Weekly Meal Plan 5/25-5/31

I am alive. THAT was a long week. So, yeah, remember how last week I posted that I’d be late with the meal plan because my husband was away and my daughter was throwing up? Yeah, when’s the last time THAT was a one day problem. It’s been a long and tiring week although everyone was home and well in time for the weekend and this weekend has been really swell. Lots of time spent with friends and lots of almost summer weather. Lots of time in the garden and things are really looking pretty good. I’m liking the straw as mulch I’ve tried this year, and I’m just glad with all the events planned for May and June that I’ve found a little time to weed and water.

This week will, I do hope, be more pleasant than last, but it’s still pretty full. We’re enjoying the last few hours away from our usual responsibilities here today and then we have 3 short days until the next celebration, when my nephew graduates from high school (not Bigg Sis’ son – I have many nephews). Then there’s a pool party with friends and time to see BIGG SISSSSSSS! Yay! I keep having to remind myself to care about these last few weeks of school for the kids. “Finish strong.”  Yeah, how about we just finish, K? With all the parties and chaos it seems particularly important to me to plan some healthful meals so we can be sure we don’t only survive on party food (wait, is that bad?). So… the week.

Monday: Vegan French Toast with Garden Strawberries (yeah, okay, not the most healthful, but a great way to welcome the strawberries that I picked this morning), Spinach and Strawberry Salad

Tuesday: Chickpea and Cashew Tikka Masala, green salad

Wednesday: Lentil Bulgur Burgers, Power Tabbouleh, cut veggies and pickles

Thursday: Company Good Pea Soup (we’ve got garden peas y’all), crusty wheat bread and green salad

Friday: Graduation Party

Saturday: Pool Party at Friends’ House

Sunday: homemade pasta, green salad

Lunchbox Treats: Healthy Pumpkin Cookies

Adult Lunches: Salad City, some greens ready in the garden too!

 
I hope your week is full of celebrations, even if they are small ones and that your early summer is proving fruitful.

More On Sleep and Awareness

Well-BeingEven though it’s Monday, I won’t be posting a meal plan today. Not because I don’t want to, but because I am totally impaired. It is not possible for me to write a meal plan today. Those of you who’ve been playing along may know that I have some determination to get more sleep this year.These last two days have been a major fail on that score as I have a sick little one (why does vomit only happen in the middle of the night?) and I’ve gotten very little sleep… hence the impairment and lack of meal plan. I’m shooting for tomorrow on that.

As for the larger sleep  goal, while I can’t say definitively that I have gotten more sleep all the time, I do think an important trend has emerged. I have become significantly more aware of the negative impact of not getting enough sleep and I have become quicker to recognize when I’m not getting enough sleep. I’ve made some observations lately that have been critical to the development of my sleep practice.

First of all, I now have a FitBit. Now, I know I know we’ve said you don’t need to spend money to get more fit and you don’t. HOWEVER, I’ve really been struggling with acknowledging my fluctuating reality in getting exercise and feeling good. I needed a reality device. I needed the equivalent of the pedometer I got after I gave birth to twins. The cool thing about the FitBit is that it also tracks how long I sleep. This dumb (and slightly creepy tracking me) little device has made the connection between the amount of sleep I get and my mood the next day crystal clear. I’ve only had it for a little while, but in that little while Mr. Little Sis has been away on business. A good time to make a change in my own behavior. Earlier to bed it was and guess what? When I get more sleep, I like my kids a WHOLE LOT MORE. I am more patient. I find humor in situations that would otherwise aggravate me. I’m more willing to be in the moment and enjoy them, to play with them rather than just do what’s required to get through the day. And know what else? Even with all that zen lahddie-dahddie fun with my kids, I still got a ton of stuff done in the yard and the garden AND made decent progress on the cabinet project.  It seems so silly, so simple. It couldn’t possibly be as simple as that, right? It couldn’t just be that we need more sleep… or could it?

For a little reinforcement of that learning, while Mr. Little Sis has been away the kids got sick (which almost always happens and I don’t really want to think about how that can be true). We’ve had some nights with very little sleep. And know what? (I realize I sound like a 5 year with all the “know whats”; I don’t really care.) Adults are no different than children. We all have a harder time holding it together when we don’t get enough sleep. My two, who really are generally well behaved and affable seem to have a limit of two fundamental problems. Lack of adequate sleep is one seriously fundamental problem. What that means is that one other thing being wrong on a sort of basic level means game over. I’m hungry and you’re not giving me food right now, tears. I feel yucky and you’re not making it go away, tears. I can’t find the Lego piece that you just stepped on and nearly broke your foot, tears.

