Cook Up Some Happiness


Working with our hands to makes things reduces stress, anxiety, and depression, symptoms common to people living with brain injury.

Examples of rewarding and therapeutic activities include, but are not limited to: gardening, crafting, and my favourite, cooking. The entire process of preparing a meal – from the planning and anticipation to the execution, eating and sharing – promotes mindfulness, creativity, and happiness.

Cook up some happinrdd

I love that cooking can be as simple or as complex as you’d like and that there is always something new to learn.  There are many benefits to making your own meals, such as:

  • saving money and time
  • improving mental and physical health
  • avoiding unhealthy ingredients found in processed foods
  • challenging yourself to try new things, acquiring new skills and knowledge
  • raising confidence and sense of independence
  • spending quality time with family and friends when you cook and eat together

Food is a conversational topic that many people are passionate about. You might even consider starting your own blog to journal your culinary experiences, post favourite recipes, and share helpful tips and tricks.

Look for some inspiration! is a food blog, written by an ABI survivor, that shares recipes from different cultures that vary in difficulty. You will also find information about different ways to save money on groceries.

Don’t forget this blog’s own recipe column by Chef Janet Craig, Blow Your Mind Recipes, which features easy and nutritious recipes for the ABI Community, featuring delicious recipes such as:

Gluten-free Almond Rice Bars

Egg Foo Yung

Fruit Breakfast Bars

Homemade Ketchup

Cream of Roasted Garlic & Onion Soup

Baked Cocoa Wings

Not convinced?

Psychologists explain that baking feels really good, especially when you share your baked goods with other people, because it is an outlet for creativity, self-expression and communication.

There is evidence that connects creative expression with overall well-being. Whether that expression is through painting, creating music or baking, it can be very effective at helping you cope with stress, because it requires all of your attention, involves all of your senses, and results in being present and mindful.

Psychologists liken the act of baking to art therapy in that it can be used on a type of therapy called behavioural activation. And simply put, we feel good about ourselves when we share our baked goods with others. 

Personally, I love the feeling when I find a new favourite recipe or when I’ve finally perfected a technique. It takes a few batches to get there. Happy cooking and baking!

‘Mind Yourself with Alison’ is a collection of self-help tips, research, and personal experiences dedicated to helping people thrive after brain injury (or other trauma). Check out Alison’s other BIST Blog articles Women and Brain Injury: What you need to know and How to be a Good Friend to a Survivor.

Island Pork Tenderloin Salad


Blow your mind by taking the ordinary and creating something unique with this delicious pork tenderloin salad – I always make the full amount because people go through the entire pork! The meat freezes well and is great on a sandwich.

This recipe isn’t as cumbersome as it might seem initially. With the exception of the avocados, everything can be prepared separately beforehand and put together at the last minute.



2 tsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp chilli powder

½ tsp cloves

½ tsp cayenne

1 tsp cinnamon

2-3 pork tenderloins (2 ½ – 3 lbs. total)

2 tbsp olive oil


1 cup packed dark brown sugar

2 tbsp finely chopped garlic

1 tbsp Tabasco


3 tbsp fresh lime juice

1 tbsp fresh orange juice

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp curry powder

¼ tsp black pepper

½ cup olive oil


3 navel oranges, peeled, white pith removed

6 cups baby spinach, trimmed

4 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage

1 red pepper, cut into thin strips

½ cup golden raisins*optional

2 firm-ripe avocados, peeled and cut diagonally into thin slices

To Prepare Pork:

Combine all spices for the “rub”. Coat pork with spices, for three-hours or overnight in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 375˚F.

To Make Glaze:

Combine ingredients and pat onto tops of tenderloins. Roast in middle of oven for about 20-30 minutes. Tent with foil and let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.

To Make Vinaigrette:

Whisk together juices, mustard, curry powder and pepper. Add oil in a stream, whisking thoroughly.

For the Salad:

Cut oranges crosswise into thin slices. Toss spinach, cabbage, peppers and raisins in a large bowl with ½ cup vinaigrette.

