Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Day (or four) In The Life

I promised to keep track of a day or so of eating and post it for you.  You can see the kinds of things I'm eating in a day (generally speaking). 

In addition to the foods listed here, I also try to hydrate quite a bit.  I drink coffee in the morning (regular, either black or with soy milk for creamer).  I try to drink only 1 or 2 drinks a day with caffeine, then I go decaf the rest of the day.  I don't drink soda or sugary drinks at all.  I drink water, Sobe zero-calorie vitamin water, and decaf tea (green or black, hot or cold).  I also drink the occasional glass of soy milk or almond milk if I haven't had enough calcium for the day.  And I always take a one-a-day vitamin (as directed by my physician).

Side note: Everyone should write into Sobe and tell them offer a powdered mix for their vitamin waters so we don't have to buy plastic bottles.  I love the stuff, but hate to buy all those plastic bottles. 

I think you'll see that I get my full recommended daily amount of fruits, veggies, protein and whole-grains in a day.  And if not, I make up for it the next day.  I try for each day to get what I need, but I don't stress if I miss something.  I look for a good balance in the course of a week.  So here's the last three days and today.

Breakfast: wheat raisin bread (bought from Dutch Oven Bakery) toasted with Earth Balance vegan butter, a mango and coffee with soy milk
Lunch: (we ate out at the Mandarin in Ames) stir-fry veggies and tofu, bean curd and spinach soup, rice
Snack: Sobe vitamin water and a banana
Supper:  fresh veggies, fresh fruit and popcorn (homemade, with popcorn salt but no butter)
      Sunday nights we have a "munchie-lunchie" that always includes popcorn while we watch a nature show.

Breakfast: baked oatmeal with blueberries (recipe on previous post), coffee black
Snack:: banana
Lunch: black bean burger with lettuce, tomato and guacamole on a wheat bun, broccoli spears, soy milk
Snack: Chex mix (homemade with Earth Balance instead of real butter, used Rice Chex, Corn Chex, Wheat 'n' Bran Shredded Wheat, Club Cracker Stix and regular pretzels)
Supper: roasted veggies with whole-wheat penne pasta (mushrooms, onions, garlic, zucchini squash, yellow squash, red peppers) with roasted red pepper marinara, garlic bread, spinach salad with berries and raspberry balsamic dressing
Snack: a couple fun size Hershey's dark chocolate

Breakfast: Hodgson Mill Multi-Grain Hot Cereal (it's like oatmeal but better) with almond milk and cinnamon, coffee black
Snack: hazelnut soy decaf latte (from Starbucks), a few almonds
Lunch: leftover pasta, veggies and dip (made with Tofuti sour cream, salt, dill and onion flakes)
Snack: Stacy's Multi-Grain Pita Chips with guacamole
Supper: pizza and beer (ordered out, I like the Amy's Roasted Veggie Pizza from the frozen pizza section at the grocery store--and my kids actually really like it, too.)
Snack: I had a slice of cherry dessert pizza as a treat! I'm guessing the streusel topping had butter in it, but I ate it anyways.

Breakfast: grapefruit, almonds, coffee black
Snack: cinnamon biscuits (kids made them homemade with whole-wheat flour, soy milk and Earth Balance butter and shaped as squares for Square Week--because it's hip to be square!)
Lunch: wheat pita with avocado, spinach, tomato and cucumber slices, a side of fruit salad (yummy, yummy!)
Snack: banana "ice cream" (recipe to follow soon)
Supper: potato leek soup, bean salad (both from previous posts), veggie dippers
Snack:  probably some more ice cream, not sure yet

For Thursday's supper, we are scheduled to have crispy glazed tofu, baked potatoes and a wilted spinach salad.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

I bought meat

I've been challenged this week.  My extended family was here for a birthday party (my baby is turning 3!) and we had a luncheon.  I had 15 people to feed yesterday.  Also, my mother is staying with us for a few days and I need to decide on a meal plan while she's with us.

So what would you do?  Would you continue to cook and eat and serve vegan to guests?  Or would you go back to your old ways and cook something that you know will make them happy?  It would be easier if I felt a little more supported.  But I'm having a hard time deciding since most of my family thinks I've gone completely off the deep end now, as was proven by some of the quotes I've heard this week:

"Well, that just can't be healthy."

"What are you thinking?!"

"That's a strange phase for you to be going through."

"Your poor kids and husband must be miserable."

"It's really good, you would like it if you'd just try it."

And there were a mountain of jokes about tofu cake, tofu cookies, tofu meat, etc.  Who knew I was related to so many comedians?

I'll be honest.  I wasn't very strong.  Actually, I totally caved.  I ordered up pulled pork for sandwiches, ordered cookies and made a "normal" cake.  I just didn't eat any of it.  But I did make a big fruit salad and a platter of veggie dippers (and others brought salads and chips) so there were plenty of healthier food choices. I chose to eat those healthier options and just not partake in the meat and treats.  And it was easy to do since I don't crave any of that. 

But it was difficult for me to see everyone else eating all that.  I understand now how that food affects my body.  I understand the uncomfortable fullness, the bloating, and the tummy issues that go along with eating all that crap.  I understand the need to sit down after a meal and take a nap because my body feels worn out.  I wish you could understand the way I feel just by changing a few small habits.  I wish you could feel the energy and the "lightness" that I feel after a meal, instead of the dragging fullness.  It's very hard for me to watch people I love doing that to themselves.  I promised not to pressure anyone into "this vegan thing" that I'm doing.  So I kept my mouth shut.  I just watched and worried and said more than a few passing prayers.

