FAQ’s from a reluctant vegan

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Hi, My name is Meghan Murray and I am a reluctant vegan. Why reluctant? Because I really like dairy products and meat. So then, (FAQ #1) Why are you vegan?! I am vegan because I don’t feel that I can buy the meat and animal products sold in our stores with a clear moral conscience. I refuse to let my taste buds be more important than exercising responsible dominion of the earth. You can do your own research on this, I’m not trying to convert anyone, these are just my own personal convictions.

FAQ #2 But where do you get your protein?! Do you even know how much protein that you are supposed to consume in a day? Chances are you don’t, so please don’t worry about my protein intake. It is very, very easy to consume enough protein without taking in animal products.

FAQ #3 What about your husband? What is he going to eat? Matt is more of a vegan than I will ever be. He is more on board with this than I am. You know those amazing non-vegan chocolate cakes at Amelie’s? I will NEVER turn one down. The point of this is to make decisions that I can live with, and I can live with occasionally eating non-vegan foods. For me, personally, it will be pretty rare.

FAQ #4 Is veganism okay for kids? I mean, kids NEED milk, right? Oh my gosh, y’all. Don’t you know me? I would never do anything bad for my kids. In my opinion, a vegan diet makes a healthy child. There are clear scientific links to animal protein causing cancer as well as cardiovascular disease. Especially here in America it is abundantly clear that we consume too much animal protein; the decision about how much you and your family eat is up to you.

FAQ #5 How do you feel? Most questions about veganism are getting a little old. This one is really nice to answer. I feel great! I feel a lot less tired, less dependent on caffeine (all though I still drink a cup of coffee a day), I am losing weight and inches more quickly than I was before counting calories, and my mood is much more neutral. I also feel light directly after I eat a meal. You know that heavy, tired, kind of satisfied feeling you get after eating meat? I thought that’s what “full” felt like, now I realize that it’s not. After I eat I feel like I have more energy. I used to rely on afternoon coffee for that. 🙂

FAQ #6 What do you eat? Well, I love experimenting in the kitchen so right now we eat a bit of everything. It is really easy to eat food that is just as delicious, if not better, than the food you are currently eating. In fact, my friend Sara and I are planning on an “intro to vegan cooking” get together sometime in June for anyone who is interested in seeing how easy and delicious veganism can be.

I hope that’s answered a few of your questions! I might get annoyed by passing (stupid) questions, but there is no such thing as a stupid question from someone who is generally interested – either in my life or in vegan living in general.

xo
Meghan

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Delicious whole wheat banana-apple muffins

My kids can eat muffins for days. They would prefer a muffin for every meal. Last night we all went to dinner at Bean Vegan Cuisine over on the East side of Charlotte. The owner is super sweet and ended up slipping my kids a vegan banana apple muffin with their dinners – which they ate to the exclusion of all else. 🙂 Of course, after having a nibble of theirs I immediately started thinking of how to make them, so today I decided to experiment. This ended up being a pretty thrown together recipe but it turned out so well that I want to write it down for future use!

6 very ripe bananas
2 small peeled and chopped apples
1 cup honey*
3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cup applesauce
10 pitted dates (I pulsed mine in the food processor for a minute before adding them)
3 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoon baking soda

Mix all of the ingredients together and then in pre-lined muffin tin bake at 350 for about 15 minutes. Yields about 30!
*If you don’t personally use honey you can sub out for sugar or agave.

vegan banana apple muffin

These muffins are super delicious! Moist, fluffy and dense. Bonus! They are healthy enough for breakfast or sneaky healthy dessert. Enjoy!

