Food

I Tried Noom Coach so You Don't Have To

I Tried Noom Coach So You Don't Have To | Writing Between Pauses

In the efforts to be fully transparent, and as body positive as I can be while also working on my physical weight for health reasons, I tried Noom for a variety of reasons, some of them weight-related and some of them not. I’m really excited to tell you how it went. However, I understand reviews like these can be really triggering, especially for those struggling with negative body image. As always, if you feel something like this will be hard for you to read, don’t hesitate to close the window.

I started using Noom, an app that divided food into Green, Yellow, and Red groups, at least 5 years ago. I remember signing up and having the app on my phone. I didn’t like the Red, Yellow, and Green designations; I totally “got” it, but it didn’t really help my issues with seeing foods as “bad” versus “good.”

And while Noom does subscribe to the idea that making foods taboo is bad, using Red, Yellow, and Green ascribes them to “Stop,” “Caution”, and “Go”, which still arranges them on a spectrum of Good to Bad. For all their dedication to terminology at Noom, I don’t know why they kept this designation system! They could have at least chosen different colors.

Either way, I stopped using the app and promptly forgot about it until I heard an ad for that very same app on one of the many podcasts I listen to. “Huh?” I thought. “Noom costs MONEY now?!” I needed to know what the difference was.

Noom Coach is a program like the app I used way back when—that same structure of assigning food to categories and you eat a percentage of the category each day—with the added addition of a Goal Specialist, a Group function, and more. Basically, it became a support program to help you navigate both the physical aspects of weight loss and the emotional and psychological aspects as well. As someone who has struggled with my weight for a long time, I found this focus a little refreshing; there is a lot of psychology around the foods we eat and why (as well as the foods we don’t eat and why) and I’ve always been very interested in it.

As well, since one of my goals in 2019, is to have a second baby, I knew I needed to get to a starting point that would be less damaging to my body than last time. (Again, that disclaimer at the beginning of this post comes in). This is something I need to do for my long-term health, since having preeclampsia during a pregnancy massively increases my risk of heart disease. I thought Noom would be a great option for that, since it seems a little more gentle than, say, Weight Watchers.

What is Noom?

Ok, so first things first: what is Noom? Noom is, like a said, a weightloss app. But it’s design is not just like MyFitnessPal or Weight Watchers. It targets the psychological aspects of weight gain and loss as well. Like I said, they divide foods into Green, Yellow, and Red. Basically, Green foods are foods that are nutrient dense, but not calorie dense. Everything in Noom is based on caloric density. Green foods are things like fruits and vegetables, whole wheat bread, leafy greens. Yellow foods are things like avocado and peanut butter; nutrient dense, but also kind of calorically dense. And Red foods, despite Noom’s insistence that no that’s not the case are the foods you expect: butter, oil, fast food, coffees.

But it’s more than just tracking food. I only signed up for a 2 week free trial (and spoiler alert, I did not spend the money for the first 3 months), but I still had access to the Goal Specialist you are assigned immediately. After a while, you’ll also be assigned a Group Coach, as well as a Support Team. That means within the app you have daily articles to read, quizzes to take, and more, as well as daily weigh ins, tracking your intake, and more. Plus, you’ll have support throughout the entire time.

In theory, this sounds like a great program. They set you up for success right from the beginning and just ask you to be more conscious of choosing nutrient dense foods. For me, that worked really well.

My Experience Using Noom

I’m an emotional eater. I know this. I know it! I also know that I love, love, love certain foods and viscerally hate others. I am a very picky eater. I don’t like most condiments. I don’t like anything mushy. I struggle with leafy greens because I find the texture really unpleasant in my mouth. In general, I’m just a picky eater. I am also extremely busy and very stressed. I have a 3-year-old, a full time job, and a lot going on in my life right now. When I originally started this review, my brother was about to get married—and if you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know that this was a huge stressful event in my life. Well, a lot happened both before and after the wedding; so much so that I had to put this review aside to deal with it and not use this review as a place to unload.

I’ll just say: my experience with Noom did not help my stress levels.

