Meal Planning: The Key to a Happy and Fit Tummy

Being an avid gym goer in small, local gym, I naturally come across the same people over and over again day in and day out. Some people seem like they are working so hard, and they diligently show up every single day, yet their bodies stay the same. Some stay overweight, while others don’t seem to be changing their body composition at all.  What could be the reason? Certainly not their commitment to exercise. So what else is left in the equation? Diet of course.  What goes on in the kitchen and what you put into your body is vital for any progress you want to make.

Eating a delicious salad or a nutritious, warming soup tastes good to most people, it’s not like everyone is craving fries every single day, but the problem is most people fail to prepare for eating healthy. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail, as the saying goes. When you are in the middle of your day and hunger sets in, either at work, or running around doing errands, picking up kids, doing laundry, or traveling for business – and you don’t have anything in front of you to eat, chances are most of us will just pick the nearest and easiest option, which more often than not is not an ideal choice.

The solution? Pick a time during the week when you have one or two hours free (yes, you can find it- no excuses! We all spend a little too much time on social media and in front of the TV) and spend it preparing meals for the next 3 days or so.  When you’re running out the door in the morning on your way to work or a meeting, all you have to do is reach into the fridge and pick a pre-prepared meal, drop it in your bag and go. A delicious lunch waits for you later in the day, that YOU have prepared, you know which ingredients are in it, and you can better track what you are eating.  The work will be worth it – and your body will thank you for it later.

This morning I prepared a ‘buddha bowl’ like salad with fresh vegetables I purchased over the weekend. I typically buy whatever looks good at the market, and I like to buy produce that’s in season; it’s when they taste the best and are cheapest.  Then I build my recipes around what I have in my fridge and pantry. Being a chef, I have learned to combine flavors and textures that excite the taste buds and it’s always fun to come up with a new dish.



Today I pre-cooked some beautiful organic green lentils and quinoa and topped the salad with a 1/2 cup each , and gave it a sprinkling of some hemp seeds and pepita seeds, and boom – I had a tasty, colorful, protein-packed and super satisfying lunch that would kick any take-out to the curb, both nutritionally and flavor wise.  This gives me energy throughout the day, and doesn’t leave me uncomfortably full and drowsy like many store bought prepared meals typically do.

I’ve included the recipe for what I made below – you can choose the raw’nch dressing or make your own version.  A simple extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, fresh herbs, salt and pepper would probably taste really nice too, but I love the flavor of this dressing.  You can of course add any vegetable of your liking in the salad and top it with any nuts or seeds you have in your pantry at the moment. Use your imagination and start experimenting!


1 head romain lettuce

2-3 cups baby spinach leaves

1/2 red bell pepper, sliced thin

1 carrot, peeled and sliced thin

1-2 celery stalks, diced thin

1/2 cup cucumbers, diced

1/2 cup roasted butternut squash in the oven (diced small, I sprinkled salt, smoked paprika and fresh rosemary on top and roasted it for about 25-30 minutes on 375F)

1/2 cup green lentils, cooked

1/2 cup quinoa, cooked

2 tbsp hemp seeds, hulled

2 tbsp pepita seeds

Mix all the greens and veggies in a large tupperware container and top with butternut squash, lentils, quinoa and sprinkle with hemp seeds and pepita seeds. Seal and go!



Adapted from “Let Them Eat Vegan” by Dreena Burton

To make it entirely raw, omit the Dijon mustard and replace the red wine vinegar with lemon juice or apple cider vinegar.)

