Vegan Thanksgiving [surviving the carnivorous feast]

Vegan Thanksgiving [surviving the carnivorous feast]

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 this year 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!

🦃 🦃 🦃

Karis

Veganism and Dining Out [or ordering in]

Veganism and Dining Out [or ordering in]

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!]

Thin crust pizza with no cheese and all the veggies from Papa Johns.

[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.

I’m currently in LOVE with Panera’s vegetable soup! [And the Greek salad without the feta cheese.]

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].

Breakfast from Panera

[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.

Pesto zoodles from Noodles and Company. Warning: zoodles get juicy

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.

#savetheturkeys

Gonna need some vegan wine!!!

🍷 🍷 🍷

Karis

Simplifying Veganism

Simplifying Veganism

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.

[I actually already wrote about this back in March when I posted tips for simple plant-based meal ideas: [Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Plant Based Meals.]

Then last month I decided to go full-fledged vegan [which I wrote about in Why I’m Going Vegan [and why you should too]] and now I’m going to show you what being vegan looks like for me.

[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.]

Being vegan for me looks a lot like A Week of My [Nearly] Vegetable-Only Diet, which I have written about several times and continue to be my most viewed posts on this blog.

Vegan Breakfast

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???

Vegan Lunch

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.

Vegan Dinner

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!

🌱 🌱 🌱

Karis

Why I’m Going Vegan [and why you should too]

Why I’m Going Vegan [and why you should too]

For three years now, I’ve been a moderate vegan, or a “vegan before 6,” as I like to say, but I recently committed myself to the official, full-fledged vegan diet – for three reasons:

1. For the planet. The other day, I watched David Attenborough’s new documentary, A Life on Our Planet, and was reminded again of how urgent it is that we stop our short-sighted use of earth’s resources. The easiest way for individuals take action is to stop eating meat and dairy, which are HUGE contributors to our man-made environmental crisis.

Quick Facts:

  • One pound of meat requires 2,400 gallons of water, while one pound of tofu requires on 244 gallons. [source]
  • While meat only provides 18% of calories, it’s production uses 83% of farmland and produces 60% of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. [source]
  • Human meat consumption is one of the leading causes of the current mass extinction of earth’s wildlife [source] and is the greatest driver of deforestation worldwide. [source]

A plant-based diet aldi makes zero waste living much easier because you never have to buy, handle, or store raw meat or dairy. There are ways to be omnivorous and reduce your waste, but it’s definitely a lot easier to just eat plant-based foods that can be readily found without packaging.

No matter how you look at it, eating plants is better for the planet. In fact, David Attenborough himself says at the end of the film that one of the easiest and simplest ways to reduce humanity’s negative effect on our ecosystems is to eat a plant-based diet. And luckily, being a vegan has another important benefit.

2. For my health. A plant-based diet is not only better for the planet, it is also better for the human body. Despite all the confusion around healthy eating and all the contradictory information, it is clear to me that too much meat is ruining our health.

[Full disclosure – there are plenty of sources representing opposing views regarding the risks of meat consumption, so do your own research and make your own informed decision.]

“Recent evidence from large prospective US and European cohort studies and from meta-analyses of epidemiological studies indicates that the long-term consumption of increasing amounts of red meat and particularly of processed meat is associated with an increased risk of total mortality, cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer and type 2 diabetes, in both men and women….It is concluded that recommendations for the consumption of unprocessed red meat and particularly of processed red meat should be more restrictive than existing recommendations.” [emphasis is mine]

Battaglia Richi E, Baumer B, Conrad B, Darioli R, Schmid A, Keller U. Health Risks Associated with Meat Consumption: A Review of Epidemiological Studies. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2015;85(1-2):70-8. doi: 10.1024/0300-9831/a000224. PMID: 26780279.

If you don’t want to read all that, I’ll summarize. Red meat increases your chances of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and death and we should be recommending that people eat less meat.

Currently, we’ve got two problems: people are already eating more than the recommended amount AND the amount of meat that individuals are consuming is going up, not down.

The USDA, who makes the dietary recommendations for the United States, recommends that the average adult eat between five and six ounces of meat per day. [source] But it turns out that the typical American is eating double that amount [source] and meat consumption continues to be on the rise. [source]

So, while there are those who disagree with my assertion that eating meat is bad for our health, I have one more bit of subjective evidence to share: a plant-based diet makes me feel better.