From now on, I'm not going to give in.  I'm going to cook the foods I would cook normally even when I have guests in my home.  I'm hoping that you will visit me, will try some of it and think, "It's not so bad."  Maybe a meal or two of eating vegan won't change someone for life, and that's not my goal.  But if I can expose someone to some new recipes that are good, tasty, fulfilling and easy to prepare, then maybe it will inspire just a little bit.  (Worst case scenario is you stop for a burger on the way home, right?!)
I just want to reassure all of you that I'm not crazy (well, not about this anyways).  And, most of all, I LOVE YOU!  All of you. I care about you and your health and wish more than anything that you would try to make some simple changes in your lives that will help you to live your life more fully.  I want you to be as healthy and happy as you can possibly be.  I want you to want it for you and for your own loved ones. And I want you to be around for more and more birthday parties!!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

FAQs: Part 4--Kids and Health Food

So the question most often asked of me as a mom and as a child care provider (even pre-vegan) is "how do you get your kids to eat so well?"

I've said before that I'm blessed that my own kids are truly adventurous eaters.  They will try anything without hesitation.  The first time I had sashimi in front of Eli, he just reached over and took a piece.  (He's lucky I didn't smack his little fingers!)  He loved it and has been caught a number of times with his hand in the sushi jar.  (No, I don't really have a jar of raw fish.  It's just a figure of speech.)  I remember a time at a church supper when Eli had a plateful of Brussels sprouts and lima beans.  People were shocked, but he ate it all.  If I serve spinach, my little princess eats it without a second thought.  I'm thankful for that.  My child care kids aren't usually that easy from the beginning, but it really doesn't take long before they jump on board the healthy choice train.  Woot-Woot!

All people have foods they just don't care to eat.  I respect that.  But that is different than picky eating, and it is very different from someone who just hasn't had the chance to like good food.  Experts agree that a child/person needs to eat a food 7-10 days in a row to get used to it's taste and texture.  So if you are introducing a new food to your child and he/she gags at it, just try again tomorrow (and the next day and the next day...) and you will see a difference.  Children have extremely sensitive taste buds dating back to early-human times.  Those little caveman kids did not know what was safe to eat, so their taste buds would sense something bitter or bad and they would spit it out rather than get sick from a potentially harmful plant or berry.  It's natural for your kids to react to new foods negatively the first time they try it. Just keep trying.

Perfect example: an adorable little guy in my child care tried to convince his mom that I fed him "trees" during his first week at my house. It was broccoli.  He hated it and tried to argue about it.  But I just kept putting it on his plate every day for a week or two.  And now he asks for it.  And, best of all, he helps me cook it!  He also makes a mean lemon-butter green bean dish.  It makes him proud to cook it, serve it to his friends and sit and eat it together.

Also, feed your kids GOOD FOOD.  If all you feed them is chicken nuggets and mac 'n' cheese, then that's all they'll want to eat.  (Here's a test--take them to a buffet and let them choose foods.  What colors are on that plate?  If it's all yellow-ish brown, then you may want to start introducing some better foods.)

My day care kids love grilled cheese sandwiches.  I make them with thinly sliced pears and gouda cheese on wheat berry bread.  They love pizza.  I make individual 'za on whole-wheat pitas and top it with zucchini, eggplant, fresh tomatoes and olives.  Then sprinkle on some fresh basil and just a touch of a good cheese and they eat it up.  My own kids loved grilled veggies with goat cheese sauce.  I know it costs more than the brick of cheese in a box, but it's important to me that my kids learn to eat like adults.  A college kid that lives on Kraft blue box and Dominoes will gain unhealthy weight that will take years to work off (trust me, I know--and I know you know, too).  Teach them now to make healthy choices and to eat sophisticated foods.  What's the best way to teach them? Show them!  Sit as a family and eat healthy meals together.

When someone asks me "what's you secret?"  I tell them it's never a secret.  I never feed my kids a food without them knowing exactly what they are eating and why.  I don't hide veggies in other foods, and I don't disguise veggies to fool the kids into eating them.  When we have a snack or meal, we talk about the food before we eat.  As we are preparing it (we is the important word there), the kids and I discuss what the food is and why it is a good choice.  We talk about balancing our food choices.  We talk about whole-grains and vegetables and proteins.  But we talk about it before we get to the table.  They know what they're getting, so no surprises or yucky faces or arguments at dinner time.

With my family, we talk about vegan and vegetarian options.  We talk about the positive aspect of our choices, and don't focus on what we aren't eating.  This is not a diet where we deny ourselves meat and dairy.  This is a way of life that helps us to grow up healthy and strong and fit so that we can have all the fun we love to have.  Eating a plant-based variety of foods is a positive experience for your family.  Let them choose what they want to try, work together to cook/prepare the food and make it happy time spent with loved ones.

Then we sit down as a family and eat.  But we don't discuss food.  We talk about our days, about our plans, about our lessons for the day.  I don't argue about food.  I feed kids appropriate serving sizes of healthy choices for morning snack and lunch. If they are hungry, they will eat.  If they are not hungry, they won't eat.  If they don't like the choice served, then they wait until the next scheduled time to eat the next healthy options I offer. If they have eaten well-balanced foods for most of the day, then I will give a special sweet treat for afternoon snack.  But I never announce that ahead of time.  I always have healthy options to offer if children haven't had what they need for the day.  Balance is the key here.

Kids who sit in front of the television or lay on the couch playing DS all day won't be hungry.  Their body and mind have not been stimulated enough to work up an appetite.  Get outside, get moving, do new and exciting things to stimulate your kids both physically and mentally.  Dance, jump, sing, pound, spin, crawl, hop, swing, slide, run, swim.....PLAY!  And I'm not just talking to the kids here.  If you sit at a desk and stare at your computer all morning, why do you need an 800 calorie burger for lunch?!?

