Feeding a Crowd

We are beach bound soon and lucky enough to be spending vacation with extended family, so I’ve been thinking of what meals to feed a large group.  veggie_prepSince we won’t have a Vegetable Preparing Room as on the WWII USS North Carolina or industrial sized vats to cook in, all we need is some advanced planning.

Similar to our strategy with the Three Bean Salad, plan your meals with different continents in mind.  One theme we will likely have is Mediterranean night with rice and lentils, falafel (from a box mix and baked instead of fried), za’atar bread using prepared za’atar spice mix and olive oil on prepared whole wheat pizza dough, tzatziki sauce (non-dairy yogurt, cucumber, lemon juice, minced garlic, and salt) and cucumber tomato salad (red wine or cider vinegar with a little sugar, salt, and pepper).

I’m also going to try a Shortcut Gazpacho by doctoring up freshly prepared salsa and tomato juice.  For lunches, we’ll have Black Bean Mango Salsa, whole wheat pasta salad with lots of finely diced raw veggies, and “healthy” grilled Elvis sandwiches with peanut butter, bananas, and honey or agave nectar, in addition to the typical PB&Js and tomato sandwiches.  For me, vatvacation is all about having fun and eating well without spending a ton of time in the kitchen.

These are some of the tried-and-true recipes that we now can count on to feed the whole crowd in a healthy way.


Rice Bowls

In Asia, rice has been the basis of breakfast, lunch, and dinner for over 10,000 years.McDougall   Provide lots of warm brown rice and some of the suggested toppings below for a make it yourself dinner sure to please a range of picky tastes.  If it’s in your budget, buying freshly prepared salsa will save a lot of chopping time.

Cooked brown rice, about 1 cup per child and 2 cups per adult

Black beans, rinsed and served warm or mixed with salsa (not blended as in Easy Black Bean Dip)

Salsa, salsa verde, or Black Bean Mango Salsa

Avocado, diced, or Easy Guacamole

Organic corn or pico de gallo

Set out your family’s favorite toppings and let everyone build their own rice bowl.  To use up leftovers, use whole wheat tortillas to make burritos or make the Oven Baked Tortilla Chips for loaded nachos.


Easy Guacamole

½ avocado per person

¼ c frozen green peas per person

Add to taste:

Salsa or diced tomato, onion, cilantro, garlic, jalapeno (seeded and minced)

Fresh lime juice


In a blender or food processor, puree the avocados and peas.  Add the remaining ingredients and puree if a creamy texture is desired.  Taste and adjust the ingredients as needed.

No one will be able to taste the peas and the added benefit (other than not being able to taste the peas) is that it reduces the cost of the guacamole by requiring less of the most expensive ingredient.


Basic Lasagna

While spaghetti is by far the easiest and cheapest way to feed a large crowd, it doesn’t take a whole lot more work to make lasagna.  The secret to delicious vegan lasagna is the creamy Cashew Ricotta below developed by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Romero of the Veganomican.

Lasagna noodles (1 box per lasagna) or 1 medium sized eggplant, peeled and very thinly sliced

Marinara sauce (2 jars per lasagna)

Cashew Ricotta (2 cups per lasagna)

Optional veggies:  fresh spinach, sliced mushrooms, shredded squash or zucchini, etc.

Optional seasonings: minced garlic, fresh basil, oregano, etc.

Spray the casserole dish with EVOO and spread a thin layer of marinara sauce on the bottom.  Start with the noodles or eggplant slices, then alternate layers of sauce and cashew ricotta, working in the optional ingredients.

Cover and bake at 375° for about 45 minutes.

Without adding a significant amount of work, two lasagnas can be assembled at the same time- one with lots of delicious veggies and a basic one for the not-so-adventurous eaters.  A longer cooking time will be needed.


Cashew Ricotta

½ c cashew pieces, soaked in cold water to soften then drained

12 oz shelf stable organic tofu (like Mori Nu)

¼ c fresh lemon juice


2-4 cloves garlic

1.5 t dried basil

1.5 t salt

If you forget to soak the cashew pieces in cold water before making the ricotta, microwave them in water for 30 seconds and then drain.  Put all ingredients into a blender or food processor and puree.  One batch makes about 2 cups, which is enough for one large lasagna.


