Transitioning Your Eating into Spring

When it comes to eating and ingredient choices, eating in tune with the seasons can go a long way towards creating an internal environment that leads to lasting health.

You know you don’t choose the same foods on a hot, sticky summer day as you do in the middle of winter. But what about a blustery spring day when the options at the farmers market (or grocery store) can be a little lackluster?

Below are a few tips for transitioning your eating into spring, as well as a deeper look at the why behind them.

Tips for Eating in the Spring

  1. Avoid congestive foods – these are generally foods that are heavy, cold, and wet.
    This includes refined grains and sugar, dairy (especially cold, sweetened dairy products, like ice cream, and fruit-sweetened yogurt), processed / pre-packaged meals and takeout, high fat foods, excessively salty foods (miso, soy sauce, restaurant meals), wheat products – a heavier grain that is inflammatory when digestion is compromised.
  2. Add in more dark leafy greens!
    What grows in spring? GREENS! Early spring greens tend to be bitter, pungent and cleansing. They’re perfectly designed to balance us after a winter of heartier fare.
  3. Sip on warm beverages rather than cold water and drinks.
    For many individuals with compromised digestion, this tip will always be true, but spring is a time of year when this is true for everyone.
  4. Sip on dandelion and/or burdock tea.
    These are bitter, detoxifying roots, and are nearly always included in any herbal “detox” formula. They support healthy liver function and help the body get rid of unwanted waste products and excess moisture.
  5. Try to eat three meals each day with little snacking.
    Or if you’re quite active, four balanced meals with no snacking in between. Giving the digestive system time to rest by about 3.5-6 hours after each meal really supports its ability to fully digest the last meal before the body has to begin digestion again.
  6. Get Moving!
    Getting your heart rate and circulation up and breaking a sweat regularly is an excellent way to promote optimal detoxification – of environmental toxins and pollens, of hormones, of inflammatory substances from foods. Moving promotes lymph flow, which when stagnated leads to congestion, mucous, retaining water, and sluggish digestion.
    If you’re already active, and perhaps training for a spring race, make sure you balance some of that heavier training with slower movement, and gentle yoga or daily self-massage that can gently move out some of the extra inflammation that can accumulate during this season.
  7. Up your spices!
    In the springtime, spices help the body to warm up and remove mucus. They also promote optimal digestion, and help to digest more difficult foods such as beans and legumes.

Broccoli Olive Sourdough Pizza – emphasis on the broccoli topping!

The Why: Energetics of Early Spring

First, look at the energetics of the season, or the energetics of the weather outside today. Energetics means the quality that is present in the environment, your body, or the ingredient, and the effect it has. The most basic energetics to work with are hot, cold, (and thus heating or cooling), and wet, dry (and thus (moistening/dampening, or drying).

In most places in the northern hemisphere, late winter and early spring tends to be cool or cold, and wet or damp. When we’re using a food as medicine approach, we do so by eating in a way that has the opposite quality of the body or of the seasonal environment that we’re a part of – eating in this opposite approach then provides balance for the body to be at, or return to equilibrium, where health occurs.

So in the cool, damp weeks of early spring, we want to eat meals that are warm and perhaps slightly drying in nature. One of the easiest ways to work with this component is by eating all meals cooked, and adding in more spices as we’re preparing foods. In terms of spices, nearly every common cooking spice will be drying in effect. Many of them will also be warming, and some will be more warming, or just plain hot, than others –like garlic, chilies, onion, and ginger.  

Energetics of Your Body

Now take a look at what’s going on in your body. Do you tend towards having symptoms of spring allergies, mucus, a wet phlegmy cough, swelling of the lower legs, retaining water, lack of appetite, or sluggish digestion where you eat and feel full for hours, like food is heavy and just sitting in your belly? This means you can use more warm and drying foods and spices! 

Key spices to incorporate into meals in late winter and early spring season include black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, horseradish, cayenne and chili in small amounts, garlic in small amounts, fenugreek, mustard seed, cumin, turmeric, ajwain, rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano.

Putting Them Together: Cook with Three Spices


One of the best ways to start spicing your foods without it becoming an overwhelming task is to choose three spices to use in each meal. For breakfast, if you’re having something warm and porridge-like, such as oatmeal, incorporating a trio of spices in the total amount of ¼ – ⅜ teaspoon is just about right.

