Packing snacks for school

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Yesterday, I asked the kids to pack their snacks as I emptied their lunch boxes to make today’s lunch. As I sorted the recycling from the garbage and they ran to the pantry and grabbed apple sauce, granola bars and all sorts of packaged treats, I told them – we can do better than this.

My husband and I both work full-time and we’re busy and often exhausted at the end of the day. As much as I love making everything from scratch, I am pressed for time these days so I haven’t kept on top of the homemade snack making. And when the kids pack their own lunches (and we try to get them to help out as much as possible), they’ll grab what’s easy. Granola bars, crackers, apple sauce and though some of it is recycled, I’ve been feeling increasingly guilty about dropping the ball on my attempt to reduce waste.

In the spirit of them still being in charge of packing their snacks for school, I told them to grab recipe books and figure out what to make for their lunches. They chose recipes, asked if we had the ingredients and did their best to make them without much help from me.

My son made whole wheat chocolate chip cookies. He read out the instructions and I did what I was told. When the dough was mixed, I brought the cookie sheets to the table for him to form the cookies while I helped my daughter avoid burning her snack of choice.

She chose butterscotch pudding. She got out all the ingredients and followed the recipe with my supervision. She’s a bit older so while she needed help lighting the gas stove and has a tendency to wander away while the recipe says to stir continuously, she was able to pull off most of the recipe by herself.

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Much better – wasteless lunch snacks. Apple, half an orange, salted popcorn, giant chocolate chip cookie shoved in a container and butterscotch pudding made with soy milk. Lunch is in a different pocket – leftover mashed potatoes, roasted brussels sprouts and vegan sausage.

In the end, they both felt a sense of achievement, got to lick their spoons and pots and traded a bunch of packaged goods for home made treats. I think I’m going to try to do this more regularly. We won’t be able to consistently avoid waste but together we can make more of an effort to do better.

The only problem is the cookies my son made are too big for most of our snack containers! My daughter’s pudding is hidden behind the popcorn.

Eating well in winter

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Here, in Canada, we’re nearing the end of winter. This is the most difficult time of year for those of us who thrive on plant-based eating. Nothing is growing other than greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers. All fresh fruit and vegetables travel far to make it to our markets.

I do my best to eat local – both because I want to support my local businesses and because I want to avoid adding any unnecessary greenhouse gasses by eating foods that travel far to get to me.

One old-fashioned way to do both is through canning when fruits and vegetables are at their peak and eating them in the middle of winter. Over the summer and fall, I’ve made a number of jams, relishes and chutneys that I’m enjoying now.

In my oatmeal this morning, I have added a generous helping of apple pie jam that I make in the fall with apples we picked at a local farm. It is delicious and a great way to change things up. We still have a few jars left of yellow plum jam, peach jam and rhubarb jam – my kids love them on their peanut butter sandwiches so we go through a lot. But my favourite way to eat them is in my morning oatmeal.

Canning is a great way to bring the flavours of summer and harvest into the depths of winter. It’s not difficult once you get the hang of it. Small batch canning is an accessible way to start.

How do you add variety to your winter meals?

Vegan kids at school and bullying

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I got some sad news today and it’s not the first time. It turns out that a girl in my daughter’s class says she’s gross because she doesn’t eat meat. This girl regularly makes fun of the food my daughter has in her lunch and it is impacting her enjoyment of it.

I made the kids rice pudding as a treat this week. It should have been well-liked. Rice, sweet soy milk, cinnamon and raisins – I thought it would be a nice surprise even though they’d never had it before. But there was a girl who told my daughter it looked like poo and so my sweetheart sadly told me she didn’t really enjoy it.

This isn’t the first incident of bullying she dealt with at school. She has been singled out for the food she eats – which led to a stage of her asking for sandwiches for lunch everyday so her lunch looked normal.

It’s not shocking, when I come to think of it. I’ve dealt with a lot of teasing and meanness myself at work. I’ve had coworkers try the vegan pizza and then spend every opportunity to tell everyone it was gross. A lot of people just feel the need to comment and most of the time, I don’t think it’s meant in a mean way.

I’m sensitive to the way my kids treat others. We’ve raised our kids not to comment on other people’s food. I choose what is on my plate and it has nothing to do with anyone else.

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In fact, when the subject of veganism comes up, it usually isn’t my choice. I’m living according to my own values and I’ve told my story of how and why more times than I’ve wanted to. It’s not a secret, obviously. But there are other things to talk about.

Have your kids had similar experiences? How do you handle it?

Nut and seed spread for healthy snacking

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One of my favourite finds as a vegan are the nut-based spreads and sauces that have become really popular – for good reason. You can find all kinds of nut cheeses in stores that taste fantastic and feel indulgent even though they are good for you.

