Wednesday, February 29, 2012

5 Ways to Maintain a Healthy Weight While Eating Lots of Food and Enjoying Life

Notice how I said "healthy" weight. I did not use the word "thin". You can be healthy as a thin person or as an average person or as a larger person. If you are active and eating healthy then most likely your weight will settle to a healthy weight which can look different for different people. One thing is for sure-we need to let go of the idea that we should compare ourselves to the pictures we see in the media. Those are models and they are actually usually very unhealthy!

Your body needs to eat, every day and all day long. Not only that but life is meant to be enjoyed. That is hard to do when you are addicted to food and constantly dealing with cravings or shame when you have eaten too much of the bad stuff. Scientific research has shown us that foods filled with salt, fat, and sugar actually affect our brains in the same way that drugs do, creating a vicious cycle of craving and tolerance to the foods we are addicted to so that we need more and more to get that pleasurable feeling.

Is there a way that we can learn to eat food and not obsess about it every minute? Can we live without cravings, shame, and guilt over the fact that we eat food we know isn't good for us?

Yes! Here are a few simple rules for eating a plant-based diet that will keep you full and minimize food cravings:

1) Eat lots of high-fiber, high nutrient, and high-water content foods. Foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts and seeds will keep you feeling full quicker and longer because they fill you up. Also, they will supply the nutrients your body needs.

2) If you crave sugar, front-load your day with naturally sweet food like fruit or oatmeal with fresh or dried fruit (dates are great in oatmeal and muesli!). Additionally, have fruit as a snack when you crave sweets.

3) Follow Dr. Fuhrman's advice and eat salad first, then veggies, then starches! This might look like: salad, then soup, then brown rice tofu bowl. You are guaranteed to be full...of the good stuff.

4) Drink lots of water (or tea or coffee). Eliminate juice, soda, etc. which is just extra calories that your body will store as fat. Fruit juice without the fiber can cause a spike in blood sugar. It is better to eat the fruit and get the fiber with the juice. And soda...well that is just bad. Diet soda- don't even get me started! That stuff should be illegal. Chemical cocktail, anyone? The more you eliminate sugary things (besides fruit) from your diet, the less you will crave over time.

5) Eat every 2-3 hours. Wake, Meal, Snack, Meal, Snack, Meal, Snack, Bed. Do not restrict yourself as you set yourself up to binge on unhealthy foods. This requires planning: chopping fruits and veggies, making a batch of soup on a Sunday, etc. It's not easy but it's worth it!

Here is a sample day based on the 5 principles:

Eat breakfast (1 cup oatmeal with banana, walnuts, blueberries* and flax meal or chia seeds. 1/2 cup almond milk on oatmeal)
Snack: apple* and 2 TBS sunflower or peanut butter
Lunch: Giant "taco" salad with salsa, lettuce, tomatoes, olives, and bowl of lentil soup
snack: chopped veggies (broccoli, carrots, celery) with 2 TBS hummus
Dinner: Salad, pasta marinara, and sauteed kale.
Snack: soy yogurt with 1/4 cup granola**

*don't forget that blueberries and apples are part of the "dirty dozen" of fruits and vegetables you should always buy organic due to pesticides. See here.
**vegan granola, of course! I use agave syrup and Earth Balance to make mine or buy at the store.

Yeesh that's a lot of food. Good nutritious food! It makes me hungry just looking at it. That reminds me: it's time for my afternoon snack. Banana with sunflower seed butter, here I come!

For more information on eating a healthy plant-based diet please see the list of websites on this blog.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Dinner Last Night-the Wins and the Fails...

image via

I had the urge to cook yesterday. And when that happens, I go with it. I had my recipes all picked out: a Thanksgiving-worthy meatless loaf with mushroom gravy, kale slaw, and split pea soup (I had a craving).

