Thursday, July 30, 2015

How to Eat Gluten-Free & Vegan at a Wedding

Sometimes it's hard enough to eat healthy at home or with a special diet, but when you try to take that show on the road and stick to it while eating out or at special occasions, all bets seem off. But it doesn't have to be that way. Here's what I did when we recently went to a wedding and I managed to stick to my gluten-free, vegan diet. So whether you are paleo, vegetarian, have a dairy allergy, or just trying to stick to your diet goals, here's some tips you can apply the next time you are invited to a special occasion or party. Warning, you might feel a little weird implementing these tips, but if you have a restrictive diet, you're probably already used that by now.

As I mentioned above, we went to a wedding a few weeks ago for my husband's cousin... Jordon who you can find over at her blog: "The Half Full Chronicles" where she posts about her 5th grade classroom as well as home, craft, and cooking projects (check her out here) She was tying the knot to her guy, Scott...aren't they adorable?

See Jordon's blog over here!

Avery was over the moon excited when we got the invitation since she's really been into learning about weddings lately, and contemplated actually having her fourth birthday party be a "wedding party". I was excited as well, but I wondered the question anyone with a restrictive diet thinks when posed with a social outing, not "what will I wear," but instead, "What will I eat?"

I'm sure some of you are thinking, that's easy just don't eat at the wedding, and instead eat before or eat after. But for me, having a restrictive diet doesn't mean deprivation or social isolation. I want to be able to eat with everyone else and be with everyone else. Yes, I may eat food that's a little different, but I can still be there, having fun, and a part of the celebration too.

Now I love a challenge, and with the "Packing for a Healthy & Green Vacation" video I did last year under my belt, I knew I could handle a wedding.

So here are tips I used to help me eat at a wedding with a restrictive diet...

No time for the video? Here's the tips...

1. Ask someone in charge of the event for a list or menu of food available.
For this tip I emailed Jordon, the bride, to check the menu for the reception, and she was sweet enough to send it to me. I did this to see what was available that I might be able to eat, which would mean less things for me to pack.

From this list there wasn't much for me to eat, since my diet is so restrictive. It looked like roasted potatoes and salad would be okay for me to have, but the only downside to this is I didn't know what was in each individual item (from an allergy standpoint). So for me roasted potatoes seemed safe, but was there any chance they had been roasted with butter? If so, I couldn't eat them. These menu items could work for someone like my husband, who's a vegetarian and can eat wheat. But for me, I had to be more careful about gluten and dairy, not only being ingredients but also being in the food preparation area. With this in mind, I went to tip #2...

2. Bring your own food.
This is my usual routine for social outings or events where I won't have much control of the food there, but a wedding posed a different challenge... how to make it look nice and fit right in with "fancier" food. I'm used to packing for BBQs, family holidays, and birthday parties where it's with family and I don't mind using my containers and I have access to stove tops or ovens to warm things up (since I don't use microwaves), but I wouldn't have this at a wedding, so here's the game plan I created.

Step #1: Plan the food. Being at a wedding I knew I wanted some food that was similar to what other people were eating, and since I knew the menu, I planned accordingly:

Main course: My Vegan Cheesy Casserole-I chose this dish because its easy to transport, it doesn't require a perfect temperature to be a good texture, and my kids love it.

Side: Organic Green Beans- Nothing fancy here, just a simple kid-pleaser that I also enjoy and would accompany the casserole nicely.

Dessert: Vanilla Cupcakes with vanilla frosting-You can't go to a wedding without having some wedding cake right?! I agree, but since traditional wedding cake would do a number on me, I opted for my own version: cupcakes. I used this "Vanilla Cupcake Recipe" from the blog: Sarah Bakes Gluten-Free, which tasted delicious that and frosted it with my own "Healthier Vegan Frosting".