Do you really need a mom lecture on this one?!?  Eat right.  Be active.  Be balanced.  Behave. (Well, mostly, at least around your kids.)  You are the single most important influence in your child's life.  Be a good one.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Falafel Pitas

Menu was Falafel Pitas with toppings, Fresh Fruit, and Pita Chips.  For you that don't eat Falafel on a regular basis, it's a mix of ground garbanzo beans, peas and seasoning that's usually fried.  It comes as little meat(less)ball or as a small patty.  They have kind of a dry consistency, so that's why it is usually served with the cucumber sauce (Tzatziki). If you've never tried it, go to your favorite pita place (Pita Pit in Ames) and order what you normally order.  Then just purchase a Falafel ball on the side (for about $0.40) just to try.  Or ask me and I'll make it for you sometime.

I used a package of Falafel mix and made it according to the directions.  The most time consuming effort of the meal was letting the falafel mix sit for 15 minutes to absorb all the water.  Easily a 20 minute meal, which was good because we went on a very long walk last night and ended up starting dinner about an hour later than normal.  Lovin' this weather!!

We used lettuce, tomato, red and yellow pepper slices, green onion and hummus.  We also had ripe black olive, Kalamata olives and peperoncinis.  I made a vegan version of Tzatziki sauce by putting olive oil, lemon juice, fresh garlic, cucumber and dill in the food processor with Tofutti sour cream (as opposed to yogurt).  I seasoned with a decent amount of salt and pepper.  (I'm not a big fan of Tofutti as is, but when mixed with all that flavor, you can't tell a difference at all.) 

The boys made their pitas up like sandwiches/tacos and ate them with their hands.  Gracie and I are more sophisticated, so we piled ours up like salads and had warmed pitas on the side.  I put ranch dressing on hers, but just used the Tzatziki on mine as the dressing.  It has HUGE flavor with the Falafel, Tzatziki, and all those toppings.

I think I'm the only person who truly loves Falafel, but everyone else ate it without too much complaining.  This pita recipe is one I've used for years and just added feta cheese and grilled chicken (seasoned with Cavender's Greek Seasoning).  Always been a big hit.  Even if you use meat, it's still a very healthy meal.  It makes a good buffet style sandwich for get-togethers with friends.

Happy Eating!

Monday, March 14, 2011

FAQs: Part 3--The cost of eating healthy

Did you ever have one of those emotional, over-worked and under-slept days?  I'm having one of those.  My little girl has been sick going on three weeks now and nobody in the house has had much relief or sleep.  My weekend was non-existent because of all the work that needed done.  And then I just wrote a letter to my son about how proud I am of all his accomplishments (for a school project).  Now I'm sitting here in tears.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not sad or depressed.  I'm just drained from all the worry and feelings of helplessness a mom gets when we can't make the boo-boos all better with just a kiss.  I'm exhausted from the lack of sleep, and I'm emotional because I have really great kids.  Usually when I feel this way I go straight for the munchies.  Ice cream?  Candy bars?  Chips and salsa?  Sweet or salty--what's your comfort food of choice?

But I don't have the munchies, and I don't feel like eating.  This vegan diet is screwing up my whole life! (wink wink)  I can't even have a mom-fit the proper way today because I feel full and satisfied from the bean and potato salad I had for lunch.  Since I've started eating vegan, I haven't been snacking or sneaking bites here or there.  I do occasionally find myself standing in the kitchen arguing with myself.  See, one part of me feels this full and satisfied feeling.  But the other part of me is so used to rummaging in the kitchen, grabbing just a nibble of a cookie or just a few Cheetos.  That's a hard habit to break. 

The other night, Eli came home from the school carnival with a cake he won in the cake walk. He was so proud to bring it to us and he insisted we try it that instant.  So I served up a piece for everyone, but I just couldn't eat it.  I wasn't having any adverse reaction to cake or the thought that it was probably made with eggs and/or milk products or anything like that.  I just wasn't hungry.

(Yes, I have a point.  I'm getting there, stick with me!)

Many people have argued with me that eating healthy is too expensive.  But I've found that to be untrue for my family.  We actually eat less and we are much more contented by what we do eat.  That first week I purchased and cooked WAY too much food.  I thought we would be hungry eating vegan, so I attempted to make up for it by making a mountain of food.  But in a few short weeks, I've adjusted my cooking and my meal plans to better fit the portion sizes we need and want.

My monthly food budget is lower than most. And keep in mind that I'm feeding my family AND feeding my child care kids.  I plan on breakfast, 3 snacks, lunch and supper seven days a week (feeding at least four people at each).  There are a number of reasons that I spend less money than most, and it's not just veganism.  Rest assured I feed everyone proper amounts of food and nobody goes hungry.  I don't deny my family anything.  It's about being smart with your budget and plans. Saving money on groceries has very little to do with what you eat.  And things like coupons and savings tend to cost more in the end, or you end up throwing away food instead of using it.  I have very little food waste in my home.

My biggest advice for saving money on groceries is to make a meal plan and a grocery list and to stick to it.  Be disciplined to purchase only what you need and to use what you have.  That doesn't mean you never buy goodies or chips or extras.  But if you buy them, have a plan as to when you will eat them.  Just having them in the house leads to one of two results--you either eat it without any thought (thus gaining weight and being unhealthy) or you end up throwing it out because you didn't really need it (thus wasting money and food).

