Busy yet balanced

February has been a busy month for me, but one of my goals is to write more on Vitamin Valentine.  This month has been filled with school assignments (I’m working on my master’s thesis) and some very exciting (yet nerve-racking) professional developments.  I submitted my dietetic internship applications this month and I’m hoping to get accepted into an internship.  If you’re new to my blog, I’ve been working on a B.S./M.S. in Nutrition for the past four years in order to become a Registered Dietitian (RD).  It’s extremely competitive to get into a dietetic internship (DI) and completing the DI is a requirement of the education and training to become an RD, so I’m hoping I match.  Nutrition is my passion and I hope to get into an internship in order to gain the knowledge necessary to help people.  Registered Dietitians are truly the experts in the nutrition field because of the training and education they receive.  I’ve dreamt of becoming an RD for so long, so wish me luck!

Because I’ve been so busy lately, I’ve been finding ways to save time when it comes to preparing healthy food.  Sometimes I make a big batch of food and eat the same thing for lunch for a few days during the week, and other times I try to mix it up.  Either way, I try to stick with the same formula for making my meals as balanced and colorful as possible.  I try to include at least two veggies, a source of protein, and a healthy fat.  Sometimes I’ll also add some whole grains, but today I skipped that component.  For a “side dish” or snack, I usually stick to fruit or a protein bar.  Lunch today was so colorful and delicious.  It consisted of a purple potato on top of collard greens, 1/2 a medium avocado, some cherry tomatoes, and a serving of hummus.  For my snacks, I had a fruit salad (sliced papaya, kiwi, and pineapple) and a gomacro bar (a vegan protein bar).  I also took an apple with me but I decided to save it for another time.

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Delicious, colorful, and easy!

It took me about 10 minutes in total to prepare this.  Instead of baking the potato, I put it in the microwave, which saves a lot of time.  I love preparing my meals ahead of time like this, especially because when I’m hungry at work it’s so tempting to go out and buy something.  Do you have any ways to save time or money while staying healthy?  Feel free to share below, or connect with me via facebook or instagram @vitaminvalentine

-Jess

Creamy Tofu and Veggie Soup

A few weeks ago, I made a delicious creamy soup using whatever vegetables I had in my kitchen.  What I love about this soup is that although it tastes creamy, it has less fat than a cream-based soup and contains plant-based protein, fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin A.  I’ve been perfecting the recipe, and I think I’ve finally found the perfect combination of ingredients.  Feel free to try this out on a cold day, and feel free to add or omit any veggies depending on what’s available to you.

Creamy Tofu and Veggie Soup

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Ingredients (serves 3-4):

  • 2 cups vegetable broth (I use store-bought broth. Check ingredients if you’re following a vegan diet because some can contain animal products).
  • 1.5 cups unsweetened, plain soymilk, or unsweetened plain ricemilk
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. safflower or almond oil
  • 1/2 a standard block of firm tofu, cut into small cube shapes
  • 1.5 cups of fresh or frozen broccoli
  • 1 cup fresh, canned, or frozen corn
  • 1 cup fresh, canned, or frozen carrots
  • 1 medium potato, cut into smaller pieces (purple-skinned potatoes and yukon potatoes work great in this recipe)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a pinch of garlic powder
  • a pinch of dried rosemary (omit if you don’t care for this herb)

Directions:

  • Measure all ingredients
  • On low-medium heat, use oil to grease a non-stick large pan or pot and lightly brown garlic and tofu cubes
  • When tofu has browned slightly, add vegetable broth, soy milk, and potatoes to the pan or pot, simmer for about 5-10 minutes
  • Add other veggies (broccoli, corn, carrots) along with garlic powder and dried rosemary. Add a bit of salt and pepper if you’d like
  • Simmer on low heat until potatoes are soft. Stir frequently. Remove from heat and serve. Refrigerate the extra or share with a friend!

