High Protein, Gluten-Free, Vegan Lasagna

As the weather gets colder, I crave savory, comforting foods, and I know I’m not alone. Whether I’m talking to my own clients seeking help with their plant-based diets or working at my other job (as a clinical dietitian) the general consensus that I’ve found is that cold weather = cravings for comfort food. It makes sense that most people seem to crave heavier meals and carbs in the winter. Limited sunlight means that serotonin production can be decreased causing low mood and cravings for simple carbs. While carbohydrates will improve your mood temporarily, I wouldn’t use this as an excuse to eat a bunch of cookies or a huge serving of mashed potatoes, because that good feeling will only be temporary. In order for your body to naturally produce serotonin and reap the benefits, you need protein. Specifically, protein foods that are rich in the amino acid tryptophan which is a precursor to serotonin. High amounts of tryptophan can be found in tofu, lentils, and beans (it’s also found in non-vegan sources like turkey, eggs, and cheese).

Along with the scientific reasons of why I’m sharing this recipe, I also just love getting nostalgic about food. Growing up, the months of November and December were filled with delicious home-cooked meals that my mom and grandma would make. Being Italian and Jewish (interesting combo, I know), I learned how to make a variety of holiday foods. Lasagna was one of my favorite foods to enjoy around this time of year, and since I love recreating vegan versions of my favorite meals, I decided to share the recipe for this lasagna with a healthy plant-based twist.

Two specialty ingredients that I used in this recipe are Explore Cuisine brand of lentil lasagna sheets and Miyoko’s vegan mozzarella. I found the lasagna sheets at Whole Foods Market, but if your Whole Foods doesn’t carry this, you have a few options. You can custom order it from them (ask customer service, they’re so helpful!), try amazon prime, you can also order it from Amazon without amazon prime, or order in bulk directly from Explore Cuisine brand’s website. For the Miyoko’s mozz, I’ve seen this at a few different places (Whole Foods Market, Fairway Market in the NY-Metro region, I think I’ve seen it at Trader Joe’s, and even smaller grocery stores will sometimes have it in stock). 

For the other ingredients, they’re all pretty basic, and you can find them in your local grocery store. This recipe packs 20 g of protein per serving, 6 g of fiber per serving, and is bursting with flavor. If you make it, let me know what you think!

High Protein, Gluten-Free, Vegan Lasagna

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Ingredients:

*you will need a pan for the stove, non-stick spray, a 9×9/square baking pan and tin foil for this recipe

  • 1 container (8 oz.) Explore Cuisine Organic Lentil Lasagna
  • 1 container (16 oz.) silken tofu
  • 25 oz. marinara pasta sauce (I didn’t make the sauce myself, I used Whole Foods brand)
  • 2 cups frozen spinach, or 6 cups fresh spinach
  • 1 glove of garlic
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp. basil (I used dried, feel free to use fresh if you have)
  • 1/4 tsp. oregano (same as above)
  • 1 tbsp. nutritional yeast
  • 1-2 oz. miyoko’s vegan mozz

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 375ºF
  • Finely chop a clove of garlic and using 1 tsp. of olive oil, and heat on low-medium setting in a pan on the stove
  • Add spinach and cook on low-medium heat for a few minutes
  • Remove spinach + garlic from the stove and place on the side for later
  • Drain silken tofu by pressing down with a paper towel, remove the tofu from the container and continue pressing down with a paper towel. The tofu will be soft in consistency, so don’t worry about the slightly off-putting, shapeless consistency
  • Spray the 9×9 inch baking pan with non-stick oil spray or lightly grease the pan with additional oil (use vegetable/safflower oil instead of olive oil which has a low smoke-point)
  • Place 3 sheets of lasagna on the pan so that the pan is covered, next add a layer of tofu, and a sprinkle of dried herbs (oregano, basil), add a little nutritional yeast, add a thin layer of the spinach-garlic mixture. Cover in a generous amount of sauce.
  • Add the next layer by placing 3 lasagna sheets in the same order as above, and repeat the sequence so that you have multiple layers of lasagna sheet-tofu-herbs-spinach-sauce. The final layer should be of 3 lasagna sheets. Top this layer with a generous amount of sauce, add pieces of Miyoko’s cheese (you could also shred it using a cheese grater), and add additional herbs/nutritional yeast if desired
  • Use a sheet of tin foil to cover the top of the pan, making sure the tin foil does not come into contact with the lasagna. This ensures moisture is locked in, without this, you may find that the top of your lasagna is dried out
  • Place in the oven and bake @ 375º for 40-45 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven, allow to cool a little, and cut into 4 squares
  • Enjoy! Save the remaining by covering completely and store in the fridge for up to 4 days

