Quick Potatoes!

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I thought this was cute.

But there are some things I hate when it comes to homemaking.

Cooking. I hate cooking. Some people enjoy the process of making a bunch of ingredients work together for this thing called ‘food’. I don’t. I like to eat…but I don’t want to work for it. But until they figure out a way for me to simply think of a meal and it being magically prepared, for a low cost because I’m frugal…I’m going to have to make this cooking thing work for me!

Another thing I hate are hot ovens on a sweltering day. I hate cooking…and I hate cooking on a hot summer day. My house becomes a battlefield between the air conditioning unit and the oven…and I’m torn between sweatpants and shorts….hoodies and tanktops.

Then I found this:

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The potato bag. I had one but then I got rid of it. I thought the idea of cooking something in the microwave in a cloth bag was weird. I found this brand at Walmart for $7 and change and decided to try…

…the picture below is my dinner from last night. Baked potatoes and red peppers. And it was yummy, and quick, and my dishes in the sink were minimal, and my house was not confused on whether to be hot or cold.

Using a potato bag is easy. This one has clear instructions; but basically you wash your potatoes, put them in the bag (unpoked), and place ‘flap side down’ the bag in the microwave. Two medium potatoes turned out nicely at 5 minutes, but if you cook more or if you cook larger potatoes, you need to check them every so often. Four larger potatoes in my bag yesterday took 9 minutes.

To launder you just wash and air dry. I’ll probably just hand wash it and let it dry in the strainer.

FYI: you can also make corn on the cob and reheat bread in this bag. This particular bag has instructions on each when you buy it.

I wanted to share this because I normally hate microwaved baked potatoes. The way I used to make them (washed, pierced, and on a plate for 6 minutes/potato) never turned out right, and so when I decided to try this contraption, I was a little desperate for a quick fix since I’d rather be in the living room than the kitchen.

Another cool thing about this contraption is that it’s portable. If you have to stay at a hotel that has a microwave, grab this bag and a few potatoes and save yourself the cost of dining out. At least that’s my plan! But I can be painfully frugal at times! 🙂

I started thinking about this potato as a meal thing. The recipe book suggests all sorts of potatoes..my thoughts were beans and potatoes (baked beans, lima beans, or any other cooked bean), topping with salsa or other mexican seasonings, or the garlicy bean alfredo sauce over top for a change up.

Tonight I’m trying out another gadget we picked up: a microwave rice bowl/cooker. I’ll let you know if it’s a keeper!

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Garlic “Alfredo” Sauce

One thing about eating differently that is difficult is that you want some things that you are used to. I have tried a lot of new foods, but my favorites are still the stuff that were basic staples in my diet. Alfredo noodles were one of those things!

Who doesn’t love the creamy goodness? Well, now my tummy doesn’t! So here is a different version of the cheesy classic that makes me (and my tummy) happy!

You Need:

  • 1/4 cup vegan margarine (“Earth’s Balance” is what I use)
  • 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 2 cups cooked (or 1-15 oz can, drained and rinsed) white beans
  • 1 1/2 cup plant based milk (I used Unsweetened Original Almond Milk, because it’s what I had in the fridge)
  • salt, pepper, parsley, and garlic powder: to taste

In a medium saucepan, simmer on low heat butter and garlic for 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a blender and add the beans and 1 cup of the milk. Blend until smooth. If it is too thick, or you don’t like the texture, slowly keep adding milk (a little at a time), and blending to find your desired consistency.

Once you are content with the consistency, pour it back in the saucepan and turn the heat on low. Add seasonings to taste. Cook it til warm, stirring frequently. Toss it on half a box of cooked whole grain pasta.

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The flaw with this recipe is that it doesn’t make a lot (it covers a half of a box of cooked pasta well, but if you make more pasta, you would want to double it.) Something you can do is buy the plant based milk when it’s on sale. Some varieties of plant based milk are in the dairy section of the grocery store; some are in the cereal aisle. Check the cereal aisle if you know you’d like to have this sauce but not sure exactly when you are going to have it, because you can store that milk (as long as it hasn’t been opened) in your pantry, freeing up much needed fridge space.  Once you open up your plant based milk, either the milk from the cereal aisle or the dairy section, it needs to be used up within 7-10 days.

