By Timaree Hagenburger, MPH, RD, EP-c.

Timaree Hagenburger is one of the speakers for our  Summer Wellness Workshop Series. She presents a workshop on food and the brain.

Claudia Yost is a student of mine who not only changed the health trajectory of three generations, but she even started her own business… all within a few months! She shares her story and some sage advice below, along [with] a great recipe to enjoy with friends and family. 

Growing up, my family and I were very close, but we were far from healthy.  We were the type of family to eat what was the easiest, cheapest and available at the time, and assumed that healthy food was too expensive. This was carried through three generations, given that we were not the wealthiest family, and we were influenced to eat whatever was openly accessible to us. To begin with, my grandmother’s childhood was full of struggles and hurdles, and through her teenage and adult years, there was a long winding journey through addiction. It wasn’t until about eight years ago that we persuaded her to move from Washington to California to be with us. This is when we began to nurse her back to health, and to surround her with the love she desperately needed to heal from her hardships.

One way that we expressed our love for my grandmother was through our homemade meals, yet we didn’t realize that these meals didn’t love us back (as Professor Hagenburger would say). My mother made the best tasting burgers and chicken dishes, lots of deep-fried food and we ate loads of ice cream. Now I know that this food was actually subtracting years from our future lives with every bite we took. Before long, my grandmother was diagnosed with diabetes, and needed to inject insulin nightly.

My mother lacked energy, and her and I both carried excess body weight. This happened to be occurring during my teenage years, when I was insecure about every bit of myself. I fell into a cycle of wanting to be thin, losing track of what it even meant to be healthy. I wanted to change, but I didn’t know how. Through a process of unhealthy trial and error and failed attempts of restrictions and dieting, I lost the love that I once had for myself. In 2016, I decided to try out a kickboxing class at the local UFC Gym, and fell in love! These classes sparked an interest in taking good care of myself that I had lost years earlier. I began to wonder what else I could do to improve my health. As fate had it, I enrolled in a Plant Based Nutrition course at Cosumnes River College, taught by Timaree Hagenburger. I found it incredibly inspiring that a plant-based diet can not only prevent and reserve many diseases, but it can also improve mood and clarity.

While I was excited to get started, my main concern was our weekend family dinners and missing the foods that I thought were delicious, if I transitioned into this new way of life. I soon found out how I could still enjoy my family’s taco bar Saturday dinners, while simultaneously loving the food that loves me back (recipe included below). The rest of my family was hesitant initially, yet it didn’t take too long to convince them to join me on this incredible journey.

My grandmother was the one who needed it the most, given her diabetes and other health issues. She was certainly not happy that she had been prescribed eighty units of insulin to inject nightly. After talking to my uncle, she agreed to start a thirty day juice fast, but was adamant that she would NEVER leave animal products entirely, due to the simple fact that cheese, Italian sausage and pork rinds were a big part of her regular diet. However, as she began watching documentaries and doing extensive research on a plant-based diet, she realized that she was both capable and drawn to begin this journey. “Anyone can transition to plant-based whole foods if they just step out of their comfort zone and begin to understand all of the benefits of eating this way…look at me now! I am fifty-six years old and I feel better now than I ever have in my entire life!” Not only did my grandmother’s Hgb A1C level drop, her doctor had to discontinue the injected insulin! Currently, she is a happy, plant-based woman, and her doctor no longer considers her diabetic, and my uncle is a proud vegan!

My mother had an easier transition from the very beginning, given that she had an open mind and wanted me to show her the videos and documentaries we discussed during class. She is so excited to share that this lifestyle has brought her much more happiness and energy that she had ever thought possible. The most memorable part of my mom’s experience was when she explained how important it was to love yourself enough to consider the transition, and to really comprehend why you would want to be healthy. “Once I hit the age of forty, I started to really think about the way I was eating, and how it can either impair or empower my way of living. I reflected on how my mother and father, and even my extended family, have had to suffer with all different types of diseases; heart disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes, just to name a few. Once I learned these can be prevented, and even reversed by foods, I was inspired to make the transition. It was so liberating to discover that most cancers aren’t determined our inherited genes! Heart disease and obesity don’t have to be “passed down” through our families! If you find self-motivation and drive towards self-care and love, and get educated, you can transition your food-related habits, enjoy new adventures with your family and become unstoppable.” My mom also recommends several documentaries, including What the Health, Cowspiracy and Forks Over Knives.