Nutrition facts per serving (recipe makes 4 servings): 320 calories, 7 g fat, 0 g cholesterol, 48 g carbs, 6 g fiber, 20 g protein, 15.5% DV calcium, 37% DV iron, 565 mg potassium, 126.8% DV vitamin A, 39% DV vitamin C.

Liked this recipe? Comment below that you tried it. For more ideas, follow me on instagram @ theveganRD

-Jess

My Favorite Vegan-Friendly Dining Locations

Greetings! It’s been a few months since I last wrote a blog post. Sometimes I find it easier to post recipes/general nutrition tips on social media (mostly on Instagram) rather than in blog format, but when it comes to covering personal topics, I like writing my thoughts here. On that note, this past summer, my fiance and I made it a point to deviate from our usual date-location (Whole Foods Market salad bar/hot bar) to try as many restaurants as possible.

Since a lot of my readers and most of my clients are from Long Island, I thought I would share some of my favorite vegan (and vegan-friendly) restaurants/cafes/eateries. If you’re not from Long Island, consider this a simple veg-friendly guide if you ever travel here! Keep in mind, these are my opinions and I completely made up these categories for fun.

Best Summer Dining

I love The Purple Elephant (Northport, NY) for the outdoor seating overlooking Northport harbor, and for a menu that suits both vegans and non-vegans.

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Vegan nachos that we had as an appetizer

This Costa Rican restaurant features traditional South American food, with a fresh, plant-based approach. My favorite dishes here are the burnt ends enchiladas and the rainforest burger + yucca fries. I also love their kombucha on tap! Make sure you make a reservation here as it gets busy and it’s kinda on the smaller side.

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Rainforest burger with yucca fries 

Best Quick/Grab-and-Go Food

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Tofu + Fresh Veggies in a whole wheat wrap

Sometimes (—actually, oftentimes) I want food and I don’t want to wait. Organic Krush (Woodbury, NY) fulfills my needs for quick, healthy food, plus it’s right next to a great yoga studio (and the menu caters to those seeking light, balanced food). I love their overnight oats, smoothies, and wraps. They cater to both vegans and non-vegans. This location is pretty small (no reservations- it’s casual dining) and it’s great for “grab and go” type of meals.

Best Healthy Food

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Enjoying one of my faves (open-faced veggie burger)

When I think of dining out, I don’t necessarily think of healthy food. A lot of restaurants claim to be healthy, but the actual food comes out greasy and causes that heavy, bloated feeling afterwards. I love Bee Organic (two locations- Huntington & Great Neck) because the food tastes super fresh and everything is 100% organic. I recommend the fresh juices, smoothies, and open-faced sandwiches (vegan + non-vegan options). I also love their buddha bowl (add tempeh or tofu!) which is filling but won’t weigh you down with regret or indigestion.

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Buddha bowl with tempeh

Best Date Night Location

I’ve heard great things about Tula Kitchen (Bayshore, NY) and I wasn’t disappointed when I went there for the first time this summer. I really love the ambiance here and the menu has so many delicious creations. This is a restaurant that caters to both vegans and non-vegans seeking a real-food approach to dining. I love their vegan tofu crab cakes, falafel, and their “summer lovin” dish which is basically just a bunch of vegetables roasted to perfection over forbidden rice topped with the most amazing miso dressing. Sometimes simple is best and Tula Kitchen definitely proves this! I don’t have any photos of food from this location–but I’m using this as an excuse to go back soon!

