Monday, January 23, 2012

This Week's Meal Plan

We have a very busy week that includes visitors here for 2-3 days, us visiting family and a night of vegan cooking with friends. I needed a meal plan to get through the week with my sanity and to stay half-way organized.

Our vegan cooking night on Saturday is here at my home.  A few ladies and I will get together, drink some wine and learn how to cook some simple vegan meals for weeknights.  We are making tofu (a few different ways), making a Mexican style soup, baking a breakfast option and I'm not sure what else.  I'll make a plan for that a little later today or tomorrow. 

So here is my weekly meal plan.  As always, let me know if you'd like more details as to recipes or planning.  Happy Vegan Cooking!

Breakfast or  Morning Snack
Afternoon Snack
Monday, Jan. 23
Maple Brown Sugar Oatmeal (homemade)
Barley Mushroom soup, oranges, veggie dippers
Jelly filled Muffins
Chipotle Seitan Sandwiches, Green Salad
Bake hoagies and buns, Bake muffins
Tuesday, Jan. 24

B: Muffins, fruit

S: Cereal snack mix
Goulash, Applesauce and Veggie Dippers
Bagels with Peanut Butter
Sesame Noodles with Tofu and Veggies, Edamame

Jan. 25

B: Oatmeal w/maple syrup or English Muffin

S: Smoothies
Tomato Basil Soup and Garlic Bread, Peas and Carrots
Kettle Corn
Black Bean Crispy Burritos, Mexican Rice and Corn
Thursday, Jan. 26

B: Blueberry Pancakes

S: Granola Trail Mix
Rice Cakes with Peanut Butter
Pizza Subs, Broccoli salad
Prep dough for cinnamon rolls
Jan. 27

B: Kashi cereal  and/or English Muffin

S: Cinnamon Rolls (kids make)
Burritos, Corn, Fruit Salad

Shredded Wheat Snack Bar
(Eat at friends’ house)
Make SW snacks
Saturday, Jan. 28

Apple Waffles (extras for freezer)
Chips and Salsa

Jan. 29

Scrambled Tofu Breakfast Burritos for Brunch
Smoothies, Munchies,
Popcorn, Veggie Dippers

Friday, January 20, 2012

A New Definition, Updated Opinion on Substitutes, and a Toast

I have so many people ask me about substitutes for meat and dairy. As I've gone through this process my opinion on them has changed.  I like to think I've grown as a vegan (and as a human) during this voyage. 

So when I started my transition to veganism I used a lot of the cheese and meat substitutes.  I tried shredded cheeses, tofu sour cream, seitan, TVP, Fakin' Bacon, etc. etc.  But the longer I eat vegan, the less I use those products.  I think those products are all good products and I enjoyed using them in that time of transition.  I think they helped tremendously in the switch for my family.

Our family still uses Boca Burgers (and Chik'n) and we still have the occasional vegan brat or hot dog (keep them in the freezer to take to friends' homes if needed).  But we eat them far less than we did a year ago.  I have switched out the need for meat with the need for flavor.  Comfort food has taken on a whole different meaning to us.  My family WANTS leek soup or a loaf of fresh baked vegan wheat bread.  They crave fresh fruit.  My kids sit down to watch a movie and they snack on fresh blueberries and almonds instead of chips.  Watching the football game, my hubby grabs a fresh plate of pitas and veggies and olives and mixes up a smoothie to wash it all down. 

Gone (hopefully forever) are the days of potato chips with ranch dip and chicken wings with bleu cheese.  Gone are the summer sausages and the nachos with cheese sauce.  We don't crave these things anymore, so we feel no need to substitute some sort of impostor to replace them.  We crave healthful, real, whole foods.  I start chopping up a big plate of veggies and all of a sudden the family is gathered around munching on them faster than I can chop.

A child asked me the other day, "What do you mean, VEGAN?  What do you eat?"  I needed to explain it in a kid-friendly way, and I wanted to do it in a way that explains how I feel and believe without him feeling like I was criticizing his (or his family's) choices.

For me, being vegan means not eating any animals or products that come from animals.  I try not to eat anything with a mommy.  I'm a mom and it would make me sad if someone ate my baby! (He laughed.)  I also try not to eat things that come out of an animal.  Who do think was the first guy to see something fall out of a chicken's butt and think to himself, "Gee, I wonder what that tastes like?" (He laughed again.)  I just don't believe anymore that animals should be used as a food source for humans.

