Meanwhile many Americans are making plans for where they will be watching Super Bowl LII this upcoming weekend, let us acknowledge the fact that there are two types of Super Bowl parties – those with great food, and those without great food. If you are planning to host one like the former, it might be a good idea to make your grocery list well in advance, before the isles with the soda pop, chips and salsa fill up with last minute shoppers.

Cooking healthy is one thing, but cooking healthy for a group gathering on game day is another. I mean, how many devout football fans do you know that get excited about the idea of eating vegan  while watching the big game?

According to the Daily Meal, pizza, chicken wings and nachos are among the top 10 most popular dishes you will find at a Super Bowl party. Preparing vegan alternatives to these fatty favorites sounds challenging at first, but I have found plenty of great recipes that make it a piece of vegan cake!

You do not have to sacrifice cooking healthy in order to host a Super Bowl party everyone will enjoy. The following recipes are just as delicious as their less healthy, or non-vegan versions and they are relatively simple to make:

  1. ‘Cheesy’ Stuffed Jalepeno Poppers – Kick off your Super Bowl party with the vegan rendition of a pregame finger food classic. Did you know that Bac~O bacon bits were vegan? Another rockstar ingredient in this recipe is the vegan cream cheese; Tofutti is the best! Some of my non-vegan friends will tell you it absolutely holds up to its claim of being “better than cream cheese.”

Ingredients (Makes 10 Poppers):

1 cup vegan cream cheese

1/2 cup shredded vegan cheese (try Tofutti)

3 Tbsp. vegan bacon bits (try Bac~Os)

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. garlic powder

10 fresh jalapeños, seeded, tops removed, and set aside

2 Tbsp. Follow Your Heart VeganEgg + 1/2 cup ice-cold water (or 1 flax egg, see below)

2 cups panko bread crumbs

Vegetable oil, for frying (optional)


Place the VeganEgg mixture in a small bowl.

Pour the bread crumbs into a shallow dish.

Dip each jalapeño in the VeganEgg mixture (or flax egg), coating thoroughly, then roll in the bread crumbs. For a crunchier popper, repeat these steps.

To fry: Fill a frying pan with 1 inch of vegetable oil and heat to 350°F. Using tongs, carefully place several breaded jalapeños into the oil. Turn after 5 minutes and remove from the oil when golden brown. Allow to cool on paper towels for 5 minutes, then serve.

To bake: Place the jalapeños on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350°F for 15 to 20 minutes, turning once halfway through baking. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then serve.

  1. Vegan Cauliflower Buffalo Wings – Cauliflower makes a great substitute for chicken wings. Not only are cauliflower wings healthier, but they come out so tender and juicy, and this vegan buffalo sauce is bursting with flavor!


1 small head cauliflower (if using a large head, you may need to up the batter and sauce quantities)

½ cup all purpose gluten free flour*

½ cup unsweetened almond milk

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon garlic powder

1 cup crispy gluten free bread crumbs (seasoned with salt and pepper) OR toast your breadcrumbs slightly before using


½ cup vinegar based hot sauce (such as Frank’s hot sauce)

1 tablespoon vegan butter (try Earth Balance)

1 teaspoon garlic powder

2-3 tablespoons maple syrup


Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with a silicone baking sheet or greased foil.

Using a knife, remove florets from the cauliflower (aka cut off the leaves and don’t use the stems).

Chop the cauliflower into smaller pieces to resemble the size of wings.

In a separate bowl, whisk the gluten free flour, almond milk, salt, ground black pepper and garlic powder in a bowl to make the batter.

In a separate bowl, place the bread crumbs. Line it up beside the batter bowl.

Toss the cauliflower in the batter mixture one at a time, shaking off excess batter. Do not soak. Then, dip the cauliflower into the breadcrumbs to coat completely, then place onto the baking sheet. Repeat until all of the wings are coated.

Bake for 22 minutes. Please ensure your oven is completely preheated and hot.

While baking, prepare the ingredients for the sauce by whisking together.

