Ariana, a Leadership Coach, likens the process of learning to cook with that of a painter learning to paint. For her, it's not a chore but an art that offers the promise of better health. Despite being a busy mom and an entrepreneur, Ariana finds time invested in cooking rewarding. Read on to find more on tips, tricks, and philosophies Ariana employs to make cooking an essential part of her schedule.
Ariana Blossom/Leadership Coach (Blossom Coaching, LLC)
How many hours do you work (on average) on weekdays/weekends?
30-35 (mostly on weekdays)
Are your food choices & preparation influenced by any food philosophy, person, or book?
I grew up in a family where my mom cooked fresh meals every day and my father cooked occasionally. Although I cooked occasionally for more than two decades, around two years ago I was pushed into cooking everyday due to a health issue. I was able to makeover my diet by taking control of ingredients through cooking, which helped completely resolve a health issue. Around the same time I also became a mom. Within six months, I wanted to learn to cook a lot of (healthy) things to feed my son. Although I did not follow a vegan diet growing up, I now follow the plant-based food philosophy. Ten years ago, I turned vegetarian and two years ago l changed my diet to be primarily vegan. I started embracing vegetarianism during the time I was working in the US Army in 1997. Each day in the field, when we were out training, we received fifty boxes of meat-based ready-to-eat-meals (REMs) and only one that of vegetarian meal. I chose vegetarian meals as I enjoyed standing out and the meals tasted better. Since vegetarian meals were less in quantity, at meal times people would get curious and wanted to trade with me. Later, the reason to stop eating red meat had more do with health as it resolved skin problems . Ten years ago, I started working out and felt that I needed meat in my diet to feel full. I believe this belief came from cultural conditioning to eat more animal protein. That did not last long as I started paying more attention to the messages by the proponents of plant-based diet. I also closely examined the messages hawking higher use of animal protein through a contemporary lens and around two years ago changed my diet to mostly vegan food.
Do you like to cook?
Just as painters initially learn to use brushes, different mediums, and colors; learn what they need to do with their hands to create muscle memories; learn the rules to be creative--my cooking evolved slowly as I became familiar with different spices and cooking techniques. Initially cooking every meal can be daunting, but it pays off big time in the long run.
How do you fit cooking into your daily schedule?
Cooking is part of my daily routine. After getting up in the morning, I head to the kitchen to cook breakfast.
Breakfast/lunch: I usually cook breakfast for my son and myself. On weekdays, my husband makes his own breakfast and lunch. The usual breakfast choices are buckwheat pancakes or oatmeal with berries, riced cauliflower, or acai berry in it. Lunch is often the leftovers from dinner. I pack the same lunch for my son that I take with me to work. On weekends, I cook a bigger breakfast for everybody.
Dinner: I usually cook every afternoon when I come home after picking up my son. I usually cook enough for the day's dinner and a couple of days of lunches for me and my son. Dinners are usually based on beans, lentils, and seasonal vegetables. For example, black beans cooked in coconut milk with zucchini and kale with a side of guacamole, red lentils & butternut squash cooked in coconut milk and paprika, and coconut green curry with brown rice.
Snack: My son and I always have rice cakes and fruits on hand. Sometimes I also do Miyoko's vegan cheese and vegan yogurt.
Pre-prep: I make soy/almond milk and yogurt at home. Homemade milk preparation usually happens in the evenings or on the weekends.
Do you pre-plan your menu before going grocery shopping?
I have a tentative menu in my head and is usually based on what I cooked the week before as I want to create variety from the previous week.
How much time do you spend on average every day on preparing meals including cleaning?
2.5 hours on cooking and about 30 minutes cleaning.
How many trips and time/trip do you spend on doing grocery?
I do a few trips to the grocery store in a typical week as a lot of what I use is fresh. I shop at my local Co-op GreenStar as it is small and I know where everything is, which saves time. I do one big trip, which takes me around 45 minutes and then a few quick trips if I run out of something. About 2 hours per week.
What are your favorite places to eat?
Local restaurants such as Moosewood, Purity, Northstar, Mercato. The only fast food restaurant we go to is Chipotle.
What is a favorite dish you like to make?
Black bean tacos (Ariana shared the recipe and is given below).
TLC Observation: What makes Ariana's meal preparation sustainable
Here are some observations from Ariana's meal-preparing practice that offer actionable insights for making healthy meal preparation sustainable:
Closely examine traditionally-held beliefs around food: many different factors shape our beliefs around food at different stages of life. However, it is worth taking a pause and checking with your body to see if the current food philosophy is compatible with your health. By eliminating red meat and dairy in her diet, Ariana experienced a reduction in food and seasonal allergies and arthritic symptoms.
Flexibility: although Ariana largely follows vegan diet, she is not averse to eating animal-based food once in a while. The flexibility in food philosophy can help avoid the feeling of being boxed and deprived, which can in turn may help maintain healthy food habits.
Learn cooking: Ariana compares her initiation into the cooking journey with that of a painter. Cooking doesn't have be a boring chore , it can be an art that brings joy into life.
Shared responsibility: Ariana's husband, Jeff, takes care of his breakfasts and lunches on weekdays, which leaves her with more time and energy to focus on family dinners.
Cook once, eat multiple times: Ariana spends a big chunk of time in the evening, when she prepares dinner. The dinner also serves as lunch for her and her son for two days, which saves time preparing fresh lunches every day.
Grocery shopping at local Co-op: local Co-ops are smaller in size and offer food tailored to the philosophy of eating local, organic, natural with the goal of supporting local economy. If your food philosophy concurs with that of your local Co-op, you can not only do your grocery shopping quickly, but become part of something that offers benefits to your community.
Cooking same meal for the whole family: often we tend to cook separately for young kids for various reasons. But cooking one meal for the whole family not only saves time, it also helps cultivate good food habits in kids.
Black Bean Tacos
Ingredients for black bean filling
- 1/2 sweet onion
- 1 zucchini
- 1/2 cup crimini mushrooms
- 1/2 cup corn frozen
- 1 can black beans organic
- 1/2 can coconut milk full fat
- 1 tsp cumin ground
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp cinnamon ground
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper ground
- 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 2 tbsp Miyoko's smoked farmhouse cheese
- 1 tbsp lime juice fresh
- 1 tbsp cilantro chopped
Ingredients for guacamole
- 1 avocado
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp salt
To make black bean filling
- Sautee sweet onion. Add diced zucchini, cremini mushrooms, frozen corn, and a clove of garlicWhile the veggies are still crisp, add a can of organic black beans. Stir with the heat on a low mediumAdd half a can of full fat coconut milk – the fat is important for the creaminessAdd teaspoon of cumin, smoked paprika, cinnamonAdd ½ teaspoon of salt, pepper, and regular paprika, and balsamic vinegarCook on a low heat until all of the liquid has been absorbedIf you have Miyoko’s cheese in your local grocery store, add 2-3 tablespoons of her smoked farmhouse – delishIf you like cilantro, this is a good time to add a tablespoon of it finely choppedThen add a tablespoon of lime juice
To make guacamole
- Stir all ingredients together with a fork or blend it if you prefer it creamy.
- Have 2-3 warmed up corn tortillas ready by the time you get to adding the cheese. Tip – you can keep them warm by wrapping them in a dish towel.Add a big scoop of beans to each tortilla, add a small scoop of guacamole, maybe add diced tomato, fold it up, and ENJOY