Secret Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Protein Bars (Vegan + Gluten Free!)

I love a good protein bar, but I don’t love paying up to $3 for a single serving bar that’s often lacking in wholesome ingredients. This weekend I made my own protein bar that tastes like peanut butter cookie dough–and is packed with fiber, protein, and healthy fats. I was inspired to make these after seeing many of my fellow dietitian friends enjoying Perfect Bars, but since these contain whey and honey, they’re off limits for vegans. My version of the perfect protein bar uses Vega brand protein powder, and chickpea flour (the “secret” ingredient–clearly I’m not good at keeping secrets for long!). Let me know what you think if you try the recipe.

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Vegan/Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Protein Bars

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup garbanzo bean (chickpea) flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill brand) Note: You can also use oat flour, which I’ve made too, if you prefer a more mild flavor
  • 1/2 cup almond meal (I used Trader Joe’s brand)
  • 3 scoops Vega Vanilla Protein Powder
  • 1/2 cup natural, smooth peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (I used Trader Joe’s brand
  • 1/4-1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk

Directions:

Mix all ingredients (except for chocolate chips) together in a large bowl, use your hands to mold into a dough. Line a pan/cooking tin with parchment paper and mold the dough into a layer. Then, using your hands, place the chocolate chips into the dough, pressing down so the chocolate chips become embedded in the mixture. Place in the freezer for 30 minutes. Remove from the freezer, cut into squares, or rectangles and enjoy! I loved cutting these into tiny squares and putting them on PB toast and in my morning almond milk yogurt.

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Nutrition facts per serving (makes 18 squares): 141 calories, 6 g fat, 15 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 7 g protein.

-Jess

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Healthy Eating, Veganism, & Eating Disorders

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A typical healthy meal prep spread that I’ve shared on social media

I recently read an article claiming that meal prep, veganism, and healthy eating on Instagram can trigger eating disorders. At first when I read the article, I felt a little conflicted because I post photos of vegan food, I love to meal prep, I’ve recovered from disordered eating, and I also happen to be a Registered Dietitian who understands the multiple causes and treatments of eating disorders.

What this article failed to mention is that eating disorders are not about food (seems counterintuitive, right?). Many people develop eating disorders as a result of trauma and/or underlying depression and anxiety. To blame social media or pretty pictures of salad in mason jars takes the focus away from the complex causes and treatment of addictive behavior and maladaptive coping mechanisms.

That being said, some of my meal prep photos do feature recipes low in calories, protein, and fat, so the article made me think “do I really want to present plant-based eating/vegansim in a restrictive way”? (the answer is NO because that’s not what veganism is about).

A huge part of my own recovery from disordered eating was intense therapy. Another aspect of my recovery was learning about nutrition and how to adequately fuel my body (from an RD). I learned how to prepare food and enjoy it without anxiety, which led to my love of cooking and meal prep. I learned that a balanced diet includes all types of food- including veggies AND ice cream. I learned that messages about dieting, weight control, and health will always be there and that’s ok because through therapy I gained the skills to acknowledge what does and doesn’t serve me, without placing blame on things that could possibly be triggering.

In treatment, I also reflected on my reasons for being vegan. I became a vegan when I was 15 due to many reasons, some of them more selfish (like wanting to lose weight). I then learned about the impact of factory farming on our environment. But because of the association between veganism, weight, and food restriction, letting go of labels during recovery was important. I was able to return to return to eating a vegan diet when I was stable in mind and body. I’ve also admittedly had some bumps in the road where I haven’t been a strict vegan (alert the vegan police!), but ultimately, I believe that if you feel a certain way, you’ll always go back to what is important to you.

I try to use my nutrition knowledge (as a dietitian) and my passion for plant-based eating to share how easy, nourishing, healthy, and satisfying it can be, with the right intentions. Being aware of my own history, I would never want to promote veganism strictly for weight loss. I think adopting a more plant-based diet can be a useful tool for overall health–but diet is completely individual.

If you feel like you might be using veganism/vegetarianism to mask an eating disorder, I encourage you to please let go of labels. If something is causing you to feel anxious around food and/or engage in disordered eating, it’s ok to to re-assess your intentions & figure out what works for you.

I have a lot more to say on this topic and I’ll probably share those thoughts in a separate post. But for now, I hope you take time for yourself and do things that bring you health and healing in mind, body, and soul.

