Monday, August 24, 2009

Breakfast? Sure! Lunch? Sure! Dinner? Um...

I know, I promised you a full analysis of the one and only vegetarian restaurant in New Orleans, Cafe Bamboo. Alas, as my amazing timing would have it they were closed for the week I was there - open only through a late night window out back serving a quite limited menu. So all I can actually tell you is that their mock chicken rocks the house.

So instead, we discuss meal planning! Weee! Ready set go.

* * *

Since I was maybe twenty, I've been trying to figure out how to eat meals. This perhaps sounds stupid, but I'm sure I'm not the only person to have this problem. It's the paradox of choice: with so many food options before us, it actually becomes more difficult to make good decisions about eating. When combined with the daily trials of modern life, this can lead to some ridiculous eating habits, and three squares goes right out the window for many of us. The wisdom of the three-meal-a-day eating structure is of course debatable, as many to most of us will benefit from eating smaller meals more frequently. But for a person like me who became totally lost in the food forest, it's a good place to begin when trying to find some gustatory structure.


A while back I worked out breakfast. It's not a complicated solution either: it's cereal. Now, granted, I'm picky. I don't drink soy milk because I don't want to have a constant stream of soy in my diet. There are may other types of "milks", like rice and oat and hemp and mixed grain and every kind of nut you can think of, but they frequently have high sugar content - often 15 grams per cup or more. (Soy milk of course also has this issue.) It took me a long time to discover the miracle that is unsweetened Almond Breeze almond milk, now my breakfast cornerstone.

Then of course there's the matter of the cereal itself. Talk about added sugars! Naturally I want something whole grain, multi-grain, and prefer a cereal that features little if any wheat. Lately I've been eating Barbara's Shredded Spoonfulls, which has an acceptable sugar content and is composed largely of oats as well as corn, rice, and a few other staples. I try to switch it up so that I get a variety of nutrients. Quantity of course matters - I do half a cup of cereal and half a cup of milk. In the winter I sometimes like cooked things like the Bob's Red Mill cereals; I find the warm meal really sustaining when it's freaking fifteen degrees outside.

Alright, I'm fed, I can leave the house.


If I tried to wait until 1 pm, my work-designated lunch hour, to eat again, I'd pass out. So I have my 11 am snack: Whole Soy & Co. vanilla yogurt. The fruit flavors have way too much sugar, and the plain is too blah. I like this company, or at least I like it way better than I like Silk, who at this point I downright hate. I tried eating other items here, like granola bars or fruit, and for whatever reason they just didn't do the trick. The yogurt seems to have just the right amounts of sheer volume, indulgence, and I dunno, maybe plain old fat and sugar to get me through till lunch.


Recently I finally, finally got lunch together. This has taken years! The inspiration came from a silly "health food" take-out place called The Pump. From them I was purchasing overpriced meals which consisted largely of a bed of rice smothered in some type of bean, and topped with hunks of baked tofu, or variations on that theme. Well it didn't take long for me to realize that I do not have to spend ten bucks a pop for this type of dish, and that it's easily recreated at home.

So lunch becomes a meal that is based usually in brown rice, rarely in pasta, or occasionally in steamed vegetables - or sometimes a combination of steamed vegetables and one of the first two starches. Then is added veg chili or lentils or black beans or something of the like. And finally there's usually a protein (not that there isn't plenty of protein in the beans, but I mean something more dense) like smoked tofu, or seitan maybe, added on top. Vegetables are often mixed in, really, in the form of spinach or steamed broccoli or diced tomatoes - they add lots of flavor and texture and other goodness. For flavor I use tomato sauce or peanut sauce - something in the sauce genre really. Sometimes if there's enough fresh tomato in the mix and it's good enough tomato, that alone provides plenty of flavor. Lemon is also a good booster, and pepper.

The only thing to really watch out for here is salt content, and to make sure that I'm not eating the same items every single day. Ideally I will begin to experiment with other grains here too, like barley and maybe wheat berries. Love those. Ooh, and quinoa. I've have some fledgling success with that one. I believe that one of the keys to good nutrition is variety, so I don't want to eat brown rice five days a week.

Home from work - more snacky!

