HOW TO::eat healthier in the PW home

>> March 30, 2010

Ever thought about how the way we eat reflects our relationship with Christ?  

I’m not talking about eating cookies with cross-shaped chocolate chips or searching out a cinnamon roll with a likeness of John the Baptist.  I’m not challenging you to discover what manna really was, find a recipe to recreate it and then serve it for every dinner (twice a day during lent.) Not quite, anyway.  But if you do find a pancake with the face of Jesus in it, let me know.  I am sure there is a museum along Route 66 that has a space in between its “Elvis’ face in a slice of cinnamon bread” and the photo of an uncanny likeness of The Virgin of Guadalupe in someone’s pouffy 80’s bangs!

I’m not saying that Jesus loves cows more than he loves you, so therefore we should not eat them.  God gave us animals to use as a resource, but we still need to be good stewards of animals and our earth.  The way we eat reflects how we feel and what we think about our world.  The very food we eat has a direct impact on our earth, our community, and people all around the world.  Hold on, I know I am losing a few of you… This is big.  You’ll get where I’m coming from in a minute. 

First of all, what we eat has a direct impact on the environment.  One of the first jobs that God gave to us was to be stewards of our planet.  Most of the meat that we eat is not from a cute little farm with happy cows named Bessie and Spot who happily munch grass and clover.  Most of it comes from giant feed-lot style industrial farms.  Because of their tremendous size, they are slowly wreaking havoc on our environment. 

The large amount of waste from these farms isn’t usually dealt with properly and can cause health problems and issues with the environment at large.  Runoff from these industrial “farms” pollutes streams while animal waste taints drinking water.  These animals are also fed corn and other foods that they don’t digest well.  This causes their bodies to breed more harmful bacteria than normal.  I have a hard time justifying this as being a “good steward” of the resources God gave us.

Second, eating meat can be a humanitarian issue, too.  We are literally feeding animals to get them fat so that we can eat them while hungry people around the world go, well, hungry.  I even found one statistic saying that cattle’s caloric intake alone is enough to feed 8.7 billion people.  That’s a lot of calories we’re feeding to animals!  Ok, I don’t want people running up to me saying, “Those figures are off, missy, its actually 6.3 billion.”  That’s not my point.  My point is that animals eat a lot of food that could potentially be fed to a starving child.  When it comes right down to it, if I had to become a vegetarian to save the lives of little starving kids -- I would. 

Americans eat a lot of meat.  We eat way more than what the rest of the world eats.  Here is my very non-scientific example.  When I lived in Italy, we only ate a little meat.  In fact, meat was not the main course, far from it!  Meat was more like a condiment.   I was in Italy with another woman from the States and she constantly complained that all she wanted was a big, fat steak.  I couldn’t be happier… I got real Italian food at every meal!  The first time I told a nutritionist friend that I’d cut out some meat-based protein in our diet, I thought I’d get a tongue-lashing.  What I got instead was, “Good!  Americans get MORE THAN ENOUGH PROTEIN.”   

Let me sing the praises of plants for a minute.  Plant based protein is cheap.  A 1 lb bag of beans costs around $1-$2.  One 1 lb. bag makes 6 cups when you reconstitute them.  (Six cups of beans=three cans of beans.)  That can sometimes feed our family of 5 up to three different times.  That’s some pretty cheap protein! 

Eating plant-based protein is good for you, too.  It has no saturated fat, tons of fiber, and for a germ-o-phobe like me, I don’t have to worry about cooking the heck out of it to get rid of E. coli or salmonella secretly lying in wait to take my family down.  Bags of shelf-stable beans are, duh, shelf-stable.   And they’re stable for a long time.  They require no energy to store and its not a pain to defrost them like the 6 lb. log-o-ground beef that’s been hiding in the bottom of your deep freeze since last May.    

Before you start to tell me how your cousin’s babysitter’s hair fell out when she went veggie, the danger of that happening is pretty remote, especially if you are only replacing one or two meals a week with vegetable based proteins.  True, plant based proteins are incomplete, which means you have to pair them with another plant based protein to be well-rounded.  (There’s a reason millions of people around the world pair rice with beans…) I know this is your “Aha!” moment of the day.  You’re welcome.  I’m happy I can be a part of it.

The other question that I get asked quite often is, “How the heck did you get an I-grew-up-on-pop-tarts-and-Totino’s-party-pizzas-latch-key-kid husband and two (at the time) preschoolers to convert into a granola-loving, green-munching, bean-chowing, not-so-much-meat-eating family?! 

It was easy. 

I didn’t tell them.  I quietly switched about 2 meals a week to veggie.  When I finally popped the question to my husband, a look of fear passed over his face (like maybe the next words out of my mouth were going to be that I would stop shaving my legs and quit bathing regularly, too). He tentatively answered, “I don’t know how I feel about that.” 

Then I said, “How would you feel if I told you that we have been eating this way for two weeks already?”  His reply?  “Huh.  Ok.” 

It was that easy.