Remove from oven. Toss the wings in the sauce then using tongs, remove and place back on the baking sheet. Bake for another 5 minutes for the sauce to soak into the wings.

Remove from oven and serve immediately with a cool vegan ranch dressing (cooling agent is essential)


While the wings are baking, in a small pot over high heat, mix all the sauce ingredients. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 to 3 minutes, which helps to bring out more flavor notes of the ingredients. Remove from heat. Taste a little bit to decide if you need more sweetener to balance out the heat; if so, add a tablespoon at a time until your desired heat. Please note that especially depending on the hot sauce you use, these wings are HOT so take caution.

  1. Wedge Salad Dip – This appetizer is quick, easy to prepare and requires no baking or cooking! It has all of the great flavors of a wedge salad in the form of a shareable chip dip. The original recipe called for blue cheese, which I recommend replacing with Daiya vegan mozzarella. The Benevolent Bacon bits and The Vegetarian Express Saucy Ranch Seasoning offer plenty of flavor. I would also say, the more chives, the merrier!


8 oz. Vegan cream cheese softened (try Tofutti)

1 c. Vegan Tofutti sour cream

1 1 oz. package dry Ranch Dressing Mix (try The Vegetarian Express)

1 ½ c. chopped romaine lettuce

½ c. chopped tomatoes

½ c. chopped cooked vegan bacon (try Benevolent Bacon)

2-4 oz. vegan mozzarella (try Daiya Mozzerella Style Shreds

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh chives


Combine cream cheese, sour cream, and Ranch Dressing Mix and mix until smooth.

Spread into the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate or other similarly sized pan.

Top with lettuce, tomatoes, bacon, blue cheese, and chives.

Enjoy with your favorite Food Should Taste Good Tortilla Chips!

  1. Vegan Cheesy Potato Skins – you can enjoy a savory appetizer like cheesy potato skins with all the trimmings and still keep it vegan. The Tofutti sour cream is just as cool and complementary to the warm potato skins as non-vegan sour cream, and the Vegenaise chipotle flavor adds a great kick.

Ingredients (Makes 12 Servings):

6 potatoes

2 cups shredded vegan cheddar cheese (try Daiya)

1/8 cup vegan bacon bits (try Bac~Os)

1/4 cup vegan aioli or chipotle mayo (try Vegenaise)

1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions

Vegan sour cream, for garnish (try Tofutti)


Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking pan.

Pierce the potatoes with a fork and microwave on high until soft, approximately 10 to 12 minutes, or bake for 50 minutes.

Remove from the microwave or oven, let cool, and cut in half vertically. Scoop out the insides, leaving a 1/4-inch-thick shell.

Fill with the “cheese” and vegan bacon bits. Arrange on the prepared baking pan and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the “cheese” has melted.

Top with the Chipotle Vegenaise, sliced scallions, and vegan sour cream and serve.

  1. Loaded Nachos With Cashew Cheese – I use this cashew cheese recipe for nearly everything I cook that calls for cheese, and my family loves it. It’s versatile, and when you bake it on top of tortilla chips with black beans, corn, onion, tomato, cilantro and olives, the flavors blend and the nachos come out warm and melty. This dish is always a hit.

Ingredients (Makes 6 Servings):

1 bag tortilla chips

1 bag tortilla chips

12 oz. black beans

12 oz. corn

½ cup diced white onion

½ cup diced tomatoes

¼ cup chopped cilantro

¼ cup black olives, sliced

1 medium jalapeño, sliced

1 ¼ cups cashew cheese

½ cup guacamole or freshly sliced avocado

½ lime


Preheat the oven to 325ºF.

Spread the tortilla chips evenly on a large baking sheet.

Top the tortilla chips with the black beans, corn, onion, tomato, cilantro, olives, and cashew cheese (or try a vegan nacho cheese brand such as Follow Your Heart) and bake for 12 to 15 minutes.

Garnish with the guacamole or avocado and squeeze some lime juice over the top.

