Monthly Archives: November 2014

Vegetarian Thanksgiving

First off, please, let me apologize that there is still no video on my no electricity required hummus. I thought I would be able to squeeze in the time to get it completed for this week’s posting, but, I underestimated how busy I would be. I have several projects in the works right now that have consumed much more time than I expected and have a deadline before December 1st. So, I will post the video by December 2nd.

One of these projects is a personal one that I have been dreaming and wanting to cross off my bucket list for over 10 years. Ten years ago, I was introduced to the idea of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Every November, people from around the globe come together to write novels of 50,000 words or more. I just loved the idea so much that ever since then, every November, I have tried to accomplish writing a novel. But, every year, I get too busy and let other tasks take priority over it. This year, although I did not start out strong and thought I would give up especially because I am still grieving, but I have decided to give it my all in the last two weeks. I am grateful that I still have time to make the deadline even if it means that I have to prioritize it over other tasks. So, in the meantime, let’s talk about Thanksgiving.

Personally, as someone who loves to cook and eat, I love Thanksgiving. Most of the time, I am either cooking for myself or my nuclear family. Thanksgiving is a time that I get to show my love for family and friends through my cooking. However, I am not having a big Thanksgiving this year. My nearby relatives who always came moved across country earlier this year. So, this year, I am cooking for myself and my Mom (also a Vegetarian). Since there is just the two of us, I want to keep our budget in mind by doing something different this year. Instead of a more traditional Vegetarian twist on Thanksgiving meal, I am going to make our favorite meal: vegetable lasagna. When I post my hummus video, I will share pictures and the recipe that I used for my lasagna.

But, if you are Vegetarian, do not fret just because Thanksgiving is also known as “Turkey Day,” it is easy to enjoy a more traditional Thanksgiving. First off, if you are not doing all of your own cooking and you are visiting friends or family who are not Vegetarian, a lot of the traditional side dishes are naturally Vegetarian (Vegan can be a bit trickier). Secondly, if you are doing the whole dinner, your main center piece can be more traditional without being a heavily processed, soy-based, fake tasting tofurkey. Instead, seek out easy, hearty, filling, whole food recipes like grilled Portobello mushrooms, bean burgers, etc. Here are some ideas from Buzzfeed, with beautiful pictures that will make your mouth water: 22 Delicious Meatless Mains To Make For Thanksgiving

Last year was my first Vegetarian Thanksgiving. It took me a while to come up with the menu because there were so many recipes to be found online. Except for buttermilk in the cornbread muffins, all of the dishes were Vegan. All of the dishes were relatively healthy (no refined sugar or gluten) but they still tasted indulgent, and they were all relatively easy to make. For our main dish, I made Vegan Lentil “Meatloaf” (similar in taste and texture to traditional meatloaf) because I wanted a way to incorporate my Dad’s memory into our celebration. When he was alive, his favorite dish to make our family was meatloaf. It was a great Thanksgiving meal and the turkey was definitely not missed.

 

2013 Vegetarian Thanksgiving Menu
Appetizer
Kite hill vegan cheese with rice crackers (not pictured)
Main Dish
Lentil “Meatloaf”  
Side Dishes
Vegan Pralined Sweet Potatoes with Orange Juice 
Mash Potatoes (store bought) 
Vegetarian Mushroom Gravy
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Vinegar 
Cornbread Muffins (not the exact recipe I used, but similar) 

Vegetarian Thanksgiving

Vegetarian Thanksgiving

What is your favorite Vegetarian Thanksgiving dish? How do you do Thanksgiving on a budget? I would love to know.

This year, I am also grateful for those of who you stop by my blog. For those of you who celebrate, I hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving!

