[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

[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

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

Homemade [Low Sugar, No Pectin] Strawberry Jam

Homemade [Low Sugar, No Pectin] Strawberry Jam

Two years ago, I read a small sidebar – maybe three or four sentences – in Martha Stewart Living Magazine about how she makes a pectin-free strawberry jam. It sounded so simple that I immediately bought some strawberries and gave it a try. I’ve been happily making my own jam ever since.

[Thanks, Martha!]

Since then, I’ve experimented with reducing the sugar and adjusting the steps to suit my time constraints and personal preferences until I can now say that I have created an even simpler and healthier way of making strawberry jam!

[Sorry, Martha, it’s true.]

So, here’s all you need to do.

1. Hull and rinse strawberries. [I usually quarter them, but that is not necessary.]

2. Put berries in a big bowl and mix with half a cup of sugar per one pound of strawberries [Martha’s recipe called for double the sugar] and juice of one lemon.

Side note: I’ve tried even less sugar and even no sugar recipes but the jam always tastes really tart and doesn’t thicken the way this version does.

3. Cover and refrigerate overnight. [Martha never specified how many hours to refrigerate them so I just make the jam sometime the next day.]

4. Heat on the stove in a big stock pot until sugar is dissolved. This doesn’t take long – maybe 10 minutes.

5. Remove the berries and boil the remaining juice until it reaches 221°. This takes longer – maybe 40 minutes to one hour, depending on how much jam you are making.

6. Blend [or mash] berries and add back to the juice. [You could also leave the strawberries whole.] Boil for five more minutes.

7. Pour into sterilized jars. Let cool on the counter then refrigerate or freeze.

The jam thickens as it cools and even more once it’s in the fridge, but it never gets as thick as a jam made with pectin. Still, it works perfectly for PBJ or as a sauce for dessert [like cheesecake or angel food cake or vanilla ice cream] or a topping for toast.

To keep the cost down, I only make jam when strawberries are on sale. Today, I used seven pounds of strawberries and three cups of sugar and made roughly two quarts of jam – for about $7.

I’m not sure if that’s a savings, but it is zero waste AND zero high fructose corn syrup!

So, that’s a win in my book.

🍓 🍓 🍓

Karis

A week’s worth of groceries for $30

A week’s worth of groceries for $30

A while back, I wrote about how I buy healthy groceries on a budget. So, here is a real-life example.

Thirty dollars. Two stores. One week’s worth of food for my family of five.

[The thirty dollars also covered a bag of red potatoes, two apples, and a banana which are not pictured here.]

Everything pictured was on sale and at or below my price limit of $1/lb for produce and $2/lb for meat.

This doesn’t include the dry goods that we already have on hand – nuts, oats, rice, beans, coffee, sugar, and flour – which we only buy about once a month and don’t need to restock at this time.

No more snacks

The biggest change to my grocery shopping habit, besides buying only what’s on sale, is that I don’t buy traditional snacks. No more pretzels or crackers or applesauce or fruit cups or yogurt cups or string cheese or fruit snacks or boxes of raisins, etc. I used to buy all of those things regularly, but then I realized that I didn’t need to buy any of that in order to give my kids snacks, or even to enjoy a snack myself. Now, when my kids want a snack, they have apple slices with peanut butter, bananas, oranges, grapes, red pepper slices, cucumbers, or nuts. And when I want a snack, I have the same thing.

If I’m feeling really ambitious, I’ll bake banana bread muffins or make my own applesauce in the crock pot or even bake my own granola bars, crackers, or pretzels – but I don’t typically have time for that. So bananas and apples are the perfect snack to have on hand that require no prep work at all – and they are also great on the go.

[Side note: I also don’t buy frozen foods anymore – except the occasional ice cream carton 😬 – because plastic packaging for frozen foods is made differently apparently and, as a result, is not recyclable. I used to buy a large amount of frozen vegetables, but I have transitioned to 100% fresh veggies.]

No more, no less

It might not look like a lot of food, but it is plenty for our family of five for a week. The meat and milk and eggs will actually last longer than a week because we don’t eat meat every night or eggs every morning. I have enough vegetables for sides for all of our meals and enough fruit for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.

The goal is to buy just the right amount so everything gets eaten and nothing gets lost in the back of the fridge and goes bad. [This way I make sure to avoid food waste – which is a big problem in America.]

The meal plan

So now that I’ve got the food, I decide what we are going to eat for the week. Breakfast is always oatmeal or eggs with fruit. Lunch is always PBJ with fruit and veggies for the kids and a salad for me.

Dinners will look something like this:

  • Tuesday [tonight] – Vegan Burrito Bowls
  • Wednesday – Veggie Omelets and Roasted Potatoes
  • Thursday – Chicken, Grilled Romaine and Asparagus
  • Friday – Pork Chops, Brown Rice and Green Beans
  • Saturday – Leftovers
  • Sunday – Mexican Rice and Bean Skillet
  • Monday – Southwest salad

The schedule may change. I don’t like to set my meal plan in stone because my work schedule often changes suddenly and sometimes I have to just throw something together. But at least I have food and ideas.

New grocery deals come out tomorrow, so I will likely make another grocery run in the next week to take advantage of new sales – but for now we’re stocked and I’m feeling good about our healthy [and fresh] food.

👍🏻

Karis