Candy: Sometimes there are those wedding mints at weddings or other little treats, so to prepare for my girls wanting to have some of those, I took a page from my "Healthier Halloween Video" and made two little "treat boxes" for my girls with Annie's Organic Fruit Snacks and Surf Sweets Jelly Beans. I also packed some lollipops in case, these are my favorite: Zollipops: The Clean Teeth Pops.

Snacks: Since I was bringing two kids along I also packed snacks for the car, during the ceremony, and if needed at the reception before we started officially eating dinner. For this I chose Veggie Straws and Gluten Free Pretzels as well as some Peanut Butter Cookie Larabars and Trader Joe's Organic Fruit Wraps.

* Ideally I would have had a roll or some type of bread, but I've yet to find a good gluten-free, vegan roll that I like and that doesn't require me heating it up in the oven to soften it right before I eat it, so I opted out of this one for this event. Maybe I'll find a recipe someday, if you have one share it below. 

Step# 2: Plan how to transport the food:

Containers for food: Since I knew I was taking a casserole to the wedding, lugging around a large casserole dish wasn't an option, so I opted to pack it in two of my favorite food storage containers:

How to keep it warm: For this one I had to really get resourceful! How would I keep the casserole warm, without the use of any oven or toaster oven? Enter a casserole carrying case. I borrowed this one from my grandma and it came with a Pyrex Portable Hot/Cold Pack. It said it could keep food warm for up to 2 hours, and although I knew I needed it to stay warm for a bit longer, I figured it was better than nothing. So my plan was to heat the casserole up in the oven, right before we left, place it in the designated containers, and then directly in the carrying bag with the insulated heat pack (that I had just warmed up in the microwave...this is the only thing I still use my microwave for from time to time). To my surprise, it was still semi-warm when we ate it at the reception! I packed it in around 3:15 and we ate it around 6:15. 

How to keep the cupcakes intact: While not the biggest priority in the world, I was looking for a container that would keep our cupcakes from getting smashed in transport or storage on the way to the wedding, and I had some luck with these containers from Cup-a-Cake. They are individual containers that open to hold one cupcake each, but the best part about them is that they have little groves that jut out and hold the cupcake in place. The only downside is that my cupcakes seemed a bit small for the containers, and the grooves almost hit the icing, but nonetheless, they worked pretty great. You can find them here for: 

If you look closely you can see the little groves in the holders.
So those were my plans for the food and how I transported it, let's see how it all went down.

1.  Before the wedding, I warmed up the casserole and green beans and placed them in the carrying case with the warmed up hot/cold pack. Then I packed up the snacks and cupcakes in this reusable grocery bag.

All packed up and ready to go.

2. Before we headed into the ceremony, I grabbed a few snacks to take in...which definently came in handy with this little one!

Thank you Zollipop...

3. After the ceremony, I went to the car and got our food out of the insulated bag, put it in my purse with the cupcakes, and brought it in with us to the reception.

Everyone else eating reception food.

The girls had their fruit wraps at this time.

4. During the reception, I got the food out of my purse, placed it on the plates provided and we ate it just as the other guests did with their food...who were still eating appetizers, but the girls were hungry so I went with it.When we were done, I loaded our containers and any extra food in the containers to take home.

Eating the cheesy casserole...her favorite.

I was trying to keep it nice and "classy" but Mila insisted on eating out of the
stainless steel food container, so I just let it go! Ha. 

The casserole actually stayed decently warm, I was impressed. Granted it was
summertime, so it wasn't out in a cold car, but still it was warm. ( :

"Don't even try to put mine on a plate Mom!"

We stalled them out a little longer, but they were ready for their cupcakes shortly after eating their casserole. So even though it was not time for the "official cake cutting" (the time I had planned to break out our cupcakes) I got them out anyways, and gave them to the girls.

The cake was not being cut, but they were ready
for their own cake!

Eating the vanilla cupcake even though it wasn't quite time yet.

In case you're wondering, Mila just got half of one of the cupcakes.

