Yesterday, I asked the kids to pack their snacks as I emptied their lunch boxes to make today’s lunch. As I sorted the recycling from the garbage and they ran to the pantry and grabbed apple sauce, granola bars and all sorts of packaged treats, I told them – we can do better than this.
My husband and I both work full-time and we’re busy and often exhausted at the end of the day. As much as I love making everything from scratch, I am pressed for time these days so I haven’t kept on top of the homemade snack making. And when the kids pack their own lunches (and we try to get them to help out as much as possible), they’ll grab what’s easy. Granola bars, crackers, apple sauce and though some of it is recycled, I’ve been feeling increasingly guilty about dropping the ball on my attempt to reduce waste.
In the spirit of them still being in charge of packing their snacks for school, I told them to grab recipe books and figure out what to make for their lunches. They chose recipes, asked if we had the ingredients and did their best to make them without much help from me.
My son made whole wheat chocolate chip cookies. He read out the instructions and I did what I was told. When the dough was mixed, I brought the cookie sheets to the table for him to form the cookies while I helped my daughter avoid burning her snack of choice.
She chose butterscotch pudding. She got out all the ingredients and followed the recipe with my supervision. She’s a bit older so while she needed help lighting the gas stove and has a tendency to wander away while the recipe says to stir continuously, she was able to pull off most of the recipe by herself.
In the end, they both felt a sense of achievement, got to lick their spoons and pots and traded a bunch of packaged goods for home made treats. I think I’m going to try to do this more regularly. We won’t be able to consistently avoid waste but together we can make more of an effort to do better.
The only problem is the cookies my son made are too big for most of our snack containers! My daughter’s pudding is hidden behind the popcorn.
Here, in Canada, we’re nearing the end of winter. This is the most difficult time of year for those of us who thrive on plant-based eating. Nothing is growing other than greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers. All fresh fruit and vegetables travel far to make it to our markets.
I do my best to eat local – both because I want to support my local businesses and because I want to avoid adding any unnecessary greenhouse gasses by eating foods that travel far to get to me.
One old-fashioned way to do both is through canning when fruits and vegetables are at their peak and eating them in the middle of winter. Over the summer and fall, I’ve made a number of jams, relishes and chutneys that I’m enjoying now.
In my oatmeal this morning, I have added a generous helping of apple pie jam that I make in the fall with apples we picked at a local farm. It is delicious and a great way to change things up. We still have a few jars left of yellow plum jam, peach jam and rhubarb jam – my kids love them on their peanut butter sandwiches so we go through a lot. But my favourite way to eat them is in my morning oatmeal.
Canning is a great way to bring the flavours of summer and harvest into the depths of winter. It’s not difficult once you get the hang of it. Small batch canning is an accessible way to start.
I got some sad news today and it’s not the first time. It turns out that a girl in my daughter’s class says she’s gross because she doesn’t eat meat. This girl regularly makes fun of the food my daughter has in her lunch and it is impacting her enjoyment of it.
I made the kids rice pudding as a treat this week. It should have been well-liked. Rice, sweet soy milk, cinnamon and raisins – I thought it would be a nice surprise even though they’d never had it before. But there was a girl who told my daughter it looked like poo and so my sweetheart sadly told me she didn’t really enjoy it.
This isn’t the first incident of bullying she dealt with at school. She has been singled out for the food she eats – which led to a stage of her asking for sandwiches for lunch everyday so her lunch looked normal.
It’s not shocking, when I come to think of it. I’ve dealt with a lot of teasing and meanness myself at work. I’ve had coworkers try the vegan pizza and then spend every opportunity to tell everyone it was gross. A lot of people just feel the need to comment and most of the time, I don’t think it’s meant in a mean way.
I’m sensitive to the way my kids treat others. We’ve raised our kids not to comment on other people’s food. I choose what is on my plate and it has nothing to do with anyone else.
