Happy Herbivore Blog

Spaghetti Squash Burrito Bowl, Chunky White Bean Soup, Enchilada Pasta & More!

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: MealPlan

Lots of tasty and feel good dishes are coming your way on this week's meal plan!

Spice up your life (and tastebuds) with the Enchilada Pasta (NEW!) and Spaghetti Squash Burrito Bowl (NEW!).

We've also got more seasonal tastes with the oh-so comforting Chunky White Bean Soup (NEW!), Harvest Salad (NEW!) and Autumn Vegetable Soup (fam.).

Enchilada Pasta

Individual Highlights

  • Chunky White Bean Soup (NEW!)
  • Lemon Baked Oatmeal (NEW!)
  • "Tuna" Salad
  • Harvest Salad (NEW!)
  • Enchilada Pasta (NEW!)
  • Pumpkin Pancakes
  • Spaghetti Squash Burrito Bowl (NEW!)

Get this meal plan now.

Harvest Salad

Family Highlights

  • Spaghetti Squash Burrito Bowls (NEW!)
  • Spicy Orange Broccoli & Noodles
  • Harvest Salad (NEW!)
  • PB&J Banana Hotdogs (NEW!)
  • Autumn Vegetable Soup
  • Chunky White Bean Soup (NEW!)
  • Enchilada Pasta (NEW!)

Get this meal plan now.

Chunky White Bean Soup

Testimonials

"I've been using the meal plans for a solid 2 1/2 years. I have ZERO regrets. It saves you the misery of having to find recipes every week, includes a convenient grocery list, you can use the downloadable/reusable PDF meal plan forever, it's consistently in season, and introduces so many more foods to your palate. I think it's AWESOME."- Katie C

"I am a meal plan member and love the convenience it offers. It helps me plan meals for my busy week for my family. While I am the only one plant based completely, it gives me a way to expose them to new foods (and reduce their meat consumption.) Thanks!" - Aimee P

Get the current meal plan now.

Herbie of the Week: Tommy (He Reversed All of His Medical Issues With a Plant-Based Diet!)

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: Herbies

Meet our Herbie of the Week: Tommy!

Once a die-hard carnivore, Tommy stopped taking his health for granted when at the age of 37, his doctor diagnosed him with diverticulitis after discovering abnormal growths in his colon and a pre-cancerous stomach lining.

Not long after his diagnosis, his wife Margret (a former Herbie of the Week!) stumbled upon "Forks Over Knives", and they watched it together. When it was over, Tommy decided right there to stop eating animal products and has been plant-based ever since (along with the rest of his beautiful family!).

In addition to reversing all his health problems, he's lost 45lbs, inches off his waist and has more energy than ever!

Continue reading for Tommy's inspirational story!

Switching to a plant-based, vegan lifestyle is, by far, the greatest thing I have ever done. Eating was always one of my favorite things to do, and for a long time, my lack of knowledge and lack of discipline got the best of me both physically and mentally.

As a child, I was exposed to copious amounts of cholesterol, salt and MSG through home cooked Thai meals and TV dinners. In high school, I often left campus to eat fast food. Working the night shift in the military and living in the dorms, I was required to eat whatever the “chow hall” provided…which I will admit was often very tasty, but probably not as healthy as it could have been. After my military enlistment, I followed my dream and went into law enforcement. Again, not having a good knowledge base on what healthy foods were and a lack of planning ahead: meals were limited to anything that was offered during the midnight hours (think drive-thru, gas station food, or 24/7 restaurants who aren’t known for their healthy menu options). On our days off, I was that guy who invited everyone over to show off my BBQ skills.

Never in a million years would I have ever thought of turning to a plant-based diet. I considered myself a die-hard carnivore. Greens were garnishment, and they were disposed of accordingly. To the amazement of my coworkers, I ate anything that was put in front of me!!! I was often asked how I could eat so much crap, not be obscenely overweight and still function. What they didn’t know was I had a hard time functioning. I was feeling fatigued, I was gaining weight, and I was easily agitated. Knowing what I know now about food, it scares me to look back and remember what I did to my body by eating all of that crap. If I knew just how bad I was destroying myself, I would have taken the time to prepare my meals and bring them with me, or make better choices eating out. That was the problem though…I didn’t know HOW much it mattered – the “food” choices and their effect on me. Things were about to change dramatically.