Here's where I start getting into trouble. I get home from a long and grueling day. I've just used public transportation with a few hundred thousand other tired grumpy New Yorkers. I'm exhausted. I'm annoyed. Various parts of me hurt. And I start looking for sugar. If it's here, I'm going to eat it - as much of it as I can get. Newman's O's? Half a package without blinking. Pint of Tofutti? A pint becomes a serving. This is bad news.

You're thinking, there's an easy solution to this! Don't keep sugar in the house - done! Oh, but you don't know me too good. See, there's a grocery three blocks away. And when the craving is bad enough and there's nothing in the house, I'll just go get the cookies. It's kind of like when a smoker wants a cigarette. Will he sit there not smoking, or will he find the nearest Quickie-Mart? Don't get me wrong - I don't make a habit of keeping junk food around the house. But we get things sometimes. And because of this tendency of mine, we may have to stop entirely.

One good solution I have found to this is frozen fruit bars. They have enough sugar in them to satisfy the craving, but not so much that I'm really wrecking myself. I get the kinds that really are made with fruit juice and don't have high fructose corn syrup in them. Sure they have sucrose, but it's still a far cry from eating a whole box of Tofutti Cuties. (Oh yes I would. I have. There are witnesses.)

What also helps - and this is going to sound silly, but I'm serious - is drinking a large quantity of good water. It's not a cure, but it makes me feel nourished. And I need to drink more water anyway.

Dinner...? Like, every day?

Once I'm at home and settled, I need to think about dinner pretty quickly. On a good day I get home at 6, and often I don't get home until 7 or 8 or even later. My man and I have a bad, bad habit of procrastinating, and we end up not eating until 9:30 or 10 at night. This is ridiculous for so many reasons. Eating an hour or two before bed is never a good idea. Waiting for eight hours after lunch to eat again is also bad. And so on. The other half of the problem is that by that point we're often just ordering Thai delivery. While tasty, it's pretty much entirely starch, salt, and fat - and way more than enough of each. It's a stupid pattern of behavior that we've got to stop.

But in order to stop behaving this way, we have to have some system to replace it with. Jonathan and I comprise a very modern American household, with all of the problems that presents. By the time we get home at night, we're tired. He carries stress particularly badly, and I have a host of physical problems. Often, neither of us feels up to spending an hour or even a half hour in the kitchen preparing a meal. We can never decide what to eat. Having very different metabolisms and palettes, he tends to want to make dishes with lots of salt and fat while I insist that foods are whole and fresh and healthy. All of this is what leads to the procrastination in the first place, and it makes dinner seem like a very hard thing to do.

But I believe, perhaps, we've stuck upon a solution. It's going to sound absurd. And yes, it is going to take some self discipline, and us doing some work in the kitchen when we might not want to. But it might work. And it's... salads! Not just green salads, because often I can't eat raw greens. But all kinds of salads. Black bean and corn salads. Pasta salads. Potato salads. Tofu salads. Chickpea salads. Whatever kind of salad you can think of, on a cracker or not.

We will, of course, also eat all-vegetable salads, including green salads. Especially when our landlady has brought us bags of arugula and radicchio and fresh tomatoes from the backyard. There's also tomato and cucumber salad, a personal favorite. And I'm sure we can think of others. Vegetable salads that incorporatef ruits and nuts are wonderful...

I know. It sounds a little ridiculous. But I think it'll work maybe. While it's still warm out at least. And when it starts to get cool, we're going to get a slow cooker. Then we can have stews and such, with I believe just a bit of prep time in the morning or the evening before.

* * *

So that's the plan. And I hope to enact it just as soon as I can eat solid foods on a regular basis again - right now my IBS is rockin' and my daily food intake is more like a little bit of miso soup and maybe a few crackers. *Sigh.*

Ah, eating. So basic, so complicated.

Until next Monday,

Melissa Bastian.


Clare said...

Thanks for the post! I find that what to eat for dinner sometimes ends up way more complicated than it needs to be. One of my current missions is trying to work out healthy snacks to help tide me over and give me energy for making meals. Personally, I also lean towards an overreliance on carbs.

melissa bastian. said...

Carbs are so easy right? It's so easy to eat a vast quantity of wheat, because you don't think about the wheat product (pasta, bread) nearly as much as what goes on it - it's the white noise of food. Lately if I haven't had a brown rice based dish for lunch I'll have a beans and rice concoction for dinner. Last night we had what Jonathan, who's from Virginia, calls Hoppin' John: rice with black eyed peas and tomatoes. :)