Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Weight Watchin' Vegan Returns

My mom, Susan, the Weight Watchin' Vegan, is back today with another colorful lunch box creation. Today's lunch features a generous serving of Sweet Potato Salad (4 points) from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites.She veganized the salad by using soy yogurt in the Cilantro Lime Yogurt Dressing, and packed it with some carrot and celery sticks (free), 15 Triscuits (2 points), and one Cinnamon Raisin Gnu Bar (2 points).

About these "Flavor & Fiber" bars: my mom loves them. Each bar contains a whole heap o' fiber -- 12 grams, half an adult's daily value -- from a blend of whole wheat, oats, wheat bran, psyllium, flax, and millet. Bran and psyllium don't sound too appetizing to me, but she wants you all to know that her WW friends recently performed a side-by-side taste test, and "these taste much better than those Weight Watcher bars. They have the same points but they're better because they're all natural and aren't made with that artificial sweetener."

So there you go: another 8 point lunch with lots to enjoy! By the way, Susan was thrilled to hear that there were so many of you Weight Watching veggies out there -- thanks for all your kind words!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Weight Watchin' Vegan

Today's lunch box comes to you courtesy of my mom, Susan, the Weight Watchin' Vegan!

Shmoo's grandma switched to a plant-based diet two years ago exclusively for health reasons. It has certainly paid off: "My cholesterol has gone down, my blood pressure has gone down, my weight has gone down, but most importantly my arthritis has, for all intents and purposes, disappeared." The osteoarthritis in her knees and joints used to make her cry out in pain just walking up the steps to her door, and she was taking medication on a daily basis. I showed her some information from Dr. McDougall on diet and arthritis, and she decided to give it a try. "Now," she says, "my arthritis is practically gone. I'm never bothered by it."

Susan is also a member of Weight Watchers, which she says is easy to incorporate into a vegan diet. "The thing I like about Weight Watchers is I can eat anything I want to. I just have to count my points. And it's easier being vegan on Weight Watchers; you can eat more [than meat-eating Weight Watchers], and if your diet is already plant-based you're more familiar with healthy foods like vegetables and you know how to make them taste great."

Today her lunch features a big serving of Aztec Salad from Fat-Free & Easy(3 points), made with black beans, corn, fresh tomatoes, sweet peppers, and red onion. On the side are some tortilla chips (2 points), salsa (free!), an apple (1 point), and a ridiculously high-in-fiber Banana Walnut Gnu Bar (2 points). "That's a lot of food for 8 points!" she tells me.

Oh yes, and let me introduce you bento fiends to the lunch box: Susan packs her lunch in a Lunch on the Go container she found cheap at Bed Bath & Beyond. It's spiffy: two small lidded containers and a flat ice pack fit just so inside a larger container. With the coupon she had it came to about $7.00 -- proof that "you don't have to spend a fortune to pack a stylish lunch." That's right, Mom's an excellent tightwad. I wish I had inherited that, but I got the cooking genes instead.

Thanks, Mom!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Vegetable Lo Mein

After writing my review of Lunch Lessons I decided to try out the authors' recipe for Vegetable Lo Mein. Boiled, drained Chinese noodles are stir-fried with carrots, celery, bean sprouts, hoisin and soy sauce (I left out the onions and added snow peas). "It is an excellent choice for the lunch box," the book explains, "because it can be eaten warm or at room temperature and extra marinating will only make the noodles more flavorful."

Most lo mein noodles contain egg, but I was able to find a package of egg-free "Chow Mein Udon" noodles at my local grocery store; Italian linguini or fettucini would also be a fine vegan substitute.

Speaking of egg, I hate to say it but almost all fortune cookies are made with egg. For many years fortune cookies were one of my "don't ask don't tell" foods; I just loved the ritual of cracking open crispy cookies and sharing our fortunes after a stir-fry dinner, so I decided not to look into what they were made of. It wasn't until I started creating lunch menus that I braced myself and turned to face the fortune cookie; sure enough, fortune cookies usually rely on egg whites to create a thin, flat dough that is flexible enough after baking to fold into shape.

But the gods have smiled on us, because the "Supreme Kitchen" has come to our rescue with egg-free fortune cookies! Yes! Each cookie is filled, not with eggs and butter, but with spiritual words of wisdom from "Supreme Master Ching Hai" (those of you in San Jose or Phoenix might recognize her name from the Vegetarian House restaurants her followers have founded.)

Alongside the two enlightening cookies are golden fried cubes of tofu packed with a bamboo appetizer pick; shmoo can toss them with the lo mein or eat them separately. The fruit today is a mix of cantaloupe balls and fresh blueberries packed with a slice of lime.