Like I said, I think Noom’s setup is absolutely great; the app is lovely and easy to use. I loved the daily articles about psychology. I loved the quizzes. The separating of food into color groups made sense, but I still found it a little triggering to see that Red column. There was one thing I had a huge problem with. It was my Goal Specialist.

I want to preface this, again, with this: I know 100% that my experience is based entirely on the fact that one person messed up and it ruined the entire app for me. I know that. And I know that if I had gotten any other Goal Specialist, who was more of a match to me, i probably would have spent the money on Noom Coach to keep going for 3 months. I know those things.

Ok, so, it’s time to talk about what happened.

The purpose of the Goal Specialist is to walk you through the goals you set up in Noom. My goal was to have a baby in 2019 and to get to a happier, healthier point, both physically and mentally. I won’t say the name of the Goal Specialist I was assigned; we’ll call her S. The thing about the Goal Specialist was that she only really sent me one message per day—and in fact, for the first 4 days of the program, I only got 1 message from her asking me to think about things I wanted to work on, then message her on Wednesday after I signed up. That was easy enough.

Here’s roughly what I sent:

“Hi S! I’ve been thinking about things I want to work on and I definitely think preparing ahead is going to be a big one. I feel like I’m busy all the time and end up grabbing whatever is easiest to eat once I get to work. I have a toddler and getting him out the door is my number one priority in the morning, alongside making sure my husband gets to work on time. I feel like I don’t really have the time or energy to really food prep, so ideas for grab-and-go items I can have ready would be amazing!”

I got a reply from S nearly 24 hours after I sent that. Almost always, if she messaged me in the morning and I replied immediately, it would be 24 hours before she replied again. I don’t know if this was part of the program, but it made communicating really difficult. I unfortunately didn’t save her response when I deleted and unsubscribed from the program and app, but this is roughly what she said:

Michelle, it sounds to me like you’re making a lot of excuses. We all have the same time in the day.”

Firstly, categorically, no, we don’t all have the same time in the day. I work 65+ hours a week adding up all my various jobs and responsibilities, on top of having a toddler, cooking and cleaning, caring for a large dog, and taking time for myself. I work out 4 days a week already. The subtle implication that I’m lazy made me see absolute red. This reply was not helpful and did not answer my question or request whatsoever; it didn’t help me get to my goals. It was demotivating and damaging.

My reply was absolute shock that she would say something like that to me. It was not a supportive comment to make to someone who was asking for very specific suggestions. I replied and told her that absolutely was not something I was ok with her saying and I would be requesting a new Goal Specialist. Which I did.

It took 4-5 days for them to assign me a new Goal Specialist.

In that time, S messaged me again and apologized, then again implied that I don’t grocery shop! So great, another snide comment about being lazy. Nice!

When I was assigned my new Goal Specialist, I was close to the end of my free trial. I tried having a conversation with my Goal Specialist about how I was struggling to remain motivated to use the app after S’s messages and, again, it always took nearly 24 hours to receive a reply. When I expressed concern about the program when it took so damn long for anyone to reply to me, the new Goal Specialist (we’ll call her A) simply apologized. Finally, I realized I was done; it wasn’t working for me, despite the fact that it had everything I really wanted in a weight loss app. I told A I wanted to cancel my subscription before the end of my free trial so that I would not be charged for 3 months.

It took two days for that to happen, but I wasn’t surprised by that.

Final Thoughts

I know that’s a lot to read. And trust me, it took me an embarrassing amount of hours to write it in a way that wasn’t just emotional.

As someone who is incredibly Type A and fears being seen as lazy, being called lazy was a huge trigger for me. (And again, I realize this is the action of one person, but it is one person who represents Noom.) It made me immediately not want to even open the app, let alone follow what it told me. If the representative thought I was just lazy and making excuses, then what did it matter? The things I struggle with—taking time for myself, taking a break from working, not having to be perfect all the time—are very real, and yet, I felt like my Goal Specialist had completely devalued the things I struggle with. She acted like they weren’t real and that hurt a lot.