My weekly menu is a way for me to use up what I buy.  If I buy lettuce and tomatoes to top off fajitas, I schedule to have falafel pitas with those toppings or a salad the next day.  If the spaghetti squash is too large to use up in one meal, I either freeze half for another time or I plan on using it as a lunch the next day.  I use up the fresh ingredients that are more likely to go bad early in the week, and save up the frozen, canned or pre-made meals for later in the week.  Also, if I need one tomato, I buy one tomato--even if the package of four is on sale.  What good does it do to buy four at a lower price if I'm just going to end up throwing it away?  There is very little food in my refrigerator/pantry that doesn't have a plan that goes with it.  Of course, I keep the staples around (flours, butters, canned goods, dried fruits, etc.).  But most everything has a purpose and a time-line for it's use.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics issues national standards for 2010 in various spending categories, including food. 
For two people, that amount is $537 per month.

I did a check on my food budget and costs for the last few weeks.  Normally I spend about $550-600/month on food.  That's an average of about $20/day or $140/week.  This is ALL food for my family and child care--even our dining out and party/liquor budget.  But as I look back on the last few weeks of grocery bills, they were $89-122/week.  Without even trying, I'm saving money on my food budget.  

FYI: I looked up a lot of stats on the internet.  Most listed that a food budget should be about 13% of your income and should include all food including groceries and dining out.

If you are interested in talking to me more about a weekly meal plan or need help setting up one of your own, just let me know.  I'm happy to work with you on a more individual basis.  I have a blank menu plan I can send for you to use, or I can send you examples of my own weekly menu (even pre-vegan for those carnies out there). Keep in mind that one meal plan will not work for every family.  Mine wouldn't work for most because I am planning meals for my work.  But there are ways to make a plan fit for your family that can help you to stay disciplined with your budget and your eating.

Oh, and I'm taking a "Happy Mom Day" with the money I saved!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Baked Spaghetti Squash Recipe and Fajita Recipe

These are two recipes that we eat often--even before this vegan thing.  The only difference is I would have covered both with cheese when I served them before, and now I don't.  Nobody seems to be missing anything, so still big hits.

Friday night's menu was Baked Spaghetti Squash (with marinara and croutons), and Bread Sticks, and Bean Salad. Serve the spaghetti squash in it's shell--it looks cool and it saves dirty dishes.  If you buy them small enough, you could serve individual squashes to each person.  I could only find big ones this week, so one squash made enough for the whole family plus a lunch of leftovers.

Saturday night's menu was Portabella Mushroom and Pepper Fajitas, Refried Black Beans, and Fresh Fruit.  Then we had Strawberry Shortcake for dessert.

A special thank you goes out to Eli for eating Strawberry Shortcake for breakfast this morning.  I forgot to click a picture last night, so had to assemble one this morning.  So nice of him to take one for the team!

Spaghetti Squash:
Cut squash in half and spoon out seeds. Place the spaghetti squash halves, cut side up, onto a baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons, olive oil, then salt and pepper. Turn the squash over so they're cut side down and roast until the flesh is tender, about 45 minutes to an hour. Once cooked, use a fork to pull the squash away from the rind, and to loosen the squash strands up. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil and season again with salt and ground black pepper. Reserve squash in the shells.

Roasted tomato sauce:
(I cheat at this.  I just use a jar of sauce and then add the roasted tomatoes to it.)  Take 2 large tomatoes, wash them and then rub them with olive oil.  Char them over the flame of the grill, the stove top (gas stoves), or under the broiler.  Turn frequently to blacken all sides.  Let cool enough to peel, then chop coarsely and add to your favorite marinara sauce.

½ loaf sourdough (or whatever bread you have leftover) cut into ½” cubes
4 T. olive oil
1 clove garlic, smashed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).  In a large saute pan, cook garlic in olive oil over medium heat for 1 minute. Add bread cubes, and toss to coat. Spread on a baking sheet. Season with sea salt, pepper, and Italian seasonings to taste.  Bake for 15 minutes, or until crisp and dry. Check frequently to prevent burning. Cool. (Note: some breads will take longer to cook while others will burn at 15 minutes. You have to just watch these.)

Stir a little bit of croutons and sauce into each squash.  Then top the squash with the sauce and cover with croutons.  If all ingredients are hot, just place it under the broiler for a couple minutes to give it an extra crunch.  If squash is cold (I prep mine ahead of time) then cover with foil and cook 20 minutes.  Uncover and brown up the top for another 5-10 minutes.  Serve right out of the shells!

Mix all in bowl:
4 cans beans (mix of red kidney, wax beans, green beans, garbanzo beans, black beans, navy beans, etc.)
1/4 cup white onion, chopped very small
1/4 cup carrot, chopped very small
1/4 cup celery, chopped very small
salt and pepper

Drizzle dressing on top:
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup vinegar (white, cider, or red wine)
1/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
salt and pepper

Chill salad for 2 hours before serving.

olive oil
2 portabella caps, cleaned and fibers scooped out, cut into 1/2" slices
1 red pepper, cut into slices
1 yellow pepper, cut into slices
1 green pepper, cut into slices
1 white onion, halved and cut into slices
1 t. cumin
1/2 t. oregano
salt and pepper
Saute onions in pan on low heat for about 10 minutes.  Add peppers, season and continue to cook until crisp tender.  Remove from pan.  Cook portabellas in a small amount of oil over medium high heat for about 2 minutes each side. Add onions and peppers back to pan and season again to taste.

For fajitas:
Warm whole-wheat tortillas according to package directions.  Fill with mushroom and pepper mixture, and top with any or all of the following:
Roasted corn
Green onion

And always squeeze on fresh lime juice at the end!  Served with refried black beans (canned) and fresh fruit.


