Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Tips for easy, healthy, & well rounded home-made vegan meals!

Are you shopping/cooking with a limited time & budget?
I know many people have a weekly food budget, and also have a pretty tight schedule with regards to extra time for preparing healthy meals. As a recent college graduate, and someone who understands the constraints of living in a tight schedule & budget, I learned a few tricks throughout my college years (especially while I had an apartment) about how to prepare healthy, easy, and affordable meals for myself. Since moving back home I have been able to apply what I learned to cooking for my whole family and it has worked out splendidly. I want to share with you all what I have learned about the following topics:
- shopping (healthfully) on a budget-->shopping for vegan groceries is actually MUCH cheaper than shopping for non-vegan meals
- simple staples of well-rounded meals
- meal ideas and ways to switch up flavors without spending more
- cooking when low on time

Shopping on a budget

We buy legumes from the Bulk Containers and then
store them in glass jars

This is something that is very important to me, and relatively easy to do once you have learned the few tricks there are to mastering this skill. I almost always shop at Whole Foods (which doesn't have to mean "Whole Paycheck" if you follow these tips):

- Buy in bulk: Buy from the bulk containers for everything that you can. I get 100% of my grains, legumes, nuts, dried fruit, and other small things from the bulk section.
- Buy produce that is on sale: Produce on sale doesn't usually mean that it's old, it actually usually means that this produce is in season and they recieved so much of it that they are putting it on sale.
- Buy in Season: This often, but not always goes hand in hand with buying produce that's on sale. However, regardless of whether there is a "Sale" sign slapped on the produce, produce that is in season is always cheaper than produce that is not in season.
- Pick up the grocery store's leaflet/pamphlet: Most grocery stores have leaflets or pamphlets that have coupons and weekly deals in them. I always use them and end up saving a good amount of money with the coupons.
Gorgeous apples form went I visited NYC and when to the
Union Square Greenmarket
- Avoid layers of packagings: As a rule, the more layers of packaging there are to the food you're buying, the more money they are charging for the packaging rather than the food itself. An example of this is buying one large bag of chips, versus buying a box of the individual serving sized bags....clearly buying the large bag of chips gives you more bang for your buck. This goes hand in hand with buying in bulk since buying in bulk is the least packaged way to buy foods.
- Buy the Generic(Store-brand): Most grocery stores have their own generic brand of foods, and this brand is always cheaper than the name brand food but usually just as good when it comes to quality. I know that Ralphs, Safeway, and Whole Foods all have their on store-brand foods that are organic, delicious, and much cheaper than a name-brand version of the same food.
- Hit the Farmer's Market: Produce is usually cheapest and tastiest from farmers markets, and sometimes it is even cheaper to get fresh herbs from the farmers markets rather than from the grocery store. Not only is it cheaper, but it is also just SO MUCH FUN to go to farmers markets, and see what types of produce are out.

Simple Staples of Well Rounded Meals:
Regardless of what type of cuisine you prefer, there are some staples that you should always have in your pantry and fridge:
- Whole Grains: Whether you prefer rice, quinoa, millet, farro, barley, oatmeal, or any other whole grain, it is always a good idea to have at least a couple of varieties of whole grains in your pantry. They are versatile and are used in all cuisines. They can be used as breakfast (oatmeal, quinoa porridge, etc) or as part of a well rounded lunch or dinner meal. 
A small sampling of the whole grains we keep in our pantry
- Whole grain Breads & Pastas: This is not a necessity, but it is really helpful to have whole grain bread and pasta on hand for when you need to slap together a quick sandwhich, or when you have to have a quick pasta dish. 
- Legumes: These range in variety from soy beans, to black beans, to lentils, split peas, and everything in between. Whatever your personal prefference, it is always handy to have at least a couple of kinds of dried legumes in your pantry. If the long cooking time intimidates you, don't worry, I have some tips in the time saving section of this post that'll put your mind at ease. 
- Vegetables: Whatever is in season or is on sale at the market is perfect! As long as you see variety in the colors of vegetables you are buying then you're set!
- Fruits: Same rules as with vegetables; whatever is in season or on sale is best. Make sure to have a variety of different colored fruits around to snack on when the munchies hit!
- Greens: Usually choosing whichever greens are in season is the best, but some greens are better than no greens at all. Keep some spinach, arugula, or romaine in your fridge for making an easy, quick salad. It's also a great idea to have some heartier greens such as kale, collards, or swiss chard for steaming and having as part of a warm meals (or adding to a soup.....nom nom nom).
- Nut Butter: Choose whichever nut butter you prefer, for me nothing does it quite like almond butter. Regardless of which kind of nut butter you choose, it's always great to have at least one nut butter around for making a quick sandwich on the go (or to eat with a spoon.....what? that's just me? oh okay, nevermind then)
- Essential Herbs, Spices, & seasonings: I know there are a variety of herbs and spices, but there are some that are going to go a long way if you have them in your pantry, and others that are not as necessary. Some of the herbs & spices that I think are essential are: Sea Salt, Soy Sauce, Cracked Pepper, Garlic or Garlic Powder, Onion or Onion Powder, Cilantro, Cayenne Peppers, Ginger or Ginger Powder, and Chili Powder. 