As happens with new recipes, some work and some don't. Well...I had such high hopes for the meatless loaf. It was good but WAY too herby. Like, I would make it again because the overall recipe was good but cut down the herbs by 75% or more. It was just overpowered by an herby taste. I was pretty disappointed because it took a while to make...we still happily ate it, though. And I should add: it is a nutrition powerhouse! Protein for DAYS, and veggies in the loaf...and it is virtually *fat-free!

The split pea soup was amazing and completely satisfied my craving! Considering it is virtually *fat free, it was so flavorful and delicious and the spices were exactly right. (*I sauteed the veggies in veggie broth instead of oil.) See here for some great information on the amazing health benefits of green peas!

The kale slaw was great as always although I need to play around with the dressing a bit- I think it needed a bit more sweetener. I used carrots, regular cabbage, and lacinato kale. Really, you could use any cabbages or kales you have on hand- even broccoli slaw.

The best part is that we now have tons of leftovers for lunches and dinners. I plan to add some beans and other veggies to the kale slaw for lunch today with a bowl of pea soup. I am not sure if it is possible to eat a more healthy or nutritious meal! And believe me: this is good. It satisfies on so many levels.

Overall, my time investment to cook these dishes was about an hour and a half. Not bad, considering that for a smaller family these meals could take you through a couple days easily (my husband is 6'8", and with the 3 kids we tend to go through food fast!) I was able to make all this food while my girls napped and even squeezed in a quick workout.

Cooking food on a Sunday makes for a very happy Monday! Have a great week, everyone (hi, Mom!)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

I *Heart* Annie Chun's Seaweed Snacks!

I am so sick of all the candy, salt, and dessert-laden parties that are going on at my kids school! Just this week he brought home information for the cleverly named, "Chips and Donuts" party they are having (or as I call it, the Heart Disease and Type 2 Diabetes Party). I was randomly assigned to bring juice boxes. Of course, I will be buying organic apple juice but does it really matter when I will be competing with the likes of capri sun, gatorade, and other artificially sweetened, chemically-laden products?! Not to mention the rest of the signup list included the likes of cheetohs, donuts, potato chips, etc.

Ugh. Just last week was that darned Valentine's Day party where he came home with a bag of candy! Don't people give Valentine's anymore? We want to give each other tasty food, it's part of our culture to enjoy food with friends. I get that! But the food we traditionally eat is killing us. Currently, your chances of getting cancer in this country is you eat the typical Standard American Diet (SAD) are 1 out of 2!!

We don't have to stop enjoying food together. There are a million healthy foods we could share at a party. For example: fruit salad, hummus and veggie sticks, veggie pizza, whole grain blueberry muffins...

So, what is a parent to do? I for one am not giving in. I am determined to keep all the crap out of my house. If he gets some at school or at a party, fine. But he is here 85% of the time so hopefully what he eats here and the example and teachings I give him at home will be enough. For now I am determined to find and stock up on snacks that are cheap, quick, and nutritious (not necessarily in that order). Here is what we do as far as snacks for the kids:

  • lots of fruit, bowls of it! Apples, pears, bananas at eye level on the kitchen table...
  • dried fruit: raisins, prunes, cranberries, banana chips, dates..
  • seaweed snacks! Annie Chun's are on sale at my local grocery for .99/package. My 10 year old LOVES these with a passion. And they couldn't be more healthier! I happily give him these whenever he asks. Seaweeds are one of the most beneficial vegetables on the planet! These are actually really yummy and satisfy that crunchy, salty, fat craving of chips.
  • organic wheat crackers or pretzels (try to use sparingly)
  • granola bars (check ingredient list. I like Barbara's fruit bars and Zkids by Cliff)
So, back to my dilemma regarding the Heart Disease and Type 2 Diabetes party...I think I am going to go ahead and bring the juice boxes I planned and a little something extra: a few packages of Annie Chun's Seaweed Snacks! I would bet anything that all the kids will love them as much as my picky 10 year old. In fact, I am going to use reverse psychology to make sure they do. Here is my plan: I will bring a few packages of the seaweed. Not enough for everyone. With chips and donuts being ubiquitous, the seaweed will be a novelty...and hopefully the center of attention. Peer pressure can be a good thing: watch!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What to Eat For Dinner...