There’s really nothing more satisfying than a dollop of cashew cream to top off a taco and if you mix the leftovers with salsa, you’ll have a delicious dip. I’ve even been using cashews as the bases for my gravies for a creamy and delicious sauce.

The one challenge people may face when making nut-based sauces, gravies and spreads is having a powerful enough blender to get the right texture. You can make it easier on your blender by soaking the nuts overnight but having a super-powerful blender does make all the difference in the end.

Here’s a really simple nut and seed spread that makes a satisfying snack for adults and kids as well. Spread it on crackers, use it in your sandwiches or with a pita. If you’ve overindulged on hummus and need a change, this is a good option.

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Nutritious nut and seed spread

  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 1/4 cups of water
  • 3 Tablespoons of nutritional yeast
  • 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon herbs de provence (or other herb mix that you like)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Soak the nuts and seeds in a bowl overnight or cover them with boiling water for 30 minutes. Drain and add them to the blender with all the other ingredients. Blend until creamy. Add water if necessary.

Enjoy! This makes a good mid-afternoon snack at the office or after-school snack for the kids to keep them satisfied until dinner is ready.

You can change the ingredients up according to your tastes and the contents of your cupboard. You’ll need nuts or seeds, water, an acid and salt – the rest can be easily omitted or changed.

Fresh start breakfast pledge

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I’m lucky to have a job that allows me to work from home regularly. Since I spend the day sitting at a desk, this is my opportunity to make good choices to fit in exercise and take care of myself.

If I don’t get exercise on the days I work from home, I end the day feeling sluggish and older than I should. It’s so important to work in an extra flight of stairs and it’s a good think I have to descend the stairs to go to the kitchen but that’s not enough.

I’ve been really good about using the extra time I have from not commuting to the office to fit in my exercise. I get up at my usual hour and make sure the kids are eating breakfast and then I head out the door for a run. I love it once I’m out – even when it’s really cold out (I live in Canada).

Where it all falls apart is at breakfast. I’ll go for my run, do some yoga or other exercises when I get home, have a quick shower and grab a coffee and plop down in front of my computer and start working.

I will completely forget about breakfast until my stomach is impossible to ignore – around 10:30. And when I’m that hungry, I don’t make good decisions. I’ll grab a bagel and top it with vegan butter and call it a breakfast.

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Oatmeal with homemade blueberry sauce, vanilla soy milk and walnuts.

So this is my pledge to myself – to make myself a nice, warm bowl of oatmeal. It takes 5 minutes and it makes all the difference. I have all kinds of fruit, nuts and other toppings to keep it interesting and it sets me up to feel good all day – and continue to make good decisions.

On the days I go into the office, I have overnight oats and that’s great. I have no choice since I made it the night before and that’s what I have in my bag. I need to start making good decisions even when I haven’t planned ahead.

What’s your fresh start pledge?

Polar Express Gingerbread Train

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Merry Christmas! I hope you’re spending holidays with loved ones doing the things you love. I’ve been doing a lot of sewing – which I enjoy like meditation – and today I’m in the kitchen. No doubt for most of the day! I’m not one to sit down much. Creating something special for my family puts me in the holidays spirit.

 

IMG_6820Every year, I’m tempted to make a gingerbread train with my special cake pan and it often goes not quite as planned. I considered making other plans but my kids are getting older and I don’t know how much longer the Polar Express will excite them. So this year, I took no chances with the cake, I greased it meticulously and it came out perfectly. I used wax paper and vegan butter to make sure I got butter into every groove.

The cake pan is very detailed so the cake itself looks pretty when plain. I made a simple glaze and then decorated it with Skittles, sprinkles and icing sugar to give it a good dusting of snow.

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We don’t have much snow outside – enough to cover the walkways but not enough to cover the grass – this snowy scene may be the best we get this Christmas! The Christmas trees are cutouts we made recently, covered with glaze, Skittles and dusted with icing sugar.

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The cake is the gingerbread cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World. The glaze is simple (1 cup of icing sugar and 3 Tbsps of water with a drop of lemon extract).

Happy holidays everyone! And best wishes for a joyful new year!

 

Banana walnut oatmeal

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In the rush of the holidays, it’s easy to forget to eat a healthy breakfast. Starting off the day right sets us up to make healthy decisions throughout the day. I’ve found that if I don’t make a good breakfast, I’ll end up grabbing something easy around 11 a.m. and it’s all downhill from there. For me, the trick is to have ideas for a healthy breakfast that’s easy and delicious. Here’s a good solution that works for kids and grown-ups alike.

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I make my oatmeal extra creamy by replacing half the water with vegan milk (we use sweetened soy milk or almond milk) and either mashing or chopping a very ripe banana to it for each serving. Follow the directions on the package according to how much oatmeal you’re making. When it is finished cooking (it takes about five minutes), top with walnuts.

Happy holidays, everyone!