By Jessica Li Phillips
As a long time yogi and dancer, when I typically think about “flexibility,” it is usually related to my body. Many yoga teachers will tell you that one of the biggest disclaimers or excuses people use for not beginning yoga practice is that “they aren’t flexible!” But flexible in yoga has never meant to simply make a longer hamstring, or to practice touching our toes — it is the practice of creating space where there wasn’t before. But I also think of flexibility as the ability to modify our practice to more appropriately suit our changing needs. With the knowledge of greater choices, we are able to strike a healthier balance: the ritualized comfort of what is the same, and yet making adjustments for what is needed daily.
It got me thinking of how flexibility in the kitchen also helps me to stay healthier. With the help of different wellness practitioners, I have adjusted my diet considerably so that I don’t rely on the sweet spectrum for my main meals. But as someone who grew up in a household of homemade brownies, there is still nothing like the joy of a sweet treat!
For me, the first part of a more flexible, healthier diet is simply the regular inclusion of these so-called indulgences (“the capability of bending easily without breaking”). The common practice of labeling foods as “good or bad,” and the subsequent elimination or restriction of foods from our diets often backfires. I want to be able to make these sweets as healthy and delicious as possible, so that I can continue to keep them regularly in my diet.
Here are my flexible ways to keep these indulgences:
Home Made/Farm Fresh
While it’s true that my local corner store’s choices have expanded, tempting me with their “gluten free, grain free, and refined sugar free” options, there is never anything as healthy as making it at home. Not only does this provide you with flexibility of ingredients, but for your body “healthier” may not mean ditching dairy for vegan, or grains for gluten free, but simply purchasing a nutrient dense version of an ingredient: Farmers market eggs, local milk, grass-fed butter, small batch grains.
Think variety. Have a well-stocked pantry so that you can play around with switching out ingredients for more nutrient dense versions. I love “Kitchen Sink” baking. (See my recipe for Kitchen Sink Cookies below.) Cookies, muffins, and granola are all more forgiving when changing up Sugars, Fats, Grains, and Dairy.
Play with Sweeteners
Instead of white or brown sugar, try coconut sugar or date sugar, as well as recipes that feature molasses, date syrup, or include fruit (dates, squashes, bananas) as the sweetener.
Play with Flours
Instead of whole wheat flour, try quinoa, buckwheat, spelt, or teff flours.
Play with Dairy and Fats
Instead of butter, try coconut butter. Instead of eggs, try a flax meal egg. Instead of canola oil, why not try coconut or olive oil.
Some classic nutrient dense treats to try:
“Chocolate Mousse”: Avocado instead of Cream. Dates instead of Sugar
I’ve never been a big chocolate mousse fan, but I had a client who was battling cancer with a monster sweet tooth. This classic treat becomes vegan with Avocado Chocolate mousse.
“Brownies”: Raw Cacao or Cocoa instead of chocolate.
While I still like the baked version, my husband swears by these Raw Brownies. Using dates as your sweetener and walnuts as your fat, raw cocoa powder for chocolate. The healthy list goes on and on. Season with a little added cayenne, sea salt, and vanilla.
“GF Cookie”: Eliminating the different grain blend for nut/seed butter cookie.
It’s amazing how these no grain cookies bake up. Usually 4 quick ingredients combined together into a delicious cookie where no one will miss the grain.
“Soft Serve”: Bananas instead of cream
This new vegan classic has taken off online and it’s no wonder. Simple and healthy. Take chopped up frozen bananas, whip it in your food processor, eat immediately. Change it up by adding almond butter, cinnamon, coconut butter, cacao nibs, or season with sea salt.
The benefit of flexibility lies not in “being good,” but in the potential for greater ease with which we are able to live and enjoy our lives. And I would also argue that having to adjust to changing circumstances, there is the possibility for real novelty and delicious innovation! So let us enjoy our sweets together!!
Kitchen Sink Cookies (And some ways to play up your Flexibility!)
1/2 cup butter, softened
Change to ½ cup coconut butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Change sugars to coconut sugar
Change to one flax egg & one regular egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups spelt flour
Change to ¾ cup buckwheat flour, ¾ cup almond meal flour
2 ½ cups Gluten free rolled Oats
Change to 2 cups oats & ½ cup quinoa flakes
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, pecans or almonds
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2/3 cup chocolate chips
Change to 2/3 cup 80% chocolate & 1/3 cup raw cacao nibs.
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. In large bowl, cream butter and sugars with an electric mixer. Beat in eggs and vanilla.
3. Stir together almond meal, baking soda, and salt, and then add into the creamed mixture, stirring just to coat. Add oats and the remainder of the ingredients. Mix well.
4. Roll balls the size of small golf balls onto an ungreased cookie sheet, and bake for 8-10 minutes. Cool on a baking rack.
Jessica Li Phillips has been in the wellness field for the last 14 years as a yoga teacher, integrative chef, and wellness consultant. She holds the E-RYT 500 level accreditation from the Yoga Alliance, and continues her contemplative Buddhist studies at the Ordinary Mind Zendo in NYC. Her background includes a B.A in Psychology and Dance, and she is a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute. Her extensive work with chronic illness and disease informs her belief that healing takes place on many levels.
Find Jessica at www.jessicaliphillips.com