[Sourdough] Whole Grain Pumpkin Pancakes

The Universe has a way of keeping us humble, doesn’t it? Take for example the time I fell hard for The Great British Baking Show on Netflix, and mused contentedly about what an adept contender I could be. Naturally, my next baking session was an epic screw-up. I’m claiming distraction as the reason behind the embarrassing disaster, but seriously: it involved boxed cookie mix, BOTH of my apartment’s smoke alarms, and a full hour spent the next day scrubbing the bottom of my oven. So, right, I was not Star Baker this week.

(Undoubtedly my worst mishap since the Great Kombucha Eruption of 2015.)

Similarly, look what happens when I promise you a newly developed recipe. Here we are nearly a month later, and I’m just now getting back to you because of an extended string of lackluster trials in my test-kitchen. Lucky for you guys, I don’t give up too easily.

Whole Grain Sourdough Pumpkin Pancakes

The plan was to cap off my sourdough baking series with a special weekend breakfast combining the flavor/benefits of sourdough with the seasonal charm of pumpkin spice. But I soon realized that this pairing would require a bit of trial and error, as pumpkin puree and sourdough can both complicate efforts to optimize the texture and density of baked goods. After wrestling with a series of adaptations to the basic sourdough pancake formula from King Arthur Flour,  I decided I might be better off seeking insight from my favorite online community of super experienced and skilled bakers at The Fresh Loaf.

Whole Grain Sourdough Pumpkin Pancakes

Lo and behold, those good bakers know exactly what to do: I was just one blog post away from a foolproof formula. To create my perfect sourdough pumpkin pancake, I spiked the recipe with buttermilk, brown sugar and a sprinkle of spices; I also swapped in whole wheat pastry flour to take advantage of its delicate crumb. The pancakes are tender, lightly sour, subtly spiced… and we couldn’t have done it without that bubbling, fermenting colony of our favorite friendly microbes.

Nothing like a good recipe success to recover from a streak of kitchen fails… What a relief! Happy cooking, everybody. I’m off to put that sparkling clean oven to good use.

Whole Grain Sourdough Pumpkin Pancakes

(No sourdough starter? How about some tasty steel-cut oat pancakes instead?)

Whole Grain Sourdough Pumpkin Pancakes

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

Yield: Approximately 20 5-inch pancakes

Whole Grain Sourdough Pumpkin Pancakes

1/2 cup sourdough starter ("unfed" starter can be used)
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 pinch salt
spices: 1/2 tsp. cinnamon + a hearty sprinkle each of ginger, allspice and nutmeg (or an equal amount of your favorite pumpkin pie spice blend)
1 to 1 1/3 cups buttermilk (or substitute mostly milk with a dollop of plain yogurt)

Combine the starter, eggs, brown sugar and pumpkin puree in a medium bowl. Then add the dry ingredients and whisk in just enough buttermilk to create a pourable batter (the amount can vary based on the density of your starter), mixing until just combined..

Let the batter rest at room temperature while you heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat, coated lightly with butter or oil. When the surface is hot, spoon the batter into pancakes of your desired size. When the upper surface is bubbled, and the bottom is golden-brown, flip and continue to cook the second side. Place cooked pancakes in a warmed oven, or on a plate tented with aluminum foil until all pancakes are ready.

https://flavorrd.com/2015/11/sourdough-pumpkin-pancakes/

My Weekly Sourdough Ritual

We’ve been culturing a deep appreciation for sourdough here at flavorRD! We started with a crash course on sourdough’s history, science and nutrition benefits, followed by the how and WHY of getting your starter started. This week, I’m finishing the series by walking you through my weekly sourdough baking ritual, and sharing some of my favorite recipe successes from my experiments so far.

