Vegan Meal Planning: The “Formula”

Vegan Meal Planning: The “Formula”

I love to invest in beautiful recipe books filled with impressive pictures, interesting techniques and inspiring ideas. But following directions isn’t necessary for normal, every day meals.  The ingredients, tools and timing are developed with experience, and become the ‘easy’ dishes that we create for comfort and convenience. As I have learned to cook vegan, my recipes have evolved in to a ‘formula’. Simply put, though every meal is one-of-a-kind because I use mostly fresh and seasonal produce, my routines are predictable.  I can create worldly cuisine, inspired by Italian, Mediterranean, Thai, Indian or Mexican flavors, or throw together a pizza with more veggies than I’ll ever admit to my kids. My methods are predictable. Once I discovered the framework for success, it became easy to plug and chug the variables.

Vegetables

Vegetables are so low in calories and rich in nutrients and fiber that the more you eat, the better. And if weight loss is your goal, the more vegetables you eat, the more weight you loose. Antioxidants in plants are the colors you see, and the key to disease prevention, health and happiness.

  1. Green vegetables have more protein per calorie than meat.
  2. Include a rainbow of color in every meal.
  3. Buy organic, fresh, in-sesason and local– but don’t be afraid of frozen.
  4. Try new things. Why use a red pepper when you can add orange? Potatoes come in purple. Rainbow chard tastes similar to Swiss, but it’s prettier. Shitake mushrooms are chewy, and much more fun than boring button. White asparagus looks yellow and leafy greens like spinach, kale, chard, mustard greens, collard greens and bok choy offer as much PROTEIN PER CALORIE than red meat!

A note on veges….The more the merrier. And if your kids ‘don’t like them’, put your lightly cooked assortment into the blender and hit “puree”. Add a jar of spaghetti sauce, salsa, baked squash or scheese sauce and everybody’s happy. Win/win.

Grains

All types of rice, quinoh, couscous, polenta, millet, oats, kasha and bulgur. Pastas, tortilla shells, breads and even chips count too!

Beans and Legumes

Kidney, northern, black, chickpeas (garbanzo), navy, pinto, adzuki…I buy the organic canned variety as it just doesn’t get any EASIER than that. But it’s cheaper to buy dry, soak, and cook. Don’t forget to check out the wide variety of colored lentils!

Plant Proteins

These are the meat substitution products, and the reason the word vegan leaves some people with a bad taste in their mouth…because when done wrong, they leave a really bad taste in your mouth.  But when you have kids, or you are transitioning from a carnivorous palette, these can be a great way to bridge the gap. There are such a wide range of products out there, starting with tofu, tempeh (my favorite) and moving to ‘fake’ chicken cubes, ‘fake’ beef crumbles, not dogs, shamburgers”, soy sages, facon, and so on. There are also wonderful brands of vegan cheese like Daiya and Follow Your Heart that melt (almost) as well as dairy varieties.

As many of these are processed, it is essential to buy high quality, organic brands. And don’t worry if you don’t like them; you certainly don’t need them. In fact, the longer you eat a plant-based diet, the less you’ll use them.

Oil for Satiety

Olive and canola oils are classic, and can be used in just about anything, as long as you keep the heat medium to low. If higher heat for searing or breading, try coconut oil (btw, popcorn loves coconut oil!) or peanut oil. My Asian dishes usually get sesame or safflower oil. Mediterranean flavors lend to grapeseed oil, and black truffle oil is THE BOMB.  I like to rub it on veges and broil/grill. My absolute favorite is from butter infused olive oil from the Olive Twist.

Seeds, Nuts and Sprouts

I love adding sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, poppy seeds, slivered almonds, pine nuts, peanuts, or walnuts to whatever I am making. These add salt, healthy fat, essential amino acids (aka: protein), depth of flavor and a little crunch. You can crush into a powder or whip them into a delicious cream sauce. Some dishes just naturally lend themselves to sprouts…which I grow at home, having heard too many lysteria contamination stories to feel comfortable with grocery store varieties. It’s so easy, grown in a jar next to the sink…new batch every four days. Getting that started is another blog.

