Fuel Foods

It’s a new year. A clean slate. If you’re like most people, you’re currently trying to keep those ambitious resolutions again this year. Among those is almost always the intent to exercise more and eat better. The following trio of local ladies offers examples of how to incorporate a healthy new regime into any lifestyle, at any age. 

Mae Dennis, 24 

Admissions Counselor at St. Paul’s Episcopal School, Pure Barre instructor and newlywed

Tell us about your fitness journey.
I am the oldest of five girls. We grew up playing outside – riding bikes, building forts and just running around. My parents are both crazy marathon runners, so we were always
encouraged to go for a run if we were stressed, upset or just hyper. Running is my therapy and stress relief. I also started doing Pure Barre more than two years ago when I moved home from college. I fell in love with the workout and became an instructor several months later. 

What hurdles have you had to overcome in your fitness plan?
I was diagnosed with lupus when I was in college, and it was really difficult to exercise because I lacked energy and ached all over. However, I’ve learned that exercise and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are the best things I can do to help alleviate some of the issues that come with the disease.

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What wisdom do you have for others who want to get fit in the new year? 
Change it up. It’s important to mix up your routine (exercises and eating) to keep from getting bored and becoming stagnant. So, whether you add a day of a new exercise or commit to eating really healthy one day a week, these small changes add up and help you feel better inside and out.

What one resolution what would you recommend most? 
Set a goal ­– any type of goal, such as a fun 5-K run or even fitting into a new pair of jeans. Make it something that speaks to you and just get out there and try your best. If you don’t get to work out on a busy day and/or overindulge in some junk food, don’t beat yourself up. Stay positive and be kind to yourself, remembering each day is a fresh start.

Veggie Fried Quinoa 

This is a go-to superfood for Mae on weeknights when she needs something quick, easy and healthful. The recipe originally comes from former Mobilian and fit food blogger, Meme Inge.

2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 bell pepper, diced
1 onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
1/2 cup diced mushrooms
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups cooked quinoa
4 eggs
5 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
1 teaspoon sriracha sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce (optional)
2 green onions, chopped (optional)

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. 
2. Add bell pepper, onion and carrots. Stir-fry for about 5 minutes, until veggies are softened and lightly browned. Add mushrooms. Cook for approximately 5 minutes. Push veggies to sides of pan. 
3. Add remaining oil and stir in garlic and quinoa. Stir-fry about 2 – 3 minutes. 
4. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs and 2 tablespoons soy sauce. 
5. Push quinoa to side of pan with the veggies. 
6. Cook eggs in pan for 30 seconds. Then stir in with quinoa and veggies. 
7. Meanwhile, whisk together remaining soy sauce, sriracha, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and fish sauce. Stir into pan. 
8. Let cook, stirring often for 5 minutes until sauce is absorbed. Top with chopped green onions, if desired. Serves 4.

Sallie Merchant, 38 

Personal trainer, wife and mother of three (son, 7, and twin daughters, 6)

Tell us about your fitness journey.
I work with clients in my home, their homes or outdoor locations. I started doing this almost two years ago when my children went to school and I had more time. I have always enjoyed exercise and had been helping a friend with strength training when I realized how much I loved this job.

What advice would you give to those just starting out with a fitness routine?  
Find something you enjoy and can stick with. Don’t overdo it in the beginning because you could injure yourself or burn out. It also helps to start a new routine with a friend.

What motivates you when you don’t feel like exercising? 
Exercise always gives me more energy and helps me make better choices throughout the day. If I don’t exercise, it throws my day off and affects my mood.

What hurdles have you had to overcome in your fitness plan?
In 2008, three weeks after I had my twin girls I suffered a stroke. I was not aware that I had a small hole in my heart that a blood clot was able to go through to reach my brain. I was very lucky that any problems I had were only temporary. This experience made me realize how precious life is and that I wanted to stay healthy and fit. I didn’t think I would be able to return to my fitness lifestyle that I had before the twins and my stroke, but I started slowly and just gradually got to where I wanted to be.

