When I embarked on my Cohen journey, I knew I there were going to be many sacrifices to make in the six months or so that I would be on the program. To prepare myself for the major commitment that I was making, I decided to wait a few days before I delved fully into my Eating Plan. I started reading the manual – from to back and back to front – and asked the Centre’s consultants about everything I needed to learn to make sure I didn’t make a mistake. I made friends with other Cohenites through the Facebook group page. I created a schedule for my weekly menu (separate post for that), made a list of all the allowed ingredients that I liked, and built my menu around those ingredients I liked.
But to be perfectly honest, no one can be quite super prepared for starting a Cohen journey. Every day is a discovery or a challenge – and the key is to learn to make everything enjoyable and fun so you won’t easily give up when the cravings, temptations, or even just plain hunger, gnaw at you.
Here are 10 sure-fire ways that made my Cohen journey fun and enjoyable. I hope you find inspiration in them and find them helpful, too.
- Experiment with new recipes.
You don’t have to be a chef in the making or a Jamie Oliver to come up with delicious recipes out of the allowed proteins, vegetables, and fruits in the Eating Plan. You just need to open your mind to trying out different things together, and with trial and error, you’ll find yummy Cohenized recipes that you will enjoy while everyone else is eating greasy, salty, unhealthy food. When you’re feeling more adventurous in the kitchen and you know each EP ingredient by heart, you can check out: Cuuks.com for more ideas on which ingredients will work together.
- Learn more about the allowed vegetables, fruits, and proteins in you Eating Plan.
The Internet has a multitude of websites that talk about food – from produce to meats to spices and herbs. Read up on the various EP-allowed ingredients and see if you can come up with your version of recipes using these ingredients.
- Get to know herbs and spices, and read up on flavor profiles, food pairings, and recommended flavor combinations.
Tip #2 goes hand in hand with this one. As soon as you get your veggie, herb, or spice knowledge in place, you can go about trying out interesting flavor pairings between each of the EP ingredients. A “flavor profile” is defined by the encyclopedia A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition as “a method of judging the flavor of foods by examination of a list of the separate factors into which the flavor can be analyzed, the so‐called character notes.” Simply put, this is how you understand various tastes of food and how they combine to create interesting new flavors in a dish.
The Cooksmarts.com website has a nice infographic laden article called “A Study of Flavor Profiles” which is a great help in understanding how to create a balance of flavors. For foodies like myself who love to try a myriad of global and regional cuisines, check out PlanToEat.com’s article on “Learning to Cook by Flavor Pofile, not Recipe.” The article gives an easy to understand guide on which ingredients typically define a type of cuisine. So if you want to eat something Mexican, this article will tell you which spices are typically used in Mexican cooking, or which ingredients are usually the base flavors in Thai cuisine. Another read should be Kathleen Flinn’s “A ‘Cheat Sheet’ to Flavor Profiles.”
If you’re a bookworm, an awesome book to read about “culinary creativity” is “The Flavor Bible” by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg.
- Test out new kitchen devices and tools.
First things first: the best investment you can make while on the Cohen program (after the program itself) is a heavy duty, digital food scale. That will be your bestfriend for the next six months or so, so find one that can withstand constant use and is so reliable that you won’t be afraid that it will conk out anytime. Bonus tip: Find one that uses AA or AAA batteries rather then the round watch batteries that are harder to find. Why? Because you wouldn’t want to be caught dead preparing your food and finding out your food scale just died on you and you can’t find batteries anywhere. An AA or AAA-run scale is a much better option since you can just “borrow” the batteries from your TV set’s remote control. If you travel a lot for business or leisure, you ABSOLUTELY MUST get a Joseph Joseph tri-fold digital food scale.
It’s small, just about the size of a power bank or a pair of sunglasses. It retails at around Php 2,500 to 3,000 here in Manila, and the one I saw was in the Fisher Mall department store along Quezon Avenue in Quezon City. You can get it cheaper from Amazon.com or other online shopping sites, and you can just find someone who can ship it here to Manila for a fee. Otherwise, befriend other Cohenites and you can all order together and have the package shipped to you to break down the costs.
When I started on the Cohen program, the hottest kitchen appliance was the Philips Airfryer. The airfryer is a cool cross between a convection oven and a deep fryer. I love my Philips Airfryer – not just because it was a surprise gift from Hot Stuff – but because I can make breaded chicken or fish, cinnamon stewed apples, zucchini chips, and even Croque Monsieur or French toast in it without using oil. It cooks food really fast and supposedly healthier because the food is cooked with 80% less fat. It’s a worthy investment that me and my Cohen friends swear by, since you won’t be the only one benefitting from it. One of my friends had made lechon kawali in it for her hubby and the result was supposedly a crispy-licious success! And hey, you can make sweet potato fries for the kids!
Another kitchen tool to invest in would be a “spiralizer” to make zucchini noodles. I don’t have one – I’m not too keen on zoodles – but the Cohen Lifestyle Centre Facebook page had posts about it and where to buy one. Look for the post and read the comments.
Other Cohenites had good recommendations and tips on which brand was good, price ranges, and durability. Other kitchen tools that can help make your Cohen food prep easier: standing grater, oven toaster, steamer, and a good, reliable coffee machine.
- Play with your food.