Seasoning and Flavor

Seasonings do not just come in a jar from the spice isle. Your best bet is to get what you can fresh. Garlic is number one. Buy it in bulk and use it in everything! If your wondering, the difference between chopped garlic in a jar and fresh garlic you chopped is the equivalent to black and white TV vs. high def digital. Yep. Chopping garlic is a skill, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll look for reasons to ‘hit’ one more clove.

Grow your own herbs if you can, but stock your pantry with as many dried spices as possible. More natural flavor means less salt.

My favorite “stand by” is a simple balsamic glaze.

Liquid

Of course sauteing requires liquid, and you don’t want to use too much oil. Supplement with anything from water to wine, various vinegars, cooking sherry, beer—mmmmm, soy sauce, vegetable broth and more. If you do want to use oil, add it after you turn off the heat. Oil that gets too hot denatures into unhealthy trans fat.

So if these are the variables, what is the formula?

1. Get the tools.

2. Open a bottle of wine. Select a playlist.

3. Find favorite knife, cutting board, and raid produce bin or garden for whatever looks good. Ask kids to pitch in as you prepare, and they’ll be more inclined to eat.

4. Choose a grain. Options include pasta, rice, quinoa, dough, bread, and even tortilla chips.

5. Saute veggies to desired texture. Turn off heat when colors are the brightest for optimum antioxidant and enzyme retention. Add fresh herbs after removing from heat.

6. Add canned/prepared beans, seeds, sprouts and/or nuts.

7. Get creative as you pull it together. (With kids, a blender is a great way to introduce new flavors and textures!

8. Serve with love.

Everything tastes even better the next day, so be sure to keep leftovers for lunch. You’ll never eat fast food again once you taste your own potential.

 

 
Embracing Detox Symptoms

Embracing Detox Symptoms

Eating habits are really hard to change. We associate the foods we eat with comfort and normality, so anticipating withdrawal and detox symptoms is essential to success.

The faster you transition to a plant-based diet, the more likely it is that you will experience a detox symptoms. It can occur any time within the first month, and last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. Symptoms can include:

    • Headache or nausea
    • Feelings of stress
    • Fatigue and weakness
    • Mental confusion and irritability
    • Abdominal or esophageal spasms
    • Gastrointestinal issues ranging from cramping, bloating, constipation anddiarrhea.
    • Compromised immunity that leaves you susceptible to colds and virusesIf you plan for a few days of downtime, more than likely you’ll be pleasantly surprised and through the worst before you even realize what’s happened. Most likely, it will just feel like you’re having a bad day. Have some herbal tea on hand, try to get some extra sleep, and trust that it will pass.

Put your experience in perspective, and you might find a new level of motivation with the “No Pain, No Gain” philosophy. Everyone’s met the smoker who selfishly demands his “right” to light a cigarette in public, despite everyone else’s right to breathe. On the surface, he may feel that being restricted from his habit is an issue of freedom. But if he “needs” to smoke, he’s actually surrendered his power of choice. He’s not free to smoke. He’s required. Failing to administer the drug will be painful, and his body will be punished with detox symptoms.

Cravings are not about hunger. They are symptomatic of a disruption in a toxic cycle that keeps us enslaved to addiction. Understanding why this process occurs can make coping with the temporary discomfort of detox symptoms more bearable.

Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals and living enzymes are what keep our cells functioning properly. A diet low in these micronutrients leaves our cells “understaffed”, affecting everything from DNA replication and repair, hormone function, immune response and waste removal. It’s analogous to a work force that goes on strike when they are not compensated fairly. We are oblivious to the people working in the background to keep our community systems running smoothly until our we can’t catch a cab or send our kids to school.

And when there aren’t enough “garbage men” to process all of the trash we ingest in junk food alley, it will be left indefinitely in our fat cells.

So when we need to break down fat cells for energy or weight loss, the excess waste products are released into our blood stream. This creates discomfort that we first identify as hunger or low blood sugar. Because if we eat, the breakdown of our fat cells stops, and our detox symptoms go away.

