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Timaree Hagenburger: Black bean burgers a satisfying date-night alternative

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Posted: Monday, March 12, 2018 10:30 am

February isn’t the only month to celebrate love! Let’s keep up the date night tradition and give March (and National Nutrition Month) a little love by learning to love the food that loves you back with the one you love.

Josie Lang is a dear student of mine, completing her last class in our Plant-Based Nutrition and Sustainable Agriculture certificate program at Cosumnes River College. Her positive spirit is contagious, as you will undoubtedly be able to feel, reading her words and tasting her delicious recipes.


With another date night quickly approaching, we thought it would be the perfect time to tell you a little bit about what it’s like as a plant-based couple. And a bonus, this time of year is extra special for us, too — we recently celebrated our four-year anniversary, and two years of plant-based eating. Does time fly!

So, what exactly is it like being a plant-based couple?

Well, we certainly didn’t start out that way. Four years ago, we had very different attitudes about health.

Both of us grew up eating very poorly. Tyler lived off TV dinners for a good portion of his life, and though my mom was very health conscious when I was younger, as I came into my teens, she became far more relaxed about the food choices I was making.

While I had been vegetarian since my early teens, that certainly didn’t mean I started this journey eating well. My diet consisted mainly of Hot Cheetos, fast food and ramen. Tyler adopted a vegetarian diet a few months into our relationship, and his diet quickly began to look a lot like mine.

We were both heavy smokers and were living off junk food and energy drinks — ironically, we never had any energy because we had such unhealthy habits.

As we became more serious about school and work, these bad habits really began to take a toll on our productivity. However, we never seemed to be able to make the connection between the choices we were making and how we were feeling.

Then, two years ago, we discovered the plant-based lifestyle. We had watched a few very educational documentaries together. While my curiosity was piqued, I wasn’t completely convinced at first.

I was hard pressed to give up “my” cheese, but Tyler insisted that we give this a try, even if just for a month. This was around the holiday season, so we decided to make it our New Year’s resolution.

On Jan. 1, 2016, we gave the plant-based lifestyle what was supposed to be a temporary try, and we haven’t looked back since. We transitioned slowly over a 4-month period, but it didn’t take us very long to realize that these changes were going to impact us in so many ways.

Within a few days, we were already feeling the benefits — increased vibrancy and energy, better quality of sleep, our moods improved, and so much more. The longer we stuck with it, the better we felt. Being plant-based gave us so many things that we didn’t even know we were missing out on before.

I guess we never realized how good we could actually feel. We finally had the energy that we were unknowingly robbing ourselves of with our poor food choices.

I had suffered with chronic, debilitating stomach pains since I was a child that no amount of medication or treatment ever helped. They disappeared almost instantly after going plant-based. My cystic acne that I had since I was 13 completely cleared up, and I haven’t had a severe breakout since.

Tyler had struggled with being unhealthy and very underweight for most of his teens and into his early 20s, and within 6 months he was finally at a normal, healthy weight.

As individuals, we’re happier, healthier, stronger and more productive than we had ever been. I know that all of this may sound too good to be true, but it demonstrated to me that nutrition plays a bigger role in our lives than we ever imagined, and our experience in life is heavily influenced by what we eat.

The benefits also extended beyond ourselves. We were happier as a couple. Ecstatic to discover this lifestyle and to have found a new passion together, we talked for hours about all the new and exciting recipes we were going to try, restaurants we were going to visit, and how our choices were impacting our health, the animals and the planet. We even went to Los Angeles for our first anniversary as a plant-based couple to try some of the more famous restaurants!

Finding this lifestyle has been nothing but a blessing for us. And now, two years later, we are still so much happier living this way, individually and together as a couple.

One of the questions we get asked a lot is what we do for our date nights, especially if we want a fancy, romantic dinner together. Well, being plant-based doesn’t mean you have to miss out on those things! There are so many options out there.

As more people are becoming aware of this lifestyle and asking for options when eating out, many restaurants are responding positively and creating incredible plant-based entrees and sides. Some even have entire separate menus for this growing crowd. All you have to do is ask your server or search for plant-based options in your area. Sites like HappyCow.net and Google will be your best friends if you want to go out to eat.

We are excited to have found something we love even more than going out to eat together — and that’s cooking together! This is an amazing date night for so many reasons. You save a lot of money (a big plus for us college students), you get to customize your meal to make it delicious with ingredients that love you back, and you get to spend wonderful quality time with your significant other.

We find it so much fun to choose a new recipe that we’re both excited about and make it together. We play some of our favorite music in the background, take our time cooking and eating, and then have leftovers to enjoy!

In true romantic spirit, we decided to share a recipe that is very dear to our hearts because it’s a plant-based adaptation of the meal we ate during our first date as a couple. (Another great reason to cook together — you can take formerly loved recipes and make them into a recipe that loves you back!)

It was at Chili’s, and I had ordered a black bean burger that had egg in the patty and cheese on it, and Tyler had ordered a bacon cheeseburger. The recipe we came up with is a combined version of that meal — our Beloved Black Bean Burgers will hit the spot and won’t leave you feeling lousy during your date night.

Of course, you can customize these burgers to your liking. Top them with greens, tomatoes, avocado, onion — whatever you like! Or you can take a recipe you love, perhaps a special meal of your own, and create a plant-based version for your own date night.

Either way, we hope you enjoy this recipe and feel the love we put into sharing it with you!

Timaree Hagenburger, a registered dietitian and certified exercise physiologist with a master’s degree in public health, is a nutrition professor at Cosumnes River College. She feels so fortunate to have students like Josie in the new Plant-Based Nutrition and Sustainable Agriculture certificate program, including her hands-on cooking class! Timaree also conducts local events, corporate wellness work, has a regular segment on California Bountiful TV and published her first cookbook “The Foodie Bar Way: One meal. Lots of options. Everyone’s happy.” available at www.FoodieBars.com, where you will also find details about Timaree’s upcoming events.

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