Apple Pie Oatmeal

½ c dry oatmeal per child and 1 c dry oatmeal per adult

½ apple per person, peeled and diced

Cinnamon and nutmeg to taste

Water (2 c water for each 1 c dry oatmeal)

Combine all ingredients in a covered pot and cook over medium heat until boiling, then reduce to low.  Add more water as necessary and continue cooking until apples are tender.  Serve with a dollop of non-dairy vanilla yogurt or a splash of non-dairy vanilla milk just before serving to help cool.  An alternative is to cook the apples separately in advance and reheat when ready to serve.

This concept also works wonderfully with peaches, blueberries, and strawberries.



McDougall, John and McDougall, Mary. The Starch Solution: Eat the Foods You Love, Regain Your Health, and Lose the Weight for Good. 2012


Spinach: It’s not just for Popeye!

This week’s theme is spinach- borrowed from the secret ingredient at a recent PTA event where two local chefs battled it out in cafeteria kitchen stadium.  The delicious spinach was provided by a local farmer who participates in our small town’s farmers market every Saturday morning.  The two chefs were absolutely fabulous and WANTED kids in the kitchen helping them prepare the dishes.   To top it off,  the chefs were totally happy to make vegetarian dishes!!  Somehow both girls managed their way onto the chefs’ teams, http://www.flickr.com/photos/watz/2715424972/sizes/l/so the dinners we made yesterday for the week were their recollections of the competition dishes.

It was so neat to see the girls taking charge in the kitchen and confident of what needed to happen.  One daughter is mostly hesitant to help with cooking (unless it’s dessert) – she started out by asking where a pot was.  So making dinner was a huge step that I took a lot of pleasure in watching and serving as sous chef for.  They took a lot of care with plating and were brimming with pride to describe and present their dishes.

So why should we eat spinach?  For its iron and calcium?  To be like strong like Popeye?  For all of these reasons and many more, but today we’ll focus on calcium.

Despite what the dairy industry has been advertising for years, there is evidence that dairy consumption is not linked to bone health and that increased dairy consumption is related to prostate cancer.  If you’re interested in your own search, check out http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed or research-based evidence summarized in The Cancer Survivor’s Guide by Neal Barnard, MD, or The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, PhD.  I’ll highlight three studies here, two studying bone health in women and one studying prostate cancer in male physicians.

In a study assessing exercise and calcium intake in adolescent girls during their peak bone-building years, getting extra calcium made no difference at all in bone growth, whereas exercise fostered bone growth.Lloyd 2000  A Harvard study followed 72,337 postmenopausal women for 18 months and demonstrated that dairy calcium did not help bone strength at all, as measured by protection against hip fracture.Feskanich 2003   Harvard’s Physicians’ Health Study investigated the association between dairy consumption and prostate cancer risk in over 20,000 male physicians and concluded that dairy products and calcium are associated with a greater risk of prostate cancer.Chan 2001

Although the mechanisms for these deleterious effects of dairy on bone and prostate health are not known, it is believed to be due to the interference of excessive calcium intake on vitamin D activation.

The best plant-based sources of calcium are legumes (beans, peas, and lentils) and the leafy greens (kale, mustard greens bok choy, and cabbage).  Although spinach is not the best source of calcium among the leafy greens because its oxalic acid content hinders calcium absorption, spinach is still a good source of calcium and may be considered by veggie novices to be more palatable than some of the other leafy greens.

When eating a whole food, plant based diet, there isn’t a concern about adequate calcium intake, as long as you are including calcium-rich legumes (beans, peas, and lentils) and leafy greens in your diet.  So cut down on dairy if you haven’t already eliminated it, and rely on legumes and leafy greens for your calcium needs.  Upcoming posts will address dairy alternatives- but for now, enjoy these spinach recipes!


Play on Sushi

For 4 light servings:

Cream cheese, 1 container (vegan)

Black beans, 1 can (or 1.5 cups) rinsed

1 Red and 1 yellow pepper, cut into thin strips

1 Carrot, cut into thin strips

2 Celery stalks, cut into thin strips

2 Large handfuls of spinach

4 Whole wheat tortillas


Soften the cream cheese and blend/process with the black beans.