A couple combinations to start with include:
⅛ teaspoon each of ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon each of ginger, anise seed, and cardamom
⅛ teaspoon each of ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon

In midday and evening meals, we can slightly increase the total amount of spices to about ½ – ¾ teaspoon total per person.

Some Spring Spice Combinations include (amounts per serving):
¼ fresh garlic clove, ¼ teaspoon each of rosemary, and oregano
¼ teaspoon each of cumin, mustard seed, turmeric
¼ teaspoon each of fenugreek, sage, and rosemary
¼ teaspoon each of fresh ginger, turmeric, and a pinch of black pepper

If you’re using other people’s recipes to cook with, adjust the spicing according to what you’ve learned above, particularly about your body. Most modern recipes over-rely on heating spices and condiments. 

An example is a recipe with several cloves of garlic, chilies, several tablespoons of fresh ginger, tamari, soy sauce, or miso, all in one. This is a recipe that’s probably going to burn us up internally, even if you and the season is running cold! You can tame the recipe and spice level by slowly reducing the amounts of each spice, or switching an ingredient out for one that has a milder effect of the same quality, such as using a pinch of black pepper instead of a ½ teaspoon of cayenne, or using 1-2 teaspoons of finely grated fresh ginger in a recipe that calls for 3-inches of the fresh root.

Signs of Balance and Imbalance

Ultimately, the goal is to feel good in your body and mind in each season. 

During this time of year, signs of balance include slowing down more than other times of year to rest more, having steady energy throughout the daylight hours, maintaining a healthy immune system and response, and eating to nourish yourself with no signs of impaired digestion.

Signs of imbalance include over committing, feeling depleted throughout the day, stagnation (mentally or physically), depression, mucus in the respiratory system, overeating  (especially high sugar, extremely rich, or cold foods), and having heavy, sluggish digestion with reduced or no appetite.

Broccoli Rice Bake

and a tip for taking care of digestion during the holidays and beyond

Before I get to the recipe below, there’s one little nutrition tip I want to share today that just about every one of us can use, especially during the holiday season. It’s simple – but can go a long way in terms of improving negative digestion symptoms, in addition to energy, having a steady appetite, clear skin, and focused thinking.

It’s that we should leave out habitually grazing or snacking throughout the day.

When we’re in a pattern of habitual grazing all day, or feeling constantly hungry or snacky, it’s often because we haven’t eaten enough at a previous meal. Or we’re eating for emotional comfort, or simply skipped a previous meal altogether. Or we’re doing those holiday gatherings that involve no real meal but constant “finger foods.”

In any of these cases, eating when the last meal hasn’t fully digested can put the body in a stressed state and leave us with indigestion, bloating, fluctuating energy levels, and a whole host of other symptoms. When we snack on the go or while distracted during our busy days, the same uncomfortable symptoms often occur.

But what about for athletes? I know many of you, like me, move your body a lot and need more food to be getting enough for your needs.

As endurance athletes doing daily workouts or training for an event, having a snack or two during the day is reasonable. But we should not feel constantly hungry, or hungry every hour or two.

Eating again before the last meal has finished digesting puts a lot of stress on the digestive system and it can’t do either job of processing the new food or assimilating the last meal effectively. This goes for everyone, regardless of whether you notice negative symptoms or not.

Aim to have snacks about four to six hours after your last meal has been eaten, and two to three hours before your next meal. This is the length of time it takes to fully digest your meals. For a person that is active less than an hour per day, three meals is usually plenty. For those who are more active, an eating schedule with a snack built in to get enough food might look like having breakfast at 7am, lunch between 11-12:00 pm, a snack around 3-4pm, and dinner between 6-7pm.

Do you feel worse when you constantly snack or graze throughout the day? I know I do. Try cutting all snacks or sticking to the above schedule for a week or two, and see how much better you feel.

Now, for something nourishing to eat during your actual meals. At least during one holiday of every year while growing up, there was my mom’s Broccoli Rice Casserole, which we all craved. Likely a holiday meal because it involved ingredients we didn’t eat any other time of the year (processed cheez whiz and instant rice), I have no idea when the tradition began, or when/if it ended, but we all enjoyed it.