I think part of this issue is this: i was assigned a Goal Specialist that was 1) much younger than me and 2) not a parent. I don’t mean this as a way to talk down to young people (she was maybe 22 or 23) or people who aren’t parents. But fundamentally, the life experience between a fresh-out-of-college Gen Z and a 30-year-old millennial is monumental. The same as between a non-parent and a parent. I definitely feel sometimes that young people and non-parents look at parents and think we are just being lazy in regards to what we eat and our activity levels. But it’s not true. We know it’s not true, but it’s impossible to fight a stereotype, ultimately.

And beyond just that life experience level, what does a Goal Specialist who has never been overweight, never had to rush a toddler into the car to get to drop off on top, never had to walk around with the evidence of pregnancy on their body forever, know about my life? About my experience in this body? About the invisible sacrifices I make both at home and at work daily? The ways in which I have to choose between my health and the health of my family? How can they help me when they think I’m just making excuses? If you read even a single article about working mothers, you know that we perform massive amounts of emotional labor and make sacrifices every day. (And when I say working mothers, I mean mothers who stay home too. Taking care of a home and raising children full time is work, they just aren’t being compensated.) What can a Goal Specialist expect to motivate me when they only see my inability to remember breakfast as being lazy? When they don’t see that in the time I forgot to grab a healthy breakfast, I dropped off a toddler who cried and wanted to stay with me, made sure my husband had breakfast and lunch for work, cleaned up the living room, got to work, arranged my schedule for the day, started working, and made sure coffee was made for the office?

We all have things we struggle with, of course. This isn’t unique to parenthood or motherhood. But I definitely felt that Noom was missing that crucial element of assigning Goal Specialists based on experience. It felt incredibly random and S just wasn’t a good fit for me. In fact, she set me back in terms of my mental health and it took a long time for me to be able to talk about it. I haven’t even told Danny about my experience on Noom.

So, to summarize, here are my thoughts:

  • Noom is, in theory, a great program.

  • There are still some major issues with the way Noom assigns Goal Specialists, as well as their system for tracking.

I found the entire experience really disappointing and, frankly, disconcerting. It’s the New Year and Noom advertisements are everywhere. if you see one and it sparks in you to try it, I hope this review helps you better weigh whether the cost is worth it.

What's in My Cup This Fall?

What's in My Cup This Fall? | Writing Between Pauses

I didn’t really drink coffee until I was 26. I had drank Starbucks drinks, of course—but I think we can all agree that those are mostly milk and flavors and much less about the coffee. (No shade, though; I love a latte!)

For a long time, I drank coffee very, very weak with a scoop of hot cocoa powder, milk, and Truvia. That sounds so gross to me now because my love for coffee has only grown. People really aren’t kidding when they say that the taste of coffee will grow on you; I absolutely used to hate the smell and taste of coffee, but now it’s one of my favorite things in the world!

These days I have two favorite types of coffee: the 1850 Black Gold dark roast from Folgers and Starbucks French Roast. Both are dark roasts. I use almond milk, salted caramel non-dairy creamer, and Truvia in my coffee every single day. It’s the best part of my morning some days, to be honest.

I feel like coffee is one of those extremely personal drinks that everyone has. And everyone has their preference. Some people live by creamer. Or half-and-half. Or black coffee. Some people only use sugar. My grandma still only uses Sweet’n’Low, which tastes so awful to me I can barely stand it. Usually around mid-Spring, I go through a phase of not really drinking coffee—and then by Fall, I’m ready for hot beverages again!

How do you take your coffee? Does it change seasonally?

My 3 Favorite Autumn Teas

My 3 Favorite Autumn Teas | Writing Between Pauses

Last year, one of my most popular Blogtober posts was this one: My 4 favorite Autumn teas. It was one of those posts that I didn’t expect to be quite as popular as it was, but hey, I wasn’t complaining!

This year, I decided to share 3 more of my favorite teas for Autumn! Danny & I are year-round tea drinkers, but I shift more with the season than Danny does, as he only drinks herbal teas. So, here they are, my 3 favorite teas for Autumn this year.

