Emily Van Eck
Braised Chicken Thighs with Tomatillos and Lime
Updated: May 20
I wanna talk about food for a minute - delicious food. If you've read anything from me (or followed me on social), you know I am on a mission to help folx heal their relationships with food and their body. This is a very personal issue for us all.
And this often means taking the focus OFF FOOD for a while. Allowing all foods into your life, taking morality out of it, and making eating easy for yourself. We work on neutralizing the inner critic, getting curious about how foods feel in the body, and reconnecting with your body's inner wisdom. In this post, I'm talking about the last step of intuitive eating - gentle nutrition.
I love chicken thighs - and really, I just can't, with chicken breasts
Chicken thighs are my favorite way to make dinner (and leftovers) - easy, delicious, nutritious, and affordable.
I make chicken thighs in about 50 different ways. I simply can't get enough. I split my time between boneless + skinless, and bone-in + skin on. I made this amazing recipe recently from my fave, Allison Roman. Highly recommend.
Olives + chicken skin + parsley = true love
Dark meat is fine and totally good for you. It has more fat - but that is good! You'll stay full longer, and will likely be more satisfied. (flavor + fat + protein = satisfaction)
Nutrition as self-care, not self-control.
I wanted to talk about the last principle of intuitive eating - gentle nutrition. I get a lot of questions when folks start working with me about what they should be eating. And I get it! You hired a dietitian! Of course you want me to tell you what to eat.
But I know that is not what you actually need. You know a lot about nutrition. And I am not here to feed into diet culture - I am here to actually help you improve your relationship with food.
So once you're eating when you're hungry, stopping when you're full (most of the time), choosing food that you enjoy, and prioritizing your self-care as much as you can reasonably find time for - we get to gentle nutrition. If you need to go back and read more about the first 9 steps of intuitive eating, I wrote about that here.
So, a simple, healthy, and satisfying chicken recipe
It's quick, easy, totally delicious, and can last for days. You're eating it with rice (whatever kind of rice you want). There is no need to use brown rice if you prefer white. You can add a sprinkling of cotija cheese (feta or grated cheese are fine substitutes if you have one on hand), some hot sauce, or sliced radishes. Or put it with potatoes instead of rice - I bet that would be delicious. And yes, potatoes are a GREAT choice. Think culinarily... not "good vs bad".
What is Gentle Nutrition?
Eating healthfully doesn't have to feel like a slog or like some kind of tightrope you must not fall off of. That's what gentle nutrition help with - using nutrition knowledge in a gentle way, that feels like self-care rather than self-control.
It is the last step in the intuitive eating framework. If you're working on your relationship with food and/or working to improve your body image, cooking can sometimes feel triggering, and choosing nutritious foods can feel confusing and complicated. That is okay.
How To Know When You're Ready For Gentle Nutrition
At some point, after you've committed to taking care of yourself even if you don't lose weight, and you've been making peace with food and listening to your body consistently and with self-compassion, you may start noticing that all the nutrition advice you've heard over the years through diets, the media, the nutrition police, start to feel like whispers rather than shouts.
The rules are no longer rules. I like to describe them as lowercase suggestions given with a hug, rather than dogma yelled at you with a wagging finger. However you want to imagine it is fine - but in time, you can start to use nutrition information gently.
When is it too soon for gentle nutrition?
This can throw people off when just starting on their intuitive eating journey. It can be very hard, sometimes impossible, to look at the nutritiousness of your diet in a gentle and compassionate way if you're still stuck in the diet mindset, working on allowing all foods equally, or not quite able to hear your hunger and fullness cues. All of this takes work and patience. But you can get there.
If you're struggling with finding the motivation or willingness to cook food for yourself, I feel you. It's okay. You don't have to cook all the time to be healthy, or happy, or normal. But if you hear a voice deep down that says it would feel really good to make yourself dinner, try this one. It'll feel novel and yummy (hopefully). Grocery delivery is fine. If you're unfamiliar with tomatillos, they are the tart, juicy green tomatoes that make up any verde sauce at your favorite Mexican restaurant. You can also check this out for more tomatillo news So here's the recipe.
Easy Braised Chicken Thighs with Tomatillos and Lime
1 medium onion, ends trimmed and very roughly chopped
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1-2 tablespoons olive oil or canola oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (you can leave them whole of chop them up)
10 tomatillos, husks removed, rinsed and quartered (most grocery stores carry these, but you may have to ask)
2 jalapeños, quartered
1 bunch fresh cilantro, washed and ends trimmed about 2 inches (you can use most of the stalk)
1 lime, quartered
1 cup uncooked rice (any kind of rice)
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds (optional)
other fun toppings: cotija, slides radishes, yogurt or sour cream
Step 1: Make rice according to package instructions, or a basic 1:2 rice to water mixture, with a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a bay leaf. The bay leaf is certainly not necessary but I've taken to always having them on hand and throwing one in the pot of grains as it cooks - just adds a little something.
Step 2: Place tomatillos, onion, garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, cumin, and salt in a food processor and blend until smooth. If you're using a blender, you may need to do this in two batches.
Step 3: Place chicken thighs and tomatillo mixture in a large pot and cook on low for 45 minutes to an hour.
Serve stew over rice. Top with more cilantro, lime, and a dollop of yogurt or sour cream and sesame seeds, if desired. Alternatively, you can tear up the chicken with a tongs after it's cooked and make tacos or a burrito.
Comfort food meets nutritious dinner meets something that goes with a margarita.
And as always, if you're looking for help on your relationship with food, you can sign up for my email list, where I send monthly (ish) tips on intuitive eating, gentle movement, and ditching diet culture, plus more recipes and body-positive inspiration.
If you're looking for help now on digging deep and really making progress toward total peace and liberation with food and your body - sign up for the waitlist for my Love Food Again Program. The next cohort is launching at the beginning of June 2023 and the waitlist gets access to all the extra-special bonus offers.
Regardless, I'm glad you're here on the anti-diet path, paving the way for all of us to finally feel free to JUST BE.
Emily Van Eck, MS, RDN specializes in intuitive eating, mindfulness-based eating practices, embodiment with food and movement, and healing from years of weight-bias and chronic dieting. She helps people find balance, consistency, and peace with their eating habits so they can feel confident to get outta their heads and into their bodies. Emily is a registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor with a master's degree in nutrition science.