What is a Healthy Diet and Why Should I Eat One? (Part V of ???)

Read Part I: Highlights
Read Part II: Our Journey to Better Eating
Read Part III: We’re not THAT weird
Read Part IV: Recommended Reading and Watching

DISCLAIMER: I’m certainly no expert on this. I’m just sharing what I’ve learned in case someone else finds it useful.

Part V: Recipe Finding

When we started eating for health three years ago, we pretty much threw out the bad food but didn’t know where to go from there. Slowly we’ve added more and more diversity to our diet and learned to love lots of different dishes. Unfortunately, I have no miracle cookbook or recipe site to recommend to you, because I haven’t found one! (I plan on making one for our family’s use and I’ll share it here as well, but that’s another post for another time.)

Recipes Must Pass The Test

Here’s what I do recommend: First, get a good idea of what is healthy. Then, when recipes cross your path as they do so often online, simply put them through your filter. If they pass the test, or can be made to pass the test with some reasonable alterations, try them. Then you can use your normal filter for deciding if you’ll make it again. Here’s mine: Yumminess, cost, and time to make. If it’s yummy enough, we’ll make it again even if it’s pricey or takes a long time to prepare. If it’s fast to prepare, it’ll show up again even if it’s not our absolute favorite tasting dish, etc.

The key thing though, is to just be ruthless with the initial filter. If it’s not healthy, cross it off your list. Don’t spend any time on filing it, etc. Just move on until you find something that fits your criteria. There are so many thousands of of recipes out there, you can afford to be choosy and you MUST be choosy. Remember that *most* Americans battle with their weight and will get a preventable, chronic disease. If you don’t want that for you and your family, you must be ok with being different.

Here’s what I personally look for in a healthy recipe:
– No meat, or meat that can be just left out. We still eat seafood once a month or so.
– No cheese or dairy. Occasionally we’ll put in some plain yogurt, but we really find plenty of recipes that don’t lean on a layer of cheese as a crutch.
– No refined flour. Often this is super easy to adapt: just choose whole wheat pasta, serve over brown rice instead of white, etc.
– Light on the oil and salt. These are easy to dial down, but just be aware that some recipes depend on them to taste good, so you may need to cross those recipes off.

What’s left? You can guarantee the majority of calories will come from things that are healthy: fruit, veggies, beans, nuts, whole grains, etc. What you don’t want is for the cheese or meat to steal all the calories away from the things that are good for your body.

I’ve found soups and ethnic foods, in particular, are great categories to look for healthy dishes. Scott is much more willing to try new ingredients and it’s helped a ton with getting me out of my comfort zone. When I started eating better, very few veggies were in my inner circle. Now, I’m happy to say, that circle encompasses most of the produce department.

Our favorite cookbook: Veganomicon . This deserves a post of its own to tell you the recipes we love the most, but I’ll tell you one of our all-time favorites as an example.

Chickpea Romesco is heavenly and we just had some leftovers for dinner. Essentially, you saute up onion and garlic and serrano pepper, add thyme and rosemary, add blended up canned tomatoes and roasted red peppers, ground up almonds, and chickpeas. Simmer and serve over brown rice or quinoa. It’s rich, flavorful and completely healthy. Why compromise when dishes like that are “out there”?

We also find lots of recipes from epicurious.com and the recommendations from friends. I have posted lots of recipes here on the blog: Recipes on Beanland but I know I owe many many more there. I really need to share the love in this regard. It’s on The List. πŸ™‚

You Don’t Always Need a Recipe

I never thought I was one of those people who could put together a meal without a recipe. I’ve surprised myself lately, though, after a few years of cooking with real, simple foods, I’ve gotten much better at knowing how to cook things without googling or leafing through a book.

Here’s what I really wanted to say about this, though:

If your family is willing to be flexible, consider relaxing a bit when it comes to meals. Mackenzie and I will often have a day that looks like this:
– Breakfast is steel cut oats with whatever fruit and nuts and seeds we have on hand.
– Lunch is chopped up red bell pepper, a plain baked sweet potato or squash, and fresh fruit.
– Snack is nuts or homemade whole grain bread with healthy applesauce on top.
– Dinner is leftover veggie soup with brown rice

Notice how that entire day I didn’t need a single recipe? I hear this a lot: “I would eat healthier, but I have the hardest time finding healthy recipes!”