1. Salted Caramel Black Tea from Bigelow

Salted caramel is, perhaps, my favorite flavor of all time. The first time I drank a salted caramel mocha from Starbucks, that was it. I had never really liked caramel, but salted caramel is a different animal. This tea is perfect for when you’re craving something sweet and a little salty. It also smells absolutely amazing.

2. Pumpkin Spice Tea from Zhena’s Gypsy Tea

This is one of the few pumpkin spice teas I’ve found that contains actual tea: African Rooibos, to be exact. It also has ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and more to help give it that spicy, sweet taste and pumpkin flavor. It does have some orange spice in it, so it is not as “traditionally” pumpkin spice as, say, a PSL… but it reminds me almost of a mulled wine. It’s really good and perfect for those crisp, Fall mornings.

3. Apple Cider Spiced Tea from Bigelow

This is an herbal tea, which means Danny can drink it--and good thing too, because he loves apple cider. I’ve never been a huge fan, but this Apple Cider tea may have changed my mind! It’s not too strong on the apple flavor, which is probably why I like it. Danny and I have it with honey. It is perfect for the evening, when you’re sitting down to watch TV or a movie before bed. Heavenly!

Product Review: Starbucks Cold Brew at Home!

Product Review: Starbucks Cold Brew at Home! | Writing Between Pauses

Over the summer, I developed a serious cold brew problem. The Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Brew at Starbucks is one of my favorite drinks of all time: it is really coffee-flavored, lightly sweet, and perfect for a cold day. It's also not super calorie heavy; 110 calories for a tall is actually pretty decent. And compared to other drinks at Starbucks, it has 14g of sugar--which is still a lot (about 3.5 teaspoons). Hence, why it's not an every day treat! 

While cruising Target, I noticed that Starbucks now sells packs to make cold brew at home. They come in a variety of flavors, but for around $8 for a box that makes one pitcher, I decided to just get the regular version. 

Cold brew at Home
Making cold brew at home
Is Starbucks cold brew at home good

The instructions are quite easy. However, it does take 24 hours from start to finish. You fill a pitcher with 4 cups of water, add the two giant tea bags of coffee grounds, and pop it in the fridge for 24 hours. Yep, 24 hours. When it's ready, you add another 4 cups of water, remove the big packs of coffee (carefully, I accidentally broke one), and your cold brew is ready to enjoy. 

Minus the fact that it took 24 hours (I don't know why I thought it would be 4-5 hours max!), the cold brew it produced was delicious. It tasted just like the cold brew you would get at Starbucks; with a packet of Truvia, a tablespoon of salted caramel creamer, and a tablespoon or so of almond milk, you have a lower-sugar Sweet Cream Vanilla Cold brew at home. 

The pitcher made about 8-10 servings of cold brew for me. At $8 for a single pitcher, that evens out to $1 or less per serving, which was pretty good considering a drink at Starbucks is $3 or more. Ultimately, it saves money and you can control the calories and amount of sugar in your drinks more effectively. 

Fall is fast approaching, so I've been experimenting with cold brew and pumpkin spice. Let me tell you: it's just as delicious with a little Pumpkin Spice creamer and almond milk! If you love cold brew, but are tired of spending so much money at coffee shops, these are a great option. 

6 Months Later: An Update on Quitting Dairy

6 Months Later: An Update on Quitting Dairy | Writing Between Pauses

It's been 6 months since I wrote my post about quitting dairy. It feels like a long time ago, but yep, only 6 months. 

Even though I wanted to be completely dairy free by now, I'm still not. My biggest struggle has been replacing butter; I don't like butter substitutes because while butter isn't the healthiest substance in the world, it's void of hydrogenated oils, which are actually worse for you than trans fat. As well, coconut oil, the preferred vegan cooking replacement, is hydrogenated and actually 82% saturated fat; one tablespoon is 11 grams of saturated fat, and the limit suggested by the American Heart Association is 12g of saturated fat per day. (To read more about how fitness blogs and fake health experts have mislead most of the public about coconut oil, click here.)

