By Lauren Blacker
My love of horses began like most others. Even before I allowed the training wheels to come off my bike, I was begging to get on a horse. Waking up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning when you’re 13 years old doesn’t sound appealing to most kids, but for a girl like me, I lived for those mornings at the barn.
Life was so simple back then! I’d spend my Saturdays grooming horses, turning them out, helping my trainer get her horses ready and getting a lesson of my own in the afternoon. Summers were spent at a sleep-away camp where I got to ride two hours a day, living within walking distance to the barn and hanging out with other horse-crazy girls like myself.
Now, more than 20 years later, I’m still in the saddle every day and sharing my experiences and knowledge through instruction and coaching in the equestrian program at the Dana Hall School in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Like a lot of my peers, I’m trying to find a healthy balance between work/life as I juggle my career teaching and riding with maintaining my out-of-work life pursuits including enjoying the outdoors as much as possible, cooking and eating to my heart’s content, traveling when I can and being with the people I love.
Nutrition Becomes Priority
Nutrition became a priority for me about four years ago when I finally realized that being tired, stressed and uncomfortable all the time just wasn’t in my life plan. I needed a change, and nutrition and fitness were the answer. Working long hours can lead to bad food choices and that’s exactly what I did for years. I was uneducated about the foods supplied to me, and I didn’t care what the ingredients were. As horse people, we always choose the feed and supplements that give our furry friends optimal health benefits and keep them fit and healthy for their jobs — so why aren’t we, as riders, doing that for own bodies?
Most horse show vendors offer cookies, candy, baked goods and greasy food. This, of course, is not a terrible thing — everything in moderation, right? Even so, it took me a few years to realize that my energy and fitness levels were dwindling partially because of these food options, and by just taking a little time to plan the night before to prepare whole, nutritious meals, everything changed.
Once I realized that good health was key to my personal happiness, it was a natural evolution to the creation of my website, CreativelyDelish.com, that features recipes, health and wellness articles and how-to cooking tips. Maybe it was the instructor in me, but I really wanted to share the things that I’d learned with others and help them to understand how to live life in a healthier way.
So the long hours, little time to sit down and the constant need for energy in my life hasn’t changed, but now I rely on a few different, healthy strategies to keep me going. Incorporating these changes into your routine can yield great benefits and it doesn’t take much time!
This was a life changer for me because not only does my week seem more organized, my body and my wallet are happier too. It can seem like such a daunting task, but I love making lists and staying organized, so this option works well for me. Every Sunday, I sit down for 20 minutes and write out the breakfasts, snacks, lunches and dinners I’ll have for the week. Then I make my grocery list and head to the store. Once I get home, I get to work for about an hour and prep ingredients for the week, chopping fruits and vegetables and roasting up sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts for salads. It’s much easier to throw my lunch together if ingredients are already prepped.
Once prepped, I lay out several plastic containers and get to work making salads for my lunches. If you keep the dressing separate, the lettuce and veggies will stay fresh for days. Combinations like black beans, corn and red peppers are great over spinach with a southwestern-style dressing, or try chopped walnuts, crumbled goat cheese and dried cranberries, which pair perfectly with a simple olive oil and balsamic vinegar mix. It’s important to incorporate some protein and healthy fats into your lunches to keep energy levels high for long afternoons.
Smoothies & Juices
If you ask anyone what the most important part of a nutritious diet is, most will quickly answer fruits and vegetables. The new nutrition guidelines recommend we consume around two cups of fruits per day and up to three cups of vegetables per day to meet optimal nutrition requirements. This can be difficult when you’re on the go, and the easiest way for me to achieve this goal was to look into green smoothies and juices. For so long I’d been reading about these green drinks and weirdly enough started to crave them, so I got a Nutribullet and got going.
The Nutribullet is different than a juicer because it doesn’t extract and remove the vitamin-rich pulp from the foods, so you’re getting a bigger dose of nourishment. You can find them just about anywhere now and they come with three different travel mugs so you can blend and go — perfect for someone like me who’s out the door in minutes every morning. The green color can be off-putting, but when you mix in a banana or a few pieces of mango with your kale and spinach, you’ll quickly forget what color it is. Blueberries or blackberries will make it more of a purple color and will pump up the antioxidant levels too.