My Weekly Sourdough Ritual

Since the feeding and maintenance of a sourdough starter requires you to set aside a portion to “discard,” it only makes sense to synchronize feeding time with a weekly baking session. Make that starter earn his keep! Once you’ve grown a sourdough culture, no matter what tempting treats are on your “to bake” list, they all start with the same simple steps that make up the weekly ritual:

  1.  Take the starter out of the fridge, pouring off any liquid that has accumulated on top (this is alcohol from the yeast’s slow fermentation!) and giving the rest a quick stir.
  2. Divide the starter into two halves – set one aside for baking, and leave the other in your ‘crock’ (FYI: mine is just tupperware) to continue your culture.
  3. Use a kitchen scale* to weigh 4 oz. flour** and 4 oz. water, and stir them into the remaining starter in the crock until smoothly combined. Allow it to sit, covered but not airtight, at room temperature for 2 hours before returning it to the fridge. This gives your microbial friends some time to eat before going back to ‘sleep’ for the week.
  4. Take the other half of the starter that you set aside, and use it in a tasty recipe! It can often be used in this “unfed” state (ie. in baked goods that either don’t need to rise much, that involve a pre-ferment, or in quickbread type recipes that include another leavener like baking powder/soda), but if you want it to be powerful enough to leaven bread, you’ll want to give this half its own feeding as well. To give it some extra “oomph,” feed the discard starter with 4 oz. flour and water just like in the last step, and let it hang out for about 12 hours before baking. If I’m planning to bake bread on Saturday, I usually take my starter out on Friday night, split it, and feed both halves. Then after 2 hours, I put one half back into the fridge for next week, and leave the other half out overnight to continue fermenting until I’m ready to bake the next morning.

NOTES:

* I actually use this inexpensive + very precise pocket scale!

** I usually feed my starter with unbleached all-purpose flour, which yields the most reliable results. But once every few weeks I prefer to liven things up with a feeding of whole-wheat flour instead.

Highlights of my Sourdough Baking Rotation

And finally, what we’ve all been waiting for… the recipes!

Pizza Crust: I’ve already mentioned (and teased on Instagram) my obsession with crafting the perfect whole grain sourdough crust for pizza night. Recipe testing is still in progress, but you can definitely look forward to seeing the results here once I get it dialed in.

Pancakes + Waffles: Weekend breakfast turns your sourdough ritual into an opportunity to show your household some love. This basic recipe from King Arthur Flour has an overnight rise with buttermilk, and comes out superbly light and fluffy. I substitute whole-wheat pastry flour instead of the all-purpose stuff, with great results, and it’s also a good foundation for customizing variations with your favorite mix-ins. In fact, I have a new seasonal specialty coming your way soon!

Biscuits: I’ve only experimented with sourdough biscuits once so far, but they definitely warrant further study! I tried a variation on this cheddar biscuit recipe from Cultures for Health (great resource for all things fermented), and although it came out a little more like a dinner roll than a fluffy/flaky biscuit, we still ate them enthusiastically. The dough is marbled with sharp cheddar, black pepper and garlic, which I was compelled to enjoy savory-sweet style: topped with a drizzle of honey. Next, I’ve got my sights set on these cheddar-chive beauties.

Seed Bread: When I wrote last week about my motivations for starting a sourdough habit, there was another bullet point that I should have included: because I am addicted to sourdough seed bread! I first got hooked on the version they sell at the bakery department at Sprouts, and then when I found this recipe from Smart Nutrition (one of my all-time-fave RD bloggers) I’m pretty sure it was seriously the tipping point that inspired me to adopt my new sourdough pet. I add hemp seeds to mine, and it is outrageously good.

Those are the baking basics that have stood out as the house favorites during my first couple of months experimenting with my new sourdough ritual, but I look forward to baking plenty more healthy, fermented grainy goodies. You can keep up with ongoing updates on my baking inspiration on my Sourdough Recipes Pinterest board (next on my list: those popovers and those donuts!)

Readers, now it’s your turn: tell me about your sourdough! What are your best tips and must-try recipes?

The Magic of Sourdough, Part II: The How and WHY of Getting Your Starter Started

flavorRD is on a sourdough baking kick! Last week we started with a crash course on sourdough’s history, science and nutrition benefits. This week, it’s all about getting your own culture started.

Want to know the coolest thing about getting started experimenting with sourdough in your own kitchen? You don’t need to have connections with a veteran baker or buy a special culture – the microorganisms that make up sourdough are all around you, just waiting to forge a symbiotic relationship with you and your baking habit. Wild yeast and lactobacillus bacteria live on the surface of flour granules and in the air around us, and when you provide them with the right conditions, they’re happy to set up shop.

