The Naturally Strong Challenge

4:20 a.m. comes mighty early for Nonie Taul. While the rest of her family remains quietly nestled in bed, this 34-year-old mama downs not one, but two cups of coffee. Before the first ray of sunlight hits Mobile Bay, the toned and tanned fitness instructor is already stretching on Fairhope Pier. 

If you’re impressed, you should be. Nonie never claimed to be a morning person. “But, ” the bubbly blond laughs, “I have a great group of clients who love to work out at 5:30 a.m. They are much more morning people than I am!” As sunlight begins to peek through the pines and red tulips start to glow more brightly with the dawn, the motivated women of the Naturally Strong cardio class are already breaking a sweat. It’s no wonder. Today’s program scrawled on Nonie’s trusty white board reads planks, lunges, sprints, push-ups, burpees and more. The intense routine should burn in excess of 600 calories — all before breakfast. Talk about a wakeup call. 

By 6:45 a.m., Nonie is back at home, sipping a tall glass of Cucumber Watermelon Mint Detox Water while preparing her two daughters a big, nutritious breakfast before shuffling them off to school. Next up, a mid-morning yoga, Pilates or barre class, followed by a quick yet healthful lunch, then carpool and mom duties. “I run the girls all over town for after-school activities before we hurry home to prep for dinner. If I’ve been really good, I’ll treat myself to a piece of dark chocolate, ” she says with a smile. “Then, I am ready for bed so I can get up and do it all over again the next day.” 

First steps to fitness

Nonie quickly asserts that her lifestyle wasn’t always this way.

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“I enjoyed being active — from sports in high school to dance in college. But in 2014, when my second child, Lillibet, was 2 years old, we started going to the Bounds Family YMCA in Daphne because they offered child care. It became a daily routine. That’s when I became hooked.” Before long, Nonie found herself getting certified to teach fitness classes at the “Y.”

Around the same time, her eldest daughter, Annie, was diagnosed with Celiac disease. “She was so sick for months, and we could not figure out what was going on. After we found out that she could no longer have gluten, our entire family’s diet changed. Not only did she get well and thrive, but also the whole family felt so much better eliminating gluten. Then, we decided to take most dairy out of our diet, and that has been beneficial, too! And you know, a nutritious diet doesn’t have to be boring.”

That premise, along with her love of fitness and the outdoors, led Nonie to make one more big lifestyle change. In September 2014, she created Naturally Strong with Nonie. It’s a two-part business — half fitness training, half nutritious meal planning. Think of it as a one-two punch for busy moms.

Photo by Joelle Rosen

Working the plan

For the fitness portion, Nonie offers up to nine classes per week with as many as possible conducted in the great outdoors. Her nutrition coaching takes the hassle out of healthy eating. Each Saturday morning, subscribers find an email in their inboxes with the week’s plan, which includes a menu calendar, grocery list, detailed recipes and a Sunday to-do list to organize the week even further. “I create a closed Facebook group that everyone enjoys along the way. Support and accountability is key!” 

Recipes are always light, local, seasonal and, above all, flavorful. For example, in February, she featured a Mardi Gras detox menu, which included picks such as balsamic chicken and stuffed peppers. “Sometimes I find a recipe that I have always loved, such as shrimp and grits, and make my own version of it — usually adding more vegetables, substituting olive oil for butter, omitting the cheese. I also have fun trying to include popular ingredients: zoodles (zucchini noodles), smoothie bowls, quinoa and Brussels sprouts.”

As word has spread, Nonie’s meal plans aren’t the only place her trim and tasty recipes are popping up. Daphne chef Will Hughes now regularly serves her creations in his popular food truck. “He has featured the cilantro-lime fajita salad and the gyro salad. Fresh, local, delicious, healthy and convenient — you can’t beat it!”

This month, MB readers can sample the Naturally Strong challenge, too. Here, Nonie shares an exclusive 5-day meal plan with recipes. For workout suggestions, check out her Facebook page and website, She adds, “Try anything and everything. Figure out what you love and what works for your body and stick with it. Find a partner to keep you motivated and accountable. Start slow. Don’t quit!

“Once you start seeing results, you become excited about it. When you start feeling great, it becomes a lifestyle.”

Weekend Prep Tips

Planning ahead sets you up for success. Complete these steps the weekend prior, and it will be much easier to stick to the plan all week long.

