Welcome back! Yesterday I wrote about my new food journey into a lifestyle of mostly raw, mostly vegan foods. While I am feeling great, I have noticed two things about this lifestyle that are potential problems. First, it can be expensive. As Dr. Fuhrman would explain in Eat to Live, this is largely due to the fact that every type of agriculture is given a government subsidy, except for fresh produce for human consumption. Second, this way of eating can be time consuming. Fresh, whole foods take more work than processed, packaged foods. However, the good news is that I have found a few ways to reduce both the money and time involved in following a vegetarian or vegan way of eating.
Going Veg Without Going Broke
Fruits and veggies cost more than meat and milk. Sad, but true. The good news is you can get the most for your money and still eat an optimal diet. Here are a few tricks I’ve discovered:
- Don’t go overboard. Only buy as much as you can eat before it goes bad. When 80% of your diet comes from fresh produce, you’ll definitely be going through a lot, but it is still possible to buy more than you can use before it spoils. Throwing food away is as bad as just tossing your money in the bin.
- Buy what’s on sale. You may like apples better than pears, or romaine better than red leaf, but you’re going to have to get over that. Buying what is on sale at your grocers can save lots of money in the long run, plus it forces you to put variety into your diet, and that’s always a good thing.
- Learn to love the freezer aisle. If you’re going to cook your veggies, you might as well buy frozen. The same goes for fruit you are going to cook or use in a smoothie. In fact, frozen fruits and veggies tend to have higher nutritional content because they have not been exposed to nearly as much air and light after harvesting. And often, frozen fruits and vegetables are cheaper than fresh. A bonus – these gems are already washed and cut, so they save some time on the cooking end of the deal.
- Make it yourself.You want hummus to dip your veggies in? Make it, (and the tahini that is part of it) in your blender or food processor. Make your own nut butters, non-dairy yogurt, dehydrated fruit and veggies, and whole grain breads. This gives you complete control over what goes into your foods and will save you lots of money.
- Accept no imitations. Don’t be lured in by the promises of vegetarian or vegan substitutes. At my grocery store, in this tiny town, I was able to find chorizo, chicken strips, turkey, cheese, ground beef, hot dogs, and ice cream that were made with a variety of vegetable proteins. While they are intriguing, and while it is astounding what science can do with a soybean, in general I recommend steering clear of these impostors. For one thing, they are usually quite pricey. For another, they rarely live up to their label. You’re better off learning to love real, whole vegetarian and vegan foods than trying to imitate the meat and dairy of your past. Finally, these fakes are often full of processed fillers, sugars, and sodium. Remember that just because it says vegetarian or vegan on the package doesn’t mean it is healthy.
- Skip the convenience items. Sure, it’s easier to buy prewashed, pre-peeled, and pre-cut salads and veggies. But it’s also much more expensive. Now, of course, your store might have an amazing sale on salad mix that makes it worth it, but in general, you will save a considerable amount of money by buying things whole and prepping them at home. But what about the time, you ask? Well, the next section will address that!
Going Veg Without Going Crazy
Eating all fresh foods could keep you in the kitchen longer than before you went veg. You might find a simple salad taking 30 minutes to prepare. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some simple ways to cut down on the time it takes to eat well.
- Make a menu. Know what you’re going to eat, and when you’re going to eat it. That will help with your grocery shopping and your preparation. I think most of us can agree that a ton of time is wasted with the question “what’s for dinner tonight?”
- Prep all at once. It has truly made my life so much easier to prep as much of my produce as possible as soon as I get it home from the store (or relatively soon after). I wash and cut up all the veggies, divide my frozen fruit into single smoothie batch containers, and make sure my fresh fruits are ready to use. This way, when I want to make a big salad for lunch or dinner, I just pull out the containers of chopped veggies and throw it all together, rather than cutting it up as needed. Seriously, just pull up an episode of your favorite TV show, grab a cutting board, knife and several storage containers, and get to choppin’. You’ll have it all done by the time the credits roll.
- Cook big, and love the leftovers.If you’re going to cook something healthy and amazing, cook enough of it to have lots of leftovers. Make your freezer your best friend. I love making a big pot of vegetable soup or vegetarian curry and freezing it in dinner-for-two size portions. It doesn’t take me longer to cook 12 servings than 2, and it saves me lots of time down the road.
- Surf a ‘wave. A microwave to be specific. Despite some opinion that microwaves are unhealthy, the truth is that science has never been able to show any negative impact of microwaving food. In fact, because food cooks more quickly in a microwave, foods retain more vitamins and minerals. If you’re going to steam some veggies, do it in the microwave, and not on the stove.
- Have a cooking day (or afternoon, or morning). Make several kinds of soup, curry, or roasted vegetables at once, then pack them up for later. You may spend four or five hours in the kitchen, but then you’ll have little to do for a couple weeks.
