The Basics of Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle

I began my journey to a healthier lifestyle this past March, so it’s actually been only 5 months… but it feels like I’ve been doing it for much longer. I feel as if I’ve gained a year of knowledge in just a few months. I get a lot of questions and incredulous looks when I mention that I’ve gone “95% Vegan” (I’m still transitioning, and I’m a firm believer in YOLO, so cheese and milk [from chocolate] still sneaks into my diet sometimes.) The top questions that I receive are as follows:

  1. No meat?! What do you eat?!

  2. Is the Vegan diet expensive?

  3. Is it difficult to find food for a vegan diet at non-specialty grocery stores, e.g. Publix/Kroger? Where do you shop?

  4. Is it difficult/time consuming to cook your meals all of the time?

  5. Please share your recipes!

I’m going to answer all of those questions in this post, as well as provide tips and tricks to get you started and keep you going on a healthy journey of your own. When you’re ready for the first step in your transition, read further for all of the information that you’ll need. I’d like to begin with a statement: Abs are made in the gym but shown in the kitchen. This statement is true for all parts of your body, not just your abs – if you’re eating frozen foods 90% of the time and crap from a box 10% of the time, your body will never look the way you want it – cue the cottage cheese thighs and the dimply shoulders! A healthy lifestyle is not difficult to maintain. In my personal opinion, it doesn’t require that much discipline. It’s possible that I’m lucky in the fact that I love fruits and vegetables and I’m not a big fan of meat, so it doesn’t really affect me to make this sort of change. If you’re not that lucky though, a Vegan/Vegetarian diet is probably not for you; but don’t worry, I will include modifications for healthy, lean meats in my recipes. Additionally, while a healthy change in your diet is amazing for your body and does wonders, without regular exercise you’re only getting 50% of the benefits. I realize that it’s difficult to get motivated and keep up with a routine. The trick is finding a type of exercise that you can be passionate about. If you love it, you’ll love doing it A LOT. To me, exercise should be fun and enjoyable. Try out different types of exercise until you find the right one for you. I personally love Pilates and HIIT workouts, and the Blogilates YouTube channel is the instruction manual to my new life. Try it at least once, see if you like it. I recommend beginning here. Another key thing to remember: drink lots of water! You should never be thirsty. Begin your morning with an 8oz glass of water before breakfast. It will speed up your metabolism for the next 90 minutes, which will help you lose weight. Now, finally, the long-awaited answers to your questions!

1. No meat?! What do you eat?!

Om to the nom!

Just a sample of delicious foods that I can enjoy.

Simple answer: fruits, vegetables, oats and whole grains, pasta, rice, Quinoa, nuts, beans, soy-based products. Whole grains, Quinoa, Sun Dried Tomatoes, Kale, and Edamame are my “super foods” – they pack a lot of nutrients in just one serving, taste delicious with everything, are very filling, and provide much-needed energy for a workout or a long day. If you’re Vegan/Vegetarian, protein is important, so Edamame (and other beans) and Sun Dried Tomatoes should become an essential part of your diet. Longer answer: I’ll give you a typical day of meals for me. I eat around 1500 calories a day (this number will move to about 2100 once I reach my desired weight), and I eat only the recommended serving amounts. In the morning, I’ll have either cereal (my healthy favorite is Kashi Warm Cinnamon Oat Cereal, but I sometimes give in and eat my childhood favorite, Cocoa Pebbles) or steel cut oatmeal. After my workout, I’ll usually make myself a fruit smoothie. For lunch, I’ll have whole grain pasta with veggies or a sauteed “vegetable salad” (a name which while redundant, is actually quite perfect.) Dinner will usually consist of Quinoa or rice with veggies, by itself or in a wrap. If I’m feeling a little lazy or besieged by a craving, I’ll have a peanut butter sandwich and chocolate almond milk, a frozen veggie burger, or a Smart Ones or Amy’s frozen meal (these are rare!) This naturally leads into question #4:

4. Is it difficult/time consuming to cook your meals all of the time?

The answer to this is a resounding NO. Above, I described a typical day, wherein nearly all of my meals involve little thought, effort, or cooking. On a daily basis, I’m not going to be aspiring to gourmet levels, I just want to eat! So I end up throwing together a bunch of ingredients that taste great together and do not require me to spend an hour and a half on a complicated recipe. This also helps when cooking on a budget, because 90% of the time you’re going to end up buying your most-used ingredients and avoiding specialty items. It’s so incredibly quick and easy to whip up, for instance, a spicy Mexican-inspired dish with what you have on hand. Example from my own kitchen:

Red Quinoa and Spicy Black Beans

Makes 2 servings

1 can organic black beans

1/4 – 2/3 cup (according to taste) diced red bell pepper

1/4 – 2/3 cup (according to taste) diced onion

sliced jalapenos, sliced avocado, cumin, black pepper, red pepper flakes (all according to taste)

4 tbsp of your favorite salsa, bean dip, or guacamole

1/2 cup of dry red quinoa

(If you eat dairy and meat, feel free to include shredded chicken or turkey breast and top the meal with shredded cheddar cheese)

If you have a rice cooker, cook your quinoa according to the 2:1 method (For 1/2 cup of dry quinoa, you’ll use 1 cup of water. I like to add a little extra water, 1/4 cup or less.) If you don’t have a rice cooker, follow the directions on the package. Rinse beans in a colander to remove some of the added salt. In a saucepan, toss beans, onion, bell pepper, jalapenos, avocado, chicken/turkey if you’re eating meat, and seasonings and mix well. Heat until hot. Top Quinoa with your hot ingredients, or mix Quinoa and vegetables and place into a Whole Wheat tortilla for a healthy wrap. Top your meal with salsa, bean dip, or guacamole, (or use as a dip!)

Now for the harder questions, starting with:

2. Is the Vegan diet expensive? and 3. Is it difficult to find food for a vegan diet at non-specialty grocery stores, e.g. Publix/Kroger/Wal Mart? Where do you shop?

I make one big shopping trip that will last me for the entire month (excluding staples like milk, bread, and bananas that have to be bought throughout the month.) I typically spend around $120 (to feed two people) per shopping trip. Typical items on my shopping list include: bananas, almond milk, whole grain bread, organic grape tomatoes, red onion, organic minced garlic, hummus, frozen fruit (strawberries, pineapple, berries), fresh greens (arugula/spinach, asparagus/broccolini), frozen vegetables (broccoli, peas, cauliflower, edamame), whole wheat pasta, cereal, organic canned beans. I try to avoid food with high sodium content, unnecessary additives, high fructose corn syrup, high caloric content, etc. I shop natural and organic whenever possible.

I find that in many ways, the Vegan diet is actually cheaper than the typical American diet of meat, frozen meals, and boxed food. Meat is incredibly expensive, and 1 package of ground beef will generally stretch for 1 meal, whereas a bag of Quinoa will stretch for awhile. Also, with frozen dinners, boxed food, and pre-prepared meals, you’re paying for convenience. The value of  a Vegan/Vegetarian diet is a lot higher. When I was eating meat, I spent past my budget much quicker than I do with my current diet.

In pursuit of evidence with which to back up my claim that a Vegan diet is cheaper than a normal diet, I took a walk around the grocery store and noted the prices of the food I used to buy, versus the prices of the food that I buy now. What follows is a partial run-down of what I would believe to be a typical monthly haul of groceries for a normal diet, based on what I used to buy:

(1) package of Beef fajita strips – $5.70

(1) 3lb beef roast – $12.89

(4) 1.3lb packages of ground beef – $6.64 each

(2) 1lb packages organic chicken breast – $7.82

(1) bag each of Alexia’s frozen onion rings & Alexia’s frozen sweet potato fries – $3.79 each

(2)  Publix Greenwise frozen pizzas – $5.89 each

(2) boxes Hot Pockets – $2.49 each

(1) 2 liter bottle of soda – $1.99

(1) bag of potato chips – $4.29

(2) 1 gallon jugs of milk – $3.39 each

(2) 3lb packages of white rice – $2.89 each

(3) packages of Publix brand pasta $.99 each

(1) package Oreo cookies – $2.50

(1) box of Eggo frozen waffles – $1.99

(2) boxes of Cocoa Pebbles – $3.25 each

(6) cups of Publix brand yogurt – $1.00 each

Total: $117.43

Now, a run-down of what I buy currently on my monthly shopping trip:

(1) package of steel cut oatmeal – $4.39

(2) packages of Kashi cereal – $3.19 each

(1) package of Back to Nature cookies – $3.49

(1) organic salad dressing – $3.89

(1) jar of olives – $2.69

(1) jar of jalapenos – $1.99

(2) cans of organic beans – $1.39 each

(2) packages of frozen edamame – $2.99 each

(1) package of quinoa – $5.93

(3) packages of whole wheat pasta – $1.23 each

(2) Smart Ones frozen meals – $1.89 each

(2) Amy’s frozen meals – $4.29 each

(1) bottle of juice – $3.99

(1) package of arugula – $2.99

(1) package of spinach – $2.50

(1) bottle of organic minced garlic – $2.59

(2) pints of organic grape tomatoes – $3.99 each

(1) bunch of bananas – .69 each

(1) loaf of bread – $3.49

Total: $73.81

So on average, on a monthly shopping trip (not counting impulse buys or special occasion items for either diet), on a Vegan diet I save around $44 (keep in mind that I did not factor in sale prices of items, such as Silk almond milk [often 2/$5.00], so this number could actually be a little higher.) Doesn’t seem like much… until you need that extra $40 to pay a bill! If you’re looking for a way to save a little money at the grocery store, a Vegetarian diet is a great option. I could actually save around 20 dollars more by buying all fresh ingredients and cutting out the emergency frozen meals and packaged cookies.

Now, as for the availability of Vegan-friendly foods in popular grocery stores, that’s a little more complicated. Publix and Kroger have a large organic presence, with a Vegan-friendly section whose size depends upon the affluence of the area in which the store is located. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are also very Vegan friendly, however their prices can often be a little higher. Wal Mart is to be avoided at all costs, for numerous reasons, one of them being that they are not a Vegan-friendly store at all. Publix is the store that I choose to frequent, for convenience (my boyfriend works there) as well as price (I compared prices between Kroger and Publix and found that prices were either the same or higher at Kroger.) For specialty items, like soy yogurt, almond milk chocolate pudding, and vegan cheeses, I will sometimes treat myself to a trip to Whole Foods.

All that being said, I believe that I have addressed every question on the list. I hope this post was informative and possibly life-changing.  If anyone has any further questions, feel free to post a comment. Also, let me know if you’d like more recipe ideas of my own or ones that I have come across or tried and modified. I’ll leave off here with an additional recipe:

Pesto Potatoes and Veggies – An Indian/Mediterranean fusion!

Makes 2 servings

1 bag of your favorite small potatoes (I chose a medley of red, purple, and white)

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1/2 medium-size red onion, diced

4 tsp minced garlic (or 8 cloves, finely diced)

1 bunch of fresh kale (or 3-4 handfuls from a bag)

sliced green or kalamata olives, to taste

4 tbsp of your favorite pesto

1 tbsp of olive oil

1/2 cup of quinoa (dry) or 1 1/2 cups of your favorite pasta (dry) (OPTIONAL)

Dice your potatoes into fourths. Boil in a large pot of seasoned water (I used black pepper, red pepper, cayenne, a little curry powder, and a touch of salt) for no more than 5 min on med-high heat until fork-tender. Drain the potatoes and place onto paper towels to drain and cool. [If you’re making quinoa or pasta, prepare it separately now.] Toss all of your ingredients, except for the potatoes and pesto, into a skillet coated with a tbsp of olive oil. Saute on med-high heat until onions have paled in color and kale and peppers are tender. Throw in your potatoes and heat through. Remove from heat, toss ingredients with pesto. Enjoy!

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One response to “The Basics of Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle

  1. I am proud of you, (as always) even when you ate meat you were always coming up with awesome recipes… Now you do the same, except with things I can enjoy too, (because of my meat problems), you never cease to amaze me and your resilience, even in the face of all the hardships you have had to endure, inspires me to try harder myself. I love you so much.

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