Category Archives: meal planning

Learning your way around the (vegan) kitchen

Warning, a bazillion links ahead.

If I had a dollar for everyone who’s said to me some variation of “I’d be vegan if someone else cooked for me,” well, I wouldn’t be living in this crappy little college apartment. Although changing things about your diet can seem daunting, I’m here to tell you that you can make gradual changes and eventually be able to see that cooking and eating vegan is really not that difficult, and neither is making sure you’re getting balanced meals. Yes, it’s a learning process, but learning is exciting! I looked at the challenge of learning how to cook for myself as a fun opportunity to eat better and less expensively and hone some creative kitchen skills. It feels awesome when you create something delicious from scratch and it’s darn healthy, too. I also want to say, you do not have to be a chef to make delicious vegan food for yourself at home! I’m definitely not.

I’m under the assumption that you probably cook at home at least some of the time, right? And that if you’re balancing your meals already you are loading up half your plate with vegetables, a quarter with a whole grain (brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, bulgur, farro, etc.) of some sort, and the other quarter with a protein dish. So, if you’ve got that down, you’ll see how easy it is to swap out the meaty/cheesy portions of food for plant-based deliciousness. If you haven’t gotten that down, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Studies have shown that Americans are not eating enough vegetables and whole grains and are counting entirely too many French fries as vegetable servings. But if you’re reading food and nutrition blogs, you’re probably looking to change that, too.

The first thing I’d suggest is picking one of your favorite meals, say tacos. There are a ton of ways you can make them meat and dairy-free and still full of flavor! The easiest, most obvious route is to use some sort of (not totally full of weird, processed ingredients) veggie crumble instead of meat. The next thing I would think of, and the way I usually like my tacos, is to use seasoned black or refried beans and then load your tacos up with your favorite veggie toppings, like shredded cabbage, tomato, onion, and of course avocado and salsa! Seasoned lentils make another great taco filling, as do grilled or sautéed Portobello mushrooms, red peppers  and onions, or grilled marinated tofu or tempeh. Really, the options are endless. Do a Google search for “vegan tacos” and see what I mean.

On that note, not to be obvious or anything, but Googling for vegan recipes is one of the simplest things you can do to get some great meal ideas. People have asked and vegans have answered the question “what do vegans eat, anyway?” in a major way! If you’re a cookbook fanatic like me, there are hundreds out there. There are books on everything from simple comfort food to decadent, restaurant quality meals. Some of my favorites are Veganomicon, How it all Vegan (the first vegan cookbook I ever bought, aww), The Inspired Vegan and Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry, and Crazy Sexy Kitchen.

Some more tips for adding more vegan meals to your repertoire:

  • Try veganizing one meal at a time. Breakfast is an easy one. You can make fruit smoothies, oatmeal with berries and flax or chia seeds and soy, rice, almond, hemp, or coconut milk, tofu scramble, pancakes, muffins, etc.
  • Acquaint yourself with the basics of vegan nutrition. You’ll feel a lot better when those questions about where you’re getting your protein roll in and you can be ensured you’re getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals. The Vegan RD is one source I trust. She also co-wrote a book Vegan for Life that I highly suggest reading and has another on the way called Vegan for Her.
  • Try eating vegan one full day of the week to start out. Meatless Monday is great to participate in if you’re trying to eat more vegan meals.
  • Plan ahead and cook up enough beans, lentils, quinoa, brown rice, etc. to get you through the week. Wash and chop your veggies so they’re ready to grab and go. Add these ingredients to a variety of dishes so you don’t get bored of eating the same thing all week.
  • Check out the wealth of  free vegan recipes online and the vegan cookbook section at your local bookstore or library.
  • Replace the meat in meals with beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, seitan, mushrooms, eggplant, and on occasion vegan burgers, sausages, and other vegan meat-like products (check nutrition labels if you’re trying to watch your sodium or fat and look for products with minimal ingredients).
  • Replacing eggs and dairy in baked goods is simple once you know there are other options. This is a great guide to getting started (vegan) baking up a storm.
  • Make sure you’re eating your vegetables! Remember, half your plate should be vegetables. Ginny Messina, The Vegan RD mentioned above, has just come up with a great vegan plate graphic that will help you determine the right food proportions of your plate. Farmer’s markets are great for trying new varieties of the freshest, in-season vegetables. Farmers are usually happy to share their favorite way to prepare their vegetables, too.
  • Try a vegan meal-plan to make things easy, like the free one at PCRM.org  or the Happy Herbivore’s , which you pay a fee for.
  • If you are so inclined,  purchasing Kris Carr’s book Crazy, Sexy, Kitchen,  gets you free access to cooking videos  by her and chef Chad Sarno. I learned a new thing or two from watching these.
  • Another amazing cooking resource that you can access from your own home is Spork Foods online cooking classes! These sisters are amazing and make learning cooking so fun. It feels like you are actually there having a dinner party with Heather, Jenny and their students.
  • Keep in mind why you want to make this change and let it inspire and keep you motivated. Is it because you’ve recently learned the suffering that animals raised for food endure? Do you want to be healthier? Are you trying to lighten your ecological footprint?
  • The most important thing is to not stress about it, relax, and enjoy the endless possibility for trying new foods and flavors! It’s not about being perfect and you don’t have to change everything overnight.

