Jessica Morgan McAtee
In my heart I'm a vegan, in practice a vegetarian, and in reality more of a flexitarian (primarily vegetarian but meat/fish on occasion). My husband is kind and will go along with whatever I make him, but I know he enjoys meat, so I occasionally cook it for him. Also, he would cook but I get great pleasure out of it so he leaves it to me most of the time. It's just our agreement, not based on gender roles or anything else.
I want our meals to be healthy. Plants are loaded with nutrition and I want us to get added nutrients whenever we get a chance. My family has always been big on fruits, nuts and veggies, particularly for health. But more recently, my brother-in-law was diagnosed with stage 2, Non-Hodgkins lymphoma, the same kind that had stolen the lives of two of his family members. When that happened, he and my sister went totally vegan. I observed how that transformed their life. Today he is cancer free.
While driving through Albuquerque on a cross country trip in 2017, a friend recommended the book How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger. He has a website with all kinds of great information at nutritionfacts.org. His main thing is to promote a plant based diet. He lists many health benefits including how diet can reverse many of our nation's most deadly conditions like heart disease and diabetes. In his book he outlines a number of food groups that he suggests we try to incorporate into our diet daily. He has an 8 minute video that summarizes them here. They basically include cruciferous veggies (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbages), flaxseeds, beans, berries, fruits, vegetables, nuts/seeds, herbs/spices and whole grains.
A plant based diet has many benefits and I strive to move more in that direction. But, like everything else, this has been a journey for me. I wouldn't say I've nailed it. Meal prep brings me great delight, mostly because I love the creativity and especially the challenge and satisfaction I get out of not wasting any food. This means that if I have any type of leftover plant material, it's fair game for a fresh take on salad. So about two years ago I set the mini-goal of having a salad a day. Think baby steps.
In order to keep it exciting, I have used all sorts of non-traditional ingredients. If possible, I pull fresh from the garden. I even had raw rhubarb in some. This year one included leftover homemade cranberry relish from Thanksgiving.
Mixing colors is a great way to add a variety of nutrients, plus they look like art. Almost every one I make includes a base of greens or cruciferous veggies, beets, radishes, some berries, some other fruit or veggies, always some kind of onion, and often it's topped with herbs, nuts and flaxseed. I used to always add cheese, generally bleu or feta, which really make them delicious, but lately I've tried dairy free.
Some of my favorite staples are avocados, apples, oranges, blueberries, celery, broccoli, goji berries, dried cherries/cranberries/mango/apricots, rosemary, cilantro, artichokes, carrots, red cabbage, red onion, green onion, peppers, cucumbers, cooked quinoa, cauliflower, toasted almonds/coconut/walnuts/peanuts/pecans, and anything else I can find.
For dressings, I usually make my own. My easy favorites include:
Honey Mustard (equal parts honey, mustard, oil, apple cider vinegar) and I often add minced garlic. I use dijon, regular, spicy or any other kind of mustard available.
Honey Garlic (garlic, honey, oil, vinegar)
Lemon, Orange or Lime Juice fresh squeezed
Citrus ginger (citrus, fresh ginger, oil, rice vinegar)
Balsamic herb (balsamic, oil, dry herbs and...you guessed it, garlic)
Add salt and pepper to all of these to taste.
Mixing and matching salad ingredients has been fun to experiment with. It's easy to make a big batch of it in the beginning of the week and then pull from it over the next few days. Of course, don't add the nuts or fruits that turn brown (a.k.a. low in antioxidants such as apples or avocados) until time to serve.
The best thing about this is that now it is a habit. At first, it took some getting used to, just like any change in behavior, but now it's just a way of life. Even when we are traveling and we can't make a salad we end up buying one. It's just what we do.
Here are some photos of some of the salads we ate this past year. I never go by a recipe, each salad is a unique creation made in the moment.
Never think of salad as boring again. My family always has me bring a sensational salad to events. It's a wonderful, habitual and delicious way to get a nutrient packed meal in.