Easy Vegan Swaps

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Thinking about going vegan? The switch is easier than you think! And if the thought has never crossed your mind, maybe it should. Becoming a vegan is not only one of the best things you can do for the environment (20% of pollution comes from the meat industry!), but also for your health. Going vegan, even part-time, has been shown to reduce the risks of many diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and even arthritis! While going vegan isn’t for everyone, it clearly has its benefits!

Read on for some super easy (and still tasty!) swaps to make in your kitchen to make your lifestyle transition smooth sailing!

  • Replace an egg (in baking) with:
    • 1/4 cup of applesauce
    • 2 tbs ground flaxseed + 1 tbs water
    • Mashed banana
    • 1 tbs chia seeds + 3 tbs water
  • Replace milk with:
    • Almond or Coconut milk
    • Applesauce
  • Replace your meat burgers with:
    • Black bean or quinoa burgers
  • Swap out mayonnaise with:
    • Avocado
  • Use (firm) TOFU in place of meats
  • Replace ground beef in tacos with….. Lentils!
  • Instead of butter, use:
    • Olive oil
    • Coconut oil
    • Avocado
    • Applesauce

Try swapping out some ingredients in the next non-vegan recipe you try and tell us how it goes!

Written by: Leana Varvella

Nutrition Spotlight: Omega-3’s and DHA

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Image source: india.com

Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential nutrient in the body. They are used by the body in the brain and eyes and are thought to have many disease-preventing benefits. It’s important that everyone consumes enough of them, but it is even more so for pregnant and breastfeeding women and their toddlers as they develop – especially if they are eating a vegetarian diet.

There are three main omega-3 fatty acids:

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

All three of these play crucial roles in the body and can only be obtained from food. DHA is considered to be one of the most important fatty acids in the brain development of infants and toddlers. In fact, DHA is the most abundant building blocks of brain and retina tissue and adequate DHA levels have been associated with intelligence and happiness later in life. Because of this, breast milk is extremely high in DHA. But what about after breastfeeding?

The most plentiful sources of DHA are cold water fatty fish, like salmon and tuna. This can leave those wanting to raise their child on a vegetarian diet (or those who have a toddler who just doesn’t like fish!) in a tough place. Fortunately for vegetarian families, there are plenty of ways to ensure your toddler’s brain health if you prefer not to eat fish or use fish oil supplements.

While there are no common vegetarian sources of DHA, it is made in the body in small amounts during the breakdown of ALA, along with EPA. Many oils and seeds are plentiful in ALA – chia seed, flax, hempseed, walnuts, pecans, olive oil, and more. Because of this, most adult vegetarians and vegans have a low but steady level of DHA in their body.

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Image source: flickr user

For infants and toddlers with growing brains, they may need a little more. There is no established dietary reference intake for DHA specifically, but the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids suggests a total intake of 15 milligrams of DHA per pound of body weight in children over the age of 1. Many pediatricians recommend a DHA supplement for omnivorous and vegetarian children alike, as well as their pregnant and nursing mothers.

Vegetarians can take comfort in knowing that there are kid-friendly supplement options. Since fish get their DHA from algae, it is only natural that DHA supplements derived from algae have hit the market. Algal oil DHA has been found to be as effective as DHA from fish and is available in liquid and capsule form for kids of all ages.

All in all, for a healthy growing brain, make sure your toddler is getting at least one serving a day of oil or seeds high in omega-3s along with an appropriate algal oil supplement. Vegetarian moms-to-be and breastfeeding moms should also supplement with DHA for baby’s best start!

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Omega 3 Banana Avacado “Ice Cream” Recipe (Vegan)

Ingredients:

2 ripe frozen bananas
½ avocado
¼ cup pistachios
1 tablespoon sliced almonds
1 tablespoon shredded coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Chop bananas into pieces a day or two ahead of time and place into freezer
2. If pistachios are still in shells, remove them
3. Place ingredients into a blender or food processor; blend until thick and creamy
4. Spoon mixture into bowl! If you would like it thicker, place it into the freezer for a couple hours after making
5. Top with well-ground up pistachios or flax seed for an extra boost of omega-3

Tip: This recipe can be modified to create a puree for little ones transitioning to solid foods, using just half a banana and half an avocado!

Written by: Amanda Dunham

Sources:
Omega-3 fatty acids: considering microalgae as a vegetarian source of EPA and DHA
Harvard Ask-the-Expert
Divine Glowing Health blog

Squash Spotlight: Butternut Squash!

