Children can be some of the pickiest eaters. Some take comfort in having the same meals over and over again - like peanut butter sandwiches or buttered noodles. As a parent, it’s difficult because although you want to give your child what they want, you also have to watch the nutritious value of what they are eating. Kathy Patalsky developed The Lunchbox Bunch, which connects to children on their level and makes healthy, nutritious vegan food fun and tasty. She also has tips and recipes for adults, so it’s easy to ensure that the entire family is eating well.
Vegan Mainstream: Tell me a little bit about yourself and why you started The Lunchbox Bunch.
Kathy Patalsky: I started The Lunchbox Bunch about five years ago. My background is in both nutrition and art, so I found a way to use my two passions together. I had just moved here to be with my husband, and one day I started drawing all of these characters—these fruit and veggie characters – and picking little names for them like Paparazzi Peas and Prima Donna Apricot. I just kept going with these characters, and it turned into a really fun brand idea. So I started writing children’s books with them and teaching a few classes at Whole Foods with kids’ programs. That’s really how my entrepreneurial path started, and Lunchbox Bunch has been a great way for me to carry out my passion for inspiring kids to eat healthily and be curious about cooking and fruits and vegetables.
So after I got really inspired by that adventure, I started my own personal blog—about three years ago—the one that’s Happy Healthy Life. That focuses on vegan recipes, vegan food photography, wellness tips, travel clips, health foods, and interviews with other like-minded people. So that’s what I’m currently doing, and it’s a lot of fun.
VM: I see you’re a self-taught vegan cook…what’s your advice for those who aren’t so comfortable in the kitchen?
KP: My first tip is to be creative and don’t think about one right way of doing things. Probably the question I am most commonly asked is: how do I cook tofu so it tastes good? A lot of people think there’s some mystery secret in tofu, but really it just takes practice and knowing what your taste buds are. [It's also about] getting to know your ingredients—things like tempeh, tofu, seitan, dried beans, lentils, grains—all of these types of ingredients that some people may not be used to working with from scratch…I think when you start to realize there’s no one way of doing it, that’s a great way to brush off that scary factor. Just be creative and try experimenting yourself and you never know what you might come up with…
For cooking with tofu tips, go here.
VM: I know you have a Smoothie iPhone app that has just been released – congratulations! Can you describe it for us?
KP: This is my first iPhone app. It’s called Smoothies, just smoothies, and it has about 25 to 30 smoothies right now, but I’m going to be adding more to that so it will continue to grow and evolve. I’m lucky I’m married to a computer genius, so he helped me craft that iPhone app. Hopefully I will be having a Juices iPhone app in the future and also I’m working on a Dip Diva app for the holidays.
VM: What does it take to create an app – was it a difficult process? – is it something anyone could do?
KP: I basically submitted all of the content to my husband – [he has created] a few of his own apps because he has his own business as well. It takes a few weeks just to get approved in the preliminary process and then you have to get your personal company approved, and then you have to get your name approved and icon approved, so it’s a very intensive process. I can see how Apple can weed out the people who aren’t serious about it…but once you do it once it’s definitely a great time investment in today’s technological world — and it’s fun too and a great way to reach new people.
VM: How do you use social media outlets to spread the word about your brand?
KP: I’m very active online—I love Twitter, Facebook—I’m constantly on those two outlets, those are my main ones. I’m tweeting my recipes, I’ll retweet other people’s information. It’s just a fabulous way to network with people online. I have, I think, over 2,000 followers, and I think I just reached 1,000 fans on Facebook, so it’s great to see people are interested in vegan content. I think there’s a huge need for it and curiosity about it right now.
I’m also hopefully launching…a new website, which is an official social networking branch. It’s called Finding Vegan, and it’s going to be user submitted so that anyone can submit their recipes posts or blog posts and it will be kind of a community of vegan finds.
Check out the Best Vegan Blogs here.
VM: I noticed you have a few children’s books…did you face any challenges with self-publishing?
