I could not be happier for fall to arrive this year, but still I was a little surprised when all my neighbors started putting out pumpkins and scarecrows and Halloween decorations. I mean, it was still 90° around here! Certainly didn’t feel like fall. [This is my first time living this far south – and I’m just in southern Illinois.] Appropriately, today is a beautiful fall day – cool, crisp, windy, rainy. I LOVE it!
Besides today’s weather, the local produce is also screaming fall, so I decided to make my favorite fall meal [or side dish], comprised of my favorite fall vegetables roasted to perfection and tossed together.
Roasted Sweet Potato, Butternut Squash, and Brussels Sprouts
[I need to work on the name of this meal…it’s quite lengthy…]
I make this every year as a side dish for our Thanksgiving meal, but I make it as a stand-alone for my family many times during the fall. This is the perfect fall meal, because these are perfect fall foods that are in abundance during this time of year.
It also couldn’t be easier.
Peel and chop some butternut squash.
Peel and chop some sweet potatoes. [I like the color contrast provided by these purple sweet potatoes, but I usually just use regular.]
De-stem and half some Brussels sprouts.
Toss them all with olive oil, salt and pepper and spread on a baking sheet. Roast for 25-30 minutes at 425°.
We ate it with a side of vegan Tofurky sausage, but these vegetables are hearty and filling and can be a stand-alone meal too, which we have done many times. [If you’re not used to eating only vegetables for dinner, this is a great place to start.]
Side note: Roasted Brussels sprouts are a family favorite in our home. Despite their terrible reputation, Brussels sprouts are SO DELICIOUS. If you haven’t tried them, or more importantly haven’t tried them roasted, this is the time to do it. Like, right now. I have converted many Brussels sprout skeptics with my roasted side dish using the same method as above.
For my family of six [four of which are young kids], I roasted one small squash, two sweet potatoes, and 12oz Brussels sprouts. We had a little squash leftover, but otherwise, everything was gone.
[I’m kidding about vegan carb-cycling being a starvation diet…but only partially kidding. When your going low carb as a vegan, the pickin’s are slim.]
Since I’ve been talking a lot recently about what I eat, I thought I’d mention that I recently gave a new dieting fad, carb-cycling, a try. When I first started doing this, I scoured the internet for information on carb-cycling for vegans and found very little info and basically no personal experiences, so I’m here to share my story for any vegans wanting to give carb-cycling a try.
What is carb-cycling?
Truthfully, carb-cycling isn’t new. This method of rotating macronutrients to get super lean has been a part of body-building for a long time. It’s only just recently become mainstream, popularized by the ever-growing community of online fitness professionals.
Historically, carb-cycling has been very strict and, admittedly, very unhealthy as a long term diet. But it is so effective at getting body builders in prime shape for competition day, that many, many people put their bodies through this unnatural regimen in order to compete.
Now, however, carb-cycling has been modified to fit the every-day fitness buff who wants to get lean without giving up all the foods they love.
Here’s how it works:
You basically divide up your week into carb days and no-carb [or in my case, low-carb] days. The exact ratio depends on your goals, but if you’re looking to get cut or lose weight, you will have more no-carb days. My plan was to have two low-carb days followed by one carb day and then repeat. This is a pretty typical carb-cycle for every day fitness. On the no [or low] carb days, less than 20% of total caloric intake should be from carbs. And on the carb days, you can eat as many carbs as you want. In fact, you are encouraged to eat a lot of carbs so that your body doesn’t think you’re starving it.
Without getting to science-y on you, carb cycling works because if you don’t feed your body carbs, it will choose an alternative energy source to burn [ideally fat], which is good for losing weight…until your body realizes that you’re not going to give it any carbs and then it freaks out and starts burning as little fuel as possible to conserve energy stores. In other words, your metabolism will go to shit if you go without carbs for too long. So, by only giving your body carbs every few days, you keep it from going into survival mode on you and your body continues to burn fat [fingers crossed].
That’s the theory behind carb cycling, anyway. And I can tell you as a student of a previous body builder, carb cycling is definitely affective. However, the question always is…at what cost?
Carb-Cycling for Vegans
I’ll just tell you right off the bat, most people doing this are not vegans because nearly everything that vegans eat is high in carbs. Vegetables are mostly carbs, legumes have a ton of carbs, grains obviously are high in carbs. It’s actually really challenging to find low carb vegan foods. A typical low- or no-carb day would consist of lots of meat and cheese – the only two food groups that have no carbs. Of course there are also some fat foods like avocados, nuts, and oils, but you can really only eat so much of those things.
