[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Simple Plant-Based Meals

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Simple Plant-Based Meals

My first experience with a vegan diet was two years ago while I was breastfeeding my middle daughter. She was having terrible reflux issues and our pediatrician suggested trying no dairy or eggs. Since I was already eating a vegetarian diet, I suddenly became a vegan [and my [Nearly] Vegetable Only Diet was born].

The problem was that all vegan recipes either called for a vegan version of the standard ingredient OR strange ingredients I’d never even heard of, let alone had in my cupboard. If you’ve been a vegan for a while, you will likely be familiar with all of these things, but as a newcomer to that way of eating these ingredients were totally unfamiliar to me:

  • Flax eggs
  • Aquafaba
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Tempeh
  • Tahini
  • Chia seeds

I had no idea at the time that cashews could become cheese, oats could make milk, quinoa could replace beef, black beans could make brownies, and avocados could transform into chocolate mousse.

Oh, the wonders of the vegan world!

But at the time, I just needed to eat something that wouldn’t make my baby sick. I didn’t have time to go down the rabbit hole of experimental vegan cooking OR go to the grocery store to stock my house with every vegan alternative.

And so was born a simple way to do plant-based, vegan meals – without a single specialty vegan product [no vegan butter, vegan mayo, vegan cheese, etc] or any of the fancy vegan ingredients that can only be found tucked away in the “international” aisle of your grocery store.

And even if you’re not vegan or vegetarian or even flexitarian, it is still smart, sustainable and healthful to reduce your consumption of animal-based foods. So, you may find these suggestions to be helpful as well.

Vegan Meals

I’m not here to provide recipes because I’m leaving that to the professionals. But what I DO want to do is inspire you to SIMPLIFY the food you eat. Eating healthy food is about taking whole foods in their original form, cooking and then consuming them. It doesn’t have to be complex. These meal ideas I’m going to share are just ways to take simple foods you would find in the produce section and make them into a nutritious and delicious meal.

So without further rambling, here are the simplest vegan meals.

Oatmeal

Let’s start with a vegan breakfast – but, of course, I’m not opposed to the “breakfast for dinner” deal either. I LOVE breakfast. And oatmeal is most definitely my favorite breakfast.

If you are a cereal kind of person, then, yes, you could just swap your cows milk for a non-dairy milk alternative. But WHY when you could have a totally dairy free, incredibly healthy breakfast with so many possibilities you’ll never get bored of it??

Here is a secret: oatmeal DOES NOT need to be made with milk! I just add boiling water and let it sit for a minute or two then add my sweetener and toppings!

Oatmeal is the perfect breakfast because it is minimally processed and contains healthy carbohydrates, protein and lots of fiber. Top it with fresh fruit and you have a nutrient packed breakfast.

[My kids also love oatmeal! We eat it every morning – with the exception of rare, special occasions.]

Here are some of our favorite oatmeal varieties:

  • Chocolate and peanut butter
  • Cinnamon and raisins
  • Bananas and peanut butter
  • Fresh berries and maple syrup

Salad

Salads are totally misunderstood. People think of salads as bowls of lettuce drenched in sugary dressings to make them more palatable. But salads are DELICIOUS when done correctly.

Salad is not only about the greens. You can make a taco salad by adding salsa, black beans and corn. You can make a Greek salad [my personal favorite] by adding olives, artichokes, tomatoes and capers. You can make a classic salad by throwing in every vegetable you have in your house. You can add protein with quinoa or chickpeas. You can add fat with avocados and olive oil. You don’t even need a sugary, store-bought dressing – just toss your salad in fresh lemon juice, or make your own balsamic vinaigrette.

[Here is my favorite homemade salad dressing.]

Salads are not just side dishes anymore! They can be a full, satisfying meal when you think outside the greens.

Burrito Bowls

You’ve probably heard of “meatless Mondays” which are a good idea for everyone to implement because of the health and financial benefits of eating less meat. Years ago, when we started our own meatless Monday tradition, it was always Mexican because Mexican food is already full of so many wonderful whole foods – beans, rice, corn, peppers, avocados, tomatoes, lettuce, to name a few. Of course, a big part of Mexican cuisine is cheese, but it’s still delicious to top a burrito bowl with salsa and guacamole and – if you’re like me – a large amount of hot sauce.