What?? You CAN Save Money on a Whole Food Plant Based Diet! Pt. 3

This is the hard part of any diet: snacks. I can make good choices for meals, but when snack time hits, my senses usually go out the window. Again, this is a time when a list of what you like to eat is helpful. My list looks like this:

  • Smoothies with flax seed*
  • Clif bars*
  • Kind bars (preferably, Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate kind, they are great when you need something sweet!!)*
  • Granola*
  • Oatmeal (brown sugar or apples and cinnamon added in is a sweeter variation!)*
  • Peanut Butter Crackers*
  • Simply Salted’ brand Popcorn
  • Nuts
  • Fruits*
  • Vegetables with hummus or creamy Italian dressing as a dip
  • Pretzels
  • Roasted Cinnamon Sugar Chick Peas*
  • Roasted Cauliflower
  • Whole Grain Pasta Salad
  • Garden Salad
  • Fruit Salad*
  • Toast with jelly or peanut butter *

I have had the soy variation of ice cream, So Delicious, in addition to the coconut milk variation. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t fill you up and also can be quite expensive. There is also vegan chocolate chips and chocolate chip cookies (Enjoy Life brand). Those I haven’t tried, but they can be expensive too. The key with this kind of stuff is to get it when it’s on sale, and let it be a novelty item, not a daily staple. (plus, it’s processed anyways, and not so much a whole food).

My issue is sweets. I love sweet stuff, and that is when I break down and grab the stuff I know I shouldn’t eat. The * beside some of the food items on my list show things that can cure my sweet tooth. There is a lot more than I thought!

Some of the things on my list are processed (like the Clif bars), but they hold me over so well that I don’t mind. They also are expensive, but…sometimes I will spend more on something if I know it is worth it. In this case, having a handy bar to eat when I’m really hungry is helpful. I’ll make sure I have the extra in my grocery budget to account for them.

Some things too are higher in calories (nuts), but if I stick to a serving size then I’m ok in the calorie department.

The main thing is buying snacks that make you feel better and hold you over longer. A bag of chips may taste good, but they don’t hold me over long. And if I eat enough to make myself feel full, I don’t feel well afterwards. So, when you are not hungry, make a list of what snacks work for you. Ask yourself:

  1. Is it a whole food or mostly a whole food? Or do I have to read a long paragraph of weird words on the ingredient list?
  2. How do I feel after I eat the food? Even with my processed Clif bar, I feel great after I eat it, so it makes my list.
  3. Will it cure my sweet or salty tooth?

Another great thing is flax seed. Ground, you can add it to smoothies and get some fiber in an otherwise super sugary (but naturally sugared) snack. It helps me stay full after drinking a smoothie.

There it is! Snack foods that work for me! I’m curious, what works for you? I’m always looking for new snack ideas!!

What?? You CAN Save Money on a Whole Food Plant Based Diet, Pt. 2

Last week I talked a little bit about how we managed to spend only $404 on groceries last month. $330 it would have been, if we hadn’t had dinner malfunctions. I quickly realized that you CAN save money by eating a whole food plant based diet, but you do have to make wise selections. Things that go far, even if you have to work a little for them.

So today I’m sharing some things I put in my grocery cart that may need a little bit more work, but last us usually the whole month through. And they are super cheap. First I would suggest sticking to a simple meal plan. Make a list of all of your favorite meals. When I did this, I realized that my favorite meals weren’t fancy meals with specialty spices in them. They were the basics: bean burgers, chili, soups adapted for our vegan diet, whole grain pasta. It has allowed me a freedom because I don’t have to buy all of those specialty spices. If I’m stocked on dry veggie broth mix, oregano, garlic, salt, pepper, and chili powder, I’m usually ok.

So, what do I grab and place in my cart as soon as we get our grocery allowance?

1. Dry Beans and Rice. A bag of beans is between $1-$2, depending. I can usually get 4-5 ‘cans’ of beans from one bag. Yes, it takes work and preparation. I need to rinse and soak the beans 24 hours before I cook them. What I usually do is take a day when I’m at home, not busy, and make that a bean cooking day. If I know that Tuesday at dinnertime, I’ll be home, Monday at dinnertime, I rinse and soak the beans. You can read about how I make beans here.