As a side note, I’m super happy that one of my best friends who had been going back and forth with being vegetarian has been texting and calling me lately with vegan food recommendations. People make changes at their own pace when and if they’re ready. I never pressure, but I’m always here for support.

Do you have any specific questions or suggestions you’d like me to address?

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Just a quick, checking in post

Another busy week for me, but what’s new when you’re a full-time student? The end of the semester is approaching and so all major assignments and papers are piling up. Exams will be in a couple of weeks, oh boy!

To own up to my good intentions, the meal planning went well for a few days and then I got sidetracked again. I have been preparing a lot more simple, quick meals at home, though. One thing that I’ve recently started doing that helps a lot is to buy frozen, chopped greens. I used to only buy fresh and then stress about using them up before they got wilty. My favorites are the leafy green mix from Whole Foods I mentioned in my last post, spinach, and collard greens. Instead of having to wash and chop my greens, I can just throw them into a pan with some water or into whatever recipe I’m using them in, such as stir-fry, curry, or soup. They are a time-saver and are just as, if not more, nutritious as fresh greens since they are flash frozen almost immediately after being harvested. That doesn’t mean I don’t still appreciate fresh kale from the farmer’s market!

Before I get back to my paper,I wanted to share this article from a (more or less) local cardiologist, Why I’m a Vegan: A Cardiologist Explains.

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Getting Organized

In the interest of roping our household food spending bill in and getting back to making more home cooked meals, I hearby declare that this weekend I am going to clean out my fridge and make a meal plan for the following week. I just made a meal plan for my symposium project, so it should be a no-brainer to do it for myself. To make it even easier, Kris Carr has made a printable meal planner/shopping list template that you just fill in with the meals you want to make for the week. She also offers up some great tips to keep meal planning and cooking as simple, quick, and enjoyable as possible.

Also, bonus tip: how to get perfectly browned tofu by Isa Chandra. I guess I’m going to have to try to re-season my cast iron pan or buy a new one if it’s unsalvageable. Mine has been sitting sadly in the cupboard after a botched attempt at seasoning made it all gummy and gross probably almost two years ago.

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Cram week

Please pardon me while I have a very busy week. The symposium I am presenting a poster at is this Friday and my partner and I have been working like madwomen around our already busy schedules to wrap everything up, make all the final edits, and make our poster look great! Earlier in the week we had a (now comical) stressful day of technology mishaps where nothing we tried to do on the computer went right! Luckily, my partner was able to work things out late Monday night and the rough draft of our poster looks amazing. She’s good like that. Final draft should be done tonight!

On top of that I have an exam over the weekend (thanks, art professor!), an assignment due Sunday (thanks, feminist theory professor!), and an exam over nine chapters that I have hardly had the time to read Monday. So even though I’d like to breathe a sigh of relief and have some cocktails Friday after the symposium, I have to get back to work immediately Saturday.

During busy times I resort to eating lots of giant salads from Whole Foods salad bar, majadara sandwiches from the delicious Haifa Falafel restaurant, and things I can throw together in minutes, like wraps made with sprouted grain tortillas with lots of vegetables, hummus, and avocado inside. The thing I always miss most while very busy is shopping for groceries and cooking at home. I know as a future dietitian I should be the queen of knowing how to maintain eating home-cooked, healthy meals even when busy, but I am still learning and trying to find that balance.

If you are great at having a healthy meal routine I’d love to hear how you make it work. I know all about the wonders of slow cookers, pressure cookers, and making a week’s worth of food over the weekend, but again, these are all habits I haven’t established despite my best intentions yet. YET.

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Filed under dietetics school, meal planning, Uncategorized

Healthy Meal Planning

I just wanted to share this awesome article I saw today about transitioning to a plant-based diet and planning and prepping your meals from the getvegucated.com newsletter.

“Does the thought of prepping food for the week make you want to reach for the phone and order take-out?
Luckily, being vegan doesn’t have to be expensive, complicated, or require that you spend four hours a day chopping vegetables.”

Vegan Grocery Shopping

Look at that bag of colorful love!

Even though I’ve been vegan (and before that vegetarian) for a long time, I could still use some food prep tips and tricks. I’ve always been into the idea of batch cooking and meal planning for the week, but I’ve yet to put it into practice. How great would it be to just come home after a busy day of school or work and have a fridge full of delicious healthiness waiting for you?!

If you’d like even more tips and support for transitioning to a plant-based diet, try their Vegucated Challenge! 

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