Chocolate Chip Protein Banana Bread

It’s been a little while since I wrote a blog post and I’m excited to share why. I’m currently employed full-time during the week as a dietitian at a rehab center, working weekends as a dietitian at a hospital, AND managing to provide nutrition counseling to private clients through Vitamin Valentine Wellness–so I haven’t been updating this blog as often as I used to. Although I’m super busy, I’m also happy to be getting so much experience as a new dietitian.

Having limited free time made me realize that I really need to prioritize self-care and focus on activities that help me unwind. One thing that’s always helped me relax is baking. I love creating healthy baked goods that I can indulge in (healthily) after a busy day. The following recipe not only satisfies my craving for chocolate, but also packs a punch of protein, potassium, and fiber. Let me know how you like this recipe if you try it and feel free to leave a comment here or on my Instagram page @vitaminvalentine.

Chocolate Chip Protein Banana Bread

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Ingredients:

  • 3 cups garbanzo bean flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill brand)- if you don’t have this flour or can’t find it, feel free to swap it out for whole wheat flour, spelt flour, or your favorite gluten free baking mix
  • 3 scoops Vega Vanilla Protein Powder (or your favorite plant-based protein powder)
  • 4 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 6 oz. Kite Hill unsweetened greek-style almond yogurt (or use your favorite plant-based, dairy-free yogurt)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (I used Trader Joe’s brand)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 370°F. In a large mixing bowl, add flour, protein powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. In another mixing bowl, combine mashed bananas, almond milk, almond yogurt, and vanilla. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, then add chocolate chips. Mix well until contents are uniform. Using non-stick spray, spray a 9×11 brownie tin or baking pan of your choice. Scoop out batter into the pan. Bake at 370°F for 35-40 minutes. Allow to cool. Cut into squares (this recipe made 20 squares me for). Enjoy!

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Planning, Creating, and Saving, Part I

Several years ago, I posted how much I LOVE Whole Foods Market Salad Bar (that blog post can be found here). I find Whole Foods Salad bar so appealing because of the vast array of vegan options and fresh ingredients, but this is not the case for all salad bars. I’ve been to some sad salad bars where the only vegan options are wilted lettuce and stale carrots. I still love going to Whole Foods salad/hot food bar over any other salad bar, but I also really love saving money (who doesn’t)? Thus, my twice daily Whole Foods habit became more of a bi-weekly treat.

When I decided that I needed to start a food budget, I had to figure out which foods I really enjoy eating and which foods often go to waste in my fridge. As a dietitian, I also knew which foods were the most nutrient-dense. Today I’m sharing a few tips to help you get started with planning, preparing, and creating delicious, affordable meals that will give you energy, and save you money. I’ve decided to make this a series because I have SO many tips to share.

Today’s tips:

1.  Have a budget

Before you go food shopping, have a budget so that you can plan what you’ll be making and how much to spend. It can be a flexible budget (by $5-10) or you can keep it strict–but remember, the stricter your budget, the more planning you’ll have to do. Once you figure out how much you want to spend, think about where you want to go shopping. I’ve found that Trader Joe’s has the best prices for frozen food and some packaged vegetables. Other times, I’ve lucked out at Whole Foods Market (especially the 365 Brand products). Sometimes your best bet is to stick with independently-owned grocery stores or conventional stores that offer cheaper produce. If it’s spring/summer/fall and there are farmers markets near you, definitely check them out because local produce is usually much cheaper than produce that’s been packaged and shipped. Remember, do what is easiest and most cost-effective for you.

2.  Plan on including colorful fruits and veggies

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Eat the rainbow!

The focus of your grocery shopping list (and meal prep/plan) should be fruits and veggies. The more deeply-colored a vegetable (or fruit) is, the more nutrients it packs. Carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, dark leafy greens (like kale, swiss chard, arugula), purple cabbage, berries, tomatoes, and squash are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and they’re so tasty! But, you’ll definitely need to do some planning before you make your shopping cart look like a rainbow, which leads me to tip #2.

3.  Find some inspiration

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Getting all the colors for breakfast + some snacks

Instead of packing your shopping cart with a bunch of colorful produce that you don’t know what to do with, have a plan. Before I go food shopping I pick 2 different colorful veggies that I haven’t been eating and find recipes that are appealing to me using Pinterest or Instagram. For example, on Pinterest, I’ll search “vegan beet recipes”. You can also use blogs to find delicious recipes (I’ve posted a ton of recipes over the years so use the “search” button/tab on this blog). I also love using delicious meals that I’ve had at restaurants for inspiration. Some of my favorite meals to recreate at home are vegan pizza (using whole wheat dough, cauliflower crust, or tortillas as the base), vegan sushi, and any kind of mexican food (mmm just thinking about bean burritos).

