When I worked on my dissertation, I was up past my eyeballs in acting theory and it was enough to make my head spin. For fun, I decided to immerse myself in a completely different topic so I could learn something new and give my brain a rest from my dissertation. I studied nutrition and a whole food way of life. I won't call it a "diet" because that word has too many negative and constrictive connotations. "Way of life" suits the choice much better as any changes to the way we eat must reflect core values and be sustainable. It has to make sense for you.
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 spend the next few posts sharing easy and healthful recipes 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. These are meals I make all the time and have been making for years. Here is the first: 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 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 chop up broccoli finely and mix that in. The options are endless! 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.
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). With your three cups of lentils/rice, place 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 add the lentils and rice. Put the lid on, but crack it a bit or vent it so steam can escape. 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!
Mamas, we can do this. It's hard, but buy real food ingredients that will be life-sustaining, not life-draining. (I'll post on life-draining foods later) Give this recipe a try and comment on how it goes!