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?

Easiest healthy breakfast for the kids

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When I started commuting for work a few days a week, which means I leave the house before my stomach is ready to handle anything solid, I started bringing overnight oats for me to eat when I’m settled at the office. They take me less than five minutes of prep time the night before and they’re ready to eat without a fuss.

Best of all, I can change it up a million different ways – soy, almond, coconut, cashew milk, any frozen or dried fruit I have on hand – there’s no end to the varieties I can make. As someone who gets bored eating the same foods over and over again, this is something that always satisfies. Even if I have absolutely no fruit in the house, I can always add a spoonful of homemade jam. This is a lazy but delicious meal.

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I enjoy it and I’ve found even the kids love it. In fact, if I make them overnight oats, breakfast always goes smoothly even if they’re overtired and grumpy.

This week, I’m going away on business for a few days so I made a few jars to keep in the fridge to make mornings easier on my husband. If you haven’t tried this breakfast, do yourself a favour and give it a try. Use your favourite vegan milk to make the easiest, healthiest and most delicious breakfast your can throw together in five minutes.

Overnight oats

  • jars with lids
  • oatmeal
  • seeds (I use chia and hemp)
  • cinnamon
  • fruit (I used peaches and blackberries)
  • brown sugar
  • vegan milk

Fill the jars 3/4 full of oatmeal. Add a teaspoon of seeds, as desired, cinnamon, brown sugar and top with fruit. If you’re in a real rush, just use oatmeal and a spoonful of jam. Fill the jar to the top with vegan milk. Put the lid on and give it a shake so all the seeds get mixed in.

Get a few extra minutes of sleep in the morning because breakfast is done!

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Vegan camping

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This summer, we took a road trip to the East Coast of Canada. We brought a tent and reserved campsites at National and Provincial Parks from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. We made memories that will last a lifetime.

We’re seasoned campers – we love sleeping in a tent and hearing the sounds of the forest around us. We love waking up with the sun and the chirping birds. I love cooking over a fire pit – potatoes in the coals, veggie burgers flame broiled – everything just tastes better when we’re camping.

This summer, though, everything was different. When we arrived in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, there was a fire ban. We have a simple isobutane camping stove for making coffee but we didn’t have much fuel. We couldn’t light a fire in the fire pits provided. We ran out of fuel after making a pot of coffee and we were stuck.

Aside from our usual stock of fruits and vegetables, we had a cooler stocked with veggie burgers, vegan sausages, veggie dogs and tofu without a way to cook any of it. None of the stores we stopped at carried isobutane so we had to eat at restaurants for the first few days on the island (more about that later).

Eventually, we stumbled on the only store in Cape Breton that carries our fuel and we happily bought a couple canisters and a frying pan. Now we had a way to cook our traditional camping food.

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Snacking on dry cereal and reading a book on our campsite.

With so many choices for vegan burgers, hot dogs and sausages, you can easily blend in with the other campers. But when you run out of that and you’re in a fisherman’s paradise without another vegan around, it’s time to get creative.

With our minimal camping stove, a pot for boiling water and a frying pan, we found a few things in the rural grocery stores to feed our hungry mob. Our favourite by far was a noodle stir fry.

Note: We don’t usually buy instant anything but when you’re camping and using fuel that is as hard to find as these canisters were, you do what you must to conserve the fuel.

Vegan noodle stir fry

  • one package of instant noodles
  • oil (sesame, canola, grape seed – whatever)
  • one block of tofu
  • seasoning (Herbamare is great but use what you can find and what you like)
  • one package of broccoli slaw (or another packaged salad with broccoli, brussels sprouts and kale)
  • soy sauce packets (if you have them)

Cook the noodles according to the package. Drain and put aside.

Chop the tofu into cubes and fry it in the oil with the seasoning. When browned, add the slaw and cook until wilted. Add the cooked noodles and stir to mix. Add the soy sauce and mix again.

That’s about the easiest vegan meal you can source in an isolated town. Another idea we enjoyed – minute rice and beans.

