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

[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

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

My Favorite DIY Salad Dressing

My Favorite DIY Salad Dressing

One of my secrets for getting lots of fresh vegetables in my diet is to eat a salad every day for lunch. I make the salad and dressing myself – prepping and packing it to go when necessary.

Salads are a very healthy choice, but salad dressings are usually full of calories, sodium, added sugars, and saturated fat. In fact, ordering a salad at a restaurant is usually not going to be the healthiest option on the menu, despite what you would assume.

So, I’ve been creating my own salad dressings to avoid unhealthy store-bought varieties. For a time, I would premix a vinaigrette of sorts, but I got lazy and wanted something I didn’t actually have to make ahead. Now, I create my salad dressing right in the bowl with the following ingredients:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Italian dressing seasoning mix (homemade according to this recipe by The Midnight Baker)
  • Lemon juice (freshly squeezed, when possible)

You could use the Italian dressing mix to – duh – make Italian dressing, but this stuff is DELICIOUS as just a plain seasoning. I originally found the recipe in order to marinate some chicken. The chicken turned out delicious and the dressing really tasted like Italian; however, I wanted to just mix my dressing in my bowl with a few ingredients I always have on hand.

I essentially make the dressing, but in my bowl – and I use lemon juice instead of vinegar because it’s a more natural option and adds a more summery, citrus flavor. I just cut a lemon in half and squeeze a little juice right into the bowl.

This salad dressing tastes like summer. I’m not kidding.

Then I get creative with my toppings.

Other toppings I frequently add: almonds, capers, olives, peppers, cucumbers, etc

Don’t let your salad get boring!

And don’t let your salad dressing derail your healthy eating habits!

Share your fave DIY dressing below!

🥗 🥗 🥗

Karis

5 Simple Ways to Eat Healthy AND Save Money on Groceries

5 Simple Ways to Eat Healthy AND Save Money on Groceries

Since I first moved out on my own, I have been trying to figure out this whole grocery shopping thing – how to eat well without overspending money or time.

I have tried everything – from couponing to rebate apps to stockpiling boxes of granola bars [not healthy, by the way]. I shopped exclusively at Aldi for a time. I followed popular shopping bloggers and ran to the store every time they said there was a good deal.

None of these things worked for me. They were all time-consuming and exhausting and didn’t actually seem to save me much money and on top of all that, we weren’t eating healthy foods.

So I’ve been trying to figure out how to spend less on groceries without sacrificing quality or healthfulness.

After ten years, I have FINALLY reached a place where grocery shopping is no longer expensive, time-consuming, or unhealthy. I spend less time meal planning, less time at the grocery store, and less time stressing over the grocery budget than I ever have.

To give you an idea of how much you can save, here are USDA’s recommended grocery budgets.

They vary based on the number and ages of you family members and based on whether you are living lean [“Thrifty plan”] or high on the hog [“Liberal plan”].

So according to this chart, for my family of five, a thrifty plan would be $561.50 per month, if I don’t count my youngest who is only 18 months old, or $655.60 if I do count her.

Doesn’t really matter because our budget is $400/month. This doesn’t include our eating out budget which is $60/month and allows us to eat out about twice per month. Also, every other month we cut our budget in half [a lengthy explanation of which I may write and post someday]. So, technically, we feed our family for $300/month, if we average it out.

That may sound like a lot or a little to you depending on your situation, but for us, it is less than half of what Brett and I were spending back when it was just the two of us – and we weren’t eating nearly as healthy as we do now.

[I’m harping on the healthy thing because anyone can eat ramen noodles every day and save tons of money, but I have found that I can eat super healthy – I’m talking fresh produce and high quality foods – and still save money. So if you are one of the many people today who believe that eating healthy is more expensive, please read on.]

So how do we feed our family healthy foods with so little money? Well, for starters we buy very few processed foods [for our health] and we do our best to avoid packaged foods [for the health of our planet]. Those two things contribute a little bit to our savings – but I know that they are not the reality for the average American [though I wish they were].

