Happy 2017 dearest internet friends! With the new year, I’m entering my 34th year of life and my 13th year living with lupus and kidney disease. And while the past 365 days have had their ups and downs. And downs. And more downs. They also brought a renewed faith in food and its power to heal. See: 34 years old with the same stage 4 kidneys. Still kicking!
As you may remember, last year, I welcomed January with a big anti-inflammation overhaul of my diet — no wheat or gluten, no eggs, no dairy, no sugar, no soy, no nightshade vegetables, NO COFFEE! And lots and lots and lots of cauliflower. In every form. And while the list of limitations were longer than my usual #lowsogood life, what I found was that, (a) my body loved it and (b) my creativity in the kitchen soared. It was just the reset I needed to fight off seasonal colds and flus, a cooking slump, and the ups and downs and downs that life often throws our way. In sum: It put a real pep in my step.
Which is why, once again, I plan to spend January doing a reboot of sorts. Perhaps less restrictive than last year, but refreshing all the same. And I highly recommend you do one too! But quick caveat before diving into a cauliflower cleanse or something else wacky.
First, there are a million different “diets” and eating regimens out there to pick from for your reboot — Whole30 to Paleo to juice cleanses. You get it. Some are rather strict, some simply encourage you to eat fresh foods, and some require you to drink only liquids. So before you jump aboard ANYTHING, make sure it fits your medical needs (i.e. check in with that doctor and nutritionist) and more importantly, your life.
Perhaps you don’t have time this month for a full food overhaul. So focus less on what you eat and more on the habits you’d like to change — like not eating in front of the TV or snacking mindlessly at your desk. Sometimes, a reset starts with simply cleaning out your pantry and filling it with the healthy products that will help you eat better. Or maybe you start by cooking two nights a week versus zero.
When doing a reboot, it’s ok to start small as long as you start something.
So here are some simple ideas to get you going:
Set Up That #LOWSOGOOD Dream Pantry: Out with the old and in with the new. Do a big purge and then go shopping for all the go-to #lowsogood products that will keep your sodium in check. And your belly full.
Cook Big Portions: While you want to keep meals at a healthy size, cook for the masses! Why? The easiest way to avoid takeout and high-sodium meals on-the-go is to prep a bunch of food one night a week (usually best on Saturday or Sunday) and then mix and match all those cooked proteins, chopped veggies, and boiled grains throughout the week. Give it a try, one Sunday or every Sunday this month.
Change Up Habits: Figure out your biggest food weaknesses (snack time, breakfasts, CHEESE!) and come up with a #lowsogood solution! If you change even one part of your routine for the healthier, that’s a big success!
Make A Trade: We all have our favorite foods — pizza, sandwiches, cupcakes. And doing a reboot doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to those edible comforts. Instead, find a new, healthy swap. Maybe you start using mashed avocado or yogurt in place of mayo. Maybe you make nori rolls or cucumber baguettes in place of your typical midday sandwich. Maybe you mash up purple sweet potatoes for a healthier sweet treat. Maybe you replace your coffee with turmeric tea. Whatever the swap, try a few this month to see all the color and flavor they can add to your meals.
Now, for those ready to make big changes this month, I wanted to give you a list of my favorite healthy breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and even snacks. Because I find it so much easier to stick to a new plan when I have visuals and, well, a plan. So use these ideas to create your own meal menu for a week (or even a month). AND if you happen to have my new book (LOW SO GOOD) you’ll actually find an entire month-long plan for changing habits as well as a full week of meals to make! With the shopping list and cooking logistic already done for you, so no time or ingredients get wasted.
Which means, let’s blast off. First up, breakfast.
Let me start by admitting that I used to never eat breakfast. And I often started my morning with a cup of coffee. Which was neither great for my energy or my gut. Going on my inflammation reboot last year, however, forced me to be more thoughtful with my morning routine and actually spend some time prepping easy to grab treats for the morning. Here are some of my favorites.
HEALTHY BANANA PANCAKES: Ditch the packaged, high-sodium, super-sugary pancake batter and make a bunch of these flapjacks on the weekend. Then, individually wrap and freeze extras. Simply reheat in a microwave (before or at work). And for an extra protein boost, add a slather of yogurt or nut butter on top.
HASH BROWN QUICHES: Make a dozen on the weekend and snack throughout the week. Be sure to fill with any leftover veggies hanging out in the fridge!
HOMEMADE EGG SAUSAGE: Surprise! You can make your own healthy sausage patties with your own #lowsogood spices at home. Then, eat the patties as they are, add to a hash, or skip the line at McDonalds (and all that junk) and top with scrambled eggs.
BAGEL-SPICED EGGS: Even if you must skip the morning bagels (due to sodium or other limitations), you can still put all those traditional flavors in mini frittata muffins! Top with homemade yogurt spread or smoked fish spread.
PEACHES EGGS BENEDICT: Give the classic a little makeover by using grilled peaches (or tomatoes or baked slices of sweet potato) in place of the muffin and canadian bacon.