I have type O- blood. Because of its rarity, I was asked to donate blood more-often than periodically while in the military. Of course, I was willing to do so, and I continued to donate blood beyond my enlistment until one day, when one of my pints of blood was rejected due to a high count of Alanine Aminotransferase (ALT). A visit to my then family practitioner followed by a series of lab tests revealed I had fatty liver. The doctor was astonished to hear that I rarely consumed alcohol (most people with diagnosis consumed extreme amounts of alcohol). When I informed him of my fast food diet, he insisted my liver would fail within the year and I would die shortly after. I walked out of his office with a direct order to quit eating fast food, and to limit my fat intake to 30 grams a day. Ten months of limited gym time and eating tuna on wheat bread (no condiments) took me down from 210 pounds to 155 pounds. I remember during my six-month post-visit to the doctor how surprised he was to see the changes I had gone through, not because it was some miracle solution he prescribed me, but because I actually listened to him and followed through with it. I guess he had a hard time getting his patients to correct their eating habits. By the end of a year, I had completely reversed my liver condition.

Unfortunately, I didn’t stick with the plan. The way I saw it, I was back to normal and could eat a fast food meal here and there…and here and there. This time, I occasionally weighed myself to make sure I didn’t break 180 pounds. I picked 180 pounds because that’s when my uniform seemed to become uncomfortable. I know, pretty scientific stuff right there…but that’s how I gauged my “health”. My wife, Margret, and I knew our eating habits could be better, and eventually went as far as to reduce our grains and carbs, making for a more paleo-style diet, eating only lean proteins marketed as “lean” (although now that I know how to read food labels, this is completely false when way over half of the calories come from FAT). This went on for quite some time. Since I wasn’t feeling as fatigued and lazy as I did before, I managed to stay around 165 pounds with extreme exercise. I trained for marathons in which I was burning thousands upon thousands of calories each week. Again, I was basing my level of health on how much I weighed. And although I was in the range I wanted to be, I had an in-proportionate amount of belly fat that exercise couldn’t quite rid.

In 2011, this method of gauging my health proved to be highly inaccurate again when polyps were discovered in my colon. I had been experiencing extremely painful night time wake-ups, extreme pain. I couldn’t place the exact sensation, or self diagnose. Was it appendicitis? I had never felt such pain, from a place of rest, for no apparent reason. Going to sleep every night was slightly dreaded…and these restless, painful nights were the catalyst for a chilling diagnosis. We went to see our family practitioner. He examined me, listened to my symptoms and set me up for a mega-popular prescription antacid. Although he didn’t think it was necessary and was erring on the side of caution, he wrote me a referral to see a gastroenterologist specialist. Even the GI specialist discounted me at first, stating that I was “too young” to have developed any serious issues. He too erred on the side of caution and decided to “take a look” anyway. A colonoscopy/endoscopy procedure coupled with the removal of several colon polyps and stomach lining biopsies - proved to throw any of that “erred caution” out the window. I was 37, with several abnormal growths in my colon, had a pre-cancerous stomach lining, diagnosed with diverticulitis, and was scared. But I had lost enough weight (although gained some back) and my blood work numbers had turned around for so long, wasn’t I healthy?

Following my surgery, my newly acquired gastroenterologist informed me it was rare for him to schedule a colonoscopy appointment for a 37 year-old patient, quite rare for him to actually find something of concern and that I was now under the “cancer” microscope for the rest of my life - yay for twice-a-year colonoscopies ((sarcasm)).

Following that scare, I stopped taking my health (and everything else in my life for that matter) for granted, although we still felt in the dark. Having thought we lived a healthy lifestyle and eating “clean and right” – why was this happening? Never in our lives have we felt so helpless, no control, living our lives by the chance of that “dart” of cancer – and it had it’s aim on me. In the following months, Margret was consulting from her home office, and we were expecting our second beautiful daughter when she happened upon a powerful little documentary that would forever change the way our family lived.

I came home from work one day and Margret was at a loss for words, she stumbled a little for a way to ask me, but all she could come up with was “I would like for you to watch something with me.” I thought I was in trouble by the concerned look on her face, but couldn’t imagine what it could be. Margret and I sat down and she put on the documentary "Forks Over Knives". I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and seeing!!! The food industry was (and still is) out of control, and its consumers are paying for it, with their health and well being. I was sick to my stomach. I was pretty upset for being misinformed by the major food agencies and industries about what we were actually eating. It’s one thing to voluntarily eat food that you know to be unhealthy, but when you make a conscious effort to eat healthy and find out that what you are eating is actually causing cancer and/or harming you in some other awful way…that’s just not cool. Right then and there, the past two months with my cancer diagnosis, EVERYTHING absolutely clicked - I proclaimed “Well, that’s it. We’re changing the way we eat”, which was a relief to my dear wife. I know she was so torn – she knew (as I did in that moment) that those foods we had in our fridge were damaging to our health and at the same time she couldn’t imagine asking me to change so much of who we thought we were for so many years. Margret and I vowed to never eat animal products again.

