Meatless Monday – Plant-Based YUM!

Some years ago I heard about UC Davis Integrative Medicine, and I am so grateful!

Integrative Medicine takes a whole person approach to health. UC Davis Integrative Medicine’s mission is “to help prevent chronic disease by educating people about how to make positive changes in their lifestyle habits.”

Through their weekly blog posts, recipes, webinars, and 21-day plant-based food challenges, they have helped me learn how to cook and eat healthier, for myself and for my family.

They are not my only resource, of course, but they sure lend credibility to my pursuit of health through eating primarily plants. And they have been a HUGE resource!

For three years, they have held an annual 21-day challenge. At no charge, they provide three weeks’ worth of recipes and nutrition information + a Facebook group to encourage mutual support. The first year I dabbled, but mostly felt overwhelmed; last year I petered out through too much life noise; this year, I’m going for it.

Today is Day 1, which means it’s not too late to SIGN UP! And tonight I will tell you–after a day’s worth of delicious plant-based eating–it’s worth it.

Today I ate…
Breakfast: apple pie oatmeal
Lunch: “fried” brown rice
Dinner: Tuscan vegetable soup + rainbow pasta salad (recipes UCDavis, sign up to receive the full 21-day recipe guide)

This wasn’t the prescribed Day 1 menu, but that’s part of why I enjoy this format. I can pick and choose from their menu; improvise based on what I have, what I want, what I already know how to do well; and eat healthy food to satisfaction.

In the plan, a Berries and Seeds Breakfast Bowl is a breakfast option for Week 2; Thai Fried Rice is Week 2‘s Monday lunch. I did my variation on those recipes, though based on their recipe, I omitted the oil from my rice and added instead more garlic and chili-garlic paste (and I will forever make these changes, as today’s rice was tastier).

I also have a solid minestronehow different can Tuscan veggie be from minestrone?–but thought I’d do dinner on their terms. So glad! Using an immersion blender to pulse it until pureed but for some chunks, this soup might have looked less appealing than some broth-based soups, but it smelled and tasted delicious and, to be honest, required less cook time. Of course I could also whip up a pasta salad without even thinking about it but this combination, with their oil-free Italian dressing (fresh basil, hummus, stone-ground mustard, red wine vinegar, and water to dilute), was a delicious change.

If you’re interested in healthy eating…
If you’re a carnivore who can’t believe plants taste good
If you’re looking for some new recipe suggestions

Sign up for the UC Davis Integrative Medicine 21-Day Food Challenge now!

Meatless Monday – Berry Baked Oatmeal

Apparently today is National Strawberry Day, and who among us doesn’t love strawberries? I started my day with a green smoothie–spinach, pineapple, strawberries, and ginger, blended with water–and plan to end it with a fresh spinach and strawberry salad with balsamic vinaigrette served alongside leek and potato soup.

I discovered this recipe in something of a panic: I had to bring something to a women’s group gathering. I already had something store-bought to share and wanted something homemade to go with it. I didn’t want to make another trip to the store, so what–oh what?–could I make with on-hand ingredients?

Have I mentioned UC Davis Integrative Medicine? They promote a plant-based diet as the number one way to successfully prevent, halt or reverse serious health conditions such as obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They post current nutrition research and lots of delicious recipes. Really, I’ve tried a bunch of their recipes and feel A-OK recommending them as a reliable site for yummy goodness.

I’d just received an email with their Top 10 breakfasts and Berry Baked Oatmeal was on the list. I modified it (of course I did), mostly because I needed to feed more than two. The girls chowed down the whole dish (one said, “I thought it was just another fruit crisp but it’s more than that!”) so I made it again last night as dessert to serve friends. Tween refused to go to bed before he’d had two helpings.

To be honest, I didn’t use strawberries. I used frozen mixed berries–blueberries, raspberries and blackberries–but absolutely you could use strawberries, especially if you cut them into smaller bites. I also started with frozen bananas, microwaved for 30 seconds at a time until I could easily mash them. Why? Because my kids are super-picky about bananas and will only eat them just-turned-yellow (maybe still slightly green). When they get spots I peel them, cut them in half, and toss them in a ziplock in the freezer to use in smoothies.

