Barbecue Tofu Sandwiches with Veggie Slaw

Barbecue Tofu Sandwich

At the children’s museum where I work, there’s an exhibit called Marketplace, which is essentially a mini grocery store engineered just for play. When I give tours to field trip groups, this exhibit is where I educate kids about the various food groups as outlined on MyPlate. I explain to them that MyPlate not only shows the five food groups, but also what portions of them we should fill our plates with (as in, 50% fruits and vegetables).

Part of my spiel in this exhibit is asking kids to tell me examples of their favorite foods in each group. They usually do pretty well on fruits, vegetables, and dairy (except for the occasional kid who tells me that pigs give us dairy products or that oranges are their favorite vegetable), but they are often stumped when I ask them to name foods that contain protein. I can’t tell you how many times kids’ ideas of protein-rich foods are protein bars or protein shakes, rather than natural food sources. Granted, these kids are often second graders, so I have to give them a pass, but as a nutritionist, it’s surprising to me that the school curriculum covers so little about food and nutrition.

Once we get through the idea that protein is found in animal products and some non-animal products, I ask the students again: which protein-containing foods are your favorites?

Steak. Steak is the answer about 80% of the time.

I then ask kids about plant-based protein sources. Have they ever, for example, tried tofu?

“Ewwwwwwww, no!”

Come on! I want to say. You’re eight years old and your parents have already ruined you for tofu? But it’s true–ever since Americans first started experimenting with tofu in the ’70s and ’80s, it’s been saddled with a reputation as the flavorless poster child of the Health Food Movement.

It doesn’t have to be that way. As a meatless protein source, I find tofu easy to prepare, cheap to purchase, and a flavor chameleon that can adapt to anything you throw at it. Case in point: these delicious barbecue tofu sandwiches with veggie slaw. I’ve had tofu in many forms over the years, but the idea of slicing it and putting it in a sandwich was new to me when I first saw this recipe. Now that I’ve been making it for awhile, I can see how the shape and texture of pan-fried tofu sliced off the block is perfect sandwich material! Slathered with barbecue sauce and topped with a cool slaw, these barbecue tofu sandwiches are a super tasty (and totally think-outside-the-box) weeknight dinner.

So if someone asks MY favorite protein-containing food? Well, I won’t say they beat a juicy steak, but I will say these barbecue tofu sandwiches rank pretty high.

Barbecue Tofu Sandwich

Print Recipe
Barbecue Tofu Sandwiches with Veggie Slaw
A tasty vegetarian sandwich of pan-fried barbecue tofu and a cool, creamy slaw.
Instructions
  1. Drain tofu and squeeze as much liquid out of it as possible. If time allows, remove even more moisture by pressing tofu. (Place on a paper towel-lined plate and weigh it down with something heavy, like cans or books.) Slice tofu lengthwise into 4 equal slabs.
  2. Prepare the slaw: in a medium bowl, combine mayonnaise, red wine vinegar, garlic powder, and pepper. Add shredded broccoli/carrot mix and stir to coat. Set aside.
  3. Heat canola oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add tofu slabs and cook about 4 minutes per side, or until lightly browned. Reduce heat to low, add barbecue sauce, and cook for another 3 minutes or so, carefully turning tofu to coat both sides.
  4. Assemble sandwiches with toasted sandwich thins, barbecue tofu, slaw and pickles (if you like).
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Eating Well.

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Semi-Vegetarian Meal Plan Month #2

Cookbooks

A few months ago, I wrote a post that proved to be one of my most popular: a month of semi-vegetarian meal plans. Because, when it comes right down to it, a lot of us are just too stinkin’ busy to put a whole lot of time and effort into meal planning. Or, when grocery shopping day rolls around, we’re stumped as to how to piece together the jigsaw puzzle of cost, healthy choices, and ingredients we have on hand.

I feel you, because I sometimes lose my meal-planning mojo, too.

