Sunday, February 24, 2013

Create Your Own Custom Raw Food Menu In Seven Easy Steps

Confession:  I've never been much of a "menu person."  Back when we were still on the Standard American Diet, I sometimes planned a menu for a special occasion, but that's about it.  After all, when much of what you eat can be taken out of the freezer and microwaved, who needs a menu?  (Shudder.)  When we decided to go on The Garden Diet, we followed that menu plan, and I experienced firsthand how much simpler it was to eat well when you have a plan.  From there, I decided to try my hand at making my own menus.  Turns out, it's a terrific technique for feeding a family well.

First, why make a menu?  Why not just decide what to eat on the fly?

I make menus for my family to accomplish the following things:

I can figure out what to do with that head of cauliflower in our refrigerator, while it's still fresh.

I can plan to provide enough of the things we want to try to include in our diet, and keep an eye out to make sure we don't get too much of a food that we want to limit.  For example, if we want to increase our intake of leafy greens while decreasing our intake of nuts and oils, a menu plan can help.
If I plan at least three healthy meals and a nutritious snack each day, I am a LOT less likely to find myself ravenously tearing into something that I hadn't intended to eat.

It also saves money, because we buy exactly what we need at the store, instead of filling the shopping cart with random produce and hoping for the best.  Although, when we do fill a cart with the best, most attractive, fresh, ripe produce we find, we can always take it home and plan a menu around it.

We don't have to stick to the menu exactly.  If I forget to buy something I need for a recipe, I can make tomorrow's lunch today, and pick up the missing ingredient at my convenience.  If we are not in the mood to eat what I planned for today, we can substitute for another meal in the plan.

Once I create a menu that works for my family, I can reuse it any way I like.  For example I can save our winter menus and get them out next year, adapting them to our changing needs and tastes.

So, here is one way to plan a menu. Of course, there are probably many ways to plan a menu, and if you have any tips or ideas that work for you, we'd love to read about them in the comments.

Step One: Look at your schedule for the week.  This is important because you don't want to plan a nice meal on a night when you are too rushed to prepare it, or when the family is too busy to enjoy it.  Sometimes I make a soup or a smoothie that everyone can take to go.  Sometimes we just fill a cooler with fruit.  Keep your schedule in mind as you plan your meals.

Step Two:  Take stock of what is already on hand so you can use it up.  Those items should usually be what you use first on your menu, so they don't go bad.  I like to come up with a couple of meals or entrees based on what is on hand, and place them early in the week's plan.

Step Three:  Consider your cravings, and those of your family.  If you are transitioning to raw or trying to include more raw food in your diet, and you have been craving a big bowl of chili, you have a choice.  You can make a raw version of chili, or you can cave to your cravings.  I find that it is really worthwhile to make the raw version.  It doesn't always keep me from caving, but it does help.  Add a raw "crave" recipe to your menu.

Step Four:  Obviously seasonal produce is best, so think about what is in season.  If pumpkins are abundant, then you might want to figure out what you can do with a pumpkin and work it into your menu.  Make sure to add seasonal recipes to your menu.

Step Five:  Leaf through some preparation books and visit a few of your favorite raw foodist websites.  Have you stumbled across any new recipes that you'd like to try?  It might be a good idea to work those in.  If one is a bit complicated or involves skills you are still working on, it might be best to schedule that one for a day when you have extra time and family around to lend a hand.  I try to keep an eye on this, and make sure the simpler, more familiar recipes outnumber the complex or new ones.  I do think it's a good idea to add something new and interesting to your menu.

Step Six:  Check the nutrition.  Plug the holes where there isn't enough, and scale back on the fats where there is too much.  By the time I reach this step, I have at least one recipe plugged in per day for the week.  Now I like to think about what to add to achieve our nutritional goals for each day.  We like to include a certain quantity of deep green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, brightly colored fruits and berries, etc.  It helps that we've been having green juice and smoothies for breakfast, because they provide a large part of our daily needs.

While you are doing this, check the nutritional content from the standpoint of what you want to limit.  In additional to including enough of the right foods, in our family it's also necessary to scale back on nuts and oils.  One problem I run into is that many of our most favorite recipes contain nuts and oils.  They make the recipes more filling and satisfying, but the amount we need each day is rather small and we don't need them with every meal.   Fortunately, there are many great recipes that do not contain any nuts or oils.  So at this point, it's necessary to do a bit of rearranging or substituting.  Now is the time to take out that recipe that is too high in fat and substitute with something that is just as nutritious but more sensible.

