Dinner: the Ayurvedic perspective
Dinner, tea supper; we all have different names for our evening meal but most conjure up a familiar memory of comfort. In the UK, the evening meal is
typically our largest, eaten leisurely and shared with loved ones, breaking bread over stories of our day. As we have more time for socialising
and food preparation in the evening, dinner can (more often than we care to admit) end up more elaborate and indulgent than necessary. The
fanfare could include sharing plates as far as the eye can see or the good old fashioned 3 course meals. Sadly, indulging in either of these
(unless you have been fasting all day) means we are putting away a dinner which is larger, heavier, more calorific and complex
than our bodies can cope with.
Time to wind down
After a busy day, the digestive system (and other bodily channels) - much like our minds - begin to close up shop. To ensure good digestion and good rest when we finally hit the sack, dinner/tea/supper should be fairly light and simple. If stuffing in large meals post-7pm has become the go-to it wont be long before some unwelcome changes start impacting not only your digestion but your sleep, mood and energy levels. These are the first signs you are on the road to disease. To negate these effects Ayurveda recommends (as often as possible) that your main main is at lunch time. Similar to what we said in our lunch section, it can take a little time to get used to switching meal size switch but once you see the benefits you will soon be choosing soup over fish and chips more often than not. Also, we have a few handy hints below to make the switch a bit easier.
What Ayurveda really has to say about the evening meal:
Light is might
As the sun begins to set and we wind down for the day, agni loses strength and, if proper nourishment has been had (i.e bigger lunch) during the day, hunger at night should be mild. Between 6 and 10pm is kapha time, meaning heaviness is naturally increasingly preparing us for sleep so eating a heavy meal at this time will result in sluggish digestion and likely development of ama making getting out of bed the next morning when kapha is high again (6am and 10am) very difficult. If your evening meal is something lighter, such as a stew, soup or vegetables with easy to digest proteins (chicken, turkey, venison, white fish, tofu, well cooked lentils and beans etc), digestion will be complete by bedtime. This will mean that sleep will be more sound and you will feel lighter, fresher and more ready for the day next morning. When we say light though, we don't mean salad! Lighter meals means ones which are soft, warm, lightly spiced (with ginger, cumin, fennel, coriander etc), contain a small portion of carbohydrates, little to no fried foods and are generally just smaller in portion (ideally no more than your two cupped hands which is the actual size of your stomach).
Sink into it
At night, when tiredness hits, its easy to flop in front of the TV with dinner, completely losing focus on what is it we are eating. But Ayurveda strongly upholds that, as often as possible, focusing on quality, taste and texture of food and being truly present with our meal does wonders for digestion. When the days work is done for much of us, the evening meal is the one time we shouldn't feel rushed and can really 'sink in' to the eating process - give it a go, you will thank yourself for it tomorrow.
Say no to ready meals (unless you have no choice)
It has become just too easy in the last few decades to grab ready-made, low-nutrient, high-calorie meals off the shelf. And we don't blame you - on busy days it may seem like sticking something in the microwave is all you possibly have energy left for. But the more often you do this, the more likely you are to feel low in energy, mood and motivation. Your 'get up and go' will have got up and gone and you will be stuck in a rut. Preparing fresh, home-made food (in slow cooker or instant pot if you are home late) will ensure you getting the right amount of calories and all of the vitamins and minerals you need to keep on top of stress and to keep your immune system in shape. Fresh food is also FULL of vital prana (life energy) which is the real secret to energy. If you are sick and tried of being too tired to cook at the end of the day, you need to break the cycle - you gotta have the right input of energy to get the best output of energy!
Struggling for time?
It may not always be possible but finding ways to eat fresh, home-cooked food as often as possible, and as efficiently as possible, is the greatest gift you can give to yourself. It can seem a little daunting at first but with some planning and practice you will find it gets easier to ditch the ready-mades. Also, as niggling digestive issues are often cleared up by just eating more fresh food, seeing results will be motivated to keep going. Added bonus, if you are switching from ready meals or take aways, you could find yourself significantly richer at the end of the month!
