Food Habits: Self-Evaluation

I am a creature of (strange) habit.

Every night, before I go to bed I set the alarm on my phone. Every morning I wake up before the alarm goes off because there is nothing I hate more than being jolted awake by an obnoxious ring.

Today, when I wake up to a snow-covered world, my instinct is to run downstairs, pull on my bright blue snow pants and dash out to build snow forts and freeze my fingers until I can’t feel them any more and need to come inside and de-thaw with a steaming mug of hot chocolate. Just like when I was eight years old.

This week, in my Food and Culture class, I had the opportunity to reflect on my personal food habits by filling out a self-evaluation form. As a Dietetics student and a self-admitted “foodie”, I imagine I think about my food habits more than the average person. But it was still interesting to think about why I eat as I do and what cultural influences affect how I eat.

In order to make healthy changes to your diet, it’s important to evaluate the way you are currently eating. As a Dietitian one day, that is what I hope to do so it was good for me to start with evaluating my own diet. I’m sharing a bit of what I learned here. I’d love to read some of your own food habits in the comments!

Meal Composition/Cycle

How many meals do you eat each day? I eat three meals a day, with breakfast being my largest and most important meal. I tend to decrease meal sizes as the day goes on and my dinners are often smaller than my lunches, simply because I feel less hungry and in need of energy at the end of the day. I also am a big snacker, but try to limit myself to two-three medium sized snacks a day.

What elements (bread, rice, meat, vegetables, or other) are needed to make a meal for you?  It is very rare that a meal does not include vegetables in some form – often as salad loaded with other veggies. Even at breakfast, I often incorporate spinach, pumpkin, or shredded carrots. Another necessary element of my meals is a protein source. I am a vegetarian so this is usually in the form of beans, hummus, tofu/tempeh, yogurt, or cottage cheese. I also usually have some kind of whole grain at a meal: whole wheat toast, oats, millet, or brown rice

What is a typical serving size of meat, starch, and vegetable for you? I don’t eat meat, but my protein servings are typically:  ½c. beans or tofu, 2 eggs, ¾c. Greek yogurt, ½c. cottage cheese. A starch serving is typically ½c. and a typical vegetable serving is 1c.

How often do you snack each day?  What types of foods do you consider a snack? I eat about two to three snacks per day. My favorite snacks are fresh fruit, carrot sticks and hummus, or toast with peanut butter

Food Attitudes

How do your food habits differ from your family norms?  Those of friends?  Those of people you work with?  In what significant ways do they differ? Most of my friends know me as a “health nut” because I often opt out of fast food or ice cream and choose the salad bars at restaurants. Culturally, here in Lancaster County most of my friends eat a Pennsylvania Dutch diet – a lot of pork and potatoes. My family eats a more Italian diet – based in pasta, olive oil, lots of spices and garlic.

Sometimes, I have to fight against the personal bias against people who eat meat or lots of processed foods. I know everyone has different standards and habits when it comes to food and I don’t want what to make what I believe is best for me to be a standard I hold everyone else to.

Application: I am very willing to try new foods! I love ethnic cuisine, especially Mexican and Asian – both trying them at restaurants or friends’ houses and trying new recipes. Growing up on Long Island , New York, a very multicultural place, I was exposed to a lot of different cultures and ethnic food traditions. I think being willing to experience and celebrate the traditions of other people is the best way to avoid ethnocentric judgments.

How to Cope: Peanut Butter Crunch Popcorn

There are certain words I never want to hear again: school, exams, due-dates, study.

There are other words I can’t get enough of: snow, lights, cinnamon, carols, and peppermint.

Every week, school has become more more unbearable. And now, here is the end. In a few days, the books will be laid aside for three glorious weeks. Christmas is so close I can smell it. Or is that my steaming Chai tea? No matter. Chai and Christmas are pretty much the same thing, anyway.

A few small things helped me make it through without totally losing my sanity.

High on the list were my study buddies. All throughout a long and tortuous semester of Biochemistry, the girls around my table kept me smiling. Four days a week we met together, shared anxiety over quizzes, gave each other pep talks, and  laughed over dumb lab mistakes, which were always mine, and shared pencils with those who packed mascara but forgot any writing instruments. Which, again, was always me. Always.

The day before exams, we met together one last time in the library for a real intense study session. So intense the four of us camped out at a table all afternoon and came prepared with nourishment, in the form of Christmas cookies, fruit snacks, and coffee. So intense I remembered to bring a pen. Unfortunately, I forgot paper but it all worked out because we ended up talking a whole lot more than writing.

I wanted to give my special friends a little token of appreciation. We’ve been through a whole lot together and I wanted them to know that no matter how horrendous the semester was, I was glad for the friendships that came out of them. I also wanted them to know that even though our paths were diverging, I was still going to think about them and pray for them.

