My Experience with Healthy, Plant-Based Cuisine Delivery: Brendan Brazier’s Thrive Foods Direct

by Gena on May 15, 2012

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I like to think of myself as living proof that eating healthy, plant-based food is possible even within a hectic schedule. I’m a full time post-bacc, premed student, which means I’m doing intensive pre-med courses at breakneck speed. I’m also a food blogger who posts nearly every day. And in addition to all that, I like to spend time with my friends, work out, and do yoga. This leaves little room for leisurely hours spent in the kitchen, but in spite of this, I manage to make a lot of really tasty plant-based dishes each week. I promise you all that eating high raw, vegan food is within your reach, even when life is dragging you down.

Now that I’ve said this, let me make you an equally important promise: I will never lie to you about the fact that eating healthy when life is busy can be really, really hard. We all have limits to what we can do, and it’s helpful to know what those are. Recently, a friend and I were talking about how we’ve both considered buying healthy snack bars for quick mini-meals on the go, but then thought “no, no, I could make something like that myself.” The problem is that something comes up, and we forget to make the snack bars, and then we don’t have any snack bars on hand. Because we don’t have time to pack up something more complex—like hummus and crudites—we skip the snack, and we end up feeling ravenous. I’m sure you’ve been here: it’s the moment when you optimistically think you can do it all yourself, only to realize that you really need a helping hand.

“A helping hand” can be store bought foods, restaurant takeout, or allowing a friend/partner to take over kitchen duties. In my case, during exam week, help came in the form of Thrive Foods Direct, a new, 100% plant-based, whole foods meal delivery started by my friend Brendan. Thrive Foods Direct is meal delivery that reflects Brendan’s own nutritional philosophy. What is what, exactly? Well, if I had to sum it up, it would look like this:

  • No common allergens
  • 100% plant-based
  • Whole foods
  • Superfoods inspired (most of Brendan’s bars, protein mixes, and books contain a lot of chia, hemp, and sea veggies)
  • Emphasis on the idea of alkaline-forming foods
  • High “net gain” foods (foods that give a lot of nutrient density for less caloric cost)

As you can see, Brendan and I share many priorities as health advocates! Namely, we’re both very interested in foods that are nutrient-dense, plant-based, and whole, and we both like to work chia, hemp, coconut water, legumes, and ancient grains into our cooking as often as we can. Given these similarities, and the fact that exams robbed me completely of time in which to prepare dinner entrees for myself, I was the ideal candidate to review Brendan’s new, exciting meal delivery service.

A lot of you have heard about Thrive Foods Direct along the plant-based grapevine, and you’ve asked me about it through Twitter, Facebook, and my comments. Everyone seems to have the same concern, which is “Brendan’s books really emphasize raw food. These dishes seem primarily cooked—is there not enough raw involved?” Well, I can’t answer for Brendan, but I can answer as someone who eats relatively similarly to Brendan: there’s a big difference between the food we eat every day, in the comfort of our own kitchens, and the food we eat when we’re out in the world, keeping busy and moving from one place to another.

When I’m home, I eat higher raw, and the food I eat is fairly simple. It’s a lot of meal sized salads, raw nori rolls, smoothies, raw puddings, raw sandwiches, simple grains, and legumes. When I’m preparing food for company, I tend to focus more on cooked foods and fancy recipes. When I’m traveling, I go with the flow. If it’s vegan and it isn’t deep fried (or egregiously unhealthy), I’ll eat it. Travel, events, and special occasions aren’t just about the food: they’re also about the experiences we accumulate. So I don’t get overly worked up when my food options aren’t precisely in keeping with my likes and dislikes from an ideal world. Instead, I just focus on procuring vegan options, and being appreciative of what I find.

