Healthy holiday eating weeknight Mediterranean (vegan)

Let’s be honest: This time of year is so hard to eat healthy. The average American gains just over a pound between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, which doesn’t sound like a lot.

But as I get older (sigh–closer to 50 than 40 this year), it gets harder and harder to maintain let alone lose weight. But more than anything, when I gain weight I really feel it. Even in the magical elastic jeans that stretch. I hate that feeling physically.

Going Vegan has made that so much easier. I recently learned through my work project that’s in the Type 2 Diabetes space something about new science–calories in, calories out is old thinking. Huh, good to know!

The new research shows that it’s both easier and more complicated than that…the quality, timing and frequency matter. (Especially for diabetics).

Every person metabolizes calories differently. Therefore different foods and even eating foods in a specific sequence can make a difference. For anyone watching blood sugars exercise also matters, with something as simple as taking a walk after a meal to help stabilize blood sugar. (**This is when I say that I am not a doctor and not giving medical advice!**)

So basically I am learning to stop tracking my food–which is a habit built over the last 5 years–and learning to fast (16 hours off and 8 on). I am also watching my reaction to exercise as it relates to meal timing. I feel best when I exercise midstream during my “on” timeframe.

This fasting process tricks your body into burning fat. It’s working for me slowly and without a ton of effort. It’s not really that difficult since I generally dislike breakfast and black coffee doesn’t count (really).

During the 8 hours on, I feel good about eating whatever fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, limited healthy whole grains, non-meat protein I want. And it’s also easier to not have to track things in detail but know that I have good meal quality generally by being vegan.

As always when it comes to food that fuels my body, I try to let go of the good/bad labels that come with “dieting” and in fact don’t see it as a diet but just the way I like to eat because it feels good.

I also enjoy the creative process of putting a meal together, which can be a challenge in a time starved world. This easy Mediterranean dinner is a good break from heavy holiday foods, and it’s simple to prep ahead for dinner on the table in 5 minutes.

Wishing you health and balance this holiday season!

Mediterranean salad

  • 1 English cucumber, skinned and sliced into half rounds
  • 2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Hummus
  • Package tabbouleh
  • 1/2cup chopped parsley
  • 1 can garbanzo beans drained
  • Naan

Prepare tabbouleh according to package. Add most of parsley and juice of 1/2 lemon. Refrigerate for an hour or more. Drain and rinse beans. Set aside. Seed and dice tomatoes, peel and chop cucumbers, adding remaining juice of 1/2 lemon. Add 1 tbsp olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Allow to marinate preferably overnight. Assemble salad by putting hummus in center, surrounding with tabbouleh, beans, and cucumber/tomato salad. Sprinkle remaining parsley and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with naan.

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Home cooking vegetarian meatloaf

It’s week 2 with one less bird in the nest. We’re still getting used to it and I somehow expect Alec to walk through the door at any moment. Alas, he’s already enjoying college life, including the thrill of having so many food choices at any given moment.

I am saving about $100 a week in groceries and figure Lake Forest is losing money on his meal plan 😉

Avery is enjoying being an “only” child and not having to share the car with anyone.

We look forward to seeing him at Thanksgiving and hearing all about he’s learning (History of Global Capitalism, anyone?)

I figure the thrill of dorm food will have worn off by then and he’ll be grateful for anything cooked by Mom, including this vegetarian meatloaf. Maybe I will FedEx him some. I am sure his roommate would love it.

Vegetarian meatloaf

  • 14oz vegetarian sausage
  • 10 oz vegetarian meat crumbles
  • 8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 yellow onion diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme
  • 1/4c fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2c panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tbsp tomato sauce or ketchup
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper

Sauté onion in 1 tsp olive oil until soft, 3-5 min. Add garlic and mushrooms and cook another 3-5 min. Add Worcestershire sauce, herbs, salt and pepper. Mix in meats, eggs, breadcrumbs and combine gently. Put into loaf pan. Combine tomato sauce and brown sugar, cover meat in glaze. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour.

Late summer veggie orzo salad

I have always loved the challenge format cooking shows, where competitors get a basket of miscellaneous stuff and have to quickly make something fantastic.

Our house is sometimes like this when we are nearing the end of the week and due for a grocery shop. I love the challenge of figuring out how to pull something together and the thrill of when it’s actually good.

This pasta salad could be made with a variety of things, substituting what you have on hand (different veggies, shape pasta, lemon for lime). I will say that adding a green of any kind is a nice change of pace and certainly adds some nutrients.

It also helps to have adventurous eaters (or just really hungry ones) to try out the experiments! 😉

Late summer veggies orzo salad

  • 12 oz orzo
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/3c olive oil
  • Zucchini, sliced lengthwise in quarters
  • Yellow squash, sliced lengthwise in quarters
  • 2 ears corn
  • 2 large handfuls mixed greens, arugula or spinach

Cook orzo and rinse. Mix together dressing of lime juice, olive oil, dijon and honey. Season with salt and pepper. Toss orzo to coat. Add in greens. It helps if the pasta is slightly warm to just wilt them. Grill zucchini, squash and corn for 10 minutes. Chop squash and slice kernels off of the cob (let it cool first!) Add to salad and toss to combine.

A goat cheese or vegan goat cheese/chevre is a nice touch of tangy too.

Winter smoothie prep packs

It’s winter in Minnesota and the fresh local fruit options are sparse. It’s also hockey and swim season, meaning time is precious and calories in high demand.

What can I make ahead that’s fast and healthy? I pulled some miscellaneous greens and celery from the fridge, canned and frozen fruit. garbanzos, and various nutritional adds like oatmeal, desiccated coconut, flax and chia seeds, fresh mint, ginger, cinnamon, and turmeric.