So, naturally I made Peanut Butter Crunch Popcorn. It’s only fitting for the occasion, right? The perfect snack to accompany late night bonding times with the textbooks. The perfect sweetness and crunch to remember better times and get a taste of Christmas waiting on the other side.

And who am I kidding. It was finals week and I needed to extract myself from my studying “hole.” The kitchen is my choice coping mechanism. Nothing like getting peanut butter in your hair to relieve stress.

It's snowing popcorn!

Peanut Butter Crunch Popcorn
~
Adapted from The Kitchn

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c. popcorn kernels
  • 2/3 c. honey
  • 1 T. vegetable oil
  • 1/3 c. brown sugar
  • 2/3 c. natural, creamy peanut butter (no sugar added)
  • 1 T. vanilla extract
  • 2 c. puffed kamut (optional)
  • 1 c. peanuts
  • 2/3 c. almonds
  • 1/2 t. salt (optional)

Directions

  • Microwave pop kernels using the paper bag method: In a small, lunch-bag style paper bag, pour about 3 T. kernels. Tightly roll over the top of the bag to “seal” and microwave about 3 minutes, or until popping slows (about 5 seconds between pops). Repeat until all the kernels have been popped.

(I used a trimmed TJ’s bag. Really, Joe, how do you not save my life?)

  • Spread popcorn out on sprayed cookie sheets to cool. Remove any unpopped kernels.
  • In a large saucepan or Dutch Oven, heat honey, brown sugar, and oil. Bring to a slow simmer.
  • Remove pan from heat and immediately stir in peanut butter and vanilla.
  • Working quickly, stir popcorn, kamut, and nuts into pan and with a wooden spoon or spatula, mix to thoroughly coat popcorn.
  • Spread popcorn on to cooking sheets, breaking apart clumps. Sprinkle with salt if desired. Let cool at least 10 minutes. Popcorn can be stored in a airtight container

It’s all over today. I walked out of the classroom like I was walking on air. Then I came home and immediately pulled out the popcorn kernels. Lunch today was a pan of peanut butter popcorn and a bowl of broccoli. Yum, fiber.

Sometimes, you just got to do what you got to do.

Good Food Doesn’t Last

Meet my new favorite snack.

Only, we aren’t currently friends because he’s all gone. He came for a day and then was gone without even a proper goodbye.

How rude.

Many good things don’t last forever.

Lately every time our family is all together — eating around the dinner table, or watching movies in the living room, Dad has been thanking God because “we won’t all be together much longer.” What are you saying, Dad? Who’s going anywhere? 

But it’s true. Time rolls on and the present realities become memories of the past. I’m no longer a cowlicked seven year old spending whole afternoons with my nose in the American Girl series or broadcasting radio shows with my sisters. My little sister drives away — by herself — to her first college class and I realize we’re never going back to the forts under the stairs

As I’m typing this at the kitchen (surrounded by textbooks I should be reading), I look outside the window to streaming snowflakes creating a winter wonderland where yesterday was an autumn watercolor. The vibrant colors of October are fading fast even though I’ve hardly savored them enough.

It doesn’t mean that new good things will never come. They will, but they will be different. So I want to learn to cherish the blessings I enjoy right now.  I want to have a perspective of eternity, redeeming the time so none of it goes to waste. In this swiftly moving life of gain and loss, I’ve found stability in securing myself on the one thing I know will last forever: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jeremiah 31:3). The unshakable love of God is my rock and gives me hope in forever.

Anyway, back to this snack mix. It is really good, especially considering it was born out of a runaway thought that could have easily flopped. My goal was to create a portable mix of crunchy salty “power-foods” that rival the flavor of one of my snack vices favorites, Chex Mix, which never stands a chance with me.

You will never find this at the grocery store bagged alongside the Lays and Fritos. But that doesn’t really mean anything, right? It’s deliciousness is really evidenced to Mom and I crowding around the pan, burning fingers and tongues as we inhaled half a batch. Bet you can’t eat just one chickpea.

Move over, Chex. You never saw this one coming.

Good-for-you Snack Mix

Ingredients

  • Three medium carrots
  • 1 medium potato
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1 t. olive oil
  • 1 t. sea salt
  • 1 can (15 oz) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 bag of natural popcorn, popped
  • 3/4 c. almonds
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1 T. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 t. soy sauce
  • 1/2 t. garlic powder

Directions

  • Make Veggie Chips: Prepare oven to 400F. With a sharp knife, slice carrots, potato, and zucchini into very thin slices (about 1/8 inch). Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle oil over top and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake about 1 hour or until crispy, flipping halfway through.
  • Roast chickpeas on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray in a 400F oven for about 20 minutes, or until toasted. Don’t let them get too crisp, as they will be baked more later.
  • Reduce heat to 250F. Add veggie chips, chickpeas, popcorn, and almonds to a large casserole dish. In a medium saucepan, melt butter and stir in remaining seasonings. Pour into dish and stir so everything is evenly coated.
  • Bake 45 minutes – 1 hour until dry, stirring every 15 minutes. Let cool completely before storing in air-tight containers.

