below!

Creating an exercise schedule that works for you: get out your calendar now!

I am a firm believer in the power of calendars. This is what the one on my fridge looks like. 

scheduling your workouts

Big boxes. Lots of room to write down details.

I use my fridge calendar to schedule family events, children’s sports activities and appointments, hubby’s work travel, my teaching schedule and training sessions with clients. I even have a separate editorial calendar for scheduling blog posts!

I like to think of it as ‘mission control’: things that don’t make it on the calendar, often get overlooked or missed entirely.

Like exercise. When I include my weekly exercise plans on my kitchen calendar, I’m much more likely to get it done. Unfortunately, I haven’t been very good about scheduling exercise over the summer. Consequently, my workouts have been more of a mish-mash than I’d like.

Given that September is a fresh start, this week’s task is creating an exercise schedule. One that takes into consideration (1) the exercise I get when I teach classes, (2) my desire to spend less time at the gym and (3) my current goals of increasing my cardio to better balance out all the strength training I do (because I enjoy it so much more!).

Why don’t you grab your calendar (or at least a blank sheet of paper) and join me in creating an exercise schedule of your own!

I started by plotting out my current teaching load (if you’re not a group fitness instructor, you can skip this step. Or you can write in any ‘set in stone’ fitness routines you’re already following in)

schedule your workouts


Then I added in the times I spend training clients (put your work hours in here; these are times when you can’t possibly exercise)

scheduling your workouts

and taking care of my family (family, friends or pets; whoever you need to carve out time in your week for) 

scheduling your workouts

The gaps that remain are the blocks of time I have left for exercise. (Here’s hoping you have a few empty blocks left too!)

Given that my Sunday, Monday and Wednesday classes all include a cardio component and that I teach an additional cardio-only class at lunch on Monday, I really only need one more cardio workout in my week. Let’s make it a run on Friday, after my last client and before I have to pick the kids up from school.

And although I’m already lifting weights Sunday, Monday and Wednesday when I teach, to be honest, the loads that I lift when I’m teaching are no longer heavy enough to stimulate muscle growth for me. Maintenance, yes, growth, no. So I still need at least 2 days of targeted lifting in the weight room. Ideally 60-75 minute blocks with at least 48 hours between sessions. Looks like Tuesday and Thursday will have to do!

And of course, my Saturday morning 8 am Hatha Flow is sacred. Never miss it if I can help it.

Here’s what my fall exercise schedule looks like. (Is yours all filled out too? Make sure to take your daily energy levels into consideration. Not a morning person, leave those empty morning blocks for sleeping and schedule your workouts later in the day.) 

schedule your workouts

And what about ‘rest’ days? We need to schedule those in as well. I consider Saturday to be my rest day. Even though I’m attending yoga class, it’s more of a stretching and relaxation session for me than a full on workout.

On weeks when I feel like I need an extra rest day, I do more ‘coaching’ than ‘participating’ in my Wednesday morning Bootcamp. My participants have never complained that my lack of participation has resulted in them feeling less motivated to work themselves. In fact, some had said that they get a better workout when I’m walking around the room correcting form and ‘getting in their space’…

If you use iCal, you’ll recognize the calendar images above. That means that in addition to seeing my weekly exercise plans on the kitchen calendar, I’ll also be reminded of them every time I glance at my iPhone. That’s an awful lot of reminders each and every day 😉

Did you schedule your weekly workouts along with me?

Post a picture on Instagram! I’d love to see your plans!


Trigger foods: identify, remove and resist them to jump start weight loss

Do you remember that ad for Lay’s Potato Chips? “Bet you can’t eat just one”

As a teenager, my best friend and I would open a bag and dare each other to try. ‘Go on. Eat just one’. It was a contest that my girlfriend always lost. Chips were her trigger food. Not mine. I’m fully capable of resisting salty, it’s sugar that has me under it’s spell.

