Foodie and author Jessica Seinfeld dishes on her new cookbook, Vegan, At Times—and the benefit of going plant-based, part-time.
If there is anyone who can get you to be a vegan— sort of, some of the time, or on occasion—it’s Jessica Seinfeld. This is the woman who brilliantly pureed fruits and vegetables into kid’s dishes, (including brownies!), in her book Deceptively Delicious to get our children eating healthier. (Spoiler alert: They did!) But there’s no deception needed with her new book Vegan, At Times.
We all know the benefits of eating more plant-based meals— and Seinfeld knows we probably can’t do it all the time. A self- taught foodie and mom to three kids with comedy legend Jerry Seinfeld, she is not a committed vegan. And Seinfeld does not want to shame or judge you for digging into an occasional steak. But her new book does show how easy it can be to “lean in” to a mostly plant-based lifestyle and how doing so might just change your life. “We can shame people into it or we can invite them onto our gentler more welcoming path,” she says.
After experiencing some health issues, Seinfeld explored cutting dairy and meat from her diet—and she felt better, so, as she says, she kept going. And lucky for us, she poured everything she learned into this surprisingly do-able new book.
The more than 120 easy recipes, made with accessible and affordable ingredients, are so delicious and filling that—we promise you—you won’t miss the meat and dairy. (There’s no giving up comfort favorites like mac ‘n cheese here.) “That’s what I do in all of my books: I try to make crowd pleasers or family favorites that are healthier or easier to make or, in this case, vegan,” says Seinfeld. Read on for more about how she began cooking, the inspiration behind the work she does—and some Seinfeld family holiday traditions.
A Self-Taught Cook
I always tell people I learned to cook on post-it notes my mother would leave behind when she went to work. My mom worked full time when I was growing up and wouldn’t get home until just around dinnertime. She needed someone to help get dinner on the table so when she walked in she could finish it off and we could all eat together every night. That got me comfortable in the kitchen from an early age. My grandmother (my best friend in the world) was a really elegant cook and I learned how to throw a nice dinner party from her.
It happened slowly over time. I had had some health issues that I did some research around and discovered cutting down on dairy and meat might help with the symptoms. I tried it and it was pretty undeniable that I felt better. And I just kept going. I had to reimag- ine what mealtime looked like for myself and then ultimately, when Jerry joined me in this, for both of us. He really couldn’t imagine that he would ever feel satiated or satisfied with just vegetables and grains and beans or tofu. And I guess I sold him somehow. Neither of us are 100 percent vegan and I think that ability to not feel that we’re about to fail at something keeps us more aligned with it.
Getting the Rest of the Family on Board
The kids were worried during the pandemic that they were going to be trapped in a house with only nuts and seeds—which is their tagline for how I eat. I know with my kids that if I am dogmatic about anything, they ignore me or hide food in their closet. So I’m never aggressive about the choices and options they have, because I do not want them to feel resentful. In my house I just model the behavior I hope my kids adapt, and if they don’t that’s okay, but I certainly try. They’ve been very surprised by all of the things they’ve eaten from the book that are vegan that they didn’t think were!
My full-time job is working at Good Plus Foundation and I see parents who barely get by, who work two or three jobs to keep the lights on at home. I resent people who judge others around the way they eat. I think the last thing on the mind of a lot of the parents in my program is, “Is this organic?” or “Am I staying true to veganism?” as they literally are just hoping they have a meal to provide for their children. I don’t torture myself with food. Food is pleasure and a privilege. If I’m going to eat something then I’m going to eat it and I’m never going to shame myself around food or anyone else for that matter.
Making Recipes Affordable and Accessible
There is no doubt that eating healthier is more expensive. There are ways to do it that are more affordable, but that takes a lot of education and time and that is not something parents in my program have. I wanted to make a cookbook that has ingredients that are affordable because I know how it feels when parents in my program feel like they can’t access things that other people have. That’s what my work is all about. They don’t have diapers when other people have diapers easily, they don’t have a stroller to get themselves to a doctor’s appointment when somebody else has one or two of them. I hate people feeling left out of the wellness world because our health is central to who we are and if we’re parents, it’s essential to raising our families.
Seinfeld Family Favorites
The mac ‘n cheese I make all the time. They love it and prefer it over regular mac and cheese now. My son eats the cashew coconut bites every day after school. They love creamy cannellini bean rigatoni, black bean tostadas and buffalo cauliflower and they even love the ginger barbecue tofu, which I was a little surprised about. These are all recipes that it might surprise people are vegan. That’s what I do in all of my books: I try to make crowd pleasers or family favorites that are healthier or easier to make, or in this case, vegan. The thread that runs through all of my books is problem solving around food for people.
HOLIDAY FAMILY TRADITIONS
I always host Thanksgiving and we get together with my whole family. My sister invites everyone to watch the Thanksgiving Day parade by her house, but I’m usually cooking so can’t go. My kids will go and Jerry will stay home and watch me cook. We do another holiday the Friday after Thanksgiving with Ali Wentworth and her family called “Thanks Again” where we pool our leftovers and make another Thanksgiving meal without family. It is really nice and relaxing.
ALL ABOUT THE SIDES
I plan on doing lots of vegan sides this year and I think people won’t really miss the meat. If they want turkey they’ll
have turkey, but there will be tons of delicious, festive sides and they won’t feel like they’re missing anything. I’m going to serve the mushroom toast because it’s very cozy and warm and rich and I think that will surprise people. I will do pasta, a vegan polenta and spice roasted sweet potatoes. I’ll also make the buffalo cauliflower for the kids and all the cousins.
WHAT TO EXPECT AT A SEINFELD DINNER PARTY
They know it’s going to be about great food and informal family style. I like people passing things to each other. I always
seat my dinners so the person you’re sitting next to you have something in common with. I have made so many great relationships work or flourish just by thinking through the seating. We play Rose and Thorn (What was your rose today? What was your thorn?) and that gets people talking.
Photography by Mark Weinberg