If I’m pressed for time, or just burnt out on cooking, a single veggie soup recipe can get me through two or three days, easily. Especially when I supplement with some of the healthy food that simply doesn’t require a recipe:
– Black beans, simply mixed with salsa from a jar.
– Veggie sandwiches, store-bought hummus spread on healthy bread and piled high with fresh spinach, sliced bell peppers, sprouts, avocado, etc.
– Steamed veggies that can come straight from a bag in the freezer
– Whole grain tortillas smeared with nut butter and chopped up apple and raisins
– Salads
– Fruit & veggie smoothies

Meal Planning

If you’re a meal planner, you will find healthy recipes fold nicely into a weekly layout system like those frequently touted online. For fun, here’s a quick example:
Monday: “Something on a Bun” night – Lentil sloppy joes one week, black bean burgers another week, bean ball subs with marinara sauce another week.
Tuesday: Mexican night – Beans, rice, and fajita veggies as burritos, or nachos
Wednesday: Soup night – black bean soup, veggie soup, curried squash soup, homemade tomato soup
Thursday: Ethnic night – Veggie curry and flatbread, veggie stirfry with brown rice
Friday: Pizza night – whole wheat crust, loaded with yum like roasted garlic, broccoli, and red peppers, light on a flavorful cheese like parmesan or goat
Saturday: leftovers
Sunday: Something different – Fish, oven-baked veggies, waffles for dinner, or a new and crazy recipe.

People who menu plan (I don’t… yet?) tell me it’s really helpful to have a loose outline so you can plug favorites into the month’s menu in advance and then fill in a few slots with new recipes to shake things up.

Open to More

If you have a favorite recipe, cookbook, or website with healthy recipes… please share! Even with the pretty strict criteria I mentioned in this post, I have a surprisingly long list of recipes still to try but I’m always looking for more.

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About beanland

Scott is a family practice doctor and Anne is a full-time mother and teacher to three beautiful girls and one boy.
This entry was posted in Healthy Eating, Recipes. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to What is a Healthy Diet and Why Should I Eat One? (Part V of ???)

  1. I think it couldn’t be easy to cook meals without recipes, honestly my wife can’t do that. At least she should have one book that contains 20 or 30 recipes to cook meals for me and my child.

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  2. Carrol says:

    Okay, here is the post I was looking for :0). Sorry for so many comments, but I wanted to see if you have ever made Chia pudding? We eat it everyday for breakfast and for dessert after our dinner. I have a couple recipes if you want them…but I have done a lot to revise them myself by adding or subtracting things I put in it. Love the stuff.

    And, sorry, one more question. (bet you didn’t know you’d hear from me this much by sharing your blog with me) Soy milk? Why do I hear bad things about soy? Like it’s bad for your health and such, but yet so many people keep drinking it, and say it’s good for you. It must not be that bad. Have you heard any bad stuff about soy milk?

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    • beanland says:

      Hey Carrol,

      I love comments! πŸ™‚ I have since posted our cookbook on the blog, so it looks like I need to update this post. You can find it here: https://beanland.wordpress.com/2010/11/10/the-beanland-cookbook/ .

      I have never made (or even heard of) Chia pudding. Please do send me your recipes for it. I’m intrigued.

      I haven’t read anything reputable that indicates soy is bad for your health, however our approach to soy is different than many vegetarians. We’re vegetarian for health, and we try and stick to a wide variety of whole plant foods. That means fake cheese, fake meat, and all kinds of processed soy “health” foods are out. I also don’t think any one food deserves to be in your diet as three glasses a day, so we didn’t simply replace cow milk with soymilk… we just don’t drink milk! We drink water.