And if we eat processed foods that are chemically designed to stimulate our endorphins, we not only stop feeling bad, we start feeling good. Maybe even really good.

For about 5 minutes.

So when you feel nasty even though you’ve been eating whole foods filled with micronutrients, don’t be fooled into rationalizing that good foods don’t leave you satisfied and nourished. Actually, the presence of healthy food will boost your body’s ability to counteract withdrawal.

Detox symptoms are temporary. Good health will last a lifetime.

Don’t judge your day based on the harvest you reap, but on the seeds you plant.

Hosting a Green Birthday Party

Hosting a Green Birthday Party

The Darling Divas Loved the Green Birthday Party

As all the giggly girls who attended my daughter’s 8th birthday party were leaving, Kate-the-Great-who-Just-Turned-Eight began doing what any normal lil’ diva does.

Planning her next event.

And it’s a good thing we’ve got 364 days, because this momma needs to put her feet up. But truth be told, the party was actually enjoyable, for me too!

With four kids, I’ve hosted my fair share of birthday parties. And usually, those 2-3 chaotic hours are almost as much work as the original day of birth; personally, I’d prefer to commemorate the blessed event face down on a massage table with only nature sounds and the scent of lavender to keep me awake.

But I can’t deny my child an essential right of passage. Even so, I just can’t throw a standard soiree anymore; mounds of paper and plastic trash destined for the landfill, and fake foods filled with unnatural colors, flavors and fats.

Because it doesn’t have to be that way. Our kids deserve better. So I decided to host a green birthday party that would highlight the importance of sustainable living.

My daughter loves to make crafts, and wants her guests to take home something they will use. She has a budding eco-friendly conscious, and wanted to paint reusable shopping bags, make bird houses, and serve a vegan taco bar with gluten free cake.  Can I say I’m proud?

Each girl decorated her own jute bag, and then they autographed each others. They each created a one-of-a-kind designer bag not available in stores!

The girls now have their own reusable shopping bag that carries a delightful memory along with a sense of personal empowerment that they can make a difference. I challenged the girls to count how many disposable bags they don’t need to take from the store each time they take it shopping. They can keep a tally right on the bag!

There are some lucky birds that will have bright, new and custom housing. Notice the camouflage decor in the back. Good thinking. I think that one’s equipped with WIFI too….

I included Michaels and the grocery store on my weekly errand run so that I could get the supplies and ingredients that I needed. Check your own art supplies before you purchase more, and make a list before you go. Combine as many errands in one trip as you can, and take reusable shopping bags!

The Vegan Taco Bar was LightLife crumbles, sauteed in cumin and chili powder, with chopped organic veggies, refried black beans, homemade guacamole and corn shells.

The party was scheduled for 1 p.m. I began food preparations at noon. The taco bar and cupcakes were ready by 12:45 p.m. This spread required no more effort than any other party; picking up store-bought versions is still time consuming! (But don’t let me fool you…I have two teenage boys who were “happy” to help…)

I substituted orange juice for the water in Pamela’s Gluten Free Vanilla Cake mix, and made a simple icing with powdered sugar and more orange juice. Fresh organic strawberries served as the “edible decoration”.

If you’ve never played with the orange flavor, you’re missing out. It’s easy to substitute freshly squeezed organic orange juice for liquid in any vanilla recipe. Finely grate a little zest (orange rind) into the batter and prepare to be impressed with yourself. Check out my recipe for orange cookies.

Each cake was baked in a silicon baking cup shaped like a flower. The color and shape offered a reusable accent that will be enjoyed again.

This delicious orange cupcake is gluten free and vegan, made with whole and organic ingredients. It’s FAR better than anything you’d find in a plastic package at the grocery store.

Hosting a green birthday party is less expensive, simple to plan and far more rewarding than the typical alternative. Showing our children that their future is not disposable is the best gift we can give.

Waking up our children to the importance of mindful and sustainable living is an act of love that will pay dividends in their futures…

The Vegan Guest: How to Feed a Vegan 101

The Vegan Guest: How to Feed a Vegan 101

What would you do if a vegan guest showed up at your home?