Cashew Cheese

Ingredients (Makes 1 ¼ Cups):

1 ½ cups raw cashews

Cold water sufficient to cover the cashews by 2 inches

1/3 cup water

2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

2 garlic cloves

½ tsp. sea salt


Place the cashews in a medium bowl. Add the cold water and let soak for 2 hours. Drain.

Combine the cashews, 1/3 cup of water, lemon juice, garlic, and salt in a food processor and blend, scraping down the sides occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until very smooth.

Transfer to a small bowl. Cover and let stand at room temperature for at least 1 day and up to 2 days. Refrigerate until ready to use or for up to 5 days.

  1. Creamy Shredded Zucchini Casserole – this casserole is a crowd pleaser, and is so much healthier than most pasta or meat based casseroles. The best vegan butter is Earth Balance; it has a rich, buttery flavor.

Ingredients (Makes 6 Servings):

26 ounces zucchini grated (about 2-3 medium)

2 tablespoons vegan butter cubed (try Earth Balance)

4 ounces vegan cream cheese cubed (try Tofutti)

¼ teaspoon sea salt

pepper to taste

2 tablespoons vegan Parmesan cheese shredded (try Go Veggie)


Grate zucchini if needed. Place in a kitchen towel and squeeze out any excess water over sink.

Place shredded zucchini in 8×8-inch or 7×11-inch baking pan.

Dot butter evenly over zucchini.

Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes, uncovered.

Stir in salt, pepper, and cream cheese until cheese has melted. Smooth top and sprinkle Parmesan evenly on top.

Bake for another 5 minutes, uncovered.

Recipe Notes:

Top can be sprinkled with crushed pork rinds in place of or in addition to Parmesan cheese.

  1. Vegan 7-Layer Dip – All beans are vegan, so any dish you make with a bean base, such as 7 layer dip, will taste pretty much the same if you veganize it. If you are new to the vegan lifestyle, be sure to eat plenty of them; they are a great source of protein, fiber, vitamin B and potassium. If the beef is your favorite part of a 7-layer dip, you have to try Beyond Beef meat crumbles; non-vegans say they are the closest tasting to regular beef on the market.

Ingredients (Makes 10 Servings):

1 package veggie meat crumbles (try Beyond Beef)

1 tablespoon olive oil

2-3 tablespoons from homemade or packaged taco seasoning

1 can black beans rinsed and drained

½ cup salsa

1 package vegan cheddar cheese (try Daiya)

1 8 oz container vegan sour cream (try Tofutti)

1 cup guacamole (try Wholly Guacamole)

1 cup salsa

2.25 oz can black olives chopped

½ cup tomatoes chopped

½ cup green onions chopped

Tortilla chips for dipping


In a large skillet, brown soy crumbles in olive oil. Add the taco seasoning. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Place the beans in a blender or food processor with 1/2 cup of the salsa. Blend for about 15 – 20 seconds, until the beans are the consistency of refried beans.

Layer the following in a serving dish:

Spread the beans into the bottom of serving tray that is about 1 1/2 inches deep.

Sprinkle 2 cups of shredded soy cheese on top of beans.

Sprinkle taco-flavored soy crumbles on top of cheese.

Spread sour cream very slowly on top of soy crumbles.

Spread guacamole on top of sour cream.

Pour salsa over guacamole and spread evenly.

Sprinkle remaining shredded cheese.

Sprinkle black olives

That completes your seven layers, but it’s not really complete until you garnish it with a sprinkling of chopped tomatoes and green onions.

  1. Southwestern Saucers– Here is another Mexican-inspired pregame appetizer featuring beans. These irresistible little saucers will disappear fast! This is a great recipe to try out if you are new to cooking vegan, because the only ingredient you would have to go to the vegan section to find is the cheese.