-Jess

Bye to 2016 and the winter blues

Happy 2017!  I hope everyone had a healthy and happy new years celebration.  I was going to write a post about making new years resolutions, but this year I decided to not make any new years resolutions. I decided not to try to make any specific goals for the next year for two reasons: 1.  I think it’s easier to work on short-term goals, without using the calendar year as motivation 2.  Northeastern winters don’t exactly scream “LET’S GET MOTIVATED!” to me.  Instead, today I’m sharing some tips about improving your mood during these cold months.  I decided to share some things that have helped me stay happy and sane during winter because I’ve noticed that every year I start to feel less like my usual upbeat self as soon as November/December rolls around.  While I don’t personally suffer from full-blown seasonal affective disorder (SAD, so aptly abbreviated), it’s always a good idea to consult a mental health professional if you feel your mood going seriously sour during any time of the year.  If you feel like you just need an extra happiness boost during the winter, here are some things that have helped me.

My Winter Mood-Improving Habits

  1. Get outside!

Unless you live close to the equator, your skin gets less exposure to sunlight during the winter (in the northern hemisphere).  Sunlight is important because it’s a major source of vitamin D.  Vitamin D has effects on the hypothalamus which regulates sleep, hunger, and other factors that influence mood.

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These ducks have the right idea, although I didn’t take a dip into the frigid water, I did take this photo on a chilly winter walk

Another reason to get outside is just to enjoy the outdoors.  Although being outside during the winter requires some extra layers, being amongst nature has so many benefits, both for the mind and body.  Try going for a walk outside a few times a week (for the most benefits, aim for mid-day, especially when it’s sunny out).  If you’re feeling more adventurous, go ice-skating, skiing, or snow-shoeing if you live in a snowy climate.

2.  Eat (healthy) carbs!

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a toasted whole-grain bagel with a healthy fat, such as melted natural peanut butter makes for a deliciously warming winter breakfast

Complex carbs can health boost serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that influences mood.  I feel best when I stick to minimally processed whole grains and avoid white flour. Examples of complex carbs include sweet potatoes, brown rice, whole grains and 100% whole grain breads.  Paying attention to portion size is important.  It’s easy to over-do pasta, bread, and rice, especially because these foods can be so comforting.

3. Exercise

I love moving all year round!  Exercise always puts me in a good mood. If you can’t exercise outside, indoors is just as good.  I try to exercise daily for 30-60 minutes, or at least most days.  New to exercise?  Try to find something that you enjoy and that you’re willing to commit to.  Walking, running, yoga, weightlifting all count.

4. Sleep, but not too much

It’s so tempting to sleep more during the winter and go into “hibernation mode”, but I’ve found that (for me) this makes me feel lazy which then affects my mood.  Instead of staying in bed all day, try to get moving and accomplish one productive thing a day.  Oversleeping can be a symptom of depression, so if you find yourself preferring to stay in bed for an excessive amount of time and you also feel symptoms of hopelessness and apathy, it’s important to talk to someone.

5.  Participate in life

Sometimes during winter, I feel like hibernating and going into my shell, but I’ve noticed that this makes me feel down and withdrawn.  Find an engaging hobby that will keep your mind active.  Social support is also vitally important, so make some time for friends and family.

These are just some simple things that have helped me.  I hope you feel amazing today and every day of this winter season 🙂

My 100th Post

This is the 100th blog post on Vitamin Valentine!  I’ve been wanting to post a recipe recently but October and November were super busy due to school and work so for my 100th post I’ll be sharing some personal updates.

These past few months have been busy because I’m taking a pretty intense research class which is preparing me for writing my master’s thesis next semester.  I’m also planning something that could lead to career advancement (but I’m keeping the details of that a secret, for now).  If you haven’t been reading my blog for long, I’m currently completing my master’s in nutrition and I work full-time as a community nutritionist working with women, infants, and children (WIC).

