How and Why I’m Cooking Healthier in 2015

IMG_1685One of my resolutions for 2015 was to cook healthier. That’s sounds like a big lifestyle change, but it’s actually not a huge leap for me because I was raised a Seventh-day Adventist, and Adventists are recognized for their extraordinary health and longevity. Huffington Post, for instance, reported that SDAs “live an average of 10 years longer than the American life expectancy of about 79 years.” I’m proud of us for this! (See also this article by The Atlantic). 

Adventists preach and practice healthy living, including a vegetarian diet with lots of fruits, grains, and nuts; no caffeine; observing Sabbath rest; and other measures like fresh air, sunshine, and exercise. Now then, why have I recommitted to getting healthier if I’m part of this exemplary group?

Individual Adventists adhere to these corporate beliefs in varying degrees, and my husband and I are no exception. Although Buc converted me to vegetarianism after we married (previously I had just avoided the “unclean meats,” like pork and seafood), I’m the one who likes to eat vegetables–he’s more of a carbs and cheese guy. So, after I noticed that he didn’t appreciate me shaking up his diet, I largely gave up experimental, “healthy” cooking, and caved too often to pasta, pizza, and other carb-y, cheesy foods. Not the best for health, or for weight loss, I realized, when I couldn’t shake my last ten prego pounds.

So several months ago, in pursuit of shedding those last pounds, I severely cut carbs and learned to substitute grains, like quinoa and couscous, in my cooking. More recently, I identified other areas that needed reform–namely, too much caffeine and sugar, and “eating emergencies” that I was ill-prepared for (I will share more in my next post). But the biggest reason I decided to alter my diet was Sam.

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At one year old (can you believe it?), Sam is at a critical place regarding his future health. From observing other kids, I know that the habits set early often blossom into lifestyles. A toddler who eats veggies turns into a teen who eats them; a toddler who doesn’t have to turns into a teen who won’t. I didn’t want to miss this tender opportunity to set Sam’s taste buds on the right course. But I knew this would take some effort.

With Sam now needing to eat real food three times a day, plus snacks, I needed more foods in my tool belt. I needed to become a better cook. Kids have small stomachs and high metabolisms, and they need stuff to munch on throughout the day. I can’t fend off Sam’s hunger with a cup of coffee like I’ve often done with myself (oops…again, more on my personal food issues in my next post). So I simply need to have good food options on hand.

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Tofu veggies and oat burgers. Yum!

To my advantage, I already had a reliable rotation of healthy meals (some of which my hubby will eat!), like lentils, chili, and vegetable potpie; and I had plenty more recipes at my fingertips in the Adventist cookbooks sitting on my shelf. Now, it was just time to use them…but use them wisely, in such a way that Buc would go along with me.

I didn’t think I could change every single meal from cheese- or pasta- to plant-based—and I honestly didn’t want to, as I enjoy a good stuffed crust pizza as much as the next American. But I figured a couple tweaks would ensure a generally healthy baseline, so it would be okay to splurge once in awhile.

The plan I came up with, as outlined in a previous post, was to cook two healthy meals per week, to let Buc choose meals on two other nights, and to go out to eat once a week to give us all a break with cooking and cleanup. So far, our plan is going great!

I’ve found that two “real” cooking sessions per week (I define “real” cooking as having to slice and dice, not just heat up) provide enough to furnish lunch leftovers for our small family on most weekdays. This schedule also leaves room in the supper schedule for Buc to make or request meals closer to his liking, so he is more likely to eat healthy with me on my “real cooking” days. As another benefit, cooking only twice a week (I’m talking on weekdays, not weekends) has freed me up to write more, or do other things for my home and family.

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Vegetable Potpie

So, how is Sam liking this healthy food, you ask? Surprisingly well! Since I’ve implemented my plan, he has eaten oat burgers and tofu veggies, vegetable pot pie, and a mess of other things not often associated with kids, such as onions and kale (I’ve found a strong soup base does much to camouflage these tastes!). Buc is less enthusiastic about my healthy cooking, conditioned as his taste buds are to crave nachos and cheese enchiladas, but I won’t give up providing healthy options, now that I have an extra eating buddy in the house. After all, even if Buc doesn’t always eat my cooking, two out of three ain’t bad!

 

 

Happy First Birthday, Sam!

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The Gendkes, November 2014

Today is Sam’s first birthday, so I’m pausing my focus on New Year’s goals to take a look back at one significant way Sam changed my life this past year: my relationships with my in-laws.

