Meal Planning: The Key to a Happy and Fit Tummy

Being an avid gym goer in small, local gym, I naturally come across the same people over and over again day in and day out. Some people seem like they are working so hard, and they diligently show up every single day, yet their bodies stay the same. Some stay overweight, while others don’t seem to be changing their body composition at all.  What could be the reason? Certainly not their commitment to exercise. So what else is left in the equation? Diet of course.  What goes on in the kitchen and what you put into your body is vital for any progress you want to make.

Eating a delicious salad or a nutritious, warming soup tastes good to most people, it’s not like everyone is craving fries every single day, but the problem is most people fail to prepare for eating healthy. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail, as the saying goes. When you are in the middle of your day and hunger sets in, either at work, or running around doing errands, picking up kids, doing laundry, or traveling for business – and you don’t have anything in front of you to eat, chances are most of us will just pick the nearest and easiest option, which more often than not is not an ideal choice.

The solution? Pick a time during the week when you have one or two hours free (yes, you can find it- no excuses! We all spend a little too much time on social media and in front of the TV) and spend it preparing meals for the next 3 days or so.  When you’re running out the door in the morning on your way to work or a meeting, all you have to do is reach into the fridge and pick a pre-prepared meal, drop it in your bag and go. A delicious lunch waits for you later in the day, that YOU have prepared, you know which ingredients are in it, and you can better track what you are eating.  The work will be worth it – and your body will thank you for it later.

This morning I prepared a ‘buddha bowl’ like salad with fresh vegetables I purchased over the weekend. I typically buy whatever looks good at the market, and I like to buy produce that’s in season; it’s when they taste the best and are cheapest.  Then I build my recipes around what I have in my fridge and pantry. Being a chef, I have learned to combine flavors and textures that excite the taste buds and it’s always fun to come up with a new dish.

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Today I pre-cooked some beautiful organic green lentils and quinoa and topped the salad with a 1/2 cup each , and gave it a sprinkling of some hemp seeds and pepita seeds, and boom – I had a tasty, colorful, protein-packed and super satisfying lunch that would kick any take-out to the curb, both nutritionally and flavor wise.  This gives me energy throughout the day, and doesn’t leave me uncomfortably full and drowsy like many store bought prepared meals typically do.

I’ve included the recipe for what I made below – you can choose the raw’nch dressing or make your own version.  A simple extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, fresh herbs, salt and pepper would probably taste really nice too, but I love the flavor of this dressing.  You can of course add any vegetable of your liking in the salad and top it with any nuts or seeds you have in your pantry at the moment. Use your imagination and start experimenting!

WEDNESDAY LUNCH IN A BOWL

1 head romain lettuce

2-3 cups baby spinach leaves

1/2 red bell pepper, sliced thin

1 carrot, peeled and sliced thin

1-2 celery stalks, diced thin

1/2 cup cucumbers, diced

1/2 cup roasted butternut squash in the oven (diced small, I sprinkled salt, smoked paprika and fresh rosemary on top and roasted it for about 25-30 minutes on 375F)

1/2 cup green lentils, cooked

1/2 cup quinoa, cooked

2 tbsp hemp seeds, hulled

2 tbsp pepita seeds

Mix all the greens and veggies in a large tupperware container and top with butternut squash, lentils, quinoa and sprinkle with hemp seeds and pepita seeds. Seal and go!

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RAW’NCH DRESSING

Adapted from “Let Them Eat Vegan” by Dreena Burton

To make it entirely raw, omit the Dijon mustard and replace the red wine vinegar with lemon juice or apple cider vinegar.)

½ cup raw cashews

2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 ½ tsp red wine vinegar (gives more flavor, but can use more lemon juice or apple cider vinegar for a raw version)

1 tbsp raw tahini

¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

2 tsp fresh chives, chopped

1/8 tsp garlic powder or to taste

1/8 tsp onion powder or to taste

¼ tsp Dijon mustard (omit for raw version)

1/2 tsp (scant) sea salt

1/8 tsp freshly black pepper to taste

1 tsp raw agave nectar or coconut nectar (adjust to taste)

1/2 cup water or non-dairy milk (or more to thin as desired)

Using a blender (I love my Vitamix) or an immersion blender and deep cup or jar, puree all the ingredients until very smooth (it will take a couple of minutes). If you want to thin the dressing more, add water to your preferred consistency. This dressing will thicken some after refrigeration. You can thin it out by stirring in a few teaspoons of water, or keep it thick and use it as a dip for raw veggies.  Makes about 1 ¼ cups.

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Subs and Adds: Try 2 tablespoons of fresh dill to replace some or all of the parsley.

An Incredibly Flavorful, Meat Free Chickpea Stew

It’s that time of year where we will be looking for recipes for hot foods again – and heartwarming, flavorful soups and stews are on the top of my list of favorite comfort foods that not only satisfy, but don’t have to pack a lot of calories or fat.  Since going vegan, I am trying to incorporate a lot of beans since they are great source of protein, and also amazingly tasty and versatile. I came across a recipe from the Wimpy Vegetarian blog that I absolutely loved but instead of adding eggplants (I’m a fan of eating according to the seasons, when the produce is at its best) I chose to include kabocha squash.  Squash is a great source of healthy carbohydrates and there are a gazillion varieties out there for you to experiment with. Trust that I will be including many recipes for squash going forward!!

As a newbie in the strictly tplant based food world, I must admit that I had no idea meatless and dairy free dishes could taste so unbelievably good.  Rich, layered with flavors that range from sweet, salty, tangy to spicy – this stew will transform even the most resistant of carnivores… The clever use of spices, herbs and other condiments make this a recipe I will be making regularly this coming winter. Enjoy with no guilty conscience!!

ROASTED KABOCHA AND CHICKPEA STEW

  • 1 large kabocha squash, cut in half, seeds/core removed, roasted (I use salt, pepper, olive oil and place a sprig of rosemary in the cavity, place it cut side down and roast at 375 degrees for about 40-45 min until soft)
  • 3 medium red bell peppers
  • 2 -3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large Vidalia (sweet) onion, chopped
  • 3  garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ras el hanout
  • 1 tablespoon chipotle in adobo, chopped
  • ¼ cup red wine
  • 4 cups water or vegetable broth
  • 1 x 15 oz can stewed /chopped tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1 tbsp sugar or erythritol (sugar substitute)
  • 1-2 tbsp Kosher salt
  • 2 ½ teaspoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons mint
  • 2 1/2 -3 cups canned or cooked chickpeas
  • Balsamic vinegar (optional)

On top of a gas stove, place the peppers and roast them over an open flame until black on all sides

roastpeppersPlace the blackened peppers in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit for about 20 minutes or so.  Peel the skins off and remove the core/seeds and chop into thin strips. Season with a bit of salt and olive oil and set aside.

  • Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat until very hot. Add the chopped onion (it should sizzle when it hits the oil), season with some salt and sauté until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Don’t move the onion around too much or it won’t brown. Add the garlic and cook another two minutes.
  • Add the cumin, paprika and ras el hanout and sauté another minute to toast the spices. It should be very fragrant. Add the chipotle in adobo, cook another minute, and then add the red wine, water/broth, chopped tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, salt, lemon juice, and mint. Fold in the chopped roasted kabocha and red peppers. Add the chickpeas. Gently simmer for ten minutes to begin to meld the flavors.

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