And I give you permission right now to customize, as I did. If you want strawberries, go for it. Only one kind of berry, that’s fine, or add some chopped apples for extra crunch. Don’t like craisins? Use raisins instead, or another dried fruit–chopped dried apricots, or dates, or a combo. Add some toasted unsweetened coconut. Use a different sweetener or none at all. You can sub different nuts or leave them out, too; I made an individual ramekin-portion for a nut-free friend. Make it your own, but make it!berry-baked-oatmeal

Berry Baked Oatmeal
Serves 6-8

2 heaping cups of berries, fresh or frozen
1 orange, cut in half
1 Tbsp fresh-grated ginger
1 tsp cinnamon, divided use
3-4 ripe bananas
½ c craisins (or other dried fruit)
½ c chopped walnuts (optional)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp maple syrup
2 c gluten-free rolled oats

Preheat oven to 350. Layer the bottom of a 2-qt baking dish with berries. Squeeze juice of half the orange over. Sprinkle with grated ginger and ½ tsp cinnamon. In a separate bowl, mash bananas. Add craisins, nuts, vanilla, maple syrup and stir. Add ½ tsp cinnamon, juice of remaining half of the orange, and oats; stir to combine. Top berries with oatmeal mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Serve warm.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Dead Weight

The smallest bump and it shattered to heaps of blue safety-glass shards.Shattered-Tempered-Glass

Because of our bathroom’s tight space, we wedged the scale between the shower and toilet. No room to stand on it there, we pulled it out each time we required its services. For years, it tattle-taled the ups and downs of our binges and purges, our couch-sitting and exer-cursions. Its yo-yo reporting had us just the slightest bit addicted, self-loathing on the upswing and exulting on the downswing.

You might expect I was the hard-core user, the lone female in a house reeking from testosterone, but you’d be wrong. Its whispered secrets enticed us all.

Oldest daughter of the tiniest Viking you’ll ever meet, my pediatrician always found me on the high end of the growth chart. And I blossomed early, so to speak. I felt like a giant in my family and on the playground. Never an athlete, I also never felt comfortable in my own skin. I had no reason, or none that I recognized, to respect what my body could do.

To complicate matters, my mom cooked like a gourmet but ate mostly muesli, what we called “bird food.” Small like a bird compared with her gigantic offspring, early on I developed a love-hate relationship with food and my body. I genuinely appreciate good food and the creativity of cooking, but I’m almost as likely to punish myself by eating bad pizza, with its accompanying greasy guilt, as I am to reward myself by eating healthy.

Both my babies were born in the six-pound range, but neither stayed small for long. Teen competed in the top three for height throughout elementary school and passed up his mama in shoe size and then height as middle school began. An easy athlete, he played most sports hard and fast until in 8th grade he discovered his passion: rugby. Between 9th and 10th grade he grew an inch and dropped 30 pounds, equally due to ADHD meds and his desire to be in his best shape for his sport. Now he spends hours most days of the week split between the gym and the field. He pushes himself until it hurts, complains loudly, and loves it. A tad obsessive, he weighs himself regularly and presses harder until the numbers tip.

Tween’s diapered infant body revealed a barrel chest, just like his dad’s, and one of my favorite things about his dad when we began dating. I felt safely wrapped up in that chest, and I anticipated that far down the road someone else would appreciate that same feature in my son. As a picky-eating toddler he got skinny, and then grew wider before taller. He’s still waiting to hit his growth spurt, which we anticipate any time now. He weighs himself infrequently, mostly to confirm his negative body feelings, exacerbated by comments from peers and a few unthinking adults.

I can’t report on Guy because we don’t share numbers. Which means neither of us feels good about the numbers we know and the numbers we desire, and so…

We have tried hard to fight the body-shaming culture with a body-positive culture at home. Health is the goal. We eat mostly plant-based, unprocessed foods. We expect everyone to be involved in regular physical activity – a sport, the gym, walking, biking, playing outside in the fresh air – because our bodies were made for movement. We discourage negative body comments and counter with, “eat healthy and enjoy moving.”