This is a packable snackable if I’ve ever seen one. That is if it survives the cooling process. No matter how you eat it, just be sure to savor every bite. It most certainly will not last long.

An Exam is Like a Marathon

Fuel:

Maple apple oats, peach tea, weight textbook lifting

Nervous jitters:

I’ve trained so hard…but I’m so unprepared. I just want it to be over…I hope a hurricane/tornado/earthquake happens right now so I never have to start.

Fast forward several painful hours, a finish line and stopped clock later…

Refuel:

Peach Chobani, banana bruised from sharing backpack space with four notebooks, a fat stack of flashcards, and a large umbrella

Rice with roasted veggies and steamed spinach = demolished.

Coffee in the library. Shh…it was necessary.

Recovery:

Everything hurts. I don’t want to ever get up. Not ever.

Makeovers that Count

I spent Thursday in my pajamas. All day long.

I wore them while jump roping, grunting, and sweating in the basement at seven am. I then took a shower and then put them right back on.

I wore them while sitting at the kitchen table for a million hours doing homework.

I climbed the stairs at a late hour to get ready for bed and realized all I had to do was brush my teeth and crawl under the covers. Done and done.

Thursday is my day off, and you better believe I’m taking advantage of it. My goal is to do all the cozy homey things I daydream about during Biochem lectures and backpack lugging stair hikes.

The French Press is set a-brewing, the fuzzy socks are broken out and Josh Groban is turned on repeat. I know how studying can make me a crazy, unbearable crank and how a happy atmosphere does wonders for my attitude. And my family’s sanity.

If the pajamas, coffee, socks, and Josh do their job, and my mood soars to the point that I am reading Kant like he’s an old friend, eventually the creative juices plugged up during long stale at school begin to flow again and my brain fairly explodes with fresh new ideas.

In other words, most Thursdays end with me in the kitchen cooking up a storm. In my pajamas.

I may look the prime candidate for “What Not to Wear”, in sad need of a makeover, but I am at my happiest. I love that for one day I don’t worry about what I look like. And I’m learning that sometimes the “makeover” I most need is an internal one — a change of attitude. From a grumpy and stressed young woman to a cheerful and blessed one. The transformation isn’t really brought on by fuzzy socks and peaceful music, but by spending a day at home with my family, spending more time with God in prayer and in His Word, taking the time to breath, look around and count my blessings.

And cooking with some TLC, giving a favorite meal a makeover. Because this is one that counts.

One of my favorite things about healthy, vegetarian cooking is finding ways to recreate old favorite comfort foods into something abundant in nutrition and not lacking in yummyness.

Enter our contestant, homemade chili — soothing, warming, filling comfort at it’s best. A few tweaks, cuts, additions and highlights, and ta-da! Vegetarian Chili Pie.

Vegetarian Chili Pie

Lentil Walnut “Meat”

  • 1 c. dry lentils
  • 3 c. water
  • 1 packet vegetable broth
  • 3/4 c. walnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 c. sunflower seeds
  • 1 t. chili powder
  • 1 t. garlic salt
  • 1 t. paprika
  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 T. Chili powder
  • 1 t. red pepper flakes
  • 2 t. paprika,
  • 1 t. salt,
  • 1 t. garlic powder,
  • 1/2 t. pepper

Cornbread topping

  • 1 c. cornmeal
  • 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t,
  • 1 eggs
  • 3/4 c. milk
  • 1/2 c. corn

Directions

  • Prepare your lentil “meat”: In a medium sauce pan, cover dry lentils with water and vegetable bouillon. Bring to a rolling boil, then cover and let simmer about twenty minutes or until lentils are soft. Uncover, remove from heat, and stir in walnuts and sunflower seeds so that they soften a bit with the cooling lentils.
  • When lentil-nut mixture is cool, add to a food processor or blender. Add spices. Pulverize until texture resembles coarse grumbled meat. Don’t blend too far, or you will end up with mush :). Set aside.

