“Meaty” Plant-Based Options for Picky Kids (and Husbands!)

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Make Meatless Meals Appealing for the Whole Family

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • “I’m not giving up meat.”
  • “I hate vegetables.”
  • “I’ve always eaten this way and I’m fine.”
  • “Why are we eating this rabbit food?”

They’re all common objections when one person in a household goes plant-based and the others aren’t quite there yet. Feeding a family that’s reluctant to embrace a meatless lifestyle can be a challenge, especially if you’re just starting out on the plant-based journey yourself.

If you’re worried a plant-based family meal plan is going to be met with groans, rolled eyes or outright rebellion, don’t be! Use these “secret weapons” to conquer objections and serve up amazing meatless meals to please the picky eaters in your household.

specialty mushrooms for umamiUmami: The Secret to “Meaty” Flavors

When your family complains about missing meat, they’re probably missing a flavor rather than a food. It’s called “umami,” and it’s sometimes considered the fifth taste along with sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Derived from Japanese for “deliciousness,” umami describes the taste of foods with a lot of the amino acid glutamine. Meat and aged cheeses are often equated with umami, but there are plant sources of glutamine that can infuse dishes with the same flavor and satisfy the taste buds of the staunchest “meat and potatoes” members of your family.

Here are some simple ways to introduce more umami to your plant-based meals:

  • Use dried mushrooms to make soup stock
  • Add fresh mushrooms to stews and stir fries
  • Stir miso into soups
  • Top salads and sandwiches with sauerkraut
  • Wrap up some veggie sushi in toasted nori
  • Top pasta with a robust tomato sauce

Making It Meaty

Sometimes the best way to introduce meatless meals to meat eaters is to simply swap the meat in recipes you already enjoy for a plant-based option. Lentils, tempeh, portobello mushrooms and seitan all have the “meaty” texture the picky eaters in your family crave. They’re also hearty enough to appeal to even the most skeptical meat lover.

Start with these plant-based meal ideas to ease your family into your new lifestyle:

  • Lentil walnut tacos
  • Burrito bowls with beans, brown rice, greens, salsa and avocado
  • Homemade veggie burgers
  • Homemade seitan sausage
  • Chili with beans or seitan
  • BLTs with tempeh bacon or eggplant bacon
  • Veggie lasagna with lentil bolognese

As your family becomes more accustomed to eating meatless, you can start serving dishes with more unique flavors, like curry, stuffed squash or lentil loaf.

Comfort Food for Kids (and Kids at Heart)

Getting picky eaters to try new food takes patience whether or not you’re plant-based! Kids like what’s familiar, and if they’re not used to eating a lot of vegetables, it’s going to take some time for them to warm up to the idea of meatless meals. You may have to serve a new food 10 to 15 times before your kids will agree to eat it.vegan pizza for vegan pizza day

That sounds like a lot, but if you start by recreating their favorite dishes using whole plant ingredients, you should have an easier time. Try these makeovers of kid-friendly foods:

  • Mac and “cheese” with a sauce made from nuts, seeds and/or veggies
  • Tomato soup with grilled “cheese”
  • Tempeh helper
  • Carrot dogs with all the fixings
  • Popcorn cauliflower
  • Homemade trail mix with nuts, seeds, raisins and dairy-free chocolate chips

And don’t forget the perennial family favorite, pizza! This option is especially fun because kids can get in on the action by helping you make dough and add toppings. If there are some veggies they already like, encourage them to try one new topping each time you make a pizza together.

Tips For a Smoother Transition

When you start a healthy lifestyle, it’s natural to want to share it with everyone, especially your family. After all, you care about them and want them to get all the benefits you’re getting. But be prepared to accept the fact that they may not be ready to jump in all at once. More than likely, you’ll have to take things one meal at a time, using simple swaps to bring new foods to their plates.

veggies and herbsIt’s okay to be “sneaky” at first, especially with kids. Feel free to blend veggies into pasta sauce, use beans in brownies or call broccoli “little trees” as you stir it into their mac and cheese. Avoid labeling foods as “bad” or “good;” instead, set a positive example by treating yourself well and practicing healthy habits. The improvements your family sees in your well-being provide an incentive for them to make their own beneficial health choices. And if your kids watch you enjoying plant-based foods, they might be more inclined to ask for a taste.

