How Convenient

I often tell people that I’m very busy and important––busier than Oprah, if that’s even a relevant reference these days. Starting a private practice while finishing grad school and landing a lovely little part-time weekly gig as an in-house prenatal nutritionist at an ob/gyn office in midtown east (NYC/Manhattan) has definitely put a lot on my plate. It’s been three months since my last blog post in which I wrote about a 10-day hiatus I was taking from social media. In that time, half a dozen holidays and other celebrations have come and gone as has an entire season. But, as busy as I get, there has always remained one non-negotiable in my schedule: meal-planning.

Regardless of how much work I have to do, how quickly school assignment deadlines are approaching, or how little sleep I’ve gotten, I always carve out about half a day on Sundays to grocery shop, prep, and cook my meals––or, at least, the ingredients for my meals––for the week. It’s what keeps me in line for healthful eating…and sane during the week when I’m exhausted and don’t want to so much as lift a finger to point at food I want to eat. In fact, a recent study1 showed that at-home meal planning improved diet quality, nutrition and food variety, and weight status in over 40,000 people who participated in it.

Even with planning ahead, though, there are times when I forget to schlep my pre-made meals with me or want to treat myself to something different. The ob/gyn office is located where convenience foods abound, but meals in that area can be a little costly or might not be as healthful as I’d like them to be. Enter Eatsa, a “futuristic power bowl automat” (according to Gothamist) that serves up a wide variety of delicious, nutritious, customized, plant-based lunches, all for the pocket-friendly price of $6.95.

Burrito Bowl closed.jpg

The day I checked out Eatsa, I ordered the Burrito Bowl which packs in 25g of protein, 25g of fat (mostly the good kind), 89g of carbs (primarily complex), 17g of fiber (nearly 70% of a woman’s daily needs!), and only 9g of sugar (I’m assuming from the salsa and corn); however, the sodium was a little high at 1112mg (an issue for anyone with high blood pressure), and, at 653 calories, you’d really get your money’s worth as there’s enough food here to cover a meal and a snack for most people.

Burrito Bowl open

While I realize spending half a day cooking and cleaning in order to plan a week’s worth of meals might not be realistic for some folks, options like Eatsa are a wonderful––and affordable––alternative. Currently, this chain is only located in a few neighborhoods in NYC, DC, and California; but, hopefully, we’ll see an expansion soon to other places across the country.

And in keeping with the theme of another celebration that’s almost over, National Nutrition Month‘s “Put Your Best Fork Forward,” please check out the resources below to help you make the best decisions for times when convenience is of the essence:

References:

  1. Ducrot, P., et al. (2017). Meal planning is associated with food variety, diet quality and body weight status in a large sample of French adults. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 14(12), 1-12.

Fishing for compliments

For the second year in a row, I shared kitchen duties with my mom for our family’s Christmas Eve dinner. My mom handled all the fish dishes (I’ve written about our Italian fish tradition previously here) and I was in charge of the rest, which included a variety of nutrient-dense, fancifully flavored, plant-based recipes. This year’s menu, like last year’s, combined old-world tradition with some new fusion fare:

  • Shrimp Cocktail (à la Costco)
  • Chard & White Bean Soup (I substituted sweet potatoes for new potatoes)
  • Wilted Greens Salad (I used plain, ol’ mesclun instead of mustard greens, but added Dijon to the dressing as a nod; I also threw in some chopped walnuts to add texture and offset the sweetness of the dressing)
  • Shrimp Scampi; Calamari en Brodo; Broiled Cod; and Linguine with King Crab legs (all recipes in Mom’s head)
  • Braised Kale and Carrot Stew (loosely inspired by this recipe)
  • Citrus Pound Cake w/Warm Citrus Salad (from the Dec ’14 issue of The Oprah Magazine)
  • Winter Warmer Cocktail (I don’t drink alcohol, but got everyone else nice and drunk on this)

I fare best when I eat vegetarian, but I don’t feel the need to make a show of it; I just like providing solidly healthful foods for people I love, especially when I know some of the day will include indulgences and sweets. Plus, it ensures that I’ll be getting my own fill of fruits and veggies…a true win-win.

What kind of foods do you eat and traditions do you follow for the holidays? Do you like to cook or share the cooking responsibilities with anyone in your family during special occasions? Feel free to post your comments below. I look forward to reading them!

Recipe Remix: Chili-stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Remember this chili recipe? Well, here’s a super simple way to rejigger it: make it, but omit the sweet potato/carrot in the mix. Instead, while the chili’s cooking, roast a sweet potato1 in the oven, then stuff each half of the potato with the chili and sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese2 when ready to serve.

Stuffed Potato

Added bonus: sweet potatoes are an excellent source of Vitamin A, which gives us healthy skin, teeth, and bones.

1using one well-scrubbed sweet potato for every two servings, slice the potato lengthwise, pierce the outside of it well all over with a fork, wrap it in aluminum foil (halves together) and place in oven at 400 degrees for an hour or until the inside is soft and tender; I don’t use a microwave, so you’ll have to research the comparable nuking time yourself
2I used Daiya dairy-free in the pic here

Recipe: Chilling with Chili

Ah, the one-pot meal.  What could be easier?  Chop up a bunch of stuff, chuck it in a pot, cook it, and chow down.  If you have a big freezer, you can pack up half of what you make and freeze it for another time; you can pick at the other half in your fridge every other day or so for about a week.