½ cup raw cashews

2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 ½ tsp red wine vinegar (gives more flavor, but can use more lemon juice or apple cider vinegar for a raw version)

1 tbsp raw tahini

¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

2 tsp fresh chives, chopped

1/8 tsp garlic powder or to taste

1/8 tsp onion powder or to taste

¼ tsp Dijon mustard (omit for raw version)

1/2 tsp (scant) sea salt

1/8 tsp freshly black pepper to taste

1 tsp raw agave nectar or coconut nectar (adjust to taste)

1/2 cup water or non-dairy milk (or more to thin as desired)

Using a blender (I love my Vitamix) or an immersion blender and deep cup or jar, puree all the ingredients until very smooth (it will take a couple of minutes). If you want to thin the dressing more, add water to your preferred consistency. This dressing will thicken some after refrigeration. You can thin it out by stirring in a few teaspoons of water, or keep it thick and use it as a dip for raw veggies.  Makes about 1 ¼ cups.


Subs and Adds: Try 2 tablespoons of fresh dill to replace some or all of the parsley.

Creative In The Kitchen

Many of my non-vegan weight lifting friends constantly ask me and show curiosity about what I eat now that I no longer include meat, fish, eggs or dairy in my diet. After all, what else is there right? (sic)  Most traditional bodybuilder’s diets consist of egg whites, tilapia (yuck), chicken and non fat cottage cheese and/or Greek Yogurt, and not much else. I’m not trying to make fun, I was once that person, and had 4-5 portions of the same exact, bland meal in my bag every day, trying to convince myself that this really was a diet worth keeping.  While it may have given me a six pack for a short while, I completely lost my creativity in the kitchen, and as a chef and food lover,  I found the lack of interest to be inventive to be quite depressing. Food was just something that needed to “happen”, every 2-3 hours, to keep the “metabolism going” (another unfortunate wives’ tale), a necessary evil, if you will. You hold your breath for 12 weeks or however long it takes you to get into stage shape, and then you celebrate post-show with any crappy, processed foods you could think of. What a nice cycle, right?

After I turned to a vegan diet, I realized there are no good or bad food groups – I have plenty to choose from in protein and carbohydrates and I even get to include fats in a variety of forms (oils, nuts, seeds and fruits)!  As a result of eating whole, unprocessed foods with a big emphasis on fresh vegetables, my taste buds have exploded and I find myself with less and less cravings of any particular foods, especially sweets.  Every meal is nutritious AND delicious, just like the commercial 🙂 The revelation that I don’t have to “suffer” to eat bland foods but I can spice it up, add new fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes I’ve not tried before, every single day without my waistline expanding – is amazing! Don’t get me wrong, I still calculate my  macro nutrients to make sure I stay within my range for what my goals are (and the diet will be different depending on what I’m trying to achieve) but the parameters seem much wider and more importantly: I have gotten the desire back to cook and experiment!

Vegans are perhaps some of the most creative cooks I’ve come across ever, I am constantly baffled by recipes and the depth of flavor I get from them when I try them out. I wanted to share a recipe for a protein packed, amazingly tasty Moroccan-spiced lentil and sweet potato stew that I made last night… I added some extra vegetables in for added nutrients…  Try this out and your tummy and entire body will thank you!


2 tbsp coconut oil

3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into small cubes

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

1 cup dry green or red lentils, rinsed, and picked over

1 apple, peeled, cored and diced

3 garlic cloves, crushed and roughly chopped

1 Vidalia (sweet) onion, chopped finely

24 oz organic Vegetable Broth

1 tbsp sweet curry

1 tbsp ground coriander

1 tbsp ground cumin

2 tsp cinnamon

1 x 2 inch fresh ginger knob, peeled and minced

1 x 15 oz organic can chopped tomatoes

2 cups coconut milk

1 large bunch of kale, stems removed, shredded

2 tbsp sherry vinegar

Nutritional yeast (optional)


In a large stock pot, heat the coconut oil over medium high heat and saute the onions, ginger and garlic for a few minutes, until softened.  Add the sweet potatoes and carrots along with the spices, stir well and cook for 1 minutes or so to allow for the spices to infuse.  Season with salt. Add the lentils to the pot, stir, then add the vegetable broth, chopped tomatoes and coconut milk. Bring to a light boil, quickly turn it down and let the stew simmer for about 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Add in the chopped kale and the sherry vinegar and cook for another 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and season with salt and nutritional yeast (optional).  Makes enough for several meals and you can also freeze this – enjoy!!


