The concept of a “cheat day” is pretty common in the health and fitness world. As a personal trainer, I would typically recommend that clients follow an 80/20 rule [eating clean 80% of the time and loosening up the other 20%], which basically allowed some wiggle room in the diet for weekends or nights out or their kid’s birthday party. For many people, knowing they can have a “cheat meal” really helps them to maintain a healthier diet the rest of the week.
Not so for me.
Unfortunately, a cheat meal for me turns into a cheat day, then to cheat weekend, then a cheat week…and so on. Just when I get into a good system of not snacking after dinner, only having one drink a week, and no sugary candy, cheat day shows up and throws me off my game. So frustrating!
My food weaknesses are: sour gummy worms, spicy garlic wings, McDonald’s French fries, chips with queso, and ice cream [any kind or flavor will do]. For some reason, when “cheat day” rolls around, I convince myself that I must eat ALL of these things in one day. You would think it was my last meal on earth….
[Of course, I am doing this to myself.]
So, I have decided to get rid of the whole idea of “cheating.”
Last year I read the book, Four Pack Revolution, and in it Chael Sonnen talks about having a “reset meal” once a week [instead of a “cheat meal”]. The difference is really just in the name, but it helps psychologically. I’m not “cheating” on my diet and throwing all of my health goals out the window, but instead I’m “resetting” so I can re-focus on my goals.
We’ll see if this mind trick works.
Oh, but I WILL be having a small dessert on Mother’s Day [a mini chocolate raspberry tart that I intend to make for myself] and a slice of cake for my birthday [which I will also make because I love baking cakes, so happy birthday to me].
Oh wait, there’s more!
I’m also going to save movie candy for the movies ONLY. I have a real problem with eating family size bags of chewy, sugary, preferably sour candy. This started a decade ago when I was running 45 miles a week and putting in six hours of cardio at the gym on top of that…and gosh darn it, my body needed those carbs! [Well, truthfully, it needed healthy carbs, but back then I was nutritionally illiterate.] So today I am still struggling with that same bad habit I developed all those years ago.
That habit has got to go! 👋 Bub-bye!
So, I’ll save my bag of candy for when I go to the movie theater [which is very rare now that I have to drive 45 MINUTES TO THE NEAREST THEATER!!].
My healthy goal for February is to serve a salad with every dinner.
It’s no secret that I am a lover of salads. I’ve posted many, many times about them. They are my favorite way to eat a lot of fresh, raw veggies.
Healthy Salad Dressings
I have been making my own salad dressings for years and I highly, HIGHLY recommend it. It is better for your health, better for your wallet, and allows you the freedom to customize a dressing that’s perfect for you. I usually mix the dressing right in my salad bowl, but sometimes I do make it ahead for when I’m taking a salad to dinner at a friend’s house.
To make, put equal parts olive oil and vinegar of choice in a jar with a lid. Add salt and pepper to taste, and a little bit of dijon [or any kind] mustard. Then shake to combine.
This dressing is customizable in a million different ways by using different vinegars, adding different spices/herbs, and adding lemon [or other citrus] juice.
Healthier Homemade Ranch
Like pretty much all kids, my kids like ranch. They like the vinaigrettes that I make too, but ranch is their favorite. I make my own healthier version by mixing the following seasonings into plain Greek yogurt: parsley, garlic, onion, dill, chives, salt and pepper. Use equal amounts parsley, garlic and onion. About half the amount of dill. Even less chives [this can be omitted altogether]. Then salt and pepper to taste.
Or you can just buy the ranch dip package at the store – but why when you have everything you need in your cupboard already???
Vegan Green Goddess Dressing
This is a recipe that I got from America’s Test Kitchen, The Complete Plant Based Cookbook, but of course I’ve modified it.
I basically soak a cup of raw cashews in hot water for 30 minutes, then blend with 3/4 cup water, fresh lemon juice from one lemon, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley flakes, salt, pepper [and whatever other seasonings I feel like] until smooth. I add water if it’s too thick.
So far this month, we’ve had side salads, taco salad, and “salad pizza” [which is just salad on top of my homemade pizza dough – more like a flatbread]. I’ve even had a “smoothie salad” – don’t ask. And my kids keep asking me for their favorite: chickpea salad.
Looking forward to this month of raw veggie salads!
Today, I’m writing a personal letter to share about a big change I’ve made in my personal life in the last month.
I quit veganism.
Before all my vegan readers swear me off for good, let me explain…
When it comes to what I eat, I’ve been on quite a journey, which began over ten years ago when I decided to get healthy and led me all the way to the past year of being vegan. I’ve read books, watched documentaries, studied nutrition in formal classes and on my own. All of this has lead me to improve my eating habits by eliminating processed foods, making food from scratch, buying fresh, whole foods, choosing organic whenever possible, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables every day, reducing meat and dairy, increasing plant-based foods, and so on.
Then last year I became convinced of the ethical and sustainable imperative to stop eating animal products, and so I did. I read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, which shared horrifying details about the conditions in which American food animals are raised and slaughtered. I watched David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet, which described how our choices as humans are impacting the planet and in which he states that the simplest thing we can do to combat climate change is stop eating meat. Other sources of information are How Not to Die, by Dr. Michael Greger, the short film Meet Your Meat, and the documentary The Game Changers. These [and other] sources of information led me to a year of veganism.
