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!

Quinoa and Black Bean Salad

Sometimes I eat chocolate chips for lunch.

Sometimes after a period of eating random bits and pieces of food-that-isn’t-really-food for lunch, my personal trainer/aspiring dietitian self decides that I should act like a grownup and actually plan, prep, and cook food to have on hand all week for lunches. Planning is key for me to stay on track.

Some of my challenges:

1. It needs to be portable and not require heating in the event that I am spending the day studying somewhere, or going between the gym and home throughout the day.

2. It needs to be delicious. I get bored easily.

3. It needs to have a substantial amount of nutrients (protein, healthy carbs, healthy fat, vitamins). A basic salad is going to leave me hungry and make it harder to resist treats. Like chocolate chips.

4. The prepping and cooking needs to be simple enough that I will actually do it.

Solution: Quinoa and black bean salad, baby spinach, hard-boiled eggs, and avocado.

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Here is the salad recipe from Moosewood Low-Fat Favorites. I am posting it in its original form, but I also added zucchini to mine because I had some left in the fridge. This is a good way to use up veggies that you have on hand.

Quinoa and Black Bean Salad

1/3 cup quinoa

1 cup water

1 tsp olive oil

4 tsp fresh lime juice

1/4 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp ground coriander

1 tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro

2 tbsp minced scallions

1 15-oz can black beans (or 1.5 cups cooked)

1 large can of diced tomatoes (or 2 cups fresh)

1 cup diced bell peppers (I used a mixture of red and green)

2 tsp minced green chiles

salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the quinoa in a sieve. Using a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil, add quinoa, cover, and simmer for 10-15 minutes. All of the water should be absorbed. Allow to cool.

Combine the oil, lime juice, cumin, coriander, cilantro, and scallions in a small bowl. This is important so that the spices are distributed evenly. Add the beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, chiles, cooled quinoa, and salt and pepper.

I had this salad on its own, in the larger salad that you see above, and as part of a breakfast burrito. While I like the recipe overall, I think that it could use a little boost. I would recommend increasing the spice amounts if you are someone who likes a lot of flavor.

Enjoy!

Moroccan Spiced Vegetables and Lemon Tofu

Things are busy around here. Hubs has been job hunting for the past couple of months, which has involved lots of meet-ups and networking events.  I’ve had regular evening clients at the gym, along with work to do for my dietetics program. To ensure that we have reasonably nutritious dinners, it has become even more important to plan our meals, stock up on groceries, and make dinners that will last more than one night. Combinations of protein, vegetables, and whole grains tend to fit the bill, providing a variety of nutrients, and acting as a palette for herbs and spices. I’m going to explain the thought process in case anyone out there is trying to figure out how to develop a recipe.

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When planning a meal, I usually start with a general idea, and then decide on the specifics as I go along. In this case, I decided on tofu, wild rice, and roasted vegetables. I then decided on cauliflower and carrots, based on textures, flavors, and nutrients. Carrots and cumin are often paired together, which evolved into the decision to use Moroccan spices with the vegetables. I turned to Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty for ideas, and I ended up adapting the flavors used in his “Spicy Moroccan Carrot Salad.” I was dry-frying the tofu while the vegetables were roasting, and I decided that some acidity was needed to balance out the sweet, spicy flavors of the vegetables, so I went with fresh lemon juice on the tofu. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if it was going to work, but it totally did. Sure, I could have done more with the tofu, but I was trying to keep it simple for a weeknight. I tried to find a decent photo of the meal, but I couldn’t. I’m a terrible photographer. You will just have to take my word for it that it is delicious.

Moroccan Spiced Vegetables and Lemon Tofu

14 oz. firm or extra-firm tofu (I use Nasoya Lite Firm Tofu)

1 lemon

1 head of cauliflower

3 large carrots

1 onion

3 garlic cloves

Red bell pepper

2 tbsp olive oil

Pinch of ground cloves

1/8 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/4 cup cilantro leaves

Preheat oven to 375°F. Prepare wild rice, or grain of your choice, according to the package directions. While the rice is cooking, drain the water from the tofu, wrap the tofu in a clean kitchen towel or paper towels, and place a bowl or other weight on top to gently squeeze out excess water. While the tofu is pressing, begin preparing the vegetables. Combine the dried spices in a small bowl. Chop the vegetables (excluding cilantro) into bite-sized pieces and place into a shallow baking pan. Drizzle the olive oil over the vegetables, mix to combine, add the spices, and mix again. Cook for approximately 30 minutes, stirring the vegetables halfway through. 10 minutes before the vegetables are done, heat a nonstick frying pan over medium heat. It is VERY important to use a nonstick pan for this cooking method since you are not using any oil. Remove the towels from the tofu,  slice the tofu into small triangles or rectangles, and place into the frying pan in a single layer. Cook on one side for about 5 minutes, gently pressing down on each piece with a spatula. Once the tofu is golden brown on the bottom, flip over, and cook on the other side for another 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Lower the heat to “low,” and squeeze lemon juice over the tofu, stirring to coat. Serve with wild rice and vegetables, and garnish vegetables with fresh cilantro.