Eat The Rainbow: Food Budget Challenge Week 4

So, this was Week 4 of my Food Budget Challenge, a month long challenge to eat healthy while on a budget. I was hoping to come out with some big celebratory post but we did not make my goal. However, while my family surpassed our budget limit of $497.30 for the month based on the average two person household on a Low-Cost Plan as according to the USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food Report for August 2014, we have become a lot more conscientious about our food choices. Even though we did not make our goal, mainly due to the pitfalls of eating out Week 2, I am confident moving forward that we will be able to stick well within the Low-Cost Plan and, hopefully as we continue to learn through our successes and failures, to eventually get our own food costs to be within the Thrifty Plan of $390. But, for the months of November and December, since this is such a plentiful food based time of year for many Americans including my family, I will be focusing on eating healthy (not over indulging) while on a Low-Cost Plan. In the new year, I will get more thrifty. But, I will continue to provide tips and tricks about eating healthy while on a budget. So, for this week:

#1: Eat the rainbow

It is important to get a variety of fruits and vegetables into your diet. Each has different important nutrients that you should try to get into your daily diet. An easy way to remember is by “eating the rainbow,” eating fruits and vegetables by color: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and indigo/violet (purple). You can easily attain this while on a budget. Here is how to plan your weekly shopping list and weekly meal plan:

1. While going through ads or using the apps that I have suggested in previous posts, look for the weekly deals on fruits and vegetables keeping in mind the rainbow of colors. These are usually fruits and vegetables that are in season. For example:

Red: tomatoes, raspberries, red apples, beets
Orange: carrots, oranges, pumpkin, sweet potatoes
Yellow/White: bananas, garbanzo beans
Green: broccoli, leafy greens, asparagus, Brussel sprouts, avocado
Blue/Purple: blueberries, eggplant, grapes, cabbage

2. Plan your daily intake incorporating these fruits and vegetables

Breakfast: vegan protein shake with berries and banana
Snack: apple with almond butter
Lunch: vegetable soup or salad
Snack: baby carrots with hummus
Dinner: 1-2 green side dish (broccoli, spinach, Brussel sprouts)
Snack: 1/2 c. frozen grapes

An easy way to accomplish this is by making a vegetable soup, stew, or chili that incorporates all of the colors that you can eat all week:

Eat the Rainbow Vegetarian Chili

Eat The Rainbow Vegetarian Chili

Red: kidney beans, tomatoes
Orange: butternut squash, carrots
Yellow: onion, pineapple, mushrooms
Green: spinach
Blue/Purple: black beans

Ingredients:

1 butternut squash diced
1 cup diced carrots
1 medium onion
2 cans kidney beans
2 can black beans
1 can mushrooms
1/2 cup pineapple
3 tbs tomato paste
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cups spinach
3 cups vegetable broth
4 tbs coconut oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chipotle or chili powder
2 tsp Himalayan sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 tbs coconut sugar

Directions: 

1. In a large pot, sauté onions on medium-high heat in 2 tbs coconut oil until translucent, about 7 minutes
2. Stir butternut squash and carrots, stirring and cooking for 3-4 minutes
3. Stir in spices (cumin, chipotle/chili powder, salt, pepper, and coconut sugar)
4. Stir in beans, mushrooms, broth, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, and pineapple
5. Once at a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the carrots and butternut squash can be easily pierced with a fork
6. Stir in spinach and continue to cook the chili on a simmer for 5 minutes
7. Taste for spice level, if too spicy, add in 2 tbs coconut oil and cook for 3 minutes. If not spicy enough, add in more cumin and chili/chipotle powder.

Enjoy!!!

This will easily count as at least 2-3 servings of vegetables per bowl, but, remember to still get enough fruits and vegetables in other meals throughout the day.

Tips: You can experiment with the formula but make sure to get all of the colors covered. For example, you could use 3 sweet potatoes instead 1 butternut squash or any hearty leafy green like Swiss chard or kale.

#2: “Whatever You Do, Don’t Throw That Away!” – Jeff Yeager

So, you have cut up your butternut squash and now you have a bunch of seeds leftover. As Jeff Yeager, known as the “Ultimate Cheapskate” and one of my favorite people to seek budget advice from would say, “whatever you do, don’t throw that away!”

