Feel Good Foods. Can they be healthy too?

If I ask you what your favorite food is, would your answer be a meal that is rich and indulgent? Invoke an emotional response? Pizza with friends. Pasta dinner with your spouse. Brownies. Your mom's chocolate cake. Foods we love tend to give us an emotional boost. They make us feel good.  We feel a connection to them. Our favorite foods are typically high psychological foods. Most of us know the power of chocolate, the love for a good burger, the hug you get from Grandma's apple pie.  


But we also know those cannot be every day foods.  We need high quality nutritional foods to keep us healthy. They are high biological foods. Lean proteins, vegetables, healthy fats and carbs.  Often times healthy foods don't give us a positive emotional response.  Quite the opposite.  We often dread healthy eating. 


So, what is one to do?  How do we eat healthy and not hate life? How do we balance enjoying our food and fueling our bodies? We find the meals that are both high biological foods and high psychological foods to us. What healthy foods do you love (or at least like) that make you feel good? We have to find meals that we look forward to, that make us feel satisfied but are also nutritionally valuable.  


For me, it's salad.  I know how lame that sounds. Who actually loves salad? This girl does! These blazing Oklahoma summers beg for easy dinners that don't involve heating up the kitchen with a hot stove. A cold, crisp, colorful salad gets me every time. I could eat salad every day.  And in the summers, I often do. 


They key to not getting tired of salad is to keep it interesting.  Don't get stuck in the rut of iceberg lettuce with tomatoes and cucumbers.  We can do better than that!  Summer is the perfect time to load up on in-season produce and to make a huge bowlful of yumminess that satisfies even the largest appetite. 


Salad can easily go off the rails from healthy to loaded with fat if you add cheese and smother it in dressing, as many restaurants tend to do to add flavor.  But when you've got lots of colorful, flavorful veggies, you don't need those added fats for flavor. I look for a salad with crunch, color and flavor.  Spinach, lettuce varieties, multi colored cherry tomatoes, avocados, corn, broccoli are always good for color and flavor.  Summer is the perfect time to add fruit...strawberries, blueberries, watermelon. And nuts for extra crunch.  


I recently hit up Whole Foods to stock up on produce and prep salads for the week. I had a recipe for an Avocado Shrimp Salad (find the recipe here) that I wanted to make. Does anyone else feel my pain when it comes to choosing avocados? They seem to either be hard as a rock, or go from perfect to overripe by the time I get them home. 

Avocado Shrimp Salad- Easy, delicious, and completely satisfying. 

Avocado Shrimp Salad- Easy, delicious, and completely satisfying. 


To get some tips for choosing the perfect avocado, I asked Sean, the produce guy at the south Tulsa Whole Foods, to give me some tips. He's a 20 year produce veteran and he was a tremendous help. His top tips: 

- Ripe avocados are black, not green.

- You should be able to push into the avocado with your thumb and feel it give a little. 

- If you push in and the skin seems to pull away from the avocado, it's overripe.

-If you pop the core out at the top, it should be bright yellow/green.  If it's dark, it's overripe.

- If you have avocados that aren't ripe, stick them in a brown bag with a banana to ripen them up.

My perfectly ripe avocados. You can see how dark they are compared to the ones still needing to ripen. 

My perfectly ripe avocados. You can see how dark they are compared to the ones still needing to ripen. 


If you've ever got questions about produce, ask! If you're like me, there is nothing more frustrating than getting home and realizing that your produce is either not ripe enough, or already too far gone. Sean at Whole Foods was more than happy to answer my questions and even picked out the perfect avocados for me. 


This shrimp salad was DEVINE!  Sweet tomatoes, grilled corn and shrimp. Creamy avocado, and crisp cucumbers.  All the ingredients that add up to a meal that is beautiful, tasty and makes me feel good.  A big salad hug! To keep it quick, I use ready to go salad greens. All the cooking was done on the grill. And voila, a big delicious dinner on the table, without a messy, hot kitchen. This will definitely be in the meal rotation quite often.


When people ask me for recipes or for ideas for healthy meals, I always tell them to keep it simple, and find foods they enjoy.  No one is going to stick to a meal plan if they are choking down food they don't like . Take some time to think about food choices that you know will satisfy you, but also provide the fuel you need. Look for those foods that are high biological foods but also high psychological foods for you. Those are the foods that are going to help you succeed in staying healthy. Here's to happy, healthy eating!