My Journey to Embracing an Instant Pot

A friend asked me what I thought about my Instant Pot yesterday. The short answer: there’s still time to tell Santa you need one.

What follows is the long answer…with my pros and cons–and of course a few easy, real food recipes for the Instant Pot.

I’m not an early adopter when it comes to newfangled things, or anything really–I have never been a trendsetter. I am much too cautious for that, and in my scientific mind, I don’t need to be a guinea pig! I prefer to wait and see if it works as promised, and then assess if it will add value to my life–which believe it or not, I try to keep simple (just don’t look in my garage)!

And I’m more than okay with the delayed gratification. Come to find out, science (the Stanford marshmallow experiment, for example)  has shown that better things come to those who wait!

So, years after most everyone else, I finally bought my Instant Pot this past July, on Amazon Prime day because it was heavily discounted. I still wasn’t convinced I needed it. I just thought as an RD and a nutrition and food blogger, I should try it out. It is clearly a huge trend, at the very least.

But the biggest reason I waited to get an Instant Pot is because the word “instant” didn’t sit well with  me. Instant oatmeal, instant rice, instant gratification–instant is usually a bad thing, am I right?! Instant foods are convenience foods. And convenience foods are usually more processed. And more processed is usually less beneficial to your health.

Obviously, I knew you could cook easy, real foods in an Instant Pot. But I can’t help but think it’s a bad thing when we (as a culture) expect all things (food or not) to be instantaneous. Not all short cuts are good. There is something beneficial in the “work” we do. But when we bypass the whole process in a blur, many times we miss out on the “journey” (which, as you would expect, is important to “the wandering RD”!)

  • If we simply cram with rote memorization for a test, we don’t remember the material later.
  • And you may know, I feel similarly about meal planning…if you regularly subscribe to meal plans or order meal delivery kits, you don’t learn sustainable meal planning and prep skills, or learn flexible eating habits since you can’t always eat all your meals at home.

So, given my preconceived notions about the Instant Pot, I am surprised that I have come to embrace my Instant Pot wholeheartedly. But like many nutrition trends, the Instant Pot just has a catchy title. It’s not as “instant” as I thought, which is both good and bad. (Good because real-food meal planning in an Instant Pot still takes forethought. Bad because the cooking process takes longer than it seems from the recipe; the times are misleading– it takes a good 20 minutes to reach the pressure level before the timing begins. But it’s passive time I can be doing something else–so not a big deal.)

But the most important thing about the Instant Pot is that it helps me get an easy, real food meal on the table a few times a week, and that’s gotta count for something. Plus it’s just kind of fun experimenting with it! Here are my pros and cons…

Pros of an Instant Pot:

  1. It is great for making easy, real food. There are many recipes out there, but you do have to search a bit to find the ones that include real food and limit processed foods. Each time I am successful, I share my Instant Pot recipes on my recipe page, so please check back often! And scroll down this post for a few links to get you started!
  2. The texture of meat that is pressure cooked is phenomenal.  This is what I love the most about the Instant Pot. You can make real-food recipes many ways, but they have to taste good! I am a very picky about slow cooker recipes; I don’t like how meat especially gets stringy and dried out despite being cooked in liquid for 7 to 8 hours. This does not happen when you cook meat in an Instant Pot. Ribs, chicken, pork tenderloin, beef stew, etc. tastes like it was roasted in an oven or over the grill, but in a fraction of the time.  
  3. It’s really one-pot cooking. I am also picky about slow cooking because I usually like to saute meat and some veggies (like onions) before slow cooking. In the Instant Pot, I love the saute feature. It allows you to saute, and then all the browned bits contribute to the flavor while minimizing dishwashing. Aaaawesome!
  4. I am not a guinea pig, nor am I reinventing the wheel. Someone else has indeed done the work of figuring things out–I am part of the Facebook Group Instant Pot Community and it is nearly 850,000 people strong!!! Searching for recipes has helped me tremendously adapt my own recipes for the Instant Pot. And I know if I were to ask a question, hundreds of people would respond within minutes. It is such a wonderful resource.
  5. I have had only one epic fail–and let’s just say, it was operator error (owning it!) I forgot to add water to my whole chicken and when the beep summoned me, the chicken was still raw. I knew I had to add the water to achieve pressure, but I had simply forgotten that step. Won’t do that again!

