Couscous & Creativity

Since accepting my first meal prep client, who just so happens to be a vegan with a taste for variety, I have been forced to up the ante in the kitchen and whip out my apron, arsenal of food blogs, and even my kitchen aid to produce healthy meals that are not only clean but are also tasty and satisfying.

Since everything is fresh and made from scratch (for the most part…), grocery shopping happens on a weekly basis. Saturday morning, when mom’s and babies are on play dates and a huge chunk of society is sleeping in recovering from Friday night, is when I have my standing date with Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Kroger and this new fine place called Sprouts. To make sure I have everything needed for each meal, I take time to jot down my meal plan for the week and from there compile my grocery list. This saves loads of time on Sunday afternoon because I have everything I need when I’m ready for my rendezvous with the kitchen.

Meal Prep Starts With Clean Ingrediants

Most people prefer to relax on Sunday, savoring the last morsels of the weekend. Not me. I find joy, pleasure and sometimes peace massaging kale in the sink or stirring a pot on the stove. My favorite ingredient is creativity. Stepping outside the box can be the winning factor for a meal plan that you actually stick to. Let’s face it, we all have to eat (starvation diets don’t work), why not make it good? Clean and healthy doesn’t have to translate to dull and boring. My goal is to expand my palate and strengthen my skills in the kitchen by trying new things.

This leads me to me to a new old friend from the grain and/or pasta family (versatile already… gotta love it). Often found in traditional North African cuisine, couscous, a quick cooking and quite filling –perfect-with-everything side dish has quickly risen to staple-pantry-item worthiness in my kitchen. I made it for the first time and it couldn’t have been easier or more delicious!

Simply add it to boiling water, turn off then heat, and let it steam for a minute then fluff. But why stop there?  I vowed to be creative so you know there’s more. While the couscous was absorbing the veggie broth (and the magic that happens when you add a bay leaf to a pot of anything), I minced a clove or three of garlic, tossed it along with fresh dill into a big bowl and topped it with the fluffed couscous. To this I added cooked (or canned with no sodium added) great northern beans, tomatoes, red pepper, chopped kale (just a few leaves for color and iron) and cucumber. To season it up (a very important step to remember when cooking with grains- they’re only as tasty as you make them to be), I added fresh lemon juice, Greek seasoning (thanks to the international farmer’s market, I can get my hands on some incredible exotic and unique seasonings), and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to the ingredients then tossed.

Clean meals - Couscous Salad

I thought it’d make the perfect filling for a convenient wrap but only after smearing made-from scratch pesto (toasted pine nut and parsley pesto to be exact) on the inside of the whole wheat tortilla.

And voila! This delicious Mediterranean Wrap was born and has become legendary in this week’s meal plan and couscous has found a permanent place in my pantry and will be a contender for side-dish-in-a-pinch situations.

Clean Meal Prep Mediterranean Wrap

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It’s all Falling Into Place

“Eventually all the pieces fall into place. Until then, laugh at the confusion, live for the moment, and know that everything happens for a reason.” – Someone great

The leaves are changing, the nights are lengthening and there Honeycrisp apples (my favorite) are filling the produce section whop-whoop!. The year is officially shifting gears and the evidence of change is all in the wind.

My life is following suit. It feels like one day I woke up and everything I thought I knew, I didn’t, the questions I thought I had the answers to changed and suddenly life had a new meaning. There were new people in my space, renewed interests, passion and discomfort in all the right places. I even felt the urge to change my look and whacked off several inches of my locs (I literally just randomly text my loctician to see if she had a same day appointment, sat in her chair, and told her to chop it off). Now I know it may sound a bit early-life-crisis like (I am approaching the big 3-0 in a few months),  but I in no way feel any regret, sadness or fear of impending doom. I feel excited, confident and ready to take on the next chapter of my life. My heart  just knows that it all will fall into place.

Change can bring with it a roller coaster of emotions and where there are emotions there is emotional eating lurking somewhere in the shadows. I find that during times of change and when life is all over the place there is great comfort in knowing that the one thing I can control is what I eat. Overeating and over indulging are choices… choices that I do not have to make. In times of change and transition, mental agility is just as important as your physical health. You are required to dig deeper, work smarter and the quantity and quality of the decisions you make increases. Fueling yourself with good, clean, food empowers your brain and body by not only providing nourishment, but also helping to stabilize your mood, give you energy and relieve stress.