About 3 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and cut into halves
¼ cup sugar

1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
 ¼ cup and 2 T. white sugar
 2 ½ t. baking powder
 ¼ t. salt
 6 T. dairy-free margarine, cut into pieces (I used Smart Balance)
 ½ cup unsweetened plain almond milk, soymilk, or coconut milk
2 T. white sugar for sprinkling

Mix strawberries and ¼ cup sugar together and chill in refrigerator while you do the rest.
In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Cut in margarine.  Stir in milk just until combined.  Drop onto greased baking sheet (make them about biscuit size).  Sprinkle tops with sugar. Bake at 450 degrees for 10-12 minutes. 

To assemble, cut each shortbread in half and scoop on strawberries.  Top with shortbread.  (I put whipped cream on top for my family, but just skipped it for me.)

Friday, March 11, 2011

FAQs: PART 2--Calcium and Other Nutrients

My family has a good doctor.  I get a lot of parents (moms mostly) who question my decision to go with a family doctor instead of a pediatrician for my kids.  Those moms believe that a pediatrician is the responsible choice for all kids.  But I disagree, and here's why:  my family has a good doctor.

Our doctor is great at giving thorough exams, about spending the time needed to discuss issues and questions and concerns.  He takes the time to explain his diagnosis and medications.  He talks to us about our overall health and well-being.  He refers us to specialists when needed.  He sees multiple family members in the same appointment (saving us a ton of time scheduling).  He cares about my job, Eli's swimming, Gracie's verbal skills and my husband's cholesterol levels.  He asks each time for an update and then listens to what we say.  I trust him.  And that's why I sat down and talked to him about the health questions I had before starting this vegan diet. He had a little advice, but mostly he had encouragement and support and a big happy smile that my family is doing this.  He said he wished more and more people would consider going vegan because it would make his job a whole lot easier.

Our doctor was not one bit concerned about us not getting enough protein, calcium, iron (and other nutrients) or fiber.  He told me to vary the diet, to eat lots of colorful veggies and beans, and to try to eat more brown grains than white.  He said it is the perfect diet for a swimmer/athlete, and he said we will see a big improvement in performance once we eliminate animal fats from our diet.  His only real recommendation was for each of us to continue using a daily multi-vitamin.  That's it.  (Oh, and he said if I had any questions that I should peruse the Mayo Clinic web site and/or talk to the nutritionalist at Hy-Vee.)

I highly recommend all of you go to and plug in your age, height and weight.  It will give you a good idea of what you should be incorporating into your diet on a daily and weekly basis.  (It's not as much as you think.)  It takes me two or three days to get all the veggies/fruits required for a week on that chart.  I add soymilk to my coffee in the morning, and top off my oatmeal with a little more.  My family loves beans and nuts, and we eat them on a daily basis.  We eat brown rice, quinoa, barley, and whole-grain breads and pastas.  My family easily gets the daily requirement of fiber, protein, calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients needed because we have a varied diet. I think that most people don't get what they need because they are filling up on the wrong types of foods or just one type of food. Then they just aren't hungry for the health foods.  (I'm working on "A Day in the Life" that spells out a day of eating for me, and will post that soon.)

For me, I get my daily calcium by adding 1/4 cup soymilk to my coffee (usually 2 cups each morning) and then by making my oatmeal with another 1/2-1 cup.  I take my vitamin for another 45%.  The remainder needed for a day is covered in the leafy greens, red beans, tofu and variety of veggies as well as by the soymilk (or rice milk) I add as I cook.

Here is a quick comparison from the nutrition labels of Skim Milk and Soymilk. I'm not sure why people think Soymilk is not as good for you as cow's milk, but that is a comment I get quite often. Please remember that this is not a scientific paper and not to be used as ultimate proof for anything.  I'm just reading some labels and sharing some information with you. But it shows that they are comparable in most nutrients, and that Soymilk actually offers more nutrients than cow's milk.  Some people say the soymilk tastes bad.  I agree that soymilk used to taste bad, but there have been significant improvements in recent years on the flavor.  It does taste different than cow's milk, but my family actually likes it.  Also, test different brands.  There are a few that I really don't like.  Our family likes the Silk Very Vanilla for drinking and adding to sweet things, and I use the generic store brand of the unsweetened soymilk for cooking.  (I don't have any rice milk, almond milk or others in the house to compare right now.)  Anyway, I would encourage you to try different options and find the ones that work for you.

1 cup Fat Free Skim Milk:
80 calories, <5mg Cholesterol, 120mg Sodium, 12g Carbs, 0g Fiber 11g Sugars, 8g Protein
Vitamin A 10%, Vitamin C 2%, Calcium 30%, Iron 0%, Vitamin D 25%

1 cup Unsweetened Organic Soymilk:
70 calories, 0mg Cholesterol, 120 mg Sodium, 350 mg Potassium, 4g Carbs, 2g Fiber, 1g Sugars, 7g Protein
Vitamin A 10%, Calcium 30%, Vitamin D 30%, Thiamin 6%, Niacin 2%, Vitamin B12 50%, Magnesium 8%, Copper 10%, Vitamin C 0%, Iron 8%, Vitamin E 25%, Riboflavin 40%, Folate 8%, Phosphorus 8%, Zinc 8%, Manganese 20%

Fast Black Beans and Rice

You know I love to cook.  I love to buy, prep and cook really good food.  But let's face it.  I live in the real world with a real family and a real house.  I have a real job and real commitments that take up my time.  And there are days that I just need to get a healthy meal on the table in under 15 minutes.