I used to take food plating for granted when I cook at home, but recently, Hot Stuff made me realize how much fun it is to eat when the food on your plate looks good. There will be days when you won’t have time to even prepare your Cohen baon but there will be days when you can make time to prettify your food. It doesn’t matter that your meal is just yogurt (but don’t get me wrong, Rizal Dairy Farm’s low fat Greek yogurt with mangoes is my absolute favorite EP meal), but a few fancy kitchen moves will make your meal a super enjoyable one.
I’m not a food styling expert, but some of the things I keep in mind when plating food are: color, texture, and height. And don’t underestimate the power of pretty dinnerware – from plates to placemats to table napkins.
- Keep your own recipe/log book.
Aside from the cookbook that the Centre gives out in our kit, I also kept a small notebook dedicated to writing down recipes I got from the Cohen Lifestyle Centre Facebook page. Here, I jot down my own ideas, too, of dishes I’d like to make, ingredients I’d like to try next, and herbs and spices I want to experiment with. I make sure to write down my notes as well of meals that I liked, which ones worked, and which ones I would never ever want to do again (hello, steamed bokchoy and pechay).
- Check out other supermarkets, groceries, and weekend markets.
Metro Manila is fast becoming a really cool place to live and eat with its numerous weekend markets, re-done and upgraded supermarkets, and artisanal food craftsmen. While I’d always loved going to the supermarket even when I was younger, I enjoyed this errand even more when I started my Cohen journey. Apart from scouring the supermarkets to hoard my monthly supply of Jacob’s Hi Cal Original, Meiji plain, Bulla Lite n’ Healthy yogurt, and Swiss brown mushrooms, I also liked looking for good meat butchers, fish mongers, and fresh produce. The supermarkets I particularly liked are:
- S&R for the cheeses that come in bulk, Bulla yogurt, chicken breast fillets that are roughly 100g each (compared to SM or other supermarkets which runs out of chicken breast fillet or have but only those that weigh 60-75g each, so you’re left with a little cut up piece to add to your meal), and Truvia
- Makati Supermarket Ayala Alabang for its good fresh meat section and cheese selection
- Puregold Shaw or Alabang for its limited but really fresh produce, particularly cauliflower, lettuce, cabbage
- Landmark Supermarket in Makati for its really good selection of fresh produce (they have nice, plump, and happy-sized native tomatoes!) and stocks and stocks of Meiji Plain crackers that you can hoard from without much guilt
- Try other cooking methods.
Don’t limit your dishes to sautéed. I think sautéed food can be really, really sad on a daily basis for six months. If you love and respect food the way I do, you’d try not to eat sautéed food only, otherwise, you’ll begin to hate your EP and you most definitely wouldn’t want to do that. Try steaming, poaching (cooking in little liquid until the meat or vegetable cooks), airfrying, toasting in an oven toaster, or grilling (without oil). Just think of the many possibilities you can come up with for your vegetables alone. Cauliflower – many a Cohenites’ favorite – can be steamed, roasted, grilled, poached, boiled, or airfried.
- Pick your favorite ingredient for the month or week.
Go through your Eating Plan and pick a particular vegetable that you like that you can imagine eating for a week or so. You can buy this vegetable or protein and come up with new recipes or flavor combinations in various cooking techniques to make your meal more interesting.
An example would be cauliflower, for instance. If you’re not much of a veggie person, I think cauliflower is a good way to ease yourself into a lifetime eating plan where vegetables have a major place in your daily meals. As I mentioned in #9, cauliflower is a such a versatile vegetable that you will not get tired of in a week or two. If you find that the supermarket you go to has a healthy supply of good quality cauliflower, you can grab a couple of heads and come up with a good number of dishes with cauliflower as the lead star. Your next month or week can be zucchini, the next week lettuce, the next cabbage, and so on.
- Decide on your “Happy Food.”
This is the most important Cohen piece of advice I can give you. Your Cohen journey will be infinitely more enjoyable once you find your “Happy Food” that you can eat over and over again every week. This should be the dish that you will look forward to making and eating every single week – a dish that will not only follow your Eating Plan to the letter, but also something that you will happily enjoy for its taste, satisfy your hunger, and remind you that eating healthy IS also delicious.
My “Happy Foods” (yes, I have three) are: (1) Rizal Dairy Farm’s low fat Greek yogurt or Bulla Lite n’ Healthy yogurt with ripe mangoes, a dash of cinnamon, and crushed Jacob’s Hi Cal original crackers; (2) feta salad with mixed lettuce, cubed fresh apples, and balsamic vinegar; and (3) Cohen pizza which consists of mushrooms, bell peppers, tomatoes on Meiji plain crackers and seasoned with oregano, thyme, and basil topped with mozzarella. I always look forward to these treats, and Hot Stuff and I have decided to keep this on a regularly rotation even after my Cohen journey has ended.
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The key to staying committed to the program, really, is to find ways to make the six months as easy and fun as possible. I don’t believe in “scaring” yourself about food and how hard it is to follow a healthy diet plan, because ultimately, this will be negative self-fulfilling prophecy that may result in you failing to commit to the plan.
I’m pretty sure you and other Cohenites have your own nifty ways to make your Cohen journey enjoyable. If you have other tips, feel free to post it in the comments area. Happy Cohen journey!