Involve everyone in shopping and cooking when you make meatless dishes. This puts plant-based eating in the positive context of family togetherness and gives kids a chance to choose which new ingredients they want to try. It also helps make whole plant foods more fun and banishes the idea that they’re somehow going to be “deprived” if meat disappears from the menu.

In the end, it isn’t about whether your family dives into a plant-based lifestyle headfirst or not. Meals should be a time for spending quality time together, and serving healthy meatless meals with flavors everyone enjoys is just one way to show you care. Remember to be patient — it can take a while for everyone to get used to plant-based eating, and some of your family members may never get there. Keep your health goals in mind, and respect where everyone is in their own journey toward eating and living better.

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4 Simple Ways to Have a Plant-Based Dinner Tonight

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Your Guide to Preparing Delicious Vegan Meals in Less Time

Dinner is often the biggest challenge for people considering going plant-based. Think about a typical evening meal in your house. Most likely, you’re picturing a plate with a starch, some meat and a vegetable, and maybe a small salad on the side. The mistake most prospective plant-based eaters make is imagining the meat disappearing (and possibly the starch, if it was cooked with butter or topped with sour cream) and leaving them with very little to go on.

amazing salad bowl with ripple carrotsI think this is why it’s so easy to over-complicate plant-based dinner ideas. You get into the mindset of having to re-create your entire meal plan, and it’s overwhelming. But I’ll let you in on a secret — adopting a plant-based diet doesn’t require you to turn dinner prep into a cooking show. You probably have some meals you eat on a regular basis right now, and you don’t have to change a thing about that plan besides swapping out the animal products and processed foods in favor of whole plant ingredients.

If you follow these four tips, you’ll never run out of simple plant-based meals for dinner. As a bonus, you’ll speed up prep time and be able to enjoy more leisurely evenings.

1) Use a Template

Remember the plate you pictured? That’s the template of your current dinners. Getting started with plant-based dinners is easier if you think of your new meals in the same way. Templates are better than recipes because they give you a basic formula you can follow with any ingredients you have on hand. There’s no pressure to hunt down specialty ingredients or run to the store if you’re missing just one tiny piece of the puzzle.

Here are some of the easiest templates for a plant-based evening meal:

  • Beans & Rice: Brown rice, beans, sauteed veggies, your choice of spices
  • Soup: Broth, veggies, beans or lentils, greens, salt-free seasoning
  • Chili: Red or black beans, no-salt canned tomatoes, chili powder, onions, peppers, other veggies as desired
  • Pasta: Whole wheat or brown rice noodles, marinara sauce, beans and/or greens
  • Stir Fry: Ginger and garlic, tofu or tempeh, every single veggie in the fridge

Experiment with these formulas to find the combinations you like best. The more you practice, the easier it will become. (For more tasty template ideas, check out Mark Reinfeld’s amazing book, Healing the Vegan Way or the masterful Plant Power by Nava Atlas. Both are great for inspiration!)

2) Make a Plan

You’ve probably heard over and over the importance of planning weekly meals in advance, and that’s because it’s good advice. Chances are you already approach cooking with this mindset. The family comes home and expects tacos on Tuesday or pizza on Friday or whatever your tradition happens to be. If you use templates to come up with plant-based family dinner ideas, you can have a pasta night, a bean and rice night and a soup night every week without ever getting bored.

veggies and fruits for plant-based dinner recipes

Sit down at the beginning of the week, and write out a list of the template “recipes” you want to make. Choose your ingredients based on sales at local stores or what’s in season at the farmers market, and take note of the items you can stock up on, such as pasta, beans, canned tomatoes or frozen veggies. Get the family involved in the process so that everyone is on board with the plan and you don’t get caught off-guard by your teenage son suddenly demanding a burger five minutes before dinner on soup night.