Instead, I try to eat things that I would find growing on a farm or in nature. Or I try to make a jump to the farm from the ingredients in a product.  I eat fresh fruits and veggies because they look just like they would on the farm. I drink juice because that's fruit that's been squeezed (one jump).  I eat whole-grains because they look mostly like they would from the farm, just cut and dried and maybe ground up (two or three jumps to the farm).  Look at the ingredients in your food.  Read the label.  Can you easily make the jump to the farm?  If so, then that's what I try to eat. 

This definition of MY VEGAN has changed since I started this voyage.  I have done more and more research during this past year and I have talked with more and more folks that are veg-curious.  The reasons are numerous.  As I've listened to so many of you, I've learned more and more about the wide variety of benefits experienced as a vegan. 

If you are one of my regular readers who has not tried the vegan challenge or tried to switch, I would encourage you to think and pray and take a good look in the mirror.  There is obviously some reason why you keep coming back and reading more. There is something deep inside of you that is thinking this is the right choice.  Are you frightened?  Do you have a negative voice (inside or out) that is maybe keeping you from doing more research or talking to someone more?  Do you have someone criticizing this lifestyle in a way that makes you feel like you just aren't comfortable making that first step?  Ask yourself, "What do I have to live for?  WHO do I have to live for?"  Your loved ones deserve to have you around and to have you healthy and participating fully in life.  You deserve a better, happier, more energetic life.  You deserve to feel good, to sleep good, to love good, to look good.  And if you take the time to think and pray and you want to make the first step, please know that there is someone here who supports you and who is willing to help in anyway I can. 

I am so proud of my friends who have made a true effort to try this transition.  I encourage you stick with it and you will continue every day to grow and change and feel the benefits deep inside your body, your mind, and your soul.  Whatever your reasons for trying, just keep trying. 

In conclusion I'd like you to raise your kale smoothies high in the air.  A toast!  A toast to this last year's voyage and a toast to many more years of many more happy and healthy choices. CHEERS!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tofu "Fish" Sticks or "Fish" Sandwich (Vegan and GF)

Okay, confession time. I don't crave burgers at all anymore, but I do crave those cheap, disgusting fish sandwiches from that place with the golden arches.  I don't know why, but I've always loved those.  Maybe it's from all those Fridays growing up in a Catholic home?  I can't explain it.  I just love it.

I have been a good girl and have avoided the fish sandwich for over a year now. But I saw a commercial for it and it looked kind of good.  So I started searching for the vegan-tweaked version.  I found 3-4 recipes that all used kelp in them to help give the breading a "fishy" flavor.  I didn't have any kelp, so I had to make do with what I had in the pantry--Nori. 

Nori sheets are those green seaweed sheets used in sushi.  My family loves to make veggie sushi rolls and so I always have Nori in the house. You can usually buy it at the larger grocery stores in with other Asian style foods.  If not, feel free to try the kelp.  The Nori gave the breading just a hint of something "from the sea" flavor. It was not overwhelming, but it really did make them taste like fish sticks.

So anyway, I looked up a few recipes and then decided just to wing it with my own recipe. I've had pecan crusted fish before, so I decided to try it with nuts in the batter for flavor.  I used walnuts, but I think you could use pecans or almonds if you like. The final product was good and was pretty similar to a crispy style fish stick that you can purchase from the store.  I cut the tofu into sticks and also into "patties" for sandwiches.  Both cooked up just fine. 

The breading is GF and vegan, baked not fried. This recipe made enough to bread one brick of extra-firm tofu.

1/2 c. cornmeal
1/2 c. walnuts (or pecans or almonds)
1 Nori sheet
1 t. paprika
1/2 t. onion powder
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/4 t. dill weed
Salt and Pepper to taste

Combine all these ingredients in food processor and process until nuts are mostly incorporated into the meal. (I liked the crunch of the nuts a little chunkier.)  Place breading on a plate.

1 package extra-firm tofu, drained, pressed and cut into sticks or patties
1/2 c. unsweetened soy milk
olive oil or olive oil spray

Spray a cookie sheet with olive oil.  Dip tofu sticks in soy milk and then in breading and lay on prepared pan. Spray tops of sticks with a little olive oil before cooking.  Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, turning halfway through cook time.  Breading should be golden brown and crispy when done.

