A Spring Cleaning for Healthful Eating

Life is busy, and before you know it, priorities—like eating healthfully—go out the window. The key to success is to have a plan and do your best to stick to it. Keeping on track is easy when you already have a weekly menu lined up and good foods in your home; otherwise, you risk impulse eating something not-so-great and regretting it.

You might think advance planning requires adding time to your already busy schedule. According to wellness pioneer Dr. Frank Lipman, though, research shows that the average American watches more than five hours of television each day, yet spends barely half an hour on food preparation. Take a good look at your less-than-productive hours and put them to better use by developing a smart and manageable food strategy.

Plan and make meals to get you through the week by mixing and matching what you have on hand—whole, healthful foods in a variety of colors—with supplements from the grocery store. Be creative, but don’t overburden yourself trying to whip up something too fancy or intricate. Instead, spotlight one ingredient in multiple ways throughout the week. For example, grill up some chicken to use one night for dinner and on another day for lunch, shredded in a whole grain wrap. Hard-boil enough eggs to have for breakfast one day and to toss into a mixed greens salad a couple of days later. Cut up a bunch of carrots into sticks; put half into snack bags and cook up the other half into a simple glazed carrot side dish.

Consider the following:

  • Check your calendar every week and mark off the days where you will realistically be able to grocery shop, cook, eat dinner at home, or bring leftovers with you for lunch at the office.
  • Inventory your kitchen by writing down everything in your fridge, cabinets, and pantry, and grouping like items together on your list (meats, veggies, nuts, etc.). Toss any item that’s expired. Based on your calendar and kitchen inventory, design meals to last you the entire week. There are plenty of websites and smartphone apps like Supercook and BigOven that can generate recipes based on what you already have on hand. Shop for any items you need to add/replace. Click here for *FREE* downloadable templates to help you with inventorying, shopping, and meal planning.
  • Cook for the week. Prepare what you can in bulk—a pot of chili, steamed string beans, mashed sweet potatoes. Divide everything up into small containers or snack bags and freeze/refrigerate them. All you have to do from this point forward is refer to your weekly meal plan each day or the night before, then defrost, reheat, or assemble your meals accordingly.

Planning ahead and preparing meals for yourself or with your family not only puts your mind at ease, but guarantees nourishment for your body as well. Regularly inventorying your kitchen, planning a weekly menu, and having a shopping strategy will save you frustration later on, so honor and appreciate the time and effort that went into creating your healthful and delicious meals.

[A version of this article was written for, and first appeared in, YoffieLife.com on May 25, 2014.]

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: Simply Seitan-ical

I ate my meal so quickly the other night that I didn’t stop to photograph it, so you’ll just have to use your imagination while you read (or look at it yourself when you make your own version).

When I got my first apartment back in 1994, one of my favorite meals to make for myself and when I invited friends over was honey-mustard chicken with two side dishes: (1) glazed onions and carrots and (2) egg noodles with butter.  It would take no time at all to cook up and it was super yummy served immediately or as leftovers.

I’ve moved into a more vegetarian way of eating these days and was craving that meal recently, so I thought I’d make a decent substitute with the ingredients below (serves about 2-3), replacing the chicken with seitan and the buttered noodles with vegan mac & cheese.  If you want to make the original, I’ve included that information here as well.  Either way, if you whip up this easy dish, please let me know how you like it.

Part 1

1 pkg cubed seitan1
1 Tbsp olive, canola, or grapeseed oil
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/8 tsp ground kosher or sea salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Part 2

8 oz short/small pasta, like farfalle, penne, egg noodles or elbow macaroni
1 tsp olive, canola, or grapeseed oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp vegan shredded cheddar, like Daiya2
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast2

Part 3

1 12-16 oz pkg peeled baby carrots, washed
1/2 c yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 Tbsp olive, canola, or grapeseed oil
1 Tbsp “buttery” spread, like Earth Balance or Smart Balance3
1 Tbsp maple syrup4

1if you’re using chicken, go for 2 skinless breasts sliced into strips
2if you’d prefer to use dairy cheese, then substitute these ingredients with a flavorful cheese of your choice instead, like shredded cheddar and grated parmesan; or, skip the cheese entirely and just toss pasta with about 2 Tbsp of olive oil, butter, or margarine
3feel free to substitute regular butter or margarine here
4if you ever even think of using some kind of “pancake syrup” made of corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup, I will find out and be very angry with you; invest in a bottle of locally tapped maple syrup and toss out that other crap immediately…I cannot stress this enough

Toss all “Part 1” ingredients together in a bowl. Cover and place bowl in refrigerator for about an hour, tossing mixture again every 15 minutes. After an hour, remove from fridge, and cook mixture in a medium-hot pan for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly. (No need to add extra oil in pan since seitan has already been coated with plenty of it.)

Cook up the pasta from “Part 2” according to directions on package.  Drain, reserving about 1/3 cup of cooking liquid. Toss pasta and liquid well with remaining “Part 2 ingredients.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Fill a medium pot with water (leave about one inch from top) and a sprinkling of salt; cover and bring to boil over high heat. Uncover, lower to medium-high heat and cook carrots (“Part 3”) until soft, about 10 minutes. Simultaneously, cook the sliced onion from “Part 3” in a pan with the 1/2 Tbsp oil over extremely low heat, stirring often, until very soft and translucent. Add carrots to pan with onions when done cooking and mix in buttery spread and syrup until everything is coated nicely with the butter-syrup glaze. Salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, you could place all three parts separately on a plate or spoon the honey-mustard seitan over the mac & cheese.

So juicy.

I don’t think I’ve ever blogged about juicing before, so today’s your lucky day, reader!