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So, we just got back from Vegas!! last night. I can't say that I followed an entirely plant-strong diet-we did eat sushi and I definitely enjoyed some cheese (grilled cheese sammiches) as well as fried food. But, I did order a giant bowl of vegetarian noodle soup filled with fresh broccoli, bok choy, carrots, and a ton of mushrooms. Also, there was a tofu and veggie dish with rice, mushroom pizza, and veggie burger in there. I am craving mushrooms lately...hmmm..what is that about?! All in all, I tried to eat healthy when I could but wanted to enjoy myself so I relaxed and decided to eat what I felt like. I kind of went lacto-veg-o.

Oddly, I don't think I had one sugary thing the whole weekend (besides the cranberry juice in my cranberry-vodka cocktails). I even avoided chocolate! I attribute that to the fact that my cravings overall for sugary foods have gone way down over the past few months. And boy, there was lots of beautiful desserts! I enjoyed them with my eyes and that was enough.

Needless to say, I haven't gone grocery shopping yet so I am going to make something using what we already have on favorite asian noodle stir fry using Annie Chun's chinese noodles, extra firm tofu, kale, edamame, and mushrooms. I will also make a quick asian-style dressing for a chopped salad using some rice wine vinegar, agave syrup, soy sauce, and a touch of veganaise. Yum! One of the reasons I like the asian stir fry recipe so much is it's versatility. You can pretty much use any kind of noodle (of course, whole wheat or buckwheat would be a healthier option), any kinds of veggies (even a bag of frozen stir fry blend), and any asian sauce you have on hand.

Another option that I can't wait to try because of the easy quotient is the Healthy Librarian's "Crazy Good" lasagne. The ingredient list and prep are minimal and the recipe is a nutrition powerhouse! I will definitely be making this sometime this week- hoping I can find some Upton's Naturals Seitan Chorizo!

When changing your lifestyle (and eating style) I think it is helpful to remember that it is a takes time to build up a list of go-to recipes, time to try new recipes, and a willingness to try new things. You won't like everything you make. I made the most hideous dinner two weeks ago that I am still scarred. However, I have discovered so many wonderful new recipes and foods that my family loves. I love watching my kids eat food that gives their growing bodies what they need. Lunch today for the girls was sauteed mushrooms, edamame, tofu, and spinach with some leftover whole wheat elbow pasta. I used some leftover Portabello mushroom soup to sautee it all in. It was amazing! And done in 5 minutes. It sure beats that heck out of Kraft mac and cheese, nutritionally. Hungry kids will eat healthy (and tasty) food. Try it! And keep trying it...and get them involved with the shopping, selecting of food, prep of food...if they own part of the process they are more likely to eat it!

OK, this post went way off on a tangent. Sorry! Well, I have to go workout now- it's been way too long. Gotta burn off some of those onion rings!! (Yes, I ordered room service onion rings 2 nights in a row, so there.) If I had to do it again I wouldn't. I just read this article on the affects of high fat foods on your brain. Yikes! I mean, I like onion rings but not enough to give myself brain damage!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Our Menu for the Week, Including Recipes and Grocery List!

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Happy (Almost) Valentine's Day! I had to make a meal plan for the week because I will be so busy with my best friend's wedding (a real wedding, not the movie!), and rehearsal dinner, and then Vegas for the weekend! Fun times! But with a babysitter from Friday through Monday I needed to make sure we had enough food, meals, and healthy snacks on hand for everyone. I decided to post my meal plan and grocery list just in case anyone needed some inspiration.

At Sprouts market today I had to ask a stockboy to get more organic kale. He brought it out and mentioned wanting to try it. I told him to make kale chips! He was very excited to try them. I was so excited, I then told a woman buying kale about them as well after she asked me, "Is this kale?" Spread the kale love!

