Timaree Hagenburger: Plant-based spaghetti recipe is a ‘winner-winner’

Christina’s One-Pot ‘Winner-Winner’ Spaghetti Dinner (Courtesy photograph)

I am excited for you to meet Christina, one of my students who is a motorcycle mama who doesn’t back down from challenges. Instead, she uses them to get stronger, mentally and physically, and take even better care of her family!

I also think that you will love the super easy pasta dish that became an instant favorite at her house (and mine).


My name is Christina and I am a wife and full-time college student. I am also the mother of four beautiful children between the ages of 3 and 12.

I like to think of our home as organized chaos, as there are always many “somethings” going on! To put it mildly, this keeps me very busy.

In the spring semester of 2019, I enrolled in Professor Hagenburger’s nutrition class to learn about how food sustains the body. The human body is such a magnificent creation and it has always held my fascination.

I have a long history of struggling with my weight, but a little over two years ago, I decided to take control of my health destiny by exercising and learning how to eat better. However, it was Professor Hagenburger’s nutrition class that really upped my game, as I learned so much about how what we eat impacts our body, for better or worse.

The class also provided me with opportunities to make changes that I had never before even contemplated. In fact, I was a self-proclaimed “carnivore” and I don’t think the word “vegetarian” was in my vocabulary. While it makes me sad to think about this now, and it’s kind of hard to admit, if you told me last year that I would actually become a vegetarian, unfortunately, I probably would have laughed and said, “No way!” (Sad truth.)

Although I came into nutrition class ready to learn how to nourish my body (not just focus on weight loss), I was surprised by how many things I thought were healthy — based on marketing — that turned out to be the exact opposite. I was blown away when we learned about how meat and dairy can’t compete with the amazing benefits of plants.

The more I discovered about the impact of meat and dairy on our cells, the more motivated I became to make a big change, so I reached out to Professor Hagenburger. She suggested using the free 21-day Vegan Kickstart Program through www.pcrm.org, since it provided hundreds of recipes and meal ideas.

Even though I was “all in” when it came to this challenge, in all honesty, I felt like I had to learn how to cook all over again. While it was tough in the kitchen for the first week, I couldn’t believe the improvement I noticed in my mental clarity and energy.

Naturally, I wanted to share this with my family, but my excitement was met with skepticism — so I decided to convince them with my example.

Soon, they began to take notice. It was blatantly obvious that my energy levels were much higher and although I wasn’t trying, I lost weight.

One night, I decided to experiment with a favorite family spaghetti recipe by swapping out meat for lentils. Although I wasn’t sure if my kids and husband would like it, they actually loved it! My oldest son Anthony told me it was a “winner-winner spaghetti dinner.”

They asked how I made it and what meat I had used, because it was so full of flavor. I was very proud to say it was completely meatless — and they all just stared at me in disbelief. My husband was so surprised and my two youngest, who are picky eaters, had seconds, which was virtually unheard of for them. That pasta dish was enough to open them up to trying other vegan dishes.

I explained to my kids that since we were all learning and figuring out what we like best, trying new foods and recipes was just part of the fun! With my husband, on the other hand, I tried a different approach.

I decided to appeal to his competitive nature and asked if he’d be up for a “21-day challenge” — going 21 days without eating meat or dairy. His skepticism was alive and well — that is, until he saw a drop in his blood pressure in just under a month’s time, with no medication. Then, he was convinced that the benefits of eating plant-based were truly amazing.

My husband has had very high blood pressure for a long time and the medication that the doctors prescribed made him sick and sleepy, so he would rarely take them. When he returned to his doctor for a follow up appointment after the 21-day challenge, both he and his doctor were in disbelief that his blood pressure was so much lower.

My husband gave full credit to the new way he was eating and began supporting me and my efforts to transition our family to a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle.

I also shared the power of plant-based eating with my best friend and convinced her to try the 21-day challenge. She has since switched her diet to fully plant-based for good, and is constantly telling me about all of the benefits that she is experiencing.

The best and most surprising thing about this new way of cooking and eating is that it is very open, since there are so many whole food ingredients and flavor options that I never before considered. I get excited to try new vegetables, beans and whole grains, and experiment with different herbs and spices.

We also didn’t expect our grocery bill to go down, but that is exactly what happened. We fill the shopping cart with nutrient-rich vegetables, fruits, lentils, beans and whole grains to feed our family of six, and we pay less than when we bought animal products.

I am so thankful for the knowledge that I now possess to share with my children. I teach them about plants, the benefits of being healthy and how their bodies work.

It has been fun to learn about how their taste preferences are different and ever-changing. My little baby Jacob has started loving steamed broccoli, but my youngest daughter Lizzy likes it raw. My husband had never put anything besides meat on our barbecue, but now he’s grilling up carrot dogs, bell peppers and even portobello mushrooms burgers.

Changing up what we eat as a family has inspired positive changes in other aspects of our lives, too. My oldest son has taken a major interest in working out and my oldest daughter, who is 10, has started jogging with me.

We are all very thankful to have learned about how to take even better care of our bodies and each other.

Timaree Hagenburger is a registered dietitian, certified exercise physiologist with a master’s degree in public health, and a nutrition professor at Cosumnes River College. She is thrilled to have connected with Christina and loves to hear how she has taken what she learned in class and made such a positive impact on her family. Timaree hosts the podcast “Office Hours with the Nutrition Professor,” conducts local events and corporate wellness work, has a regular segment on California Bountiful TV and is the author of “The Foodie Bar! Way: One meal. Lots of options. Everyone’s happy.” Learn more at www.foodiebars.com.

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