So today I want to tell you about my conclusions from the last month, and about my aspirations for the next month.  But first, I want to answer I question I have been running into over and over again, as soon as it became common knowledge that I was doing a month of vegan eating.

“What ever do you eat?”

Well, First of all, if you are going to go somewhat or wholly vegan, you should know your reasons or goals.  Here are some great reasons I have heard people say they want to go vegan: long term health benefits, a medical doctor’s instruction, wanting to deal with food allergies, and wanting to quickly recover from an illness.  Your personal reasons and goals will determine for you where you are going to be completely dedicated, and what areas you might budge in, now and again.  Once you have figured this out, its time to go to the drawing board.
Many people I have talked to expressed that they would like to eat more plant based foods, but feel that they would get *SO BORED.*  If you look at how much variety an average family has in their meal plan though, its not actually that exciting.  Pizza on Friday nights, lasagna on Tuesdays, and cereal with milk every morning.  Wow.  So much variety.  With this in mind, please be aware that if you are switching to vegan, and feel bored, you are probably just switching from one bored to another.  Once you get your sea legs, find your wings, find your inner herbivore, I think that you will actually have MORE variety in your diet, and less times of finding yourself bored with eating.  I am still in the middle of this process, but I see a light at the end of the tunnel.  Let me show you the steps I took toward finding my own “whole foods” menu, and show you what I am actually eating.
Before the first step: Change your kitchen mentality.
This may happen before you change the way you menu plan, or it may change after.  Either way, it will make your life easier.  
~Cook up some brown rice, garbanzo beans, and one or two other kinds of beans at the beginning of your week.  Having these ready and accessible will save you time and frustration when you want to eat in ten minutes, instead of in an hour.
~Have whole grain pasta, bread and tortillas on hand.  Although not all whole wheat (WW) or whole grain products are created equal, you want to stick with whole wheats and whole grains because they actually have protein, as well as other nutrients that you don’t want to miss out on.
~Have some vegetable broth, vegetable stock, tomato paste and coconut milk in your pantry.  They will come in handy sooner or later.  I’m guessing it will be sooner.
~Have some of these two homemade “condiments” on hand for easy access: pico de gallo (fresh chopped salsa) and hummus.  Either one may just be the answer to your boredom. 
~Have a full vegetable drawer, full fruit drawer and a clean cutting board accessible.  
~Start thinking about what types of things have protien, and make sure to eat from different protien sources.  Think about eating some grains, (rices, oatmeal, whole wheat, buckwheat, barley, etc.) nuts, (almonds, walnuts, pecans,) legumes, (chickpeas, lentils, beans, peas,) and seeds, (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, etc.) each day. You don’t have to eat all varieties at one time, but just be sure to mix and match through out the duration of the day.  (P.S. Peanuts and Cashews are technically legumes, but are known as nuts, so I don’t know where to put them on this list.)
Step Number One:  Vegan-ise!
Take some of your most favorite, trusted meals, and change them up.  Here are a few dishes that I am using in this manner.  
1. Lasagna~   Make a pan for me that has no meat or dairy products in it.  Instead of the cottage cheese mixture, add tofu, chopped spinach and chopped fresh basil, garlic and diced onions.  In the red sauce, instead of having hamburger, add chopped tomatoes, bell peppers, and maybe just a dash of liquid smoke.  Instead of cheese, cover with (dry) ground cashews or “cashew flour.” Make one normal pan for family. 
2.  Red Devil Curry~  Start the rice cooking. ( I usually choose brown rice, and add a small amount of wild rice.)  Cook a small amount of lentils, to add to my red curry sauce at the end.  Make and set aside some chicken for family.  Make the red devil curry sauce. ( Red curry paste, coconut milk, maple syrup, dash of olive oil, garlic paste,  and some lime juice.)  Add bamboo, red bell peppers, carrots, pineapple, jalepenos, and onion.  Chop some basil and stir it in a few minute before I turn the stove off.  I add lentils to mine, while my family adds chicken. “Rodrigues,” our live-in college student, enjoys the best of both worlds.  She’ll eat the chicken AND the lentils.  Good for her.