Moroccan-spiced Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup

“Fit” vs “Healthy”

When I started this blog, I’ll admit my main focus was on looking good on the exterior. I had recently fallen back in love with working out after a period of slacking, eating too many fatty foods and drinking too much alcohol (hence a 30 lb weight gain).  My personality took it a bit further and I developed a big interest in lifting weights, which in turn, led me to enter amateur bodybuilding competitions and in between running half marathons.   This is a blog I have wanted to begin for weeks now, as a result of reading friends and acquaintances FB posts and blogs who are just starting out, or who have been in it for a while but who seem to just blindly follow someone who has either experienced some success or who claim to be a “fitness coach”.

As a newbie in the fitness world, I wanted to do everything that the “pros” did – work out like a fiend, eat from tupper ware (which I still do, but never cold food and not that god awful tilapia and overcooked asparagus), “ban” foods and avoid social gatherings so I could get up at the crack of dawn and start the crazy process all over again.  I convinced myself that this was a lifestyle I could live with, as long as I was happy with my reflection in the mirror.  Never mind that my diet was monotonous, at one point I ate the same meal four or five times a day, something that upon looking back, is quite incredible, being that I am a trained chef, and married to one and my life has always in one way or another has been about enjoying food, creating new recipes and being adventurous in my eating.

Since turning vegan, my focus has turned to eating for health all around; not just for an impressive exterior but also for a healthy interior.   It has really been a spiritual experience!  Now I feel so much freer, no foods are off limits except meat, fish, egg and dairy and that is for both ethical  and health reasons so it’s not hard to give them up.  I used to have a big sweet tooth when I was on a diet, and my weakness were gummy worms, milk chocolate and any other processed candy… now I simply have no desire to eat them because I know they are made from nasty fish bones or milk from tortured cows.  Gone are the days when I thought animal protein was the only good source of protein and that fruit was bad, or any whole foods, for that matter was allowed to be labeled as “bad”.   You see, all these health freaks talk about eating what’s good for you, meanwhile they down energy drinks and other supplements that has God knows what kind of deadly ingredients just because it’s calorie or sugar free, consume artificial sweeteners by the mouthful on a regular basis and brag about being able to eat processed junk food on their “cheat day” and still lose weight. Really??  What is the end goal here? End up looking emaciated on show day just so you can win some plastic medal at a local show nobody has heard of and that the ones who have,  will forget the next day??  Develop health problems in the name of “outer beauty”?  Because let’s face it – I’ve been there, and it’s SUPER important to you while you are prepping: oh my God, that vein is popping, my butt looks tighter, my lats are wider and my abs are insane!!   I am on top of the world, I can do ANYTHING!! I am living the dream!! This is the most important thing in the world to everyone, right? Wrong.  I am all for improving the physique, challenging yourself at the gym, incorporating daily exercise for better health and working out to feel good overall.    But when this takes over your life and you think you can keep a stage physique year round… well, that’s where you are in for a big let down.  Life is not about being anal about meeting your macros day in and day out while ignoring other important factors around you, such as having fun in the sun, being with friends and family, work, travel, enjoying simple things in life like having a home made breakfast,  and even just hanging out watching a movie without counting the minutes until your next meal.  I guess what I’m missing in most bodybuilder’s lifestyle is diversity, spontaneity and just a simple ability to ENJOY life and whatever that brings.  A narrow minded view of what life is is no way to live. If I have to skip the gym one day because I have to take care of something, my world is not ruined. I just pick up where I left the next day, my physique or muscles will not vanish in a day, or a week for that matter. It’s all about PERSPECTIVE.   This is what the vegan lifestyle has given me.