Best Desserts

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I’ll take one of each, thanks. 

If you’re a vegan on Long Island, there’s a good chance you’ve been to the Witches Brew (West Hempstead, NY). This was my #1 hangout during college when the menu was limited to coffee/tea beverages, desserts, and some snacks, but in the past few years, they’ve upgraded their menu to offer tons of vegan dishes and now their dessert options are extensive. I love trying a new dessert each time I come. I highly recommend the vegan rainbow cookie cake, vegan strawberry cheesecake, and the vegan brownie with a side of vanilla soy ice cream.

 

I can probably think of a few other restaurants that I’ve enjoyed, but I really wanted to focus on places that have a vegan focus, and I honestly haven’t tried all of the vegan places on Long Island, so perhaps I’ll be adding to this list in the future. In the meantime, I would love for others to share their favorite veg-friendly locations (in NY, or elsewhere) so feel free to comment here or on Instagram @theveganrd

-Jess

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

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

 

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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Jessie, the RDN!

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Greetings! It’s been a little while since I last posted, and for good reason–I’ve spent the past two months studying for the RD exam and now I can happily say I’M OFFICIALLY A REGISTERED DIETITIAN NUTRITIONIST! When I saw the words “Congratulations! You’ve passed the credentialing exam” I was in disbelief. Despite feeling prepared prior to the test, I just couldn’t believe that all my hard work over the past several years had finally paid off. It was such an amazing feeling and I don’t even think it’s fully hit me yet that I’m actually an RDN!

Studying for these past few months was probably one of the most stressful times of my life, because the exam covers EVERYTHING in dietetics that a DPD program and internship encompass but the exam itself is only 125-145 questions. So, there’s a whole bunch of material that candidates need to review, conceptualize, and memorize, but you never know which topic(s) will actually show up on your exam.

Studying was also stressful for me because I have a tendency to overdo things and I studied anywhere from 5-10 hours/day, 6 days a week, for 2 months. My actual studying strategy was first attending the Jean Inman review seminar (a 2-day review course) and then studying the Inman guide like it was the bible (I’m pretty sure I have the entire guide memorized at this point). In order to retain things, I need to write them down (more than once), so I would copy down any important points from the guide and write them in a notebook, and then make flashcards. When I was finished studying a topic/domain, I would complete 10-25 questions, and then focus on the things I got wrong. I tried to understand the WHY behind each topic and really focused on learning the concepts of the material in the study guide. One thing that I noticed while studying is that some of the questions are purely common sense, and others want you to really think and use critical thinking skills. Of course, there are those topics that you just have to memorize (like temperatures, drug-nutrient interactions, BMI categories, etc.). There were some topics that I felt I needed more background info on so I used several of my nutrition textbooks from over the years and also used an app called Pocketprep ($20–so worth it!) which really helped with providing additional practice questions and explanations. Three days before the test, I also found additional study materials online and focused on test-taking strategies because I could already feel my nerves taking over.

There’s no definitive “right” way to study for the RD exam, but I don’t think one needs to study as much as I did–especially because most of the material I studied wasn’t on the test, and stressing myself out by spending all of my free time studying made me anxious. I didn’t realize this fully until the night before the exam when I decided to take a relaxing bath set to spa music and thought to myself ‘hmm I should have really been doing this all along’.  My advice to anyone who has yet to take their RD exam or is making another attempt is to RELAX, especially by making the time to put your books away and do something that feels good to you.

Now that I’m officially an RD (RDN, the two terms are interchangeable), I’m so excited for the future! I’ll be posting more updates later in the week, so check back soon and if you have questions about how to study for the RD exam, or want to share your experience, feel free to leave a comment below 🙂

-Jessie Valentine, M.S., RDN!!!!