Is eating healthy hard?

People ask me about what I eat a lot, since I work in the health space. I don’t know that what I eat ultimately matters to anyone else’s health, but hey, it’s a conversation starter. I eat a vegetarian diet. I actually eat vegan probably 80% of the time, but I always hesitate to say I’m vegetarian, or to even talk about veganism, because there can be a lot of unfriendliness and absolutism in this space. Some folks get very worked up about it, and it can really be a flashpoint for drama. Some of this stems from the fact that people tend to associate diet with identity (I AM a vegetarian, rather than I EAT vegetarian food). Certainly, some people identify as vegan and they extend this to other aspects of their life including clothing, personal care products, etc. This is a choice with a lot of valid reasons to support it, but everyone who chooses to eat a certain way is not necessarily also doing this, and that’s OK. People make different choices for different reasons. Diet is complicated because it isn’t only about nutrition, it’s also about culture, socioeconomics, ethics. I want to talk about what I eat, though, so please recognize that there’s a lot of issues that I think about but am not going to get into right now (but if you want to, we can talk about it later).


I make choices for myself, and I also give advice as part of my professional life, about diet. And while I eschew hard and fast rules, I do have some general principles that I believe are healthiest. I base this on a combination of evidence, common sense, and experience. Scientific study abut diets is plagued with challenges, which is part of why there’s so much confusion. So I say, keep it simple. I like to eat mostly whole foods, mostly plant-based, and mostly easy-to-make stuff– so I mostly cook my own food.  The more I stick to simple patterns, the easier it is.

What I eat: fairly accurate.

So what are my go-tos, my day-to-days, what I like to eat when I have the time and flexibility to do it my way?

  1. Coffee. Whether you buy the health hype or not, it’s a ritual that makes me happy. I brew french press and add steamed/frothed unsweetened soymilk (sometimes Oatly, or almond milk) to make an au lait (or a faux-lait, if you prefer). This is usually before I work out or do anything else, really. I think there’s value in having comforting habits and rituals.
  2. Breakfast is usually one of two things:
    1. A smoothie. I mix it up, but a common combination is kale/spinach, mixed berries, half a frozen banana, peanut or almond butter, hemp or chia or flaxseeds, sometimes cacao nibs, and unsweetened almond milk.
    2. Steel-cut oats with fresh fruit (berries, bananas, stone fruit, apples. . . whatever’s good), nuts, and almond milk.
  3. Lunch. I don’t usually have a morning snack, but if I do, it might be nuts or a Larabar. I eat lunch on the early side. I like to have either:
    1. A grain-based salad. These hold up well in the fridge and travel well. I take a whole grain (farro, quinoa, millet, wheat berries, sorghum, barley), add some combination of vegetables, nuts, or dried fruit, and a flavorful dressing (often citrus is a good fit).
    2. Leftovers from dinner. Especially things like curries and chili tend to get even better when they sit in the fridge.
  4. Snack. I usually have one in the afternoon, especially if I was active or am going to the gym or eating late. This could be an apple with nut butter, or whole-grain crackers or carrots with hummus.
  5. Dinner: My favorite is a big bowl with a grain (brown rice or quinoa), a green (kale, or broccoli rabe is a favorite), a bean or other protein-rich item (tempeh, tofu, homemade vegan sausage, pinto beans, black-eyed peas), with a flavorful and creamy sauce (a cashew-cream with tomato and red pepper, a peanut-soy sauce, red-hot tahini). Often with a glass of wine.
  6. Chocolate. 70% is a good starting place for me, and I might like it with sea salt, or ginger, or chili, or something else simple.
  7. Beverages— you’ve already met my friends coffee and wine. I also regularly drink green and herbal tea, kombucha (I make it at home), plain old water, and bubbly water.

 

Obviously it isn’t like this every single day. Some days there’s work lunch. Sometimes there’s the airport. Sometimes there’s takeout, or meeting friends. And sometimes there’s pizza (and it’s often vegan pizza!) But the closer I stick to this basic plan, the better I feel.

Do you have a regular routine around food choices?

How to turn healthy eating into quality time

People tell me a lot that they’d like to eat healthy, but it takes time that they want to spend doing other things– spending time with the family, seeing cool things in the city, relaxing after a hard day, working on personal projects, learning new things. Or, it just takes a lot of ideas and it’s hard to think of something to make at night when you get home and you’re beat.

For me and Max, our meals are part of all this. We have amassed a collection of recipes culled from food blogs, and gorgeous hardcover cookbooks with glossy pictures. We often sit around over press-pot coffee on a weekend morning, after a run or walking the dogs, and plan out a week’s worth of meals. Recipes we know and love, ones we haven’t tried, ones that use an ingredient we saw at the market last time, ones that come together fast if it’s a busy night. This planning is like a ritual in itself– we look at the pictures, we enjoy it. We think how good that meal will be. We think about the week ahead– what’s going on?– and get our feet on the ground. We make a plan for some lunches, some dinners, some breakfasts– not usually 7 days worth, but enough to give us great options for most days and night.

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Evernote recipe library, lovingly curated over years

Then we do a weekend trip to the farmer’s market and/or sprouts and stock in everything we need to do the plan. This can be kind of fun in and of itself– the farmer’s market with its music and dogs and food trucks and, well, farmers, and the grocery store with the clerks who know us and the aisles laid out just so, where we know where to find exactly what we need. We’re really efficient shoppers by now 🙂

veggies

summer farmer’s market haul

Finally, we’ll spend a little time prepping food, usually on Sunday. The kitchen smells good and there are some tunes, maybe a little dancing. Maybe we’re cooking lentils or beans or bulgur or wheat berries. Maybe we’re soaking cashews and freezing bananas. Maybe we’re roasting some veggies and washing some greens. Maybe we’re feeling ambitious and we’re making homemade vegan sausage and raw sauces in the blender. It might take half an hour, if we kept it simple. It might take a few hours, if we went all in. This step is awesome– it’s quality time together, but it also makes the weeknight dinner or the midweek lunch for work come together in 10 or 15 minutes– faster than ordering pizza (which is still tempting sometimes!).

Will this work for everyone? Of course not! But it shows on a broad level how we’ve integrated meals into our lives as a centerpiece of time together and relaxing and creativity, rather than a drain on us and a chore that gets in the way of those things. It serves us well!