Several years in to a dairy-free lifestyle, I tried upgrading the recipe to be based around whole foods and be dairy-free as a final project for one of my grad school cooking labs. Like most vegan / dairy-free recipes trying to mimic a cheesy taste, the result I got was trying too hard to stimulate all the taste buds with the nutritional yeast, miso, garlic, etc. combination of flavors, and I never really landed on a finished recipe that I wanted to remake year after year.

Then I stumbled upon the flavor/spice combination below while having a little creative session in the kitchen earlier this year. Without intending to, the result ended up being exactly what I was going for in the failed recipe revamp. And here we have it! A whole foods remake of the Broccoli Rice Casserole I loved from youth.

Broccoli Rice Bake

This is a far cry from, yet extremely reminiscent of the cheezy Broccoli Rice Casserole I grew up eating around the holidays. The combination of the spices, tahini and coconut milk seem like they’d yield a curry rice bake – but the result is actually far more subtle and more in line with the cheez whiz, instant rice, and cream of mushroom soup combination of childhood. It’s creamy, comforting, and a perfect addition to either a holiday or an everyday winter’s meal. 

Prep:  4-8 hours soaking (optional but recommended)   | Cook: 1.25-1.5 hours  | Serves: about 4

3 ½ cups (320 gr) chopped broccoli
1 cup (185 gr) brown rice (soaked for at least 4 hrs)
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground fenugreek seed
¼ tsp. ground fennel seed
1 ½ tsp. grounding masala spice blend or curry powder
2 tsp. minced fresh ginger root
3 Tbs. (45 gr) tahini
1 cup (240 ml) coconut milk*
2 1/2 cups (600 ml) water

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C ).
  2. Spread the broccoli out in a 9×9″ baking dish along with the soaked (and drained) rice. Set aside.
  3. Stir together the spices, fresh minced ginger, salt, and tahini into the coconut milk and  water. Pour over the vegetables and rice and mix. Then spread the mixture evenly, making sure that the broccoli and rice are submerged in the liquid. Cover with kitchen foil and bake for 45 minutes.
  4. Now discard the foil and increase the oven temperature to 430°F (220°C). Bake for a further 25-30 minutes, or until the broccoli and rice are cooked and the sauce starts to form a slight crust around the edges of the pan. It might look a bit softer than steamed rice consistency at this point, but will set up after removing from the oven.
  5. Let cool for about 10 minutes out of the oven before serving as a side dish.

Notes: Use canned coconut milk, the type used for cooking. Either lite or full-fat can be used but full-fat is preferred, and will result in a creamier texture and richer flavor. 
I’ve tested this a couple times in a larger, flatter 13×9″ baking pan. It still works, but the rice really benefits from a smaller, deeper pan so it can fully immerse and steam-bake, rather than dry out without fully cooking.

Breakfast Tacos with Black Beans + Egg Scramble

A couple weeks ago, I made puff pastry, a cooking project I’ve long considered, but never before attempted. Puff pastry is so rich in butter, containing nearly more butter than anything else, that’s its the ultimate antithesis of a food you might think a nutritionist would make and eat.

It was a project well worth my time and effort. Gluten free, dairy-free (using Miyoko’s cultured ‘butter’), and more rich in refined starches than would be my norm. And it was an eight-hour kitchen project just to turn and fold and chill the dough.

The process and end result was so satisfying. I used the pastry the following day to make a spring asparagus, radish, and egg-topped tart which was super easy to finish and bake, but tasted like, well, I’d spent more than eight hours meticulously turning and folding it.

That puff pastry crunch as our teeth sank into each bite.

In the days that followed, the topic of puff pastry has come up again and again on repeat. In The Great British Baking Show, a past season I’ve been watching for the first time ever. And, multiple nights in a row, I woke up somewhere around 3am from a dream about getting my pastry baked in time, having enough room in the oven, measuring and folding my puff pastry correctly. A direct result of watching the show with apt attention for too many nights in a row.

Puff pastry again in a book I’m listening to on becoming a French chef.

And then another in a new recipe sent to my email from a baking blog I follow, but have never actually baked from.

I consider that when topics or ideas keep repeating themselves in rapid succession in my life, there’s meaning there. But what’s the meaning of puff pastry on repeat?

