“What does wellness really mean?”
This was the subject line of one of the wellness emails I got from Veestro Food’s founder, Monica, this past week. I liked the simplicity of her answer:
“Simply put, it’s nothing more than small daily choices that lead into lifelong, very big changes.”
Monica’s take on wellness got me thinking about a question that I often pose to my nutrition clients:
“What would it take for this to feel a little easier?”
I ask this question when someone has expressed a desire to do something—cook more often, eat more greens, you name it—along with doubts about how achievable the goal will be. I ask because I know as well as anyone that it’s easy to get carried away with goal-setting, but implementing those goals is another story. In my experience, the smartest goals are small, realistic, and flexible enough to withstand a little troubleshooting.
Every time I pose the question, my client will come up with a few smart ideas. These might include a schedule change, asking a family member for help, or perhaps modifying the goal so that it becomes more doable. If someone has vowed to cook seven nights a week, I ask if four would be more realistic; if a client is keen on leafy greens at every meal, I ask if we might start by aiming for one serving each day. No matter what we decide, it’s almost never the case that we can’t think of a few ways to bring the goal within reach. Small, daily choices really do make a huge difference.
As I wrap up my three-week experience with the Veestro “Yes I Can” challenge, I’m giving some thought to my own food and wellness goals, as well as the small, practical steps I can take to bring them into focus.
One thing I know for sure is that I’d like to do a better job with variety this year. Variety was thrust upon me in 2016 because I was recipe testing for a new book, and the process guaranteed that Steven and I would have lots of new dishes to sample. Left to my own devices, though, I often recycle the same handful of recipes and staples.
I don’t mind having a couple of standby meals, of course: cooking would feel like an uphill battle without them! But I know that variety is one of the defining features of any healthful diet. Each whole grain, bean, and vegetable has a unique offering of micronutrients: the more we sample, the better our chances of getting all of the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients we need.
I’m also trying to figure out how to avoid peaks and slumps in my home cooking routine. I tend to go through phases of intense excitement about cooking, which are often followed by a frenzy of kitchen time. I inevitably get burnt out, fall back on defrosted leftovers for a few weeks, and repeat the cycle again. I don’t mind allowing my enthusiasm for cooking to have some natural ebb and flow, but I’d love to find a way to avoid the really stubborn slumps—those times when cooking loses its appeal altogether.
The Yes I Can program has given me the space I needed to reflect on all of this, to identify my roadblocks and come up with a strategy for moving forward. I needed a little time away from my cooking routine in order to assess it, and the variety of options I experienced in the last three weeks was a great motivator to mix things up. Here’s my takeaway:
Prioritize batch cooking.
The recipe developer in me resists this idea, but it’s necessary. One recipe will give Steven and me one or two days’ worth of food—maybe three, if the recipe yields a whole lot. A lineup of pre-cooked grains, beans, roasted veggies, and one or two dressings will give me nearly a week’s worth of lunches and a couple of simple breakfasts or dinners, too (every part of the macro bowl I shared on Wednesday, for example, could be batch cooked).
Right now, batch cooking comes first. I’ll still be whipping up new recipes, of course—just fewer of them each week.
Choose simple, bountiful recipes.
I’m a broken record lately with my talk about simple food, but it really does feel like a priority. I’m also realizing how important it is to invest my time in making dishes that will make a lot—enough to give us at least 3 servings each, and preferably a little extra for me to freeze. Soups, curries, stews, and baked things all fit the bill.
Cook the pantry.
Sometimes I need a good kick in the pants to actually use all of the legumes and grains that are in my pantry—rather than thinking to myself how pretty and organized they look in their assorted mason jars 🙂
I’ve been bad about using up what I have this year because of recipe development, but thankfully that process has left me with a lot of dry staples. Now it’s time to hunker down, take inventory, and start shaping my meals around what’s at home. I’m hoping that this will help me to avoid food waste, spend less, and eat more variety.
Mix up the basics.
