Happy Herbivore Blog

Herbies of the Week: Sara & Jeff (They've Lost 35lbs & Run Half Marathons Together!)

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: Herbies

Meet our Herbies of the Week: Sara & Jeff!

After losing his dad to congestive heart failure, Jeff started researching different diets when he came across a plant-based diet. Following a long discussion with his wife, Sara, they both agreed to adopt a plant-based diet as an experiment for 3 months.

It wasn't long before for their experiment became a lifestyle change, especially when Jeff lowered his blood pressure in two weeks! He also lowered his cholesterol and they both lost a combined total of 35lbs.

In addition to their newfound health, Sara and Jeff also noticed improvements when it came to their running abilities and are teaching their 4 children how to make better choices when it comes to their health.

I'll let Sara take it away!

My husband Jeff and I are high school sweethearts and just celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary. We have four children; which include one boy (10) and three girls (9, 15, 18). We have been eating plant-based since January of 2012.

Lindsay saw a post of mine on Facebook about running and asked my husband and I to share our story. As I began writing our journey to being plant-based, I realized that I can’t really focus on how it has effected my running, eating plant-based has completely transformed my life and effects everything in it. I’ll try to keep it simple, there are so many ways our life has been improved by choosing to eat a whole foods, plant based diet.

Jeff’s father passed away from Congestive Heart Failure in the fall of 2011 after many years of ill health and compounding medical issues. It was very hard to watch him be in pain and see Jeff’s mother try to care for him, as he was in the hospital more than he was home for the last three years of his life. After his Dad died, Jeff began researching different diets and came across the film "Forks Over Knives". He asked me to watch it with him and announced that he would like us to “go Vegan”. I had been eating “clean” for several years and thought that was enough, but after watching "Forks Over Knives", I knew that minimizing processed foods and exercising would not protect me from heart disease or cancer.

One thing really stood out to me in "Forks Over Knives" was the effect that animal farming has on our world food supply. Our family is deeply involved in an orphanage in Sierra Leone, West Africa where food is scarce and clean water is almost non-existent. The statistics in the film shocked me – I had never realized the amount of water it takes to produce a pound of beef vs. a pound of vegetables, or that 70% of the antibiotics use in the US is given to animals before they are slaughtered for food. The waste of our natural resources stayed with me for days and I knew that I had to minimize my footprint in that statistic so I could better serve and love the children in the orphanage we support. We have worked with several organizations and churches to provide a well in Sierra Leone, West Africa and clean water in Haiti, so this new information deepened our desire to change our consumption habits.

We did not know any vegans and maybe only one or two vegetarians, but neither of us knew anyone passionate about eating a plant-based diet. I was very nervous about what I would feed my family or how to even go about preparing a meal without meat, milk or my beloved cheeses. Jeff & I discussed this at length and finally came to an agreement that we would try out the “vegan thing” as an experiment for three months. I was adamant that we go into this experiment of eating plant-based under the care of our family doctor – this way of eating seemed radical and scary to both of us but we wanted to see if the claims made in "Forks Over Knives" were true. We made appointments with our family doctor for physicals and blood work and began our experiment in January of 2012.

At our appointment, Jeff’s blood pressure was high (he had been on and off blood pressure medication for several years) and the doctor insisted that he take the medication and wrote a new prescription. Jeff was adamant that he wanted to see if the plant-based diet would resolve the issue, but the doctor was insistent (and so was his wife) so we took the prescription home and I put it on the front of the fridge – giving him two weeks for it to come down. Within the two weeks, we saw dramatic improvement in his blood pressure and we never had to fill that prescription! At the end of the three months, we both knew that this was not a diet, but a lifestyle change and our blood results proved it. We both lost weight (20 & 15 pounds) and Jeff’s cholesterol level went from 205 to 153 to complement his new sexy blood pressure!

