I’ve been meaning to write this post for ages. Ever since Hubby suggested it. Because food is such an important part of our lives, and always has been. When Hubby and I first met, I used to laugh that we spent most of our dates deciding what to eat, preparing it, eating it, and then talking about it. When we weren’t skiing or canoeing those first months together, we were eating. At least that’s the way it seemed.
Cross country skiing in Marlboro Forest, 1987, or so.

We’ve always eaten what we thought was a healthy diet, exercised regularly, didn’t smoke. And despite all that Hubby was still diagnosed with heart disease in 2013. That was a huge shocker. And not just for us. Hubby’s hockey buddies who knew how hard he worked on his fitness were flabbergasted. Even our doctor was blown away. But there it was. He had open-heart surgery in March 2013, and we set about trying to figure out how we could change our lifestyle to mitigate against his ever having to go through that again.
I’m not going to go into too much detail here, but one thing we did during Hubby’s months of recovery was attend a really helpful seminar on healthy eating at the Ottawa Heart Institute. The dietitian was excellent. Very knowledgeable. And sensible. She was up to date on all the latest research and even on the latest diet books, Wheat Belly being very big that year. She ably responded to questions regarding new developments in science, and debunked some of the pseudo-science too. She helped us enormously. She helped me to stress less, to research less, and to make some sensible decisions. At Hubby’s suggestion, when we got home, we shared what we took away from the seminar, and made a list of ten things on which we would focus.
My favourite easy fish recipe: baked tilapia with pesto, mushrooms, grape tomatoes, and olives

Most notably we focused on eating fruit or vegetables with every meal. We’ve always eaten a lot of vegetables. I grew up on a farm; meat, potatoes, and two veg was the norm for suppers at our house. But Hubby and I now focus on smaller portions of meat, we eat mainly white meat or fish, and we’ve tried to increase the portion of our plate taken up by vegetables. It’s not hard to do. For a while we measured our vegetable servings to see if we had eaten 5-7 daily servings. A cup of raw vegetables or a half cup of cooked comprises a serving. Now, it’s become intuitive.

Basa in chili-lime sauce with Hubby’s stir-fried fennel, pepper, zuchini, and kale, carrots from the garden, and mushroom rice.

We cut out processed foods. Not that we ate much processed food anyway, but Hubby did like his canned soup and the occasional lunch of Kraft Dinner. And no more luncheon meats for sandwiches. We tried harder to eat only “good fats.” And we focused on salt. We try to use mostly frozen tomatoes from our garden, but they don’t last all year, so now we purchase only “no salt added” tomatoes. And only “no salt added” chicken broth, or beef broth for cooking. Hubby measured out into a small bowl his recommended daily limit of 1500 mg. of salt for heart patients. Then he sprinkled salt from the bowl on his meal or in his cooking each day to see if he was under the limit. He always was, so we stopped worrying about that.

Sometimes we supplement our vegetable intake with what Hubby has foraged. Seriously, in a previous life, I’m sure he was a hunter-gatherer, mostly a gatherer. He loves to harvest wild edibles. Meadow mushrooms, wild garlic, fiddleheads in the spring (see below), and wild asparagus. He has several routes he travels on his way home from country golf courses in the spring which take him past his favourite asparagus spots. We eat a lot of asparagus in June. Good thing we both love it.

Picking fiddleheads in the spring is a ritual for most New Brunswickers. And they grow in Ontario too.

Changing our eating habits has been a journey, really. And lucky for us it’s one we’ve both enjoyed. We’ve tried new dishes, searched the internet for different ideas, and adapted old favourites to cut down salt, use less meat, and increase vegetable content. Sometimes we’ve eaten dishes in restaurants or purchased things we’ve tried to replicate. I love the Asian Kale salad at Farm Boy, so we found a great recipe on the internet and now it’s a summer staple for us. Same with tabbouleh.

Shhhh. The cook is concentrating

Hubby has always made homemade soup. But now he eats it exclusively, no more cans. And has tinkered to use almost no salt, more herbs, and just about every vegetable imaginable. Last winter he experimented with mulligatawny soup and vichyssoise. Thanks to a good friend who is a wonderful cook, I’ve discovered the joys of specialty oils and vinegars. My favourite salad dressing is one tablespoon of cranberry pear balsamic vinegar, combined with two of Persian lime olive oil.

I’ve made my own pasta for many years, and lately we’ve tried to replicate some dishes we’ve eaten in our travels. When we were in Charleston in 2016 we had a fabulous pasta dish at a bistro near our accommodation in Mount Pleasant.