Butternut Squash Seeds

 

Instead, clean and rinse the seeds. Lay them out on a clean cloth or paper towel in a single layer and set aside to dry. Once they are dry, toss them in a tsp or so of oil and a pinch of salt (or whatever spices you would like). Finally, bake in the oven at 300 degrees for about 10 minutes. They are edible just like pumpkin seeds.

Then, once you are full on chili and squash seeds, I highly recommend that you go check out Jeff Yeager’s YouTube Channel: The Cheap Life. I am far from mastering a budget lifestyle but I draw on him for inspiration. He has mastered living a thrifty (cheapskate as he calls it), happy, and healthy lifestyle. His videos are produced by AARP but his videos are awesome for all ages. He gives great advice with a sense of humor and lots of personality.

Preview: No Electricity Required Hummus 

Next week, I will be sharing another recipe video. I just did not have it quite completed for this week. This video will cover a great way I discovered to make smooth hummus without a food processor or blender, no electricity at all so it would be excellent for camping or on the go. Hummus is another one of those foods that I love but have been unable to eat for a long time due to my garlic intolerance so I can never find it at stores or eat it at restaurants. And, I cannot make it at home because I lack a high-speed blender/food processor. Lumpy hummus is not delicious, there is definitely something about texture when it comes to hummus. So, when I basically stumbled my way into creating this awesome recipe, I could not wait to share.

 

Flexibility: Food Budget Challenge, Week 3

So, last week was the third week in my food budget challenge. I only had $40 left to spend for the two remaining weeks, week 3 and week 4. This challenge has proven much more difficult than my optimism led me to believe week 1 but I have learned some critical lessons, from my costly mistakes to my many successes, which I will definitely take with me to do better in the upcoming months. It takes a while to build consistency with any habit so I am still content in the fact that I am moving in the right direction. I hope that you have used some of the advice that I have shared and I plan to continue to share any tips and tricks that I discover on my own journey towards eating healthy on a budget. This week, I learned:

#1: Be creative with what you already have

My long time impulse for making food is to come up with ideas for what I want to make, figure out what I have already, and then go out and purchase the ingredients I need. Since I wanted to stay within my budget of $40 for two weeks, I resisted this urge. Instead, I took an inventory of all my food and planned a menu for the week of breakfasts, lunch, dinner, and 2 snacks based on the food that I already had. This did not mean that I could not be adventurous with my cooking but that I had to be even more creative by trying to make the new recipes fit the ingredients that I had. For example, I wanted cookies for dessert since we no longer had any store bought desserts. So, I found some almond flour that we had stored away in the back of a cabinet, hidden by the food that we rotate out more often. On the back, there was this delightfully easy vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe. I did not have a lot of the ingredients listed but I got creative by substituting with ingredients that I did have.

Butter Pecan Cookies (Vegan and Gluten Free)
Adapted from Elana’s Pantry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe 

Ingredients:
2 ½ cups blanched almond flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp Himalayan sea salt
2 tbs. Butter Pecan Maple Syrup (plus extra for cross hatch on top of cookie)
1 tbs. coconut sugar (plus extra for cross hatch on top of cookie)
½ cup canned sweet potato puree (unsweetened) 
½ cup coconut oil

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Mix all dry ingredients together
3. If coconut oil is solid, heat coconut oil either on the stove or microwave. I did 15-20 seconds in my microwave. Mix remaining liquid ingredients into the coconut oil.
4. Combine liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients.
5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Form the dough into 1” diameter balls.
6. Dip a fork into some maple syrup and make cross hatches on the top of the cookies.
7. Sprinkle a tiny bit of coconut sugar on top of the cookies.
8. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes.

Butter Pecan Vegan Gluten-Free Cookies

These cookies are not super sweet but they are great if you want to feel a little indulgent without feeling guilty. You can always add a little bit more coconut sugar or butter pecan maple syrup if you want it a little sweeter. You may be able to get a similar taste with traditional maple syrup but adding in chopped pecans. They have a great dose of protein from the almond flour and sweet potatoes. You can also freeze the dough. Since I was only sharing this with one other person, I split the dough in half. It thawed really nicely on the counter for a couple hours before I made the second batch.

