Q&A with Blogger Laura Wright, Author of The First Mess

With more people choosing a healthy lifestyle — and caring about where their food comes from and how it makes them feel — home cooks are flocking to Saveur award-winning blogger Laura Wright of The First Mess for both accessible seasonal vegan recipes and her captivating storytelling.

Why start a food blog?
Laura Wright: I was honestly just bored when I started my blog. I had been working in restaurants for a while and was getting called off shifts at a not-so-busy spot. So my friend suggested I take all of these things I had learned about plant-based cooking and apply it to an online project.

How did you learn to cook plant-based foods?
LW: I attended a nutritional culinary program that had me learning meat, fish, dairy, egg and produce preparations. Just learning the basics of classic cookery helped me when I applied it to my plant-based preferences. For my internship portion of college, I went to a strictly vegan restaurant, which was interesting in a lot of ways, but quite educational. I also grew up with a mother who cooked from scratch pretty much every night, so watching and learning from her gave me a good start.

What impact did growing up on a farm have on your perspective of food, cooking and community?
LW: I wouldn’t call it a farm — more of a large-scale hobby garden. The constant presence of fresh, seasonal food on the part of my family definitely put me on the right path. I cook at home and plant my own vegetables in the summer because of my upbringing, which is a huge part of my life now. I don’t really waste food because I know what goes into its passage from seed to dinner. I have such a reverence for the superior flavor of good produce, whole grains, nuts, seeds, etc. They make cooking easy, nourishing and fun — and that’s the message I try to convey with my work.

Why cook by season when these days so much produce is available year-round?
LW: I do bring some imported produce into my kitchen during the deep winter. My diet is entirely plant-based and nearing the end of February, things like cabbage, potatoes, and other stored items start to get old. I get the greens, avocados and citrus from California like so many other people do around that time, and I feel fine about it. Once we get into proper spring though, and right up until early November, I try to cook as seasonally as I can because it just feels good. I think the body naturally craves what’s popping up out of the ground and off the branches as it all happens. The flavor is also hard to beat.

Why do you recommend plant-based meals every day over eating everything in moderation? 
LW: I don’t think I generally recommend one over the other, and I think you can eat plant-based with a sense of moderation at the same time, too. A plant-based lifestyle has helped me feel my best, my most energetic and I love the food that I make with it as a guide. I respect that every body is different, and everyone responds differently to certain foods. I’m not trying to get the whole world to go vegan, but if a family decides to forgo meat or cheese one night a week in favor of one of my recipes, that gets me excited.

How did your body feel differently when you first went vegan in college? Do you still feel the same health benefits are true? 
LW: I immediately felt like I had a surplus of energy. At that moment of life when I made the change, I was doing plant-based with lots of fresh vegetables, whole grains, pulses and nuts/seeds (I still eat that way). Nothing processed or pre-fab like tofu “chicken” nuggets or something. I was sleeping better and didn’t find myself hitting the afternoon slump as hard. And I do feel the same benefits now! I’ve had to change some things as I get a tiny bit older, but I feel like those core whole foods still give me the best energy.

Is vegan cooking easy and affordable enough for every day? 
LW: Yes and yes. If you learn a few basic preparation methods—like how to make a good salad dressing, a batch of brown rice or quinoa, a pot of beans, a good smoothie that you like, you’re already on your way to eating well with relative ease. I don’t think good food has to be complicated, but I also feel like anyone can learn to appreciate the transformation that cooking more often brings into your life. As long as you’re starting with whole foods, plant-based eating is quite affordable. You don’t need to stock your pantry with superfoods and fancy vegan versions of cheese, or anything like that. Whole grains, dried beans and nuts/seeds in bulk are accessible for a lot of people.

Why do you think there’s a perception that vegans don’t get enough protein? What are your favorite sources of protein?
LW: I don’t understand that perception! I guess it makes sense if you grew up with meat/eggs at the center of your plate. I eat a highly varied, whole food, plant-based diet, so I know that all the grains, pulses, vegetables, nuts, etc. will eventually add up to a complete protein that my body can use over the course of the day. I’ve never in my life felt deficient in protein and I work out regularly. My favorite sources of plant-based protein are quinoa, hemp seeds and chickpeas.