Slap your mama vegan chocolate chip cookies

vegan cookies 1

I know, I know, it’s vegan so it’s got to be gross, right? WRONG! These chocolate chip cookies are probably better than the regular cookies you make at home now. Yeah, I’m talking cookie smack. Trust me, I’m Meghan Murray and I know a thing or two about baking. You will love these. If you don’t love them, I will pay for your psychological examination because I’m worried about you.
Okay, smack talk out of the way, I am going to admit something a little embarrassing to you. I have crazy pride about my chocolate chip cookies. I love that everyone loves them, I love baking them for people, I love watching them realize that I have the best cookie recipe of all time. I love that my pastor has mentioned my chocolate chip cookies from the pulpit two different times. I just love it. Totally egotistical… I care not.
So, when I decided to try vegan… and then realized how much I love veganism and will probably stay this way there was this one niggling doubt tugging on the back corners of my mind. “What about my cookies?” So embarrassing, but totally true. I just love serving those things to people. With that in mind, I decided to suck it up today and try to make a veganized version of my beloved and famous old recipe.
They came out FANTASTIC! Try these at home, or call me and come over so that I can bake them for you.

1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 earth balance
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vanilla soy milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 3 oz box of instant vanilla pudding
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 bag vegan chocolate chips

Mix together wet ingredients, then stir in dry. Mine looked like they needed an extra splash of soy milk so I added that in. Add chocolate chips, stir again. Bake at 350 for 12 minutes.

TRY THESE!

The Cost of Going Vegan

I recently posted my normal grocery list but this week I am going to attempt to go vegan so my list was somewhat different. One of the most common questions I get is about how much money we spend on groceries and what our shopping trip looks like; So in light of all that I am posting what I bought at the store today and what the total cost was. I will also be going to the farmers market tomorrow and getting some fresh strawberries hopefully!

vegan 2

vegan 3

vegan 4

Soy milk
Coconut Milk
Extra firm tofu (2)
Vegetable stock
Multi-grain tortillas (2)
Brown rice (2)
12 grain bread by Nature’s Own
Coconut milk yogurt (2)
Salsa
Cashews (2)
Almonds (2)
Avocados (4)
Cucumbers (2 large)
Zucchini (4)
Squash (2)
broccoli stalks (6)
Carrots
Tomatoes (10)
Cauliflower
Brussel Sprouts
Bananas (4 bags or about 40) (more on this later)
Garlic Hummus
Fresh bay leaves
Garlic
shredded coconut
Black Beans (3)
Coffee
Navel Oranges (16)
Mango (2)
Sweet Peppers (4)
Cantaloupe
Apple Sauce
Earth Balance Vegan Butter (more on that later)
Asparagus

If you were to go to Harris Teeter this week and buy everything on the same specials that I did this grocery list would cost you $140.
A couple of side notes:
Bananas. No, we won’t eat 40 in the next 2 weeks (All though I wouldn’t put it past my kids.) Whenever Harris Teeter has a surplus of bananas they put 10 or so in a bag and sell that bag for 99 cents. I’m all up on it. Most of the bananas don’t have any brown spots yet, so I leave those out for everyday consumption. The ones that are a little brown I throw into the freezes for baking or making banana ice cream.
Earth Balance. I wanted to buy a butter substitute for the week. If we like this and find it a good match for our family my genius friend Sara (check out her amazing and hilarious blog ) will teach me how to make a more natural version to keep at home.

A couple of vegan recipes that I am going to try to make this week:
Stuffed Shells from Oh She Glows
Ancho Lentil Tacos from Post Punk Kitchen
Vegan make ahead Steel Cut Oats from Oh She Glows
Black Bean and Quinoa Soup from Post Punk Kitchen

But, what do we feed the kids?!

Brussel-Sprouts-Girl

Part of the problem that I had when we switched to whole foods was trying to figure out what to feed the kids. I had previously relied pretty heavily on mac n’ cheese and deli meats, so it took me a while to figure it out. My kids are still pickier than I am and a spinach salad with goat cheese and strawberries just isn’t appetizing to them. I want to make eating fun, delicious and healthy. Those are my hopes. When eating becomes a chore or something that we force our children to do, that is no longer healthy – even if they are eating raw kale. You get what I’m saying? We’re trying to set them up for a healthy life, not healthy for the few years that we control what goes into them.
So, with that in mind, here are a few ideas of healthy foods that my kids like. Hopefully your kids will like some of them as well!