I don’t mean to bash anybody in their midst of prepping for a show by posting this.  I too, thought for a while I had to do cardio on an empty stomach to lose fat and eat my boring ass meal every 2-3 hours to “keep my metabolism going” and avoid carbs after lunch. The truth is, my metabolism suffered after a hard core keto-diet I was put on after my last show,  I noticed lack of energy, my body not recovering as well as it has before, and many other signs that I found worrying.  I lost interest in food (which is amazing considering my background I mentioned earlier as a chef and food enthusiast),  and  while I thought I ate so much (most of the foods were vegetables and low in calories so the “amount” seem larger than real life) I was still feeling I missed out on some things.  When the euphoric feeling of stepping on stage and placing well dissipated, I was still left with me, and wanting more out of life than just obsessing about my next work out.

So… enter my vegan lifestyle in October of 2013, and I found a wonderful new way of living! Imagine, I am lean still – and have tons of energy – and I get to eat a ton of fruit, nuts, dried fruits, maple syrup, beans, rice, potatoes, vegetables in all shapes and forms.. and you guessed it: lots of protein!!!

There is a spiritual awakening involved also with eating plant based… while before, I used to scoff at vegans thinking they all ate “rabbit food” and all drank wheat grass juice every two hours, I am amazed that I now feel my food choices have EXPANDED, not being limited, and I look forward to, and at the same time am overwhelmed, each week when I go shopping, as everything I make as my weekly meals are not only healthy, wholesome and good for me, but low in fat, high in nutrients and most importantly: extremely delicious!!  I feel lighter and happier, because I highly believe that if I consume a living being’s body that was tortured and killed, their energy transfers into my body. I can honestly say that I am smiling both on the inside and outside now, knowing that I don’t have to put myself through nightmarish routines just because I want to look good in a two-piece. Now I eat what I want and look how I want while smiling all the way!!  I win – and so can you! 🙂

I have a mission this year, and that is to show you all, in pictures and in words, that it is possible to be healthy looking, MUSCULAR and fit and fabulous, eating plant based foods only, steering away from the “bro-science” of the traditional bodybuilding diets (which are SO bad for you, both metabolically and spiritually – who the hell wants to eat boiled chicken and broccoli- unseasoned- for the rest of their life- just to look “shredded”??) and to include every food in the universe that is wholesome and organic, natural and flavorful… one meal at a time.

To all of you who still think you need to follow  the recipe of  a super low calorie, monotonous and boring diet followed by 1-2 hours of cardio a day after your regular weight training, I’ve got news for you: You don’t!!   Progress pictures to follow in the spring and summer along with more news, info and motivation!

Discovering a New World of Plant Based Foods

As I enter into my fifth month as a full on plant based food eater (or dare I say the V-word – vegan??),  I thought I would put down my thoughts around my experience so far.

Let me first be clear, and that is that I absolutely LOVE my new lifestyle change, and I enter into the line of other vegans who have said “I wish I had done this sooner!”.   I feel lighter, have more energy, my mood is brighter, my skin is glowing and I think I even smell better! 🙂 It really is an eye opening experience,  which I liken to a spiritual one; it’s not just about the food or my health, it’s about finding the perfect way to live for me, not causing harm to any other living beings.   While I started my first week  with eating some select seafood and eggs, I quickly decided I wanted to abandon these food groups too, and not eat anything that contained animal products.   Believe me when I said, this is the easiest change I have ever done.  It’s not like looking at a tub of ice cream or a piece of chocolate (or even a bottle of wine) where you give yourself the option of “maybe I’ll just have a bite” – my conviction  is so strong I would never even consider eating anything with animal products in it anymore.  Of course, from a figure athlete standpoint, this is fabulous for me, because most candy, ice cream and junk food contain either milk or eggs or gelatin (ground up meat bones – yum!)  so the temptation that was there before, no longer exists.