Rice comes in all shapes and sizes. There is a lot of variety. Usually I stick to the basics. White rice runs for $6 for a 10# bag. Brown rice is pretty comparable. Brown rice has a chewier, nuttier flavor, and is definitely a better option fiber-wise. But it does take longer to cook, so I stock up on both, that way if time is not on my side, I know that if I make the white rice, it will be ready in 20 minutes. A tip my husband learned is to rinse your rice first, especially the white rice. This will help clean off the excess starches and it will have a better texture.

2. Something else we do, especially off season, is buy frozen instead of fresh. Once a month, at least, I can find these veggies frozen for $1/bag: carrots (this is great for soups!), broccoli, cauliflower, corn, green beans. Usually these bags last us two meals, at least. I also get stir fry vegetables and pepper onion stir fry mix for $2 bag. The pepper onion stir fry is a go to staple…we use it for soups, chili, a potato or rice topper, in tortillas, with pasta…it’s in most of our dishes.

We also do frozen fruit, especially for smoothies. We sometimes do canned fruit, but be sure to drain and rinse the fruit first that is canned, especially if it’s packaged in syrup.

I’m learning that frozen fruit is usually frozen at the peak of freshness, so nutritionally, it’s just as good as fresh. It never goes bad, which is also something I was struggling with when I bought everything fresh. A lot of times we didn’t eat it quickly enough, and it went bad. I still buy things fresh, especially when on sale, but generally, I stock up in the freezer section once a month.

Some things I do buy fresh all or most of the time: potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini, squash, onions, apples, grapes, and oranges. Once strawberry season hits, I do buy those fresh also. But they never last long!

3. For soups and chilis, unless they are on sale or are going to go bad in my kitchen, I use diced tomatoes instead of fresh.

4. I also use minced garlic instead of cloves. This may change, I am just used to the convenience of minced.  I also can get a huge jar of minced garlic for $5 that will last me a long time, and I like that price. Altho for the quality of taste, I have not ever tried clove garlic, so I may be missing out! Have you ever tried clove garlic? Is there a difference in taste? I’m curious to find out!! Keep in mind if you do this route, keep in mind that 1/4 tsp. of minced garlic is approximately 1 clove of garlic.

Next week I’ll write about some snack options that hold me over and keep my grocery bill down!!

What? You CAN Save Money on a Whole Food Plant Based Diet!! Pt. 1

Part of the reason why I wanted to try this diet is that I wanted to financially challenge myself. I wanted to see if it really was more expensive to eat healthy, mostly because I’ve heard and said myself that I could never afford to eat healthy.

This month I’ve gathered up all of my grocery receipts. Usually, my food budget for my family is $500/month. We spent $404.25 this month. This is for my family of three and sometimes five. This includes me, a picky eater who has to have certain brands, my husband, a grown man who loves potatoes, a teenage son who will inhale everything if I let him, a preteen daughter who is not far behind her older brother, and Liam, who you never know how he’s going to eat.

We had three days of eating out. Two of the days were from dinner malfunctions. Our grill acted weird one day, and since it was Mother’s Day Weekend and my birthday weekend, we went to Applebee’s and spent about $40. The other day I made something that ended up green and weird…so we ordered pizza. The final day I was moody and hungry and my husband took us to Burger King. (on a side note, BK Veggie Burger is the best around! And the cheapest!!) If we had eaten at home entirely for the month and eaten what I had planned on us to eat on those days, we would have only spent $330.25.

$330. For a family of 5. Even for a family of 3, that is pretty amazing. That is a $170 savings. I could use that $170 elsewhere, trust me! Please also note that this is for a mostly vegan diet. I still buy meats, dairy, and eggs for the kids. I also still buy some processed stuff for them also. If I were to cut all of that out, I’m sure we’d save even more. Also I’m sure that when my older two are here more often during the summer, our grocery savings will look different, and maybe not as drastic as this month. That’s ok tho, because we are still saving more than we ever did before.

