Self-Care Tips During Times of Stress

It’s been several months since I last wrote a blog post due to having a busy schedule right now. I intended on sharing a recipe or something strictly food-related for this post, but since the coronavirus is a huge concern of everyone I know (including myself), I’ve decided to share some basic self-care tips that may help others feel more at peace during this time of chaos.

On a personal note, several months ago I was offered a full time position as a clinical dietitian in a busy county hospital. I accepted the position, while still keeping my per diem job at a smaller hospital…and continuing to see a few private nutrition counseling clients…and also teaching a yoga class or two. So, it’s been a crazy few months. I never expected to be working in healthcare during a worldwide pandemic, but here I am. I’m anxious about the situation, and judging by the dearth of toilet paper and non-perishables at several grocery stores I’ve visited, I’m not the only one who is feeling this way. I do think that during times of stress, it’s important to practice skills that can help with anxiety. So, here are my tips:

  • Practice social distancing, but shift your perspective

COVID-19 is highly contagious, and according to the most recent findings, one person infects 2 to 2.5 others on average without preventative measures. A major preventative measure is to self-isolate, even if you don’t have the virus. Instead of feeling a sense of panic, shift your perspective to viewing this as a collective act of cooperation to protect others. Total self-isolation may not be possible for those who work in healthcare, but social distancing (or avoiding other people whenever possible) can be done whenever possible if you don’t work in healthcare.

  • Take the CDC’s advice seriously but also take breaks from constantly consuming news about COVID-19

You don’t have to turn a blind eye to the reality of the situation, but constantly consuming information about the pandemic can lead to more anxiety/stress. Instead, try to block out 10-15 minutes of your day to read about current events and when you’re done, do something completely unrelated (like listen to music, go for a walk, call/text your family/friends and talk about a different topic) to avoid ruminating on anything that may cause you stress.

  • Spend your free time on new (or old) hobbies

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, now can be the perfect time to reacquaint yourself with a hobby or project that you haven’t had the time for to offer some distraction. Read books that you may have collected over the years but never got around to, do something creative, spend time in nature, take a bath or hot shower. Although it might seem tempting to use this time to “treat yo’self” to mindless online purchases, keep in mind that the best forms of self-care are usually free.

  • Try to eat healthy, avoid hoarding processed food, and try not to use food to cope with stress

There are no proven supplements or any specific way of eating to avoid getting sick with a virus, including COVID-19, but consuming a healthy diet rich in whole,unprocessed food is one way to keep your immune system strong. Feeling a sense of scarcity and panic when food shopping may make you feel like you need to stock up on snacks, frozen dinners, and other convenience foods. Turning to food during times of stress is normal, but when it becomes a habit, it can have longterm negative consequences. By buying highly processed, palatable food, you might feel more tempted to overindulge, especially if its available during times of stress, so I recommend avoiding buying these foods all together (or purchase in small quantities). Instead of using food for comfort, seek out healthy staples, like whole grains, canned/bagged beans, frozen veggies- or buy fresh (which can be frozen) so that you can prepare easy meals at home. Try doing your food shopping online if options are limited in stores. Experiment with recipes using food that you already have.

Let me know if you found any of these tips helpful and feel free to connect with me via Instagram @ theveganrd

-Jess

 

 

 

 

Secret Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Protein Bars (Vegan + Gluten Free!)

I love a good protein bar, but I don’t love paying up to $3 for a single serving bar that’s often lacking in wholesome ingredients. This weekend I made my own protein bar that tastes like peanut butter cookie dough–and is packed with fiber, protein, and healthy fats. My version of the perfect protein bar uses Vega brand protein powder, and chickpea flour (the “secret” ingredient–clearly I’m not good at keeping secrets for long!). Let me know what you think if you try the recipe.

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Vegan/Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Protein Bars

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup garbanzo bean (chickpea) flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill brand) Note: You can also use oat flour, which I’ve made too, if you prefer a more mild flavor
  • 1/2 cup almond meal (I used Trader Joe’s brand)
  • 3 scoops Vega Vanilla Protein Powder
  • 1/2 cup natural, smooth peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (I used Trader Joe’s brand
  • 1/4-1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk

Directions:

Mix all ingredients (except for chocolate chips) together in a large bowl, use your hands to mold into a dough. Line a pan/cooking tin with parchment paper and mold the dough into a layer. Then, using your hands, place the chocolate chips into the dough, pressing down so the chocolate chips become embedded in the mixture. Place in the freezer for 30 minutes. Remove from the freezer, cut into squares, or rectangles and enjoy! I loved cutting these into tiny squares and putting them on PB toast and in my morning almond milk yogurt.

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Nutrition facts per serving (makes 18 squares): 141 calories, 6 g fat, 15 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 7 g protein.