A non-vegan friend sent me this question:
My brother’s girlfriend is going to my parent’s house this weekend for the first time. She is vegan and my mom isn’t sure what to have on hand and what to serve. I was wondering if you had any recipes I could pass along to my mom. She obviously wants to be a good hostess and provide her with food she would like. Any help would be greatly appreciated!          

Thank you so much!
Sincerely,

Your non-vegan friend

Dear Non-vegan Friend,
I think your mom’s vegan guest will appreciate any effort to accommodate her food preferences. With advanced preparation, carnivores and vegans can dine together in harmony.

      A quick trip to the grocery to stock a few items is a great start. Look for:

  • Earth Balance butter spread
  • almond, rice or soy milk (original or vanilla is a safe bet)
  • hummus and guacamole
  • chopped veggies and mixed greens
  • fruit
  • mixed nuts
  • squash or sweet potatoes
  • soy, almond or coconut yogurt
  • Amy’s brand soups or burritos (check ingredient list: look for words like Vegan, and ‘contains no milk, egg’.
  • a balsamic or Asian vinaigrette salad dressing
  • cashews for garlic cream sauce or ranch dressing

A quinoa/bean salad is easy and provides plenty of sustenance and protein. A side dish of meat for those who want it can be discreetly prepared on the grill to keep the kitchen pleasant and fresh.

A quinoa/bean salad is easy and provides plenty of sustenance and protein. A side dish of meat for those who want it can be discreetly prepared on the grill to keep the kitchen pleasant and fresh.

Grilled, saute or roasted veggies go a long way and can be enjoyed with a great marinade or dipping sauce. Carnivores think of these as a side, so be sure to cook extra so there are plenty. Adding a baked potato to the mix creates a full and balanced meal.

Your houseguest would most likely be happy with oatmeal or granola with almond milk and fruit for breakfast, nut butters, hummus, salads with beans, fruits and vegetables, and nuts for lunch, and grilled or sautéed veggies with a whole grain like quinoa are for dinner. You can access lots of amazing recipes for vegans and non-vegans alike at lifeoffthelabel.com. There are many of ways to veganize just about any non-vegan recipe with non dairy milks, egg replacers, and non animal proteins, such as marinated tofu and tempeh, which are all available at a local grocer, such as Kroger. The Pembroke bakery in Fort Wayne offers lots of vegan options as well. Best wises!

Antioxidants and the Plant-Based Diet for Disease Prevention

Antioxidants and the Plant-Based Diet for Disease Prevention

Sparks that Burn

Every cell in our body needs oxygen to function. Oxygen “burns” glucose molecules, which creates the energy that fuels every aerobic process in our body. No oxygen? Game over. Carbon dioxide is the byproduct, which we breathe out as a waste product.

This process is called oxidation. Oxidation is also what causes things to burn, metal to rust, and apples to turn brown. Oxidation breaks things down…whether it’s sugar in our cells or old bikes left in the rain. Imagine a roaring bon fire..and hear and see the sparks that fly out. These sparks are analogous to what’s produced during oxidation in our bodies, and are known as free radicals.

Free radicals are the result of incomplete oxidation, and occur naturally. They are responsible for zapping invading microbes for our immune system, and kicking our muscles into high gear during anaerobic respiration. But as with every powerful tool, it’s a double-edged sword.  And factors such as pollutions, cigarette smoke and disease increase their occurrence, creating what’s known as oxidative stress, an imbalance in the cells’ natural ability to detoxify itself.

In essence, these free radicals aren’t done “burning”. As they fly around uncontrollably, they come into contact with other molecules, causing damage. This breaks down cellular function, damages DNA, causes aging and destroys other compounds needed by the body. Every disease known to man is either caused by or made worse by oxidative stress.

