Nealy Fisher stands outside smiling over a table filled with plates of vegetables

NOURISHMENT – Stoke the Fire

Nealy Fischer Models Self-Care in the Kitchen

By 24Life

Wellness is a passion for Nealy Fischer—largely because moderation was so elusive to her for years. The mother of four and blogger behind The Flexible Chef began her first diet at age 11. “My mother gently nudged me by saying, ‘You’re getting a little chubby,’ so I went into restrictive dieting,” she recalls. Later, she tried out a panoply of eating plans, from the lemonade, carrot and cracker diets to macrobiotic, pescatarian, vegetarian and vegan regimens.

“I was constantly trying to fix myself,” she admits. Yet Fischer soon realized that her extreme eating wasn’t sustainable. “We all know that with deprivation, we often end up on the other side of it and just go crazy,” she says. “So there were days I’d be on a diet, then I’d binge and eat all the cookies in the freezer. You just can’t restrict yourself for that long.”

Fischer’s route to long-term peace and health stemmed from yoga. As she began to practice—and later—teach, Fischer applied the discipline’s lessons about self-care and balance to her own life. “After years of bouncing between extremes, I had finally had enough,” she shares. “Yoga taught me to be flexible.”

Soon, she started sharing what she’d discovered about wellness with a broader audience. After moving to Hong Kong for her husband’s career, she founded Mayya, an Asia-based company that ran cooking, yoga and women’s empowerment programs. In 2015, she founded The Flexible Chef, a lushly photographed blog complete with healthful and doable recipes, plus advice on fitness, beauty, relationships and more. Recently, Fischer released a cookbook, “Food You Want for the Life You Crave” (Da Capo Lifelong Books, April 2019), and launched a cooking show, “Nealy’s Flexible Food” on Food Matters TV (FMTV).

Through her book, blog and TV programs, Fischer aims to teach her audience the importance of balance and flexibility in the kitchen, how “we want to do it all but we can’t do it all at once,” she explains. This lesson hits home for Fischer, who admits that she is “not flexible all the time. I still have those moments when I’m rigid,” she says. “And my lesson is to embrace the concept of flexible and go with the flow sometimes.” Read on to learn how the wellness entrepreneur treats herself with kindness in the kitchen and how you can, too.

Make it easy

“Look for ways to work smarter, not harder” in the kitchen, Fischer advises. To save time, she often prepares batters in one bowl (rather than separately combining wet and dry ingredients) and doesn’t shy away from leveraging pre-cut vegetables, purchased rotisserie chickens and boxed cake mixes.

Canned beans are a particular favorite. For quick meals, she will sometimes fry the precooked legumes with taco or chili seasoning and serve them with tortillas, cheese, and chopped avocado and vegetables. Or she’ll saute canned chickpeas with onion and curry powder and pair them with steamed rice, vegetables and yogurt.

Often, leftovers—the ultimate convenience items—make their way into the next day’s meals. For instance, cooked proteins might land atop a bed of greens or in a pot of soup. “Cooking shortcuts preserve your sanity and invite a life beyond slaving all day in the kitchen,” Fischer explains.

Fischer, who makes dinner most nights, also prepares only one meal for her family. “I’m not giving 17 options for everyone’s picky desires,” she says. That said, to accommodate various preferences, she sometimes provides ways to customize dishes. For instance, she’ll boil cauliflower and add it to her kids’ pasta but use the vegetable as a pasta substitute for her own meal. Or she’ll whip up one marinade and apply it to different proteins (perhaps tofu for herself and her kids and steak for her husband).

For the ultimate in ease, Fischer keeps her pantry and freezer stocked with staples and pre-cut frozen proteins. She also maintains a kitchen list with items that need replenishing and preps meals and meal components in advance. For instance, she will pre-measure the dry mix for waffles, cook quinoa, and chop fruits and vegetables for the next day’s breakfast the night before.

De-stress

Consider turning on music or sipping wine to make the cooking process more joyful. If you’re missing an ingredient, don’t panic. Instead, swap in a similar item. Try substituting coconut oil for butter, soy sauce or tamari for fish sauce, chilled coconut cream for heavy cream and nutritional yeast for grated Parmesan. Chickpea flour can stand in for rice flour, capers for pitted green olives, sake for mirin, grated zucchini for grated carrot and arrowroot for cornstarch, Fischer points out in her book.

Similarly, if you don’t have time to cook pancakes, pour the batter into a muffin pan and bake it, she suggests. Most important, salvage “mistakes.” In particular, Fischer is an advocate of cutting over-baked or under-baked breads or cakes into cubes and layering them with fruit and yogurt into parfaits. 

Please your body and palate

Fischer balances taste and health in her cooking. “My book has everything from party drinks to desserts to everything else,” she explains.” To boost the nutrition of her breads and cakes, she often adds flaxseeds, hempseeds or chia seeds, as well as protein powder. When preparing other cooks’ recipes, Fischer will also cut the sugar by about 10 percent and substitute almond flour for some of the wheat flour. Vegetables are her go-to, so Fischer usually adds them—even to breads, cakes and burgers. When she sees appealing recipes that are deep-fried, she will try pan-frying or baking instead.

Remember Fischer’s mantra

“Strive for excellence but stay flexible on your journey,” she says.

Nealy Fischer relaxes on a sunny rock next to a river

Fischer’s Favorites

Morning ritual: Coffee

Exercise: High-intensity interval training (with no equipment!), including burpees, jumping jacks, leg lifts, Downward Dogs, planks, push-ups and triceps dips

Night ritual: Reading

Travel advice: Only pack a suitcase you can carry on your own.

Recent reads: “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., and “I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time” by Laura Vanderkam

Podcasts: “The Tim Ferriss Show” and “How I Built This With Guy Raz”

Power-up song: “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor

Food: Cauliflower

Superpower: Master organizer

Desired superpower: Instant chill button

Time to work: 5 a.m. “I have an alarm clock, which plays a song instead of beeping.”

Recipes in her book: Spaghetti squash pad Thai and cauliflower tabbouleh

Restaurant meal strategy: “Always have an idea of what you want to eat before you get there, and look for that item on the menu. Sometimes I’ll call in advance to see if the restaurant is flexible.”

Video credit: anton katliar, Shutterstock
Photo credit: Nealy Fischer

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