Perhaps It’s the Why

As you are making or enforcing your new year’s resolutions, consider the why.  Why are you resolving to lose weight, exercise more, or eat healthier?  If the why isn’t strong enough, you’ll struggle with the resolve needed to make the right decisions multiple times each day, day after day to meet your goal.  So dig deeper.  If last year’s goal to lose 10 lbs or cut out fried foods didn’t work, reconsider why this goal is so important to you.  If the why is there, if it is truly important to you, then you can do it- you can do hard things.  And the benefits will be greater than you think.  Making a lifestyle change provides energy to make other changes, to change other habits, to spend less time couch sitting and more time having fun.

Once you’ve figured out the why, plan out exactly how you’re going to keep your resolution.  Leo Babauta has great advice on sticking to a habit .  Perhaps you need to always have fresh fruits and veggies with you (at home AND at work) to snack on when cravings erupt or only order salads when you eat out.  Perhaps you need to find a workout buddy or pay your kid to exercise with you, which has a bonus of getting extra one on one time with your offspring.  Read this post  for tips on meal planning and prep for the week. 

Start now- while you’re thinking about it and energized to make a change- list out a few whole food plant based meals for the next week.  Plan to make at least 3 meals you are familiar with (spaghetti with marinara sauce, salad and baked potatoes, refried bean quesadillas, vegetable soup, etc) so you have no more than 3 new recipes to try and one night of leftovers.  Then gather the recipes and make a grocery list of the ingredients you don’t already have. 

After grocery shopping, immediately wash all of your produce.  Lastly, set aside 2 hours to prep the week’s meals, some in entirety but definitely any sauces or steps that take more than 30 minutes.

As an example, this is what we’re eating over the next week and how I’ll prep the meals:

Black Eyed Pea Salad over shredded lettuce with a side of brown rice

  • In advance
    • Cook the black eyed peas or use canned/frozen
    • Make the black eyed pea salad and brown rice in advance for a 5 minute meal
  • Evening of
    • Make the black eyed pea salad and brown rice if you haven’t already
    • Reheat the brown rice if you made it in advance

Stuffed Squash with green beans

  • In advance
    • Cook the acorn squash (tips here) and the wild rice
  • Evening of
    • Stuff the squash and reheat in the oven or microwave
    • Steam or microwave green beans

Chicken-like Seitan Cutlets and Lentil Gravy with mashed sweet potatoes and sautéed greens

  • In advance
    • Make the Chicken-like Seitan
    • Cook the sweet potatoes and peel once they have cooled
    • Make the lentils and caramelize the onions for the gravy
  • Evening of
    • Slice seitan into cutlets and grill or sauté; try Chicken Baked Fake Steak if you have more time
    • Make the gravy and mash the sweet potatoes
    • Sauté the greens with minced garlic (add small amounts of water and cover to steam, adding a splash of lemon juice at the end) or like this with raisins and pine nuts

Irish Stew (Slow Cooker)

  • In advance
    • Chop the veggies either the night before or in the morning as you’re starting the slow cooker
  • Evening of
    • Add leftover veggies at end of cooking, such as green beans or acorn squash

Baked Ziti

  • In advance
  • Evening of
    • After making the penne, pour the cashew cheese and tomatoes into the pot over medium low heat until warmed through (feel free to cover and bake if time is not an issue)

Baked Bean Chili (Slow Cooker)

  • Morning of
    • Add ingredients to slow cooker, stir, and turn on low


Black Eyed Pea Salad

32 oz drained and rinsed or 3 c cooked black eyed peas

1 red bell pepper, diced

¼ c red onion, diced

2 T pepper or jalapeno jelly

1 T red wine vinegar

½ t salt

¼ t freshly ground pepper

2 avocados, diced

Mix the black eyed peas, red bell pepper, and onion in a medium lidded container.  In a small bowl, mix the jelly, vinegar, salt, and pepper.  Add the jelly mixture to the black eyed pea mixture and stir to incorporate.  Cover and refrigerate.  Just before serving, add diced avocados and stir.


Baked Ziti

1 batch of Cashew Ricotta

16 oz whole grain penne pasta (wheat, rice, quinoa etc)

28 oz fire roasted diced tomatoes

Tomato sauce or additional tomatoes, optional

Cook the pasta according to the package directions and drain.  Return the pasta to the pot over low heat and add the cashew ricotta and tomatoes.  Stir well and cover until warmed through.


Lentil Gravy (adapted from Isa Chandra Moskowitz)

1 yellow onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

Pinch of salt

½ T dried thyme

½ t ground sage

½ t freshly ground pepper

1 ½ c cooked brown lentils

2 T white miso

1 ½ c vegetable broth

1 ½ T tapioca flour or arrowroot, optional

Saute the onion til lightly browned, using small amounts of water to prevent sticking.  Add the minced garlic and salt and continue cooking until onions are caramelized.  Stir in the thyme, sage, and freshly ground pepper.  Add lentils, miso, and vegetable broth and stir well.  Transfer to a blender and puree for ~2 minutes until gravy is smooth.  Return gravy to pot over low heat.  If gravy is too thick, add broth or water.  If gravy is too thin, make a slurry of tapioca flour or arrowroot with broth or water, then stir into gravy. 


