On trying to live a healthier life

It didn’t dawn on me in some sort of ah-ha moment. It wore me down, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. Perhaps this is because when you’re new to parenting everything is so exciting, terrifying, and mind-numbingly surreal that you feel as if you’re living in an alternate reality. The universe has a new center point: an approximately 8-pound ball of life with seemingly simple, but almost always present needs.

Daily routines are not just thrown out the window – they’re obliterated – and it’s not for lack of trying. During our first year of parenting, Lani and I participated in a CSA share, had a YMCA membership, Core Power Yoga Groupons, recreational sports leagues and other health-centric commitments. Despite our most honest intentions, that quickly growing 8-pound nugget chipped away at our energy levels and left our extracurricular gas tanks running on fumes almost daily.

Now that Rowan is two and a half, we still struggle with finding the balance that we need to live healthy lives. From her beige-colored diet to a revolving preference for when meals should be served, it makes family dinners emotionally frustrating and logistically challenging.

An ever present topic of discussion in our family surrounds weekly meal prep. How can we set ourselves up for success each week by planning healthy meals that will appeal to both ourselves and our daughter?

Enter, the grain bowl

Generally speaking, our meal prep consists of three core food items: protein, carbs and a veg. The slow cooker is often involved, as it’s a great way to produce tender, flavorful meat (especially if using cheaper cuts). We reach for whole grains like quinoa, farro, brown rice, cous cous and more, sometimes mixing in nuts, dried fruits or herbs to add a bit more flair.

I’ve long wanted to incorporate more beans into my diet (much to Lani’s disdain)… I purchased this book, Bean by Bean, a while back to learn more about the health benefits and preparation process for making different types of bean dishes. Beans offer a great way to round out a meal and reduce dependency on proteins or starchy carbs to “fill you up.” Additionally, the protein derived from beans contains no cholesterol (contrary to animal protein) and they’re packed with fiber and vitamins.

If you have a desire to learn more about bean-based cooking, I strongly suggest the book above. And here’s a great recipe to get you started.

Recipe: Farro grain bowls with slow cooked honey garlic pork tenderloin and ginger bean medley

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This recipe is intense, but I promise it’s pretty simple. It doesn’t all have to be done at once either – the items standalone great themselves.

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups dry farro – this can be cooked and cooled at any time, according to the package instructions (FYI I use a 1/2 mix of chicken or veg stock and water for more flavorful grains)

For the Pork:

  • Crock pot (for slow cooking, could also use dutch oven on the stove)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese Five Spice
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Two pork tenderloins, approximately 3-4 lbs
  • 1 yellow onion and one shallot, diced
  • 1/3 cup honey garlic sauce (I used VH Honey Garlic sauce)
  • 1 cup chicken stock

Using a bowl large enough for the pork, coat with one tablespoon of the oil and season with the Chinese Five Spice, soy sauce and salt & pepper, enough to coat all sides. Set the bowl aside and heat the remaining oil in a skillet big enough to hold the pork. When the oil is hot, add the pork, browning all sides (don’t be afraid here…see pictures below). Remove the pork from the pan and the diced onion and shallot. Cook for 3-5 minutes and then transfer onion mixture and pork to your final cooking place (crock pot, dutch oven, etc.). Add the honey garlic sauce and 1 cup chicken stock. Cook for approximately four hours. My crockpot has a few settings, so I cooked on high for two hours and then low for another 2. Basically you want to get the pork to a point where it starts to shred with a fork when you pull on it. Be sure to rotate the meat every hour or so to make sure all sides are submerged.

Once the pork is finished, shred the meat and remove from the broth. It’s ok to save some of that broth to pour on the meat but all of it will not be needed.

For the Beans:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 serano pepper, diced and seeds removed
  • 1/4 cup loosely grated FRESH ginger (will take a chunk about 1/2 the size of your hand)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (keep the juice)
  • 1 can chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 2 cans kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 can white beans (navy or similar – drained and rinsed)
  • 1-2 cups chicken or veg stock
  • 1 bunch cilantro, stems and leaves separated and diced
  • 1 bunch green onion
  • Salt & pepper

In a large pot, heat the oil on medium high heat and add the onions, sautéing for 3-4 minutes until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, serano and ginger to the pan and sauté for another few minutes. Add the diced tomatoes and bring to a simmer (this won’t take long). Add all of the beans and stir them in to the mixture. You’ll find that there is not a lot of liquid…and that’s OK. This is not meant to be a stew. Add a cup or so of chicken stock to the bean mix and bring to a simmer. Stir often, for about twenty minutes as the flavors mellow. Add chicken broth if needed or a soupier texture is preferred, but know that the beans will break down over the twenty minutes and release some of their juices. In the final minutes, add the chopped cilantro stems to the bean mix and simmer for 2 more minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Assemble your bowls and top with fresh green onions and cilantro. Enjoy!