I like to think of myself as living proof that eating healthy, plant-based food is possible even within a hectic schedule. I’m a full time post-bacc, premed student, which means I’m doing intensive pre-med courses at breakneck speed. I’m also a food blogger who posts nearly every day. And in addition to all that, I like to spend time with my friends, work out, and do yoga. This leaves little room for leisurely hours spent in the kitchen, but in spite of this, I manage to make a lot of really tasty plant-based dishes each week. I promise you all that eating high raw, vegan food is within your reach, even when life is dragging you down.
Now that I’ve said this, let me make you an equally important promise: I will never lie to you about the fact that eating healthy when life is busy can be really, really hard. We all have limits to what we can do, and it’s helpful to know what those are. Recently, a friend and I were talking about how we’ve both considered buying healthy snack bars for quick mini-meals on the go, but then thought “no, no, I could make something like that myself.” The problem is that something comes up, and we forget to make the snack bars, and then we don’t have any snack bars on hand. Because we don’t have time to pack up something more complex—like hummus and crudites—we skip the snack, and we end up feeling ravenous. I’m sure you’ve been here: it’s the moment when you optimistically think you can do it all yourself, only to realize that you really need a helping hand.
“A helping hand” can be store bought foods, restaurant takeout, or allowing a friend/partner to take over kitchen duties. In my case, during exam week, help came in the form of Thrive Foods Direct, a new, 100% plant-based, whole foods meal delivery started by my friend Brendan. Thrive Foods Direct is meal delivery that reflects Brendan’s own nutritional philosophy. What is what, exactly? Well, if I had to sum it up, it would look like this:
As you can see, Brendan and I share many priorities as health advocates! Namely, we’re both very interested in foods that are nutrient-dense, plant-based, and whole, and we both like to work chia, hemp, coconut water, legumes, and ancient grains into our cooking as often as we can. Given these similarities, and the fact that exams robbed me completely of time in which to prepare dinner entrees for myself, I was the ideal candidate to review Brendan’s new, exciting meal delivery service.
A lot of you have heard about Thrive Foods Direct along the plant-based grapevine, and you’ve asked me about it through Twitter, Facebook, and my comments. Everyone seems to have the same concern, which is “Brendan’s books really emphasize raw food. These dishes seem primarily cooked—is there not enough raw involved?” Well, I can’t answer for Brendan, but I can answer as someone who eats relatively similarly to Brendan: there’s a big difference between the food we eat every day, in the comfort of our own kitchens, and the food we eat when we’re out in the world, keeping busy and moving from one place to another.
When I’m home, I eat higher raw, and the food I eat is fairly simple. It’s a lot of meal sized salads, raw nori rolls, smoothies, raw puddings, raw sandwiches, simple grains, and legumes. When I’m preparing food for company, I tend to focus more on cooked foods and fancy recipes. When I’m traveling, I go with the flow. If it’s vegan and it isn’t deep fried (or egregiously unhealthy), I’ll eat it. Travel, events, and special occasions aren’t just about the food: they’re also about the experiences we accumulate. So I don’t get overly worked up when my food options aren’t precisely in keeping with my likes and dislikes from an ideal world. Instead, I just focus on procuring vegan options, and being appreciative of what I find.
The idea behind Thrive Foods Direct is to provide plant based options for people who are on the road or simply too busy to prepare any food for themselves. If you need to travel for a business conference and you know you won’t have any vegan options, but you will have a mini fridge, TFD is for you. If you’re on tour because you happen to be a musician or an actor or a filmmaker, TFD is for you. If you’re a corporate attorney who is about to face a month of 18 hour work days, and you’re sick of ordering less-than-healthy takeout twice a day, TFD is for you. In a perfect world, we’d all eat more raw greens than what the TFD meal plans offer (though do note that there are raw chia puddings involved). But the whole point of the plans are to help you cope with less than perfect culinary circumstances. And there’s a way to modify the meals so that they do fit into a more ideal paradigm of raw and cooked; you’ll see what I mean in a second.
I received my shipment of TFD in late March. It was perfect timing, as I was heading right into an Orgo exam. I knew, however, that my need for the meals would be more urgent still, so I immediately froze three of the meals, and ate one of them—the roast veggies over brown rice—immediately. How do you think I served it, dear readers?
Why, over greens of course. Lots of them. With avocado on top. That’s how I do!