Ingredients (Makes 24):

1 can (15 ounce) pinto beans, rinsed and rained

1 can (15 ounce) sweet corn, rinsed and drained

½ cup salsa

3 plum tomatoes, diced

Salt and pepper to taste

6 (8-inch) flour tortillas

1 ½ cups vegan Pepper Jack cheese (try Daiya Pepper Jack Style Shreds)

2 scallions, minced


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly coat a 12-cup muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray.

In a medium skillet, heat the beans, corn, and salsa over medium-high until warmed through. Remove from heat and stir in the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Place tortillas on a cutting board; using a 3-inch cookie cutter or the bottom of an empty 15 ounce can, press firmly enough in a rocking motion to cut through the tortillas. (You should get 4 circles per tortilla, for a total of 24.) With your fingers, press a tortilla circle into each muffin tin (it should be snug.) Fill each tortilla with a heaping tablespoon of the bean mixture, sprinkled with a little cheese and scallions.

Bake for 10 minutes, until tortillas are crispy and cheese has melted. Wait a minute and then remove from the cups with a small spatula or fork. Serve immediately.

  1. Taco Cups – When it comes to Super Bowl parties, the main course is important, but probably not as important as the appetizers, right? So I have another one for you. These vegan taco cups pack so much flavor and spice, you won’t miss the beef. They are fresh, zesty, crunchy, and the various spices will satisfy your taste buds.

Ingredients (Makes 12):

6 tortillas

1 onion (diced)

2 garlic cloves (finely chopped)

150 g cooked sweetcorn (tinned is fine)

400 g tinned kidney beans (drained and rinsed)

250 g cherry tomatoes (quartered)

juice of half a lime

1 tbsp coriander (chopped)

Taco seasoning

1 tsp cumin

½ tsp dried oregano

½ tsp paprika

½ tsp chilli powder (optional)

¼ tsp salt

Vegan sour cream (try Tofutti)

½ cup cashews

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp water


Preheat oven to 180°C or 350°F.

Heat a drizzle of oil in a frying pan and fry the onion for 5 minutes.

Add the garlic and taco seasoning ingredients to the pan and continue to fry for 2 minutes.

Mix in the sweetcorn, kidney beans and cherry tomatoes, and leave to simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the cups by using a knife to trim the edges of the tortillas, forming 6 large square tortillas. Slice each large square tortilla into 4 smaller squares by slicing down the middle vertically and horizontally.

Take two of the small squares and layer them on top of each other at an angle to create a star shape. Repeat until you have 12 stars. Then, place each tortilla star in a muffin mould, pushing against the sides of the mould to ensure it’s secure.

Remove the taco mix from the heat and spoon a tablespoon and a half into each cup.

Bake the taco cups in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile blend the sour cream ingredients until smooth.

Remove the taco cups from the oven and serve with a drizzle of lime juice, cashew sour cream and a sprinkle of coriander.

  1. Gluten-Free Vegan Pizza – Lastly, it isn’t a Super Bowl party without pizza! I recommend making the dough a day or two before the party. You can also pre-dice all of the toppings and set them aside for your guests to place on their portion of the pizza prior to baking it, that way everyone’s happy.

For Dough


3 cups gluten-free flour blend of your choice OR 1 cup white rice flour, 1 cup sorghum flour, 1 cup tapioca flour

¾ tsp xanthan gum

½ tsp garlic powder

2 tsp salt

1 tsp oregano

2 tsp calcium powder (optional)

3 Tbsp sugar, divided

1 pkg yeast

1 ¼ cup warm water, divided

1 Tbsp olive oil

For Pizza


Pizza Sauce (recipe to follow)

Olive oil for brushing and finishing the pizza

Oregano for topping

Dairy-free cheese, grated (try Daiya)

Toppings of your choice


Preheat oven to 425ºF

In a small bowl, combine yeast and ¾ cup warm water and 1 Tbsp sugar. Let it set for about 5 – 10 minutes to activate the yeast.

In a larger bowl, combine gluten-free flour blend, salt, baking powder and 2 Tbsp sugar. Stir to combine.