Verdict: The cantaloupe and blueberries were the biggest hit of the lunch, followed closely by the lo mein. The lo mein was delicious, but I would recommend tripling or even quadrupling the vegetables in this recipe; we wished for more vegetables in every bite.

One of shmoo's fortunes struck us as being particularly appropriate for a school day: "Be meticulous in your work; do not let other thoughts or other matters disturb you." 5 stars.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Get A Clue, Have A Hint

Oh, I love Hint. Really, I don't mean to sound like some crazed phony bloggin’ corporate-sponsored shill (although I'll gladly accept payment for my little "get a clue" slogan...clever, no?) But I really have to say I think Hint water is one of the best things that's happened to us around here drinkwise.

Here's why: like the big dummy I am, I made the mistake of introducing my son to sweetened, sugary beverages when he was still a baby. Although I almost never drink juice myself, I guess I thought sweet, sticky apple juice was just the thing toddlers had to have in those little sippy cups of theirs. Apple, cranberry, wasn't long before he was moving on to the harder stuff: soda pop and "lemonade" at restaurants ("You call that a child's size cup?!?"), disgusting blue technicolor sugar water at school and playdates. Juice every day, juice at every meal, juice in a bag, juice in a box...even my husband started complaining if juice wasn't present at every single meal.

If I could go back again, of course, I would never introduce shmoo to this terrible juice habit. I know now that juice is only marginally better than soda; they’re both essentially a mixture of water and sugar without fiber. I know all things are fine in moderation, but too many sweet, calorie-packed beverages may be part of what’s contributing to our growing childhood obesity epidemic. And, as I can certainly attest, a tiny tummy filled with a big glass of juice or soda at mealtime won’t have much room for all the healthy foods that are on its plate (But that same stomach will somehow manage to empty itself just in time for dessert. Or so it seems.)

Anyway, the damage was done. This year the situation has been made ten times worse by shmoo’s introduction to the world of "sports beverages". That’s right, the Forces That Be have taken something naturally healthy – staying hydrated while playing sports – and turned it into another excuse to stuff our children with sugar, artificial sweeteners, flavors, colors, and preservatives. The whining, wheedling "please mom can I have a sports drink after practice, please, please, please?" campaign I have been listening to for the past 6 months has made me rue the day my son accepted his first little blue Propel from a teammate.

Then a few weeks ago I read an article in Shape magazine about Hint, and I practically gasped out loud. That’s it! That’s what I need to end this kid’s Gatorade Obsession! It's just water and natural flavors, period: no preservatives, no Sucralose, no bright purple dye, no calories.

Shmoo was quickly presented with his very own collection of all 8 flavors. His favorites are Pomegranate-Tangerine, Raspberry-Lime, and Tropical Punch. Cucumber, not so much. Oh, but he loves these silly little waters just as much as he did the sports drinks and sodas of the past, and I don’t cringe every time I see him suck one down. The Beverage Battle is over, and I am thrilled.

Now I’m just waiting for the 1 - 2 gallon jug sizes to come out, so I can use refillable bottles and save on plastic. But one battle at a time, I suppose…

Lightlife Coupon

The web watchers at Lightlife want to thank me for my creative use of bologna and bacon. They have sent me a link to share with you, my dear readers, for a $1.00 off coupon. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Shmoo Review: Lunch Lessons

Activists, start your engines! Authors Ann Cooper and Lisa M. Holmes are here with Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children,and they’re ready to draft you into the battle they are waging for healthier school lunches for all!

Depending on who you are, I think this book will either have you ready to shout it from the rooftops, or leave you feeling like improving your family’s health is too daunting a task, tying it as they do to the larger work of social and environmental activism and widespread public education and policy change.

First, I want to point out that this is not a vegetarian book. Even so, vegan parents can still find much here that is inspiring or enlightening. The recipes section includes chapters for every meal of the day, not just lunch, and offers many recipes that are vegan or could easily be veganized. A wide variety of vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains are used in many delicious-sounding dishes like "Spinach Salad with Tangerines", "Corn and Black-eyed Pea Stew", and "Vegetable Lo Mein".

The authors take a strident tone when talking about proper nutrition, although their messages seem a bit mixed. I was most saddened by the fact that, although the nutrition chapter wisely advises parents to avoid cheese because of its high level of saturated fat (p. 28), the authors then go on to include recipes for "Three Cheese Vegetable Strata", "Mac and Cheese", and burritos, frittatas, and casseroles that all call for hearty amounts of cheese.