The other preferred substitute are basically margarine, most of which contain soy. One brand makes a soy-free version that I would describe as being like eating solid oil. It's not good. 

I've started using olive oil again in cooking (ugh, the most expensive mistress!) and most of the week I use avocado or peanut butter on my toast. But every Sunday, I treat myself to buttered toast (my favorite food in the entire world). 

I haven't had milk in my coffee, not even from Starbucks or Dutch Bros, since around October. That's been a big one for me; I love a creamy Starbucks frappucino and i really worried that the almond milk version wouldn't be as good. But gosh, I was wrong. (Also, Starbucks had a toasted toffee almond milk hot chocolate at Christmas that was truly heavenly.) 

The big question I get is, has quitting dairy helped my skin at all? As I wrote in my blog post on my acne journey, I saw a lot of good results with jojoba oil. (I have noticed a lot of texture on my face recently from my super simplified skin routine, so I've added an extra exfoliation during the week; just something to remember if you want to try jojoba oil!) I still get a little bit of acne related to my cycle, but nothing like I used to experience. 

I've also noticed that if I eat something with dairy (like cheese or a lot of sour cream), I tend to break out almost immediately. Like, within hours. Obviously, this is only anecdotal, but it has definitely scared me from "treating myself." (A few times, I've run out of almond milk and had to use Forrest's 2% milk in my coffee; I regretted it every time!) 

It gets easier to go without dairy as time goes on. I don't miss cheese and milk as much as I thought I would; finding replacements for things (like sour cream) has been pretty exciting. I do occasionally still have a yogurt, as I find it doesn't aggravate my skin as bad as other dairy products.

I'm really happy with my decision to quit dairy. I'm going to give it a full year before I decide if it's something I want to do for the rest of my life, or just try to limit for the time being. 

Product Review: Uniquely J Voxbox*

Product Review: Uniquely J Voxbox* | Writing Between Pauses

This is going to be a rather quick review. To start, I received three products in this Voxbox from Influenster and, not to give it away, they all fell a bit flat. It's hard to get excited about crackers and freezer bags, but I did my best!

Disclaimer: as always, the asterisk (*) in the title of this blog post denotes that I received these products free in exchange from review. However, my choice to feature them here is my own and all opinions are my own. You can read more about my disclosure policy here

What is Uniquely J? 

Uniquely J is the generic brand of Jet.com, a website that I know most for having somewhat bizarre commercials. Jet.com is a lot like Amazon, selling household goods on subscription services for cheaper prices. So basically, you sign up and get toilet paper autoshipped to your house every 6 weeks--so it's technically cheaper than buying it from the store. 

Uniquely J is their brand of just about everything: coffee, paper supplies, cooking supplies, cleaning supplies, snacks... They've got a bit of everything. You can check it out here

What I Received

In this voxbox, I received: Fig and Olive Large Crisps; Almond Chocolate Biscotti; and Freezer Bags

Mocha Almond Biscotti

Uh, yeah. Freezer bags. 

Freezer Bags

First things first, let's discuss what I liked: the packaging of these products is cute. I mean, it's really cute. The boxes are cute. Everything is cute. But then, you open them. 

Ok, it's not quite that dramatic. 

Fig and Olive Crisps

But I was pretty disappointed by the snacks because, well, they have the makings of everything I love. I love biscotti! I love crackers! I love those things! Yet, I wouldn't eat either of these things by choice. 

Let's break it down.

I'll start with the Fig and Olive Crisps. They're insanely sweet. Not sweet and salty. Not savory with some sweetness. They are sweet in the way that British people often describe American bread. (Yes, you're not alone, Brits. I, a born and bred American, also hate how sweet our bread is.) They are blisteringly, mouth-puckeringly sweet. I have no idea what you would eat these with, honestly. A dip might help reducing how teeth-numbingly sweet they are, but I honestly can't imagine what I would dip them in. Cheese? Gravy? The possibilities are all quite disgusting. On the plus side: Forrest likes them, but occasionally I catch him eating crayons. He is two years old, after all; his tastes aren't exactly discerning. 

