Sometimes healthy seems unattainable. There are so many competing demands for our time, budget, and attention, that it seems easier to take the path of least resistance. For single folks with money to spare, grab and go healthy meals prepared by others are great. But if you have a family or a tighter budget, it’s hard to avoid grocery shopping, meal planning, and the best part of it all, cooking.
Our diet has evolved a lot over the last twelve years. We started out with a high-soy, low-vegetable, low-fruit, very starchy vegan diet and have slowly evolved into a low-to-no soy, high-vegetable, high-fruit, more plant-based, whole foods diet. Our experiences living and traveling abroad have humbled our palates significantly. We’ve lived in parts of the Middle East and North Africa where vegan options were so few that meal planning became a bit boring and redundant. However, there’s a spiritual discipline in being content with what you have, eating simply and avoiding indulgent foods; all of which have benefited us greatly.
Having little vegans to feed now also challenges us to be consistent in our health principles but varied in our meals. It’s a balancing act making sure our children don’t feel left out of the dining experiences others are having, but it’s also empowering to give them information about foods that will guide their own choices in our absence. So if you’re trying to make some dietary changes in your own home, here are some tips that we’ve picked up along the way.
Start Where You Are
Depending on what your current diet is like, the road to healthy may vary. Take a critical look at your food choices and consider what your priorities are. If you currently eat the Standard American Diet, pick three food categories to eliminate from your diet like processed foods, white sugar/flour/rice, and soda/coffee/caffeine, for example. Once you start eliminating the excess, you can more quickly get to the core of what you want your diet to be based on.
Some transition ideas might include:
White rice –> Brown rice –> Red/Black Rice, Quinoa, Amaranth, Millet
White sugar –> Cane sugar –> Date syrup or sugar, Coconut sugar, Maple Syrup
Canned fruit/vegetables –> Frozen fruit/vegetables –> Fresh fruit/vegetables
Soy milk –> Packaged Nut/Coconut milk –> Homemade nut/seed/coconut milks
Processed soy foods –> Organic, whole soy foods –> Alternatives to soy
White flour –> Whole Grain flour (Buckwheat, oat, spelt) –> Low/No Gluten Flours (Kamut/Chickpea/Teff/Coconut)
Sweetened beverages –> 100 % Fruit Juices –> Fresh-pressed juices, herbal teas, lemon/lime water
Buy the good stuff on sale and stretch it
Sometimes you have to shop around or shop online to find the best foods that your budget can afford. Once you find them, find ways to make it last. For example, red and black quinoa are really nutritious but pricey. Instead of preparing them as a direct substitute to rice, consider making a salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh herbs, etc. My children like Southern grits every now and again, so I’ll prepare seven-grain cereal as grits or mix regular grits with quinoa flakes or amaranth. Similar to baking, mixing flours in a muffin or pancake batter are a great way to stretch the more high-end grains. And if you like granola, try adding quinoa or amaranth puffs, sunflower seeds, or more nuts to make it last longer and give it more nutritional density.
Prioritize Organics, Peel the Rest
Eating totally organic is our ideal, but we’re just not there yet. Instead, we prioritize conventional tropical produce or produce that can be peeled and save our organic budget for foods that tend to accumulate a lot of pesticides like leafy greens, tomatoes, apples, peaches/nectarines, berries, etc. If you have access to a good, local farmer’s market, that’s also an affordable way to get pesticide-free produce that may or may not be certified organic. Even if buying organic means eating less fresh produce, the nutrient availability is greater than conventional produce and you won’t be introducing unnecessary toxins to your body as a result.
Pair favorites with not-so-favorites
In our household, some meals have prerequisites like a salad or green smoothie that we all must complete before getting to the more desirable dishes like pasta or pizza. Some whine, gripe, or complain, but hey, food is food, and we try to model that we can’t always eat our favorite dishes. Furthermore, gratitude is the key prerequisite to every meal regardless of how basic or elaborate it may be.
Know when to blend
Sometimes a good blender is a great ally. Raw garlic in hummus, steamed veggies in sauces, and supplements in smoothies. We don’t believe in lying to or deceiving kids. We do selectively withhold information but that’s another topic. Fact remains that we don’t expect more from our children than we expect from ourselves. So, if something is not so palatable but is beneficial, we find ways of making it easier to swallow for all of us.
What are some of the healthy eating hacks that work for your family?