Our family has been whole foods, plant-based for nearly 3 years, and absolutely loving it!!! The results have been phenomenal on so many levels!!! I have so much more energy, both physically and mentally, than I ever had before. All of my medical issues have been reversed and that stubborn belly fat has pretty much dissipated with no exercise regime. With that, I understand that being healthy is not just seeing a particular number on a weight scale; it’s being informed and knowing what I’m feeding my body. I find I enjoy cooking more than I ever have, because cooking without animal products at first may take a tiny getting used to (but it’s so much easier when you have good resources such as the Esselstyn, Campbell, and McDougall families, as well as Happy Herbivore) : )

I am a law enforcement officer. I am, for now, a very small minority in my career field in terms of my dietary choices. Once in a while, I’ll find another officer who is a vegetarian and even they’re saying: “Oh, right on, but I wish I had your will power.” It didn’t take will power for me to switch to a plant-based diet. It took having the TRUE knowledge of why what goes into bodies, the TRUE science behind how it affects us, both negatively and positively. It took me looking into the future and seeing that I want to be there for my daughters and their children. It took a threat to my health & life.

I have found that a plant-based diet has enhanced my performance in my career. One, my uniform and utility belt fits SO MUCH NICER! I used to find the way my uniform fit, for lack of better description, was painful! I look back at my older photos and I cannot believe the difference. Two, I often find (especially when ordering food at a plant-strong friendly restaurant) the fact that I’m a Vegan and a Law Enforcement Officer – the combination tends to open people to upbeat, positive conversation. I plant those “seeds” with the people I work with and people I meet while on duty. I think folks may be surprised initially that someone, a stranger, cares enough about their health to suggest a plant-based, vegan diet. If you can help just one person, it’s always worth it! I get dubbed “The Vegan PoPo” by pretty much everyone. And I proudly claim that title. I’m literally the “vegan police”, ha ha ha! I enjoy the outreach – to show people that you can be at your healthiest, top form and leave the animals off the plate!

There’s absolute scientific evidence (that goes back DECADES, and is backed by the most profound dietary research in our history) that our previous diet was not actually healthiest for our family. Margret has always provided our family with the healthiest food possible, based on the information that we had. When Margret found "Fork Over Knives", in addition to further diligent validation of reading and research - we discovered a whole new take on healthy eating and realized we needed to change our ways for the better and had finally found that way. We no longer feel helpless, or a target for degenerative diseases. Life is good.

NOTE FROM MARGRET (TOMMY’S WIFEY):

Okay y’all. I really need to chime in here because I proof-read Tommy’s interview, and there’s a lot that I need to add. Quite frankly, because Tommy is never one to toot-his-own-horn, no matter how well deserved!!!

My husband is the epitome of compassion and grace. He always has been! Since adopting a plant based diet and later becoming vegan, he’s had a tremendous impact on those around him in a variety of ways. He’s always helped people. ALWAYS putting others first (even above his own family) by going well above the demands of his job. He’s saved countless lives, comforted thousands of people, talked them off bridges, paid for their gas, used his own personal roadside assistance to help those who cannot afford a tow, bought food for those who need it, collects and distributes stuffed animals for kids involved in accidents or incidents that may seem scary to them, he advocates for animals on and off-duty (a lot of times in rural parts of the county animals need assistance, and he gladly ensures their safety as well as the human public). He plants those “positive seeds” everywhere he goes and any time he can. He often allows his co-workers to sample his lunch (I think they’re surprised, even those they tell everyone else that he eats “tree bark”). He credits me with a lot of our family’s positive changes. But he lives and breathes this commitment to a healthy life and healthy world, so diligently. I couldn’t be more proud of him.

Thank you so much Tommy (and Margret) for sharing your story with us!

I'm Sick of Nutrition Elitism! Success on the Plant-Based Diet is More Important Than Ideology

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

(This post is long, so bear with me -- and please share it.)

"It seems like there is a form of nutritional elitism going on, which is really doing more harm than good. The message is, if the food you eat is not fresh picked organic, local, GMO-free, that you picked yourself, [made yourself]... you are not doing any good. And, if you buy any frozen or canned foods, let alone from Walmart, you might as well be eating bacon cheese burgers." - Jeff Novick MS RD (Source)

Every post or picture I share is met with all kinds of criticism, and it's not the "where's the beef?" kind of mockery. It's nitpicking by our own tribe.

