My parents deep-cleaned their house a few years ago and decided to mail everything of mine from Seattle to Boston in a giant box. Unexpectedly, I received this huge box on a random Monday. It was full of old letters from high school, journals from middle school, pictures, stuffed animals, and all sorts of other glorious stuff. Immediately overwhelmed, I shoved the box in the back of my closet and promptly forgot about it.
Recently, though, I pulled out some of the old journals and started reading. As expected, they’re pretty funny – musings about my crushes, contemplations about my future aspirations, fights with my parents. But they were also sad: When I was in eighth grade, I went through a chubby phase that lasted until my sophomore year of high school. I’m short, so even those few extra pounds carried heavy on me – and when I look at those journals now, I can clearly feel how tough that was. I hated my body. I aggressively tracked calories and meals. I wrote heartbreaking entries about how ugly I was, how no boy would ever like me back, how awkward I felt in my own skin. I often hated eating and developed a wacky relationship with food, shoving awesome-tasting things into my mouth and then immediately regretting it. I’d deprive myself of the things I loved, then rebound.
This tough time mostly ended when my body reached normalcy at the end of high school, but it was a painful few years. Reading those entries made me teary because damn it — it’s tough to be a woman! It’s even tougher to be a teenager.
My relationship with food has been a process since those days in high school. What I wish I could tell my 14-year-old self is this: Your body is the only one you get. Don’t deprive it. Even when it does weird stuff, love it. Listen to it.
Yoga has taught me to listen to my body when it feels weird, when it hurts, and when it feels good. And now that I cook all the time, I’ve also learned to be super aware of what I put into my system and how that food makes me feel. For example, I try to focus on cooking with things that grow in the ground (mostly, fruits, veggies and nuts) because that makes my gut feel better. Lots of sugar makes me feel gross. But that also doesn’t mean I deprive myself — I freaking love bacon, so I eat bacon a lot. And I love to bake, so I’m often baking cookies and shoving 2 at a time into my face. It’s all about the balance, and every day that balance is different.
What I know now is that my body feels best when I eat food that is trackable (basically this means no preservatives — I want to know where it came from) and when I walk and run and do yoga every day. End game. Dieting and depriving myself only makes things complicated.
This recipe, which I made tonight for dinner, is a recipe for 14-year-old Jenni. It’s delicious. It’s healthy. It has good nutrients and it’s super filling. It makes my stomach feel good. It’s what I eat when I want to love my body, end game.
Roasted Veggie Rice Bowls with Tahini Dressing
- 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch slices, then quartered (you should end up with thin triangles)
- 1/2 yellow onion, cut into quarter-sized chunks
- 4 cremini mushrooms, quartered
- 1 bell pepper, cut into quarter-sized chunks
- 2 T olive oil
- 2 t garam masala (an Indian spice — if you don’t have it, sub in cumin and oregano instead)
- 1 cup jasmine rice (OR any other kind of grain — quinoa, brown rice, etc.)
- 1 avocado, sliced
- 8 fresh basil leaves, sliced thin (or 2 t dried)
- 2 T chopped cilantro
- 2 handfuls arugula
- 1/3 cup tahini
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Mix sweet potato chunks with 1 T olive oil, 1 T garam masala, and a dash of salt and pepper. Spread evenly on a cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes.
At the same time, cook the rice, following the instructions on the bag. Usually this means bringing 1 cup rice + 1.5 cups water + salt and pepper to a boil, then lowering to a simmer for 18 minutes, covered.
While the potatoes are roasting, toss the peppers, onions and mushrooms in a bowl with salt, pepper and 1 T olive oil. When the timer rings, flip the sweet potatoes, pushing them to one side of the pan, then fill the other side of the pan with the remaining veggies. Bake all of the veggies for 15 more minutes.
Meanwhile, make your dressing. Combine tahini (this is sesame paste – make sure it’s stirred up!), 1/3 cup water, lemon juice, garlic, and a dash of salt and pepper in a bowl. Whisk until combined and smooth. If you have a blender on hand, you can use that to make this process easier.
Once the veggies come out of the oven, mix fresh basil with the peppers and onions, and cilantro with the sweet potatoes.
In a bowl, combine everything together: one scoop of rice, one scoop of sweet potatoes, one scoop of other veggies, 4 thin slices of avocado, and a handful of arugula. Douse the whole thing in the tahini dressing and enjoy!