Happy Herbivore Blog

Plant-Based (Vegan) on a Cruise (Guest post by Stephanie!)

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: TravelGuest

It's summer, which means many herbies will be packing their bags and hitting the road, sky, or sea (for travel tips and help, there's a huge (HUGE!) section in The Happy Herbivore Guide to Plant-Based Living).

Cruises are always a popular vacation choice, especially this time of year. Scott and I actually went on a cruise back in 2007. I made sure to contact the cruise ahead of our trip to tell them about our dietary restrictions and they said they would be happy to accommodate us.

While they DID have a vegetarian menu each night at dinner, we didn't do dairy, so it didn't really work. We were able to talk to the chef on our first night and he was able to come up with something (stuffed bell peppers with veggies and rice and sorbet for dessert). We ultimately found it more enjoyable to make use of the salad bar or the pizza station, which made pizzas on demand without cheese. They also permitted us to bring soy milk on board and there was a lot of fruit as well.

Seeing as my last cruise experience was nearly a decade ago (and dining options and accommodations have probably changed since then), I was very excited to come in contact with Stephanie, a herbie AND a travel agent who knows a thing or two about cruise ships.

I'll let Stephanie steer the ship from here ;)

My husband and I travel quite a bit because of my career as a travel agent, and because of that, we go on quite a bit of mainstream vacations such as visiting all-inclusives and sailing on cruise ships. We particularly enjoy cruises, and I have learned a few tips and tricks for those on board who only partake in plant-based eating like myself.

If you have a cruise vacation planned, hopefully I can bestow some of my knowledge upon you and give you some peace of mind pre-vacation. If you do not have a cruise vacation planned, or have been hesitant to cruise, perhaps my tips will make you more confident about possible future travel plans.

- Each cruise line and ship is very different in terms of accommodations, entertainment, itineraries, rates, and general atmosphere. Furthermore, on-board dining experiences can drastically differ from ship to ship and line to line. There are no industry standards when it comes to venue options, buffet and dining room offerings, and willingness to assist you with specialized meal preparations, but each line and its crew should do their best to help you…just some might do a better job of it than others. Do some research or work with a travel agent to find the best cruise fit for you and your traveling companions.

- Most cruise lines have a special needs department that will also work with dietary requests if they are submitted (generally) 45 or more days prior to departure. I recommend submitting your request and having your travel agent add it to your reservation, but most cruise lines will tell you that speaking to the head waiters in the main dining room once onboard is really the most important step for passengers with special dietary requirements (which for now, still includes us!)

- You really need to work with your head waiter in the main dining room to have special meals prepared for you at dinner time, even if it means simply adjusting the next evening’s vegetarian offerings to be vegan-friendly – this is really the key to having great plant-based meals on board. The chefs are creating thousands of meals for thousands of people each day, so they really need advanced notice and additional time for special food preparations.

- Get to know your head waiter, and be friendly! People are likely to be nicer and more helpful to, well, nice people! Work with him throughout the duration of your cruise to ensure that you are enjoying delicious plant-based/vegan food on a nightly basis.

- Cruise ships generally offer three dining options for passengers: traditional early seating (usually around 6:00pm) traditional late seating (usually around 8:30pm) and a version of flexible dining. For traditional seating, you will select the size of your table upon making your reservation and then sit with the same passengers and be served by the same crew members each night. For flexible dining, you can head to the main dining room when you would like to eat and wait for a table, not unlike going out to a local restaurant on a Friday evening. Generally wait times are short, if at all, but reservations can also be made within this option as well. Eating as a vegan on a cruise ship is much easier when you work with the same head waiter each night, so I recommend selecting a traditional seating option or asking to sit in the same head waiter’s section each night if you have selected the flexible option.

- Generally, soy milk is available on ships if you ask for it. I wouldn’t count on almond milk, or other non-dairy options.

- Each line differs in their policies regarding food and drink items you are permitted to bring on board; usually, pre-packaged and sealed dry items like snack foods are fine. Beverages are a little trickier, so have your travel agent consult with your specific cruise line to learn what is permissible. Some lines will allow you to bring pre-packaged and sealed beverages onboard if they are required for special dietary needs (like the mini almond milk boxes you can purchase at the grocery store), but for items like this you really must check with each cruise line. Please note that cruise ships will not store or prepare special foods and drinks brought on board by passengers, but many have cabins with small coolers for keeping things chilled.

- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The menus in the dining rooms are usually clearly labeled for dairy, nuts, gluten, meat, etc., but the description cards in the buffet often are not. Assume that vegetables are prepared with butter, but find a crew member and you will most likely score a plain serving made-to-order just for you.

- When in doubt, head for the fresh fruit buffet and salad bar. You will always find many options for produce in the buffets (breakfast/lunch/dinner).

Stephanie Nye is an Earth-loving, animal-loving, plant-loving, life-loving travel agent located in Cleveland, Ohio.

LEGAL DISCLOSURE: Even though Stephanie receives discounts as a travel agent, she did not receive any discounts or a free trip from Royal Caribbean in exchange for this blog post.

Have you been on a cruise while plant-based or vegan? Share your experiences (both good and bad) in the comments below!

Asian Tofu Salad Sandwiches, Sweet & Sour Cauliflower, Creamy Garlic Pasta & More!

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: MealPlan

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Herbie of the Week: Suzanna (From Bodybuilder to Plant-Based Tennis Champ!)

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: Herbies

Meet our Herbie of the Week: Suzanna!

A couple months ago I received an email from Suzanna about how she went from a meat-eating Ms. Natural Olympia bodybuilder to a plant-based tennis playing champion and educator.