• Go to the grocery store at least by Sunday. If Sundays leave you with plenty of down time, get to prepping the following items.
• Make plenty of Cucumber Watermelon Mint Detox Water.
• Cut up bananas, throw them in a zip-top bag and store in the freezer.
• Cook quinoa and store in the refrigerator.
• Chop up all veggies for the Summer Vegetable Quinoa Salad. Store in zip-top bags in the refrigerator.
• Prepare the Mushroom Asparagus Frittata and stash in the refrigerator so that it’s ready to reheat for that busy week night.

More Busy Mom Wellness Tips from nonie

• You can truly exercise anywhere, anytime and use anything! “Don’t just sit there while your children play at the playground; do some pull-ups on the monkey bars or tricep dips on a bench. While you’re waiting on that laundry, do curls with the detergent bottle. Grab that toddler or put that baby on your back and do some squats. You’ll feel better, and I bet your child will love it, too!” (Find creative workout how-to videos on the Naturally Strong with Nonie Facebook page.)
“Fairhope Pier is my favorite workout spot.” Not only is it scenic, but also the benches, pier, hills and beach, she says, make it a trainer’s dream. Other places Nonie suggests include Bayview Lane in Fairhope, Old Towne Daphne, Spring Hill College, Ashland Place and Medal of Honor Park in Mobile.
• While she doesn’t always purchase everything organic, Nonie does recommend splurging on a few items, such as milk, eggs, strawberries and chicken.
• Kids’ lunchbox foods don’t have to be boring PB&J sandwiches day after day. Instead, try making gluten-free tortilla roll-ups with almond butter and honey or cheese and organic no-nitrite pepperonis. Baked chips with guacamole, grape tomatoes and apple sauce are also great side options.



Cucumber Watermelon Mint Detox Water

Light and flavorful, this summer drink is a delightful thirst quencher. Nonie suggests sipping on it all day long.

2 cups chopped watermelon
1/2 cucumber, sliced
8 cups water
handful of mint leaves

1. Chop the watermelon into big chunks and place in pitcher.
2. Add cucumber, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds. If desired, use a citrus zester to peel stripes on the cucumber (just to make it pretty).
3. Add water, mint and ice. Refrigerate for 45 minutes. Serves 4.

Peach Cobbler Smoothie Bowl

Smoothie bowls are the newest breakfast trend. This simple, creamy and crunchy concoction makes a tasty, balanced morning meal.

1 1/2 cups frozen peaches (or buy fresh, peel, cut and freeze the day before)
1/2 cup almond milk
3/4 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon almond butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
fresh peach slices
toasted slivered almonds

1. In a blender, add first 6 ingredients. Blend until smooth.
2. Pour smoothie into a bowl. Top with fresh peach slices, granola and toasted almonds. Serves 2.

Baked Red Snapper 

Fresh-from-the-Bay fillets need little seasoning. If her husband Ben didn’t have any luck out on the boat, Nonie picks some up from Market by the Bay. Save the leftovers for fresh fish tacos later in the week. (Snapper can be substituted with speckled trout.)

2 – 4 medium-sized red snapper fillets
olive oil
salt and pepper
juice of 1 lemon 

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Spray a medium-sized casserole dish with cooking spray. Gently lay the fillets in the dish.
3. Drizzle olive oil over fish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over top.
4. Place in oven and cook for about 12 – 15 minutes (depending on the size of your catch) or until juices are bubbling. Serves 2 – 4.

Black-eyed Peas

Nonie says these peas, with the baked red snapper and tomato relish, are her husband’s favorite to enjoy on the wharf — a summertime essential.

1 1/2 pounds (about 2 cups) fresh black-eyed or pink-eyed peas, shelled*
2 cups homemade chicken broth (or use any store-bought low-sodium version)
1 medium onion, chopped

1. Place all ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 40 minutes or until tender. Serves 4.

*1 (16-ounce) package frozen black-eyed peas may be substituted. Reduce cooking time to 30 minutes or until tender. 

Tomato Relish

This is Nonie’s lightened-up version of her mother-in-law’s recipe, which calls for mayo instead of Greek yogurt. She serves it atop the peas.

6 fresh tomatoes, diced
1 bunch of green onions,  chopped
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 lemon, squeezed
salt and LOTS of pepper

1. In a zip-top bag, mix together all ingredients. Allow to marinate in the refrigerator a couple of hours before serving.* Serves 4. 

