Every Wednesday is Noodles & Company: How I Accidentally Founded the “Lunch Bunch” Tradition at My Office

This week marked the third month of my return to the corporate world. After an unexpected gig as a stay-at-home dad for 6 months, my mind is now consumed for 8 hours a day by a constantly shifting workload of HR, marketing, and admin; as my English degree somewhat randomly translated into a lifelong career as a professional recruiter; in addition to running this blog, managing two YouTube channels, and handling SEO for companies on the side.

Never in my life has anything I’ve ever done required such a high percentage of brain functioning as my new current job at a Fortune 500 company; as I hide away all day in a fancy 6 story building outside of Nashville. It’s not stressful, but it’s undeniably challenging.

For most of my 11 years as a recruiter at my previous employer, I was known for just bringing my lunch everyday. And I definitely never went out to lunch with any of my co-workers.

But about a month ago at my new job, I decided to reward myself for surviving the first two months of training. I walked half a mile around the corner to the Noodles and Company; knowing without a doubt they would quickly and easily be able to accommodate my needs as a manly vegan.

The meal was everything wondrous I imagined it would be.

So after I walked the half a mile back to my office, I casually mentioned to Lori, who works in the cubicle next to me, what I did on my lunch break.

She immediately responded, “When are you going again? Let me know- I want to go next time!”

For the next two Wednesdays, she and I both went. Then word spread. Today made the 4th week of our tradition, and now were up to about a half a dozen people.

We’re all Noodles Rewards members; meaning we earn special discounts and freebies each time we stop there for lunch.

It feels good to be a part of the group- and to know we’re going somewhere I actually want to be each week and that I never get tired of.

My favorites are the Spicy Korean noodles with tofu and the Thai Green Curry.

Noodles & Company is naturally an extension of my identity. Not only do they openly cater to vegans like myself, but they also have so many menu options for everyone else in my lunch bunch; including one co-worker who orders theirs gluten-free; which is very easy to do with there not only being rice noodles but also Zoodles, made from zucchini.

I also appreciate that I can get meals that come so spicy they fog up my glasses. I like how we can see the staff making our food the moment we order it and then how our food is brought to our table just a few minutes later.

And not only is the price in my budget, but as a token Millennial, I avoid going to restaurants where I have to tip. Noodles and Company is a fast-casual style restaurant; meaning that there is not full table service offered.

By now, it may be easy to assume that Noodles and Company is sponsoring this post. But no, they’re not.

In fact, this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned there here on my blog, simply because I am passionate about their brand. Back in January 2017, I featured them in a story about my son and I going to see Rogue One and stopping at Noodles and Company for dinner. (See picture above.)

I am simply writing about something I very much like. I am a huge fan of Noodles and Company.

And therefore, the Lunch Bunch is sure to arrive every Wednesday.

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Stay-at-Home Dad 101: Time to Break Out the Black Chuck Taylors by Taking the Family to See Santa and Enjoy Dinner at Viking Pizza Co.

It’s crazy to think it’s been a whole year since I got my black Chuck Taylors for Christmas. Despite them only costing 40 bucks, I refrained from wearing them in 2017. I didn’t want to break them in and get them scuffed up, as if there were some epic event coming up in which I would need them in spotless condition; like my national TV debut or something…

Especially now that I’ve been at stay-at-home dad, for exactly 2 months as of today, it’s not like I really even get out of the house much anymore in situations where anyone would be need to be impressed by the sight of me.

But this past weekend, I decided to finally wear my unnecessarily sanctified Chuck Taylors that I got from my wife last year for Christmas.

It just so happens that Santa happened to be visiting this part of Tennessee, at a health store in Columbia, of all places. Sounds about right for a vegetarian/vegan family like mine to see Santa there, right?

Since the day was going so well and we were already having such great quality family time together, we decided to go out for dinner, at the same place we tried for the first time just the week before:

Viking Pizza Co. in Spring Hill, Tennessee.

We originally found the place when my son wanted to go on a “hike” on the giant hill next to the place. On our way back down the hill, he noticed a giant inflatable dragon through one of the windows. Being the biggest Pokemon fan I know, it’s the kind of thing that captured his attention.

When we got home, he immediately asked, “Mommy, can we go to the Viking pizza place with the big dragon?

That’s successful marketing right there: Place giant dragon on the restaurant floor. Have 7 year-old boy notice it. Have the boy’s whole family show up.

But once we arrived, my wife and I realized this was no gimmick. This was real pizza, cooked right there in the middle of the restaurant in a really expensive wood-fired oven.

And of course, because the folks at Viking Pizza Co. are paying attention to the fact that 6% of Americans are now vegan, I was easily able to order Daiya cheese on my veggie pizza. (They also have gluten-free crust, for those who prefer it.)