Cons of an Instant Pot:

  1. An Instant Pot may not free up your pre-dinner hour(s). Each of my 3 kids comes home at a different time in the afternoon. Then we spend most afternoons doing the “activity carpool shuffle” and usually arrive home in time to eat a fashionably late dinner. A slow cooker allows you to prep your meal in the AM and it is ready at dinner with little to do just before you eat. An Instant Pot, because it takes much less time, may require operation an hour or so before eating.  But with most one-pot recipes, I have learned a “work around” to this is starting my meal in the early afternoon and allowing it to hold on “warm” until we eat it, which has worked thus far with all my attempts. (And allows for an AM run to the grocery store if I don’t know what we’re having that day! Sometimes I wing it…keeping it real!) But anyone who doesn’t work from home would not have this luxury. Of course, in that case you could also meal prep a few meals in one day with the Instant Pot and solve this problem with another “work around.”
  2. It takes up space. As yet another large kitchen appliance to store (it’s an occupational hazard for me), it is taking up space–honestly, in the corner of my kitchen. I haven’t found it a concealed home yet 1) because it’s big and 2) I have a lot of other kitchen equipment and 3) because I use it frequently (but that’s kind of a pro, now, isn’t it?) Notice I didn’t say my kitchen was too small for once…military spouses can relate to that one, but my current rental home actually has adequate storage! I just have too much kitchen stuff, if I’m honest…
  3. They’re pricey. Although there are many sales lately, and they are already making them bigger and better (gotta love America!)

So, that’s my honest opinion, in case you are in the market for an Instant Pot! I am not paid by nor have I received free products from Instant Pot. I am simply a fan!

Here are a few of my easy, real food recipes to get you started!

Instant Pot Beef Stew

Instant Pot Chicken Soup

Instant Pot Chicken Enchilada Casserole

Instant Pot Country-Style Ribs

Instant Pot Pulled Pork Tenderloin

World Diabetes Day: Why and How YOU Should Eat More Easy, Real Food

Yes–I’m talking to you. All of you. Whether you have type 2 diabetes or not–on World Diabetes Day–I’m talking to everyone just the same, because I believe you all need to hear this: 70 percent of cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented by the adoption of a healthy lifestyle (according to the International Diabetes Federation).

Many people watch the news or scour social media and are upset by what they see.  It’s part of our high-tech culture to be inundated with polarizing opinions on important topics.  Me? Right or wrong, I tend to avoid daily political news. Frankly, I love our country, but I don’t see how my rants could possibly help.

Instead, I channel my beefs elsewhere; I simply go to the grocery store and find myself fired up by what I see. It’s now part of our culture to be inundated with CONVENIENT JUNK, some of which masquerades as health food. And sorry (not sorry), I have no choice but to rant because I’m hoping it may possibly help you.

God Bless America…we have choices, we have innovation, we have advances in technology, we have more of everything. But it seems like everything that makes America great has made our food culture deplorable.  So, if you feel helpless when it comes to eating better to improve your health, my only goal is to help you figure out what to eat. I hope you choose to keep reading because it is my passion to help you eat easy, real food to prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Although type 2 diabetes is affected by your genes, studies have shown its progression can be prevented and managed by healthy lifestyle interventions. But our food culture is not making this easy. Successfully managing, reversing or preventing diabetes requires a complete overhaul of our way of thinking, which means bucking our ubiquitous food culture.

It’s a daunting task, but I strongly believe in owning the responsibility for your own health. We can’t expect the government to tell us how or what to eat, or food companies to change their products for the better. The changes to our food culture have to come from within us–the consumers. And when we simply shift our focus from one processed food to a “healthier” processed food (gluten-free products, for example) or continually seek better “fast-food” options, we are completely off the mark and missing the point.

We have to slow down…and value ourselves, our family and our health enough to want to find the necessary time it takes to prepare and really savor real food in the company of our closest companions–our physical and mental health depends on it. And no governmental policy or commercial product can help us do that. 

But it doesn’t have to be terribly time-consuming or complicated. That’s why I am always talking about EASY, real food. You don’t have to do elaborate meal planning. You don’t have to plan a month of meals in advance. And you don’t have to cook all your meals for the week in one afternoon (unless, of course, you want to). But you do have to find ways to incorporate real food that work for you. I am sharing these suggestions that work for me and I hope they will help simplify the task of eating more easy, real food.

