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Filtering by Tag: Wellbeing

Choo Choo! Get Onboard the Meal Train!

Rachel O'Reilly

It takes a village to raise a child.
— African Proverb

After the arrival of a new baby, friends and family will want to know how they can show their love and support. One of the most helpful and appreciated gestures can be providing meals for the thrilled, yet exhausted family.

What’s the best way to go about planning meals after a birth? A meal train. A meal train is simply when friends and family make and deliver meals according to a set schedule. This can easily be done using sites like Much easier than starting an email thread, provides an interactive calendar, email alerts for participants, the ability to list meal preferences, updates for cancellations or additions and much more.

Whether you’re a new mother, or just a friend who wants to provide a meal, you might be wondering what kinds of meals to request or provide.

Focus on nutrient density. This is a time when mom needs plenty of nutrients to provide her with energy as well as the nutrients needed for breast milk. Women who are breastfeeding should be sure to eat plenty of foods high in animal fats, to get fat-soluble vitamins A and D, as well as minerals like zinc and B12. For those who can tolerate dairy, whole milk is a good option, especially if bought from a local farmer. Lacto-fermented beverages (such as beet kvass, kefir or kombucha) as well as soaked grain porridges are traditionally believed to increase milk supply. 

Whole, unprocessed foods are naturally high in various nutrients. Strongly consider organic meats, vegetables, grains and legumes, with a special emphasis on leafy green vegetables. Dishes that can pack in a variety of vegetables will be excellent, such as soups and stews, which can be extra nourishing if made from slow-simmered bone broths. One-pot meals or casseroles can also be comforting and loaded with vegetables. For meat, poultry, or fish, opt for the highest quality you can find. This means grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken or wild-caught fish. A simple example of this is a whole roasted chicken with a side of herb roasted seasonal vegetables and a salad. Stay away from trans fatty acids that are found in margarine, vegetable shortenings and many processed foods.

Mother’s dietary preferences or conditions should always be considered, and sites like will allow for clear specifications on this. If mom didn’t digest beans well before birth, then substitute your multi-bean chili with a meat and veggie-based one instead. Or, if mom was sensitive to gluten, opt for something like this gluten-free shepherds pie with cauliflower topping. 

Here are a few tips for "meal train etiquette":

  • Think of meals that are out-of-the-box ready. At home, your go-to meals may have several parts that need to be assembled or put together. Especially with a new baby, it will be a joy to just open a meal, heat, and eat!

  • If you’re not confident in your culinary skills, consider take-out from the family’s favorite place. Sometimes a whole pizza plus a salad will satisfy everyone’s taste buds, especially if there are other children in the family.

  • Consider including a sweet treat. Homemade pies, fresh fruit salads or chia seed puddings are great!

  • Make it beautiful. Fresh flowers are always a nice addition, or beautiful cloth napkins to wrap things in, along with a hand-written note. Sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest difference and will let new mom know she is fully supported.

Breathe Easy: Upgrade Your Household Cleaning Products

Rachel O'Reilly

By Courtney Ward

When I found out I was pregnant, I started to modify everything in my life to make sure I was living the healthiest way that I could. Once you know you are responsible for a little human, shit gets real. Good thing I had more than nine months to prepare, because I needed it.

One of the major changes I made instantly was eliminating chemicals in our household cleaning products. It’s incredible how many contain harmful ingredients from brands I thought I could trust.

After I had my baby, I'll admit I may have taken it too far (I’m just going to blame it on the hormones). I made my own baby wipes out of olive oil and paper towels, and bought these fancy little acrylic containers to display them in. Craziness ensued. Thank you to my family and close friends for not calling me out at the time. Unfortunately, these wipes were ineffective, and producing these on the regular was just not sustainable as a new mom. Clearly, I knew nothing about the amount of diaper changes that a newborn requires. It’s all about creating healthy adjustments that are realistic for your lifestyle. I ended up loving these natural wipes and, most importantly, learned to stick to making things I am good at, like chocolate chip cookies!

