Meatless Monday: Reclaiming the Kitchen

We're not getting fatter. That's the good news. Considering adult obesity rates have doubled and childhood obesity tripled in the past generation, the CDC's evidence we've started to stabilize deserves a victory lap. No doubt we need the exercise.

Exercise does't seem to be what's slowed the obesity epidemic, though. Researchers point to -- hallelujah -- people making more conscious food choices. My favorite way -- eating less processed, more produce. It's a sure way to lose weight, too.

We're also consuming fewer calories, especially those in liquid form. We're dialing back on the supersize sugar-laden sodas and caramel mocha frappes, extra whip. Foods we once enjoyed without thinking suddenly aren't so delicious now that chain restaurants and movie theaters are complying with FDA mandates to post menu item calorie, fat, sodium and sugar content (I'm talking to you, Cheesecake Factory, Starbucks and Pizza Hut).

Now's our chance to take it a step further -- to reclaim our kitchens. Most Americans eat products not food. Packaged foods sales are forecast to hit by 2020. The supermarkets are filled with them -- drops that chemically flavor your water, sandwich kits. You don't have to be a chef on "Chopped" or spend all day in the kitchen to create a meal that nourishes and pleases. You don't need a kit to make a sandwich. Make it yourself. You want flavored water? Squeeze in some lemon or orange.

This is not what food corporations want. They spend over $17 million lobbying Congress --and they're not advocating Americans eat more broccoli. You're not drinking as many sodas as you used to? Coca-Cola isn't taking that lying down. Citing info from Global Energy Balance Network, a nutrition nonprofit they helped fund, the company is launching campaign saying don't blame sugar for your weight gain, it's your fault for not exercising more. But have another Coke.

Would that we could trust food conglomerates to have our best interests at heart. We can't. We have to eat -- and drink -- defensively. That why I call for everyone to DIY their dinner more often, to turn off the TV and turn on the oven. You don't have to be a chef on "Chopped" or spend all day in the kitchen to create a meal. You've got 10 minutes, feed yourself.

Cooking is cheaper than eating out, it's nourishing, delicious and educational -- you see exactly what's going into what you feed yourself and your family. And it's empowering. Cooking is a basic life skill with benefits far beyond the next meal. As I mention in Psychology Today , it's good for you.

When we reclaim the kitchen, we're sticking it to the man, saying no to processed food and drink's extra calories, fat , sugar and salt and no to obesity. Because we're still fat. The average American is carrying 25 more pounds than he did in the 1960s. That's a lot of extra jiggle and it comes with a lot of extra health costs. The CDC estimates current national obesity-related medical costs to be somewhere between $150 and $200 billion a year.

Conscious eating is how we've started to put the brakes on obesity. Let's keep it going. Change happens one meal at a time. Start by making yourself a sandwich.

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Hold the Egg Salad aka Vegan Eggless Salad

Creamy, comforting and so basic, it's barely a recipe. Firm tofu stands in for hard-boiled eggs, offering all of the protein and none of the cholesterol or cruelty. Mustard, turmeric and nutritional yeast add a depth of flavor and echo the sunny color in egg yolks. Feel free to customize with your favorite egg salad add-ins such as sweet pickle relish, chopped olives, a dash of paprika or curry powder or a tablespoon or two of your favorite fresh herbs, finely chopped. It will taste like your childhood favorite and won't come from a kit.

Makes 2 to 3 servings, doubles like a dream.

8 ounces (1/2 block) firm organic tofu, pressed to release excess water and blotted dry
1 stalk celery, diced
1 tablespoon scallion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons vegan mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon nutritional yeast*
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1 teaspoon lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, mash tofu with a fork as you would with hard boiled eggs, until the tofu is crumbly but still has some texture.

Add the diced celery and chopped scallion. Stir in vegan mayonnaise, nutritional yeast, turmeric, mustard, lemon juice or apple cider.

Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

* A fabulous dairy-free cheesy-tasting golden powder. Vegan bonus -- several brands are B-12 fortified.