“Everything works out in the end. If it hasn't worked out yet, then it's not the end.”
Joining me in the studio is food blogging legend Toni Okamoto. Toni is the founder of Plant-Based on a Budget, the mega-popular website, meal plan, and community that shows you how to break your meat habit without breaking your budget.
She’s the author of the Plant-Based on a Budget cookbook, and the co-host of The Plant-Powered People Podcast. Toni also has a regular presence on local and national morning shows across the US and was featured in the popular documentary What the Health.
In this episode, we’re going to talk about:
- The defining moment that led to her mission
- How she built a community of more than half a million supporters
- Why most people struggle to eat healthy; and
- Simple tips to save you money and time with your household nutrition.
Before we begin, the right bit of inspiration can completely change the trajectory of someone’s life, so if there’s a friend or loved one who needs to hear this episode or could use some help to Win the Day, share it with them right now.
Let’s WIN THE DAY with Toni Okamoto!
Toni, great to see you. Thanks for coming on the show!
Thank you so much for having me! I'm really excited to chat with you.
How would you define the mission that you are on today?
I would like to help people eat more plants and do so very smartly and thoughtfully, saving money and time in the kitchen.
Full disclosure, I’m not on a plant-based diet, but I am certainly uncomfortable with the idea of consuming animal products at basically every single meal. Especially when you look at some of the atrocities in industrial agriculture.
And for your wallet! I recently walked by the egg section at the grocery store and could not believe that it was $7.99 for a dozen eggs. That is outrageous.
Meat is at an all-time high right now. So, I help people think of other alternatives, plant-based proteins, that are much more affordable and are not going to impact your cholesterol.
Meal prep is a big thing for you. How many days ahead do you normally meal prep on a given week?
Well, there are so many different types of meal prepping options – and I am a lazy cook! So I like to look at the mix and match style where I batch cook one or two things, maybe a grain and a protein, something like quinoa and pinto beans, and throughout the week I'll throw things together quickly with those things that I've meal prepped.
But there are again, a lot of other ways which we can talk about and some people get really, really into their meal prepping with color coded spreadsheets and everyone knows what they're eating when they're eating it! That's not my style, but I do help people with whatever kind of meal prep they want.
I've noticed that one of the biggest challenges that gets in the way of healthy eating is just being organized. Being three or four days ahead makes life so much easier.
And it's going to prevent food waste. I don't know about you, but it is a terrible feeling when I have this beautiful produce that I had all of the best intentions to eat and then it's soggy and sad and I have to toss it in the trash and I feel like I'm throwing my hard earned money away.
When you were young, you lived with your Japanese grandfather and Mexican grandmother. How was that dynamic and is it a memory or two from your upbringing that's still so vivid for you today?
I really appreciated the diversity of food in my household. My dad was a teenager when I was born and he went to the Navy, so I lived with my grandparents for the first part of my childhood.
It was so nice because they were retired and I got their full-time attention. My grandpa was into the Japanese gardening community in the central valley where I'm from, and so he grew a lot of the food that we ate and I had that hands-on experience of helping him in the garden and my grandma would prepare that food from scratch.
My dad was a teenager when I was born and he went to the Navy, so I lived with my grandparents for the first part of my childhood.
That was the foundation for me to learn about food. And it wasn't until a little bit later that I began to take on more of a processed diet because my dad came back from the Navy when I was 11 and we lived the bachelor life together.
I'm picturing a lot of pizza boxes and things lying around!
Yes, my favorites included hotdog with canned chili, Hamburger Helper, some boxed mac and cheese and you get the picture! But it was tasty and all that time I didn't think about how food impacted my health.
It was all about how it tasted, it was about how it filled my belly, but never how it would make me feel.
It's big, isn't it? When I had the realization of eating for fuel rather than pleasure, it completely changed my diet.
Plus, like you mentioned, being out in the garden, I love being barefoot standing on the grass, just having your hands in the dirt. There's something very special about that connection that you have with nature that makes you so much happier and more positive.
I totally agree and I am now an avid gardener in my adult life. I really love that hands-on experience.
Also, for a food that felt intimidating to me, once I grew it, I would try it, then I would like it.
Can you describe your garden to us?
How long do you have!?
As long as you want. I feel like this is a great topic!