-Jess

Quick and Easy Thai-Inspired Curry

Lately I’ve had limited time and I find myself getting bored with my go-to quick and easy recipes. I noticed that I had been making a lot of veggie-filled pasta dishes and nutrient-dense salads, which are delicious and healthy, but can get repetitive. My food rut led me to create this super-flavorful thai-inspired dish that took me ~30 minutes to prepare. It makes about 4 servings and keeps well–which is important, because after a long, busy day, there’s something so satisfying about coming home to a meal already prepared (just re-heat for ~3 minutes in the microwave). What I love about this dish is how warming and filling it is, making it perfect for cold winter evenings when you crave a hearty meal. Each serving packs a punch of plant-based protein, 116% of daily value of vitamin A, and about 40% of daily calcium requirements. One thing to note about this recipe is that the measurements for the spices are estimated, as I tend to improvise as I go. Feel free adjust the spices as you see fit.

Thai-Inspired Curry with Tofu + Veggies

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup quick-cooking basmati brown rice (I used Trader Joe’s brand)
  • 1/4 cup diced yellow onion
  • 2 cloves of fresh garlic, diced
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1 container of Trader Joe’s “Harvest Hodgepodge” frozen veggies- or use a frozen (or fresh) veggie combination of your choice
  • 2 cups unsweetened, unflavored coconut milk (I used Trader Joe’s brand)
  • 1 block of firm, organic tofu
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce/tamari/or coconut aminos
  • 2-3 tsp. curry powder
  • 1/2- 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. chili powder (use less if you prefer less spice)
  • juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 1 oz. cashews

Directions:

  • For the rice- measure 1 cup cup quick-cooking brown basmati rice and 2.5 cups water and heat in a pot. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat and allow to simmer for ~20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside
  • As the rice cooks, remove tofu from its container and press out all liquid using a paper towel and a slightly heavy object on top of this (I usually use a book, or if you have a tofu press- use that)
  • While the tofu drains, heat the onion, garlic, and celery in a skillet (I use non-stick pans which don’t require oil)
  • Add frozen veggies to the skillet and allow to cook, adding ~1 tbsp. of soy sauce (or tamari/coconut aminos)
  • Add 2 cups of coconut milk, lime juice, and some of the curry powder, ground ginger, and chili powder to the veggies and allow to cook on low heat
  • While the veggies are cooking, cut the tofu into squares and add some of the curry powder, ground ginger, and chili powder. Heat the spiced tofu in another skillet until the tofu is lightly browned, stirring occasionally
  • After the tofu has cooked, add it to the skillet with the veggies + coconut milk. Add any additional spices (if desired), and then add the cashews
  • Stir for a few minutes, allow to cool
  • Enjoy this delicious dish with the side of rice prepared in the first step

Let me know how you like this recipe by commenting on my latest Instagram post or by letting me know below. I love getting feedback on quick and easy recipes!

-Jess

 

Italian Seasoned Cannellini Bean Balls

I’m currently sitting at home because my internship program has declared today a snowday.  I’m trying to make today both relaxing and productive, so before I dive deep into my internship assignments, I thought I’d share the latest recipe I’ve been working on.  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I sometimes struggle with cravings. Cravings (to me) may be a sign that something is lacking in my diet. I decided to make these protein and omega-3-rich bean balls to provide these nutrients for vegan readers who may have similar cravings. Not only are they packed with healthy fat and protein, they’re delicious! I hope you try them, and let me know what you think.

Italian Seasoned Cannellini Bean Balls

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Ingredients:

  • 1 can (~15 oz.) of cannellini beans (also called navy beans, white kidney beans)
  • 1/2 cup raw walnuts
  • 1/2-3/4 cup packed ground flax meal (I use Bob’s Red Mill brand). Adjust if the batter needs to be thicker (see below for desired thickness)
  • 2 cups raw baby spinach
  • several sprinkles of garlic powder- or use 1 small clove of garlic
  • 1/4 tsp. dried basil – or use 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 tsp. dried oregano

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.  As the oven heats, drain the beans well, and measure the rest of the ingredients.  Combine all ingredients in a food processor until well blended.  The consistency should be slightly thick, so you can mold the mixture into balls.  Using non-stick spray or a brush with oil, coat a baking sheet with a thin layer of oil.  Using your hands or a spoon, scoop out some of the bean batter.  Mold the batter into balls using the palms of your hands, as if you were working with clay or playdough.  Place the balls on the baking sheet.  Bake for 20 minutes, flip each ball individually, and bake for another 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.

I enjoyed this delicious creation with spiralized zucchini, and sauteed spinach in a delicious (store-bought) pesto sauce.  Feel free to add these balls to your favorite pasta dish, as a topping in a salad, or whatever sounds good to you.

