Time-Saving Cooking Tips for Healthy Writers

I knew for certain I loved writing when within weeks of committing to the craft my kitchen looked more like a college dude’s than a health conscious adult’s. What should I make for dinner? Let’s see… We have mustard, ancient beer and an entree formerly known as fish. I think. (Ew.)

“Hello..oh…oh…? Is anybody in there?”

Writing like crazy and with gusto is a great thing. Starving ourselves or existing on cereal, Pop Tarts and fast food, not so much. As we’ve discussed here before, our brains require a healthy, balanced diet for proper function. I don’t know about you, but when it comes to my creativity and works-in-progress, I’ll take any effective tool I can get. Whether you’re gearing up for NaNoWriMo or simply wish to up the ante on your wellness, the following tips can help.

10 Time-Saving Ways to Cook Your Way to Better Writing

1. Dust off your crock pot. They aren’t just for savvy grannies anymore. I was living in Paris with a kitchen that consisted of a pop-out burner and a cooler when my mom suggested a slow-cooker. They are the time and money-saving bomb. Recipes for particularly brain-healthy options: Salmon, Veggies & Rice, Quinoa Red Lentil Soup, Chicken with Kale

2. Prepare large batches. Make a big batch of veggie-loaded lasagna, turkey meatloaf, soup or chili to last you several days or more. For healthy frozen meals, freeze single or family-size portions in secure containers. This Whole Wheat Spinach Lasagna is one great option. For you gluten-free folks, use sliced zucchini or brown rice lasagna noodles.

3. Stock up on frozen fruits and veggies. Frozen fruits and vegetables are flash frozen at their nutritional prime, so they’re at least as nutritious as produce-bin items. For healthier throw-it-together meals, add frozen greens or mixed veggies to pasta sauce, leftover mashed potatoes and soups. To add brain-healthy nutrients to oatmeal, add frozen or thawed berries while cooking.

4. Freeze leftover and over-ripe fruits and vegetables. Freezing changes the texture of fruits and vegetables, but maintains their freshness. Freeze peeled bananas and other fruit for use in smoothies. For an ultra-filling smoothie, blend 2/3 cup frozen blueberries with 1 banana, a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds and 1 cup of Greek yogurt or milk. Chop up leftover greens, such as kale and spinach, for use in sauces, soups and smoothies. Bonus: No thawing required.

Berry smoothies knock OJ out of the park.

5. Freeze batches of cooked grains. Preparing large batches of brown rice, wild rice and quinoa then freezing single or family-size portions in freezer bags can cut an hour or more of cooking time, plus cleaning time, from your days. You can also purchase pre-cooked frozen whole grains at most grocery stores, which cost more, but save time.

6. Become a one-pot rockstar. There are zillions of healthy one-pot recipes available, which reduce prep and cleanup time significantly. (Hallelujah for that!) For some delicious, nutritious ideas, check out these Healthy One-Pot Soup, Stew and Chili Recipes at Epicurious.com.

7. Give your restaurant leftovers healthy makeovers. We all dine out occasionally, sometimes due to an empty refrigerator. When you do, reserve leftovers to work into a healthy meal the next day. Roasted, steamed and seasoned vegetables work well in soups, pasta and rice dishes. Leftover meats can be diced up for salad topping and sliced up for sandwich filling. Breads (preferably whole grain) can be dried and crumbled into breadcrumbs for use in meatloaf and baked, chicken parmesan.

My favorite use of leftover Indian food: whole grain, veggie-loaded, chicken tikka pizza. Stir tamarind chutney into tomato sauce for added zest.

8. Stock your pantry with healthy staples. Whole grain rice and quinoa mixes, whole grain pastas and canned goods, such as diced tomatoes (which aren’t typically as nutritious fresh during winter months), reduced sodium beans and organic soups, such as Amy’s brand, provide nutritious meal additions without a soon-coming expiration date. To save shopping time, purchase healthy pantry staples online. Organic Kingdom, True Foods Market and even Amazon provide useful options.

9. Keep healthy foods readily available. Fill an attractive jar with nuts or trail mix and a bowl with ready-to-eat fruit to keep in your kitchen. If you’re prone to salty food cravings, nuts, low-fat or air-popped popcorn, pickles and olives provide healthy alternatives to potato chips. For sweet teeth, turn to unsweetened dried fruit, fresh fruit, berry-filled yogurt or small dark chocolate bars. Less healthy treats are okay in moderation, but they shouldn’t take center stage.

Move over pretzels. How scrumptious do these look?!?

10. Shop with a list, then stock, cook and chop. Take a list for your one-pot-wonder or crock pot recipe, plus healthy staples, to the grocery store once per week—or whenever you can. Once you’re home, begin cooking a meal. While it bakes, stews or simmers, chop up fresh fruit and vegetables, or boil grains for those freezer options in #5. Turn on relaxing music and have fun with it. The couple of hours shopping plus food prep can take is a worthy investment that will save you time, stress and brain fog.

