Jenni Cunningham-Ryan/Yoga professional
HOW MANY HOURS DO YOU WORK (ON AVERAGE) ON WEEKDAYS/WEEKENDS?
40 hrs/week (including weekends)
ARE YOUR FOOD CHOICES & PREPARATION INFLUENCED BY ANY FOOD PHILOSOPHY, PERSON, OR BOOKS?
My food philosophy and choices are a long history in making. In short, when I was 21 years old, I had a dream about needing to become vegetarian and stopped eating meat all at once; only ate ice cream, eggs, and fish sporadically. I started cooking vegan food twenty years ago when veganism was not popular as it is now. However, about eight years ago, I was diagnosed with a severe gluten allergy requiring me to exclude many grains from my diet. Therefore, I started eating meat again. But We try to create a balance so we aren’t eating cheese or meat with every meal, mostly because it’s the right thing to do for our health and for the environment, but also because it’s important to teach our daughter Lily to find a balance in her diet as well.
Currently, we eat pasture-raised free-range organic turkey and chicken – each twice per week (in sandwiches, salads, sometimes in tacos) and grass-fed free-range beef – once per month, usually as a burger or in tacos. We also eat line-caught wild Salmon or shrimp once per month, either baked, grilled, in stir-fries with rice or as a main dish prepared with butter, minced garlic, and lemon.I also like to buy locally-grown food as much as possible and it matters to us that our money stays in our community – the larger chain grocers are more focused on profit and it just doesn’t feel good to support them if I don’t need to. To that end, we shop at the local coop GreenStar. We try to avoid highly processed foods such as cheese or deli meats. We make our own pizza/pasta sauce. We also used to get produce from a CSA (community supported agriculture), but at some point it became a time-consuming option.I am not too much into cooking; maybe due to growing up in a single-mom household where my mom was too busy to cook. My husband Shad is the cook in the family. He is Italian and cooking is big in his family. I do try a new recipe once in a while, but get discouraged easily if other family members don’t like it or it does not turn out good.
HOW DO YOU FIT COOKING INTO YOUR DAILY SCHEDULE?
Breakfast/Lunch: On weekdays, Shad and I usually have a protein shake: each of us makes our own. I often make it with rice milk, peanut butter, and spirulina. I make breakfast for Lily, our eleven-year-old daughter. The weekday breakfasts usually consist of eggs and a slice of toast for Lily. On weekends, we have more elaborate breakfast such as pancakes, juice, eggs (enjoy as a family). On weekdays, I prepare Lily’s school lunch at night time. The usual lunch choices for Lily are grilled pesto and cheese sandwiches/macaroni and cheese/or pizza slice, sliced pears/apples/strawberries/ raspberries/blueberries, cherry tomatoes or 1/2 avocado, cup of yogurt, and crackers/pretzels/popcorn.
For my lunch, if I can get home in between teaching yoga classes, I make a quick sandwich with sliced turkey, cheese, mayo, spinach/lettuce on gluten-free bread, or leftovers from night before, fruit/veggie – apple/banana/carrots/
Dinner: Shad makes most dinners. The usual dinner choices are pasta, pizza, or Mexican with a side salad. Shad makes his own pasta/pizza sauce; often in bulk that we freeze to use multiple times. Depending on the season we will make sauce once per month (summer, for once-weekly pizza night) to twice per month large batches (for pasta and pizza nights on cooler evenings). I buy pizza crust from GreenStar. We often enjoy different toppings on pizza. My favorite is black bean, avocado, tomato, fresh basil, and diced tomatoes topped with feta cheese.
Snack: (usually on-the-go) Cashews, almonds, peanuts and fruits – whatever fruit is in my house. Granola bars and fruit are great too! Lily loves granola bars with chocolate chips.
Pre-prep: Making pasta sauce in bulk and freezing and making Lily’s lunches a night before. Also, when I’m cleaning up from the prior night’s dinner I will put leftovers together in lunch-sized containers for next day.
HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU SPEND ON AVERAGE ON PREPARING MEALS INCLUDING CLEANING?