What one resolution what would you recommend most? 
Set a reasonable goal that hopefully will become a lifestyle change. Even small changes can make a big difference in the long run.   

Mexican Chicken

This makes an ultra easy south-of-the-border-style supper. Serve this lean meat with protein-packed black beans and avocado slices or fresh fruit to round out the meal.

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 (1 1/4-ounce) package taco seasoning
cooking spray
1 cup salsa
1/4 cup light or fat-free sour cream (or nonfat Greek yogurt)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Place chicken breasts in a zip-top plastic bag. Add taco seasoning. Shake to coat well. 
3. Lightly coat a baking dish with cooking spray. Place breasts in dish. Bake 25 minutes. 
4. Top breast with salsa and continue baking for another 5 minutes. Serve each breast with a dollop of sour cream or nonfat yogurt. Serves 4. 

Elise Partridge, 55 

Personal trainer at Total Athletic Development Systems (TOADS), mother of two grown daughters

Tell us about your fitness journey.
Growing up, I had health concerns and was a bit sturdier than my siblings, so weight issues were always in the back of my mind. I started working out a bit in college but didn’t take the whole health thing seriously until my first pregnancy. I joined Pregna Gym, a wellness facility with Providence Hospital, and became addicted. They encouraged me to start learning more about the fitness world. So, I did. From aerobics, to strength training, to learning about nutrition, spinning, yoga, pilates, anatomy and sport specific types of training, I became knowledgeable in it all. 

What advice would you give to those just starting out with a fitness routine?  
Schedule time on your calendar, block it out and guard that time with your life. Set short-term goals toward a long-term one. Start slowly in whatever mode of movement you choose, and add distance, time or resistance (as in weights) when it starts to feel easy. Get a buddy for accountability. The most important thing is to have fun!

Which personal fitness accomplishments are you most proud of? 
Truthfully, there are so many. Just walking into a weight room the first time was huge! I have done several half marathons, cycling events, duathlons, adventure races and obstacle course races. 

What hurdles have you had to overcome in your fitness plan?
There was a three-month period when I had my knee scoped, injured my neck and more in a car wreck. It has taken me a couple of years to bounce back into my old fighting shape, but I am getting closer every day.

What’s your best advice on getting healthy and fit in the new year?
Start moving more. Eat mindfully. Drink lots of water. Have respect for yourself. And don’t eat processed foods. Our bodies are amazing; love and take care of them.

What one resolution what would you recommend most? 
Play more, sit less. Incorporate more movement you enjoy into your life. 

Rosemary and Vinegar Chicken Thighs

Elise prefers to use her Breville panini press when preparing this dish, but she says this chicken can also be grilled, baked or broiled.

4 – 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs  
1/4 – 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
2 – 3 cloves garlic,  smashed and minced
sea salt, to taste 
black pepper, to taste
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1. Place chicken thighs in a Pyrex baking dish. 
2. In a small bowl, combine vinegar, garlic, sea salt, black pepper and rosemary. 
3. Pour this mixture over the chicken, turning to coat. Marinate for 15 – 30 minutes, turning occasionally. 
4. Place thighs on panini press set on “sear.” Cook for three minutes per side. Remove from press and allow to rest for 5 minutes prior to serving. Serves 2 – 4. 

Roasted Okra

This a simple, healthful and sensational side dish.

enough okra to fill up your desired baking sheet 
sea salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste
organic olive oil (Elise prefers Castillo Pinar), to taste
Asiago or Parmesan cheese, grated, to taste

1. Set oven on low broil. 
2. Split okra in half lengthwise. Place okra on baking sheet, seeds side up. 
3. Sprinkle okra with sea salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with olive oil over top.
4. Roast the okra for about 5 minutes, checking for desired doneness every few minutes after that. 
5. Swirl the pan a bit after the first 5 minutes. After removing from the oven, sprinkle with desired amount of cheese.

text by Sallye Irvine • photos by Elise Poché

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