They were even courteous and proactive enough to bring over raw dough for my kids (and wife) to play with, which was a lifesaver, as it easily occupied my hungry son’s attention while our pizzas were carefully crafted; unlike a fast-food chain pizza joint.

The owners, Brandon and Kelly Jones, are so cool, down-to-earth, and proud that they have been able to bring a delicious, high quality, family friendly, restaurant experience in a town that is riddled with predictable and insulting-to-the-intelligence chain restaurants.

There’s a certain rewarding feeling you get when you take your family to a place like this. You know you are voting with your dollars what you want in your town. Just a few weeks ago, much of Spring Hill was emotionally affected by the iconic silo been torn down, so that a fried chicken chain-restaurant could go up.

So it’s yet another reason to want to support Viking Pizza Co. It’s like rebelling against the mainstream. There’s something quite viking about the concept…

Similarly, my wife and I are also huge fans of Legacy Coffee Company, which up until a few weeks ago, was a pick-up truck pulling a trailer. Now, they’ve set up shop inside of Viking Pizza Co.

We love supporting local! And it helps when local is awesome, like with Viking and Legacy.

So at last, I’ve broke in my black Chuck Taylors. I feel good about it. I just had to wait for the right deserving event.

Vegan Confession: I Went Gluten-Free for a Month and This Happened…

I always assumed that in order to take it to the next level, up from already being a caffeine-free vegan, I would need to add “gluten-free” to my list of self-imposed rigid restrictions over my life…

Gluten-Free Vegan Road Trip to Atlanta, Georgia in a 2016 Toyota Highlander Limited

Furthermore, I assumed that by completely nixing gluten (wheat) from my diet, I would discover even more health benefits; like how when I became a vegan: my eczema, constant sinus pressure, reoccurring sinusitis, and pet allergies all went away in just a matter of days.

Plus, I had hoped (also like when I became a vegan), I would accidentally lose some weight (since I recently admitted to gaining 7 pounds over the course of the past year when I ate vegan chocolate bars and tater tots with my pregnant wife).

Well, after a month of being gluten-free, I can officially confirm that none of those things came true for me.

I have a feeling you were expecting me to say that going gluten-free totally changed my life, because that definitely seems to be the trendy thing to say these days.

And for the people who say that, I’m confident it’s true for them. I am happy for them that they found what works for them. I give them all my moral support.

But personally speaking, based on my experiment, the gluten-free experience didn’t impress me.

For a whole month, I was fully committed. I think back to last month in Atlanta, while our family was on our first road trip since having the baby.

Time after time, I turned down all kinds of magnificent vegan gluten-containing foods. At the Ponce De Leon Whole Foods where we ate several times, they had a tempting vegan pizza bar as well as plenty of other fun vegan yet gluten-filled delights. And I said no, for the sake of my gluten-free experiment. I sacrificed during an inconvenient time!

But in the end, I saw no benefits.

Granted, I lost 2 of the 7 pounds I had gained for the “vegan chocolate bar and tater tot” incident. However, that easily could have been for the fact I don’t eat vegan chocolate bars or tater tots any more.

Gluten-Free Vegan Road Trip to Atlanta, Georgia in a 2016 Toyota Highlander Limited

I am willing to acknowledge though, that gluten-free is a way of life for many people. However, I am not one of those people.

My body processes gluten just fine; no issues at all. But the trade-off is, I can’t process eggs or dairy without major instant health issues.

As for my future with gluten, the experience has taught me this: I prefer corn tortillas over wheat.

So as my wife makes Mexican meals, I will continue to only eat corn tortillas; not wheat. And I truly enjoy spelt and quinoa in her Italian meals, which we have been eating more of here lately.

In the end, I won’t eat as much wheat as before. Going gluten-free opened my eyes to other options. Yet still, gluten is my friend.

Gluten-Free Vegan Road Trip to Atlanta, Georgia (in a 2016 Toyota Highlander)

Gluten-Free Vegan Road Trip to Atlanta, Georgia in a 2016 Toyota Highlander Limited

For the past week now, my wife and I have been experimenting with the gluten-free experience (no wheat); on top of the fact I’m already a vegan and she’s already a vegetarian, as has been the case for years now.

In theory, it was a very inconvenient time to much such a change in our diet, since we were on our first family road trip as a family of 4, to Atlanta from Nashville, in a 2016 Toyota Highlander to test out the 3rd row seat in particular.

However, we are not victims- we instead choose to be victors every day in life, so we held true to our current gluten-free principals the entire time; never once wavering in the face of inconvenience.

Gluten-Free Vegan Road Trip to Atlanta, Georgia in a 2016 Toyota Highlander Limited

In our years of road tripping as a vegan/vegetarian family (our kids are vegetarians too), we have learned the importance of basing our destination and related activities in proximity to the nearest Whole Foods Market or any similar “plant-based friendly” grocery store.