*Serve with Silver Queen Corn boiled with 1 tablespoon of salt for about 4 – 5 minutes or until perfection. This vegetable needs no added seasoning — but if you must, add a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. 

Summer Vegetable Quinoa Salad

Fluffy quinoa is topped with a smorgasbord of colorful bell peppers, corn and tomatoes, loaded with flavor and nutrients. It is inspired from one of Nonie’s favorite cookbooks, “Saveur.”

1 1/2 cups organic pre-washed quinoa
2 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small red onion, diced, divided
1 tablespoon salt
2 ears corn, shucked
1 cup cherry tomatoes,  cut in half
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 small green bell pepper, diced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
1 small yellow bell pepper, diced
3 green onions, white and green parts thinly sliced
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 avocado, diced
Spicy Aioli (see below)

1. Cook quinoa according to package instructions, using the vegetable broth.
Sauté half the diced red onion with olive oil until tender.
3. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add 1 tablespoon of salt to water. Add corn and boil for about 4 – 5 minutes.
4. Rinse corn with cold water until cool. Once cooled, cut the corn kernels off cobs and place the kernels in a small bowl. Set aside.
5. When quinoa has cooled to at least room temperature, layer half of the cooked quinoa into cylinder bowl. Then layer half of the vegetables on top of quinoa. Repeat each of the layers.
6. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Dice the avocado right before serving and add to top. Drizzle with Spicy Aioli. Serves 4. 

Spicy Aioli

1/2 cup Greek yogurt
3 dashes of sriracha sauce 

1. Whisk together Greek yogurt with sriracha. Add more or less sriracha to adjust heat to taste. Makes 1/2 cup.


Mushroom Asparagus Frittata

This paleo-friendly veggie-filled entree is tasty any time of day.

1 tablespoon olive oil,  divided
1 cup chopped spinach

1 cup chopped mushrooms
3/4 bunch of asparagus, chopped into thirds (about 20 spears)
3/4 cup diced yellow onion
8 farm-fresh eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In an oven-safe skillet, heat 1/2 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat.
2. Sauté vegetables for 3 minutes, until the onion is translucent and mushrooms have softened. Remove vegetables from heat and set aside.
3. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk eggs. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Stir vegetables into the eggs.
5. Heat 1/2 tablespoon olive oil in an oven-safe skillet over medium-low heat.
6. Pour frittata mixture into skillet. Slow cook for 4 – 5 minutes.
7. Transfer frittata to the oven and cook for 12 minutes, or until the frittata achieves a spongy firmness to the touch. Serves 4.

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Honey Balsamic Dressing

Sweet and savory Honey Balsamic Dressing adds a unique twist to a favorite summer salad.

1 bunch fresh spinach
1/2 head of butter lettuce
1 cup sliced strawberries
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup raw pecan halves
Honey Balsamic Dressing (see below) 

1. Combine the spinach, lettuce, strawberries, red onions and pecans in a large bowl.
2. Drizzle the Honey Balsamic Dressing over the salad just before serving. Serves 4. 

Honey Balsamic Dressing

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a bowl, stir together balsamic vinegar and honey; slowly stream the olive oil into the mixture while whisking continuously. Season with salt and pepper. Makes 1 cup.

Berry Crumble

Summertime wouldn’t be complete without a warm, fresh berry dessert. This version packs the flavors and textures of cobbler without the calories.

1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 cup gluten-free oats
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 pint local blueberries
1 pint local strawberries, halved
drizzle of local honey
Greek yogurt, if desired

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish with olive oil spray.
2. In a bowl, mix almonds, oats, honey and almond milk to make crumble topping.
3. Spread blueberries in the bottom of the casserole dish. Top with halved strawberries. Drizzle with honey.
4. Top with crumble mixture. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes. Serve warm. Top each serving with a dollop of Greek yogurt, if desired. Serves 4. 


Fairhope Coffee Smoothie

This creamy, frothy treat is a luscious, light alternative to traditional, high-calorie cold coffee drinks. Nonie created her version based on one from a favorite blog,

1 banana, chopped and frozen
1 cup of brewed and chilled Fairhope Coffee
1/2 cup of Greek yogurt
1/2 cup almond milk
1 tablespoon almond butter

1. Place all ingredients into blender. Pulse until smooth. Makes 1 smoothie.

Tomato Squash Zucchini Bake

Fresh-from-the-garden veggies take center stage. 