How do I capture a culture?

All it takes is a container of flour and water mixed together on your counter. At regular intervals, you feed the culture with more flour and water, after first removing some of the mixture before feeding time (in addition to making sure you don’t end up with a giant doughball that takes over the city, this basically serves to keep acidity in check and to cull the herd, allowing a smaller population of microorganisms to eat what you feed them and multiply with less competition, and fewer byproducts of metabolism that might slow their growth). Simply follow the feeding schedule, and you’ll have your own thriving culture in about a week!

I’m not going to break down a step-by-step schedule here, because it’s been done well many times on the web already. When I started my starter, I mostly followed this guide by the people at King Arthur Flour, with the benefit of some extra insights from Smart Nutrition and The Kitchn. The simple flour/water/time protocol yielded a healthy, happy starter that just chills contentedly in my fridge all week, and unfailingly springs to action when I take him out to play.

OK, but remind me again why it’s worth it to take time from my busy schedule for the care and feeding of a living baking ingredient?

Excellent question. With the word-count I’m saving by outsourcing the how-to, I’m choosing to dig a little deeper into the why-to. Home-baked sourdough bread is a nice way to enhance a happy-healthy life, but it does take a little effort. You might think of it in the same light as other “healthy habits” that you’re motivated to work into your life, like taking time on the weekend to chop up a surplus of your favorite veggies.

So let’s consider motivation. Sourdough’s health benefits are a good reason to incorporate a starter into your baking repertoire, but honestly, I knew about those facts for months before I mustered up the will to get started. Motivation is about a personal, emotional connection to your goal. If you feel like you want to do something, take a moment to think about WHY you feel that way. Once you can define your motivation, you can use that connection to fuel your inspiration, to decide that it’s worth your effort to start it up and stick with it.

Sound like a chore? It’s really just about getting in touch with the good feelings you have about your aspirations. Allow me to demonstrate with the easy-breezy answers that come to mind when I ask myself the question:

Why Should I Start a Sourdough Habit?

Because it makes me feel like a baking wizard. Or at least, you know, some kind of baking MacGyver. I can’t diffuse a bomb with a paper clip, but I can make a mean loaf of bread with just flour, water, salt, and time. Knowing about traditional methods of food production is a valuable life skill; we come from a long line of humans before us, and it’s good to be in touch with our roots. During my weekly baking sessions, I often think about my post-apocalyptic survival skills, and how my camp will still be enjoying the pleasures of leavened breads as long as we can get our hands on enough flour!

Because science is fun. It’s good to be curious, and science is really just organized curiosity. Some of my reasons for creating this blog centered on joining like-minded readers in the joys of paying attention to the wonders of the world around us, and working with sourdough is a great opportunity to learn something cool. I love that my sourdough science project takes me back to my college days in microbiology class, except even better (ie. instead of cramming for exams, I’m cramming baguettes in my mouth. science rules!)

Because life is too short for bad bread. Before I took up my sourdough project, I often settled for some pretty uninspiring grocery-store bread to keep up with my household’s carb appetite. Now, since almost every weekend yields a batch of awesome home-made sourdough baked goods (often with leftovers to bank in the freezer) I’ve cut way back on the riffraff. Good bread makes life better!

Starting a sourdough starter is really a pretty easy, foolproof project – it’s amazing what you can do with just a little flour, water, time, and motivation! If you have your own culture or plans to cultivate one (or if you could use a little more inspiration first), don’t miss next week’s post: I’ll be talking about the simple steps of my weekly sourdough ritual, and the best recipes in my baking rotation.

The Magic of Sourdough, Part I: Ancestral Biotech with Nutrition Benefits

Say hello to my doughy little friend.

It’s a bubbling, fermenting colony of bacteria and fungi that lives in my fridge, but it’s nothing to get squeamish about… it’s just sourdough! I started my first starter about 3 months ago, and I’ve been experimenting with this ancient form of baking biotech just about every week since then. It’s been a fun learning experience, and now I feel like I’ve gotten enough of a handle on it that I can share my dietitian/baker perspective. This post is the first installment of a 3-part series covering the ins and outs of the process, along with the reasons why you might be motivated to start up a habit too!