Thankfully, I generally get it back pretty quickly. As a nutritionist and food blogger, that’s kinda my job.

So here we are with another round of semi-vegetarian meals for a whole month! As in my first month’s post, these weekly plans have multiple aims. Here you will find meals that:

  1. Are healthy, half-meatless, and full of good-for-you ingredients like fruits, veggies, beans, and whole grains
  2. Mostly don’t take long, making them weeknight-friendly
  3. Work for YOU by making double batches of certain items for re-use later, as well as using up entire ingredients so you don’t end up with half a container of ricotta cheese and a random 5 oz. of chicken broth at the end of the week

So here you go! Four weeks of meal plans, based on four adult servings per meal. I hope they help take some stress out of your day/week/month!

WEEK 1

Monday: Barbecue Tofu Sandwiches with Coleslaw, Potato Chips, Watermelon (or other seasonal fruit)

Tuesday: Grilled Chicken Breasts (seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a little dried basil), Roasted Red Pepper and Feta Rice, Steamed Broccoli (make it in the microwave!)

Wednesday: Charred Corn and Rosemary Pizza, spinach salad with toppings of your choice

Thursday: Chicken Souvlaki with added fresh spinach for extra veggies

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Friday: Salad with Gorgonzola, Walnuts, Dried Cranberries, & Apple w/dressing of your choice, Better-Than-Store-Bought Biscuits (make a double batch and save half for Sunday)

Saturday: Dinner out

Sunday: Summer Vegetable Soup with Shrimp and Lemon, Better-Than-Store-Bought Biscuits (leftover from Friday)

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WEEK 2

Monday: Pork Chops with Pan-Fried Apples over Rice (make a double batch of rice to use Friday)

Tuesday: Ricotta Gnocchi and green salad of your choice

Wednesday: Easy Chicken Enchiladas (use meat from 1/2 a rotisserie chicken and 4 oz. reduced-fat cream cheese, not 8 oz. full-fat), Zucchini & Yellow Squash sautéed with olive oil, salt, and pepper

Thursday: Crab Quiche, Roasted Carrots (put in the oven with the quiche at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, seasoned with olive oil, salt, and pepper)

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Friday: Broccoli Chicken Divan (use meat from the other half of the rotisserie chicken), Rice (leftover from Monday)

Saturday: Dinner out

Sunday: Spinach Lasagna (half batch serves 4) and green salad of your choice

WEEK 3

Monday: Turkey Bean Chili and Perfect Cornbread Muffins (double batch to use half on Tuesday)

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Tuesday: Mexican Salad: lettuce, corn, black beans, tomatoes, green onions, cheddar cheese, and dressing of your choice, other half Perfect Cornbread Muffins

Wednesday: Spicy Pan-Fried Noodles with Tofu and Carrots

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Thursday: Whole wheat spaghetti with purchased marinara sauce and 1/2 lb. ground turkey crumbles, green salad of your choice

Friday: Zucchini Cheddar Fritters, Sweet Potato Fries (purchased)

Saturday: Dinner out

Sunday: Salmon Burgers with Lemon Tarragon Mayo, Roasted Broccoli with Almonds and Parmesan

WEEK 4

Monday: Gazpacho and Grilled Cheese

Tuesday: Cajun Lemon Tilapia with Dill Sauce, Mashed Potatoes (make 4 c. extra for later in the week), Steamed Green Beans

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Wednesday: Beef and Carrot Stew with Couscous (substitute carrots for rutabagas in the linked recipe if you can’t find rutabagas or they’re not in season)

Thursday: Turkey Shepherd’s Pie (using extra mashed potatoes you made Monday)

Friday: Black Bean and Corn Quesadillas, Tortilla Chips and Tomato, Corn, & Avocado Salsa

Saturday: Dinner out

Sunday: Couscous Cakes with Feta and Sundried Tomato Salad

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Pokemon Birthday Party

pokemon birthday party

When planning a double birthday party for my 8 and 10-year-old boys, there was never any doubt as to its theme. In fact, there seems to be very little doubt that there is one pastime that unites the children of “Generation Z”: Pokemon. It’s the lingua franca of grade school-aged boys all over the world. My sons have been known to meet other boys for the first time and, after a whiff of introduction, become deeply embroiled in deck battles that last for hours.