3. For my well-being. A plant-based diet is better for the planet and my health, but it also makes me feel better – and I’m not just referring to the internal feeling of happiness I get when I make the humane and ethical and environmentally-conscious decision to avoid meat. I mean, I literally feel better physically. Of course, I have no sources to site about this, no proof to offer, no cold, hard evidence, but I can assure you that I feel much, much better on a vegan diet than any other diet.

As someone who is obsessed with health – especially healthy eating – I have tried many, many “diets,” different dietary fads, and ways of eating. I’ve done juice cleanses, fasting, no carb, low carb, calorie restriction, no processed foods, no added sugar, high protein, vegetable only – to name a few. But when I went strictly vegan three years ago in a desperate attempt to ease my nursing baby’s reflux issues, I had never felt better.

How exactly did I feel better? I had more energy and no longer experienced that midday fatigue. I stopped getting sick as frequently, which I attribute to my increased intake of nutrient dense foods like fruit and vegetables and legumes. My skin cleared up, and that is no small thing because I’ve had oily skin and acne issues since puberty. But the moment I cut out meat – and especially dairy – my skin cleared up so well that I stopped wearing makeup altogether. My performance at the gym improved. I could exercise longer and recover faster.

And, in general, I felt better internally. No more gut issues. No more bloat. No more gas cramps. No more exhaustion – unless, of course, I wasn’t getting my six hours of sleep.

For me, this was enough of a reason to go vegan, which is why I’ve been a moderate vegan ever since that first experience three years ago.

Bonus reason: For my finances. In addition to the benefits I’ve listed above, being vegan is also much cheaper than eating a traditional American diet heavy in meat and dairy. Though it’s not a motivator for my choice, it may encourage other people to consider being vegan when they realize how much money can be saved. Meat and dairy are the most expensive food groups, besides oils and fats. Even on sale, I can’t find chicken for less than $2 per pound and beef is twice that expensive and fish is four times the cost. However, I buy fruits and vegetables for less than $1 per pound.

The info graphic below by Peta answers more questions about veganism.

As great as it is, being vegan is not without its challenges. Eating out, for instance, can be tough. My partner and I went out last night and there were a grand total of two menu items that were vegan – the French fries and the house salad.

So I ate the fries.

🤷‍♀️

🌱 🌱 🌱

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Groceries In a Pandemic

[Nearly] Zero Waste Groceries In a Pandemic

In the past, I’ve written about my experiences with [nearly] zero waste grocery shopping at Aldi, Walmart, and Fresh Thyme — now here is how my family is shopping [nearly] zero waste during a pandemic.

Don’t judge me by the ramen noodle purchase–that was my husband’s choice… 😆

My husband [who has done all our shopping since the shelter-at-home order began] went to Jewel-Osco [our local grocery chain here in Chicagoland] on Wednesday for groceries. As you can see from the photo above, he brought home a lot of plastic. And that’s totally ok. This is one of the side-effects of the pandemic, but it does not in any way change my obligation to reduce my waste.

Before COVID-19, I always bought the following foods from bulk bins:

  • Oats
  • Raisins
  • Flour
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Beans/Lentils/Split Peas
  • Nuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Maple Syrup
  • Vinegar
  • Honey
  • Candy/Chocolates

Now, we buy all of these items in packaging.

But all is not lost! This doesn’t mean we have to throw in the towel on reducing our waste. Here is how we are continuing to reduce our waste in the grocery department:

1. Buy the biggest package available. When this all started, Brett bought the biggest bag of rice at the store. It will probably last us the rest of the year – but that is better than buying a bunch of plastic bags. [And, trust me, we have very little storage space, but we made room the big bag in our laundry room storage area.] Whenever applicable – and for shelf-stable items only – buying a bigger package cuts down on the waste.

2. Buy only what we need. This may sound contrary to my previous point, but I’m not talking about buying big packages of shelf-stable foods that you will definitely use. I’m talking about buying the store out of everything that you may possibly, potentially have an urge for in the next century. If you don’t eat it, don’t buy it. This is common sense. And especially don’t stock up on fresh foods. Despite good intentions, this always leads to food waste. We buy enough fresh produce for the week and that’s it. We never buy frozen food [apart from the occasional carton of ice cream] because the packaging isn’t recycle able, but we have bought some canned items because you can easily recycle the cans.