Add the yeast, olive oil, and ½ cup warm water, before stirring. Now stir it well until it forms a ball. Knead it a bit with your hands.

Divide the dough into two equal balls. Place in another bowl and let rise in a warm place with a kitchen towel on top – covered – for 15 – 20 minutes.

Once the dough has risen, pour 1 tsp olive oil on top. Pick it up with your hands and coat the rest of the ball with the oil. Form the ball into a disk and roll out into a circle on a sprayed baking sheet or pizza stone. Make it thin. Crimp the edges of the crust, if you like, to make it look nice.

Prebake the crust in the oven for 10 – 15 minutes or until it looks dry on the top.

Remove from the oven and brush the edges with olive oil. Put the “good stuff” on it (the sauce), dairy free cheese of choice, pepperoni (or other toppings) and oregano. Put it back in the hot oven for 20 – 25 minutes, until the crust looks nice and brown and the toppings are hot and bubbly.

Remove from the oven one last time and let it cool a bit before placing it onto a cutting surface. Use a pizza cutter to cut the pizza.

Pizza Sauce


1 6 oz can tomato paste

1 cup water

2 cloves garlic

⅓ cup olive oil|

Black pepper





Mix together in a bowl with a whisk. Let stand several hours or warm a bit to use right away. The unused sauce can be refrigerated and used as a base for pasta sauce later, or in chili for an added kick.



To a non-vegan, abstaining from consumption of all animal products may seem daunting at first. However, due to its growing popularity, and the increasing number of companies and eateries stepping up to fill the demand, making the decision to adopt and maintain a vegan lifestyle has never been more achievable than it is today. Not only is the vegan food section becoming a staple in nearly every grocery store, but many restaurants offer vegan options, some specialize in vegan food, and the caliber of vegan food continues to improve, meaning you no longer have to sacrifice great taste in order to follow a vegan or plant based diet.

Being vegan can be especially difficult at certain times, for example during social situations such as attending parties where the vast majority of hors d’ oeuvres being passed around contain meat or dairy, or during one of the most common pastimes in our modern day culture – going out to eat. Luckily, there are a number of fantastic restaurants catering to the modern day vegan with such great flavors, you won’t feel that you missed out by swapping a steak or a typical burger for one of these tasty alternatives. In this blog, I review four of my favorite vegan restaurant chains, each with various locations throughout the Greater Los Angeles Area. Here’s my review of the following restaurants, listed in descending order, starting with my absolute favorite, Veggie Grill:

Veggie Grill – Various locations in Southern & Northern California

If a person decides they want to try vegan food, I would suggest going to Veggie Grill because it’s very mainstream. They serve everyone’s favorite food, veganized, and there’s nothing weird that a non vegan hasn’t heard of before. You can order hearty Mac ‘N’ Cheese, comforting mashed potatoes, a melty burger, or nachos piled high, and not miss out on the great flavors of your favorite non-vegan foods.

I am not a fake meat fan, personally, but I must say that Veggie Grill does fake meats well. The buffalo wings are a must try! When you order them and eat them immediately, they come out crispy and juicy, and they come with this delicious vegan ranch dipping sauce. The buffalo wings are a little spicy for me, but I feel that to a person who enjoys traditional buffalo wings, they would be mild.

Veggie Grill also does junk food well. They offer desserts like carrot cake, brownies and cookies, but not everything is junk food. My mom’s favorite dish is called “All Hail Kale,” and it is delicious! It’s a salad that comes with marinated kale, quinoa, red cabbage, slaw, tomato-corn salsa and a ginger-papaya vinaigrette. The kale is fresh, yet tenderized, and the vinaigrette has a fresh, tropical taste that is amazing.

Sage Plant Based Bistro – Located in Culver City, Echo Park & Old Town Pasadena

The menu at Sage Bistro is 100% vegan, made in house. Whereas Veggie Grill offers a relatively commercialized menu, Sage is where you go to get food that you would find in a home cooked meal. The atmosphere is eclectic, warm and inviting. The founder, Chef Mollie, was raised vegan on a farm in upstate New York, and is as passionate about animals and the environment as she is about cooking. The ambiance at a Sage Bistro conveys that passion.

