Plant-Based Spring

A couple months ago I was feeling foggy, sluggish, and depressed and couldn’t figure out why or what to do about it. I blamed it on winter and waited for it to pass. Then, one day I was reading my workout journal, and I realized how much our diet had changed over the previous months. I realized I had fallen into the habit of focusing on avoiding unhealthy food and controlling portions instead of focusing on what food I was eating. It may not sound like a big difference, but it is EVERYTHING!

About 6 years ago, as I was attempting to discover some food/gut issues, I went through a pretty rigorous elimination diet. I was able to discover an unusual food sensitivity to yeast had been causing symptoms for years. As I was eating the most basic foods allowed on an elimination diet, I wondered why we ever add anything else! These foods are allowed on an elimination diet because they never make anybody sick. We began eating a plant-based diet. I was very strict in the beginning, but I hate the food conversation. It can be very awkward, especially if other people are serving us food, so we tend to slack off when we’re around others. It’s also very limiting for kids, and I don’t like doing anything 100%, so we continued to slack until we were eating normal, unhealthy meals again.

Eating mostly plant-based has always helped me physically and mentally, though. It is a lifestyle diet, not a temporary way to lose weight.
It’s not about counting calories or even trying to lose weight (because you can easily find plant-based foods to overeat.) It’s about feeling better. When we’re eating plant-based, we simply plan meals around plants instead of treating fruits and vegetables as side dishes. Fruits and vegetables become the main courses. For instance, instead of sprinkling a few blueberries on top of oatmeal for breakfast, I will sprinkle a few raw oats on top of frozen blueberries with coconut milk. Or spaghetti squash instead of pasta noodles and substituting plant-based proteins for meat at least a few dinners each week. It doesn’t have to be complicated to be healthy! I think the only way for us to make eating plant-based sustainable is to be okay with eating animal products on occasion, especially when we’re with friends and family. This is especially true with the kids; when they’re at home they eat what we eat and don’t know any different, but we can’t control everything they eat when we’re away from home, and it’s never worth the struggle!

When the focus is on what good we can/should be eating, we’re suddenly packing ourselves full of vitamins and nutrients that make the cells in our bodies thrive and feel alive! If we follow a “healthy” diet but don’t replace the things we’ve removed from our diets with fresh, raw alternatives, we still won’t feel better. We really are what we eat! This shift in focus also keeps us from feeling deprived. A huge part of our relationship with food is in our heads. When it’s a mental battle of wills, our stomachs almost always win. We have to give ourselves better options and good reasons why we’re not eating (delicious) unhealthy foods, otherwise it just becomes a failed diet.


The good news for me was that it didn’t take long to feel better. Within a week of eating a more plant-based diet I had more energy, and within 2-3 weeks I felt better mentally and emotionally. These are my results, not necessarily the results everybody will see. I’d love to hear your results if you do eat a plant-based diet or if you ever choose to try it out!

Minimal Weekly Menu

We’re reaching the end of our summer schedule, and I’m slowly beginning to prep for the fall semester.  Between random barbecues, picnics, and visiting friends, we’ve had a very spontaneous schedule that makes pre-planning and eating healthy a little complicated, so I’m looking forward to getting back into a more regular routine. Thankfully it has helped to have a very minimal menu that we use every week that helps keep things simple no matter the time of year. I love cooking and baking, so the most difficult part of dinner for me always seems to be deciding what to make. If I don’t have a menu, I tend to wander around the kitchen sifting through cookbooks as the time ticks closer to dinner with food yet to be made.

Because young children inevitably make meal time a little chaotic (at least at our house), I like to try to do anything I can in my power to make our evening meal time more peaceful.  One thing that helps keep things calm is to create a meal plan each week.  I always come back to this same basic week of meals after trying other things and wonder why I ever strayed.  I find the repetition simplistic and freeing, and it really works for us.  Obviously, there are some nights that I choose an alternative meal, and soup and bread night could mean any kind of soup or bread, but for the most part this is the schedule of what we eat every night of the week.  It also keeps our meals healthy because we avoid impulsively purchasing processed food.

Sunday: Soup & Bread

Whether it’s tomato, potato, lentil, stew, or wild rice soup, this is an easy meal for Sunday evening when we need a gentle end to the weekend.  The bread may be baguette, biscuits, or cornbread, but it’s always buttered and toasted.  Most of our Sunday evenings lately have ended with tomato soup, a baguette, and roasted carrots.