Step Seven:  Make your shopping list and go get the food!  In order to use fresher produce, I prefer to divide the week in half and shop twice, once at the start of the week and once halfway through.

There is another way to do this that some may find more appealing.  If you are fortunate to have a terrific garden or access to some great farmer's markets, you may wish to go out and gather the best looking produce first, then bring it home and start designing your menu from there.  It might be best to start your shopping trip with a rough idea of what you are looking for, in terms of getting enough greens etc.

Brandi Rollins, author of  "Raw Foods On A Budget," and "Confessions Of An East Coast Raw Vegan,"  offers another great tip.  She says that when you are preparing a new recipe for the first time, plan to prepare it two or three times in the same week.  There are two main reasons for this.  One is, chances are you are going to be buying ingredients that you don't use very often, and this way you will be more likely to use them up.  The second reason is that by the time you have prepared it the third time, you'll be able to do fix it more quickly and easily, which saves time.

Another way to simplify your weekly menu time is to make one (or several ) of the meals a "mono-meal."  Just make a meal of peaches, or strawberries, or bananas, or whatever is fresh, ripe and in season.  How about choosing a different fruit for breakfast each day of the week?  Okay, I know, for those of us who are transitioning to raw, that may not sound very appealing.  It's just not what we are accustomed to. When I first thought about mono meals, I thought it sounded very unsatisfying.  I think that this is because normally when I  think about having some fruit, I think about having one piece of fruit or one small bowl of fruit salad.  The difference is that a mono meal involves eating the fruit until you are full.  It could be ten bananas or a dozen apples.  Here's a terrific explanation of mono meals.  Try it!  It can be nice, I promise.

If you need to start with a template, there are lots of terrific ones online, like this one and this one.

Or, if you'd rather have someone plan your menus for you, Lisa Viger at Raw on $10 A Day can do that!

Do you have any menu planning tips?  Have you tried any of these methods and did they work for you?  I'd love to read about it in the comments!


Sunday, February 17, 2013

A 5 Day Menu

Menu Monday, February 10, 2013 to Friday, February 15, 2013

This is basically what we ate last week.  These recipes serve 3 to 4.  Not included in the menu are optional extra fruits and vegetables, like apples, oranges, bananas, melon, carrots, radishes and celery sticks, for between-meal snacks.  


Green Juice:  1 head celery, 1 bunch spinach, 1 bunch kale, 1 lemon, 6 apples, 1 bunch carrots, 1 beet, 1 cucumber, 1 bunch cilantro, 1 knob ginger, 1 knob turmeric, 1 red pepper

Pineapple-Apple- Spinach Smoothie:  Chop a pineapple, including core, with the top and rind removed, and place it in a high speed blender with 3 apples, cored, and about 3 large handfuls of spinach. Blend.

Raw tomato soup
4 tomatoes
1 handful of grapes
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp oregano
onion powder

Blend ingredients and serve.

Afternoon snack: 
Coconut cream pudding
3 young Thai coconuts flesh (drink the coconut water separately)
3 ripe bananas
Pinch vanilla

Blend and serve.

Spaghetti Squash “macaroni and cheese”
This tasted NOTHING like mac and cheese.  But it was still delicious!
1 spaghetti squash
One bunch asparagus
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
smoked paprika
2 cups macadamia nuts
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sea salt (or slightly less)
1/3 cup nutritional yeast

Peel and seed the spaghetti squash.  Chop it into manageable chunks and process it in the food processor until it has a rice-like texture.  Snap the woody ends of the asparagus and chop it into approximately 1 inch pieces.  Whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, and seasoning and pour over veggies.  Toss.  Place veggies in a casserole dish with the lid on and place in the dehydrator for 8 - 12 hours at 105 degrees.  If you don't have that much time, increase the temperature of your dehydrator.  I would increase it to 150 degrees for two hours ONLY, then if you have more time, decrease the temp, making sure it doesn't get higher than 118 degrees.  If you don't have a dehydrator, try baking or sauteing at a very low heat for a short time, just long enough to soften the veggies slightly.  If you skip this step, the vegetables will be crunchy.

Rinse and drain the mac nuts and place them in a high speed blender with the remaining ingredients.  Blend until smooth.  Pour over the softened veggies and stir.