Antioxidants are the Fire Fighters!
Antioxidants are the bodies only defense against free radicals. They electronically neutralize the unstable “sparks” and prevent further damage. Just imagine the little cellular factories responsible for the trillions of processes that must occur each day, and visualize sparks that are flying everywhere…randomly disabling machines, burning holes in instruction manuals and damaging work stations.

The logical answer might appear to be high doses of antioxidant vitamins and supplements. But new research is not supporting this  hypothesis, which has created a 23 billion dollar/year industry. According to the American Heart Association, research does not indicated that vitamin supplementation reduces disease. Digestive processes and bioavailability are far more complicated than once thought. At best, taking vitamins make expensive urine. At worse, toxicity and drug interactions net a harmful effect. If they did what marketing campaigns claim, how is it that health care costs have risen 10 fold since 1980, to nearly 3 trillion dollars?

Plant-Based Diet: Waking Up Healthy
The answer is simple, available to everyone, and has been with us all along. The bottom line for disease prevention? There is no substitute for a healthy diet! Fruits and vegetables contain over 12,000 living, biologically perfect vitamins, phytochemicals, minerals, and micronutrients, occurring in correct doses and combinations perfectly designed for human health. A good multi-vitamin might have 10-20 chemically isolated and/or synthetically produced nutrients. Nature has created an elaborate orchestra for life, with living systems intricately dependent on hormonius and perfectly timed rhythms.

Plant foods contain significantly higher amounts of antioxidants. And though meat and dairy foods do contain some antioxidants, they also contain unhealthy saturated fats, cholesterol, acidic and disease-promoting proteins, and they do not contain fiber.

Fiber aids in digestion, lowers cholesterol, stabilizes blood sugar levels, and keeps the intestines and colon free of stagnant pockets of diverticulitis. As 80 percent of our immune system exists in our colon, having a well-moving, clean system is critical. Disease prevention requires antioxidants. Disease proliferation requires fiber!

The Benefits of Dairy Free Milk

The Benefits of Dairy Free Milk

Whether you are vegan or not, understanding the health benefits of dairy free milk is important. If you suffer from acne, acid-reflux, allergies, ear infections or really any serious health problem, looking underneath the mustaches of the most successful marketing campaign in history might provide some answers for what ails so many of us. It’s time for the “Got Milk” mindset to “Get Real”.

According to the USDA, which provides nutrition education to physicians, dietitians and schools, dairy is an essential food group from which we should consumer 2-3 servings a day. But in addition to educating the American public on what and how to eat, the USDA is also tasked with promoting agricultural commodities, contributing over 10 billion in subsidies over the last 10 years to the dairy industry alone.

There is ample scientific research that offers many reasons to switch to dairy free milk:

  • Lactose is the second-most common allergy..right behind peanuts. The good news is that it’s not usually life-threatening; the bad news is that symptoms vary widely and are not easily linked to dairy consumption. But nearly 70 percent of the population is lactose intolerant to some extent, with some nationalities as high as 95 percent!
  • There is a direct link between milk and acne. Skim milk poses the highest risk. If you have skin problems, eliminating dairy is the most effective action you can take. Why haven’t you heard that? Because the dairy and pharmaceutical industries are BIG money!
  • Heartburn, acid-reflux, bloating and gas are symptoms of lactose intolerance. Sixteen billion dollars is spent each year on medications that treat these symptoms. And use of these OTC and Rx drugs inhibits the absorption of the very nutrients, vitamins and minerals that milk provides.
  • Non-organic dairy comes from cows that are given growth hormones and antibiotics, and the rising number of associated diseases and hormone disorders is not coincidental. Oh, and non-organic milk has significant amounts of pus in it from mastitis caused by unnatural milk production. Mmmmm….Got milk?
  • Osteoporosis and bone-fractures rates are highest in countries where dairy consumption is greatest. This is because the dairy protein (amino acids) must be neutralized with salts such as calcium. So instead of absorbing the calcium as one might assume, the body actually leaches it from the bones.