What is Sourdough?

To give a satisfactory answer to this question, let me break it down into two parts:

The History Lesson: If you peer far enough into the past, you’ll find a time when all breads were sourdough breads. At the dawn of agriculture, humans began eating their newly cultivated grains, ground and mixed with water as porridge and flatbread. When these simple batters were left out long enough, they created a moist & cozy home for the local wild yeast and bacteria. That’s when our neolithic ancestors discovered the magical leavening and preserving qualities of sourdough.

The Science Lesson: The sourdough culture is a symbiotic community of microorganisms that naturally grow on the surfaces of grains and in the air around us. These microbial friends include wild yeast (whose fermentation of starches/sugars yields carbon dioxide gas, which creates the air bubbles that leaven bread) and lactobacillus bacteria (whose fermentation yields lactic acid, which keeps the medium acidic enough to resist spoilage, and which also contributes to sourdough’s signature flavor).

Sourdough is Healthy?

If you only think of sourdough as a tangy flavor in specialty breads, you may be surprised to learn about all the attention it’s been getting lately for its nutrition benefits. Research has been revealing some fascinating facts about sourdough, and it’s all due to the probiotic cultures living in this fermented food.

  • Increased mineral bioavailability. Whole grains are full of essential minerals like zinc, magnesium and iron – that’s why dietitians are always on your case to eat more of them! But grains also contain compounds called phytates that bind to these minerals and inhibit their absorption in the gut. The lactic acid created by the bacteria in sourdough breaks down phytates, and consequently increases your ability to absorb the minerals in your bread.
  • Lower glycemic index. The lactic acid in sourdough alters the starch/protein microstructure that forms during baking. The resulting bread has starch that our bodies digest more slowly. Slower breakdown of starch means a less dramatic glucose response, preventing undesirable spikes in insulin. (If you want to really dig into the science, this paper is fascinating.)
  • “Probiotic” benefits. Although our microbial companions are not able to survive their trip through the oven, their byproducts hang in there, providing a variety of the benefits associated with fermented foods. Before they check out, the good bacteria are nice enough to leave us a selection of antioxidant, cancer-fighting and immune-boosting compounds.
  • Elimination of gluten. Enzymes from both the wild yeast and lactobacillus bacteria work together to degrade wheat flour’s gluten proteins into smaller peptides. The microorganisms are so good at this, that researchers have measured certain sourdough breads as having gluten concentrations of just 12 PPM… that’s legally gluten-free! This is good news if you have trouble tolerating gluten (and tolerating the taste of gluten-free breads).

Is your interest piqued? Don’t forget to tune in next week, when I’ll be back to talk about getting your starter started!

NEXT: Sourdough, Part II: The How and WHY of Getting Your Starter Started

Easiest Seasonal Treat: The Apple Turnover Ice Cream Sandwich

Seasonal cooking gets tricky when the calendar says it’s Fall, but the weather does not. This is a treat that can ease the pain of being stuck in that awkward limbo between seasons – when you’re dreaming of warm spices and baked goods fresh from the oven, but what you really need is something out of the freezer. If you’re drawn to the autumnal charms of apple pie, and you agree that it’s at its best when a la mode, you’re way overdue for an inside-out twist!

Join me in lazy-cooking bliss by buying a box of apple turnovers from your local bakery. Freeze them, slice them in half, and admire the airy void between the pastry and the filling. Soften a tub of vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt and use it to fill the pocket, gently pressing a spoonful at a time to create an even layer. Pop your stuffed triangles back into the freezer to firm up, and look forward to blowing your mind.

Each stuffed triangle is a perfect hand-held package, but it’s a rich dessert, so keep portion size under control by choosing smaller pastries. I’m on the hunt for mini-sized turnovers, because this would just be such a killer finish for a dinner party!

Apple Turnover Ice Cream Sandwich

Need another easy way to indulge your cravings for Fall flavors? Check out last year’s suggestion: The Easiest Seasonal Pumpkin Treat (Dark Chocolate Edition)

Avocado Fudgesicles

This summer, I’ve had two recipe-testing obsessions. The first involves whole-grain sourdough pizza crust*, and although it satisfies my endless curiosities into both bread baking and home fermentation, it also makes me feel like a crazy person every time I insist on turning on my oven. The other fixation is much more seasonally reasonable: the quest for the perfect healthy fudgesicle.