My one-pot meal last night was homemade chili (I make mine vegetarian, which is quite hearty, but you can add ground turkey to yours if you want).

Depending on your dietary restrictions, some great sides to go with this or any kind of chili are:

  • blue corn tortilla chips
  • multi-grain pita chips
  • corn bread (beware the butter content on this one or consider a vegan version)
  • sour cream (low-fat or vegan would be my choice)
  • cheddar cheese (ditto above)

I don’t drink alcohol, but the bf prefers a solid red wine with this (or beer).

Here’s my recipe, but feel free to mix it up, substitute/add/subtract as needed, and make it your own.  I like my version (minus the ground turkey) because it’s chock full of protein and veggies.

Part 1

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, peeled & chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled & minced
1 med carrot and/or 1 sm sweet potato, peeled & chopped
1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeded & diced*
4 kale leaves, de-stemmed & finely chopped/shredded (chiffonade)
1/2 c water
2-4 cans beans** (2 if you’re also using ground turkey), drained
1 12- or 15-oz can tomato sauce (plain)
1 lb ground turkey, if using 

Part 2 

1 Tbsp low-sodium soy or tamari sauce
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp Tabasco or other hot sauce 

Part 3 

1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

*if you don’t have a raw pepper, you can use 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper (even if you do have a raw pepper, toss in these other peppers, too, for extra spice)
**best beans for this: kidney, black, pinto
From “Part 1,” in a large pot over very low heat, add olive oil, onion & garlic. Cook 7 minutes or until soft & translucent, stirring often. Then add carrot/potato, pepper & kale. Cook 7 minutes, then add water & cover pot; cook another 5 minutes to soften veggies.
Uncover pot, stir up ingredients and then add beans, sauce & turkey, if using. Cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes, stirring every few minutes.
Whisk all ingredients from “Part 2” in a small bowl; stir into pot of chili. Cook another few minutes. 
To pot, add all ingredients from “Part 3” and stir/mix well. Cook another 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes.
(If chili starts to dry out, add another 1/4 c water. If too watery, raise the heat and bring to boil for a few minutes to evaporate.)
Taste chili and season more with “Part 3” ingredients, if needed; otherwise, turn off flame and you’re ready to serve it up!

Kickin’ it kidney bean style

Welcome, class, to today’s Fresh Pick: KIDNEY BEANS

Particularly popular for chili con carne and red beans and rice, this firm, medium-size bean has a dark red skin and cream-colored flesh. Its popularity can be attributed to its full-bodied flavor. On the downside, it’s an enthusiastic producer of flatulence. Unless you live in an area that grows kidney beans, you won’t find them fresh but will have to settle for the dried or canned forms. White kidney beans—referred to as cannellini beans—aren’t favored with the robust flavor of their red cousins, and are only available dried or canned. The tiny, tender French kidney beans are called flageolets (possibly named after “flatulence,” but I’m still checking) and may be purchased dried, canned and, sometimes, frozen.

Kidney beans are a part of the cuisine of North India and are often used in Louisiana Creole cuisine since they pick up flavors well, making them ideal for marinating or adding to stews. They are also an excellent source of iron, magnesium, and folate. Use kidney beans to make chili, and add them to stews, soups, and salads, as well as to grain and vegetable dishes.

For some great recipes, click here or here or try this simple dish:

2 Tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp kosher salt

In a medium pan set on low heat, sauté garlic in olive oil until soft and lightly “toasted” but not brown to avoid bitter flavor. Add cans of beans and continue to cook for about 15 minutes, stirring often. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve with crusty bread and a green salad.

Ay, edamame!

Welcome, class, to today’s Fresh Pick: EDAMAME

The Japanese name for fresh, edible soybeans, edamame [eh-dah-MAH-meh] are usually bright to dark green and available fresh in Asian markets from late spring to early fall. They’re also available frozen.

The seeds of edamame varieties are rich in protein and highly nutritious. Worldwide, it is a minor crop, but it is quite popular in East Asia. Edamame is consumed mainly as a snack, but also as a vegetable, an addition to soups, or processed into sweets. Its use was first recorded around 200 B.C. as a medicinal and is still very popular. In Japan, edamame was grown on the bunds between rice paddies, but with the current rice surplus and official pressure to convert paddy fields to other uses, field production is more common.

In the United States, edamame has potential as an easier-to-grow, better tasting, more nutritious substitute for lima beans. Served in the pods, it might appeal to consumers interested in natural foods, particularly if it were grown organically.

For some great recipes, click here or here or try this simple snack:

7 c water
1/2 pound edamame beans
1 Tbsp salt

Boil water in a large pan. Wash edamame beans well. Add beans to boiling water and boil for 5-10 minutes. Drain and sprinkle salt over beans to taste. Can be served warm or cool. Eat by pushing seeds directly from pods into the mouth, discard skin.