One of the perks of my job is that most my coworkers are interested in nutrition.  Today my coworker asked me for insight because she wants to go vegan.  I was so excited to help her because I love sharing the benefits of eating a vegan diet.  I also think this coworker is becoming a vegan for the right reasons and not just because it’s “trendy” at the moment. Veganism is becoming more and more popular, but in order to adopt a vegan diet and stay on it, the motivation must be intrinsic and there has to be a reason why you want to dedicate yourself to this cause, whether its purely for health reasons, ethical reasons, or a mix of both.  I created several easy vegan recipes  for my coworker during my lunch break and a food-shopping list which I love making (is it weird that I absolutely love food shopping?)  What is your motivation for your current way of eating?  Do you feel like you make the best choices for your health? Feel free to share your opinion through comments or connecting via Facebook or instagram 🙂

Hopefully I’ll have some more time in mid-december and january to post some delicious, vegan recipes in blog post #101!

-Jess

Pumpkin Spice Almond Treats

October is here and I am happy!  October is my favorite month because I love fall, halloween, and everything pumpkin spice flavored/scented. To celebrate the start of fall, yesterday I made raw vegan pumpkin spice almond treats. These almond treats have all the sweet flavors of fall and are full of healthy fats, fiber, and vitamin E.  I made this and ate 2 for breakfast along with pumpkin spice banana nicecream (frozen bananas, pumpkin puree, and pumpkin spice flavors) but you can eat them as is for a snack or dessert.

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Ingredients:

  • 10 pitted, medjool dates
  • 1 cup raw almonds
  • 1/2 tsp. ground vanilla bean or vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. cloves
  • 1/8 tsp. ginger
  • optional- you can also add 1 tbsp. pumpkin spice “butter” spread from Trader Joe’s (its vegan!) and adds a bit more sweetness

Directions:

  • Add all ingredients to a food processor, and process until the mixture is sticky and moldable
  • Mold into balls, bars, or squares and enjoy or refrigerate. These treats taste best at room temperature, so when you’re ready to enjoy them, take them out of the fridge 30 minutes-1 hour before.

P.S.- to make the pumpkin spice nicecream, see my earlier post on “the best vegan breakfast” and combine frozen bananas and canned pumpkin puree in a food processsor. Add the spice mixture above (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger) and enjoy.

-Jess

 

Rest and a Fresh Recipe

Have you ever changed your diet and felt amazing…only to go back to how you were eating and feeling before?  It can be hard to stick with eating healthy, even if we feel the benefits.  I often wonder why this is, and I’ve noticed that for me I’m a creature of habit and habits are hard to change, especially when you’ve been doing something or eating something for so long.

I mentioned in early August that I was taking a break from drinking coffee.  I quit coffee cold turkey and was coffee-free for over 35 days until I decided to indulge in an iced coffee. For the next week, I was drinking about a cup of coffee in the AM.  I also got on average about 4 hours of sleep each night that I had drank coffee in the morning.  Although caffeine shouldn’t affect my sleep so much, it does and I came to the conclusion that I’ve become extremely sensitive to caffeine and (for me) it just isn’t worth it any more.

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Of course I documented my iced coffee indulgence!

I’m happy I realized coffee was affecting me in a negative way instead of drinking even more coffee to make up for lack of sleep, which is something I used to do on a daily basis.  I’m also happy to share what I learned during this self-realization coffee experiment: don’t beat yourself up!  If you slip up on a health goal, diet, or exercise routine, etc., instead of berating yourself and feeling like poo, simply note the difference in how you physically, mentally, and emotionally feel when you’re doing something good for yourself vs. how you feel when you do something that doesn’t benefit your overall health.  Then, decide which feelings you’d rather feel.  In my case, if I kept drinking coffee, I’d probably feel energized for a few hours, but ultimately miss out on sleep and feel really tired at work, in class, and during my free time.