#2: Do not just look at price when looking for the lowest cost

It is more than just price that must be factored in when considering buying an item. It is important to shop for items that will give you the highest caloric and nutrient bang for your buck.

For example, I had a choice between Luke’s Cheddar Clouds versus Beanitos (bean tortilla chips). Now, both are made from a minimal list of really high quality ingredients but one also acts as a serving of vegetables. If I eat the Luke’s Cheddar Puffs, I also have to eat an additional serving of vegetables. With the Beanitos, I get a delicious snack and a serving of vegetables. They both have the same calorie content and are roughly the same price but the additional price for another vegetable plus the convenience of not having to figure out another vegetable to eat makes the Beanitos a wiser monetary and healthy snack choice.

#3: Counting calories

So, I am going really strong with my trick of breaking up large bulk items into individual bags to save money and calories (plus, it makes it so much easier to have a grab and go snack), but now, I am having the opposite problem. Sometimes now, I find that I am eating too few calories a day. When I was eating out almost daily, I knew that there were a lot of calories in these meals. The nature of eating out generally, even if it is healthy, is that these meals are high in calories. So, as a Vegetarian now eating at home, I find that many of my meals are much lower in calories. It is important for our bodies to function properly that we get enough calories into them. As someone who has dieted, I have found that my best range is 1500-1800 calories per day but a couple of days I did not make it to my minimum. So, I have been employing a technique that I have used in the past in order to meet my daily caloric intake without going over, in addition to meal planning: a food journal. A food journal is a daily diary of the foods you eat and their calorie content. At the end of the day, you total the amount to see if you have hit your target. Many people use this technique for weight loss. It is a great way to maintain your own accountability. In addition to counting calories, I like to use my food journal to keep track of the amount of water I drink throughout the day as well as the number of fruits and vegetables I have consumed because these are the areas that I find that I do not always get enough of throughout the day. You can include anything you want to keep track of in your journal.

Have you ever kept a food journal? Did it help you to meet your goal?

I hope you enjoy reading this week’s blog post and that both my successes and failures have guided you on your journey to getting healthy while trying to maintain a budget. As always, I love to hear from my readers so feel free to leave a comment below.

Moving Forward: A Food Challenge Update

#1: Eating Healthy For You

To be honest, I have never been a huge fan of salads. I know they are a healthy meal and an excellent way to get vegetables in my daily diet so I always buy the supplies. I appreciate people who love salads, but, I always have a hard time finishing everything before it spoils. So, in order to not waste food (and consequently waste money), I no longer insist that I eat salads. I focus on other ways to get my servings of vegetables so I buy greens that I can freeze. For example, I will choose to buy spinach instead of romaine lettuce. To be budget-friendly, before I go shopping, I compare between packaged frozen and fresh. Furthermore, I am careful to look at serving sizes on the package. In appearance, a package of fresh may look like you are getting more but you may be getting more in a smaller package of frozen. Also, the nutrients in frozen can be more because it’s packaged and frozen rightaway. If I find fresh is cheaper per serving, I will rinse it right away and put it into freezer bags. Then, I can be really creative in the way that I use my servings of greens in dishes like soup or pasta. Soup is so awesome on a cold fall day! For example, I made this Rice Lentil Veggie Soup where I included freshly frozen spinach.

IMG_1393

Veggie Lentil Rice Soup

#2: Save $ by Shopping Around Before You Step in the Store

Grocery List Creating App = Favado

This app is great for comparing weekly deals among your favorite stores.
You can see a list of all of the weekly deals by store or you can create your list by searching for each item. I found searching was the best way for me because I could find the lowest price on items that I wanted amongst all stores.

Then, once you find the deal for your item, you add each item to your list and it creates a weekly list for you, grouped by store, that you can print out and bring with you.

No need to search ads!

If you live in Northern California, the only downside is that Oliver’s Market is not included. However, I created my list and then compared it to Oliver’s ad online. This will be true for any local grocery chain in your area.