I figured out very quickly that less-is-more when trying to feed a family of six a plant-based diet. We ate a lot of simple meals including things like rice, beans, chickpea tacos, spaghetti, and potatoes with vegan gravy. During that time, I found the Happy Herbivore books and Facebook group where Lindsay encouraged me every day. Jeff and I as well as our oldest daughter Megan have also been to Sierra Leone on mission trips and this opened our eyes even more as to how the rest of the world eats. Very simple meals are the norm for us now, I spend maybe 30 minutes preparing our meals every day and there is always beans and rice on hand. The kids will have a tostada with refried beans, hummus and spinach wraps, or fruit now instead of the processed fruit snacks and soda that we had in the house before. We did not pressure our kids into eating plant based. I would cook one meal for the family and if they didn’t like it, they could fix a simple meal themselves. When going out to eat, they are allowed to order whatever they want – it wasn’t long before all their meals were vegetarian. We have really noticed that our desire to eat meat is gone. We do eat what we want in restaurants as well, but find our indulgences with meat and dairy are special occasions or when friends prepare food for us at parties.

I was diagnosed with Lichen Planus, which is an autoimmune disease, shortly after having my last baby in 2005. It is completely stress driven, so the doctor recommended that I eat better, get lots of rest, and find a way to minimize stress. I have done Yoga for years, but wasn’t getting the stress relief my body needed. Inspired by a good friend, I began running on my own. I began very slowly using the Galloway Method and after several years of building up to it, I decided to run a half marathon. I ran my first ½ marathon in 2009 and have run 7 to date. I really noticed my endurance and fatigue change after becoming plant-based. I was stronger, able to run further and faster with minimal soreness and quick recovery times especially on the long runs. I wanted to run with Jeff, but he has a herniated disc in his lower back and was unable to run with me. To my surprise, after we started eating plant-based, he was able to start jogging, and eventually running! His back pain is almost gone, with only strains here and there after heavy lifting or yard work. I talked him into running a half marathon with me in the fall of 2012, a short 11 months after becoming plant based. We decided it would be our yearly tradition to run the Las Vegas Rock-n-Roll ½ marathon together every year. Unfortunately, I am recovering from an injury and am not going to be ready for it this year, but I will be on the sidelines cheering Jeff on and am planning to run another as soon as I am ready. Jeff has also set the goal of running a full marathon next year to celebrate his 45th birthday.

Being plant-based has had a tremendous effect on our family. All of the movies, books, blogs and media we see reinforce that we have made the right decision for our health and our future. Our children have all (on their own, in their own time, and for their own reasons) made the decision to become vegetarian and or plant-based. My oldest daughter is now a freshman in college and her university is very plant friendly and is even opening a vegan restaurant on campus. Jeff & I hope that by sharing our story, more people including our friends and family will see the impact that eating a whole foods plant-based diet can have on personal health, including managing current health issues and preventing heart disease and cancer. We also would like to bring awareness to the impact that using less water, antibiotics and grains fed to animals can have a profound effect globally. Oh yeah, and that you can run faster, longer and stronger using plant power!

Thank you so much Sara & Jeff for sharing your story with us!

Vegan Cruise Dining Options

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: Travel

Scott and I went on our first cruise together back in 2007. I was vegan (though not necessarily plant-based, and not yet oil-free) and Scott was vegetarian at the time.

I emailed the cruise company (Costa) ahead of time about our dietary requirements, and they assured me they would accommodate us. To their credit, Costa offered three set dinner menus each night, one always being fully vegetarian. Unfortunately, the vegetarian option was always cheesy, and when the kitchen is cooking for thousands of people at once, it can be difficult to get a customized order. “Oh it's already made miss, with the cheese cooked inside.”

When I couldn't eat anything except sorbet on the first night's dinner menu, the head food and beverage guy came out, asking about my dietary needs. After a brief conversation “I eat this.. I don't eat that...” he came back with rice stuffed bell peppers that were excellent.

Each night thereafter I had a special vegan meal waiting for me. The other couples at our dinner table often remarked how good my food looked, and how they wish they could have ordered what I was having instead (win!).

Then, at the end of the cruise, the chef himself came out and thanked Scott and I for the opportunity. He explained that they had a set 14-day menu they cycled through non-stop for a year! Thus, it was a real treat to be “creative” and cook on a small scale. He even said he'd personally eaten some of the foods he'd made for us and wanted to do more vegan fare!