To assemble salad:

Cut pork at a 45˚ angle into ½ inch slices. Line a large platter with dressed salad. Arrange sliced pork, oranges and avocado in rows on top. Drizzle some vinaigrette over avocado and oranges. Serve juices from roasting pan over pork.

Chef Janet Craig’s recipes are simple, healthy, delicious and ABI friendly.  You can find out more about her HERE.

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Community Meeting Round-Up: Eating healthy on a budget with Joanne Smith

When Joanne Smith acquired her spinal cord and brain injury at the age of 19, after the initial recovery, she says she spent 10 years feeling “lousy.” On top of dealing with her injuries, additional challenges such as weight gain, fatigue, digestive pain, neuropathic pain and migraines had a big impact on her quality of life. Then she took a look at her diet.

Smith said she was eating the same convenience and processed foods she ate as a teenager, prior to her injury. And when she changed her diet to more nutritious, whole foods, she says, she changed her life. She lost weight, and her headaches and pain went down. She felt better. That’s when she decided to go back to school and learn more about nutrition.

Joanne Smith and BIST member
Joanne Smith and BIST member Michael (Pinky) Clouthier

Smith became a certified nutritional practitioner, work she continues to do to this day. She’s also been the host of two TV shows focussing on disability issues (the Gemini-award winning Moving On and Accessibility in Action) and co-authored the book, Eat Well Live Well with Spinal Cord Injury. And on a Monday night in March, she came to the BIST community meeting to teach us about eating well on a budget.

Smith began her presentation with this somewhat disturbing statistic:

Each year we eat on average_

The bodies of ABI survivors, Smith said, are more susceptible to inflammation. Diets with too much salt and sugar (basically, the average North American diet) can trigger inflammation, leading to swelling, headaches and mood changes. Changing your diet, Smith says, can improve these symptoms.

Smith acknowledged that changing your diet can be challenging – especially for ABI survivors who may have a limited budget, accessibility challenges getting to the grocery store and energy issues. But she said that while many people think it’s more expensive to eat healthy it doesn’t need to be. For example, making your own food is cheaper than buying it, as per National Geographic’s article, What Can You Get for Ten Dollars?

Image via National Geographic
Source:  National Geographic

Smith’s tips for healthy grocery shopping on a budget

  • Make a list before you go out, and stick to it
  • Avoid the centre aisles of the store, they tend to have the processed, more costly food
  • Buy whole foods (foods which have been through very little processing and do not have additives) – they’re cheaper and healthier
  • Avoid pre-chopped produce, which tends to be more expensive
  • It’s cheaper to buy in bulk
  • Double or triple salad recipes so you can have prepared food for the week ahead. Put salad portions in individual serving containers in the fridge for a quick grab and go. (Smith says dollar stores are great places to get Tupperware.)
  • Grow your own – it’s possible to grow herbs, fruits and vegetables in a small window box garden or balcony.
  • Organic is not necessary, Smith says. Just wash your produce really well by filling your sink with water and a splash of vinegar, rinse and rub. (And here’s some motivation, Smith says the average apple is sprayed with pesticides 17 times.)
  • If you are going to invest in organic food, Smith says it’s best to spend your money on organic meat.
  • If possible, avoid shopping during peak times (such as the weekend). Produce is often marked down on Monday mornings and Saturday nights, afer the rush.
Making a smoothie
Making a smoothie with spinach, banana, almond milk and peanut butter

Reading labels and ingredients is crucial to healthy eating, Smith says. Watch out for trans fats, which can lead to inflammation. And beware of ‘no sugar added’ labels, some foods with these labels can still be loaded with naturally occurring sugars which still count as sugar. A single serving of food should have no more than five grams of sugar.

Artificial sugars are worse, Smith says they irritate the nervous system, can set off your mood and induce headaches. They can also stimulate your appetite, and there is evidence that people who use artificial sweeteners may consume more calories than people who don’t. (Smith says if you have to use artificial sweeteners, use stevia, which is 200 times sweeter than sugar and has “no horrible side effects.”)