Our vegan burrito bowls are delicious and so simple because I just use whatever we have on hand. If I’m feeling extra ambitious I can always turn these into tacos by making flour tortillas. Or we can throw everything into the crockpot with a jar of salsa and have Mexican chili. Or we can make tostadas. Or we can make loaded nachos. Really, Mexican cuisine has endless possibilities. But I prefer the simplest option: a burrito bowl with rice, beans, peppers and onions, salsa, avocado, and some hot sauce.

Delicioso!

Soup

I’ve already written about my vegetable soup obsession here. I make soup about once a week and it is always different because I throw in whatever I have. I always use some vegetables but I also frequently include other delicious whole foods like beans, rice, potatoes, quinoa, etc. Homemade soup is about as simple as it gets and it doesn’t require any weird vegan stuff – just real, normal, plant-based food.

On soup day in my home, I throw everything in a pot with some water and let it simmer until dinner time.

Mm-mm Good!

Stir-Fry

Stir-frying was my very first cooking experience. When Brett and I first married, I LOATHED cooking and so we bought a lot of those frozen stir-fry meals until I finally got smart and realized that I could make them myself.

To this day, my favorite way to eat vegetables is sautéd in a skillet with some seasonings. I usually skip the sauces because they are typically full of sugar or sodium, but I occasionally create my own with something like honey and balsamic or lemon and capers. But just a seasoning blend is enough to turn ordinary vegetables into a delicious meal.

Sometimes we put the stir-fry over rice or quinoa. Sometimes we eat it plain. Sometimes we make vegetable fried rice! The best of both worlds!

It’s a “choose-your-own-adventure” sort of meal.

Make Any Meal Vegan

Additionally, you can make any meal plant-based by following these simple tips:

1. Cook with olive oil. Just leave out the butter. It is not necessary. I keep butter on hand for baking treats for my kids, but we don’t use it otherwise. There is no reason to go buy a vegan butter. Just cook with oil instead. It is a plant-based, healthier alternative.

2. Pass on the meat. No meal that I have ever heard of is made 100% of meat, so just eat everything else. If you are like me and live with a family member who simply MUST have meat, then go ahead and cook meat. You don’t have to eat it just because it is being offered.

3. Make some vegan Parmesan. No vegan cheese is exactly like the real thing, unfortunately [at least not that I’ve found yet], but vegan Parmesan is a good enough alternative if you are trying to avoid animal products. It is cashew based and you will have to pick up some nutritional yeast, but it’s a worthwhile investment and will make the transition to a cheese-less existence more palatable.

So, hopefully you are on your way to a healthier and more sustainable way of eating!

🥗 🥗 🥗

Karis

A Week of my [Nearly] Vegetable-Only Diet

A Week of my [Nearly] Vegetable-Only Diet

As promised, I have tracked my food for one week and am going to show you what my meals look like on my plant-based, no processed, mostly vegetable diet.

But first…

The Problem

Let me tell you a story.

Yesterday, I was in the Panera drive-thru ordering three chocolate chip cookies for my kids [it was flu shot day], and the employee tells me that it is cheaper to buy four cookies than it is to buy three. So, of course, I order four cookies.

The problem is, I only have three kids who are old enough to eat cookies. I’m not sure what I was expecting to happen to the fourth cookie…

But I definitely ate it, despite telling myself that it could just sit there uneaten all day.

That cookie was 440 calories!!!! That is more than a THIRD of my total caloric goal FOR THE DAY! ONE COOKIE!

No wonder so many of us have trouble managing our weight.

So that brings me to the veggie diet.

The [Nearly] Vegetable-Only Diet

Some things I need to mention:

1. I am not pretending to be a dietician or nutritionist.

2. I aim for between 1,100-1,200 calories per day, which is less than I need because I am trying to lose weight. But I always eat when I am hungry and never eat less than 1,000 calories. This is also a CARB HEAVY diet.

3. There are some foods I eat that I don’t track such as some raw vegetables that have very little caloric value and I don’t measure and track the olive oil I use for cooking. So my total calorie amount is higher than what my tracker shows. [I didn’t take pictures of my snacks which varied and usually made up about 300 calories each day.]

4. I exercise every day – usually twice, sometimes three times…so this helps me with weight loss. [Hence, the large amount of carbs I eat.]

5. This is baby weight.

Ok, so here we go:

Day 1

Brown rice, black beans, peppers and onions for dinner. 100% vegan and made from scratch. 👍🏻

Day 2

Eggs with sweet potato and black bean hash for dinner. Otherwise, vegan and made from scratch.

