When I met my husband-to-be, I was 17 and cooking was not a topic of our dating life. Raised by a dad who liked to dine, not cook, I quickly learned how to pour a mean bowl of Grape Nuts laced with Cap’n Crunch for breakfast and discovered countless ways to re-invent a box of Kraft Mac & Cheese using processed meats. I self-funded my undergraduate education, which often meant I smuggled deli sandwiches from the cafeteria and utilized a hot pot to prepare Top Ramen to accompany my daily PB & J. Any knowledge of “serious cooking” came from my exposure working as a waitress in a waffle shop, where I relished my meal break of biscuits and gravy (both started from a box). It’s what was for dinner.
Five years later, when my husband and I married, I was the cook of the household – snicker – he had never even seen me cook. Serving up a weeknight plate of Tuna Helper with the aid of the “helping hand,” or the more deluxe weekend meal of Shake ‘N Bake pork chops with Betty Crocker scalloped potatoes and a can of string green beans, was the typical fare. Meals were more about ease and immediate gratification rather than taste and freshness. Sadly, it’s what was for dinner.
Thank goodness for potlucks! Potlucks were eye-opening for me, and I love them to this day. With this exposure to a wide array of food choices and cultural styles, I realized people were actually willing to put time and effort into preparing their food, and the results could be downright tasty. Mentors, typically older women, shared their recipes with me and a pitying sister-in-law took me under her culinary wing. My fledgling knowledge was often groomed by the America’s Test Kitchen TV program. I gleefully mastered following a recipe and was timidly proud…and the hubby was pretty darned happy, too. “What’s for dinner?” he’d excitedly ask.
By the time I was 35, I was well on my way to being a respected cook in my own right. People actually wanted to come over and eat my food. For me, cooking was an outlet of joyful creativity and the way I expressed my love for family and friends. I was well on my way to culinary bliss — and to unbearable pain.
Pain is a pronounced persuader of change. In hindsight, I am extremely grateful for its presence because it was a tangible motivator to re-look at what I was putting on my plate and rethink how I used my fork. After years of experiencing debilitating migraines, constant fatigue, high cholesterol, IBS, and severe gall bladder issues, I decided I needed to make some changes around my food choices. What was for dinner definitely needed to change.
As I educated myself on how to solve my health issues without the use of medications or surgery, I decided to play with what I knew best: my food. I started first by pushing off those things that seemed to be triggers for me: highly fatty foods, such as fried fish and cheesy, meat-laden lasagna, along with the more traditionally accepted “healthier” options like eggs and salmon. As I pushed the “not-so-good” foods off my plate, I started replacing them with nutrient-dense options, such as vegetables, legumes and whole grains. My family, thankfully, came along for the ride, and I served them amazing, delicious, nutritious, life-giving plant dishes. Plants and more plants were on our plates. It’s what’s for dinner!
Fast-forward to 2018: I turn 50 this year, which is typically seen as an important milestone, and I do view it as momentous for me. I fully transitioned to a healthy vegan lifestyle four years ago, after several years of personal ups and downs & serious culinary flops and failures. You see, if I can do this “cooking thing,” anyone can. More importantly, the food journey also led me down the road to understanding that food choices don’t only impact our personal health but significantly affect the well-being of all creatures and this beautiful planet we call home.
I will probably prepare my own celebratory birthday dinner, with my husband cooking by my side, and I will do so joyfully, knowing it is a healthier and more compassionate version of what’s for dinner with the only boxes allowed being those that are wrapped.
Chris Kalinich has her B.S. in Education and is a Main Street Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator, a vegan culinary instructor, and a board member of Healthy World Sedona. As the owner of Plant 2 Platter, she provides personalized cooking classes in a health-focused, boutique-style format that allows her students to discover the joy of whole food, plant-based cooking. She provides presentations and cooking demos in her local community and enjoys teaching and motivating others on Facebook, YouTube & Instagram. Chris is a wife, mom and vegan runner who loves living in two beautiful locations: Sedona, Arizona and Santa Barbara, California.