Being coffee-free also made me realize the importance of eating energizing foods.  I pride myself on practicing what I preach, but sometimes quick convenience foods are an easy option that I rely on.  These foods are ok in a pinch, but real, wholesome, unprocessed foods provide so much more.  I’ve decided to share a delicious meal filled with fresh veggies that I made recently.  It took me about 10 minutes to make the entire meal and it’s packed with fiber, lycopene, vitamin A, vitamin C, and deliciousness.

Zucchini Noodles with Tomato-“Cheez” Sauce

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Ingredients (serves 1-2):

  • 1 large zucchini
  • 2 vine-ripe tomatoes (or use about 1-1.5 cups of ripe cherry tomatoes)
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. oregano
  • 1/4 tsp. basil
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of pepper
  • 5 kalamata olives
  • 1/4 cup raw cashews

Directions: * you will need a food processor and a vegetable spiralizer (or buy spiralized zucchini at a supermarket)

  • Spiralize the zucchini into spaghetti-shaped noodles and set in a bowl or plate
  • Using a food processor, blend the tomatoes, spices, cashews, and olives together for about 3-5 minutes, or until a sauce consistency appears
  • Top the noodles with the sauce and use whatever garnish appeals to you
  • Enjoy, and take care of yourself!

 

-Jess

My favorite breakfast/treat

Fall is almost here but I’m relishing these last days of summer.  This summer, my favorite breakfast/snack/dessert was banana ice cream.  At this point, if you follow any vegan instagram accounts, I’m sure you’ve heard of banana ice cream (also called “nice cream”.)  This delicious frozen treat is made by freezing a few bananas and then blending the frozen ‘nanas with a little liquid (almond milk, coconut water, water, etc.) in a food processor.

I’m obsessed with eating banana ice cream for breakfast and trying different variations.  I love how simple it is to whip up a bowl of nice cream and I love how healthy and filling it is.  The trick is to only use a few bananas (you don’t need to eat 10 bananas at a time contrary to what fad diets might say) and and 3/4-1 cup. of another frozen fruit (if you want more flavor than just banana).  For toppings, I like using a sprinkle of oats or granola, cacao nibs, chocolate chips, or a table spoon of peanut or almond butter.  You can also add protein powder into the food processor if you’re looking for a post-workout meal or snack.

I’m sharing the nice cream creation I made this morning below.  What is your favorite way to eat nice cream?   If you’re looking for some ideas on how to make this deliciously healthy meal, be sure to follow me on instagram @vitaminvalentine for more nice cream recipes and daily food inspiration 🙂

Chocolate Peanut Butter Nice Cream

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Ingredients:

  • 2 frozen peeled bananas (I usually just break the bananas into 2-3 pieces each before freezing)
  • 1/4 cup coconut water
  • 1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder (100% cocoa powder is usually vegan. I buy this at Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/4 cup whole-grain cereal
  • 1 tbsp. peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp. vegan chocolate chips (I buy these at Trader Joe’s)

Directions:

  • Blend frozen bananas, coconut water, and unsweetened cocoa powder together until creamy (about ~3 minutes).
  • Scoop out nice cream and transfer to a bowl.
  • Top with cereal, peanut butter, and chocolate chips
  • Enjoy and eat up, this can melt fast in warm weather!

-Jess

Staycation Fun

This week I took a vacation from work.  Although I find my work fulfilling and rewarding, everyone needs a vacation and I’m no exception.  I thought about going somewhere during my time off, but sometimes I find traveling more stressful than it is relaxing so I decided to make this vacation a “stay-cation”.

This past week I’ve been going to the beach and spending a lot of time meditating, which is something that I need to consistently do in order to reap the benefits.

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Went to one of my favorite cafes and enjoyed a delicious smoothie and a good read

I also took a few day trips to my favorite towns on Long Island and ate at my favorite vegan restaurants (I might write a separate blog post on that!).  This past week I also explored some nature preserves, attended a powwow, and visited a farm that I used to work at many summers ago.

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This preserve (Norman J. Levy Preserve) was built on what used to be a garbage dump. The high point where I took the photo from used to be a giant pile of garbage and now is home to native species of grass, small trees, insects, animals and birds.

