Gamifying your Plant-based Diet with Two Simple Habits
Finding Yoyu at mealtime – how two simple habits help me gamify meal prep and maintain variety and balance in our plant-based diet.
My sister says I have a weird way of chewing. I chew to a certain beat and move the food from left to right every four beats until it’s time to swallow. Is that weird? Probably.
I grew up with a lot of weird habits around food. Some out of necessity. I used to be allergic to milk, wheat, eggs, and citrus fruits and learned to eat different foods at different times. While my friends might have been eating cold cereal for breakfast, I often warmed up leftovers from the night before.
Even today, I don’t enjoy a sweet breakfast. I would much rather have something savory and salty. When I first came to Japan in the early 90s, I easily adapted to the traditional Japanese breakfast centered around miso soup and rice.
I have another habit around food. It’s the number 10. I am not satisfied with what I serve unless I can count at least 10 ingredients. It’s not the flavor I’m after, it’s the diversity.
Habit #1 – The Rule of 10 – Include at least ten foods in every meal
Let me be upfront. I am not vegan, nor am I vegetarian. However, I DO follow a plant-based diet. So, yes, on occasion, we eat fish, chicken, and eggs.
I’ve always loved vegetables but didn’t get serious about eating a plant-based diet until my husband had colon cancer, and we used juicing, herbal teas, and a plant-based diet as part of his recovery.
For the first six months, my husband was on a strict vegan diet while he rebalanced his body. Within a few days, I caught myself preparing the same foods over and over. For inspiration and to make sure we were getting variety, I tried gamifying our plant-based diet.
I set out to make sure every meal included at least ten ingredients. The habit stuck and now, even though we are no longer 100% vegan, I can’t help but count my foods, even when we are at a restaurant.
What does 10 foods look like? This morning we had:
- Rice with Natto
- Miso soup – nameko mushrooms, shimeji mushrooms, and wakame
- Leftover Cold Salad – daikon radish, shiso leaves, and cucumber
- Leftover steamed Vegetables – enoki mushrooms and komatsuna greens topped with katsuobushi (smoked bonito flakes)
Usually, it is super easy getting to ten. I typically prepare three dishes, each made up of at least three ingredients. Then, I just have to come up with the 10th ingredient which is often rice or pasta.
Sometimes I feel stuck trying to get that tenth ingredient. When I can’t think of anything, I might add some pickled ginger to the side of the plate. Or, chop up some scallions to go in the miso soup. Crushed nori goes well on top of fried vegetables. And, just in case, I always keep sesame seeds on hand. You can slip sesame seeds into just about anything.
Habit #2 – Include foods from the land and from the sea
Since gamifying our plant-based diet with 10 ingredients at every meal is pretty easy now, I added an extra challenge. In addition to the 10, I also aim for something from the land and something from the sea.
I was inspired years ago by Tetstuko Kuroyanagi’s memoir Toto Chan: The Little Girl at the Window. The book is set during WWII and Toto Chan is in first grade. The headmaster of the school makes it a rule that all the students must have something from the land and something from the sea in their lunches.
Even though some kids have more than others, no one feels ashamed as the headmaster comes around to check. The only thing that matters is if their lunch meets the rule. And, it’s OK even if their lunch doesn’t meet the rule. The headmaster’s wife always prepares an extra pot of something from the land and something from the sea to slip into any student’s lunch that is lacking.
I love the headmaster’s rule because it is simple. It made sense to me the first time I read it and I’ve never forgotten. As I stand at the counter preparing food, I often find myself chanting,
From land and sea and into me
From land and sea and into me
From land and sea and into me
While chanting, I wash the wakame or cut the mushrooms and imagine all the steps it took for these foods to arrive in my hands. I am filled with gratitude.
Bonus Habit – Tracking your foods and aiming for 250
My two habits have served me well. However, now, I have a new goal. Ten is not enough because I realized it is still too easy to eat the same ten foods over and over again. I’m aiming for 250, thanks to Dr. Gundry.
I’m a fan of Dr. Steven Gundry and his book, The Plant Paradox. One line from his book stuck with me.
“We humans evolved as a traveling species. There is evidence that our hunter-gatherer forebears ate about 250 plant species on a rotating basis. Most humans don’t even eat a tenth of that number…”Dr Steven Gundry, The Plant Paradox
What? How can that be? That would mean people only eat 25 plant species. Though I’m good at including ten foods at every meal, they don’t all count as plant species. What’s more, I usually eat many of the same ten ingredients every day.
Living in Japan, I assume I am eating more variety than my family living back in the US. Considering the variety of sea vegetables, I’m sure of it. But would it add up 250 plant species?
I started a list on my birthday back in June. I’m not trying to eat differently. I am merely keeping track. So far, I’m up to 63 plant species and 89 species in total, including 8 fungi species, a variety of aquatic animals species, and a few terrestrial animal species like chicken, fish, and bees.
How about you? How many different plant species do you eat at a meal? Over the course of the day? Can you get your number up to ten? Want to join me and aim for 250?
I am blessed by all the species that contribute their energy to my meals and fulfill me.
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About the Author:
Hi! I'm Marci. When I'm not writing, building websites, or coaching clients, I love walking the streets of Japan and discovering spirit in all shapes and forms. Here on the blog, you'll also get a peek into what it is like to live with and care for my Japanese father-in-law who has Alzheimer’s. Enjoy!