The idea behind Thrive Foods Direct is to provide plant based options for people who are on the road or simply too busy to prepare any food for themselves. If you need to travel for a business conference and you know you won’t have any vegan options, but you will have a mini fridge, TFD is for you. If you’re on tour because you happen to be a musician or an actor or a filmmaker, TFD is for you. If you’re a corporate attorney who is about to face a month of 18 hour work days, and you’re sick of ordering less-than-healthy takeout twice a day, TFD is for you. In a perfect world, we’d all eat more raw greens than what the TFD meal plans offer (though do note that there are raw chia puddings involved). But the whole point of the plans are to help you cope with less than perfect culinary circumstances. And there’s a way to modify the meals so that they do fit into a more ideal paradigm of raw and cooked; you’ll see what I mean in a second.

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I received my shipment of TFD in late March. It was perfect timing, as I was heading right into an Orgo exam. I knew, however, that my need for the meals would be more urgent still, so I immediately froze three of the meals, and ate one of them—the roast veggies over brown rice—immediately. How do you think I served it, dear readers?

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Why, over greens of course. Lots of them. With avocado on top. That’s how I do!

Seriously, I warmed up my delicious roast veggies and rice, and I plopped the whole dish over raw baby romaine. It was the perfect way to serve it, and it was exactly the kind of meal I’d make for myself on a given weeknight: grains, veggies, greens. The rice and veggies were very tasty and filling.

Last week, during the madness that was finals season, I tried my other three entrees: the eggplant lasagna, the sweet potato with mushroom gravy, and the scrumptious lentil soup. Brendan had mentioned that the lasagna seemed to be most popular:

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I can see why: brown rice noodles (note that TFD is gluten free) with eggplant and creamy vegan tomato sauce? It’s comfort food, whole foods vegan style. I think if I had had more time, I would have added either tofu ricotta (a favorite dish of mine), or some cashew cheese, but I honestly didn’t miss either. I served the lasagna with spinach and my red pepper hemp sauce.

A few nights later, I had the sweet potatoes with mushroom gravy. This was more stew than cubed potato dish, but that was A OK with me! I adore sweet potato soup, and the mushroom gravy here was truly delicious:

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Not surprisingly, this happened with a big salad of greens, broccoli, and red cabbage. I sprinkled some nutritional yeast on the soup and mixed it in; it was really tasty!

I think my favorite TFD dish was, unexpectedly, the lentil soup, seen here through the lens of Instagram:

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I loved this soup, which was abundant enough to give me two night’s worth of food (the other dishes I ate each as a single portion). This was in part because (as you can see) I mixed in some chickpea odds and ends, as well as a big of steamed broccoli. This, too, was served with salad.

So as you can see, if you happen to be someone who is relying on TFD within the confines of your home, you can and should “boost” the entrees with raw or steamed greens/veggies. Brendan is providing the essentials we need to stay energized and healthy: protein from legumes, complex carbs from healthy whole grains, and as many fresh veggies as possible for vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals. But if you have the luxury, as I did, of eating the meals from your kitchen table, do go ahead and mix them with some raw foods, if that’s how you prefer to eat them. If I’d gotten the breakfast dishes, I’d certainly have had them with some raw fruits. If you are eating TFD on the go, rest assured that everything essential is accounted for in these meals, and that you’ll be back to giant salads at home soon enough.

Now, of course I should note that I got to experience TFD free of charge, for blog review. The cost ranges from $45 – $75, depending on which option you choose, and you can opt to have it for 5 or for 7 days per week. I’m well aware that this is not sustainable for a great many of you, but if you’re looking at TFD for a travel option—say, a work trip—keep in mind that it is very easy to spend $45 daily when you travel for work. If you invest the money in these meals, rather than overpriced hotel food or airport food, you’ll also be supporting sustainable, organic, ethically sourced fare, and you’ll be staying true to your taste for plant-based, whole food. You can also order some of these meals, freeze them, and use them when you know you’ll be in a bind for work or for school. This is probably no different, cost-wise, than ordering takeout or using the Whole Foods salad bar as an emergency resource!