Their pizzas are outstanding! Pizza isn’t a common vegan offering, but Sage offers a wide variety of them, including Buffalo Cauliflower, Mexican Pizza, and one of my favorites – White Pizza – which comes with house-made pesto, vegan mozzarella and dill cashew cheese, topped with broccoli and fresh garlic. They also have really fun things, like fish and chips, and they have a delicious tuna melt.

Sage is probably best known for their World Famous Pretzels. When I first heard about them, I was hesitant to try them because I thought, “why waste my calories on something like a pretzel?” but after I tried one, I realized why they are world famous. The key, however, is that you must order them at the restaurant and eat them immediately. They come out thick and soft, and they’re piping hot. And best of all, they come with a maple mustard dipping sauce that is to die for! I could drink it, and then when you dip a hot, salty pretzel into it, it’s so delicious. But again, you must enjoy the pretzels while they are hot, rather than order them through say, a restaurant run app.

Tocaya Organica – Locations in Santa Monica, Venice, West Hollywood, Los Angeles & San Diego

If you’re with a group a vegans and non vegans, Tocaya is the place to go, because it is the perfect blend between traditional and non-vegan or vegetarian modern mexican cuisine. The menu includes something for everyone, whether it’s vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free or paleo, echoing the theme of its sister restaurant chain – Toca Madera. Founded in 2013 by Amrou Manaseer & Tosh Berman, co-Owner/Operators of The Madera Group, Toca Madera is a modern mexican cuisine concept with an emphasis on locally farm-sourced and organic ingredients. Tocaya Organica, just like Toca Madera, offers universally tasty food, and menu items everyone will love, only they offer an array of amazing vegan items.

I’m so impressed with the bowls, and the quesadilla will rock anyone’s world! It comes with a jack cheese that they make in house from tapioca and arrowroot, and it is very tasty. Non-vegans can order anything from carne asada to chicken, sea bass and jalapeno jack cheese, while any protein can be swapped for vegan options, such as adobo tofu or vegan picadillo (made from a pea base, with carrots, zucchini, onions, potatoes and tomatoes).

The other thing I like about Tocaya is their fountain drinks, which include a variety of unique Iced Teas and Aguas Frescas. Coconut Ginger Green Tea, Cucumber Mint Limeade and Strawberry Basil Limeade are on the list of refreshing beverages to enjoy while dining at Tocaya.

Cafe Gratitude – Various Locations in Northern and Southern California

Cafe Gratitude is for the true vigan aficionado, or a person who is trying to up their vegan palate. If someone wanted to try vegan food for the first time, I would not take them here. I say this because some of the items – such as the kelp noodles, made from kelp & seaweed – can be weird for a new vegan. Cafe Gratitude caters more to the niche vegan and health conscious community than the other restaurants I’ve listed, but the food is great. It’s my mom’s favorite for their variety of delicious salads.

I’m a big fan of the desert items at Cafe Gratitude, which are sweetened entirely by fruit, rather than sugar. The Irresistible Coconut Cream Pie contains a date crust, a coconut cream and dark chocolate swirl that is bursting with flavor. They also have a cheesecake that I would give a C+ to a B rating.

Connoisseurs of vegan cuisine, or any cuisine for that matter, might appreciate knowing a little about the background of Cafe Gratitude’s Executive Chef, Seizan Dreux Ellis. He was the founding chef of Venice, Italy’s very first vegan restaurant – Le Spighe – and spent 8 years in Venice as a plant-based chef, working in food service and hospitality settings. It was an interview he saw with Matthew and Terces Englehart – the founders of Cafe Gratitude – that inspired him to move to California. He started out making vegan Southern soul food samples in Los Angeles, and now oversees culinary operations all of Cafe Gratitude’s locations in Southern California.

