Thrive Forward with 10 Vegan, Satisfying, Low Prep Mini-Meals

VegaDay2__0178 - Lettuce Kale Chard Wrap (2)

This year, I’ve been way behind the curve on nearly everything that has happened in the healthy eating blogosphere. I just found out about cauliflower crust. I’ve never made a cake pop (and let’s be honest, I probably never will). I recently wrote a post about an article that’s half a year old. Controversies come and go, recipes go viral and then retreat into standard rotation in most healthy kitchens, and I study on, largely unaware of it all. This is what happens when you live in a library carrel.

So most of you have probably heard by now about Thrive Forward, which is a new program spearheaded by my friend Brendan. It’s a totally free program that offers educational videos and resources on healthy eating and living. The videos are perfectly timed (usually 3 to 10 minutes, not too long, not too short) and cover topics that range from sleep and stress to macronutrients to food labels to digestion. There’s also a tremendous focus on how to stay healthy while on the road or very busy—a focus which I can appreciate in particular right now!

When I first discovered Brendan’s work, it was—gosh, five years ago? I read The Thrive Diet, his original, and it really changed the way I thought about food. At the time, I was still a relatively new vegan (a year or two into the journey) and while I was loving it, I was also fairly reliant on a lot of packaged snacks and foods and trapped in a slightly monotonous rotation of rice, beans, tofu, and avocado sandwiches.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with some commercial snack foods—let me assure you that, as a student, I rely on these whenever I need to—but there’s also a lot to be said for becoming more comfortable preparing foods from scratch, getting to know one’s “raw materials” of nuts, seeds, vegetables, and legumes, and developing more comfort with fresh ingredients. Because of Brendan, I started eating a lot more raw vegetables, experimenting with green smoothies, and exploring “superfoods” I’d never really heard of before, like chia and hemp. Needless to say, this shifted my perspective on food significantly, ultimately inspiring me to get into raw food recipes, and compelling me to think more consciously about concepts like nutrient density. Long after Brendan and I had become “real life” friends, I have remained grateful to him for introducing me to a new way of looking at food.

Now Brendan is turning his focus to the thing he’s always been most passionate about: education. I love that the Thrive Forward program is a free resource, and that the content—informative videos and materials—can keep on giving. A lot of you CR readers are pretty nutrition savvy as it is, but for those of you looking for refreshers, as well as plenty of videos that can benefit even nutrition pros, the Thrive Forward site is a great place to explore.

The folks at Thrive Forward asked me if I’d like to share some of the recipes and materials with the CR audience, and I said that I would, of course. When I was thinking about which Thrive Forward recipes I wanted to share, I decided on those that have the most relevance to me right now—recipes that can be made in a hurry. I’m happiest when I have a healthy chunk of time in which to cook, but lately, it’s just not possible, and any “hurry up” meal is an ally.

In keeping with the theme, I wanted to share 10 Satisfying, low-prep mini-meals from the Thrive Forward series. These are great ideas for snacking, whether you happen to be a student like me, a professional, or someone who’s on the road a lot. You can check out all ten recipes in the Thrive Forward “whole food eating in the real world” section. All of the supplementary materials are on the right side of the page—not just the 10 low-prep mini meals, but also a PDF on healthy eating within a busy schedule and five healthy snack ideas for road trips.

And by way of a preview, here are two of my favorite mini-meal ideas. No cooking required!


Cold Chili

Recipe makes 1 serving | Takes 15 minutes to prepare


1 can black or kidney beans, rinsed BPA‑free cans
1 can tomato paste or sauce
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne powder
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 lime, juiced
1 tomato, diced
1 bell pepper, diced any color
1 or 2 green onions, chopped
Sea salt and pepper to taste
optional 1 to 2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
optional 1/2 avocado, chopped


Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Season to taste. Let it sit to allow the flavors to mingle. Serve cold as a chili, or use as a hearty bean salsa served with gluten-free crackers or whole grain tortilla chips. Can also be heated and served as a hot chili.