This goal goes hand in hand with #2 and #3: I want to add more variety to my weekly basics. I fall back on quinoa, rice, and chickpeas, ignoring other grains and beans. While I don’t plan to end my love affair with chickpeas anytime soon, I’m really hoping to rotate my staple foods more regularly.
Plan for the unexpected.
A few weeks ago, I mentioned how surprised I was by how difficult depression and anxiety have made cooking in the last year. We never know what life is going to throw our way, and I’m learning that it’s important to plan for unforeseen challenges.
There’s a big difference between pushing oneself to cook more often when it’s both possible and practical to do so, and forcing oneself to cook when there’s really not enough time or energy to go around. This year, I’m much more committed to leaning on my favorite vegan products when I need to. They exist for a reason, which is to make a wholesome vegan diet doable no matter the circumstances. And I’m lucky that there are so many great options these days.
Steven and I are also planning to order some meals from Veestro regularly from now on, so that we can incorporate them into our routine when things get crazy. The meals have far exceeded our expectations, and we’re excited to experience them more often!
Speaking of that, I have some new favorite Veestro highlights to share with you. To start, I had a taste of two new breakfasts this week.
The first was a savory, filling breakfast burrito, which is stuffed with tofu scramble, black beans, and veggies. It’s served in a whole wheat wrap and comes with crispy potatoes and a traditional red sauce. I served my taters over some crispy greens and drizzled the sauce on top.
I was also really impressed with the Spanish torta. It’s layers of roasted potato, zucchini, onion, and bell pepper, with spinach stuffed between. The torta comes with a black bean sauce that’s seasoned with jalapeno and paprika. I served mine with a simple salad and—you guessed it—some yum sauce.
The Veestro croquettes are listed as a breakfast option, but honestly, I can imagine enjoying this meal at lunch or dinner, too. The croquettes are made with firm tofu, miso, and nutritional yeast, so they have a slightly eggy taste (in a good way), and they’re seasoned with rosemary and sage. You serve them with red sauce and a simple root veggie hash of sweet potato, celeriac, and regular potato. Really delicious (and one of Steven’s favorites).
Last weekend was super drizzly and damp, so it gave us a chance to curl up with some of Veestro’s homestyle, comfort food dishes. First came the hearty veggie lasagna, which is stuffed with roasted carrot, zucchini, spinach, and yellow squash. It’s made with vegan cheese and rice noodles, so it’s gluten free, and it comes with homemade marinara. So warming and filling.
Finally, we tried the spinach pie. This reminded me of a spanakopita/pot pie hybrid: layers of buttery crust, stuffed with sautéed mushrooms, spinach, corn, zucchini, shallots, and some vegan cheese. It’s seasoned with garlic, parsley and thyme. This dish really did taste as if it had just emerged from someone’s oven, and I loved that it was rich, yet also packed with vegetables.
Last week, I mentioned that the process of lifestyle change is really all about building muscle memory, about doing something often enough that it starts to feel like second nature (or at least, it no longer feels foreign).
The Veestro meals are designed to help newcomers to plant-based eating develop that muscle memory, but they’ve been equally beneficial to me—someone who has the muscle memory, but needed to regroup. I’m excited to dive back into cooking, but I’m also so happy to have tasted these delicious plant-based options. And I can’t wait to see what tasty things are in store from Veestro in the new year.
If you’re considering the Yes I Can program, I can vouch for the food and the care that’s put into the weekly emails and supplemental meal plan from So Buddhalicious (a great option if you do want to incorporate cooking into the whole experience). There’s still time to sign up for the program at 20% off using the discount code 21daysTFH. And the winner of my giveaway for a complimentary 21-day program has been announced officially in last week’s post.
Whatever your wellness goals may be, I hope that all of you can find small, realistic ways to take good care of yourself in the year ahead.
On that note, I wish you a really great start to the weekend. I’ll be back on Sunday with the usual roundup of recipes, reads, and thoughts.
This post is sponsored by Veestro Foods and its 21-day “Yes I Can” program. All opinions are my own, and I think this wellness initiative rocks. Thanks for your support!