Perhaps It’s the Why

As you are making or enforcing your new year’s resolutions, consider the why.  Why are you resolving to lose weight, exercise more, or eat healthier?  If the why isn’t strong enough, you’ll struggle with the resolve needed to make the right decisions multiple times each day, day after day to meet your goal.  So dig deeper.  If last year’s goal to lose 10 lbs or cut out fried foods didn’t work, reconsider why this goal is so important to you.  If the why is there, if it is truly important to you, then you can do it- you can do hard things.  And the benefits will be greater than you think.  Making a lifestyle change provides energy to make other changes, to change other habits, to spend less time couch sitting and more time having fun.

Once you’ve figured out the why, plan out exactly how you’re going to keep your resolution.  Leo Babauta has great advice on sticking to a habit .  Perhaps you need to always have fresh fruits and veggies with you (at home AND at work) to snack on when cravings erupt or only order salads when you eat out.  Perhaps you need to find a workout buddy or pay your kid to exercise with you, which has a bonus of getting extra one on one time with your offspring.  Read this post  for tips on meal planning and prep for the week. 

Start now- while you’re thinking about it and energized to make a change- list out a few whole food plant based meals for the next week.  Plan to make at least 3 meals you are familiar with (spaghetti with marinara sauce, salad and baked potatoes, refried bean quesadillas, vegetable soup, etc) so you have no more than 3 new recipes to try and one night of leftovers.  Then gather the recipes and make a grocery list of the ingredients you don’t already have. 

After grocery shopping, immediately wash all of your produce.  Lastly, set aside 2 hours to prep the week’s meals, some in entirety but definitely any sauces or steps that take more than 30 minutes.

As an example, this is what we’re eating over the next week and how I’ll prep the meals:

Black Eyed Pea Salad over shredded lettuce with a side of brown rice

  • In advance
    • Cook the black eyed peas or use canned/frozen
    • Make the black eyed pea salad and brown rice in advance for a 5 minute meal
  • Evening of
    • Make the black eyed pea salad and brown rice if you haven’t already
    • Reheat the brown rice if you made it in advance

Stuffed Squash with green beans

  • In advance
    • Cook the acorn squash (tips here) and the wild rice
  • Evening of
    • Stuff the squash and reheat in the oven or microwave
    • Steam or microwave green beans

Chicken-like Seitan Cutlets and Lentil Gravy with mashed sweet potatoes and sautéed greens

  • In advance
    • Make the Chicken-like Seitan
    • Cook the sweet potatoes and peel once they have cooled
    • Make the lentils and caramelize the onions for the gravy
  • Evening of
    • Slice seitan into cutlets and grill or sauté; try Chicken Baked Fake Steak if you have more time
    • Make the gravy and mash the sweet potatoes
    • Sauté the greens with minced garlic (add small amounts of water and cover to steam, adding a splash of lemon juice at the end) or like this with raisins and pine nuts

Irish Stew (Slow Cooker)

  • In advance
    • Chop the veggies either the night before or in the morning as you’re starting the slow cooker
  • Evening of
    • Add leftover veggies at end of cooking, such as green beans or acorn squash

Baked Ziti

  • In advance
  • Evening of
    • After making the penne, pour the cashew cheese and tomatoes into the pot over medium low heat until warmed through (feel free to cover and bake if time is not an issue)

Baked Bean Chili (Slow Cooker)

  • Morning of
    • Add ingredients to slow cooker, stir, and turn on low

 

Black Eyed Pea Salad

32 oz drained and rinsed or 3 c cooked black eyed peas

1 red bell pepper, diced

¼ c red onion, diced

2 T pepper or jalapeno jelly

1 T red wine vinegar

½ t salt

¼ t freshly ground pepper

2 avocados, diced

Mix the black eyed peas, red bell pepper, and onion in a medium lidded container.  In a small bowl, mix the jelly, vinegar, salt, and pepper.  Add the jelly mixture to the black eyed pea mixture and stir to incorporate.  Cover and refrigerate.  Just before serving, add diced avocados and stir.

 

Baked Ziti

1 batch of Cashew Ricotta

16 oz whole grain penne pasta (wheat, rice, quinoa etc)

28 oz fire roasted diced tomatoes

Tomato sauce or additional tomatoes, optional

Cook the pasta according to the package directions and drain.  Return the pasta to the pot over low heat and add the cashew ricotta and tomatoes.  Stir well and cover until warmed through.

 

Lentil Gravy (adapted from Isa Chandra Moskowitz)

1 yellow onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

Pinch of salt

½ T dried thyme

½ t ground sage

½ t freshly ground pepper

1 ½ c cooked brown lentils

2 T white miso

1 ½ c vegetable broth

1 ½ T tapioca flour or arrowroot, optional

Saute the onion til lightly browned, using small amounts of water to prevent sticking.  Add the minced garlic and salt and continue cooking until onions are caramelized.  Stir in the thyme, sage, and freshly ground pepper.  Add lentils, miso, and vegetable broth and stir well.  Transfer to a blender and puree for ~2 minutes until gravy is smooth.  Return gravy to pot over low heat.  If gravy is too thick, add broth or water.  If gravy is too thin, make a slurry of tapioca flour or arrowroot with broth or water, then stir into gravy. 