Okay, so I started small. I started with just enough for me to handle, which was four plants. I got them from Home Depot or something, and I planted them. I really loved how it felt to be in the garden, not only for the fresh food but because it made me feel less stressed and it was therapeutic for me. So it quickly turned into 12 garden beds and 12 fruit trees and 12 fruit bushes.
Buying the neighbor's house as well!
There's an ongoing dispute going on in my household between me and my dog and my husband. We have split the yard up into thirds and my husband and my dog really like their sun portion because they like to sunbathe out on a nice day and I only have my third and I really need more. I can only fit so many trees on this little tiny piece of land.
I think what's missing from younger generations today is the delay of gratification. I've had this lemon tree that I bought from Home Depot, like you did a few years ago, and it's something that I've loved just nurturing and seeing it grow.
When you see the fruits of the labor over time, you develop so much more appreciation for it rather than, say, ordering Uber Eats.
There is something to be said about putting in the work and watching natural development take place and then enjoying that process.
Also if you think about the initial cost upfront, it costs about $39.50 for the last tree that I purchased and that tree is going to give me about 100 to 200 pieces of fruit within just a couple years. So I think it's also a really great investment if you want a lot of fruit.
Yeah, well worth it.
I noticed that your book is dedicated to your dad. What were the biggest lessons that he taught you? Or are the specific lessons that you still carry with you today?
I love my dad so, so much.
He has always told me that I can be anything that I wanted to be – not in one of those ‘manifest and it will happen’ type of thing, but he showed me that if I work hard and I build confidence in my skills and in my desire to make something happen, that it can become a reality. And I watched him do that. He started off from humble beginnings and advanced in his career.
He showed me that if I work hard and I build confidence in my skills and in my desire to make something happen, that it can become a reality.
He just recently retired and watching what grit and determination look like from a very, very close intimate perspective is incredibly inspiring. He didn't go to college until he was an adult with children and I watched him graduate and it was so amazing.
At the time, I had not graduated either and I went back to school and got a management degree from University of San Francisco and it's just amazing how even when you butt heads as a teenager with your parents, how their actions and how they treat you and how they speak to you and how they believe in you, how that impacts your future forever.
When did you fully accept and believe that you could do anything that you set your mind to, even though your father had told you that the whole way through?
I would say in 2016 when I started doing Plant-Based on a Budget and at that time he was not so supportive because blogging is not a conventional job. My parents have always wanted better for me than what they had for themselves. They want all of the opportunity for me. They want me to thrive and to feel good and to not struggle.
And so when I decided to do this out of a place of not desperation, but I just needed something different and I hadn't monetized yet, so I was going to be living without a salary, without benefits. I didn't have healthcare insurance. My parents really were concerned that I was taking a step backward in life and that all that they had sacrificed could be questioned. So they were concerned and I understand why, but now they're very proud of how far I've come and how I've stayed true to it despite a lot of people being unsure that this was a long-term job.
I just needed something different, so I was going to be living without a salary and without benefits.
It is also hard to not have a business sense, and I feel like if you are a creative, maybe you want to be a full-time musician or an artist or the many other types of creative positions, you really have to understand business to some extent to figure out how you're going to have healthcare insurance and if you want to have contractors who support you, how do you structure the taxes and all of the other things that go with it.
So it would be really nice and helpful if not only what you said was true, but also there was support for the creatives who helped them think outside of simply being the talent or the creator.
Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Toni Okamoto does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about her favorite quote, what advice she’d give her 18-year-old self, the one thing on her bucket list, and a whole lot more. 🚀
What was the defining moment for you when you were all-in and adopted the plant-based lifestyle?
Well, it started very, very slowly and gradually. It was around that time I told you that I was eating a lot of processed foods. I was also running track and I was feeling really sick to my stomach on an ongoing basis. And my coach was obviously concerned about me. He's like, what are you eating? And I thought, wow, that's a weird question to ask me. Why would he ask me such a thing?
But he explained that I shouldn't be eating so much fast food and I shouldn't be eating so much red meat and processed foods because that is not going to fuel me as an athlete. So he told me to cut back on my daily Taco Bell trips and he told me to watch the red meat intake and I began to thrive as a runner. I began to feel better, stop getting sick and also recover faster.
I began to thrive as a runner. I began to feel better, stop getting sick and also recover faster.