Beware of foods which claim to have Omega-3, we need three to four grams of omega-3 a day to be useful. To get that amount from margarine, for example, Smith says you’d need to eat the whole container. (Best-news-ever: butter is way healthier than margarine, and good for your immune system.)

If you’re buying fish, avoid any fish that is farmed. (Smith says she doesn’t buy fish unless it says ‘wild’ on the label.) Farmed fish are fed grains, and can acquire diabetes as a result of their diet. As a result, farmed fish do not have the essential omega-3s which wild fish have.

And here’s one that may be a shocker: don’t heat olive oil. Olive is wonderful to use on raw foods, such as salads, or to poor on pasta, after it has been cooked. Instead Smith recommends cooking with coconut oil or rapeseed oil. (If you want to read more about the cooking with olive oil debate, go here.)

Finally, Smith says drinking your nutrients is a great way to get your nutrition. Smith uses the Nutri Bullet to make her smoothies, which go for about $90 to $100. She says she’s not a fan of juicers, since they tend to remove most of the fiber. But the point is, Smith says, you don’t need to invest in an expensive juicer or blender to get the benefits of drinking your nutrition. At the meeting we made a great smoothie consisting of: almond milk, peanut butter, spinach and banana.

Shannon and John enjoy their smoothies
Shannon and John enjoy their smoothies – made with spinach, almond milk, peanut butter and bananas

Most importantly, Smith says, take things one step at a time. “You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel.” We felt better just listening to her – and sampling those smoothies.

For more information: Joanne Smith | Fruitful Elements | | 416-992-2927

Next community meeting: April 27th – Masquerade Themed Volunteer Appreciation Event!

Nutrition and brain injury

Photo courtesy of tiverylucky at

Like many who read this blog, I’m a traumatic brain injury survivor: my car accident was now almost thirteen years ago. The coma that was the result of that accident lasted over six weeks, but I remember waking up like it was yesterday (one of the few things that stuck in my memory). A lot of the therapy that followed was intense and frustrating, and when it was done, with each stage I moved forward on a progression toward healing. One aspect that I remember very well, and which has influenced me to this day, is one that involved diet and nutrition. Since March is Nutrition Month, I thought this would be a good subject.

After six weeks in a coma, my body had not been able to maintain a lot of my muscle mass. At 6’3” (180cm), I probably weighed 120lbs (55kg) at my minimum. I was a rake. I’d not eaten in over six weeks. I had a stomach tube that allowed the nurses to pour nourishment into my body. I was on a number of prescriptions and they also gave me a multivitamin. My favourite nurse would grind up the mixture and pour it in to my stomach. We used to joke about how that was much better than swallowing the pills.

I continue some of those vitamins and minerals to this day: and although I believe they help me feel good in general, that is not related to my brain injury. There is no such thing as a supplement that will help with TBI or concussions. It’s important to have the necessary allowances, but there is nothing that will make a brain injury heal faster. Several companies have made such claims recently, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has responded with a consumer alert (FDA, Dec 2013). “We’re very concerned that false assurances of faster recovery will convince athletes of all ages, coaches and even parents that someone suffering from a concussion is ready to resume activities before they are really ready,” says Gary Coody, FDA’s National Health Fraud Coordinator. Good nutrition is always important, but in healing a brain injury time can be a most important factor.

It is also important to establish limits. Certainly it was nice to lose a lot of weight in my coma, and it was wonderful to be able to eat… and to be encouraged to eat… anything I wanted to put the weight back on. My body responded and I added dozens of pounds (and dozens of kilos!) over the next few months. I approached my “ideal” weight… and surpassed it. Only well after my discharge was I able to establish the discipline with both eating and exercise that allowed me to lower my weight. I believe that discipline also helped with my general healing from the accident, since it helped me to better control my thoughts and desires.