The bulk of the money and time is saved by following these five simple rules:

1. Buy what is on sale.

Rather than creating a meal plan and then buying the ingredients regardless of the price, I let the weekly ads determine what we eat each week. In my area, each Wednesday, grocery stores roll out new ads with new deals. I compare the ads from four different local grocers and then choose the one [or maybe two] with the best sales and that’s where I’ll be shopping that week.

Besides simplifying meal planning, another benefit of this rule is that it saves a lot of time at the grocery store. I know exactly what I’m going in to get. I don’t need to price compare a bunch of different options, or stroll down aisles looking at different food choices, or fall prey to the clever marketing tricks like flashy signs and end-caps. I go in, get what’s on sale, get out.

Bottom line, if it’s not on sale, I don’t buy it.

[As with all rules, there are exceptions. In the case of rule #1, I don’t buy my bulk dry goods on sale because most stores don’t offer regular sales on bulk goods. In this case, I am prioritizing my obligation to the health of the planet over money – ALWAYS a good choice, by the way. But I still save plenty of money.]

2. Set price limits.

Over the past two years I’ve learned what a good sale price is for most items and I have set rules for how cheap they need to be. Simply being “on sale” is not necessarily good enough. Not all sale prices are created equal. For example, it is extremely rare that I will buy produce at Aldi because their sale prices are never as good as my other local grocers. If you [as most people do] assume that Aldi is cheaper for everything simply because it’s Aldi, then you are overpaying.

This week, 1lb of strawberries is $1.69 at Aldi and $.88 at Fresh Thyme. In fact, everything on this Aldi ad can be found cheaper elsewhere.

In order to figure out what a good sale price is, you have to pay attention to sales in your area over a period of months. My price limits are still changing as time goes on. For example, I used to only buy boneless chicken if it was under $2/lb, but after a while I learned that I could find it at least once a month for $1.49/lb. So that became my new price limit.

Here are some examples of my price limits [understand that prices will vary greatly depending on your location]:

I won’t buy produce for more than $1/lb. Sometimes I do buy blackberries at $.88/6oz package and I will buy avocados if they are $.79/each or less, but I don’t make a habit of buying these items because they are so expensive compared to normal produce.

I won’t buy cheese for more than $1.50/8oz package. If cheese is not on sale for this price or less, we just do without cheese. It’s not even really a hardship. In fact, I think it has improved my children’s appreciation for the taste of real foods not covered in cheese.

I won’t buy eggs for more than $1/dozen. Though, I admit, I am going to buy eggs from our farm CSA this summer at $5/carton, but in this case, I am prioritizing supporting local agriculture and health over saving money. I will also be limiting our eggs to one carton per week.

Your rules will depend on what eat, but everything should have a price limit required for purchase. There will always be off cases when you simply must have something – like butter to make buttercream for your son’s birthday cake – and it’s not on sale. Okay. Sometimes we have to bend the rules.

3. Eat less meat…and live longer and healthier lives.

I’m a fitness professional, not a registered dietician or nutritionist, so you don’t have to agree with me on the healthful side of this rule. Eat meat if you want, but know this, meat is WAY MORE expensive than plant-based foods. We used to make two or three chicken breasts for our family of five for dinner. Now, we all share one chicken breast [oftentimes less] and fill the majority of our plates with vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes.

Check out choosemyplate.gov.

This is the USDA’s newest recommendation for healthy eating which has replaced the typical food pyramid we all learned in grade school.

Notice that three quarters of the plate are filled with plant-based foods. Now think about how your dinner plate typically looks. Most Americans eat a meat heavy diet, with the protein being the main course and the vegetables and fruits being “sides.”

If you need further evidence, watch the documentary, In Defense of Food, or read the book with the same title by Michael Pollan.

Time to rethink the way we eat…and hopefully soon because the health epidemic in our country is quite literally frightening. But the good news is, eating more plant-based foods is CHEAPER!

Also, according to the chart below by health.gov, over 85% of the population is not eating the recommended amount of vegetables…

C’mon, people. Let’s eat some more veggies!

[Someday I’ll go into greater detail about how to eat healthy on a budget. It is not hard, folks. I promise you!]

4. Buy less food.

This might sound obvious, but apparently it needs to be stated anyway because we have a bit of an overeating problem in America.

