07/23/2012 03:06 pm ET | Updated Sep 22, 2012

Plant-Based Meals: Make Your Vacation a Picnic

I am on vacation this week at Sebago Lake, a place where I came to swim with my family every day of the summer while growing up in Maine. It's like going home or back in time to a place filled with happy memories of picnic meals, sand and rocks, sparkling clear water (warm!) with the smell of pine in the wind on a bright sunny day.

We've all been eating together as one big happy family (me, my husband Tom, my sister Liz, her husband Steve and their son Stephen), sitting outside each morning, noon and evening, enjoying delicious food. We find ourselves pretty hungry after a morning walk down the tree-lined road, swimming all day, or in my husband Tom's case, cyclinging for 30 miles each day.

But something is different from years past. In fact, it is so much better that I wanted to share it with you while I'm still on vacation! We are eating food that is pure and natural, meatless, and full of life-giving energy -- and we can feel it making all the difference! As we spend this time together, we are enjoying refreshing and invigorating picnic foods of whole grains, beans and bean products combined with delicious vegetables.

This plant-based, vegan way of eating is not only a healthier way of eating than the way we ate way back then as kids, but it also provides more interaction around our meals. We aren't grabbing a hot dog or a handful of marshmallows and running off somewhere; we are creating new memories and reminiscing over old ones as we share meals. It's truly a "picnic" to share in this way.

Here is a small sampling of the vacation foods we've cooked and enjoyed this week.

• My mother's beans with salt pork have now morphed into my version of mouth-watering chili, with Maine-grown kidney beans and lots of local vegetables

• My brother-in-law Steve has fired up the grill to make us some sizzling and crispy tempeh (which melted in our mouths) along with a better version of potatoes and onions cooked in foil.

• And for a big time treat for lunch, my sister Liz made the most delicious (and quick!) vegan pizza to rival even the best! (This pizza is so light and doesn't make you feel sluggish after eating.)

And to warm my heart even more, I'm sitting here in the early morning at the breakfast table watching my 14-year-old nephew, a picture of glowing health (not always so) eating an almond butter sandwich on multigrain bread with a small glass of soy milk.

Yes, things have changed since those long ago days of family vacations spent here at Lake Sebago. I'm now 100 percent plant-based, my husband about 95 percent, my sister figures that she is 90 percent and her husband and son about 85 percent. Our family has come a long way! We are proof that you certainly don't have to be perfect to move toward this healthy, plant-based way of eating. While life may not always be a picnic, you can always eat as though it is!

Here are our family's 100 percent plant-based creations (mentioned above) -- sure to rival any of the junk food we grew up eating while on vacation at the lake.

Chill Out Chili
3 cups of dried kidney beans
1 onion
1 cup cauliflower
1 cup sweet potatoes, diced
3 carrots, diced 
2 cups of kale, shredded
1 cup broccoli
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon Crazy Dick's Cajun Spice (this is conservative -- more may be added)
water to cover beans
water to cover vegetables
Optional: 1 6-inch piece of Atlantic wakame

Soak dried kidney beans overnight.

In the morning drain off water, refill with new water to cover beans. If using optional wakame sea vegetable, add now.

Heat on high in a soup pot (Dutch oven) to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour until beans are tender.

Add sea salt, vegetables and more water to cover vegetables and return to a boil on high heat.

Turn to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Potatoes & Onions on the Grill
6 Organic Russet Potatoes, thinly sliced into 1/4 inch slices
6 white onions, sliced thinly into half moon slices
olive oil
sea salt
black pepper
6 ice cubes
6 12-16 inch lengths of aluminum foil

Heat grill to high. Place 1 sliced potato on foil, one sliced onion, drizzle with 1 teaspoon of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, add one ice cube and wrap tightly. Repeat with remaining 5 potatoes.

Place wrapped potatoes on the hot grill and cook for 20 minutes on each side (grills will vary).

When done, peel open the foil and enjoy!

Serves 6.

Steve's Bar-B-Q Pan-fried Tempeh (from my Life in Balance Cookbook)

This recipe is great served with pot boiled brown rice sprinkled with pumpkin seeds and a side of fresh vegetables.

3 (8-ounce) packages tempeh, sliced into strips
olive oil

Cover bottom of a cast iron skillet with olive oil and heat to medium high. Place strips of tempeh side by side and heat until brown. Turn and brown other side until crispy.

Serves 6 with some leftovers.

Liz's Easy Vegan Pizzas
3 Whole Wheat Pizza Crust (preferably look for a brand without trans fats & sugar, low-sodium, zero trans fats, vegan & kosher, some may want gluten-free)
Or, for even less calories use 3 Maria & Ricardo's brand large tortillas (about 16 inches)
Half (6 ounces) of a 12 ounce pizza sauce (Liz uses organicville brand)
1/2 of 16 ounce package Gimme Lean Sausage, cooked
1/2 package Daiya mozzarella cheese (dairy-free)
3 large fresh plum tomatoes
8 button mushrooms, thinly
1 green pepper, thinly sliced
5 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
10-15 pitted kalamata olives, sliced

Take pizza crust or tortilla, brush small amount of olive oil. Spoon on small amount pizza sauce. Place side-by-side Gimme Lean, mushrooms, green peppers, tomatoes, onions, black olives, garlic and top with Daiya "cheese."

Bake for 10-12 minutes in a 400-degree oven. If you are using the tortillas, put on a cookie sheet. If you use the pizza crusts, you do not need to put the pizzas on a cookie sheet you may place directly onto the oven racks for a crusty crispy pizza.

Makes 3 large pizzas.

Do you have plant-based versions of your favorite picnic or party foods? Please share them here in The Huffington Post comments section. I love hearing from you!

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For more by Meg Wolff, click here.