It’s Not Hard to Eat Vegan: 5 Tips to Help You Switch to a Plant Based Diet. VeganMoFo Day 18

Mofo Graphic_2I have so many people, even vegetarians, tell me, “It must be so hard to eat like you do.” I can see that, at first glance, following a vegan diet can look complicated and intimidating. Others think that the hard part is giving up the foods that they like, not generally talking about meat, but much more often they mean giving up sweet treats and,  especially, giving up cheese.

It’s Not Hard to Eat Vegan: 5 tips to help you make the switch to a plant based diet.

Let’s take this step by step. Here are a few tips that will make eating a plant based diet seem less scary (and more delicious). It’s really not hard to eat vegan.

    1. Reading Labels. This is probably the most time consuming and complicated part for new vegans. Yes, you need to read labels. Thoroughly. But, considering all the junk that is found in most processed food, shouldn’t you be doing that anyway? When I scan a label, I first look at the allergen listing. Since most manufacturers list any food that is known to cause allergies, it is a quick and easy way to see if a food contains any dairy products or eggs. If it does, put it down. If if doesn’t, you’re not quite done. Take a look at the rest of the ingredient list. Other ingredients sometimes have lesser known names, but still contain non-vegan properties. These include casein, gelatin, honey, whey, and carmine. Here is a complete list from Happy Cow that can help guide a new vegan through the ins and outs of label reading. The good news is, it gets easier. While ingredients change, and you need to keep an eye even on products that you use regularly, it will soon become second nature to read a label and pick out which ingredients contain animal products.
    2. Eating Out. While it would be wonderful to be able to eat at a vegan restaurant every time you go out to dinner, it is probably unlikely to ever happen. In my case, we have one vegan restaurant anywhere close to La Quinta, and it is about a 45 minute drive from home. It is possible to order a vegan meal at most restaurants, though. Fortunately, there are resources to help you find restaurants that are vegan friendly. The first and foremost is Happy Cow. Enter the city that you are searching or use the app, and you will find a list of restaurants that can accommodate your dietary needs as well as directions, suggestions, and ratings. Another app that I use frequently is VeganXpress (for iOS only, so I have to check my iPad). It not only lists the available vegan dishes at most chain restaurants, it has a vegan food list so you can check out your favorite candy, snacks, and other foods (Fritos, Oreos, Red Vines, and some Girl Scout cookies make the list!). Again, it gets easier, but you do have to read menus, ask questions, and sometimes make special requests.
    3. Cooking at Home. There are hundreds of vegan cookbooks available, many recipe websites and blogs that have vegan recipes (including this one!), and many other resources to help you prepare delicious and easy plant based meals. That being said, one of the easiest ways to make the transition to a vegan lifestyle is to use some the of delicious meat alternatives available. My two favorites are Beyond Meat and Gardein, and there are several others that are very good too. Do be aware that some faux meats are not vegan, including products from Quorn and some from Morningstar Farms. Simply prepare some of your old favorites, substituting the vegan alternatives where appropriate.
    4. “Giving Up” Stuff. If you have a sweet tooth that you need to satisfy, it is certainly possible to find or make plant based alternatives. I’ve been in “baking mode” in the past (which doesn’t happen very often) and made such treats as carrot cake, pineapple upside down cake, and a variety of cookies. There are certain specialty brands of vegan baked treats, and even Trader Joes has their own chocolate chip cookies which contain no animal products. There is ice cream made of soy, almond, or coconut milk, and dark chocolate is not only delicious, it is better for you than milk chocolate. I found that I eat a lot less junky food simply because it is not vegan. For me that turned out to be a better reason than the old “too much fat, sugar, and calories” excuse.
    5. Cheese. Cheese gets its own paragraph because it is probably the number one excuse reason that I hear from current vegetarians as to why it would be so hard to be vegan. “I can’t give up cheese!” they say. Yeah, yeah, I used to be there too. But you know what? Yes, you can. Eating less cheese really is a matter of “just doing it.” Like sugar, the less you eat, the less you want. Plus, these days brands like Daiya make substitutes that not only taste great, they melt just like the real thing. Daiya is also soy and gluten free. Their products go beyond the plain old cheddar and mozzarella shreds, and include Swiss and provolone slices, cream cheese, and Havarti and jack wedges. If you’d like to start making your own gourmet vegan cheese, this cookbook, Artisan Vegan Cheese, (affiliate link) has recipes using plant based ingredients like almonds, cashews, and non-dairy yogurt,  to make anything from ricotta to soft Gruyère, to whipped coconut cream.