Next, let's talk those Almond Chocolate Biscotti. Almond! Chocolate! Biscotti! Can you imagine? It sounds delicious, right? While the Fig and Olive Crisps are much too sweet for being a savory cracker, these biscotti are not sweet enough, despite being essentially a cookie. What is going on?! They are vaguely chocolatey, with bits of almond in them... but I wouldn't call them a biscotti. It was like two different kinds of blandness getting married to form another type of bland in the form of a cookie. They are aggressively bland in a way that is almost unsettling. And worse, they aren't even whole. This isn't a sleeve of little biscottis; it's a bag of essentially biscotti pieces. It's so bizarre! How can something that should be so easy to make taste amazing taste like I'm eating a piece of cardboard that's vaguely chocolatey? 

Needless to say... the two snack choices didn't make me very happy!

Then, of course, we have the Freezer Bags. I don't even know what to say about these! How do you review freezer bags? They zip. They have cute little designs on them, which isn't exactly my thing, but it's a nice touch. They seem to freeze well. They are quite thick and you get a lot in the package. It's hard to like or dislike freezer bags! 

It's funny because this voxbox had the other option of receiving cleaning supplies... I would much rather have gotten cleaning supplies, because I love a good window cleaner or wipe for my counter! These snacks have officially been put into the "treats for Forrest" bin and we've moved on from trying to make them work. But hey, the Uniquely J coffee does look really good and the prices certainly aren't bad. 

I Tried Hungry Root So You Don't Have To

I Tried Hungry Root So You Don't Have To | Writing Between Pauses

A few weeks ago, one of my favorite podcasters, Jackie J, posted on her Instagram story about Hungry Root, a vegan meal delivery service. As Jackie would say on Natch Beaut, color me intrigued, baby! 

Of course, because I looked at it online, I started to get ads for Hungry Root: in my Instagram feed, on Facebook, everywhere. One night, I clicked on an ad to see the price: the introductory offer was about $50 for a box.

Honestly, still pretty steep considering that's my budget for a week's worth of groceries for 3 people. However, I talked to Danny about it and we agreed it would be nice to try to get an idea of vegan recipes to replicate. The next time I saw an ad, I clicked on it again--and guess what? The introductory price had been cut to $30. Ok, for $30, I'll try anything especially if it's food. 

I ordered, I set a delivery date, and I waited. 

What is Hungry Root? 

Hungry Root is a vegan delivery service that promises each meal to be under 500 calories. It's ideal for people who need fast recipes that feature plant-based proteins. You can learn more about Hungry Root here

(I'm still debating whether or not to write Hungry Root with a space or as one word. On their packaging, it's two words. On their website, one. I'm torn, clearly!) 

The Delivery

So, shipping was relatively fast, although my box got delayed on the way to me. It was supposed to show up Tuesday, February 13 or Wednesday, February 14. It showed up on the afternoon of Thursday, February 15. I had started to get worried because it's a box of food

As I posted on Twitter at the time, the delivery driver also didn't take my box of food up my driveway. I live in the country and my driveway is quite long, but it's not a difficult driveway to get up at all. In fact, my husband manages it in his small car pretty easily. We get delivery trucks all the time, as well as our garbage service. The delivery driver chucked my box of actual food into the ditch beside my driveway. I kid you not: I had to try and wrangle Forrest while digging this out of the ditch, wondering if this $30 box of vegetables would be ok or not. (It was fine, in the end.) 

This wasn't Hungry Root's fault, just a 3rd-party delivery driver who was apparently feeling a bit lazy that day! 

The box was pretty large and heavy because it was packed with biodegradable insulation (nice) and Arctic Ice packs. I'm still not sure what to do with these items; can I recycle them? Toss them? What's the process? I do wish the Hungry Root instructions had something about recycling the box or turning it in for credit. 