10 Ways To Eat More Easy, Real Food:

  1. You can eat eggs every day. I eat 2 eggs every day for breakfast. It takes less than 5 minutes. Sometimes I scramble several portions for a few days and store them in individual containers to reheat for 20 seconds. Sometimes I add sauteed veggies, or cheese, but most days just salt and pepper. At first, it was monotonous, I can’t lie. But somewhere along the way, it became a healthy habit and now it’s just “what I eat” and I don’t have to think much about it, which works for me and my busy mornings.
  2. Set real-food goals. Try having at least one fruit and vegetable at every meal. I do this for my kids’ packed lunches from home (because I can’t wait for school lunch to get healthier) and after we returned late Sunday from a weekend trip, I skipped the veggie on Monday because I hadn’t gone to the store and I got complaints about it! I love it when healthy habits become ingrained!
  3. Cook more. I usually cook dinner 4 to 5 times per week (often with leftovers). If you don’t cook much at all, start with one meal a week and increase as you can. And try to keep your meal planning (I use a white board) and your meals simple and full of real foods. Visit the recipe index for a sheet-pan meal, or a slow cooker meal, or an Instant Pot meal.
  4. Rebrand “leftovers” as “premade meals” and enjoy the extra free time. I know I talk a lot about leftovers, which don’t sound very appealing to many people. I used to be one of them! But as a busy mom, I now appreciate that they are time-giving, lifesavers! So, I recommend doing whatever you have to do to wrap your brain around using this meal prep strategy to your advantage. For lunch, B and I usually eat leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. Or I will make a quick simple salad with cucumber, tomatoes, and tuna or chicken for protein, toasted pecans or walnuts for crunch and flavor (with olive oil, vinegar and salt and pepper as dressing). Sometimes I double a meal to have leftovers for dinner the next night if I know it’ll be a busy one.
  5. Snack on some real foods if you want, or don’t snack; the choice is yours. But if you do snack, stick to lower sugar, easy, real food snacksAs a snack, I usually choose some nuts (walnuts and macadamias are my favorite), OR a piece of cheese OR a piece of fruit, such as an apple, pear, or clementine. About once a week I’ll have 4 oz. of my favorite Noosa pumpkin yogurt or even a convenient Kind Bar (Maple Glazed Pecan and Sea Salt or Madagascar Vanilla Almond), because it’s nut based and yummy, if not exactly real food.
  6. Buy fewer processed food products. I find it easier to avoid many products because there are scant good choices: such as cereal, crackers, and easy side-dish mixes. And keep in mind, even if you need to follow a gluten-free diet, gluten-free processed products are not better than their replacements for someone with diabetes. Instead focus on simple ingredients and ask yourself, “does this food come from nature?” For example, meats, fruits, vegetables, dairy, rice, quinoa, etc.  Some minimally processed canned foods I buy include canned tuna or salmon, chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, tomato paste, a variety of beans, pumpkin puree, coconut milk, and broth.
  7. Limit sugar. When you think you’ve decreased sugar in your diet in the obvious places (sugary beverages, limiting sweets, etc.), decrease it some more by reading the ingredient lists on food labels and avoiding products with sugar (and its various names). At first you may miss it, but you’ll likely notice your taste buds adjust and things taste sweeter without the sugar.
  8. Limit refined carbohydrates or preferably all carbohydrates.
    Highly processed carbohydrates such as white flour, corn flour or even gluten-free flours break down quickly into sugar in the bloodstream and research shows these refined carbohydrates are harmful to your health. A recent randomized controlled study conducted in Norway reveals that neither a very high-fat diet nor a very low-fat diet (both of which included “good” low-glycemic index carbohydrates) contribute to abdominal fat or metabolic syndrome—if they are free of refined carbohydrates. This is why for someone with diabetes, or anyone trying to prevent diabetes, it’s most important to limit refined carbohydrates, not saturated fat. Research also shows a lower carbohydrate (not just the refined type) diet is a very effective way to manage blood sugar for people with diabetes or for those wanting to prevent obesity. In particular, a diet low in carbohydrates is beneficial for reducing belly fat, which contributes to insulin resistance and diabetes. One randomized controlled study found that participants following a very low carbohydrate ketogenic diet lost more abdominal fat (trunk fat) than participants following a low-fat diet.
  9. Choose fats wisely. I use olive oil mainly, with some butter and coconut oil and sometimes even rendered bacon grease. Although these fats contain some saturated fat, research suggests that saturated fat may not be harmful to heart health.  Also, these fats are fairly naturally derived and minimally processed–unlike many vegetable oils such as corn, and soybean oil (which are in almost all processed foods) and even canola oil. I also recommend avoiding all trans fat, which is in margarine and other processed foods.
  10. Choose unsweetened, low-sugar beverages. I start my day with one (or two) unsweetened Italian “long” (diluted) espresso, to which I add a splash of whole milk.  I consider fresh-brewed coffee a real food, which is only minimally processed, when nothing else is added to it. Recent research suggests coffee may be protective against type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. In fact, a recent study suggests 3 to 5 cups per day had the most protective effect on risk for heart disease. Another study suggests at least one cup daily is protective against type 2 diabetes. Then I drink seltzer (La Croix grapefruit is my favorite) and water the rest of the day. Sometimes I add a lemon or lime wedge for flavor. And I often have a glass of red wine with dinner.