So the next few blogs will be about what I’ve learned about slashing my grocery budget in this dramatic way. I’ve learned a lot on what to buy and what to skip on, and maybe my mistakes will help you save money on your grocery bills.

Even if you eat meat, if  you incorporate more veggies in your diet, you will see how far your dollars will grow. Maybe do a ‘meatless Monday’ or something. The other day my husband and I were at Wal-Mart and bought a 10 lb. bag of potatoes for $4.77. I casually mentioned that the ground beef that I usually bought (and still buy on occasion for my kids) is $4.95/lb. He said, “Wow, so one meal of meat for the family (which, when we all ate meat, we had to use 2 lbs. of ground beef), is $10…but if we were to make a potato dish with veggies, we would spend less than $4.77 (because we wouldn’t eat all ten pounds at one meal).

Yes, you can save money on a ‘whole food plant-based diet’, if you are wise in what you put in your buggy. Today I’ll cover a couple of tips to get you started. 🙂

1. The most obvious and well-known tip is to not shop when you are hungry. I’d add in with this one to shop alone. Try to go when your spouse is home and can watch the kids, even if it is later at night. Or have an older child watch the younger ones if you are able. I tend to give in and spend more to appease my kids (“If you behave, I’ll buy you a Lunchable!”, “Sure, we can get those cookies!”). If I am alone, I can stick to my list, and take more time to make sure I’m getting what I want on sale. If you do have to shop with your littles, try and plan ahead. Go right after breakfast or lunch, and grab a baggie of cereal per kid or a granola bar each to hold them over while they are in the store.

2. Menu Plan: All dinners, most lunches. I have a general menu plan where I plan every dinner. Now I may not eat the meals in the order written, but they are there as a baseline so I know what to buy so I can make fewer trips to the store. I also generally make a list of lunches. This isn’t as strict, but it’s still written down. I usually always make a pot of soup a week, and that constitutes as lunch for several days. I also have on my list: salads, wraps, leftovers, sandwiches. This is basic stuff, but often I’ll go out and shop and forget that I needed lunchmeat for the kids or fresh tomatoes for a salad. If I have that list with my dinner menu, I remember to buy what I need for lunches too.

3. Buy food as least prepared as possible. I was buying containers of orange juice for $4-$6 a jug. I love orange juice and we can go thru a good many pitchers of it a month. I decided to buy frozen orange juice at $1.50/can. You just add three cans of water to it and you have orange juice. Tastes just the same, but you have saved so much money. I started making homemade vegetable stock. I spend about $1/month now on homemade dry stock, where before I’d spend $2/container of veggie broth, and I could use 2-3 containers of broth for a meal at times, especially when I make soups.

Both of these alterations (homemade stock and frozen orange juice) add a little bit more work to my day, but the minute or two that I spend mixing them up (which is literally all it takes) is worth the dollars I’m saving at the store.

Next time I’ll blog about what I throw in my shopping cart, and what stays on the shelf! Have a great day! 🙂

Oven Baked Potato Wedges

Hi! I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth! Just terribly busy painting and wrapping up Liam’s school year. Life is slowing down now, and I am thankful for the rest.

In the midst of this, I’ve been trying new recipes. The ones I have, minus the ones I’ve posted on here, I really didn’t like. It was frustrating…they were too spicy, or too…something. I don’t know. After another failed attempt, my husband inspired wisdom on me.

Our diets are basically the same. We generally eat the same meals over and over and rotate them weekly, tossing in a new recipe every so often. I was going full force into this ‘plant based whole food thing’, that every meal I was making was new. This was good, as it broke me out of my comfort zone…but frustrating, when trying to find meals the entire family will enjoy.

The one thing is that mostly vegan dishes are spicier. So I’m learning that, when I’m making a soup or something that the kids will eat with us, I need to put theirs in a smaller pan and heat it unseasoned. Adam also had me list out the meals I like…doing that was helpful. I was able to see that I liked a LOT of vegan foods, not just the same four go-to’s. I’m a list girl; I need to have my lists!

