I could not be more excited to introduced this Friday’s Featured Contributor, Alexa Schirm of Simple Roots Wellness. Alexa first caught our eye at Primal Palate for her incredible food photography and recipes. It wasn’t until we knew her a little better (and I had done my fair share of internet stalking) that we found out she is also a nutritionist working toward her Masters in Health Studies, previous owner of a gym, and a mom to three adorable little girls.
Alexa and I are both Iowa natives, and I was able to [finally] meet her and her husband when I went home this Christmas. I can honestly say that was one of the highlights of my trip home. Knowing full well what it’s like to live hours from a health food store, I was eager to ask her how she finds specialty ingredients in our area (without breaking the bank). Here, she shares her insights on nutrition, grocery shopping, making kid-friendly snacks, and most of all: making nutrition work for you. For more tips, be sure to visit her blog and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram! -Kara
Plus, as an added bonus, Alexa is offering a 20% discount on her Nutrition Bootcamp, complete with 8 weekly meal plans, newsletters, and video lessons designed to help you reset your health.
This is the perfect course to complete as a family, so if you’re looking to get your whole family off to a healthy start this year, now’s your chance! The 20% offer only lasts until Sunday (1/11/15), so keep that in mind!
Tell us about the recipes you included in the Best Recipes of 2014 eBook.
My whole cooking approach is “simple.” I want to show readers you can eat healthy anywhere. We live in the middle of nowhere, over two hours from a Whole Foods. I included a lot of my favorite recipes, with ingredients you can find anywhere. The Chopped Salad is something I always have on hand; I just swap-out a few ingredients.
The Flatbreads are a family favorite, especially with the girls. Pizza was something I always missed when we went Paleo. The flatbreads have been really fun, and the kids enjoy making their own personal pizzas. The breakfast pizza is my husband’s favorite – but who doesn’t love bacon, sausage, and eggs on top of pizza?
The Fish Tacos is something we wouldn’t normally eat. We live in beef and pork country. To find good, quality fish where we live is really difficult. This recipe was a real treat for us. I really like the mango salsa, and it’s a really colorful dish.
Chinese, or oriental food in general, can be really healthy. It can also be really bad for you. I wanted to show people how to make it healthy, without the sugar or additives. We have a local garden we go to, and bok choy was in season when I made this. We try to eat seasonally as much as we can, so it was fun incorporating that.
I really like fruit filled desserts, which is how the cookies happened. If I had to pick between a cake and a pie, it would be a pie; hands down. So this was me thinking, “I don’t know how to make a pie crust yet…but cookies will do!” The blueberry filling works really well on pancakes too.
The Stuffed Pears is one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever made. It has a lot of flavors, so it shows you can make something really flavorful without much effort. My two-year-old has food allergies, as well as candida. I try to make desserts that don’t feed the yeast she’s fighting. Although she shouldn’t have too much fruit, she’s also a kid. The pears are a nice balance between letting her be a kid, and keeping her healthy.
If you don’t mind me asking, how do you even find out a two-year-old has candida?
Honestly, it was my own nagging and persistence. It took a full year arguing with doctors before she was diagnosed. I went to school for nutrition, and I’m not saying I know everything, but I know when something is wrong. She was born via an emergency C-section, and starting having vomiting attacks at 8 months old. She would vomit between 7-8 times per day. It would go on for 10 days, then go away, then come back. She was considered malnourished, simply because she couldn’t keep anything down.
After a year, I took her to see a third doctor and found out she has systemic yeast. An allergy test showed she’s allergic to apples, eggs, peanuts, and dairy. I wasn’t surprised by most of those, but I had been feeding her eggs. If you have candida, you know it comes and goes. We call her stone face when her candida is acting up: she doesn’t smile or interact in public, and her eyes get really dark. She also gets very itchy, a sign of yeast overgrowth. There are some days I look at her and think, “You poor thing.” She just looks miserable.
Was your daughter the reason you went Paleo?
We went Paleo four years ago, and my daughter is only 2. We were already grain-free, so it wasn’t a drastic change for us. She wasn’t eating many of the foods she’s sensitive too. Except eggs, because we eat eggs like it’s no one’s business. Today we eat Paleo plus resistant starch. What foods are classified as “Paleo” will always vary, depending on who you ask.
You live in a rural area. Where do you shop for groceries and specialty items?
What I promote is grass-fed meat and organic produce, as much as you can. It’s a really sensitive subject here, because we live in farm country. My dad grew up on a farm, as did my husband. You want to promote certain things, but you don’t want to put down how someone makes a living. I try to explain things in a practical way, and offer advice from a nutritional perspective.
You can find ingredients almost anywhere, if you know where to look. We are lucky to have access to one of the largest grass-fed farms in Iowa, Wallace Farms. You can buy one pound of something, where usually you have to buy a half, or even whole, cow. One Midwest grocery chain, Fareway, now has a teeny-tiny organic section. I just walked in one day and it had sprung-up out of nowhere! Local gardens and CSAs are also springing up everywhere. My husband comes home with raw honey from a coworker, and we always have farm-fresh eggs because my dad has almost 50 chickens.
We are 50 minutes from an Amish community where I buy most of our pantry staples. I get all of our spices and baking flours there: almond, tapioca, you name it. You have to purchase in bulk, and everything comes in clear plastic bags. The prices are extremely reasonable; I can get a pound of almond flour for about four dollars. We only make the trip every four months. The last trip I got all my pantry staples for $160.