Now for the “HOW-TO” part. How do you do this in your home? It's easy, really.  But don’t go replacing your chicken nuggets with chik’n nuggets just yet.  And don’t get the idea that you have to start serving Tofuna Noodle Casserole.   Here are some easy ways you can include some globally conscious, meat-free meals in your meal plan:

  • Try replacing one meat-based meal with a meatless one, just once a week.  I have heard a lot of people jumping on the “Meatless Monday” bandwagon.  Just one meal a week makes a big difference!
  • Buy meat from local farms.  Most often this meat is from cows that are allowed to eat what they want (grasses) and roam around in a happy pasture.  It’s often less tainted with E. Coli, has fewer antibiotics (if any), and you support your local economy when you buy from the farmer down the road.  Where can you find these farms?  The good ol’ internet is a great place to start.  ( Or lots of times, the meat comes to you via co-ops or your local farmer’s market.   I love chatting with our gentle beef farmer at our local farmer’s market.  He’s so passionate about his grass-fed beef, he’ll give it away for you to try! 
  • Opt out of meat during normal family-approved fare.  Ever tried taco night without the meat? Its fun!  Black beans, pinto beans, refried beans… you won’t be missing out on flavor!   Or pasta?  One of my kid’s favorite pasta sauces is Peanut Sauce.  It’s packed with protein! Another family favorite is called Penné with Pumpkin Sauce.  I know what you’re thinking… pumpkin?!  Aren’t those just for carving?  (You know, from that holiday no good pastor’s family should celebrate?!)  Au contraire!
  • If you have some true foodie daredevils in your house, you could even try homemade lentil walnut burgers, vegetable curry, gado gado, falafel, jop chai or eggplant parmesan.
  • If you’re concerned about price, try eggs for a non-meat option.  There are some really yummy quiche recipes out there!
  • Kick the lunchmeat habit!  Lunchmeat is one of my biggest vices (its not really meat anyway, so it doesn’t count, right?). It’s also one of the most un-healthy things we can eat.  It’s super processed and typically full of salt and other nasty additives.  In lieu of the dreaded lunchmeat sandwich, try: hummus & pitas, grilled cheese with garden fresh tomatoes, and even good old PB&J!
I know what you are saying right about now, “But I have no recipes for anything even remotely vegetarian.  The only non-meat thing I know how to make is macaroni and cheese from a box.“

Have no fear.  I am going to show you a couple recipes that are so good, you won’t even miss one bite of chicken! 

Sommar’s Peanut Sauce
1/3 cup peanut butter
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1/3 cup water
cayenne, to taste

Place ingredients in a bowl and stir well.  Microwave for about 30 seconds; stir again and serve over noodles, vegetables, pitas, etc.  Also delicious when used as a pizza sauce.  Just add green onions and cheddar cheese.  Yum.

Crustless Broccoli Cheddar Quiches
6 large eggs
½ cup half & half
¾ cup cheddar cheese
1 10 oz package frozen broccoli florets
1/8 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350º.  Grease four 8 oz ramekins (or a 9-inch pie dish); set adside.  Place broccoli in a microwave safe dish and cook in micro about 2-ish minutes; transfer to a cutting board, blot dry with paper towels.  Chop coarsely. 
2.  In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, half & half, ½ tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper and nutmeg.  Stir in broccoli and cheese. 
3. Place ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet.  Ladle broccoli mixture into ramekins, dividing evenly.  Bake until golden brown, 35-40 minutes.  Serve with a crusty bread and salad.

So there you have it.  Just taking one little step can change your family’s health and our earth for the better! 
Buon Appetito! 

© CLUTCH, 2010 unless otherwise sourced.
Use allowed by express written permission only.
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Nancy March 30, 2010 at 3:11 PM  

This is an unbelievably timely blog. We're essentially having a meatless week, eating down the pantry, because of economic reasons - no money to go buy chicken or beef. I don't think my extra-picky hubby would ever go totally meat-free (I don't think I could either - the occasional burger, steak or beef lo mein just hits the spot) but I almost laughed triumphantly when my Black Bean Spaghetti got a "there's no meat in this?" from him. He also had to add that it would have been "better" with meat... oh well. I sneak in the healthy stuff as much as I can...

Anonymous,  March 30, 2010 at 3:19 PM  

Jenah girl, you are one brave soul! Hitting the tough topics right from the start. I have to say...I love it! Although, I am a fast food, meat lovin', chocolate cravin' southern girl...your article has confirmed that my family must adapt to a healthier eating routine. Thanks for providing the necessary facts, information, recipes and encouragement needed to get started.

Keep it coming!!

Anonymous,  March 30, 2010 at 5:30 PM  

hi jenah, i enjoyed your article. andrew has really taken on healthy eating and i think he would really enjoy the recipes you shared. the peanut sauce sounds yummy on pasta and the quiche? all over that too.. please keep sharing this idea's .. you are inspiring this family..<><

jenah March 31, 2010 at 5:25 PM  

@ shash- thanks, girl. ;)
@ nancy- i'm so glad! i could never go completely veggie either- well i guess i should never say never, but i lurrrve me some steak! glad i could help!
@ bishops wife- i love fast food, too (shh! don't tell!) but i try to be a little more conscious of the world around me. i feel like because i am a "privileged" american, that along with that comes more responsibility.
@ anon- the peanut sauce IS yummy! enjoy!

AussieMaz,  April 4, 2010 at 8:07 AM  

Great post! Trying to eat slightly less meat in this Aussie household. Found a good recipe for easy vegetable chilli a few weeks ago, kids scoffed it down, they didn't even notice that there was no meat.

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