A few years ago, the bf bought me this monster chomper and, while I don’t use it as often as I’d like (hello, sinkful of dirty dishes and compost bucketful of discards), when I do, it makes me feel like I’ve done something good for myself.

Everyone I know right now is sick with the flu or some other gross, disgusting, mucus-y illness.  I refuse to fall prey to these germs as well and I believe juicing helps me through these seasons because there’s no way I could eat a bushel of oranges (or however oranges are sold) in one sitting in order to get all of the vitamins and nutrients needed to fight a cold, but I can definitely drink the juice of a bushel*.

The other day I juiced up a bunch of kale, an apple, and a lemon**.  Today, my juice is pictured here: quite simply, a couple of carrots, a couple of oranges, and a pink grapefruit.  Could you imagine eating all of that stuff in the “before” photo…together…in a row?  Enter, the lovely, whirled-up concoction on the right.

Fun facts:

  • Kale – provides comprehensive support for the body’s detoxification system; high in Vitamins K, A, and C
  • Apples – help regulate blood sugar (I use this to cut the bitterness in my green juices)
  • Lemon – good source of Vitamin C, which is vital to the function of a strong immune system
  • Carrots – protect cells from damage; high in Vitamin A (beta-carotene)
  • Oranges – super high in Vitamin C
  • Pink grapefruit – high in Vitamin C

*Disclaimer: I have no idea what a bushel of oranges looks like, so this might be a lot of big talk, but you get my point.
**Normally, I would also add ginger and parsley to this mix, but I was out of both that day.

Cool as a carrot.

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

Easy to pack and perfect as crudités for that favorite dip, the crunchy texture and sweet taste of carrots is popular among both adults and children. Although they are shipped around the country from California throughout the year, locally grown carrots are in season in the summer and fall when they are the freshest and most flavorful.

The carrot has a thick, fleshy, deeply colored root, which grows underground, and feathery green leaves that emerge above. It is known scientifically as Daucus carota, a name that can be traced back to ancient Roman writings of the 3rd century. Carrots belong to the Umbelliferae family along with parsnips, fennel caraway, cumin, and dill which all have the umbrella-like flower clusters that characterize this family of plants. It seems that carrots did not become a popular vegetable in Europe until the Renaissance. This was probably related to the fact that the early varieties had a tough and fibrous texture. Centuries later, beginning in the 17th century, agriculturists in Europe started cultivating different varieties of carrots, developing an orange-colored carrot—as opposed to the original deep purple hue—that had a more pleasing texture than its predecessor. Europeans favored the growing of this one over the purple variety, which was and still is widely grown in other areas of the world, including southern Asia and North Africa. Carrots were subsequently introduced into the North American colonies. Owing to its heightened popularity, in the early 1800s, the carrot became the first vegetable to be canned*. Today, the United States, France, England, Poland, China and Japan are among the largest producers of carrots.

Carrots are an excellent source of antioxidant compounds, and the richest vegetable source of the pro-vitamin A carotenes. Carrots’ antioxidant compounds help protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer and also promote good vision, especially night vision.

Carrot roots should be firm, smooth, relatively straight and bright in color. The deeper the orange-color, the more beta-carotene is present in the carrot. Avoid carrots that are excessively cracked or forked as well as those that are limp or rubbery. In addition, if the carrots do not have their tops attached, look at the stem end and ensure that it is not darkly colored as this is also a sign of age. If the green tops are attached, they should be brightly colored, feathery and not wilted. Since the sugars are concentrated in the carrots’ core, generally those with larger diameters will have a larger core and therefore be sweeter.

Carrots are hardy vegetables that will keep longer than many others if stored properly. The trick to preserving the freshness of carrot roots is to minimize the amount of moisture they lose. To do this, make sure to store them in the coolest part of the refrigerator in a plastic bag or wrapped in a paper towel, which will reduce the amount of condensation that is able to form. They should be able to keep fresh for about two weeks. Carrots should also be stored away from apples, pears, potatoes and other fruits and vegetables that produce ethylene gas since it will cause them to become bitter.

Wash carrot roots and gently scrub them with a vegetable brush right before eating. Unless the carrots are old, thick or not grown organically, it is not necessary to peel them; most all conventionally grown carrots are grown using pesticides and other chemicals. If the stem end is green, it should be cut away.

Carrots are delicious eaten raw or cooked. Beta-carotene is not destroyed by cooking; in fact, cooking breaks down the fiber, making this nutrient and carrots’ sugars more available, thus also making them taste sweeter. Take care not to overcook carrots, however, to ensure that they retain their maximum flavor and nutritional content.

*If you love Dina, you will never use canned vegetables.

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

1 16-oz package baby carrots
2 Tbsp butter
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced thinly into rings (or half-rings)
1/2 tsp sugar or honey
Salt and pepper to taste

Fill a medium saucepan with lightly salted water and bring to boil. Add carrots and cook about 5 minutes until they can be easily pierced with a fork. Drain and set aside. In the same, drained saucepan, heat the butter over low heat until melted and slightly foamy. Add onion and cook, stirring often to evenly caramelize, until soft and translucent. Add the carrots and sugar or honey and continue to cook another 3-5 minutes, stirring to combine flavors. Season with salt and pepper and serve!

NOTE: Excessive consumption of carotene-rich foods may lead to a condition called carotoderma in which the palms or other skin develops a yellow or orange cast. The health impact of carotenemia is not well researched. Eating or juicing high amounts of foods rich in carotene, like carrots, may over tax the body’s ability to convert these foods to vitamin A; however, the condition will usually disappear after reducing consumption.