Butternut squash soup
Photo credit: Veronique

Last week we featured a post about different kinds of fall and winter squash. This week we would like to highlight one in particular from that list, one of the most popular and versatile varieties mentioned: butternut squash!

Butternut squash, with its bright orange flesh full of carotenoids (a group of antioxidants), is an excellent source of Vitamin A–about 148% of your daily recommended intake for only half a cup! It’s also high in Vitamin C, fiber, manganese, potassium, magnesium, and the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Plus its sweet, smooth, slightly nutty flavor makes it a winner for the tastebuds!

The tastiest butternut squash will feel heavy for its size and have a matte skin rather than a glossy skin. (A glossy skin is a sign of having been picked too early, and the flesh likely won’t be as sweet as a full-grown squash.) The squash can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to three months, while cut squash can stay fresh for about a week in the refrigerator if well wrapped. For a gourd with the most flesh, choose one with a long, thick neck. For slightly more beta-carotene content, pick one with skin more orange-colored than the rest.

Butternut squash can be prepared in many ways through roasting, toasting, puréeing, grilling, stuffing, or adding to casseroles or baked goods. In South African cuisine, butternut squash is commonly used in soups or grilled whole and seasoned with spices like nutmeg or cinnamon. Another common method is roasting, simply by cutting the squash in half lengthwise, lightly brushing with oil, and placing cut side down onto a baking sheet to bake for about 45 minutes. The seeds can also even be roasted like pumpkin seeds.

Here’s a favorite way to enjoy butternut squash that even the littlest members of the family can eat! Smooth, creamy, easy Butternut Squash Soup!

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1-2 medium potatoes, cubed
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
1 (32 fl oz) container vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the oil in a large pot and cook the onion, celery, carrot, potatoes, and squash for about 5 minutes or until lightly browned.

2. Pour in just enough vegetable stock to fully cover the vegetables, and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to low, cover pot, and simmer for 40 minutes or until all vegetables are tender.

3. Pour soup from pot into a blender and blend until smooth. Return to pot, then add as much of the leftover vegetable stock as needed to reach the desired consistency and heat through. Season with salt and pepper and enjoy!

What’s your favorite way to cook butternut squash? Share your tips in the comments below!

Written by: Lauren Mesaros

Sources:
Recipe adapted from Butternut Squash Soup II

Grain Spotlight…Buckwheat!

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Photo credit: Ervins Strauhmanis

As more people have begun adopting gluten-free diets due to allergy, intolerance, or other health-related reasons, alternative grains have experienced a boost in popularity. One of these is buckwheat, which, despite the name, is not related to wheat at all. The “fruit” of the buckwheat plant is actually more like a sunflower seed, with one seed inside a hard outer hull. Buckwheat flour is made from the white, starchy endosperm, and kasha (or buckwheat groat, as it is sometimes called) is the hulled, crushed whole grain most commonly used in cooking. The flowers of the buckwheat plant are also very attractive to bees and are used to make a dark honey.

Like many grains, buckwheat is a good source of protein and fiber, providing about 5.7 grams of protein and 4.5 grams of fiber per cooked cup. Buckwheat is also high in manganese, a micronutrient needed for many chemical reactions throughout the body. Some studies have shown that diets containing buckwheat and other grains are linked to a lower risk of high cholesterol or high blood pressure. These effects are partly due to buckwheat’s supply of flavonoids, which act as antioxidants and also help to prevent excessive clotting of blood platelets.

 If you’re looking for a gluten-free alternative or just want to experiment with another nutritious grain, there are many ways to use buckwheat in cooking and baking. Buckwheat flour can easily be a substitute for regular white or wheat flour in muffins, breads, cookies, or as a thickener for soups and sauces. You can even grind your own at home using whole buckwheat and a spice or coffee grinder (ideally one with at least 200 watts of power, as buckwheat hulls are harder than other grains). The flour should always be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, while the grains can be stored in an airtight container in any cool, dry place. 

 The cooked grains can be used as a plain or seasoned side dish, as a hot breakfast cereal with milk, or as a replacement for rice given the similar texture and cooking methods. They’re an excellent addition to soups, cooked or cold salads, stuffings, stir-fries, or any other dish you would like to add some complex carbohydrates and protein to! 
 
