What do I eat? It’s a fair question from those who aren’t familiar with a vegan approach to eating. I grew up being culturally conditioned to the traditional four food group model: meat, dairy, grains, and fruits/veggies. Like other children, I learned school-based “health” lessons, developed by the USDA, which it turns out, is in cahoots with the meat, dairy and egg industries. “Healthy” meals were illustrated with images of plates of an animal’s flesh, a grain or potato, a green veggie, a piece of bread with a pat of oppression, and a glass of oppression… I mean butter made from cows’ milk and cows’ milk.
My retrospective summary is snarky, I know, but I’ve since learned that school-based nutrition lessons are an animal agribusiness funded campaign that destroys the environment, undermines humanity, and enslaves and kill animals. Considering how devastating the outcomes of such seemingly innocuous classroom lessons are, my snark is a healthy outlet for my rage.
The good news is that balanced eating from a vegan perspective is a whole new magically delicious world. The four food group model was abandoned by the USDA a number of years ago, but for those who like its simplicity, the vegan four food groups are: whole grains, legumes/nuts/seeds, fruits, and veggies. For those who like the food pyramid, there is also a vegan food pyramid (I found a couple different versions of the pyramid, but I like the one at the link). Either way, any of those graphics are just guides, but they can be useful in the beginning.
To the unaccustomed grocery shopper, cook, and diner, creating meals or an entire balanced diet using this framework can seem perplexing. When I was getting started, I had a lack of confidence stemming from my lack of experience and knowledge. I knew I could create a few simple meals – oatmeal, PBJ, entree salads, veggie burgers, and tofu dogs – but I recognized my repertoire was too limited to maintain long-term. I wondered how exactly one eats “just” plants all the time. It was a challenge for me, but I used my transition stage, during which I graduated from one vegan meal a day to eating completely vegan over the course of six months, to gather information and experiment in the kitchen.
I think the challenge of how to compose meals that will comprise a balanced vegan diet intimidates a lot of people from even trying. I was intimidated, but I was also motivated, and I like a good challenge. I’m still new to this, but as I’ve discovered what works for me, and found some simple solutions to meal planning, I’ve found it as easy as eating as a non-vegan was, but infinitely more enjoyable with great health benefits.
Before I get to the specifics, let me be really clear that I’m not one of those vegans who denounces oil, soy, cooked food, sugar, etc. I’m not picky, and I’m really fortunate that I don’t have any allergies or food sensitivities (something I will address in future posts), so as long as no animals are harmed, I’ll eat it… unless it’s olives. I don’t like olives. I try to limit the more processed foods, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with eating them as complements to a diet rich in whole foods. I also like my sweets, as you’ll see. Eating healthily doesn’t have to be restrictive or austere. Vegan eating takes consideration, but I prefer to be thoughtful about what I put in my body.
So here’s what a week in my vegan life looks like…
Breakfast I had an early appointment and errands to run, so breakfast was a portable Lara bar, cashew cookie flavor, and a single-serve carton of almond milk. I usually drink from larger cartons, but the single-serve cartons are handy when I’m on the go.
Lunch PBJ. A classic vegan staple.
Dinner Quesadillas. I had a ton of fresh veggies, and I was feeling inspired. I sautéed chopped grape tomatoes, kale, onion, garlic, black pepper, oregano, cumin & red pepper. Then I repeated the sauté with bell peppers and yellow squash. I folded two wrap-sized tortillas with Daiya pepper jack and the respective veggie mixes, and heated through to melt the cheese. I ate half of each with sliced avocado, vegan sour cream & jarred salsa.
Breakfast Sliced peach, flax flake cereal & almond milk.
Lunch Leftover quesadillas from the previous evening. I also had a So Delicious coconut milk ice cream bar.
Snack Earth Balance vegan cheese crackers. These are addictive. I recommend doling out a serving, and putting the box away before eating, rather than eating straight from the box.
Dinner Pei Wei Thai Dynamite prepared with tofu and veggies, and Hubs and I split some edamame.