Yes, kids can be like this, but in particular TIRED kids are like this at my house. Two things help: 1) more sleep and 2) acknowledging out loud to them that they are tired and you understand it’s hard to deal with things when you’re tired. Tears stop, sometimes there’s even an apology. Then we fix the secondary problem because without a fever there is no napping at our house anymore. Here’s a banana. Everything’s okay. Really.

Well-BeingAll of this gives me significant pause. It seems, from this long and rambling series of observations about sleep while I’m completely exhausted. Perhaps it is not just my children that can only have 1 fundamental problem at a time. Given inadequate sleep any other problem of any significance becomes too much to handle. All problems added on to too little sleep also become much larger than they are in reality – I’m hungry for a snack becomes tears. I can’t find my Lego becomes tears. My boss didn’t love my presentation… My car broke down… The dog ate 2 pounds of chocolate chips (yes, this is a real example and also occurred while Mr. Little Sis was out of town and required me to make the dog vomit, we’re a regular vomitorium)… tears or an adult over-reacty equivalent. What would happen if we all just got more sleep? Would we be more productive? Would we be more tolerant of each other? Would we remember to enjoy the good things? Hmmmm. I’m going to make sure to get more sleep tonight (assuming the vomit part is over, which with twins is a big assumption) and see about all of that. Anybody want to join me? I mean in your bed, of course. My sick child and misbehaving dog will be in mine.

Sleep well, be well friends.

Very Roasted, No Stank Broccoli

Wow – what an invitation, huh? What is stank anyway?  You know, it’s just a variation of stink.  Reach back into your Christmas time trivia and recall the Grinch song:

“The three words that best describe you
are as follows
And I quote
Stink, Stank, Stunk”

Of course Mr. Grinch has garlic in his soul which is in his favor… but really – broccoli…. cabbage, kale, cauliflower and all of the incredibly healthful cruciferous vegetables do carry a bit of a stank with them.  I noticed it very strongly when pregnant with my son who despises broccoli, and have never fully appreciated it since.  I still eat it, it’s available and a gift of nutritious abundance – so I make my son eat it as well.  For awhile he offset that stank by putting ketchup on it (bleah!).  Now he reports that he prefers it steamed rather than cooked in the microwave… but he still doesn’t like it.

So when Snack Girl posted a recipe for broccoli that had her 6 year old begging for more I HAD to give it a try.  For my son’s sake.
Okay, for mine!  I’ve missed enjoying broccoli and if it works for him (always a dubious prospect when it comes to broccoli, asparagus or brussels sprouts) then so much the better.

downloadWhat is so different about this broccoli?  You throw it into the nearest volcanic vent, into the fires of hell…. or if you don’t have access, you roast it at 500 degrees.  That’s right 500 degrees.  I confess this was a new setting for me.  This setting could reveal dirt on the dial for those that have ovens with dials on them.  My little digital window said “Are you sure?” as I approached that lofty number.  And I said – “Of course I’m sure!  Why didn’t I realize earlier that you could heat blast the stank out of broccoli?”  Can’t wait to try it on brussels sprouts!

The other trick is to put a little sugar on it.  “AHA!” you say smugly. It’s the sugar, not the heat.  Well, it’s only a teaspoon of sugar for 2 pounds of broccoli, so I’m thinking that is not really the stank-remover.  It was indeed the fiery furnace.

We have shared Snack Girl offerings in the past and I recommend her as a source of common sense recipes and changes for folks that are not as interested in losing animal products from their diet.  I did not adapt her recipe much other than I cut the broccoli smaller (in hopes that would help number only son to try it with an open mind), and I used brown sugar instead of table sugar and avocado oil instead of olive.  I recommend that you use a high heat oil….. because this is really high heat!  And maybe your oven gets a little cleaner while these bad green boys lose their stank :-)

Snack Girl’s Roasted Broccoli
(makes 4 servings)

2 pounds broccoli crowns
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (I used avocado)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar (I used brown sugar – packed)
ground black pepper (optional – I opted out)

Preheat oven to 500F.  Place sheet on the lowest rack of the oven while oven heats up.