Serve with a lemon wedge and vegan tartar sauce (pickle relish stirred together with vegan mayo).


I found a recipe for Spanakopita (Greek Spinach Pie) in a cookbook. I won't post the recipe because it's not mine.  There are a number of recipes for this in cookbooks and on the web already.  I used tofu blended with herbs and lemon juice for the "cheese" and I used fresh, chopped spinach.  Layered it all in Phyllo Dough (separated by olive oil, not butter). 

This was a good recipe, not great. I could eat it all night, but my kids weren't really fans.  That surprised me because they both love spinach.  But I think they prefer fresh or steamed and the filling in this was a little "mushy" in texture.  I liked the Phyllo dough, but it takes some work to do.

I would say this is a higher level recipe for cooks who know how to work with this specific dough.  I am curious now, though, to try a frozen version of this that I've seen at the store.  Will let you know.

The best part about finding this recipe is that now I know Phyllo is vegan. I like the layered pastry and plan to try a few test recipes with it again soon.  I'll keep you posted!

Grilled Portabello Mushroom "Steaks" and Kale

Grilled Portabella Steaks with Grilled Onions
 My husband was craving "something meaty that's not meaty" the other night.  I named off a few meat substitute suggestions, but we honestly aren't really big on any of those options.  So I offered to grill up some big mushrooms.  He thought that sounded "okay" and was willing to try it.  But I could tell he was skeptical.  When a man wants meat, he just wants meat.

But when he walked in the door to the smell of the grill (we have an indoor grill) he perked up a bit.  Turns out they were really good and the whole family ate them up.  The marinade was great and actually gave the 'shrooms a steak-like flavor, and the texture of a big portabella is comparable to a tender cut of meat.  I'm not trying to pass these off as meat, just letting you know that they definitely worked to sooth that craving.

We had some toasted garlic bread and steamed Kale with our 'shroom steaks.  It was our first ever experience with kale, but not our last.  I loved, loved, loved it.  Great texture (more than a green) and great flavor. It was also cool that our son had learned about kale from a visiting farmer at school that very day. So we had an educational lesson as well as a great meal.  Did you know kale is actually in the same family as broccoli and cauliflower and not a green at all?  Yeah, I didn't know that either.  But I do know that it's super yummy.

All I did with the kale was rinse it, chop it coarsely and then steam it for about 3 minutes.  Don't go too long in the steamer--keep it a little crisp and bright green. I squeezed on fresh lemon juice and tossed it with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and some freshly minced garlic.  If you aren't a fan of raw garlic you can saute it for a couple minutes before tossing it in with the kale. That's it. Good stuff.

I'll add in a few pics of the mushrooms so you can see how I cleaned them.  Don't rinse them or get them too wet when prepping them.  Just brush the dirt off with a towel or damp cloth.  I didn't marinate mine, I just brushed on the sauce before and during cooking.  I also brushed it on some onions and threw those on the grill, too.  The kids ate theirs cut up like a piece of meat, but my hubby and I had ours like an open faced steak sandwich on the garlic bread.

from the store
 This photo above is how the mushrooms look when you buy them.  You need to cut the stems out and use a spoon to clean them up a bit. Remember that they cook down a lot, so I bought 6 of them for the 4 of us. 

after cleaning
You can use whatever your favorite steak marinade is, or use mine.  I added in some A1 steak sauce just to make them taste a little more like a traditional meat dish.  It worked really well.

"STEAK" MARINADE1/4 c. olive oil (use veggie broth if you are not doing oil in your meals)
2 T. dark balsamic vinegar
2 T. A1 steak sauce (or your favorite)
1 T. finely minced onion
2 t. finely minced garlic
Salt and Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

Brush marinade on mushrooms and grill on medium-high heat for 8-10 minutes per side or until mushrooms soften and have obvious grill marks. Continue to brush on the marinade during cooking.

I had marinade left over, so I brushed some on an onion and grilled that, too.  I'll add a pic of the onions just so you can see my indoor grill--not expensive, but we get a lot of use out of it.  You can also buy grill pans to use on your gas stove.  Well worth the cost.

Try grilling other veggies, too.  The grill adds great flavor and is a little something different than just throwing veggies in the pan or steam basket.  Happy cooking!

Catching Up, Shouting Out and My 1-Year Vegan Anniversary

I'm in the process of catching up on a few blog posts from the past week or so.  I've been busy with life and haven't had a chance to sit down and write out the recipes, but I promise I'm working on it and should have a few up yet today.