And if you are like me, and you try not to spend any excess money on takeout at all, simply tuck the service away as an option for days when you are earning a little more. Also keep in mind that Brendan gives plenty of options for making this kind of food at home in his books, Thrive Foods, Thrive Fitness, and the Thrive Diet. If you want something super simple for busy days, check out any of my posts tagged as “hurry up vegan”—in these, I try to give good options for whole meals on the go!

Of course, I have yet to answer an important question about the foods: how do they taste? The answer is, they taste great! The vegetables and rice were a little bland for my palate, and I ended up sprinkling on some sea salt and oregano. But everything else was perfectly seasoned—some salt, but not salty like most prepared food, and Brendan notes that nearly all of the recipes are either oil free or contain less than 1 tsp added oil—good news for my no/low oil friends in the plant-based community.

Thanks, Brendan, for giving me four nights of nourishing food while I was pulling out my hair and trying to push electrons. It meant the world to me. As an amusing side note, I should tell you all that I promised Brendan I’d take lovely photos for the post. Of course, since I ate the meals at night, for dinner, my lighting was always off, and I ended up with a mix of photos that were just OK, plus Instagram. But I think Brendan would understand that, under busy circumstances, I was doing the best I could. That’s what TFD is all about, and in the case of these meals, “the best you can” will taste very good indeed.

By the way, if you’re looking for some fantastic tips on staying vegetarian/vegan while traveling, my friend Matt just shared 25+ travel tips from notable plant-based eaters–myself included! It’s super helpful, so check it out here. And also check out his review of Thrive Foods Direct, which went up today. Great minds think alike!

xo

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Lindsay Loves Veggies May 15, 2012 at 2:23 pm

I have Thrive Fitness and love it! I would love to read his other books, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. I actually keep Thrive Fitness in my kitchen, because I use the recipes so frequently!

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alyce May 15, 2012 at 2:28 pm

This is such a great option for busy people. I love having healthy options that are becoming more accessible. And you did exactly what I would have done- thrown the prepared foods in with your standard greens, which I’m sure made it so much simpler in the time department but didn’t force you to skip the salad!

I noticed you mentioned tofu ricotta- do you happen to have a recipe for this? I’ve heard it mentioned a few places and I’d love to try it. Thanks!

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Gena May 15, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Ooh! Clearly, I will have to share this recipe imminently. Get ready for it.

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elizabeth May 15, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Gena,
Thanks for this review. I must say, I’m down on Brendan right now. Not because Vega One has so much less chlorella and maca than the Whole Food Health Optimizer used to, I still love Vega, but because I’ve yet to receive a reply to my tweet to @vegateam about Brendan’s “7 Day Vegan Meal Plan.” The meals all seem scrumptious, but a tad low in calories, even for someone like me who’s moderately active at best, and his target audience is athletes. I understand people get busy and so on and I’m the last person to complain when I don’t get a reply from an email to an INDIVIDUAL. But I guess I hold companies to a different standard, and especially the companies I support as enthusiastically as I’ve supported Vega over the years. I mean, I’m drinking a Vega smoothie 4 days a week since whenever I discovered the stuff. Is it because I’m not vegan? I don’t know. All I know is I’m exploring a new protein powder for June. Sorry for the rant. I love Brendan’s books so it’s not like I’m doing a 180. I just wanted an answer (are these “diet meals” or is this how you suggest people eat?) to something that’s not at all clear on the website: http://myvega.com/resources/7-day-meal-plan. xo

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Charlotte May 16, 2012 at 10:49 am

My understanding is that there are different meal plans you can choose from, depending on your activity level.

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Charlotte May 16, 2012 at 10:54 am

Also, realize that the main difference between the old Vega and the new is just serving size. Instead of suggesting two scoops for 240 calories, they changed it to one scoop for what, 130ish?

If you add more powder, you’d probably get the old amount of maca and chorella. It’s a cheap tactic–essentially they’re trying to make it seem like you get more bang (servings) for your buck with one bigger scoop instead of two. In all honestly, I only ever put in one scoop with the old formula because of how expensive the product was.