Don’t let emotional reactions associated with change  sabotage your progress. Focus on controlling what you can choose to put in your body. Be kind and gentle on yourself. Remember that with eating clean comes the energy and clarity you need to. It’s time to tighten up on meal preparation. Remembering to allot a few hours of your schedule (we all slack off in the summer time, no judgement here) to preparing deliciously clean meals for yourself puts you in control- it’s a whole lot easier to eat healthy when it doesn’t involve a hot stove after a long day at work. Get ahead and set yourself up for success. Here’s what’s on my menu this week:

Meal Prep Menu

I’m choosing to laugh at the confusion and live in the moment, praying for the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, courage to change the things I can, and I am grateful for the wisdom to know the difference.

 

 

 

 

 

Ditch the dirt and eat clean

Clean Eating Basics

Eating clean has been a linchpin in my weight loss success. When I eat well, my body responds well and releases retained water, gives me sustained energy, speeds up my metabolism and gives me visible results. Clean eating is a big deal for anyone trying to lose weight and maintain optimum health.

So what does it mean to eat clean? Clean eating means bypassing the processed goods and food-like products that stock many grocery store shelves and are handed out hand over fist at drive-thru windows. Instead choosing to fill up on lean protein, healthy carbs and fats (like sweet potatoes and avocados), fresh fruits and tons of vegetables. Clean eating isn’t limited to foods we chew and also includes opting for good ole H2O instead of sugary sodas and juice and even giving diet sodas (and yes even sugary cocktails) the boot. The best part of clean eating is the fact that it is NOT a diet. It is a lifestyle change and one that almost guarantees successful weight loss.

The goal with clean eating is to focus on consuming foods in their natural state (or at least close to it) rather than those manufactured in a plant. Eat things that have a more direct route from their source of origin to your table versus those that take a detour from the field to the warehouse where they get mixed and matched with preservatives, injected with Trans fats and painted with all sorts of pretty artificial colors.

Avoid highly processed foods

Avoid highly processed foods

Choose fresh produce and veggies

The best thing you can do as a clean eating beginner is to learn to read the labels. Labels tell us everything we need to know about the quality of what it is we’re ingesting. Look at this pre-packaged processed food label for example:

Clean Eating_Unhealthy Processed 2

What the hell is Monosodium Glutamate or Yellow Lakes 5and 6?  Most people have no clue and your body hasn’t the slightest idea either.  Putting these unnatural (and DANGEROUS- monosodium glutamate aka MSG is an additive that studies have shown cause both weight gain and brain damage) ingredients in your body is kind of like going into the garage and mixing together some car care fluids and putting them in your engine. Would you really expect your car to work well? The same is true for our bodies. We can’t fill it with unknown chemicals and foreign products and expect it to perform optimally. Because it’s so sophisticated, the body will run on this junk and continue to function for a period of time but eventually you will find yourself on the side of the road with a blown engine and in desperate need of maintenance. Only this manifests in your body as disease, sickness, weight gain, and fatigue.

Eating clean sounds simple enough, but when I first started cleaning up my diet I ran into on major road block. I found that I was spending at least FIFTY BUCKS on my grocery bill (for 1) each WEEK (*gasps and clutches pearls*)! I’d scour the internet for tasty healthy concoctions and my eyes and taste buds would conspire and send the signal to my brain to just try it. Next thing you know, it was on the meal plan and all 12 exotic ingredients (for that one dish) would be on the grocery list. I felt like I had to whip up gourmet recipes for each meal of the day.  I ended up with a cramped fridge, wasted food and skinny pockets (the goal is to reduce the bulge in my belly NOT the one in my wallet… c’mon, I had smaller sized clothes to buy!).

After a few months of this, my food budget was stretched and my all-day-Sunday-marathon cooking sessions were becoming less fun and felt more like a chore. I was afraid that my stint on the clean eating band wagon was waning. I knew that I couldn’t afford to keep it up but I also couldn’t afford to go back to my old way of doing things. So I decided to dumb down my meal plans, leverage my pantry and will my taste buds to deal with repetition.  I had to remember that Food is FUEL for the body. Not something I consumed out of boredom, not something to pacify a bad day at work or a breakup… it’s fuel for the best engine I’ve ever laid eyes on. This doesn’t mean that food can’t taste delicious, but it also doesn’t mean that I have to channel Julia Childs in the kitchen and invest my whole paycheck in each week’s meal plan.

These 5 clean (and budget friendly) tips helped me keep my diet clean and my account in the black.

