About a dozen years ago now, I spent about a year and half eating no animal products of any kind. Virtually Vegan! At the same time my sister was doing the Dr. McDougal no-fat diet and it sounded good, so I did that too. During that time, I was able to loose a substantial number of pounds. Pounds I found unfortunately over the next several years, some of which are still with me. That is how my education about eating vegetarian or vegan began. I had much to learn.
I admit I chose an extreme way to loose weight. As a chef, I was grooving on the many interesting dishes that I could makeâ€”sans meat. I liked taking my personal stand against industrialized agriculture too! But mostly I enjoyed what I still believe is trueâ€”that those who eat a vegetarian diet have a lower incidence of hypertension and/or death from type 2 diabetes. Not to mention the fact that eating five fruits and vegetables a day may reduce overall cancer rates by 20%! As time passed, I started missing certain flavors and learning that I could take a more green-clean approach to cooking meat without throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. I could see myself cooking with animal products that were raised sustainable, without hormones and other additives, and I felt I could manage my own calories better by simply cutting portion sizes and eating fewer meals with meat, and especially red meat, as the center of the plate.
When I was eating no fat and weaning off vegan style, Lenore, my wife, was working as the director of the Childrenâ€™s Kitchen, a small whole foods catering company for child and adult day care centers in the Seattle area. It was based on the premise that eating whole foods creates the best nutritional advantage for kids and adults. Their menus eliminated the convenience and processed foods, most canned foods, and the cooking was from whole grains and fresh raw ingredients prepared from scratch every day. There were some frozen, dehydrated, and sweets, that were from fruits rather than refined sugars, as much as possible. Portions of animal proteins were small and limited to a few times a week in the lunch cycle. Lenore was beginning to adopt some of the same principles at home, and we were having dishes like vegetable stacks with an ounce or two of homemade turkey sausage for accent and flavor. Sometimes the meat was the garnish, while fresh herbs, grains, nuts and vegetables were the center of the plate.
Fast forward now to when we started the cooking school here in Cannon Beach. We believed it required that we declare our style of cooking and guiding principles. Mediterranean seemed to be our favorite style—lots of salads, lots of veggies, and good breads and artisan cheese. Our â€œfatâ€ choice for eating and cooking is extra virgin olive oil-EVOO. We were learning, too, that people of the Mediterranean enjoy less coronary heart disease, due in part because the predominate form of dietary fat is non-hydrogenated unsaturated fat. We were learning â€œFrench women donâ€™t get fatâ€—when they stick to the traditional French style of eating. That means three home cooked meals a day, no skipping and no snacking, but if snacks are needed, yogurt is suggested. We have learned that yogurt is one food that helps keep our digestion working so we gladly add it. Many European cultures prepared their three meals after shopping three times a day, keeping with truly fresh ingredients. Now I cannot see us Americans doing that, but I do think more of us make up our menus after seeing what fresh ingredients are offered in the markets. So our preferred style and menus began to reflect the following guiding principles.
1.Use strict portion control for animal productsâ€” 3-4 ounce portions. Unless the fat and skin is required for the outcome, remove it!
2.Use red meat only once a week and maybe as a garnish or flavor agent, more than center of the plate.
3.Eat vegetarian part-time: include vegetarian (includes dairy and eggs) and even vegan (no animal products) on 2-4 days of the week. (This act alone greatly reduces cholesterol and calories).
4.Include salmon or other fish high in â€œomega 3â€ fats 1-3 times a week.
5.Enjoy cooking with foods that grow together in seasons. Flavors tend to mate better when they grow together. You see spring lamb with asparagus, for example.
6.Enjoy! Life is too short to be on a diet. Create a lifestyle and cook and eat using these few guiding principles based on healthful evidence.
Here is a week of Part-time Vegetarian Dinners:
(Note: These menus are featured in EVOOâ€™s LIGHTEN UP series by instructor, Grace Laman, MS, RD. Supporting date also provide by Grace Laman.)
Monday* Roasted Red Pepper Pesto with Whole wheat Pasta
Tuesday Baked Chicken Tenders and Sweet Potato Fries
Wednesday*: Hearty Kale Stew, Quinoa Pistachio Salad
Thursday: Pork loin with pomegranate, Rosemary Potatoes, Baked figs with cinnamon
Friday* Balsamic wild mushroom lettuce wraps, Stir fry of Beef and Broccoli
Brown rice Carrot Cranberry Salad
Saturday: Pan Seared Salmon with Watercress sauce
Chocolate Apricot Torte
Sunday*: Garlic crostini w/carrot pate Spicy Black bean cakes Sweet Potato Sauce
Sesame Crusted Tofu Salad and Citrus Vinaigrette