I’m with you though–I love the books and still stick to eating primarily Thrive-y.

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Brendan May 16, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Hi Elizabeth,

Probably most effective to email the folks at Sequel with a question as opposed to twitter. info@myvega.com.

the meal plan is for an “average” person. feel free to increase portion size if you feel you need more food. here’re a few videos that you might find helpful. within the next couple of weeks one about net-gain nutrition (as opposed to calorie consumption) will be posted that you may find helpful: http://vegasport.com/videos

hope that helps,

Brendan

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Gena May 16, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Thanks for commenting, B!

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Gena May 16, 2012 at 9:28 pm

E,

I agree that the plans are low cal for people of any activity level, let alone a high one, but hopefully Brendan’s comment below, re: modifying to suit one’s caloric needs, is helpful. I’d absolutely modify these to add some calories if I were using them or prescribing them to others, while also keeping the backbone and basic recipe ideas intact.

xo

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elizabeth May 17, 2012 at 9:25 am

Thanks for weighing in, Brendan. I truly believe the “average” person will lose weight on that meal plan, but I’m not a nutritionist, so who knows. I do think as a weight loss plan, it’s a very sensible one, creating a slight calorie deficit without compromising nutrition or down regulating metabolism. Anyway, weight loss plan or not, it may be worth a clarification on the site that these are “low calorie” meal plans as it’s unlikely your target audience will find them sufficient in which case they could easily attribute how tired, weak, etc. they are feeling on the meal plan to veganism when if they simply ate more they’d thrive.
More to the point, and I think Gena will relate to this, I come from a background of restrictive eating, and if my recovery weren’t so solid, I honestly think the meal plans might have made me self-conscious about the volume of food I’m eating and I may have been tempted to decrease my intake (on the premise, if it’s enough for Brendan, it’s enough for me).
In any case, thanks for all your good work. I love your books.
Charlotte, I’ve always been a “one-scooper”!

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Averie @ Averie Cooks May 15, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Thanks for the review, Gena, and your thoughts on it all. Taste, convenience, price, value, etc. That lasagna looks wonderful!

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Nada (One Arab Vegan) May 15, 2012 at 4:38 pm

Great review! Healthy food delivery services are exploding in the UK at the minute but very few offer vegan options which focus on whole food nutrition – you should tell Brendan to consider launching TFD in Europe as there is definitely a gap in the market here.

And I have to say that you really are so inspiring in that sense – you’re the perfect example of someone who manages to eat well on the go, and so much of your cooking style embodies that. I’m a big fan of your “hurry up vegan” series as you know, but so many of your recipes come together almost effortlessly and the results are always spectacular which keeps me (and many others obviously) coming back for more.

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Gena May 16, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Hope Brendan sees this comment re: the UK!

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maausi May 27, 2012 at 9:25 am

Germany could also do with some Vega ;).
Not just TFD, but the Protein Powders, Whole Food Health Optimizer etc., too – if you order it from somewhere else, the shipping cost is insane…

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Harold M May 15, 2012 at 6:45 pm

Been on this diet for almost 2 months now. Have never felt better, and aside from shedding a few pounds, I have also become a faster runner.

This is just great, and amazing if you don’t have the time to cook.

H

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Natalie May 15, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Great review! So glad you were really honest that the service is not optimal in some ways, but much better than the alternative which is, too often, processed food. This should be a great resource for busy professionals and athletes alike.

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Kate (Peacocks & Moonshine) May 15, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Its always such a treat to catch up on your posts Gena!

I am a huge fan of Brendan and his work. I brag about having one of the first copies of Thrive in hardback that I bought at a tiny book store in Boulder, Colorado. He has come so far, but stuck to the same principals and high quality food. When ever I have a guy friend grumble about vegans or a client worry about protein I just hand over my copy of Thrive.

