Cheese Sauce?

It’s hard to believe but it’s been about six months since a vegan friend encouraged me to try his way of eating for thirty days

This plant based journey has taught me a lot but one of the most valuable lessons is that it’s important to make the right choices for yourself in the kitchen.

Many vegan cooks manipulate ingredients in attempts to recreate familiar dishes in new, plant based and healthier ways. For example, there are scores of recipes on the internet to help you create a “cheese” sauce, ideal for nachos, mac and cheese and scores of comfort food dishes that you may remember from your past life consuming dairy.

I’ve tried a few of these imaginative recipes. Many use cashews and nutritional yeast. Some add a host of seasonings or use roasted red peppers. Nearly all create a neon orange sauce that resembles melted Velveeta. Well, resembles it in appearance at least.

In taste, perhaps not so much.

I have finally learned to cut the recipes in half so that I don’t feel as bad throwing away nearly all the completed product. After the last batch, I stood in the kitchen for a long time, contemplating whether to throw it away right then or stash the concoction in the fridge with hopes I would think of some way to salvage the two cups of mediocrity.

In other words, should I throw it away now or wait till later? This is the inner dialogue sometimes.

I’ve met plenty of people who think these recipes are great. Lots of bloggers, online reviewers and even some real life friends rave about how tasty, how authentically cheesy their favorite recipe is.

I’m happy for them but it’s not for me.

From now on, if I want mac and cheese, I’ll go to a restaurant and enjoy the real thing. It can be a treat, something to be savored and enjoyed occasionally.

For me, plant based eating should be about eating clean and eating well. There’s little more delicious than sautéed mushrooms, onions, peppers and zucchini heaped on top of a baked potato. No sauces, just some pepper and sea salt to taste. In-season blueberries are so delicious they’re hard to resist and homemade soup packed with veggies makes for a tasty dinner.

All of these things can be enjoyed in the simplest form possible. Torturing ingredients into forms they weren’t mean to take on isn’t necessary or worthwhile when you have such tasty meals and snacks at your disposal.

I’ll save my cashews for snacks and occasionally treat myself to the authentic cheesy dish.

After all, food is meant to nourish the body but I think it’s also meant to enjoy. It’s ok to take a break, especially if you’re doing it infrequently. At least, that’s the right choice for me.

Healthy Eating On The Go

Eating healthy on the go is tough. Eating healthy and plant based on the go is nearly impossible.

A lot of times I just need something to grab and go, preferably to eat in the car. These choices are deplorable. Yet, when there’s time to sit down for a meal, the choices are almost as bad.

Everything is double meat, loaded down with cheese, packed with sodium and deep fried. It’s all bread and pasta and sad little iceberg lettuce salads that are also smothered in cheese and croutons.

Yuck.

I’ve come to accept that true plant based healthy eating isn’t easy and often impossible in the outside world. A packed lunch can remedy the problem some days but isn’t always feasible.

I have figured out that Meijer is a great source for healthful food. They offer a nice selection of fresh salads and cups of cut up fruits. Some salads have meat while others like their Mediterranean, garden salad or nuts and berry salad are meat free. And yeah, it’s a lot of fruit if the salad contains fruit but it’s better than going hungry!

About $5 for a salad and $2-3 for a cup of fresh fruit and it’s more nutritious than the Impossible Whopper at BK which is the usual alternative.

The above picture shows a salad I had for dinner in Michigan last month and a container of fruit I had bought for breakfast.

When I do have the opportunity to eat in a restaurant at a table with a knife and fork like a real human, it’s fun to enjoy a treat that I normally don’t have. Pizza comes to mind. So does diner grub like grilled cheese or pancakes. I have adopted a sort of go big or go home mentality when it comes to these dining experiences – enjoy the grilled cheese and fries in the great old diner atmosphere but go back to normal eating the next meal.

It’s not a great plan but it works.

So I’m dying to know- what are your healthy eating on the go tips? Bonus points if you have vegan ideas!

Eating Well Doesn’t Mean Eating Boring

One of the biggest misconceptions people have about healthy eaters, especially plant based eaters, is that their food is dull or that they just eat salads and big bowls of broccoli.

Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

I went plant based just a little over three months ago and think of myself as an imperfect vegan. That means that all the food I prepare is plant based but that healthy eating in the real world is hard. So when I’m out, I just do my best. Sometimes that means an Impossible Burger with a side of fries and broccoli. Sometimes it means a grilled pimento cheese sandwich and chips at a fabulous old soda fountain.

I aim to eat plant based 90 percent of the time. However, I want to eat good food all the time.

Yesterday I made some delicious pancakes to freeze for a rainy day. These wheat pancakes with plump blueberries are as delicious as any restaurant pancakes I’ve ever tasted, especially when paired with pure maple syrup.

I also made some hot chocolate with cocoa, a little stevia, almond milk and vanilla. There was a companion recipe for homemade marshmallow that I was too lazy to make despite how easy it sounded. Nonetheless, it was a tasty cup of hot chocolate to finish off a day of Christmas wrapping.

While it was good, it was missing something- maybe the homemade marshmallow? Maybe just a little more sweetener? I’m not sure but will work to improve it until I’m happy.

Then there was the pot of homemade bean soup – three kinds of beans, vegetable broth, onions and carrots simmered to create a mouth watering soup for work lunches this week.

The point is that I’m not deprived and am as happy as a clam with most of the food I make.

It’s actually a lot of fun to play in the kitchen, trying new things and learning from the occasional mistake. The mistakes are ok because I typically learn a valuable lesson and rarely make the same mistake twice. Also, it’s a sign that I’m trying new things and that my diet is no longer limited to the same five things I used to make all the time.

This is a good thing!

Thinking about reducing your meat and dairy or maybe just trying to eat a little healthier? Try choosing one dish that you enjoy and seek out a healthier recipe for that dish. Pancakes or soups are a great place to start. Try healthifying just one dish a week and you might be surprised how much you enjoy the changes.

Seven Ways To Eat Healthy On the Cheap (Advice From A Frugal Adventurer)

Think you can’t afford to eat healthy? Think again.

Healthy eating is no more expensive than the average American diet of fast and processed food if you are willing to cook, plan and adapt your menu to what’s readily available. Since going vegan, I have cut out most processed foods and actually spend less on groceries despite the assumptions of many that it is more costly.

This is important to me because money saved on the simple and mundane throughout the year helps to fund my adventures!

Here are a few tips for getting started!

  1. Eat in Season – Eating in season is one of the most delicious ways you’ll ever save money. That’s because in season food is plentiful, cheap and delicious. For example, blueberries are as tasty as candy during their summer peak season. Zucchini is incredibly cheap and is great in stir fry, fritters and even in chocolate chip zucchini bread. Winter oranges are delicious, portable snacks for just a few cents per serving!
  2. Focus on Frozen – The frozen food section is your friend. I never buy the cook-in-the- bag stuff because it’s more expensive and unnecessary if you want to use just small amounts at a time. There are certain things you will always find in my freezer including assorted fruit for breakfast smoothies and frozen pineapple which is as good as ice cream! Then there’s always frozen hashbrowns, broccoli, sweet corn, peas and other vegetables. Look at the labels and seek out the things that have nothing in them except what you want to buy. The ingredients list of frozen hashbrowns should just say potatoes and the corn should just contain corn. If there are sweeteners, preservatives or anything else, leave them in the store. 
  3. Keep your shelves stocked – To accompany #2, there are a few other staples in my kitchen including rice and pasta in the pantry. In the fridge you’ll find marinara, salsa and barbeque sauce next to the mustard and salad dressings. These things keep for a while and are great condiments for all sorts of things.
  4. Use What You Have and Rethink Leftovers- This is easy to do when the pantry is stocked. Also, learn to view leftovers as ingredients rather than something to be tolerated. On Sunday, I used bits and pieces of things to make a delicious lunch. A handful of leftover onions and peppers got sauteed with the end of a bag of frozen hashbrowns to make a base for a bowl. I added some canned black beans, leftover frozen corn, salsa from the fridge and some fresh spinach (that I keep for salads and smoothies) to make a big bowl of spicy goodness. It was delicious and took just a few minutes to throw together. Note that I kept the ingredients separate until making my bowl. Now there are containers of leftover beans, corn and the potatoes seasoned with onion and peppers in the fridge waiting for another meal. The potatoes will be repurposed as a side one night and the corn and beans will go into a salad.
  5. Cook – There’s not way around it. If you want to eat healthy, you have to prepare your meals. Prepackaged meals are expensive and not especially good for you given all the  preservatives, artificial colors, sweeteners, etc. they contain. When you prepare your own meals, you take control over the ingredients and can often save money. That little bag of frozen mashed potatoes is $3 but you can buy a big bag of potatoes that will provide for many meals for about the same price. You can buy bags of frozen smoothie mixes that are packed with sugar or you can make your own with almond milk and frozen fruit for less money.
  6. Batch Cook – And if you’re going to cook, you may as well make a little extra or save your leftovers for the freezer. For example, a double batch of homemade pancakes can be made healthfully and inexpensively. Freeze the extras to warm in the microwave as you need them. I love vegetable soup so leftovers get frozen in two serving containers – ready to reheat at a moment’s notice on a cold, winter night.
  7. Cut Down On Expensive Stuff – This should go without saying but it never hurts to point out that there may be expensive items that you can reduce or eliminate. Meat, cheese and packaged snacks are expensive. Snack on seasonal fruits and veggies, use cheese sparingly and embrace meatless meals for a few meals a week.

