I can’t eat well because I have to cook for my family!

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“I can’t eat well because I have to cook for my busy family and they are used to eating a certain way.” I hear this one all too often, especially as schedules fill, with kids back to school and extracurricular activities ramping up. Not only do we socialize with friends who also have kids, but many of my nutrition students are parents, too! I want you to meet one such student, as she is more than qualified to wear the “super busy mom, coach and caretaker” badge! Although she found herself hooked by that very excuse, she has successfully moved from “excuse-itarian” to “do-er,” and so can you!

My name is Carrie Mohr, and I am a wife, and mother of five, who coached soccer and softball for 17 years. I worked full-time and devoted 4 days a week to practices, with games and tournaments dominating our weekends. Busy was my middle name!  I quickly became aware that I had to get organized about meal planning or I’d end up shuttling the family from one drive-thru fast food restaurant to the next!  I also grew up in the heartland of America, where our family meals centered around meat, with a small serving of vegetables, often overcooked, and definitely overlooked! When I went back to school and began studying nutrition, I became more aware of the health benefits of a plant-based eating pattern, and was intrigued. I wanted to be the healthiest “me” and act with integrity, as I also have a special place in my heart for animals and care deeply about how they are treated. As the “gatekeeper” when it comes to nutrition for our family, I knew that I had to lead by example, while also staying physically and emotionally strong and healthy, so that I could continue to take care of my husband and five kids! I was determined to prepare quick, economical, plant-based recipes that were as tasty as the meat-centered recipes I grew up with and had been cooking for my own family.

My plant-based path started gradually, with meal by meal conversions that involved swapping meat with plant-based gems like legumes and mushrooms. While some families overhaul their kitchens overnight, I approached it as a journey and recognized that diligence was a key to our success. We stumbled here and there, but that is life, and it wasn’t worth adding drama! I realized that there was a whole world of ingredient options with which to experiment. I discovered that tacos, lasagna, spaghetti and many other meals I regularly served could be made with plant-based whole foods. When I struggled with re-creating a family favorite, I hit the internet and found an abundance of imaginative recipes to celebrate plant-based ingredients and cultural flavors, while keeping the family satisfied.

Time always seems to be in short supply as a parent and coach, but when I block off a few time slots (and am diligent about honoring them), I am amazed by how easy it makes evening meals! My designated “prep time” became early Sunday mornings, and when I prioritize the meal/ingredient prep for an hour or two, my refrigerator becomes a container-filled oasis! We have cut up veggies and fruits, cooked whole grain and beans, all ready for easy meals and snacks. I can have a stir-fry on the table in minutes, accompanied by a fruit salad, since I have the ingredients already prepped and ready to go. Some of my refrigerated staples include: carrots, mushrooms, jicama, kale (chopped) and cucumbers. I always have a bowl of romaine lettuce, cleaned and chopped into bite size pieces, ready to serve as the base for a crispy salad.

My tangy cucumber salad is one of my family’s favorite dishes to enjoy with lunch or dinner. I grew up with my grandma making it in her kitchen. No measuring necessary! Simply combine sliced cucumbers with thinly sliced red onions and tomato chunks (optional). Sprinkle with a dash of sugar and some black pepper, and cover with white vinegar and a lid. It will store well in the refrigerator for several days. As my family eats the cucumber salad throughout the week, I continue to chop and add more cucumber and onion, so the batch never ends and is available when someone needs a quick snack!

I also use lentils or meatless crumbles, instead of ground beef or turkey now, prepped in minutes with a pot of spaghetti sauce, which I cool and bag for pasta nights. I have always loved spaghetti squash and often use this instead of pasta, when in season. I use the crumbles for prepping taco “meat” which I freeze and have ready to warm, add some black beans, salsa, avocado and prepped lettuce – tacos in minutes!

One of my favorite morning meals is definitely one that I found in my nutrition professor’s cookbook, The Foodie Bar Way. I absolutely love “Mom’s Apple Berry Nachos!” This is very simple, filling, tasty and fun to eat. Another breakfast standby is Muesli, which I learned about after reading an article about one of Professor Hagenburger’s students from Switzerland. I prep my simple version the night before, by combining uncooked oatmeal with our favorite almond milk, chopped dried fruit (prepped on Sundays), shredded apple, a tablespoon or two of almonds or cashews, along with a dash of cinnamon. While I enjoy this cold, some of my family members like to warm their portion in the microwave.

I am happy to report that four of our five children are living a plant-strong lifestyle and my husband is adapting, having lost more than 20 pounds up to this point in his journey!  So now, we have a new normal, as our go-to family recipes are being prepared meat-free and actually preferred by my family. Since I have stayed consistent, my family expects, looks forward to and has fun taste-testing my new plant-based creations! The only limitation is our imagination. What we choose to eat really does matter when it comes to our health, and I finally realized that setting aside the prep time has really paid off, as our whole family is eating and feeling better than ever!

My husband makes a delicious salsa, and I turned this into a “meal maker” by adding beans and whole grains to come up with a quick option for late night dinners or a lunch on the fly! Since this has become a fast family favorite, our version of fast food, I make sure that we always have the ingredients on hand. I keep a container of soaked bulgur in the refrigerator (Sunday prep), along with a bowl of my husband’s salsa. You’ll find a red onion in our cabinet (or diced in the fridge), and canned beans in our pantry. This recipe works well for our busy family, especially when we get home late, hungry and tired after sports practices.

Mohr’s 2-Minute Meal Maker 

Super satisfying, amazingly versatile and incredibly simple! The ingredients comes together in a few minutes and can be used to create a diverse array of meals to enjoy throughout the week!

Ingredients

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained but not rinsed (or 1 ½ cups of cooked beans)

½ cup salsa, store bought or homemade

¾ cup bulgur, presoaked in warm/hot water until tender

¼ cup onion, finely chopped (don’t hesitate to add more)

Black pepper, freshly ground

Optional toppings:

Fresh cilantro or finely shredded kale

Fresh avocado (optional)

Procedure

Combine the black beans, salsa, softened bulgur, and chopped onion in medium bowl. Sprinkle with black pepper and serve warm or cold, in steamed collard leaves, lettuce wraps or whole grain tortillas, as a topping for a roasted sweet potato, nachos or a crispy green salad, or straight out of a bowl, topped with avocado, finely shredded kale and/or fresh cilantro!

Timaree Hagenburger, a registered dietitian, certified exercise physiologist with a master’s degree in public health, and is a nutrition professor at Cosumnes River College, where she is launching a new Plant-Based Nutrition and Sustainable Agriculture certificate program. She is so grateful to be able to connect with her students like Carrie, who is a role model for her family and friends! Timaree also conducts local events, corporate wellness work, has a regular segment on California Bountiful TV and published her first cookbook – The Foodie Bar Way: One meal. Lots of options. Everyone’s happy. available at www.FoodieBars.com – where you will also find details about Timaree’s upcoming events (cooking demos, book signings and talks about the incredible power you yield with your fork!).

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