 

TJs Chickenless Salad

Easy Breezy: A half avocado topped with Trader Joes Chicken-less Salad, served on quinoa with a side salad with a mustard vinaigrette. Healthy, balanced, and delicious!

Another thing that will make it easier to make the switch to a plant based diet is that it is getting easier to find many of the substitute meat and cheese products. Many chain supermarkets, including Vons (Safeway), Ralphs (Kroger), and even Target, carry brands like Daiya, Beyond Meat, Gardein, and others. And if your local store doesn’t, why not ask? Store managers are usually quite responsive to special requests like this.

I hope this has answered a few questions and made the idea of “eating vegan” less scary. If you have questions about following a plant based diet, please feel free to ask in the comments.

Do you live in the Washington DC area? Would you like to enter to win special VIP tickets to one of the Native Foods grand opening parties that start next week? If so, let me know in the comments and I will enter you to win! I can enter two people, so let me know as soon as possible.

Herbed Risi Salad with Tarragon Dressing. Vegan Mofo Day 16

Mofo Graphic_squareI’m popping in quickly to share this amazing recipe. It’s a take off on a favorite (and long gone) restaurant dish. Way back when, I used to have it with chicken, but even then (this was over 10 years ago), the restaurant offered a vegan version with seitan. I finally tried it one time and I was hooked. Even though I was not yet a vegetarian, the seitan version was my favorite.

The restaurant eventually closed, and I made several attempts to create my own version. The key was the tarragon dressing and I finally found just the right combination.

Herbed Risi Salad with Creamy Tarragon Dressing

Risi Salad

5.0 from 1 reviews
Herbed Risi Salad with Tarragon Dressing. Vegan Mofo Day 16
 
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Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 2-3 servings
Ingredients
  • 1 package Seitan (or one cup if you make your own), cut into 1 inch pieces
  • ½ cup vegetable broth
  • 2 Tbs Lime juice
  • Pepper
  • 2 cups cooked wild rice
  • 1 large Tomato, chopped salad-style
  • ¾ cup Mushrooms, sliced
  • ½ cup Green Onions
  • ½ cup Corn
  • ¼ cup chopped Parsley
  • 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped
  • Creamy Tarragon Dressing
  • Tarragon Dressing
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ⅛ cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Lime Juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Tarragon leaves
  • ¼ cup Parsley
  • ½ cup plus 2 Tbs Vegenaise
  • 2 cloves Garlic
  • ½ tsp Salt
  • Pepper to taste
  • Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Blend until creamy
Instructions
  1. Combine Seitan, lime juice, and pepper and set aside while you chop vegetables.
  2. Preheat a non-stick pan. Add Seitan mixture and cook until the liquid has evaporated and the seitan begins to brown slightly. Set aside to cool off.
  3. If the rice is hot, allow it to cool off for a few minutes. Combine the rice, Seitan, and vegetables. Add the Tarragon Dressing slowly until the rice is lightly coated. You may not need all the dressing. Toss carefully. The salad can be eaten either warm or cold. Makes enough for two meal-sized servings.

Tarragon Dressing

Risi Salad 2Do you try to recreate favorite dishes from restaurants?

Vegan Mofo Day 11: Southwest Chicken Bowl

Well, if you follow me on Instagram, you may already know that the last few days have been a little out of the norm. I’ll tell the full tale tomorrow, but in a few words we had the worst rainstorm that I can remember here in the desert on Monday. Lots of flash floods, road closures, and some water damage and subsequent clean up at my home.

We’re okay, and to my knowledge no one was seriously injured, but Alan and I have been pretty busy cleaning up and drying out the last couple days. Today I finally have some time to present the recipe I promised earlier in the week.

I love bowls. Throw some rice or other grain, beans or other protein, some veggies, and just the right sauce or dressing together and you’ve got heaven in a bowl.  Some of my previous bowl recipes include Gyro Spiced Seitan and Quinoa, Quinoa, Black Bean and Kale, and coming up next week, I have a Seitan and Rice Bowl with veggies and a creamy tarragon sauce.

