Vacation Meal Planning

 

Vermont in the summertime is glorious. The way that the evening summer light reflects off the mountains is downright magical. I certainly didn’t appreciate it when I was growing up there, but now that my husband and I have lived in the Boston area for almost 10 years, our trips to VT in the summer always feel too short. We were desperate for a vacation this year, but 3 years of my super-part-time income and student loans didn’t exactly set us up for a life of luxury. We decided that a week in VT fit the bill for a peaceful, relaxing, inexpensive getaway. And you know what? It was one of the best vacations that we’ve ever had.

As a couple of foodie, health-conscious vegetarians, meal planning is a consideration from the start of the vacation-planning process. Here are our priorities:

  1. Budget: This is the least negotiable, so it’s the most significant in driving our decisions.
  2. Health: A week of overconsumption is unlikely to cause irreversible damage, but vacation is a good opportunity to practice a moderation mindset instead of treating it as a free-for-all. This makes it easier to have a balanced approach to food when returning to regular life. Not only that, but my body usually doesn’t feel great if I overdo it on foods that aren’t part of my usual diet.
  3.  Enjoyment: Good food is one of the things that we both love about vacation. This can mean seeking out an exceptional restaurant, buying local produce, or tracking down speciality treats.

It’s tough to find vegetarian options at restaurants that make it worth the money. As a result, we usually try to find lodging that allows us to prepare at least some of our own meals. This can shift depending on where we go, but we research our options in advance so that we know how we want to prioritize our money and calories to make the best use of what the location has to offer.

The Setup

We were fortunate to have free lodging with a view of Lake Champlain, thanks to my in-laws. As far as RVs go, this one was pretty nice. We had a full stove, refrigerator,  microwave, charcoal grill, and most importantly, a coffee maker. The kitchen was stocked with all of the pots, pans, and utensils that we could need. My mother-in-law even got us set up with some staples, like eggs, bread, and milk. The plan was to stay there for 4 nights before moving on to another part of the state for the rest of the week.

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The Plan

The original plan was to have eat out for 2 dinners, and to make the rest of our meals at the RV. We had approximately 8,000 tomatoes to use up, as well as Swiss chard, zucchini, and cucumbers from the CSA, so we brought them with us in a cooler (everyone brings produce on vacation, right?). We made a loose meal plan, and then made a grocery run before heading to the islands. We stopped at farm stands along the way for produce that I knew would be in season.

Meal Ideas

Caprese salad

Omelets

Veggie burgers with beans and veggies

Tofu and veggie kebabs with quinoa

PB&J sandwiches

Snacks and Treats

Local blueberries

Bananas

Apples

Oranges

Cucumbers, carrots, and hummus

Chips and salsa

Popcorn

Brie and crackers

S’mores

Wine from a local winery

We revised the plan as we went along, adding or subtracting meals out, and enjoying local treats as we discovered them, like the maple creamees at Allenholm Farm, and the chocolate chip cookies at the organic market in the middle of our 70-mile bike ride. Yum! Here are some of the meals that we ended up with:

Was this a “perfect” nutrition plan? No, of course not, but it was better than what it could have been. We enjoyed plenty of treats that we don’t typically have at home, but by having a plan and cooking for ourselves, we weren’t subject to the excessive amounts of fat and sodium found in many restaurant meals, and we were more likely to consume reasonable portions. We were also able to make sure that we got at least some protein at every meal, along with plenty of fruits and vegetables. I recognize that not everyone is into cooking while on vacation, but planning can be as simple as keeping some fruit and yogurt in the refrigerator to ensure a strong start to the day, or researching restaurants in advance to make sure that healthy options are available.

And lastly, you should take a vacation in Vermont. It’s beautiful.

 

Chipotle tempeh tacos with kohlrabi slaw

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Our CSA pickup is one of my favorite things about summer. Due to some scheduling issues with the pickup time, we made a switch this year to First Root Farm, and we’ve been really happy with the quality and variety so far. After years of participating in a CSA, I’ve discovered that our vegetable intake is much higher when we have it than when we don’t, and it also pushes me to be more creative with meal planning.

With this recipe, I was able to use kohlrabi, beets, carrots, and cilantro from the CSA share, and a chili pepper from my garden. The fresh, cool slaw nicely offsets the savory, spicy tempeh, and let me tell you, this tempeh is SPICY. If your tolerance for spice is in the non-masochistic category, you can dial back on the heat by removing the seeds from the chili pepper in the slaw, and by using chipotle powder in place of canned chipotle chilis.