Last night was one of those nights.  Sick toddler, grumpy boy with a mountain of homework, husband working on the computer, dog begging to go outside, cat howling for food, laundry piled up and some sort of mysterious sticky goo on the kitchen floor.  (Still not sure what that was.)

Don't be shocked.  And please don't judge me for this very quick and easy meal. (The Minute Rice wasn't even brown--it was white! Gasp!)  Bottom line is it was pretty healthy and my whole family loved it and ate it without argument.  (Well, there was argument but it wasn't about food. That's a whole other blog.)

Obviously, this dish would be better with real beans that had soaked overnight.  It would be great with grilled corn cut fresh off the cob and fresh salsa made from your garden.  But that wasn't gonna happen last night.

Last night's menu was Quick and Easy Black Beans and Rice with Sliced Avocado on top, with Butternut Squash on the side.  The squash was one I had pre-cooked and cubed up.  I took it out of the freezer, and popped it in the microwave for 5 minutes. The whole meal took less than 15 minutes to prep/cook. 

Here's a quick shout-out to my beautiful friends who bring me Mexican Village Hot Sauce Mix. You know who you are.  I fall more and more in love with you every time I eat it! : )

2 cups Minute Rice
2 cups water

2 cans black beans (one drained)
1 can corn or 1/2 bag frozen corn
1 small jar your favorite salsa
salt and pepper and your favorite hot sauce/seasoning/jalapenos to taste

Put the water in a pan over high heat to cook the rice according to package directions.  While you wait for that to boil, add the beans, corn, salsa and seasoning to another pot/pan.  Cook over medium-high heat.  Simmer the beans while the rice finishes.  Serve the beans over the rice, slice some fresh avocado on top.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Teriyaki Glazed Tofu and Sweet Potatoes

Sorry no picture for this one.  It was gone before I could get the camera!  I had to take my daughter to the doctor last night and we ended up sitting and waiting for quite a while.  I was late getting home, so I needed a quick dinner to get us back on schedule for the night.  This recipe got big thumbs up from the hubby and son.  And they ate it alI in just a couple minutes, so it must have been good.  I made some plain ramen noodles (no seasoning) because they are quick and the kids love them.  Served it as a one-bowl meal, no sides since the protein, veggies and carbs are all in there together.  Would go well with a little soup or an eggroll if you want.

This is a one pan/wok meal that's kind of sweet.  Be sure to prep everything first since the fry/wok work goes very quickly. 

1 brick firm tofu, cut into 1/4" thick pieces (thin to make it crispy)
1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes
4 T. cornstarch, divided
1-2 sweet peppers, cut into 1"chunks
1 can pineapple chunks
1/2 white onion, cut into 1" chunks (optional)
1/4 c. teriyaki sauce
Vegetable oil and Sesame oil for frying

PREP: Cut tofu and lay out on paper towels.  Cover with paper towels and place a flat cookie sheet on top to get as much liquid out as possible.  Slice sweet potatoes into 1/4" rounds and parboil for 1-2 minutes until they just start to soften.  Put the cornstarch on a plate and lay the tofu in it, turn to coat on both sides.  Do the same with the sweet potato slices.  Drain the pineapple chunks, but save the liquid.  Mix the teriyaki sauce and the reserved juice together with about 2 t. cornstarch.  

COOK: Heat the oils in the pan/wok until hot.  Add the coated tofu--be careful of any splattering since it has a lot of water in it.  Fry tofu for about 4 minutes per side until nice and crispy.  Remove tofu to a plate.  Fry the sweet potato in the same manner as the tofu.  Remove to plate with tofu.  
Add the teriyaki sauce to the pan and cook 2-3 minutes until thick and bubbly.  Add tofu, potatoes, peppers, onions and pineapple back to pan and toss gently until all coated and warmed through.  
Serve over noodles or rice.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


When people hear I'm trying a vegan diet, they react in one of two ways. One is to respond in a defensive way by saying something like, "I'm not going to stop eating meat!"  The second is to respond in a more curious way with questions.

For those of you who don't want to give up meat:  OKAY.  I don't really care if you eat meat.  I've decided to try this diet as a way to make my own life and family a little more healthful.  If you want to eat eight bacon cheeseburgers with extra mayo for breakfast, go for it.  I will not stop you or argue with you or try to force my hippie vegan ways on you.  I promise. 

For those people who are more curious, I'll try to address your questions as best I can as far as they concern my voyage.  I am not speaking for all vegans, and I am not a representative of the vegan community.  I'm not a doctor or a nutritionalist.  I'm not trying to write a scientific book on vegan eating. I'm a wife and mom and child care provider who is trying to be a little more healthful. I will answer your questions as they pertain TO ME. 

If you decide to make a healthful choice (food or otherwise), then you need to be responsible to research it and make sure it is a good choice for you.  Speak to your doctor (I met with my doctor before starting my family on this) and speak to your family to make sure you have the support you need. 

It is very interesting to me to hear your questions, but it's even more amusing who is asking the questions.  Most men ask me about getting enough protein.  Older women ask about calcium and nutrients.  Younger women with kids and families want to know how I get my kids to eat this food and how to keep my growing, active boy fed.  Many, many people have asked how expensive is it to buy all this health food.

In the next couple of weeks, I will do my best to at least touch on each of these subjects.  If you have any other questions, let me know.