Jeff's quote above was response to that behavior. Specifically, he shared this picture (below) on social media to express his delight that he'd been able to find a beautiful, filling and healthy meal for $10 at a biker bar on the beach in Florida.

Immediately Jeff's picture was overrun with negativity. Jeff said, "You would not believe the amount of viscous criticism the picture received. Was the corn organic? Was the broccoli organic? Was the corn GMO-free? Was the potato organic? Why was the potato wrapped in aluminum foil? etc etc etc Because of the amount of criticism, I eventually took the picture down. I guess it was just not good enough for most of the people posting and since a 100% organic, GMO-free meal, made without aluminum foil was not available, I should have had the fried shrimp platter, the bacon cheese burger, or the lobster feast."

Jeff is a nutrition expert, one of the smartest people I know. If this is how he felt, imagine how Pam or Bob would respond (You'll meet them later in this post).

Here's a real email I received this week, "I'm plant-based but I have gotten discouraged by the people chiming in with how bad canned beans are and I need to do everything from scratch and how easy it is to freeze 1 cup bags of beans, etc. Sigh, my freezer is well stocked already. Soon, I'll be told I need to grow my own beans, grow my own almonds for almond milk... I don't quite understand why some folks need to just raise the bar higher and higher as if it is an exclusive club where if you don't spend hours upon hours in the kitchen, you are not worthy."

And this one, which came in AS I as writing this post: "I get a lot of "grief" sometimes from militants for not being a "real" veggie/vegan but "improvement, not perfection" is my goal, and it's obviously helped my health already! I know people can get really passionate about their beliefs/lifestyles/etc., but pointing and shaming can easily make some people just give up completely, when they would have gotten a lot of benefit from making even small changes."

SO THERE IS NO CONFUSION: I'm not pro GMO or pro conventional food, or pro carrageenean, or pro BPA, etc.

If I'm pro anything, I'm pro people going plant-based.

I agree that we have a right to know what is in our food, what is done to our food, and what risks a certain food has. (If I had it my way, meat and dairy would have warnings like you see on cigarettes!)

I desperately want to change subsidies so a salad costs less than a burger... and about a million other political changes or shifts...

But my point is, success with the plant-based diet is more important than ideology... because chances are, as time goes on, plant-based folks will continue to learn and make small improvements just as I have. Just as most of us have.

A Herbie said this once and I love it: Eat the best plants you can afford.

This is one of the many reasons why I preach progress not perfection... do the best you can, MAKE IT WORK!

Here's the other thing: Switching to a plant-based diet from the SAD diet is HARD. It's really, really hard for most people. It requires that person do a complete 180 with their life. Change the way they live in every way. They have to change habits that have been cemented for decades. They have to break food addictions they didn't know they had. They must throw out 90 percent (or more) of what they knew as correct. They have to risk becoming a social pariah and deal with teasing and anger with no support...

Maybe they won't find it as hard as they thought it would be. Maybe some things will be harder or easier than others.

Of course just because something is hard or is challenging doesn't mean we shouldn't do it... I strongly encourage challenging yourself. Get outside your comfort zone daily! BUT even success in the end... reaching the proverbial finish line, doesn't retroactively make the race easy and not challenging.

And here's something I'm almost scared to admit: A lot of times after I'm "victorious" I downplay how challenging it was for me to get there. "Oh YEAH. That climb wasn't bad at all." Translation: I only thought I was going to die three times.

Memories, the farther away they are, just get more rose-colored. At least that's how it works for me. For example, I said in an interview yesterday that writing cookbooks was easy. Recipe creating came so naturally to me. I hardly ever had misses. I was lucky to get things right the first time out the gate. (I fully believed that.) My husband made a face and I was like "What?" and he said, "You cried, panicked, and tried to cancel the project early on because every recipe for 6 days had been a dud. You've done that with every cookbook -- hit a slump and freak out." Oh, I guess I forgot about that...

I think that happens with the plant-based diet and lifestyle, too. We forget those early days and early challenges and scared/overwhelmed thoughts when it's been our normal and reality for a long time.

I've also come to accept that my experience is not everyone else's.

My situation is not everyone else's, and I can't have the expectation that it is or that will be.

My choices and practices are not the bar I should measure everyone else up against.

You can also never know what someone else is battling or go through on the inside.

You can never know what kind of circumstances or limitations they have whether it be geographical, financial, physical, spiritual, mental, or other.

That's why I'm so passionate about preaching progress not perfection.

When someone tells me "I'm not a happy herbivore yet because I still eat cheese sometimes." I tell them they ARE a happy herbivore... they're just at a different exit on the plant-based highway to health.