Another thing I noticed on my list was that a lot of my meals that I liked were simple. Spaghetti with saute onions, rice dishes, anything potatoes, soups. I am a simple girl; I don’t need to have anything too fancy! That’s good to know, especially in meal planning and the budget!

Here is one recipe I found on Pinterest that was worth it to add to my recipe book. It’s simple, and my vegetarian friends can add parmesean cheese to it if you want. We liked it this way.

Oven Baked Potato Wedges

Take 4 good sized potatoes. Wash; cut them into wedges. This is best done by cutting the potatoes in half lengthwise then cutting the halves into thirds. Place potatoes in a bowl of ice water…let sit for 30 minutes.

Add into a gallon size ziploc bag: 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper, 1/4 tsp. paprika, 1/4 tsp. parsley flakes (dried), and 1/4 tsp. garlic powder. Close it and shake it a little to mix it up. Drain the potatoes and pat dry with a napkin. Plop them into the baggie, seal, and shake. Then add 1/4 cup of olive oil to the bag. Shake again.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. This saves on dishes! Preheat your oven to 450, line the potatoes on the baking sheet evenly. Bake for 30 minutes, or until crispy and golden brown.

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Enjoy!

We paired ours with a healthy serving of broccoli. Meat eaters can pair it with a grilled burger, or any other meat. Next time we are gonna pair them with our smokey bean burgers. 🙂

Vegan Pizza

The other day we had a family fun day!! We splurged and took the younger kids to see Home in theaters (it is really cute!!) and then made pizzas and watched the Kids’ Choice Awards on Nick (well, Danielle and I did, while Liam played Minecraft on the computer and Adam snoozed.) It was a good day, and the kids loved having pizza!!

We made the kids regular mini homemade pizzas. We bought a three pack of mini pizza crusts, pizza sauce, cheese, and pepperoni. Although Adam and I eat vegan, the kids enjoy the classics and we don’t really make them eat the way we do, unless I’m making a dish that I know they’ll love (like potato soup!)

But we made our pizza a little differently:

We got:

  • 2 Whole Wheat Pizza Crusts (I think Mamma Mia brand…$3)
  • 1 jar Classico Fire Roasted Pizza Sauce ($1.75)
  • Chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 bag frozen pepper and onion stir fry
  • a light brush of olive oil on each crust

We topped our pizzas and baked them in a 425 degree oven for 8 minutes or so, until the kids’ cheese melted and ours was the exact 8 minutes.

So…how was it? Well, it was good. It definitely was a different flavor without the cheese, and a little more hard to hold by having the thin whole wheat crust, but I didn’t feel like I was missing out too much. I enjoyed a smoothie afterward so I feel like I got my reward!

Whether you make your pizza vegan style, vegetarian style, or meat lover’s style, it’s definitely more cost effective and healthier to make it homemade! Yes, it takes a little more time of prepwork (not just a phone call away), but it’s fairly simple if you buy the premade crusts, and definitely not as greasy as the pizza companies are!

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*** Update: Altho I liked my homemade Vegan Pizza, we did order out at Papa John’s yesterday. The kids got regular cheese, sausage, and pepperoni, and Adam and I got a regular crust, regular sauce, green pepper and onion pizza (he added mushrooms to his side of the pizza). I liked it so much better. Just something about pizza store pizza. The crust was thicker so it was more substantial than my homemade one. My only complaint is I should of gotten a little more sauce on it… but, that’s my favorite thing of pizza anyways, so that’s always my opinion! 🙂

From Parent to Friend

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I collect Willow Tree figurines, and one day my step mom found this at a thrift shop and picked it up for me. She said it was us, having a chat.

I love that. I love that she saw that and thought of me. I love that it does symbolize our relationship: lots of chats, with lots of wisdom and understanding passing through the generations.

I noticed this morning that the women in the figurine are older. It is not of a mother with a young girl; it is with a mother and her grown child, or two friends.

A friend and I were chatting yesterday. She is having a baby, and she was commenting on how her mom was coming over to help and was careful not to intrude but wanted to be available if she needed help. She said, “It’s nice when the relationship changes from parent to friend, isn’t it?”