- Love your food processor (or blender). I can’t tell you exactly how much time my food processor (an amazing Cuisinart Prep-Plus 11 Cup) has saved me by making smoothies, chopping and slicing vegetables and pureeing fruit. It truly is amazing. I’ve only had mine about a month, and I use it nearly every day. If you don’t have a good blender or food processor, do some research and invest in a quality one. Save those Bed Bath & Beyond coupons, shop online deals, but do it. It will make such a difference. On that note, please don’t believe the hype from some veggies out there that you must have a Vitamix blender to be a happy vegetarian or vegan. Yes, the Vitamix line is very, very powerful, and quite amazing (you can cook things in it!) But for less than half the cost of one I bought a very well reviewed (by professionals and home users) food processor that does just everything I need, and does it well.
- Be a clean machine. This may be second nature for you, or, if you’re like me, it may be a habit in need of developing. The truth is, thought, that if you clean things up as you use them in the kitchen, or put those dishes in the dishwasher right after a meal, you’re going to save time and hassle (scraping, scrubbing, soaking) later on, plus it is psychologically energizing. Also, I have found that with all the little veggie, fruit and leafy pieces on my food processor, dishes, pots, and pans, if I quickly wash or rinse them out as soon as I’m done using them, the clean up takes almost no time. After a smoothie, I just rinse and wipe each part of my food processor, and in about 30 seconds it’s clean and ready to go again. If I were to let it sit, then I’d have to soak and scrub all the bitlets off before I could use it again. So get in the kitchen and start developing good cleaning habits!
Going Veg without Going Hungry
One thing I have to say is that when I eat according to the principles in Eat to Live, I am very rarely hungry. In fact, I’m often stuffed after a meal. That’s because veggies and fruits have so much more bulk than meat, dairy, or grains. However, if I have not planned well or followed the recommendations, I find myself getting nibblish and searching out less healthy snacks. So here are some ideas on how to stay satisfied while eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, without resorting to unhealthy options.
- Become a smoothie king(or queen). I could never eat four or five servings of fruit a day, or eat multiple cups of greens without smoothies. They are great for getting green stuff (kale, spinach, etc) into people who wouldn’t normally eat them, because the fruit covers any “green” flavors. Smoothies are also quick to prepare, so they save me time in the morning (as long as I’ve done my prep work ahead of time, as above).
- Go skinny dipping. Metaphorically, that is. If you’re going to be eating tons of fresh veggies each day, you’ll need something to enhance them, just a bit. I recommend making your own tahini and hummus, experimenting with vinegar- or tofu-based dressings, or thinning some nut butters with water and adding a few herbs or spices. Just avoid things with oil or mayonnaise, as those add a lot of fat that you won’t need.
- Milk it for all it’s worth. There are so many non-dairy milks out there – soy, oat, rice, almond, coconut, hemp – you’ll probably find at least one that you like. You may not drink it by the cup like you did cow’s milk, but in recipes, smoothies, coffee, it works just as well, and often has a better nutritional profile. It will add texture, a little flavor,and lots of calcium and protein to your foods. You’ll have to experiment a bit to find your favorite, as they all have different tastes and textures. My current favorite is a blend of almond and coconut milk from my grocery store. Because it’s a blend, it doesn’t have an overpowering nut flavor, and because it’s made from two of the thicker milks, it has a nice feel to it. I recommend buying the unsweetened, unflavored milks, because they are better for you and more versatile.
- Be prepared. Preparation is a healthy diet’s best ally. When you have healthy food planned and prepped around the house, you are less likely to go for nutritionally void snacks or fast food. When you pack healthy snacks to take on a trip (happy homemade fruit leathers, nut mix and veggie chips!) you are less likely to be lusting after that snickers bar or the mini pizzas in the airport. When you research a restaurant menu ahead of time and have your healthy options planned out, you are less likely to be swayed by the cheesy, creamy or fried dinner special. Planning saves you time, money, frustration, and failure.
- Spice up your life. If you want to make your vegetarian or vegan meals appealing, you’ll need to learn a new way of flavoring. Instead of using salts, fats, sugars and meats to make food flavorful, you’ll use herbs, both dried and fresh, and spices. Seasoning is almost an art, that takes lots of practice to get the hang of. I recommend reading through cookbooks and cooking magazines (even non-veg ones) to see what types of flavors the pros use together. Another great way to get to know your spices is to go on a little field trip. If you are lucky enough to live near a Penzey’s Spices store, you can go in and sniff all their spices and dried herbs, and learn the characteristics of them all. Warning: you will be tempted to leave with several bags of lovely spices…be prepared!
- Soup up your dinner. Soups are a fabulous way to get lots of vegetables into you. The flavors blend, the warmth is comforting, things aren’t as crunchy, and all the nutrients are retained, because you’re eating the cooking liquid, which sucks out some of the vitamins and minerals from the vegetables. Try a variety of vegetarian or vegan soups, and find a few favorites to put into rotation. Be watching in the next few days for my new favorite vegetable and bean soup.
Well, I hope that I have encouraged you to try something different in your diet. As with any new habit, remind yourself that if you can stick with it for 3 or 4 weeks, you can stick with it for good. Don’t give up on your health, friends!
Happy (and Healthy) Cooking!