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A picture of the farm I used to work at! I actually worked with the animals but I would love to get my hands dirty working with some fresh produce!

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A photo of one of the highlights from the powwow.  Group dancing to drums and hymns of Native American tribes made this a magical experience.

While I was relaxing on the beach this week, I decided that I was going to stop drinking coffee for the remainder of my vacation (and hopefully keep this up when I go back to work).  I made this decision because I notice sometimes when I drink too much coffee (which can be as little as 1-2 cups per day), I feel really anxious in my stomach– like an annoying, uncertain gut feeling related to nothing in particular which lasts about an hour or two after I’ve overdone it with the coffee.  I’ve written about my history of insomnia and sleep disturbances and I know that having any caffeine affects my sleep cycle greatly. I’m hoping that I can keep my cravings for coffee at bay. Tonight my plans include going to a coffee house, so this should be interesting. I’ll give an update soon along with some more info on my favorite vegan restaurants. For more personal updates and (almost) daily food pictures, you can follow me on instagram @vitaminvalentine 🙂

-Jess

Peanut Butter and Jam Overnight Oats

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know how much I love overnight oats (check out my other overnight oats recipes here and here). I love overnight oats because prepping them the night before saves time in the morning, which means more sleep and therefore, more happiness. I also love eating overnight oats during the summer because I eat mine cold and its makes for the perfect summer breakfast. I decided to add peanut butter and jam to my oats a few days ago and I think I’m officially in love with this combo. To add some extra nutrition (fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals), I also added blueberries, strawberries and a few cherries. Here’s the how-to on creating a delicious PB and J oat-filled breakfast.

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Ingredients (serves 1-2):

  • 3/4 cup rolled oats, use gluten free oats if you’re following a GF diet
  • 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk, add a little more liquid for less thick oats
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp. natural peanut butter
  • 4 cherries, pitted, and sliced
  • 1/4 cup blueberries
  • 5 strawberries
  • 1 tbsp. of your favorite jam or preserves

To Prep (do this the night before you plan on eating the oats)

  • Measure all ingredients
  • In a bowl or mason jar, mix together oats, vanilla extract, almond milk, and stir in peanut butter
  • Add the layer of fruit
  • Refrigerate for about 8 hours or longer
  • Top with your favorite jam or preserves and enjoy (no need to heat)

I hope you love these oats as much as I do. If you love this recipe, follow me on instagram @vitaminvalentine for more delicious food creations.

 

-Jess

Last Minute Banana Chocolate Chip Brownies

Happy 4th of July! I wasn’t planning on writing a blog post today but I whipped up these amazing brownies to bring to a barbecue and I had to share. If you’re looking for an easy, quick dessert to bring to a gathering, try these delectable bites of bliss. This recipe requires having a few very ripe bananas (like the stage before they turn brown) on hand. If you don’t have bananas, try an equal amount of apple sauce or dairy-free yogurt.

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Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour (I always use whole grain flour for extra fiber in my baked goods, but if you don’t have it, all-purpose flour will also work)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup or agave nectar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I use trader joe’s brand)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 3 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk or soy milk
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup sunflower oil or almond oil (or you can use vegetable or canola oil if you have those instead)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1.5 cups vegan chocolate chips (I use trader joe’s dark chocolate chips which happen to be vegan)

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F
  • In a large bowl, measure and mix all dry ingredients (flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder)
  • In another bowl, measure and mix wet ingredients (maple syrup/agave, mashed bananas, almond/soy milk, vanilla extract, oil).
  • Mix the wet ingredients into bowl of dry ingredients. Add the chocolate chips and stir.
  • Spray a 9×12 baking pan with non-stick spray, pour batter into the pan, and bake for 30 minutes
  • Allow to cool and then cut and share with family and friends!

 

Enjoy these chocolatey treats and have a great 4th of July!

-Jess