So it kept me motivated to lean more toward a vegetarian diet, but because my family loves their food and it's very cultural for them, both Mexican and Japanese, but I would say my family identifies more with the Mexican culture. So it is not only part of the culture but it is also an expression of love and affection and celebration.
When you tell someone that you don't want their food, it can be disrespectful. So it was a little bit of a rough start. My parents didn't understand my choices and thought how did they end up with this hippie-dippy daughter who doesn't eat all this food that is so delicious to them? And that was the beginning of it all.
I'm picturing you sitting in the corner at a lot of these family gatherings and parties. Was there one particular moment that you remember in the family groups or was it just an accumulation of a lot of those things?
It was an accumulation.
I feel like because I understood my ‘why’ and I had a passion within me – even though that passion has changed in many different ways over the last nearly two decades of my life – it is what has kept me going in those moments when I do feel insecure or do feel challenged by my family or friends or some person I don't even know.
It's the confidence within myself and my choices that makes me feel okay in those moments.
What about the decision to become a personal brand? When you do that, you open yourself up to trolls, since everyone in the world has an opinion.
How did you feel being a recognized authority and personality in that health, food, nutrition, plant-based space knowing that there was all that negative energy that could potentially come after you?
It has been a lot of tension for me, especially in the early years, but now I feel that confidence really propels me forward. I understand that they may be having a bad day, maybe someone or something didn't treat them well in that moment or in their lives and they're looking for an outlet to let that negative energy be expressed.
And so I try not to take it personally, but I have been doing this for 11 years and 11 years ago it wasn't as easy as it is now.
That criticism that they have of you says more about them than it does about you?
I try to believe that.
When did you realize you could create a business out of what you were doing?
I would like to say in 2016 that that's when it all happened. I was laid off from my job.
Sometimes the universe gives you a sign!
It really did.
I had a friend who had gotten laid off from her job one year prior and started running her food blog full-time because of what happened and she was encouraging me. I thought, well, I don't have any money. I don't have it monetized. I
I was already interviewing with other positions – and fortunately and unfortunately interviewing processes take a long time sometimes, and I was interviewing with one company for three months and doing working interviews and all of these different types of things and I felt like it was getting close and then I didn't get the job.
So I decided this is it. I'm going to believe in myself.
So I decided this is it. I'm going to believe in myself. And I really had to talk myself through it. When you don't have a lot of money, you feel like this survivalist mindset to do what you need to do to eat and to have a roof over your head. It's sometimes conflicting with getting a job that you may not love or following your passion. And I decided to follow my passion.
I would say that I monetized and became in a good position within a year with a lot, a lot of hard work, a lot of hard work.
Isn't it amazing how sometimes not getting what you want can be the greatest gift of all?
It also teaches you to not live in that sadness for too long. It's good to grieve your losses, but make sure you move forward because something good can be on the other side.
What about building a team? What are the key roles and how did you go about putting those people in place to begin with?
As I mentioned, not having a lot of money to start makes everything so much harder, especially knowing when to save and when to spend. It’s a scary, scary thing.
The first time I hired someone, I hired them for four hours per week and she just was a catchall. She did all of the things I didn't have time to do and I realized what four hours, only four hours back into my life felt like. And that's when I knew the opportunities that lay ahead with having a lot of support.
So I decided to create a goal of instead of myself being the creator, I wanted to be the manager. I went back to school around the same time, studied management and business and decided to think about what the future could be if I was not the sole creator.
These are the people who are working with me now. I have someone who runs all of my brand relationships and that means she works with companies who want to sponsor my work. Then I have a full-time photographer and if you're ever tried to take a photo of your lunch or your breakfast, it is very hard to do, to do it and make it look really appetizing. So he is extremely talented. He's also the photographer of Plant-Based on a Budget: Quick and Easy and has an incredible story, which I'm happy to share later.
I have people who do social media now, which I'll also say does help my mental health because they don't take it personally when people don't like my hair or my voice or my face or my hands or whatever it is! So that really relieves a lot of stress because I don't need to read and respond to all of the comments, especially the negative ones.
And then I do have people who support me in helping my community by answering all the emails, by running the support group that we have, by moderating all of my inboxes on social media, and so people who are reaching out to me will get an answer, so I have a whole team of people who are supporting me in there.
Were there one or two things in particular that you did that really moved the needle in terms of growing that community as quickly as possible?
