Welcome back to Part 3 of our Meal Prepping series. We're sharing an example of our 7-day menu, and chatting a little bit about why we chose a vegan lifestyle.
11 years ago (one month after graduating from college) I made a drastic life change. After reading "Skinny Bitch" - yes, I'm embarrassed to admit that that's what turned me - I went vegan. Within a month, I noticed some big changes; I lost about 20 pounds, I had so much more energy, and my skin was clear. As someone who suffered from chronic acne, and took all kinds of oral and topical acne medications for most of her life, I was so happy to see that just changing my diet could make such a difference. Granted, this wasn't just a little lifestyle change. To make sure we're all on the same page, this is how we are defining the following terms:
- Vegan: a person who does not eat or use any animal products (meat, fish, eggs, dairy, honey, etc.)
- Vegetarian: a person who does not eat meat or fish, but does eat other animal products (dairy, eggs, etc.)
- Lacto-Vegetarian: a person who does not eat meat, fish, or eggs, but who eats dairy products.
- Ovo-Vegetarian: a person who does not eat meat, dish, or dairy, but who eats eggs.
- Pescatarian: a person who does not eat meat but does eat fish.
- Plant-Based Diet: a diet derived from plants, including produce, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds - with few or no animal products.
In addition to being vegan for 11 years, I also went gluten-free last year to combat some gut issues. Within a week I noticed a major improvement to how I felt. So the rest of my family has drastically cut back on gluten as well. We also make sure to purchase organic and/or non-GMO whenever possible.
Whatever lifestyle you choose is your decision to make alone. The first step toward making a lasting change is educating yourself on our food system. So, why did I choose to go vegan?
- For the animals. Animals that are raised for food - meat and/or by-products - live pretty terrible lives. They are treated with synthetic hormones and antibiotics to alter their genes, then fed sub-par food filled with pesticides. All of these toxins are then consumed by humans in the final product. You might be picturing the dairy industry as a cute little mom & pop farm where mama cows are milked by hand - but that's far from the reality. Cows are repeatedly artificially inseminated so their bodies will produce milk, only to be hooked up to machines all day and have their babies taken away shortly after birth. When they're no longer able to produce milk, they're sent off to slaughter. For more details on these gruesome farming practices, check our list of documentaries and books below.
- For my health. Red meat, dairy, and other animal by-products are some of the leading causes of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, chronic illnesses, allergies, and gastrointestinal distress in humans. After cutting animal products from my diet, I noticed higher energy levels, healthier skin, and better overall health.
- For the environment. Did you know that 70% of the grain grown in the US is just to feed livestock? Which means it takes 100-200x more water to raise a pound of meat than to grow a pound of produce. Raising livestock and processing animal by-products also leads to an incredible surge of greenhouse gas emissions. All the livestock in the world cause more air pollution than all the cars, buses, planes, ships and other modes of transportation in the world combined.
Intro to Veganism
If you are interested in eating plant-based or just working towards a healthier diet, I highly recommend the following documentaries:
Or if books are more your jam, check out:
My favorite Vegan Bloggers to follow (and get a lot of my recipes from) include:
The Plant Philosophy;
Healthy Grocery Girl (she is not 100% vegan, however plant-based);
Oh She Glows;
The First Mess;
Cupful of Kale; and
Follow us on Pinterest for all our fave recipes and healthy living / zero waste tips.
Quick links to our healthy eating boards:
The plant-based lifestyle is not just a fad - it is here to stay. Eating plant-based does not have to be all or nothing; it just means your meals are based on whole plant ingredients. Even just cutting out meat and dairy 1-2 days a week (like participating in Meatless Monday) is better for your health and the environment.
A well-balanced vegan diet can provide all the protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals your body needs. Infants, children, adolescents, athletes, adults, pregnant or nursing mamas can all benefit from a healthy plant-based lifestyle. A vegan diet is low in saturated fat and free from animal protein, cholesterol, and hormones – all of which are linked to preventable chronic illnesses and diseases.
Many people shy away from adopting a vegan diet because they fear it will increase their grocery bill. Whether vegan or not, pre-packaged and processed foods add up fast. Some of the more expensive choices are processed fake “meats” and “cheeses.” By focusing on filling your cart with whole grains, legumes, beans, and fresh produce, your overall grocery bill will be smaller. These foods are packed full of vitamins and nutrients; meaning you won’t need to eat as much as you usually do because they keep you full longer. We’ve also found that meal planning and prepping (only buying the food we need to get us through the next seven days) cut our grocery bill in half. And don't forget to bring your reusable bags so you can stock up from the bulk bins whenever possible; this helps to reduce your waste and trim your grocery bill.
How We Eat Vegan
When planning my weekly recipes, I aim to pick meals that will use a lot of the same ingredients - to cut down on what we need to purchase. Also, we choose seasonal and local ingredients whenever possible to reduce our carbon footprint.
Pro tip: growing your own produce is a great way to cut costs and control what your family consumes.
