Bring Back the Home-Cooked Meal

Cooking healthy meals from scratch with loved ones is an art, a joy and a gift.

The home-cooked meal is fast becoming a lost art. With that loss, we also lose reverence for family time, and appreciation for what is becoming one of the most under-rated domestic rituals.

While a home-cooked dinner can be a wonderful time of bonding for your family, it can also provide an opportunity to learn what real food is and where it comes from.

It’s easy to get caught up in our hectic lives. We rush to get the kids off to school in the morning, exhaust ourselves at work all day, then come home and take care of personal chores with whatever remaining energy we might have. It’s not surprising that home cooking is increasingly viewed as a tedious, arduous and unnecessary chore. Instead, we rely heavily on eating commercially prepared food or industrial home-cooked meals made with processed ingredients optimized for maximum shelf life and manufactured by factory machinery.

Researcher Margaret Beck, of UCLA's Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF), studied mealtime habits and rituals in the United States, and found that
some 70 percent of families take time to cook food, but that the majority of that food is pre-prepared "convenience" foods, like "Hamburger Helper" or some other mostly prefabricated fare.

Surprisingly, she found that people didn't save much time by using convenience foods compared with making dinner from scratch.

Beck also learned that kids often eat separate meals, or at least different entrees, than their parents. Mothers make nearly all the meals, and kids are often totally uninvolved in its preparation.

There is something fundamentally wrong with our disconnection from food. We eat mindlessly and lack interest in the source, quality and production of our food. Yet our apathy doesn't change the fact that our bodies -- and therefore our minds, senses of well being and health -- are made up of this food we care so little about.

Many people view the daily preparation of healthy meals as an impossible aspiration. They enter the grocery store without a list of ingredients to buy, without knowledge about ingredients, and without specific dishes in mind. So they resort to packaged and frozen foods or worse: restaurants and fast food. Restaurants at
Amira Elganevery corner are teeming with diners, grocery stores’ convenience food departments can’t keep up with long lines of people buying already prepared foods packaged "to go" and online food delivery entrepreneurs who sell and deliver frozen “gourmet” meals can’t keep up with the growing demand.

It’s time to get re-acquainted with our kitchens, with fresh ingredients and the joy of cooking meals made from scratch with loved ones. It's time to stop viewing meal preparation as only a means to satisfy the requirement of eating, but as part of the joy and pleasure we take in food, in nurturing our bodies and minds, and in each other's company around our dinner table.

With practice, a few organizational skills and time-saving tips, eating home-cooked meals can be easier, cheaper, healthier and immeasurably more rewarding than conventional modern fare.

Healthy food can be prepared from scratch very quickly. The secret is to develop an attainable strategy, and plan accordingly.

Here are 10 steps to fast, easy and healthy homemade meals:

1. Plan weekly menus.

Keep it simple and think SLOW (foods that are Seasonal, Local, Organic and Whole). On your first weekly day off, early in the morning, look up recipes in cookbooks or online and use them to plan a menu for five or seven days for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The idea is to create several weekly menus to re-use in the future.

2. Eat more plant foods.

It’s quicker, easier, cheaper and healthier. Your eating plan should include plenty of leafy greens, colorful vegetables, fruit, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, tempeh, tofu, seitan. If you must animal protein or animal products such as dairy and eggs, eat only free-range, grass fed meat raised without cruelty and free of hormones and antibiotics. Fish eaters, stick to wild fish and those lower in mercury. The more organic and local, the better.

3. Create a shopping list.

Built it according to the menu and recipes but be sure to check your pantry and refrigerator to see what you already have on hand. Take this opportunity to clean out your refrigerator and pantry and re-organize.

4. Create a master shopping list.

Over time, maintain a list of all items you ever buy using categories according to the store sections you shop at (i.e. vegetables, fruit, refrigerated, bulk foods, cleaning, frozen, baking, etc.) If you shop at more than one place or store, break down the list further per location or do a list for each store (i.e. Farmer’s market, Co-op, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, etc.). The list is a “living document” that you should add to and cut from regularly.

5. Go shopping early in the morning.

Beat the crowds. And the old rule of thumb still applies: Eat before you leave -- never shop hungry.

6. Buy only what is on your shopping list.

Stay away from packaged foods and always read labels carefully. Don’t forget to shop at Farmers’ Markets if you have access to one.

7. As soon as you return from shopping, put things away.

Place the menu on a visible area and plan what you’ll be cooking later that day or the next day. The objective is to prepare items that take a long time to make or are more involved in preparing such as soaking beans, cooking beans, brown rice, making sauces or dressings, etc.

8. Plan on leftovers.

Plan on making sufficient amounts of items that are popular with the family so you have leftovers for lunch the next day. They can be warmed up as a snack or used as ingredients to create a quick and easy second meal.

9. Centralize food information.

Keep the menus and shopping list visible in the kitchen for easy access and reference for everyone in the family to see.