As I was in the early planning of this party, I recalled a birthday party my daughter Christine attended recently. The whole thing consisted of a trampoline, a birthday banner, and a box of a dozen donuts. Christine had the time of her life. Reflecting on the goodness of this kind of simplicity for kids’ birthday parties (which can get WAY over the top, right?), I originally wanted my boys’ Pokemon party to be ultra chill, with no frills. However, it’s pretty hard to break away from my usual go-big-or-go-home approach to party throwing. As much as I kept telling myself to keep it simple, I definitely overshot. I’d say the end result was medium-fancy, not quite Pinterest-perfect, but with some themed pizzazz (because I just can’t help myself when it comes to themed parties). But most importantly, it was FUN!

Here’s the rundown of my boys’ special day!

FOOD

First things first: Pokemon-themed food.

pokemon birthday party

Since there are something like 800 Pokemon (all with ridiculous, made-up-sounding names), there’s no end to the punny takes you can get on Pokemon-themed food. My boys helped me think up the following menu:

Pika-Pika Pizza

Pokemon pizza

Bronzong Broccoli Salad (based on this recipe, which barely resembles a vegetable but tastes incredible)…

pokemon birthday party

Char-Melon

pokemon birthday party

Chikorita Chips

pokemon birthday party

Mega Punch (just cran-raspberry juice & sparkling water–see? I kept some of it simple!)

pokemon birthday party

Pokemon Cake (no themed name here, just a chocolate cake topped with some plastic Pokemon figurines by boys graciously allowed me to borrow):

pokemon birthday party

Pika-Chewy Granola Bars (party favor)

pokemon birthday party

For party favors, I’m always a fan of sending kids home with something either healthy or useful, rather than junk food or made-in-China toys that will get thrown out the next day. So for this party’s favor, I made a pan of Chewy Peanut Butter Chocolate Granola Bars, wrapped them individually, and slapped them with the name “Pika-Chewy Granola Bars.”

pokemon birthday party

Click here for a free printable of the tags: Pika-Chewy Granola Bars

DECORATIONS

This is one place the party stayed pretty uncomplicated. After all, my motto for decorating for kids’ birthday parties–or any parties, really–is “use what you got.” No need to go out and buy a ton of Pokemon decorations when plenty of the toys my kids already have can serve that purpose! That’s where our Pikachu “centerpiece” came from: stuffed animals surrounded by trading cards. Done and done.

pokemon birthday party

Add to that some red-and-white chevron streamers and the birthday table was set.

Pokemon birthday party

Another way to use the actual Pokemon cards as decoration was to stick them in some faux grass.

pokemon birthday party

And finally, no party at our house is complete without a themed sign, courtesy of an internet printable photo and some craft paper:

pokemon birthday party

ACTIVITIES

The great thing about a Pokemon birthday party is that, assuming kids bring their own Pokemon cards, there’s really not much else by way of activities you need to provide. And I say “assuming” they’ll bring their cards because my kids seem to do so to every conceivable event–like church. You know, just in case there’s a break in the worshiping and we have a quick moment to play a Jigglypuff vs. a Garbodor.

In the invitation to my boys’ party, we put a note that everyone could bring Pokemon cards if they had any–and if not, that was fine, too. For those kids who didn’t have any, all the boys did well sharing so that everyone could play deck battles galore.

Our other primary activity for the party was to set up a giant screen my husband borrowed from work to let the boys play Pokemon video games on. It was a huge hit, and it *may* still be in our living room for us grown-ups to watch movies on until his workplace needs it back.

video games big screen

And finally, present-opening took some time, of course…

pokemon birthday party

pokemon birthday party

pokemon birthday party

…along with singing “Happy Birthday” and eating cake and ice cream.