What three pieces of advice would you give a vegan beginner? 
LW: 1. Start small. Learn five core meal-appropriate recipes from front to back, and keep experimenting once you have those locked down.
2. Watch YouTube videos of professional plant-based cooks to get a better idea of what sensory cues you’re looking for with basic recipes.
3. Remember that it’s just food and even the most colossal failure is usually edible or easily repurposed.

Veganism is on the rise especially among teens. Do you think social media has helped elevate its popularity? 
LW: Oh, for sure! The amount of YouTube and Instagram accounts dedicated to eating healthy and vegan (many of them started by young people) create an infectious energy. These accounts showcase such beautiful, colorful food. The positivity that beams off many of these pages is easy to catch. I also think a healthy lifestyle has become much cooler in the last 5 years or so. People care more about where their food comes from and how it makes them feel.

What are five must-have items every vegan starter pantry should have? How about every vegan dream pantry?

5 Must-Have Items Every Vegan Starter Pantry Should Have
1. Brown rice
2. Dry/canned beans
3. Tamari soy sauce
4. Canned tomatoes
5. Good olive oil

5 Must-Have Items Every Vegan Dream Pantry Should Have

1. Miso paste
2. Nutritional yeast
3. Spices
4. Maple syrup
5. Vinegars (balsamic, apple cider, sherry)
6. Roasted almond butter

Please share a favorite season recipe from your cookbook.
LW: Yes, I’d love to share my Gingered Brussels Sprout and Shiitake Pot Stickers. They look fussy to make with their folded tops, but they’re anything but. After I moisten the edge of the wonton wrapper, I quickly pinch and secure in any way I can to get the Brussels sprout and shiitake filling locked in. They wind up looking pretty in that “perfectly imperfect” way. If I’m serving these as a snack or an appetizer, I brown them ahead of time and just keep them warm on a low setting in the oven. The salty-sweet soy dip absolutely makes these!

 

Gingered Brussels Sprout and Shiitake Pot Stickers (pictured above at top right)

Makes: about 25 pot stickers

 

Dipping Sauce:

¼ cup (50 mL) gluten-free tamari soy sauce

2 tablespoons (30 mL) pure maple syrup

½-inch (1 cm) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated with a Microplane grater

1 green onion, finely sliced

2 teaspoons (10 mL) sesame seeds

 

Pot Stickers:

1 tablespoon (15 mL) virgin olive oil, plus extra for cooking

1 medium shallot, fine dice (about ¼ cup/50 mL diced shallot)

1 cup (250 mL) thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms

2 cups (500 mL) sliced Brussels sprouts (about ½ pound/227 g)

1 clove garlic, minced

1-inch (2.5 cm) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced

salt and pepper, to taste

25 wonton wrappers

 

Make the dipping sauce: Whisk the tamari, maple syrup, ginger, green onion, and sesame seeds together in a small bowl. Set aside.

Make the pot stickers: Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallots. Stir and cook until fragrant and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the shiitake mushrooms. Stir and sauté the mushrooms until they start to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the Brussels sprouts, garlic, and ginger, and stir. Season everything with salt and pepper. Keep stirring the filling until the Brussels sprouts are bright green and slightly wilted, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat, and allow the filling to cool slightly.

Set out a small bowl of water. To assemble the pot stickers, divide the vegetable filling among the wonton wrappers, placing about 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of the filling in the center of each wonton wrapper. Take one filled wonton wrapper and dip your finger in the bowl of water. Moisten two sides of the wrapper, fold all sides together, and pinch along the edge to form a seal. Repeat with the remaining filled wrappers.

Wipe the sauté pan and heat a thin slick of olive oil over medium heat. Fry the pot stickers in batches until they’re golden brown on all sides, about 1 full minute per side. Add more oil to the pan as needed to finish cooking all the pot stickers.