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 onion, sliced
sea salt, to taste
1 tablespoon minced garlic
6 large tomatoes,  thickly sliced
1 large yellow squash (or 2 small ones), sliced
1 large zucchini, sliced
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
pepper, to taste
fresh basil, for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Coat a large, deep baking dish with olive oil cooking spray. 
3. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add onion and sauté for 15 – 20 minutes or until caramelized. Season with sea salt.
4. Add garlic to onion. Sauté, stirring frequently for 1 minute. Remove from heat and let cool.
5. Layer baking dish with half the tomatoes, then squash, then zucchini, then onion, then garlic and remaining tomatoes. Season each layer (except onions) with sea salt and pepper. Sprinkle dried basil on top and cover with tin foil.
6. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes. Remove tin foil and broil for 3 – 4 minutes or until golden brown and crispy on top. Let cool slightly. Garnish with fresh basil. Serves 4.

Lemon Garlic Chicken  

A quick and easy weeknight dish.

6 boneless skinless organic chicken thighs
2 tablespoons minced garlic
olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper, to taste
1 lemon, thinly sliced

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Toss chicken in garlic, olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper.
3. Place chicken on greased baking sheet. Top with a few lemon slices.
4. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until crispy on the outside.
 Serves 4. 

Gluten-free Cornbread Muffins

Warm and flaky, no-guilt cornbread muffins are the perfect accompaniment to any Southern feast.

2 large farm-fresh eggs
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
honey, if desired
2 cups gluten-free cornbread mix (Nonie prefers Bob’s Red Mill)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, add the eggs, coconut oil, almond milk and honey, if desired. Whisk well, then add cornbread mix.
3. Distribute the batter into 8 or 9 cups of a greased muffin tin. Bake for 25 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature. Makes 8 – 9 muffins.

Jambalaya with Cauliflower “Rice”

Cauliflower makes a fantastic substitute for rice, using this method. Serve it with typical rice dishes, such as jambalaya or red beans and rice.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (14-ounce) package Conecuh smoked sausage, sliced into rounds
1 cup chopped green onion
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
1 cup chopped fresh okra
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Cajun seasoning, if desired
few drops hot sauce,  if desired
Cauliflower Rice (see below)

1. In a large skillet, heat olive oil. Brown Conecuh sausage, green onion and green pepper in skillet.
2. Add remaining ingredients, except Cauliflower Rice. Simmer covered for 15 – 20 minutes until okra is tender. Serve over Cauliflower Rice. Serves 6.

Cauliflower Rice

1 large head cauliflower
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Wash and thoroughly dry cauliflower. Remove greens and cut into 4 even sections.
2. With a food processor fitted with an “S” blade, pulse cauliflower into grains the size of rice. Remove any large, tough stems.

3. Transfer cauliflower into a clean towel or paper towel. Press to remove excess moisture, which can make it soggy.
4. Heat olive oil in a large skillet and sauté “rice” over medium heat. Cover with a lid so the cauliflower steams and becomes more tender. Cook for a total of 5 – 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serves 4.

Gulf Shrimp and Cauliflower “Grits”

This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled to feed a crowd.

1 1/2 pounds of Alabama wild shrimp
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil,  divided
juice of 1 lemon, divided
salt and pepper, to taste
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 cup chopped mushrooms
chopped basil, for garnish
Cauliflower Grits (see below)

1. Peel and devein shrimp.
2. Toss shrimp in a zip-top bag with garlic, 1 tablespoon olive oil, half the lemon juice, salt and pepper. Refrigerate and allow to marinate while preparing the Cauliflower Grits.
3. Heat pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Sauté the peppers and onion until almost done.Add mushrooms.
4. Add shrimp and marinade. Cook 3 – 4 minutes, stirring frequently until shrimp are pink and opaque on both sides. Do not overcook the shrimp! Stir in remaining lemon juice and remove from heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Scoop “grits” onto plate. Spoon shrimp and vegetables on top. Garnish with chopped basil. Serves 4.

Cauliflower Grits

1 head cauliflower
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 – 2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Boil cauliflower in water for at least 10 minutes until cooked through. Place cauliflower in colander to drain.
2. Using a food processor, puree the cauliflower with 1 – 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Cauliflower should have the consistency of grits — fairly thick, not runny. If cauliflower is too dense, add a drizzle of chicken broth. Season with salt and pepper. Serves 4.

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text by lawren largue • photos by elizabeth gelineau

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