Pasta in progress

The pasta was delicious and the menu one of those that conveniently lists all the ingredients in the dish: shrimp, grape tomatoes, arugula, onions, lemon zest. I asked the waitress if there was anything else I should know about how to make the dish, and the chef generously responded with comments about a splash of white wine, a dollop of butter, and the order in which to cook the tomatoes, shrimp and arugula. So now we make it for ourselves at home. We’ve even experimented with a heart healthier version of the shrimp and grits dinner Hubby had at the Old Post House Restaurant in Charleston. We have had this several times, minus the ham, and the butter, and cream. We’re currently trying to find on-line some version of the wonderful vegetarian dishes I ate recently at the Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen in Bath.

My shrimp, grape tomato, peppers, arugula, and lemon fettucini

We do our best to eat healthy most of the time. We are not experts by any means. And we found that we were turned off by so many books on how to eat a healthy diet, all making dire predictions, and then offering the one solution. The dietitian at the Ottawa Heart Institute helped us be more sensible about everything. She said, if we eat healthy meals 80% of the time, we can afford to treat ourselves sometimes. I think we actually eat very healthy meals more than 80% of the time, so when I’m out with friends I still indulge in steak and frites. And the occasional sticky toffee pudding with ice cream. Hubby is more cautious than me, but then he has more reason to be cautious. Making the right choices about food makes him feel confident that he’s doing everything he can to mitigate the chances of having another heart blockage. And really, that’s all we can do, eh? Just whatever we can.

As I said, it’s been a journey. And it’s all about the journey, isn’t it? Hubby’s blood work over the past few years has been so good, that he’s been able to decrease some of the medication he had to take post surgery. So that’s great. And I’ve benefited too. Or at least my yearly check-up tells me that I have. And it’s been fun. What we eat is a collaboration. Mostly.

Except… well… this time of year… when the weather outside is frightful, but what happens in our house is delightful. At least to me. When there’s no golfing, or skiing… Hubby gets bored and takes over the cooking entirely. I just have to act as consultant. And of course, taste tester.

Ha. It’s a tough job. But I’m ready for the challenge.

By the way. I’m not a “food stylist” in any way. These shots are of my plate, just before we’ve tucked in… so to speak.

Now, how about you, folks? Have you ever had to change your lifestyle, or your diet? Hubby and I like lists and rules that applied over many months become habits. But what works for you?


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From the archives


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Why I Am Not On A Diet

Even though I have gained a bit of weight lately, and I'm not happy about it, I am most definitely NOT on a diet. And here's why.

43 thoughts on “Our Healthy Eating Journey”

  1. We could definitely share meals! I saw your Crazy Plates recipe book (or was it Looney Spoons?). I like many of those recipes. I also love home made soups. And then, a girl after my own heart, you mentioned sticky toffee pudding as a treat. Soooo decadently good. I've changed my eating many times over the years, eating clean, reducing sugar, even tried gluten free for no good reason. Now I just eat less and have managed to drop a nice amount of weight. Your pictures in this post were great! -Jenn

    1. That cookbook is from the Looney Spoons ladies. Well spotted, Jenn. It's called Eat, Shrink and Be Merry. They have some great recipes, but we do use much less salt that they do, and less salty ingredients like soy sauce etc.

  2. Well you took me by surprise there . Not many of our blog friends walk us into their kitchen for such a detailed look into their eating habits & I loved it . As you know I don't eat meat & can remember stubbornly refusing to eat it at primary school ( 6 year old ? ) & at home – to my mums exasperation . My dad actually tried vegetarianism himself , but did eat some meat , so perhaps he was an influence . I've always loved animals & the thought of eating them is horrendous for me . Max was a meat eater when we met & I cooked meat for him when we married , very reluctantly , but as he came to see & taste the options available & also learnt more about the meat industry , he decided he would join me . He likes fish , which I occasionally eat but I much prefer vegetables , beans , pulses & some cheese . As you say , the range of spices , flavourings etc around now make for some great tastes . Vegetarianism is so much more normal in the U.K. these days especially amongst the young & I love it when they quiz me for recipes . Our restaurants have learnt they must have veggie options & we have many good ethnic restaurants . Home made soup is the favourite winter lunch for us too & summer is salad time – must try your dressing . My go to stock is Marigold low salt powder but I don't know if it is in your shops . So after over 60 years without meat , is it healthier ? Well most of my meat eating friends now have health problems , most are on some medication but , touch wood , Max & I don't have any such conditions . I'm not smug though , I realise genetics & luck are in the mix . A very good vegetarian friend of mine sadly died of cancer at fifty five so it isn't a guarantee .
    And I'm no angel , I've got my weaknesses – just don't leave any chocolate around …….
    Wendy in York

    1. I love that story of you hiding your school lunch meat in your napkin, to dispose of later. It's so hard to tell what is best for us, isn't it? I'm sure a diet without meat would be better, but we're not ready to go there. So we still eat what we love (except for bacon, bologna, or anything processed), and just try to make it healthier than it was. As Hubby said, we can only work with the genes we have.