Camping rice and beans

  • minute rice
  • can of beans (black or red kidney are great)
  • canned corn (normally I’d eat frozen but we were pleasantly surprised)
  • seasoning

Cook the rice according to the directions on the box. When it’s done, add the drained and rinsed beans and the drained canned corn. Season to taste and enjoy!

Breakfast

When we’re car camping, I put quick cooking oatmeal in little mason jars with raisins or cranberries, sugar, cinnamon and I leave some space for hot water. (You could use instant oatmeal but I prefer the texture of the quick cooking oatmeal – less mushy.) The jars should be 3/4 full.

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Pack your oatmeal in jars to reduce waste.

When you’re ready to eat, pour boiling water in the jars, screw the tops closed, shake them up a bit and let them sit for a few minutes to allow the hot water to cook the oatmeal. My kids love having their own individual jars.

If you’re pressed for space, fill a ziplock bag with oatmeal, sugar, dried fruit and spices. Maybe include seeds – we’re eating a lot of hemp and chia seeds these days. And you can make your homestyle oatmeal in a pot. There’s nothing like a warm bowl of oatmeal on a cool morning.

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Sunset in Prince Edward Island National Park

There are so many benefits to getting kids out into natural spaces – they benefit from exploring, finding creatures, get to know the provinces they’re learning about in school and they learn to love and protect the environment.

You can make some amazing meals over the fire or you can use some cooking short cuts and head out to enjoy the world around you.

 

Deconstructed burritos

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I was at the grocery store with my son yesterday and I asked him which vegetables we should buy. Brussels sprouts, zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli? I asked. He chose all of them. Plus asparagus, cherry tomatoes, peppers and avocado. It wasn’t along ago that he didn’t eat much aside from cucumber but I’m glad to report he’s broadened his taste.

So how did I get my picky eater to eat more than just cucumbers and white rice? Obviously there were many factors and it helped to have a big sister who loves vegetables. But there are two things that I credit the most with his transformation to a little rabbit.

My vegetable garden

I have a vegetable garden. And the kids help me choose what to plant and they’re welcome to eat anything from the garden at any time (as long as I get the first ripe tomato). There was a year that (thanks to my daughter) we planted purple varieties of everything: peas, broccoli, carrots, beans. And that was the year my son decided he would only eat orange carrots. I guess a guy’s got to draw the line somewhere! So the next year I bought orange carrot seeds and planted more traditional varieties of vegetables. Goodbye lemon cucumbers!

My kids get really excited about the veggies growing in the garden. They graze on whatever they find. They eat pea shoots, berries, and they love parsley stems. One year I thought I had a regular rabbit visitor but it turned out my daughter thought the carrot tops were parsley.

I try to get them to help in the garden as much as I can but if all they’re doing is eating from the garden, that’s great too. And when we pull a nice orange carrot from the ground, it’s something everyone is excited about. I think being involved and eating from the garden has made my son appreciate fresh vegetables.

Setting a good example

The other thing that I think we’ve done to encourage him to eat a bigger variety of vegetables is to eat them ourselves. The three of us love all kinds of vegetables and we eat them all the time. When my son turned his nose up at most vegetables, we always made sure we had his favourite vegetables at every meal but we also fit in the zucchini, beets and squash. We enjoy them – and he sees us enjoy them. And I think if he tries them a few times, he warms up to them.

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You’ll notice a few ingredients in my bowl that I don’t put in his. Onions, mushrooms, salsa, cashew cream and even orange vegan cheese are on his list of things he won’t touch at the moment. But that list is shrinking every day and I’m proud of him for following our example and being adventurous at the dinner table.

Quick veggie, chickpea and tofu bowl

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Here’s another quick weeknight meal. It’s one I reach for when I’m really short on time. Chopped raw veggies with beans over couscous takes only minutes to prepare and it’s a reliable kid-pleaser.

Today, I cubed tofu, covered it in olive oil, a splash of apple cider vinegar, garlic clove and oregano and put it under the broiler while I prepared the rest of the food. I added chopped broccoli under the broiler for the last five minutes and it was delicious.