-Jess

Oh, mega delicious chai spice walnut butter

Lately I’ve been noticing persistent, intense cravings for food that I don’t normally eat (salmon, greek yogurt, eggs, chicken).  Whenever I’ve had these cravings in the past, I would feel really conflicted because I have deep compassion for animals and all beings, and yet I’m a firm believer that cravings for groups of food (in my case, animal-based proteins) may be a sign of deficiency in one’s diet.  My most recent craving for salmon has been going on for a few months.  In the past, there were a  few times where my non-vegan cravings were so intense that I *may* have indulged in some non-vegan food, which led to confusion about my own veganism and a lot of self-judgment.  Recently, I’ve been feeling confused because I take a vitamin with algal-based omega 3’s so I feel like I take in enough of this essential fatty acid to keep fish cravings away.

I value authenticity and this includes my blog and my social media.  I sometimes really struggle with honoring my body’s non-junk food cravings and being true to my personal ethics of not harming others (animals included).  For the past few years (typically in the winter months), I find my body (or mind?) particularly craves heavier protein (from animal sources) and I proceed to spend months vacillating between staying true to my values and rationalizing why I should indulge in my persistent cravings.  I also spend time and effort doing research on the best sources of plant-based protein and amino acids, and make an effort to include at least 50-60 grams of protein each day (which based on my weight and activity level meets the recommended requirements–but may not be enough based on lab work and other symptoms).

There are so many reasons why veganism is important to me, to name a few:  I don’t want to participate in the mistreatment/abuse/slaughter of innocent animals, concerns about the environment and the sustainability of our current factory-farming system, my religious/spiritual beliefs of ahimsa (sanskrit for “do no harm to others”), health reasons, and the fact that I was never much of a meat-eater as a child, I became a vegan at 15, and it just kind of became my natural way of eating.

As a nutrition professional, someone with a master’s degree in nutrition, and a soon to be registered dietitian, if someone came to me stating that they had persistent cravings for certain foods (not junk foods, but foods with actual nutrients), I would examine their diet, and then make recommendations.  I would also check their blood work (if available), and ask them if they had any symptoms of a nutrient deficiency (fatigue, slow healing, light-headedness, hair loss, brittle nails, etc.).  I would never force my own personal beliefs on someone, as most people aren’t vegan, and a sure-fire way to make people defensive is to press your beliefs on someone.  I would probably recommend that this hypothetical client/patient include more protein in their diet (I would first recommend plant-based protein but if they wanted an animal-based protein, I can’t pressure them to be vegan/vegetarian).

I’m not one of my clients/patients, but I have been taking my own advice and eating more protein; however, the idea to just eat what I crave (animal based protein) is met with feelings of guilt and confusion.  It seems like this conundrum might just be a part of my life that I’ll have to deal with as both an empathetic person,  as someone who is well-versed in nutrition, and as someone who believes in honoring body, mind, and soul.

Because the craving for salmon is so specific, and because I know so much about nutrition, I’m thinking that maybe my vitamin with omega 3’s isn’t enough.  I’ve started including more whole food-based sources of omega 3’s that aren’t from a supplement.  One delicious source of omega 3 fatty acids are walnuts.  I was never a huge fan of walnuts, but I do love nut-butters, so I decided to see if I could make a walnut butter, and I was impressed about how it came out.  Below is the recipe for my walnut butter creation.

Oh-Mega Chai Spice Walnut Butter Processed with VSCO with f1 preset

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup raw walnuts (I used 365 Whole Foods Market brand)
  • 1 tbsp. organic virgin coconut oil (I used Trader Joe’s brand)
  • 2-4 tbsp. chai tea (I used pre-made tea from Oregon Spice brand)
  • 1/8 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp. Vermont maple syrup

Directions:

Measure ingredients and mix until blended smooth in a food processor.  Enjoy, or store in the fridge.  To soften, microwave for 45 seconds.

This nut butter makes a delicious addition to oatmeal and tastes amazing on toast.  I had it mixed with dairy free cashew yogurt + jam and topped it on my favorite sprouted grain toast.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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Have you ever experienced persistent cravings for a particular food/group of food?  How did you deal with it? Are you a vegan/vegetarian who struggles with a similar issue?  Feel free to share or comment on this post or through my instagram account @vitaminvalentine

-Jess

Notes from an RD-to-be

Greetings readers!  It’s been way too long since I wrote a blog post.  I’ve been extremely busy with the clinical rotation of my dietetic internship which has been the focus of my life for the past few months.  If you’ve new to this blog or you just need a recap, I’m currently a dietetic intern in order to become a Registered Dietitian (RD).  The dietetic internship consists of several rotations in different settings such as hospitals, long term care facilities, community programs, school food service, and others.  It’s a necessary step in the process of becoming an RD mandated by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND).  The process of the “rotations” is similar to how nursing students, MDs-to-be, and physician’s assistants gain experience in different areas of their fields after completing their schooling but before passing the certification tests.