In fact, when the subject of veganism comes up, it usually isn’t my choice. I’m living according to my own values and I’ve told my story of how and why more times than I’ve wanted to. It’s not a secret, obviously. But there are other things to talk about.
Have your kids had similar experiences? How do you handle it?
One of my favourite finds as a vegan are the nut-based spreads and sauces that have become really popular – for good reason. You can find all kinds of nut cheeses in stores that taste fantastic and feel indulgent even though they are good for you.
There’s really nothing more satisfying than a dollop of cashew cream to top off a taco and if you mix the leftovers with salsa, you’ll have a delicious dip. I’ve even been using cashews as the bases for my gravies for a creamy and delicious sauce.
The one challenge people may face when making nut-based sauces, gravies and spreads is having a powerful enough blender to get the right texture. You can make it easier on your blender by soaking the nuts overnight but having a super-powerful blender does make all the difference in the end.
Here’s a really simple nut and seed spread that makes a satisfying snack for adults and kids as well. Spread it on crackers, use it in your sandwiches or with a pita. If you’ve overindulged on hummus and need a change, this is a good option.
Nutritious nut and seed spread
1 cup raw cashews
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 1/4 cups of water
3 Tablespoons of nutritional yeast
2 teaspoons of lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon herbs de provence (or other herb mix that you like)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Soak the nuts and seeds in a bowl overnight or cover them with boiling water for 30 minutes. Drain and add them to the blender with all the other ingredients. Blend until creamy. Add water if necessary.
Enjoy! This makes a good mid-afternoon snack at the office or after-school snack for the kids to keep them satisfied until dinner is ready.
You can change the ingredients up according to your tastes and the contents of your cupboard. You’ll need nuts or seeds, water, an acid and salt – the rest can be easily omitted or changed.
I’m lucky to have a job that allows me to work from home regularly. Since I spend the day sitting at a desk, this is my opportunity to make good choices to fit in exercise and take care of myself.
If I don’t get exercise on the days I work from home, I end the day feeling sluggish and older than I should. It’s so important to work in an extra flight of stairs and it’s a good think I have to descend the stairs to go to the kitchen but that’s not enough.
I’ve been really good about using the extra time I have from not commuting to the office to fit in my exercise. I get up at my usual hour and make sure the kids are eating breakfast and then I head out the door for a run. I love it once I’m out – even when it’s really cold out (I live in Canada).
Where it all falls apart is at breakfast. I’ll go for my run, do some yoga or other exercises when I get home, have a quick shower and grab a coffee and plop down in front of my computer and start working.
I will completely forget about breakfast until my stomach is impossible to ignore – around 10:30. And when I’m that hungry, I don’t make good decisions. I’ll grab a bagel and top it with vegan butter and call it a breakfast.
So this is my pledge to myself – to make myself a nice, warm bowl of oatmeal. It takes 5 minutes and it makes all the difference. I have all kinds of fruit, nuts and other toppings to keep it interesting and it sets me up to feel good all day – and continue to make good decisions.
On the days I go into the office, I have overnight oats and that’s great. I have no choice since I made it the night before and that’s what I have in my bag. I need to start making good decisions even when I haven’t planned ahead.
Merry Christmas! I hope you’re spending holidays with loved ones doing the things you love. I’ve been doing a lot of sewing – which I enjoy like meditation – and today I’m in the kitchen. No doubt for most of the day! I’m not one to sit down much. Creating something special for my family puts me in the holidays spirit.
Every year, I’m tempted to make a gingerbread train with my special cake pan and it often goes not quite as planned. I considered making other plans but my kids are getting older and I don’t know how much longer the Polar Express will excite them. So this year, I took no chances with the cake, I greased it meticulously and it came out perfectly. I used wax paper and vegan butter to make sure I got butter into every groove.
The cake pan is very detailed so the cake itself looks pretty when plain. I made a simple glaze and then decorated it with Skittles, sprinkles and icing sugar to give it a good dusting of snow.
