When I was at the University of Minnesota finishing my undergraduate degree, I found myself in line for the microwave in the student lounge with the Dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. He asked what I studied and when I told him I was in the Nutrition Dietetics program, he asked what motivated me to take that direction.
"I'm interested in local food systems," I replied.
In response, he said something to the effect of, "I like the idea of local foods, but I can really only eat so many turnips and rutabagas, so it loses me come wintertime."
At the time, I honestly didn't know how to respond. I probably laughed, blushed, and went back to my lunch, but the conversation stuck with me all these years. At the time, I think turnips and potatoes probably were among the few local foods that we available in the midst of the cold season (you see, edible plants don't grow too well under several feet of snow...). Over the coming years, we strengthened our local economy and farmers followed demand. The MN Department of Agriculture and the USDA both provided grants and loans for building season-extending infrastructure on farms to provide Midwesterners with carrots, beets, onions, garlic, winter squash, sweet potatoes, potatoes and even some cold-hardy greens in the winter. Last year I bought locally-grown carrots at my neighborhood grocery store all the way into the spring! I don't know about you, but that makes my heart warm...and my mouth water - winter carrots are the sweetest!
The global market is an incredible thing (it's also deeply flawed, but that's a conversation for an environmental economist to tackle and for me to sit in the back of the room cheering). The global market brings citrus and avocados to Minnesota, where it's going to take several more decades of global warming before we can grow those on our home turf. This market also puts a huge variety of foods in front of us at every grocery store. And while the variety and creativity that selection offers is exciting and probably nutritionally beneficial, it also disrupts our connection to the physical world we live in.
Here's an example:
In Minnesota, tomatoes, watermelon and cucumbers are ready to harvest in the heat of the summer. These foods are full of water and electrolytes, which help balance the amount of sweat we produce in the humidity and heat. They cool us down while replenishing our body fluids. That's needed at that time of year.
Now we move forward a few months and the temperatures drop. Our bodies are working hard to stay warm. The last thing we need is to eat cold foods like salads, smoothies or ice cream, or cooling foods like raw tomatoes, watermelon and cucumbers when goosebumps are a permanent accessory to our outfits.
So what is a way of eating this time of year that supports balance and restores harmony in our bodies?
If you start feeling the pot roasts and mashed potatoes settle into your middle section, send the extra insulation your gratitude. When we remember that we are part of the animal kingdom, it makes good sense that we'd put on a little extra weight for the cold season. Before you consider skipping lunch or following some fad diet, reassure yourself that spring is coming. And with it comes lighter foods, longer days and restless energy just waiting to take you for a jog. Spring is a season primed for detoxification and lightening up.
You are part of this beautiful planet, remember that. So put on a few pounds and stay in touch. I'll share some tips for losing it when the time comes to do so.
I usually find it easier to eat clean and healthy during the summer, because there is so much delicious, local food available at the farmers markets and from my backyard garden. But, for the first time in my life as an avid cook, I am overwhelmed with the amount of preparation and time it takes to prepare healthy meals. This post is a reminder for myself on how simple it can be and 3 simple steps to take to eat well, and still have the energy to enjoy the food I cook during a busy work week.
Step 1: Make a plan
Eating well is like anything else: if you set yourself up to succeed, you will. And all it takes is a few short moments to get organized, choose recipes, and schedule them into the week (This is even easier since I started using Plan to Eat). In my household, we can get away with cooking 3-4 unique meals each week and feed ourselves with the leftovers the other days of the week. We cook extra each time we cook and package up serving size containers of leftovers to reheat for the next day's lunch. I encourage those of you who do not like leftovers to get over it: leftovers make life so much easier!
Step 2: Rely on quick cooking whole grains
Whole grains, like brown rice, quinoa, millet, and farro, are not only delicious, but packed with nutrients and fiber. Every week I make 1-2 "deli" salads with a whole grain base for lunches - easy breezy! Many whole grains take up to an hour to cook, which is easier to work into a weekend meal than a weekday meal. If brown rice is your thing, make it easier on yourself by either cooking a big batch at the beginning of the week to use in dishes throughout the week, or cover the rice with water before you head off to work and let them soak all day. This is halve their cooking time (and make them deliciously digestible). Another option is to play with quicker cooking grains, like quinoa, soba (buckwheat) noodles, and farro, which cook up in only 25-30 minutes.
Step 3: Prep your veggies ahead
Some vegetables take a while to prepare, so to incorporate a cornucopia of these nutrient powerhouses often requires some planning. I try to prepare as much in advance as possible, so it's easy to throw together a meal for lunch or dinner during the work week. Here are a few tips:
* Wash and shred/tear/chop salad fixings for the whole week: lettuce and salad greens, carrots, pea pods, cucumbers, bell peppers, beets, etc.Make a lot and only turn the oven on once, especially when it's hot outside. Roast a bunch of beets, summer squash and zucchini, or root vegetables in one fell swoop and enjoy them all week long in various forms. If you season them lightly with just salt and pepper, they can be as versatile as you need them to be.Have quick cooking veggies on hand for those days you're scrambling to get a meal in between commitments: pea pods, green beans, cherry tomatoes, baby lettuces, asparagus, broccoli and cauliflower florets. With a few other ingredients to flavor and round out a meal, these simple ingredients keep you packing healthy energy.
I hope these tips help you get in the kitchen...and happy to be there. Happy cooking!
It's winter. And in the Midwest, winter is in full force this year. Yesterday, we endured the 42nd day below 0 in Minnesota this season. So, yeah, it's been kinda rough around here. If weathering the cold - and grey - is making you glum, here are a few ideas for boosting your mood and exciting your energy so the next 42 days don't feel so heavy.
Beat back the winter blues, my friends! You've now got the tools to even enjoy it a little bit. Maybe.
I love food.
I love thinking about it, talking about it, writing about it. I love growing food, cooking and eating food. I use this space to try to convey that. Follow me on social media for more day-to-day inspiration on these topics.