Serve the pot stickers hot with the dipping sauce on the side.

Per serving (1): Calories:43; Fat 1 g (Saturated Fat 0 g); Sodium 302 mg; Carbohydrate 8 g; Fiber 1 g; Sugar: 1 g; Protein 2 g

Recipe reprinted from The First Mess Cookbook by arrangement with Avery Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2017, Laura Wright

Silvana Nardone is the author of Silvana’s Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Kitchen: Timeless Favorites Transformed.

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Myth or Fact? Cooking with Aluminum Foil is Dangerous

Lining sheet pans, packets for the grill, and storage in the fridge are just a few of the uses that aluminum foil can have in your kitchen. But can cooking with foil can have dangerous consequences?

Myth or Fact?
Over the years, rumors have swirled about high levels of aluminum leading to health risks including Alzheimer’s and kidney disease. The truth is aluminum is all around us (even in the water supply), and regular contact does not appear to cause problems. Thankfully, the body has numerous mechanisms in place to help rid the body of excess amounts of this metal. That said, consumption of toxic levels over time could eventually be dangerous to bone, brain, muscle and other tissues.

In the Kitchen
Is there a concern for the home cook? It may depend on how you use foil in your kitchen. There’s not enough research to date to say use of foil will pose immediate harm. Studies that do exist reveal that wrapping cold or cooled foods in foil for storage did not lead to leeching of any aluminum. However, a study published in 2012 did find that cooking with aluminum at high temps and the use of acidic foods, salt, and spices did perpetuate a greater amount of leeching.

Bottom Line
More research may be needed to warrant tossing all your foil in the trash. Determine if the food you prepare comes into contact with foil and assess if this could potentially contribute to a higher than desirable intake of aluminum. If you are concerned about your intake, reserve foil for food storage instead of cooking.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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8 Healthy Meal Hacks to Steal From Dietitians


I love a nutritious meal, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m all about the shortcuts that make healthy cooking easy and fast! I was curious about what hacks my dietitian colleagues use in the kitchen, so I asked them for their best:

 

Heat hacks

  • Turn your rice cooker into a workhorse. “Like steel-cut oatmeal, but don’t like waiting 40 minutes?” asks Maggie Moon, MS, RDN, author of The MIND Diet. “Add oats and water according to package directions, and use the porridge setting on your rice cooker. Do it at night, and you’ll have perfect steel-cut oats in the morning. Rice cookers can also steam vegetables, cook fish in 15 minutes, or even slow-cook chicken or pork—just add broth and aromatics.”
  • Cook extra portions. “Make extra servings of food that you can repurpose,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, author of Read It Before You Eat It. 
    “Tonight’s grilled salmon for dinner can become tomorrow’s salmon over salad for lunch. Or just mash the salmon along with chopped veggies, egg, spices, and breadcrumbs. Then shape into salmon patties, and you’ll have a great dish for Sunday brunch!”

 

Fridge hacks

  • Stash prewashed veggies. “I always keep a bag of prewashed spinach in the fridge to add to breakfast wraps or muffin-tin omelets,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, owner of com.  “For lunch, spinach makes a perfect bed for any protein like tuna or salmon salad—or it works as a nutrient-rich sandwich topper. And, it sautés in about a minute for a perfect add-in to any pasta dish or to bulk up a microwavable frozen entree.”
  • Refrigerate extra veggies. “Chop and sauté a large batch of onions, peppers, mushrooms, and fresh spinach,” says Hope Warshaw, RD, CDE, author of Diabetes Meal Planning Made Easy. “Refrigerate it, and use it in a pasta sauce, on a pizza, in an omelet—or in couscous, quinoa, or other healthy grains. You’ll have a jumpstart on dinner.