Meal Plan
Monday: "Beef" Stroganoff on Whole Wheat Linguini; Coconut, chickpea and kale soup; salad
Tuesday: Sweet Potato Pancakes, Hawaiian Fried Rice with Avocado Eggrolls a la Cheesecake Factory, garlic sauteed kale.
Wednesday: Enchiladas, salad. Coconut, chickpea and kale soup
Thursday: Bean and Rice Burritos, salad.
Friday: Stuffed Shells, salad.
Sunday: Leftovers!

Whole wheat crackers with peanut butter
fruit, nuts
homemade trail mix

Valentine's Day Sweet Potato Pancakes with Blueberry Syrup

** I sub non-vegan ingredients on recipes. For example, I use Ener-G egg replacer instead of eggs.
Grocery List:


onions (6-7)
garlic, 1 bulb
Ginger Root
mushrooms (5 10 oz. containers, sliced)
kale (3-4 bunches)
yams/sweet potatoes (6 large)
green peppers (4)
celery, 1 bunch
apples (10ish)
oranges (10ish)
pears (6)
bananas (1-2 bunches)
avocados (5)
spring onions
red onion, 1
cilantro 1 bunch
sprouts, broccoli
lettuce (anything but iceberg)
broccoli (2 large heads)
broccoli slaw for egg rolls

blueberries/raspberries (for oatmeal or waffles)
Boca Burgers, vegan
whole wheat waffles

oatmeal (LARGE BAG of whole oats or steel cut.)
yellow split peas (3-4 cups)
dates, chopped
whole wheat spaghetti, linguini, and shells

garbanzo beans/chickpeas (3)
black (2)
light coconut milk
sun dried tomatoes
vegan french onion soup or mushroom soup
granola bars (whole wheat, organic)

whole wheat bread
whole wheat tortillas
whole wheat bagels

almond milk (for oatmeal, cereal, and drinking) (2-3)
toffuti (For bagels and cream cheese)
Vegan shred cheese, 1 cheddar and 1 mozzerella (for vegan quesadillas and burritos, enchiladas and flatbread topping. I like Daiya)
Extra Firm Tofu, 1

Total Cost: around $165
Feeds (Very generously): Me, Chris, Brandon (10), Kendall (2 1/2), and Kaylee (15 months) for 1 week

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What We Eat In A Week!

photo via from the book Hungry Planet

*No, the above picture is not us! Thank goodness! However the right side of the picture looks good. But just look at the left side! That was us (more or less) not too long ago...before last September.*

The most frequently asked question from people when talking about how I changed my (our) eating habits is, what do you eat? Usually people want to eat healthier but are intimidated by the amount of time they think it will take them to develop new recipes and new eating habits. I know that when I first changed my eating habits it was very helpful to visit vegan and plant-strong blogs where the people would post recipes and even pictures of what they eat on a day to day basis. While I don't have pictures of my own, I have included links to recipes that sometimes do have a picture.

Most days we eat oatmeal for breakfast. Like, 6 out of 7 days! But in the interest of variety I have included some of our non-oatmeal breakfasts. (We just love it so much!) Snacks for myself and the kids include fruit, nuts, seeds (Brandon LOVES sunflower seeds which are a nutrition powerhouse in so many ways!), and granola bars.

Vitamins and Supplements
We take the same supplements every day. Eating a near-vegan diet I want to make sure we get our B12, D, and cover all our bases with a good multi. Additionally, in times of illness or stress we take vitamin C.

Daily Menus
Upon Waking: Drink 2 large glasses of water. Take B complex supplement.
Breakfast: About 1 hour later...large bowl of oatmeal. See below for my oatmeal recipe! Take multivitamin.
Snack: apple or pear
Lunch: veggie sandwich (whole wheat bread with no-oil hummus, avocado, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, sprouts, and cucumber slices.)
Snack: Fruit or nuts
Dinner: Bean and brown rice burritos with avocado, salsa, vegan cheese and sour cream. Salad with no calorie ranch dressing. Take D supplement.
Snack: 1/2 cup homemade granola (I sub the butter for Earth Balance margarine and agave syrup instead of honey)

Day 2: (Same snacks, same supplements. The kids take a 2 a day multi and vitamin C each day.)
Lunch: refried bean, brown rice and salsa quesadillas with vegan cheese, carrots and broccoli with hummus dip
Dessert: Vegan ice cream...Coconut Bliss Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough (Hey, you gotta live sometimes! This is SOOO good!)