3.  Happy Yellow Curry~   Cook rice and if desired lentils.  Mix the yellow curry paste with coconut milk, red onions, mango chunks and pineapple.  Oh my word.
4.  Fajitas~ Lime, cilantro, bell peppers and onions, pared with some rice, refried beans and pico is a party in your mouth. Add some guac, wrap it up in a WW tortilla and you’ve got yourself a winner.  All Recipes has a great recipe for vegan/vegetarian refried beans. (All Recipes… surprise, surprise, right?)
5. Burgers and Asparagus~  Cook burgers for other grown ups, the kids and I will eat Morning Star black bean burgers.  All of us grown ups eat pico on top of our burgers.  With our burgers we like to have oven roasted asparagus, tossed in olive oil and seasonings, cooked until they look slightly wilted. This is also a great meal to have french fries or sweet potato fries with.  (Josh isn’t crazy about either of these, but that’s why Rodrigues lives with us.  She loves them both.  So I have a good excuse to make them!)
6. Whole Wheat Pizza~  Omit the cheese, cover with brilliant combinations of veggies.  You can also use pesto instead of tomato sauce.  
7. “Out of the Pan” Salad~  Lettuce greens, sunflower seeds, walnuts, dried cherries, balsamic vinaigrette.
8. Spaghetti~ Yummy Marinara with noodles and chopped veggies is my new version of this old classic.
Step Two: Find some new favorites.
I went out and bought a vegan cookbook.  I looked through a bunch of books at B&N before I picked one that seemed reasonable for me.  I often get mad when I see that vegan or vegetarian dishes always have weird stuff in them that I would never eat. (Calliflower? Eggplant? Ewww.)  I needed a book with food that I would actually want to cook.  I chose The Vegan Table.  (Side note:  Amazon lets you look through many books.  If will say “click to look inside”  at the top of the picture if this option is available.) I’m sure you can always check a few books out at the library or steal borrow a book from a friend.
My daughter always ONLY wants to make ONE thing from my new vegan cookbook.
 Red velvet cake. Go figure.
Some other great ideas from my new cookbook are:
Hummus Quesadillas (grilled)
Grilled Veggie Panini  (with pesto or with hummus)
Warm spinach salad, with onions and walnuts
Tons of soups, like Cuban black bean, carrot-ginger and Asparagus-thyme, to name a few.
Pad Thai (Oh Yum!)
Step Three: Invent new meals
Like the hummus wrap I briefly described last week. Or my “Chipotle” inspired burrito bowl. Mmmm.  
Here’s the deal.  You know what you like to eat, so make it work for your meal plans.  Eat what you love.
Step Four: Change your definition of Meal
We often have a very “midwestern” idea of what a meal should look like.  A piece of meat, (approximately twice as big as it should be if you look up serving size,) some cooked-to-death veggies, (about half a serving,)  and some simple carb.  Much of the flavor comes from milk based products, sugar, and lots of salt.  While you should be making sure you eat with variety, and get protien, etc, etc, etc, you don’t need to stay confined to the SAD* way you have spent the last X years of your life eating.  More on this later.  
(*Standerd American Diet)

My Vegan Journey Conclusions
1.  Eating this way is easier, cheaper, and way more fun than I would have thought.
2.  When I eat way more plant based foods I feel much better than when I don’t.
3.  I’m going to continue this experiment.  I don’t plan to be a vegan 100% of the time, but I do want it to be the norm in my life.  The extras and the cheating are for security purposes:  I want to feel like its easy to do this, not like I’m trapped by my “diet.”
I plan to have February be mainly vegan, with 1-2 “chEating out” days.  This month I am going to be a bit better with not eating tons of sugar, but I do plan to do some vegan baking once a week.  I hope to make about 3 meals a week that the whole family can eat with me.  Wish me luck.
Up Coming Blogs
Next Friday I am going to expound on Step Three and Step Four, as well as introducing you to some of my new, menu-saving side dishes and snacks. 
I’ll be on my soap box next Tuesday, as I address a few sensitive issues in “Becoming Mom.” Don’t judge me for having a soap box.  I bet you have one or two in the back of your closet.  Don’t worry though, I won’t be too opinionated.  I’m a middle child, for crying out loud…  I can always see that there are two sides of every story.