This Southwest Chicken Bowl may be the best of the best though. Alan and I both agreed it was a keeper. Not only is it loaded with crisp veggies, I used Beyond Meat vegan chicken cooked with a spicy sauce, quinoa, and a creamy avocado dressing to top it all off.

Southwest Chicken Bowl with Beyond Meat, Quinoa and Spicy Avocado Dressing

Southwest Bowl

5.0 from 1 reviews
Southwest Chicken Bowl with Beyond Meat, Quinoa, and Spicy Avocado Dressing
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 2 servings
Ingredients
  • ½ package Beyond Meat vegan chicken or 4 ounces vegan chicken of your choice
  • ½ cup prepared salsa
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup prepared quinoa
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • ½ cup red onion, chopped
  • ½ cup orange or yellow pepper
  • 1 handful mixed salad greens
  • 1 cup black beans, rinsed and drained
  • ½ cup corn
  • ¼ cup cilantro
  • ½ cup prepared salsa
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Instructions
  1. Prepare the quinoa according to package directions. Set aside to cool slightly.
  2. Preheat the oil over medium heat. Add the Beyond Meat and cook until lightly browned (about 5 minutes)
  3. Add the salsa and ½ cup water to the pan and reduce head to low.
  4. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the water is reduced and the sauce is thick.
  5. In each bowl, spoon about ½ cup of the cooked quinoa.
  6. Add one thin layer of the mixed greens.
  7. Spoon the room temperature beans over the greens.
  8. Add the corn, tomato, onion, peppers, salsa, and cilantro.
  9. Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces and add on top.
  10. Toss with the Avocado dressing.
  11. Avocado Dressing: Combine the avocado, lime juice, oil, and seasoning in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth. Slowly add water, a little at a time, until the dressing is creamy, but pourable.

 

Southwest Bowl 3

One serving of this Southwest Chicken Bowl has about 35 grams of protein. The beans, quinoa, and vegan chicken are all great sources of protein, and combined offer all essential amino acids needed for a healthy diet. For more information about getting enough protein on a vegan diet, see my post, Where DO You Get Your Protein?

Southwest Bowl 2Do you like bowls? What’s your favorite type? Mexican? Middle Eastern? Southwestern? Other?

Where DO You Get Your Protein? Vegan Mofo Day 8

Mofo Graphic_smallWhere Do You Get Your Protein?

As I mentioned the other day, and as every vegan and vegetarian knows, “where do you get your protein” is the most frequent question that we hear. While many of us roll our eyes after hearing it so often, I like to think of it as a teachable moment, my chance to share some information that might take some of the nutritional mystery out of the vegan diet.

Protein Question

This is a question that I received from a reader named Tom.  I wrote about protein needs a couple years ago, but then I estimated my protein needs based on my own body weight, not necessarily calories. I thought that to answer Tom’s question I would use my food from last week’s What I Ate Wednesday, and analyze it a little to see how I was doing protein-wise. As a rule, I don’t count calories but just try to eat a balanced, mostly healthy diet, so I wasn’t sure exactly what kind of numbers I’d come up with.

As just a little disclaimer, remember that I’m not a nutritionist, and my calculations are based on package labels and Dr. Google. And I used the “eyeball” method as opposed to a food scale to estimate portion sizes.  I also skipped the data on the protein powder, since Tom doesn’t use it.

Breakfast

Tofu Egg

I actually have about three breakfasts, mostly because my morning starts so early. In this example, I had a banana before cross country practice, another banana and a package of Larabar Renola afterward.

Banana (2): 200 calories, 2.6 grams protein
Renola: 200 calories, 6 grams protein

A little later in the morning I had some eggy tofu and toast.

Tofu: 90 calories, 10 grams protein
Toast: 180 calories, 10 grams protein

Lunch

Burrito

My early afternoon “pre-lunch” consisted of leftovers of my Best Vegan Burrito.

Seitan: 80 calories, 15 grams protein
Beans: 90 calories, 7 grams protein
Avocado: 50 calories, 0 grams protein
Tortilla: 220 calories, 4 grams protein
Plus salsa, tomatoes, onions, and cilantro which adds negligible calories and protein so I didn’t bother to do the math.

Lunch was a Veggie Delight sandwich at Subway. The website actually figures out the nutrient information based on what you add to the sandwich, so, yay, a little less math for me.