Day 3:
Breakfast: Avocado toast (toast with smashed avo and a sprinkle of salt), fruit.
Lunch: Leftover asian noodle stir-fry!
Dinner: Whole Wheat Spaghetti Marinara with (or without) vegan meatless balls, whole wheat flatbread with marinara sauce, spinach, and a sprinkle of vegan mozzerella. Salad.

Day 4:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with homemade granola on top.
Lunch: Leftover spaghetti, flatbreads, and veggies with hummus dip.
Dinner: Triple Bean Indian Spiced Chili over brown rice with crumbled organic corn chips, vegan cheese and sour cream to taste.

Day 5:
Breakfast: Whole Wheat Waffles with blueberries on top.
Lunch: Leftover Chili! Fruit.
Dinner: Veggie Enchiladas (Zuchini, mushrooms, green peppers, brown rice, beans, topped with red sauce and vegan cheese), salad.

Oatmeal Recipe
Aly's Favorite Oatmeal

2 cups oatmeal
3 cups water
1 cup vanilla or unsweetened almond milk (use any non-dairy milk)
2 TBS chia seeds
1/3 cup chopped dates (I buy them already chopped)

dried cranberries, raisins, etc.
walnuts, sunflower seeds, etc.

Combine first 5 ingredients in saucepan over high heat. When oats start to boil, whisk with a fork and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

I always eat mine with dried cranberries and walnuts, and sometimes sunflower seeds if I have them. I look forward to my breakfast every day!

Full Disclosure

This menu is an example of what we eat...not reality! In reality, my husband may go out to lunch with coworkers and order a burger and fries (GAH!). In reality, I may give pretzels as a snack instead of a healthier option. In reality, we actually had take out mexican (veggie burrito for me, quesadilla with guac for the kids, and carne asada for Chris- double GAH!) because the dinner I was cooking tasted so bad it was unreal. Stuff happens. But I figure if we aspire to eat healthier, hopefully we will eat healthier! So, this is our aspiration menu. :)

What healthy meals do you make on a regular basis? Please share! I am always looking for new ideas.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

4 Easy Steps Towards Healthier Living (Phase 1)

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Most people want to eat healthier. Almost everyone has a few (or more) pounds to lose. Who couldn't use more energy in a day? The bottom line is that knowing you need to change how you eat doesn't always lead into knowing how to make the change. With that in mind, I put together a few things I think anyone can do to be healthier, lose weight, have more energy, and feel better all around.

1) Get a good multivitamin and TAKE IT DAILY. Give on to your kids as well.
2) Eat oatmeal for breakfast. Every day. Put any combination of fruits/nuts/seeds, and non-dairy milk on it you want. Just do oatmeal. Every day. If you don't like it, try it with dates, walnuts and almond milk.
3) Only snack on fresh fruit or vegetables. Have at least 2-3 snacks per day. Even if you don't *think* you are hungry, carry an apple or banana with you and eat it between meals.
4) Eat a salad or platter of raw vegetables every day, either before lunch or before dinner (or both!).

There it is. If you only change these 4 things in your life you will have added so many nutrients (fruit and veggies), fiber (fruit, veggies, and oatmeal), and essential vitamins (multi) that you will be amazed at how good you feel. You will most likely lose weight without having added any extra hours of exercise and without trying to cut calories. In fact, you have probably added food to your daily regime! The trick is that the food I asked you to add is high nutrient density and low calorie. These changes are simple, affordable, and will yield results that will hopefully leave you wanting to make more small changes.

