Healthy eating, good nutrition bring Tupelo women together | Food

BELDEN – Julie Gibens and Amy Womack met more than 30 years ago when both were students at Mississippi State University, but they didn’t really know each other.

The two became close friends a few years ago through their children and now have bonded over food – specifically healthy food.

“I used to think Amy was crazy,” Gibens said. “She’d do this Whole30 thing in January, and I’d think, ‘I could never do that.'”

Whole30 is a whole-food based program, where you eliminate things like sugar, alcohol, grains, dairy and gluten from your diet.

“It introduced me to nutrition and what it does for you,” Womack said. “After you eliminate everything, you introduce things back into your diet to see how your body reacts to it.”

Gibens said she’d always been extremely health conscious, but she hacked into Womack’s passion and took it to a whole new level.

“The more you get educated, the more you think about it,” Gibens said. “I’m a little nutty about it. I’m now training to be a health and lifestyle coach under Functional Nutrition Alliance Full Body Systems.”

Gibens, 50, and Womack, 53, each have four children. As they’ve learned more about healthy eating options and nutrition, the two women have tried to teach their husbands and children about the importance of what they put into their bodies.

“Having four teenagers – girls – they like to eat fast-food things,” said Womack, who works part-time as a registered nurse. “But they’re also very active, and they realized when they ate what I made, it made them feel better – energized. The food nourishes your body, and you can feel it. But it was hard getting my family on board. They’re still not completely there.”

Gibens said she tries to prepare healthy meals for her kids, but realizes that that when it comes to food, nothing is off limits.

So she’ll make them baked potatoes with sauteed mushrooms and cheese for supper. But on her own plate, she’ll leave off the cheese and add a side salad.

“For years, what I thought was healthy wasn’t necessarily healthy,” Gibens said. “Wheat bread is not healthy. And the cereal aisle at the store is up there with Satan to me. It’s all about reading the labels. I just want to empower people to take control of their health.”

Gibens and Womack rely on websites for the majority of their meals and recipes. They both like MarysWholeLife, EatingBirdFood, PaleoRunningMomma, and Whole30.

“Health is a gift, the greatest gift you have,” Womack said. “I’m not a perfect cook. Life is busy. It’s hard when you have kids involved in sports. But I want to instill a love and knowledge of health for them.”

DO YOU KNOW A GOOD COOK? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can call (662) 678-1581 or email them to [email protected].


1 pound andouille sausage, such as Aidells, sliced in rounds

2 pounds frozen or fresh peeled and deveined shrimp, thawed if previously frozen

1 zucchini , cut into rounds

1 yellow squash, cut into rounds

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.

Add the sliced sausage, thawed shrimp, veggies, and olive oil to a large bowl. Combine the spices in a separate bowl and stir well. Pour the spice mixture into the larger bowl.

Mix everything together until the sausage, shrimp, and veggies are evenly coated with oil and spices. Dump everything out onto the sheet pan and spread it out evenly.

Bake for 14 to 16 minutes until the shrimp are cooked through and the veggies are tender. Serve on its own, or over rice or cauliflower rice.

Note: When Julie Gibens made this dish, she couldn’t find green beans or squash at the grocery store, so she substituted Brussels sprouts, halved, and red and yellow bell pepper strips.


1 package sugar-free bacon, (8 to 10 pieces)

1/2 tub almond milk cream cheese, or regular

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil, then place a baking rack on top of it.

Cut each piece of bacon in half. Cut a slit in each of the dates without cutting fully through the center. Use a spoon to fill the inside of the date with a bit of cream cheese. Wrap one bacon half around each date, overlapping the edge and secure it with a toothpick. Repeat this process until all of the bacon has been used. You should have between 16 to 20 dates total depending on how large your pack of bacon was.

Bake for 10 minutes. Flip each one. Return the pan to the oven for an additional 10 minutes. If the bacon is still not cooked to your liking, broil for 2 to 3 minutes. Let cool.


3/4 cup drippy peanut butter

1 teaspoon molasses (optional)

1 1/2 cups organic corn flakes, crushed 

Add peanut butter, maple syrup and molasses, if using, to a small saucepan over low-medium heat. Heat, while stirring until the mixture is combined. Don’t overheat or you’ll risk scorching the peanut butter. Once well combined, remove from heat and stir in crushed corn flakes.

Spoon coated cornflakes into a silicone ice cube tray, filling each cavity about halfway. Place ice cube tray in the freezer for bites to harden for at least 2 hours.

Once bites have hardened, place chocolate and coconut oil in a microwave safe bowl and melt in the microwave in 15-second increments, stirring between each (1 to 2 minutes total).