We don’t have much snow outside – enough to cover the walkways but not enough to cover the grass – this snowy scene may be the best we get this Christmas! The Christmas trees are cutouts we made recently, covered with glaze, Skittles and dusted with icing sugar.
The cake is the gingerbread cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World. The glaze is simple (1 cup of icing sugar and 3 Tbsps of water with a drop of lemon extract).
Happy holidays everyone! And best wishes for a joyful new year!
In the rush of the holidays, it’s easy to forget to eat a healthy breakfast. Starting off the day right sets us up to make healthy decisions throughout the day. I’ve found that if I don’t make a good breakfast, I’ll end up grabbing something easy around 11 a.m. and it’s all downhill from there. For me, the trick is to have ideas for a healthy breakfast that’s easy and delicious. Here’s a good solution that works for kids and grown-ups alike.
I make my oatmeal extra creamy by replacing half the water with vegan milk (we use sweetened soy milk or almond milk) and either mashing or chopping a very ripe banana to it for each serving. Follow the directions on the package according to how much oatmeal you’re making. When it is finished cooking (it takes about five minutes), top with walnuts.
When I started commuting for work a few days a week, which means I leave the house before my stomach is ready to handle anything solid, I started bringing overnight oats for me to eat when I’m settled at the office. They take me less than five minutes of prep time the night before and they’re ready to eat without a fuss.
Best of all, I can change it up a million different ways – soy, almond, coconut, cashew milk, any frozen or dried fruit I have on hand – there’s no end to the varieties I can make. As someone who gets bored eating the same foods over and over again, this is something that always satisfies. Even if I have absolutely no fruit in the house, I can always add a spoonful of homemade jam. This is a lazy but delicious meal.
I enjoy it and I’ve found even the kids love it. In fact, if I make them overnight oats, breakfast always goes smoothly even if they’re overtired and grumpy.
This week, I’m going away on business for a few days so I made a few jars to keep in the fridge to make mornings easier on my husband. If you haven’t tried this breakfast, do yourself a favour and give it a try. Use your favourite vegan milk to make the easiest, healthiest and most delicious breakfast your can throw together in five minutes.
jars with lids
seeds (I use chia and hemp)
fruit (I used peaches and blackberries)
Fill the jars 3/4 full of oatmeal. Add a teaspoon of seeds, as desired, cinnamon, brown sugar and top with fruit. If you’re in a real rush, just use oatmeal and a spoonful of jam. Fill the jar to the top with vegan milk. Put the lid on and give it a shake so all the seeds get mixed in.
Get a few extra minutes of sleep in the morning because breakfast is done!
On Friday, when I brought my sleepy son to the kitchen for breakfast and sat him at the table and asked him what he’d like to eat – peanut butter and jam on toast or cereal being the options – he said, “pancakes. We haven’t had pancakes in forever and I love pancakes.” I told him we couldn’t make pancakes on weekdays but the weekend was coming.
And then yesterday, when I was baking a double batch of muffins to freeze for school lunches, he excitedly came running down the stairs. “I smell pancakes!” Poor guy, I had completely forgotten. It’s a good thing he likes muffins!
So this morning, the first thing I did was make a double batch of pancakes. This batch will last a few breakfasts popped into the toaster and nibbled as a snack.
If you’re new to vegan baking, you may wonder how the pancakes are made without egg or milk and if they turn out well. We have numerous recipes for pancakes, plain, banana flapjacks, pumpkin and anything else you can imagine and they’re all delicious.
Here’s a simple recipe you can use and adapt as you wish. Top it with fresh fruit, a berry sauce but most importantly, pure maple syrup. This recipe is based on Perfect Pancakes in Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz – it’s a great book for breakfast-lovers.
1 1/4 cup of flour (I use half whole-wheat)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons neutral oil (like grape seed oil)
1 1/3 cup vegan milk
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Heat and oil a well-seasoned griddle. Make sure it’s hot.