So basically, if you want to attempt this as a vegan, you are in for a challenge. Is it doable? Yes. Is it easy? No.
Foods I could eat on low-carb days:
Leafy greens and other low carb vegetables
Low carb fruit [of which there are not many]
What my food typically looked like:
Breakfast: tofu scramble with spinach
Lunch: salad with oil and vinegar and avocado
Snack: mixed nuts
Dinner: vegetable stir-fry
Breakfast: vegan keto bar [these things are NOT yummy]
Lunch: an avocado, tomatoes with oil and vinegar
Snack: two tablespoons natural peanut butter
Dinner: green goddess salad with tofu
What my low-carb macros typically looked like:
I managed to eat 1000-1200 calories per day [which is not enough for me with exercise] and I managed to maintain this carb-to-fat ratio. But it was HARD. It was hard to eat enough calories. It was hard to find foods that I could eat that didn’t have carbs so I ended up eating a lot of the same things. And I mean, A LOT.
But…I did it.
However, there was a downside.
My carb-cycling experience
Besides the question of whether carb-cycling is doable, I needed to ask is this healthy?
Based on my experience – No.
At least, not for me, not right now.
As a fitness professional and health nut, I’m always interested in trying new things, but this messed me up. I was originally planning to try it for a month, but I only lasted two weeks.
To start with, I had intense stomach cramping for the first few nights as my body rebelled against this no-carb idea. Then I bonked on a five mile run for the first time in my life. A FIVE MILE RUN! [For my non-runner friends, to “bonk,” or hit the wall, is when you run out of energy stores in your muscles and basically feel like you can’t go another step.] In all my years of running long distances, I’ve never hit a wall like that before. I could barely workout on my low-carb days, and forget about cardio. So I would workout like crazy on my carb days, but I like to exercise six days a week, so a sudden switch to only two days was just not working for me.
Besides physical pain and lethargy, I was only eating a handful of foods, when before I was eating the rainbow of plant-based options. And the work required to maintain this diet made it completely unappealing.
Of course, the carb days were fine. I could eat like I always did [except I would avoid all fats], but there were so few of them that I constantly felt weak and slow and lazy. I think advocates for this way of eating would tell you that it gets better as your body adjusts, but I really had no reason to continue to torture myself. I don’t need to lose weight. I’m not training for a bikini competition.
Basically, I don’t want it that bad.
We live in a carb-hating society right now. I’ve worked with many trainers and athletes [even ultra marathoners and Ironman competitors] who never eat any carbs. They live on lean meats and dairy with a side of leafy greens. And that works for them. [Though I could write a whole post about the negative impacts of low-carb diet on athletic performance.] As for me, I prefer to fuel my exercise with carbs – plant-based, whole food carbs.
So, anyway, my advice to vegans wanting to carb-cycle: proceed with caution.
So, I have a confession to make: I’ve gained weight since going vegan last October. Not like crazy amounts of weight, just five or so fluctuating pounds, but that’s enough for me to realize that despite my rigorous 6-days-per-week workout schedule, I’m going in the wrong direction. This is NOT to say that weight is the only indicator of health, by the way, but I know that my eating habits are not as healthy as they once were…or as they should be.
This realization [or revelation] made me re-examine my diet [aka what and how I eat] to find weaknesses. And I found one alright.
[I found other problems too, which I may share about at another time.]
The biggest problem was veganism.
My Vegan Story
Just so you know, I’m not a nutritionist, doctor or scientist – though I wish I were one [or all] of these things. I’m just a health fanatic who has been studying [and trying out and fine-tuning] my own healthy eating habits for the past ten years. I’ve also been a personal trainer for the past six years, which has taught me a lot about what motivates and influences people’s eating decisions.
I became a full-fledged vegan last year after flirting with veganism for about three years. The final decision was in response to climate change and the obvious havoc that meat consumption is wreaking on the planet. My side reasons were to no longer be complicit in the unethical treatment of animals, feeling much better when eating vegan, and the health benefits of avoiding meat.
Since making the switch, I’ve been writing a lot about being vegan, posting vegan recipes, discussing being vegan with kids, and sharing what my meals look like. However, now it’s time to address the elephant in the room: Is being vegan healthy?
The Problem with Veganism
It’s a common misconception that vegan is synonymous with healthy. While it’s true that eating meat – especially too much and factory farmed meat – has negative health consequences, does that necessarily mean that cutting out all animal products is more healthful?
The short answer: no, unfortunately, it doesn’t.