3) Become a Batch-Cooking Queen (or King)

Nothing makes for a quick, easy plant-based dinner like batch cooking. I touched on this a bit when I talked about breakfast and lunch, and it works just as well for the evening meal. The concept is simple: Instead of cooking a new dish every night, prepare meals and batches of ingredients once or twice a week.

The easiest way to do this is with an electric multi-cooker like an Instant Pot. These “set it and forget it” appliances can be used as pressure cookers, slow cookers, rice cookers and more, so you can prep your meals when you have time and let them cook while you go about your daily routine. Invest in a cooker large enough to prepare multiple servings of food for the number of people in your family so that you can maximize your batch cooking time.

You can either cook double or triple batches of foods from your “templates” (chili and soup work particularly well) or components like beans, rice and pasta sauce. While the food is cooking, you can even prep ingredients for side salads and store them in airtight containers in the fridge to throw together while reheating leftovers during the rest of the week (they’ll stay fresh for about four days). Store your batch-cooked ingredients or meals according to the directions for lunch leftovers, and there will never be a night where you’re at a loss for what to eat.

4) Schedule a Splurgevegan pizza splurge for plant-based dinners

Once you become familiar with preparing your template recipes and adapting them for batch cooking, it’s time to get creative. Borrow some plant-based cookbooks from the library, browse Finding Vegan or search through the numerous blogs penned by aspiring chefs across the web to find something mouth-watering that strikes your fancy. Set aside time to shop for any special ingredients, and pick a day when the whole family will be home to prepare the dish together.

Turning a complex recipe into a family “party” takes the fear out of tackling a lengthy ingredient list and makes the finished product more satisfying for everyone. Don’t wait for a holiday or special occasion to try your first “crazy” plant-based dinner recipe. Make them any time of year, and don’t forget to make extras so that you have leftovers to serve during the rest of the week!

So what favorite dinner dish will you start with? There are so many options, don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to try them all. Enjoy a new quick plant-based dinner every night — without driving yourself crazy or spending your life in the kitchen.

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Load Up on Plants for Lunch!

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Conquering the Midday Meal

Lunch! It’s the much-anticipated break in the day for kids and adults alike (unless you’re stuck in a working lunch, in which case, I feel for you). But when everyone at school is lining up to buy greasy pizza and limp vegetables or the gang at the office is chowing down on fast food, how do you make sure you and your kids have something healthy and delicious?

Tackling plant-based eating is easier when you approach one meal at a time, so now that you have breakfast all sorted out, you have some techniques you can use to make lunch prep quick and easy. Read on for your guide to packing better lunches for the whole family!

mason jar salad healthy lunch idea

Make Salad Simple (and Exciting)

The mason jar salad trend has been going strong for years and shows no sign of slowing down. Why? Because it’s simple and completely customizable. By taking a meal that usually requires a bowl, a separate container for dressing and daily prep time and turning it into a grab-and-go option you can make up to a week in advance, this approach to lunch makes having a nutritious salad with all your favorite ingredients even simpler than hitting the drive-thru.

One Green Planet has a fantastic guide with all you need to pack salad ingredients in glass jars and have them ready in the fridge to toss in your bag as you head out to work. You can easily make a balanced meal by layering up:

  • Homemade dressing
  • Cooked grains
  • Beans, tofu or tempeh
  • A rainbow of raw veggies
  • Dried fruit and/or nuts
  • Greens

When lunchtime rolls around, just shake up the jar and grab a fork! You can also dump the whole thing into a bowl, but why bother dirtying up another dish if you don’t have to?