It turns out that Atlanta has 3 or 4 Whole Foods Market. But because we were staying in downtown Atlanta, the nearest one to us was the Ponce de Leon location.

With only one exception, our family ate every meal there.

(I should note our kids are not participating in the gluten-free project; especially as our daughter is only 2 months-old. Again, both of our children are vegetarians, but not currently gluten-free as well.)

Gluten-Free Vegan Road Trip to Atlanta, Georgia in a 2016 Toyota Highlander Limited

My wife and I found that sushi was a good staple for us, as it contained brown rice, seaweed, cucumbers, and avocado (which contains protein, good fat, and zero percentage of our daily cholesterol which is the case with all vegan food).

Here’s what we can eat: vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, beans, and wheat-free grains; like rice, oats, and corn).

Obviously, we ate from the hot bar a few times.

Plus, we enjoyed a couple simple meals consisting of a Core Meal bar and a Synergy Organic Kombucha drink with chia seeds.

We were very grateful for the Ponce de Leon Whole Foods, as they were just a few blocks away from our hotel in downtown Atlanta (where some of the stars of Fast and Furious 8 are staying- I know this because I accidently met one of the stars of the cast in the elevator on the way to the gym- I think it was Branislov R. Tatalovic).

Gluten-Free Vegan Road Trip to Atlanta, Georgia in a 2016 Toyota Highlander Limited

So speaking of the exception, we finally got a chance to go to the much acclaimed Sunflower Café; which is gluten-free friendly and vegan friendly.

Gluten-Free Vegan Road Trip to Atlanta, Georgia in a 2016 Toyota Highlander Limited

Our family loved this place so much, we ended up buying the restaurant’s cookbook, in an effort for my wife to broaden her skills from a vegan chef to a gluten-free vegan chef.

Gluten-Free Vegan Road Trip to Atlanta, Georgia in a 2016 Toyota Highlander Limited

I know Atlanta is full of plenty of other gluten-free vegan restaurants, but we never made it past the Ponce de Leon location, as well as Sunflower Café.

That’s how good both places were.

Gluten-Free Vegan Road Trip to Atlanta, Georgia in a 2016 Toyota Highlander Limited

Thanks for reading my blog post today on our family’s recent gluten-free road trip to Atlanta. I hope you found this helpful in making decisions for your own family.

Gluten-Free Vegan Road Trip to Atlanta, Georgia in a 2016 Toyota Highlander Limited

Vegan Guest Blogger Anne Chrétien of My Lighthearted Kitchen

Recently I began inviting potential guest bloggers to send me their vegan/vegetable recipes, in my attempt to help create a collaborate experience. After all, I know there are plenty of families out there who aren’t actually vegan/vegetarian, but who are experimenting with vegan/vegetarian recipes.

One of the first to respond was Anne Chrétien of the blog, My Lighthearted Kitchen.

As a guest blogger today, she tells about her conversion to veganism:

“After ten years of being vegetarian, I decided to go vegan with my boyfriend… two years ago!

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At the beginning, most of the recipes I tried were dupes for our favorite dishes: I bought already made sauces, seasoned tofu burgers, hummus and a ton of other already made vegan products. Because I tried to keep gluten out of the kitchen, choosing products to buy was a little bit complicated and we soon fell in a loop of the same recipes over and over again.

However, we were happy! We felt great in our bodies, and more comfortable with our conscience. We had a ton of energy, my skin cleared up, and we were not hungry all the time.

During these first few months, we tested a lot of vegan products, but quickly realized that we were better off with cooking from scratch. First because the already-made products were often filled with a lot of additives, fat and salt. Second, well, their prices started to add up, and, well, I’m just a high-school teacher.

So I started to buy some vegan cookbooks, explored the internet for some recipes and tips, but most of all, I started to experiment more. I started making my own hummus, buying in bulk, and invented some fun recipes that I share on my blog. I also learned a lot more on nutrition, what vegetables to always have on hand, how to eat a ton of greens without feeling like a rabbit and how to use avocado in a 100 ways (okay, almost a 100 ways…).

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When I read stories of people going vegan, they always say that they have lost a ton of weight. Did this happen for my boyfriend and me? Yes. We started to eat vegan and turned into supermodels and made the cover of Vogue magazine.