The major problem with veganism is that lots of unhealthy foods are vegan. Veganism [or plant-based, if you prefer] as a diet isn’t necessarily healthy because plenty of unhealthy foods are vegan. Check out this list:
Potato chips [cheese free]
Dairy-free ice creams
Lucky Charms, Cocoa Pebbles, Frosted Flakes [and many, many other junk cereals]
Laffy Taffy candy [and many other types of candy]
Olive Garden breadsticks
Highly processed vegan alternatives to meat products
And the list goes on and on.
I remember the first time Brett and I went out together after I became vegan and the only thing I could eat on the entire menu was French fries. So, guess what I had for dinner? French fries. Would anyone call that a healthy meal?
[In retrospect, I probably could have ordered a plate of lettuce without any dressing and a side of steamed broccoli, but seriously, would you choose that over French fries???]
So, what I’ve noticed is that, if something is vegan, I’ll eat it because…well, it’s vegan and there aren’t as many options available for me. However, this has lead to me eating a lot of things that I ordinarily wouldn’t.
I hadn’t eaten French fries foryears before I became a vegan because under no circumstances [other than starvation and literally nothing else available] are French fries a healthful choice. I also had long ago given up burgers and chips and sugary candy, because they are also really worthless foods. And I’ve already expounded on how much I loathe cereal for being a total waste of a food in a previous post.
And yet, here I am eating vegan burgers with a side of fries like it’s totally okay.
I reached this point honestly, though. I was so focused on eating only what is vegan, that I totally forgot about eating what is vegan and healthy.
So, I’ve realized that in order to be a vegan [for all the very important moral, ethical, and health reasons] andto be healthy and live a long, productive, active, disease-free life, I have to tweak my version of veganism a little bit. I have to make it work for me in the healthiest way possible.
My Version of Veganism
So now that I’ve realized that veganism doesn’t mean it’s ok to eat anything that doesn’t list animal products on the label, I’m recommitting myself to a vegan diet that means: zero animal products [that’s pretty obvious] and also zero processed foods [of which there are tons in the vegan section of the grocery store] and zero added sugar [which is definitely a vice for vegans – even if it is organic and not processed using bone char].
I’m making an exception for some processed vegan meats because they really make veganism more accessible for my family [aka my partner, Brett], but I will mostly avoid them – even tofu, tempeh, vegan sausage [which I actually like way more than I ever liked real sausage], and vegan meat alternatives.
So what will I eat?
Well, It’s time to go back to…[drum roll, please]… my vegetable-only diet! I’ve done some form of this diet for roughly a month each year since 2018…and it’s time to bring it back, but this time with a vegan twist.
I will eat vegetables [lots and lots and lots of them], fruit, legumes, nuts, and the occasional whole grain [like quinoa, brown rice, oats, and 100% whole grain bread].
To live a truly healthy lifestyle, vegans have to not only pass up the animal products, but also the processed vegan alternatives, sugary snacks, and junk foods that are common in the vegan food aisle. These items, which are fine as exceptions, shouldn’t be diet staples.
I’ll post later with more details about my [nearly] vegetable-only diet, but in the meantime, I just wanted to encourage any other vegans out there who, like me, want to be the healthiest they can be, to put down the vegan breakfast bars, bag of pretzels, and dairy-free Haagen Das, and instead, pick up carrot sticks with hummus, a whole apple, or banana “ice cream.”
Composting is fundamental to a zero waste lifestyle, but my goal is to use as much of the vegetable as possible before tossing what’s left into the compost bin.
So, today I’m sharing three ways I like to use vegetable “scraps” that usually get tossed.
Pictured above is a recent Misfits Market produce delivery that I received. In order to create as little waste as possible, I used the broccoli stems for a salad, carrot tops for pesto, and the rest of the scraps for vegetable broth.
Broccoli Stem Salad
Poor broccoli stems. People like them even less than they like the rest of the vegetable.
Broccoli stems are perfectly edible, but they often get thrown out because they are woody and not as appetizing. Nowadays I will steam them with the rest of the broccoli, but [don’t tell anyone] I used to compost them because I don’t like them as much as the florets.
Then a girlfriend of mine told me about spiralizing the stem and using it in a salad! What a great idea!
All you need is a spiralizer to add broccoli [a superfood, by the way] to your salad. I have a small handheld spiralizer that I use frequently for small veggies [pictured below].
And a countertop spiralizer, which I don’t use as often, but it perfect for spiralizing big things like heads of cabbage, sweet potatoes, etc.
Carrot Top Pesto
I love making my own pesto! Besides being delicious and a great sauce or dip, pesto can be infinitely customized. I make mine vegan and throw in whatever greens I have. A traditional pesto uses basil; however, [nearly] any green will work.
