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Tips & Tricks to Nourish & Flourish by Carlie Arbaugh, MD, Chef

As a physician/surgeon and chef, organization, efficiency and quality are essential to me. Like many of you juggling personal and professional responsibilities, I’m always searching for time-saving and stress-reducing tips that make delicious and nutritious foods a realistic and achievable part of everyday life. Here, I share some pointers that I’ve learned from others and implemented in my own life.

Before shopping:

Make a list – Have a grocery list and add to it as you think of items. Make it accessible to others you live with (if applicable), whether handwritten or electronic. I love the reminders phone app because my partner and I can create a shared list.

Use reusable shopping bags – Buy them and put them by the door of your home or in your vehicle so they’re easy to remember. It’s a simple way to reduce plastic and paper waste significantly.

While shopping:

Shop the perimeter – Fresh foods, including fruits and vegetables, tend to be around the perimeter, while processed foods tend to be in the center aisles. Start shopping along the edge to fill your cart mostly with fresh foods.

Don’t shop hungry – If you’re hungry, you’re more inclined to buy less healthy foods like processed, pre-prepared foods. If you are heading to the store on an empty stomach, grab a nourishing snack before you start your rounds.

Shop seasonally when possible – Learn what produce is seasonal in your region. Try to incorporate some of those items into your shopping. Seasonal produce is more delicious, nutrient-dense, environmentally sustainable, and it’s often budget-friendly. Other seasonal opportunities include roadside farm stands, farmers markets and co-ops; these are great ways to support your community and local economy.

Try grocery delivery or curbside pick-up – If shopping is a barrier to eating home-prepared foods, experiment with grocery delivery or curbside pick-up to save time and transportation.

Kitchen organization:

Meal prep – Prepare ingredients you plan to use later when you have more time. Chop vegetables and cook grains that can be stored and used in a variety of recipes throughout the week.

Batch cook – Double, triple or even quadruple a recipe to have leftovers later in the week. Consider the option to freeze leftovers for easy thawing and reheating when you don’t have time to cook. Many soups and stews freeze and reheat well.

Establish an organization system – Invest in durable, heat-safe, reusable food storage containers for meal prep ingredients and batch-cooked meals. Label them with what’s inside and the date prepared. Put foods that need to be eaten first toward the front of the fridge and those with more time left toward the back. Perform a fridge clean-out and inventory every week or every couple of weeks. Organize and label pantry items like grains and spices.

Master the mise en place – This French culinary term for “put in place” is the essential role of a sous chef. Before you begin cooking a recipe, pull, organize and prepare all your ingredients. Chop vegetables, measure out spices, etc. Then, start cooking. This makes the cooking process both more efficient and enjoyable.

Develop your staples – Develop a rotation of meals you enjoy and know how to make easily so they don’t require much brain power or effort to plan and prepare.

Explore and experiment – Eating the same meals all the time can get boring. With some frequency (once a week or once every few weeks), challenge yourself to try a new recipe. If you’re a cookbook person, food blog reader or social media follower, bookmark recipes you are interested in trying. If it’s a keeper, find a way to save or bookmark it. Reflect on what you would keep or change. This process will help you slowly grow and personalize your repertoire. When eating out, try new restaurants and cuisines for inspiration.

Have canned, jarred and frozen real food ingredients stocked – These especially come in handy when you don’t have a chance to shop for fresh foods or when your favorite foods are not in season. Foods are often canned or frozen in season, and they are nutrient-dense — but watch out for added salt and sugar. Select low- or no-sodium beans, vegetables, stock/broth, soups and tomato sauces with less or no added salt and sugar.

Nourish and flourish

Opt for fewer ingredients and real food ingredients – When purchasing packaged foods, scan the ingredients list and opt for items with fewer ingredients whose names you understand. Minimize preservatives and additives like artificial sweeteners, flavors and dyes.

Healthy swaps and additions in your kitchen – Find ways to make your favorite foods more nourishing. Swap white rice for whole grains like brown or wild rice, or quinoa and white pasta for whole wheat or bean pasta. Try baked or air-fried tofu, tempeh or other plant proteins instead of chicken, pork or beef. Add fresh vegetables like sliced bell peppers or halved cherry tomatoes to macaroni and cheese. Top pizza with spices, fresh basil or arugula. Use low- or no-sodium vegetable broth/stock instead of chicken or beef in your soups and stews. Add unsweetened non-dairy milks (soy, oat, almond, cashew, etc.) to your coffee, smoothies, cereal and oatmeal instead of cow’s milk. Drink water (flavor with citrus if you like) instead of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Try health-focused meal delivery services – If you aren’t a fan of cooking or it’s just not realistic time-wise, try some health-focused meal prep or prepared-meal delivery services. Having some healthy meals you can count on can reduce your fast food consumption and takeout.

“The protein flip” – Aim for a plate that is mostly plants (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts) instead of animal products (meat, eggs, dairy) and mostly whole foods instead of processed foods. If eating animal products, think of them as a condiment. Make whole plant foods the main attraction.

Copyright © 2019 Michelle Hauser, MD, MS, MPA, FACLM, Chef. All rights reserved.

Published and distributed by the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (

All rights reserved. Photo by Jeanne Rosner, MD. Recipe here.

“The dessert flip” – Instead of never eating dessert or eating a large dessert, try having a small portion of dessert (one small scoop of ice cream or a thin slice of cake or pie) and complement it with something nourishing like a plate of fresh fruits or a handful of dried fruits, nuts and dark chocolate.

Nutritional sprinkles – Nuts, seeds, spices and herbs! They add color, scent, texture and flavor to a dish, as well as many healthful benefits. Nuts and seeds have plant protein and fiber, and spices and herbs are often anti-inflammatory. Adding these nutritional powerhouses to your daily cooking routine requires little time or effort. Be creative. I love adding nuts and seeds as soup and salad toppers; chia, flax and hemp seeds or nut butters to smoothies and yogurt bowls; and spices and herbs to curries, one-pot meals, pastas and pizzas.

And, finally, be open to evolution – Use trial and error to discover which strategies work for you and be open to change. Routines are helpful, but being too strict can become overwhelming. Being flexible and self-compassionate is important. Compile a toolkit of strategies you can pull from, depending on the situation.

There is a wealth of knowledge and experience in this community. We would love to hear what has worked for you!

Carlie Arbaugh, MD, Chef

Dr. Carlie Arbaugh holds a BS in Human Biology, Health and Society from the Division of Nutritional Sciences and College of Human Ecology at Cornell University, an MD from Stanford School of Medicine and certifications in Plant-Based Nutrition (Cornell) and Culinary Arts (Rouxbe Culinary School). She is currently training as a general surgeon at Stanford Healthcare. Carlie is passionate about the intersection of deliciousness, health promotion, environmental sustainability and social justice within food systems. She truly believes that food is central to medicine (both prevention and treatment), community and culture.

To connect:

Instagram: @mirepoixmd

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