No time to eat well? Too busy taking care of everything and everyone?

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Isn’t it amazing how quickly the time seems to fly between Halloween and New Year’s Day?! So many tasks related to taking care of our loved ones and making the holidays memorable, that it is tempting to let your self-care fall by the wayside, and be tempted by the excuse: “No time to eat well, too busy taking care of everything/everyone!” If your healthful habits have taken the back seat, my student Marishia Lopez, and her family’s story may motivate you to be more intentional with your food choices.

My name is Marishia Lopez and I am an architecture student at Cosumnes River College, who took Timaree Hagenburger’s NUTRI 300 class to fulfill a “life skills” requirement. I had no idea how important of a “life skill” nutrition was and how much what I learned would impact my family. Thinking about my childhood, I am amazed by all of the responsibilities that my mother, a single parent of four, managed on her own. Although she cooked at home quite a bit, I can remember getting “take out” when things were super busy, especially around the holidays. After a long day at work, followed by a slew of errands, we’d order a pizza or she’d pick up wings and fries on the way home. The food certainly was not the best for our health, but we associated it with our time to relax with one another. Of course, this family time had everything to do with the intentional time together, but we had also linked the feelings and memories to the food that we ate. Years later, when I took my nutrition class and we became interested in a whole food, plant-based diet, we had some concerns. We were worried that we wouldn’t have enough time to prepare healthful meals and might also miss out on the feelings associated with our “comfort foods.”

Then, my family and I learned that healthy living can be time efficient and can even strengthen our emotional and physical connections. We realized that there were so many benefits to moving from excuse-itarians to do-ers. We were truly making a significantly positive impact on each other’s lives. We were finally able to move forward because then we knew that our choices today were going to enable us to keep making memories into the future! To my mom’s surprise, she found that she was saving time cooking with plant-based ingredients. No longer did she have to worry about meat defrosting or extended cooking times due to temperature requirements to reduce our risk of food poisoning. She was able to get meals on the table so much quicker, with more time to enjoy each other’s company and connect. As a family, we are also saving money eating this way! Take out and other “convenience food” not only takes a toll on our health, but it really adds up in the finance department!

The best way to counteract the “too busy” excuse and become a full-fledged “do-er” is to be honest with yourself and be prepared. If you know that you have a busy week coming up, which would normally make you more inclined to eat out, plan for it. In my house, the issue is dealt with by meal planning/prepping. We always have a few meals in mind when we go to the grocery store. It is a lot easier to cook when you know what you’re making and have purchased everything you need. We set the time aside to cook house staples like beans, rice, oatmeal, and cut veggies for the week to come, and it makes all the difference.

Our approach is very effective because we catch ourselves before we have time to use the “too busy” excuse. We want to make it easy on ourselves, so we stay on top of our schedules and plan our food accordingly. By having our meal staples precooked or prepped, we can whip something up quicker than ordering a meal out and we feel so much better after we eat! When I know that there is food at home that is going to go bad if we don’t eat it, I don’t even consider going out, and end up saving so much money in the process! We also use our freezer for any extra batches we might want to have on hand in the future.

Another fun strategy for making this a habit is to get creative. I think that it is very easy for people to also use excuses when they are bored. We stay excited about the food we’re eating by always being on the lookout for new recipes to try! We also make our meal prep time fun, by catching up on our favorite shows or listening to music while we’re cooking. We make this time in the kitchen special, since each of us know that we are making the active choice to be a “do-er” for the health and future of our family. I wanted to share a recipe for a new family favorite, as we do love our Taco Nights!

Marishia’s Black Bean and Sweet Potato Tacos (recipe modified by Marishia from http://www.simplyrecipes.com)

Ingredients

For the roasted sweet potatoes:
2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 2 cups cubed)
2 cup of mushrooms, diced
1-2 teaspoons chili powder
1-2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (optional)
Vegetable broth or water, as needed

For the beans:
1/2 medium red onion, diced (about 1/2 cup diced)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon of cumin
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed (or ~1 ½ cups cooked from dry)
1 cup vegetable broth

Options for taco assembly (Professor Hagenburger’s Foodie Bar™ style!):
10 to 12 corn tortillas (or romaine lettuce leaves)
Salsa
Hot Sauce
Pico de gallo
1 ripe avocado, sliced thin
Nutritional yeast
Fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
Shredded purple cabbage
Lime wedges

Procedure
1. Preheat oven to 350-375F.
2. Roast the sweet potatoes: In a medium-sized bowl, toss the sweet potatoes and mushrooms, vegetable broth, cumin, chili powder, nutritional yeast and salt (if using). Spread on a baking sheet in an even layer. Bake 40-45 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

3. Make the black beans: While the sweet potatoes roast, add the onions to a pan over medium high heat. Add the garlic and cumin, and sauté 2 minutes more, adding in a few tablespoons of veggie broth if veggies are sticking to the pan. Fold in beans and add remaining vegetable broth. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are soft and seasoned, about 10 to 15 minutes.

4. Warm the tortillas or prepare the lettuce: Briefly heat the tortillas one or two at a time in a dry skillet until warm. Transfer to a plate and cover with a towel until ready to serve. If using romaine lettuce, rinse well and wrap in paper towel and refrigerate to keep cool and crisp until taco assembly begins.

5. Set up the Taco Foodie Bar™: Have each person create their perfect tacos with the roasted sweet potato mixture, the tasty black beans and their favorite toppings! (see list above and add to it!)

From The Nutrition Professor:
Life can be especially challenging this time of year, with so much going on in our lives, that food and healthy habits can easily get put on the back burner. We may even try to rationalize poor food choices in the name of “giving ourselves a break,” not realizing that they can undermine our ability to stay energized, with a clear mind and ample patience when we face daunting “to do” lists and inevitable bumps in the road. Remember that every bite, every sip, every step and every thought is a choice. Choose with intention and celebrate becoming a better version of yourself.

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 filled with gratitude to be able to connect with her students like Marishia, who is leading her family toward a healthy future, one bite at a time! 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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