Monday: Potatoes & Onions

Cubed potatoes and chopped onions baked in the oven with at least one other chopped veggie covered in olive oil, salt and pepper is the base for our Monday evening dinners.  We sometimes add a meat or bread, but even if we don’t, it’s still a delicious mixture of vegetables.

Tuesday: Chicken & Rice

So many things can be done with a large pot of rice.  As long as I know Tuesdays are rice day, I can choose chicken and pre-mixed frozen stir fry vegetables, or I will sauté onions, garlic, and any loose vegetables floating around in the veggie basket or refrigerator, and pile it all together on top of the rice.

Wednesday: Tacos/ Burritos/Enchiladas/Quesadillas

Depending on if I want to cook meat or not, and which kind of meat I want to cook, makes the decision on Wednesdays.  Homemade tortillas can make simple ingredients like beans and bell peppers more filling, and they are much more delicious, in my opinion.  I normally make tacos and burritos with homemade tortillas and enchiladas and quesadillas with store bought tortillas.  My current favorite variation on burritos that I have been making lately is a mixture of black beans, bell peppers, onions, and jalapeño peppers sautéed and wrapped with cheddar cheese in a tortilla.  Warmed in the oven until the cheese is melted, these are delicious for dinner and as leftovers for Thursday’s lunch.

Thursday: Out

Thursday nights are spent with our community group where we simply contribute a side or a dessert.  Simple and breezy, this is practically a day off.

Friday: Homemade Pizza

This meal varies, but it almost always includes spaghetti sauce.  Sometimes on homemade pizza crust, sometimes on spaghetti noodles or spaghetti squash, or sometimes simply on the side for dipping homemade garlic bread.  The homemade crust and garlic breads I make are yeast-free because of a yeast intolerance that has forced me to learn a lot of bread alternatives.  We still do a lot of other yeast breads throughout the week for everyone else in the family.

Saturday: Waffles

This is probably the most often substituted meal of the week.  I love waffles, but I don’t always like them for dinner; I normally lean towards less sugary meals at the end of the day.  However, I enjoy making waffles from scratch, and that takes a more time than I normally have at breakfast time.  Quite the quandary.  So, while we do occasionally enjoy them for breakfast, we often end our Saturdays with a giant stack of waffles.

This is our most basic list of meals we’ve been rotating each week, and I love that it is so healthy and simple to keep up.  Currently the smell of onions and potatoes are filling my kitchen, and it’s only 4pm, so I think I can say it’s a successful menu for now.

Chocolate Cake: Half Recipe

 

The girls and I were craving something sweet yesterday afternoon, so we decided to splurge on a chocolate cake.  I thought I would try to cut the ingredient amounts in half so we could just enjoy a small amount of afternoon cake.  I measured out the ingredients, then walked my 5 and 7 year old through the mixing process, and they were able to whip it together with very little help from me.  It turned out magnificent, and I decided half recipes are my new favorite way to make treats.  It’s similar to the single serving cakes and cookies in a mug except for a 6 person family.  We ate it around 3pm without icing and with mugs of cold milk and then in the evening again with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries.  Absolute perfection.

This chocolate cake recipe is from an old cookbook I use all the time, and a few weeks ago I opened it up to discover I had dropped batter on the cake recipe page.  I tried to gently pull apart the pages that were glued together with batter, but tiny bits of the recipe were lost as the pages tore apart.  After searching online and offline for a copy of the same recipe, I finally gave up and used a different recipe that ended up tasting dry and salty.  This time, I went back to my favorite cookbook again, and after closely examining the pages, I was able to decipher the missing measurements by reading them backwards in faded numbers on the opposite page from the recipe.  You do what you gotta do.  I rewrote it so I would always have my trusty chocolate cake recipe.  I’m leaving the full recipe here, but if you try cutting it in half let me know!


Chocolate Cake (Full Recipe)

Mix:

2 1/4 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix separately:

2/3 cup butter

1 3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

Add:
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate* to butter/sugar/egg mixture
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
Add:

Dry ingredients and 1 1/4 cup water to butter/sugar/egg/chocolate mixture

(Grease cake pan with butter or shortening)
Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes

(*For unsweetened chocolate, I use cocoa powder mixed with vegetable oil. 3 Tablespoons cocoa powder+1 Tablespoon vegetable oil=1 ounce unsweetened chocolate)