Quinoa Bowl with Kabocha & Tahini

Jumpstart your healthy eating routine with this Quinoa Bowl with Kabocha & Tahini!

The other day, Alex and I both became aware that our bodies were feeling a little bit sluggish and our pants were fitting a juusssssst a little bit snugger. Recognizing that we had enjoyed ourselves quite a bit the last few months, with brunches, birthday parties, happy hours, homemade cookies & crackers, etc. we made a conscious decision to clean up our act the next few weeks.

I don’t know about you, but when we decide to get serious about eating healthy – we have to make a plan that will actually work for us and not try to limit ourselves so insanely that we can’t sustain it for more than a few days. We’re not paleo people or low carb people – we simply commit to being more conscious of our eating and supporting each other so we make healthy choices together.

Here’s our go-to philosophy for clean eating regimens:

  • conscious of portions – no mindless eating!
  • eat when we’re hungry, not out of boredom
  • no alcohol during the weekdays
  • no baked goods during the weekdays
  • don’t have unhealthy snacks & chips in the house
  • pack healthy lunches & eat dinners at home during the weekdays
  • prep healthy grains, protein and veggies in advance so meals are easy to put together

A few samples of what this looks like in practice:

  • Breakfast: Overnight Oats with raw nuts, seeds & berries (no PB)
  • Lunch:
    • Salad with filling protein & delicious veggies
    • Warm Quinoa Bowls
      • with roasted chicken, chard, tomatoes, and sriracha
      • with chickpeas, roasted kabocha squash, chard, tomatoes, and tahini
      • with chicken sausage, saurkraut, and roasted beets
    • Healthy Wraps (multigrain or flax wraps with lower calories than bread)
      • with roasted chicken, avocado, hummus, cucumbers and sriracha
      • with roasted veggies, avocado, sprouts and balsamic dressing
  • Snacks:
    • Small yogurt or kombucha
    • Cucumber & carrot sticks with 1 tbsp of hummus
    • Hard boiled egg
  • Dinner:
    • Roasted chicken & veggies with green salad
    • Cumin crusted salmon with zoodles and mint yogurt
    • Tofu & Veggie Stirfry with quinoa (or small portion of brown rice)
  • Dessert???
    • Strawberries or mango for a sweet palate cleanser is my go-to when I really need a treat

Out of love for our bodies and compassion for ourselves, we try not to do strict diets where we completely cut out certain food groups or count calories – instead we come up with healthy recipes together that excite us but limit less healthy grains, sugars, and fats. It’s also fun to grocery shop with this in mind – we go crazy in the produce aisle and buy lots of veggies that will hold us through the week.

Over the next few days I will post guides & tips for a few of the meal recommendations above. To get you started though….

Warm Quinoa Bowl with Kabocha & Tahini

Ingredients

Meal Prep – quinoa and kabocha

  • 1.5 cups uncooked quinoa
  • Spices: cumin, paprika, salt & pep
  • 1/2 can chickpeas
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 kabocha squash, halved, seeds removed
  • Coconut or olive oil for brushing

Lunch Bowl Add Ins

  • 2 chard leaves, chopped into bite sized pieces (or kale or other green veggie)
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • 1 lemon wedge
  • 1 tsp tahini
  • sriracha

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400.
  2. Brush the inside of your kabocha squash with coconut or olive oil. Season with paprika, cumin, salt & pep. Optional: brush it with a little red curry paste. Place the halves face down on a baking sheet and put in the oven for 35-40 minutes or until it is golden and has some crusty bits on the edges. A fork inserted into the flesh should go in easily. Once done, set aside on the baking sheet and let it cool – it is verrrrrrry hard to handle when it’s hot!
  3. Put 1.5 cups uncooked quinoa in your rice cooker (or pot over medium-low heat on the stove) and cover with 3 cups water. Season with a few shakes of cumin and paprika and with salt & pep. Let it cook for 10 minutes, then add in canned chickpeas and give it a stir. Continue cooking until fluffy and the white ring on the quinoa becomes visible.
  4. At this point, you can store the quinoa and the kabocha in the refrigerator and use them throughout the week for lunches or meals at your convenience.
  5. When prepping your bowl, place about 3/4 cup cooked quinoa/chickpea combo in the bottom of your microwave safe tupperware bowl. Top with raw chard and tomato slices.
  6. Cut a wedge of kabocha squash and remove the skin with a knife or your fingers – careful not to lose a lot of the tasty orange squash along with the skin! Chop the squash into large cubes and place ontop of the bowl.
  7. Combine lemon juice and tahini and drizzle on your bowl, finish with a squeeze of sriracha or hot sauce.
  8. When you’re ready to eat it – microwave with a top on for 1-2 minutes. Leaving the top on will help the quinoa heat up without becoming dry, the steam from the tomato juices will help wilt & soften the chard and the tahini will flavor everything deliciously 🙂

Enjoy and feel good.