4.  Keep it simple when it comes to protein

I like to create different flavors with my meal prep (for instance, italian seasoned tofu at one meal, mexican-flavored beans and rice for the next). I recommend using unflavored mock-meats and plant-based protein (like seitan, tofu, tempeh) and then adding your own seasonings, oils, and spices, unless you find a flavored variety that fits into a particular recipe. Buying unseasoned vegan protein makes it easier to use in a variety of meals.

5.  Pick 1-2 grains to work with for the week

If you’re doing a weekly food prep/plan, choose 1 or two whole grain products to include in you meal prep. What I love about grains is how diverse they are and how they can take the flavor of whatever you’re cooking. Typically, I’ll buy 1 or 2 breads a week (like sprouted grain bread or tortillas) and 1-2 pasta/rice/grains (lately my fave is Trader Joe’s brown-rice lentil spaghetti).

In my next post, I’ll share more tips about planning your meals and making them super flavorful and creative. Check back soon, and be sure to follow my instagram account (vitaminvalentine) for more tips on being the healthiest vegan you can be!

-Jess

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Taking a Coffee Break

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Today I’m sharing my on-and-off again relationship with my first love–a powerful elixir named coffee! Coffee and I go way back. I think my love of coffee began sometime in high school and ever since then, I’ve been hooked. In college, I craved the “peppy” feeling that coffee would give me as I studied throughout the night and I loved hanging out in coffee shops near my school (shoutout to The Witches Brew + The Cup on Long Island for fueling my first degree!). Any time I started the day without my daily fix, I would be plagued with debilitating headaches. I realized sometime in my twenties that I was completely dependent on caffeine to get through the day so one summer I attempted to quit coffee cold turkey, and I was actually successful for 45 days! Then I decided to indulge in an iced coffee and it was all downhill from there. I’m exaggerating, but my coffee habit picked up right where it left off.

Coffee is known to be addictive. It’s the most widely available and used stimulant out there, but just because many people are dependent on coffee doesn’t mean it’s bad. Coffee has many benefits and it happens to be a powerful antioxidant that may be useful in preventing some forms of diseases and cancer. Regular coffee drinkers may have a decreased risk of diabetes (just hold the cream & sugar), Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and cancers of the liver and colon.

I’m definitely not anti-coffee, but this summer while I was studying for the RD exam I realized I don’t LOVE coffee like I used to. Ever since I started drinking coffee (over 10 years now), my sleep has been affected. I know coffee can make me anxious at times, but in the past, the energetic coffee buzz was worth it. What changed for me recently was realizing that I actually don’t like that jittery, peppy feeling anymore. As I was driving to take the test, I stopped at Starbucks for my daily ritual, but I was so nervous that I took one sip of coffee and decided that would be my last sip for a while. I couldn’t bare to be any more anxious than I already was.

It’s now been over a week since I had regular coffee (I did drink decaf for the first 3 days) and I feel surprisingly…normal. I didn’t experience any caffeine-withdrawal headaches but I was nauseas for the first few days, which I wasn’t expecting. I think I avoided having headaches by drinking a ton of water and taking naps when needed. I’m not sure how long I’ll be coffee-free. Unlike previous attempts at ditching the bean, I don’t feel like I need to eliminate coffee due to an actual addiction, I’m just kind of over it.

Are you a regular coffee drinker or do you prefer something else? Let me know! I love hearing about other peoples’ views on my (former favorite) caffeine-bean 🙂

-Jess

Jessie, the RDN!

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Greetings! It’s been a little while since I last posted, and for good reason–I’ve spent the past two months studying for the RD exam and now I can happily say I’M OFFICIALLY A REGISTERED DIETITIAN NUTRITIONIST! When I saw the words “Congratulations! You’ve passed the credentialing exam” I was in disbelief. Despite feeling prepared prior to the test, I just couldn’t believe that all my hard work over the past several years had finally paid off. It was such an amazing feeling and I don’t even think it’s fully hit me yet that I’m actually an RDN!

Studying for these past few months was probably one of the most stressful times of my life, because the exam covers EVERYTHING in dietetics that a DPD program and internship encompass but the exam itself is only 125-145 questions. So, there’s a whole bunch of material that candidates need to review, conceptualize, and memorize, but you never know which topic(s) will actually show up on your exam.