Dairy free milk may not taste “normal”, but normal is defined by what you do on a regular basis. If you’d never tasted cows milk, that would seem weird too! (In fact, if you really think about the fact that diary milk is simply breast milk designed to grow a calf into a 1500 pound heifer or bull, it really gets even weirder. Most people would be grossed out if a lactating woman offered them a cup of freshly pumped breast milk. Yet drinking it straight from a cow udder is acceptable?

The bigger picture is that the only “Real”, and “All natural” drink that mother nature insists on is WATER. I use plant milks for cooking vegan cream sauces, baking treats, drinking coffee and occasionally eating a bowl of cereal. But I can’t remember the last time I poured a glass with a meal. We’ve been s(t)old that milk is the beverage of choice, and we’re used to serving it with all foods. But it’s quite easy to get un-used to it. It’s not necessary.

The good news for die-hard milk drinkers is that dairy free milk is a healthy alternative and easy to make on your own. Of course, there are countless options available at the grocery store, but if budget restrictions leave you feeling like you “can’t afford” it, it’s easy to make them on your own.  I’ll be honest, though. You may not get it right the first time. I’ve done the best I can to write recipes that reflect  months of trial and error, but what works for me may not be ideal for you. My best advice is don’t make too much at once. If it doesn’t turn out, it’s less of a loss. Adjust your expectations, because while it not be as “perfect” as the store bought varieties, and you may get lucky and find you’re own style is much better!  It’s so easy to work with! You can water it down, try a different grade of strainer, strain it twice, add a different flavor, or more/less sugar. There’s unlimited potential when you are the boss!

 

Please let me know which dairy free milks you like best, and what, if any, adjustments you make. I’ll add them to the recipes so we can all benefit from trial and error. Good luck!

The Beef on Vegan Protein

The Beef on Vegan Protein

Vegan protein is as misunderstood as the Sasquatch! From hair dressers to lawyers, dietitians and doctors, when I admit to being a vegan, the standard response is a furrowed brow, concerned eye contact and the question “What do you do about protein?” If I’m lucky, I might even get a pat on the shoulder or a squeeze of the elbow.

What is the biggest misconception since people thought the world was flat? Meat is protein and protein is meat. Since everyone says so, including your doctor, your mom, Carl Atkins and Uncle Sam. It’s the Truth, by popular demand!

If you haven’t purchased The China Study, consider investing in this page turner. It offers the most extensive survey of global nutrition ever conducted. More than 8000 statistically significant associations exist between various dietary factors and disease.  The correlations and conclusions are scientifically reputable, reproducible and revolutionary: People who eat plant based diets are the healthiest, and societies that eat more animal-based foods suffer more chronic diseases.According to the respected authority in the World Health Organization, research indicates we only need about 5 percent of our diet to be from protein; they recommend consuming no more than 10 percent. Plants (grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds) not only provide more than enough protein, but also fiber, antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins and nutrients free of harmful fats and cholesterol that promote disease.

And though the USDA dietary guidelines, which are written by and crafted for the meat and dairy industry, lead you to believe that no diet is complete without meats, milk and eggs, ask yourself how steer, buck, bison, pigs and poultry meat end up full of all the nutrients you need to survive…(they don’t eat meat, eggs or milk cows to feed their babies…)

Consider the following info found inThe China Study, Chapter 11, Principle #3, p230.

NUTRIENT COMPOSITION OF PLANT AND ANIMAL-BASED FOODS (PER 500 CALORIES OF ENERGY

 

When you examine the evidence, I’m not sure how anyone can refer to a vegan diet as “restrictive”. On the contrary.

But nutritional needs are not simple, and deficiencies can be present in every diet. But the Standard American Diet (SAD), full of processed, even if fortified, grains, low quality meat and dairy contaminated with hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and preservatives has NOT ONE benefit over a diet of a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. There is no competition.

One of the cleanest  and highest quality sources of protein are sprouts, perfect for daily consumption. They have high amounts vitamins A, B, C, E, K, contain more calcium than cow’s milk and contain all of the essential amino acids. Like the “incredible, edible egg”, they are a complete protein only without all the cholesterol. They are a superfood, and can be added to almost everything. Click here and learn how to grow sprouts in your kitchen.

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