Money maker apps = Snap by Groupon, Shrink, BerryCart, Checkout51, Ibotta, Saving Star

Lots of apps but lots of savings. Each one of these apps give cash back (usually $.25 to $1.00) for making purchases on certain items. It also does not matter if an item is already on sale at the store, it still works. All you do is open the app and scan your receipt. Once you reach a certain amount like $20, they will send you the money. That’s it!

This week, I earned $7.75 in savings.

FullSizeRender

#3: Fuel Your Body, Fuel Your Car

One area that I did not realize I would be saving so much money is on gas. As a huge foodie, I would drive out of my own city limits several times a week to go to my favorite restaurants. These trips are anywhere from approximately 20 to 40 miles round trip. Driving is relaxing for me (well, except in rush hour traffic) so the time it took me to drive these places was not a problem for me so I never really considered how much gas I was using per week to go get food. But, I was noticing as I was shopping more locally once a week, that I was using up a lot less gas. So, I decided to calculate this extra expense. I have a car that gets about 20 miles to the gallon. Even if I were to buy gas at its lowest current price of $3.19, if I eat out 3 times a week, that is anywhere from $9.57-$19.14 per week or $38.28-$76.56 per month. Instead, when I plan out my grocery shopping, I would spend about $3.19 per week or $12.76 per month. A huge savings!

If you eat out every day even if you drive to where you eat within your city or town limits (let’s say 5 miles one way, 10 miles round trip), your cost on gas alone if you have a similar mpg would be $11.17 per week or $44.66 per month. This only calculates the price of gas and not the wear and tear that occurs on the car. Do you know how much money you are spending per week or per month just on gas from getting food? There are definitely hidden savings when you start eating at home.

When I realized how much I was spending on gas, it inspired me to start saving on gas. Usually, I stop by the best priced station near my home or I let my gas run down to the point that I need to refill it at the closest station. I always like to save a few cents but, overall, I thought it would be too difficult to truly find the lowest price around. Again, my philosophy is that time is money. But, it does add up eventually and since I found such success with apps, I went searching for one for gas prices. Sure enough, there are some free apps. My favorite is Gas Buddy (see above picture for icon). It is extremely easy to use. You can even get points towards free gas by logging in local gas prices. And, the prices are updated frequently. Now, that I plan ahead for my weekly food consumption, I am planning ahead for gas.

For example: You need to fill up and have $15 to spend

Station A which is on your daily route near your home is $3.59/gallon so you get 4.18 gallons
Use the app, you find Station B which is a few blocks away but not on your daily route is $2.93/gallon so you get 5.12 gallons
A savings of $.66/gallon, you would get almost 1 more gallon!

I will definitely be using this app and not letting my tank near empty so that I can make wiser, more cost effective choices for gas.

IMG_1396

Source: PublicDomainPictures Pixabay.com

#4: Beware Extra Trips

I am really great at finding deals and getting lots of healthy foods for less but I am not the best at keeping track everyday on how much that gets spent on the extra trips. As I have said before, I am a work in progress. And, this week was particularly difficult. Whenever I found some great recipes that I wanted to try or I wanted a treat for when I was feeling down, I went to the store a couple of extra times. I even went out to eat an extra time. When life is overwhelming, I think a lot of us turn to food. And then, not only do our waistlines grow but also our wallets shrink. We ended up spending $111.17 in these extra trips out and to the grocery store. Eek!!!

This week, we spent a total of $271.05 which is $169.04 over my goal of $102.01 per week. Now, I have $40 total for the next two weeks to work with. It will be an exercise in extreme frugality. No eating out. This is a learning process.

Although I am a bit less optimistic than I was going into week 2, I still think I can pull off my challenge without starving in Week 3 and 4. It just gives me an opportunity to be extra creative. Through my successes and failures, I definitely believe I have the tools to improve next month and to keep this going long term. There is no reason not to eat healthy on a budget.

How do you stay healthy while on a budget? I love to get your advice and I will continue to share my tips and tricks. Thank you for taking this journey with me.

 

Disclaimer: I am not paid by anyone to make reviews or recommendations. I simply want to share what products and apps I find useful.