Hungryroot 1

What I Got

Here is everything I received for this first order: 

  • Cucumber Corn Black Bean Salad
  • Roasted Corn Edamame Salad
  • Black Bean Brownie Batter
  • Fluffy Maple Chickpea Batter
  • Chickpea Alfredo Sauce
  • Thai Peanut Sauce
  • Carrot Chips
  • Cauliflower Rice
  • Shaved Brussels
  • Superblend Salad
  • Sweet Potato Mac
  • Avocado Crema
  • Braised Lemongrass Tofu Nuggets
  • Peanut Butter Coconut Cookies
  • Roasted Red Pepper Quinoa Bowl

All those items promised to make the following dishes, based on the Hungry Root recipe book they include: 

  • Fluffy Maple Chickpea Pancakes (breakfast)
  • Avocado Bean Southwestern Salad (lunch) 
  • Simply Seasoned Carrot Chips (side) 
  • Red Pepper Sauteed Sprouts (side) 
  • Crispy Greens Sweet Potato Hash (main)
  • Carrot Edamame Peanut Stirfry (main)
  • Heart Corn Edamame Stew (main)
  • Pad Thai Fried Rice (main)
  • Peanut Butter Coconut Cookies (dessert) 
  • Black Bean Brownies (dessert) 

The plan we signed up for (The Good Life) says they include enough for 5 meals, plus 5 sides, snacks, or sweets. My recipes don't necessarily narrow down to those parameters, so it's difficult to tell. However, it is nice to get a few sweets included because it makes it a bit more fun. 

Hungryroot 2

What I Liked

I'm a relatively picky eater and, to be absolutely honest, I'm always very hesitant about vegan food. I typically don't like the way most vegan dishes skew (basically, really heavily sauced things). So I was excited that these dishes were a little more "basic" and gave me some ideas of what I can make at home that isn't standard vegan fare. 

My favorite dish was probably the Avocado Bean Southwestern Salad; that's something I would definitely make myself. Each recipe is for 2 servings--and the servings were huge. I'll talk about this a bit more in the next section, but one issue I did have was that the flavor, especially of the dressing, was just a bit... basic. But it was still quite tasty and I really enjoyed it. 

My other favorite item was the Black Bean Brownie Batter. You can bake it or eat it plain. Danny and I ate it plain throughout the week, just taking bites whenever we wanted it. It was so good! This is something I wish I could purchase ala carte; I just want a tub of it at all times. 

I liked the convenience of all the dishes and how easy they were to make. This is definitely designed for people who perhaps don't really know how to cook or don't have time. I found it a bit frustrating that in the end, it was just opening a bunch of separate containers. There isn't really any "cooking" involved! 

What I Didn't Like

As I mentioned, there just wasn't as much cooking involved as I expected! It's mostly just quickly sauteeing stuff, adding water, and letting cook for maybe 3-7 minutes, then mixing with a container of salad. It's nice because it's so quick, but I really enjoy cooking and so I got quite frustrated having to wait until 10 minutes before dinner to start! 

Danny quite enjoyed almost every single recipe, but he's a trooper and will eat just about anything. His favorite was the Crispy Greens Sweet Potato Hash, but I added a fried egg to give it some protein. That's the issues with some of these recipes. They all promise to be under 500 calories per serving and they definitely are... but some of them a lack a protein element, even though they include a lot of bean salads and the like. 

As I mentioned, I want to talk about flavors. The overwhelming flavor of most of the prepackaged salads is vinegar. There is a lot of vinegar. I love a vinegar-based salad dressing as much as the next person, but it's quite a lot. In general, there isn't a lot of flavor to anything. The Thai Peanut sauce used in the Pad Thai Fried (Cauliflower) Rice is very heavily just peanut butter and very spicy--there is no dimension to it. It's not bad, but it's not something I would want to eat nonstop. It would be nice to see a variety of flavors or perhaps spice packets that can be added to these items to make them have a bit more dimension. 

Another thing: the individual items are labelled really oddly. Like a package of sweet potatoes is labeled "Sweet Potato Mac." But it's just raw sweet potato! It's not a package of sweet potato mac and cheese; you add the sauce separately. 

Is it Worth the Money? 