Breakfast:
Smoothies I throw apples, spinach, strawberries, blueberries, banana… whatever we have in the blender and the kids are so happy.
Peanut Butter Toast We use a 12 grain bread and a minimally processed PB (the only ingredients should be peanuts and salt) This isn’t healthy if you use white bread and PB with High Fructose Corn Syrup.
Homemade whole wheat waffles or pancakes Make a bunch and freeze the extra. I serve mine without syrup except on special occasions (any day can be a special occasion. Just play it up and let your kids know that this is a special breakfast. They love it!)
Gluten-free banana muffins These things are so delicious and fun to make. The kids would love helping you make them! Again, make a lot, freeze the extra.
Oatmeal My kids love love love oatmeal. I make either old fashioned oats the morning of in the microwave, or I make a big thing of steel cut oats and warm up a portion every morning that week for breakfast.
All of these breakfasts I serve with fresh cut-up fruit.

Lunch
Peanut Butter and Jelly Again, this is only healthy if you make it healthy. Minimally processed PB, minimally processed jelly (and not a lot of it. It’s packed with sugar), and healthy whole grain bread.
Peanut butter and banana sandwich Same as above, just use banana instead of jelly. This is healthier.
Cheese and spinach quesadilla Have your child help you make this. Don’t over do the spinach at first. Just a few leaves to get them used to the idea. Use a whole grain tortilla or whole grain flat bread. I like one that has flax seed in it, the maker is “Flat Out”, I generally find it at Super Target. I let my kids dip their quesadilla into salsa or plain greek yogurt.
Carrots and hummus Letting the kids dip is always lots of fun.
All of these lunches are served with fresh cut-up fruit

Snacks
In our house, snacks are almost always fruit. Any kind, but only some. A small bowl of strawberries, cantelope, blackberries, mango, etc. 1 banana, 1 apple, 1 orange, etc. The only exception is sometimes I will let them have a small bowl of cashews or pecans. The reason that snacks are so small and light is because I want them to eat their dinner. We generally do breakfast, lunch, nap, snack, and dinner. Just one snack. Of course there are exceptions, but I really try to follow that model.

Dinner
I advocate feeding every single person in your home the same meal. I put some of everything on the kids plates and I ask that they at least try everything. My goal is to have them try a bunch of things so that they can realize that they like them. This isn’t a power struggle. I’m not putting food in their mouths and holding their mouths closed until they swallow. That does not work, it does not set your child up for a healthy future. It teaches them that food is something to suffer through, not have a healthy curiosity about and enjoy. Be adventurous. Serve different things. If it’s not your thing, be honest. “This isn’t Mommy’s favorite.” But don’t put ideas into their heads. Discuss your food, ask them what they like. Don’t like the taste? But the color sure is pretty, isn’t it? Maybe I’ll try some more.

Good luck getting healthy, wholesome meals into the mouths of your babes! You can do it!

Grocery Rules at the Murrays

grocery rules

The way that we, as a family, eat is so drastically different from the way that we ate 3 years ago that if you had told me we would be eating like this then I would have laughed at you. I thought that people who took food too seriously were weird. Now, over time we have very slowly changed. Our perspective has changed. We see people around us who are seriously unhealthy and we know it’s because of what they choose to eat and drink. We know that people get overwhelmed at the idea of needing to change everything about how they live… so they change nothing.
That’s just not good enough, friends. If you care for your family and you care for your friends, then you need to take care of yourself. Period. I know that the odds are stacked against us in America: fresh food is more expensive than processed, there aren’t coupons for organic produce and meat, high fructose corn syrup and aspartame are in everything. It takes a lot to change; but it is so very worth it.
Three years ago we were soda drinkers, I was a very recent non-smoker, we ate fast food several times a week, if not day. We were disconnected from our food and where it came from. It took us a week to eat the daily recommended servings of fruit and vegetables. I honestly believe that we didn’t eat five servings of fruit and vegetables a week very often. When I did make vegetables with dinner, they were canned. And you know what? No one said anything because I was skinny… not even doctors!
So, three years may seem like a really long time to get to healthy, but it isn’t. The point is that you get there. The point is that we won’t have diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. The point is that we are flooding our bodies with antioxidants in the hopes that it reduces our chances of cancer. No diet plan or life style is infallible, but when studies show that aspartame is linked to migraines, blurred vision, and cancer… why risk it?

