Our lives are made up of many varied paths, all of which have conspired to bring us to where we are now. If we have at times taken a wrong path, or followed the wrong advice, that is in the past. And while the past cannot be changed we can alter our course.  If we’re willing to set aside our comfortable habits, accepting small changes over time, we can improve our overall health.

We human beings have a habit of being our own worst enemies as our knowledge of a thing seldom flows easily into action.

glass-956263_640Most of us know that we should drink more water, while eating more fruits and vegetables, and less meat. We know we should get more sleep, exercise more and reduce the stress in our lives, but, as I frequently remind my children, knowing something and doing it is not the same thing.

I began to slide into unhealthy ways after my second child was born. I was struggling to care for an active toddler and a fretful baby who was seldom happy except for when she was either eating or sleeping.

For five months she was colicky, and when that finally subsided she had six months of reoccurring ear infections. Once we had cleared those hurdles, life began to feel something close to normal again, but during those eleven months I had come to rely, at least in part, on certain convenience foods to help feed my family.

I found that it was much easier to combine water, butter, and potato flakes in a pot while rocking a fussy baby in a football hold than it was to peel and slice a pot of potatoes, and then mash them while having to stop every five minutes to sooth my daughter, whose only comfort at that stage of her life was in my arms.

After opening the door to pre-packaged convenience foods it became easier and easier to use them. As our family grew and our children became more involved in time consuming pursuits I found myself falling back on those quick and easy fixes just so that I could have dinner on the table before it was the children’s bedtime.

It isn’t a question of knowledge or a lack of initiative. I know how to cook, and under normal circumstance I enjoy it. Over the years I have won chili cook off contests, I used to make homemade pizza. I made bread that we would eat warm, fresh out of the oven with homemade jam. I spent years decorating cakes for a variety of occasions, including weddings. But the pressures of life with a family caused me to start taking short cuts with some unintended, but serious results.

allergy-18656_640There were several years when we seemed to be plagued with one illness after the other and I was so sick for a couple of years that I actually lost my voice and could barely speak above a whisper for nearly half a year. But it wasn’t until two of our children were diagnosed with ADHD that I began to question what was really wrong, and what was causing all of this to happen.

This was the beginning of my quest for better health for myself and my family.

It has been a long road, and I have spent countless hours reading, listening to web casts, radio interviews, and attending live seminars. Unfortunately our doctor’s didn’t have any answers. In truth, there weren’t a lot of answers readily available anywhere in mainstream medicine at that time, so there was a certain amount of unavoidable trial and error, which unfortunately delayed my finding some of the answers we needed until much later than I would have liked. But it has also been a road of discoveries that I have wanted to share, and that is what drives me now.

Sadly I found that not everyone shared my enthusiasm, and there are still those who view it as extreme health nut stuff. But the health community is catching up, and the research is finally making it into the media where everyday people can now find it, giving them the opportunity to live healthier lives if they are willing to make the necessary changes.

It all begins with setting our priorities. Until I wanted it badly enough to make it a priority, other things always found a way to reduce my good intentions to dust.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with it all, so start small. Keeping your expectations reasonable will make it easier to stick with it, and once you have mastered one aspect of controlling your life, then you can move on to the next step.

Everyone’s schedule is different and if you don’t make a plan that works with your life it is doomed to fail. So the first thing you need to do is work out a weekly plan that is realistic, and that will fulfill the needs that your family has.

For me it was finding time to work with whole foods and fix meals from scratch while working, and making sure that my children did what they needed/wanted to do.

fruit-1095331_640So I started planning a set of basic meals that used a basic set of ingredients, so that when I did my shopping I didn’t have to spend an hour or more every week figuring out my shopping list. The list would be more or less the same each week, allowing for small changes so that meals wouldn’t become boring.

When doing your shopping, work around the perimeter of the store as much as you can. The pre-packaged and junk foods tend to be in the center isles. Again, it depends on what your family’s needs are, but resist the temptation to buy for convenience and steer clear of the junk foods.

During the growing season try to buy your fruits and vegetables fresh whenever possible, but in the winter, depending on where you live, you may get fresher produce by buying it frozen. I live in Pennsylvania, and fresh produce in the winter is often shipped from as far away as Mexico and Brazil, and at best from southern states like California, and Florida where they have a year round growing season.  Frozen fruits and vegetables are actually frozen very soon after they are picked to maintain their freshness, so they are often fresher, even in the summer than some of the local foods that you can purchase in your grocery store.

Each week I purchase several pounds of chicken and beef when I do my shopping. On Saturday when I have a little less going on, I use a roasting pan and slow cook the meats for several hours until the meat is tender and juicy. Once the meat is finished cooking I put it into glass storage dishes and store it in my refrigerator to have ready to use during the week. By doing this ahead I can then add the already cooked meat to whatever I’m fixing during the week, shortening my cooking time on days when I have less time.

To read more of Denise's articles, click here.

To read more of Denise’s articles, click here.

I also started fixing more casseroles. Every family has different likes and dislikes, but I find that a casserole paired up with vegetables, a dish of mixed fruit and a favorite side makes a satisfying meal.

One of our family’s favorite winter meals is shepherd’s pie.

It is simple to prepare, has many possible variations, and is also a favorite of the missionaries when we have them over to dinner.

One version that I fixed, that got rave reviews with our sister missionaries, one of whom is gluten free, features bacon!

Bacon Shepherd’s Pie

Ingredients: uncured Bacon, potatoes, frozen veggies, shredded cheese

Line a cookie tray, that has raised edges, with parchment paper and place uncured bacon on the paper. Cook at 350* degrees for approx. 30 mins., or until slightly crispy.

While bacon is cooking, peel and slice approx. 1 and a half potatoes per person and cover with water in a pot, cooking on a medium heat until fork tender.

Mash the potatoes, and cover the bottom of a baking dish, and about half way up the sides of the dish, with the mashed potatoes.

Fill with fresh or frozen vegetables like sliced carrots, corn, green beans, peas, or broccoli. Crumble half of the bacon over the vegetables and cover with the remaining mashed potatoes.

Crumble the remaining bacon on top, and sprinkle with shredded white cheddar cheese.

*it is best to grate your own cheese as pre shredded cheese is dusted with flour to prevent it from clumping in the package.

Bake in a 350* degree oven for approx. 30 mins., or until the top is lightly browned

This recipe can be made with ground beef, shredded chicken, left over roast, or whatever meat you may have on hand. It is very flexible.

Serve with apple slices and yogurt for dipping the apple slices, and homemade banana bread for a meal the whole family can enjoy!


About Denise Mastrocola
Denise is a Michigander turned Pennsylvanian, who has been writing stories since Elementary School. Denise won an award at the annual Lansing Youth Talent Show, when she was in 10th grade, for a short story entitled Procrastination is Fatal, but didn’t decide on writing as a career until she was 28 years old. While homeschooling her older children she spent 4 years working through a course from The Institute of Children’s Literature. Through the years Denise’s children have had a variety of health issues, many of which have been linked to various sensitives; having spent more than 20 years researching and trying different things Denise has a boots on the ground view on healthier living. Denise currently writes for 2 blogs and has several books in different stages of completion. She is planning to break ground in e publishing, and hopes to have her first Historical Fantasy book which is set during the renaissance, “Lisa, My Lisa?” ready by the first of the year.

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