Chipotle tempeh tacos with kohlrabi slaw

Makes 4-6 tacos

The slaw

2 small kohlrabi bulbs, peeled

1 medium beet, peeled

2 carrots, peeled

Juice from 1/2 lime

1 serrano chili pepper, finely diced

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Salt, to taste

The tempeh

2 shallots, finely chopped

2 tsp vegetable oil

14.5 oz can tomato sauce (plain)

2-3 chipotle chili peppers in Adobo sauce

2 tbsp white vinegar

Juice of 1/2 lime

1 tsp garlic powder

2 tbsp maple syrup (or honey), add more to taste

1 package tempeh

Other

Whole wheat tortillas (taco or fajita-sized)

Fresh avocado or guacamole

1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1 scallion, sliced

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Prepare the slaw by shredding the kohlrabi, beet, and carrots. If you have a food processor with a shredding disc, this goes very quickly. If you only have a box grater, you may want to delegate to a friend or family member while you get started on the tempeh. Once everything is shredded, place into a large bowl, add the chili, lime juice, cilantro, and salt. Toss to combine, and set aside.

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Look how gorgeous it is!

Heat the vegetable oil over medium heat, add the shallots, and saute until they begin to brown. Stir in the tomato sauce, chipotles, vinegar, lime juice, garlic powder, and maple syrup. Taste, and add an additional 1-2 tbsp maple syrup if needed. Cook for 2 minutes to combine flavors. Chop the tempeh into cubes, and add to the sauce. Bring to a boil very briefly, then lower the heat to medium-low, and cook until sauce has thickened (about 10 minutes).

Assemble by filling the tortillas with tempeh, slaw, fresh avocado or guacamole, and garnish with some sliced scallion and cilantro leaves. If you try this recipe, feel free to leave me a comment with feedback!

*Note: Your tempeh should look a bit saucier than what is pictured below. I made some tweaks to the recipe, but didn’t get a good picture.

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Edamame-avocado toast with blistered garlicky tomatoes and spicy sauteed greens

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One of the reasons that I was initially drawn to a career in nutrition is because I enjoyed creating meals that were delicious while still being relatively healthy, and I wanted to inspire others to do the same. Ironically, this was one of the first things to go when life got crazy with nutrition school and my job as a personal trainer. Now that I have finished my dietetic internship and found myself unexpectedly unemployed, I am finding my cooking spark again.

Last week, I made avocado toast with an egg on top, and while it was delicious, the richness of it screamed out for some acidity and freshness. This time around, I blended the avocado with edamame for a protein boost, and topped it with sautéed greens and tomatoes for fiber, micronutrient variety, and flavor. A blood orange on the side added sweetness to my meal, and a sunny side up egg was perfect to round out each bite, and to increase the protein content of the meal. I prioritize protein at every meal because:

  1. As a vegetarian, it is too easy to be protein-deficient and carb-excessive. Vegetarian protein sources typically aren’t as simple to make or as protein-dense as meat sources. Adequate protein intake for many vegetarians requires some intention.
  2. Satiety: A meal that is lacking in protein will set me up to feel hungry all day long. Protein is essential to not overdoing it on other foods.
  3. I want a bigger deadlift.

Edamame-avocado toast with blistered garlicky tomatoes and spicy sautéed greens:

Makes 3-4 servings

Ingredients:

1 avocado

1 cup frozen shelled edamame

1/4 cup cilantro

Juice of 1 lemon

 

Salt & Pepper (to taste)

1 pint tiny tomatoes (grape, cherry, etc.)

3 cloves garlic

1 tbsp olive oil

5 cups greens of your choice (I used baby spinach and arugula)

Water (as needed)

Red pepper flakes (to taste)

6-8 slices of your favorite bread (I used When Pigs Fly sliced sourdough)

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Instructions:

Cook edamame according to package instructions. Transfer into a food processor, add lemon juice and cilantro, and pulse until desired texture is achieved. Transfer to a medium bowl. Slice the avocado in half, remove the pit, and scoop the flesh into the bowl. Use a potato masher or fork to blend together the avocado and edamame mixture *(see note). Add salt and pepper to taste and set aside. You should have 1.5-2 cups of mixture.

Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet on medium-high heat. Slice tomatoes into halves, and thinly slice the garlic cloves. Add tomatoes and garlic to the skillet and cook until tomatoes start to brown, tossing frequently. This should only take a couple of minutes. Remove tomatoes and garlic to a plate.

Prepare your greens as needed. I use pre-washed baby greens to reduce prep time. Add the greens to the skillet, add a bit of water to help them cook down, and cook over medium heat. Add red pepper flakes as desired, toss greens, and remove from heat when the greens are wilted. The amount of water needed and total cook time will depend on the greens that you use, so keep an eye on it.IMG_0424

*Note: Alternately, you can reduce the number of steps by adding the avocado to the food processor with the edamame. I like a bit of texture, so I prefer to hand-mash when possible.

Assembly:

  1. Toast your slices of bread. Spread about 1/4 cup edamame-avocado mixture on each slice.

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2. Arrange the greens on top of the edamame-avocado mixture.

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3. Top with tomatoes and garlic.

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4. Add a cooked egg or other protein source, and a side of fruit for a complete meal.

5. Enjoy!