Roast the pepper, carrot, and celery strips on a lightly sprayed baking sheet for about 15 min at 400’F, sprinkling with salt and freshly ground pepper if desired.

Spread the cheesy bean mixture on the tortillas.

Add ¼ of the veggies to the bottom half of each tortilla and top with the spinach.

Starting at the bottom of the tortilla, roll tightly.

With the seam down, cut the roll into 1” pieces, using the ends as “tasters” if there’s not enough filling or if the little chefs are hungry.

Use the extra cheesy bean dip to serve with carrots and celery as a side OR double the recipe and use it for Mexican Lasagna.


Mexican Lasagna

For 8 servings:

6 Whole wheat tortillas

1 Can diced tomatoes

4 Large tomatoes, seeded

2-4 Cloves of garlic

½ Onion

1-2 Carrots, optional

2 Large handfuls of spinach


Pinch of salt

Cream cheese, 1 container (vegan)

Black beans, 1-2 cans (1.5-3 cups) rinsed

Avocado, sliced or diced


Blend or process the canned tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, garlic, onion, and carrots if using to make salsa.

Soften the cream cheese and blend/process with the black beans.

Lightly spray two glass pie pans (or a casserole dish).

Layer a tortilla, cheesy bean mixture, spinach, and salsa.


Top with another tortilla, (cheesy bean mixture if you have any leftover), salsa, and cilantro.

Bake at 350’ for 20 min or until heated through.

Top with avocado if desired.

Using two pie plates provides the opportunity to add jalapenos into one dish or to freeze the second dish if only 4 servings are needed.  This dish may not be substantial enough to serve as a standalone entrée for 4 unless you use 3 cups of black beans and 1-2 avocados.


Veggie Pasta

For 6 servings:

1 Bag of spiral pasta

4 Large tomatoes, seeded and diced

2 Red bell peppers, seeded and diced

3-4 large handfuls of spinach


Bread crumbs


Optional sauce:

Cream cheese, 1 container (vegan)

1 Jar of spaghetti sauce


Make pasta and add veggies 2 min before pasta is finished cooking.

Drain pasta and veggies and return to pot.

Blend or process the cream cheese and spaghetti sauce, if using.

Pour sauce over pasta and veggies.

Top with parsley and season with salt and freshly ground pepper if needed.

Sprinkle bread crumbs over each serving.

Optional variation: When we had leftovers from this meal, we added diced non-GMO vegan Italian sausage into the pasta.


Homemade Chips and Dip with Fruit and Veggie Kabobs

One of the chefs also made baked tortilla chips and a spinach dip that my younger Iron sous chefs Apr 2013daughter can’t remember the ingredients for (except spinach and cream cheese).   The whole wheat tortillas were cut and baked for a few minutes on a lightly sprayed baking sheet.  I’ll work on a spinach dip recipe separately, substituting white beans for the bulk of the cream cheese used in the competition recipe.  In addition to making the dip creamy, the white beans will add calcium, selenium, vitamin E, protein, and fiber to the dish.

The chips and dip were served with fruit and raw veggie kabobs- a great kid-friendly meal for no fork Fridays or a picnic.  Chef Jenny (creator of veggie pasta, homemade chips and dip, and fruit and veggie kabobs) won the competition by appealing to her audience.  The student judges were randomly selected to represent their grade level after having correctly answered nutrition word problems.  Although some looked a bit concerned when the secret ingredient was revealed, afterward, they all seemed more open‑minded about eating more veggies.  And that means the event was a great success.



Lloyd T, Chinchilli VM, Johnson-Rollings N, Kieselhorst K, Egglie DF, Marcus R. Adult female hip bone density reflects teenage sports-exercise patterns but not teenage calcium intake. Pediatrics. 2000; 106:40-44.

Feskanich D, Willet WC, Colditz GA. Calcium, vitamin D, milk consumption, and hip fractures: a prospective study among postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;77:504-511.

Chan JM, Stampfer MJ, Ma J, Gann PH, Gaziano JM, Giovannucci EL. Dairy products, calcium, and prostate cancer risk in the Physicians’ Health Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001;74(4):549-554.

Popeye Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/watz/2715424972/sizes/l/