Since January, I’ve been interning at a hospital and learning an immense amount about clinical dietetics.  I’ve really been enjoying this experience so far and I would love to work in a clinical setting after the internship and when I pass the RD exam (several months away, but I’m already nervous).  Every day I’m exposed to such interesting nutrition-related health problems and I’ve learned that I really enjoy being part of an interdisciplinary medical team.

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Some useful guides that I bring to the hospital each day

My typical day begins by reporting to the nutrition office.  Each day, I work with one of three preceptors who are all Registered Dietitians.  Every day there is a list of patients with some kind of nutrition-related health problem (i.e. diabetes, COPD, obesity, congestive heart failure, etc.)  that needs to be addressed by an RD.  A nutrition assessment involves reviewing the patient’s medical history, lab work, medications, and most important (for us) talking to the patient about their current diet at the hospital, their typical way of eating prior to admission, and any weight/appetite changes.  The most rewarding part of being in a hospital setting is educating the patient on how their diet affects their health.  Many people appear to be motivated to change after a hospital stay because no one enjoys being sick and it can be a wake up call to change ones’ habits.

On a personal note, I wish I could report that I’ve been living an exciting life outside of the internship, but in reality, this winter has been all about focusing on my work and trying to keep active at the gym.  Winter is my least favorite season, and I typically find that I’m less motivated to do fun activities, but I also know that staying inside all the time can be de-motivating in itself.  For me, being outside (even if it’s just a short walk) is necessary to keep the winter blues away.

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Beach life is more like burrrr life when it’s winter and you live on Long Island

How do you find motivation during the cold months?  Feel free to share, comment, here or through instagram/facebook @vitaminvalentine

-Jess

Nuggets on a Budget

My name is Jessie Valentine and I have a confession to make:  I am completely obsessed with the soy nuggets at Whole Foods Market!  I first found these delicious little meatless nuggets of bliss a few years ago while circling ’round the salad bar and since then I’ve been hooked.  Unfortunately for my wallet, a 1 lb. container of soy nuggets typically cost about $10, and as someone who is on a food budget, I wanted to find a way to make my own (similar) type of soy nugget.

The consistency of the soy nuggets at WFM are like a less chewy/spongy version of seitan.  If you’ve never tried seitan, it’s a meat replacement made up of wheat gluten and typically seasoned with soy sauce or some kind of vegetable broth base.  For my version of soy nuggets, I used soy flour along with vital wheat gluten.  You can buy vital wheat gluten and soy flour at any health food store.  It’s typically found in the baking/flour section.  I used Bob’s Red Mill brand for both.

For flavor, I used three different marinades, thus making three different flavors of these nuggets.  Feel free to use whatever you have available or if you have a certain flavor in mind (spicy, teriyaki, bbq, etc.) use dressings/sauces/seasonings that you prefer.

I hope you try this recipe and feel inspired to make your own homemade versions of your favorite foods. 

Protein-Packed Vegan Nuggets (serves 4)

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I served mine with some brown rice, beans, and veggies. 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup vital wheat gluten
  • 1/2 cup soy flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • seasonings- (choose whatever you want).  I made three varieties-  a teriyaki/seseame flavor (teriyaki sauce + sesame seeds), a buffalo sauce flavored variety (I used buffalo sauce marinade) and a spicy variety (I mixed taco seasoning + hot sauce.  Caution: muy caliente).
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Three varieties fresh from the oven

Directions

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine wheat gluten, soy flour, and water.  This combination will create a dough.  Knead and stretch the dough for a minute or so.
  • Cut the dough into small, bite-size pieces (nuggets)
  • Boil water in a large pot.  When the water comes to a boil, drop the nuggets into the dough, piece-by-piece
  • Lower the water to a simmer (it should not be boiling as the nuggets cook).  If the water is boiling, the nuggets will come out chewy and rubbery.
  • Allow the nuggets to simmer in water for 1 hour
  • Remove from heat and drain using a colander.  The nuggets should have expanded.  Allow to cool a bit.
  • Now, for the flavoring-  in a ziplock bag, allow the nuggets to marinate in whatever sauce/seasoning you choose for 1 hour-overnight (your choice).
  • After the nuggets have marinated to your liking, preheat the oven to 350°F
  • Spray cooking spray on a cookie tin or baking pan (both will work) and place the nuggets on the pan.  If you’d like, you can add more sauce at this point, as some will evaporate as the nuggets bake in the oven
  • Bake the nuggets for 20-30 minutes
  • Remove from the oven, allow to cool, and enjoy

 

-Jess