Total of two hours per day including cleaning.
HOW MANY TRIPS AND TIME/TRIP DO YOU SPEND ON DOING GROCERY?
I go to mainly one grocery store (the local coop GreenStar) about once per week and spend about 45 minutes
DO YOU PRE-PLAN YOUR MENU BEFORE YOU GO TO THE GROCERY STORE?
We pretty much repeat the same menu every week. So I don’t preplan a menu. But I always have a back-of-the-envelop grocery list before going to the store. I almost always go to one store–the local coop GreenStar. Although it is a bit expensive, I find that going to a regular (bigger) grocery store I end up spending more money and bring home items that I don’t need.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE PLACES TO EAT?
We like ethnic food. So we go to restaurants like New Delhi Diamonds (Indian) or Taste of Thai (Thai) around once a week. We never eat at fast-food restaurants like MacDonald’s. But if I am driving Lily between her activities then I would get her a quick snack like a slice of pizza or nachos from a locally-owned restaurant.
WHAT IS A FAVORITE DISH YOU LIKE TO MAKE?
Easy Guacamole (Jenni shared the recipe with Traffic Light Cook and is given below).
TLC OBSERVATION: WHAT MAKES Jenni’s MEAL PREPARATION SUSTAINABLE?
The biggest lesson that stands out from Jenni’s story is that you don’t have to like cooking or be an accomplished cook to have more control over your meals. More intriguing is her practice to carry food when travelling. “We are not the eat-every-meal-out kind of a family while traveling,” says Jenni on the practice of packing a big cooler with salads, home-roasted chicken, hummus, and other on-the-go foods when the family goes camping. Here are some observations from Jenni’s meal-preparing practices that provide actionable insights for making healthy meal preparation sustainable:
- Team work: While Jenni recognizes that Shad is the cook in the family, she prepares a number of meals such as breakfasts and school lunches.
- Buying local: Jenni’s practice of buying locally-grown produce, locally-made meat and cheeses not only supports local businesses, but also favors the environment and health. The locally-sourced food (especially produce) tends to be nutritionally superior compared to the food that has traveled from far distances (see: Five Reasons to Join a CSA).
- Flexibility: one food philosophy/practice does not work for everyone. Jenni’s concern for animal rights and the environment, which led her to write a college paper on the topic, largely shaped her decision to become a vegetarian/vegan at an early age. However, after being diagnosed with a severe gluten allergy, she also understands the necessity of changing her diet for health reasons.
- Awareness about eating healthy: Jenni’s definition of “processed food” falls on the higher side of the spectrum. She recognizes the use of processed ingredients at local ethnic restaurants where she eats. Also, she acknowledges that using organic locally-made cheeses and processed deli meats may not be as good for the health as whole foods. Fruits, vegetables, and nuts form a big proportion her groceries.
- Finding balance: Although Jenni and her family largely avoid processed and unhealthy foods, she is not averse to eating a handful of chips or french fries once in a while if she finds herself craving for those foods.
- Sticking to doing grocery from a single store, one that also plays into her food philosophy of buying organic and local.
- While cleaning up from prior night’s dinner, put leftovers together in lunch-sized containers for next day.
- Having a grocery list to avoid repeat trips to the grocery store.
- Making pizza/pasta sauce in bulk and freezing for later use.
Busy People Cook: This “once a month” feature gets a glimpse into the lives of people who are busy, working full time often raising kids, but still make time to prepare healthy meals. If you would like to share your meal preparation practices/philosophy in the “Busy People Cook” section, please write to us at [email protected]. We would love to feature your picture, but if you are camera shy, we can also share the photo of your favorite recipe that you like to cook.
- 2 avocados (peeled and mashed)
- 1/2 tbsp lime juice (freshly squeezed)
- 1/8 cup red onion (diced, or sub with yellow onion)
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Mix all contents in a medium-sized bowl. Taste and adjust ingredients - I usually check for too much lime, not enough salt/garlic. Serve immediately.