Conquering Kids’ Lunches

Packing a plant-based lunchbox is possibly the most fun you’ll ever have as a vegan parent. Seriously. When you make plant-based lunches for your kids, you have the chance to channel your inner child and get creative with tons of fun foods.

Wraps and sandwiches are quick, simple and versatile. Make the tried and true PB&J on sprouted bread, or roll a banana and some nut butter up in a whole-grain tortilla for an entertaining twist on this classic. In cold weather, send veggie and bean soups with whole-wheat pita bread or homemade corn muffins.

Even the pickiest kids will eat anything that comes with a dip. Veggies and hummus, fruit and unsweetened nondairy yogurt, whole-grain tortillas and salsa…if they can dip it, it’s a viable choice for lunch. For dessert, you can never go wrong with a piece of fruit or a colorful fruit salad. (And yes, the occasional cookie is also acceptable!)

Pack everything up in a container with separate compartments, such as a bento box, to keep everything neat and give kids the freedom to combine foods any way they like. If you’re feeling artistic, try cutting fruit or sandwiches into shapes like flowers, animals or stars for a fun surprise come lunchtime.

Leftovers: The Easiest Lunch Ever

Leftovers are unfairly made the brunt of jokes and met with groans from those assuming anything remaining from a previous meal is destined to be boring, bland, dry or disgusting. It’s time to free yourself from this stereotype and embrace leftovers as, yes, the easiest lunch ever.

When you’re making dinner, get into the habit of cooking extra food to stash in the fridge and freezer. Some good options are:vegan refrigerator wonder soup served

These all freeze well and are easy to make in large batches. When leftovers have fully cooled, divide them into individual portions in airtight containers and label them, and you’re good to go! In the morning, all you have to do is grab a container and the appropriate utensils. It’s a lunch with literally no morning prep time unless you decide to throw a green salad together to eat on the side (which I highly recommend if you have a couple minutes to spare).

Know Your Takeout Options

There are times when eating out is your only choice. Whether life happened and you didn’t have time to make food in advance or the morning was so crazy that you rushed out the door without the lunch you already packed, you may find yourself approaching the lunch hour with a growling stomach and the dread of choking down a limp salad with no dressing.

Fortunately, restaurants are getting wise to the trend toward healthier eating and are starting to offer plant-based lunch options or even full plant-based lunch menus. To find the best choices near you:

You’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover how many eateries, especially ethnic restaurants, have dishes appropriate for plant-based diets or are willing to adjust existing dishes to meet your requests. While eating out shouldn’t become a habit, it’s nice to have a “go-to” spot you can rely on in a pinch. Keep in mind some restaurants may use animal-based ingredients in vegetable dishes, so be sure to ask about sauces, dressings and soup stocks before ordering.

Quick plant-based lunch ideas like these make planning and prepping your midday meal simple and hassle-free. It may take a few weeks to get into the habit of making meals in advance and to find foods your kids will happy gobble down, but don’t get discouraged. Every day is a chance to try something new and take a step forward to a healthier lifestyle.

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Simple Plant-Based Breakfasts for Hassle-Free Mornings

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The Perfect Healthy Breakfast Menu for Your Busy Life

When you spend the morning trying to get ready for work, get the kids out the door and make sure your husband doesn’t accidentally leave his smartphone in the refrigerator (don’t act like it hasn’t happened!), putting a nutritious breakfast on the table can seem impossible. It’s tempting to toss a granola bar in everyone’s backpack or let the kids forage for themselves from the half-empty boxes of cereal in the pantry.

Never fear — a fast plant-based breakfast is possible, even if you think you don’t have any time at all. These three make-ahead options are the perfect solution for hectic mornings.

Oatmeal is Your Friendoatmeal for make ahead plant based breakfast

If oatmeal is already a go-to breakfast staple in your house, you can turn it into a nearly instant meal by cooking up a big pot in advance. Whether you prefer rolled or steel-cut oats, all you have to do is measure out how much you need to feed everyone for the week; toss it in a pot, Crock Pot or Instant Pot with water or nondairy milk and let it cook up while you go about your business.