Easy Meal Ideas: A Grain, A Green, & A Bean
chopped up ingredients for a asian veggie salad (planning
on adding edamame and millet)
One rule that I've often heard, is if you're in a rush but want to have a well rounded meal, just make sure the meal has a sources of whole grains, a bean (legumes) and a green. With this simple rule in mind it is possible to make a plethora of tasty and easy meals; what I love about this concept is that you can come up with a huge variety of dishes & flavors but still have the foundation of your meal be a grain, a green, and a bean.  Here are some easy ideas that take very little effort to assemble, and can be made with pantry basics: **
1) Mexian Bowl: Brown rice, Black or pinto beans, steamed veggies (kale, bell peppers, onions, carrots, zucchini, or corn are all good options), salsa (can be made by processing tomatoes, lemon juice, red onions, jalapeno, and cilantro in a food processor).
2) Asian Stir Fry bowl: Brown rice or quinoa, soy beans or tofu, steamed or fresh veggies (broccoli, carrots, chinese snow peas, purple cabbage, green onions, and mushrooms go well with this dish), peanuts, teriyaki sauce (combine equal parts soy sauce, rice wine, brown rice syrup, ginger powder, and garlic powder in a pot and let it reduce for a few minutes)
3) Mediterranean Bowl: Barley or quinoa, Garbanzo beans or hummus, garlic, veggie salad (cucumber, tomatoes, red onions, all dressed in lemon with a bit of salt)
A gorgeous Mediterranean salad from Flore Vegan
(quinoa, fresh veggies, hummus, tahini-miso dressing)
4) Southern Bowl: Brown rice or quinoa, black eyed peas, steamed sweet potato, steamed kale, BBQ sauce
5) Italian Bowl: Brown rice or whole grain pasta, any bean you prefer (I find I like lentils, navy beans, and fava beans the most with pasta),  grated garlic, chopped basil, any sauce you prefer (anything from a jar of marinara, to some homemade pesto made by blending basil, pine-nuts, and garlic in a food processor, or a drizzle of olive oil)

**Keep in mind that for all of these recipe outlines, you can use any bean that you prefer, any whole grain or grain product that you prefer, and any seasoning you prefer. What I have written here is just a general outline of some easy meal ideas.

Tick-Tock-Tick-Tock: Making food in a time crunch
 There are many tricks to preparing healthy, well rounded meals when one has schedule constraints:
- Crock Pot: These things rock! Just throw in whatever beans, veggies, grains, veggie broth, and spices you want, set the timer and other settings, and the end of the day you have a delicious, hearty stew. You can make this italian by using italian seasonings, mexican by using mexican seasonings, french by using french seasonings....etc.
- Plan Ahead: Know at the beginning of your week what meals you plan to make throughout the week. This way you might be able to do double duty by making certain elements that these meals have in common days in advance whenever you have time.
- Prepare in Bulk: This applies to both whole grains and legumes. I always make a large batch of quinoa and brown rice at the beginning of the week and use it throughout the week for breakfasts and dinners which cuts down a significant amount of work per day. I also do this with legumes; I typically make a huge batch of one type of bean (usually garbanzos or lentils) at the beginning of the week for the days when I don't have time to cook up some fresh beans.
- Frozen Veggies: I prefer to use fresh veggies when cooking, but I always keep a couple of bags of frozen veggies on hand that I can just steam for a few minutes for those nights when I just don't have time to wash & prep the veggies.
- Make more when you have time: On nights when you have time to make a fresh dinner, make extra of the dinner so that you can have it for lunch or dinner the next day as well!
- Cook in blocks: What I mean by this is, if you have a block of free time in the morning after the gym before work, or some extra time in the day between different tasks and errands, use that time to do a small bit of the work for your dinner tonight. You can cook quinoa and some other whole grains in a mere 15 minutes. You can also boil beans for a quick soak in just 5 minutes. You can whip up an easy salsa in the food processor in about 5 minutes, and you can make a marinade for tofu or tempeh in about 5 or 10 minutes.
- Use the food processor: I am sure you already use yours once in a while, but the food processor is much more useful than you may realize. I know many food processor including mine have a few different attachments, one of them which is made specifically for slicing vegetables. If you have a lot of veggies to slice try using the slicing attachments of your food processor to slice the veggies. The regular S-blade of a food processor is also great for mincing, dicing, and pureeing (just vary the time and speed of the food processor to get these different results.
- Quick Soak Beans: Thats right, beans don't have to take forever! If you have time, you can soak them overnight, but there's always the option of a quick soak! Boil beans for 2-3 minutes in a lot of water, then turn off the heat and let them soak in the water for at least 1-2 hours. Drain & rinse, and then cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour whenever you are preparing your meal.

In Summary: I hope that all of my tips and tricks will come in handy to you all when you are shopping on a budget, preparing meals with limited time, or simply stuck in a food rut and looking for quick & easy ways to add flavor to your meals! I leave you with a picture of one of my easy, go to meals: a home-made macrobiotic dinner!

Brown rice, marinated tofu, steamed kabocha,
broccoli, bok choy, and daikon. Hijiki salad in the middle.
I added some home-made teriyaki sauce after I took the picture.


  1. Thanks so much for this post! Definitely bookmarking it and coming back to reference it often. :)

  2. eToro is the ultimate forex trading platform for newbie and full-time traders.