Consistency is key. Sometimes it can feel like the algorithm is against you. You can feel like, oh, I've nailed it, and then the next day it changes and you have no impressions on your content that you worked so hard to create.
You just need to remember to show up the next day to continue creating content, even if it feels like no one is watching or engaging with it.
You just need to remember to show up the next day to continue creating content, even if it feels like no one is watching or engaging with it. You never really know. It can go viral in two months or in three months and bring in a whole new part of your community that you didn't realize or ever could have imagined.
Yeah, I've had a lot of realizations as a content creator. First of all, it's almost impossible to predict what video is going to be a hit.
Second, there are a lot of people watching even if you don't see them liking or commenting. I also think it's a recent trend that, since people love scrolling on social media so quickly, they are less likely to engage. So just because someone didn't hit the like or comment button doesn't mean that they didn't consume the content.
But if you're not posting, then you're not putting it out there, you're not growing awareness and getting more people into your community and obviously giving them transformations through the meal plans, through the cookbooks and all the other things that you do.
And sometimes I hear from people who don't feel motivated because of the lack of engagement, but engagement is just one measurement. There are so many different ways. Sometimes it can be one email that inspires me, that one person who decided to reach out because they saw something that I created two years ago and have made a lifestyle change because of it.
So success can be measured in many ways and often it's not through engagement on your social media.
What are the biggest myths or misconceptions that people have around a plant-based lifestyle?
Well, one that is expensive and hard to do.
A lot of people believe that it is going to require all new ingredients and all of these different meals that are unfamiliar to their families. So they work it up to be something bigger than it is within their minds. But really, I eat bean and rice burritos and pasta and veggies and marinara sauce, and these are foods that are familiar and that I've been eating forever and now.
I just know how to do it plant-based.
I know there's a story behind pretty much every recipe the that you have in the book. Is there one that's like an all-time favorite or one that stands out the most from the book?
I really like one called Sopa de Fideo which is like an angel hair pasta that's been broken up and it's like a soupy tomato broth. In mine, I have black beans, onions, garlic, and zucchini – and it was something that my grandma made for me.
When I eat it, I’m transported back to being a child and you feel that same warmth and comfort and I wanted to share that with my community.
Oh, it's amazing. Something that my wife has been making recently is the Mexican soup pozole. Delicious.
Oh my gosh. So good.
How do you get kids excited about trying something new?
There are a lot of ways. You can allow them to pick which produce they want to try and eat. You can hide it in their food by blending it up or pureing it or chopping it finely, shredding it and adding hidden veggies into it.
Actually, there's a pancake recipe in the book and as one of the variations I say, you can blend up the milk and the spinach and make green pancakes, which are really fun for a special event or St. Patrick's Day. You can't even taste the spinach and your kid is getting a bunch of spinach. So that's another way.
Then having them try it over and over and over and over again in different ways. I know that I grew up with a very limited palate. I hadn't tried butternut squash or kale or even brown rice. And brown rice especially was really hard because I grew up eating a lot of white rice as a Japanese and Mexican person, they both use white rice and the taste and texture of brown rice was really nutty and I didn't like it. So I tried it maybe 10 times and now I love it.
So trying it in different ways or prepared differently with different tastes and spices and produce, it will maybe help them it.
Have you found that when you're getting people to adopt a plant-based lifestyle, that getting them involved in the cooking process makes a difference in terms of their enjoyment?
Yes. And I will also say as the cook who asks for the help, it makes everybody happy. They get to enjoy the experience of hands-on in the kitchen, trying new techniques, playing with their food, and it can be something like, I have this recipe for peanut butter oat balls, and those are really fun for little kids to make their own little oat balls, which are snacks that you can put in the freezer and the refrigerator and make it more of an art project where you can pick their inclusions like dried cranberries or chocolate chips or things like that.
So you can get them involved in the beginning with fun things like that or putting together their own oats with peanut butter and jelly or with some chocolate chips, things like that. And then graduate them later to the hard stuff like putting together your lasagna or something like that. And as I started saying, it's fun for me to have the help and then especially when it's time for cleanup, everybody who participated participates in cleanup as well.
We love getting our three-year-old daughter, Sophie, involved in cooking and packing her lunch for school so she can become more responsible and self-sufficient. She loves doing it. She knows what different options are available.