They also mention the frightening and very real dangers of mercury contamination in fish, especially tuna (p. 22), but urge parents to not cut fish out of their children’s diet because of its heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. They don't mention that foods like flax, hemp, and walnuts can provide mercury- and fish-free sources of omega-3s.

On a happier note, the authors do point out that calcium can be obtained from non-dairy sources. There are many other instances here where vegan and omni parents can find common ground, joining forces to encourage a more plant-based diet for everyone.

Going beyond mealtime, the authors include information on gardening, composting, healthy cleaning products, plastics, recycling, and making a difference in your cafeteria and your community. So, if you're ready to make a change in more than just what your kid is packing for lunch, Lunch Lessonsis ready to show you the way.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Shark & Goldfish

This big shark is looking to eat up all the little goldfish it can find. I hope there are some left at lunchtime...

A shark sandwich made with Vegenaise, vegan mozzarella-style cheese, and Smart Deli Bologna on a whole wheat bun. I affixed his green olive eyes and fins with a touch of Vegenaise. The shark is surrounded by lettuce, cucumber, and grape tomatoes -- not shmoo's favorite vegetables, but we'll see.

In the side containers are pineapple wedges, homemade Vegan Goldfish Crackers, and a dessert of colorful kosher mint chocolate lentils.

And to drink today I packed shmoo a Tropical Punch Hint. Oh, Hint waters are one of my new absolute favorite things I never, ever want to be without. More about them later -- they deserve their own post!

Verdict: As expected, shmoo ingnored the veggies this time, but he certainly had fun playing with the little picks they were on. He also had fun with the sandwich, fruit, crackers, and candy-coated chocolate mints. 4 stars.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Vegan Lunch Box Playlist

David at the Largehearted Boy music blog asked me if I would be interested in taking part in his "Book Notes" feature. In "Book Notes", David asks authors to create a list of songs that relate in some way to their book -- an imaginary soundtrack, music that has inspired the book, or music that has been featured in the book.

I must admit that I spent waaaay too much late night time on the computer putting this together, but what a lot of fun it was! I wanted to put together a list of songs that was bubbly, fun, kid-friendly, and smile-inducing -- the same way I think about my lunch boxes!

Read all about my song choices at Largehearted Boy, then listen to samples using the iMix screen below.

While you're at it, you might also want to check out the "Book Notes" playlist for Vegan With A Vengeance.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Flickr Vegan Lunch Box Group

Hey, That Bohemian Chick and her cohorts have started a Flickr Vegan Lunch Box Pool to share pictures of foods they have made from the cookbook. Check it out! That Blue Ribbon Bread looks fantastic.

The Amazing Kale Occurence

Last year I shared the story of our Salad Miracle. This year, I must report an Amazing Kale Occurence!

This afternoon, for the first time ever, my son knowingly, willingly, and happily ate kale! Granted, he's eaten it before; he's just never known he was eating it (visit the Sneaky Momma's Tomato Sauce on page 170 of Vegan Lunch Box and you'll see what I mean). He's always adamantly turned his nose up at any identifiable bit of cooked greens.

As I warmed up some pasta for shmoo today at lunchtime, I also contemplated some cooked potatoes and well-steamed, chopped kale I had leftover in the fridge. I decided to make them into an easy colcannon: I mashed the potatoes and kale together with plain soymilk, onion salt and freshly ground black pepper. When it was hot, I topped it with a nice pat of Earth Balance margarine. Simple, but very satisfying.

As he ate his pasta, shmoo kept shooting glances in the direction of my colcannon. Although I had given up all hope years ago, I decided to ask again. "Would you like some? It tastes like mashed potatoes."

"NO!" he shouted, then turned his head slightly away and shrugged. "Oh, okay."

I put a small scoop on his plate, added a special little touch of salt, and sat back. He ate a small bite, then another, and another, and soon was asking for a bigger helping. He ate most of the colcannon himself, then finally remarked, "Well, mom, I guess you finally found a way to feed me kale." WOO HOO!

I guess it goes to show, there is always hope! If you keep eating healthy foods with enjoyment and consistency, some day your child may finally open up and give it a try.

Of course, I've been putting kale on the table once or twice a week for the last 8 years or so, so be patient. It may take a while.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Good Food Interview

You can now listen online to my recent interview on KCRW's Good Food, where host Evan Kleiman and I talk about Vegan Twinkies.

Speaking of Vegan Twinkies, I notice that the Hostess Twinkies Bake Set is once again available at Bed, Bath & Beyond, along with a Hostess Cupcakes Set. Can Sno Balls be far behind?