Hearty Salad: 3 Ways

Oh hi. How’s it going?

Here’s a little update on me, for those who don’t already know. The last day of July was also the last day of my former career. You know, the one that I’ve been trying to change for the past 9 years. Since then, I finished my summer anatomy and physiology class (a year’s worth in 12 weeks), finished an online statistics course, pushed through some serious anxiety to attempt some networking, got my NASM personal training certification, started a food science class, started new workouts, achieved my goal of 205lb deadlifts, and got the personal training process started. It has been a complete lifestyle overhaul, which has simultaneously been both terrifying and wonderful. One of the perks is that I’m often home to experiment with lunch ideas.

I’ve never understood the people who say, “Oh, I’ll just have a salad for lunch,” meaning one of those lettuce-tomato-cucumber-and-nothing-else salads. How do they not spend all afternoon with their stomachs growling? To me it’s like eating air. So anyway, when I think about lunch, my mind immediately goes to some kind of sandwich or wrap. I have no problem consuming enough carbs from other sources, so I try to avoid bread when I feel like it’s not worth it. My lunch solution lately has been to convert my sandwich idea to a salad. A delicious, hearty, satisfying salad, with protein and healthy fat! Ooh, exciting!

Salad #1: Morningstar black bean veggie burger, salsa, 1/4 avocado, fried egg, and salad greens.

Black bean veggie burger, egg, avocado, salsa, and greens.

Black bean veggie burger, egg, avocado, salsa, and greens.

Salad #2: Buffalo Chik’n Salad. I cooked a Quorn Naked Cutlet in Frank’s RedHot Original sauce, then sliced it and added it to a bed of baby spinach with crumbled feta cheese and avocado. I will use blue cheese next time. It also would be good over massaged kale instead of spinach.

Quorn cutlet, Frank's RedHot, avocado, feta, and baby spinach.

Quorn cutlet, Frank’s RedHot, avocado, feta, and baby spinach.

Salad #3: Fall Celebration Salad! We picked 32 pounds of apples. We obviously had to have brie on hand to go with our apples and freshly made apple butter. This combination obviously needed to go into a salad. So, I sauteed a serving of Gardein mandarin orange crispy chik’n (but without the orange sauce), and then added about 1 tbsp of apple butter to it. This went over a bed of baby arugula, chopped apple, brie, and hazelnuts. Not the healthiest choice, but sooooo good!

Apple butter chik'n, brie, apple, hazelnuts, and baby arugula.

Apple butter chik’n, brie, apple, hazelnuts, and baby arugula.

So, the lesson learned today is that salads do not have to be boring and unsatisfying.

Enjoy!

You guys, I’m just yolking.

Hahaha. The title of this post makes me laugh. So dorky, I know, but I just finished my microbiology final exam, and I am in rare form. Microbiology is a really interesting subject, but my professor made it a terrible class. I’m pretty excited that it’s over. I decided to celebrate with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and a dinner of healthy leftovers. My dinner was so delicious that I decided to share the recipe with you. Full disclaimer: My husband actually made it, but I modified it, so it still counts. Really.

Garlicky Black-Eyed Peas & Greens with Eggs, Feta, and Sriracha

Adapted from Moosewood Low-Fat Favorites

Adapted from Moosewood Low-Fat Favorites

Garlicky Black-Eyed Peas and Greens: Moosewood Low-Fat Favorites

2 cups dried black eyed peas
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 bunch (or 3/4 lb) of collard greens or greens of your choice (kale, Swiss chard, mustard greens, etc.)
1 T olive oil
2 to 4 T minced garlic (I used 3-4)
1 t dried thyme
salt and ground black pepper to taste

Optional

cooked rice
chopped scallions or red onions
lemon wedges or hot pepper vinegar

Rinse the black-eyed peas. Place them in a soup pot with garlic cloves and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and cook for 45 minutes, until tender, adding water occasionally as needed. When the peas are tender, if most of the water has not been absorbed, lightly drain them. Cover and set aside.

Rinse the greens and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the oil and saute the minced garlic and thyme for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the damp green and continue to stir until they are wilted but still bright green. Stir the greens into the beans and mix. Add salt and pepper to taste.

The instructions above are basically copied from the original recipe. I decided that it was a little boring, which is where the yolk part of this post comes in. I eat a lot of eggs. Until a couple of years ago, I was anti-yolk. It grossed me out. Well, now I can’t seem to get enough. There are so many dishes that are 1000x better with eggs on top! Like the sweet potato and kale hash that we made a couple of weeks ago, but I didn’t take a picture, so I can’t remember exactly what was in it (but it was good). I also try to not eat a ton of rice unless the deliciousness of a dish is dependent on rice. So anyway, I decided to top my peas and greens with a couple of eggs-over-medium for some richness, a sprinkle of crumbled feta cheese for some saltiness, and a drizzle of Sriracha for heat and acidity. The final result was healthy and delicious. Healthylicious.

Try it!