Although our trigger foods differed, what they, and all trigger foods have in common is the ability to set off a course of overeating, where control is lost and excessive amounts are eaten. (Does this sound familiar to you? Who’s nodding their head yes?)

For the most part, trigger foods are calorie-dense combinations of sugar and fat. Why? Sugar and fat trip the pleasure sensors in our brains. And happy brains want to stay happy regardless of how unhappy they’ll be at the end of the binge.

Your particular trigger foods aren’t necessarily your favourite foods. I love oatmeal, raspberries, chicken breasts and red peppers, but have never been tempted to eat any of them to the point of feeling sick.

Chocolate, on the other hand…

Want to jump start weight loss and improve your health and wellness?

  1. Identify your trigger foods.
  2. Remove them from your house. Not just your sight. Trigger foods call to you from the deepest, darkest recesses of your kitchen pantry.
  3. Resist purchasing them on your next grocery store trip. Ignore that little voice in the back of your head that tells you next time, you’ll really be able to stop at one. You won’t.
  4. Tell your friends and family not to tempt you with them. Sometimes those closest to us are the worst diet saboteurs.

What are your trigger foods?

Have you ever ‘gotten over’ a trigger food? That is, does a previous trigger food no longer have any affect on you? Can you now “eat just one”?



Jane Fonda meet Linda Hamilton; group fitness classes build great guns!

Does getting in shape top your list of back to school resolutions? Know how important strength training is to changing your body but unsure of where to start? Intimidated by gyms and weight rooms?

Look no further; group fitness classes are a great place to begin your strength training journey.

strength training for women

No longer just a place to get a good, choreographed, cardiovascular workout, aerobic studios are THE place for women looking to learn about strength training in a supportive, non-judgmental, primarily female environment!

In addition to grape vines and step touches, today’s group fitness classes often include weight training, core conditioning and functional exercises. With names like Body Sculpt, Power Core and Athletic Training, these classes can help you get leaner, stronger, more defined and yes, build great guns!

Benefits of participating in group fitness classes over starting out in the weight room?

  • Groups have great energy
  • The music is uplifting and regulates the speed of the workout
  • Classes tend to be primarily female
  • You’ll learn to properly use a variety of strength training tools
  • Every class will be different (this is important; ‘muscle confusion’ leads to results)
  • You’ll meet like-minded people who will become your new friends and training buddies

Ultimately, the quality of the class (and the speed with which your guns will appear), depends on who’s teaching it.

Ideally, your group strength training instructor will;

  • Be knowledgable about weight training
  • Demonstrate a variety of levels or progressions for each exercise
  • Tell you how the workout will be structured, allowing you to choose the right weight for the number of repetitions and sets she expects you to perform
  • Be safety-conscious, with respect to both equipment and exercise form
  • Spend most of the class coaching and correcting participants’ form, rather than focusing on her own workout

And most important, when she sees that you’re ready to step into the weight room (I promise, you’ll get there), she’ll celebrate your decision to leave the comfort of the class and venture out on your own!

Do you participate in group fitness classes?

What are your favourite types of class?

NB. This essay originally appeared on the Skinny Ms. blog but was inadvertently left out of the archives during the website’s re-design. I’m re-posting it here because (1) I think it’s a good read 🙂 and  (b) it needs a permanent home!

5 tips for strength training after an injury | post intercostal muscle strain exercises

When you exercise regularly, being side-lined by an injury sucks.

Not only does it derail you from your fitness goals, it messes with your head. You start to doubt your ability to return to your previous level of fitness, wondering if you’ll ever be back at 100% again.

Some people push too hard, too quickly and end up re-injured. Others give up entirely. There’s a fine line between challenging the injury enough to aid recovery and over-doing it.

As a personal trainer and group fitness instructor, I’ve taught and trained many people recovering from soft tissue injuries. Torn ACL’s, tight IT bands, strained rotator cuffs and impinged shoulders. I’ve also had my fair share of injuries, including a recent (and very painful!) intercostal muscle strain.

My suggestions for strength training after an injury?