Is this the full list of changes I would recommend someone making if they are transitioning from the SAD (Standard American Diet) to a plant-based diet? No! But it really is about baby steps when you are attempting a complete lifestyle overhaul. The key is that these are 4 very easy (and cheap!) steps that anyone can make in one day. Anyone can go to the store and get a multivitamin and stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables and some oats. I didn't ask you to change anything else about your diet or lifestyle!

Next time I will have more steps and include a week of meal plans and a grocery list. Let me know how these steps work for you!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Will Children Starve Themselves Instead of Eating Healthy Food?

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A friend recently asked me what do you do if your kids just won't eat the healthy food. I thought about this for a while. I thought about how it has taken time for my tastes to change and truly appreciate and desire a nutrient-rich plant-based diet instead of the highly processed nutritionally bankrupt food I used to eat. If it took time for my tastes to change then most likely it will take time for kids as well (duh, right?). If they used to eat the "standard" SAD diet for kids of chicken nuggets, fruit snacks (how they can even call these fruit is beyond me), fishy crackers, etc. then giving them healthy, nutrient dense food is a big change. An apple cannot compare to the gratification a person's brain gets from salt, fat, and sugar (fruit snacks!! Potato chips!! Granola bars!!) Processed foods usually contain lots of these "anti-nutrients" and they become highly rewarding to the brain when you eat them. For more information on this phenomenon read The End of Overeating by David Kessler.

The solution I came up with? Complete and total elimination of these unhealthy foods. After all, they are not contributing any meaningful nutrition just empty calories and harmful (salt, fat, and sugar) "anti-nutrients." If you quit cold-turkey and don't even have them as an option for your kids then eventually their tastes will change. BUT. If you offer healthy food and also "bad" food then guess which one your kid will pick (which one would you pick if you had no idea of the nutrition content?) You have to get those "foods" out of the house altogether and have them not even be an option.

But what if my kid doesn't eat the healthy food at all? I highly doubt the ability of anyone (especially a small child) to starve themself if there is ample food around. Have lots of fruits, veggies, healthy dips, nuts, seeds, whole wheat breads and tortillas, veggie pizzas, PB&J, applesauce, pearsauce, smoothies, brown rice, burritos, "quesadillas" (vegan cheese and beans on whole wheat tortillas), avocado toast, etc. to offer them and they will begin to eat it. If they see you eating it and that is all that is there then they will eat it.

Furthermore, they did studies on mice and they found that if they offered a low-calorie, highly nutrient dense diet that the mice actually lived longer then mice eating the same nutrient density but more calorie heavy diet. Basically, the only difference was the number of calories the mice ate each day. Guess which group of mice lived longer? The mice eating less calories! So, by my estimate, if your child is eating less calories but those calories are more nutritious (one stalk of broccoli instead of a plate of white refined pasta covered with butter and cheese) then they are actually better off! This is assuming all the nutrient and mineral needs are covered either through the diet or with a good multivitamin. If they eat half an orange instead of a cup of fruit loops they are way better off!

Your child might not eat as much whole wheat pizza as they used to eat of the refined, high fat kind....GOOD! That is the point! And if they are getting a healthy tomato sauce, whole wheat in the dough, and some fresh veggies on top then they are actually coming out way ahead of the kid that eats the pizza with refined dough, high fat sauce, and cheese. One child is consuming way more calories with far less nutrients. The other is getting less calories overall but those calories count big-time! Which child should have a healthier and longer life, according to the mouse study?

I think it is Chef AJ that coined one of my favorite new phrases, "If you aren't hungry enough to eat an apple then you aren't hungry!" The kids will eat. It is true that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink, but if that horse is thirsty and all he has to drink is water then you can bet he will! However, if you offer the horse apple juice or water which one do you think he will drink? And who would ever give apple juice to a horse! How unhealthy! ;0P

Please let me know your thoughts on how to best get kids to eat a healthy diet. I am always looking for tips.

By the way, doesn't that bento box look delicious? Do you really think your child wouldn't eat something in there? What a delight for all the senses!