So, after that long introduction here are some of our personal grocery rules!

1) Meat – Organic, hormone free or Bust
I do not trust the meat industry. At all. They are mistreating animals, pumping them full of hormones to make them too big, and antibiotics to combat that disgusting living conditions that are kept in. If you are what you eat, what are you when you eat animals kept in deplorable living situations? We can’t personally afford to eat organic meat every night of the week so we choose to go vegetarian most nights.
*For more information, watch: Food Inc., Forks over Knives, and Fat Sick and Nearly Dead Read: Food Rules by Michael Pollan and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

2) Dairy – Limited
This one is really hard for me. I love cheese and cows milk. The kids and Matt love yogurt and kefir. We eat all of it but we try to be careful about how much we eat, and we also buy these things organic, for the same reasons as stated above.

3) Produce – at least half the budget
I spend about half of our grocery budget on fresh produce. Not a single meal goes by that we don’t eat at least one fruit and we eat veggies a minimum of 2 times a day. I like to try new fruits and vegetables when we seem stuck in a rut, but we do have standbys that are always available. (strawberries, bananas, carrots, etc.)

4) The kids aren’t dictators!
This is one that has only been true for a little less than a year in our house. Until then, I seriously didn’t know how to get veggies into my kids. I read a fantastic book called Bringing Up Bebe that really changed my mind and actions towards food in our home. We wanted kids that ate fruits and vegetables, and not just in those aluminum foil pouches, so we (gasp!) gave our children fruits and vegetables. We stopped buying crackers and goldfish and granola bars and pouches and whatever other processed foods we were giving them. There was very little struggle because I simply didn’t have the foods that they were asking for. It was either a) eat these carrots and humus or b) don’t eat right now. Wouldn’t you know it, my kids are geniuses and when they are hungry they decide to eat.

5) Buy a small portion of foods you don’t like
This one is self-explanatory. If you HATE Swiss Chard, don’t buy 2 lbs of it thinking you will eat it. You won’t. You’ll go out to eat instead and let it rot. Buy small amounts of healthy foods that you don’t like so that you can experiment cooking them different ways, in the hopes that you will find a way to work it in to your diet. There are very few foods that I straight up just don’t like (Hi, Beets.) but I just keep trying. 3 years ago, I couldn’t even list all the foods I hated, I was incredibly picky. But as I’ve matured, and my views on food have matured, guess what? My taste buds have also matured. Everything takes time, but it IS possible to like healthy foods… love them, actually.

So, there are our grocery rules. And now, as an added bonus (!) here’s a look at my grocery list. I may have to restock on milk and some produce next week but for the most part this list will feed our family for 2 weeks.

Nature’s Own Bread – 12-Grain (2)
Coconut Milk coffee creamer (3)
Organic Fat Free Milk (2 gallon)
Organic coconut milk, unsweetened (1/2 gallon)
Coffee (2)
Old Fashioned Oats
Tuna (4)
Part Skim Shredded Mozzarella
Shredded Sharp Cheddar (2)
Butter
Yogurt
Organic eggs (3)
Organic Wildflower Honey
Dark Chocolate Chips
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, cold pressed
Toasted Sesame Oil
Wild Caught Salmon (2 lbs)
Wild Caught Tilapia (2 lbs)
Organic Chicken (2 lbs)
Organic Apples (3 lbs)
Bananas (20)
Fresh Strawberries (4)
Fresh Blackberries (3)
Avocados (2)
Organic Cilantro (1 bunch)
Fresh Blueberries (3)
Fresh Lemons (3 lb bag)
Fresh Lemon Grass
Fresh Mangoes (4)
Fresh Brussel Sprouts
Organic Spinach (2)
Organic Grape Tomatoes
Fresh Kale
Fresh Broccoli Crowns
Red Onions
Oranges (3 lbs)
Fresh Garlic (2)
Fresh Yellow Onions (3 lbs)
Fresh Zucchini Squash (5)
Fresh Green Asparagus
Cashew Halves
Almonds – Unsalted
Goat Cheese
Brown Rice Noodles