  1. Seek professional help immediately. Although many injuries heal on their own (given enough time) others require specific stretching and strengthening exercises to maintain range of motion and minimize further aggravation. In my experience, physiotherapy and chiropractic care are the best places to start.
  2. Follow the advice of your practitioner (you’d be surprised how many people don’t!). Your physiotherapist or chiropractor will give you specific exercises to do. Do them! Don’t stop doing them after a week or a month. Or even when your injury starts to feel better. Build them into your recovery training plan, gradually progressing them as you regain strength.
  3. Don’t expect to perform at the same level you did before for a long time. Turn off that little voice in your brain that constantly compares your current performance to what you used to be able to do. You’ll get there (or close to there) again.
  4. Go slow. Rehab and corrective exercises should not be performed to fatigue. You shouldn’t feel delayed onset muscle soreness the day after you do them like you might after a heavy chest and back day. The goal of rehabilitation is to REHAB the muscle, not build size.
  5. Don’t forget the rest of your body! ACL injured? You can still do pushups, pullups, bicep curls and core work. Biceps tendonitis? Squats and lunges and planks are for you. Work around the injury. Be creative with your workouts. Enlist the help of a personal trainer if you need ideas!

Do I follow my own advice? You bet!

Here are the 3 core exercises I’m doing daily to regain strength after injuring my intercostals:

(This video is part of a YouTube challenge to Vlog Every Day in August [VEDA]. Head on over to my YouTube channel to see what else I’ve been vlogging about!)

Have you ever suffered from an exercise-related injury?

How did you go about strength training afterwards?

Disclaimer: Although I am a BCRPA-certified Personal Trainer, I AM NOT a physiotherapist or chiropractor. The above suggestions are general and likely to apply to a broad range of situations. For recommendations specific to your own injury and rehabilitation, please make an appointment to see a local physiotherapist or chiropractor 🙂

5 healthy emergency snacks: no refrigeration required

Last week I wrote about my plan to give up snacking on protein bars and meal replacement treats. For me, these are trigger foods that don’t satisfy and leave me wanting a second or third. (9 days without and still going strong!)

As usual, you guys had tons of great snack ideas for me. (Thanks so much!)

But my problem wasn’t so much that I couldn’t come up with healthy snack options but more that I needed healthy EMERGENCY snack options. You know, no fork, no fridge required. Snacks that could sit in your backpack or purse or glove box for more than a day or two without turning mouldy and going bad. Snacks that could be eaten in the car between clients and before grocery shopping!

When I started buying protein bars, I did so for just that reason. To have healthy emergency snacks readily available for days when I ended up with too few clean eats in my cooler. Yep, it happens to me too.

Over the last week, I’ve spent several hours perusing various grocery stores and markets searching for options. My criteria?

  • Each snack must combine complex carbohydrates with lean protein.
  • Added sugars (and fake sugars) are to be avoided wherever possible.
  • Single servings packs are preferred (although more expensive and less environmentally friendly, these aren’t every day snacks, but things I might rely on once a week)
  • Refrigeration not required.
  • Finger food wherever possible.
I managed to come up with 5 healthy emergency snacks that I’ll be using to make car and gym bag care packs!
1. Seasoned tuna and melba toast (Spicy Thai Chili is my favourite!)
clean eating snacks
2. Dried apricots and pumpkin seeds (packaged separately to keep the almonds crisp)
clean eating snacks
3. Dried apple rings and raw pecans (my 13-year old found the apple rings and ate the whole bag before I could get a picture)
4. Whole grain rice cakes and nut butter (I have yet to find a local shop that sells individual servings. I KNOW they exist; I’ve seen them on Instagram!)
 clean eating snacks
5. Unsweetened applesauce cups and unsalted almonds

clean eating snacks

Note that numbers 1 and 5 do require cutlery; do you know how hard it is to find protein with a shelf life?

Now it’s your turn.

What would you pack in your healthy emergency snack pack?

And where do YOU buy individual servings of nut butters?