I’ve been dreaming of a deeply dark chocolate pop, lightly sweetened, and I had my heart set on achieving a rich and creamy texture from nutrient-dense avocado. I also set high standards for a classic fudge flavor (ie. I didn’t want this thing to just taste like chocolatey guacamole). It took a few tries to get it just right, but this is it!

Depending on the size of your avocado and the type of dark chocolate you use, this recipe comes out to about 200 calories per serving (with about 13g total fat, 4.5g saturated, and 13 grams of sugar). So it’s a legit dessert – but one that is built from real food ingredients, a dessert that will give you real satisfaction in addition to its richness in nutrients. You can also cut the portion size if you have smaller popsicle molds – my squeeze-pop molds hold about 1/2 cup of liquid.

I wasn’t about to waste my weekend trying to create beautiful images of tubes of brown goo, so you’re stuck with the quick pic above. They may not be photogenic, but they have a lot of good qualities that should convince you to try the recipe: a short list of simple ingredients, healthy fats, antioxidants, limited sugars, fiber (5g per serving!), vegan-friendly, and a super-easy technique that will leave you with plenty of time for summer fun.

*Posts on my new sourdough habit are coming soon! In the meantime, get your fermentation fix on my sourdough pinboard.

**Need more healthy frozen desserts to beat the heat? Try my Fresh Strawberry Frozen Greek Yogurt, or the whimsically named chocolate cookie variant: Joe-Joe Fro-Yo

Avocado Fudgesicles

Avocado Fudgesicles

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 5 minutes

Yield: 4 popsicles

Avocado Fudgesicles

2 oz. dark chocolate (~1/3 cup of chips/chunks)
1 small/medium ripe avocado
1 cup almond milk (or substitute coconut milk)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 pinch salt

Place the chocolate in a small bowl or measuring cup and gently heat in a microwave (taking it out to stir after each 20 second increment) until smooth. Combine all ingredients in a blender (or attach a mason jar for easy cleanup). The chocolate will re-solidify, but it will still be soft enough to blend. Puree until very smooth and pour the mixture into popsicle molds. Freeze until solid, about 3 hours or more, depending on the size/shape of your molds.

https://flavorrd.com/2015/09/avocado-fudgesicles/

My Top 5 On-The-Go Weekday Breakfasts

Let’s talk about breakfast. Weekday Breakfast, to be specific, which is an entirely different animal than the leisurely, unhurried, coffee-sipping pleasure-breakfasts that we get to enjoy on the weekends. Weekday Breakfast, for better or worse, is about taking care of business: supplying ourselves with an adequate amount of the right balance of nutrients to fuel ourselves for the workday, and doing it quickly.

To be honest, I struggle with Weekday Breakfast. When I drag myself out of bed for work, I don’t have much of an appetite. It’s just hard to get my morning-brain interested in the fuel that I know my body needs. The good news? Recognizing a problem is the first step in doing something about it. I started with a dedicated Weekday Breakfast Pinterest board to help inspire my efforts. I also took a critical look at my morning routine, and found that although it may not be the best approach for mindful eating, I really have the best success when I schedule my breakfast time either during my commute or at my desk (whatever works!). And there’s one other critical element that should go without saying: that healthy breakfast also needs to be a tasty treat… otherwise, what’s the point? So now, after some brainstorming and field-testing, I’m coming here to share my top 5 healthy, quick, on-the-go balanced breakfasts that keep me powering through my weekdays!

The Mix 'N Match Box

1. The Mix-n-Match Box

This is sort of a DIY version of the protein bistro box from Starbucks; I developed a taste for those during my time-crunched grad school days, but this make-at-home version is a lot easier on the budget. It also works well for my breakfast ambivalence because I can pick at little nibbles of this and that, and I still end up with a balanced meal.

My basic formula is whole grain bread (the seed-packed sourdough stuff pictured above is my current favorite), cheese, fruit, and a boiled egg – but the mix-n-match system is a good way to use up whatever odds and ends you have on hand. Pack it all into a medium-sized tupperware container, and you have a balanced snack-breakfast, wherever your day takes you.