When I have carrots, I throw the green tops into pesto along with whatever other greens I’m using, usually basil, kale, spinach, or a mixture of them.
[Side note: if you buy your carrots without the tops, likely someone else is throwing them into the garbage, so try to buy carrots in their full form.]
My produce order produced a lot of scraps – the ends of the zucchini and green beans, the leaves of the cauliflower, carrot peels, Brussels sprout stubs, etc. I take all of these loose ends and save them in a reusable bag in my freezer.
When the bag is full, I pour it all in my stock pot and simmer for…as long as I can. Then strain, pour in jars, and save in the fridge.
This is a no-brainer, but it still took me until recently to get into the habit of saving my scraps for vegetable broth. Now, I always have either some jars of broth in the fridge or a stash of scraps in my freezer.
Anyway, hopefully these are some ideas to help you reduce waste! Any one else have creative ways to use vegetable scraps??
Shortly after moving to our small town in southern Illinois last November, I signed up for Misfits Market, a weekly produce delivery service. Here are my thoughts for those considering using this service.
What is Misfits Market?
Misfits Market rescues organic produce that isn’t fit for grocery stores and ships them at a discounted box rate to customers around the country.
“Every box of Misfits produce you order benefits farmers, helps prevent food waste, and ultimately helps save our environment.”
Sounded really good to me, almost too good to be true, so I was a little skeptical. I have heard negative reviews of other similar programs promising to “rescue” produce, but now that I’ve received several orders, I believe that a lot of this produce is, in fact, rescued. I’ve found banana-shaped cucumbers, oranges the size of my head, perfectly round sweet potatoes, plenty of bruised [but perfectly edible] apples, and extra large lemons like this one here:
Of course, a lot of the produce seems to be perfectly normal and fit for any grocery retailer, but then again, I’m not even close to a professional in this area.
They also ship the produce in eco-friendly packaging, which you can read more about here.
[This is one of those businesses that I would like to visit so I can really see with my own eyes what’s happening and, more importantly, how it’s happening. Because if this company is really doing what it says it is, then it’s fantastic and everyone should get onboard!]
Why Misfits Market?
Our town has two grocery stores: a Walmart Supercenter and a local grocer which is mostly salvaged and overstocked goods. Neither option is great for produce on a normal day, but I’m used to our CSA produce from our local farm, so I really wanted to find something comparable down here. Shouldn’t be hard, since this is a farming community…or so I thought. I began searching for local farmers markets or CSAs in the area, but couldn’t find anything open or running during the winter season. I did, however, discover Misfits Market.
As with everything, there are pros and cons. I prefer not to have anything shipped if I can pick it up myself and I have advocated repeatedly for eating local produce, so…I am definitely compromising a little bit. However, eating fresh, organic produce from sources I can trust is my number one priority. And I am committed to shop local for all of our other needs, like pantry items, dry goods, etc.
How does Misfits Market work?
Currently on Misfits Market, there were two sizes of weekly boxes. I chose the larger [called “Madness”] for $35 per week. The box comes with fourteen types of produce, 2-4 portions each. [The smaller box is called “Mischief” and has 12 types of produce, 1-2 portions of each for $22.] The price doesn’t include taxes and shipping and I have the option of adding additional items for extra cost from the “market,” which I have always done because I LOVE Brussels sprouts. So with my add-ons, I have spent $45-50 per week on the box.
Each week, I have a window of two days to make selections based on what is currently being rescued from farms around the country. The items are available on a first come, first served basis. I literally have an alarm set on my phone. I make my selections on Saturday and my box is delivered on the following Friday [I could choose my delivery day from a list of three or four options].
Today was my delivery day, and here is what my box contained.
Looks a lot like my CSA box, doesn’t it? [Except for those pesky stickers on all the fruit and several things still wrapped in plastic.]
What I Like
Overall, I am really happy with the service. My box always arrives on time, it is priced really well, I get to choose the items I want, the food is in season, the produce is all organic, and it comes straight to my door [which is super convenient – I’m a mom of four, don’t forget!]. I can also skip a week, pause my shipments, or opt for bi-weekly delivery any time I want. And my experience with customer service has been terrific [more on that below].
As I said before, I would prefer to find local produce, so when the summer comes I will likely pause my deliveries and return to my absolute favorite store: the farmers market! But, in this case, shipped produce is better than my alternatives.
What I Don’t Like
I’ve had a few problems with things missing from my box. But it is very easy to contact them about a missing item [quick form online] and I was issued a credit within twenty-four hours [no hassle and no fuss].