Some other essentials that we always have:
Black Beans
Garbanzo Beans
Chia Seeds
Flax Meal
Brown Rice
Sweet Potatoes
Peanut Butter (minimally processed. Only ingredients should be Peanuts and salt)
Fruit Preserves (we’ve been on a fig kick lately)
Whole grain spaghetti noodles
Organic spaghetti sauce
Applesauce (unsweetened)

So, there you have it! Hope this helps you to make a little change. We still have a way to go, but we’re encouraged that we are on our way and that our kids are so far ahead of where we were.
xo
Meghan

Cast Iron Skillet Salmon or Bust

I discovered the wonders of a cast iron skillet last night. Matt bought me one for Christmas and I have to admit, I have been incredibly intimidated by the archaic looking cooking device. I had no idea what to make in it. Last night, though, after 2 months of disuse, I had enough of my wastefulness and decided to figure it out. I knew I wanted to make salmon so I just typed “Cast iron skillet salmon” in Google… thank God for Google. I couldn’t cook without it, really. I watched a YouTube video of someone cooking in one, read a bunch of recipes and then decided just to do what I always do – wing it.
My skillet is preseasoned so I just had to get to work. I started by simmering some EVOO on the stove top. I added sliced garlic (3-4 cloves) for a few minutes. While that was sautéing I put freshly cracked pepper and sea salt in a small bowl with lemon pepper and paprika. I didn’t measure, but if I had to guess it was probably 1/2 tsp of each. Then I cut my salmon into about 3 oz portions. Again, I didn’t measure. I sprinkled my seasoning mixture on each side of the salmon and then added it (presentation side down) to the skillet. I set the timer and left it alone for 6 minutes.
cast iron skillet 1

I then squeezed 1/2 a lemon on top, flipped the salmon and put it in my preheated oven (400 degrees) for 6 more minutes. I served it over brown rice and steamed broccoli.

cast iron skillet 2
Oh my gosh, guys, I am not even kidding… this was by far the BEST salmon I have ever made. I was shocked by it because it was so simple. I mean – 15 minutes for the entire meal? It kind of blew me away.
So now, here I am, a cast iron skillet convert. I’ve already been online this morning planning what I am making tonight. I am pretty sure the verdict is charred tomato and chicken tacos. Hopefully that turns out just as well. I have a feeling that the skillet can’t go wrong!
I hope you try this awesome, healthy, and delicious salmon recipe for yourselves!

Five a Day!

I have recently been inspired and reminded by my friend Jill over at Lost and Not Found that I should be eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. This is admittedly easier to do without all the meat that I would normally be eating in the way. I think that for the majority of my life I was lucky if I ate one vegetable a day… and it was canned. I almost never ate fruit. I never felt it was sweet enough unless I added sugar to it or dipped it in chocolate. One of the most beautiful things for me about cutting aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, and other “fake” foods out of my diet is being able to appreciate the natural flavor of food. And it’s really good! I recently just about lost my mind over some carrots grown by our friends over at Puzzle Peace Farm in Bostic – they were so sweet that I made muffins out of them.
Now I feel really good about my food choices when I stock up on fruits and vegetables. I’m amazed when I go to the grocery store and 75% of my shopping is done in one section – produce. It feels beautiful. I feel confident about what I am putting in my body and, even better, about what I am putting my children’s bodies.
Most of us who were raised in the 80’s and 90’s really weren’t brought up on healthy foods. I hear this a lot from my friends and from their parents. I don’t think that there was a lot of education available to our parents – especially about reading labels. Our kids don’t have to be brought up that way. They can know the simple pleasures of a crisp apple – without fruit dip. They can eat strawberries without covering them in sugar. They can understand that each vegetable has its own flavor when it’s cooked fresh or eaten raw. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with buying frozen veggies – I’m just saying that there is more out there than that.
Eating 5 fruits and vegetables doesn’t have to be monotonous – get out and explore! I’ve been letting my kids pick interesting looking produce that we’ve never tried before and experiment with the flavors at home. That’s a fun, easy and exciting way to approach dessert after dinner. We’d never tried star fruit, mangoes, persimmon, etc – so let’s have it for dessert. The kids think that this is amazing.
So… who is with me? 5 a day? We can totally change our lives this way.