For rare Paleo items like grass-fed Great Lakes gelatin, I shop online. Whenever I buy coconut milk, I go through Amazon because I can’t find BPA-free cans here. I also can’t find tomatoes in glass jars. Coconut oil can be expensive, so I’ll purchase that online too. Those three items are my “big” online purchases.
Do you totally geek out when you get to go to Whole Foods?
YES. This weekend, we’re literally driving to Des Moines, which is two and a half hours away. That’s the closest Whole Foods to where we live, and it’s only been open for two years. If that. It’s literally an outing for us. We kind of need to get a life, but there are just so many things to look at! It seriously takes me forever to go grocery shopping.
What snack suggestions do you have for kids?
I’m a big believer that food independence, is one of the first independence skills a child develops. There can be a lot of resistance if they don’t feel a little control. Snack time is a great time to give them that control. I put snacks in four categories: those that are dipable, stackable, spreadable, or drinkable.
- Dipable snacks: My kids will dip anything. It honestly does not matter what it is. I’ll give them homemade hummus or nut butter, and they’ll dip apples or vegetables.
- Spreadable snacks: Their favorite is one where they spread avocado over a piece of lunch of meat with a pepper, and roll it up. My four-year-old thinks it’s the best thing ever to make those, then serve it to the younger ones.
- Stackable snacks: For these, we usually do cucumber sandwiches. We’ll slice cucumbers, and I’ll give them avocados, sheep cheese, and goat cheese. Basically they do the whole “Lunchables” thing, without the crackers.
- Drinkable snacks are almost always smoothies. We make an “Orange Creamiscle,” [although it’s not a creamsicle because my kids have never had a creamsicle in their lives] made with almond milk, oranges, orange juice, ice, and a little maple syrup. Also, I don’t know what it is, but kids will eat anything called ice cream. I’m so deceitful. Sometime they’re going to realize how many lies their mom told them.
I’m doing a snack series on my blog next week. I try to do a “Wellness Wednesday” post, and next week will show people how to develop a snack. We live in a culture where snacks typically mean processed carbs, when they should include fat and protein. By the end of the series there will hopefully be twenty different snack options.
Tell us more about your Nutrition boot camp e-Course:
At the end of January we’re rebranding it as, “Simplify Your Nutrition.” I feel like there is a lot of complex nutrition out there, which is the reason I developed it. I listen to the Underground Wellness talks, and each episode focuses on a very specific topic. It’s hard for the average person to take the information, and make it practical. I decided to make this e-course to show nutrition doesn’t have to be complex, but that it can be realistic for everyday life.
First, you don’t have to count anything. How unfortunate, and how unrealistic, that so many people fixate on counting. I see counting as a waste of a lot of good years of your life. Food is meant to be enjoyable. The e-Course teaches people to listen to their body in order to make healthy, life-long habits. I start with the basics, explaining how our bodies run. We talk about “cleaning-up” the body, and why it’s important to get rid of the “processed clog,” as I call it. There’s also a lesson on cortisol levels, which goes into the timing of eating. We eat most of our calories at night, while it should be the opposite. Finally, we touch on hydration and exercise, then pull everything together and put it into practical steps. When you’re eating good food, your body is functioning at it’s best – because it’s being fed the best.
Alexa is offering a 20% discount on her Nutrition Bootcamp, today through Sunday (1/11/15)!
What else do you have planned for the upcoming year?
I have three projects in mind:
- I’m developing a 4-week health reset that will come out in the spring.
- With my daughter in mind, I’m going to develop a program focusing on autoimmune conditions and food sensitivities. It will teach people how to heal themselves through food. I think knowledge is power, so it will go into more advanced science and practical application.
- When those two are done, I really want to do a creative project. I’d love to take a stab at an e-Cookbook, and it’s going to be flatbreads. I have a family member with an egg allergy and a coconut allergy, so I made a second crust which is egg and coconut free. I’m really into seasonal recipes, so hopefully the recipes will change with the seasons.
My husband always tells me I plan too many projects. My blog really is a two-man team. He handles all the website work, and is therefore the practical one. When I told him about my “fun flatbread project,” I said, “You’re not going to take this one away from me!”
Last question. How do you introduce Paleo in an area where it’s relatively unknown, and ordering a sandwich without bread is considered just plain weird?
We’re a meat-and-potatoes kind of culture. I tell people, you can still have your pot roast and root vegetables, just don’thave the dinner roll. Rueben sandwiches are really popular here, and one of my first (and favorite) recipes on the blog is “Rueben in a Bowl.” I always say, “The bread is the filler, not the flavor.” Plus, you can eat more of the flavor, if you cut out the filler. Finally, I tell people they need to “reconnect” with their fork and spoon.
When I create a recipe, I look at what my family/friends are making, then try to make it healthy. It actually makes me wonder what my in-laws think of me, when I turn all their recipes upside down. The Fat Burning Christmas Tea was inspired by a traditional christmas tea my family makes every year. When I found out the ingredients, I knew I needed to recreate it. I feel like I came up with a near perfect replication. Another recipe I did was Orange Glazed Sticky Buns. We used to have them every year for Christmas, but I stepped in and said, “NO MORE. We aren’t having these, they’re processed, and we feel like crap every Christmas morning because of it.” So for four years I’ve been trying to win my family back, by recreating this favorite treat. When I made them this year, I said, “See? You can still have these things, if you just make them healthy.”
The one thing I really push is quality. If the quality of the food is high, the quantity really doesn’t matter. It’s what you’re putting into your body, that matters.