I absolutely love when a dish looks so pretty. Don’t you?
Sometimes I am reluctant to share these simple dishes that I eat all the time on the blog just because they are so easy. I think I might have a “difficulty bias” – this idea that in order to be “blog-worthy” a recipe has to be complicated, unique or at least require multiple steps or the combination of unlikely ingredients. But that’s just not the way I eat on a daily basis. And really, aren’t we all looking for simple, nutritious and tasty meals and snacks that are easy to prepare?
Especially at this is time of year, when people everywhere start talking about “eating healthy”, “getting healthy”, “losing weight”, “eating clean” and “finally getting serious about my diet.”
I have to be honest, every time I hear someone say they are starting a “diet” in January, or cutting out a major food group, like carbs or sweets or dairy (unless of course you have an allergy or intolerance) I get nervous. I’ve written extensively about my feelings about New Year’s Resolutions and while I certainly don’t fault anyone who wants to get healthier, I think that when we attach these goals to January 1st we put so much pressure on ourselves that we are almost destined to fail.
- 80% of ALL New Year’s resolutions fail (and I’ve actually seen numbers as high as 92%), often by February
- Up to 95% of all people who lose weight through “dieting” will gain it back again
- 65% of people who resolved to “lose weight” last year (and the year before), made the SAME resolution this year
As far as cutting out food groups go – I really shouldn’t have to say anything about that. Unless you have a food allergy, in which case eliminating your trigger foods is ABSOLUTELY necessary, forbidding yourself from eating certain foods is not a healthy approach to eating. Perhaps I feel so strongly about this because we do have food allergies in our house and I have had to eliminate food groups, multiple ones, on both a permanent and temporary basis, so I just can’t understand why anyone would do this voluntarily.
I know I risk offending all vegans and paleo eaters out there – but I guess I just don’t care. I whole-heartedly believe that you can eat healthy and include all real foods, as long as you choose strategically. I am a firm believer in moderation. (I know this approach doesn’t work for everyone, but I always worry that abstainers will completely fall off the wagon if they have even one small deviation from their eating habits). I just don’t believe it is sustainable to deny yourself certain foods in perpetuity.
Or any fun. And I firmly believe that food can, and should, be fun.
Since my family adopted our real-food diet about three and a half years ago none of us have entered January with the need to completely overhaul our eating habits. I’m not going to pretend that we don’t indulge a little bit more in December (just look at the recipes I chose to post on the blog, including the reasons behind the Cherry Almond Smoothie I posted last week to help up my nutrient intake). In addition to holiday parties and Christmas celebrations, we have four birthdays in our family between December 19th and January 17th and we definitely eat out more than usual during this time. But the truth is, by the time my birthday rolls around in the beginning of January we are all tired of cake. And eating out.
We had plans to eat out on both Saturday and Sunday last weekend. And on both evenings I opted to throw together quick meals at home instead: red beans and rice on Saturday and quesadillas on Sunday. I’ve also just cleaned our my pantry and tossed our leftover Christmas cookies. We enjoyed them for awhile, and Kevin, especially, loves having a cookie platter with multiple varieties to choose from, but none of us feel the need to “eat all the cookies”. I got over the guilt of wasting food a long time ago.
My kids were super excited to have veggies and hummus (Kyle) and veggies and Greek yogurt ranch dip (Kelly) and two kinds of fruit in their lunches yesterday. They just honestly like their fruits and veggies. Kelly commented to me, “It’s so nice to see real food again.”
Which brings me to Tip Number 1 for how to clean up your diet without going crazy:
1. Commit to real food eating for 6 weeks. I know this sounds like a long time (but tips 2 and 3 will make it easier, I promise). Cut out fast food, junk food, soda, processed/store bought treats and vegetable oils. Basically, if it comes in a package leave it on the shelf. I know it is emotionally and psychologically uncomfortable to make changes to your lifestyle, particularly with something as basic as “eating,” so give yourself a fair chance and commit to real food for at least six weeks. This will give your body and your mind time to adapt to your new lifestyle. Research suggests that it takes anywhere between 21 and 60 days to form a new habit. I think 6 weeks is a realistic time frame to become accustomed to eating healthier. Focusing on real food for this amount of time will also change your taste buds. My family doesn’t even like fast food, Doritos or grocery store cake anymore. Honest.