Chicken Baked Fake Steak

1 c non-dairy milk

1 T apple cider vinegar

1 batch of Chicken-like Seitan

½ c bread crumbs

1 t poultry seasoning

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Make buttermilk by adding the vinegar to the non-dairy milk and letting it sit for 5 minutes to curdle.  Mix the poultry seasoning, salt, and pepper into the breadcrumbs.  Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly spray.  Slice the Chicken-like Seitan and dip into buttermilk then coat with breadcrumbs.  Bake at 350˚ for 15 to 20 minutes or until breadcrumbs are crispy.  Serve with Lentil Gravy.

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


Practice Vegetarian

Recently my daughter’s friend asked about how to become a vegetarian.  She was concerned about lack of support from her family and that she would essentially end up only eating the sides that accompany dinner.  I recommended that she become a “practice” vegetarian as a Practicesegue from her current diet to one relying on plants.  As a practice vegetarian, she would slowly increase her consumption of vegetables, by eating more servings of the vegetables she already likes and committing to eat a few bites of all disliked vegetables.  This strategy serves her well immediately and would make the transition to vegetarianism fairly seamless down the road.

Although this tween may not routinely be involved in meal planning, she could suggest the family gradually shifts to whole grains instead of refined grains.  The easiest way to do so is to start with rice, by incorporating 25% brown rice into white rice, then increase to 50%, etc until eating only brown rice.  When cooking from dry rice, cook the brown rice for 5 minutes before adding the white rice to the same pot.  Boil in bag or microwave packages of instant rice are even easier- just combine after cooking.  The same concept works for shifting to whole grain pasta.

Perhaps the trickier adaptation for the practice vegetarian is increasing the consumption of beans and legumes.  This is where canned beans come in really handy.  Even non-cooks can whip up the bean salads below, which are perfect to have around when you are famished and about to reach for something less desirable.  Bean salads are also very portable and ideal for taking to picnics and potlucks- particularly when you aren’t sure how much other healthy food will be available.

Other great ways to increase legume consumption are to use beans and lentils as salad toppings, add to pasta and rice dishes, or puree and incorporate into sauces, like marinara for spaghetti.

Having that comfortably full feeling is key for a successful dietary transition, and beans are the secret ingredient for feeling satiated.

NY Times food writer Mark Bittman coined the concept of ‘vegan before dinnertime’ a few years ago, and more recently, VB6, the title of his book on the topic.  Due to health issues, a doctor suggested Bittman adopt a vegan diet, but at the time he felt becoming a full-time vegan was unrealistic for him.  After a few months of eating vegan until dinner, Bittman had lost 35 pounds and his medical issues had resolved.

Both the practice vegetarian and VB6 concepts may work quite well for ‘moderators’, people Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project describes as those who do better when they avoid absolutes and strict rules.  According to Rubin, the ‘abstainers’ find it far easier to give something up altogether than to indulge moderately.

According to Rubin:

You’re a moderator if you… – find that occasional indulgence heightens your pleasure–and   strengthens your resolve
– get panicky at the thought of “never” getting or doing something
You’re an abstainer if you… – have trouble stopping something once you’ve started
– aren’t tempted by things that you’ve decided are off-limits


Starting a whole foods, plant-based diet cold turkey (ha ha) may work better for someone who identifies as an abstainer.  I have trouble indulging in moderation and am less tempted by things that I’ve decided are off-limits, so I’m an abstainer.  Discovering this and then years later reading The Willpower Instinct have been instrumental for me in adhering to a whole food, plant-based diet.

Regardless of your strategy, each step you take in improving your diet will pay off.  It’s up to you which path you chose and how quickly you get there.


Three Bean Salad

3 cans of different beans (ex, garbanzo beans, great northern beans, kidney beans, black beans), rinsed well and drained

2 stalks of celery, diced

½ red onion, diced

½ c fresh parsley

1T fresh rosemary

1/3 c apple cider vinegar

1/6 c – 1/3 c sugar

¼ c EVOO (or ½ avocado pureed with a splash of orange juice)

1 – 1.5 t salt

¼ t pepper

Mix the vinegar, sugar, and olive oil or avocado in a small bowl and pour over rest of ingredients in a medium bowl.  Stir and refrigerate to let flavors develop.  Stir again before serving chilled or at room temperature.

This bean salad is extremely versatile.  Use black and kidney beans with tomatoes, avocados, and organic corn for a South of the Border twist.  Use white beans and garbanzos with sundried tomatoes, artichokes, and roasted red peppers with lemon juice instead of vinegar for a Mediterranean twist.  Be creative!!


Black-Eyed Pea Salad

2 cans black-eyed peas, rinsed well and drained

1.5 c diced red/orange/yellow bell pepper

½ c diced red onion

¼ c red pepper jelly

¼ c red wine vinegar


¼ c cilantro

¾ t salt

¼ t pepper

Just before serving, add:

2 avocados (diced) or 2 large fresh peaches (diced)

Optional: 1 jalepeno, seeded and minced (or substitute jalepeno jelly for the red pepper jelly)


Mix the jelly, vinegar and EVOO in a small bowl and pour over rest of the ingredients in a medium bowl.  Stir and refrigerate to let flavors develop.  Stir again before serving and add avocado or peaches.  Serve chilled or at room temperature, on its own or over fresh greens.


Other no-cook bean salads you may want to check out include:

Taco Salad

Black Bean Mango Salsa

Massaged Kale Salad



McGonigal, Kelly. The Willpower Instinct : How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. 2012

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