Diet redesign

I’m in the course of redesigning my diet. For one, I’ve started tilting the scales upwards again, having “recovered” half of the 20 kilos I rather shockingly lost in the second half of 2009. Given that I aspire to be “party types”, it is important that I look fit, so I need to let go of that paunch. More importantly, traditional South Indian food (rice with sambar/rasam) doesn’t impress my tastebuds any more. Neither does it impress my stomach – I feel hungry soon after I eat that.

The problem with rice (rather, the polished white rice that most of us consume) is that it is extremely low-density. In order to get a certain amount of nutrition (that makes you feel “full”) you need to eat a lot of rice. Consequently, you are full up to the esophagus after your meal, and some rather uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing belching follows. Of late, thanks to a “natural experiment” (due to travel, etc. I ate a highly rice-heavy diet for a while, then a highly wheat-heavy diet, and then back to rice-heavy diet) I’ve figured (I know the textbooks told me this) that rice lacks fibre, and a rice-sambar-rasam based diet can lead to scatological issues that can be rather embarrassing.

As the more perceptive of you would have noticed, we have moved house recently, and as a consequence “lost” our cook (she finds this house too far for her to come). As we look for a new cook (we’re still not 100% convinced we need a cook, given what you’re going to read), it is up to the wife and me to prepare our own food. We are both rather busy professionals, and seek to have good lives outside of work, so neither of us wants to spend too much time cooking.

So the challenge that lies ahead of us now is to redesign our diet, such that it gives us balanced nutrition (while not fattening me up), and consists of easy to make yet tasty foods (if it isn’t tasty it isn’t sustainable). We’ve been doing some experiments over the last 2-3 weeks to see what works. We both like phulka, but it takes way too long to make (more importantly economies of scale are not there in making phulkas). We occasionally have salad with bread, but the wife doesn’t find that filling. We occasionally make pasta, I’ve made Thai curries a couple of times and today I made a (rather tasty) coconut-milk based tofu-and-egg curry to go with brown rice.

With respect to breakfast we’ve achieved the transition. On most days for the last 3 weeks, we’ve eaten boiled egg and muesli/oatmeal porridge for breakfast (occasionally Priyanka has eaten some “traditional breakfast” though, mostly when she hasn’t had the time to eat breakfast before catching her bus). We try and supplement that with some fresh fruit/fruit juice though that hasn’t particularly worked out.

Coming back to the problem at hand, we need to redesign our menu/diet so that we get adequate and balanced nutrition while not spending too much time in the kitchen. No meat is cooked at home (we are a traditional Brohmin family, you see), but we consume eggs regularly. I expect most of my protein intake to come from there – since dals are rather tough to make. We need to eat sufficient greens, and vegetables, and in a form where they’re not overcooked, so that they provide good nutrition. We should probably start using sprouts, and maybe more tofu and mushroom. And we need to find a cereal substitute for white rice that’s easy to cook – brown rice takes way too long to cook (and doesn’t cook in the pressure cooker); chapatis take too long to make.

It seems like a rather hard problem, but I hope to do some good research in this direction and redesign my menu. I’ll write about this as and when I get some interesting ideas, and might even share with you some recipes. In the meantime, if you can think of tasty, easy-to-cook vegetarian food items that provide balanced nutrition, do let me know. If we like that enough, we might call you home and cook for you!

7 thoughts on “Diet redesign”

  1. Well, you could reduce total cooking time by cooking in slightly larger quantities when you do cook. This is what I have started doing as a working professional living alone. So one single cooking effort can suffice for two dinners.

    The cereal substitute for rice could be ready to cook Dosa mix. Not tried it myself, but it can’t be bad is my guess. On the wheat/ roti front there is no solution I can think if. Roti makers are quite cumbersome I’m guessing. The boring parts – namely kneading, and watching every single roti take its own time to cook serially are still not eliminated.

    As for the vegetarian, nutritious component, Subway’s salads maybe an interesting option from time to time. They are raw, but the sauces make it exciting.