10. Do it together!

Cooking and setting the table should be a team effort -- everyone at home helps. Play music, talk about the food you're preparing, and enjoy each other's company.

Planning ahead and getting organized is key to making these time-saving techniques worth while and pleasing. Eating homemade meals is nourishing to your body, your health, your soul and your loved ones. And you’ll reap the benefits by looking and feeling healthier, younger and more relaxed and energetic. Let’s celebrate family unity with wholesome home-cooked meals around the dinner table, bon appetite!

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Live Up To Yourself

“Live up to the best that is in you: Live noble lives, as you all may, in whatever condition you may find yourselves."
-Logan Pearsall Smith

Your Wholesome Life

This newsletter and blog are free, but I make my living providing one-on-one holistic health counseling, either in person or by phone.

I invite you to contact me and let me help you make the changes you always wanted to make, one step at a time. The first initial one-hour consultation is free.

When it comes to overall health and happiness, it’s all connected; your food, your relationships, your lifestyle and you career are all part of the equation. I’d love to help you find your solution.


Give Beets A Chance

Of the list of vegetables everyone loves to hate, nothing beats beets. One reason for their bad reputation is that too many of us grew up eating canned beets. But beets, also known as beetroots, are unfairly disdained. And while they stain everything they touch once cooked, have high sugar content and contain oxalic acid, beets have much more to offer.

Freshly prepared beets have a delectable sweet and earthy flavor. Not only can they make a plate of food brilliantly colorful and beautiful, but they’re a good source of anthocyanins, which are beneficial antioxidants that may help protect against cancer and heart disease. They’re also rich in potassium, B vitamin, folate, manganese and have a pretty good amount of vitamin C, fiber, magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus.

When it comes to beets, you can’t beat their value, either. Not much goes to waste -- both the leafy green tops and the roots of beets make nutritious additions to any meal.

The beet greens are incredibly rich in potassium, folic acid and beta carotene. The leafy greens can be sautéed in olive oil with crushed garlic, lemon juice, sea salt and pepper over low heat for a few minutes until desired tenderness.

It should be noted, however, that beet greens (like Swiss chards and spinach) contain oxalates, which are naturally occurring compounds found in plants, animals and humans. The human body routinely converts substances into oxalates. In concentrated quantities, oxalates may crystallize in the body and
cause health problems. Studies have shown that oxalates can also reduce the body’s ability to absorb calcium. But when foods containing oxalates are eaten in moderation as part of a well-balanced diet, oxalate containing foods have been shown to be beneficial to a healthy person with a healthy digestive system. Unless you suffer from kidney stones, calcium rich plant foods containing oxalic acid overall contribute significant amounts of nutrients including calcium to your healthy diet.

Although beets are available year round, their prime season is June through October. Beets vary in shape; globe or cylindrical. They also vary in size and color including deep red, golden orange and white.

My favorite method of preparing beetroots is by steaming them with the skin on to maximize their nutrient retention. It takes roughly 30 to 40 minutes depending on the size. Once they’re tender to the prick of a fork, remove from heat and rinse them in cold water over the sink. The skins will slide right off.

Of course, baking (under 375 degrees) or roasting beets (above 375 degrees) are also simple ways to prepare beets with their skins on. Cut greens off leaving one inch stems. Place in a pan or cookie sheet uncovered and drizzled with olive oil or wrapped in aluminum foil. Bake or roast for 50 to 60 minutes depending on size and oven temperature.

I like using small to medium sized beets; they taste better and cook faster. To store, remove greens leaving only about one or two inches of stem on the beetroots. The unwashed leafy greens will last a couple of days in the fridge whereas the beets will last a couple of weeks if stored in the refrigerator.

Once you get to know your beets, you might grow to like them. Give beets a chance—try them in salads, raw (grated) or cooked (sliced). And let me know how it goes.

Stay motivated - Read health-related research news, events and commentary every day. Check out Amira's Vegetarian Organic Life Blog.

Oats OK for Gluten-Free Diets

After an extensive review of scientific research, Canada’s federal health agency, Health Canada, finds that it is safe for most individuals with Celiac Disease to add limited amounts of pure oats (oats not contaminated by gluten-containing grains including wheat, barley, rye, spelt and kamut) to their gluten-free diets. Health Canada advises, however, that certain individuals with celiac disease might experience adverse reactions when consuming oats and therefore recommends consulting a doctor before making any dietary changes.

What is Celiac Disease and how is it cured?

Celiac disease, also known as gluten-sensitive enteropathy, nontropical sprue and celiac sprue, is a genetic autoimmune disorder that destroys the villi, tiny finger-like projections, in the small intestine when gluten-containing food is ingested preventing the absorption of nutrients from food.

Although this inherited disease cannot be cured, it can be treated by eating a gluten-free diet for life.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, rye (and, previously believed, oats) that gives flours their doughy and elastic consistency.

What are the Symptoms?