A big happy birthday to my two wonderful, Pokemon-loving boys!

i choose you

3-Ingredient Mango Frozen Yogurt

Mango frozen yogurt

I’m gonna come right out and say that Disneyland is missing a major opportunity.

Anyone who has been to Adventureland knows that you absolutely cannot have a complete Disney experience there without enjoying some Dole Pineapple Whip. You know, from the thatched-roof stand next to the Tiki Room where the line always stretches back to the I-10 (or at least to Sleeping Beauty’s Castle). I enjoy Dole Whip, with its cool, creamy texture and tropical sweetness, but I’m not quite as fanatical about it as some people I know. People go NUTS for this stuff.

So when I say Disneyland is missing an opportunity, here’s what I mean: there are other tropical fruits they haven’t experimented with that can be made into whips. Like mango! In this foodie’s humble opinion, this mango frozen yogurt (aka Mango Whip) is at least as tasty as the pineapple version served in Adventureland. It’s a zippy fresh fruit treat that, with only three ingredients, is ridiculously easy to make and surprisingly low in added sugar. If Disneyland tapped into this, the tiki stand could have lines that stretch all the way to the Pacific! Wouldn’t THAT be fun?

Mango frozen yogurt

Or, instead, you could just make it at home.

Mango frozen yogurt

Frozen mango + yogurt + powdered sugar + a blender, and in 5 minutes you’ve got the definition of refreshment in a bowl. So who needs Disneyland? (Ok, I do. I need Disneyland. When can we go back again???)

Adventure land

 

Print Recipe
3-Ingredient Mango Frozen Yogurt
A refreshing mango frozen yogurt with minimal added sugar.
Course Dessert, snack
Servings
(generously)
Ingredients
Course Dessert, snack
Servings
(generously)
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Place all ingredients in a blender or the bowl of a food processor and blend/process until smooth. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Eating Well.

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Becoming a DTR

CDR Score

Sometimes it seems crazy the lengths we go to in order to be able to put some letters after our name. In my case, after I had worked through a Master’s program in German to acquire the letters “M.A.,” I thought if I ever went back to school again, it would be to add three more letters: PhD. I never could have guessed that in fact the three letters would be totally different…a combination of letters I had never even heard of: DTR.

This all started a little over four years ago, when I was deep in the trenches of stay-at-home motherhood with children ages 1, 3, and 5. While in theory I believed (and still do) that me staying home with my kids was the very best thing for them, my days were often long, frustrating, and devoid of that “thing with feathers that perches in the soul”: hope. The road of raising my children seemed so long, and quite honestly, being on it in the first place had taken me by surprise. As an ambitious young thing going through high school, college, and my early adulthood, I had truly never thought about what I would do work-wise if and when I had children. So when they came along and my husband and I decided it was best for me not to work, I had a pretty big chip on my shoulder about shirking my big-deal education. Even if I chosen to work, however, the trouble with my education was that it was so specific as to be obscure. There really weren’t a lot of options for meaningful work in my field, at least not where we live.

All this led to the feeling of being back at square one when I thought about that all-important question of WHAT I WANT TO DO WITH MY LIFE, both in the moment and down the road when my kids got older.

Around this time, our family had started gardening and I was doing a lot of reading of books about food. My husband Anthony had brought home a copy of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, from his then-employer, a book publishing company. I devoured it (pun intended), then moved on to other, similar reads like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, What to Eat by Marion Nestle, and Gulp by Mary Roach. Since, as a mom of young kids, I was already motivated to feed them well, these books both met me where I was at and gave me interesting, challenging information on an adult level. That felt  good.

The more I read, the more focused became my priorities for my family’s nutritional well-being, and the greater grew my concern for public health issues like obesity and type two diabetes. A plan began to form in my head. Nutrition, it seemed to me, was a much broader job market than German could ever be anywhere outside of Europe. After all, everyone eats, right? Could there be a career for me in this wide-open field?