TOMATO-STUFFED EGGS: Just another fancy way to eat your eggs. Totally Pinterest worthy. Don’t forget to top with veggie-based pesto for an even bigger health boost.
VEGGIE WAFFLE LATKES : Shred a bunch of vegetables, mix with eggs, put into your waffle maker, and enjoy. Recipe here! Extras can be frozen and reheated as desired. And best of all, they can also stand in for sandwich bread for healthy lunches.
AVOCADO TOFU TOAST: It is the trend that just won’t end. But you can give it a non-bread twist by baking tofu squares and using those in place of toast.
Now let’s talk snacks. Because after breakfast, I’m always ready for another meal. And this is the time that I’m (and probably you) are most likely to find yourself in a food pickle. Or grabbing that candy bar/bag of chips/another latte that’s not the best choice for you or your health. So if you’re going to change anything this month, let me suggest switching up that snack routine. Why? One, it’s easy to prep snacks! Two, it’s easy to keep these snacks in your food rotation for the long run. And three, with better snacking options in your tool belt, you’re more likely to make good choices throughout the rest of the day.
HOMEMADE MICROWAVE VEGGIE CHIPS: Maybe you’ve never thought of bringing a fresh zucchini to work with you. But today, that’s going to change. Because with a knife, a zucchini, and a little oil, you can make your own veggie chips. Anywhere you can find a microwave!
YOGURT BROCCOLI DIP: With a few minutes in a steamer, you can make a super healthy dip to slather on sandwiches or scoop up with crackers. Creamy, bright, and full of tangy flavor from the yogurt, this one is a weekly winner.
BACON-SPICED COCONUT FLAKES: You may not expect to find “bacon” on a healthy food list. But let’s face it, everyone loves the taste. So instead of ditching bacon all together, simply take those flavors and transfer them to a healthier vehicle — like coconut flakes! Then, eat a handful for a small bite. Add to homemade trail mix (with no-salt-added nuts), or even popcorn.
ROASTED PEPPER AND EGGPLANT (or CARROT) “HUMMUS”: Because my anti-inflammation diet said “no beans,” that meant “no hummus” — which is SUCH a great snack and spread to have on hand. But here’s the deal: you can make an equally thick, rich, and veggie-packed version with the help of roasted pepper and eggplant (or carrots). Add your own spices (like harissa, cayenne, smoked paprika, or za’atar). Pair with cucumber slices, rice crackers, or use as the spread/glue in your collard wraps and nori rolls.
YOGURT & SMASHED PEAS: Here’s another workplace winner: yogurt with smashed peas. It’s as simple as it sounds. Literally plop Greek yogurt on a plate. Then, take some thawed frozen peas (no-salt-added) and smash with a fork. Sprinkle on some red pepper flakes and drizzle on a little olive oil. And snack away.
AWESOME GUAC: Who doesn’t love guacamole? Full of healthy fats and big flavors, it’s a perfect mid-day snack. But don’t be afraid to play with the recipe. Add jicama, zucchini, or cucumbers for extra veggies. Sprinkle a little low-sodium goat cheese, swiss cheese, or parm for tang and a lightly salty-kick. And even add toasted pine nuts or pepitas for some crunch. Or for something really fun, making snacking a team building activity with this BYO Guacamole Bar. Those that snack together, kick ass together.
COATED AVOCADOS: Speaking of guac, let’s focus more on everyone’s favorite green fruit: the avocado. One awesome snack is to cover slices in the aforementioned bagel-spice or even a little honey and toasted coconut flakes. Get creative, get “coating,” and be sure to post your creations on Instagram and in the comments below.
ROASTED SWEET POTATOES: I’m a fry guy/gal. Literally, my favorite food of all foods. And one of my favorite things to make during Sunday Prep is a BIG BACH of roasted sweet potato fries. I like to add a little chopped garlic and parsley for that ballpark flavor. And I either eat at room temp or with a quick reheat in the microwave. You can make your own dipping or hot sauce of course, or just enjoy as is. Totally flavorful and totally filling.
SWEET POTATO AND BEAN EMPANADAS: Ok, so this is not a quick fix. BUT if you take the time to make these on the weekend your have pocket snacks for the week ahead. Fill with sweet potatoes and beans. Or really any veggies you like and have on hand. Stay with the Tex-Mex flavors, go Italian, or get super creative and inspired by other cuisines! While not as healthy as a kale salad, it is a great replacement for other microwave favorites! And remember, make big batches so that you can freeze and reheat as your heart desires!
OTHER IDEAS: Of course the fun does not end here. Remember other great snacks include apple “toasts,” hard-boiled eggs (both regular and cabbage-dyed!), CAULIFLOWER “RICOTTA,” oatmeal banana muffins, and spinach tortillas (which you can make into healthy spinach tortilla chips). Or my TOFU FRIES!
Okay. Time for lunch! If you’re not prepared, this is the easiest meal to skip or slip. Especially if you are a very important busy person, like you no doubt are. Lunch is also the best place for making some killer low-so swaps (whether that’s cheese, breads, or spreads).