Cut crowns into 4 wedges LENGTHWISE (I cut smaller pieces – see above). Place broccoli in bowl and add oil, salt, sugar, and pepper to taste (optional). Toss to combine. When oven is heated, place broccoli on baking sheet and roast for 11 minutes (until slightly browned). Serve and enjoy!

20150427_184136This was very yummy.  My son was not enamored of this, but he did not make a face and he had to admit a little of the stank was gone.  I think he’ll come around, but I was sold.  I will do this again and again, and as I said before – I can’t wait to try it on Brussels sprouts.  As long as Brussel doesn’t mind ;-)

A Big Winner!

unnamedThe long wait is over. After a week of entries, we have pulled a name from the hat (okay, it was a large measuring cup because yes, we’re that high tech around here) and Rita is the winner of our friend Annie Oliverio’s new cookbook. In case you miss the first description of this fantastic book, I’ll give you a short version Annie is a super creative and accomplished plant based cook. She has assembled a cookbook based on the kind of craving you might be having. Each craving includes a variety of healthful plant based answers to that craving call. She is really super talented. Bigg Sis and I have both been using recipes of hers for a few years and have yet to be anything but Wowed. So, Rita is the lucky winner, but you can get your own copy of Crave, Eat, Heal: Plant-based, Whole-food Recipes to Satisfy Every Appetite on Amazon. Check out Annie’s blog here. Rita, if you are a Facebook user, please go our page and use the message function to let us know where to send your book. If you’re not a Facebooker, let us know in the comments and we’ll devise another communication scheme. Congratulations to Rita for winning and to Annie for putting together such a wonderful book!

Popcorn Pasta – A Strangely Named Last Minute Dinner

Popcorn Pasta?! WTH is she talking about?! This could take many unappealing forms – using popcorn AS pasta and putting sauce on it – which would, of course, melt the yummy part of the popcorn and leave you with a strangely starched and very hull-y red sauce. Yeah, that’s not it. One could also, in theory, put popcorn on your pasta as a topping I suppose, but similar difficulties would ensue unless of course you were using raw pasta in which case I would tell you that nobody who is sober should really chew on raw dried pasta. So what on earth is popcorn pasta, my kids’ new favorite?

Popcorn pasta is named thusly only because I season it the SAME way I season popcorn. So you’re about to get a key not only to super easy and yummy pasta but to fantastic popcorn (you know the kind you make in a pot and then put stuff on). Popcorn pasta has 4 ingredients. Yep, I said 4. It is done in approximately 30 seconds longer than it takes to cook your favorite dried pasta, and, in case I haven’t said it, is super yummy. Four ingredients: dried whole wheat pasta (yes, please whole wheat and here’s why OR if you’re a white pasta devotee, still read that bit about why and try a blended pasta to get used to the idea of wheat pasta), olive oil, salt, and nutritional yeast.

We were fine there for a minute, weren’t we, and then I said nutritional yeast. There are many of you (our vegan pals) who already know about nutritional yeast and likely call it something like “nooch” so you don’t have to use this totally unappealing moniker, but the uninitiated will not find “nooch” in the store, so we have to pull back the curtain. What the heck is nutritional yeast?! Unfortunately this is not a terrible quick, or appealing sounding answer. I can tell you that it is NOT the same as baking yeast and substitutions will create messy and unpleasant results. It is also NOT Brewer’s yeast, which will not be as messy, but will taste like poo. Nutritional yeast comes in flake and powder form and is often used in dishes that might otherwise include some cheese – ya know, like pasta. Why on earth must they call it nutritional yeast? Well, clearly whoever named it did not study marketing, but here’s the skinny on “nooch” from one of my favorite bloggers (FatFreeVeganKitchen)…

“As you can guess from its name, nutritional yeast is packed with nutrition, particularly B-vitamins, folic acid, selenium, zinc, and protein. It’s low in fat, is gluten-free (check specific brands for certification), and contains no added sugars or preservatives. Because vitamin B12 is absent from plant foods unless it’s added as a supplement, nutritional yeast that contains B12, such as Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula, is a great addition to the vegan diet (though I strongly recommend taking a supplement as the only way to be sure you’re getting enough). Not all nooch has B12, so check the label carefully before buying.

The vitamins and minerals are all well and good, but truthfully, I use nutritional yeast for its flavor, which has been described as cheesy, nutty, savory, and “umami.” Just a tablespoon or two can add richness to soups, gravies, and other dishes, and larger amounts can make “cheese” sauces and eggless scrambles taste cheesy and eggy.”