  2. I have always felt that its the vegetable cutting that always takes the longest time. Once that is done, the rest of the cooking has always been peace for me. For this, Safal frozen cut vegetables, though not always easy to find, helps a lot. Cut vegetables can be used directly in making upmas – the regular khara bath, wheat rava based upmas, shavige bath, etc. Something like instant sevai + kurma would also be easy to to.

    Dals are actually easy to cook once you have a pressure cooker. Given tomato puree is readily available, only onions need to be cut. Something like Rajma/Channa with toasted bread tastes pretty decent and should be peace to do.

    Idly + sambar is another easy breakfast to make given that the idly batter is available extensively these days. Saw that ID (an idly batter brand) has started to sell chutneys also.

  3. Designing menu and cooking can take a lot of time. Even if you spend 30 minutes in cooking each meal you would be wasting around 90 minutes in kitchen after work. That can be quite demanding.

    I too follow a healthy diet, keeping in mind that i am taking all nutrition but i do that with the help of a north indian maid. She does all preparation (non creative work) like cutting vegetable , cooking dal, making chapatis, cutting fruits and making juices. Once preparation is done i just fry vegetables, dal etc and ask her to check until it is cooked. This saves a lot of time. I hardly spend half an hour a day in kitchen and still manage to cook tasty and nutritious food.

    Also, you can replace rice with whole wheat porridge (daliya, cooked exactly like plain rice) that you can have with sambhar and dal.I know it sounds weird but it tastes awesome, doesn’t take much time and effort to cook and it is a very healthy option too.

  4. Rice has no place in any diet. It is lowest of low carbs or simple carbs as they call it. Lean towards complex carbs and you will win your battle.

    Since you are in India, you are surrounded with options to get high nutrition, high taste, low volume and high variety. These are 4 tenets that we have adopted. Note that every meal needs to follow these 4 principles, although I have to admit we started off with 80/20 trade offs.

    We live in the US where we are surrounded with conflicting options, but yet have managed to successfully find combinations that work for us.

    As examples – our breakfasts are combinations of vegetables sauteed in asian sauces such as Sambal sauce or Chilly mint paste etc in olive oil (be sure to read up on olive oil is correctly used in relation to heat level). The above with a side of either Walnuts or Almonds sauteed with the same sauce in the same pan. And I either eat blueberries or blackberries (read up on antioxidants) or some form of dark fruits. (all dark things are rich in anti-oxidants which is extremely important as you grow older)

    The 4 principles mentioned above are applied to all meals.

    Exercise and rest are two other components to achieve what you are trying to achieve. Be careful about ALL conventional wisdom and advice on exercise. They are all harmful (not just counterproductive, but harmful).

  5. Ragi is a healthy and easy alternative to rice. 10 min prep and cooking time with experience. Filling too.

    We love green smoothies. Purchased a high end blender which has really simplified our smoothie making. Not too filling but complement our breakfast. Check out vitamix. ask my MIL about this. She also had some of our smoothies
    Phulka is quick to make if u can get someone to make the dough for u earlier in the day. Again with experience 6 phulkas 10 min

  6. Oatmeal is a good substitute for rice. My dad discovered this diet 🙂 Instead of eating, sambar with rice or any vegetable palya (in kannada), we eat the same thing with oatmeal.
    Cooking oats – Boil water (2 cups) and add jeera & salt. When the water starts boiling, add 1 cup of oats and keep stirring continuously till it becomes like a porridge.
    Mix the sambar or the curry/palya along with oatmeal (optional – ghee 🙂 can be added).
    It has been a healthy and tasty substitute as per our experience. Even my 6 year old niece likes it. Now, even my husband and I follow the same menu for lunch :)Thanks to my dad ! 🙂
    Try it out and let me know !

  7. Uppit is a good alternative and quick to cook also. You will be happy to know that suji rava has 10-11 g of protein in 100g of rava, which makes it comparable to muesli/cornflakes on protein yield. More offline. Not that I cook it but I am recent convert ever since I discovered its protein content. And with avarekai added to it, its protein content jumps 🙂

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