Every night I assemble my smoothies and pack them in little mason jars for easy access. I switch up the ingredients for different flavors and benefits. My favorite smoothie recipe is half a banana, a big handful of spinach, two pieces of mango, a half cup of blueberries, half a cucumber or two pieces of celery and about one cup of coconut water or regular water. This can be blended together in either a regular blender or a Nutribullet. It’s how I start my mornings and is an easy mid-afternoon snack, too.
Healthy, Portable Snack Options
At horse shows, it’s usually a cookie or a bag of chips that’s the most accessible, usually with empty calories and a lot of sugar. Instead, I pack little single-serving packets of Justin’s Maple Almond Butter with a banana or an apple. Other great alternatives are hummus with whole grain crackers, a small salad or a handful of nuts. I found little containers that perfectly fit small portions of salad dressing or hummus so it’s easy to portion out and bring with me.
I make sure I get my heart rate up for at least 30 minutes a day out of the saddle to keep my muscles guessing. I switch it up between my own workouts at the gym, attending Bar Method classes or even just going for a hike. This helps to keep my stamina up when riding and is a great way to start or end the day. Being at the barn is a form of therapy for me, but the other workouts are a great way to unwind from a crazy schedule too.
Throw Out the Junk!
It was also important for me to throw out junk food in my pantry. My rule of thumb is that if I can’t make it myself based on the ingredients list, I don’t buy it. A big red flag for me is when the list of ingredients exceeds what’s necessary if I were to make it myself. So many of the foods sold in stores aren’t even food at all, only chemicals and sugars made to look a certain way. Once I started reading labels, it became so easy to not eat those foods. Now I freely eat as many vegetables as I want and enjoy fruits, whole grains and lean proteins daily. The desire to reach for a bag of chips is a far-away thought at this point, and it makes me get creative with what I eat instead.
To be able to work with animals every day, watch the progress of my riders and be outside instead of at a cubicle couldn’t be more perfect. Finding that right balance between it all will always have its challenges, but never taking a moment for granted is what I focus on the most. My goal is to help inspire others to do the same, which is why I launched CreativelyDelish.com. Through trying out different recipes and getting creative with ingredients, I’ve learned how to enjoy real foods while saving time and keeping to a budget. There’s something for everyone on CreativelyDelish and I hope you can stop by!
Baked Steel Cut Oatmeal
This makes six generous portions or eight smaller ones that are great served with something like a clementine. You can mix in whatever you prefer, just begin with the first nine ingredients and then add in whatever nuts or fruit you like. Cooking Tip: If you have time to let the oats soak in the milk mixture for at least an hour, you’ll get a slightly creamier texture. After soaking, add in the remaining ingredients.
1 c steel cut oats
1¼ tsp cinnamon
1½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 c milk
1 tsp vanilla
⅓ c maple syrup
1½ Tbsp coconut oil, melted + more for greasing the pan
1 c chopped walnuts
½ c dried cranberries
1 c shredded unsweetened coconut
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and grease a large baking dish with coconut oil.
In a large mixing bowl, combine milk and eggs and beat until the yolks break and it mixes well. Add the vanilla, maple syrup and coconut oil and mix well to combine.
In a separate bowl, combine oats, walnuts, cranberries, shredded coconut, cinnamon, baking powder and salt.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet and combine, then pour it into the baking dish.
Bake for 45 minutes or until the top has browned and the middle is cooked through. Use a toothpick to check if needed.
Let the pan cool before serving.
The Easiest Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Recipe … Ever
2lb pork butt, most of the fat trimmed off
2 large onions, quartered
1 16-oz bottle light ale beer
1 c BBQ sauce + more for serving
Place the onions in the bottom of a slow cooker, place the pork butt on top then pour BBQ sauce and beer over the pork.
Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours.
Carefully remove the pork and shred the meat — discard the onions and juice unless you want to put the onions on your sandwich.
In a heated sauté pan, stir the pulled pork with about another ¼ cup of BBQ sauce, letting the outsides of some pork pieces begin to caramelize.
Serve on a bun (I used an organic whole wheat bun) with some mayo-less broccoli-slaw.