But that scale…3479588225_de40388083_n

Guy intended to replace it on our next Costco trip. I had mixed feelings, especially when Teen missed it. Our clothes and overall feelings of health ought to be a good enough indication without a number. At Costco today we completely forgot to purchase a scale. I remembered after we’d left when I realized I had bought supplies for a three-day food-based cleanse and wondered how much weight I might drop, at least for a time, as I detoxed my winter indulgences.

Obviously it’s complicated, and I guess I’ll have to listen to my body instead.

Leaning In to a Plant-Based Lifestyle

I’ve had two conversations just this week with women who want to eat healthier, one a stay-at-home mom and the other a college student. While they couldn’t be more different, both have recognized that their eating habits have not been optimal and they admit they don’t know where to start in changing their habits.

Guy became a vegetarian while we were in college, convinced by a professor that humans were created to be good stewards of the planet, and animals raised for slaughter were not receiving ethical treatment. Since then, of course, there’s been a movement toward better animal care, grass-fed beef and free-range chickens, and that’s great. However, we’re also slowly recognizing that raising animals for food takes a big toll on our planet.

ppl v cow

And that’s not to mention methane emissions (animal farts!), or the vehicle emissions involved with shipping animals to slaughter and then meat to stores and restaurants.

I became a vegetarian by accident when, two years after we married, I ate a Cornish game hen at an event and felt sick to my stomach for days. I remember we’d been married two years because I couldn’t eat out on our second anniversary. I slowly lived into my new reality and eventually started reading and learning to cook, and now I “lean vegan,” cooking exclusively vegan and eating vegan out as much as possible.

However in those early years I was much like my confused friends, maybe worse because I didn’t realize how unhealthy our diet truly was. We thought eating veggie meant pasta and Caesar salad. Maybe veggie soup. Wash dishes and repeat. We had no idea…

Now we do, though, and I put effort into cooking and serving healthy, tasty meals to my family (both boys are great advertisements for a veggie lifestyle).

So where to start?

Focus on what you can have and not what you can’t.
It’s a mindset. You get to eat delicious plants, what a treat! Okay, at first this can be really hard (most change is hard, right?). You may not even like veggies, or at least you might not think you do. I didn’t. I laughed when people assumed I loved veggies.

You’ve probably been served, or cooked, bad veggies. Overcooked, bland, mushy, bleh. Who wants that? And you may very well be addicted to sugar and dairy (no kidding, both have addictive qualities. Doesn’t that bear out in your experience?).

The good news? You can kick your addictions and change your taste buds! One of the best pieces of advice I got from a pediatrician: it takes seventeen tastes over time to like a food that initially doesn’t taste good to you. Our younger son hated beans. We served him one bite regularly, until one day he griped at me that I hadn’t put enough beans on his serving of taco salad. He responded to my expression of surprise in equal measure: “What? I love beans!” And promptly helped himself to more.

None of my guys liked whole wheat pasta the first time we tried it so I started cutting in a small ratio of whole wheat to regular pasta each time I made it, gradually adding more whole wheat over time. We don’t even eat pasta all that often anymore (our veggie repertoire has vastly increased) but when we do, it’s all whole wheat and no one balks.

Same goes for me. I didn’t like sweet potatoes and now I do; they’re still a little sweet for me so I emphasize savory when I cook them, roasting them and serving them with Dijon mustard, for example. I wanted to cut dairy out of my coffee; at first I switched to almond milk and then, over time, I added less and less non-dairy milk to the cup and now I drink it black, no problem.

Make a plan.
Weekly menu planning may be the smartest way to go but I’m not that organized or disciplined. However, it might be exactly what you need to get started.