Once our local farmer's market opens up for the season, we try to buy most of our produce there. Not only are we eating the freshest of fresh ingredients, but we are also supporting our local economy. In the summer, we try more raw meals; by not using our oven/stove we are saving on energy costs. In the fall and winter, we love makings stews and soups (instant pot to the rescue).
Here is an example of a typical week's worth of meals in our home. There are seven dinners, which we then use leftovers for lunches:
- Sunday: Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
- Monday: Vegan Lasagna Skillet - we used gluten-free noodles and added mushrooms after we portioned out the kids' meals. We also paired this one with a basic kale salad with leftover veggies, nuts, and dressing we had in the refrigerator.
- Tuesday: Baked Sweet & Sour Cauliflower
- Wednesday: Spicy Roasted Carrots with Tahini Lentil Salad - for the kids we leave out the arugula and turn it into more of a harvest bowl.
- Thursday: Creamy Spinach Sweet Potato Noodles with Cashew Sauce - we've found this recipe is best if you add the sauce to the noodles on each plate. Once you mix the sauce in it gets a little mushy. Also, we use kale instead of spinach.
- Friday: Firecracker Vegan Lettuce Wraps
- Saturday: Butternut Squash Black Bean Enchiladas
For breakfast, we prepare one large recipe each week and portion it out. This week we are having Peanut Butter Chia Overnight Oats. Other ideas are breakfast burritos, scramble or hash, smoothies, waffles, or chia pudding. Check out our Breakfast and Brunch Pinterest board for more ideas.
For snacks, we always keep these staples nearby; veggies with hummus, apples with almond butter, crackers with nut cheese, energy bites, homemade pickles, and trail mix.
Pro tip: Use the bulk bins at your local grocery store to create your own trail mix! Load up on raw seeds and nuts, and sprinkle in some unsweetened dried fruit.
Another common misconception is that vegans eat a ton of soy to get their protein. As you can see, we don't rely heavily on soy as our source of protein. Instead, we enjoy a variety of nuts, beans, legumes, and more.
As you may remember from Part 1 and 2 of the series, we adjust our dinner/lunch meals slightly for our kids (ages 3 and 5). To do that, we just pull out their portions before we add in the extra ingredients that they may not like.
I used to make one big dessert for the week too, but we've been cutting back on sugar lately and, as a result, feeling great! But for some of our favorite sweet treats check out our Vegan Dessert Board on Pinterest.
We only drink water (and alcohol), so we don't keep juices or other beverages on hand. Just by doing that we've cut back on sugar, money, and fridge space! I also recently started making my own almond milk to cut back on waste/expense from buying it at the store.
Back to Meal Prepping
When first switching over to a meal planning/prepping lifestyle, I recommend trying to use up a lot of what you already have. Try to incorporate items from your pantry or fridge into recipes as much as possible. Get down to the bare minimum before bringing more into your house. We always keep some pantry staples stocked, like rice, oats, dried beans, nuts, and sugar, otherwise most other ingredients we only buy if we'll be eating it in the next seven days.
Once you go through the bulk of what you already have in your pantry, you can start with planning all your meals for the week and maybe even prepping a few (so as to not overwhelm yourself). Look at each recipe and see what you already have in your fridge and pantry to accommodate it. Then add whatever is needed to a master list. I use the Any.Do app for my to-do lists, which also has a grocery list section that organizes my food by category. If apps aren't your thing, then just start a list - using a horizontal piece of paper, write categories at the top, then list each ingredient underneath in the correct category. I account for 1/2 a serving per kiddo and 1 serving per adult for each meal... so breakfasts come to 21 servings for the week and each dinner needs 6 servings (3 for dinner, and another 3 for lunch the next day). As you continue to meal prep, you'll get a better understanding of your family's necessary serving amounts. When in doubt, make extra and freeze it for a week when you're too busy to prep. Or, if you have a bunch of extra leftovers already, then make a mental note and adjust that recipe the next time you use it.
Once again, being vegan and meal prepping are not all-or-nothing. Do what you can, when you can. Every little bit will make an impact on your life.
For convenience, be sure to check out some of our favorite services that might be available for your area:
Imperfect Produce is an incredible service offering home-delivered and discounted fruits and vegetables - conventional and organic. This "ugly" produce that would otherwise be tossed is delivered to your doorstep each week. You can choose your produce each week, or even skip weeks when you need to. For $10 off your first order, click here. I use this service to supplement my weekly grocery shopping!
Daily Harvest is also a weekly home-delivery service bringing fresh ingredients portioned into meals right to your door. We use these for snacks or meals during busy weeks. They offer smoothies, harvest bowls, soups, lattes, chia bowls, and oatmeal. Visit www.daily-harvest.com and use "urbanoreganics" at checkout for 3 free cups!
Instacart is a great option for those weeks when you cannot get out of the house (new mamas, we're talking to you!), or for those few ingredients you might have forgotten. Groceries delivered right to your door! Click here for $10 off your first order.
Brandless makes organic, vegan, and gluten free products more widely accessible and affordable for everyone. We just use it for groceries, but they also carry other household, baby, and pet items. Everything is only $3! And free shipping over $39. Can't beat that! Click here for $6 off your first order.