For breakfast and lunch, we were “on our own” but it was pretty unexciting. They had cereal, but no soy or other non-dairy milk available. We were limited to bread + jam and fresh fruit. It could have been worse, but I was pretty disappointed there was no oatmeal or veggies. At lunch there was a small salad bar, but it was mostly iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, canned corn-- nothing to write home about. I basically ate french fries or potato wedges, salads, and a lot of fruit. Scott made use of the pizza station.

Almost 8 years later, we decided to go on a cruise again since it seemed the easiest way to get around Asia and I knew there would always be a salad bar available to me if I didn't find anything while out exploring.

Although our previous experience was good, I was worried. Mostly because this cruise was two weeks long – 13 days! I couldn't fathom only having white bread and fruit to eat for breakfast, or having only iceberg salads at lunch with no beans or potatoes or other “filling” foods for 13 days straight. (Especially knowing I would be doing so much walking and “sightseeing” everyday.) And what about dinner? Was this new cruise liner going to be as accommodating?!

As soon as we booked, I contacted Diamond Princess about our dietary needs. The girl I spoke with said vegans sail with them all the time and have a pleasant experience.

While this was comforting, I was still uneasy... I needed more than “vegan” options. I didn't want to eat french fries and white bread. I was determined to stay oil-free and plant-based :) Plus even small amounts of oil cause me digestive chaos – something I didn't want to deal with onboard or while out exploring. (The “squatty potty” aka a hole in the ground is the standard option – no western toilet...)

After a few more frantic emails, DP told me I could bring my own food if I wanted, as long as it was commercially prepared and in commercial (unopen) packages and it didn't need cooking, or could be made with hot water (i.e. McDougall soups).

I filled an entire suitcase with food :)

For a list of all the travel foods and brands that meet this requirement (there are a lot!) see the full list in my Guide. And I brought most of it home! So you know good news is coming :)

(FYI I apologize now that there aren't a lot of pictures. Taking pictures of your food was social suicide on the cruise. It was really awkward and unwelcomed. I don't think many other cultures take pictures of their food the way Americans do... at least that's been my experience living in Europe and now spending three weeks in Asia with 2400 other people, most of whom were not American).

At breakfast, there were plenty of breads (including whole grain breads), fruits, and oatmeal! I'd brought dry oatmeal on board as a precaution, and toward the end, we started making overnight oats just so we didn't have to fly back with it. They also had soy milk and rice milk by request if I wanted cereal or coffee. Additionally, because this trip was in Asia, and many guests were Asian, there was almost always plain rice at breakfast (along with whole fishes and miso soups that I wished were vegan!)

My FAVORITE was their baked apples – just plain baked apples. They didn't have them everyday but when they did I gorged myself. It was embarrassing. (They also had Vietnamese cinnamon on board. If you haven't had “real” cinnamon—you're missing out!)

I also saw roasted potatoes, baked tomatoes, and some other cooked vegetables at breakfast that were vegan – they were clearly oily so I didn't try them. They also had several jams and pb.

DP also had a small salad bar every day at breakfast. It was your basics: mixed greens or romaine lettuce, shredded carrots, tomatoes, cabbage, corn, and a few other mixers. (In Vegan in Europe I talk about how I got used to eating salads—especially tomatoes and bell peppers at breakfast. Yum!)

At lunch DP's salad bar exploded with 2-3x more mixers. They often also offered themed salads stations in addition to the regular salad bar too! For example, they did the “Asian” theme a few times, so there was sprouts, bamboo shoots, baby corn, seaweed, freshly made tofu, daikon, dragon fruit, and other “Asian” foods in addition to your basics: cabbage, tomato, carrot, olives, corn, onions, cucumbers, beans (4 types!), green beans, etc. (The beans were cooked from scratch and soooooo delicious!)

There was also daily sushi options since we were in Asia. Cucumber and other vegetable rolls were pretty common. They also had a noodle station, and while the broth was not vegetarian, the noodles sometimes were. It depended on the day. I became obsessed with soba and soy sauce + scallions.

There were also several “hot” vegetarian options at the buffet, many of which were vegan. For example, there was a different Indian dish such as chana palak or green bean curry at lunch and another, different, Indian option for dinner every day. Scott got a small helping each time (if it was vegan) and said while it had oil, it was not very oily. He raved about many dishes. I think there were only two he didn't care for. That's pretty impressive all considering.