2. Don’t deprive yourself. This is really two tips in one, but both are centered around not punishing yourself by depriving yourself of the foods you like . Before you embark on your 6-week challenge make sure you plan ahead and stock your refrigerator and pantry with real food substitutes for your favorite foods. Here’s a couple tips to get you started:
2a. You can eat anything you want, as long as you make it yourself. Limit packaged goods to those products that have seven ingredients or less. (Some people recommend 5 ingredients or less, and if you want to be this strict go for it. But I believe in small, incremental and sustainable changes, so I’d start with seven). But, and this is a big but, if you want ice-cream, muffins (there are tons of recipes on this blog), bread, or even chocolate chip cookies, that’s okay – just make them yourself.
Admittedly this one was pretty easy for me because I’d been making almost all of our “treats” and baked goods from scratch for years because of my son’s allergies. If you are not already in this habit, though, you may just wind up eating less of these things. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And you will definitely want to follow the advice in 2b.
2b: Adopt some “Sanity-Saving Switches”. When we first made the switch from SAD (standard American diet) to a real-food base diet I scoured labels and blogs and healthy eating guides and basically anything I could get my hands on that would help me find some easy, packaged items I could keep on hand AND feel good about eating. I’ve posted about our favorite go-to snacks here and here, but in case you don’t feel like clicking over I’ll include some of the “snacks” you can find in my pantry and fridge at almost all times: Triscuits (just 3 ingredients), Crunch Master Multi-Grain Crackers, Popcorn (kernels and all-natural bagged popcorn), Organic Blue Corn Chips (three ingredients: corn, oil and salt), whole-milk Greek yogurt, “That’s It” Bars, Cheddar Cheese Sticks, Hummus, Guacamole, and fruit cups packed in fruit juice (that darn fruit allergy drastically limits the number of fresh fruits that Kevin and I can eat). Lara Bars and Rx Bars are also great choices, and for that matter so are raw nuts – but given their nut content are not go-to’s for my kiddos.
3. Focus on the Positive. Finally, instead of focusing on all the foods you can’t have, instead challenge yourself each day to eat the foods you should be eating, starting with fruits and veggies, lean proteins and whole grains. When you commit to eating 5-7 servings of fruit and vegetables everyday, or having some protein with every meal or snack, and trying a different new whole grain each week, there’s not as much room in your diet for the junky stuff. Plus, you’ll be so satiated from the good stuff you won’t be hungry for the junk.
And last but least, also in the realm of being positive, be kind to yourself. Instead of beating yourself up for the less than healthy choices you may have made in the past or calling yourself names or critiquing your body, celebrate the fact that today you choose to be healthy. Love yourself as you are, right this minute, tell yourself you are worth it and be proud of yourself for embarking on this new journey toward a healthier you.
That’s it – just start with those three simple things and you will be on the road to healthier eating in no time.
Okay, now onto the “recipe.” It honestly couldn’t be simpler.
Many years ago my Mom did something called “diet school” and she had to follow a number of very rigid recipes and complete a series of ten “exercises” three times each day. I honestly don’t remember much about this protocol, except that I thought it was silly, and the “diet cheesecakes” were delicious. These cheesecakes were made by combining ricotta cheese, gelatin and artificial sweetener. They were meant to be served with veggies (like broccoli, spinach or green beans [most likely the canned variety because fresh veggies were not a thing back then]) for a protein-packed meal (I’m not sure why they needed sweetener for this purpose) or with fruit for a simple breakfast or dessert.
How I loved these cheesecakes! I have been making them for years, in a variety of flavors, to have on hand for breakfast. Not because I’ve been on a diet, per se, but because they taste good are are nutritious. Plus, there is just something so enticing about eating cheesecake for breakfast.
Yes – I did just say that – on a clean eating plan you CAN have cheesecake for breakfast!
But sometimes I don’t want to be bothered with the gelatin and time it takes for a “diet cheesecake” to set. And since I love ricotta cheese I am perfectly happy to just mix up my high-quality ricotta with some raw honey and vanilla and top it with fruit. Sprinkle a few chia seeds on top and you have the perfect easy breakfast or healthy snack.
This recipe makes one serving, because often I am the only one “indulging” in this dish, but feel free to multiply the recipe for the number of servings you need. And, of course, you can substitute any fruit for the frozen cherries. But as you might be able to tell, I am on quite a cherry kick right now.