Snack Wheat crackers with Kite Hill cheese. OMG… I am in love with Kite Hill cheese. Gawd, it wasn’t cheap, but I’ve cut the round into quarters, so at least I’m getting four servings out of its rich, creamy, positively heavenly deliciousness.
Breakfast Smoothie! In colder weather, I prefer oatmeal, but I love my breakfast smoothies in the summer. Today’s smoothie included: fresh strawberries, fresh peach, frozen banana, celery, soft tofu, collard greens, flax meal, and walnuts.
Lunch We’re in the midst of lots of moving related chores, so we were out and stopped at Qdoba. I enjoyed a salad with corn & bean salsa, sautéed peppers & onions, sautéed summer squash, guacamole, black beans, and tomatillo salsa.
Snack So Delicious coconut milk ice cream sandwich.
Dinner Leftovers. Kung Pao chickpeas that I made and froze several weeks ago. Roasted golden beets I made last week. Sautéed rainbow chard with sunflower seed butter and nutritional yeast (nooch), also leftover from last week. Small piece of cornbread, leftover from a couple of weeks ago (recipe from The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, who also does one of my two favorite podcasts). A package of Amella vegan gray sea salt caramel covered in dark chocolate that was just divine.
Snack Lemon wafers (365 brand boxed cookies) and almond butter.
- Breakfast Normally I’m very good about eating breakfast, but it just didn’t happen today.
Lunch Leftover Pei Wei Thai Dynamite with tofu and veggies.
Snack Chocolove Peppermint in Dark Chocolate, 1/3 of a bar. This was my first time trying this flavor, and I love it!
Dinner We went to the movies and shared some popcorn.
Snack Sunflower seed butter, straight from the jar.
Wow… today has not been one of my nutritionally stellar days. Everyone has an occasional off day though.
Breakfast Smoothie! Strawberries, frozen banana, celery, avocado, kale, soft tofu, walnuts, flax meal. I made enough for 3 days. I need to simplify my smoothies, but at least I make big batches that last for several days.
Lunch Leftovers. Polished off the last of the Kung Pao chick peas. Roasted potatoes, leftover from last week. Leftover sautéed rainbow chard. Chocolove Peppermint in Dark Chocolate, 1/3 bar.
Dinner I cooked. I sautéed cubed patty pan squash with jarred roasted red peppers, a can of chick peas, onion, garlic, black pepper & Italian seasoning. Served the squash over lentils, cooked with bay leaf, drained, and tossed with olive oil. Lastly, I roasted carrots with parsley, and served that with a hunk of bread and Earth Balance spread. This was my first time cooking and eating patty pan, and it was a great success!
Breakfast More of Tuesday’s smoothie.
Lunch Leftovers. Patty pan squash with lentils. Finished the last of the rainbow chard. Justin’s dark chocolate PB cups.
Snack Small bowl of frozen watermelon cubes. A couple of weeks ago, I scooped out a melon into ice cube trays, and froze for use as snacks or in smoothies.
Dinner Leftovers. I made quesadillas with the squash and pepper mix from Friday. Leftover roasted carrots from last night.
Snack Mini chocolate-peanut butter cupcakes that I baked and froze a couple of months ago.
Breakfast The last of Tuesday’s smoothie.
Lunch Whole Foods prepared food bar. I was out doing errands, so grabbed lunch there. Garlicky kale, portabella stuffed with guac and salsa (which was from the hot foods section, so I thought that might be weird – warm guac? – but it was actually really good), beet and apricot salad, spicy potato and pea samosa, herb-crusted tofu, and vegan pesto pasta. It sounds like a lot, but I get tiny servings of each so I can sample more options. I also had a few bites of a chocolate-PB square from their bakery.
Dinner Leftovers. Patty pan saute with lentils. Leftover yellow squash and bell peppers that I had initially made as a quesadilla filling for a side dish. Toasted bread with Earth Balance.
Since this got lengthy, my next post will include some practical suggestions that have helped me incorporate variety, keep meals nutritious, and make the most of my time and effort.