Lettuce/Kale/Chard Wraps

Recipe makes 1 serving | Takes 5 minutes to prepare


1 or 2 large leaves lettuce, kale, or chard stems removed
2 to 4 Tbsp hummus or bean dip
Sprouts your choice
Zucchini, sliced into long, thin strips
1/2 red bell pepper, julienned


Rinse lettuce, kale, or chard leaves and pat dry. 2

Spread hummus or bean dip on leaves. 3

Layer slices of zucchini, sprouts and bell pepper on hummus. 4

Roll up, burrito-style, and eat.

Yum! I especially love the idea of a cold chili. I make a lot of cold bean salads, but I’ve never thought to mix them with cumin, chili, and tomato—what a lovely idea that is!

One of Brendan’s PDF descriptions reads: “Eating a clean, plant-based diet focused on whole foods does take commitment (and time), but with some forethought and easy planning, you can incorporate healthy nutrition into your life – without letting it rule your life.” I like this sentiment (aside from the expression “clean eating,” which isn’t my favorite). It’s true that healthful, nourishing food demands some time and planning. But in the last two years, I’ve seen firsthand that it’s possible to eat wholesome foods without letting the idea of healthy living dominate your life. I no longer have the time to cook and prep as much as I used to, but that hasn’t stopped me from eating a diet that has supported my health through the post-bacc. And a lot of the tips that have helped me are similar to those Brendan’s sharing.

Check the series out, and enjoy! I have a snack recipe, a review of a new vegan chocolate brand, and more in store for you this week.


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  1. I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own blog and was wondering what all is needed to get set up? I’m
    assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny?
    I’m not very internet smart so I’m not 100% sure.
    Any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated.

  2. I had a question regarding the program from your friend, do you think that person would run into any trademark or copyright problems with Kaiser Permanent and their Thrive slogan and program? Just something to keep in mind and to think about. On the other hand, great call on using kale and lettuce to make wraps. I am a big time taco eater and I have lost some serious pounds from just swapping tortillas for lettuce. Great advice!

  3. OMG love the recipes! I just went vegan and am constantly looking for goood recipes! These are perfecto! Thank you for sharing Gena!

  4. Hello! Someone in my Myspace group shared this website with us so I came to check it out. I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m bookmarking and will be tweeting this to my followers! Terrific blog and wonderful design and style.

  5. This post is so timely. I just signed up for Thrive Forward. I really love the PDFs of easy-to-understand information. I plan on printing out a few or saving a few to my phone to take with me when I go grocery shopping.
    I wish there was an Android App so I could always have access to the information.

  6. This cold chili looks great. I never would have thought that it can also be heated and served as a hot chili. 😉 Thanks for sharing!

  7. I would love to know more about this Thrive Program and it is so amazing to know that it is a free resource! I am a health conscious now and I wanted to change my eating habits into a more nutritious one. Thank you for sharing your recipe in which I can even prepare even though I’m in a hurry to go to work. The Lettuce/Kale/Chard Wraps is a great idea ’cause I only use these veggies for my salad, now, I can even eat it in such a burrito style. Lovely!

  8. I’ve been scrunching up my face and sending you a great many good-luck and love-ya thoughts this week, Gena. I hope you’ve been feelin’ ’em.

  9. I am really interested to try Brendan’s program. It feels good to know and be able to make new delicious vegan recipes. I really like easy-to-prepare meals because I’m too busy but I prefer making my own, so it is nice that there are educational videos like this. Thanks!

  10. Thanks for the link to Brendan’s program! I’ve read Thrive Diet too, and loved it, but I’m a student as well and it’s easy to fall back into a more convenient, prepackaged way of fueling. It was nice to be reminded about how his program really boosts energy levels, not to mention brain function! 😉

  11. I signed up for Brendan’s Thrive program maybe a month ago and it has become one of my go-to sources (along with Choosing Raw of course) for recipes and information on making healthy choices.