  • For rolled oats, use a 2:1 ratio of water or milk to grain
  • For steel cut oats, use a 4:1 ratio
    • Note that liquid amounts for Crock Pots and Instant Pots may vary

Store the cooled cooked oats in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 6 days, or portion them out into glass jars with tasty mix-ins like nuts, seeds, dried fruit or shredded coconut. In the morning, simply reheat in a pan or the microwave with an extra splash of water or milk. Stir, add mix-ins if you haven’t already and serve!

In hot weather, skip the cooking altogether and go for overnight oats, which only require soaking. Measure out individual portions of oats into jars, add nondairy milk in a 2:1 ratio, toss on your toppings of choice and refrigerate for up to 5 days. To serve, just stir and eat!

How to Win at Oatmeal:

  • Buy or gather up glass jars or containers
  • Pre-cook oats in the evening or over the weekend
  • Portion out cooled oats and add toppings
  • Grab prepped jar(s) in the morning and reheat (or stir if it’s overnight oats)

Two Words: Breakfast. Casserole.

Savory morning meals more your thing? Make vegan brunch possible any day of the week with a big batch of breakfast casserole.

That’s right; casserole isn’t just for dinner! There are plenty of healthy plant-based breakfast recipes out there for dishes featuring combinations of beans, veggies, vegan cheese sauce, potatoes, whole-grain toast, vegan “eggs” — pretty much any breakfast food you might want, you can stick in a casserole. Even french toast.

The best part? You can make casseroles ahead of time. If you have a lazy Sunday afternoon (or any day that counts as your “weekend”), schedule some kitchen time and reap the rewards of for the rest of the week. Make a casserole and bake it in the morning, or bake it when you make it if you have the time.

Use a glass dish that’s fridge-, freezer- and oven-safe so that you can easily store and reheat your casserole as needed. Casserole dishes with airtight lids are best for keeping food fresh and preventing accidental spills. An entire cooked casserole can be stored in the fridge for up to 4 days or divided into portions and frozen to thaw whenever you want.

Turn Every Day Into Brunch Day by…

  • Investing in a really big casserole dish with an airtight lid
  • Prepping a full (or double!) batch of your favorite casserole over the weekend
  • Cooking or reheating the casserole in the morning
  • Storing leftovers for the week and reheating as needed

avocado beet toast with tomatoesA Toast to Breads

Aside from oatmeal, muffins and quick breads are some of the simplest plant-based breakfast options. Just like a casserole, breads can be made in advance using whole-food ingredients like whole wheat flour, spelt flour, oat flour or your favorite gluten-free blend.

Muffins are the ultimate “grab and go” food, and you can stuff them full of just about anything, including savory pumpkin puree or sweet apples and dried fruit (and yes, banana bread is always an option). Recipes for full loaves of bread can easily be doubled, sliced once they’re cool and stored for a speedy breakfast on your most hectic mornings. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container lined with paper towels to prevent moisture buildup. If you stack muffins inside a container, place additional paper towels between the layers.

To store plant-based breads for more than 4 days, wrap loaves, slices or individual muffins in wax paper or freezer paper and place them in an airtight container or Ziploc freezer bag. Reheat in the oven, toaster or toaster oven any time!

(And of course, there’s nothing wrong with serving up whole-grain or sprouted toast with oil-free nut butter and low-sugar jam or some smashed avocado with tomato slices when you’re completely strapped for time.)

To Bake and Enjoy Beautiful Breads…

  • Find a recipe you and your family will love (or try a bunch!)
  • Make a full or double batch
  • Store in the fridge or freezer
  • Reheat as desired (and slather on that nut or seed butter, if you like!)

With these make-ahead plant-based breakfast ideas in your dietary lineup, mornings get just a little easier. Choose your favorites or experiment with all three for easy plant-based breakfasts on the go. You’ll never have to worry about what to feed your family again — and you’ll always know everyone is heading out the door powered by whole-food nutrition.