All of that is still true, but I’ve realized that meat and eggs in small quantities from ethical, sustainable, and local sources are an important part of a well-balanced diet and so I became determined to find a source of meat that wouldn’t violate any of my ethical and sustainable standards.
[There are several sources of information that led me to this change including: RealFood by Nina Planck and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver – the latter of which has a very compelling argument for eating local, sustainable meat.]
After much searching, I found a farm about an hour away that raises 100% grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chickens, turkeys, and lambs. Early one morning, we drove up to the farm for a tour. We met the animals, stood in the chicken coop, held the freshly laid eggs, and I immediately knew that this was a farm I could support. So we started purchasing meat from them.
As you may guess, buying meat from a local farm is expensive, so we buy limited quantities, only have meat once or twice a week, and make sure to fill up on plant-based foods at meals.
Though I am not vegan anymore, the past year of veganism has been totally transformative for me and my family. Because of the past year, we no longer think of meals as requiring a meat, and we now know how to prepare various delicious plant-based meals. I have become a pretty decent vegan baker and most of my baking will remain vegan forever. Even my [previously] “meat and potatoes” partner has embraced almond milk, tofu, tempeh, and cashew cheese.
For some people, finding and affording ethical, sustainable, and local meat products will be impossible. If it were impossible for me, I would remain vegan. It is not worth the cost to my health or the health of the planet to eat meat from factory farms. So if the only meat available to you is full of antibiotics, raised in inhumane and unsanitary conditions, and fed a diet of grains and dead animals, veganism is still the best and healthiest option. BUT the more we use our dollars to vote for a healthier and more ethical food supply, the more ethical and sustainable meat will be come available to everyone.
We all have to make the best choice we can with what is available to us.
[I’m kidding about vegan carb-cycling being a starvation diet…but only partially kidding. When your going low carb as a vegan, the pickin’s are slim.]
Since I’ve been talking a lot recently about what I eat, I thought I’d mention that I recently gave a new dieting fad, carb-cycling, a try. When I first started doing this, I scoured the internet for information on carb-cycling for vegans and found very little info and basically no personal experiences, so I’m here to share my story for any vegans wanting to give carb-cycling a try.
What is carb-cycling?
Truthfully, carb-cycling isn’t new. This method of rotating macronutrients to get super lean has been a part of body-building for a long time. It’s only just recently become mainstream, popularized by the ever-growing community of online fitness professionals.
Historically, carb-cycling has been very strict and, admittedly, very unhealthy as a long term diet. But it is so effective at getting body builders in prime shape for competition day, that many, many people put their bodies through this unnatural regimen in order to compete.
Now, however, carb-cycling has been modified to fit the every-day fitness buff who wants to get lean without giving up all the foods they love.
Here’s how it works:
You basically divide up your week into carb days and no-carb [or in my case, low-carb] days. The exact ratio depends on your goals, but if you’re looking to get cut or lose weight, you will have more no-carb days. My plan was to have two low-carb days followed by one carb day and then repeat. This is a pretty typical carb-cycle for every day fitness. On the no [or low] carb days, less than 20% of total caloric intake should be from carbs. And on the carb days, you can eat as many carbs as you want. In fact, you are encouraged to eat a lot of carbs so that your body doesn’t think you’re starving it.
Without getting to science-y on you, carb cycling works because if you don’t feed your body carbs, it will choose an alternative energy source to burn [ideally fat], which is good for losing weight…until your body realizes that you’re not going to give it any carbs and then it freaks out and starts burning as little fuel as possible to conserve energy stores. In other words, your metabolism will go to shit if you go without carbs for too long. So, by only giving your body carbs every few days, you keep it from going into survival mode on you and your body continues to burn fat [fingers crossed].
That’s the theory behind carb cycling, anyway. And I can tell you as a student of a previous body builder, carb cycling is definitely affective. However, the question always is…at what cost?
Carb-Cycling for Vegans
I’ll just tell you right off the bat, most people doing this are not vegans because nearly everything that vegans eat is high in carbs. Vegetables are mostly carbs, legumes have a ton of carbs, grains obviously are high in carbs. It’s actually really challenging to find low carb vegan foods. A typical low- or no-carb day would consist of lots of meat and cheese – the only two food groups that have no carbs. Of course there are also some fat foods like avocados, nuts, and oils, but you can really only eat so much of those things.
So basically, if you want to attempt this as a vegan, you are in for a challenge. Is it doable? Yes. Is it easy? No.
Foods I could eat on low-carb days:
Leafy greens and other low carb vegetables
Low carb fruit [of which there are not many]
What my food typically looked like:
Breakfast: tofu scramble with spinach
Lunch: salad with oil and vinegar and avocado
Snack: mixed nuts
Dinner: vegetable stir-fry
Breakfast: vegan keto bar [these things are NOT yummy]
Lunch: an avocado, tomatoes with oil and vinegar
Snack: two tablespoons natural peanut butter
Dinner: green goddess salad with tofu
What my low-carb macros typically looked like:
I managed to eat 1000-1200 calories per day [which is not enough for me with exercise] and I managed to maintain this carb-to-fat ratio. But it was HARD. It was hard to eat enough calories. It was hard to find foods that I could eat that didn’t have carbs so I ended up eating a lot of the same things. And I mean, A LOT.