    Cauliflower "rice"

  • Cauliflower “rice”: Meanwhile, steam cauliflower until soft. Let cool and then add to food processor and pulverize quickly until texture resembles rice. This does not take very long at all — just a few quick turns of the blade. Again, don’t blend too far unless you want cauliflower mashed potatoes.
  • Chili filling: Combine tomatoes, beans, and spices in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  • Cornbread topping: Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl. Add eggs, milk, and corn and mix until smooth.
  • Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly grease a pie dish and sprinkle the bottom with cornmeal.
  • Layer cauliflower, tomato-bean mixture, then lentil-nut mixture. Carefully spoon cornbread batter over the lentil mix and sprinkle walnuts on top.
  • Bake for about thirty minutes or until cornbread is set.

With some trepidation, I cut into the pie. I had no idea whether it would be a complete flop. But it did not disappoint. It was everything I love about chili and so much more. The seasonings come through beautifully and the cornbread topping was a great decision.  And the lentil-walnut faux-meat — Oh my. Words cannot describe. Let’s just say it made the dish. Beef is like the ugly stepsister of this deliciousness.

I don’t calculate the nutritional information for everything I make, but I had an idea the stats on this recipe would be pretty stellar.

15 grams of protein, 13 grams of fiber, chockfull of vitamins, low in fat, and positively delicious.

It’s the kind of makeover that counts.

On Monday afternoon, I’ll plop down my twenty-pound backpack and open my lunchbox to a scrumptious piece of Thursday joy. And with the first bite, I’ll be transported to happier thoughts, fuzzy socks, and a Josh Groban soundtrack in my mind. Instant heart-lift.

However, if you want the maximum comfort food effect, I highly recommend you eat this in your pajamas.

It’s Beginning to Taste Like Fall

Something is happening.

The other morning, instead of daily iced coffee routine, I woke up craving steaming green tea. I had to search deep behind stacks and stacks of mugs to find one big enough.

Another strange thing. It is no surprise that whenever Mom goes anywhere, she almost always manages to drive by a farm stand and almost comes home with a big bag of fresh produce. But the surprise came when she pulled a big butternut squash out of the bag and declared, “It’s time you make butternut apple soup again.” Which I haven’t done yet because butternut squash are far more pretty to look at then to cut.

And then there are all this packages that kept appearing on our front step and now there is a mountain of textbooks stacked in the middle of my bedroom floor. I’m scared to go near it, lest there be an avalanche, so I’m considering sleeping on the couch until it melts.

Oh, and the past couple days when I’ve stepped outside for my early morning runs, I have been shocked by a cool breeze. Where did that come from? And why do I still sweat like it’s 90 degrees?

So the hot tea, butternut squashes, textbooks, and breezy mornings have brought me to a conclusion: The seasons are a-changing. Opening my calendar to September 1 this morning confirmed my suspicions. Autumn is coming.

There’s an excitement that creeps over me at this time of year, just as shades of red and orange creep into summer’s green leaves. There is something about the crisp air, the evening glow, campfires and woolly sweaters that makes my heart so glad. And it reminds me of the faithfulness of God, shown in the way the seasons cycle and the earth is renewed every year. “He did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17).

But I also know that with summer’s end comes the end of other things as well. Like baking. Let me tell you, I took every opportunity to bake this summer because I knew they would soon be no more. Now, the afternoons I’m not in classes must be devoted to studying. Now, instead of dusting myself in flour from head to toe, I’m spilling chemicals in Biochemistry lab (please, don’t comment. I’m an absolute klutz in the lab). Now, I’m not pursuing cookbooks on a lawn chair, I’m bent over Plato and Locke. In bed. With the covers pulled up to my chin.

During my last week of freedom, I decided to devote my last baking project to making something that would welcome the new season with open arms, to embody everything I loved about fall.

Well hello there, beautiful. I think I can handle you.

Please make this. On a autumn school night, this banana apple bread will keep you warm company, especially if paired with a mammoth mug of hot tea. I promise it will give you happy thoughts during lab disasters and strength to tackle The Leviathan.

And it’s easy enough to whip on a weekend or in between study sessions (shh, I won’t tell).

It’s-Almost-Fall Apple Banana Bread

  • 1 c. whole wheat flour
  • ½ c. rolled oats
  • 2 T. flax seed meal
  • ½ t. baking soda
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • ¼ t. salt
  • ½ t. cinnamon
  • 3 ripe bananas mashed (about 1 ½ c.)
  • ¼  c. honey
  • ¼ c. natural peanut butter
  • ¼ c. unsweetened applesauce
  • ¼ t. vanilla
  • 1 medium apple, sliced.

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 8-inch cake pan or 8×4 loaf pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, flax, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
  • In a separate bowl, blend mashed banana, honey, peanut butter, applesauce and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Add liquids to dry ingredients and stir just until combined.
  • Pour batter into pan and smooth top with a spoon. Arrange apple slices on top, only overlapping slightly.Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Fall I welcome you with open arms. And open mouth.
In bed with the covers pulled up to my chin.