  12. Thank you so much for sharing Thrive Forward. I’ve been trying to learn about what happens in “failure to thrive” vegan experiences and how to prevent that from happening to me or my husband. Education is the key – and sometimes it’s hard to know where to start so thanks again for more resources!

    • Of course! Brendan is a pro, and I do highly recommend “The Thrive Diet” as a resource. I’m sure you already know this, but Ginny Messina ( is also a fantastic resource, as is her book (Vegan for Life, and the upcoming Vegan for Women). I also like Becoming Vegan. It’s very balanced.

      In these failure to thrive cases, there seem to be a great many factors involved. The stories are very personal/individual, so my advice to you is to trust yourself, and to stick to the facts. Remember, ADA has given well planned (read: not restrictive, not health-obsessed to the point of being limited) vegan diets a full endorsement, based on broad reviews of the literature. So definitely, arm yourself with research, and thrive forward 🙂

      • I had just listened to the latest Our Hen House with Jack Norris RD and I learned so much in that short interview. I’ve been fully vegan for over a year now and honestly feel wonderful but I know that deficiency can be something that builds up over time.

        It’s important that I know what I’m talking about when I encourage others to try being vegan. I never want to be the cause of someone getting sick for any reason. It’s a huge responsibility which is why I value your blog so much.

  13. Gena, I love that your approach is for everyone, and not just geared towards those looking for a quick fix or trying to lose weight “fast”, not just for athletes, not just for strict raw/vegan dieters..
    When you peer into a plant-based lifestyle, and look to vegan/vegetarian-media sources for ideas, as a reader one is bombarded with “fast and easy” “vegan” burgers, “vegan” sandwiches, pizzas, pastas, cupcakes, brownies, donuts, etc… Adopting a healthy lifestyle can be frustrating for some, and finding plant-based recipes with real, unprocessed ingredients shouldn’t be all about making substitutions or quick fixes; it also doesn’t have to be complicated. Thank you for providing your simple, straight-foward ideas and nutritious recipes that don’t require hours of prep that anyone can incorporate into their life, AND the legit nutrition science to back it up.
    Thanks again for keeping it real <3

    • Oh wow. What a great comment, Brynna. Moderation — that is, being inclusive and sensible, but not overly rigid in the way I eat — has not always come easily to me, so it means a lot to me that you see it reflected in my attitude. I’m glad. And I’m definitely glad that I don’t present veganism as a quick fix or as something that is overly complicated! Because it doesn’t have to be, indeed. Thanks for reading my blog.

  14. Well, you know I’m pro Thrive Forward! Thanks for this… and thanks for everything! P.S. hope my good vibes worked yesterday morning.

  15. Hahaha, no worries. You and me both. I have tons of ideas to blog about, too, but writing out well-thought out blog posts is harder than writing up the funny things in my life…. so I do the latter. 😉

    That cold chili is definitely calling to me right now.. I love how it is the perfect blend of raw cuisine but with cooked beans!! Yum! (I have actually been planning to look at raw recipes with legumes as a mere suggestion… cooked legumes are so much more to my own tastes than sprouted).

    • I totally agree, Janet! Sprouted legumes aren’t best for my taste or my body either. I find cooked legumes so much more digestible (with soaking beforehand, a strip of kombu, and some acid). The GI doctor I work with also reports that she finds them more digestible in that form.

  16. Gena, don’t feel bad about not being “in the loop,” so to speak! I hardly ever pay attention to the dietary crazes going on these days, and part of the reason why I like your blog so much is that you’re not immediately sucked into them either. It’s always nice to get your balanced and well-researched take on certain issues, articles, services, and recipes after they have settled in the back of everyone else’s minds, so I definitely appreciate this memo because, as a student, I am also always looking for quick, filling, and nutritious meals or snacks. Thank you for all that you do!