[P.S.A. This is partly to reduce food waste, but also to just be a kind and considerate person during this time of panic. If everyone only bought what they actually needed we wouldn’t be running out of stuff like toilet paper and disinfectants and BREAD FLOUR!!! The problem becomes more compounded when people want something and can’t find it. The next time they see the product they buy more than they need out of fear it won’t be available again. I BEG OF YOU: RESIST THIS URGE. Just buy what you need.]

3. Choose glass over plastic. If you have to buy food in packaging, it is best to always choose the most easily recycled type of packaging. Glass is best as it can be continually recycled without losing quality or purity. So we choose to buy our milk in glass bottles instead of milk. We buy pasta sauce in glass over plastic jars. We buy jams and syrup and honey in glass even though cheaper alternatives are available in plastic [the price difference is really minor.] When glass isn’t available, we choose the next best thing. For instance, we buy our pasta in cardboard instead of plastic bags. We buy our vegetables in aluminum cans over frozen plastic bags [when fresh isn’t available] because plastic bags in the freezer section can’t be recycled.

4. Choose loose over bagged. When it comes to produce, we choose loose over wrapped in plastic. This may seem unsanitary at a time like this, but we wash our produce before eating and sometimes loose produce is actually more sanitary because produce that is wrapped in plastic often leads people to believe that it doesn’t need to be washed before consuming – but it does. Some types of produce can only be found in plastic at the grocery store [such as berries, green beans, grapes, and cauliflower]. In those cases, we buy them less frequently and always recycle the plastic containers and bags [through store drop-off recycling programs].

5. Recycle everything possible. So, yes, we are bringing home more packaging because it is unavoidable. We are even bringing our food home in plastic grocery bags [oh the horror!], but that doesn’t mean we give up. It just means we are more diligent about what we can do, which is recycle. It’s true that recycling is just a bandaid, but it’s still important to do our best to keep stuff out of the landfills. We rinse every jug and jar and carton and container and put it out for recycling. It may be a hassle, but it is important.

6. Reuse or recycle plastic bags. We previously shopped with reusable bags, but now that we are bringing plastic bags home we use them as doggy poop bags [since Daisy is getting lots of walks these days] and trash bags. We haven’t bought trash bags in over a year and since we only produce less than one grocery bag of trash per week, this actually is pretty convenient. While I wish we didn’t produce any trash at all, it isn’t realistic for our family of meat eaters and little kids, BUT we have been actively pursuing [nearly] zero waste so that we reduce our negative impact on the environment as much as we can. These bags are recyclable through store drop-off programs though, so if you don’t have a way to use them, recycle them!

Our lovely collection of plastic grocery bags from one grocery trip.

Since the pandemic began, I’ve been saying [so frequently that your probably sick of it] that this doesn’t change our obligation to take care of our planet. The way we go about it has changed and will continue to change, I am sure. But what is the point of surviving this pandemic just to get back to a world of pollution and waste?

[And as a side note, I know a lot of people “don’t believe in global warming” and whatever. But environmentalism isn’t just about doomsday, it’s about simple stewardship. It’s about sustainability. It’s about being responsible and kind to the planet so that all of god’s creatures can survive and thrive here – us humans included.]

I hope these ideas encourage people to make small changes that can have a big impact if we all start adopting them.

So happy grocery shopping! [Don’t forget your face mask and social distancing!]

🛒🛒🛒

Karis

[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

Simple Living and Social Distancing [Zero Waste and COVID-19]

Simple Living and Social Distancing [Zero Waste and COVID-19]

The last few days have been CRAZY. By now the coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone in some way or another, and my family is no different.

Earlier this month, I announced that my family is moving to downtown Chicago because my partner took a new job in the city, working with the Chicago Cubs. We already had a contract on the house, we were aggressively apartment hunting, and we were already packing boxes for the move. Now, however, the new job, the house sale, the moving plans, and my daughter’s schooling are all on hold until further notice. This is definitely an uncertain time for all of us.

[This feels like something out of a horror film, am I right???]

And yet, despite all the fear and panic surrounding this pandemic, despite all the unknowns about our house and our income and our future, I feel quite calm.