Studying was also stressful for me because I have a tendency to overdo things and I studied anywhere from 5-10 hours/day, 6 days a week, for 2 months. My actual studying strategy was first attending the Jean Inman review seminar (a 2-day review course) and then studying the Inman guide like it was the bible (I’m pretty sure I have the entire guide memorized at this point). In order to retain things, I need to write them down (more than once), so I would copy down any important points from the guide and write them in a notebook, and then make flashcards. When I was finished studying a topic/domain, I would complete 10-25 questions, and then focus on the things I got wrong. I tried to understand the WHY behind each topic and really focused on learning the concepts of the material in the study guide. One thing that I noticed while studying is that some of the questions are purely common sense, and others want you to really think and use critical thinking skills. Of course, there are those topics that you just have to memorize (like temperatures, drug-nutrient interactions, BMI categories, etc.). There were some topics that I felt I needed more background info on so I used several of my nutrition textbooks from over the years and also used an app called Pocketprep ($20–so worth it!) which really helped with providing additional practice questions and explanations. Three days before the test, I also found additional study materials online and focused on test-taking strategies because I could already feel my nerves taking over.

There’s no definitive “right” way to study for the RD exam, but I don’t think one needs to study as much as I did–especially because most of the material I studied wasn’t on the test, and stressing myself out by spending all of my free time studying made me anxious. I didn’t realize this fully until the night before the exam when I decided to take a relaxing bath set to spa music and thought to myself ‘hmm I should have really been doing this all along’.  My advice to anyone who has yet to take their RD exam or is making another attempt is to RELAX, especially by making the time to put your books away and do something that feels good to you.

Now that I’m officially an RD (RDN, the two terms are interchangeable), I’m so excited for the future! I’ll be posting more updates later in the week, so check back soon and if you have questions about how to study for the RD exam, or want to share your experience, feel free to leave a comment below 🙂

-Jessie Valentine, M.S., RDN!!!!

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.

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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

Diary of a Dietetic Intern

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My life right now summed up in a picture- Dietetics Manuals, case studies, and healthy brain fuel!

Hello again readers!  I’m so excited to write this post/update as an RD-to-be/Dietetic Intern!  My Dietetic Internship (DI) officially started a few weeks ago with a two-week orientation that was jam-packed with projects, assignments, and learning all about what’s to come during the internship.  In case you’re reading my blog for the first time, I’m currently a Dietetic Intern and on my way to becoming a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN).  The process of getting accepted into an internship was extremely competitive (my internship has an 11.8% acceptance rate!).  Not only was the application process competitive, but it was also stress-inducing, and time-consuming because I was working on my master’s thesis and working full time as I applied, so I’m elated that I even get to call myself a Dietetic Intern.  Still confused as to what the DI entails?  The DI is a commitment of supervised practice in a variety of rotations, such as clinical/hospital settings, long-term care, community nutrition organizations, renal/dialysis centers, and specific areas of nutrition/dietetics in order to train graduates to enter the field as health professionals (Registered Dietitians/Registered Dietitian-Nutritionists).

I started my first rotation this week at a Long Term Care facility gaining experience in institutional food service management.  It’s been so interesting to learn about food service management and how much work goes into budgeting a menu, planning, overseeing a kitchen, and keeping guests happy.

While I’m not going to share too much details about the specifics about what I’ve been doing while in the internship, I will share how I’ve been managing my time/stress levels and trying to remain sane outside of the DI.  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I love running and yoga, so I’ve been making it a point to continue doing these things to manage stress and keep fit during this crazy process.  I’ve also been sticking to a food budget and meal planning for myself (…or trying to) because the DI is an unpaid program and a girl’s gotta eat, but also watch her wallet (and waist!).

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Trail running is my go-to stress relieving activity (and how cool are my tie-dye socks?!)

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A typical lunch on the go during this crazy time- Wasa bread sandwiches, raw veggies + hummus, and a fresh, crunchy apple

One thing that really stood out to me during orientation before the rotations actually started was some advice from the DI director– she advised us all to practice self-care in order to help us de-stress.  I really believe self-care and relaxation are so vital to health.  I also think it’s important to make time for friends, relationships, and family, especially because life is so much more than just school + professional commitments.  A few weeks ago my boyfriend and I went apple picking and it was such a a nice way to spend the day while enjoying the outdoors and getting some delicious, locally-grown fruit.  How do you stay sane during busy/stressful times?  I hope whatever  you’re working towards also brings you happiness and (some) time to relax.  I’ll be sure to keep this blog updated throughout the internship, so stop by soon for another post 🙂

 

-Jess