IMG_8568

Make this bowl everyday for the week using the quinoa and squash you prepared. OR add quinoa to any green salad to make it more filling. Kabocha can be eaten as a side OR throw it into a stir fry or curry. I love kabocha so much I’ll eat it on its own as a snack – the consistency is buttery and delicious!

IMG_8633

 

Advertisements

Exercising Kindness

I’m pretty kind when it comes to others, but it’s a completely different story when it comes to myself. I think we all have a tendency to be especially unkind to ourselves and our bodies when it comes to thinking about exercise, fitness, and diet.

This is something I’m consistently working on. It’s easy to get mad at yourself for not going to the gym or it’s easy to feel guilty about not eating as healthy as you feel you should, but those negative feelings are just as detrimental to your body’s health as the piece of cake you’re regretting.

Recently I have realized just how exhausting it all is. When I was 160 pounds, I wanted to be 140. Once I reached 135 pounds, I wished I were 130 and consistently worried about putting the weight back on. It’s forever, it’s tiring, and it’s unnecessary. With this in mind, I have been trying to shift my focus to health instead of appearance. I think this slight change in mindset has really helped relieve some of the pressure and has enabled me to be more kind to myself.

By thinking in terms of what my body wants and needs, I am loving it more fully. To me, loving my body means eating balanced meals, getting outside & getting active a few times week, but also giving my body space to relax. It means I can treat myself to a brownie and not calorie count in my head to try to reassure myself it’s okay. It means if I don’t want to push myself to go to the gym, I can just go on a walk in my neighborhood and feel like I did something equally as beneficial and restorative for my physical (and emotional) wellbeing!

I think this change in mindset is crucial when trying to stick with a healthy diet or fitness plan. Whether you love your curves or are eager to get in better shape – it is important to think in terms of health. Both big and small can be beautiful, as long as the body is treated right. So instead of thinking about size, think about your body’s wellbeing and what it needs to thrive. If you’re feeling discouraged because you’ve tried to lose weight for a long time, I know it is easy to convince yourself that the healthy diet is not working and therefore you should just eat what you want. But don’t give in! Whether you’re seeing the results you really want or not, eating right has incredible effects on your body that may not be visible. Your body can’t change overnight but as soon as you start changing the habits, there are tons of other health boosting effects you may not notice right away.

Reality check: Unfortunately, you (like every other human) are not immune to needing exercise. We cannot be sedentary and miraculously live healthy lives. So at some point, we all have to love our bodies enough and decide to put in some effort and find some kind of activity we enjoy doing! There are a lot of things to choose from, so get out there and try something to find what activity can keep you healthy. As you age, this will be incredibly important. SOOOO many studies link health to movement – doesn’t really matter what you do but physical activity is what keeps us all agile and strong.

For me, I’ve always been fairly active because I enjoy sports and working out but there are times when it is rough to find the time or the energy – we all have that. I try to find a healthy balance of playing frisbee, doing yoga, taking walks or runs in the neighborhood, doing stretches and home aerobics work outs, going to the gym, or hiking. Yet sometimes I drop the ball. For example, I hadn’t been to yoga in so long that my classes expired. I was so bummed I almost didn’t go back to the studio, but today I got my act together and went in to ask for my classes back. They made me pay for one class today, and in exchange I got all ten classes back and can use them for the next 3 months! I am so excited to get back into my yoga practice and am so glad I didn’t use this as an excuse to keep putting off yoga class…

When thinking about my fitness, my diet, and my body’s health, this shift to focusing on wellbeing instead of appearance has been enlightening.I’m lucky to have the support of an incredible partner who lifts me up on the daily, whether I feel like the most beautiful and healthiest being on the planet or whether I feel guilty for not treating my body better. It’s a consistent up and down but keeping health and wellbeing at the center, relieves a lot of pressure that is otherwise an exhausting cycle of self destructive thoughts and actions. So break the cycle and love your body by treating it with the respect and kindness it deserves.