-Jess

Quick and Easy Thai-Inspired Curry

Lately I’ve had limited time and I find myself getting bored with my go-to quick and easy recipes. I noticed that I had been making a lot of veggie-filled pasta dishes and nutrient-dense salads, which are delicious and healthy, but can get repetitive. My food rut led me to create this super-flavorful thai-inspired dish that took me ~30 minutes to prepare. It makes about 4 servings and keeps well–which is important, because after a long, busy day, there’s something so satisfying about coming home to a meal already prepared (just re-heat for ~3 minutes in the microwave). What I love about this dish is how warming and filling it is, making it perfect for cold winter evenings when you crave a hearty meal. Each serving packs a punch of plant-based protein, 116% of daily value of vitamin A, and about 40% of daily calcium requirements. One thing to note about this recipe is that the measurements for the spices are estimated, as I tend to improvise as I go. Feel free adjust the spices as you see fit.

Thai-Inspired Curry with Tofu + Veggies

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup quick-cooking basmati brown rice (I used Trader Joe’s brand)
  • 1/4 cup diced yellow onion
  • 2 cloves of fresh garlic, diced
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1 container of Trader Joe’s “Harvest Hodgepodge” frozen veggies- or use a frozen (or fresh) veggie combination of your choice
  • 2 cups unsweetened, unflavored coconut milk (I used Trader Joe’s brand)
  • 1 block of firm, organic tofu
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce/tamari/or coconut aminos
  • 2-3 tsp. curry powder
  • 1/2- 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. chili powder (use less if you prefer less spice)
  • juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 1 oz. cashews

Directions:

  • For the rice- measure 1 cup cup quick-cooking brown basmati rice and 2.5 cups water and heat in a pot. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat and allow to simmer for ~20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside
  • As the rice cooks, remove tofu from its container and press out all liquid using a paper towel and a slightly heavy object on top of this (I usually use a book, or if you have a tofu press- use that)
  • While the tofu drains, heat the onion, garlic, and celery in a skillet (I use non-stick pans which don’t require oil)
  • Add frozen veggies to the skillet and allow to cook, adding ~1 tbsp. of soy sauce (or tamari/coconut aminos)
  • Add 2 cups of coconut milk, lime juice, and some of the curry powder, ground ginger, and chili powder to the veggies and allow to cook on low heat
  • While the veggies are cooking, cut the tofu into squares and add some of the curry powder, ground ginger, and chili powder. Heat the spiced tofu in another skillet until the tofu is lightly browned, stirring occasionally
  • After the tofu has cooked, add it to the skillet with the veggies + coconut milk. Add any additional spices (if desired), and then add the cashews
  • Stir for a few minutes, allow to cool
  • Enjoy this delicious dish with the side of rice prepared in the first step

Let me know how you like this recipe by commenting on my latest Instagram post or by letting me know below. I love getting feedback on quick and easy recipes!

-Jess

 

Chocolate Chip Protein Banana Bread

It’s been a little while since I wrote a blog post and I’m excited to share why. I’m currently employed full-time during the week as a dietitian at a rehab center, working weekends as a dietitian at a hospital, AND managing to provide nutrition counseling to private clients through Vitamin Valentine Wellness–so I haven’t been updating this blog as often as I used to. Although I’m super busy, I’m also happy to be getting so much experience as a new dietitian.

Having limited free time made me realize that I really need to prioritize self-care and focus on activities that help me unwind. One thing that’s always helped me relax is baking. I love creating healthy baked goods that I can indulge in (healthily) after a busy day. The following recipe not only satisfies my craving for chocolate, but also packs a punch of protein, potassium, and fiber. Let me know how you like this recipe if you try it and feel free to leave a comment here or on my Instagram page @vitaminvalentine.

Chocolate Chip Protein Banana Bread

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Ingredients:

  • 3 cups garbanzo bean flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill brand)- if you don’t have this flour or can’t find it, feel free to swap it out for whole wheat flour, spelt flour, or your favorite gluten free baking mix
  • 3 scoops Vega Vanilla Protein Powder (or your favorite plant-based protein powder)
  • 4 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 6 oz. Kite Hill unsweetened greek-style almond yogurt (or use your favorite plant-based, dairy-free yogurt)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (I used Trader Joe’s brand)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 370°F. In a large mixing bowl, add flour, protein powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. In another mixing bowl, combine mashed bananas, almond milk, almond yogurt, and vanilla. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, then add chocolate chips. Mix well until contents are uniform. Using non-stick spray, spray a 9×11 brownie tin or baking pan of your choice. Scoop out batter into the pan. Bake at 370°F for 35-40 minutes. Allow to cool. Cut into squares (this recipe made 20 squares me for). Enjoy!

Planning Delicious Vegan Meals (that you’ll actually want to eat)

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3 days of plant-based goodness: overnight oats + fruit for breakfast, cauliflower “fried” rice with tofu for lunch,  homemade protein bars (I’ll be sharing the recipe for this on Instagram in a future post), and Banza pasta salad for dinner.