According to the CDC, 39.8% of adults in the US are obese [read about it here.] And, shockingly, according to this article by NPR, 75% of Americans believe themselves to be eating healthy…so why are obesity rates so high?

There are lots of factors that contribute to the obesity issue, but no matter where you look, portion size and overeating are partially to blame.

Nutrition scholar Marion Nestle at New York University says portion size — just eating too much — is an issue. “I’d vote for that as a major cause of obesity,” Nestle told us by email.

“Some of the problem is that individuals pay more attention to getting good things in their diet than they do to limiting overall intake,” adds David Just, a behavioral economist who studies food psychology at Cornell University. – npr.org

The accessibility of food in our society has made overeating too easy. Yes, restaurants serve us too much food, but we also serve ourselves too much food at home. We also stock too much food in our kitchen, making it too easy to eat whatever we want whenever we feel like it.

Let’s all do ourselves a favor and buy less food. There is no reason to stockpile canned goods as if we are fearing an imminent apocalypse…unless you are fearing an imminent apocalypse…in which case, there is no need to save your money because it will be useless when the zombies take over.

Some basic ways to buy less food is:

Go grocery shopping once a week and only buy what you need for that week.

Buy fresh produce so you CAN’T stockpile it. Fresh food is healthier, more likely to be local, and tastes WAY BETTER!

Don’t buy [or buy very little] unhealthy snacks and treats. Don’t spend your hard-earned money on food that is going to make you sick and unhappy in the long run.

Avoid processed and packaged foods – for the sake of your wallet, your health, and the planet.

5. Eat all the food you buy.

Again, this seems obvious…but apparently it’s not because 40% of food in America is thrown away.

In 2012, NRDC published a groundbreaking report that revealed that up to 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten. That is on average 400 pounds of food per person every year. Not only is that irresponsible—it’s expensive [emphasis mine]. Growing, processing, transporting, and disposing that uneaten food has an annual estimated cost of $218 billion, costing a household of four an average of $1,800 annually. – NRDC report by Dana Gunders, source

And before you go blaming it all on grocery stores, this infographic created by the NRDC says that households and restaurants are the biggest generators of food waste [at least in Denver, Nashville and New York].

Of course, on the other hand, we have lots of families in our country who struggle to put food on the table.

So besides the cost of wasted food, I feel just plain terrible knowing that I am throwing food away when some people are not eating today. And I feel like a terrible hypocrite if I talk about our grocery budget being “tight” while I’m throwing food in the trash – or even in the compost bin.

In my home, we do everything we possibly can to avoid wasting food. Some of the ways to reduce our food waste are:

Eat all the leftovers. I set designated days at least once but often twice per week to eat whatever we have that is close to expiring.

Only buy what you need for a week. You may not know what you need for a week, but if you find yourself throwing food out, then you know for next time that you need less. Obviously some things with longer shelf lives, like dairy products and dry goods, don’t need to be purchased weekly. That leads me to the next tip:

Don’t buy more if you still have food to eat. I don’t know why we do this but it seems that it’s totally normal to go buy a full cart of groceries when we still have enough food in our home to feed our family for the next six months. I’m not joking. When we got ready to sell our last home, I started using up all the food that we had in our cabinets and pantry and – oh my gosh – our second freezer. Lo and behold, we had enough food to feed us for months. I decided then and there that stocking so much food in our house was wasteful and expensive and I stopped doing it.

A word on frozen and non-perishable foods: Some people prefer to buy non-perishables because they feel like they throw out more food when they buy fresh – which they really might. The problem is not the fresh food – it’s that there is a disparity between the amount they are buying and the amount they are eating. As I said previously, fresh food is healthier, more likely to be local, and tastes WAY BETTER! Buy fresh food – just not so much – and then EAT IT!

So, this has been a book. If you’ve stuck with me, I hope you’ve found some useful information and, hopefully, some motivation to improve your spending and eating habits.

These are all things I wish someone had told me a lot earlier, but everything I found about saving money on groceries revolved around making a list, not shopping hungry, and clipping coupons. I wanted something that saved me time AND money AND made me a healthier consumer.

For me, this is it.

If you’ve found a method that works for you, share it in the comments! We all have room for improvement!

Happy grocery shopping!

🛒 🛒 🛒

Karis