 

Freezer hacks

  • Make smoothie packs. “Save time at breakfast by making smoothie packs,” says Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, CSCS, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Fill multiple quart-size plastic bags each with a cup of leafy greens, a cup of cut-up fresh or frozen fruit, a Tablespoon of chia or flax seeds, and two Tablespoons of nuts. You can also freeze plain Greek yogurt in ice cube trays, and toss the frozen yogurt cubes in the bag. Stick the smoothie pack in the freezer, and pull one out when you want to make a quick smoothie.”
  • Stock your freezer with frozen veggies. “I love to keep a few bags of frozen veggies on hand to throw together dinner in a flash,” says Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, owner of com. “Frozen peas and any sort of frozen greens are my veggies of choices, because you can heat them up in minutes and throw them into a tortilla with a little cheese and canned beans to make a quesadilla. They also go great in an omelet. Just be careful of trying to eat frozen veggies alone because they can be slightly mushy after reheating.”
  • Prep your greens. “We blend three cups of tightly packed spinach or kale with one-half cup water and then pour it into ice cube trays and freeze it,” say Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CFT and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CFT, co- authors of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure. “We simply drop a few spinach cubes into smoothies, soups, omelets, stir-fries, and pasta sauces—and even use the cubes as broth.”
  • Freeze extra stock. “I often whip up a chicken stock to make my kids a warming chicken noodle soup,” says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen. “Instead of letting extra stock go to waste, I freeze it in ice cube trays. Once frozen, I place the frozen cubes into a resealable bag labeled with the date frozen, as well as a three- month use-by date. When I’m making quinoa or brown rice—or just want to punch up the flavor in dishes, I can easily defrost the chicken stock ice cube in the microwave or stovetop.”

 

Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in Jersey City, NJ. She’s a regular contributor to many publications, including ReadersDigest.com, Shape.com, FitnessMagazine.com, Dr. Oz the Good Life, Runner’s World, and more—as well as WeightWatchers.com, where she was a longtime editor. She also pens a recipe-focused blog, Amy’s Eat List.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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Have You Tried Pinole?

Have you heard of pinole (pih-nole)? It may soon be giving quinoa a run for its money.  While this trendy superfood may be new to America, it has been around for centuries. Pinole is a grain mixture, made predominantly of heirloom blue and purple maize that’s roasted with raw cacao beans, then ground into a fine mixture. Served a multitude of ways, it’s most commonly combined with milk to form a thick, warm porridge. Similar in texture to oatmeal or grits, it’s a concentrated source of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants.  Just two ounces of pinole provides 7 grams of fiber, 40 grams of complex carbohydrates, and 100 milligrams of anthocyanins; a specific antioxidant that may help reduce rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer and boost cognitive function.

In addition to being a great breakfast choice, pinole has historically been used as a source of fuel for endurance athletes. The Tarahumara Indians of northwestern Mexico, known for long-distance running, consume pinole as their daily staple. These native people, whose lives are highlighted in the book Born to Run, relied on two things to fuel their hundred mile journeys: chia seeds and pinole.

Of course, starting your day with this cornmeal porridge won’t turn you into an ultra marathoner, but can be part of a nutritious breakfast. Much like other complex carbohydrates such as oatmeal, brown rice, and farro, pinole is a good source of energy, fiber, vitamins and minerals. While it’s slowly making its way into retail shelves, you can often find pinole online (Rancho Gordo sells a 1 pound bag for for $5.95), or at or at your favorite international or Mexican grocery store. If you’re looking to switch up your typical bowl of oats, give pinole a try.

Alex Caspero MA, RD, RYT is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Yoga Teacher. She is the founder of Delish Knowledge (delishknowledge.com), a resource for healthy, whole-food vegetarian recipes. In her private coaching practice, she helps individuals find their “Happy Weight.” 

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

Photo courtesy of Rancho Gordo.

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5 Nordic Food Trends to Eat Now

Nordic food is hot. It’s healthy too. A recent study in The Journal of Nutrition found that a Nordic diet — rich in foods like whole grain rye, unsweetened yogurt, wild berries, root vegetables, herbs and fatty fish — can lower levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, and even lead to weight loss. While you may not make it to restauranteur Claus Meyer’s new Great Northern Food Hall in New York, the popular Minneapolis’ Fika Café or Broder Söder at the Scandinavian Heritage Foundation in Portland, OR, you can certainly discover these delicious ways to enjoy the new Nordic diet.