But…I did it.
However, there was a downside.
My carb-cycling experience
Besides the question of whether carb-cycling is doable, I needed to ask is this healthy?
Based on my experience – No.
At least, not for me, not right now.
As a fitness professional and health nut, I’m always interested in trying new things, but this messed me up. I was originally planning to try it for a month, but I only lasted two weeks.
To start with, I had intense stomach cramping for the first few nights as my body rebelled against this no-carb idea. Then I bonked on a five mile run for the first time in my life. A FIVE MILE RUN! [For my non-runner friends, to “bonk,” or hit the wall, is when you run out of energy stores in your muscles and basically feel like you can’t go another step.] In all my years of running long distances, I’ve never hit a wall like that before. I could barely workout on my low-carb days, and forget about cardio. So I would workout like crazy on my carb days, but I like to exercise six days a week, so a sudden switch to only two days was just not working for me.
Besides physical pain and lethargy, I was only eating a handful of foods, when before I was eating the rainbow of plant-based options. And the work required to maintain this diet made it completely unappealing.
Of course, the carb days were fine. I could eat like I always did [except I would avoid all fats], but there were so few of them that I constantly felt weak and slow and lazy. I think advocates for this way of eating would tell you that it gets better as your body adjusts, but I really had no reason to continue to torture myself. I don’t need to lose weight. I’m not training for a bikini competition.
Basically, I don’t want it that bad.
We live in a carb-hating society right now. I’ve worked with many trainers and athletes [even ultra marathoners and Ironman competitors] who never eat any carbs. They live on lean meats and dairy with a side of leafy greens. And that works for them. [Though I could write a whole post about the negative impacts of low-carb diet on athletic performance.] As for me, I prefer to fuel my exercise with carbs – plant-based, whole food carbs.
So, anyway, my advice to vegans wanting to carb-cycle: proceed with caution.
So, I have a confession to make: I’ve gained weight since going vegan last October. Not like crazy amounts of weight, just five or so fluctuating pounds, but that’s enough for me to realize that despite my rigorous 6-days-per-week workout schedule, I’m going in the wrong direction. This is NOT to say that weight is the only indicator of health, by the way, but I know that my eating habits are not as healthy as they once were…or as they should be.
This realization [or revelation] made me re-examine my diet [aka what and how I eat] to find weaknesses. And I found one alright.
[I found other problems too, which I may share about at another time.]
The biggest problem was veganism.
My Vegan Story
Just so you know, I’m not a nutritionist, doctor or scientist – though I wish I were one [or all] of these things. I’m just a health fanatic who has been studying [and trying out and fine-tuning] my own healthy eating habits for the past ten years. I’ve also been a personal trainer for the past six years, which has taught me a lot about what motivates and influences people’s eating decisions.
I became a full-fledged vegan last year after flirting with veganism for about three years. The final decision was in response to climate change and the obvious havoc that meat consumption is wreaking on the planet. My side reasons were to no longer be complicit in the unethical treatment of animals, feeling much better when eating vegan, and the health benefits of avoiding meat.
Since making the switch, I’ve been writing a lot about being vegan, posting vegan recipes, discussing being vegan with kids, and sharing what my meals look like. However, now it’s time to address the elephant in the room: Is being vegan healthy?
The Problem with Veganism
It’s a common misconception that vegan is synonymous with healthy. While it’s true that eating meat – especially too much and factory farmed meat – has negative health consequences, does that necessarily mean that cutting out all animal products is more healthful?
The short answer: no, unfortunately, it doesn’t.
The major problem with veganism is that lots of unhealthy foods are vegan. Veganism [or plant-based, if you prefer] as a diet isn’t necessarily healthy because plenty of unhealthy foods are vegan. Check out this list:
Potato chips [cheese free]
Dairy-free ice creams
Lucky Charms, Cocoa Pebbles, Frosted Flakes [and many, many other junk cereals]
Laffy Taffy candy [and many other types of candy]
Olive Garden breadsticks
Highly processed vegan alternatives to meat products
And the list goes on and on.
I remember the first time Brett and I went out together after I became vegan and the only thing I could eat on the entire menu was French fries. So, guess what I had for dinner? French fries. Would anyone call that a healthy meal?
[In retrospect, I probably could have ordered a plate of lettuce without any dressing and a side of steamed broccoli, but seriously, would you choose that over French fries???]
So, what I’ve noticed is that, if something is vegan, I’ll eat it because…well, it’s vegan and there aren’t as many options available for me. However, this has lead to me eating a lot of things that I ordinarily wouldn’t.
I hadn’t eaten French fries foryears before I became a vegan because under no circumstances [other than starvation and literally nothing else available] are French fries a healthful choice. I also had long ago given up burgers and chips and sugary candy, because they are also really worthless foods. And I’ve already expounded on how much I loathe cereal for being a total waste of a food in a previous post.
And yet, here I am eating vegan burgers with a side of fries like it’s totally okay.
I reached this point honestly, though. I was so focused on eating only what is vegan, that I totally forgot about eating what is vegan and healthy.