KP: I spent a few years in the whole publishing world and industry, and I realized that it’s not as easy as you may want it to be. I had a few agent interviews [with some] big companies - they won’t allow you to submit to the large companies unless you have an agent. Quite frankly, most of the big companies are going for established authors or nowadays there are a lot of celebrities and personalities writing children’s books. It’s a very difficult industry to get a big break in when you’re not a big name.
I have had a lot of satisfying success with self-publishing with Lulu, because you can buy the book right online. You can buy an e-book…it reaches my customers and my community of people who are interested. It’s definitely another intensive process, but it’s possible with a business like Lulu. I’m happy with it.
Have your kids check out The Lunchbox Bunch here.
VM: What are your favorite vegan meals? For those trying vegan foods for the first time, what do you recommend?
KP: Well, my favorite straight-forward foods are classically sweet potatoes, peaches, things like that. But if you want to go for first-time vegan brands, I love Field Roast vegan sausages—their chipotle flavor is just amazing…also, Dr. Cow raw nut cheeses—they taste amazing; they’re kind of pricey, but you can buy them online. They can pretty much combat any dairy cheese, in my opinion. I love Veganaise, a great newbie…coconut water I’m a big fan of…apple cider vinegar is always in my refrigerator…I think Boca Burger spicy patty is a good product if you’re looking for something really easy and simple…Amy’s Kitchen has good vegan products…there is so much out there right now.
If you’re in New York City, you should definitely go to Babycakes Bakery because their desserts are just awesome.
VM: Can you give an example of a wholesome vegan lunch that even the pickiest child might warm up to?
KP: Well, one snack that I find kids really gravitate too, which is kind of funny, is edamame if it’s shelled. You can pop it like candy, and for some reason kids like it…another fun recipe that I have on my site is called Rainbow Wrap. It’s a recipe where kids can get involved in creating it…
VM: Fresh produce can be expensive, how can consumers shop for and/or store fruit smarter?
KP: That’s a good question. I personally shop every day, because I can’t buy a week’s worth of produce and have it last until the end of the week, so I really try to shop every day as a ritual of mine and it keeps my foods fresh and seasonal…Any one of you who are looking for tips at the store, I would say, a simple thing, is adding a paper towel inside a container that absorbs all of the moisture for fresh berries and things like that. I do like to freeze a lot of my fresh fruit if I need it in things like smoothies…quite frankly, there’s a lot of frozen fruits and vegetables that have equal or even higher nutrient contents than fresh fruits so don’t shy away from using frozen foods if you’re having issues with price or keeping them fresh.
VM: How do you think grocery stores can better accommodate vegans?
KP: Whole Foods is doing a great job. They have so many vegan products. Even stores like Trader Joe’s have a nice little symbol…they have a “V” so you know that it’s vegan. I find the more mainstream grocery stores have the one natural foods aisles and that’s fine. I don’t necessarily think that that’s the best idea, because I’ve found that a lot of the products in the natural foods aisle are actually filled with a lot of refined sugar and unhealthy ingredients so you really have to read the labels and double check…
VM: How important would you say technology is in the success of your work?
KP: Technology has been very important. It’s pretty much 80 percent of my day. I either am in my little photograph studio shooting my latest recipes, I’m on the computer editing my photos, or I’m on my Blackberry when I’m out tweeting a photo of something I just ate. Having said that, I meet with people here in New York City face to face as much as I can, because I think you shouldn’t get too bogged down with technology…
VM: Of all the ways you reach out to people, what do you think is the most effective?
KP: I actually do think technology reaches people more closely in what I do. If someone sees a photo of a recipe and then eventually tries it, that can inspire them to start a whole new lifestyle. My main goal is to really inspire people to want healthy foods. I think a lot of people don’t realize how delicious vegan foods can be…that’s really the key to my entire mission is to get people to open their minds to vegan foods…
Patalsky is on a mission to encourage children and grown ups to choose healthy, delicious vegan foods, and her incredible photographs show that eliminating meat is a beautiful thing. To start you and your family on the right track, visit Happy Healthy Life for some foolproof vegan recipes.