Day 3

Egg for lunch. Spaghetti squash with homemade tomato sauce for dinner. 👍🏻

Day 4

A random assortment of vegetables for dinner. 100% vegan and made from scratch. 👍🏻

Day 5

Grilled chicken with roasted Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and squash.

Day 6

Vegetable frittata for lunch [made by Brett!!], and homemade vegetable stew for dinner. 👍🏻

Day 7

Leftover sweet potato and black bean hash, with vegan Parmesan. 100% vegan whole foods made from scratch. 👍🏻

Before and After

I lost five pounds and I never went hungry.

As you can see, I like oatmeal for breakfast and salad for lunch. What can I say? I like routine.

One week postpartum and earlier today.

Here is our family photo a week after Nora was born:

And here is me with the kids tonight before going out trick-or-treating:

[By the way, how adorable are these kids?!?]

And the week is over just in time to enjoy Halloween!

Now, it’s time to go eat some candy!

Confession: I definitely fall into the 44% category!

Who is with me?

🍭 🍭 🍭

Karis

My [Nearly] Vegetable-Only Diet v.2

My [Nearly] Vegetable-Only Diet v.2

Last July, I posted about the diet I used to drop 20lbs of baby weight in a month.** This way of eating is simple and basically consists of no processed foods and mostly vegetables. [Read about it here.]

**As a personal trainer, I have to tell you that the recommended maximum for healthy weight loss is 1-2 pounds per week. My results were accelerated because it was weight gained in just a few months during pregnancy.

Well, I’ve had another baby since then, so it’s time to revisit the diet – because, folks, I gain 50-60lbs with each pregnancy!

This is me with my firstborn, Evangeline, literally in the middle of labor with my fourth [and final] baby. I am looking quite huge, but that’s to be expected when I am about to birth a baby – so I don’t feel badly about it.
And I am anxious to lose all that extra weight. [Of course – to all my postpartum ladies out there – no need to rush the weight loss after having a baby. Enjoy the cuddles, take lots of naps, and worry about your pant size later. But for me, after doing this four times in five years, I’m ready to lose this extra weight for good!]

This is me and my kiddos on Mother’s Day, looking every bit of 36 weeks pregnant. Again, no shame in my game.

So I’m back on the [nearly] vegetable-only diet to get back into my pre-pregnancy pants.

But this time, there are some modifications to make the weight loss more gradual and sustainable.

I am still not eating processed foods and I still eat mostly vegetables, but I occasionally eat eggs and lean meats in small portions. Still no dairy, which I still do not miss…except ice cream. [Time to buy that dairy-free Häagen Dazs ice cream again!]

This is me a week after my baby was born.

Just like last time, I’m logging my meals and on Thursday I’ll will post what a week of eating this way looks like – just in time for me to binge on my kids Halloween candy.

😆

[What can I say? We all have our vices…]

I may even share a before and after photo….[well, I’ve already shared the “before” photos.]

[UPDATE: Visit my post A Week of my [Nearly] Vegetable-Only Diet, to see exactly what I ate that week and to get ideas about how to eat more plant-based meals. 👍🏻]

Happy 🥦🍆🍅 Eating!

Karis

Dinner doesn’t have to be fancy

Dinner doesn’t have to be fancy

Dinner tonight was from the farm….

…but it wasn’t anything spectacular.

Roasted potatoes and sautéed pattypan squash.

I was considering preparing eggplant as well, but I realized that the potatoes and squash provided plenty of food [there was even enough for leftovers].

I read an autobiography earlier this year called Kisses from Katie by a young woman who left her privileged American life to live in Uganda and love on the people in her village. One story she tells is how she was preparing beans for dinner for her family and she didn’t realize how long it takes to cook dried beans – but the story was a lesson for me that we are far too opinionated around here about what constitutes a meal.

They were eating beans for dinner. That’s it. Just beans. And here I am feeling like my meals have to contain at least five different food groups AND be beautifully presented.

Dinner doesn’t have to have courses, or side dishes, or any specific food group. It doesn’t have to be colorful, or appealing to look at, or come from a recipe. Dinner could just be food – preferable real, healthy food. And in our house tonight, dinner was just two vegetables that I cooked and we all ate until we were satisfied.

[The kids asked for seconds.]

What I love most about our new simple lifestyle is that our food is simple. The meals are simple. The preparation is simple. The ingredients are simple. And they are healthy.

