How to Read Labels

Although we emphasize cooking from scratch on the meal plans, sometimes life requires a little help and convenience. Whether you're buying bread, milk, crackers, condiments or something else, it's important to take a moment to scan the label. (Don't believe what you read on the front! That's marketing!)

nutritional label

This terrific video by Jeff Novick, MS RD, "How to Read Labels" will teach you how to read labels, ensuring you make the best choice.

Put aside a few minutes and watch!

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Food Storage - How Long Does It Last?

We advocate 1-day-a-week cooking on our meal plans. The idea is you spend 2 to 3 hours one day a week preparing most (if not all) of your meals, then reheating all week long. That way you always have a healthy meal waiting for you.

Many first-time users will ask about storage -- should you freeze the meals? My advice is to store as much in the fridge as you can (unless the recipe indicates otherwise). I don't advocate freezing foods for two reasons: 1. a lot of foods don't do well frozen, or the texture changes when it's been frozen and 2. reheating something frozen takes a lot longer than heating something that's been chilling in the fridge and you'll be quicker to ignore what's in the freezer than what's in the fridge. (Note: for more information, see this post on how to freeze foods).

Since our meal plans are completely plant-based, you don't have to worry about bacteria and contamination with the same vigor as you would with foods containing animal products like meat, cheese or eggs. Still, food safety is important and proper food storage is key.

How long does it last?

FOODS PURCHASED COLD: (Fridge / Freezer)

- Chocolate Syrup (6 months / do not freeze)

- Salsa: Fridge: 3 days after opening / Freezer: 1-2 months

- Juice (in cartons): 3 weeks (unopened) / 8-12 months

- Margarine: 4-5 months / 12 months

- Miso: 3 months/ do not freeze

- Soy/Rice/Almond Milk: 7-10 days / do not freeze

- Tofu: approx. 1 week / 5 months

PANTRY ITEMS (unopened / opened)

- Baking Powder {6 months / 3 months)

- Baking Soda {18 months / 6 months)

- Brown Sugar (4 months / indefinitely)

- Cocoa (indefinitely / 12 months)

- Confectioners Sugar (18 months / indefinitely)

- Cornmeal (18 months / refrigerate after opening, 18 months)

- Cornstarch (18 months / 18 months)

- Extracts (i.e. Vanilla) (3 years / 1 year)

- Flour (1 month / refrigerate after opening, 6-8 months)

- Flour Mixes (i.e. Bisquick) (12-15 months / use by date)

- Shortening (8 months / 3 months)

- Sugar (2 years / indefinitely)

BAKED GOODS (shelf / refrigerator / freezer)

- Cake (1-2 days / 1 week / 2+ months)

- Cookies (2-3 weeks / 2 months / 8-12 months)

- Muffins (1-2 days / 1 week / 2 months)

- Yeast Rolls (3-4 days / 1 week / 2 months)

CONDIMENTS (unopened / refrigerate after opening / pantry after opening)

- BBQ sauce (12 months / 4 months / 1 month)

- Dressings (10 months / 3 months / must refrigerate)

- Ketchup (12 months / 6 months / 1 month)

- Mustard (12 months / 12 months / 1 month)

- Olives (12 months / 2 weeks / must refrigerate)

- Pickles (10 months / 1-2 weeks / must refrigerate)

SHELF-STABLE FOODS (unopened / refrigerate after opening / pantry after opening)

- Beans (Dried) (12 months / - / 12 months)

- Beans (Cans) (2-5 years / 3-4 days / must refrigerate)

- Brown Rice (12 months / 6 months / 12 months)

- Crackers (8 months / 3-4 months / 1 month)

- Dried Fruits (i.e. raisins) (6 months / 6 months / 1 month)

- Herbs (Dried) ( 1-2 years / - / 12 months)

- Honey (12 months / - / 12 months)

- Jam/Jelly (12 months / 6 months / must refrigerate)

- Juice Box (4-6 months / 8-12 days / must refrigerate)

- Lentils (12 months/ - / 12 months)

- Maple Syrup (12 months / 12 months / must refrigerate)

- Molasses (12 months / - / 6 months)

- Nuts (12 months / 4-6 months fridge, 9-12 months freezer / 1 month)

- Oats (12 months / - / 6-12 months)

- Pasta (Dry) (2 years / - / 12 months)

- Peanut Butter (6-9 months / - / 2-3 months)

- Potatoes (6-12 months / - / 6-12 months)

- Spices (Whole) (2-4 years total)

- Spices (Ground) (2-3 years total) paprika, chili powder and red pepper should be refrigerated

- Vegetables (Cans) (2-5 years / 3-4 days / must refrigerate)

- Vinegar (2 years / - / 12 months)

- Water (bottled) 12 months / - / 12 months

- White Rice (2 years / 6 months / 12 months)

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Natural Appetite Suppressants

Some days my stomach becomes what I call a "bottomless pit." No matter how much I eat, I can't seem to shake the hunger. I find these "pit" days never make logical sense either -- it's not a day where I worked out harder or more than normal. It's not a day where I missed a meal on the meal plans, or ate less than normal (or was otherwise calorie deficient, which would certainly explain the hunger). No, no -- It's more like I'm hungry for the heck of it.