As soon as I read that, I just had to ask her to be part of the Herbie of the Week series!

I'll let Suzanna take it away...

I am a former Ms. Natural Olympia drug-free bodybuilding champion. Bodybuilders believe in eating a lot of meat and other animal products to develop big and strong muscles. Just like everybody else, my mantra used to be “protein, protein, protein!” And it was ALL animal protein. At least six times a day I ate chicken, meat, fish, egg whites, or whey―up to 300 grams a day! I thought this was the right and healthy way to eat. I never ate fast food, and my foods were pretty clean, with a lot of grains and vegetables on the side of that protein. At that time (this was almost 20 years ago), I didn't know anything about the dangers of animal products and dairy.

I've been an athlete since I was 11 years old. I grew up in the communist Czechoslovakia, where we were poor and ate "poor" foods such as bread, pastry, pasta, dairy, and some meat when it was available. It was difficult to buy fresh produce. When I was 20 years old I moved to Sweden, which was so much more developed, and where the industrial processing of foods just started. All the colorful packages with powdered and processed foods. Just add water and here we go, you have mashed potatoes. Add water and bake it and you have a cake. Everything had additives, chemicals, and colorings. But it was oh so cool for me! And because we were richer, we were eating so much more of meat, birds, fish and other animal products because they were easily available.

When I was 30 years old, I moved to Venice Beach, California and my bodybuilding career started. More animal products on my plate than one can even imagine. I felt strong and healthy, but I didn't really know how my body was doing on the inside, and honestly, I didn't really think about it because I thought that my outside reflects the inside too.

When I was 40, I became a competitive tennis player. I naturally progressed to eating less meat because my body was feeling better that way. I was eating more and more like a vegetarian, even though the decision was not conscious yet. Greek yogurt and kefir were meals and passions on my daily menu. I ate a few pounds of Greek yogurt and kefir daily!!! I lost some weight from playing tennis, maybe 20 lbs and I was feeling light and healthy.

As a performance coach and injury prevention specialist, my focus was mostly on the human athletic performance. But then life happened, and many of my close friends and family members started to succumb to chronic disease, cancers, heart attacks (one in the middle of a tennis match), and thought this was not right. To leave this world still so young (50-60 years old is too young to die) and I thought I have to figure out what is happening. I love to learn and research things, which I have been doing all my life. But before, I was researching "wrong" things. Now, I turned my focus more toward longevity and aging youthfully.

My new focus led me to the movie "Forks Over Knives" and it left tremendous impressions on me. I was so inspired and motivated by all the experts speaking in the movie. They radiated health and knowledge, and I wanted to know more. I picked up Dr. Esselstyn’s book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, and read it from cover from cover. I decided to do a personal experiment: for three months, I would go on his low fat, plant-based program. I would measure my cholesterol before and after, and I would see if this program made any difference for a seemingly healthy and super fit athlete like me. My cholesterol before the experiment was 171. It was great according to the standard measures, but I was not pleased with it, because my new target was Dr. Esselstyn’s. It needed to go below 150. After my three-month experiment, it was at 147. I was truly impressed. And I remained plant-based every since.

Because I was eating less and less meat, poultry and fish before, it was pretty easy to stop eating those, but giving up the Greek yogurt was the hardest thing for me. I had such cravings, I think I was even dreaming about it!!! Eventually, I became creative and found other ways to satisfy my taste buds. I used thicker coconut milk with a tiny bit of lemon juice and it was almost like my Greek yogurt. I started to like this new thing so much, that after a couple of weeks, dairy was no problem for me at all.

I felt really great and my performance and recovery from training have improved as well. At age 50, I am more fit than ever. Since my plant-based experiment has started, I have read all the works of Dr. Campbell, McDougall, Esselstyn, Ornish, Barnard, Fuhrman, and others. I also got certified as a plant-based nutrition specialist through Dr. Campbell’s eCornell distance learning program.

When I get excited about something, I always want to share my knowledge with everybody around me. I convinced my mom, who lives 6,000 miles away in Europe, to give this plant-based lifestyle a chance. She was a good mom who listened to her daughter and she became a herbie too. She feels great and her high blood pressure went down and stabilized at normal levels. All my clients and students had to listen to my rants about the benefits of plant-based diet, and believe it or not, the majority of my students became plant-based, too! Those who are not (yet), I am still working on :-)

I must say that I feel amazing. I have a constant energy. No up-and-downs of energy after meals. I feel light in my body and in my thinking. My skin looks younger and glows. As I mentioned before, my fitness has improved, my recovery from hard training is better and my body and joints doesn't hurt as it used to. (It is hard on the joints to run on the concrete tennis court every day.)

My passion for the amazing benefits of plant-based nutrition went further. I know that I have helped many people around me to feel as great as I do, but I wanted to reach more people out there, so I started to write a book on plant-based nutrition for athletes. I am pleased to say, that The Athlete's Simple Guide to a Plant-Based Lifestyle has been published and it is already helping many athletes out there. I am getting great emails and Facebook posts from people thanking me for helping them to turn their health around as well. This is such a great feeling to hear how happy they sound!!!

I think this is an important message for us, athletes, and even non-athletes, of course. Just because we athletes look fit and healthy from outside doesn’t mean that we are healthy inside. We want to perform well now but also live healthfully for a long time. We don’t need to sacrifice our longevity for performance. I know deep inside that this is the right way to eat and live, and I want to share and help everybody who is willing to make the leap.

Thanks so much Suzanna for sharing your amazing story with us!