I’m not complaining or trying to discourage anyone from using this service, but be warned – the quantities can be a little strange. One week I ordered Brussels sprouts and I found six tiny sprouts at the bottom of my box. Another time I ordered spaghetti squash and received four ginormous squashes. Sometimes I get two oranges, and other times I get six. When I ordered lettuce, I got TONS of lettuce. You never know. It’s not really a problem, it’s just unexpected. [Part of the fun, I guess?]
Sometimes the produce is not in great shape. I avoid ordering leafy greens [especially delicate ones like butter lettuce] because they have often arrived soggy and brown. Of course, this is part of the issue with shipping produce, and it is to be expected. Not a big enough problem for me to stop using the service.
Overall, I am really happy with Misfits Market. I recommend it, but I also recommend hitting up local farmers markets, looking for CSAs in your area, and making the decision that is best for you. If you don’t have a local option available to you, then this is a good way to get organic produce for your family AND help cut down on food waste [which is a major problem here in America].
So, it’s a win-win! Eat produce and save the planet!
Now that I’m a vegan, I have to face my own inconsistencies about how I feed my kids.
For years I was a moderate vegan or “vegan before six,” and I never changed my kids diet. We have always eaten a lot of vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes anyway. But my kids also got yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, chicken nuggets, burgers, ice cream and even the occasional macaroni and cheese. It didn’t seem so bad.
Now, however, I’m fully vegan because of my own personal convictions about the healthful, ethical and environmental necessity of a fully plant-based diet – so how can I, with a clear conscience, feed my kids animal products?
[Side note to clarify my statement above: I believe it is unhealthy to eat meat in the large quantities that we do in America, and I believe that it is unethical because our demand for large quantities of cheap meat has caused significant suffering for the animals we consume, and I believe that meat and animal products are the leading cause of damage to our planet. I am not saying that any meat at any time ever is wrong or unhealthy, but rather that in this current time with our current systems in place and our current ecosystems at stake, it is best – even necessary – to be vegan. I wrote in more depth about my reasons for becoming vegan in my post Why I’m Going Vegan [and why you should too]]
I obviously want my kids to be healthy. In fact, I care even more about their health than my own [hence why I hide the junk food for after they are in bed…and maybe partly so I don’t have to share…], so if I believe that Veganism is the healthiest and most ethical way of eating, am I wrong for feeding my kids the traditional American diet of Mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, and go-gurt?
But on the other hand, is it right of me to force them into a vegan lifestyle [purely by omission of all animal products]? Will they feel like they are “missing out”? Will they resent me?
But then again, is it right to raise them to be carnivores? Will they later ask me why I forced them to eat poor butchered animals? Will they resent me?
Do you see my dilemma?!?
Reflecting on this made me think about my own upbringing. I was raised in an omnivorous [mostly carnivorous] family and no one bothered to ask me whether I wanted to eat animals or drink their fluid secretions or not. I was given cows milk from the moment I stopped nursing until…well, milk was a big staple in my childhood home. We consumed at least a gallon per week. Meat was the main component of every meal and ice cream was the dessert of choice after every meal.
So basically, we ate like typical Americans.
And I’m not mad at my parents in the least for feeding me animals. They fed me and I am immensely grateful. But now that I have a choice, I choose not to eat animals, which is different than my family, my partner’s family, and, quite frankly, every other human being I know on the planet […except one coworker once].
Maybe that’s what’s so tough about choosing veganism for my family – it is different, and different is a little scary. Honestly, I don’t mind making choices for myself that go against the grain [I rather enjoy it, in fact], but it’s harder to make those choices for my kids, knowing that my choices will greatly influence their worldviews and their lifelong habits. Even if I believe it’s the best thing to do, I know that it won’t always be received well. [So help me, if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me how I get enough protein…] I know that my kids will eventually realize that they are different and I don’t want to force them to be outsiders.
As parents, we make a lot of choices for our kids. I, personally, make a lot of controversial and unpopular choices for my kids [at least in my circles]. So maybe choosing to feed them only plant-based foods will not be any different than my decision to, say, not take them to church or not hit [aka “spank”] them or not circumcise my son or any of the other ways that we choose to do things differently than other families.
What is most important to me is that the choices I make for my kids are intentional, not merely the result of “going with the flow,” not just doing it because everyone else does or because that’s how it’s always been done, and not eating without considering why and where and how and how much and to what end.
I’ve come to discover that eating, like everything else in life, is a moral choice. And what I feed my kids is an even greater moral responsibility.
So, I am going to switch my family to a vegan diet when we are at home. I am not going to be the meat nazi at restaurants or the rude guests at dinner parties, I promise.