I paid $30 for this--effectively half the price of the box usually. Was it worth the $30? Honestly, I'd say no. I ate two things that I really, really loved; the rest was a bit meh, I could dress it up... but at that point, I'm just making my own recipes and cooking for myself! 

What made it worth it? It gave me some ideas of recipes to make and things to try in the future to incorporate more vegan food into our diets as a family. I would never purchase it again, but I enjoyed it. And honestly, finding out how good black bean brownie batter is definitely gives me something to think about. Anyone have a good recipe for that? 

Have you tried Hungry Root? Are you considering it? I'd love to hear your thoughts! 

3 Dinner Ideas for Before Christmas

3 Dinner Ideas for Before Christmas | Writing Between Pauses

It's that time of year. 

Yes, Christmas. But also, the season of food. Of eating. Of being invited to brunches, lunches, parties, and get togethers. 

Especially when you have kids, you still need to make dinner--and you want it to be something fast and reasonably healthy (considering you have at least a dozen cookies in your house at all times, as well as any number of snacks, cakes, leftovers, and more). 

The past week (and actually, this week as well), I've been really struggling with cooking dinners. We are exhausted after long days at work topped with getting ready for Christmas, visiting friends and family, and making dishes for pot lucks. But Forrest has a pretty set schedule for his meals and trust me, the kid knows how to read a clock. 

Here are 3 recipes I'm turning to this week and next to help us eat well on the lead up to Christmas. 

1. One Pot Chicken Pasta

This is one of my tried-and-true, if I make this everyone will eat it and enjoy it dinners. I usually make extra veggies to go alongside it (usually roasted carrots and Brussel sprouts), but even on it's own, it's extremely tasty. 

I actually no longer follow the recipe anymore because I customize it so much. I cut out the bacon, keep the chicken, use milk instead of cream and veggie stock instead of chicken, add broccoli, and add the parmesan at the end of cooking (instead of at the beginning--I have found it gets separated and weird if I put it in at the beginning). This would be a really easy recipe to make vegan: use veggie stock and replace the milk with either almond milk or soy milk; no chicken, but stir in beans at the end of cooking (or use vegan crumbles); use a cheese substitute or nutritional yeast. 

2. Taco Bake

This is my own personal recipe. It's incredibly easy and can be made ahead. I actually made a few trays of it recently and put them in the freezer for quick dinners through the winter. Here's what you'll need: 

  • 1 pound of ground beef (or chicken if you prefer) 
  • 1 packet of taco seasoning OR about 1/2 cup of salsa or enchilada sauce
  • 1 can of refried beans OR 1 can of black beans to make your own (just cook in a pan and mash as you do so, add a little salt and pepper) 
  • Tortillas
  • Cheese
  • Carrots, peppers, spinach, corn, and broccoli 
  • About 1 cup of leftover rice (or cooked fresh) 

Start by preparing a baking dish; I use a 9x9 square pan, spray with nonstick cooking spray, then put down a layer of tortillas. Cook your ground beef or chicken in a pan, adding the taco seasoning or salsa (whatever you've chosen to use). If you need to, start cooking your refried beans and rice. (If you're using leftovers, it cuts out that step!) In the oven, roast your veggies of choice, then add a few dashes of hot sauce as you mix them up. Once you have everything cooked, it's time to layer. I usually do a layer of refried beans onto the tortillas in the prepared dish, then meat, then veggies, then a light sprinkle of cheese. Layer tortillas again and repeat until you run out of everything. Top with cheese and bake for about 20 minutes. 

It's so good, so easy, and can be made using almost entirely leftovers. 

3. A Cheese Plate

If it's just you and your partner (or just yourself!), the simplest dinners are sometimes the best. Recently, Danny and I, after Forrest has gone to bed at 3:30 because he hadn't napped all day, had a cheese plate dinner. We sliced up some nice cheese, made a few slices of toast, made a chocolate sauce for some strawberries, peeled a few mandarin oranges, and opened a bottle of wine. It was simple and super satisfying. Next time, we want to make some bruschetta and toast, as well as cheese and strawberries, to enjoy.