In my previous post, I shared some helpful tips to get you started with food budgeting. Having a plan of what you want to cook (and buy for the week) can be helpful, because no one wants their hard-earned money to go to waste. It also doesn’t feel great when you buy a bunch of produce only to let it go bad in the fridge because you didn’t know what to do with it (I’ve been there!).

Luckily, I’ve learned from my mistakes and I’m sharing some additional tips that have helped me feel inspired and motivated to create delicious, healthy vegan dishes that are easy to prepare and affordable.

  1. I meant to share this in my last post, but before you go food shopping, check what you already have in your pantry and freezer. A lot of times I THINK I’m out of food because my fridge is empty, but I still have stuff to work with using canned foods, grains, and frozen veggies. For example, if you have rice and canned beans in your pantry, and some frozen veggies, you can create chipotle-inspired burrito bowls. You might just have to pick up additional spices and toppings which shouldn’t cost too much (aim for fresh, local tomatoes, or canned tomatoes to save on cost).
  2. Get inspired by your takeout choices. If you love getting Chinese food for lunch and always crave a slice of pizza for dinner– you can totally use this as inspiration for your vegan meal prep. For lunch, try recreating your favorite Chinese food at home. It’s easier than it sounds, and if you’re looking for inspiration, use Instagram or Pinterest. I love searching “healthy asian vegan recipes” on Pinterest. A lot of asian-inspired food tends to keep well so that’s another bonus when it comes to meal prep. Lately I’ve been making cauliflower “fried” rice using 1/2 cauliflower rice and 1/2 brown rice. I add a some colorful frozen veggies, tofu, and soy sauce and I feel so much better fueling my body with this food than any kind of takeout. For dinner, I often crave something carb-heavy and delicious like pasta or pizza, but I don’t want to feel like I’m in a food-hangover the next day. Instead of making regular pizza or a heavy pasta dish, I use cauliflower crust (found at Trader Joe’s) to make my own pizza and save the leftovers for the rest of the week. For pasta, I really like using chickpea pasta (like Banza) or other bean-pastas because they’re higher in protein and fiber.
  3. Don’t forget about sandwiches. Call me traditional, but I love a good sandwich for lunch. But, actually, don’t call me traditional, because my sandwiches are anything but boring! I love getting creative when it comes to sandwiches. Some of my favorite flavorful sandwich combos are:
    • almond butter, banana, and a few chocolate chips on sprouted grain bread or in a tortilla
    • hummus, avocado, tomato, sprouts and shredded carrot on sprouted grain bread
    • a veggie burger with hummus (tastes just as good when it’t not hot)
    • chickpea salad (kind of tastes like tuna)- mash chickpeas, add onion, celery, chives, and vegan mayo, and place between two slices of your favorite bread
    • avocado chickpea salad- do the same as above, but replace vegan mayo with mashed avo (SO GOOD!)
    • upgraded PB & J: natural peanut butter with fresh berries on sprouted grain bread

Do you have any helpful tips when it comes to getting inspired to create delicious meals? Feel free to share them in the comments or let me know on Instagram @vitaminvalentine

-Jess

Planning, Creating, and Saving, Part I

Several years ago, I posted how much I LOVE Whole Foods Market Salad Bar (that blog post can be found here). I find Whole Foods Salad bar so appealing because of the vast array of vegan options and fresh ingredients, but this is not the case for all salad bars. I’ve been to some sad salad bars where the only vegan options are wilted lettuce and stale carrots. I still love going to Whole Foods salad/hot food bar over any other salad bar, but I also really love saving money (who doesn’t)? Thus, my twice daily Whole Foods habit became more of a bi-weekly treat.

When I decided that I needed to start a food budget, I had to figure out which foods I really enjoy eating and which foods often go to waste in my fridge. As a dietitian, I also knew which foods were the most nutrient-dense. Today I’m sharing a few tips to help you get started with planning, preparing, and creating delicious, affordable meals that will give you energy, and save you money. I’ve decided to make this a series because I have SO many tips to share.

Today’s tips:

1.  Have a budget

Before you go food shopping, have a budget so that you can plan what you’ll be making and how much to spend. It can be a flexible budget (by $5-10) or you can keep it strict–but remember, the stricter your budget, the more planning you’ll have to do. Once you figure out how much you want to spend, think about where you want to go shopping. I’ve found that Trader Joe’s has the best prices for frozen food and some packaged vegetables. Other times, I’ve lucked out at Whole Foods Market (especially the 365 Brand products). Sometimes your best bet is to stick with independently-owned grocery stores or conventional stores that offer cheaper produce. If it’s spring/summer/fall and there are farmers markets near you, definitely check them out because local produce is usually much cheaper than produce that’s been packaged and shipped. Remember, do what is easiest and most cost-effective for you.