Happy end of exams and thanks for the review-

Kate

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Angela May 15, 2012 at 8:32 pm

Stellar review Gena! Yup, you’re a raw food rockstar.
I’m also a busy full time grad student earning my Master in Public Health while working three part time jobs. I’d say that having a full schedule makes it even more important to plan ahead for plant-based meals to stay healthy and on top of your to-do list. Thanks for demonstrating that it is indeed possible to eat vegan and have the energy to stay active, both physically, professionally, and academically. :)

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bitt May 15, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Wow, all vegan and gluten-free? There isn’t much out there like this, other than some Amy’s frozen meals, and they get old and boring after awhile. There are times when I’d really would have loved these, for example had them delivered when I was in a very small town that didn’t have any food I could eat, this would have saved me hours of trying to find a food coop or something. Times when I’ve been too sick to cook, etc. We need this sort of stuff!

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Gena May 16, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Agree! It’s a good option when grocery shopping is not nearby, and one is tempted to splurge on highly overpriced hotel food that is barely vegan friendly in the first place.

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Valerie @ City|Life|Eats May 15, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Great review. I’m so glad you addressed how cooked the meals are. I was curious about that.

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Gena May 16, 2012 at 9:22 pm

Mais oui!

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Karen May 16, 2012 at 6:38 am

I appreciate that Brendan is your friend and as such you feel an allegiance to him and his various entrepreneurial endeavors, but I’m most definitely not a fan.

In my opinion, the Vega protein powder is not as clean or tasty than many purer products on the market, to say nothing of the outrageous price. Perhaps due to the smorgasbord of a ingredients it contains, it also causes me stomach distress. And, I don’t care for his (similarly overpriced) Vega line of energy bars either. He assures that his prices for the delivery service will drop as demand increases; if that’s the case, then why did his Vega line of protein powders not drop proportionately into the competitive range, despite their growth in popularity among those who believe his hype re. the superiority of his special blend of essential nutrients? If he is as passionate re. his message as he claims, then perhaps he should work toward making his line of products more accessible. As it is, he just reinforces the stereotype that a vegan diet is cost prohibitive for all but an elite class of athletes, executives, etc.

In a pinch, I’d rather pop a tasty and serviceable Amy’s Organic tofu and veggie bowl in the oven than order from Thrive’s $$$ delivery service. I don’t see the competitive advantage for Brendan’s company, even for travelers – there are plenty of quick Vegan takeout services available, notably any Whole Foods-type chains and even regular old-school grocery stores, offer options galore.

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Charlotte May 16, 2012 at 10:56 am

I’m in a love/hate with Vega, mainly due to its price. Would you mind sharing some of the powders you find superior? Would love to give them a try!

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lisa May 16, 2012 at 1:10 pm

I agree. I’m all for small business, but on a budget these meals look like something you could get for 1/4 the price at trader joes…they have several vegan organic “instant” meals like this.

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Stefania May 16, 2012 at 6:42 am

You are so right about eating high raw vegan food being possible even when busy, albeit difficult. Currently I am trying to start a business (www.revitalizewithstefania.com still under construction, pardon the appearance…), a blog, and I am mom to a 20 month old, and a 3 month old. Plus money is tight since I quit my job to do all of the above. I may look frazzled and insane most days, but we are making it work!

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Kathleen May 16, 2012 at 9:05 am

My classes are certainly not as demanding as yours, but balancing school, multiple jobs, volunteering and taking random gigs proved to be very challenging this semester and my healthy diet kind of went out the window. Not enough vegetables, too much prepared food. Juice? Um, never. Eating healthy is probably most important during these times so I am definitely making it a priority to learn to prepare big batches of food at the beginning of the week so I don’t run into this issue during summer semester. Your busy student recipes will come in handy!