The Quesa-Pita
2. The Quesa-Pita

This is a really common fallback weekday breakfast for me, for two reasons. First, I pretty much always have these 4 ingredients stocked in my kitchen, and second, it’s something that will actually pique my meager morning appetite.

Use a slice (or half slice) of regular or lite cheese of your choice to cover half of a whole-grain pita bread. Place it under a broiler or in a toaster oven until melted/crisp, then add a handful of spinach and a vegetarian sausage patty (I cut mine up into a couple of slices to cover the whole sandwich). Fold it in half, wrap in a paper towel, and you’re good to go!

The PBJ Yogurt

3. The PBJ Yogurt

Have you been disappointed recently by the new PBJ flavored Greek yogurt from Trader Joe’s? If it sounded really good in your head, but didn’t meet your flavor expectations, it’s time to take things into your own hands.

I already talked about this perfect combination of plain yogurt, PB/J, wheat germ and chia seeds in my post on Eating Well After Oral Surgery, but it truly has earned a space among my go-to morning meals/snacks. For an extra-special breakfast, try it with my favorite banana jam recipe!

The Loaded Veggie Bagel

4. The Loaded Veggie Bagel

Here’s another savory sandwich that will help you get a head start on your daily servings of veggies. Baking a weekend batch of my garlic kale & feta bagels will give you an even ‘veggier’ foundation, but most of the time I use the whole wheat sprouted sesame bagels from Trader Joe’s.

Toast a whole-grain bagel (or bagel-thin, for a lower-calorie breakfast). Schmear with light cream cheese or hummus, and top with whatever fresh veggies you like or need to use up. The combination pictured above is a personal favorite, baby spinach + cucumbers + shredded carrots, but other tasty choices to mix and match include alfalfa sprouts, avocado, tomato, arugula or baby kale.

Steel Cut Muesli, California-Style

5. The Mason Jar Muesli

To finish with something sweet, here’s a simple make-ahead breakfast that happened to be the #1 most popular recipe on my blog last year. In this Steel-Cut Muesli, California-Style, the oats are soaked overnight in the fridge and eaten chilled, so they’re a great way to enjoy the benefits of oatmeal during the warmer months. In these photos I used a re-purposed jam jar, but it also works really well with half pint wide-mouth canning jars like these. They’re compact to stack in the fridge, so you can make a whole week’s worth in just one quick prep session!

So that’s what I’ve been into for breakfast lately… but I can’t finish without an appeal to you, readers: come on, help me with my breakfast problem! How do you fuel your weekdays?

Summer Living

Things have been a little quieter on this website than I like lately. Honestly, I’ve been making an effort to spend more time in the moment; quality time with Grant and with friends, enjoying the outdoors, taking more time to take care of myself. When prioritizing these (irrefutably good) pursuits, I just haven’t had as much screen time to sit down and write/photograph all the posts that I want to share with you. But don’t worry – things have been in the works, and you have lots of good stuff to look forward to!

Before July passes by in silence, I want to take a moment to catch up and chat about the things that have been feeding my spirit. I hope you can derive some inspiration, and I’d love to hear about what has been nourishing you lately too.

  • summer gardening: I really like having plants around… it just feels right. My apartment doesn’t have any outdoor space at all, but we still make room for our botanical friends with a little container garden outside our front door. This summer we’ve been maintaining our current resident herbs (parsley, mint, basil and chives), harvesting a bumper crop of jalapenos, and freshening up our window box with a blooming bunch of portulaca (gorgeous and very prolific!)
  • summer reading: I’m currently deep into Ram Dass’ Journey of Awakening and on the foodie front, I’ve also been working my way through An Everlasting Meal. Tamar Adler takes us through a leisurely discourse on ‘cooking with economy and grace,’ weaving together conventional wisdom and recipes with a sense of calm and appreciation that draws the reader to see the true beauty of simple cooking. It’s a real delight, highly recommended.
  • summer cooking: While I might have slowed down on posting, I never stop cooking! I’ve been living on fresh peaches, making lots of quick dinners with Instant Pot, experimenting with culturing my first sourdough starter, and scheming over lots of exciting healthy foods to share with all of you very soon.
  • art is another thing that nourishes my spirit on the regular, mostly because I’m lucky enough to live with a really talented artist. The image above is a painting by Grant Fraker; you can find it along with other original paintings and prints at GrantFrakersArt on Etsy (and follow along on Twitter and Instagram).