You can see his food behind my big ol' salad:

They also had a rice option at every meal and usually it was “flavored” in some way such as Mexican rice or Creole rice, plus plain steamed rice in the biggest rice cooker I've ever seen. I'm pretty sure I could have sat in it!

There were also pasta dishes most of the time that were vegan. Just your basic pasta and marinara or pasta with oil or pasta with vegetables.

Even on theme dinner buffet nights, like the “French” night, I was surprised to see so many veg options, like the vegetarian ratatouille that was vegan, or the two kinds of sauerkraut, beet salad, and pretzels on German night. (I never tried any. I figured they all had oil and didn't try them, but it smelled good!) There was also no shortage of veg Asian dishes like Pad Thai.

There was one other dinner option: the formal dining room with set menus. Just like with Costa, DP had set dinner menus nightly, and there were always vegetarian choices. Many selections could be made vegan if you left off the cheese or egg, which was possible most of the time.

Unfortunately, those items could not be made without oil. They only option for me were the sides: steamed rice, steamed vegetables, a baked potato – and I like those things, but after a few nights I tired of it and we started going to the salad bar to choose our own adventure for dinner, too. There were so many different salad bar choices (at least 20 options) and a lot of the mixers changed meal-to-meal, day-to-day, that I never really got bored. Plus there were always different breads, different fruits, and other “clean” foods to keep it interesting.

There was also a “grill” on board that had a vegan veggie burger, and a pizza guy, who I'm sure would have made us a vegetable pizza without cheese had we asked :)

The only downside is you have no idea what the ingredients are for any item on a buffet line, and the staff working the buffet can't tell you what's in it. Vegetarian items are usually labeled “vegetarian” but that may not help the vegan. We were lucky that we could talk directly to the chef who made the Indian food (he confirmed it was dairy-free; and that on the whole they used oil over butter in dishes). All bread was made on premises, too, so I was able to ask the baker what was clean. As for the noodles, a sweet Japanese man read the package labels for me so I knew what had egg and what did not :)

One funny, final note: I literally exhausted all of their mustard stores. Apparently in two weeks I can eat three jars of Dijon mustard all by myself. Oops.

"Clam" Chowder, Sweet Potato & Cauliflower Curry, BBQ Black Bean & Pineapple Pizza & More!

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: MealPlan

Warm up your belly (and tastebuds!) with this week's meal plan!

Grab a bowl of hearty "Clam" Chowder (NEW!), scrumptious Sweet Potato & Cauliflower Curry (NEW!) and classic Lentil Chili.

Also new on this week's plan is the Carrot Noodle Stir-Fry (NEW!) which tastes just as good, if not better than take-out and the incredibly easy BBQ Black Bean & Pineapple Pizza (NEW!).

"Clam" Chowder

Individual Highlights

  • "Clam" Chowder (NEW!)
  • BBQ Black Bean & Pineapple Pizza (NEW!)
  • Lentil Chili
  • Sweet Potato & Cauliflower Curry (NEW!)
  • Carrot Noodle Stir-Fry (NEW!)
  • Sauteed Banana Oatmeal (NEW!)
  • Quinoa Taco Bowl

Get this meal plan now.

BBQ Black Bean & Pineapple Pizza

Family Highlights

  • BBQ Black Bean & Pineapple Pizza (NEW!)
  • Quinoa Taco Bowl
  • "Clam" Chowder (NEW!)
  • Sweet Potato & Cauliflower Curry (NEW!)
  • Lentil Chili
  • Carrot Noodle Stir-Fry (NEW!)
  • Pasta e Fagioli Soup

Get this meal plan now.

Sweet Potato & Cauliflower Curry


"I've been using the meal plans for a week and a half, but so far it's been a breeze. I've been trusting your meals even when I've been a little bit dubious and I've really, really enjoyed the results! I've been on planned meal diets before and they are often just cobbled together random recipes: they don't use leftovers, they take ages to make, veggies are usually really bland and the shopping lists can be useless. Your planning seems really well thought out and the food is genuinely yummy, but also quick to whip up."- Charlie R

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Get the current meal plan now.