(Don't worry, I'll still post some recipes as I go along!)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

One recipe two ways--Green Bean Pesto Penne (and Mushroom Barley)

This is one of our favorite recipes.  It can be done quickly on a Tuesday night squeezed between work, swim practice, church meetings, baths, homework and bedtime routine.  Or it can be made a little nicer to serve guests for a weekend meal.  Serve with browned/grilled Italian sausages or grilled chicken strips if you need meat.  Sprinkle with parmesan if you must.  But it really is filling and flavorful without the extras.

The best version is with fresh green beans and fresh herbs, a good quality olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground peppercorns.  But it is really good with canned green beans and dried herbs for the Tuesday version.  I sometimes add a bunch of fresh spinach or arugula to the pesto.  Mix and match greens and nuts to get the flavor you like best.  My favorites are basil with almonds or arugula with pine nuts.  You could even use kale. Also, a splash of white wine or fresh squeezed lemon helps to bring out the freshness of the herbs.  Just use a little less oil of you use these.  Kids can help, too.  They love to make the pesto in the food chopper.

To toast your nuts (insert immature comment here), start with raw nuts and heat them in a dry pan over medium heat until they just start to brown.  They will burn quickly, so never leave your toasty nuts unattended!

The menu last night was Green Bean Pesto Penne with Fresh Fruit and Mini Sweet Peppers. (These baby peppers are pretty popular with the kids.  Grill or quickly sautee or just serve cold for a nice crisp touch to dinner.)

1/2 box Multi-grain or whole-wheat penne pasta, cooked according to directions
2 cans green beans or 1 lb fresh steamed green beans  (basically, pasta to bean ratio is 1:1)

Using a food processor or chopper, make the pesto.  Add everything except oil.  Mix well, and then drizzle in the oil a little at a time until it is a spreadable paste consistency. 

Fresh herbs:
3-5 garlic cloves
2 bunches fresh basil leaves
1 bunch fresh parsley sprigs 
1/2  c. almonds, walnuts or pine nuts (toasted)
1/2-3/4 c. olive oil
Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Peppercorns

Dried herbs:
2 garlic cloves or 1/2 T. minced garlic (from a jar)
2 T. dried basil
1 T dried parsley
1/2 c. almonds, walnuts or pine nuts (toasted)
1/4-1/2 c. olive oil
Salt and Pepper

I usually cook the beans and pasta together in the same salted water.  When pasta reaches al dente, toss it with the pesto. Sprinkle with more toasted nuts if you want.

And--just because I love you--I'll give you this bonus recipe today.  This one was based loosely on another barley recipe I found at All Recipes ( I really like this web site because you can put in a couple ingredients, search vegetarian recipes, key words, etc. and it spits out recipes that might work for you.  I tend to take the top three suggestions from the website and mix and match to make my own recipe.  Anyway, this was a good, hearty and comforting one bowl supper for us.  It was mild, not intended to be a mouthful of flavor.  Just comfort food.  The menu was Mushroom Barley, Crusty Bread and a Salad.


1 teaspoon olive oil
3 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup uncooked barley
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup cooking wine (or your favorite white wine)
1 (15.5 ounce) can white beans, drained
1 package fresh baby spinach
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and stir in mushrooms, onion, celery, and garlic. Saute until tender. Mix barley and vegetable broth into the saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat. Simmer until barley is tender (time varies depending on what you use for barley--follow the time frame on the packaging). Stir white beans into the barley mixture. Continue cooking about 5 minutes, until beans are heated.  Add in spinach and cook just until wilted but still bright green.  Stir, re-season as needed.  Serve hot.


Grilled Veggie Weekend

I'm working on a multi-part post to answer FAQs.  If you have questions you'd like addressed, please send those to me and I'll do my best to get them in the post. Thanks!

I apologize for the long break between posts.  I had a great weekend eating and drinking with friends and it's taken this long to get my head cleared enough to write again! : )

Friday night was Date Night with my sweet, funny and incredibly sexy hubby.  A friend took both my kids for the evening and spoiled them senseless so we could have a nice dinner out (and a little fun in...).  So for dinner, my wonderfully thoughtful husband took me to a (wait for it........) STEAK HOUSE.  Yes, one of those places with ginormous hunks of meat that you can grill yourself or order it grilled to your liking and they'll serve it to you swimming in butter.  Your choice. 

We pulled into the parking lot and my husband says, "Gee, I didn't even think to ask.  Can you find something to eat here?"  I figured worst case scenario was I ended up drinking my supper at the bar, and that's all good for a Friday night date night.  And he's been so supportive that he deserved fried food and meat.

Buzz ordered the all-you-can-eat fish fry special and I ordered the pasta with grilled veggies (no cheese).  We got fried green beans for an appetizer and we both got the salad bar.  I ended up eating (and drinking) way more than I needed and it was really a great supper.  (I apologize for the photo quality on all these pics--I was using my phone.)  I didn't ask what the batter was on the fried green beans.  Chances are it was an egg batter, but I didn't really care.  They are SOOOOO good.

Then on Saturday night, we ended up at an intense Qwirkle tourney at my brother and sister-in-law's house.  (Just in case you're wondering, I totally kicked ass and remain the ultimate Qwirkle Qween).  We had fajitas that night (and many margaritas).  They grilled chicken breast for the carnies, and then grilled some beautiful portabella mushroom caps for me.  Of course, most everyone helped me eat the 'shrooms because they are awesome on the grill. 

My sister-in-law made a huge pan of sauteed veggies to go with the 'shrooms--red and green peppers and onions slow cooked over low heat until they were sweet, sweet, sweet. It's so worth the time to cook them slow like that.  I topped my fajita with black beans, lettuce, tomato, and guacamole (or "mukee molee" as my Gracie says).  The fajitas were served with chips and salsa and a huge platter of fruit.  Again, I ate (and drank) way more than necessary.