Eating Well After Oral Surgery

Ice packs. Netflix. Eating soup on the couch. Sounds like a super-fun recovery weekend, right? This year I learned from my dentist that I needed oral surgery to correct a gum recession problem (PSA: apparently this is why you shouldn’t brush your teeth too hard!) and two weeks ago, I finally went under the knife to get it fixed with what they call the “pinhole” surgery. As the operation day approached, I put some diligent thought into how to best support myself nutritionally for a speedy recovery. It was obvious that I would need to stock up on soft/easy-to-eat foods, but from a dietitian’s perspective, I couldn’t help but draw up some plans to emphasize my favorite nutrients to facilitate the healing process. And it should go without saying, that I also wanted to continue to ENJOY food while I heal… gotta keep flavor in mind to nourish the body + spirit.

Sure, you could say I’m ‘overthinking’ it for a relatively minor surgery – the doctor’s only dietary orders were to avoid crunchy and sticky foods – but on my follow-up visits, the surgeon praised my quick healing, so I’m thinking the effort was worthwhile!

Disclaimer: please understand that good nutrition is very personal; what’s good for one individual can be a problem for another. Follow the advice of your own doctor and/or dietitian, who know your particular needs and issues. This post is about my own case and experience.

So how does this registered dietitian approach her post-op recovery diet? Here are the things that went under my consideration:

Oral Surgery Post-Op Nutritional Recovery Plan

First off, for wound healing, it’s important to get enough calories and protein for your body to generate new tissue and heal. This means making an effort to eat well, to make sure that a sore mouth or poor appetite won’t lead to meal-skipping or under-eating. It also means paying special attention to build meals around healthy protein sources like eggs, lean meats/poultry, yogurt, beans, soy, etc.

Essential Nutrients for Wound Healing

But beyond those basics, there are a few other key nutrients/foods that I wanted to emphasize in my post-op  recovery plan:

Vitamin C: An essential co-factor in the generation of collagen, this nutrient is key for healing tissue. As a bonus, it’s an antioxidant so it decreases systemic oxidative stress and consequently inflammation.

  • Food Sources: tomatoes, peppers, fruits like strawberries, oranges, or pineapple

Zinc: This mineral has a structural role in many enzymes, including several that are involved in pathways for collagen formation and in supporting the immune system. It’s clinically proven that adequate zinc status is important in aiding wound healing; in hospital settings, dietitians even prescribe zinc sulfate supplements to help patients with difficult wounds. I didn’t bother with that extra expense, but I did focus on eating plenty of my favorite zinc-rich foods.

  • Food Sources: beef, beans, mushrooms, dairy, wheat germ

Anti-Inflammatory foods: Certain foods work with your body to decrease its systemic inflammatory response, while others just add more fuel to the fire. Since I knew I was going to be dealing with a lot of swelling, I did everything I could to tilt the scales in the right direction:

  • Dietary Approach:
    • more veggies, fruits, healthy fats, fish, soy, turmeric, ginger, green tea
    • less refined flours and sugars

Dietary Supplements for Recovering from Oral Surgery

I also chose to support my regimen with a couple of supplements (again, talk to your doctor or dietitian about what’s right for you). First, I picked up a bottle of probiotic supplements to help innoculate my gut with a beneficial microbiome after finishing the course of antibiotics required following the surgery. Fish oil capsules can provide an extra anti-inflammatory boost from omega 3’s, and turmeric is another anti-inflammatory ally (look for high-quality capsules that also contain black pepper / piperine, which greatly improves bioavailability). Hydrolyzed collagen powder is a convenient way to supply building blocks for your healing tissue, especially because it blends very easily into hot or cold drinks, smoothies, soups, oatmeal, and the other soft foods you’ll be enjoying.