For the grownups, I made a tahini-miso sauce. A couple tablespoons of tahini mixed with a tablespoon of each olive oil, miso and water to thin it.

Rinse the canned chickpeas under hot watch to get rid of some of the sodium from the can and warm them up. The couscous is ready about 5 minutes after the water boils – my kids like the rainbow couscous.

The best part – altogether, it takes about 15 minutes to prepare. What’s your easiest home-cooked weeknight dinner?

Tofu Florentine with home fries

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We don’t have a lot of Easter traditions because we don’t eat eggs (or decorate with them) and we’re not religious. Rather, we use this weekend to celebrate the coming of Spring. It’s not always here on Easter weekend but early signs are everywhere. The snow is gone and the robins are back with their trilling birdsongs. When the sun comes out, it’s really nice to be outside. I even put my super warm winter coat away – though our light winter coats are still needed.

This morning, the kids played together nicely enough for me to sleep in. And when I got up, I craved this breakfast that I used to make often before the kids were born. It’s one or two steps too many for most weekend breakfasts (and the kids are often begging for pancakes or oatmeal) but with the extra sleep I got last night, I thought I’d make one of my favourite breakfasts.

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If you start the potatoes first, it isn’t time-consuming to make. Start by boiling the potatoes. While the tofu is broiling, fry an onion until golden, add the potatoes and whatever spices you like. Steam the spinach and make the hollandaise sauce. There are a lot of really nice vegan hollandaise sauces but this one is so simple that it’s always been my go to. Sometimes, simplicity just wins.

Hollandaise sauce

  • 2/3 cup vegan mayo
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • ┬ápinch cayenne
  • pinch turmeric
  • salt

Combine the ingredients. Done.

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Because I was generous with the cayenne, I topped my daughter’s breakfast with plain mayo (which I know she likes) and a sprinkling of paprika. My son won’t eat spinach or mayo so his english muffin is buttered and topped with tofu with the potatoes on the side. He’ll eat his veggies at another meal.

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Some day he’ll look at our meals and realize he’s missing out when he skips the veggies and sauce but we’re not there yet. That’s okay – we’ve got time. The truth is, we’re making progress and every month he becomes less strict about the foods he eats. Last month, he happily ate parsley and halved cherry tomatoes for the first time instead of just whole cherry tomatoes. I think this summer, we’ll win him over to regular-sized tomatoes. Fingers-crossed!

Happy Easter everyone! How do you celebrate?

Veggie burgers and fries

We came home from running around too late to make a nice meal so I grabbed the veggie burgers I picked up the other day and we made fries. The burgers are a new brand we hadn’t tried before: VG Gourmet Artisan Vegan Burgers. I got the lentil and walnut burgers with fresh herbs and wild mushrooms. Perhaps not the most kid-friendly choice since my picky eater likes neither fresh herbs nor mushrooms.

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These burgers are packed with lentils and veggies that are visible in the patty – that’s nice for my husband and me but I knew if my kids were to see onions, they’d turn their noses up at the whole burger. So I covered them in melted Daiya cheese as a disguise.

The kids were not fooled. They topped their burgers with tomatoes, pickles, relish and ketchup and were eating them nicely at first. But in the end, these burgers were not a hit with the kids. They managed to get them down with extra pickles. We liked them a lot, however.

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Though they were a bit drier than other veggie burgers, the flavours were unique and complex since there was a good variety of veggies in each burger. Often, veggie burgers try too hard to be like hamburgers and they fail. These burgers were not trying to disguise the veggies and I appreciated that.

The kids have taste preferences all of their own. But there are a few brands of veggie burgers that my kids like. They tend to like the ones that are uniform and hamburger-like more than the ones that are dotted with veggies the way I like them. But sometimes I slice off a square of tofu and grill it with a mild marinade for him to eat as a burger. Or sometimes we’ll make them veggie dogs while we have the burgers. But sometimes they surprise me and happily eat a whole burger. Just not tonight.