Not everyone affected by this autoimmune disorder experiences noticeable reactions. Symptoms among individuals who suffer from celiac disease range in severity and vary but can include digestion difficulties, abdominal discomfort and bloating, constipation or diarrhea, mouth sores, fatigue, joint pain, irritability, skin rash, depression, infertility, unexplained weight loss and numbness in the legs.

How Can You Include Sufficient Whole Grains in a Gluten-Free Diet?

While it’s widely believed that it is challenging to include enough grains in a gluten-free diet, the reality is that it is simple enough, especially when eating home-cooked meals made from scratch. Quinoa, corn, pure buckwheat, millet, amaranth, brown and wild rice are excellent grains that can be incorporated into a gluten-free diet. Many gluten-free flours, pastas and cereals made from these grains can be easily found at many grocery and health food stores. Note that products vary by manufacturer and it’s important to make sure that specific brands you buy are gluten-free.

Find more information on celiac disease at the Celiac Sprue Association, the Celiac Disease Foundation and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.

Celiac Disease Foundation
Celiac Sprue Association
National Foundation for Celiac Awareness


Summer Loving Vegetable Salad with Adzuki Beans and Quinoa

Click on the picture for a closer look!

It’s wonderfully gratifying eating composed salads in the summer when many varieties of lettuces and vegetables are abundantly available. It’s also an excellent time to boost nutrient intake for a strong immunity system to fortify yourself for winter.

I love cooking seasonally, and my weekly trips to the farmer’s market provide the obvious answers to what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This vegetable salad with adzuki beans and quinoa is loaded with protein, vitamins and minerals. Made with freshly harvested seasonal veggies from my local farmer’s market, including the earthy flavors of beets, this salad is satisfyingly delicious with a symphony of flavors.

Cook’s Tidbits: Adzuki beans and quinoa make nutritious additions to a healthy diet and making them once a week, on your day off, will simplify your meal making process. Add them to soups, salads or make side dishes or entrées out them.

Preparation time: 10 minutes Cooking time: 40 minutes

Get ingredients ready (use organic ingredients if possible)

½ head butter lettuce (or green leaf lettuce)
½ head romaine lettuce
½ red onion, thinly sliced
1 cucumber, thinly sliced
2 medium golden-orange beets, cooked, peeled and sliced
2 medium red beets, cooked, peeled and sliced (see Food for Thought above)
2 cups cooked quinoa, cold or warm (recipe follows)
2 cups cooked adzuki beans, cold or warm (recipe follows)
1 ripe avocado, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
1 large orange or red bell pepper, seeded, deribbed and julienned or cut into thin slices
1 cup citrus cilantro vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Citrus Cilantro Vinaigrette: (yields about 1½ cups)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup flaxseed oil (or hemp or safflower)
¼ cup lemon juice, fresh squeezed
⅓ cup orange juice, fresh squeezed
¼ cup sherry wine vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
1 large shallot, finely chopped
Leaves from 5 sprigs of fresh thyme, finely chopped (or 2 teaspoons dried thyme)
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
4 fresh garlic cloves, minced or crushed
1 tablespoon prepared mustard, whole-grain or Dijon
1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
½ teaspoon salt

Adzuki beans:
2 cups adzuki beans (picked over and thoroughly washed)
4 cups fat-free vegetable stock
4 cups water
4 fresh garlic cloves
1 small onion, cut in half
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt

1 cup quinoa (thoroughly rinsed)
1 cup water
1 cup vegetable broth
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt

Adzuki beans preparation:
In a large pot, bring to a boil beans, garlic, onions, water and broth. Stir occasionally and remove any foam that forms on top. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until tender (about 30 to 40 minutes). Once they’re done, add salt and let them cool off uncovered.

Quinoa preparation:
In a medium pot, bring water and vegetable broth to a boil. Add quinoa, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed. Add salt and pepper and fluff with a fork.

Citrus Cilantro Vinaigrette preparation:
In a large bowl, whisk together all the ingredients; olive oil, flaxseed oil, lemon and orange juices, vinegar, shallot, thyme, cilantro, garlic, mustard, pepper and salt. Transfer to a jar or bottle and keep leftovers refrigerated. Taste for desired seasoning.

Assembling salad:
1. Place the lettuce, cucumber, bell peppers and onions in a large bowl, add salt and black pepper and toss with ⅓ cup of the vinaigrette. Place tossed salad on center of 4 dinner plates.

2. Arrange 4 slices of beets overlapping around the greens alternating colors. Divide avocado slices into 4 portions and arrange them on one side of the salad greens near the beets.

3. On a separate bowl, toss 2 cups of drained adzuki beans with ¼ cup of the vinaigrette. On another bowl, toss 2 cups of quinoa with ¼ cup of the vinaigrette.

4. Top the greens and some of the beets on each plate with ½ cup of quinoa and ½ cup of adzuki beans, drizzle each salad with a little more vinaigrette if desired. Serve and enjoy.



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