Something that aligns with watching those documentaries is questioning your reactions and being aware of your self talk. Instead of going into this transition thinking, “Oh my gosh, this is going to be terrible. I won’t be able to enjoy my favorite meals anymore!” Go into this thinking, “This is going to be and adventure full of challenges, but I am going to conquer them all and embrace my strength to introduce a new normal into my life.” Starting new tasks with a sense of positivity and curiosity goes a long way toward finding success. I would also encourage people to get creative in the kitchen, but don’t restrict yourself to food that you’re not comfortable with! Being plant-based for us has been about developing a new sense of enjoyment through eating food that leaves us feeling both satisfied and healthy! While I have been fully plant-based since September 2018, I still make recipe here or there that doesn’t wow my taste buds, but that happens with any type of cuisine, and it’s never an excuse to give up on this journey. I figure out what I could do differently or simply take that recipe off my list!

When I decided to take care of myself through my plant-based diet, I began to wonder what more I could do. I started to evaluate my beauty options and the products I applied to my face. The lotions, moisturizers, face masks, and other products I was using were full of chemicals that seemed to undermine the definition of “skin care.”  After all, if I were to put all of this effort into ensuring my health through my food and physical activity choices, then why should my skin get left behind? This inspired me to create my own business, Rosella’s Radiance, utilizing my middle name, which I share with my late great grandmother. My simple, clean and affordable products are hand-crafted for each order, from all-natural and mostly organic ingredients, free from harmful components and are available at and @rosellasradiance on Instagram and Facebook.

Although I am the youngest of the three generations, I have found a love for myself again, through loving the foods that love me back. I no longer feel unhealthy or insecure, physically, mentally or emotionally. Knowing that my influence on my family may have added quality years to their lives, brings me immense joy. Our lovely family dinners shall continue with all plant-based options, to unite us as a strong, happy and healthy family for years to come.

My family’s go-to family dinner plans have always revolved around tacos! So, our “new normal” consists of a Taco Foodie Bar that includes a yummy filling featuring jackfruit and walnuts.

Jackfruit and Walnut Tacos
This recipe has a few steps, but will likely help you improve your cooking skills, so take your time and enjoy the process! It makes ~2.5 cups of filling, enough to make ~10-12 tacos, but feel free to double it if you are feeding a crowd!

Filling Ingredients
20 oz. can of jackfruit* – drained and rinsed
3-4 garlic cloves, minced/pressed*
1-2 tsp of chipotle in adobo (optional)

3/4 cup red onion, diced small
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp oregano, dried
1-2 tsp chili powder*
2 tsp ground cumin
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped small
1 TBSP reduced sodium soy sauce or tamari
1-2 TBSP fresh lime juice

In a pressure cooker or on the stove, combine the jackfruit, garlic, chipotle and 1 cup of water and cook until tender (30 minutes in pressure cooker or up to an hour on the stove).  In a saucepan over medium heat, cook the onions for several minutes until they begin to soften, then add the spices and walnuts, ensuring they are mixed well. Once the jackfruit is tender, use a fork or slotted spoon to transfer the pieces to the pan with the onion mixture. The jackfruit will easily shred with a fork. Add the soy sauce or tamari and lime juice, ensuring the filling ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Toppings for Taco Foodie Bar™ 
– carrots, grated
– purple cabbage, shredded
– red onion, thinly sliced
– cilantro
– avocado
– grape tomatoes, sliced into quarters

– Creamy Lime Drizzle (below)

BONUS Recipe: Cashew Lime Drizzle
This sauce is reminiscent of a lime infused sour cream, but has a secret ingredient that boosts the nutrient profile!

2 TBSP raw cashews, soaked*
2 TBSP raw sunflower seeds, soaked*
3/4 cup white* beans, cooked from dry or canned, rinsed and drained
1/2 – 1 tsp lime zest*
2 TBSP lime juice
1 TBSP apple cider vinegar
~2 tsp onion powder
1/3 – 1/2 cup water (and more if needed)
pinch of salt (optional)

Combine all of the sauce ingredients in a high-powered blender and blend until silky smooth. Transfer to a squeeze bottle and refrigerate until you are ready to drizzle it on those loaded tacos!

The Nutrition Professor’s Shop Smart, Prep Smart, Cook Smart, Eat Smart Tips
*Be sure to purchase young jackfruit in brine, not syrup. Trader Joe’s brand is lower in sodium than most found at Asian markets.
*To maximize the health promoting properties of garlic, crush/mince/press it and let it sit for ~10 minutes before exposing it to heat.
*When buying chili powder, look for small packets in the international food aisle of the supermarket, as many of the jarred chili powders in spice aisle have added salt.
*Instead of a combination of nuts and seeds, you can use all cashews or all sunflower seeds, as desired, and soak for several hours (or overnight). Back up plan – soak for 10 minutes in boiling water.
*Any variety of white bean will do (Navy, great northern, cannellini or butter bean)!
*Zest lime with a microplane before slicing it to squeeze for juice.

Timaree Hagenburger, a registered dietitian, certified exercise physiologist with a master’s degree in public health, is a nutrition professor at Cosumnes River College. She is also author of the plant-based cookbook The Foodie Bar Way. This article was originally posted on Reposted with permission.