I’ve worked in a lot of kitchens over my years and I often had to take inventory of all the food in the kitchen and prepare the next order. At first, taking inventory felt overwhelming but I quickly saw how clear it made the path forward for my next days in the kitchen. Now it’s a part of my life at home and I love it.
Taking inventory lets me know exactly what I currently have to work with. It helps me plan my next practical steps. It simplifies my decision making. It helps me move forward confidently and efficiently. And all these things help keep down mental clutter. When I remove mental clutter, it allows more space for peace. And more peace, allows more space for joy. So, I now see the task, which once seemed boring, as part of my path to clarity, peace, and joy in the kitchen.
You can dedicate a notebook to your inventory and shopping lists so you could look back and use it as a helpful reference, or you could just use scraps of recycled paper like I do.
I start by separating my inventory list into categories. I list my fruits and vegetables on one side of the page and the grains on other side of the page so I can make matches for meal planning. I put the oils, spices and sweets at the bottom because they are not the main part of a meal. However, I still list them so I know if I need anything from those areas for my next shopping list. The following is an example of my last food inventory list.
Creating Meals with What You Have
Now that I have my inventory list, I can start to see what I can make with what I already have. I always use up what I already have first, so I am eating my food as fresh as possible and nothing goes to waste. For example, if I have bananas that are browning. I could eat them as is, make a smoothie, or make banana bread. If I have asparagus that is ready to be used up, I can pair it with a that last half cup of polenta in my pantry. I like to use up my last bits and create space in my fridge for my next order, or to free up a jar in my pantry.
Since I am a visual thinker, I like to connect the ingredients I’m going to use for my next meals with lines, or color code them. Then, I can bring them together on my next menu.
The following are examples of how I match ingredients on my inventory list to create my next meals.
Creating My Next Shopping List
Like my inventory list, I also categorize my shopping list.
There are certain staple items I don’t want to run out of - like coffee, soy milk, sunflower oil, salt, maple syrup, and tamari. I look at my inventory list to see if I am low on any of these items and put them on my list if I need to.
I make sure I always have fresh fruit and a bag of frozen fruit for smoothies. In the winter I eat a lot of apples and bananas because they are always available. In the summer, I love to eat watermelon, peaches, green grapes, and strawberries.
I like to have some cucumber, carrots, and beets available for a salad and I only buy lettuce if I know I'm going to eat it right away so I don’t waste it.
Cooked Green Veggies
I like to have something green that I can cook like kale, broccoli or asparagus.
Grains and Legumes
I like to have a least one dried bean, tofu, and a couple grain options such as pasta, rice or polenta.
Additions Needed for Next Meals
I check my inventory list to see what I might need to go with something I already have. For example, I have white beans in my pantry that I’d like to use, so I will put tomatoes, basil and tortillas on my list so I can make a white bean wrap.
Foods That Last
I like to get produce that will last longer, like hard avocados, green bananas, and potatoes. I eat the foods that have a shorter shelf life like lettuce or strawberries first, and then I move into food like broccoli that stay fresh a little longer and last I will eat the ripened bananas, avocados and potatoes.
I'll start by sharing what I don’t eat. These are the things I don’t eat as a vegan for ethical, environmental, and health reasons:
These are plant foods that I don’t eat because I don’t like the taste:
I have always been freaked out by condiments and pre-made jar foods so I never ate, and still don’t eat:
And here’s some things that people may assume that I eat because I’m vegan, but actually don’t:
So what DO I eat??
Here’s a typical day in the life of food for Jen. A little disclaimer: I’m not saying that this is the healthiest way to eat and that everyone should eat exactly like me. But I do think that I have found a way that is sustainable for me because it’s affordable, healthy and pleasurable to my pallet.
Morning: I start the day with one cup of dark roast coffee with brown sugar and soy milk. I don't have a second cup or drink it during the day. When I’m ready for food, I have toast with Miyoko’s Cultured Butter.
Noon: I have a banana berry smoothie with a splash of soy milk and small pour of maple syrup. This gives me energy and doesn’t make me feel heavy or slow me down.