Because dairy and sugar are addictive, experts recommend going cold-turkey. Yes, you may experience unpleasant detox symptoms for a while – a week to a month – but you’ll be better off. But maybe no meat seems too daunting. So try Meatless Mondays. Or meatless before dinner. Or choose two to three easy meals you can repeat over a week. For example:

Oatmeal (even unsweetened quick oats will do) + chopped fruit and nuts with a little cinnamon; I’ve been known to throw in a little healthy trail mix. Depending on the add-ins, this meal can be different every time.

Smoothie two ways: coconut water and water + a handful of spinach + a couple of peels from fresh ginger + frozen mixed berries OR mango and pineapple. You can use just water if coconut water seems too hippy-dippy for you, and you can add more or less spinach as you acclimate your palate. If you really want to go nuts, add a squeeze of citrus and maybe even a dash of ground cayenne pepper to spice it up.

And there you go, three easy breakfasts or lunches that require only a few minutes in the kitchen and are oh-so-healthy.

Start lunch and dinner with a salad.
How to build a salad: greens (Romaine, spinach, kale, arugula, mixed greens), other veggies (tomatoes, shredded carrots, celery, cucumber, bell peppers, artichoke hearts, olives), fruits (maybe not on the same salad topped with extra veggies, but apples, peaches, nectarines, plums, watermelon are all great), legumes (beans and nuts), and grains (brown rice, quinoa, couscous, farro).

Garden salad: Greens + tomatoes, carrots, cuke, bell peppers, green beans + citrus vinaigrette

Taco salad: Greens + bell peppers, jicama, avocado + pinto, black and kidney beans + salsa as dressing

Mediterranean salad: Greens + bell pepper, red onion, olives, artichoke hearts, tomatoes + garbanzo or cannellini beans + red wine vinaigrette

The combinations are thankfully endless. It’s even better if you make your own salad dressing, but I understand if that feels like too much to start. For heaven’s sake, these days you can even buy a ready-to-go salad mix in a bag, complete with dressing and toppings. No excuses.

Make friends with beans.
My kitchen/pantry overflow with beans: cans of garbanzo, black, pinto, kidney, refried black or pinto, and cannellini beans; frozen edamame and green beans; dried lentils and bean blends. Beans taste good, satisfy, and are oh-so-versatile. You change the salad simply by changing the bean, or better yet, adding a combination.

Or chop some onion, carrots, and celery and sautee in a large soup pan; add veggie broth and beans; season to taste, and you’ve got a scrumptious veggie soup. Add some cooked whole wheat pasta and a dash of red wine and you’ve got minestrone.

Keep healthy snacks ready to go.
One of the biggest complaints I hear about eating plant-based is that it requires so much cooking. True confession: I have felt that way from time to time. On the other hand, I snack way less than I used to because the veggie meals I eat satisfy more than the processed foods I used to eat.

A couple of easy snack solutions. First, eat fruit. Seriously, in-season fruit makes for the easiest snacks. Secondly, cook in larger quantities so you have leftovers. I almost always make twice as much salad for dinner so we can quickly grab leftover salad for lunch at work. Finally, don’t forget to plan for snacks when you shop. Buy some hummus and veggies, pre-cut if that makes it more likely you’ll eat them. Whole wheat flat bread with hummus and sliced cucumber is delish, as is whole wheat toast with natural nut butter and sliced banana. Trail mix (without candy), a handful of nuts, you might even find a granola bar that works for you (although even the healthiest pre-packaged bars taste too sweet for me these days).

Find support.
A friend or family member to support you in your desire to form healthy habits can make a big difference. I also follow healthy eating blogs and Facebook pages which give me new recipe ideas and encouragement to keep going. Some of my favorites: Oh She Glows (great recipes); and Forks Over Knives (if you can, watch the documentary) and UCDavis Integrative Medicine, both of which provide solid nutritional research from the medical community.

Be patient.
Healthy eating isn’t a diet, it’s a change of lifestyle. It will take time and you will be tempted to give up. I say I “lean vegan” because I don’t do it perfectly. I am a total sucker for good pizza (however, you can find vegan pizza if you look, and it can be pretty amazing). Take a baby step, and then another. Live into it at your own pace and watch your health improve.