So there you are – good reasons to use nutritional yeast despite it’s terrible name. Two more good reasons: awesome popcorn and Popcorn Pasta. I am only writing this up in recipe form because I am unable to bear the inconsistency that would result from simply describing the procedure (which would admittedly be adequate), now you know something about me you probably didn’t want to know.

Popcorn Pasta

  • Whole Wheat Pasta cooked according to your preference (we’re an al dente bunch)
  • Olive Oil
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Salt

So here you go, the big finish. Add olive oil to your cooked pasta – enough to make it a little slick, not enough to pool. Add generous shakes of nutritional yeast and a teaspoon of salt (adjust for your taste and pasta amount). Stir together – if you have one of these beauties this part is even easier. Taste. Add ingredients as desired. Serve with veggies. Demolish. Delight. Yes, the procedure for super yummy popcorn is the same, although I use a mister for my olive oil in that situation to avoid the aforementioned popcorn mush problem. Eat well, be well friends, even when that means eating things with terrible names.

Weekly Meal Plan 4/6-4/12

Here it is, the last day of “Spring Break,” which for us was shortened due to an overabundance of snow days. It is in these times that my Mom insecurity moves in for a few days and takes hold. I see all the pictures on Facebook of families who’ve gone somewhere exotic, or even not so exotic but away, for the break. I see other pictures of well-planned Staycations with lots of enriching outings. They’re all smiling so much in these pictures. I’m smiling too, because it’s going to be 73 degrees here today, but these pictures bring out that fear. Am I doing enough? Are they happy? Do my kids have fun? Will they have good memories? Why aren’t we at the beach? (Okay, that last one was a little different, and admittedly more about me, myself, and I.) And then I look at them.

Okay, I mean I get up and look out the window and look at them. They’re riding bikes with their neighbors and having a ball. They’re healthy and happy and we are all okay. Today we have to go say goodbye to a classmate of theirs who succumbed after a long battle with a rare disease. He was in the second grade. We will go pay our respects and probably cry. And hopefully offer some comfort by being part of a very large and loving crowd that will do the same. And then we will have the luxury of leaving and returning to our regular lives which are pretty darned wonderful. At some point in there, we will also eat and be thankful that we are able to find nourishment in our meals and joy with one another. A true thanksgiving, informed by sorrow, in the long awaited Spring.

Monday: Popcorn Pasta (named by the kids and I will share in a couple of days even though it’s so easy it’s hardly worth writing up, wait, you want to hear about those don’t you?)

Tuesday: Rockin’ Falafel, veggies for falafel sandwiches, large lettuce for lettuce wrap style falafel, tahini dressing, cut veggies,

Wednesday: Coconut Curry with Green Beans, Potatoes and Kale, green salad

Thursday: Lentil Minestrone, homemade bread, green salad

Friday: Homemade Pizza, cut veggies

Saturday: Half Raw Stir Fry with Bibimbap Rice

Sunday: Homemade Pasta with Easiest Tomato Sauce Ever AND Pesto, because we have no boundaries, green salad

Lunchbox Treats: Effin’ Easter Candy (there’s not a ton of it, so I’m going to take the quick eradication approach this time)

Adult Lunches: Salads with lovely spring veggies and leftovers

 

There it is. A week of healthful cooking and hopefully grateful eating. Eat well, be well friends.

Peppers Stuffed w/ Healthy Yum

Colored peppers make me smile.  Bright colors, shiny skin, green hat…. then after I kill it ;-)  they are juicy, crisp and flavorful.  Great raw, sauteed, broiled, roasted, just get them in the mouth!  My grocery store sends me coupons and recipes that require the ingredients for which they sent me coupons.  Clever, right?  Of course I don’t eat 50% of what they list as ingredients, but hey – 50% positive match is a start!  In this case the grocery store missive brought a recipe for Orzo stuffed peppers.  Sounds good, now how to adapt for my GF hubby, my picky son, and my preference to be meatless most of the time…..

Enter some old standbys and an inspiration from our good friend Annie at ‘anunrefinedvegan.com‘   She cleverly used pulsed chickpeas to add some texture and protein to spaghetti sauce.  I took that idea and added walnuts, quinoa and spices to make a mixture for pepper stuffing with an aim at a sausage-y kind of flavor.