Up until this past week, the meal that was most difficult for me to adjust to was breakfast. I always have eaten egg whites in the morning,  either just plain or in a vegetable omelet.   I loved eggs in general, and found this food to be the most difficult to give up (not cheese, as you may expect!).  They seem so versatile, can be added into anything and there is no true substitute for it yet.  That is, until recently when I found out how incredibly full of horrible ingredients eggs are,  being filled with antibiotics and prone to diseases like avian flu.  In a recent New York Magazine article by Rebecca Flint Marx, it was mentioned that there are 1.8 trillion eggs being laid every year, and 99% come from places that if people knew about them, would throw up in their mouth.  Hens are cruelly packed into teeny sized boxed rooms, that are being treated with massive amounts of pesticides and fertilizers.  Besides the ethical quandaries of the egg industry, getting protein from animals is horribly inefficient and also is a big contributor to the climate change.

So what to do about my dreamy vision of eggs, and their health benefits? After all, in my last prep for a show, I, like so many other clueless competitors, gulped egg whites by the gallons over the course of a month, citing their “low fat, high protein” content.   That’s nice that you want to look good on stage, honey – but what about  a few years later, how will your health be and what will your insides look like?  Enter tofu…. I must admit I was skeptical at best, on subbing tofu for eggs.  How would they compare?? Let me tell you… I had a culinary epiphany this afternoon and I’m now head over heels with this dish, and I must share the recipe with you all!  This will be my go to breakfast from now on… Make this and you will be mad you missed out on this dish all this time!! 🙂


Makes 2 servings

1/2 yellow onion, diced

1/2 green bell pepper, diced

1 cup button musrooms, sliced

1 block extra firm tofu, drained and pressed

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (or sub spray)

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp onion powder

1 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp nutritional yeast

1/2 tsp turmeric

Handful of spinach or arugula or greens of your choice

Slice the tofu into approximately one inch cubes. Then, using either your hands or a fork, crumble it slightly. Sautee onion, pepper, mushrooms and crumbled tofu in oil for 3-5 minutes, stirring often. Add remaining ingredients, reduce heat to medium and allow to cook 5-7 more minutes, stirring frequently.  Throw in your greens and stir until wilted. Serve topped with hot sauce and if you want- wrap in a corn tortilla. Yummy to the nth degree!!

tofuscrambleNutritional Ingredients:

One serving provides approximately: Calories: 365
Total Fat: 165g
Total Carbohydrates: 18.9g
Dietary Fiber: 4.8g,
Protein: 24.2g
Vitamin A 19%, Vitamin C 100%, Calcium 39%, Iron 33%

Moving to a Plant Based Diet

This year sure has been full of changes for me. First, I started a new job as a wine buyer for a large retail store. Going back to having to be at a place 8 hours a day 5 days a week has taken adjustment, since I’ve worked for myself pretty much for close to a decade now and had freedom to fit in gym, friends and social activities whenever I wanted. Not so much anymore. Secondly, my husband and I moved to a new town.  That change I absolutely love, we have a big backyard now that is fenced in for our children (two boxers) to roam around in and I am now only an 8 minute drive from the gym – no excuses!!

Lastly, the biggest change in my life has been that I’ve decided to finally go meat and dairy free. I have been pondering this decision for months, if not years. My love for animals and passion for animal rights is the only thing that gets me really riled up, and when I see clips of the absolute horrific practices of the meat and dairy industry, I am depressed for days and can’t get the images out of my head.  I also am the mother of two boxer puppies who I love above everything- so why do I then go and eat a pig, a cow or a chicken who has the same feelings and emotions and the right to a quality life as my dogs? I could no longer live with myself or watch myself in the mirror in the morning, and finally decided it was time.  I can’t explain what a relief it is, and how light and free I feel.   I am no longer contributing to another living being’s pain and suffering.