      Our soy consumption comes entirely from soymilk (just water and soybeans in there) and tofu (again, just water and soybeans and calcium carbonate) and the occasional plain soybeans. We use about a half gallon of soymilk a week on cereal and in pancakes, etc. We eat about 2 lb of tofu a month. So it’s not a big enough part of our diet for me to care about whether soy is a miracle food or a scary food. Hopefully that makes sense.

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  3. Marni Walker says:

    Hey Annie,
    If you remember me I’m Meghan’s little sister, but lately i’ve been reading all you eating philosophy posts and loving them. Recently my husband and I have cut out all refined sugars from our diet, and are moving towards fish as our only meat. We have a hard time avoiding cheese still, but we are working on it. The first thing we noticed was how good we felt with no sugar, and love having just fruit for a treat. While I’ve been reading your posts and telling Paul (my husband) about them he is interested and wants to hear more.
    I did have a question. In my journey toward healthy eating I have heard a few things about soymilk. and not good things either. Now the things i’ve heard have no cited scientific research to back it, but I’ve heard that drinking soymilk frequently over time can increase estrogen levels, especially in males? what do you know about this, anything. For now Paul and I stick to rice or almond milk.
    And last here is a recipe I tried last night that was so yummy. It takes a little bit of time but I think it’s relatively inexpensive, especially because you probably already have a few of the ingredients at home.

    Turkish Kebabs
    Pita Bread
    Hummus
    Couscous (Quinoa works too)
    Falafel
    1 tomato, diced
    Shredded Greens
    Cucumber Sauce

    First, you take the pita. You spread the hummus on the pita. Then you scoop some couscous (or quinoa) onto the pita. Next, you put your falafel on the pita. Toss some tomatoes and shredded greens in and top off with the yogurt sauce. Fold and enjoy.

    The Cucumber Sauce
    1 c plain vegan yogurt (if you can find it) or regular plain yogurt (we use fat free but that is up to you).
    1 cucumber, peeled and diced
    Dried Mint (to taste)
    Sugar (just a dash)

    Mix it all up and top your Kebab with it.

    Falafel
    1 3/4 c. chickpeas

    3 cloves garlic
    1 small yellow onion, quartered
    1 tsp ground coriander
    1 tsp ground cumin
    1 tsp cayenne pepper
    1/2 tsp fresh black pepper, ground
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    1 T lemon juice (I eyeball it)

    Combine all in food processor and process until smooth

    Make into patties on a sprayed baking sheet and cook 10-15 minutes per side at 370 degrees

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    • beanland says:

      Marni,

      Of course I remember you! Congratulations on your marriage, by the way. πŸ™‚

      That recipe looks yummy, thanks for sharing!

      In terms of soymilk, we do use it in our oatmeal or when we make pancakes, but we don’t drink it by the glass. (We don’t drink any milk by the glass.) We generally go through 1-2 quarts a week for our whole family. We eat maybe 1 lb of tofu a month and that’s the extent of our soy consumption, other than the occasional fresh edamame snack.

      My feeling about soybeans is that they are likely as healthy as any other whole plant food but it’s important to have variety in your diet. Just like I wouldn’t try and incorporate black beans into breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I think drinking soymilk, eating lots of tofu, and other more processed soy products every day is probably not ideal. And of course, unless you’re eating the whole bean, you’re probably losing some nutrition in the processing. Like you, though, I am not aware of any real scientifically sound studies that link it to increased estrogen levels. And I do think soymilk is a clearly healthier alternative to cow’s milk.

      Hopefully that helps somewhat? I definitely don’t have all of the answers, but I’m encouraged when I look at how much my diet has improved from before we started down this path. Even if I get a few things wrong here and there, I know my family is much healthier overall. πŸ™‚

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  4. Pingback: What is a Healthy Diet and Why Should I Eat One? (Part VII of ?) | Adventures in Beanland

  5. Pingback: What is a Healthy Diet and Why Should I Eat One? (Part VIII of ?) | Adventures in Beanland

  6. Pingback: What is a Healthy Diet and Why Should I Eat One? (Part IX of ?) | Adventures in Beanland

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