But, getting back to household cleaners. If you are into DIY and a want a simple, effective, chemical-free household cleaner that will work: Grab a spray bottle and add vinegar, water and lemon oil. It doesn't get much easier than that, and you will feel like Martha Stewart.

This site I found to be useful for researching products, when I had a free five minutes between diaper changes and meal prep, is the Environmental Working Group.

You can search, “laundry detergent” or “baby soap” if you are looking to find a new product and it will display options with ratings. You can also enter the names of your existing cleaners to see how they stack up. I researched my current products, and created a wish list on Amazon, all of which took me less than an hour. This made it easy to make the swap without thinking about it.

Operation: "Upgrade my Family’s household cleaning supplies” started with a slow phase-out of everything as it ran out during my pregnancy, and replacing it with an organic, safe alternative. And you can breathe easy -- oftentimes the alternatives were even cheaper than the name brands I had grown up with.

Here are some of our favorite supplies that are safe and do the trick:

I can’t say that I am perfect when it comes to household products. I still use bleach sometimes when cleaning the bathrooms, and Windex when those sticky hand prints cover our sliding glass doors. But, being a parent isn’t about being perfect, it’s about doing the best you can - and switching out a few products can put you on the path of creating a healthier home and planet.

Avoiding "Hanger" While Breastfeeding

Rachel O'Reilly

Hanger (noun) / Hangry (adjective): an overwhelming sensation of hunger that leads to anger and frustration.

You may have been there before, even prior to getting pregnant; you wait too long to eat, then suddenly it feels like the world will end if you don’t get food into your body immediately! 

This can be a common experience while breastfeeding, especially if the diet is made up of refined carbohydrates and low-fat foods. To supply your body with the extra 300 - 500 or so calories needed to produce breast milk and maintain enough energy to care for yourself and babe, focus on whole, energy dense foods.  

During lactation, mothers should continue to eat special nutrient and energy dense foods, which is very similar to eating before conception and during pregnancy.

Healthy Fats for Energy

Energy dense foods can easily be attained in the form of high quality fats. While the suggestion to eat fats may sound alarm bells in your head, especially with a desire to lose pregnancy weight, consider that not all fats affect the body in the same way. Fats are actually the body’s preferred energy source, and when you eat the ones your body was designed to use, fats offer healthy skin, hair, body temperature, immune function, and also aid in the absorption of fat soluble vitamins. Additionally, fats are super satisfying. Not only do they make food taste great (which is why bacon in anything tastes great), but fats are also crucial in suppressing hunger via hormonal pathways between the gut and brain. A meal with sufficient amounts of healthy fats will provide more energy and satisfaction, especially in comparison to a high carbohydrate meal or sugary snack, which will leave you hungry in a hour or two.

Healthy fats should come from pastured animal meats, coconut oil/meat/butter, oily fish like salmon or sardines, avocado, macadamia nuts, whole milk (if tolerated) and fermented dairy products, eggs and their yolks, butter and ghee -- just to name a few.

Example Day of Energy-Giving Fats:

  • Breakfast: Pastured eggs prepared how you like them, with no-nitrate, grass-fed bacon and fresh seasonal fruit

  • Snack: Smoothie made with full fat coconut milk and frozen berries

  • Lunch: Homemade soup made with bone broth, served with a side of sourdough bread topped with grass-fed butter or avocado 

  • Snack: Sweet potato/egg/avocado stacks (pictured above, with cubed red bell pepper)

  • Dinner: Meat/organ meat with side salad and roasted sweet potato topped with coconut oil and cinnamon 

Satisfying Snacks for Pregnancy

Rachel O'Reilly

The beautiful experience of pregnancy comes with a host of growth and change. As a mother prepares mentally, emotionally and spiritually for what is to come, her miraculous body is also gracefully at work.

Hormones are pumping, blood volume increases and nutrients are shuttled to the fetus. These functions happen effortlessly, yet the physical workings of the body can be fully supported with conscious dietary choices.