A meal service would be amazing but I can’t imagine paying that much for things I could most likely make on my own. However, a great luxury for those who can afford it and are short on time! I do like some of Vega’s other products, however, and my husband is very reliant on the protein powders when he is training for an event. He works on the corporate side of the fitness industry and initially got a lot of crap for being vegan. Now people in the office steal his Vega products and Thrive recipe protein bars!

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Gena May 16, 2012 at 9:20 pm

Well, I think prepared food is always OK, so long as it’s vegan and pretty healthy :) But I agree that it’s important to strive to feed ourselves well. Pick up some pressed juices for me, please — I don’t have that option in DC, even when I’m in the mood to splurge!!

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Kathleen May 16, 2012 at 9:29 pm

Always vegan :) Just loads of sodium and other crap! Danny loves those prepackaged Indian food pouches….

And yes! I’m so spoiled by juice bars, I truly have no excuse.

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Amy @Health Hungry May 16, 2012 at 11:16 am

Great post – helpful tips… I think these services are clearly geared to a very specific demographic, of which I am not a member – but if I were, I’d give it a try! :)

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Carrie (Carrie on Vegan) May 16, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Such a great review, Gena! I’m with you that I more often than not refuse to pay for meals or snacks I could make at home and it’s very rare that I will accept a helping hand. But, you’re totally right, sometimes it is all too much! Plus, I don’t even have kids or work full-time so I can see how a service like this one is an excellent option. Yay! Hope you are enjoying some time off from your spring semester. My summer school starts today, but I can’t complain because it’s only 1 unit for the next 6 weeks and then 2 units in August. I am looooving some extra free and even made it to a 70-minute yoga class this morning which was just what I needed.

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Gena May 16, 2012 at 9:10 pm

I’m back to the grind in about 2.5 weeks, Carrie — it’ll be 8-5 daily, with lab reports due daily, as well as near weekly exams and nightly problems. But…inching toward the end, you know? I’m glad you have some time to yourself!

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Sarah May 16, 2012 at 4:57 pm

I love Thrive and Fresh N Lean! Super great companies backed by people I trust with ingredients I support. Thanks for reviewing them, Gena! Also: I know some salad meals are included in Fresh N Lean’s plan, did you try those? They remind me of your salads: nutrient-dense, delicious, and super satisfying.

XO! Sarah

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Gena May 16, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Not yet! But I’m trying them soon.

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Lauren May 16, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Wow, these meals look great! Perfect for a mommy too! Going to send this to my sis in law, perfect for when she has her baby in Oct!!

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Ela May 16, 2012 at 6:52 pm

That’s awesome that it’s gf as well as vegan! What a peace-of-mind-saver! I love what Brendan does in general, so no surprise this is so well thought out.
I’m glad you had some support in your crazy work period and hope you’re enjoying some rest now.
love
Ela

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RawGuru May 17, 2012 at 11:57 am

What an awesome, much needed service for travelling business folks who may have the $$ but don’t have the time or access to healthy food. The city i live in is awash with great healthy food options but i know it’s certainly not the case everywhere. It’s so Brendan has tapped into this niche!

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Heather @ For the Love of Kale May 17, 2012 at 7:36 pm

I’m so jealous you got to try this out, Gena! Soooo lucky. The sweet potato with mushroom gravy looks outstanding.

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Ben June 19, 2013 at 8:53 am

Hi all,

I don´t know if this has been discussed somewhere but as a big fan of the thrive approach, I´m constantly facing certain issues getting all the ingredients here in Europe – Germany to be precise :) All sea weeds are almost impossible to get because they are “too polluted” Things like Quinoa are very expensive due to long import ways and things like that. The access to local, farmers markets are excellent here as we have a good culture of having several markets three time a week per district and there is almost no need to go to a supermarket :) certain veggies may be different to get but that´s ok – the issue really is the access to the grains and some legumes that are mentioned in the book (mangos cost $5 per piece) so I got the thrive foods book but there are more exotic foods that are even harder to get. Is there a chance to get in touch with someone from over here who adopted some of the recipes here?

Thanks a lot,
Ben

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