And what does that have to do with these breakfast tacos?

One thing I realized was just how much joy I found in the process. How little nutrition brain was involved in the making. Is the puff pastry good for me? Yes, unequivocally yes. For any creative process that brings that much joy, present moment awareness, and time just being lost in the process is certainly good for me / us.

Is it nutritionally sound? Certainly not everyday.

It’s taken me nearly 15 years and a whole lot of practice, therapeutic reprogramming, health crises, and grad school to realize that health is about a lot more than just the nutritional components of what we put into our mouth.

Does what we eat matter? Absolutely.

But what our body does with the food, what mindset or stress-state we eat it in, are we enjoying it with full attention or just half-heartedly chewing while doing something else? I’m coming to believe those matter even more. It took me something like these past 15 years to achieve puff pastry freedom from the food police in my brain, and just have joy in the process.

And that’s something to be proud of.

In an earlier article I wrote this year on Intuitive Eating and Cravings, which has quickly become a popular one, I spoke to the idea that we often need to balance our body first before we can decipher between what our body actually wants (intuition) and what our mind desires (cravings).

Was puff pastry an intuition or a craving?

For me, it was neither. It was a cooking project that I’ve long considered quite challenging, especially with gluten-free flour. That I just happened to eat. I love that there’s room for that in my current life.

One thing I’ve realized after I spent more time learning about the purpose of balancing flavors and optimizing a food’s digestibility is that when those two are done, the flavor and yum-factor is usually there by default. And in contrast, some of the recipes I see published that I might have reached for previously stand out to me as overly spiced, one-sided, leaning too heavily on one taste aspect or effect, and containing too many components that stimulate me/us on various levels. Or are just plain too difficult to digest. The more I notice it, the more I notice the effect it has on my mind and body.

As I focus on the balancing flavors in the everyday meal-after-meal routine, the intuitive of what my body needs / wants becomes infinitely more clear. And what it doesn’t want when I temporarily stray from that does too.

So that’s what these breakfast tacos are.

A colorful, flavorful, texture-rich, balanced taste, and for all that, actually-easy taco plate. They may have breakfast in their title, but I enjoy them much more as a weekend after-run brunch or weeknight meal.

Hope you enjoy! If you try them out, leave a comment and let me know how you enjoy them.

Breakfast Tacos with Black Beans and Egg Scramble

Switch up radishes for another seasonal vegetable as desired, add more of your tortillas as needed, or switch them out for rice to make more of a plate-style meal instead of tacos.
The black beans should make enough for a double batch (about 4 servings) to be used for another meal. 

Prep:  overnight   | Cook: 3-4 hours (for beans); 15-20  minutes  to finish  | Serves: about 2

1 small avocado
1 lime, zest and juice
olive oil for cooking eggs
pinch of mineral salt
2 eggs
1 tsp. olive oil
⅛ tsp. salt
½ tsp. smoked paprika
1 bunch of radishes, quartered
cooked black beans, see below
6 small  tortillas (6”)
small handful of cilantro, minced

Black Beans
1 cup dry black beans, soaked overnight
¾ tsp. mineral salt
1 ½ tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
water to cover by 3-4 inches

  1. A few hours before or in the morning, cook black beans in a medium pot in the spices and water until very soft and flavorful. This is best done for at least 3-4 hours, adding water as needed. 
  2. To prepare breakfast tacos, peel and pit the avocado and mash in a small bowl. Zest the lime and stir in lime zest, salt, and then juice from at least half of the lime. Add more juice as needed. Set aside. 
  3. Scramble the uncooked eggs in a small bowl, add a dash of salt and pepper, and set aside. 
  4. Add the olive oil, ⅛ tsp. salt, and paprika to a sauté pan. Heat until the aroma comes up and then add in the radishes and a splash of water to cover the radishes by about a ¼. Simmer, covered, until the radishes are just soft. Transfer to a bowl, and then use the sauté pan to scramble the eggs in a little oil. 
  5. Heat the tortillas in a clean pan. 
  6. Enjoy the various elements including the seasoned black beans, eggs, sautéed radishes, mashed avocado, tortillas and cilantro, either as traditional taco toppings, or as a plate with tortillas on the side.