After ten years of being vegetarian, I decided to go vegan with my boyfriend... two years ago! At the beginning, most of the recipes I tried were dupes for our favourite dishes: I bought already made sauces, seasoned tofu burgers, hummus and a ton of other already made vegan products. Because I tried to keep gluten out of the kitchen, choosing products to buy was a little bit complicated and we soon fell in a loop of the same recipes over and over again. However, we were happy! We felt great in our bodies, and more comfortable with our conscience. We had a ton of energy, my skin cleared up, and we were not hungry all the time. During these first few months, we tested a lot of vegan products, but quickly realized that we were better off with cooking from scratch. First because the already-made products were often filled with a lot of additives, fat and salt. Second, well their prices started to add up, and, well, I'm just a high-school teacher. So I started to buy some vegan cookbooks, explored the internet for some recipes and tips, but most of all, I started to experiment more. I started making my own hummus, buying in bulk, and invented some fun recipes that I share on my blog. I also learned a lot more on nutrition, what vegetables to always have on hand, how to eat a ton of greens without feeling like a rabbit and how to use avocado in a 100 ways (okay, almost a 100 ways...). When I read stories of people going vegan, they always say that they have lost a ton of weight. Did this happen for my boyfriend and me? Yes. We started to eat vegan and turned into supermodels and made the cover of Vogue magazine. Not really. Not really at all. Not at all. I'm guessing that we had too much fun cooking and tasting yummy recipes of cakes, cupcakes, chocolates, nice cream, cookies, noodles, pies, soups,... what were we talking about? Ah, yes, the most important thing that we realized through being vegan is that vegan food tastes amazing and is so satisfying. I did note an amazing skin improvement however... which is pretty amazing! Really, I don't see myself going back to eat meat or dairy any time soon, if ever. Not only is vegan food incredible, the ethics that pushed us to be vegan in the first place is just too present for us to be tempted to go back. So what's the next step for me and my boyfriend? Well, we have recently started to grow our own food, and have found new ways to do it too. This whole process as been such an incredible learning process filled with delicious discoveries. Well, I'm going to stop here because I'm starting to get cheesy, and well... that's not vegan.

Not really. Not really at all. Not at all.

I’m guessing that we had too much fun cooking and tasting yummy recipes of cakes, cupcakes, chocolates, nice cream, cookies, noodles, pies, soups,… what were we talking about? Ah, yes, the most important thing that we realized through being vegan is that vegan food tastes amazing and is so satisfying. I did note an amazing skin improvement however… which is pretty amazing!

After ten years of being vegetarian, I decided to go vegan with my boyfriend... two years ago! At the beginning, most of the recipes I tried were dupes for our favourite dishes: I bought already made sauces, seasoned tofu burgers, hummus and a ton of other already made vegan products. Because I tried to keep gluten out of the kitchen, choosing products to buy was a little bit complicated and we soon fell in a loop of the same recipes over and over again. However, we were happy! We felt great in our bodies, and more comfortable with our conscience. We had a ton of energy, my skin cleared up, and we were not hungry all the time. During these first few months, we tested a lot of vegan products, but quickly realized that we were better off with cooking from scratch. First because the already-made products were often filled with a lot of additives, fat and salt. Second, well their prices started to add up, and, well, I'm just a high-school teacher. So I started to buy some vegan cookbooks, explored the internet for some recipes and tips, but most of all, I started to experiment more. I started making my own hummus, buying in bulk, and invented some fun recipes that I share on my blog. I also learned a lot more on nutrition, what vegetables to always have on hand, how to eat a ton of greens without feeling like a rabbit and how to use avocado in a 100 ways (okay, almost a 100 ways...). When I read stories of people going vegan, they always say that they have lost a ton of weight. Did this happen for my boyfriend and me? Yes. We started to eat vegan and turned into supermodels and made the cover of Vogue magazine. Not really. Not really at all. Not at all. I'm guessing that we had too much fun cooking and tasting yummy recipes of cakes, cupcakes, chocolates, nice cream, cookies, noodles, pies, soups,... what were we talking about? Ah, yes, the most important thing that we realized through being vegan is that vegan food tastes amazing and is so satisfying. I did note an amazing skin improvement however... which is pretty amazing! Really, I don't see myself going back to eat meat or dairy any time soon, if ever. Not only is vegan food incredible, the ethics that pushed us to be vegan in the first place is just too present for us to be tempted to go back. So what's the next step for me and my boyfriend? Well, we have recently started to grow our own food, and have found new ways to do it too. This whole process as been such an incredible learning process filled with delicious discoveries. Well, I'm going to stop here because I'm starting to get cheesy, and well... that's not vegan.

Really, I don’t see myself going back to eat meat or dairy any time soon, if ever.

Not only is vegan food incredible, the ethics that pushed us to be vegan in the first place is just too present for us to be tempted to go back.

So what’s the next step for me and my boyfriend? Well, we have recently started to grow our own food, and have found new ways to do it too.

This whole process as been such an incredible learning process filled with delicious discoveries. Well, I’m going to stop here because I’m starting to get cheesy, and well… that’s not vegan.”