Pop bites out of the tray and place on platter lined with parchment. Dip/coat each into the melted chocolate, one at a time. Use a spoon to coat until completely covered. Place chocolate-covered candy back on the platter lined with parchment. Repeat until all pieces are coated. Place bites back into the freezer to let the chocolate harden.

Note: Bites keep best stored in the freezer in an airtight container. They should last 1 to 2 months. Enjoy straight from the freezer.


1/3 cup natural peanut butter

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Peel and slice bananas into rounds about 1/4-inch thick.

Line a platter or small baking sheet with parchment paper. Place about 1/2 teaspoon of peanut butter on a banana slice and top with another banana slice to make a little banana peanut butter sandwich. Keep doing this until all banana slices are used and you have about 30 bites. Place bites on two parchment-lined platters or plates and place in the freezer to harden for about 1 hour.

Once banana bites have been in the freezer for over an hour, combine chocolate and coconut oil in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 1 minute, stir and microwave in additional 30 second increments until chocolate is completely melted, about 2 minutes at the most.

Once chocolate is melted, remove one platter of frozen banana bites from the freezer. Dip each frozen banana bite into the melted chocolate so that half of each bite is coated. You can coat the full bite with chocolate, but you’ll need more chocolate chips if you do this.

Place chocolate-covered bites back on the parchment-lined platter. Place back in freezer to harden. Repeat process with second platter of bites. Let both platters of chocolate-covered bites harden in the freezer for about 15 minutes.

Serve or transfer bites into a freezer-safe storage container for later. They should last a least 1 to 2 months in the freezer.


2 medium red potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch thick wedges

2 cups cauliflower florets

1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

12 ounces ground turkey (breast or blend of light and dark meat)

2 tablespoons chopped shallot

2 to 3 teaspoons of finely chopped fresh lemongrass

1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

For the vegetables, preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a shallow roasting pan, combine potatoes and cauliflower. Drizzle with melted coconut oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat the vegetables. Roast for 35 minutes, until just tender and browned. Add the kale to the roasting pan and gently stir the vegetables. Spread in an even layer. Roast for 5 to 10 minutes more, until the kale is lightly browned and crisp.

For the meatballs, while the vegetables roast, line a small baking sheet with foil. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, almond meal, curry power, salt and pepper. Add turkey and mix well. Shape the mixture into 6 meatballs. Place the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet. Bake the meatballs alongside the vegetables for 20 to 25 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through and their internal temperature is 165 degrees.

For the sauce, heat the coconut oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add the shallot and lemongrass and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, 5 to 7 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, arrowroot, salt and red pepper flakes. Add the coconut milk mixture all at once to the shallot mixture. Cook, stirring, until the sauce has thickened. Remove from heat. Stir in the basil.

Divide the meatballs and roasted vegetables between two plates. Drizzle the sauce over the meatballs (keep the sauce off the vegetables so the kale stays crisp).


1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon coarse salt

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 (5- to 6-ounce) boneless skinless chicken breast halves

1 medium orange sweet potato or Okinawan sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 small onion, cut into thin wedges

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 small zucchini, trimmed

1/2 cup canned coconut milk

1/2 cup chicken bone broth or Whole30-compliant chicken broth

1 cup lightly packed baby spinach leaves

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

Combine the ginger, olive oil, half the garlic, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and the red pepper flakes in a medium bowl. Cut the chicken into bite-size strips. Add the chicken to the ginger mixture and toss to evenly coat. Cover and chill for 30 to 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees In a shallow roasting pan, combine the sweet potato and onion. Sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon black pepper and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Add 1/2 tablespoon of the coconut oil. Bake, uncovered, for 2 to 3 minutes, until the coconut oil has melted. Toss the potato mixture to coat with the oil and spread it into an even layer in the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes more, stirring twice, until the vegetables are tender and lightly browned.

Use a spiral slicer or julienne peeler to cut the zucchini lengthwise into long, thin noodles (or use a regular vegetable peeler to cut the zucchini lengthwise into thin ribbons). In a large skillet, heat the remaining 1/2 tablespoon coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini, the remaining garlic, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Cook, tossing gently with tongs, until the noodles are crisp-tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the zucchini noodles from the skillet; keep warm.

Add the chicken mixture to the skillet. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is no longer pink, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the coconut milk and broth. Bring just to a boil, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat. Stir in the spinach.

To serve, divide the chicken mixture between two shallow serving bowls. Top with zucchini noodles and roasted sweet potato. Sprinkle with the cilantro and mint.