When Anne-Marie Meunier was 16 years old, she wanted to make some healthy changes to her lifestyle, including an easy-going exercise program, and healthier eating habits. She visited a nutritionist who recommended making minor adjustments to her food choices and, within a little while, the Timmins, Ont., native lost the unwanted pounds she had been carrying around and amped up her energy level ten-fold.
That was 35 years ago, and the petite, attractive, Toronto-based businesswoman had no idea she had adapted a variation of the trendy keto diet with a touch of paleo for good measure. All she knew was the eating program that had been customized for her was easy to follow, stopped her sweet tooth cravings and helped her get fit and healthy, a lifestyle she maintains to this day.
“The changes to my diet weren’t drastic back then – and they still aren’t. But I basically got rid of all the white stuff I had been eating,” says Meunier, including “white sugar, white flour, white pasta, potatoes, starches, foods like that.” She doesn’t adhere to one particular diet per se, but a blend of the two popular food programs, and she does include dairy in her meals along with a variety of vegetables and meats and a nutritious shake every morning. Any desires for anything sweet can be assuaged with maple syrup and dark chocolate.
Two years ago she put her partner, Joel, on the same eating program, as his weight had been creeping up, along with his cholesterol numbers. His biggest fear was giving up his comfort foods, like bowls of pasta – but Meunier makes a special dough that mimics the same taste and mouth-feel as regular pasta. Joel says he couldn’t tell the difference and his weight started coming off almost immediately, along with a steep drop in his cholesterol and pre-diabetic numbers.
“It was amazing how I never really saw a difference in what I was eating,” marvelled Joel, who continues to enjoy the same healthy eating as his partner. “But my doctor noticed it – and kept telling me to keep doing what I was doing!”
Meunier, whose backround is European French, says she loves to experiment in the kitchen and coaxes out different levels of flavours from the dishes she creates – like sprinkling yeast flakes on her vegetables, or even freshly popped popcorn.
“Everyone has their own personal choices when it comes to eating habits,” said Meunier recently, while giving me a personal cooking class. “I changed my habits because I had struggled with some weight issues when I was a teen.” Habits are interesting, she added, as she started mixing ingredients for a dough to make ravioli with. “Good habits are easy to adapt. You make a few changes here and there and you’d be surprised at what happens. Like sugar cravings – you can stop them. You can stop craving comfort dishes. You can adapt ingredients that give you the same comfort but without compromising your health.”
Meunier says everyone is different “and what works for me may not necessarily work for you. But making small changes leads to big changes in your health, and in your life.” It also doesn’t mean saying goodbye to beloved foods, either, adds Meunier. “It’s about making the right choices for you. No one is stopping you from having an ice cream, but ask yourself do you want an ice cream every day?”
If you’re looking to make lifestyle changes, start the conversation with your doctor first and go from there. “There are so many amazing food choices today that you can have all the deliciousness of a favourite meal without it compromising on your health,” says Meuner.
By the end of the conversation, Meunier had whipped up a plate of delicious, ricotta and spinach-stuffed ravioli covered in homemade sauce.
And yes, I couldn’t tell the difference between regular dough and the one she had made.
Meuner’s advice? “Take a look at what you’re eating, why you’re unhappy with your choices, and then ask yourself, what can you change. Talk to your doctor, make an appointment with a nutritionist, do your research. And then just take that first step.”
Here’s a selection of Meunier’s favourite go-to recipes.
Perfect Grain-Free Pasta Dough
Makes about 1 lb./454 g.
1 cup (250 mL) blanched almond flour
1 cup (250 mL) organic tapioca starch
1 cup (250 mL) arrowroot starch
2 tsp. (10 mL) sea salt
3 large organic eggs
2 Tbsp. (30 mL) olive oil
2 Tbsp. (30 mL) water
In bowl of a food processor or stand mixer fitted with dough hook, add almond flour, tapioca starch, arrowroot starch and salt, and mix until well combined. In a separate bowl, mix together eggs, olive oil and water. With food processor (or mixer) running slowly, add liquids into dry ingredients. Continue running until dough is a smooth ball. (don’t worry about overworking dough as it’s gluten-free.)
Remove dough from bowl and work in any remaining crumbs. Note: This dough can be rolled or extruded into a variety of pasta shapes, including ravioli. Use additional tapioca starch as needed to avoid sticking when working with dough.
To make basic noodles: Divide dough into 4 equal portions, lightly wrapping unused dough with plastic wrap. Dust work station and rolling pin with tapioca starch and roll out dough as thinly as possible. Cut using a knife or pizza cutter into noodles. Repeat for each portion of dough.
Cook noodles in boiling, salted water. Noodles cook between 3 to 5 minutes, depending on thickness. Drain cooked noodles and immediately toss with your favourite sauce, or rinse with cold water to prevent sticking.
TIPS: Pasta dough can be made up to 1 day in advance, and kept in fridge wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. Allow cold dough to warm slightly before working.
Dough is perfect for making ravioli or lasagna as it’s very forgiving – if dough comes apart in some spots, just add a bit more dough to cover tear.
1 cup (250 mL) butter or vegetable oil
3/4 cup (175 mL) pure maple syrup
2 tsp. (10 mL) pure vanilla
4 cups (1L) large flake oats
2 cups (500 mL) roasted, unsalted chopped nuts (cashews, or a mix)
1 1/2 cups (425 mL) unsalted seeds (including sunflower and pepitas)
1 cup (250 mL) unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup (60 mL) EACH ground flax (or chia seeds), wheat germ, bran
1/2 tsp. (2.5mL) EACH cinnamon and nutmeg
1 tsp. (5 mL) dried ginger
1 cup (250 mL) dried fruit (cranberries suggested)
Preheat oven to 275°F. Melt butter in small saucepan over medium-low heat. When melted, remove from heat and add maple syrup. Add vanilla; let cool slightly and set aside.
In a separate bowl, mix all dry ingredients including dried fruit. Pour wet mixture over dry mixture and mix well. Spread on a large, lined baking tray and bake for about 75 minutes. Remove from oven, cool and transfer to large jar or airtight container. Can be enjoyed as is, or blended in plain yogurt or plant milk.
Almond Flour Chocolate Chip Biscotti
5 Tbsp. (75 mL) butter, softened
1/2 cup (125 mL) maple syrup
1 tsp. (5 mL) EACH pure vanilla and almond flavouring
1/2 tsp. (2.5 mL) nutmeg
2 large organic eggs
2 cups (500 mL) blanched almond flour
1 Tbsp. (15 mL) coconut flour
1 tsp. (5 mL) baking powder
1/4 tsp. (1 mL) salt
3/4 cup (175 mL) dark chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C). Line an 18-inch by 13-inch baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly spray with vegetable oil.
In a medium bowl cream butter and maple syrup thoroughly. Add vanilla and almond and nutmeg and blend thoroughly. Beat in eggs one at a time. Carefully add flours, baking powder and salt, stirring until smooth. Fold in dark chocolate chips.
Using wet hands, shape dough into a log shape and place in centre of baking sheet, mounded slightly higher in centre. Note: dough will spread during baking. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool for 20 minutes, then carefully remove from pan and transfer to wire rack to cool for about an hour.
Reduce oven temperature to 300°F (160°C). Using a sharp chef’s knife, slice biscotti crosswise into 3/4-inch slices. Lay slices on sides on parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake 20-25 minutes or until dry and golden; cool completely. Biscotti continue to dry and crisp as they cool. Store in airtight container.