I was a picky eater as I child. Have I mentioned that before? If food wasn’t cooked, cut or served a certain way, it was NOT passing my lips. I can remember calmly sitting at the dinner table until bedtime because I refused to eat something my mom had made. I would’ve sat there until hell needed to open up a North Face due to below zero temperatures before eating something I didn’t want to eat. When I cut dairy and junk food (I had been a vegetarian for almost 10 years when this happened) out of my diet, I was left with startlingly few choices (so I thought), and so began my plant-based journey to abundant food. Here are just a few of my discoveries:
- Whole grains are the spice of life. I didn’t know that there was more than white pasta and uncle ben’s rice. It took a few times to get quinoa and millet down (note: always rinse quinoa before you cook it, and try dry-pan frying millet before you cook it too, it gets a nutty taste this way). I was slower to warm up to brown and wild rice, but they’re a staple in my pantry now. Choosing different grains can change up a meal and add some excitement to your dinner. My next experiment will be amaranth, the journey continues!
- Not all vegetables are created equal. There used to be a long list of vegetables that I wouldn’t go near with a 10-foot pole, but I slowly started experimenting, and now I count vegetables as my friends. After my raw-food stint of eating a salad at least once a day, I got to know vegetables really well. The trick? Organic tastes better than conventional hands down. I’m not a strict organic buyer, I look for local first and foremost, but once I cut out the junk food and my taste-buds start recovering, I definitely noticed a difference in quality produce. A tomato in January seems unappealing? It should, it’s definitely not growing naturally around here. Buy it canned instead, make a soup, and wait it out until spring. Confession: I still can’t stomach cucumbers. I know I’m crazy, but I just can’t do it. I have a goal to slowly introduce cucumbers in my juicing, like a centimetre at a time, but we’ll see…I’m scared.
- Beans really are magical! I used to have lentils every now and then, but in the quest for a balanced diet, I realized I can put beans in almost anything. Beans started showing up in my salads, in pasta, cooked with rice, in soup, in chilli, alone as a side, in dips and spreads. I am working on getting beans into my desserts, and the bean take-over will be complete. I often use canned beans, even though I know dried is better for me. And I know there aren’t any excuses for not putting beans out to soak at night, it takes five minutes, but honestly, I’m not yet a meal planner. I think up what we’re having for dinner about 5 minutes before I start making it. So except for lentils (which miraculously take the same amount of time to cook as pasta or quinoa and even less than rice!) I keep a couple cans of beans handy. If you’re using canned beans just make sure to rinse them really well before eating, since they tend to have a lot of sodium added.
- Recipes can be a drag. I learned that I need to trust my gut when it comes to cooking, and while recipes can be a great starting place, food can be just as good, if not better, if you veer off the beaten path. I learned about substitutions and what can work instead of what. A potato stew can taste just as good with celery instead of fennel. Don’t be afraid to try a recipe if you don’t have all the ingredients.
- SNACK! Don’t let hunger play a part in what (or where) you choose to eat. I travel everywhere now with tamari almonds, or raisins and cashews, or dried apricots or mangos, or a straight up apple or banana. No one makes good decisions when they are starving, so don’t let yourself go there. Also, it makes for smaller portion sizes at dinner if you don’t feel the need to inhale everything insight because you haven’t eaten since lunch.
- Find substitutes. At first I missed cheese a lot. But really, cheese is just a fat, so I turned to my good friend the avocado. I was a bit of a guacamole addict for awhile, but it fed my craving, and once I didn’t have the craving anymore, I moved on (hummus, you rule my world).
- Keep It Simple Stupid. I’ve learned to appreciate basic meals: beans and rice, or sweet potato and quinoa, or a straight up salad. You don’t need to get fancy in order to enjoy good food. You can be healthy, and not slave away in the kitchen for hours. Keeping it simple means that when you do treat yourself to a gourmet meal, it will be all the more special. I know, we all drool over the fancy blogs and cookbooks, and I agree gourmet cooking is an awesome treat every once in awhile, but don’t put pressure on yourself to do it every day. Enjoy a sliced avocado with lemon and salt; baby carrots, cherry tomatoes and hummus; sliced apple and almond butter; simple but delicious and filling!
My change didn’t happen overnight, but learning to listen to my body opened up a brave new world of food for me. Once the processed junk was gone, I could hear what my body wanted, and I now probably eat more varieties of food than I ever ate before.
…and I’m working on those cucumbers.
How about you? What new foods have you discovered that you never would’ve touched before (or had never heard of?)