Once a week, my coworkers and I eat lunch together during our staff meeting. We are all healthy-food loving ladies with different diets and food preferences, and we often begin the meeting looking around at each others lunches, thinking and sharing about how good they all look and how we’d like to trade. It is a great environment to work in, one of non-judgement and non-competitive respect and inspiration for eating well.
Prior to working with this group, I ate lunch with my fellow science teachers at the high school I taught at. It was the first time I had worked at a place where everyone took 30 minutes every day to sit down, eat together, and catch up. Those 30 minutes kept me sane, but I wasn’t at first keen about sitting around having others see what I ate every day. I didn’t want my coworkers to judge my weird food habits. I have a pet peeve with people telling me, You eat sooo healthy, in that envious/judgmental way. But that never happened. Instead, I learned that everyone has weird food preferences, and no one cared what I was eating. It was pretty darn liberating.
A month or so ago, I spent a couple full days teaching at the high school. I brought my lunch with me and left it in the car. During the break, one of the students caught me on the way out and asked, You’re not eating? Is that why you’re so skinny? This was coming from a slightly overweight teenage male who was standing in the hallway, noticeably not eating also. I felt absolutely crushed at his response. After assuring him I was on my way to lunch, I asked about his own lack of food. He told me he was waiting for a friend. I don’t know whether he actually ate during that break, but I remember my own eating habits during that age, along with my former and current students’ tendency to skip breakfast and lunch. As I walked away, the interaction got to me. It was a really nice day, and I ended up eating my giant lunch bowl outside in the garden, in lieu of having more inquiring eyes looking on at my food choices.
When I was teaching full time, many of my students asked about and observed what I ate. I could tell they were searching for a role model and they knew and loved talking about my tendency to eat the entire apple, drink lots of tea, and avoid all dairy and fast food. They thought it was all just plain weird but also cool. When some individuals approached me to talk about food and health, I tried to offer guidance that was actually helpful for where they were at. At the same time, I was conscious of not being too out there, both for their sake and mine. Out of self-preservation, I’ll do just about anything to avoid having a conversation that involves someone vocally comparing their body size to mine.
Inevitably, every time I work with a new group of high school students, I’m asked whether I’m vegetarian. This question always brings up a lot of personal anxiety and I tell them, no, I eat meat, and leave it at that. They don’t need to know it makes its way on my plate a couple times a year lately. My own personal viewpoint is that the adolescent and emerging adulthood years should be ones of exploration, and they don’t need me telling them they should follow a particular diet, cut out entire food groups, or ascribe to my food-belief system. I have entirely too much experience with disordered eating and body shaming to possibly lead someone toward that camp.
Instead, I try to simply emphasize more whole foods and less processed, in baby steps. I avoid making recommendations about foods I don’t personally choose to eat, but I also recognize that what works for me in terms of food choices does not work for everyone. I particularly enjoy the teachings of traditional medical paradigms like Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, which emphasize eating to one’s personal constitution and the seasons. It is especially difficult to teach this concept to my high school students, as they are often trying to fit in and do what their friends are doing. As an adult, I’m only just beginning to feel especially comfortable eating and sharing what works for me.
I read recently in the book, Nourishing Wisdom, that women tend to engage in a silent competition during meals of who can eat the least, while men tend to openly compete for who can eat the most. I resonate strongly with the female side of that scenario and I am especially thankful that these last few years, my meals with co-workers have been free of that extremely harmful silent competition. Especially since what works for me tends to be beans + rice bowls, and the combinations are usually generously sized.
I’m curious, too, about the best way to approach these conversations about food with teenagers and individuals trying to find their way to healthy eating. How do we positively guide them? So far, I’ve focused on strengthening my self-confidence and relationship to food so I don’t feel the need to compare, and let the result of that show up by role-modeling positive behavior and conversation about eating, when it comes up. If you have another approach or successful experiences, I’d love to hear!
The reason I’ve included so many random meals is that The Recipe Redux theme this month is breaking up the lunch rut. My lunches nearly always tend to be leftovers from the night before and often that means I’m eating what I call bean and rice bowls, even if they have no rice and are rarely eaten in a bowl. Sometimes, however, I pull random ingredients from the fridge and come up with something slightly new. Unlike a lot of people, I rarely enjoy eating out, especially for lunch. It is one thing I wish I were more comfortable with, but knowing exactly what I’m having for lunch is a little comforting ritual that I like to keep amidst busy days.
The only advice for creating a quick lunch combination is to have a few key ingredients prepped ahead of time, be creative, and add color. Eating food that is beautiful is half the experience. I often have leftover cooked grains, some beans, and leftover dressings hanging out, and to that I add whatever vegetables and herbs are on hand and sound good. If, on the off chance I do not have ingredients prepped, I reach for quick grains like millet, quinoa, and buckwheat and cook them, along with a pot of lentils, while getting ready for my day. They all can be ready within 20 minutes.
The photos I’m sharing here are random compilations of beans and rice that I’ve made over the last few months for busy day lunch or dinners. They are only just a start, so go ahead and be adventurous!
Turmeric Special Sauce, makes 2 cups
This is my current dressing of choice. Adapted from David and Luise by way of Laura, it is packed with a lot of nutritional goodies. In my current quest to eat a few more fats from whole foods rather than oils, I’ve eliminated the oil from the original recipe, added lentils for a little more protein, which I tend to eat on the lower end for my needs, spiced it up with additional chili powder. The turmeric and nutritional yeast add color, umami flavor, and B-vitamins, plus much of the latest research has turmeric as a real powerhouse in terms of health benefits. All in all, this sauce is a good one, has a tiny kick that is completely balanced amongst all the other bowl ingredients, and comes together quickly, if you remember to soak the seeds. I especially like it with beets because in my opinion, vibrant salads taste just a touch better.
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds, soaked for 2-4 hours
1 – 1 1/4 cup water
1 1/2 Tbs. nutritional yeast (flakes)
1/4 cup cooked lentils, white or mung beans
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. maple syrup
1/2 tsp. cumin
3/4 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper, or to taste
- Drain and rinse the soaked seeds, and then add them, along with all the other ingredients to a food processor. Purée until smooth, adding a little more water as needed to thin it out. Adjust seasonings to taste.