Organized Bites

I love to create vegetarian school lunches that are beautiful and well balanced. With an eye on my daughter's future, I'm committed to using reusable containers, choosing organic products whenever possible, and to avoiding artificial colors and...

Venia is a winner of Top 25 Vegan & Vegetarian Moms - 2013

What's your favorite vegan or vegetarian friendly product?

Wine. But, seriously, that's a tough question. I'd have to cheat and say my three "B's": beans, broth, and balsamic. Beans are just so versatile, they're cheap and a powerhouse protein source. Scout loves to snack on them right out of the can, rinsed and in a bowl. I love to puree cannellini beans into soups to give them body without adding cream. We toss them on salads, fold them in quesadillas, mash them in dips and sandwich spreads...beans are just a perfect food.

A good veggie broth will make your life so much easier. Beyond the obvious easy soups, a good broth will add dept to rice and grains. It brightens stir-fries and sautes without a lot of added oil. I steam our veggies in broth, and it makes all the difference in the world.

My third favorite is a truly good balsamic vinegar. I buy a Modena Gold Label at Trader Joe's that is dessert quality. I had serious doubts when I first read that...but, oh, fresh strawberries dipped in it are amazing. Truly, I would not lie to you. A splash in soups will add an entire different note, and a good drizzle over roasted vegetables will knock your socks off.

What's the biggest misconception people have about being a vegan or vegetarian?

I think that a lot of people assume it's a phase. And, most believe that it's not entirely healthy...that you can't possibly get enough iron without eating red meat. When people are shocked that Scout is tall for her age, I'm not sure if it's because I'm only 5'4"...or, if it's because she's vegetarian.

What's your best tip for families who want to start living a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle?

My advice to families just starting out on a vegan or vegetarian path, is to really see all of the wonderful whole food options there are to feast on. Don't stock your freezer full of meat analogues (fake meats) that are heavily processed to ease the transition. Veggie burgers are fine once in a while, but there are too many wonderful recipes waiting for you to just settle for subbing soy crumbles in your old standby chili every time. Hit the library or the web, and delve into the work of Nava Atlas, Mollie Katzen, Robin Robertson, and Crescent Dragonwagon. Use your new passion as a springboard towards eating less processed foods, too. Check out your local farmers markets, and make it a point to try a new fruit or veg weekly or bi-monthly. Make your new lifestyle all about the new foods you're bringing to the table, don't make giving up meat the focus. If you make it fun, you'll all enjoy the process.

What's your favorite kid-friendly sandwich that serves well in a lunchbox, too? Please provide a link to a recipe with a picture if you have one.

Venia Conte

Sandwiches are tough for Scout. We struggle with finding combinations that she can enjoy...the operative words being "combined foods". Simple combos work best for us. "Cheese Dogs" work well for us as a vegetarian not-dog hot dog option. Scout does a cheese stick plain in a hot dog bun. But, I like mine with the works: slaw, onions, mustard, relish...yum!
View All Answers