I would like to give a shout out to a couple friends of mine who are participating in the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart program and doing a great job.  One friend is experiencing a change in overall "feeling good" and another has had significant success in weight loss and lowering blood pressure.  You ladies know who you are, and I want you to know how very proud I am!! I'm here for you if you need, but I know you'll be successful and healthful and do just fine.

Lastly, I hit my 1-year vegan mark. In that time, I've had less than 6 non-vegan meals.  I specify "meals" because I know that there are occasionally breads or pastas made with an egg or milk products out at restaurants, or there may have been a "veggie" burger that technically wasn't "vegan." I don't throw a fit at a restaurant asking a hundred questions.  I order to the best of my ability and eat what's given.  So I have KNOWINGLY eaten less than 6 non-vegan meals--pizza with cheese mostly.  I did have a cheeseburger a long time back.  I can't actually remember if that was during the past year or if it was before then.  But I think I've done a pretty good job and I'm certainly feeling the difference.

My family is still transitioning.  My son (9-years-old and a competitive swimmer) eats about 95% vegan.  He takes his lunch to school most days and gets a salad on the days he doesn't.  He might grab some cottage cheese or have a cheese stick for snack at school, but really does a great job with the food.  He occasionally gets cow's milk at school, but is on soy (or rice or coconut or almond) milk at home. My daughter (3-years-old and the picky one in the house) is still craving cheese every once in a while, but has gotten over that urge to order "just meat" when we eat out.  She is a pizza lover, but at least she orders veggie pizza when we are out to eat.  She has made the transition to soy milk from cow's milk. Both kids eat meat and/or cheese when visiting at friends' houses or at parties, etc.  My husband is completely dairy free and identifies himself as vegan now.  He recently went on a week-long hunting trip with "the boys" and ate vegan the whole week except for one meal at a small town restaurant (there were literally no good choices).  He expected to get a lot of ribbing from "the boys" about eating that way, so he prepared by packing a cooler with some good vegan food for the week.  But he was surprised at how the guys talked to him and asked questions about his veganism and were generally supportive. 

The biggest difference I've seen is a huge number of people who are now veg-curious and supportive (whereas a year ago I was mostly chastised for my choices). I encourage you to continue your research and to pray and think and talk about what might be the best choice for you and your family.  Talk to your physician.  If your physician is not supportive and helpful, try talking to a different physician!  I love our family doctor and he has been so very helpful in this past year.  He is so positive and always talks to the kids and encourages them to continue eating "good choices" each and every day.  He has also been shocked by the changes in our health, our weight, my husband's cholesterol levels and our overall commitment to this lifestyle.  Thanks, Doc!

It has been a long transition.  It didn't happen over night.  It took some praying, talking and researching and learning a new way of cooking, eating, ordering and thinking.  But I believe my family is on the right track to a lifetime of healthful eating.

Keep up the good work and call me, text me, message me, facebook me, whatever me if you need a little support or help with any recipes and ideas.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

This Week's Meal Plan

Let me know if you need a recipe for anything you see here.  Just a note for newbies to the blog--I provide child care in my home, so my snacks and lunches are geared toward those little ones.  When I print my meal plan for the week I also add in any meetings, scheduling changes, swim practices, etc. etc. under the date.  I also add in on the Plan/Notes section any groceries to pick up or any food to thaw or pre-prep for meals.

We are a busy family with two working parents and kids with activities during the week.  My son is involved in a couple morning workouts and a couple evening practices, so I try to make things we can grab and go if needed. We live in central Iowa and need to be able to cook meals with food I can get easily in my small town grocery store.  You won't find a whole lot of "fancy" meals here, but instead you should find meals that take very little prep and time and are still healthy and yummy.  These meals are inexpensive even though some vegan products cost a little more.  (I can't believe how much money we save eating vegan!)  Best of all, these are meals that the whole family enjoys eating. 

My son takes lunch to school each day with soy milk singles and fresh fruit/veggies.  He eats leftovers from the previous night or I make the same lunch my child care kids are having for him in the morning.  Again, very quick and easy to get out the door in the morning. 

Let me know if you have any questions or if there's some more info you'd like on any of this. 