Scooping up every last crumb!

Trying to entertain Mila with some iPhone videos.

Having fun with cute cousins!
Unfortunately, my girls were both in cranky moods, so they did not last long at the reception, since we knew we still had an hour drive home once we left. So shortly after eating, we called it a night and headed out. Next time, I might leave the kids at home so Brandon and I could just relax and enjoy the reception ourselves and actually stay until the real reception began and cake cutting began. But overall we did enjoy spending time with family and helping Jordon & Scott to celebrate their exciting day!

About to call it a night before things got too crazy with these girls!

So there you have it, how I ate at a wedding with my special diet. I'm sure it may look weird or seem like a lot of unnecessary work, but to be able to still attend social events and eat right along with everyone else, sure makes me feel a bit more normal and like I can still have a "life" despite all my crazy dietary restrictions. Have you ever eaten at a wedding or other social event with a special diet? What tips did you use for yourself or your kids? Share below so we can all keep the party going, despite our many food restrictions.  Cheers!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Healthy Vegan Ranch Dip

When I was younger my mom always made this "ranch dip" that was basically a carton of sour cream and a packet of Hidden Valley Ranch mix. All you had to do was mix the two together and you're left with a creamy delicious ranch dip. I primarily used it to dip chips in, and on a good day, maybe some carrot sticks since I was no where near the health nut that I am now back then.

Fast forward many years later and I miss that creamy ranch dip! But since I'm vegan and avoiding things in a packet with all those flavorings, GMOs and preservatives, I knew I'd have to make my own version of this ranch dip that I so fondly remembered from my childhood. But the road to dipping perfection was a long one. In most of the vegan recipes I found, tofu was used as the base. Now although I love tofu in a pasta or stir-fry dish, I do not like it in my dips because all I can taste is well...tofu.

Other recipes contained expensive mock-vegan products like vegan sour cream or vegan cream cheese which can be nice, but can also get expensive and are known for having some sketchy ingredients like carrageenan, which I try to avoid.

The last obstacle I faced was with the flavor, who knew "ranch" was so difficult?  Some were too strong, others to bland, some were to "garlicky" and others, too "lemony". But like most recipes, you refine it, refine it, and refine it some more until you get it right then...BAM! It's perfect.

Once I finally got the favor right, I had my family taste test it and they couldn't put it down. As you'll see below this ranch dip can be used for many things, such as for dipping veggies, buffalo cauliflower bites, sweet potato fries, chips and even pretzels just to name a few.

With all that said, let's get started with that recipe...

"Healthy Vegan Ranch Dip"
Servings: 4


1. Soak your cashews in water for 6 hours, or if you're like me and remember you want to make this dip and it's a few hours from dinner, just soak them for 2 hours...minimum 1 hour.

2. Drain the soaked cashews and rinse them with water.

3. Now add them to the blender with the rest of the ingredients.

4. Blend for a minute or so until smooth.

5. Add additional water if needed, 1 Tablespoon at a time, until the desired consistency is found with the dip. Sometimes you have to add a little to the blender to get it going. This is also a good time to stop and check the flavor. See how it tastes to you, does it need a tiny bit more salt or dill or garlic powder? Adjust to fit your taste buds.

6. Transfer the dip to a bowl and dip away!

7. Store leftovers in the fridge in a covered container for up to 5 days.

Here's some of our favorite ways to use the vegan ranch dip.

With veggies...

With buffalo cauliflower wings...

I use this recipe to make the buffalo cauliflower bites.

Brushing on the hot sauce to the cauliflower wings.

With sweet potato fries or even regular fries...

With chips...

Or even with pretzels...

This is the girl's favorite way to have them!

Smiles all around. 

Of course we had to make ranch dip mustaches!

So there you have it, a vegan ranch dip. How do you like your ranch dip? What's your favorite way to make it and most importantly...what do you dip in it?! Share below.

Happy Dipping!

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