  3. We eat a plant based diet after my husband had kidney cancer last year. His doctor suggested a vegan diet. We have been following Dr Greger who wrote " How Not to Die". We both feel so much better!!!!

  4. I second the recommendation of "How Not to Die" by Dr. Greger. I have been following his whole plant way of eating since June and feel wonderful! Also check out the documentary "What the Health". Eye opening.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation but I did so much research after Hubby was diagnosed that I became totally overwhelmed with dire stories and conflicting information. It created so much stress for me trying to find the "perfect" diet. I know that plant based diets work for some, and gluten free does too. But I found that the way forward for us was one we had crafted ourselves.

  5. We've been gluten free for 3 years now. Due to some issues with joint pain, my husband's doctor suggested cutting it out of his diet. We saw such an improvement almost immediately that we've never gone back. It's a bit of a challenge sometimes, but I enjoy experimenting in the kitchen. Since we eat very little processed food, it was not nearly as hard as I was lead to believe.

    1. The experimenting is fun, isn't it? As long as everyone in the household is on board. And when you already cook whole foods at home, it's a much easier transition.

  6. My husband also had heart surgery nine years ago and it also came as a shock to us. He was a runner and hiker and we were surprised. Like you, we have looked for ways to improve our eating habits. We aren't perfect, but we keep trying. Your meals look delicious and healthy!

    1. Thanks, Debbie. As I said, we're not perfect either. I was turned off by the dire pronouncements of so many articles and books I researched. The lovely dietitian at the Heart Institute really helped me to stress less about the whole thing.

  7. Very impressed with your healthy eating. How in the world do you find the time. Or should I say, why don't I find the time. We do eat lots of salads. It's easy out here in California. But I don't do the veggie thing enough. My husband is more meat and potato. It's hard to find a veggie he likes. Loved seeing your photos. Very inspiring.Thanks. Keep up the inspiration and recipes. I'm so impressed you make your own pasta. I failed Pasta making in Italy. Embarrassing.

    1. Thanks, Sandra. Believe me, it's a lot easier when Stu does so much of the deciding what we'll have. When we both worked I did most of the cooing, and the planning and decision making. So much nicer to share it.

  8. Thanks for this post. It's good to know that others have had to adapt their eating habits. I have always eaten lots of fruit and veg but had to change my eating habits a few years ago because of an intolerance issue. It has been a journey adapting recipes to accommodate my changing needs but has also meant that I didn't get stuck in a rut with recipes and have learnt to be creative. I mainly stick to chicken and fish with lots of vegetarian days.

    Hope you are getting the opportunity to recharge after your travels and giving yourself time to grieve.

    1. Adapting our old favourites has been fun. Cutting down on beef in those comfort food casseroles, for instance, adding no salt beef broth for taste, and lots of extra vegetables.
      I am working on recharging my batteries, thanks Christy:)

  9. Hi Sue
    I'm impressed! You make your own pasta!! 😉
    I go in spurts….very healthy and then very easy meals. Moderation and balance…lol
    "Feasting at Home" blog is interesting.

  10. Great post Susan! I think there's so much misinformation about eating healthy, it can be tough. A great read! Julie

  11. My cholesterol began going up. I cut back on meat and dairy – never was one for processed foods, lunch meats, etc. I have added a lot of legumes, probably my favorite part of the new regime. I have to work on the vegetable volume, often I resort to salads from the WF salad bar so as not to have to chop so much.

    I think it's great what you've done. And I'm glad your husband is healthy again.

    1. Thanks, Lisa. Good thing that Stu is the main chopper in our house. When he makes stir fries he often laughs that it takes two hours to do all the chopping (a slight exaggeration) and two minutes to cook everything.

  12. Very interesting post and your dishes look very delicious-you're doing excellent
    We have eaten always cooked and non-processed food,with inclination to mediterranean diet (now it is a base for all meals),but when I was diagnosed with MS after rubella meningomyelitis thirty years ago during my sub specialty training,I started with macrobiotics diet-it was new here and Michio and Aveline Kushi did some seminars that my mother and I attended
    I followed it for a couple of years and actually liked it (and it has improoved my health)-I only add a steak or something like that for my then husband
    In pregnancy and after that I went back to mediterranean diet,but some basics have stayed with me
    When travelling (or visiting restaurants here) I like to try different cuisines and dishes to get inspired for recipes

    1. Of all the diets out there, the Mediterrenean Diet is the only one that has appealed to me over the years. Part of the fun of travelling is trying new food, isn't it?