Healthy eating looks different for everyone

Remember when The Atkins diet was first a big thing? I remember my mom going to McDonald’s and eating some sort of greasy, nasty burger – without the bun – and this was supposed to be healthy for her. We live in a culture that is really preoccupied with being thin but where nearly everyone is ignorant of the nutrition and origins for foods that they are putting in their bodies. We’ll try any diet craze – as long as we can still eat our desserts and meat and chemicals.
Personally, I cringe when I see someone drinking a “diet” beverage because I think of all the damage that is being done to their bodies long-term. However, I have my unhealthy vices (Hello, sugar! How ya been, Chocolate?) and I’m overweight so I often just remain silent. We all have our things… things that we feel we are doing better than other, things that we feel we could improve upon. While I think that there are several wrong ways that we can eat I don’t know that there is any one right way.
So, this month I’m trying them all on for size. I have long-held pescetarian leanings. No true Marylander could ever give up seafood without some major convictions behind her. I, fortunately, have none of those particular convictions. As long as my seafood is wild caught and not raised on a fish farm somewhere I’m golden. All month, except for a few completely vegetarian days, I will remain pescetarian. On certain days I will remain gluten-free, with some paleo days as well. I will also attempt a vegan diet at some point in the month. I think this one will be the hardest for me – we eat A LOT of eggs in our family and milk is a comfort food. But, all the more reason to take a break from it, I think. On special days that I do or make something difficult (in spirit, not in preparation. No difficult cooking is ever done in my house.) I will share it with you.

Today, by happy coincidence, I am gluten-free. I didn’t set out to do this, I just ended up realizing at 3:30 that I had been gluten-free thus far, might as well stretch it to the end of the day.

Here has been what I have eaten, followed by what I plan to make for dinner:
Breakfast – coffee with french vanilla coconut milk creamer and a gluten-free banana muffin
snack – apple
Lunch – Salad, made with red leaf lettuce, sweet peppers, garbanzo beans, EVOO, tuna fish (with mayo) and garlic and herb goat cheese. Strawberries
Snack – blueberries and applesauce
Dinner – Vegetable hibachi made with kale, zucchini, broccoli and raw cashews, served over brown rice noodles

Here’s to gluten-free days!

Gluten Free Oatmeal Banana Muffins

I am always on the lookout for good gluten-free baking recipes since so many of my friends have had to become gluten-free over the years. I found this one on pinterest and decided to add a little of my own twist on it this morning. I am eating a warm muffin now, and let me tell you – It’s amazing.

Ingredients:
5 cups old-fashioned oats
2 cups Cabot vanilla bean greek yogurt (or greek yogurt of your choice)
4 eggs
1 1/4 cup wildflower honey (or honey of your choice)
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
4 ripe bananas
Yields approx 36 muffins

ingredients

First pour your 5 cups old-fashioned oats in the food processor and blend until smooth. This will take the place of flour in a traditional muffin.
oats
After that is blended move it over to a mixing bowl or your kithenaid mixer.

Next add the rest of the ingredients to the food processor and blend until smooth. Add to the oats and mix thoroughly.
Pour about 1/3 cup mix to each WELL-GREASED muffin tin and bake at 375 for about 15 minutes.
Enjoy!

banana muffin