This pesto pita pizza uses lighter ingredients to nourish and energize your body rather than drag it down. (Photo by Rose McAvoy)

Fast, healthy meals help you focus when life spins out of control

The very first thing I do when life feels chaotic is create certainty with food.

Meeting our physical needs in a healthy way is extremely empowering. It allows me to say, no matter what else happens, our bodies have been cared for in a loving way. Meeting this essential physical need ensures that our greater goal of living active healthy lives remains intact despite temporary upsets in our routine.

After years of studying how emotions work, I found that this month was an incredible opportunity to step forward with curiosity and faith. Curiosity to see, hear and learn about ourselves and the world. And faith in our ability to rise to the level of the challenges we were given.

Five days after my oldest began first grade at a brand new school we found out he had been transferred to a different school to relieve overcrowding. He had to report to the new school the very next day. An hour into the following school day we were told he did not actually need to move and would be returning to the original school, effective immediately.

Mike, my husband, was called in for jury duty right after Labor Day. He served on a trial that lasted nearly two weeks. When the jury finally reached their verdict, they found the defendant guilty of auto theft and murder in the second degree. As you can imagine, the details of the case put him face to face with a side of humanity he never wanted to see up close.

All the while I have been struggling with the toddler-induced sleep disruptions, helping home be calm for my husband, and making sure my first-grader shows up to the right school at the right time without feeling like a ping-pong ball.

After the dust finally settled on everything else, Mike left for a two-week long business trip in the United Kingdom.

When this month arrived with more curves than a Formula 1 track, I knew there were two options.

Option 1 was avoidance and numbing. I could have comforted and distracted myself and my family with trips to fast food, extra television, heavy comfort food meals, and extra sugary treats. Not to mention indulging in long periods of laying around feeling overwhelmed and helpless.

Option 1 has a strong appeal if you only care about the short term. It is what I used to do when faced with difficulties and strong emotions. However, avoiding feelings takes all your power away and hands it over to external forces. It is like the story telling you want to do, rather than you writing the story.

Option 1 is safe but it will never make you feel better.

Option 2 is to step back from the situation and start asking questions. What is still within my control?

How can I learn from this experience? Remember the age old wisdom, “this too shall pass.” Then you use the energy created by your emotions to laser focus on your biggest priorities and let everything else go.

To make sure healthy food is always an option I have a number of simple meals our family loves that can be made from ingredients we keep in the pantry and freezer.

I don’t think anyone would have faulted us for drawing a big red X across the month of September and circling the wagons until October. Instead we chose option 2. We stayed alert to learn from our experience. Once we passed through the major upheavals we were more confident in our selves and proud of the choices we made in the rough patches.

Pesto pita pizza with sausage and tomatoes

Pesto pita pizzas are a very quick meal. Indeed, pizza falls squarely into the comfort food category but this method uses lighter ingredients to nourish and energize your body rather than drag it down. This is the type of comfort food we turn to when life, as they say, happens. This recipe can be scaled up or down as needed. Prepare the ingredients in advance for an even faster meal. Serve with a fresh green salad.

Prep: 15 mins Cook: 10 mins

4 (6-7 inch) whole wheat pitas, not the pocket kind

Olive oil spray

½ cup pesto (suggested recipe: easy kale pesto)

1 cup Italian chicken sausage, cooked and crumbled

1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

½ cup feta cheese, crumbled

Optional: drizzle with a balsamic reduction after baking

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Arrange the pitas 2 per rimmed baking pan. Lightly spray each pita with olive oil mist (or brush on) just around the edges.

Spread each pita with and equal amount of pesto then layer on the sausage, tomatoes, and sprinkle with feta.

Bake for 7-10 minutes until the edges of the pitas are golden brown and toasty and the cheese is slightly brown.

Makes four individual pizzas. Approximate nutrition for 1 pizza: 422 calories, 23g fat, 775mg sodium, 40g carbohydrate 6g fiber, .8g sugar, 17g protein

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