  13. Yes, yes, yes to healthy eating! Yes to eating veggies with every meal. Yes to cutting back as much as possible on processed foods. And it's also important to buy organic for some foods especially, as they are more susceptible to absorbing the pesticides.

    And yes to homemade soups! I love making homemade soup with as many veggies as possible. It's very easy, the leftovers last and last and just taste better as the days go on, and it's super healthy and a good deal in terms of bucks.

    Hubby looks great in the kitchen, and all those meals look delicious!

  14. You are so fortunate to have a hubby who likes to putter in the kitchen. He might enjoy (or already have?) the cookbook Clean Soups by Rebecca Katz and Matt Edelson. It is a beautiful book, geared toward healthy eating. I haven't made all the recipes but they look wonderful. She basically teaches you how to become a soup master. I love her vibrant style. Heads up, there seem to be 2 versions on Amazon, one of which uses European measurements.

  15. What a gentle but inspiring post about food today. Thank you for taking your time. Generous of you. I hope you can post again about the Acorn restaurant recipes. Have a great day.

  16. Interesting to read how you've adapted your eating habits to optimise health benefits while remaining balanced and enjoying your food. USsing fresh ingredients and cooking from scratch is key to good health I always feel better when I'm organised and eat properly. Your meals look delicious and glad to see wine glass too. I'm very impressed that you make your own pasta. Haven't tried it since doing it in a cookery class in Italy. It's great that your efforts have shown benefits in terms of bloods etc. Nothing like positive reinforcement to keep you on track. Iris

    1. You're right about cooking from scratch, and the organization needed to do that every day, Iris. Being retired makes it all so much easier than when we were both working.

  17. Glad you decided to write this Sue. You've shown how "healthy" eating can be easy to do but most of all meals can still be really tasty and enjoyable! Thanks for including pictures and recipes. I cook in a similar way to you and Stu and I especially love making soups!! Home made minestrone always looks good as well as tasting great! … so colourful. Another favourite is leek and potato served over salmon, smoked or fresh with fresh lemon.
    I haven't made pasta from scratch, same with bread …I used to years ago but not recently. I'm thinking that I should try both, especially as I'm usually disappointed with bought bread. Rare to find a really good bakery these days where the breads are freshly made. I do minimise the amount of bread we eat, but freshly baked is such a treat and so good! 🙂
    Thanks again for another well written and interesting post, that's also fun to read!

    1. Thanks, Rosie. Fresh bread is lovely. We use our bread-maker occasionally for fresh bread… more often for pizza dough. Stu used to make bread by hand, but he hasn't done that in years.

  18. Sue, 'tis the season to snuggle up and cook, isn't it? Your post is a dear reminder of the joys of preparing and eating nutritious foods. It's quite fun to see how much you and hubby enjoy all aspects of food — planning, shopping/foraging, cooking, and eating.

    I'm with you on your advice to keep things simple and sensible. I've been on a major self-care program the last 5 years (have lost 100 pounds and am successfully keeping it off). I've learned that the more vegetables and fruits I eat the less I crave highly processed carbs and sugar. Shocking, eh? 😉 After decades of fearing food, I now just enjoy it (although I do still track my daily intake).

    Ann in Missouri

  19. Hello, What a great post. We follow a lot of the same eating habits. My husband taught one of our nieces to cook and made homemade chicken noodle soup and bought a chicken and taught her to cut it up and then made the noodles! His family has obesity and the health issues that come with that so he is mindful about his exercise and eating and we also cook together and like to be healthy. Thank you for sharing.

  20. This is great, Sue! Our approaches seem fairly similar, especially since we both (my husband and I) had cholesterol levels that needed addressing — for the first time ever, and our new GP wasn't particularly concerned, given our fitness levels, weight — and the fact that we were just back from three months in Europe, so off our normal dietary patterns. Still, we cut red meat consumption even further, are much more measured about cheese (that one's tough!), and we do try to pile a variety of veggies on the plates. . . I like an approach — like yours — that doesn't deal in absolutes. The dietitian Paul met with felt pretty strongly that moderation was key to long-term success. We still have bacon occasionally. . . .

    1. Ah.. bacon. We have it rarely now. Just a tiny amount of back bacon on our homemade pizzas. Just enough for a taste. Cheese has been tough, though. I love it so much. But I've found cutting back on my cheese consumption has helped with my headaches. France was challenging…cheese, bread… and all so wonderful.

  21. Thanks for sharing your journey! Loved the photos of all the amazing meals. I'm a vegan and a big juicer. Have to have my green juice everyday! It is so important to get those fruits and veggies in! Love that your hubby does the homemade soups now. So nourishing and fresh! Best of luck to you both.

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