So, I’ve realized that in order to be a vegan [for all the very important moral, ethical, and health reasons] andto be healthy and live a long, productive, active, disease-free life, I have to tweak my version of veganism a little bit. I have to make it work for me in the healthiest way possible.
My Version of Veganism
So now that I’ve realized that veganism doesn’t mean it’s ok to eat anything that doesn’t list animal products on the label, I’m recommitting myself to a vegan diet that means: zero animal products [that’s pretty obvious] and also zero processed foods [of which there are tons in the vegan section of the grocery store] and zero added sugar [which is definitely a vice for vegans – even if it is organic and not processed using bone char].
I’m making an exception for some processed vegan meats because they really make veganism more accessible for my family [aka my partner, Brett], but I will mostly avoid them – even tofu, tempeh, vegan sausage [which I actually like way more than I ever liked real sausage], and vegan meat alternatives.
So what will I eat?
Well, It’s time to go back to…[drum roll, please]… my vegetable-only diet! I’ve done some form of this diet for roughly a month each year since 2018…and it’s time to bring it back, but this time with a vegan twist.
I will eat vegetables [lots and lots and lots of them], fruit, legumes, nuts, and the occasional whole grain [like quinoa, brown rice, oats, and 100% whole grain bread].
To live a truly healthy lifestyle, vegans have to not only pass up the animal products, but also the processed vegan alternatives, sugary snacks, and junk foods that are common in the vegan food aisle. These items, which are fine as exceptions, shouldn’t be diet staples.
I’ll post later with more details about my [nearly] vegetable-only diet, but in the meantime, I just wanted to encourage any other vegans out there who, like me, want to be the healthiest they can be, to put down the vegan breakfast bars, bag of pretzels, and dairy-free Haagen Das, and instead, pick up carrot sticks with hummus, a whole apple, or banana “ice cream.”
Until the last few years, I’ve always hated cooking, partly because I was terrible at it and partly because it seemed like a huge waste of time. But over the past few years, as I’ve embraced low-waste living and Veganism, I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of learning how to cook healthy food that tastes good. And nowadays, I don’t even follow recipes. I view them more as guidelines. I like to go off script and make something that fits my families tastes and also uses up all the leftovers and loose veggies in the fridge.
Basically, I’m a scrappy cook. I do best when you give me a bunch of random food items and tell me that it will all be thrown in the trash if I don’t make something edible out of it. Nothing gets my creative juices flowing faster than the threat of food waste.
But still, our meal routine has gotten pretty boring. We, like most families, have a handful of meals that we eat every week. Our rotation consisted of bean burrito bowls, vegan burgers, tempeh veggie stir-fry, pasta, vegetable bean or potato soup, and usually a homemade vegan pizza night.
I was feeling like we needed some more variety in our meal plan. I wanted to try out some new meals and see if we could add some to our rotation, which is why I texted a picture of this book to Brett and very subtly hinted that I would like it for my birthday. Actually, I said “Hey, I want this book.” [My man doesn’t do subtle.]
So I picked some new recipes to try, made a shopping list, and got busy.
[All the recipes below are from this cookbook unless otherwise noted.]
Here’s the result:
June 4: Coffee Cake
First up – vegan coffee cake. It’s been a long time since I’ve made a coffee cake, but I was excited to try this vegan version in place of our usual banana muffins. It was delicious. I made it the evening for breakfast the next morning. I sent several pieces to work with Brett and the kids and I ate the rest.
Would have been even better if I was drinking coffee…but there’s that whole “only drinking water for a year” thing. So I’m logging this one away to definitely try on January 1, 2022 with a cup of coffee.
June 5: Brussels Sprouts Hash
I love a good hash. I’ve made varieties of hashes before – usually using up whatever I have available – but this time I followed the book and used carrots, potatoes, and Brussels sprouts [my favorite vegetable].
Everyone loved it. Two thumbs up. 👍👍
June 6: Vegan [Baked] French Toast
This is the first time I’ve made vegan French toast. I was surprised that the recipe had me bake the bread slices in order to get them crispy, but they turned out perfectly and are a lot easier than our usual Sunday morning breakfast of pancakes.
Also, I was able to use up half a loaf of homemade whole wheat bread that was nearing its expiration.
Using up old food while making new food! Win-win!
June 6: Penne with Roasted Red Pepper Pesto
We typically have a pasta dish once a week – usually a box of noodles and a jar of vegan tomato sauce [gotta check the label on pasta sauce jars – they sometimes hide dairy]. But I knew I could do better. And this sounded delicious.
Admittedly, it was not the kids’ favorite pasta sauce but they all cleaned their plates [or bowls in this case]. So it couldn’t have been that bad. I, on the other hand, LOVED it, especially since it is an easy sauce I can make from scratch with just red peppers, one tomato, some garlic and seasonings – oh, and cashews for vegan ricotta. I’ll definitely be making this again.
I ended up with a jar of extra sauce too, for next time!
June 7: Nora’s Birthday
This cutie turned two on June 7th so we had burgers [vegan for me] and hot dogs at my in-laws’ house to celebrate.