She makes healthy smoothies. We put some spinach in the pancakes – and we call them ‘monster pancakes’ – and try other ways to make it fun.
Another benefit of that, this is something that I really admire about my parents. My dad later remarried and he and his wife took the approach of making independent children and allowing us to help out in the home in a way that I never felt like this was my chore and I hated it. It was just something that we all did.
My primary goal was to create a guide for people to succeed in healthy eating, saving money, and spending less time in the kitchen.
We all had responsibilities within the household. We cleaned up after ourselves in our rooms, and I love that as an adult, nothing was surprising to me. I knew that toilets needed to be cleaned. I knew that laundry needed to be done. I knew that we mopped the floor.
Whereas my first roommate out of my parents' house did not have that experience. She had a house cleaner growing up and felt really unprepared and even a little bit resentful that her parents hadn't taught her these very basic adult skills. So I think that there are many benefits and independence and an easier transition into adulthood are some of those.
Well done on the new book. We've touched on it a bit already through our conversation today, but what was the problem that you wanted to solve with this book?
A lot of people, vegetarian or not, are really, really busy and they want to eat healthy. They want to feed their children healthier. They want their kids to like vegetables and to grow up eating them.
The biggest thing I hear from people is that they don't know where to start and even when they try, they don't have the skillset to put together a meal plan that makes it so that going to the grocery store is easy, that they use the ingredients that they purchase, that even the ingredients that they buy go in a proper meal together.
Like some people will go without a plan and buy pasta with no sauce or peanut butter with no jelly. So my primary goal was to create a guide for people to succeed in healthy eating, saving money, and spending less time in the kitchen.
Are there a few staple foods that you incorporate in most of the cooking or most of the recipes from the book?
I try to create a diverse amount of dishes so that there is a diversity in produce and that you have a healthy gut microbiome. But there are things that I tend to lean on for affordability, and that's legumes, grains, produce and all of that has so much within it.
Within the proteins, I would say lentils, split peas, different types of beans. I love grains, quinoa, barley, rice, both brown and white. I can't get rid of my white rice. And then for produce, I think buying what is in season, what is affordable at the grocery store, what you can grow in your own yard.
Those are all fantastic options and I try to show both more complex options if you have more time and energy for something like freezing meals or putting together one pot meals. But then I also show quick mix and match options if you wanted to do what I do, which is that big pot of brown rice or big pot of lentils.
What about kitchen gadgets? I know you mentioned pressure cookers a bit in the book. What else do you have around the kitchen that just makes your life so much easier?
I first want to say if you don't have any kitchen gadgets, there is no problem with that. My kitchen started out from very humble beginnings, I had hand-me-down everything! All of my Tupperware were reused, like butter containers or jars from pasta sauce, so I totally get that. My knives had been used by my parents for 20 years before they came to me, so I totally get that.
But over the years I have developed more of professional kitchen and my favorite things are, first, pressure cooker. It has revolutionized my cooking style because it allows me to put very minimal effort and have really nutritious meals in a short amount of time. I'll give an example. You can throw together a soup by tossing in all of the veggies that are about to expire in your refrigerator, plus some quinoa and some tofu or lentils.
Meal planning is so important because it allows you to go with intention and it makes sure that you're not shopping impulsively.
Set it for five minutes. It'll build pressure. You can go walk your dog around the block or play outside with your kids and then come back and you have a full meal ready for you. It's healthy. It'll make your house smell delicious.
And I know one big fear of pressure cookers for a really long time was that it was going to blow your house up if you leave it on the stove for too long. And with electric pressure cookers, you don't have to worry about that because it just turns off while you're on your walk.
Do you have a pressure cooker, James?
Is that what an Instant Pot is?
We do have one of them, except we haven’t used it for a while and I don’t even know where it is!
So we've gone back to the enamel cast iron that we use a lot. I actually just love the basic cast iron skillet as well. We recently bought a rice cooker, which has been fantastic, but we need to get our Instant Pot back.
The Instant Pot is also a rice cooker.
Oh, is it really!? If we spoke earlier, that would have saved me $40!
It’s a slow cooker, a rice cooker, it's like a six-in-one gadget and it saves a lot of kitchen space if you are limited in your kitchen space.