Seriously, I warmed up my delicious roast veggies and rice, and I plopped the whole dish over raw baby romaine. It was the perfect way to serve it, and it was exactly the kind of meal I’d make for myself on a given weeknight: grains, veggies, greens. The rice and veggies were very tasty and filling.
Last week, during the madness that was finals season, I tried my other three entrees: the eggplant lasagna, the sweet potato with mushroom gravy, and the scrumptious lentil soup. Brendan had mentioned that the lasagna seemed to be most popular:
I can see why: brown rice noodles (note that TFD is gluten free) with eggplant and creamy vegan tomato sauce? It’s comfort food, whole foods vegan style. I think if I had had more time, I would have added either tofu ricotta (a favorite dish of mine), or some cashew cheese, but I honestly didn’t miss either. I served the lasagna with spinach and my red pepper hemp sauce.
A few nights later, I had the sweet potatoes with mushroom gravy. This was more stew than cubed potato dish, but that was A OK with me! I adore sweet potato soup, and the mushroom gravy here was truly delicious:
Not surprisingly, this happened with a big salad of greens, broccoli, and red cabbage. I sprinkled some nutritional yeast on the soup and mixed it in; it was really tasty!
I think my favorite TFD dish was, unexpectedly, the lentil soup, seen here through the lens of Instagram:
I loved this soup, which was abundant enough to give me two night’s worth of food (the other dishes I ate each as a single portion). This was in part because (as you can see) I mixed in some chickpea odds and ends, as well as a big of steamed broccoli. This, too, was served with salad.
So as you can see, if you happen to be someone who is relying on TFD within the confines of your home, you can and should “boost” the entrees with raw or steamed greens/veggies. Brendan is providing the essentials we need to stay energized and healthy: protein from legumes, complex carbs from healthy whole grains, and as many fresh veggies as possible for vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals. But if you have the luxury, as I did, of eating the meals from your kitchen table, do go ahead and mix them with some raw foods, if that’s how you prefer to eat them. If I’d gotten the breakfast dishes, I’d certainly have had them with some raw fruits. If you are eating TFD on the go, rest assured that everything essential is accounted for in these meals, and that you’ll be back to giant salads at home soon enough.
Now, of course I should note that I got to experience TFD free of charge, for blog review. The cost ranges from $45 – $75, depending on which option you choose, and you can opt to have it for 5 or for 7 days per week. I’m well aware that this is not sustainable for a great many of you, but if you’re looking at TFD for a travel option—say, a work trip—keep in mind that it is very easy to spend $45 daily when you travel for work. If you invest the money in these meals, rather than overpriced hotel food or airport food, you’ll also be supporting sustainable, organic, ethically sourced fare, and you’ll be staying true to your taste for plant-based, whole food. You can also order some of these meals, freeze them, and use them when you know you’ll be in a bind for work or for school. This is probably no different, cost-wise, than ordering takeout or using the Whole Foods salad bar as an emergency resource!
And if you are like me, and you try not to spend any excess money on takeout at all, simply tuck the service away as an option for days when you are earning a little more. Also keep in mind that Brendan gives plenty of options for making this kind of food at home in his books, Thrive Foods, Thrive Fitness, and the Thrive Diet. If you want something super simple for busy days, check out any of my posts tagged as “hurry up vegan”—in these, I try to give good options for whole meals on the go!
Of course, I have yet to answer an important question about the foods: how do they taste? The answer is, they taste great! The vegetables and rice were a little bland for my palate, and I ended up sprinkling on some sea salt and oregano. But everything else was perfectly seasoned—some salt, but not salty like most prepared food, and Brendan notes that nearly all of the recipes are either oil free or contain less than 1 tsp added oil—good news for my no/low oil friends in the plant-based community.
Thanks, Brendan, for giving me four nights of nourishing food while I was pulling out my hair and trying to push electrons. It meant the world to me. As an amusing side note, I should tell you all that I promised Brendan I’d take lovely photos for the post. Of course, since I ate the meals at night, for dinner, my lighting was always off, and I ended up with a mix of photos that were just OK, plus Instagram. But I think Brendan would understand that, under busy circumstances, I was doing the best I could. That’s what TFD is all about, and in the case of these meals, “the best you can” will taste very good indeed.
By the way, if you’re looking for some fantastic tips on staying vegetarian/vegan while traveling, my friend Matt just shared 25+ travel tips from notable plant-based eaters–myself included! It’s super helpful, so check it out here. And also check out his review of Thrive Foods Direct, which went up today. Great minds think alike!