Today's recipe is Grilled Veggies. But I don't really have a true technique or recipe to go along with this.  So what I'll give you is a list of my favorite veggies to grill.  If you want more exact instructions, I recommend the All Recipes link below to help you.

(I took a picture of the fruit, but didn't get one of the grilled mushrooms.  Sorry.  I'll click it next time!)

Grilled veggies are good just by themselves, or pair them up with a salad, rice, barley, couscous, your favorite pasta, or pile on good bread or a pita for a sandwich.  They are good hot or cold.  They are great in soups and stews.  They are totally awesome in sauces or lasagna.  For those of you that aren't totally vegan, this is where I would recommend topping with a good cheese.  My families favorite is herbed goat cheese on top of grilled veggies.  (Melt a little goat cheese in a little milk for a pourable sauce to go along side a big platter of veggies.)  Grilled veggies are so colorful and flavorful that they work perfectly for entertaining guests. Mix and match to find a good combination that works for you.  Play with your food!

No matter the veggie, my technique is to rub with a good olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  You can add your favorite herbs if you like, or just a little garlic and onion powder.  But I really like the natural sweetness of grilled veggies.  This recipe goes along with the idea that God makes good food.  Try not to over-think or over-season something that already tastes so good. Of course, you should buy fresh (organic if possible) and in-season veggies for this kind of recipe.  Cook most over medium to medium-high heat.

Eggplant, Zucchini, Yellow Squash: cut cross-wise into circles or length-wise for larger pieces. Grill 3-4 minutes per side.

Onions: take off all outer (dry) layers and cut cross-wise into 1/2" slices.  Grill on low about 10-20 minutes per side to bring out the natural sweetness.

Sweet Peppers (bell peppers that are green, yellow, red or orange): Grill whole for about 20 minutes, turning to evenly brown.  Or cut into quarters for larger strips and grill about 5 minutes per side.

Asparagus: Grill about 10 minutes, turning frequently to brown.

Winter squash (pumpkin, acorn, butternut, buttercup, etc.):  cut in half and scoop out seeds.  Leave the peel on so it holds together on the grill.  Cut into thick slices.  I usually parboil (cook in boiling water for 1-2 minutes) quickly before grilling so they get a softer texture.  Grill about 10 minutes per side or until desired texture is reached. 

Potatoes:  Slice into rounds or cut into quarters.  Parboil about 3-5 minutes before grilling.  Cook just until fork inserts into middle of potato.  Time varies depending on type of tator and how soft you parboiled.  Just keep an eye on them.

Mushrooms: smaller ones, leave whole and grill about 5-6 minutes per side.  For larger mushrooms (like portabella caps) grill on higher heat for about 8-10 minutes per side.

Tomatoes: use a grill pan if smaller tomatoes are used.  Just char these over high heat to make pretty marks on the outside, but don't cook too long or they turn into mush.  

I will address grilled corn closer to sweet corn season.

Most any veggies can be grilled.  I'm happy to talk you through it in more detail if needed.  Just call!

Thursday, March 3, 2011


This one's for my friend, Amy W.

I went shopping at Hy-Vee last week. (Can I say that?  Are there rules about brand advertising on blogs?)  I usually shop here in Nevada, but wanted to roam around a bit and see what new and exciting vegan options are available these days.  I only had three kids with me that morning, and two of them were my own.  That means it's easy to get out and about, right?

So we headed out to Ames, where there are two Hy-Vee stores.  The west store has a health food market--a mini market as part of the store that has all the vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, allergen-free, organics, etc. in one convenient area.  The east store has an "integrated" health market.  That means that all the vegan foods are randomly shelved around the store making it virtually impossible for you to find anything at all.  It also means that you have to drag three kids up and down every aisle multiple times just to find one item.  And that means crying and kicking and screaming fits from one, while the other two pull everything off every shelf.  And that means stress and headaches for me.

So that's the store I decided shop. 
The kids started getting restless and I started getting frustrated.  I was tired of telling them to stop knocking stuff off the shelves and I was even more upset that I couldn't seem to find anything vegan.  But I only had enough food in the cart for maybe half a day.  So I asked one of those "helpful smiles" in the aisle to point out where I might find vegetarian/vegan cheese alternatives.  He said (and I quote), "Ummmmmm, gee lady.  I have no idea." 

But just as my head was about to explode, he picked up a phone and asked for another person to help.  I was happy and surprised when Amy introduced herself as the store nutritionalist and offered to shop with me for a while.  She was wonderfully sweet to the kids and even more wonderfully sweet to me.  She asked questions about my vegan decision, about the "level" of vegan I was eating, about my family and how they are eating, and was particularly interested in discussing my healthful food options.  Amy genuinely cares that I am getting the healthful food I need in my diet in a way that works with my vegan choices.  After talking (and three trips to the potty with toddlers), she walked me around and helped me to find what I needed.  She recommended options for me and for my family.  She talked about cooking techniques that would work for me and offered recipes.  And she offered to meet with me again!

I am really happy to know that I have her as an ally.  I know there are websites with a ton of information, and there are medical nutritionalists through the clinic here.  But this is someone I can call on for a scheduled meeting, or just ask for her when I go shopping to help with a few questions.  And she's a REAL HUMAN. 

Even if you are not choosing a vegan lifestyle, I would highly recommend making an appointment with the nutritionalist at your grocery store.  And if you live near Ames, stop by the east Hy-Vee and ask for Amy.  Tell her Nanette sent you.

By the way, it was free.  And I guarantee I will be meeting with her again.  Next time, though, I will leave the kids at home.