I am going to model healthy eating habits, including not binging on junk food, not snacking late at night, not starving myself, and not eating animal products. I am not going to force my kids to become vegans nor discourage them from eating a wide variety of foods.
I am going to make vegan food delicious and exciting by trying all the recipes and being creative. I am not going to be heartbroken if my kids don’t love being vegan and choose a carnivorous lifestyle for themselves.
I am going to be flexible and course-correct if this plan doesn’t serve my family best and I am not going to be upset about it.
Anyone else rethinking how they feed their kids????
I bet there are vegans out there who are lucky enough to be surrounded by other vegans, or at least know some other vegans. And they probably had tofurkey for Thanksgiving with vegan stuffing and steamed vegetables and dinner rolls with vegan butter.
Well, that’s not how it happened for me.
Unfortunately, not a single other member of my family, my extended family, or even my partner’s extended family is so much as on a diet, let alone vegan. Same goes for my small group of friends. So this year, at my in-laws Thanksgiving feast, there was only one thing on the entire menu that wasn’t either cooked in, slathered with, or dunked in some sort of animal product.
…and that was the dish that I brought…
So, this is what my thanksgiving meal looked like:
[This is a dessert plate, ya’ll.]
I roasted sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts using only extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. [And I could only have a roll because my mother-in-law set aside one for me before they were all coated in melted butter.]
Everyone else ate turkey, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, corn, ambrosia, and dinner rolls.
Dessert was obviously much worse, but I still got into the holiday spirit with my cinnamon glazed pecans.
Of course everyone else had pumpkin pie, apple pie, chocolate mousse pie, cupcakes, ice cream, and sugar cookies.
While it might sound like I missed out, in reality it felt really good not to stuff myself to the brim and then top it off with a round of desserts. I had everything I needed for a delicious thanksgiving meal: vegetables, bread, and my candied pecans for dessert. It was actually a really good holiday.
My Thanksgiving didn’t look like it has in years past, but I was totally okay with that.
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving with family or friends. And, despite the year it’s been, I hope everyone could recall all of the reasons we have to be thankful. For me, it was my health, my privilege, my sweet children, my partner and our exciting new adventure that is just beginning!
As promised in my last post [Simplifying Veganism], I’m back to talk about how I eat at restaurants as a vegan. There are already plenty of good resources out there that provide vegan restaurant lists and menu modifications for popular restaurants [like this list of Vegan Restaurant Options by PETA] so I won’t rehash specifics. [BUT, did you know that Olive Garden breadsticks are VEGAN?!? That’s not real butter, folks!!!! See? Being vegan ain’t that bad!]
Instead of specific lists or menu options, I just want to share how I go about figuring out what to eat at restaurants – something that might be considered a stressful experience for many people.
In order to eat vegan at restaurants, I follow a three-step plan, which goes as follows:
1. Plan ahead. This is rule number one for eating healthy in general, so I’ve been practicing this for years. Before I go to a restaurant, I look up the menu and make a choice before getting seated and seeing all the pictures of spinach and artichoke dips and bacon avocado burgers. If there aren’t any vegan menu items, I begin to look for ways I can alter meals to make them vegan. For instance, pizza usually becomes vegan by opting for no cheese, which may not sound like pizza, but is a super satisfying way to partake in family pizza night – and get your fill of vegetables. [My kids like my vegan pizza as well!]
[Side note: we LOVE making homemade pizzas and a while back we started making a salad pizza, which is basically just salad on top of baked pizza crust and it is DELICIOUS! Though I suspect it should technically be classified as a flatbread, it is a great way to feel like you are eating pizza, even when you’re not.]
2. Try to find a vegan-friendly restaurant. These little up-and-coming gems need our support, so if it’s in your power to choose the restaurant, go for the cute vegan shop on the corner. If you, like me, have nothing but Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen, and McDonalds at your disposal, then just move on to step number three.
3. Get Creative. One night my husband and I had a rare opportunity to go out without the kids [!!!!] and we wound up at Applebee’s. Turns out the only things that are vegan at Applebee’s are the French fries and the wedge salad [without the dressing, of course, which pretty much just makes it a wedge of lettuce]. So, I ate French fries.
Let’s clarify a common misconception while we’re on the topic. Being vegan does not equal healthy. Yes, it does avoid a lot of unhealthy foods, but there are still plenty of unhealthy foods available for vegans. For instance, sugar is vegan, margarine is vegan, skittles and starburst are vegan, French fries are vegan, Haagen Daz dairy-free ice cream is vegan and absolutely AMAZING, but also most definitely not healthy in the least. And did I mention, Olive Garden breadsticks are vegan?!? So clearly, vegan and healthful are not synonymous.
