Mom, Eat Your Vegetables

Mom, Eat Your Vegetables

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Hello to a Better Body!

Mom, Eat Your Vegetables

I am excited about dinner tonight. I’m going to make vegan chili and it is so easy! I’ll pour a can of corn, a can of black beans, a can of red beans, a can of white beans, and a double-sized can of diced tomatoes in a pot, along with potatoes, onions, carrots, peppers, and whatever other fresh vegetables I find in the fridge, season it with salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, and a little cinnamon, simmer it for an hour and serve it over rice. I’ll have enough leftovers for several dinners for two and lots of lunches for me to take to work. It will freeze great. And it’s as easy as opening cans.

Other nights, when I’m tired, I toss carrot sticks, halved fingerling potatoes, and onion chunks in a baking pan with olive oil, kosher salt, pepper, and thyme, and roast them at 400 degrees for thirty minutes. The carrots come out tasting as sweet as candy and it is a hearty and filling meal. Even my husband doesn’t feel deprived, despite the fact that I have served him only vegetables. And I get leftovers to take to work.

I’ve been a much bigger fan of vegetables ever since our two younger children “went vegan” last year and my daughter, who is in medical school, showed us the film Forks Over Knives, which makes a strong case for the health benefits of a plant-based diet. This doesn’t mean that I am going vegan like my children, foregoing all animal products, including milk, eggs, and even honey, but it does mean that I have rediscovered how wonderful fruits and vegetables and whole grains are and how they make fabulous main courses. I eat very little meat, poultry, or fish now and I have significantly cut back on eggs and milk products, substituting soy and almond milk for cow milk.

My husband and I feel better, thinner, and more energetic, and have a lot more fun eating dinner. By focusing on plant-based meals, I am able to make delicious stews or pasta dishes from whatever we have in the house, all in one pot. I always cook extra, so that I can take single servings to work for lunch and also have plenty of leftovers for future dinners. I have even started serving plant-based meals to our friends at our dinner parties and they are very receptive.

Last summer, before my daughter started medical school, she was home enough to spend a lot of time in the kitchen with me. She taught me to use Earth Balance instead of butter, how to use delicious spices like cumin to make vegetable dishes tastier, and how to be creative and flexible when fashioning plant-based meals. This Christmas, she tried to teach me how to make kale, that super leafy green that is so full of protein and nutrients. I had heard of kale but thought it was somewhat mysterious and scary. When I came home from Whole Foods one day proudly bearing what I thought was a big bunch of kale, she informed me that I had actually purchased a large head of romaine lettuce.

My son gave me a vegan cookbook for Christmas and the kids left my refrigerator filled with things I don’t know how to use, such as nutritional yeast and flaxseed meal and wheat germ. I’ll figure it all out eventually, but for now, one thing at a time. I finally purchased and made kale the other day. It’s funny to think that I was afraid of a giant leafy vegetable!

This whole plant-based eating program happened at just the right time because I have gotten much more serious about eating properly in the last couple of years. I’ve never had a weight problem, but in my late forties I gained a few pounds. After Christmas one year, I realized I was about to turn fifty and I went on a serious diet, losing a whole size in time for my fiftieth birthday party that April. But then I started my job as the very busy publisher of Chicken Soup for the Soul and the weight came back.

This became a problem two years ago when I was working on our Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You book with Richard Simmons and I was planning to visit Richard in Beverly Hills and take one of his rigorous exercise classes. This was an emergency! Luckily, the book was very inspirational and I learned several excellent lessons from it that worked for me, including:

1. If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple for a snack, then you don’t need a snack.

2. Take the stairs whenever possible, which works well in our office building where we are three floors up from the parking garage.

3. You don’t have to eat things that are bad for you just because they taste good. If you already know exactly what that piece of chocolate cake will taste like, why not just imagine the taste but forego the fat and sugar and calories?

4. Decaf coffee or tea is a great substitute for a late-night snack.

5. It helps to have an accountability partner, someone to honestly share your food journal, exercise log, or weigh-ins. And if you can e-mail someone your food journal right after dinner, so that you can’t eat anything more that night, that is even better!

Through portion control and exercise, I managed to lose that whole size again and went off to see Richard feeling much better about myself. As we publicized the book, I felt that I needed to be an ambassador for its message, which was a great inducement to maintain at my new weight so that I wouldn’t let my company down.

Then my gynecologist told me it was finally time to go off the pill. And guess what! I lost another whole size. I must have been carrying weight from the pill for years without realizing it. That was a really nice surprise and made me feel much friendlier towards the whole concept of menopause!

Then the kids turned vegan, as I mentioned, and my daughter and I started e-mailing each other a food journal every day. I lost a few more pounds and bought new clothes.

But my accountability partner, my daughter, doesn’t want to spend the time on the daily e-mails and I have regained a few of those pounds. I really needed the accountability of disclosing my food choices to her every day.

So you, dear reader, are my new accountability partner. Writing this story for Dr. Koven to include in her book has motivated me to focus more on my exercise program and on my plant-based diet. I find that if I eat a “plant-strong” diet as much as possible, the weight stays off, I feel comfortable in my new clothes, and I feel more energetic. It is a delicious way to stay in shape without counting calories, without going hungry, and without feeling like I’m making a sacrifice. And according to that Forks Over Knives movie, it is cutting my risk of cancer and other diseases too!

~ Amy Newmark ~

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