2.  Plan on including colorful fruits and veggies

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Eat the rainbow!

The focus of your grocery shopping list (and meal prep/plan) should be fruits and veggies. The more deeply-colored a vegetable (or fruit) is, the more nutrients it packs. Carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, dark leafy greens (like kale, swiss chard, arugula), purple cabbage, berries, tomatoes, and squash are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and they’re so tasty! But, you’ll definitely need to do some planning before you make your shopping cart look like a rainbow, which leads me to tip #2.

3.  Find some inspiration

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Getting all the colors for breakfast + some snacks

Instead of packing your shopping cart with a bunch of colorful produce that you don’t know what to do with, have a plan. Before I go food shopping I pick 2 different colorful veggies that I haven’t been eating and find recipes that are appealing to me using Pinterest or Instagram. For example, on Pinterest, I’ll search “vegan beet recipes”. You can also use blogs to find delicious recipes (I’ve posted a ton of recipes over the years so use the “search” button/tab on this blog). I also love using delicious meals that I’ve had at restaurants for inspiration. Some of my favorite meals to recreate at home are vegan pizza (using whole wheat dough, cauliflower crust, or tortillas as the base), vegan sushi, and any kind of mexican food (mmm just thinking about bean burritos).

4.  Keep it simple when it comes to protein

I like to create different flavors with my meal prep (for instance, italian seasoned tofu at one meal, mexican-flavored beans and rice for the next). I recommend using unflavored mock-meats and plant-based protein (like seitan, tofu, tempeh) and then adding your own seasonings, oils, and spices, unless you find a flavored variety that fits into a particular recipe. Buying unseasoned vegan protein makes it easier to use in a variety of meals.

5.  Pick 1-2 grains to work with for the week

If you’re doing a weekly food prep/plan, choose 1 or two whole grain products to include in you meal prep. What I love about grains is how diverse they are and how they can take the flavor of whatever you’re cooking. Typically, I’ll buy 1 or 2 breads a week (like sprouted grain bread or tortillas) and 1-2 pasta/rice/grains (lately my fave is Trader Joe’s brown-rice lentil spaghetti).

In my next post, I’ll share more tips about planning your meals and making them super flavorful and creative. Check back soon, and be sure to follow my instagram account (vitaminvalentine) for more tips on being the healthiest vegan you can be!

-Jess

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Taking a Coffee Break

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Today I’m sharing my on-and-off again relationship with my first love–a powerful elixir named coffee! Coffee and I go way back. I think my love of coffee began sometime in high school and ever since then, I’ve been hooked. In college, I craved the “peppy” feeling that coffee would give me as I studied throughout the night and I loved hanging out in coffee shops near my school (shoutout to The Witches Brew + The Cup on Long Island for fueling my first degree!). Any time I started the day without my daily fix, I would be plagued with debilitating headaches. I realized sometime in my twenties that I was completely dependent on caffeine to get through the day so one summer I attempted to quit coffee cold turkey, and I was actually successful for 45 days! Then I decided to indulge in an iced coffee and it was all downhill from there. I’m exaggerating, but my coffee habit picked up right where it left off.

Coffee is known to be addictive. It’s the most widely available and used stimulant out there, but just because many people are dependent on coffee doesn’t mean it’s bad. Coffee has many benefits and it happens to be a powerful antioxidant that may be useful in preventing some forms of diseases and cancer. Regular coffee drinkers may have a decreased risk of diabetes (just hold the cream & sugar), Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and cancers of the liver and colon.

I’m definitely not anti-coffee, but this summer while I was studying for the RD exam I realized I don’t LOVE coffee like I used to. Ever since I started drinking coffee (over 10 years now), my sleep has been affected. I know coffee can make me anxious at times, but in the past, the energetic coffee buzz was worth it. What changed for me recently was realizing that I actually don’t like that jittery, peppy feeling anymore. As I was driving to take the test, I stopped at Starbucks for my daily ritual, but I was so nervous that I took one sip of coffee and decided that would be my last sip for a while. I couldn’t bare to be any more anxious than I already was.

It’s now been over a week since I had regular coffee (I did drink decaf for the first 3 days) and I feel surprisingly…normal. I didn’t experience any caffeine-withdrawal headaches but I was nauseas for the first few days, which I wasn’t expecting. I think I avoided having headaches by drinking a ton of water and taking naps when needed. I’m not sure how long I’ll be coffee-free. Unlike previous attempts at ditching the bean, I don’t feel like I need to eliminate coffee due to an actual addiction, I’m just kind of over it.

Are you a regular coffee drinker or do you prefer something else? Let me know! I love hearing about other peoples’ views on my (former favorite) caffeine-bean 🙂

-Jess