Canned or jarred fish

Pickled herring anyone? While not typical lunch fare, a Swedish smorgasbord would be incomplete without it. In the Nordic Diet study, people ate two to three servings weekly of fish. And eating fish more often is as easy as opening a jar of pickled herring from IKEA stores or most supermarket deli sections. Herring are mild tasting fish that are often pickled in a vinegary onion and black pepper brine, and are addictive on dark rye crackers topped with red onions, fresh dill and a bit of sour cream. And don’t forget canned sardines, which are harvested in the frigid waters of the Norwegian fjords; these trendy tins are packed with immunity boosters. Norwegian salmon is also an appealing choice; add it to potatoes and greens in our hearty-and-healthy Salmon Hash.

Pickled vegetables

The old technique of pickling vegetables is new again. This is evidenced by the whopping $14 price tag found on a jar of pickled seasonal veggies – and by their appearance on restaurant charcuterie platters. Participants in the Nordic diet study ate a lot of cukes and cabbage. Both would be perfect in this quick pickle recipe.

Icelandic yogurt

If you’ve never tasted the Icelandic yogurt known as skyr, get ready to really taste yogurt. With minimal sugar, the true tangy taste of cultured dairy comes through. Skyr is made by culturing non-fat milk and then straining the liquid, which leads to extra creamy cups. Probiotics in yogurt may play a role in heart health. Skyr can be substituted for cream cheese in most recipes, like this one, or try it in savory yogurt bowls.

Dark rye or barley breads

The open-faced sandwich, or Danish smorrebroad is usually anchored by dark rye or barley bread. These whole grains contain healthy fats. In the Nordic diet study, researchers noted that diets high in whole grains like rye, barley and oats can increase a person’s blood level of good fatty acids, like plasmalogen, which helps decrease their risk for inflammation-based diseases, like type-2 diabetes.

Wild berries

Cloud berries are tiny, native Scandinavian berries that grow wild and have become known for their powerful antioxidant profiles – and the outrageous prices they command on the world market. Closer to home, you’ll be lucky to find antioxidant-rich domestic wild berries at summer farmers markets: huckleberries in the West, tiny wild blackberries in the Midwest and the South, and in the East, wild blueberries. Fortunately, many supermarkets now carry frozen wild blueberries from Maine. Generally, the more a wild berry has to struggle to survive, the higher the berry’s antioxidant content. Frozen red raspberries are thought to contain the highest antioxidant amounts among domesticated berries – as they grow in the short, intense growing season of the Northwest. Snack on the whole berries, or blend them up in a quick morning smoothie.

Serena Ball, MS, RD is a food writer and registered dietitian nutritionist. She blogs at TeaspoonOfSpice.com sharing tips and tricks to help families find healthy living shortcuts. Follow her @TspCurry on Twitter and Snapchat.

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Market Watch: Romanesco

Romanesco

With its florescent lime-green hue and funky spire-shaped florets, Romanesco looks a little like broccoli from another planet. In fact, its alien appearance earned it a cameo in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” (In one scene, Rey is shown biting into an apple studded with Romanesco florets, which drew commentary from famed astrophysicist and Star Wars fact-checker, Neil deGrasse Tyson.) In reality, this cruciferous veggie, sometimes referred to as Romanesco broccoli, is more closely related to cauliflower than broccoli. It’s also a bit crunchier with a milder, slightly nutty flavor. Though Romanesco has been on the menu in Italy since the 16th century, it didn’t make its debut in the United States until the late 90s. Until recently, it was found mostly at farmer’s markets. These days, however, you might spot it at your local supermarket during the fall and winter.

 

Romanesco Facts

Like other members of the Brassica family, including kale and cabbage, Romanesco is high in Vitamins C and K, and is a good source of dietary fiber. Romanesco is also particularly high in carotenoids and phytochemicals.