Especially during the 2nd and 3rd trimester, pregnant women need approximately 300 extra calories per day to provide energy and building blocks for fetal growth and development. Where these calories come from matters, as the quality of maternal nutrition can prevent the baby from a host of complications later in life, including heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease.

Nutrient-dense meals and smart snacking can be helpful for proper energy and adequate nutrient supply. When snacking between meals, stay away from refined carbohydrates, or essentially anything coming out of a box or package. These foods can disregulate blood sugar, leading to a quick surge of energy followed by a steep crash. This can manifest in symptoms such as feeling drowsy after eating, mood swings or feeling irritable. Instead, opt for foods that can provide a steady stream of energy, as well as fuel for the fetus. Whole food forms of complex carbohydrates and fats are also excellent for long-term energy, and provide feelings of satiation. Here are some examples:

Homemade bone broths: Full of collagen, one of the most important types of protein in the body. Collagen provides strength and structure for bones and organs and is especially helpful during times of growth. The collagen is also super satisfying and comforting.

Eggs (eat the yolks!): A perfect balance of protein and fat, which will keep you both energized and satisfied. A great source of B vitamins, important for the development of the nervous system, as well as choline, important for brain development. Eat the yolks soft-cooked or raw, which keeps the cholesterol from being oxidized, which would make it the “bad” LDL cholesterol.

Coconut: Contains lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid that is easily used by the body for energy. This type of fat does not need bile to be digested, and is metabolized and burned easily by the body. In other words, this type of fat won’t be stored, it will be used efficiently. Also aids in beautiful skin and hair. Look for organic cold-pressed.

Green leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables: You can never go wrong with vegetables! Try dipping them in homemade hummus or pesto, or eating them alone for a crunchy snack.

Fruits: All berries are great choices because they’re full of antioxidants and bioflavonoids, without a high sugar impact. Try blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries and strawberries, or other fruits like grapefruit and passion fruit.

Snack ideas:

  • Vegetables dipped in mango-avocado salsa

  • Pesto on cucumber slices

  • Berries and coconut whipped cream

  • Hard-boiled eggs with avocado

  • Bone broth with vegetables

  • Nori chips with avocado

  • Homemade energy bars

  • Whole egg on a sweet potato bun

  • Coconut chip granola


Simple Olive Tapenade

This is a very simple and versatile recipe using crave-killing olives. Enjoy in a salad, on cucumber slices or on rice crackers.

  • about 1 c pitted kalamata olives

  • about ¼ c green olives (optional)

  • ½ clove garlic, minced

  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained

  • juice from half a lemon

  • about ¼ cup chopped parsley (optional)

Directions: Add all ingredients to a food processor and pulse until well chopped. If you like a smoother tapenade, drizzle in about 1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and pulse until reaching your desired consistency. Alternatively, mince all ingredients together with a knife.


To step this recipe up about 5 notches, add a few canned sardines to the food processor and pulse very well. Sardines offer excellent omega 3 fats and protein!

Mini Nori Wraps

Nori is a type of red seaweed typically used in sushi rolls, and like all seaweeds, offers a host of nutrients including iron and vitamin C. Enjoy nori alone as a savory snack, or add a filling, such as the one suggested below.

  • 1 pack of nori sheets (reduced sodium, dried)

  • avocado, cut into cubes

  • brown rice, short grain, cooked

  • sauerkraut, raw (in the refrigerated section, or homemade)

Directions: Place 1-2 nori sheets on a cutting board and slice into squares. Lay out the squares and add small serving of rice, topped with avocado cubes and sauerkraut. Enjoy each square open-faced!

Mango Avocado Salsa

This can be a great snack especially during the warmer months. The sweetness from the mango is balanced with blood sugar-stabilizing avocado and super hydrating cucumber.

  • 1 large mango, diced

  • 1 small cucumber, diced

  • ¼ yellow onion, diced finely, optional

  • 1 avocado, cut into cubes

  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

  • 2-3 tablespoons lime juice

  • 1 small jalapeno, optional

  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions: Combine all ingredients into a bowl and toss lightly.