You could easily change the flavor profile in this by switching out some spices, just give whatever you try a taste before stuffing, make changes and voila you are now the recipe creator :-)

Peppers Stuffed with Yum

1 1/2 c cooked quinoa
3 large bell peppers, topped and seeded to be like cups
1/2 c cooked chickpeas (rinsed if you used canned)
1/2 c walnuts
Oil for saute (I used avocado)
1/2 c chopped onion
1-2 cloves garlic
1 tsp sage
3/4tsp. smoked paprika
Salt to taste
1 Tbsp dried parsley-2 of fresh
Diced tomatoes – I used canned fire roasted

Pre-heat oven to 350
Cook quinoa in vegetable broth
Prepare peppers
Place chickpeas and walnuts in bowl of food processor and pulse until mixture is broken down but not much – leave some texture
Saute onions and garlic in pan large enough to accommodate all ingredients until translucent
Add spices and cook for another minutes or so, stirring
Add chickpeas and walnuts to heat
Add a little water if it seems too dry
Turn off heat and add parsley and cooked quinoa
Grease a pan that will enable your peppers to stand upright (I used coconut oil)
Spoon mixture into peppers until almost full

20150321_164203Add a layer of diced tomatoes to each pepper
Cook 30 – 45 minutes or until Peppers reach desired tenderness.

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Serve with vegan parmesan (my preference)

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or plain – both my boys liked it just fine plain.

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This was a 100% hit.  I wish I’d made more than one apiece!  Next time this is a recipe doubler or tripler for sure. And again – you could switch out the spices for oregano, basil & thyme…. or chili powder, cumin and cayenne…. whatever works for your tribe!

I was left with lots of extra quinoa because I always make extra grains.  We shall see if Little Sis offers some ideas that include quinoa in the weekly meal plan (which I selfishly steal on a regular basis).  If not, it is so easy to throw together some quinoa, some veggies and a favorite sauce for an easy weeknight meal.

Eat well. Be well.  And if you want some help on the journey to healthful eating, check out Baby Steps to Better Health.

Shepherd’s Pizza (Potato Crust-ish Tasty Thing)

I was going to leave the title as just ‘Shepherd’s Pizza’ thinking it might intrigue millions, or thousands of readers into opening this post.  Then I thought perhaps I’d better offer just a little explanation, or maybe nobody would read it except for my mother.

So now that you are here…. you are still perhaps wanting a little more explanation?  This started as an attempt on my part to create a pizza crust out of potatoes (and a few other things).  Well, it did not turn out to be something that you could pick up.  More specifically, not pick up and take a bite that was several inches away from where you were holding it.  You could pick this food up in your hands if you are so moved, however…. it won’t be pretty.

“Alas, failure! I signed.”  Then my son said, “You should make this more often Mom!”

Ho ho!  Music to my ears on getting healthy food into my people!  I saw beyond failure and into the land of opportunity where lies the naming of something weird and different than what was expected.  What to name this soft layer of potato-y goodness topped with pizza stuff.  Upside down Italian Shepherd’s Pie came to mind.  The Italian word for shepherd is pastore by the way ;-)

So, I would be happy to share Pastore Potato Pizza with you!

Pastore Potato Pizza
2 qts chopped and boiled red potatoes.  (I left the skins on)
1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1/2 cup cashews that have been soaked in 1 cup water for at least 6 hours and then drained.
1 – 2 Tbsp milk of choice
3 Tbsp chia seeds
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt or to taste
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 tsp salt

Pizza toppings or any roasted vegetables or cheeses that you like

– Pre-heat oven to 375
– Boil the potatoes until very tender and drain
– Drain the cashews and blend or process with the yeast flakes, milk and olive oil until fairly creamy.
(The milk is purely to get this mixture to mash, so start with just a little and see if you need more.)
– Place everything, including the blender goo in a large bowl and mash away.

20150304_162121See the chia seeds hiding in the potato cave? And the cashew lava creeping down the mountain?  Okay, so the imagination thing can be a problem for me ;-)

– Place parchment paper on a pan or two and spread a layer about 1/4 -1/2 inch thick on the parchment paper.
– Bake for 20 – 30 minutes.  I left one in for 20 and one in for 25.  Neither burned but the one in longer started to get a little puffy.  It might be good to leave them in longer but I don’t think they will ever get dry enough to be crusty and I didn’t notice much difference at the end either.
– Top with your choice of stuff and pop back in to heat up the toppings.  I did not put raw veggies on top as I was afraid the sweating of those veggies would make the whole thing too soupy.