There are tons of ways you can save money in the kitchen and make eating healthfully affordable. It’s hard and even intimidating to change your habits but you may find that a little planning and simple preparation will save you money. And if you’re not accustomed to cooking you may find that it’s a process you enjoy!

Are you a healthy eater? What do you do to cut expenses? Tell me in the comments!

 

Eating Healthy On The Road

Saturday around Winchester (2)

I transitioned into a mostly plant based diet this fall. In layman’s terms – I’m vegan. This has been for health reasons although I have long avoided meat for moral reasons as well.

My diet now consists of mostly fruits and vegetables, whole grains, plant based proteins and some healthy fats. No meat, dairy, eggs or oils. And I do my best to not make a lot of unhealthy foods using healthy ingredients.

This works great when I’m at home or can pack my lunch. In restaurants, life is hard. A lot of restaurants, including fast food giant Burger King, are offering plant based burgers now but you can’t live off burgers alone and these products aren’t what you might consider health food.

So, when eating out, my goal is to eat as healthy as I can within the rules I live by at home. As much as possible. 

This road trip was my first as a vegan and was helpful in shaping my goals and standards for future travel.

The first goal was to find a hotel that offered a fridge. I opted for a newly remodeled Motel 6 where the tile floors and removal of all unnecessary wood and fabric made me rest easier about protecting myself from bed bugs and other nasties. Motel 6 is a very basic, affordable chain with no bells and whistles. While they don’t provide breakfast, they do provide a fridge and microwave.

So I packed a small blender, a plate, reusable straw, kitchen towels and utensils. When I got to town, a stop at the local Aldi for supply acquisition – frozen fruit and almond milk for smoothies, peanut butter, bread, bananas and bottled water – cost about $15. With no toaster at hand, I just heated my bread to simulate the peanut butter with toast that I have with a smoothie most mornings.

I also packed some apples, homemade granola and a few protein bars in case I was in a pinch while traveling.

I had mexican one day and found a small pizza shop that made me a veggie pizza with gluten free crust and no cheese. They offered vegan cheese but that just sounds like heavily processed crap and maybe something that doesn’t fit with my healthy eating goals. So I passed.

There was a veggie burger at a cool old diner in West Virginia too.

The day of the Flying Circus Air Show, I stopped at Subway for picnic food at the airport – a veggie sub on bread that isn’t vegan but I needed something more substantial than a salad to get through this day.  I also went to Chipotle for a bowl that night.

And I cheated for a few meals. After leaving Winchester on Monday, the road took me south to Luray Caverns and west to a town in Maryland before landing in Clarksburg, West Virginia for the night. I arrived after dark and ended up at a mall looking for a few things. By then, I was hungry, tired and in no mood to go hunting healthy food. Traffic was bad in Clarksburg so I wasn’t going exploring at that point either. I ended up with food court pizza and salad. The next morning, I had a cheat meal that was planned – pumpkin pancakes and scrambled eggs.

In all, it was more fast food than I would normally like but I was on the go a lot and didn’t want to waste time waiting in restaurants.

I tell you that to tell you this.

None of these meals made me feel good. I woke up each morning grateful for my healthy breakfast and looking forward to cooking fresh food when I got home. The sodium in most of those meals was ridiculous and made my fingers swell – always a bad sign.

