Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, I lived in ignorant bliss for many years. My favorite childhood foods were a far cry from the vegan fare I eat now. I loved Tuna Helper, Cici’s Pizza, and Nestle Crunch Bars. Today, I know better. If I could go back in time and stop myself from eating those disgusting (albeit delicious) foods, I would. Unfortunately, I can’t, but I can make up for lost time. After much self-reflection and shame spiraling, I’ve taken three of my favorite childhood foods and veganized them.
Vegan Tuna Helper
Like many typical American families, mine was too busy running around between extracurricular activities to make a homemade meal every night. We always had multiple boxes of the Creamy Parmesan flavor in the cupboard, so Tuna Helper became a weekly meal. I loved it so much that my mom even made it for my special birthday meal when I was thirteen years old.
However, after becoming a vegetarian (and later vegan), I gave up Tuna Helper. I suffered from withdrawal in the beginning, but it was a small and necessary sacrifice. Since then, I’ve realized that living a cruelty free life isn’t about giving up the things you love. It’s about adapting and changing the things you love into the things that love you (and your animal friends) back. After scouring the interwebs for a vegan Tuna Helper recipe, I found one that I loved because it was made entirely of real, whole foods.
While other recipes talked about meatless tuna salad and soy curls, I preferred the mushrooms and chickpeas of the Southern Vegetarian’s recipe. I didn’t become a vegan because I like eating fake meat; I became a vegan because I like animals and I like real food, and because I believe you can have one without the other. I love this recipe because the ingredients and cooking method are simple, the taste is delicious, and the overall meal is physically and emotionally satisfying.
Vegan Cici’s Macaroni and “Cheese” Pizza
There will always be a part of me that loves Cici’s Pizza. Even though all of their processed food barely passes for pizza, I just can’t hate a restaurant that offers a “$5 All You Can Eat Pizza, Pasta, Salad, and Dessert” buffet. Back in my good ole’ vegetarian days, I was hopelessly devoted to Cici’s macaroni and cheese pizza. Whenever my family went there, I would make a beeline for the buffet to see if there were any slices of the cheesy curly cue goodness. When there wasn’t, I would troll the pizza buffet until a new mac and cheese pizza came out. If that didn’t work, I would special request a mac and cheese pizza to be delivered to my family’s table. Yup, I was that guy. Because this pizza combines two of the best things on planet Earth, I feel my actions were justified.
Now that I’m older and wiser, I still want to eat macaroni and cheese pizza. Although my priorities have changed, my tastes haven’t. Using my favorite cauliflower crust as a base, I decided to make a vegan and healthier version of this cheese and carb filled treat.
The process was pretty involved, but the final product was worth the time and effort. After making the cauliflower crust and baking it in the oven, I boiled about 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat rigatoni for 8-10 minutes. Meanwhile, I stirred up a mac and cheese sauce that I adapted from Oh She Glows.
Lindsay’s Makeshift Mac and Cheese
1 tbsp Earth Balance
3/4 cup unsweetened, unflavoured almond milk
6 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tbsp whole wheat flour (or other flour)
1 tsp mustard powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 ground black pepper
(Seeing as I only adapted this recipe because I didn’t have all the ingredients I needed, it turned out pretty darn good.)
After draining the pasta, I put it back in the pot and poured the cheese sauce over it. I thoroughly covered the pasta with sauce, then poured the mac and cheese over the baked pizza crust. Once assembled, I baked the pizza in the oven for three more minutes. Then, I used some of the vegan parmesan topping left over from my Tuna Helper, to top the pizza, turned the oven on “Broil,” and popped it in for one more minute.
When the pizza finally emerged, it was a golden brown, crunchy-creamy masterpiece. Cici’s eat your heart out.
Vegan Nestle Crunch Bars
While Tuna Helper and mac and cheese pizza are savory meals, my all-time favorite part of childhood was dessert. With Halloween right around the corner, I fondly recall my very specific way of trick or treating. I wasn’t just looking for Halloween candy, I was on a one-woman hunt for Nestle Crunch bars. At every house, I searched through entire bowls of Halloween candy, hoping to spot that elusive blue and red wrapper. Nestle Crunch Bars were my favorite candy bar to eat all year round, but I binged on them in the weeks after Halloween.
Although I still have a huge sweet tooth, I’ve found healthier ways to indulge it than going into a Crunch Bar induced sugar coma. Still, since it is almost Halloween, I figured there was no better time to make some healthy, vegan “Crunch Bars.”
I love this recipe from Oh She Glows because, besides the brown rice crispies, I already had all the necessary ingredients in my kitchen. Not only were the ingredients simple, but the baking process was quick and easy. After only fifteen minutes of preparation and refrigeration, I had “Crunch Bars” that tasted even better than I remembered.
The coconut oil and cocoa powder creates a dark chocolate full of rich, complex taste that Nestle’s milk chocolate just can’t match.
Although I still love my favorite childhood foods, I know that I can still enjoy them without harming my body, innocent animals, or the environment. My childhood self would be proud.