Healthy (er) Choices Manifesto

It's easy to disguise whole-wheat flour in chocolate treats!

It’s easy to disguise whole-wheat flour in chocolate treats!

While many of the recipes that I post are vegan, I am not a vegan. I believe that making choices that are better for our health is more important than following a strict ‘vegan’ or ‘vegetarian’ diet. What matters most is striving to eat a healthy, balanced diet that gives you the energy you need to accomplish the tasks you want to accomplish. I’m not a dietician or a health expert, so I make no claim that these are ‘healthy recipes’—only that they are healthier than their counterparts that use white flour and white sugar.

While change may do us good, it certainly adds stress to our lives. I try to keep the recipes as simple as possible because caregivers don’t have a lot of time! If you’ve never eaten vegan or even vegetarian before, don’t worry—my meat-eating friends (even junior-high girls and ravenous high school boys) enjoy these recipes.

For most of my life, I thought that because I didn’t eat meat, I ate healthfully. While my husband recovered from cancer and a stem-cell transplant, he read a book—I forget the title now—about the dangers of refined foods at the same time I struggled to lose all of the weight I’d packed on during his illness.

For the first time in 14 years of marriage, we had serious conversations about diet, eating healthfully and how to implement changes. I grew up eating vegetarian, and he’d grown up mostly only eating meat that his parents grew on their farm. Since I did the majority of the cooking, we ate vegetarian at home, and raised our daughters without meat or a lot of dairy products. While I knew that meat doesn’t provide the ideal source of protein, I’d neglected to make sure that our meals were truly healthy.

Together, we came up with a plan for ‘healthy (er) choices.’ We decided that we would:
1. Substitute half of the white flour in recipes with whole-wheat flour in all of our recipes.
2. Quit using white sugar (and try to cut back on the use of sugar in recipes).
3. Quit cooking white rice. This wasn’t hard for me, because I don’t really like rice—except for basmati rice. I discovered that brown basmati rice tastes even better than it’s refined counterpart.
4. Start using whole-wheat pasta.
5. Eat more fruits and veggies.
6. Cut back on sweets.
7. Stop using hydrogenated fats.

After about a year of eating this way, we discovered that we’d run out of white flour several months before and had switched to using all whole-wheat flour. We also discovered that we enjoyed the taste of things that we’d prepared from scratch over things we purchased in a ‘ready-made’ state (such as spaghetti sauce). And that’s the whole point. Small, manageable changes over a long period of time will produce less stress than trying to revamp your lifestyle in a few weeks’ time.

I have no empirical evidence that as a family, our cholesterol has lowered and that we’ve already lived longer because of these changes. I do know that eating whole grains reduces indigestion (after eating out for a week while on a recent vacation, Pedro discovered that he had to take antacids after every meal—something that he never does at home) and makes me feel fuller with smaller servings.

I believe in making positive changes—healthy (er) choices than what I made before—in small doses. Fortunately, Pedro wanted to make changes as well—otherwise, it may have been more difficult. Permanent change took time, adjustments, and participation by everyone in the family.

If you’d like the recipe for the cake in the picture, click here.

What small changes have you made to eat more healthfully?