There are many homes in America where a box of mac and cheese is a standard meal for the kids [and I’m not judging because I’ve definitely been there and done that]. But I almost felt guilty about what I fed my kids tonight, and it was literally just vegetables. It may not have been colorful or fancy or a lot of variety, but it was healthy and it was filling and it was tasty.

And it was from our CSA, which I love more and more.

Don’t get me wrong – there are nights when we have company and I pretend that I love to cook and prepare three-course meals and a home baked dessert. But most nights are simple.

Maybe not usually quite this simple…but pretty simple.

Karis

Garden Fresh Lunch

Garden Fresh Lunch

Today I got my lunch from the garden.

While the kids played on the deck, I walked down to the garden and picked a beautiful summer squash [along with some tomatoes].

It looked too good to pass up, especially since my plan had been to eat leftover vegan chili for lunch.

So, I spiralized, chopped…

…sautéed, and hit it with some basil pesto I made a few days ago and VOILA!

A beautiful and delicious and garden fresh lunch!

Growing my own food is rewarding AND delicious.

Karis

Healthy Eating in Real Life

Healthy Eating in Real Life

As promised, I’ve been tracking my food. Honestly, it hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. On Saturday I fell off the healthy eating bandwagon and I haven’t gotten quite back on yet. But that is real life. It has been an education for myself about my eating habits and I’ve learned a few interesting things about myself in the process:

1. Brett and I have gotten into a bad habit of having pizza delivered when we are hanging out late at night. This is both terrible for my health and our budget. I don’t even know why I get such pizza cravings when I KNOW it will literally make me sick for at least the whole next day and usually several days – not to mention it does not make baby JoElle feel well either.

2. I am an emotional eater. I can’t believe this is a revelation to me, but I was always under the impression that I’m not very emotional at all. For the last seven years, I have been channeling my emotions into physical activity [which is largely what has allowed me to become a long distance runner]. But, since having my third baby, I am not always able to dedicate two hours each morning to exercise – which really messes with my emotional balance – and results in late night snacking on things I wouldn’t ordinarily eat.

I’m making it sound worse than it is – but I am about to be totally honest about the things I consumed over the last few days.

First of all, I ate the same breakfast – [oatmeal with maple syrup and raisins] and the same lunch [cabbage and kale salad with oil and vinegar] each day, so I’m really only going to share what I had for dinner, unless it differed from above.

Wednesday, July 18th:

Zoodles [and Squoodles?] with Pesto

Spiralized zucchini and summer squash with homemade vegan pesto [kohlrabi leaves, garlic scapes, almonds, olive oil, and homemade vegan parmesan]

Thursday, July 19th:

Sautéed summer squash, cabbage, garlic scapes and onion, roasted cauliflower

For a snack I ate homemade cantaloupe bread.

[As someone who doesn’t love cantaloupe – the bread was AMAZING! Made just like banana bread, but with cantaloupe instead of bananas which made for a perfectly sweet and delicious quick bread that the whole family loved.]

Friday, July 20th:

Leftover sautéed cabbage and steamed broccoli

For a snack later that evening I ate roasted cauliflower and eggplant chips.

Saturday, July 21st:

So this is where the healthy eating derailed…

Brett and I were up at 5:15am to get our kids packed up and dropped off before running a half marathon.

My pre-race breakfast is always toast [in this case, homemade whole wheat bread] with [homemade] peanut butter, maple syrup and a banana.

After the run, I ate an apple and grapes and was still starving so we ordered bacon, egg, and cheese croissants at Dunkin’ Donuts and split a donut.

For dinner we had roasted sweet potatoes, black beans, and grilled corn in a sort of burrito bowl. I topped mine with onions, tomatoes, lettuce and hot sauce.

Which was great, BUT…

…then, we ordered pizza and cheese bread while we tiled the bathtub surround until 2:30am.

Sunday, July 22nd:

My kids we’re up at a shocking 5:30am and I had to take them all to work with me that morning so I ended up eating no breakfast and leftover pizza for lunch. For dinner Brett picked up sushi for me and a rotisserie chicken for the kids.

Monday, July 23rd:

Despite a good workout in the morning, I just couldn’t get back on the healthy bandwagon today. I had my usual oatmeal for breakfast, pretty much no lunch and Brett picked up wok n fire sushi rolls for dinner.

So, this week was supposed to be an “on” week for the veggie diet, but it didn’t really happen. I ate meat and seafood, cheese and breads, chocolate and [gasp] donuts. I don’t even like donuts!

Well, I guess this is healthy eating in real life!

Karis