Michael Harlan Turkell: Finding Balance as a New Parent

In our new Wellness series, we are spotlighting a different PSC reader each week to learn how they practice self-care and what their daily routines look like. We then turn to our wellness and nutrition expert, Dr. Chinara Tate, to ask - what does the science say? 

This week PSC caught up with new dad and all-around food pro-- photographer, chef, cookbook writer and podcaster--Michael Harlan Turkell to find out what’s keeping him and his family healthy and busy as ever.

At A Glance

What gets you out of bed? My son Gil

Healthy Habits Sqirl's turmeric tonic. Siggi's skyr yogurt & fruit smoothies. Lots of greens.

Vices Chocolate bars and Jeni’s ice cream. 

One piece of health/wellness advice Get outside and walk everyday; a breath of fresh air is real. And bathe. As new parents we forgot about that for a while, and while we showered before heading out of the house for work, that stalled out again. A bubble bath is a pleasure too. Just relax and listen to the bubbles pop.

MHT’s Morning Routine
Well, it's pretty tied to my son Gil right now (he's almost 9 months old). My wife usually feeds him and I make a French press of coffee for her. I only drink an espresso-sized cup of cold black coffee a day, so I have a stockpile  in the fridge and am ready to go after my first sip, and an allergy pill.

✔ Light on the coffee. Based on current evidence, both quantity and timing matters. Three to five cups a day are associated with lower mortality risk and decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. However, late night consumption can disrupt sleep quality, particularly in genetically slow metabolizers. Federal guidelines advise no more than 5 cups (~400 mg of caffeine) a day.

I drink a lot of water in the mornings. Like, a lot. 4-6 glasses before 9AM.

✔ Maximize water intake. No hard science to back up Michael’s specific regimen, but anything that consistently helps you stay adequately hydrated in the midst of a zillion competing priorities is a win!

Before lockdown, I swam at the Y every morning, and I felt like being hydrated helped my buoyancy, or at least was good for a nice schvitz in the sauna after laps.

✔ Keep the AM Exercise regimen. While a dip in the pool at the local Y currently isn’t feasible, using that same block of carved out time to get creative with an at home workout or socially-distanced outdoor one is a great way to reap a myriad of benefits exercise has on physical and mental health!

Healthy Habits
We make Sqirl's turmeric tonic weekly: you juice raw turmeric, fresh ginger, juice a few lemons, make a 1:1 honey syrup, dilate the whole mixture with some water until it's slightly sweet, barely tart, and has a bite from rhizomes. Everything is stained in curcumin at this point. We drink them in short rocks glasses with an ice cube and a grind of freshly cracked black pepper (as the cookbook instructs).

✔ Raw ginger, turmeric , lemon and plain yogurt are all excellent for supporting immune and gut health - we’ve got all the deets on these and  many more here!

Smoothies have been big too, using Siggi's skyr (yogurt), which feels chock full of live probiotics; the fruit is fresh or frozen. 

Fresh or frozen - whichever, just say yes to more fruit! Frozen fruit is just as nutrient dense as fresh if not even more so because it’s often picked at the peak of season before freezing.

We plan out our lunch and dinner then, and since we're cooking at home most of the time, ordering out every so often, we're hyper aware of our need for greens, so we try and make some raw or cooked in with every serving.

✔ Greens! Whether tossed into a smoothie, mixed into a salad or stacked into a sandwich, getting in greens whenever you can is one of the best ways to  boost your health!

Vices
Dark chocolate and ice cream are our crutches. We definitely feel some sense of accomplishment working through the whole Jeni's catalog. Her ice creams are amazingly lush, so creamy, and even with copious add-ins (cakes, cookies, ripples and swirls) they're not saccharine sweet.

↺ Dark chocolate & the sweet stuff. While dark chocolate is often touted as a decadent health food due to its  antioxidant (flavanol) content, amounts vary between bars and benefits are still murky - particularly for the amounts people tend to consume. Like other desserts, it’s advised that dark chocolate be thoroughly enjoyed sparingly to offset the harmful effects excess sugar and fat can have on  overall health. 

What's something fun or interesting you've learned recently?
I'm deep into the world of children's books, and read Jon Klassen's "I Want My Hat Back" most every night, and often, "This Is Not My Hat", for (Gil's) bedtime. That said, there are so many great children's books that entertain adults just as much as they do kids! I love Oliver Jeffers, Herve Tullet, Secret Pizza Party by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salimeri ... there are so many more. I'm trying to figure out that matrix of what makes a good children's book, because there seems to be a pattern; the extraordinary succinctness that makes it so memorable and repeatable without being boring.

✔ Reading aloud is critical to children’s cognitive development as well as social, emotional, and character development. For infants reading is critical for language development and later literacy skills.

Chinara’s Takeaways
Engaging in healthy habits often and early in the day is a great way to ensure success before the day’s demands weigh in and motivation wanes. For families, having children present and engaged in everyday routines like making an AM health boost concoction and adding greens to everything is a great way to help ensure they carry these habits into adulthood. 

Michael also offers sound advice on taking a daily walk. Whatever you  can do to get outdoors, take a break and spend some time around nature, while protecting the safety of your quaranteam and others, is an essential mental health exercise.

Try to keep the sweet stuff, even dark chocolate, as a once in a while shared experience. Given the intensity of liking for sweetness is highest from early childhood to adolescence, children are at highest risk for developing an extreme liking for sugary products and making these a regular habit.  

In addition to exercise and nutrition, early experiences with reading aloud are fundamental to cognitive development, academic performance and social learning.

In sum, for families healthy habits are best integrated early, often and all together!