Mashed Avocado

When in doubt, choose avocado for its healthy, beautifying fats. This is a super quick snack with few ingredients! Try it with jicama sticks, carrot sticks, plantain chips or on toast (whichever works for your digestion; gluten free, sourdough, whole wheat, etc).

  • 1 avocado

  • 1 lime, juiced

  • cumin, to taste

  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions: Open and de-pit the avocado. Scoop out into a bowl and mash with a fork, leaving some chunks. Mix in the remaining ingredients, tasting as you go. Remove to a serving bowl and enjoy with your favorite dipping veggie.

Vitamin & Mineral Support for Fertility and Pregnancy

Rachel O'Reilly

A healthy, functioning body that is able to properly regulate hormones and the reproductive system will create the best chances for conception and nourishment of a healthy baby. To support the body in doing this, some principles of Food Basics apply. Ideally, a nutrient-dense diet will have been applied for as long as possible, or six months before conception. However, if a whole foods diet is a new practice, then allow for at least three months of dietary preparation and practice. This applies for both mother and father.

While the Food Basics covers traditional foods and the basics for carbs, fats and protein (we suggest you read that post first, if you're unfamiliar), this post will cover some of the vital nutrients that are especially important for conception and pregnancy. All of these nutrients can be found in whole foods grown by Mother Earth. However these days, many of the vitamins and minerals in our food have been diminished due to soil erosion, long-term cultivation and other modern-day agricultural practices. Additionally, these nutrients are only useful if they are properly absorbed. Several factors can hinder digestion and absorption, which is different for everyone. Therefore, to serve as a safety net, some nutrients can be supplemented therapeutically during prep for conception and pregnancy. They should not, however, be used as a substitute for the vitamins and minerals found in real, whole foods.

If you’ve already done your own research about what are the most important nutrients for pregnancy, you’ve most likely found different nutrients highlighted, and perhaps conflicting information. So before we get in the thick of this, let’s take a step back to look at the nutrients in general, and the importance of these regardless of whether you’re pregnant or not.

Essentially we need all nutrients, all the time. When pregnant, a mother’s body will instinctively prioritize nutrients for the fetus, which is why it’s so important for mom to have an optimal supply in her body before conception even occurs.

Every vitamin, mineral and phytonutrient helps the body in several ways, and many nutrients need each other in order to function properly. Nutrients do not act independently of one another; vitamins need minerals in order to be absorbed, and almost all need co-factor nutrients in order to be properly utilized by the body.

Minerals occur in specific ratios. For example, vitamin D aids calcium absorption, and calcium and magnesium balance each other. Taking single vitamin/mineral supplements can throw off these balances. High quality prenatal vitamins will ensure proper ratios of vitamins and minerals, and additional supplementation of single nutrients should only be considered under your physician’s recommendation.

That being said, there’s always a rhyme or reason why your body needs X vitamin or mineral - they’re ALL important! The highlighted nutrients for conception and pregnancy in this post fall in the overlapping space of modern research plus traditional wisdom. Use the information below as a starting place. Focus on the foods highlighted for each nutrient, and then talk to your natural care practitioner about which nutrients to include in your unique supplement regimen.

Commonly recommended vitamins and minerals

  • Iron - During pregnancy, the body’s need for both iron and folate increases by about 50%. Iron is critical for enzyme systems and for carrying oxygen to the tissues. Plant sources of iron are called non-heme iron; however they are less bioavailable than animal iron sources (found prominently in beef liver and lean ground beef).

  • Folate - Folate, along with B12, is critical for DNA synthesis and cellular division, as well as for the development of the neural tube that is responsible for the brain and spinal cord. It is also important for the nervous system of the fetus. The need for folate is especially significant at about twenty-eight days after fertilization, which reiterates why nutrient-dense foods are so important well before conception. Folate is naturally found in foods, while folic acids refers to the synthetic form of folate that is often used as a fortifier or supplement. If supplementing, check for “5-methyltetrahydrofolate” or “5-MTH.” It is found in high concentrations of green leafy vegetables such as spinach, turnip greens, asparagus, mustard greens, collard greens, broccoli, lentils, beets and cauliflower. Other good choices include chicken liver and calf liver.