But I did make these vegan cupcakes – my first time making vegan cupcakes and they turned out pretty well! The recipe is from Nora Cooks [my go-to blog for vegan recipes] – Vegan Vanilla Cupcakes. For the vegan frosting, I just used plant butter and powdered sugar, vanilla, and a pinch of salt [no recipe, just winging it]. I filled the cupcakes with mini m&ms and rainbow colored jimmies for a fun surprise for the kids.
June 8: Tofu Rancheros
This is the only meal that I will definitely not be making again because it was waaaaay too much work and took waaaaay too long. I doubled the recipe, because it said four servings, but definitely didn’t need to. I thought it was tasty. My partner liked it. My son loved it [and ate all the leftovers] but my daughters, not so much.
June 9: Moroccan Chickpea and Lentil Soup
This soup was pretty good. I loved the combination of chickpeas, lentils and orzo – along with the veggies. However, I would have chosen to just throw in any veggies I want and probably season a little differently. But it was good and my kids all finished their bowls [some even asked for more].
I ate the leftovers for lunch over the next few days [with hot sauce – perfecto!]
June 10: Vegan Chocolate Mousse
Thursday evenings are busy with two Taekwondo classes back-to-back, so I’ve made it an unofficial leftover night. BUT I was dying to use the aquafaba from the can of chickpeas from the night before, so after lunch I whipped up some vegan chocolate mousse to have after dinner.
[Aquafaba is the cooking liquid from beans. Apparently chickpeas are best. You can use the liquid from the can or cook your own chickpeas. I’ve done it both ways and works great.]
This recipe doesn’t come from the book. I actually didn’t use a recipe, but there are some online. All I do is whip aquafaba until it forms peaks, then slowly add sugar one tablespoon at a time until it taste good [I’ve never counted how many tablespoons it takes – maybe 10-12]. Then I mix some cocoa powder with melted coconut oil and beat that into the aquafaba until it’s incorporated. Then refrigerate it until it sets.
My kids love this stuff, and I do too.
Never ever pour aquafaba down the drain!
June 11: Thin Crust Pizza with Mushrooms and Ricotta
Meet my new favorite pizza. This was DELICIOUS! I like mushrooms on my pizza anyway, but these are cooked and seasoned with soy in advance and then topped with a vegan ricotta and lemon mixture that is SO GOOD.
Brett doesn’t like mushrooms, so I made him and the kids two different pizzas.
Being vegan doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy pizza!! We love pizza night and we all enjoy our vegan varieties!
Side note: I didn’t use the cook book recipe for pizza crust [which I do want to try] because it has to chill overnight and I didn’t plan ahead. So I used my favorite recipe instead, which can be found at Sugar Spun Run — “The Best Pizza Dough Recipe.” I double this recipe for my family of six, but we do usually have some pizza leftover.
Homemade pizza dough is the BEST!
June 12: Green Goodness Salad with Tofu
This cookbook has an excellent recipe for a cashew-based cream dressing, which I love. It was delicious. And the salad was hearty enough with the broccoli, tofu, and avocado to feel like a really well-rounded [and super healthy] dinner. [I subbed peas for edamame, because I couldn’t find it anywhere in my small town.]
Even the kids all loved it. I’ve decided to add a hearty salad for dinner into our weekly rotation.
As delightful as this food has been, I’m looking forward to returning to my quick and easy [and boring] routine of roasting whatever vegetables I have and serving them with rice [I kid…kind of]. But I have learned some new tricks and picked up some good meal ideas for the future.
Also – I didn’t get compensated in any way for trying these recipes or sharing them with you. [I don’t make a dime off this blog.] But I do recommend the cookbook for anyone whose meal plan has become a little…repetitive.
Now that I’m a vegan, I have to face my own inconsistencies about how I feed my kids.
For years I was a moderate vegan or “vegan before six,” and I never changed my kids diet. We have always eaten a lot of vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes anyway. But my kids also got yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, chicken nuggets, burgers, ice cream and even the occasional macaroni and cheese. It didn’t seem so bad.
Now, however, I’m fully vegan because of my own personal convictions about the healthful, ethical and environmental necessity of a fully plant-based diet – so how can I, with a clear conscience, feed my kids animal products?
[Side note to clarify my statement above: I believe it is unhealthy to eat meat in the large quantities that we do in America, and I believe that it is unethical because our demand for large quantities of cheap meat has caused significant suffering for the animals we consume, and I believe that meat and animal products are the leading cause of damage to our planet. I am not saying that any meat at any time ever is wrong or unhealthy, but rather that in this current time with our current systems in place and our current ecosystems at stake, it is best – even necessary – to be vegan. I wrote in more depth about my reasons for becoming vegan in my post Why I’m Going Vegan [and why you should too]]
I obviously want my kids to be healthy. In fact, I care even more about their health than my own [hence why I hide the junk food for after they are in bed…and maybe partly so I don’t have to share…], so if I believe that Veganism is the healthiest and most ethical way of eating, am I wrong for feeding my kids the traditional American diet of Mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, and go-gurt?
But on the other hand, is it right of me to force them into a vegan lifestyle [purely by omission of all animal products]? Will they feel like they are “missing out”? Will they resent me?
But then again, is it right to raise them to be carnivores? Will they later ask me why I forced them to eat poor butchered animals? Will they resent me?