We topped one with leftover spaghetti sauce that had colored peppers in it plus vegan parmesan
The other I brushed with olive oil, sprinkled on slightly steamed broccoli, green olives and vegan parmesan.  Of course my son wouldn’t touch this one, but it was my favorite.

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A switch from flour or grain based dishes.  Some favorite flavors.  Overall a failed crust with a happy ending!

Thinking of planting potatoes this year?  Little Sis has had luck with this method.

Other potato dishes?  We’ve got ’em…..
GF veggie burger/potato cake
Tabil Spiced Chili Over Roasted Red Potatoes
Not Your Mother’s Warm Potato Salad w/ Miso Dressing
Lemon-Oregano Chicken & Potatoes
Leftover Mashed Potato Soup

Dairy Free Mashed Potatoes

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning… A Very Good Place to Start

verybeginningWhen you read you begin with ABC. When you start eating better food you begin with…. okay, so this would be a clumsy way to continue. But I’ve been inspired to provide a little bit of a get started post by a phone conversation I had yesterday. Someone very near and dear to me was explaining that she had read about the new dietary guidelines and wanted to incorporate more plant-based meals into her dinner plans. The question to me that followed: “So, do you have any plant-based meals that you could recommend?” Ummmmm….. yeah. I do. I have around 200… on that blog… that you tell me you read… never mind. That’s okay. No, it’s really okay, because I don’t think she was actually asking the question that I heard.

What she meant to say was more like: “I know I should be doing something different, but when I start to think about it I draw a total blank because I’ve eaten this way for a long time. When I look at your blog I am totally overwhelmed because I don’t know where to start and I don’t want to do a search and I don’t even know if I like any of these foods. Help.” That’s what she was really saying, so I decided maybe in honor of the recent guidelines and my very dear relative, a primer would be a good idea. So the purpose of this here post is to use the new dietary guidelines as inspiration to start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.

Paraphrasing the recommendations, there are 3 main components:

A)  include more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

B) Reduce your red and processed meat consumption.

C) Reduce your added sugar intake.

There was more information in the guidelines (including some good news about caffeine and cholesterol), but these are the key points – things to add and things to minimize in your diet. I’ve put them in this order on purpose. If you’ve struggled to eat more healthfully in the past, perhaps starting with what you can add – the food you get to have more of allows you to approach dietary change as a positive and exciting thing – a series of culinary experiments instead of a constant discussion about deprivation.

A) Include more plant-based meals.

So the primer for accomplishing this change will be a list of my favorite super easy go-to plant based dishes. These are not the ones I’d necessarily make for fancy company or the ones that I’d make for the joy of spending an afternoon in the kitchen. These are dishes that I believe anyone can make in a reasonable amount of time and most everyone would enjoy enough to make again. Without further ado… here’s your starter kit for plant-based meals.

1. Lentil Casserole: so simple and easy it’s almost ridiculous. So hearty, flavorful and satisfying it’s Miss Picky Pants’ all time favorite dish. That’s right, my picky daughter has a lentil dish as her absolute favorite. It’s that good.

2. Slow Cooker Bean, Corn, and Barley Burritos: Again, it doesn’t get much easier than dumping a bunch of stuff in the Crock Pot and turning it on. All you need to do is add whatever burrito fixings your tribe likes and you’ve got a delicious plant-based meal on the table.

3. Varia-Bowls: This is a little harder to explain as it’s a concept rather than a recipe, but the idea is that you add a bunch of veggies to a grain or a whole grain noodle, add some sauce and yum! We’ve made some suggestions to get you started.

4. Picadillo: This gentler and fantastically flavored Cuban chiii is super easy and a crowd pleaser. Make the lentil version for plant-based yum. Make extra and freeze it for fast dinners.

5. Nutshroom BurgersThese vegan burgers totally surprised us the first time I made them. They are simply fantastic and if you have a food processor, easy peasy.

6. Roasted Butternut Squash SoupI have yet to meet someone over the age of however old my daughter is at the time you read this who doesn’t like this soup. It is simple and fabulous.

7. Slow Cooker Creamy Tomato SoupEasy, delish, comforting, and feels like you’re eating something that MUST be bad for you. Perfect for dipping a sammy or some great crusty bread.

8. Roasted Veggies 2 Ways:  A great way to take advantage of whatever is in season at the moment and make enough for 4 meals. Can we say freezer dinner rescue?