 

Chicken Baked Fake Steak

1 c non-dairy milk

1 T apple cider vinegar

1 batch of Chicken-like Seitan

½ c bread crumbs

1 t poultry seasoning

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Make buttermilk by adding the vinegar to the non-dairy milk and letting it sit for 5 minutes to curdle.  Mix the poultry seasoning, salt, and pepper into the breadcrumbs.  Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly spray.  Slice the Chicken-like Seitan and dip into buttermilk then coat with breadcrumbs.  Bake at 350˚ for 15 to 20 minutes or until breadcrumbs are crispy.  Serve with Lentil Gravy.

Budget Reduction

Neal Barnard, MD, President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has provided Five Ways to Save Billions – and Boost the Nation’s Health.  The article is specific to the gargantuan debt problem of the US government and includes recommendations such as cutting junk food from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) and prioritizing health in commodity purchases.

  • Food manufacturers are benefitting from SNAP while SNAP recipients get sicker and sicker.  If SNAP benefits were limited to truly healthful foods, we could address hunger, malnutrition, AND healthcare at the same time, while saving billions.
  • Instead of the USDA buying millions of pounds of cheese or beef for school meal programs and other food assistance programs, the USDA could support farmers in providing fresh, local vegetables to schools and ensure each school-aged child has the opportunity to eat from a fresh salad bar at least once a day.

Although we may have no or little impact today on how the US government spends tax payer money, we can create our own budget reduction by:

1. Stop buying junk food. 

You don’t need it.  And if you have it at home or stashed at work, then you’ll eventually eat it.  Once you cut out all junk food and replace those calories with plant-based calories, you will stop craving the junk because your body is getting what it needs.

2. Increase your range of healthy snacks.

Not only do you need to expand your horizon of healthy snacks, you need to have them available at all times.  Rely mostly on whole fruits, raw veggies, and whole grain snacks and enjoy the higher fat snacks like nuts, nut butters, and hummus only occasionally if you’re trying to lose weight.

snacks

 3. Reduce the amount of processed food you buy.

Once you evaluate the amount of processed food you buy, you will probably be surprised at what percentage of your grocery bill it represents.  Use the snack list above to think of ways to eliminate processed snacks, like using sliced cucumbers instead of crackers or roasted chickpeas instead of chips.  When you buy processed food for convenience, make sure the ingredients support your health goals- no corn syrup, low or no sugar, low or no oil, and plant based.

4. Buy ‘smart’ prepared foods.

When you do buy processed foods, make them count.  For example, a single packet of prepared chana masala can be the base of a quick dinner for four if you add a can of chickpeas and leftover or frozen veggies and serve it over brown rice.  The same thing is true for a single serving package of lentil soup- add a bag of frozen mixed veggies and serve over a whole grain for a complete meal for 2.  Add more lentils or quinoa to serve 4.  THAT is healthy fast food!!

 5. Think long term.

By changing your diet, you are saving thousands of dollars long term on healthcare.  By changing your diet, you are dramatically reducing your chance of having a chronic disease such as Type 2 diabetes or cancer.  Every craving you resist and every healthy choice you make gets you one step closer to where you want to be- healthy and disease free for the rest of your life.

 

 

Roasted Chickpeas

Use canned chickpeas or make your own using the Basic Beans (Slow Cooker) recipe.

For each 15 oz can or 1.5 cups of chickpeas, lightly spray with oil or toss in 1 t oil, then season.  Plain ol’ sea salt works fine here, but prepared seasoning mixes are great too- BBQ, Cajun, salt substitutes- whatever you have tucked away in your cabinet.  Use a different baking sheet for each seasoning.

Roast the seasoned chickpeas on a parchment lined baking sheet at 350˚ for about 30 minutes, shaking once or twice while cooking.  Keep an eye on the chickpeas during the last 5 minutes or so to prevent burning.  The chickpeas should be crunchy when they’re done but will also continue to harden as they cool.

 

Baked Tortilla Chips

Cut whole wheat tortillas into triangular pieces and arrange on parchment lined baking sheets.  Lightly spray with oil and season with salt.  Bake at 375˚ for 8 to 12 minutes, rotating baking sheets once if the chips are cooking unevenly.

 

Soft Serve Ice “Cream”

Serves 3

Peel, slice, and freeze 4 to 5 bananas in a gallon freezer storage bag.  Using a high speed blender, such as VitaMix, puree frozen banana slices with a small splash of non-dairy milk (<1/4 c) as quickly as possible.  Stop the blender to stir as necessary.  Use chocolate non-dairy milk for chocolate ice cream.  Add other frozen fruit with the bananas to flavor the ice cream.  Serve immediately or freeze for 20-30 minutes to harden.