Buckwheat can even be made into baby food: just thoroughly whisk together over low heat 1-2 cups of water for each 1/4 cup of buckwheat flour. For older babies or toddlers who can chew, try a kasha cereal by boiling 2 cups of water, adding 1 cup of kasha and returning to a boil, then reducing the heat to low to let the mixture simmer for about 15 minutes as you stir occasionally. This can be served on its own or easily mixed with fruit, fruit purees, or milk.
 
One of the most common uses of buckwheat around the world is for buckwheat flour pancakes. Here’s an easy, vegan, gluten-free recipe!
 
Vegan Gluten-Free Buckwheat Pancakes
1 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup white or brown rice flour
2 tablespoons ground flax
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon date sugar (or other sweetener)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups soy milk (or other non-dairy milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
 
1. Sift the buckwheat flour and mix together with all dry ingredients.
2. Add the milk and vanilla and mix well.
3. Let sit for about 10 minutes, then add any fruit or nuts as desired.
4. Pour about 1/4 cup of batter onto a greased griddle or pan and flip the pancake when bubbles form on the surface. Cook until golden brown on each side.
 
 
What’s your favorite way to cook with buckwheat?
 
 
Written by: Lauren Mesaros
 
Sources:
Recipe adapted from Helyn’s Healthy Kitchen

Vegan Berry Peach Cobbler

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Berry and peach season is in full swing, so what better way to use some of your fresh produce than by making a delicious vegan cobbler?!?  This is also a great recipe to let the little ones help with since there is a lot of scooping and pouring!!

 

For the fruit:

1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries

1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries

2 medium sized ripe peaches sliced into 1-inch chunks

2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour or whole-wheat flour

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

a big pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

(pinch of ground ginger and ground cloves are also encouraged, but not entirely necessary)

1/4 cup pure maple syrup

For the topping:

1 1/2 cup old fashioned oats (I prefer using gluten free oats)

1/3 cup all-purpose flour or whole-wheat (coconut works well too!)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 Tablespoons canola oil

2 Tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 Tablespoon water

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a medium bowl, toss the berries and peach chunks with flour, spices and maple syrup. Set aside while you assemble the topping.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the oats, flour, salt and spices. In a small bowl whisk together the oil, maple syrup, vanilla extract and water. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and blend with a fork. Make sure all of the dry ingredients are moistened by the oil and maple syrup mixture.
  4. Add half a cup of the topping mixture to the fruit mixture and toss together. Scoop fruit into ramekins, being sure to fill each cup to the top. Spoon and pat topping onto each cup. Sprinkle with an additional dose of ground cinnamon if you’d like. Place the six ramekins on a clean baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake for 35 minutes, or until bubbly.

Adapted From: Joy The Baker

Raspberry Coconut Ice Cream

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We all love ice cream, but most that you find in the stores are not only highly processed, but very few are dairy free.  This is why I started making my own last summer and it has slowly become something I make during the year!  Here is my recipe for raspberry ice cream, however, you can swap out the raspberries for any fruit of your choice (I have even swapped the raspberries out for Oreos).

2 (13oz) cans chilled coconut milk (works best with chilled, full-fat milk)
3/4 cup granulated sugar, stevia, or other sweetener of your choice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup raspberries (fresh or frozen) or other fruit of your choice

Preparation:
1. Place the coconut milk, sugar, and vanilla in a blender. Blend until combined, about 30 seconds.

2. Freeze using an ice cream maker, according to manufacture’s instructions. During the last few minutes of churning, add in the fruit. You can serve immediately for a soft serve texture or you can place the ice cream in a container and freeze for a firmer texture.

Vegan Banana Muffins

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Looking for a quick snack or breakfast to make the little ones this week!  Why not try these delicious vegan muffins!  Even better, you can scoop them into mini muffin tins to make them easy for little hands to not only pick up but will also help them become more of a snack to avoid them becoming too full!

  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (you can use all-purpose flour too)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 very ripe bananas (mashed)
  • 1/2 cup apple sauce
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degree. Spray your mini-muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Whisk together to combine. Set aside. In a smaller bowl, combine your apple sauce, oil, vanilla, and mashed bananas. Stir until all ingredients are combined.
  3. Add your wet ingredients to your dry ingredients. Stir until all ingredients are mixed through.
  4. Using a small spoon or a melon ball scooper, scoop the muffin batter into the muffin tin. Only fill each cup 3/4 full.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes rotating pan once halfway through cooking.