Now, back to the Applebee’s French fries…
That night, I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of steps one and two. However, I also learned that you can always find something vegan or ask for something to be made vegan.
Here are some of the ways I find vegan options at restaurants [organized by cuisine type]:
Soup and sandwich shops like Subway and Panera and Jimmy Johns are great for vegans. Pretty much every sandwich shop nowadays has a vegetarian option and usually all you have to do is ask for no cheese and you’ve got a vegan sandwich. Vegetable or bean soups are also usually vegan.
Mexican restaurants are really good choices because Mexican foods are easily made vegan by swapping beans for the meat and holding the cheese. I LOVE Mexican food and I am SO GLAD that I can go to pretty much any Mexican restaurant and order a vegan taco loaded with beans and vegetables and spicy salsa and guacamole mmmmm yum! And the chips are usually vegan too. [Always check, of course.]
Sushi and poke bowl restaurants like Poke Bros and Wok ‘n Fire have vegan California rolls or create your own options that can be easily made vegan.
Pretty much any pizza place as I’ve already mentioned can easily make a vegan pizza by holding the cheese. Most pizza places have vegan crusts and marinara.
Breakfast and brunch restaurants usually have oatmeal as a menu option and bagels are also usually vegan [pass on the cream cheese obviously].
[Another side note: pancakes and muffins and quick breads can very easily be made vegan and while my kids and partner are not vegan, it doesn’t hurt them to eat that way so I have switched all my baking over to vegan recipes – and, you may be surprised to hear that Brett has given glowing reviews of my vegan banana muffins calling them the best I’ve ever made! I’ve also switched my kids to almond or oat milk for cereal in the mornings – which they only get on weekends – because they can’t even tell a difference!]
American restaurants often have a veggie burger available, but if not, salads sans cheese and meat and with a vegan dressing is a good option. Also, there are typically vegetable sides that are vegan – plate of steamed broccoli, anyone?
Pasta and Italian restaurants are easy to eat at because noodles and marinara are typically vegan. Pass on the cheese and the meatballs, but enjoy a filling plate of spaghetti. Of course, I wouldn’t constitute that as a very healthy meal, but it is vegan. I love that Noodles and Company has started offering zoodles [spiralized zucchini noodles] in place of traditional spaghetti for the more health-conscious people like myself. I would much prefer a bowl of zucchini over a bowl of refined carbohydrates.
So, that’s my simple plan for eating vegan out [or, thanks to covid, ordering in].
Stay tuned for a post about what I eat at this years Thanksgiving gathering with my carnivorous in-laws.
When I first tried a vegan diet, about two years ago, I began by searching for vegan recipes on Pinterest. The results were disappointing – tofu nuggets, cauliflower Alfredo, eggplant lasagna, and vegan “crab” cakes. Turns out that a lot of the vegan food out there is just a creative twist on a classic. But I wanted to be vegan without having to go to the grocery store and fill my entire fridge with vegan versions of all the foods I used to eat. I didn’t want to eat processed foods that came packaged in a box or freezer bag.
I wanted to eat food that was simple and natural, not complex and unusual.
[Next week, I’ll be sharing how I’ve been managing to eat vegan while dining out – which originally seemed like such a daunting task I didn’t even want to go out to eat, but now I’ve come to enjoy the challenge – and the food.]
I’m still eating oatmeal every morning. I just love oatmeal! Ever since I took control of my health [twelve years ago now – sheesh!], I’ve been eating a quarter cup of oatmeal with fresh fruit and a teaspoon of brown sugar and cinnamon for nearly every breakfast. There are exceptions of course, but I have consumed A LOT of oatmeal. So this part of my diet has not changed.
Oatmeal is a great breakfast because in the morning your body needs a healthy carbohydrate for energy that also contains protein and is filling. Oatmeal checks all the boxes. The only risk with oatmeal is overdoing it with sugar or sweeteners, so adding fresh fruits [which are obviously also full of health benefits] sweetens oatmeal naturally.
I do keep on hand homemade oat milk or almond milk for my kids to have cereal [only on the weekends because, ya’ll, cereal is NOT real food] or to make vegan banana muffins or vegan pancakes – none of which are particularly healthy due to the high sugar content, but at least there are some other options for special occasions.
You could get all funky and make vegan sweet potatoes and black bean breakfast burritos…but who has that kind of energy in the morning???
I’m still eating a salad every day for lunch. The only exception is when I eat leftovers.