  • Calcium - One of the most abundant minerals in the body, 99% of calcium in the body is in the bones. Its functions include building and maintaining bones, muscle contraction, hormone regulation and heartbeat regulation. Research has shown that the body will begin to absorb more calcium from the diet during pregnancy, so mothers should ensure that they’re getting enough calcium from whole foods. Calcium can be attained by eating plenty of green leafy vegetables such as kale, collards, bok choy, as well as sesame seeds, sea vegetables, bone broth, sardines and salmon.

  • Vitamin B6 -  Helps to form red blood cells and can also help with morning sickness. It’s also an extremely important B vitamin for the formation of body proteins, structural compounds and chemical transmitters in the nervous system. B6 affects fertility by regulating estrogen and progesterone, increasing chances of conception and decreasing chances of miscarriage. Find this vitamin in foods such as sunflower seeds, walnuts, lentils, brown rice, bananas and avocados.

  • Iodine - Iodine is important for the thyroid gland, which will be in higher demand for both mom’s own thyroid function, and for the development of the baby’s brain, heart, muscles and pituitary gland. Iodine is abundant in sea vegetables like nori, dulse and wakame. Try sprinkling dulse on top of salads or rehydrating some wakame and adding it to rice.

Less mainstream, yet equally important

  • DHA  - An omega 3-fatty acid, DHA (docosohexaenoic acid), can be converted from ALA (alpa-linolenic acid), which is found in plant oils. However, the conversion rate is no more than 1%, and the process is much more efficient when DHA is pre-formed, as it is in fish oils. The fetus needs DHA for the formation of neurons, important brain lipids and to serve as a precursor that protects neurons from oxidative stress. Find this nutrient especially in wild-caught fish and in lesser amounts in eggs and meats.

  • Biotin - Biotin deficiency in infants under six-months have symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis (cradle cap) and hair loss. Biotin is manufactured in the intestines by intestinal bacteria, hence the absence of gut flora in newborns may be responsible for cradle cap. Several studies have shown successful treatment of cradle cap with biotin via 2-10 micrograms per day, or liver/ egg yolk to the nursing mother and infant.

Fat Soluble Vitamins: A, E, D, K

  • Vitamin E - This vitamin is also referred to as tocopherol, derived from the Greek words tokos and phero, meaning “offspring” and “to bear.” Hence, the importance is clear! This name was given to the vitamin based on studies done in the early 1900’s, when rats fed a purified diet without vitamin E became unable to reproduce. Modern research now shows many correlations between vitamin E and health conditions including heart disease, cancer, strokes and viral infections. Vitamin E deficiency is quite rare, and good food sources include wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds, almonds, asparagus, avocados and green leafy vegetables.

  • Vitamin D - As mentioned earlier, vitamins do not act independently of one another. Both Vitamins A and D are crucial in fetal development. In the late third trimester, the fetal skeleton requires higher amounts of calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D to support rapid growth. Food sources include cod liver oil, cold water fish, butter and eggs.

  • Vitamin A - This vitamin is crucial for reproduction, as well as for growth and development. During fetal development, vitamin A is critical for building healthy lungs that will be able to withstand pollutants and infectious disease. There are conflicting opinions about vitamin A, as too high levels can be toxic. However, this often occurs when there’s a deficiency of vitamin D in the body. Much nutrition research is based on the supplementation of single synthetic vitamins, and frequently ignores the synergistic power of whole foods. When taken from foods, many vitamins occur in appropriate ratios and often do not lead to the accumulation of toxic levels, especially if the diet is well-rounded and balanced, (i.e. you’re not eating the same foods every day). Vitamin A can be consumed in foods such as full fat, pasture-raised milk and butter, liver, eggs and cod liver oil.