Then I threw some combinations together into sandwich bags and tossed into the freezer so the boys could grab as needed, add liquid and a banana. Ironically we had all of the weird stuff but no bananas? Boys.

If you run into the same issue with an ingredient just know that everything except liquid freezes well and gives it a nice chill, but if you don’t happen to have celery you can always add it when you blend.

Smoothie recipes are loose and easy to experiment to find what you like. This is definitely more art than science in my book, meaning the amounts and exact fruit are really up to you. Here are some of the combos we like:

Tropical: mandarin oranges, pineapple, peaches, pears, 1/2 banana, desiccated coconut. Use whatever combo of fruit you like about 1 cup total plus 3 tbsp of the coconut (usually found in the bulk section, and you don’t generally want to use the sweetened stuff). Add 1 cup+ of almond, coconut milk or whatever milk you drink until you reach your preferred consistency.

Berry blast (fiber): 1 cup spinach, 1/2 total of blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and 2 tbsp or so dried oatmeal, 1 tsp dried cinnamon, 1/2 banana. Add 1c+ milk. The oatmeal makes this very filling.

Toxin Cleanse: 1 cup chopped kale, 1/2c pineapple, 1 stalk chopped celery, 1 tsp ginger (I use the fresh ginger in the tube found near the fresh herbs). Add 1c+ water or coconut water if you’ve got it, which has awesome electrolytes. This smoothie is a great way to flush toxins, if you have overindulged or have an upset tummy.

Balance: 1c spinach, 1/4c garbanzo beans, 3 large strawberries, 1 tbsp fresh mint, 1 tbsp flax seeds, dash of cinnamon, 1/2 banana. Add 1c+ milk of choice. The boys don’t like this one, but it’s one of my favorites when I’m feeling run down as it brings me back into balance with all of the great protein and iron in it. Flax seeds add fiber and help absorb the other nutrients too.

A note about blending: Depending on how compact the bags are, you’ll have something close to a solid chunk. You’ll want to break it up a bit (smash it a couple times on the counter) before blending or your blender may make an angry noise 😉

We found that filling a standard size sandwich bag about half full was a good size.

Soba noodle bowls


Noodles always go over well after swim practice. These vitamin-packed soba bowls are also easy to make ahead and let people eat as they get home without worrying about a cold dinner. 

Lots of room to improvise with whatever you have in the fridge too! Peppers, pea pods, edamame, even protein–ahi tuna would be killer!! You could also go the other way and omit the egg. 😉
Soba noodle bowls

  • 8 oz soba noodles, cooked
  • 12 oz extra firm tofu
  • Soy and sesame oil
  • Cornstarch 
  • 1 small head napa cabbage, chopped 
  • 1/2 c matchstick carrots
  • 3 green onions, chopped 
  • Hard boiled egg, 1 per bowl
  • 4 radishes, thinly sliced
  • Cilantro
  • Jalapeno, sliced
  • Cashews and peanuts, chopped 
  • Juice of 1/2lime
  • 1/4c low sodium soy sauce
  • Crushed red pepper 
  • Lime wedges 

Drain tofu. Slice brick into 1/2″ slices. Lay flat on plate, cover with paper towels and weight with saute pan. After 30 minutes the towels will be soaked. Dice tofu into cubes, toss with soy sauce and 1 tsp sesame oil. Marinate for 30 minutes. Coat in cornstarch. Heat several tablespoons of vegetable oil in a pan, sauté tofu until golden on each side, about 10 minutes total.

Mix soy, lime juice and pepper together and toss noodles in dressing. Assemble bowls.

Pineapple red curry for meatless Monday


I’m trying to honor the idea of Meatless Monday, which is to say that one day of the week we don’t eat meat. It’s a philosophical notion for me mostly, as I realize growing up in the American Midwest, the “norm” is red meat and potatoes. I like to think of those foods as a splurge rather than everyday eating.

For growing boys looking to build muscle, that definitely requires some creativity to add in protein on those days. (Most of the time I don’t tell them we’re doing this and they don’t notice). 😉

Here’s a few tips to add meatless protein:

  • Breakfast: Whole oat granola with seeds and nuts (flax, pepito, almonds, walnuts) over greek yogurt, which has nearly 2x the protein as regular. Or add ricotta cheese to your favorite boxed pancake mix. It makes them fluffier too!
  • Lunch: Beans and old world grains. A favorite lately is farro with garbanzos, kale, olives and tomatoes in a greek vinaigrette. Even just adding beans to a pre-made pasta salad helps bulk it up.
  • Snacks: Smoothies with protein powder or the old standby of apples and peanut butter.
  • Dinner: This meatless dish always gets raves and is super fast for weeknight cooking:

Pineapple red curry 

  • 8oz can crushed pineapple 
  • 1 red pepper, chopped 
  • 1 cup fresh pineapple, chopped 
  • 1 can light coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp red curry paste, more or less depending on how spicy you like it 
  • 2 tsp fish sauce
  • 2 tsbp sugar
  • Extra firm tofu, pressed to remove excess water, cubed. Or shrimp if you insist 😉
  • Cilantro and coconut flakes for garnish 
  • Rice

Sauté fresh pineapple and red pepper 2-3 minutes until softened. Add coconut milk, crushed pineapple, and curry paste, stir, add in sugar and fish sauce. Simmer 10 minutes until thickened. Sauté tofu cubes in 2tbsp oil until browned. Mix into curry. Garnish with coconut and cilantro. Serve over rice or rice noodles.