This is pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll tell you why I [nearly] always eat a salad for lunch: because eating raw vegetables is super important and the easiest way to eat raw vegetables is in a salad.
I always start with a green [romaine, spinach, kale, and butter lettuce are my favorites] and then pile on all the vegetables I have in my fridge [carrots, peppers, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, capers, olives, etc].
Salads are a great way to load up on a variety of fresh vegetables; however, they are often soaked in sugary dressings which turn what would be a healthy meal into a calorie bomb. [Side note: in restaurants, I always order a vegan dressing on the side and skip the meat, croutons, tortilla strips, cheese, etc.] At home, I always make my own salad dressing which, at its simplest, can be a squeeze of fresh lemon juice or, if I’m feeling fancy, a homemade vinaigrette. But I usually just drizzle some olive oil and vinegar and call it a day.
Here’s where things get a little…shall we say, weird.
This is a vegan skillet that Brett made using rice, apples, onions, Swiss chard, and some seasonings. He stuffed it into roasted delicata squashes. If this sounds strange to you, it did to me too, but it was delicious. That night, the whole family was vegan and I think we should get bonus points because not a single food was processed.
The next night my family had pasta with a store bought sauce that was not vegan, so I set aside some noodles to have with vegan butter. Store-bought noodles are typically vegan, but highly processed and containing very little nutrition, so I typically avoid them altogether – except in rare instances like this. I also had leftover sautéed vegetables [zucchini, peppers, onions, corn].
A very common meal in our home [about once a week] is grilled chicken with rice and vegetables. I make this meal vegan by not eating the chicken. Again, no processed food, just simple, from-the-earth ingredients, cooked and slightly seasoned.
Vegetable soup is of course a staple, both for the healthful and heartiness of it, and for the waste-saving benefits since we just throw any leftover vegetables into a pot with water. I like to top mine with some hot sauce [ok, a lot of hot sauce]. In this meal, the only thing processed is the hot sauce [which, by the way, I am dying to make myself].
We usually have sourdough bread as a side with all of our soups. [Thank goodness most bread is vegan!!!]
This homemade squash soup, made by Brett, is my FAVORITE! Some recipes call for a cream, but not Brett’s soup. This soup is made with onions, carrots, apples and squash [butternut, acorn, or delicata all work]. Mmm mmm good! Sometimes if we are really lucky, Brett will make homemade croutons out of the ends of my homemade bread. TO DIE FOR!
[It’s a good thing it’s fall so my obsession with soup is not as strange as when I’m writing about it in July.]
Four bean vegetable soup. [I warned you that I’m obsessed with soups.] Beans are a big staple of a vegan diet. They are great in soups, in tacos, in burger patties, in brownies, in dips, in chili, in a bowl with salt and a dash of hot sauce [ok, a lot of hot sauce!].
This terrible photo is of a burrito bowl…of sorts. Rice, beans, peppers, onions, tomatoes, lettuce and – you guessed it! – hot sauce.
Honestly, if you’re going vegan I sincerely hope you like hot sauce because it is the best replacement for cheese. Of course, Brett would argue that it is a great addition to cheese, but if I can’t have cheese, I’ll just take the hot stuff.
[Fun fact: there are some health benefits to hot sauce. Hot sauce is supposedly an appetite suppressant and when eating spicy foods people tend to drink more water and therefore eat less! Hot sauce is also zero calories so a better alternative than mayo or ketchup – if you like things spicy!]
Last night I had roasted potatoes, sautéed green beans [my favorite] and leftover rice and beans.
You are probably beginning to notice a trend – lots of vegetables. In my opinion, the best way to be vegan is not with fancy “vegan” cheese or “vegan” burgers, but with all the foods that are naturally vegan: vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, and nuts.
And tonight I ate zoodles with vegan marinara and veggie balls. Despite what I just said above, sometimes it’s nice to try a vegan alternative like beyond meat and tofurkey…why not? But, in general, I stick with foods in their natural form.
Well, I’m sure my meals [and my terrible photography] haven’t convinced anyone to become vegan. But, I bet Darin Olien will if you read his book, Superlife, which I just finished. This book is FANTASTIC and I highly recommend it for anyone truly interested in improving their health.
According to Darin, the key to healthy nutrition is eating a wide variety of whole foods from plant sources, and eating a large portion of it raw. I couldn’t agree more. My 10+ years of searching for the healthiest lifestyle habits have led me here: to veganism. And it’s not as hard as it may seem.
Next week, I’ll be posting some strategies for vegan eating at restaurants. Truthfully, there has never been a better time to be a vegan!
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.
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:
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!
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!]