Initially, I try to make good choices in my attempt to quell the hunger: eat a steamed potato with salsa, a big bowl of steamed kale with hot sauce, a slice of whole-wheat bread with red pepper hummus... but as the food goes in and the hunger still stays, I start to glance over at a big cookie, and wonder, hmm... maybe that will do it! Or perhaps that candy over there...

To keep myself from spiraling down into an all-you-can-eat-junk-buffet (which sounds very appetizing to the bottomless pit!) I try snacking on some of these healthier choices that can be a natural appetite surpassant. If you can't snack on them by themselves, add them to a healthy choice -- or your next meal! (source)

BEVERAGES: water (drink two glasses! try this first!), coffee, green tea

FRUITS/VEG: apples, sweet potatoes, ginger (root), leafy green vegetables, salad

NUTS/FATS: almonds, avocado, flax seeds, dark chocolate

SPICES: (I'm sensing a theme- eat spicy hot food!) cayenne pepper, hot sauce, wasabi

OTHER: oatmeal, tofu

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Meat-Free Protein Sources

As any vegan or plant-based eater will attest, the most common question you get is, "But where do you get your protein?"

Here's the shocker: protein is in ALL foods we eat. Even kale, rice and bananas have protein. In fact, you could eat nothing but potatoes all day long and exceed your protein needs! Another shocker? Calorie-for-calorie, spinach has more protein than steak.

Check out the protein power in these common foods:

1. Lentils & Beans – (While each bean and lentils have their own values, they all have high levels) 1 cup kidney beans contains 13 grams; 1 cup black beans contains 15 grams

2. Soy (soy beans, tempeh, tofu) – ½ cup contains 10 grams

3. Quinoa – 1 cup cooked contains 9 grams

4. Almonds – ¼ cup contains 8 grams

5. Peas – 1 cup contains 7.3 grams

6. Sunflower Seeds – ¼ cup contains 6 grams

7. Spinach – 1 cup contains 5.3 grams

8. Brown Rice – 1 cup cooked contains 5 grams

9. Potato- 1 potato contains 4.3 grams

10. Collard greens – 1 cup contains 4.01 grams

The Vegetarian Resource Group also has a longer more comprehensive list here.

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Pumpkin Pie Smoothie Recipe

Get the taste of pumpkin pie with this smoothie! (Plus my easy DIY pumpkin pie spice recipe!)

Ingredients: 1 frozen bananas ¼ cup canned pure pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling) 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice ¼ cup unsweetened almond milk (plain or vanilla) a dash of ground ginger 1 tsp pure maple syrup

Instructions: Combine all ingredients in a blender and whiz until smooth, adding more almond milk as necessary to achieve the proper consistency. Add more pumpkin or spice to taste. Garnish with a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg.

DIY Pumpkin Pie Spice (yields 1 tsp) 1/2 tsp cinnamon 1/4 tsp cloves or allspice 1/8 tsp nutmeg

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What is a portion size? What is a serving size?

With the holidays and parties just around the corner, I've been getting several questions from our meal plan users about portion size and portion control -- what is a serving size? What is a portion size?

Prepackaged foods (those that come in a container or box) generally have a serving size listed along with nutritional information (and sometimes the serving size is surprisingly small!), but what about foods that don't come in packages? Foods from the produce stand or bulk bin?

One thing I love about eating a low fat, whole foods, plant-based diet is that I can generally eat as much as I want because healthy foods tend to fill me up before I can go overboard with calories (for more information, see our caloric density post).

Still, I think it's helpful to know what a portion is. Knowing portion sizes can help ensure that I'm being smart about my choices (I'm not deceived by their size) *and* that I'm getting enough vegetables, fruits, grains, etc. when I'm surveying a buffet at a party.

Here are some general "serving sizes" to keep in mind when building a plate of food. (We're using everyday household items like lightbulbs and pencils to help you identify a size).

1 serving = object's size

BASEBALL: 1 cup broccoli 1 cup baby carrots 1 cup frozen mixed vegetables 1 cup raw greens 1 apple 1 cup whole grain cereal 1 cup whole-wheat or GF pasta 1 cup popcorn 1/2 cup grapes 1 cup strawberries 1 cup pudding 1 cup soup or chili 1 cup fries 1 cup noodles/spaghetti 1 cup pasta dish

LIGHTBULB: 1/2 cup mashed potatoes 1/2 cup brown rice 1/2 cup whole-wheat couscous 1/2 cup blueberries 1/2 cup ice cream, sorbet, frozen yogurt

PENCIL (length)" 1 Corn 1 Banana

DENTAL FLOSS: 2x2" square brownie 1oz dark chocolate

HOCKEY PUCK: 1 biscuit 1 muffin 1 cinnamon bun 1 cookie

DECK OF CARDS: 1 slice cake 1 sandwich (i.e. boca burger) 1 all-veggie sandwich (2 decks)

POKER CHIP: 1 tbsp oil 1 tbsp full-fat dressing 1 tbsp margarine or butter 1 tbsp mayo 1 tbsp olives

OTHER ITEMS: 1 oz (or 1/4 cup) dried fruit = golf ball 1 sweet potato = computer mouse 1 bagel = can of tuna burrito or sub = checkbook slice pizza = 2 dollar bills 1 slice of bread = cassette tape peanut butter = pingpong ball pancake = CD

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