Sunday, March 30, 2014

Healthy Eating Challenge and Beyond

Hi everyone,

Do you remember that I participated in a 21-day Healthy Eating Challenge (February 15 through March 8)? I followed it well for the first two weeks and felt amazing! Then, I crashed and burned at the end when my dad visited with a box full of homemade Junior Mint brownies and Irish Bread. I've successfully completed the challenge before, but I didn't want to deny myself that weekend of such special treats or yummy meals out on the town.

During that final week, I faithfully continued to cook myself challenge-approved snacks and meals. But the new recipes I tried were unsuccessful. The Mixed Veggie Enchiladas fell apart into a soggy mush and the Strawberry Ginger Smoothie overflowed out of my little blender. I still ate and drank it all, and it was delicious! It just didn't look pretty, and the proportions weren't exactly right. I'll try both recipes again soon and will share them when I figure out what went wrong.

Despite faltering, I participated in the challenge's closing celebration, a potluck brunch for which I made Lemon Date Balls.

Lemon Date BallsLemon Date Balls 
(Makes about 18)

Tart lemon, nutty walnuts, sesame seeds, rich coconut, and sweet dates come together to make these delightfully tangy treats. 

1 cup chopped pitted dates
1 cup raw walnuts
1 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
1/2 cup unsweetened dried coconut flakes

Place dates, walnuts, sesame seeds, lemon juice, and zest in a food processor. Pulse and blend until completely mixed. The mixture will be slightly sticky. With dampened hands, roll tablespoons of the mixture into balls. Roll in coconut and chill until ready to serve. 

My experience: I don't have a food processor and use my blender for everything. For me, this mixture doesn't just get "a little sticky." It gets so thick that, sometimes, my blender stops working. When that happens, it's a pain. But all I have to do is move the mixture around with a spoon to unclog the machine. Then I just add a bit more water and pulse through it. 

Moving On...
While not the healthiest choice,
Uncle Buck's Beignets are a worthy treat! 
After the challenge was over, I got back on the wagon, at least partially, as I hope to always be. The purpose of the challenge was to reset my body, giving it a clean slate. I think I achieved that in the first two weeks. Aside from the delicious food, the best part of the challenge for me is how it changes my eating habits so quickly and easily. I learned about healthy alternatives and where to buy them, and I don't really crave what I used to eat.

In fact, most of my old favorites don't taste as good to me anymore. The challenge made me aware of the food I'm eating. Even when eating out, I now think of the consequences before I order. If I really want that lobster roll and french fries, that's okay too. I'll never stop myself from enjoying Uncle Buck's Beignets at Founding Farmers once in a while. The key is not eating those things all the time. Now that I know what to eat, how to make myself healthier meals, and how much better they make me feel, the choices are easy and plentiful.

When my sister and nephew visited last weekend, arriving too late for a meal out, I had delicious Sweet Potato and Bean Chili waiting for them.

Sweet Potato and Bean ChiliSweet Potato and Bean Chili 
(Serves 6)

1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped 
1/2 large green bell pepper, chopped
1 small sweet potato, peeled and diced
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, divided
1 tablespoon no-salt-added chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 15-oz can aduki beans
1 15-oz can navy beans
1 14.5 can no-salt-added diced tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup copped cilantro (optional)
Sliced fresh jalapeno peppers (optional)

Heat a large saucepot with lid over a medium-high flame; heat until hot. Add onion, bell pepper, sweet potato, and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes or until it begins to brown and stick to the pan. Stir in 1/2 cup broth and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until vegetables are tender and most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in chili powder, cumin, and cinnamon, and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add remaining  broth, beans, and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, for about 30 minutes or until vegetables and beans are tender and sauce is thickened. Stir in black pepper. Serve with cilantro and jalapenos, if using. 

My experience: This quick and easy recipe is one of my favorites. Because I'm not very tolerant of super-spicy food, I didn't use any jalapeno peppers. However, I recommend topping your chili with cilantro as suggested; a few herbs on top make a big difference in the taste. This chili, paired with a side salad, was a perfect meal for what I hope is this winter's last cold, snowy week. If it's still cold where you are, give this recipe a try. It will warm you up!

Both recipes in this post are courtesy of Ebeth Johnson, Healthy Eating Specialist at Whole Foods, P Street. She's the best, so email her to sign up for her classes, challenges, and recipes!



Anastasia said...

I shouldnt be looking at the Beignets but I am...Im intrigued, what are they? fried dough? I really need to do a food cleanse, Ive been feeling very low on energy lately...

Melissa Connolly said...

Hi Anastasia - Yes, the beignets are fried dough, fancy doughnuts and come with three dipping sauces - chocolate, caramel, or berry flavor. They're amazing, but everything is delicious at Founding Farmers. :-) The next time you visit, we'll go there!