Afternoon: I’m ready for something more filling by this time in the day, and I want to make something fairly simple to put together. Tortilla with beans and avocado and arugula would be my ideal lunch. I also love a simple avocado and cucumber sandwich, or a salad with brown rice.
Snacking: On cold days, I like to bake things to keep the kitchen warm and cozy so I will make baked potatoes, baked tofu or roasted asparagus to eat through out the day. In the summer, I love to eat watermelon, green grapes, peaches, and strawberries.
Dinner: My favorite dinner is pasta with tomatoes. I either use fresh tomatoes or make my own sauce with plain strained tomatoes. Sometimes I add fresh basil, or well cooked leek, or spinach.
More common foods I keep around:
And I also keep things like hemp seeds, chia seeds, and/or walnuts to add additional protein and omegas to my meals.
Suppliments: I take vitamin D and a vitamin B complex.
* I buy organic and fair trade chocolate and coffee so I’m not supporting exploitation of people or the planet. I don’t mind paying more for these items. If I can’t afford it, I’d choose to not buy the chocolate rather than buy a cheap brand with bad ethics. Or, I’d buy the more expensive coffee, and make up for the cost somewhere else in my budget.
1. I keep it clutter free. It’s so much easier to clean this way. And in general, I am more focused and peaceful when I’m not visually distracted.
2. I keep it clean. The kitchen should be clean for obvious sanitary reasons, but I also just love having my kitchen clean and pretty.
3. I use up old stuff to free up space for new stuff so things don’t get crowded, forgotten about, or wasted. If I have a 1/2 cup of polenta, I’m definately going to use that up and free up the jar.
4. I keep the things I use most in reachable places and the things I don’t use much in less reachable places. For example, my thermos is on a high shelf, but my coffee is the easiest to grab so I can access it in my morning haze.
5. I add extra lighting to make my kitchen brighter to work in.
6. I keep a speaker in the kitchen and when I don’t want to do the dishes, I motivate myself with music or a podcast.
7. I have an apron that I love to wear.
8. I keep it stocked with healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and beans. I have one comfort meal on hand (usually pasta) and one sweet treat (usually chocolate chips for thier versatility).
9. I keep an ongoing inventory list.
10. I keep an ongoing shopping list.
11. I keep an ongoing meal plan.
12. I revel in the fact that I have a clean, clutter free, and beautiful kitchen. And that I’m producing delicious healthy food for myself and my family.
Once you make the mental shift and commitment to live vegan, transitioning your food choices isn't really that hard. Here is a list of simple vegan replacements to your diet.
Meat/Protein: Beans, tofu, tempeh, nuts and seeds
Milk: Unsweetend soy milk or any other nut, seed or bean milk.
Calcium: Soybeans (which includes tofu, soymilk or edamame), chickpeas, spinach, broccoli
Butter: I use Miyoko's cultured vegan butter. I like the taste, and it is made without using palm oil. You may have to try what your local grocery carries and see what brands you like best.
Cheese: Make savory vegan sauces or buy plant based cheese.
Eggs: To replace scrambled eggs, you can use Just Eggs, or crumbled tofu with tumeric. To replace eggs in baking, use apple sauce, blended banana or cooked an blended zucchini.
Fish/Omegas: Walnuts, hemp, chia & flax seeds
Vitamin B12: Nutritional yeast or supplement
To stay full: Eat filling foods like rice, beans and potatoes. Eat fruit between meals. Eat more often if necessary.
Finding recipes: Google and Youtube are great sources for finding vegan recipes. Whether you want to focus on affordability, recreating Italian classics, birthday cake or raw foods, there's a video on YouTube about it.
Simple Happy Kitchen, is a great source for finding out how to get your nutritional needs met from plants rather than animals. You can also buy my book, A Simple Vegan Kitchen, for basic vegan cooking.
Read my other blog post: 7 reasons to go vegan
* I am not a doctor, please research the health issues of meat dairy and eggs for yourself or with your doctor.