This whole situation is entirely out of my control, so I am doing the only thing I can do: staying home. Social distancing is extremely important right now, and we have committed to it fully. Other than necessary trips to the store, my family is staying home to help slow the spread of this thing [or “flatten the curve”] and I can only hope that everyone else is doing the same.

Of course, we could freak out, stare at our TVs all day, wring our hands, stock up on household essentials, and prepare for the end of the world as we know it. But it is much more productive [not to mention enjoyable] to spend time as a family, relax, spring clean, read books, cook from scratch, and spend time outside together.

I choose the latter.

Simple Living

So we have been enjoying the simple life, free from the pressure of work schedules, school activities, long commutes, social events, and even media overload. This has been a great time to unplug and unwind and hang out together AT HOME.

Spending Time Together

My cousin, Stacey, shared this GIANT list of at-home activities to keep kids busy:

At Home Activities for Kids

We’ve been choosing a few of these activities to do each day. One day we used all of our building blocks [including duplos, legos, k’nex, magnet blocks, and even wooden blocks] to make one huge tower. We’ve been playing a lot of board games. We painted pictures and then made up stories to tie all the pictures together.

We have NOT spent time watching tv [other than the news for a little bit each evening to stay up-to-date]. We haven’t been stressed out or frightening our kids about what’s happening. We have also not been glued to our phones [other than my daily Spanish lessons]. We have been present and attentive and enjoying each other.

Eating Real Food

This has been a great time to cook more from scratch. I usually cook a lot from scratch, but since I haven’t had much else to do, I’ve been spending more time in the kitchen.

Food from scratch is SO MUCH better than the convenient, pre-made boxed stuff. If you normally don’t have time to cook or bake from scratch, this is a great time to try it!

Exercising At [or near] Home

Exercise is a big part of my life and I am enjoying exercising outdoors now that the weather is warming up. I also have workouts that I can do at home through BeachBody On Demand. And yesterday, after my yoga workout, my kids did their own Cosmic Kids Yoga [you can check out these great yoga videos on YouTube].

Zero Waste

When I started on my low waste journey three years ago, I never expected to encounter this type of doomsday preparation where basic household “necessities” are being fought over in the grocery aisles. But here we are – and having already adjusted to [nearly] zero waste living is a huge advantage. Being out of toilet paper is no big deal in my home where we have a bidet and plenty of reusable “wee wipes” [which are usually reserved for the baby, but can be used by anyone when necessary]. The same goes for all the other disposables that have become household staples here in America. We never use them anyway, so we are not worried. We have plenty of reusable diapers for the baby, towels for the kitchen, a Brita for our water, and everything else we may need. The only thing we need to buy is our food, which doesn’t seem to be in short supply at this time.

Speaking of food, a [nearly] zero waste pantry is also a big advantage at times like these because I already know how to make a wide variety of meals from scratch using pantry staples like rice, quinoa, beans and flour. So, should groceries become scarce, we would be set for a long time with just the dry goods in my pantry.

For example, if pizza delivery services shut down, I already make my own pizza dough for homemade pizza each Friday and I can even make an Alfredo sauce from cashews if we experience a shortage of cheese. Once a week we have vegan burrito bowls, which I can easily turn into tacos or tostadas by making homemade tortillas which only require flour, oil, and salt. I can make my own almond milk and nut butters. With just potatoes and flour, I can make homemade gnocchi. Lasagna noodles are also a cinch. Vegan chili is made with quinoa, black beans and kidney beans. With a simple bag of flour and a jar of yeast the options are practically limitless.

You would be AMAZED the things you can make with dry goods you can keep in your pantry. And you don’t need to buy any of these items in packaging.

[In fact, I had already been planning to share my favorite SIMPLE plant-based zero-waste meals – which I will still do later this week.]

I’ll write more about this later this week, but the truth about my journey to baking/cooking is that I never even cared to learn until I was motivated by the low waste movement to try. Sometimes it just requires the right motivation. And now, I love to cook and bake and have improved my skills exponentially.

Maybe this world-wide catastrophe will provide more people with the motivation to reduce their waste, improve their health, cut back their reliance on disposable and packaged goods, and start making more earth-friendly choices.

That would be another silver lining of an otherwise terrible situation.

Stay safe [and stay home]!

