A Simple Meal, One Hundred Varieties

I am deeply passionate about postpartum women's health and compassionate for all women going through new motherhood.  It's hard.  It's deeply isolating.  And it's impossible to live up to any standard, whether we create it for ourselves, perceive a family member placing it onto us, or insist on a societal expectation that we imagine for ourselves.  I am a member of several Facebook groups for new moms and I see time and again a post from a mom who is about to lose it over what to feed herself and her kids.  She's exhausted.  She has very little money, Her kids are acting out.  She feels she has no support.  She probably doesn't. 

I would like to share an easy and healthful recipe that a mom can cook while still managing her life; meaning, these are not the 30 minute meals a la Rachael Ray that require you to watch the stove while dicing this and then return to the fridge to retrieve that and then place the other thing into the oven, etc.  I make this meal at least twice a week and change out the veggies or herbs/spices to diversify the flavors. It’s super easy and very affordable: Lentils and rice with green veggie of choice. 

Lentils and rice make up a complete protein when eaten together. Brown rice is the best choice as it is a whole grain, has fiber, and good source of vitamin B6 (good for your brain function). Lentils and brown rice are inexpensive and you can get several meals out of one bag. The green vegetable of choice is best when it is leafy-- the darker green it is, the better (more minerals!).  I love kale, but you can use spinach, swiss chard, or collard greens. Sometimes I finely chop up broccoli and mix that in. As for the lentils, green lentils are the cheapest (they actually are tan in color).  You can also use French lentils or brown lentils. Red lentils are a different creature altogether-- they get quite creamy and change the consistency of the dish-- save those for a different recipe. 

The only equipment you need is a rice cooker (a lot of moms use the Instant Pot— that could work as well!). For a family of four (two adults, two kids) I would cook 1.5 cups of lentils and 1.5 cups of brown rice.  It's a good idea to rinse them in a colander until the water runs clear before cooking (but, honestly, I skip this step a lot of the time and it still turns out fine).  If you have a rice cooker, place the lentils and rice in the cooker with three cups of water. Put the lid on and hit start. Easy. It will may take about an hour for it to all cook, so plan accordingly. Once done, add your chopped greens and close the lid so the greens steam. When you are ready to serve, add a drizzle of oil oil, salt/pepper and maybe some herbs and spices of your choosing. I like ground cumin, coriander, and tumeric (my 6 year old prefers it without the tumeric).

If you do not have a rice cooker, no worries. Here is the stovetop version:

Place your three cups of lentils/rice to the side and boil 6-7 cups of water in a large pot. The usual ratio is 1:2 (rice/lentils:water), but I like to add a bit more water to compensate for steam/evaporation. Boil the water and then add the lentils and rice.  Put the lid on, but crack it a bit or vent it so steam can escape otherwise it may boil over and your stove will get messy (and who wants to clean the stove after dinner— not me!). Cook on medium heat to sustain the boil. While the lentils/rice are cooking, wash your veggies. If we're using kale, I take out two or three large leaves. Wash off any dirt (organic is best, but don't beat yourself up if it's not), cut the leaves off the stems (just run your knife along the outside of the stem from top to bottom on either side), fold the leaf in half long-wise and cut horizontally so you end up with little ribbons. You can cut further from there if you want it smaller.  

You can stir the pot a few times to check the water level and be sure the rice and lentils are softening (only check once or twice-- the steam needs to be a part of the process and you don't want to release it all). Once there is a little water left, add your veg and stir it all around.  The steam and minimal water left will cook the greens. Turn off the heat and leave the lid on for a minute or so.  Remove from heat, release the lid and stir in a decent drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper (if your kids will tolerate pepper-- I leave it off for my daughter). 

Viola!  You have a complete meal that took one pot to cook and will take one bowl to eat. And you have a meal complete with protein (lentils and rice), complex carbohydrates (lentils and rice, again), simple carbohydrates (the green veggies-- BUT they act like complex carbs due to their fiber content), and fat (the olive oil).  A meal with all three macronutrients and with lots of yummy, earthy flavor--- AND it seriously didn't cost you more than $4.00 or $5.00 at most to feed your family. Sometimes I add chicken breast to this, but it doesn't need it!

You can dress it up into a Buddha bowl easily by adding different veggies, avocado, olives, sauerkraut, seeds, and/or dressings. Get creative and eat the rainbow! There are hundreds of variations!

Mamas, we can do this.  It's hard, but buy real food ingredients that will be life-sustaining, not life-draining.  Give this recipe a try and share it if you enjoyed it!