  • Vitamin K - In some cases of mothers with vitamin K deficiency, it has been shown to affect proper facial proportions and development of the fetal nervous system. More specific research is still necessary for this vitamin, but we do know that certain proteins depend on vitamin K, specifically bone Gla protein and matrix Gla protein - responsible for building calcium into bone tissue.

  • Choline - This nutrient is important for normal brain development. Choline is an important part of one of the brain’s key neurotransmitters acetylcholine. It provides flexibility and structural integrity to cell membranes. One large egg provides 300 mcg of choline, all found in the yolk.

  • Glycine - Glycine is an amino acid that is considered “conditionally essential” during pregnancy. This means it must be obtained from food, and is not considered essential when not pregnant. It’s vitally important for protein synthesis in the fetus, and a deficiency can potentially be a limiting factor for fetal growth. It can be obtained from skin and bones or bone broths.  

What is Gestational Diabetes?

Rachel O'Reilly

During pregnancy, as many as 10% of women develop gestational diabetes (also known as high blood sugar). The thought of having diabetes while pregnant might be scary, but it is important to understand a few biological factors in order to put this condition into perspective. First and foremost, rest assured that high blood sugar levels are natural during pregnancy and that a healthy pregnancy and baby can still be achieved.

Let’s start with the basics. In the body, carbohydrates (fruit, grains, legumes and vegetables), are converted into glucose (sugar), which is sent to the blood for your body to use as energy. To regulate the amount of sugar in the bloodstream, the pancreas releases insulin to shuttle this energy into cells. Insulin resistance is when the cells no longer respond to insulin, and glucose continues to circulate in the blood. Too much circulating glucose can lead to complications such as inflammation and oxidative stress.

Pregnant women become naturally insulin resistant, meaning it’s actually normal for pregnant women to have higher blood sugar. Why? Let’s back up a couple hundred, thousand years before the days of bagels, cookies and venti caramel frappuccinos. In our primitive years as humans, sugar sources were scarce. As a natural instinct, the mother’s body would become insulin resistant (meaning she would not absorb glucose for her own body), in order to save sugar for the baby, enabling glucose to cross the placenta and reach the fetus. A growing baby depends on glucose; it is the primary food source for the fetus.

A woman’s body is extremely intelligent and during pregnancy blood glucose metabolism is dramatically altered. Blood glucose levels rise in a linear fashion throughout pregnancy to feed the fetus. The placenta simultaneously makes hormones like lactogen, estrogen and progesterone, which counteract the action of insulin. The placenta also makes potent enzymes that destroy insulin. Lastly, shifts in maternal hormones help suppress insulin, as does maternal weight gain.

While the reasons for developing gestational diabetes in today's world are understandable, this isn’t to say that you should ignore your doctor if he or she tells you you’ve developed gestational diabetes. It may be a great time, though, to analyze what types of foods you’re eating, and maybe make some trades for lower glycemic foods. Eating a lot of processed sugars and refined carbs can be disastrous for a pregnant mom because these foods quickly generate a high spike in blood sugar. While a natural carb craving is normal, these refined, carbohydrate dense foods are so readily available that they can be hard to avoid. Try having low-glycemic fruits, such as berries, instead of a croissant for breakfast, or half a sweet potato instead of bread. There are plenty of life-giving, nutrient-dense food options available! To manage pre-existing insulin resistance or to prevent insulin resistance, it’s important to eat a nutrient-dense diet from whole foods.

Consuming enough healthy fats will also be helpful in regulating blood sugars. Keep carbohydrate intake to about 400 calories per day and do resistance or strength training, which helps improve glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity.

Here’s a one-day meal plan free of refined or processed foods, and high in nutrient-dense, blood sugar-regulating meals:  

  • Breakfast: curry sweet potato hash with two whole eggs and sautéed kale

  • Snack: chia seed pudding (chia seeds soaked in full-fat coconut milk) topped with fresh berries and chopped walnuts

  • Lunch: mixed greens salad with avocado, tomatoes, shredded beets, topped with grilled chicken

  • Snack: homemade hummus with sliced bell pepper and carrot sticks

  • Dinner: salmon with roasted cauliflower and side salad