How An OA Member Came to Enjoy Cooking Healthy – Creamy Pesto Chicken, Tomatoes, and Spinach


May 1, 2024

How An OA Member Came to Enjoy Cooking Healthy – Creamy Pesto Chicken, Tomatoes, and Spinach

There was a time when cooking was a huge chore and not something I would ever consider doing on a daily basis when there were fast food restaurants and shops where I could swing by and grab the foods of my choice, even if I ate most of it before ever setting foot in the door of my home. Getting married and having a child forced me to start thinking differently about meal times, and I had to learn how to cook, if only to ensure that I was not thought to be a horrible wife and mother.

When I finally came into OA, it was because I had no where else to go! Every diet, every exercise plan, and every single attempt I had ever made to lose weight or reshape my lumpy body had all ended in the very same way – I regained whatever modest bit of weight I had somehow managed to lose, and came to feel (and look) even worse than I had before I had begun my crazy weight-loss plans!

Upon having hit a bottom of utter despair and hopelessness, I had no where to go but up! And yet, I was super hesitant to give OA a try lest I find myself, once again, miserable and without any hope. As it turned out, being utterly hopeless was the exactly perfect place for me to be – I had finally hit my bottom! This is what led me listen to what OA members had to say, and it helped me become willing to try the things they, and my “sponsor” (something I was told I needed to have – this special person to guide me through the Twelve Steps and with whom I would share my food) suggested.

Oh, and my oh may, but all those suggestions turned out to be something pretty special! It was suggested that I put together a list of my “greenlight” foods – the foods that I did not eat compulsively or with any kind of frenzied food obsession. I was worried this would be a very small list, but as it turned out, there were quite a few things that I could have for my greenlight foods. I listed all kinds of poultry, fish, and beef, eggs, yogurt, and some hard cheeses, as well as plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. As it turns out, I am not one to binge or go hog wild over green beans, grapes, or roasted chicken. The soft cheeses that I loved, along with most nuts and nut butters, needed to be placed on a yellow-light list that would be off limits to me until I had experienced a “spiritual awakening,” that I was told would happen for me if I worked all Twelve Steps in OA.

Pretty much everything else wound up on my red-light list, with but minor exceptions (such as sweet potatoes and oatmeal, which I could have in weighed and measured portions). Until I had to write it all out, I never realized just how much sugary and starchy stuff I had actually been consuming! I absolutely could not live without cakes, candies, bread, pasta, and pizza! Or so I thought!

My sponsor and my friends in OA all talked to me about how “none is so much easier than one.” I thought this an odd concept, but it proved to be true! If I didn’t take that first compulsive bite, I wasn’t as tempted to consume the foods I had previously eaten by the pound and yet never managed to feel full!

As I’ve aged, and various things about my health have changed, my food plan has evolved. I did experience that psychic change or spiritual awakening that was talked about in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, and it was a profoundly life-changing experience! I now have been abstinent for quite a few years and I can, when I am spiritually fit, enjoy a few things from my yellow-light list. If I’m overly stressed or feeling overwhelmed, I get myself to a meeting, talk to my sponsor, and avoid anything from my yellow-light list, staying contentedly with my green-light list, and trusting that my Higher Power has a plan for me, even in the midst of an unusually stressful times.

As with everything, the rough times pass, and I get to enjoy both food neutrality and a consistent abstinence. What has remained the same is that I attend 3 OA meetings a week, call-in my food to my sponsor on a daily basis, I sponsor other members, I hold a service position at my home group, and I start and end each day with prayer and 20 minutes of journaling or meditation. These consistent habits have helped me stay the course and keep the excess weight I once had off my body, and the noise that used to clutter my mind to a minimum.

The following is a recipe I found in a cookbook when looking for things to make for my family, but I modified to fit my plan of eating (we avoid dairy, so I substituted coconut milk instead of cream, but if you can eat this, then feel free to use it instead). I hope you enjoy this meal as much as I do, given it has proven to be a favorite in our family and whenever we have guests visit us!

Creamy Pesto Chicken with Grilled Tomatoes over Spinach 

  • 4 chicken breasts (pounded flat)
  • 2 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 lb. grape tomatoes
  • 1 lb. baby spinach
  • 1 large sweet onion, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup basil pesto (I prefer the frozen brand in a squeeze tube for ease of cooking and freshest taste)
  • ½ cup coconut milk (unsweetened)
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ teaspoon Himalayan salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Cooking Instructions (serves family of 4):

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Toss tomatoes with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread out evenly on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast tomato mixture for about 20 minutes, until blistered.
  2. Pound chicken breasts with a meat mallet until tenderized and of equal thinness. Place half of the minced garlic (1 tablespoon), paprika, salt and pepper in a bowl. Add the chicken breasts. Place a lid on the bowl and shake so chicken is well coated with all the seasonings.
  3. In a large skillet on medium heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add seasoned chicken and cook until browned on the edges and cooked through (roughly 4-6 minutes on each side). Remove chicken and set aside.
  4. In the same skillet, add sweet onion. Cook for a few minutes until lightly caramelized. Add 1 tablespoon of minced garlic to the onion and cook for another minute to soften and bring out the fragrant garlic aroma.
  5. Add pesto to the onion and garlic mixture, stirring to combine. Add the coconut milk and parmesan, stirring gently. Bring everything to a gentle simmer.
  6. Add the chicken and roasted tomatoes to the skillet and gently reheat for a minute. Serve the creamy pesto chicken with roasted tomatoes over fresh baby spinach and serve immediately.