Do you see my dilemma?!?
Reflecting on this made me think about my own upbringing. I was raised in an omnivorous [mostly carnivorous] family and no one bothered to ask me whether I wanted to eat animals or drink their fluid secretions or not. I was given cows milk from the moment I stopped nursing until…well, milk was a big staple in my childhood home. We consumed at least a gallon per week. Meat was the main component of every meal and ice cream was the dessert of choice after every meal.
So basically, we ate like typical Americans.
And I’m not mad at my parents in the least for feeding me animals. They fed me and I am immensely grateful. But now that I have a choice, I choose not to eat animals, which is different than my family, my partner’s family, and, quite frankly, every other human being I know on the planet […except one coworker once].
Maybe that’s what’s so tough about choosing veganism for my family – it is different, and different is a little scary. Honestly, I don’t mind making choices for myself that go against the grain [I rather enjoy it, in fact], but it’s harder to make those choices for my kids, knowing that my choices will greatly influence their worldviews and their lifelong habits. Even if I believe it’s the best thing to do, I know that it won’t always be received well. [So help me, if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me how I get enough protein…] I know that my kids will eventually realize that they are different and I don’t want to force them to be outsiders.
As parents, we make a lot of choices for our kids. I, personally, make a lot of controversial and unpopular choices for my kids [at least in my circles]. So maybe choosing to feed them only plant-based foods will not be any different than my decision to, say, not take them to church or not hit [aka “spank”] them or not circumcise my son or any of the other ways that we choose to do things differently than other families.
What is most important to me is that the choices I make for my kids are intentional, not merely the result of “going with the flow,” not just doing it because everyone else does or because that’s how it’s always been done, and not eating without considering why and where and how and how much and to what end.
I’ve come to discover that eating, like everything else in life, is a moral choice. And what I feed my kids is an even greater moral responsibility.
So, I am going to switch my family to a vegan diet when we are at home. I am not going to be the meat nazi at restaurants or the rude guests at dinner parties, I promise.
I am going to model healthy eating habits, including not binging on junk food, not snacking late at night, not starving myself, and not eating animal products. I am not going to force my kids to become vegans nor discourage them from eating a wide variety of foods.
I am going to make vegan food delicious and exciting by trying all the recipes and being creative. I am not going to be heartbroken if my kids don’t love being vegan and choose a carnivorous lifestyle for themselves.
I am going to be flexible and course-correct if this plan doesn’t serve my family best and I am not going to be upset about it.
Anyone else rethinking how they feed their kids????
I bet there are vegans out there who are lucky enough to be surrounded by other vegans, or at least know some other vegans. And they probably had tofurkey for Thanksgiving with vegan stuffing and steamed vegetables and dinner rolls with vegan butter.
Well, that’s not how it happened for me.
Unfortunately, not a single other member of my family, my extended family, or even my partner’s extended family is so much as on a diet, let alone vegan. Same goes for my small group of friends. So this year, at my in-laws Thanksgiving feast, there was only one thing on the entire menu that wasn’t either cooked in, slathered with, or dunked in some sort of animal product.
…and that was the dish that I brought…
So, this is what my thanksgiving meal looked like:
[This is a dessert plate, ya’ll.]
I roasted sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts using only extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. [And I could only have a roll because my mother-in-law set aside one for me before they were all coated in melted butter.]
Everyone else ate turkey, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, corn, ambrosia, and dinner rolls.
Dessert was obviously much worse, but I still got into the holiday spirit with my cinnamon glazed pecans.
Of course everyone else had pumpkin pie, apple pie, chocolate mousse pie, cupcakes, ice cream, and sugar cookies.
While it might sound like I missed out, in reality it felt really good not to stuff myself to the brim and then top it off with a round of desserts. I had everything I needed for a delicious thanksgiving meal: vegetables, bread, and my candied pecans for dessert. It was actually a really good holiday.
My Thanksgiving didn’t look like it has in years past, but I was totally okay with that.
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving with family or friends. And, despite the year it’s been, I hope everyone could recall all of the reasons we have to be thankful. For me, it was my health, my privilege, my sweet children, my partner and our exciting new adventure that is just beginning!
As promised in my last post [Simplifying Veganism], I’m back to talk about how I eat at restaurants as a vegan. There are already plenty of good resources out there that provide vegan restaurant lists and menu modifications for popular restaurants [like this list of Vegan Restaurant Options by PETA] so I won’t rehash specifics. [BUT, did you know that Olive Garden breadsticks are VEGAN?!? That’s not real butter, folks!!!! See? Being vegan ain’t that bad!]
Instead of specific lists or menu options, I just want to share how I go about figuring out what to eat at restaurants – something that might be considered a stressful experience for many people.
In order to eat vegan at restaurants, I follow a three-step plan, which goes as follows:
1. Plan ahead. This is rule number one for eating healthy in general, so I’ve been practicing this for years. Before I go to a restaurant, I look up the menu and make a choice before getting seated and seeing all the pictures of spinach and artichoke dips and bacon avocado burgers. If there aren’t any vegan menu items, I begin to look for ways I can alter meals to make them vegan. For instance, pizza usually becomes vegan by opting for no cheese, which may not sound like pizza, but is a super satisfying way to partake in family pizza night – and get your fill of vegetables. [My kids like my vegan pizza as well!]