Could I have tracked down healthier options? Probably. Although, I had researched Winchester options prior to the trip and the best alternative would’ve been going to the grocery store for wrap ingredients or getting veggies to have with peanut butter sandwiches. But I wasn’t interested in making that kind of effort on this particular trip. I just needed to eat something so that I could keep going. There were adventures to be had!

As I become more entrenched in this way of eating, priorities may shift on future vacations. For now, I’m happy with doing the best I can with what I have to work with while road tripping. And also – I will blatantly break the rules and be plain old vegetarian in any and all cool old diners. I don’t care. Sometimes you have to make small sacrifices to do something you love! And I do like my cool, old diners! 

 Have tips? I would love to hear them!

From Whole 30 To Plant Based Eating

We have discussed the Whole 30 way of eating a few times on this blog. It’s a great means to ditch bad eating habits like a sugar addiction and to learn what foods might be causing your health issues.

Unfortunately, Whole 30 doesn’t have a vegetarian plan and instead pushes pescatarian eating. I followed this plan for more than a year, mainly straying off course in restaurants and for special occasions like cake in the lunchroom at work.

But I don’t care that much for seafood and had grown tired of the meal plan. It was time for a change but I wasn’t sure what that change would be.

Ditching the seafood in favor of vegetarian eating sounded favorable but so many vegetarian recipes prominently feature a grain – bread, pasta, rice – along with some kind of cheese and beans.

I hadn’t eaten grains, beans or dairy on any consistent basis since starting the Whole 30. Sure, I would order pizza, a sandwich or pancakes in a restaurant but never brought these things home.

Not even the healthy whole grain stuff.

As I wrestled with food questions, it became increasing clear that my desire to eat vegetarian was at odds with many of the unhealthy recipes the internet provides.

And then I met Dewey, a friend whose health scare caused him to completely overhaul his traditional American diet of basically everything he wanted. Now he eats a plant based diet which also eliminates oils and sugar.

He has cut his cholesterol in half and lost about forty pounds in a season. He now enjoys each day as a new man – energetic and happy.

When I expressed interest in his food habits, he shared the details of his diet – called the Engine 2 plan – and how it has improved his life.

Then he suggested I try it for thirty days.

I said yes because you can do anything for thirty days, right?

As the thirty day marker approaches, I am quite happy with this way of eating. I feel energetic, my skin looks better and I feel better most days.

Honestly, I’m still figuring out what works and what I like, experimenting with new recipes and trying to determine what is right for me.

I don’t expect to have such stunning results as Dewey has enjoyed. For one thing, going from eating mostly seafood and produce to including grains and beans seems like it will make weight loss a little harder.

But I love that I feel clear of mind and have lots of energy. Plus, I’m hopeful that my cholesterol will be a little lower at my next doctor visit.

The biggest challenge to date has been restaurant eating. There’s a road trip on the horizon this fall and restaurants in the towns where I’ll be have limited plant based options. If they have a meatless option, it’s typically grilled cheese or maybe some kind of heavy pasta or a sad little salad.

Restaurant green beans are often cooked with pork in them, giving even the sides section of a menu the feel of a mine field. And I refuse to live off the sad little iceberg lettuce salads that so many places try to pass off as a meal.

There are some fast food options. For example, the Burger King Impossible Whopper is tasty but it’s still heavily processed fast food that should be a treat rather than a dietary staple. Qdoba caters to vegans but I assume they use oils in their cooking. Yet cooking oil on vegetables sounds like a lesser evil than greasy grilled cheese someplace else. Subway preserves their vegetables to the point they taste like plastic so that’s not a viable option either.

The good news is that I’m clearly committed because I’m already considering how to make it work and how much I’m willing to bend on vacation.

Since I’ll be in one hotel for a few days, taking a blender would allow for breakfast smoothies in the room.

I’m thinking there will be pancakes for dinner one night – a comfort food and a luxury at dinner time if there ever was one. That’s a single meal with pancakes made from white flour, eggs and milk with highly processed syrup instead of the pure stuff from home.

What other concessions am I willing to make on vacation? These are not game time decisions because I promise you, I will make the wrong choice when I’m hungry and the pressure is on.

Every. Single. Time.

I don’t want to be so strict that eating becomes a hassle but I do want to find hacks and means for nourishing my body without sacrificing my goals.

That’s not asking too much, right?