For many Americans, the new year represented an opportunity to create new positive habits and/or drop negative ones. Somewhere around 2 thirds of Americans planned on making New Year’s resolutions in 2018, according to a recent survey by YouGov. However, some surveys suggest that as little as 8 percent of people actually stick to those resolutions. Whether setting too many goals or allowing the guilt of a slip up to derail them, those who make resolutions often struggle to pass the test of their own willpower if they expect to keep them.

Unrealistic goals can leave us feeling deprived of something we’ve always enjoyed, or overwhelmed by the additional responsibility of forming a new habit. Vague goals such as “be a better person,” or “work out more,” aren’t measurable, which makes them easy to forget about. Goals that follow the SMART method are more likely to keep you motivated and on the right track. SMART stands for:

S – Specific

M – Measurable

A – Attainable

R – Realistic

T – Time Bound.

The key to swapping an intimidating “New Year Resolutions” list for a bucket list feel motivated to turn into a reality could be as simple as making your resolutions more SMART.

I find it helpful to align my goals with my values. When your goals reflect values that you care deeply about, they will feel liberating rather than restricting. New Year’s resolutions haven’t always been my cup of tea, but I find that the new year is a great time to update my bucket list. These are a few of my bucket list items for 2018:

  • I started two gardens this year that add up to about an acre of land, where I will be planting fruit, vegetables and nuts. My goal is to get both of my gardens fully planted and producing this year. Stay tuned for a YouTube video featuring my new garden coming soon!
  • This year I’ll lose 25 pounds and get back to my pre-pregnancy weight. Post having my son Kosta, who is now 15 months, I had to step up my weight loss efforts. I am currently developing a detailed diet plan that I will use in order to achieve my goal.
  • I want to have 2 books published. I am currently in the process of completing a Vegan recipe cookbook and a book on raising children without technology.
  • Our ValMar Health YouTube channel offers education and encouragement, including a cooking series, food reviews, gardening and job interview tips. I want to create 104 videos this year.
  • My family and I want to take 3 trips this year. My husband has a trip planned this spring to Pebble Beach. I look forward to taking my kids to the aquarium nearby.
  • I want to glean all of my family’s fruits and vegetables from my own garden. I’m motivated to do this for health reasons. Due to all of the chemicals in our food today, including pesticides and GMO’s, we have to eat 3 cups of spinach to get the same nutritional value as one cup of spinach ten years ago. I want to provide the freshest organic produce that I can for my family.
  • My daughter Adoniah loves to read. We read for an hour in the morning and an hour at night every day, and now Kosta enjoys reading as well. I want to continue this throughout 2018.
  • I’m homeschooling Adoniah and she starts kindergarten this year!
  • I want to do a bible study with my kids twice a week and practice memory verses with them.

Then there’s my lifetime bucket list. Here are a few of my lifetime goals:

  • I want to write a children’s cookbook. This has been a goal of mine for a very long time.
  • Both of my kids are currently learning Spanish, and I want them to become fluent
  • I want to write and publish a children’s book about an idea I’ve had that involves fruits and vegetables as characters
  • I want a greenhouse and a root cellar on my property

Now that we’re a couple of weeks into 2018, we know that many New Years resolutions have been broken. This is a great time to revisit the drawing board and dream up new bucket list goals you want to accomplish this year, and for the rest of your life.


Have you ever stayed late at the office to get extra work done, only to realize that you truly only accomplished just as much as you would have if you’d left earlier? Or have you ever worked on a task for so long that the longer you worked on it, the less you were proud of your work?

Burnout is no respector of persons, and affects even the most energized and productive among us. The good news is, there have been countless studies conducted in recent years around the topic of work and time off as it relates to our health. We now know that more work does not always equal higher productivity, a retreat from the notion that was believed for decades and drove corporations to reward hard work in order to get more out of their employees. New research reveals the importance of time off and overall wellness as being positively linked with several benefits for individuals, families and the economy.