I nodded, but I realized that I have not viewed my relationship with my parents in that way. I’m older than this friend, so this shocked me. (Shouldn’t I of known this by now??) I realize that this is why when, my parents aren’t perfect, it shocks me. It rocks my world and I get angry. When I catch them in their sins and struggles, I don’t know how to handle it. Because I still hold them up on that parent pedestal, where, they are perfect. They don’t have sins or struggles in my pedestal mindset.

But they aren’t perfect. They are people, just like me, with sins and struggles unique to them. The pedestal is gone.

I realized that my perception of them needs to change. I need to learn to love them as a friend, and respect their roles as parents in my life. Still seeking their wisdom, as someone who has been there, but ultimately making my own choices. Laughing out our mistakes, and our past. Quick to love and forgive them when they aren’t perfect, and understanding that they are human.

I should be finding little trinkets at the thrift shops that remind me of them and picking them up, because that’s what friends do…instead of rationalizing in my head that, “I’m tight on money, surely they know that!” or, “They are my parents…they have everything they need!” Truth is, maybe they just needed to know they were thought of.

And as I think more about this, I realize that not only should I do this, but I want to do this.

Smoky Bean Burgers

Smokey Bean Burgers

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Makes 4 // 127 calories // 7.8 gr fiber // 7.5 gram protein

You Need:

1 tbsp. ground flaxseed (found in the baking aisle of Walmart, by the fancy (Bob’s Red Mill) flours. It was like $3.88 a bag.)

3 tbsp. water

Mix the flaxseed and the water in a small bowl. Let sit for five minutes to thicken.

Then, add altogether:

The flaxseed/water mixture,
1 (15 oz) can of bean, drained and rinsed (you can use any black or red bean. I used pinto)
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tbsp. worcestershire sauce
1/8 tsp. liquid smoke (Steak sauce works well too.)

Mix well and form into four patties. Place on a plate and refrigerate for 30 minutes so it can set.

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Then, cook in a nonstick pan (or lightly oiled pan) over medium heat for 5 mins or so each side.

You can put on a bun like a regular burger, a pita, a tortilla, or eat it with a fork. My sister puts salsa on hers, or ranch dressing instead of ketchup. The texture is a little different, but it’s not too much off of a regular (beef) burger. It is very filling!

Creamy Potato Soup

I made this for my parents when they visited….they, my children, and my ‘plant based whole food’ eater husband and I loved it! It’s a favorite and a staple in our menu now.

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Creamy Potato Soup

  • 1 chopped onion
  • 3 stalks chopped celery
  • 1/4 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 6 cups diced potatoes (I kept skins on and used golden potatoes, which are my favorite)
  • 1 1/2 cup frozen carrots
  • 1 1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
  • 9 cups warm water, divided
  • 1 cup raw (not roasted) lightly salted (if salted at all) cashews
  • 1 1/4 tsp. salt (more or less to taste)
  • 2 tbsp. dry veggie broth mix** (or for my meat-eater friends, 2 chicken bouillon cubes work)
  • 1/4 tsp. celery seed (seasoning)
In soup pot, saute onion, garlic, and celery for 2 minutes. Add potatoes, carrots, and 7 1/2 cups of water to the pot. Simmer, covered, until veggies are fork tender. Add corn, cook 5-10 minutes more, until everything is heated through.
In a blender, place 1 1/2 cups water, 1 cup raw cashews, dry veggie broth mix (or cubes), celery seed, and salt. Blend on high until smooth. Add mixture to the pot and stir well.
Now you can eat it as is, or for creamier, take 3-4 cups of the soup and blend it in a blender until smooth, then reincorporate it into the soup pot.
Can be refrigerated for 5 days. It won’t last that long, trust me!
**This is the dry veggie broth mix that I used (and that I currently use with all of my meals.) It’s super easy and lasts a while.
Dry Veggie Broth Mix 
3 tbsp. onion powder
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. tumeric
1/2 tsp. parsley flakes
1 cup wheat germ (it’s usually in the baking aisle, near the flour)
Mix all together, store in an airtight container. Stir gently before using.
1 tbsp. of mix to 1 cup of warm water makes 1 cup of broth.