I was never a big meat eater to begin with (I ate mostly chicken if anything) and have always loved vegetables and had limited my intake of dairy anyway since I was prepping for shows the past three years. Today there are so many wonderful alternatives to meat, cow’s milk, yogurt, cheese and butter that I honestly could see no valid reason for continuing to support the macabre actions of people who think the only purpose of animals is to feed them and serve them somehow.

The first question I think every person who is not eating animal products get is “How do you get your protein?”  Protein can be found in many sources, such as nuts and nut butters, legumes, non dairy milk,  quinoa, tofu, even vegetables. I recently switched to a pea and bamboo shoot protein powder that provides just the same macro nutrients of protein, carbohydrates and fat as my old whey protein.  I also make sure to supplement with BCAA (Branch Chain Amino Acids) before/during/after my workouts as well as a multi vitamin twice daily. Often, people exaggerate their intake of protein – we don’t really need to be overloading on it, in fact when I was eating chicken and eggs I only had about 4 oz or so of chicken and 3 egg whites at a time (and I’m tall/a big girl).  I fill up on vegetables which are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber and.. yes, some protein too!  By balancing my macro nutrients I am consuming exactly the same amount of calories as I was before.  I already feel so much lighter knowing I’m not stuffing my body with meat and dairy that has been poisoned with hormones and antibiotics and.. let’s face it, fear, torture and death.

It took a while before it dawned on me why it would be useless to give up meat if I didn’t simultaneously give up dairy. The dairy industry, is in fact – even worse than the meat industry in how they pain and torture the cows. A cow has to remain pregnant and give birth her whole life in order to produce the milk that we humans OH SO DESPERATELY NEED (not), and so she is repeatedly inseminated with semen (i.e. raped) and her off springs are ripped away from her right away, causing her immense grief for days.  Male calves are deemed useless, and kept in cages where they are not allowed to move so the meat gets “tender”, and given minimal food to cause that anemic look to the skin that people love to see when ordering veal in restaurants.  The female calves suffer the same fate as their mothers.   The apparatus that gets suctioned on to their (abnormally LARGE) uterus cause infections (the cows scream in pain when the machines are placed on them) and puss enters into the milk and guess what … YOU.  And the cycle continues.  Want milk still?

There are plenty of muscular, healthy vegan body builders out there… To continue eating meat and dairy just because we are afraid we are going to lose our muscles is just sheer, utter BS, to put it mildly.   A question I have gotten in just the past couple of weeks since I announced my new lifestyle is “You don’t eat meat or dairy? What’s left?” thinking that the vegan diet is limited and boring. Nothing could be further from the truth! While I am not 100% vegan yet as I am transitioning slowly (I still eat some select seafood),  I have no problem finding a great variety of foods that will satisfy me and give me nutrients. Imagine all the legumes out there; black beans, chickpeas, lentils, lima beans, red beans, white beans, pinto, etc.  Then there is quinoa, all kinds of rice, and.. .my secret weapon: Fresh herbs and a huge variety of spices! I have gotten better at using exotic spices to brighten up my food and bring it to life. Today I made a bean soup stuffed with different vegetables, and I added fresh rosemary, thyme, bay leaves and oregano, as well as a Persian Spice Mix I got at my local spice shop as well as toasted cumin, coriander and fennel seeds.  I also toasted in some garlic and sauteed onion, added vegetable broth and… magic was born!

I will be blogging more about my experience switching over to plant based foods and dealing with people’s reactions… they have not to date been very positive, as most people just can’t seem to understand, basically because they don’t have the information or believe in “bro-science” if you will.  People also don’t want to feel uncomfortable with their own choices (i.e. of eating meat) so they feel they have to defend themselves, which I understand to a degree – I did it myself most of my life.  Regardless, I am the happiest I’ve ever been, because I am no longer turning a blind eye to the injustice that goes on to defenseless, loving animals around the globe. I want to make a difference, just like I want to make a difference in my own life of building a strong and healthy body. I hope you will join me !!