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The 4 Essential Elements of Hummus (with a Recipe!)

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What do you love about hummus?

Is it the texture?  The flavor?  The versatility?  The way it can encourage even the biggest veggie-phobe to plow through a plate of carrot sticks?

The way I see it, there are four elements that make hummus amazing:

Creaminess.  Whether or not you make it with tahini, hummus should be smooth and creamy.  Well-cooked chickpeas (or white beans, if you’re feeling adventurous) and a powerful food processor create the right texture in no time.

Spice.  Depending on the seasonings you choose, hummus can be pungent, bright, earthy or spicy.  It can have Italian flavors or Mexican, Indian or Middle Eastern.  It can even taste like dessert!

Tang.  Lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice…any of them balance out hummus spices with a citrus overtone.

Mix-Ins.  What’s great straight up is even better when you add a finishing touch like caramelized onions, sundried tomatoes, fresh herbs or even pumpkin puree.  If you have a sweet tooth, don’t be afraid to toss in a few chocolate chips!

Today I have spices on the brain because, thanks to the generous folks at Kaiulani, I now have an impressive array of spice blends to try out in all manner of dishes, including hummus!

kaiulani spice collection

Spicy curry, front and center!

Made in Hawaii, Kaiulani spices are organic, vegan, gluten-free and contain no MSG or other strange ingredients. (Have you ever read the labels on some of the mainstream spice blends?  Scary!)  They can be used as seasonings or rubs and range from mild herbal blends to spicy-hot.  Many include Hawaiian salt, not something I’d normally go for, but I’m not one to say no to free food.  When I found myself getting low on hummus, I grabbed the Exotic Curry blend and went to it.

I may have mentioned more than once on this blog that I am a sucker for all things curried.  I’ve been searching for a good curry powder blend and just can’t seem to find one that fits my taste for the right balance of pungent and hot.  Kaiulani’s Exotic Curry includes coriander, tumeric, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves and crushed red chilies along with a touch of salt and evaporated cane juice.  Sounds promising, right?

Turns out that “promising” is far too inferior a word.  Amazing, maybe.  Super, perhaps.  WowthisissogoodIcouldeatthewholebatch.  (Is that a word?  It should be.)

curry hummus kaiulani spices

Tasty vegan curried hummus snack plate!

Say hello to Garlic Curry Hummus with Siracha.  Spicy, pungent curry flavor meets zippy siracha hot sauce for a little extra kick.  When I was at the Toastmasters fall conference in CT, the nearby Whole Foods had siracha at the salad bar and I put it on everything.  It pops up in recipes from time to time as I’m flipping through cookbooks and I never have it on hand.  So naturally I had to buy a huge bottle when I found it on sale at the store last week.

And the garlic…well, what’s hummus without garlic?  Unless you’re making one of those dessert hummus recipes, in which case garlic would be kind of weird.

This is a seriously flavorful hummus that’s good on crackers, raw veggies and toast.  You could use another curry powder for it, but I recommend trying the Kaiulani.  It’s not easy to impress me when it comes to curry powder, but they’ve done a heck of a job with their bold blend.  Kudos to them!

Garlic Curry Hummus with Siracha
Prep time:
Total time:
Serves: 5
Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas or 1 15.5oz can, drained and rinsed
  • 5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon (about 1Tbsp)
  • 1T Kaiulani Spices Exotic Curry blend
  • 1t siracha hot sauce
  • pinch of smoked paprika
  • water as necessary
Instructions
  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the bowl. Add water as needed to achieve the desired consistency.
  2. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with seed crackers, pita bread or raw veggies.

I can’t wait to try more of Kaiulani’s interesting spice mixes.  Tonight I’m giving their Kona Coffee spice a test run in a batch of red bean chili.  Coffee as a seasoning?  Yes please!

What’s your favorite hummus combination?

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