Subway Veggie Delight on French bread with avocado, brown mustard, spinach, tomato, cucumber, jalapeno, and banana peppers: 290 calories, 9 grams protein

Dinner

Piccata

And finally, dinner was Chick’n Piccata, made with Gardein Chick’n Scallopini and wild rice.

Chick’n: 110 calories, 14 grams protein
Wild Rice: 165 calories, 6.5 grams protein
Mushrooms, 20 calories, 3 grams protein

What I didn’t include was the oil I used to cook with, the Earth Balance I spread on my toast, or the glass of wine I had with dinner. All of these add calories (unfortunately), but no protein to speak of.

By my estimate, I ate about 2,000 calories with 87 grams of protein. While this falls a little short of what Tom is looking for, it would be easy to increase total protein without adding very many calories. In general, most of the vegan protein sources, beans, tofu, tempeh, seitan, provide a lot of protein with very little caloric cost. One extra serving of the Chick’n Piccata would add the protein. That extra 110 calories can be offset by having just one slice of toast, using less oil, or skipping the glass of wine. Or even cutting out the second banana.

Honestly, if I were taking an objective look at my food for the day, my concern wouldn’t be the protein. There are not a lot of vegetables included beyond the sandwich toppings, and not much fruit either.  I could definitely make improvements in my overall nutrition by adding more leafy greens and other veggies. Having a salad and some asparagus with dinner would help. Replacing some of the carbs (toast, tortilla, sandwich roll), with more vegetables would go a long way to “powering up” my diet.

Instagram picture of the day (Follow me!). My varsity girls team posing before their first race of the season.

How about you? What small changes could you make to your diet to power it up?

The Convenient Vegan: My 5 Favorite “Easy” #Vegan Foods

Mofo Graphic_squareBy convenient vegan I do not mean following a plant based diet when it is easy or convenient to do. No, I want to highlight a few of my favorite vegan convenience foods that can actually assist with the transition to a plant based diet, or help those who want to join Meatless Monday, eat a little less meat, or (like my son next week) have family coming for dinner and want to surprise them with your no-meat cooking skills.

Many times in the regular food world, convenience foods are prepared meals that tend to be high in sugar, salt, and have a lot of additives that would not be considered healthy. And it’s true that many of the prepared vegan meals can have some of the same problems. However, the foods that I’m highlighting today are less processed, have fewer ingredients, and are high in overall quality.

While some vegans, especially those who have been following a plant based diet for a long time, tend to eschew meat substitutes altogether, I think that they have merit, not only for transition, but for anyone who is short on time or simply wants the flavor of meat without the killing the animals part.

Gardein

While Gardein in general has a variety of delicious meat substitutes (see my Chick’n Piccata), from beefless beef, to chickenless chicken, and even fishless fish, the highlight tonight is the Chick’n Sliders. After adding some favorite toppings like onion, tomato and avocado, serving with some baked sweet potato fries, you’ve got a great, easy meal that even kids will love.

gardein(The reason you’re seeing the box instead of the actual sliders is that when I went to prepare dinner, I discover that I was out of avocado and mustard. One I could do without, but both? No way. So, leftovers for tonight, sliders, with avocado and mustard, tomorrow.)

Beyond Meat

Beyond Meat is a newer addition to the vegan meat options, and a long awaited one. In addition to being plant based and Non GMO, it is also gluten free, bringing vegan convenience to a wide range of people who avoid gluten. Their Beef-free crumbles are soy free too! The best part is, they are delicious, and easy to add to any meal to give it a little flavor and texture. Check out my Peachy Quinoa Salad made with Beyond Meat! (Click here to save $1 on Beyond Meat!)

Peachy Quinoa 3

Daiya

Confession: When I was at the IDEA World Expo, I spent a lot of time at the Daiya booth. After all they were handing out free (vegan) pizza! As the only vegan option within a few miles of the Anaheim Convention Center, it was only natural that I’d be drawn to the Daiya booth. First known as the company that made great meltable vegan cheese shreds, Daiya now has a variety of prepared and convenience food, from several varieties of pizza, delicious cream “cheese,” and both chunk and spreadable vegan cheeses. Not only are they all dairy free, they are soy and gluten free as well.