[Side note: we LOVE making homemade pizzas and a while back we started making a salad pizza, which is basically just salad on top of baked pizza crust and it is DELICIOUS! Though I suspect it should technically be classified as a flatbread, it is a great way to feel like you are eating pizza, even when you’re not.]
2. Try to find a vegan-friendly restaurant. These little up-and-coming gems need our support, so if it’s in your power to choose the restaurant, go for the cute vegan shop on the corner. If you, like me, have nothing but Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen, and McDonalds at your disposal, then just move on to step number three.
3. Get Creative. One night my husband and I had a rare opportunity to go out without the kids [!!!!] and we wound up at Applebee’s. Turns out the only things that are vegan at Applebee’s are the French fries and the wedge salad [without the dressing, of course, which pretty much just makes it a wedge of lettuce]. So, I ate French fries.
Let’s clarify a common misconception while we’re on the topic. Being vegan does not equal healthy. Yes, it does avoid a lot of unhealthy foods, but there are still plenty of unhealthy foods available for vegans. For instance, sugar is vegan, margarine is vegan, skittles and starburst are vegan, French fries are vegan, Haagen Daz dairy-free ice cream is vegan and absolutely AMAZING, but also most definitely not healthy in the least. And did I mention, Olive Garden breadsticks are vegan?!? So clearly, vegan and healthful are not synonymous.
Now, back to the Applebee’s French fries…
That night, I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of steps one and two. However, I also learned that you can always find something vegan or ask for something to be made vegan.
Here are some of the ways I find vegan options at restaurants [organized by cuisine type]:
Soup and sandwich shops like Subway and Panera and Jimmy Johns are great for vegans. Pretty much every sandwich shop nowadays has a vegetarian option and usually all you have to do is ask for no cheese and you’ve got a vegan sandwich. Vegetable or bean soups are also usually vegan.
Mexican restaurants are really good choices because Mexican foods are easily made vegan by swapping beans for the meat and holding the cheese. I LOVE Mexican food and I am SO GLAD that I can go to pretty much any Mexican restaurant and order a vegan taco loaded with beans and vegetables and spicy salsa and guacamole mmmmm yum! And the chips are usually vegan too. [Always check, of course.]
Sushi and poke bowl restaurants like Poke Bros and Wok ‘n Fire have vegan California rolls or create your own options that can be easily made vegan.
Pretty much any pizza place as I’ve already mentioned can easily make a vegan pizza by holding the cheese. Most pizza places have vegan crusts and marinara.
Breakfast and brunch restaurants usually have oatmeal as a menu option and bagels are also usually vegan [pass on the cream cheese obviously].
[Another side note: pancakes and muffins and quick breads can very easily be made vegan and while my kids and partner are not vegan, it doesn’t hurt them to eat that way so I have switched all my baking over to vegan recipes – and, you may be surprised to hear that Brett has given glowing reviews of my vegan banana muffins calling them the best I’ve ever made! I’ve also switched my kids to almond or oat milk for cereal in the mornings – which they only get on weekends – because they can’t even tell a difference!]
American restaurants often have a veggie burger available, but if not, salads sans cheese and meat and with a vegan dressing is a good option. Also, there are typically vegetable sides that are vegan – plate of steamed broccoli, anyone?
Pasta and Italian restaurants are easy to eat at because noodles and marinara are typically vegan. Pass on the cheese and the meatballs, but enjoy a filling plate of spaghetti. Of course, I wouldn’t constitute that as a very healthy meal, but it is vegan. I love that Noodles and Company has started offering zoodles [spiralized zucchini noodles] in place of traditional spaghetti for the more health-conscious people like myself. I would much prefer a bowl of zucchini over a bowl of refined carbohydrates.
So, that’s my simple plan for eating vegan out [or, thanks to covid, ordering in].
Stay tuned for a post about what I eat at this years Thanksgiving gathering with my carnivorous in-laws.
When I first tried a vegan diet, about two years ago, I began by searching for vegan recipes on Pinterest. The results were disappointing – tofu nuggets, cauliflower Alfredo, eggplant lasagna, and vegan “crab” cakes. Turns out that a lot of the vegan food out there is just a creative twist on a classic. But I wanted to be vegan without having to go to the grocery store and fill my entire fridge with vegan versions of all the foods I used to eat. I didn’t want to eat processed foods that came packaged in a box or freezer bag.
I wanted to eat food that was simple and natural, not complex and unusual.
[Next week, I’ll be sharing how I’ve been managing to eat vegan while dining out – which originally seemed like such a daunting task I didn’t even want to go out to eat, but now I’ve come to enjoy the challenge – and the food.]
I’m still eating oatmeal every morning. I just love oatmeal! Ever since I took control of my health [twelve years ago now – sheesh!], I’ve been eating a quarter cup of oatmeal with fresh fruit and a teaspoon of brown sugar and cinnamon for nearly every breakfast. There are exceptions of course, but I have consumed A LOT of oatmeal. So this part of my diet has not changed.