9. Easiest Tomato Sauce Ever with Non-Dairy ToppersEating a plant-based diet doesn’t have to take a lot of time, or even require you to get used to all kinds of new tastes – who doesn’t like pasta for pete’s sake? This gem of a sauce will save you scads of time and please whoever you make it for.

10. Cauliflower Steaks: I know you think I’m nuts, but these are simple and turn out so delicious and elegant that you’ll feel like you’ve done something really special for very little work, and you may just discover you like cauliflower after all.

B) Reduce your red and processed meat consumption.

Well, if you start including meals from the above list you just might have already taken care of this, eh? But let’s be a little more thoughtful about it for just a minute. What you need to sort out is when you are eating red and processed meats. Just to be clear, when we’re talking about red meat, we’re talking about beef. When we talk processed meat we’re talking about A LOT of things: bacon, hot dogs, deli meat, sausages, ham, salami, pepperoni, variations on ham (prosciuto, etc). This list could go on for a very long time, and it’s hard for me to make it for you because I don’t know what you eat. A trick to thinking about processed meat is considering how long something stays good. Most of these things can stay in the fridge for a very long time because of the way that they’ve been processed, because of the ingredients that they contain which are precisely the ones that our leading nutrition experts would like you to keep out of your mouth, at least most of the time. What to do?

The first thing to do is go back and look at that list in the A section – replace a dinner that usually would be red meat or processed meats with one of our plant based winners. Then you’ve killed two birds with one stone (this has always seemed unnecessarily brutal to me, but you get the point). The next thing to do is identify the role that red and processed meat plays in your diet and attempt to cut back and replace it. Family eats a lot of deli meat for sandwiches? There are deli meats that are uncured and contain fewer objectionable ingredients. They are, predictably, more expensive and they WILL spoil, so while they may be a good substitution from a taste standpoint, they’re probably not going to be a complete answer. It might be time to experiment some plant-strong sandwiches (search our recipes for hummus, dips, spreads, and you’ll find a ton of sandwich ideas). Perhaps it’s time for a thermos to bring leftovers from those lovely plant-strong dinners. Reduce the red and processed meat, up the veggies, fruit, whole grains. They go hand in hand.

C) Reduce your added sugar intake.

One of the things that has startled me the most in my own transition to healthier eating is how much sugar I was consuming that I didn’t even know about. Sugar is EVERYWHERE in our packaged food. I’m not kidding. It’s in potato chips. It’s in salad dressing. It’s in prepackaged macaroni and cheese. Deciding to cut out added sugar from your diet is not a small undertaking and could easily become totally overwhelming, particularly if you have neither the time nor the inclination to increase your home cooking efforts. We recommend that sugar cutting be a gradual and targeted endeavor. The first step is to begin to notice how much you are having. Start looking at the labels. Compare the quantities to things that you consider sweet – for example a candy bar. A standard sized Snickers bar has 27 grams of sugar in it. So do many of those convenient cups of fruit flavored yogurt. I’m guessing you weren’t eating yogurt to get the nutritional impact of a Snickers bar… The new nutrition guidelines suggest that individuals consume no more than 10 grams of added sugar per day (that’s twice the amount suggested by the World Health Organization, by the way). That yogurt, and that more obvious Snickers bar, are almost 3 days worth of added sugar.

I can almost feel you shaking your head and losing interest. A life without Snickers bars may not seem worth it. I hear you. What we’re looking at is your overall nutritional profile. In general, how do you eat? These new guidelines, and an increasing number of health practitioners are saying that in general, added sugar is to be avoided and consistent use of it is dangerous to your health. Best way to change that? Baby step your way out of it. Notice when you’re eating it and consciously decide to have less of that item and to eventually replace it with something that is less sweet, and perhaps eventually with something that isn’t sweet at all. Step down that sugar. Let your taste buds have the time that it takes to get used to lower levels of sugar, to appreciate more complex flavors. You’ll be stunned over time as you realize how great fruit is, how you can taste sweetness in nuts and other foods that you never thought of as being sweet before. You’ll be stunned when you do indulge in a super sugary treat to find that you don’t really want quite as much of it as you used to. The world of abundant and fresh food is entirely masked by added sugar. Peel that mask away and delightful surprises await. And yes, you can still have a birthday cake. :-)

So there you go. A primer on Baby Stepping your way to better health designed to help you understand and implement the new nutrition guidelines, complete with a list of 10 plant-strong recipes that you don’t have to do a search to find. You’re welcome. For more information on changing your eating habits, check out our e-book: Baby Steps to Better Health: Winning the Battle with Junk Food for Families and Individuals. For more information specifically on cutting sugar, check out our Sugar Busting series on the blog. Eat well, be well friends.