Overall, it seems that nutrition for TBI survivors is much the same as for other members of the general community. But I would say that it’s important that we adhere to a healthy lifestyle, since any difficulties we have with our health can be exacerbated by our injuries.

G. Ian Bowles is a volunteer with BIST.

Tips for eating well on a budget

In today’s economy it is increasingly difficult to find affordable meal solutions.  This challenge is made tougher when living on a fixed income and with the added impediment of an acquired brain injury.  Creating meal plans and budgeting can be strenuous and time consuming, but they are definitely the keys to eating healthy with little money.  Time is money, so making the necessary preparations ahead of time is a big part of fulfilling dietary needs while living within a budget.

Melissa Myer’s reports on ten tips for eating healthy on a budget:

Image by Stuart Miles
Image by Stuart Miles

1: Plan ahead.“Prepare in quantity and then bottle or freeze in portions for another day,” said Leanne Nolet, Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Orthomolecular Health Practitioner.  Make your own snacks with mixed nuts and dried fruit.

Leanne Nolet/Photo submitted
Leanne Nolet/Photo submitted

Take your lunch to work.  Planning meals ahead of time will reduce waste as ingredients you buy go into more than one meal that week.  Make a food budget and stick to it.  Nolet suggested that instead of buying a coffee each day, it is much cheaper and healthier to make your own tea and carry it with you when you leave the house.

2: Be flexible and keep meals simple.  “A recipe is never something that is set in stone,” said Scott MacNeil, chef and kitchen co-ordinator at The Stop Community Food Centre.  “You have to be willing to change your recipe, change your ingredients depending on your means.”

This may seem to be a scary thought at first but MacNeil assured me that confidence comes with more cooking experience.

When beginning to cook more at home, it is best to avoid recipes with elaborate steps or unusual ingredients that are not familiar to you, said Anna M Poretta, Nutritional Promotion Consultant for Toronto Public Health.

MacNeil suggested preparing vegetables by using a cheese grater or a small food processor instead of the time-consuming task of chopping.  He said shredded vegetables are great to be used in stir-fries, salads, soups and stews.

Find some simple recipes at:

Eatright Ontario or inside Good for All: The Stop’s First Cookbook, available in bookstores or online at or

3:  Use shopping strategies. Use coupons and check weekly grocery store flyers.

“Spend a few minutes planning out meals and snacks for the week,” said Poretta, “and make a habit of buying just what is on your list.”

She also suggested photocopying a list you use regularly and circling the items on your list that you need to buy that week.  This is a great strategy to assist with remembering what you need and to help create a routine.

Stock up on sale items that are on your regular list and do not shop when you are hungry as you will be more likely to buy products that you do not need.

“Never buy food on credit,” said Nolet, “Instead, go on a buying fast and use all the food you have on hand.”

By eating all of the food in your cupboards you can avoid going to the store and start fresh afterwards on a new meal plan.

Check out online flyers at:

Flyers $pecial’s weekly store flyers

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March preview: BIST on nutrition

We often associate eating better with getting a slimmer waist, but what we eat can have an impact on our brains too.

Who says you can't make friends with salad? Photo courtesy Ambro

This month on the Brain Injury Society of Toronto blog, we’ll be providing  food for thought on nutrition. Dietitian Aimee Hayes,  with Aimee Hayes & Associates Inc., will provide information on how proper nutrition can aid brain function and what foods can aid in recovery from an acquired brain injury, as well as practical tips for making healthy food choices.

Also this month, Melissa Myers’ report will offer 10 tips for eating well on a budget and a BIST member will share their story of how eating well is helping them.

So, hide your bags of chips and cookies, stock up on your essentials from the basic food groups and check back next week to find out how to eat well on a budget.

In the meantime, here’s a couple of links to get you started with making healthy food choices.

Canada Food Guide

The eatwell plate

Matthew Chung, BIST member and Editor of the Brain Injury Society of Toronto blog.

Photo courtesy of Ambro