Bottom Line:

I hope these tips and recipes help you rethink your day-to-day eating to incorporate more easy, real food to prevent or manage diabetes.  By doing so we can harness the power we have to control diabetes better with real food, less processed food and a healthy lifestyle. As a diabetes expert, it is difficult to deliver restrictive advice, but on the bright side, it is the best evidence-based advice to prevent and manage diabetes.  And if it helps to know that I do follow my own advice, then rest assured I know it is difficult–but also possible and satisfying to eat this way longterm. As always, feel free to share your questions or comments! 

 

What Do You Do When the Going Gets Rough?

Me? Sometimes I quit. I have many unfinished projects, some nutrition-related, some not. For example, I have at least 20 unfinished blog post drafts. True story. Yes, that’s what NOT to do when the going gets rough.

School has started, so life with my three girls has become more challenging during the past two weeks. I haven’t been blogging much, I haven’t been meal planning much, and I haven’t been doing much to complete my personal projects. Can you relate?

Of course, sometimes life also gives you extra “lemons” during these already challenging times: another flat tire and a dog accident on my Persian rug. Yeah…there’s never a good time for either of those.

I thought it was just me, but failing to finish projects is a common problem.  I know this because there’s a book about it.  Today I just received a pre-ordered copy of the new book, Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, by Jon Acuff. It sounds so promising! I’m so grateful he finally finished the book. Stay tuned, if I finish it, I’ll let you know if the strategies are indeed life-changing.

I think it’s interesting and important to note, though, that I take commitments very seriously and will go to great lengths to not inconvenience or quit on anyone else. I work in a field that revolves around deadlines. No problem–I’m on time or early! But chaos or not, I often quit on myself. I tell myself it’s prioritizing, that my children are more important, or that anything for myself can wait. But if I’m honest, it’s also because I have a fear of failing, which I’ve learned is quite common among perfectionists.

It’s also common among people with a fixed mindset, according to the fantastic book Mindset, by Carol Dweck. I highly recommend it, for yourself and especially if you have children. (After all, your mindset shapes their mindset.) Most importantly, with a growth mindset you believe you have the power to learn and grow more through challenges and perseverence. And failure is an important part of that growth.  A growth mindset is far more helpful in life than a fixed mindset, which essentially focuses on quitting when the going gets rough, because you just aren’t ____ enough. Fill in the blank, you big loser.

Those who know me might find it hard to believe I’m a perfectionist–my house gets cluttered often, I mess up meals sometimes, and I never remember everything I need to. But often on the inside, and sometimes on the outside, I have been known to verbally beat myself up. And then I must add “sweating the small stuff” to my growing mental list of faults…

Yes, I do realize everyone makes mistakes. And when I make them, I can even verbalize “everyone makes mistakes.” But it takes a conscious effort to believe it to your core when attempting a new challenge and seeing it through to the end.

My point: we are all works-in-progress. We all fail. But when was the last time you tried so hard you fully failed? Chances are, if you’re trying that hard, you won’t fail. But even if you do, there’s growth in that. So, frankly, I’m done holding myself back to prevent failure. Are you with me?

We all know building healthy habits (food-related or otherwise) is not easy. That’s why New Year’s resolutions fail more often than not. But the reality is we can all learn more through challenges and perseverance, and especially through failures. So, we keep trying. But we must seek better strategies to complete our personal goals and find more balance in our lives.

Maybe you are striving to improve your eating habits and want to try a new approach. (You’re in the right place!) Or like me, you could be striving to stop sacrificing yourself too much for your kids so they see you as an accomplished, well-rounded individual. Whatever your personal goals, go big or go home!

So, here’s to challenging ourselves in this new school year (parents and students alike) to finish–or even fully fail–more of our important personal goals we set! I figure it makes sense to start with the book, Finish.