Note:  mac sauce recipe courtesy of The Rawtarian,” with substitutions.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Green Juice
Pineapple-Apple-Kale Smoothie

Kale Salad
1 bunch kale
1 avocado
1 lime
2 tomatoes
Hemp seeds

Afternoon snack:
Chocolate mousse
3 avocado
3 tbsp cacao powder
Pinch vanilla powder


Raw Taco Salad
A large head of Romaine or red leaf lettuce, shredded
1 lime
Taco Meat:
 2 cups brazil nuts soaked 8 hours
1 tbsp dehydrated minced onion
3 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt
pinch of cayenne
3 large, ripe avocados
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 scallion, thinly sliced
Juice of  2 small limes
salt to taste
3 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/2 bunch cilantro, minced
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and minced
salt to taste
Sour Cream:
2 cups young coconut Thai meat
1/2 cup coconut water
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt

Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Green Juice
Pineapple-Strawberry-Spinach Smoothie
leftovers (actually quite tasty and even better on the second day)

Afternoon snack:  celery sticks spread with raw almond pate - soak about 1 cup of almonds almonds for 8-12 hours, rinse, and process in a food processor until it comes together.  Season as desired - add raw cacao powder and honey, or make it savory with nutritional yeast and herbs.


4 zucchini
4 tomatoes
1 clove garlic
Bunch basil

Use a vegetable peeler  to turn the zucchini into pasta.  Blend remaining ingredients and pour over zucchini.  (Or use a spiralizer to make the noodles, if you have one.)

Thursday, February 14
Green juice
Strawberry Oat shake: 
Rinse 1 cup of raw oats and place in a high speed blender.  Blend with a very small amount of water until smooth.  Add 6 medjool dates, pit and flower ends removed, and a tiny bit more water.  Blend.  Add 1 lb. of washed strawberries, tops on. Blend with enough pure water to fill the blender.  Serve.
Note: Under ordinary circumstances, we would have either the falafels or the tabbouleh and no chocolates, but since it was Valentine's Day we decided to make it a little bit more special.  There was a lot of food leftover, which we ate over the weekend.

Raw Falafels Ala The Garden Diet and Cauliflower Tabbouleh Salad
Raw Vegan Valentines Chocolates

Sorry, I don't have permission to share the Falafels recipe from the Garden Diet - but there are plenty of similar recipes online, like this one:

Cauliflower Tabbouleh Salad  

1 head cauliflower
1 chopped cucumber
1/2 bunch cilantro
1/2 bunch parsley
1/2 bunch mint leaves
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp cumin
juice of 1/2 lemon

recipe inspired by:

Raw Vegan Valentine's Chocolates

I made these from a kit, but it it looks like it would be very easy to put this together.  Here's a rough idea:  Take about two ounces of raw cacao butter, (try substituting with coconut oil or coconut butter if you need to,) shave it down into flakes and melt it over hot water.  Whisk in about 2 tbsp raw cacao powder,  (you can substitute with carob,) about a tsp mesquite powder, 1 tsp lucuma and 1/4 tsp maca.  You can also add about 1 tsp ground vanilla bean.  These measurements are approximate and it might take some delicious practice to get it right.  If you want, you can stir in dried fruit or nuts.When it's all stirred together, pour into candy molds and place in the freezer.  After unmolding, they should hold up okay at room temperature, unless you used coconut oil, in which case they may melt in a warm room.

Green Juice
Pineapple-Kale-Strawberry smoothie

Lunch: Wraps and smoothies at Fresh Mama - what a treat!

 Afternoon snack:  leftover raw chocolate and strawberries


Eggplant Tacos

1 cup walnuts, soaked 8 hours
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp garlic
1/4 tsp chili powder
1 tsp nama shoyu
1 large eggplant
1/2 bunch cilantro
2 Roma tomatoes
1/2 onion
hemp cheeze

Slice the eggplant into very thin rounds with a mandolin.  Place in a dehydrator on low just until pliable.  Rinse the walnuts and pulse in a food processor with the spices and nama shoyu.  Add the cilantro and pulse.  Finely chop the onion and tomatoes.

Place a spoonful of the walnut taco "meat" in the center of each  eggplant round.  Top with a small amount of onion and tomato.  Place a small amount of the hemp cheeze on the inside edge of eggplant, just enough to seal it.  Fold the eggplant over into a taco shape and seal.
Dehydrate a low temp for about an hour, or just until slightly firm.  Serve with extra hemp cheeze.  Optional:  Serve with salsa and sour cream, recipes above.

Hemp Cheeze:

1 red bell pepper
juice of one lemon
1 tsp nama shoyu
1 cup hemp seeds
1/3 cup nutritional yeast 
1 tbsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cayenne 
1/2 tsp garlic
pinch tumeric
salt to taste
(note:  this recipe made more hemp cheeze than was needed for the meal - but it's a great dip or spread to serve as a part of a snack the following day.)