Combine dry ingredients and wet ingredients in separate bowls. Add the wet to the dry and mix until there are only small lumps.
Pour batter onto the griddle – once bubbles are forming, flip. Serve warm with maple syrup.
I always make double batches because you can never have too many (and one batch doesn’t fill four people up). Reheat pancakes by popping them in the toaster.
This summer, we took a road trip to the East Coast of Canada. We brought a tent and reserved campsites at National and Provincial Parks from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. We made memories that will last a lifetime.
We’re seasoned campers – we love sleeping in a tent and hearing the sounds of the forest around us. We love waking up with the sun and the chirping birds. I love cooking over a fire pit – potatoes in the coals, veggie burgers flame broiled – everything just tastes better when we’re camping.
This summer, though, everything was different. When we arrived in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, there was a fire ban. We have a simple isobutane camping stove for making coffee but we didn’t have much fuel. We couldn’t light a fire in the fire pits provided. We ran out of fuel after making a pot of coffee and we were stuck.
Aside from our usual stock of fruits and vegetables, we had a cooler stocked with veggie burgers, vegan sausages, veggie dogs and tofu without a way to cook any of it. None of the stores we stopped at carried isobutane so we had to eat at restaurants for the first few days on the island (more about that later).
Eventually, we stumbled on the only store in Cape Breton that carries our fuel and we happily bought a couple canisters and a frying pan. Now we had a way to cook our traditional camping food.
With so many choices for vegan burgers, hot dogs and sausages, you can easily blend in with the other campers. But when you run out of that and you’re in a fisherman’s paradise without another vegan around, it’s time to get creative.
With our minimal camping stove, a pot for boiling water and a frying pan, we found a few things in the rural grocery stores to feed our hungry mob. Our favourite by far was a noodle stir fry.
Note: We don’t usually buy instant anything but when you’re camping and using fuel that is as hard to find as these canisters were, you do what you must to conserve the fuel.
Vegan noodle stir fry
one package of instant noodles
oil (sesame, canola, grape seed – whatever)
one block of tofu
seasoning (Herbamare is great but use what you can find and what you like)
one package of broccoli slaw (or another packaged salad with broccoli, brussels sprouts and kale)
soy sauce packets (if you have them)
Cook the noodles according to the package. Drain and put aside.
Chop the tofu into cubes and fry it in the oil with the seasoning. When browned, add the slaw and cook until wilted. Add the cooked noodles and stir to mix. Add the soy sauce and mix again.
That’s about the easiest vegan meal you can source in an isolated town. Another idea we enjoyed – minute rice and beans.
Camping rice and beans
can of beans (black or red kidney are great)
canned corn (normally I’d eat frozen but we were pleasantly surprised)
Cook the rice according to the directions on the box. When it’s done, add the drained and rinsed beans and the drained canned corn. Season to taste and enjoy!
When we’re car camping, I put quick cooking oatmeal in little mason jars with raisins or cranberries, sugar, cinnamon and I leave some space for hot water. (You could use instant oatmeal but I prefer the texture of the quick cooking oatmeal – less mushy.) The jars should be 3/4 full.
When you’re ready to eat, pour boiling water in the jars, screw the tops closed, shake them up a bit and let them sit for a few minutes to allow the hot water to cook the oatmeal. My kids love having their own individual jars.
If you’re pressed for space, fill a ziplock bag with oatmeal, sugar, dried fruit and spices. Maybe include seeds – we’re eating a lot of hemp and chia seeds these days. And you can make your homestyle oatmeal in a pot. There’s nothing like a warm bowl of oatmeal on a cool morning.
There are so many benefits to getting kids out into natural spaces – they benefit from exploring, finding creatures, get to know the provinces they’re learning about in school and they learn to love and protect the environment.
You can make some amazing meals over the fire or you can use some cooking short cuts and head out to enjoy the world around you.