We have to remember that the plant-based lifestyle is a JOURNEY and how long and winding that road is, is different for everyone. A lot of people get lost on the way.

Switching to a plant-based diet from the SAD diet is HARD for most people.

If we decided we wanted to start training for a marathon, we wouldn't expect ourselves to run 20 miles on the first day. Yet that's basically what we're expecting of others with an ideological plant-based diet.

Here's what I do: When I'm teaching, advocating, or creating new products for my plant-based business, I don't think about me and my situation. I think about "Bob" and "Pam" who are totally fictional in my mind, but represent your average person living in Average Town USA. (Or sometimes I just think about my parents or extended family).

Because I work for the internet and don't have a boss or a commute, I'm able to make a lot of food from scratch, but I know Pam can't. It's a struggle for Pam to find 30 minutes a day to walk because she works full-time, commutes an hour, has three kids, etc etc. Pam isn't lazy because she can't bake her own bread, she's triaging.

We all triage in our own way and we need to.

When I asked Jeff Novick MS RD if I should worry about using ingredient X sometimes, he asked me to list the top 100 things I'm most worried about. I tired long before this exercise was over, and as you can guess, if the potential dangers of ingredient X were going to even make the list, it'd be toward the very bottom.

Maybe someone triages differently than you, or maybe they're just overwhelmed with all the changes they're already making that right now they just need to focus on eating healthy (healthier) foods and will get to the more refined changes later... Maybe right now GMOs, organics, pesticides, etc. are the furthest thing from their mind because it's taking every strength inside them to choose carrots over chips.

Or what about "Bob" who has two minimum wage jobs and failing health. Bob takes the bus because he can't afford a car, and the bus stop is right outside McDonald's where Bob ate his breakfast and dinner every day for years. Now Bob wants to get healthy, but he still has his two jobs, his commute, and now he has to take a second, longer bus to the grocery store, where Bob will see that a bag of organic spinach costs as much as his Big Mac.

Is a can of non-organic beans really going to be the end of Bob?

I try to think about "Bob" and "Pam" -- their experiences and thoughts.

Heck, I've been plant-based for almost a decade... and yet sometimes *I* get scared off, or defeated, and think "why do I bother, I'll never get this right. I'll never be perfect" because every day people are quick to tell me all the ways I'm doing it wrong.

They sit and wait to tell me how I should be doing it better. To be certain these are not "fyi" and "helpful" comments. It's easy to tell what the motive is by the phrasing and the quickness in which the comment appears.

Honestly, it's exhausting and I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling that way.

(Those grapes were non-GMO, by the way..)

Slow and steady wins the race for most people. We aren't all born natural runners...

Give peas a chance. Do what's right for you, but look for the positive instead of the negative. We'll move mountains if we do this...

We'll change more lives... save more lives... if we do this.

I feel I must also point out that to millions of people around the world, all of this bickering and perfectionista stuff would sound like epic "first world problems."

I have been to places where the vast majority of people don't have electricity, running water, or enough food to eat. These things we fight over on our computers would be incomprehensible to them.

There are many more places, even across the United States, Canada, and Europe, where the luxury of having more than once place to shop is... well.. a luxury. Where having access to food and a selection of food at all is a luxury.

I can think of no better example than my friend Lisa who lives so far north in Canada that polar bears eat her trash. Nothing could be grown in that snowy, below zero climate. Everything had to be flown in. The closest urban population is over 8 hours away and many times of the year the roads are completely closed off.

The work Lisa's husband does up there is extremely important. (Without families like Lisa's, many Canadians would be without electricity).

That whole community of people up there would do just about anything to have a fraction of the resources others do in small town U.S.A.

Lisa inspires me every day with how she makes it work. Her family is entirely plant-based and vegan, and has been for several years. Getting any kind of vegetable in her kids is her priority.

And then of course there are food deserts all over the U.S. where affordable and nutritious food is difficult to obtain, period.

For me, getting vegetables and fruits in people is my priority.

Success with the plant-based is more important than ideology.

As I've said a hundred times: I'd rather someone eat a conventional apple over an organic potato chip, or conventional spinach over no spinach at all.

I work with hundreds of real people every day. I hear their struggles. What they need is a little extra love and support.

LOVE AND SUPPORT.

This is the second time this year I've talked about this issue. I wish I could say it's getting better, but it seems to be getting worse, especially on social media.

In my first post Was I Wrong with my "Progress not Perfection" Mantra? I closed with the following, which I still think is true.

Real winners build people up, they don't tear each other down... because it's not a competition.

Be gentle with advice. Nudge. Encourage. Applaud progress... don't get mad because people don't live to your standards of perfection.