  1. Learn to read labels. Before you go any further in your clean eating journey, take some time to go beyond the nutrition list and read the panel of ingredients. Less is best and if you run across something with too many letters that your inner hooked-on-phonics child cannot pronounce, then chances are it’s an additive. When in doubt, whip out your smartphone and look it up! You’ll learn a lot this way and knowing that something is not only fattening, but dangerous to your body over the long term makes it much easier to avoid.
  2. Leverage your local farmers markets. We have amazing farmers markets here in the Atlanta. My favorites are the Buford and DeKalb Farmers Markets. They have tons (and I do mean tons) of fresh produce for AMAZING prices. I can get a weeks’ worth of fruits and veggies for less than 20 bucks. They also have such an extensive variety of things and there is always something new to try.
  3. KISS (Keep it super simple). Make a simple plan for the week. A plan is very important and keeps you on track and keeps you focused at the grocery store. Do not, I repeat DO NOT go grocery shopping without a plan!! It’s so easy to end up with a gazillion and one things that you do and don’t need. Remember, you don’t have to be Martha Stewart in the kitchen, find some simple clean recipes that are easy and delicious and go from there.
  4. The right kind of frozen can be clean too. Stock your freezer with frozen vegetable- not the ones with cheddar butter garlic sauce… Just regular frozen veggies. These are inexpensive (can you say Kroger 10 for 10) and perfect for last minute meals.
  5. Pay attention to portions. Just because it’s clean doesn’t mean you can eat monstrous portions. Moderation is the name of the game. I was raised cooking for an army (even though there were only three of us in the house… I think cooking big meals is a southern thing, but I digress…) so cooking appropriately portioned meals took some getting used to. But I learned to buy enough for the week, cook everything in one day (my meal prep Sundays) and dish it out in the portion controlled containers for the week. It makes packing my breakfast and lunch much easier and dinner is already done when I come home from work.

Pesco-vegan-omni-vore

I made it through the 21 day vegan challenge with flying colors! Five pounds lighter, tummy a bit deflated but quite regular and a glowing complexion… I’d say the perks of the vegan lifestyle are Ah-Mazing! I feel light and much more energetic. Over the past 21 days I have taken an interest not just in preparing healthy meals, but creating fresh new dishes that require me to step my game up in the kitchen.  And believe it or not, every recipe I tried came out perfectly and was just as delectable as I’d hoped it would be! Well, except a terrible attempt at a so-called “easy” vegan applesauce bread recipe. It was literally a hot mess that weighed 10 pounds and never, ever (even after 60+ minutes of baking) came close to baking all the way through…  I’m assuming you can’t use coconut, almond and whole wheat pastry flour interchangeably… I’ll check into that another time.

My 21 day vegan challenge experience did not go without it’s own difficulties. As the challenge progressed, I realized that I’d been “rewarding” myself for steering clear of meat and dairy with vegan treats like cookies, bars and chips. I had gotten away from snacking on cookies and chips (even the healthy, organic, au natural ones…) but I guess to congratulate myself for avoiding the chicken and eggs, I’d have a vegan brownie. I even purchased at least TWO soy pumpkin lattes… First of all, I know soy and my stomach do NOT get along. It causes insta-bloat as soon as it hits my lips. I learned this the first time I went vegan for 3 months and gained weight because of the soy based meat-free products… Second of all,  I’d weaned myself off of mocha-frape-lattes (even the “skinny” versions), so to suddenly have to have 2 in 21 days was out of control.

This helped me to realize that as amazing as I felt, I think it’s best for me to avoid anything that’s too restrictive. So I have chosen to move forward with a plant based diet. The vast majority of what I consume will be fruits, vegetables, legumes and such, but sometimes I will enjoy a slice of sweet potato pie or (dare I say it) maybe even a lemon pepper wing. This challenge helped me to realize that my goal isn’t deprivation. Instead I’m choosing to focus on eating clean (as minimally processed as possible), be cognizant of my portions and why I’m eating and pay very close attention to what my body is telling me based on how it reacts to the fuel (food) I put in it.

As for my plant based meal plan for the week, here’s what I’m cooking up:

My Meals for the Week

*Sidenote: I am so grateful for the amazing food bloggers out there! The Oatmeal Preserve Cookies are from Oh She Glows (I LOVE her friggin blog!) made with fig and pear preserves. I found this INCREDIBLE black bean sausage recipe (that is better than any frozen soy substitutes I’ve had) on The Vegan Guinea Pig. And I adapted this Butter Bean Soup recipie from Tori Avey and tweaked it based on what I had available and what I had a taste for. With blogs like these, one can never run out of amazing food to try. There is absolutely no excuse for a dull meal.