This past year I connected with my husband’s family more than I ever have. I think I even started referring to them as my family. And I finally felt at home in Texas. Ironic, right? (If you missed it, we recently moved to Missouri.)

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First Attempt at a Family Photo, November 2014

To understand the change, you have to know that I joined my husband’s boisterous, fun-loving family nearly ten years ago…at a time when I was dejected, depressed, and not good at opening up to people. I was sad and quiet, and the Gendkes were happy and loud. At family gatherings, I felt like an outsider. I thought I didn’t belong in this close-knit family where kids were among the top topics of conversation.

Sam and "Tia" (Aunt Joanna)
Sam and “Tia” (Auntie Joanna), the night before we left Texas

Over the years as God healed certain parts of my heart, I inserted my voice more, but it wasn’t until I had Sam that I felt I could really join the conversation. When Sam came along, and even as he grew in my womb, I saw my in-laws, especially my mother- and sisters-in law, open up in ways I hadn’t seen before. And this allowed me to open my heart to them.

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Sam with Aunt Deb

Sister-in-law Deb orchestrated a beautiful baby shower and lovingly made the only wall decorations that hang in Sam’s room. Mother-in-law Margie dropped off gifts—picture frames, Christmas ornaments, a night-light—in anticipation of our new baby. A few days before my due date, sister-in-law Joanna called to ask if there was anything I needed her to pick up at Target. After Sam’s birth, the aunties alternated gifting baby clothes and toys they “couldn’t resist.”

Sam and "Tio" (Uncle Brady)
Sam and “Tio” (Uncle Brady)

Sam’s uncles, Brady and Bo, even stepped up. When Sam was two months old, pediatric nurse Brady wowed Buc and me with an expert football hold and showed us how to pull the bottle in and out to start a baby sucking again when he’s stopped. Bo would hold Sam for long periods of time in those early months, Sam napping in his arms, until the day Sam decided to cry at the first sight of Bo (sorry, Bo!). Though often chair bound, my father-in-law, “Pop,” even found ways to bond with Sam.

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Sam with Uncle “Bo-bo”

I can’t express how these precious memories overwhelm my heart. And that’s to say nothing of all the times Joanna, Margie, or Deb babysat for me. That’s to say nothing of how my nieces and nephew attached to Sam, or the many times a family member stopped over at just the right time—usually Sam’s five’o clock meltdown—so I could make supper and take a few deep breaths. Oh yeah, and I’m not sure this move to Missouri would’ve gone off without their help.

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Sam with “Nanny and Poppy” ( Margie and Mike)

I credit my mother- and father in-law, Mike and Margie, for building something beautiful with the Gendke family. Though the Gendkes’ Southern/Italian customs, loud conversations, food choices and pastimes did not always translate to the liking of this quiet Northern girl, the love of this family, and its strong bond, has come through loud and clear. Especially now that I have a child.

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(Not to leave out my own side of the family!) Sam with Grandpa Daryl (my dad). My own parents and step-parents have shown the same love to Sam that the Gendkes have each time they’ve had the chance…but living 1,000 miles away for his first year, they had far fewer chances. Ironically, now in St. Louis, we are in the middle of our two families, so we hope to get to see my side more often.

A baby provides a fresh start, a clean slate, for people to grab onto. Maybe adults don’t feel comfortable exposing their true feelings to other adults, who could reject them, or not reciprocate. But a baby is different. A baby needs love, feeds on love, and gives love without restraint (unless you’re currently Uncle Bo. Sorry again, Bo).

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Sam with Grandma Su (my mom)

I understand now, like I didn’t before, that to show love to a person’s child is to show love to that person. I regret that I have not been very good about showing love to my nieces, nephew, and siblings in the past. But until Sam, I wasn’t a kid person, I thought. I wasn’t a family person, I thought.

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Sam with Grandma Juanita (my step-mom)

During this past year, Sam (along with his uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents) has taught me that all human beings have it wired into them to be “baby people,” and “family people.” That doesn’t mean we all need to have babies. Certainly, it is not the best option for all.

Sam and Me, ready to visit a new church
Sam and Me, ready to visit a new church

But after my first year of parenting, I’m glad I’ve gotten this chance. Though life has definitely become more complicated, my relationships have been enriched—not only my relationship with my husband (my co-worker in this awesome job), but also my relationships with extended family. And then, there is my precious Sam. Adorable. Irreplaceable. Heaven sent.

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“Duck” was Sam’s second word, second only to “Mom.”

Happy one-year, dear Sam! And thank you, Family, for making the first year of Sam’s life great. I’m not sure I would have survived (at least with my sanity intact) without you. Please visit often!