A good knife is good because it’s going to be faster for you to chop through your vegetables. It's going to be safer so that you don't slip and hurt your finger, and it's just a much easier, better process when you're cutting through smoothly. I used to think that this is how you cut tomatoes because I had those old knives, but outside of that, a good pot set, pots with lids, I didn't know that was a thing.
Cooking rice used to be really hard for me. I would stack a big pan over a pot so that I could capture the steam when I was cooking rice, but having a decent pot set is now essential for me.
Supermarkets are getting so expensive these days. Are there any tricks that supermarkets are playing to get more money when you are there?
And are there any tips you have for people to make sure they're not spending so much when they're buying their groceries every week?
Oh yes! This is exactly why meal planning is so important because it allows you to go with intention and it makes sure that you're not shopping impulsively.
So first, eat before you go to the grocery store, it's going to save you a lot of money. And then when you're there, make sure that you're not falling prey to these beautiful marketing tactics. Big sales signs, right? When you walk in, ignore the colorful packaging and stick to your meal plan. A lot of what you'll see is paid placement and they make you think that it's a big deal.
I lived under the poverty line for a very long time, actually until shortly after starting my business.
Say if you're getting a can of beans and there's a specific brand when you walk in, that's $1.50 for these beans, likely if you go to the aisle that has the beans and you look all the way around, not only directly in front of you, you will find cheaper beans and likely that that will be this store brand and you're looking for price per ounce. So be smart.
Pay attention to the marketing tactics. The big sales are going to be at the aisle caps and when you walk in and then again at the cashier, at the cash registers. The other thing is when you're being rung up, try to pay attention, especially if you're purchasing in bulk, which is what I like to do. I have written the incorrect number many times or I'll be conversing with the cashier and I will notice that I have been rung up for something different and I'm spending more money.
So paying attention is also key.
It's very hard to find out what's actually healthy for you versus what's not. Are there any things that you try and steer clear of or are there some things that you prefer to make at home rather than buying at the store because they have a tendency to have more filler ingredients?
I tend to eat more of a whole foods plant-based diet. So a lot of what is in the cookbook will be fresh foods, legumes, grains and things like that. But when I'm looking for, we'll say even a can of beans, I'm looking for low sodium or no sodium if that's an option. When I'm looking at my tomatoes or marinara sauce, say I don't want to make a marinara at home, I'm buying marinara sauce at the grocery store. I'm looking for low sugar, low sodium, if possible, low oil. And those are the healthier options.
And it's not just money that you're saving with all the work that you do. It's helping people save time. Is there anything specific that we haven't spoken about already that can really help people to save a lot of time when it comes to all of their food prep?
Yes. You can put a lot of thought. Again, it's not only about meal prepping. It's putting in the work and using the time very efficiently and maximizing the efficiency in the kitchen.
Some of those are when you're cooking, if you double your batch, you can have leftovers for the rest of the week. And my style of eating leftovers is say you make a big pot of soup, you're going to hate your soup in seven days if you've eaten it every day. So I like to make it really bland on the first day, and then every day following, I just ladle out my portion and then I flavor it differently. I'll put hot sauce and lemon juice, I'll put some hickory smoke or I'll put nutritional yeast or just vary it up and it'll be a different experience every time.
And you can even toss in some frozen vegetables for different texture and variation.
What are the biggest reasons that people can't actually eat healthy or that are stopping people from eating healthy?
I would say it's a lack of planning and also a lack of education in food preparation and cooking. I lived under the poverty line for a very long time, actually until shortly after starting my business I lived under the poverty line. I was making about $28,000 per year and then $34,000 per year when I got a raise. And it can be a challenge. It can feel overwhelming to go to the grocery store and not have a lot of money. So what again has saved me is meal planning.
When I started Plant-Based on a Budget, I was originally creating only recipes that I felt were budget focused. But when I talked to the people who were really, really concerned about it not being enough and not making ends meet from the beginning of the week to the end of the month or the beginning of the month through the end of the month, teaching them how to use food that's going to last, how to buy things that were going to not expire quickly, how to look for ingredients like cabbages and onions and carrots that have a longer lifespan and then what to do with those was the key.
And I created these meal plans that went, they were the first thing to ever go viral for a Plant-Based on a Budget. And they showed people how at the time, you could eat for $25 per week or seven days per person. Now I say that it would be about a $35 budget, but still that's dramatically cheaper than what a lot of people are eating. And it only requires a little bit of planning upfront.
Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Toni Okamoto does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about her favorite quote, what advice she’d give her 18-year-old self, the one thing on her bucket list, and a whole lot more. 🚀
For people who aren't organized or don't have the education, they're going to get some takeaway food. By the time you factor in tax and tip in America, it adds up. It's an extraordinary amount of money compared to how cheap you can make it at home.
Exactly. And that's something that I hear about all the time. Well, the dollar menu is so inexpensive, but I personally can eat three things off of the dollar menu. And if I were making it at home, I could be spending about $1.50 on my meal.
What about the creative process when it came to your book? How fun was that, trying out new recipes and trying to figure out what you wanted to include?
It's very fun for the first part when it's in my kitchen and I get to play with things, but then it goes into another phase of recipe testers. I work with 100 recipe testers to go through all of my recipes and provide feedback.
Every recipe is tested by five different people, and these people are so diverse. Some of them have never cooked. Some of them are expert chefs. Some of them live in the middle of the country in a tiny town where there's a Walmart an hour away where someone else has a Whole Foods across the street. So it was really fun, but also really tough to receive some of the feedback on the recipes. And I would say both the most fun and also brutal part of creating recipes.
My harshest feedback came from my mother-in-law who was the sweetest person. I love her so much, and she said that something was so inedible that she couldn't even give it to her dogs, that she had to throw it outside for the insects to eat. That is what she said!
She’s off the Christmas card list with comments like that!
I know! You're fired.
When it comes to raising awareness of introducing more plant-based foods into people's lives, obviously there's a lot of work that can be done at an industrial and corporate level. Where do you see all of this stuff evolving in the next 5 or 10 years?
Well, I've already seen it evolve dramatically. I've been vegan for 16 years now, and back then it was very hard. People didn't even know how to pronounce the word ‘vegan’.
So the amount that it has evolved already makes me extremely hopeful for the future that it'll continue to be easier for people to make a healthier choice when at a restaurant that there will be more options that are plant-based friendly, that families will not give people as hard of a time because they are familiar with it.
And it is really amazing how some of the biggest naysayers in my past have come forward because their doctor talked to them about their cholesterol or their type two diabetes, or maybe they watched a documentary on Netflix, and they were once giving me a really hard time, and now they're coming to me asking for my favorite recipes to try.
So it makes me inspired and hopeful.
Even your mother-in-law is going to be nice to you again!
If you were sitting down with someone who wanted to become more plant-based or to adopt the lifestyle, perhaps even in full, what are some steps that you would take them through to make sure they were successful with that or give them the best chance of enjoying it?
Remember that it's progress over perfection. What I see often is, especially at the beginning of the year when people are really super motivated, is that they go all or nothing like one day they're eating turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy, and then the next day they're eating quinoa and kale and only whole foods plant-based. And that's a big change.
I feel what set myself up for success long term was going at a pace that allowed me to feel comfortable. And also not thinking about the short term, but thinking about the long term. Then when I did have mistakes, whether those were purposeful or by accident, I gave myself grace. It's again, not an ‘all or nothing’ thing. You can have whatever you want to eat, a hamburger today, but tomorrow you can have your plant-based dish and continue moving forward every meal, choosing the plant-based option.
I wanted to ask you about three different meals of the day. So we have breakfast, lunch, and dinner to get perhaps your favorite recipe or something that could say your favorite meal out of each of those ones.
So breakfast, have you got a meal idea that someone could introduce for that meal?
I have been loving the breakfast burrito in my book.
That one is my favorite. It is a breakfast burrito that's really hardy with beans and hash browns, and it's really customizable, so you can really toss in anything else. Those are my two favorite ingredients. But what is cool about it is that it freezes. It freezes really well. So you can make a bunch and then thaw them out throughout the week, and you have something that's hearty, delicious, and healthy to take with you to work every morning.
What's the best way of reheating those burritos?
You can either toss them in a toaster oven, you can thaw them first in the refrigerator overnight and toss them in the microwave if that's all you have at work. But I personally prefer the toaster oven.
Nice. What about lunch? Any particular meal idea for lunch?
I'm a big leftover lover. I do a lot of big batch dinners so that I can eat leftovers in the morning. So that's my first choice. But I have also really liked this meal prep pasta salad in the book that you can layer in jars. And what I love about layering in jars, and this is something that's also very trendy online, on social media, is that the pasta doesn't get soggy with the dressing.