BLISTERED BEAN SALAD: In place of may-covered pasta salad, trade out your noodles for crunchy, pan-fried beans instead. Add shredded chicken, DIY smoked fish spread, or homemade meatballs. Be sure to have some sort of dressing or sauce. Peaches or roasted tomatoes for more flavor. And maybe some no-salt added nuts for crunch. Just start with those beans and build the salad of your dreams.
SOCCA PIZZA: This is not a drill. This is garbanzo bean pizza crust. Which you can top with all your favorite pizza flavors. That cauliflower ricotta or broccoli yogurt spread. Or simply cut into cracker shapes for dip.
CAULIFLOWER VEGGIE BREAD: OHMOGOSH I love this stuff. So healthy and so filling. And it makes the perfect “bread” for your favorite sandwiches. Experiment with different veggie combos (beets! carrots! zucchini!) for different colors and flavors.
QUINOA BOWLS: There’s no wrong combo when you start with a big fluffy bowl of quinoa. Top with raw veggies, cooked veggies, proteins, eggs and tofu. Whatever you desire or have on hand. Then try these sauces and dressings on the side. It will be the envy of every coworker.
COCONUT WRAPS: If you’re going grain-free, try out these nutty-ish coconut wraps. They are a little stiff to work with, so you’ll have to use saran wrap or foil to keep them rolled. But they are especially great with asian-inspired fillings and flavors!
THE CUCUMBER BAGUETTE: Let cucumber step off the crudite platter and into the spotlight with this healthy sandwich spin. Just hollow out the center and fill with your favorite spreads, egg salads, or chopped chicken.
FRITTATA FOCACCIA: True story: if you cook your frittata in a square-ish shaped pan, you can then cut said frittata into bread-like shapes. Which you can use for open-face sandwiches. Tell a friend.
CEVICHE BOWLS: Even though it is winter, get all those vacation feels with homemade ceviche. Refreshing and healthy, it’s a great lunchtime meal to wake up those tastebuds (and well, you as well). Plus, because some assembly is required, it forces you to take a small break from that keyboard. And shoot, make it a party by making a huge batch and letting everyone build their perfect bowl.
And don’t forget about those GENMAICHA MICROWAVE NOODLE SOUP: A much healthier take on the lunchtime classic. Or the almighty CAULIFLOWER RICE SALAD. A reboot staple that easily pairs with any leftover proteins or dressings.
After a long day, I want dinner to feel like a big freaking hug with some smaller hugs leftover for the next day. That doesn’t mean you need to make anything fancy. Or really anything that requires a million ingredients or worse, a million pots and pans. So here are some of my favorite simple but satisfying meals that you can actually whip up on a weekday night.
CABBAGE SHU MAI: The hardest part of this recipes is seriously steaming cabbage. So get over that and then stuff your leaves with ground meat and/or chopped and shredded veggies. Because finger food is always fun food.
ZUCCHINI BOAT ENCHILADAS: All aboard the SS Healthy with this one. A lot of these ingredients (beans, rice, tomatoes) can be bought in canned and ready-to-eat, which means easy cooking! So give it a go.
VEGGIE-STUFFED MEATBALLS: In my house, this is the EASIEST way to get more greens into my kiddo. Plus, there are literally only two ingredients involved (meat and shredded veggies), so it is super simple to make. You can put it on noodles or zoodles. Or in lettuce wraps or in soup. Choose your own meatball adventure.
ONE SKILLET CHICKEN: A haiku: Roots, fruits, chicken thighs. Add some lemon. And heaven. Just one dish to clean.
BACON SPICED RIBS: No summer needed to fire up the grill and make these ribs. Add this mouth-watering rub (and some homemade relish if you have time). Pair with a veggie-based salad. And you have a dinner for the history books.
ROASTED CAULIFLOWER: If you haven’t tried this yet, it’s time. Pair with taste-inspiring spice mixes and sauces. And if the idea of a whole roasted cauliflower is still too much for you, try this gateway recipe, CAULIFLOWER CHORIZO, for your next taco night.
SWEET POTATO FISH CAKES: Turns out, you can use sweet potato in place of flour and breadcrumbs to make truly delicious fish cakes! Recipe here!
BURGER BOWLS: A great recipe for you, for the family, or for a big dinner party. Make it a flexible feast and give yourself (or family or guests) a ton of easy-to-make toppings to choose from!
RAMEN BOWLS: Homemade soup is an easy place to start when trying to be more healthy and eat more vegetables. But take it to the next level with mushroom or lentil-broth noodle bowls. Use real noodles or those made from zucchini and daikon (if going grain-free). Add in baked tofu, boiled eggs, or protein of your choosing (like those fish cakes, meatballs, or shredded chicken!). Add in no-salt-added peanuts, green onions, fresh cilantro, lime wedges, and homemade hot sauce on the side. Build the perfect bowl. Enjoy. And pack up extras for lunch.