Silence – An Absence that is Part of Wholeness

Silence.  Silence!  SilenceBabySteps.pptx

Absence of noise.  A place.  A state of being.  A chance to listen.  Silence.

Not sure what to say next because I’m not supposed to be talking.  Apparently I’m supposed to be quiet right now.

Not an easy task for me.  Just ask Little Sis…. or Carni-Mom.  Plus I am supposed to be contributing to our Well-Being series.  So I get to proceed – as usual  :-) talking about silence.

Beyond my own ability to keep my mouth shut, and my enthusiasm bridled, there is the relative difficulty we all face of establishing quiet around ourselves even with our mouths shut.  We are surrounded by devices and machines and tasks and people and news and entertainment and alarms and warnings and intentions and plans and much human noise.  Yet, amidst all of this noise, most of us would agree that silence is powerful.  Isn’t that a bit telling?  Silence is something powerful that we often decrease or even eliminate from our lives.  Perhaps a year of wellness warrants taking a closer look at silence and what we can get from silence.

Sometimes silence is scary.  We associate it with apocalypse.  Perhaps it is more truly associated with a chink in our civilized armor.  Perhaps we don’t want time to think about more than our devices, schedules, tasks, entertainment and distraction, because if we do we might be faced with some questions about our own priorities, or our own power, or our own disappointments.  Perhaps our ‘conquest’ of the natural world is only complete if we are removed from the natural world.  How is it that we acknowledge this power and can acknowledge that it is a good thing, (think ‘peace and quiet’) but are for some reason losing, or even avoiding silence.

Silence is one of those things, like a dark night sky, or fear of predators, or for many people the ability to provide one’s own basic needs, that for good or ill we lose with modern civilization.  It is power that can weigh like an anvil, or beckon like a boat at the end of a dock on a peaceful lake.  Silence allows expansion.  It is a starting place.  A void.  There are places that silence can take us.  Perhaps journeys that feed our imaginations, our spiritual musings or longings or feed insights that can help us grow, prioritize and appreciate all of the blessings in our lives require a clear canvas on which to unfold?

True silence is the rest of the mind; it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.  ~William Penn

Where to start such a journey?  In order to appreciate or benefit from silence, we must find it, make it, accept it, allow it and work with it.  As is our wont over here at the Pantry, baby steps come to mind in any endeavor of change or exploration that seems difficult or even impossible.

Start by thinking about the sources of noise that block out natural noises in your life.
Is there a TV, radio or other device that makes noise always on at your house or in your car?  Does it ever get turned off?  Can you set a time each day when the devices will be silenced?  It doesn’t have to be a big deal of everyone being very quiet.  It could just be a time without music, TV, news or other outside noise.

An inability to stay quiet is one of the most conspicuous failings of mankind.  ~Walter Bagehot

Being quiet is indeed not easy which is why I suggest just establishing a few times with less noise as a starter.  You might be surprised by what you notice or even think about with less noisy stimulation going on.

You might also like to try some true quiet time when there is an intention of not making noise.
We will sometimes sit as a family and meditate.  Other times we will simply be quiet for a number of minutes, close eyes and mouths and pay attention to what we are hearing, smelling, and feeling.  We often discuss what we noticed when done, and also do this outside to notice smells, sounds and feelings outside.  This was especially hard for our son at first, but he has become quite good at it and can now also be still and meditate.  If you’d like some ideas for family meditation, we have enjoyed these 2 books:

Product Details

This one being particularly good for young children.  The next one works for all ages, especially if you are willing to just replace the words ‘child’ or ‘children’ with people / family members, etc.

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Silence is the true friend that never betrays.  ~Confucius

Once there is some silence in your life, I believe it then becomes easier to choose noise more wisely.  One can decide to actually listen to music OR to have it be a soundtrack in the background OR not have it at all.  Well-being, or being well is not an accident but a result of our choices and our reactions to the things we can not control.  Silence and meditation are wonderful ways of increasing self awareness, mindfulness, stress-reduction and peace.

Silence is a source of great strength.  ~Lao Tzu

Be well.

(Quotes were all found at http://www.quotegarden.com/silence.html)