Breakfast or  Morning Snack
Afternoon Snack
Sun 1-8
**Sweetened Couscous
**Shredded Wheat bar
Leftovers and popcorn

Mon 1-9
B: Cereal w/plant milk

S: Soy yogurt and Granola
**Chickpea Salad Pita Sands, Corn and Fresh fruit
Smoothies and Grahams
**Red Pepper Macaroni, Spinach Salad

Tues 1-10
B: Oatmeal w/maple syrup and raisins

S: **Shredded Wheat Bars
Red Pepper Mac, Peas, Fruit Salad (made from frozen fruit)
Apple, P.B., Crackers
Grilled Portabellas, Quinoa, Wilted Spinach
Wed 1-11
B: Cereal w/plant milk

S: Fruit Salad
Chik ‘n and Ranch Wraps (vegan)
Orange slices, Broccoli
Painted Bagels
Spanakopita, Fruit
Thurs 1-12
B: **Baked Oatmeal

S: Apple or banana tortilla roll
Homemade Pasta w/red sauce, carrots, salad
Cucumber snakes w/pitas and hummus
Boca Burgers, **Pasta Salad

Fri 1-13
B: Muffins or cereal

S: Muffins
**Veggie Potato Soup, Biscuits
Kettle Corn
“Fish” and Chips,  Kale

Sat 1-14
**Apple-Oat Waffles
Dinner Out

Monday, January 2, 2012

This Week's Meal Plan

Just thought I'd post the meal plan for this week to give some ideas as to how my family is eating.  We are supporting a couple friends through the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart program, and my family has decided to try it, too.  They normally eat vegan at home (except for skim milk) and order whatever they want when we are out of the house.  They eat meat and/or cheese at school or on the road, but have decided to do 21 days totally vegan (no milk, eggs, meat).

For those of you new to the blog, I am a child care provider in my home.  So my meal plan includes two snacks and lunches to feed my daycare kids as well as my family.  My son, Eli, is taking a lunch to school each day that includes a box of soy milk and fresh cut fruit and/or veggies along with the lunch plan. He usually has the same lunch as my daycare kids, but it's marked where that differs.

Our family always has fresh veggies and fresh fruit in the house, so I may just list a main dish some places.  We fill in with fruit and veggies (fresh or steamed) when needed. I also have a couple soups and chili in the freezer just in case we are in a hurry some night and don't get supper made or prep work done.  Always have an emergency plan (even if it's just a can of soup) otherwise you'll be tempted to order out!

If there's any recipes you'd like, just let me know and I'll get those posted for you.

Breakfast or  Morning Snack
Afternoon Snack

Monday, Jan. 2
Buckwheat Blueberry Pancakes (extra for freezer), Grapefruit Salad
Veggie Noodle Soup, Biscuits
Granola and Soy Yogurt
Roasted Veggies on Bowtie Pasta, Breadsticks

Tuesday, Jan. 3

B: Sweetened Couscous or Frozen Pancakes

S: Smoothies
Chik’n (Boca brand) Sandwiches, Fresh Fruit and Veggie Dippers
Bagels with Peanut Butter
Sesame Tofu, Brown Rice, Edamame

Jan. 4

B: Oatmeal w/maple syrup or English Muffin

S: Apples and/or Oranges
Mushroom Barley Soup, Veggie dippers, Fresh Fruit
Vegan Meatballs and Gravy with Mashed Potatoes, Lemon Green Beans
Make pasta salad for tomorrow, Restock fresh fruit and veggies
Thursday, Jan. 5

B: Sweetened Couscous or Frozen Pancakes

S: Granola Trail Mix
Pasta Salad and Tomato Soup,
(Kids: Tofu Nuggets)
Rice Cakes with Peanut Butter and Jelly
Spanakopita, Fresh Fruit Salad
Make corn and black bean salad for tomorrow
Friday, Jan. 6

B: Kashi cereal and/or Smoothie and/or English Muffin
S: Cinn-Raisin Biscuits (kids make)
Buckwheat Pancakes, Fruit Salad

(Eli takes Corn and Black Bean Salad)
Shredded Wheat snack bar
Veggie Fajitas, Mexican Rice, Corn and Black Bean Salad

Saturday, Jan. 7

Apple Waffles (extras for freezer)
Butternut Squash Ravioli with Browned Butter Sauce
Chips and Salsa
Dinner Out

Sunday, Jan. 8

Scrambled Tofu Breakfast Burritos
Popcorn and Veggie Dippers