Joy Manning is a James Beard award nominated food writer, a cookbook author and a blogger. Her work has appeared in the Best Food Writing series. She edits Edible Philly magazine and co-hosts the Local Mouthful podcast.
I grew up vegetarian, mostly because my mother didn’t eat meat. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a vegetarian diet for a kid, but there was one little problem with our approach to a meatless lifestyle: we didn’t eat vegetables either. Sure, there was the occasional tomato slice in a cheese sandwich, and the carrots my mom says she sneakily grated into the Ragu as it warmed.
Meal Plan By: Joy Manning, food writer & editor Number of meals: 3 lunches, 1 breakfast, 1 snack Sized For: One to two adults When I get into healthy eating and weight-loss mode, I tend to rely heavily on routines and repetition to keep myself on track. I will often eat the same breakfast every day, and then make a giant pot of my chicken lentil soup to eat for lunch all week long. A few easy meals like nori rolls or open-faced chicken salad sandwiches also fill in for variety.
This is my favorite spread for making veggie nori rolls, but I also love it as dip for raw vgetables, a sandwich spread, or even a salad dressing, thinned with a little water. I would never say that this really tastes like cheese, but it does make a fine plate of nachos spooned over tortilla chips topped with warmed black beans and scallions. I learned this recipe about a year ago from my sister Jill, and she learned it from raw foodist friends of hers.
There’s no other lunch in my weight-loss arsenal that serves me better than these rolls. They happen to be both raw and vegan, but that isn’t why I love them. It’s their crunchy-meets-creamy texture and the big, bright flavors of carrots, nori, and lemon juice. Another bonus: they are super filling. It’s the kind of midday meal that prevents snacking. And while there is undeniably something health-food-hippie about them, even my husband eats them up.
Generally speaking, I try not to eat sandwiches for lunch. I’m not carbo-phobic, but bread is one of the densest sources of calories among my usual lunch options. Sometimes, though, I get a strong sandwich craving. When that happens, I try to split the difference between sandwich and no-sandwich by making it open-faced, one piece of toast with the ingredients on top, eaten with a knife and fork.
Eggs are my go-to breakfast, and though I often eat quickly fried eggs with just a slice of sprouted grain toast, this scramble is actually my favorite way to have them. I also eat eggs more often when I cook up a large batch of the vegetables on Sunday and then simply spoon the cooked veg into my eggs and scramble away. More often though, I’m starting from raw vegetables as I describe here.
Poor pasta. That most comforting of comfort foods has really had some bad press in recent years. If you’re going gluten free, or paleo, or just following the common sense advice to eat less refined flour, pasta is not on the menu as much anymore. When I first cut back on it, I missed its ease. Pasta night is a delicious breeze of a weeknight meal. But then I discovered a use for pasta that can be summed up in one word: croutons. Look, I love pasta in all of its various forms.
It was a couple of years ago that I first heard about bagged broccoli slaw. I was paging through a new cookbook and came across a recipe that I wanted to make; it called for bagged broccoli slaw and I actually didn’t know what it even was. I had to Google it to learn it’s a package of grated broccoli stems, carrots, and sometimes cabbage.
Some people just hate recipes. As a recipe lover and recipe developer, I try not to take this fact too personally. And I get it: especially on a weeknight, reading and following a recipe can require more concentration and focus than you have left. I have those times, too, and it’s then that I like to be on kitchen autopilot, making something so familiar to me that the few steps are programmed in my muscle memory.
I have been known to say that any cookbook is a weight loss book, because I strongly believe that cooking for yourself at home is the best way to lose weight. I know this axiom isn’t totally accurate (hey, Paula Deen!), but it contains a lot of truth. Another reason I like to issue this advice is that I’ve seen weight loss and home cooking goals evaporate in the face of recipes that are engineered to be low-cal, low-fat, and low-sodium.
As a kid, I didn’t exactly choose to be a vegetarian. It grew out of my extreme pickiness combined with my parent’s limited cooking skills. Meat was one of many broad categories of food I just didn’t like the taste and texture of. Of course, by the time I was calling myself a vegetarian in high school and college, the label itself seemed to draw other meat-skippers into my life.
Of all the things I believe about losing weight or maintaining weight, this causes the most arguments. I weigh myself—every day, and against the advice of almost everyone I’ve ever asked. In fact, I named my own blog “What I Weigh Today” after this daily habit because it is, for me, the foundation of managing my weight and my health. But the scale is sharply divisive.
When I started working at my first full-time job after graduate school, I ate breakfast at my desk. My commute was long and I left home early—around 6:45 in the morning, and did not feel like eating breakfast just then. One of the first things I set up in my cubicle was my breakfast cabinet, where I kept a bowl, spoon, bunch of bananas, and my then-favorite high-protein, high-fiber breakfast cereal.
It’s kind of a joke that certain nights of the week are for certain meals —that Tuesday is taco night or Thursday is always meatloaf. I think some people believe having that kind of schedule is boring, joyless, and rigid. How spontaneous can life be if you know you’ll be staring down a salmon filet and baked potato every Wednesday of your life? How much can you possibly like food? Well, I beg to differ.
Usually I make food choices just one time during the week: Sunday. It’s the day I go grocery shopping — the most important activity in any given week when it comes to staying on track with a healthy eating plan. But before I take my first steps into the produce section, I conduct a brief strategy session. It takes only about 20 minutes, and when it’s done I have a meal plan and shopping list. Here are the steps that I follow when making my weekly meal plan.
Intuitive eating, which in a nutshell means eating whatever you want when you want until you are full, is a clear alternative to the food journaling and calorie tracking I do to keep myself feeling on track and healthy. I’ve read Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch’s authoritative book on the subject, Intuitive Eating, and I’ve even committed to practicing intuitive eating for up to two years at a time.
I’m pretty sure I was counting calories before I learned to ride a bike. It’s the only kind of math I’ve ever been any good at. I’ve had so very much practice, after all. For me, dutifully measuring and weighing what I eat and then recording the calories has always been, hands down, the most effective way to lose weight.
I want to preface this by telling you up front that I’m not a nutritionist. The only special education I have on the subject of eating for health and weight management is years of habitually reading the studies and reports on the topic. About all those studies: You’ve probably noticed that for every compelling study that proclaims one thing, you’ll find another that’s “proven” the exact opposite.
By the time The Omnivore’s Dilemma came out in 2006, it had already been eight years since I’d eliminated high fructose corn syrup from my diet. I was already one of those people eating almost exclusively whole foods made from scratch. And yet I was at least 10 pounds overweight then and struggling to keep it down all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I still love and recommend that book, and I credit it for making sustainable food culture part of pop culture.
When people who love food start talking, conversation flows. Restaurants, travel, and home cooking are such treasure troves of opinions, stories, questions, and complaints. Even people who don’t think of food as their lifestyle typically love to talk about what they eat. But there is one topic that can bring even the liveliest of food-focused dinner party chatter to a halt: Weight.
The topics of diet and weight loss are tough for food-lovers; if you just eat good food you shouldn’t ever feel like your weight is a problem, right? Wrong, for many of us. Talk of weight and food is also fraught with a hundred things we try to banish here at The Kitchn: a misplaced sense of guilt, fear of eating the wrong thing, comparisons with other people, dubious science and awkward diets. And yet food and body are inextricably linked.