 

When buying Romanesco, choose heads that are bright in color. The stem should be firm, with no signs of wilting. Any attached leaves should be perky and crisp. Pick it up: it should feel dense and heavy for its size. Store it in a sealed plastic bag and refrigerate for up to a week.

 

 

What to Do with Romanesco

Though broccoli and cauliflower are perfectly respectable vegetables, let’s face it: they get a lot of play. Romanesco, with its exotic appearance and earthy flavor, might be just the ticket to spruce up familiar dishes. Luckily, you can do just about anything with Romanesco that you might do with cauliflower or broccoli. Try it on a crudités platter, paired with an herb dip. To preserve its brilliant color, first blanch the florets in salted, boiling water, and then shock them in an ice bath. Roasting might be the best way to concentrate the vegetable’s earthy, sweet flavor. For a simple weeknight dinner, pair olive oil roasted Romanesco florets and canned, drained chickpeas with pasta, a handful of chopped fresh herbs, and grated Parmesan. It also makes a nice side dish for fish, steak or roast chicken: simply sauté florets in olive oil with garlic and red pepper flakes and finish with a squeeze of lemon juice. The most important thing to remember: don’t overcook it! You’re aiming for al dente, not mushy.

 

Here are a few recipes to try (some call for broccoli or cauliflower, but you can easily swap in Romanesco):

Cauliflower with Avocado-Cilantro Dip

 

Roasted Cauliflower

 

Sicilian Cauliflower Pasta

 

Healthy Broccoli Roman Style

 

 

 

 

Abigail Chipley is a freelance recipe developer, writer and cooking teacher who lives in Portland, Oregon.

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Fix Your Diet, Fix Your Sleep

You snooze, you win! Turns out eating sleep smart will deliver enough zzz’s to boost your immune system and shrink your stress. “Sleep is one of the first things I ask patients about,” explains Dr. Donielle Wilson, N.D. naturopathic doctor, certified nutrition specialist and author of the upcoming, A Natural Guide to Better Sleep, “because it tells me about their health and how well they’re holding up under stress.”

But a good night’s sleep — generally defined as 7.5 to 9 hours of uninterrupted slumber per night — can be elusive. Sure, caffeine and alcohol are known sleep disrupters, but your daily eating habits could also be sabotaging your shut-eye. Besides perfecting a bedtime routine (see below), here are Wilson’s top 5 ways to fix sleep issues by giving your diet an upgrade:

  • Balance your blood sugar level during the day, which affects your blood sugar balance while you sleep. If you eat large meals, infrequent meals and/or high sugar/carb meals (including bananas), especially near bedtime, you’re likely to wake up from blood sugar fluctuations.
  • Reduce inflammation in your body, which for many people means avoiding gluten and dairy. Inflammation can travel to the nervous system and cause symptoms from anxiety to insomnia.
  • Boost nutrient-dense foods high in sleep-friendly vitamins and minerals, including magnesium (nuts, seeds, fish, dark leafy greens, dark chocolate), B6 (salmon, beef, chicken, turkey, sweet potato, hazelnuts) and melatonin (cherries, pomegranate, cranberries, pineapple, oranges, tomatoes).
  • Ditch your sugar-filled, late-night treat for a non-dairy protein powder–fueled smoothie to break those sweet cravings.
  • Calm your nervous system with herbal teas like chamomile and lavender. Stress triggers a stress response involving stimulating cortisol and adrenaline, which leads to disrupted sleep patterns.

 

Dr. Doni’s Sleep Routine

  • Set a reminder for your bedtime on your phone. You’re less likely to get distracted and more likely to get in bed on schedule.
  • Turn on blue-light blocking apps in the evening for optimal melatonin production.
  • Reduce noise and your activity level a couple hours before bedtime.
  • Set up your bedroom environment, which ideally is uncluttered, completely dark and at an ideal temperature of around 65º.
  • Reduce or eliminate electro-magnetic influences on sleep by placing electronic devices (like your phone) away from your bed and even in another room.
  • Spray lavender or other calming essential oils on your pillow.

 

Silvana Nardone is the author of Silvana’s Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Kitchen: Timeless Favorites Transformed.

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