Oatmeal is a great breakfast because in the morning your body needs a healthy carbohydrate for energy that also contains protein and is filling. Oatmeal checks all the boxes. The only risk with oatmeal is overdoing it with sugar or sweeteners, so adding fresh fruits [which are obviously also full of health benefits] sweetens oatmeal naturally.
I do keep on hand homemade oat milk or almond milk for my kids to have cereal [only on the weekends because, ya’ll, cereal is NOT real food] or to make vegan banana muffins or vegan pancakes – none of which are particularly healthy due to the high sugar content, but at least there are some other options for special occasions.
You could get all funky and make vegan sweet potatoes and black bean breakfast burritos…but who has that kind of energy in the morning???
I’m still eating a salad every day for lunch. The only exception is when I eat leftovers.
This is pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll tell you why I [nearly] always eat a salad for lunch: because eating raw vegetables is super important and the easiest way to eat raw vegetables is in a salad.
I always start with a green [romaine, spinach, kale, and butter lettuce are my favorites] and then pile on all the vegetables I have in my fridge [carrots, peppers, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, capers, olives, etc].
Salads are a great way to load up on a variety of fresh vegetables; however, they are often soaked in sugary dressings which turn what would be a healthy meal into a calorie bomb. [Side note: in restaurants, I always order a vegan dressing on the side and skip the meat, croutons, tortilla strips, cheese, etc.] At home, I always make my own salad dressing which, at its simplest, can be a squeeze of fresh lemon juice or, if I’m feeling fancy, a homemade vinaigrette. But I usually just drizzle some olive oil and vinegar and call it a day.
Here’s where things get a little…shall we say, weird.
This is a vegan skillet that Brett made using rice, apples, onions, Swiss chard, and some seasonings. He stuffed it into roasted delicata squashes. If this sounds strange to you, it did to me too, but it was delicious. That night, the whole family was vegan and I think we should get bonus points because not a single food was processed.
The next night my family had pasta with a store bought sauce that was not vegan, so I set aside some noodles to have with vegan butter. Store-bought noodles are typically vegan, but highly processed and containing very little nutrition, so I typically avoid them altogether – except in rare instances like this. I also had leftover sautéed vegetables [zucchini, peppers, onions, corn].
A very common meal in our home [about once a week] is grilled chicken with rice and vegetables. I make this meal vegan by not eating the chicken. Again, no processed food, just simple, from-the-earth ingredients, cooked and slightly seasoned.
Vegetable soup is of course a staple, both for the healthful and heartiness of it, and for the waste-saving benefits since we just throw any leftover vegetables into a pot with water. I like to top mine with some hot sauce [ok, a lot of hot sauce]. In this meal, the only thing processed is the hot sauce [which, by the way, I am dying to make myself].
We usually have sourdough bread as a side with all of our soups. [Thank goodness most bread is vegan!!!]
This homemade squash soup, made by Brett, is my FAVORITE! Some recipes call for a cream, but not Brett’s soup. This soup is made with onions, carrots, apples and squash [butternut, acorn, or delicata all work]. Mmm mmm good! Sometimes if we are really lucky, Brett will make homemade croutons out of the ends of my homemade bread. TO DIE FOR!
[It’s a good thing it’s fall so my obsession with soup is not as strange as when I’m writing about it in July.]
Four bean vegetable soup. [I warned you that I’m obsessed with soups.] Beans are a big staple of a vegan diet. They are great in soups, in tacos, in burger patties, in brownies, in dips, in chili, in a bowl with salt and a dash of hot sauce [ok, a lot of hot sauce!].
This terrible photo is of a burrito bowl…of sorts. Rice, beans, peppers, onions, tomatoes, lettuce and – you guessed it! – hot sauce.
Honestly, if you’re going vegan I sincerely hope you like hot sauce because it is the best replacement for cheese. Of course, Brett would argue that it is a great addition to cheese, but if I can’t have cheese, I’ll just take the hot stuff.
[Fun fact: there are some health benefits to hot sauce. Hot sauce is supposedly an appetite suppressant and when eating spicy foods people tend to drink more water and therefore eat less! Hot sauce is also zero calories so a better alternative than mayo or ketchup – if you like things spicy!]
Last night I had roasted potatoes, sautéed green beans [my favorite] and leftover rice and beans.
You are probably beginning to notice a trend – lots of vegetables. In my opinion, the best way to be vegan is not with fancy “vegan” cheese or “vegan” burgers, but with all the foods that are naturally vegan: vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, and nuts.
And tonight I ate zoodles with vegan marinara and veggie balls. Despite what I just said above, sometimes it’s nice to try a vegan alternative like beyond meat and tofurkey…why not? But, in general, I stick with foods in their natural form.
Well, I’m sure my meals [and my terrible photography] haven’t convinced anyone to become vegan. But, I bet Darin Olien will if you read his book, Superlife, which I just finished. This book is FANTASTIC and I highly recommend it for anyone truly interested in improving their health.
According to Darin, the key to healthy nutrition is eating a wide variety of whole foods from plant sources, and eating a large portion of it raw. I couldn’t agree more. My 10+ years of searching for the healthiest lifestyle habits have led me here: to veganism. And it’s not as hard as it may seem.
Next week, I’ll be posting some strategies for vegan eating at restaurants. Truthfully, there has never been a better time to be a vegan!