Lastly, ask for help as needed. None of us go it alone, in writing or life. Your loved ones want to support you and so do I. So, any questions? Challenges? Tips to add? Thoughts to share? My blog living room is yours, too. 🙂

6 Common Diet Don’ts That Cramp Creativity

Have you ever tried to problem-solve, sculpt or write through major hunger pangs? What about after a huge, I’m totally stuffed! meal?

When our diets suffer, creativity is one of the first things to dwindle. Here’s what’s cool: Eating well makes way for a happy, healthy brain. And it isn’t hard. Avoiding these common “don’ts,” choosing primarily healthy foods and not going too long without eating, can boost your brain function, leading to sharper creativity and improved overall health.

1. Dieting. Roughly half of Americans are dieting at any given time, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, despite the negligible success rate and broad range of complications. Eating too little wreaks havoc on our metabolism and starves our brains. Restrictive diets—including those diet “plans” and “programs” that impose strict rules—can cause foggy thinking, poor concentration, fixation on food and weight-control and memory problems.

2. Overdoing protein. One macronutrient group Americans tend not to lack is protein. Most of us consume over twice the amount we need, which is around 7 grams for every 20 pounds of body weight. Protein plays an important role in brain function by supplying amino acids—the building blocks of our brains network. They allow for excitability and relaxation, as part of a balanced diet. But going overboard has been linked with brain shrinkage and an increased risk for dementia. It also leaves little room in our diets for brain-energizing foods. And don’t be fooled by the initial weight loss stimulated by high-protein/low-carb diets. It’s typically temporary, unhealthy loss, and our brains and bodies can suffer.

3. Skimping on whole grains. Our brains rely on carbohydrates more than any other nutrient. Drop too low, and we’re likely to feel sluggish, fatigued, agitated, blah and dulled creatively. Whole grains are among the most nutritious carbohydrate sources on the planet. Many large-scale studies have linked diets rich in whole grains with positive brain function. Sadly, most Americans consumes less than one-third of the recommended three-plus servings per day. Whole grains are top sources of brain-boosting nutrients, including B-vitamins, vitamin E, selenium and magnesium. Because they provide more fiber and protein than refined grains, such as white flour, they also provide more staying power for your brain and body between meals. Nutritious examples include brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, oats, spelt, buckwheat, whole wheat and popcorn.

4. Too few healthy fats—and excessive unhealthy fats. Our bodies make all the saturated fat we need, which are also found in fried foods, fatty meats and dairy products. And trans-fats, prevalent in hard margarine and commercially-prepared cookies, crackers and other foods containing hydrogenated vegetable oil, can reduce the effects of healthy fats, which are vital for proper brain function. Like protein, most of us are not fat-deficient. But many of us lack healthy fats. For improved brain function, choose cold-water fish, such as salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel and halibut, over fatty steaks most often. Other brain-healthy fat sources include flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans and canola oil.

5. Too few fruits and veggies. Fruits and vegetables aren’t just great for immune function, healthy skin and weight control. They supply rich amounts of antioxidants, water and fiber—ingredients our brains adore. (Antioxidants help reduce damage from free radicals in the brain, which can interfere with creative processes.) Aim for a variety of fruits and vegetables, and a variety of colors, for best results. Including colorful produce with all of your meals, and snacks as desired, is a great way to meet your daily needs. Particularly brain-healthy varieties include berries, plums, citrus fruits, tomatoes, artichokes, dark leafy greens, carrots and sweet potatoes.

6. Overdoing alcohol. We may feel hilarious, smart and savvy while boozing it up. Most of us know that’s largely drunkenness speaking. Studies have shown that the more alcohol we drink, the more likely we are to experience severe sleep problems, daytime grogginess and reduced cognitive function. And even moderate alcohol consumption has been linked with brain shrinkage over time. If you enjoy alcohol, aim for moderate and occasional indulgences—ideally after you’ve completed creative work. 😉

A Sample Brain-Healthy Day

Breakfast: Steel-cut oatmeal, organic or Greek yogurt, fresh fruit and ground flaxseed or walnuts

Lunch: Large veggie salad with balsamic vinaigrette, grilled salmon, 100 percent whole grain roll

Snack: Baby carrots with healthy dip and/or apple slices with almond butter

Dinner: Steamed or grilled veggies, brown rice, vegetarian chili or grilled tofu

Dessert/Snack: Dark chocolate-dipped berries with a glass of low-fat milk


For more information, check out my LIVESTRONG.com article, The Diet, Exercise and Creativity Connection, featuring award-winning neurologist, Dr. Paul Bendheim.

Now I’m hungry. What about you? What brain-healthy “don’t” do you steer clear of? Which could use some work? Any questions for me? I’d love to support you toward your goals.