Frequent Vacationers are Healthier

Minimizing your risk for health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and mental illness is in your control, and starts with your diet, but stress levels also play a vital role in your overall well being. Rest and relaxation, especially in a change of scenery  from your daily surroundings, are great for combating stress and maintaining good health. The Mind Body Center at the University of Pittsburgh surveyed 1,399 participants who were recruited for studies on cardiovascular disease, breast cancer and other conditions. Their findings revealed lower blood pressure, smaller waistlines, higher positive emotional levels and less depression as a result of participating in vacation and leisure activities, according to

Studies suggest that the US faces an epidemic of employees who take too little time off, leading to more stress, decreased employee morale and higher rates of disease and other illnesses. Americans used to take nearly three weeks of vacation in 2000 and took slightly more than two weeks in 2015, according to data by the Harvard Business Review. The same study found that 60% of those recently surveyed continued working remotely meanwhile they were on vacation.

According to several studies support a direct link between vacation time and risk for disease. One study showed that men at risk for heart disease who skipped vacation five years in a row were 30 percent more likely to suffer heart attacks than those who took at least one week off per year.

A 2005 study conducted by Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin, published in the Wisconsin Medical Journal, found that women were more likely to suffer from depression, and stress when they vacationed less often than once every two years.

Another study conducted at  the University of Vienna found that participants who took more vacation experienced fewer headaches, backaches and heart irregularities.

In Need of a Breakthrough?

Sandler Training, a UK based consultancy, came out with a study that revealed 1 out of 5 startup business ideas came to entrepreneurs while they were on vacation. The study was based on 1,000 small business owners who had been in business for at least five years. The number of successful entrepreneurs, executives and celebrities who experience some of their best aha moments while breaking away from the daily grind is staggering. We might not have Instagram today if Kevin Systrom hadn’t thought of it while taking a walk on the beach in Baja California, Mexico.

Virgin America CEO, Richard Branson is an outspoken proponent of utilizing vacation time.

“Maintaining focus on having fun isn’t just about rest and recuperation: When you go on vacation, your routine is interrupted; the places you go and the new people you meet can inspire you in unexpected ways. As an entrepreneur or business leader, if you didn’t come back from your vacation with some ideas about how to shake things up, it’s time to consider making some changes,” he said.

According to Fortune, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer takes a week-long vacation every four months in order to recharge.  Her demanding schedule consists of a 70+ hour work week, filled with as many as 10-11 meetings per day.

Allowing yourself to take a vacation every now and then not only offers you the space to come up with new ideas and solutions, but can – according to a report by Project: Time Off – increase your odds of getting promoted at work. According to the study, 23 percent of workers who forfeited their Paid Time Off were promoted that year, compared with 27 percent of workers who took all of their PTO and were promoted in the same year. They also found that a higher percentage of vacationers – 84% – received a raise or bonus, compared to 78% of those who gave up some of their PTO that year. The results from the study claimed that the time off led to peak productivity levels as the workers who took more time off were able to recharge.

If you want to gain an edge in a competitive job market, your ability to think creatively and perform at your optimal level are crucial. Part of living a healthy lifestyle that will set you up to accomplish your best work is allowing yourself some R&R every now and then.

If Not for You, Do if for The Economy or Your Company

The same study by Project:Time Off found a positive correlation between employee time off and an improvement in the US economy. According to the report, the US economy gains from employees taking more time off, and loses when employees spend more of their time working. It found that a .6 day bump in vacation time had a $37 Billion impact on the US economy, due to an increase in job production in the travel and liesure industries.

Other studies show that companies not only cut operational costs by shutting down and sending their employees home on holidays, but by giving them more time off for the sake of employee morale, businesses can significantly improve their bottom line. According to a survey by the Vacation Deprivation Study, 34% of respondents reported that they were more productive and felt better about their jobs upon returning from a vacation.

Christine Louise Hohlbaum, author of The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World,”said, “If people are overworked, they’re surfing the Internet. They’re not contributing to the bottom line.”