I didn’t become vegan until I was 44 years old because One, no one ever confronted me directly and told me why I should go vegan. And Two, since I was born into a society that teaches us that eating animals is normal and necessary, I didn’t question otherwise. When I finally questioned this narrative and looked behind the curtain, I felt so sad for the cruelty that I had been participating in, so angry at marketing systems in place to trick me, and disappointed in myself for being so gullible to fall for them.
So four years later and a lot of learning, I made a list of 7 reasons I think most people would want to go vegan, if they understood why it’s important.
1) Health. It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that "appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes". Meat, dairy and eggs have been linked to diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, and cancer. Dairy specifically had been linked to breast and prostate cancer, asthma, acne, and constipation. Contrary to popular belief, you can get all your essential nutrients on a full vegan diet including protein, iron and omega 3s ~ and it's better to get these through plant sources than through animal sources. If we don't need to eat animals to survive and even thrive, why would we? Is taste or tradition a justified reason to take a life? And to continue to breed them into existence?
2) Breeding. Meat, dairy and eggs start with breeding. That means in order to create animals for their milk, eggs or flesh, humans need to collect sperm from a male and inseminate it into a female. The animals are vulnerable and they don't have a choice in the matter. If we did this to humans, we would call it sexual assault. The structures they use to inseminate cows in large dairy factories are actually called rape racks and they go through this procedure once a year for their whole life. At the end of every pregnancy, the farmer takes her baby away so the farmer can have the milk, rather than the calf. Both mother cow and calf are distaught and cry out for each other for days. If the calf is male, it will be killed for veal. If it is female, she will be a dairy cow, like her mother. After about 5 cycles of this, the mother cow is "spent" and killed for meat. Is it okay for humans to control animals bodies like this?
3) Use. Animals are contained, often in crowded and unsanitary conditions, for their entire life to serve the needs of humans. They are killed for food at about a quarter of their natural life expectancy. For example, a cow would live about 20 years, but a beef cow is usually killed at 18 months and a dairy cow is killed at around 5 years old. Should we keep animals to provide us meals when we don’t need it for our survival?
4) Life. All farmed animals are killed against their will. Even dairy cows and egg laying birds are killed after they are worn out and can no longer produce milk and eggs. Humane slaughter is a mental myth made up to allow us to ignore our compassion for these animals. Even if an animal was raised on a small farm and lived a “good life” ~ the animal would still prefer to live out it’s life, rather than be killed. We don’t kill our dogs when they get old, unless it is truly the end of their life and we don't want them to suffer. And we certainly wouldn't eat them after. We treat them like family. Does taste and tradition justify taking the life of another being?
5) Pandemics. Most pandemics start from animal exploitation. AIDS, MERS, SARS, bird flu, swine flu, mad cow, Ebola, Covid-19 ~ all started by either taking wild animals from their natural habitat, or by breeding them and keeping them in over crowded conditions, or doing something like feeding cows other cows to save money like in the case of mad cow disease. I personally feel sad that we now have to live in fear of these viruses and being close to each other and gathering in crowds, and I’m angry that we humans create these conditions. If we stopped wild life trade, live markets and factory farming, pandemics like these would be a rare occurrence and not the accepted norm. Why wouldn't we do everything in our power to prevent future outbreaks?
6) Environment. Animal agriculture takes over forests, wastes incredible amounts of water and pollutes our oceans. In order to raise all those animals, we also have to feed all those animals and hydrate them. We could feed more people if we just farmed plants to feed people, instead of farming plants to feed the animals to eat and wear. Not only is animal agriculture the #1 cause of deforestation and species extinction, but clearing land to keep animals and grow their feed pushes indigenous tribes from their homes. Why would we continue to support animal agriculture when by just farming plants, we can better protect the planet and the vulnerable populations?
7) Taking. Meat, dairy and eggs are things that are not ours to take. When we fight for our right to have these things, it is an act of entitlement to something that is not rightfully ours. We should not be using someone else's body to fulfill our needs, even if it is a non human body. We can make the choice to just leave animals alone and still be healthy and eat delicious food. Is it our right to take from animals?
Please visit https://www.jenbarbatosvegankitchen.com/advocacy to learn more.
* I am not a doctor, please research the health issues of meat dairy and eggs for yourself or with your doctor.