 

Mind, Body, and Awareness

For a period of time in third grade, I went to the school clinic everyday with a stomach ache. It was about a week or so before my parents realized it was always right before lunch time. We lived in Germany at that time, and the German-American school we attended was huge (accommodating 1,500 students in Grades K-12) and to me, the cafeteria was a scary place. Older students running around and being noisy, a “slop bucket” where you scraped your leftover food (eww), and the fear of losing your friends and being lost in the mess probably made it quite terrifying for me. Mind you, this is all in hindsight. During that week of calling home with  stomach aches, I swear I had no ulterior motive and no awareness that my pain was a way of avoiding the horrors of the cafeteria.

Close to 20 years later and I still suffer from stomach aches and headaches. There have been lots of diagnosis for both – needing stronger glasses, hormone induced migraines, TMJ, poor posture, stress/tension headaches… lactose-intolerance, IBS, gluten sensitivities… And probably these are all contributing factors. At this point, its much better than it was, but its still something I live with and have to deal with on a regular basis. Though its clear diet and lifestyle choices can help manage them, I’ve pretty much come to terms that there is no real fix for these ailments.

My current regimen? I eat lots of probiotics and watch my intake of foods that I have trouble digesting (garlic, certain dairy, highly processed or fried foods, specific sweeteners & fake sweeteners, etc.). I sleep with my mouthguard every night (no shame), do yoga and neck stretches to loosen muscles and improve flexibility, try to be aware of my posture while at the computer (just fixed it as I wrote that sentence), and do strengthening exercises recommended by a PT.

Yet all of this isn’t quite enough. Its hard work to keep all of those things in mind while continuing in high spirits, not feeling overwhelmed or sorry for myself about never being 100% well. So I have started doing something thats been recommended to me by a number of people over the years.

 Practicing mindfulness

I’m only a few months into my meditation practice, but I already think I have seen a change in my mindset. By taking the time everyday (aspiring to that) to sit in stillness, focus on my breathing, turn off judgements and release my thoughts, I have become more aware of my reactions to stress and have deepened my connection to my body.

IMG_7033People practice meditation for years and years and years, so I recognize that I am but the newest of novices in the grand scheme of things. Yet, I find that I am now more aware of my reactions to stressful situations. For example, I work in a dynamic environment where unplanned things happen all the time. As a Type A person, this used to drive me crazy and I spent the majority of the day worried about keeping everything on track, making sure everybody was where they needed to be, and anxiously anticipating the event that would put everything in chaos. Though I still try to keep everything on track (that is my job after all), I am now able to recognize my body and mind’s typical response to these stresses and can sometimes even “talk myself back from the edge,” by focusing on my breath, acknowledging the trigger, and trying to let go just a little bit.

“That’s what the dharma is about; turning all our habits around, reversing the process of how we make everything so solid…It starts with catching ourselves when we spin off in the same old ways. Usually we feel that there’s a large problem and we have to fix it. The instruction is to stop. Do something unfamiliar. Do anything besides rushing off in the same old direction, up to the same old tricks.”

-Pema Chódrón, When Things Fall Apart

Since starting my meditation practice, I now feel that I have more control over my body’s reaction to anxiety or stress. I acknowledge that there are factors outside of my control that impact my physical health and comfort but I also recognize that in changing my habitual responses in a given situation, I can be more aware of how my body responds to tension and stress. Obviously this type of change doesn’t happen overnight so at this point in my practice I am not always able to reverse my reactions, but I am definitely more aware of them. At least I no longer call home sick with stomach aches without realizing what scary thing I am avoiding!

If you’re interested in mindfulness or starting a meditation practice, I highly recommend Pema Chödrön’s book, When Things Fall Apart. It sounds like a weird self help book, but I promise that its amazing. Her thoughts and teachings are deep, yet its written in a very accessible and relatable way. The chapters can be read independently, in times when you need a reminder to let go and not take life so seriously or when you feel like a piece of shit and need a pick-me-up. You won’t be disappointed – buy it here!