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What to Eat After Oral Surgery

So, after I had my game plan ready, how did I work these foods into my diet? Here’s a glimpse into my week following the procedure:

Behold, the Green Smoothie Pop. I received these fun squeeze-pop molds as a get-well gift from my mom (how sweet is that? she obviously gets me.). The day before my appointment, I whizzed up a mason jar magic bullet filled with frozen banana, frozen pineapple, fresh spinach, orange juice and almond milk, and poured the blend into the tubes to freeze. It was the right thing to do. Delicious tropical flavor, soothing cold for gum pain, and the pineapple and orange juice pack a punch of vitamin C for healing!

[Instant Pot] Roasted Tomato Soup

Leading up to my surgery, I naturally ended up discussing the finer points of the mechanical soft diet with my dietitian coworkers. When the idea of golden grilled cheese saturated with creamy tomato soup came up, I just couldn’t get it out of my head. During my pre-op grocery run, the first things to get tossed into my basket were a loaf of whole-grain sourdough bread, some lovely grass-fed sharp cheddar, and an ultra-convenient box of Imagine light-sodium Garden Tomato Soup. With the bread lightly brushed with olive oil for a source of healthy fat, this meal is easy to throw together when you don’t feel like cooking, and total comfort food. Win win! And if you do feel like cooking, I must recommend my favorite tomato soup recipe: [Instant Pot] Roasted Tomato Soup.

Some Other Favorite Creamy/Hearty/Nourishing Soup Recipes:

What to Eat After Oral Surgery: Scrambled Eggs + Salsa

Scrambled eggs made appearances at both breakfast and lunch. They’re a quick/easy protein, soft, and topping with salsa doesn’t just up the flavor factor, but also adds a little extra veggies and vitamins. Every bit helps!

What to Eat After Oral Surgery: PBJ Yogurt

PBJ yogurt! I had the surgery on a Friday, and after my first weekend of healing was over, this was my staple pack-for-work breakfast the following week. Plain Greek yogurt topped with a small spoonful of strawberry jam, a larger spoonful of chunky peanut butter, a tablespoon of wheat germ (zinc!!) and a generous sprinkle of chia seeds on top. So delicious, I’m still continuing to eat this now that I have my chewing abilities back.

What to Eat After Oral Surgery: Take-Out Pho

Just to be clear that I wasn’t powering through the recovery phase cooking everything from scratch: there was definitely a life-saving order of takeout pho. It’s the only ‘fast food’ I can think of built on a foundation of nourishing bone broth! I ordered extra and lived off this for the first couple of rough recovery days, when it was awesome to be able to just nuke a quick meal whenever hunger struck.

What to Eat After Oral Surgery: Ice Cream (duh.)

Annnnd just to be clear about one other thing, there was also definitely ice cream. Duh.

Some other healthy foods that I subsisted on but wasn’t cogent enough to snap photos of: whole-wheat fusilli pasta topped with a grass-fed beef and mushroom bolognese, fork-tender broiled salmon, this black bean soup, this broccoli cheddar soup, and a simple chicken ‘noodle’ soup with tiny star-shaped pastina that made me feel like a little kid again. Lots of good eating, and although I’m still waiting for clearance to start flossing again (as a flossing fanatic I’M GOING CRAZY OVER HERE!) I’m pretty much back to normal now!

I hope this post will help other people trying to figure out what to eat after oral surgery. If you have any other words of wisdom, please share in the comments!

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5 New Ways to Love Quinoa

QUINOA. This little seed can bring a lot to the table. Not only is it a source of complete protein and rich in essential nutrients, but it’s also easy to cook to perfection, and the leftovers taste just as delicious as ever after days in the fridge. You will never regret setting aside a few minutes for weekend food prep to cook up a big batch of quinoa. When we supply ourselves with the right go-to ingredients, we set ourselves up for success to keep our kitchens stocked with healthy meals to count on all week long. Invest in your future!

This week’s surplus of healthy whole-grain inspiration comes from a blog collaboration with Rachael and Cara of Nutrition Milestones (remember them?). We got together last weekend for a cooking jam-session of sorts, and seriously, how great is my food nerd life that I’m lucky enough to have found other people who consider this a good time? Read on to learn what comes out of the kitchen when 3 RDs join forces to come up with some fresh takes on our favorite healthy staple!

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