 

The Return to Reality

The return to reality after a week of vacation is no fun, but healthy meals will help everyone feel better through the transition back to the reality of  jobs and school.  Especially when our lives are busy, it’s critical to have meal planning habits to rely on to help us avoid the temptations and the OIBexpenses (both financial and health-related) of eating processed foods.  If you do not have a meal planning habit, now is the best time to start.

A day or two before I do my big grocery store run, I start planning the next week’s meals.  Never go to the store without a specific list of the meals planned for the week.  I also like to include a few lunches in the plan, though leftovers are usually the default for adult lunches.  Start the meal planning by checking your fridge, freezer, and pantry for ingredients that you already have on hand.  If you’re unsure how to use an ingredient or would like to try something new, set a timer so you don’t get carried away and search online for recipes using that ingredient.

TrafficDuring the meal planning stage, I also consult the family calendars to see which nights I’ll have less time to prep dinner.  I plan exactly which dinner will be on each night, to ensure the freshest ingredients get used up early in the week and to prevent waste.  I usually leave Fridays for leftovers (to clean out the fridge) or MYO (make your own) night where the kids will have sandwiches, breakfast for dinner, or Fork Free Fridays – something a little out of the ordinary.

Once you know the meals for the week, create the grocery list based on the ingredients that you don’t already have.  I like to create my grocery listswith the layout of the store in mind so I don’t have to read through my entire list on each aisle.  The NutritionMD recipe site will create a grocery list based on the recipes you chose- for free!

As soon as I return from the grocery store, we wash and start prepping produce.  Because I already know the recipes for the week, I know how each item needs to be prepared.  This is a hugely important point and will prevent lots of fabulous produce from passing its peak while hidden in your produce drawer.

On an ideal weekend, I’ll take the meal prep a step further and actually make a few of the meals (or meal components) for the week.  This is critical for meals with significant prep or cooking time or for weeks where I’ll be out of town or in the office later than usual.  Conversely, if I know that I won’t have time for significant meal prep on the weekend, I take that into account and plan simpler meals for the week ahead.  This coming week is such a week where we’ll eat simple meals that are easily made in less than 30 minutes.

I also make a mid to end of the week grocery run to pick up fresh greens, bananas, bread-  whatever else we need to finish out the week, making sure I’ve accounted for the weekend meals that will take place before the next week’s meal planning.

The most recent addition to my meal planning habit was to make a standard shopping list for each of the stores that I routinely visit.  By looking at the standard list before I visit that store, it jogs my memory about items that we may have run out of in the past two weeks that I didn’t note on the shopping list.

Use this week to start or improve your meal prep habit.  You’ll notice a difference in time and cost savings, which may allow you the freedom to be more creative in the kitchen- trying a new recipe each week or freeing up time to do something else for your health.

 

Shortcut Gazpacho

Tomato-based vegetable juice blend

Freshly prepared salsa (store bought or homemade), drained of any liquid

Cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced

Garlic, minced

Parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

Italian herbs, dried

Fresh lemon juice, optional

Diced avocado, optional (use as a garnish)

Mix all ingredients tasting often until desire flavor combination is achieved.  Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Gazpacho is a light and refreshing meal, perfect for a hot summer day.  If serving it for dinner, you may want to serve it alongside something hearty, like baked potatoes or brown rice.  To encourage children to eat gazpacho, consider making Oven Baked Tortilla Chips so they can scoop the soup as if it were salsa, or cut the tortillas into thin strips before baking and serve atop the soup.

 

Mac and Trees

Box of whole wheat macaroni pasta

Cashew ricotta (you won’t need the full batch)

Broccoli florets, frozen or steamed

Begin cooking the pasta as directed and add the broccoli florets to the pasta water half-way through the cooking time.  A couple of minutes of additional cooking time will be needed as the broccoli will reduce the temperature of the boiling water.  Drain the pasta and broccoli and return to the pot.  Pour the cashew ricotta over the pasta and broccoli, stirring to mix.  Serve warm.

To increase the heartiness of this one-pot meal, add a can of drained and rinsed white beans.  Another option is to puree the white beans into the cashew ricotta, adding water as needed to thin the sauce.

 

Easy Pasta Salad

Box of whole wheat fusilli pasta or orzo, cooked and drained

2 to 3 cups of assorted diced and shredded vegetables [This is a great way to use up little bits of leftover raw veggies]

Your favorite oil-free dressing [Or whisk a tablespoon of hummus with juice from 2-3 lemons and minced garlic]

To make this easy pasta salad a one-pot meal, add a can of rinsed and drained beans to complement the other flavors in your salad.

 

References

Photo Credit (traffic): http://bit.ly/189sZXY