Food Blog Award!

I couldn't believe it recently when messages saying "Congrats on the Food Blog Award!" started coming in. What?!? It turns out that Vegan Lunch Box has won again!

VLB won a 2006 Food Blog Award from Well Fed Network in the category "Best Food Blog - Family/Kids".

I'm thrilled that so many families -- both vegan and omnivorous -- are enjoying the healthy, cruelty-free, kid-friendly lunches I try to put out there each week. I hope that if all of us out there take steps to make our meals just a bit healthier and a bit more compassionate day by day, that we will make a huge difference in our family's health and in the greater world around us.

Thank you so much to Well Fed Network and to everyone who voted!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Spinach Bacon Salad

Shmoo has this Monday off, so it's time for another Mommy Lunch!

Those of you who read the summertime posts know I pack my lunches in this stainless steel container, which I strongly recommend for holding big veggie and fruit salads like the kind I usually have for lunch.

During the cold winter months I still make lots of salads but add creamier dressings and richer toppings to make them a bit more filling. Today it's a Spinach Bacon Salad: baby spinach, romaine, radicchio, and lots and lots of sliced fresh mushrooms, with a stack of fried
Fakin' Bacon and a Creamy Shallot Dijon Dressing to toss on at lunchtime.

Citrus fruits are at their peak in the winter, but eating plain oranges is getting a little boring. Today I jazzed them up by making Oranges with Raspberry Sauce and Ginger, packed in a scooped out orange bowl.

On the side are some pistachios, and my happy glass jar is filled with Very Veggie Juice.

Verdict: I had never tried Fakin' Bacon before, although I love fried tempeh. These smoky strips were fantastic, easy to prepare and great on a spinach salad.

Just before taking this picture my inner Cooking Muse told me to sprinkle pickled ginger on the top of my orange salad. At first I was extremely doubtful ("Pickled ginger on oranges? Are you sure?" "Yes! Yes! You must add pickled ginger!"). Turns out it was perfect -- exactly what the salad needed to make it sing. 5 stars.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Pot Stickers and Chop Sticks

What a difference a year makes! Last year shmoo wouldn't have touched a spring roll, pot sticker, or pad thai noodle. Now he eats them all with gusto.

I found Ling Ling Vegetable Pot Stickers in the health food freezer section at my local grocery store. They even come with a dipping sauce, which you see here packed in the tiny container alongside.

On the right is a dish of Stir-Fried Soybeans with Garlic and Chile, a recipe from this January's issue of Gourmet magazine (I simply left out the oyster sauce). Above that is some brown rice with a little soy sauce fish, and next to it is a colorful fruit salad made with pineapple, apple, banana, and some of the biggest green grapes I've ever seen.

Verdict: Shmoo ate every bite here with gusto, especially the luscious pot stickers. Certainly the biggest hit of this lunch box was the soy beans, loaded with garlic, ginger, and sesame oil. We all loved the flavor of these edamame, but were confused as well: when you pop the baby soybeans out of their pods and into your mouth, most of that wonderful flavor gets left behind, and the oil and soy sauce makes them messy to eat. Not that shmoo ever minds getting his fingers dirty, but next time I'd like to stir-fry shelled edamame instead for more flavor and less mess.

I even included a kid-sized set of green, sparkly chopsticks with this lunch. Shmoo was excited about showing off his new chopsticking skills. He's been getting pretty agile, although in the end he gave up on the slippery banana and used one stick to stab each piece of fruit and bring it to his mouth. Rudimentary but effective. 5 stars.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A New Year, A New Shmoo

Welcome to 2007! Next week we'll be back with our first lunch box of the year. In the meantime I want you to know that I haven't been sitting on my laurels over the holidays (what are laurels, anyway, and why would I sit on them?)

First I created a complete Recipe Index listing all the free recipes available over on my recipe blog, Shmooed Food. That should make the recipes a lot easier to find; I could never get the "previous post" and "archive" lists working on the blog the way I wanted them to.

(Gee, until now I never noticed how many dessert recipes I've featured on the blog. I guess my sweet tooth is showing! At least a few of them are reasonably healthy...)

I also added a little Photo Gallery to my website with some of the fancier lunch box pictures from the book. At first I thought I would make a gallery with a picture of every single lunch menu in the entire book. Then I up and realized the amount of work that would require. Suddenly, laurel-sitting is starting to sound mighty attractive (whatever it is).

Finally, I updated my Blogger Profile with an actual picture of my actual self. That's right, I'm not really a pumpkin!