To help get you started we have 4 PRO time-saving tips:
Tip 1: Cook a bigger meal at night, eat just a small portion in the evening and enjoy the rest as a nice hearty lunch the next day. This is a great way to make sure you don't overeat at night and is twice as efficient as you are only cooking once. Also cheeky secret - if your food contains spices (like curry or chilli) it will actually taste better the next day!
Tip 2: Plan and shop for a whole week or two, this way you can know what you are cooking each day and don't have to decide, shop and cook, when you are hungry. Instead, you can just get in and get it on!
Tip 3: Use a slow cooker. Slow cooking creates beautiful, fragrant, easy to digest meals in two steps - fill and switch on. You can put your ingredients into the cooker in the morning ready for the night or at night ready for the morning, it removes all the hassle of multiple pots and all the hard work of stirring! You can't beat coming home to dinner already being done!
Tip 4: Get yourself a pressure cooker or, even better, an instant pot. These little beauties are pure genius, I would not be without mine and use it every day. Why buy a soup that has been sat on a shelf for days/weeks when you can make one far more delicious, fresh (and more cheaply) in as little as 4 minutes (its true, I timed it)? Why spend 1 and 2 hours making barley, risotto, meat stews or bone broth when it can be done in just 20-30 minutes! Just load up, put the kettle on, wash up and its done!
Always eat seasonally
The key to maintaining bio-rhythms and good health is to always eat seasonally, i.e eating food which would naturally (without GM or over manufacturing) grow at a particular time of year. What foods grow when can be found easily online and should be considered with every shop. To help get you started we have included a few key pointers:
In Spring - Think kapha-pacifying spices and bitter vegetables (such as spring greens, asparagus and salad leaves) to boost sluggish hand cleanse the liver. Fresh spring produce such eggs, cheese and lamb (and reduced carbs/grains) encourage the body to burn fat as fuel and help slough off winter weight gain.
In summer - Lunches should be refreshing with cooling pitta-pacifying spices (cardamom, coriander) and bitter/sweet vegetables - broccoli, cauliflower, courgette, peppers, fennel and (towards the end of summer) sweet roots such as carrot and beets. White meats and white fish, lentils, beans, peas and pulses are optimal sources of protein maintaining alkaline/acid balance during hotter months. Slightly more carbs than in spring can be added to keep pitta types sweet and salads with olive oil on hot days are just delicious.
In autumn - It's Stew Season! Think oily, soft, liquid and warming foods which contain vata-pacifying spices like ginger, cinnamon, asafoetida, clove and garlic and grounding vegetables such as sweet roots (carrot, parsnip, squash). Pair with well-cooked red meats, well-soaked and specified lentils such as black gram (urid dhal), whole grains fresh from the Autumn harvest and lashings of ghee - (unless your kapha is too high, then less ghee!)
In winter - Lunches at the coldest time of the year should always include some spice to keep agni up and keep the circulation and lymphatics mobile. The most beneficial are ginger, cinnamon, garlic, black pepper and methi. Pair with hearty grains such as barley; roots and winter greens; white stewed meats and mung lentils. Start to scale back the moisture/roots and grains as it heads in to spring and start preparing for detox!
Ayurvedic DIet and Recipes
Clean Beets N Greens Kitchari
Beets 'n' Greens keep you fresh and clean! Struggling with Acne? Skin rashes? Volcanic eruptions of emotions? Or excess weight and digestive issues! It sounds like you could do with a gut and liver cleanse! What better (and more delicious) way to promote natural cleansing than with Faith's Beet n Greens Kitchari. Perfect all year round but is absolutely QUEEN come Spring Cleanse season.
Creamy and Fragrant Rice Porridge
In Ayurveda, rice is considered a nectar. It's simple, sweet, nourishing yet easy to digest! This is such a simple and delicious meal (or snack) that can be eaten on its own or with a side at any time of day. As it's such a speedy meal, we highly recommend enjoying for breakfast as an alternative to porridge!
All-Seasons Simple Tridoshic Kitchari
Ayurveda's ultimate healing food - kitchari - also known as a hug in a bowl is a soothing combination of soft mung dhal and rice mixed with digestive spices, vegetables and healthy fats. Kitchari is delicious, easy to digest, suitable for for all dosha, low in calorie, high in fibre, Agni strengthening and gut cleansing.