Life is funny.  The last few weeks have been consumed with food. Whether it was writing about Chicago Northwest Restaurant Week (and eating at a ton of restaurants), writing about food adventures or taking an awesome baking class, all my attention has been on food. 

With one exception, I haven’t been doing the best job of planning what WE are eating here at the house. It is like being given too many options and my mind is just swirling with different tastes and techniques.

Do I want to make the noodles that were featured in the movie Parasite? Yep.  Do I want master some new baking skills?  For sure.  Is there a new spice I want to try?  Always. It is never ending.  

I feel like everyone is making thoughtful food choices whether it is because of their diets or the accessibility of ingredients in stores.  I am no different except maybe I’m reading waaaay too much.

One of the buzz foods of the moment are meatless or plant alternative meat.  With climate change being a hot topic, the world is supposed to eat less meat and more vegetables.  Vegans/Vegetarians have been telling us this for years.

The problem is that there is a HUGE group of people in this world who just don’t like vegetables enough to make enough of a dietary change to save the universe.  (Humans like to think they can save the universe.  I think we watched too many cartoons as kids.)

So how do you get finicky eaters to try something new?  You disguise it.  You wrap it in a tortilla, stick it in a nugget or make a patty out of it.  If you can layer enough other things over the vegetables, people won’t know what is hitting them.

This is pretty much the way I have learned to try new things.  I hide things until I can’t remember that I didn’t like them. If you stick some rabbit in a ravioli….it tastes like ravioli.   Roast a whole head of cauliflower and fill up some taco shells, I’m tasting a taco.  Trying to wean yourself off “white bread,” smear the whole grain bread with peanut butter and jelly and you will never know the difference.

This is the same theory I think the meatless meat people are trying especially with items that would typically be made with ground beef.  Even fast food restaurants are offering a meatless burger option and folks are literally eating it up.  How bad can it be?  It is patty with all the fixings…. will you be able to tell what you were eating? Have you ever really known what you were eating?

I’ve tried to incorporate some “meatless Monday” options in our household.  Typical nights would be a big salad or a meat free stir-fry.  I’ve stayed away from the plant alternatives…. until last week.

I decided to make a vegetarian soup with butternut squash, tomatoes, red peppers, spinach and some pasta. My intention was it to be just those ingredients but the more I was thinking about it, my carnivore cravings reared their ugly head.  I really wanted some little meatballs.  Arghh!

I thought maybe this is the time I jump into the meatless pool and look around the market to see what we have offered locally.  I was overwhelmed.  

There are so many products. There are things made with only beans and others that are pure vegetables.  It seemed that there were also a lot of different grains.  Heck… there were some that had ingredients in them that I had to look up on the google!   

From there I looked at calories, fat, salt and sugar (or other sugary substance) on each serving. Interesting.  There were definitely some that seemed “healthier” depending on your current dietary goals.  There were also some that looked worse than eating a snack cake.  (Okay, I’m exaggerating but I really want an excuse to buy a box of snack cakes.)

At the time I went shopping, I was looking for an option of smaller sized meatless ball that was “Italian” seasoned.  (I usually veer away from seasoned products but I was throwing all caution to the meatless wind.)

I ended up making an easy toss everything in the crockpot soup (with the exception of the pasta which I cooked separately.)  I must say…. I was pleased.  As I ate the little spheres, I did not think “this is not meat.”  Texturally, it had a satisfying bite to it and the flavor essentially tasted like a heavily seasoned Italian meatball.  (I did not add salt to the soup because I thought the meatballs might be a little salty and it was the right call.)

Does this experience make me want to jump on the meatless wagon?  Not really.  I don’t like the lack of control of what is going into the “meat.”  I still feel the plant alternatives I found seem kind of processed. It seems counterproductive in my mind but I have not researched it to have a firm position on meatless meats.  

I do have a position on easy meals.  We all need that go-to recipe for crazy weeks.  This soup fits and if it makes you feel you are helping climate change….we will go with that.

Vegetarian Meatball Soup 


12 ounce bag frozen butternut squash

1 red pepper, diced

1 15 ounce tomato sauce 

1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes

3 cans of chicken broth (6 cups)

9 ounce package of frozen spinach (no sauce)

1 tsp Italian Seasoning

12 ounce frozen plant based meatballs (I used Gardein)

½ cup uncooked pasta (I used farfalle but chose your favorite or whatever you want to use up), cooked per package directions

Optional Garnish: Pesto, cheese


You are going to love this….

Place all ingredients except pasta, pesto and cheese in slowcooker.  Cook on low for 8 hours.

Stir in cooked pasta and garnish with pesto and cheese.  (Omit cheese if you want a true vegan experience.)