Casually, I looked up my local community college’s nutrition program. Maybe I could take a class, just to check it out. That’s what I said out loud, anyway. My school-loving, accomplishment-driven inner self was already hatching plans for exactly which classes to take every semester, and calculating exactly how long a whole degree would take.

So, in January 2013, I registered for FON 142: Applied Food Principles. With my oldest son in kindergarten, my middle son in preschool, and my daughter at the home of a helpful friend, making it to the Friday morning class wasn’t a problem. I must say, being a 30-something mom walking into a community college class full of hipster 19-year-olds, I felt utterly self-conscious, but that insecurity soon fell away as I embraced the treasure of having something for myself again in the midst of giving and giving to my little ones–something that could possibly turn into a fulfilling career.

Little by little, semester by semester, I added more classes, often taking them online so as not to have to leave my kids. Every class brought me closer to my goal: to become a Registered Dietitian. Eventually, though, the realities of the R.D. loomed large before me: a LOT of coursework, a commute to downtown Phoenix to finish the degree, and the extreme competitiveness for R.D. internships (for which many people have to leave the state). It didn’t take long to realize that it all added up to a major mountain to climb for my relatively small goal of finding likable part-time work in the field of nutrition.

So I switched gears and decided on the associate’s level credential of DTR: Dietetic Technician, Registered. A DTR is able to hold many of the same responsibilities as an R.D., and the credential comes with its own 9-month internship–the difference being that the DTR intern is placed by her college, rather than having to apply for rare and highly sought-after R.D. internships. I like to tell people a DTR is like a junior R.D.

Having finished all my coursework by the end of 2015, in 2016 I launched into the requisite internship rotations of clinical, community, and food service. Let’s just say there were good times and bad times, and in the end, my heart was drawn more than ever to finding work in some type of community nutrition or public health.

And then it was finally done! My last day of internship was at the end of October 2016 and I graduated sometime in mid-December. (I think? I didn’t walk at the ceremony.) It all felt like a huge relief, and an accomplishment I’m very proud of. Pretty much immediately–and definitely by the hand of God–I landed a part-time job with an awesome schedule at a museum run by the American Heart Association, where I wear a lot of different hats, including teaching kids and adults about heart-healthy eating.

But…

There was one last step. To be an actual, licensed DTR, one must take a Big, Hairy, Snaggletoothed Monster of an exam. An exam for which people tell you things like, “Just study everything you ever learned in your whole program” and “There’s really no way to prepare.” Yeah, thanks a bunch. To give myself some time between finishing school, adjusting to a new job, and taking the actual test, I scheduled it for April 1st. (Not a joke.) I studied everything I could think of to study and took numerous practice exams using a software program my wonderful former classmate lent me. By the day of the test, I was just ready for it to be over! I felt very confident that I had studied enough and that everything would be fine.

Well, all those good vibes went swirling down the drain as I sat taking the exam. My friends, I tell you, this was the hardest test I have ever taken in my life. And I am including my “comps” written for my Master’s. Aside from maybe that one geometry test I failed in high school, I have never had the feeling during a test that I wanted to simply get up and walk out, give up. This exam had me wracking my brain with critical thinking questions, doing some pretty convoluted math, and (frankly) wishing I had attended a better community college that would have educated me about many of the questions I simply knew nothing about. When I finished question 110 and a little hourglass icon appeared frozen on the screen, waiting to give me my result, I was wracked with anxiety.

And then it said, “Congratulations!”

And I was like…

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To pass the exam, you need a score of 25. (The scoring is mysterious and makes no sense, by the way. I have no idea what 25 means.) I got a 31. I passed, and that’s all I care about!

So I am now, officially, a DTR. If you’re reading this as someone interested in beginning a career in nutrition, I’d love to chat. It’s been a long road, and I am so thankful to be an actual, bona fide nutritionist!