🌎 🌍 🌏

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Vegetable Soup

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Vegetable Soup

Before I get started talking about my highly customizable, completely zero waste, delicious and hearty vegetable soup, I need to admit a few things…

First, I am not a chef. I would barely qualify as a cook if it weren’t for the fact that I now find myself in the unfortunate position of needing to cook…A LOT. I don’t know if the sheer quantity of meals I prepare is enough to call me a cook, but I still don’t feel like one. In fact, I’ve always hated cooking.

“Baking have I loved and cooking have I hated.” [Good ol’ scripture reference from the religion of my youth.]

Anyway, to be fair, I’ve become a decent cook. I can prepare a whole meal without needing to consult allrecipes.com and I very frequently “wing it” with good results. I’ve even found myself creating my own recipes!!! This is totally out of character for me – but, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. [At least, I think that’s a saying…]

🤷‍♀️

Secondly, this is not a recipe.

Sorry about that.

This is more about encouraging everyone to look through the fridge or the pantry and find what’s just hanging around unused and forgotten and throwing it all in a big pot with some water and seeing what happens.

It’s an adventure really. And I love adventure!

So, let’s get on with it.

Why Vegetable Soup is AWESOME

Vegetable soup is a staple in my home for many reasons:

1. It is versatile. I have never met a vegetable that didn’t like to be in a vegetable soup. I also love to add quinoa, lentils or rice in for fun sometimes.

2. It is zero waste. I never have to add the ingredients for this soup to my shopping list because the whole point is to use up what I have lying around. And, believe me, I’ve thrown some random things in my vegetable soups [all edible, I assure you].

3. It is easy to make ahead and reheat. In fact, I usually make this while my kids have their quiet time so that I don’t have to worry about four staving children nagging me for dinner. I also always make this when my husband works late because I can make it earlier in the day so dinner time is a breeze. Soup is also great for freezing.

4. My kids love it. I love it too. [My husband is iffy on it, but that’s only because he doesn’t believe that anything without meat or cheese is real food, so don’t listen to him.] In fact, my vegetable soup is the only thing that I can count on my picky two-year-old consistently eating.

5. It is SO GOOD FOR YOU! I frequently encourage my personal training clients to up their vegetable intake by trying to have two different types of vegetables at every meal. This soup could have DOZENS! Most people are not getting enough vegetables, so this soup can really help [and a salad at lunch goes a long way too].

How to Make the Vegetable Soup

Ok, so I already admitted that this is not a recipe, but I will walk you through the basics.

Step 1: Find and chop all the vegetables you want to use. Literally any and all vegetables will do.

Step 2: Cook them in a stock pot with a little oil starting with the hardest vegetables and then moving to the softest. [Or just throw them all in at once and move to step three. Feel free to be lazy with it. It’s all going to simmer in the end anyway.]

Step 3: Add water to cover and bring to a boil.

Step 4: Add anything else like beans, potatoes, quinoa, rice, sweet potatoes, other vegetables you might have forgotten, anything else you found lying around in the fridge like a leftover jar of pasta sauce, etc.

Step 5: Let boil as long as is needed for everything to soften then let it simmer for…as long as you want. Or take it off the heat and let the flavors meld. Or serve it up right away. Up to you.

Note: always taste and season as you go. May need some salt. Maybe some pepper. Maybe some chili powder. Maybe some garlic. Maybe some onion powder.

[Again, this is not a recipe.]

This is literally how I’ve made soup once a week for the past year and it has always been delicious.

…but it clearly doesn’t always look appetizing…

Pictured above is a corn, onion, celery, potato, quinoa soup – which turned into more of a stew cuz that quinoa really soaks up the liquid. Very hearty and delicious.

Here is a carrot, onion, corn, green bean, and chickpea soup.

Now this soup had A LOT in it: carrot, onion, tomato, sweet potato, black beans, quinoa, kale, and a few other things I can’t remember…

Ok, in this one I added shredded chicken, BUT IT WAS GOING BAD, I swear! If you’re a meat eater then it’s totally fine to add some meat! And top it with cheese! [But really, I’d prefer you not because a plant-based diet is better for you and the planet.]

Just had to throw that in there.

🤷‍♀️

Anyway, vegetables. Eat them. Throw them in a pot with some water and salt. Delicious.

That’s all I’m trying to say. 😁

🥦🍅🥕

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