Daiya

Sweet Earth Seitan

I love the meaty texture and versatile uses of seitan. While preparing your own seitan is really not too difficult, I have always preferred the taste of some of the pre-made versions available. What I really like about Sweet Earth Seitan is that it contains the same ingredients that I would use if I made it at home: wheat gluten, soy sauce, and seasonings (see the picture below).

Sweet Earth Seitan

Follow Your Heart

I usually make my own salad dressing, but as a former ranch dressing lover sometimes I want a little creamy goodness. Follow Your Heart not only makes the best vegan mayonnaise, Vegenaise, they also make my favorite salad dressing, vegan Creamy Garlic. They have a vegan ranch too, but I’ve never seen it available in my local stores. Other Follow Your Heart products include the new vegan shreds (haven’t tried them yet, but I’m looking forward to it!) and vegan cream “cheese.”  They have a variety of products that are gluten and soy free too, so be sure to check out their website for more information.

Follow your heart

When I first became a vegetarian, over seven years ago, and even four years ago when I went completely vegan, it was a challenge to find some of these products, especially out here in the desert. Now, I’m happy to say, even my local Vons carries Beyond Meat, Daiya, and Gardein, and while I still have to travel a little to find Sweet Earth Seitan or Follow Your Heart, it is a lot easier than it used to be. Go Vegan!

Instagram of the Day: Cross Country Practice in 109 temperatures. Follow me!

Do you have a favorite convenience food, vegan or not? Would you run in 109 temps? Do you prefer exercising in hot or cold weather?

Vegan MoFo Day 4: Vegan on the Go

Whew! What a day. It’s about 5:00 pm and I’m sitting at Starbucks taking a few moments to catch up before my parents’ meeting in an hour. I’ve been on the go since about 5:00 this morning. I thought I’d tie in to Vegan MoFo by discussing fueling for a day like today.

Mofo Graphic_3

We didn’t have a cross country practice this morning, so that gave me an opportunity to run on my own. Before I even ran though, I took a trip to Walmart to pick up a few things that I would need for the day. The only time to go to Walmart is 5:00 in the morning!

I kept the run short, because I knew the day would be long. A banana always gets me off on the right foot for my run.

airia2

I ate breakfast as soon as I got home. I kept it simple, cereal with almond milk, and rye toast. Then into the shower (after coloring my hair), dress, make up and out the door because I had an interview today! That meant I needed to get my nails done, something I’ve been neglecting since I’ve not been working.

I didn’t leave myself enough time to grab a second bite to eat, so I tossed a Clif Bar in my bag, which I gulped down after my nails. I hoped that would hold me over. It would be embarrassing to have one of my low-sugar shaky attacks at my interview.

Fortunately I didn’t. I was interviewing for a fitness director position at a country club in Rancho Mirage. Ironically, it is right across the street from my former place of employment. They have a brand new, beautiful fitness center, all new equipment, a spa with three treatment rooms, a small Pilates studio, very similar to what I managed before (but a lot newer!). We’ll see. It would be an exciting opportunity.

Of course I was starving when I was finished. By then it was about 12:30, and I just had time to grab a bite to eat, rush home and change, then head back out for cross country practice. I need to get to the school before school lets out, because it is absolutely crazy when the bell rings. So I stopped at Taco Bell on the way home, picked up three fresca bean burritos (one for as soon as I got home, one for right after practice to hold me over until dinner, and one just in case Alan wanted one).

As you can probably see, today is not shaping up to be the healthiest of vegan days! Good thing yesterday was much better.

It was about 108 for cross country practice. Believe it or not, I had given the girls the option of morning or afternoon practice and they decided they wanted to sleep in. It was tough, but they survived.

Next up is the parents’ meeting. It’s at 6:00, so pretty soon I’ll be heading back to the high school. It gives us a chance to meet the parents and let them know what we expect from their children. Amazingly our first meet is this Saturday!

ZPizza

Since it will probably be after 7:00 when we finish, I plan to pick up a pizza on the way home. Fortunately, ZPizza is on my way, and they make an amazing vegan pizza. Actually most of their pizzas can be made vegan with just a few changes. I’ll be sure to have some veggies on my pizza to bring up the health quotient on my eating for today.

I’m sure that I could have planned better and eaten healthier on the go, but I did stay fueled through the day. Tomorrow’s another day, and it’s all about balance, right? Oh, and one of the best parts of being home? Doggy snuggles.

Buddy

How do you stay fueled on the go? Are you a better planner than I?