You put all the dressing on the first layer and then all the vegetables in a way that is not going to make your green soggy or your herbs soggy. And by the top you have your pasta and you dump it in a bowl.
It's really pretty and tastes good and is very filling as well.
Have you got a favorite meal for dinner?
I really have been enjoying the chili cornbread casserole. It is a mix of beans with chili spices and topped with a layer of cornbread batter and then baked. So the cornbread bakes right on top of the chili and it's so hearty and cozy.
What about if someone's traveling, say if they're on a plane going to the other side of the country, are any tips you have for people to be able to eat healthy and stay true to what they want to do with their meal plans while they're on the road?
On the road. Yes. I'll give you both, you said on a plane and then on the road.
If I'm on the road, I travel with my Instant Pot and I cook full meals at my hotel room. So if I'm coming to LA, it's a six hour drive or if you're doing a family road trip to an amusement park or something like that, traveling with your Instant Pot makes it so that you have a little stove because there's a saute function that allows you to cook full vegetables.
I wish every day that I write this down for myself and say, you can do whatever you want to do. You can be whoever you want to be.
And I usually put in an Instacart order to Walmart when I get to the place or Whole Foods or wherever you shop, and you can put together quick and simple meals like that soup I mentioned earlier or you can do a tofu scramble for breakfast.
You can do oats for breakfast. Really, your options are so expanded when you have the little stove with you. If you're traveling by plane, some things that I like to pack with me are sandwiches. Those are usually filling enough, and I pack them with vegetables and it saves me so much money. Everything at the airport is really expensive. I couldn't believe I bought a veggie burger for $20, whereas I can bring a whole meal from my family for the same amount in my backpack.
Was the burger any good?
That's the worst thing! Then you have to wash it down with an $8 bottle of water as well.
And then I tend to rely on things like protein bars or granola bars, different trail mixes. Those are the snacks that I'm bringing when I'm traveling.
Was there a particularly dark day that you've had along this entrepreneurial journey that stands out?
I would say a full year of my life was dark, and that was in 2020. It was a really harsh environment to live in the internet. I spend so much time online and having a pandemic, having the Black Lives Matter conversation ongoing, having the vaccine, no vaccine conversation ongoing. It was just a very polarized place to be, and people were so passionate.
Again, it was an outlet for people to express themselves even at a recipe, if you were having a bad day and you saw a recipe you didn't like, you really let that recipe have it. And so a lot of 2020 for creators was very, very hard on social media because of the hostility online.
In certain communities, people also expect you to take a stance on everything. Every time there's something big in the news, people reach out to me and say, “Well, what is your opinion on this? You should make a statement.” And I can't make a statement on everything. And also, I just don't know. Some things are so nuanced and I don't know enough, or it's also not food related, and that's what my business is. So it's a lot of pressure. And it was especially hard in 2020.
Yes, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “I do not have enough information to make an informed opinion.” And also, I don't even watch the news. I stay aware of it through what I see passively online, but taking a strong and public stance on every issue is not sustainable and not healthy.
And also, sometimes people follow me because they don't want that. They want a safe space where they can only learn about food and maybe they choose not to follow the news accounts because they don't want that in their social media space. For me to then insert these topics and maybe alienate some people as well, someone's going to be offended by what I say on either side. It just seems counterproductive to me.
On your best day, what's an affirmation that you would write on a flashcard that you could show yourself on your worst day?
That is a good question. Let's see.
I would say you can be anything you want to be. And even though I've been told this my whole life, sometimes when things get overwhelming, or I will say, even right now with this book coming out, I have some lofty goals and people want me to be prepared for the worst, and their intentions are very good. They want me to be prepared and stay grounded, but I feel like they're putting their negative energy on me.
And so I wish every day that I write this down for myself and say, you can do whatever you want to do. You can be whoever you want to be. Just so that while the world is saying, it's okay if you don't make your goal, I can still know that it's possible. And I believe it so much.
The process of recommitting to what you want and who you are every single day.
Final question, what's one thing you do to Win the Day?
I am here with you being totally present and unplugged and I just feel so grateful.
Well, we feel very grateful to have you on the show today, Toni! Thanks so much for coming on.
Thank you for having me.
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