Learn more about how the viral TikTok sensation navigates the holidays with a plant-based diet and her recipe for Banana Bread Breakfast Cookies in an exclusive interview with EatingWell. 
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a photo of Carleigh Bodrug holding a plate of pasta and having a bite
Credit: Courtesy Photo

You've probably seen her videos if you frequent food pages on Instagram or TikTok. Carleigh Bodrug is the face of PlantYou, her blog and username she wears with pride to her millions of followers across several social media platforms. Surpassing over 27 million likes on her TikTok videos, Bodrug is best known for her plant-based hacks and recipes that simplify a vegan diet.

In her recent partnership with Take Root Organics, Bodrug developed vegan recipes like Creamy Gnocchi Soup and Vegan Tomato Cauliflower Parm using simple ingredients like canned tomatoes and sauce, making them practical and delicious holiday dishes everyone can enjoy. We sat down with Bodrug to talk more about these recipes and her journey since she switched to a plant-based diet seven years ago.

Read on to learn more about her vegan lifestyle, the advice she has for new plant-based eaters and the Banana Bread Breakfast Cookies recipe from her cookbook that she shared with EatingWell.

EatingWell: What inspired you to transition to a vegan eating pattern?

Bodrug: I started transitioning to a vegan lifestyle in 2015 after the World Health Organization came out with the news that red and processed meat were classed as Group 2 and Group 1 carcinogens. My father's a stage-2 colon cancer survivor, and this news was particularly shocking because 10 years prior when he had colon cancer, we never considered [his] diet as a contributing factor or as something to adjust post-treatment. Meat was a mainstay on Canada's Food Guide—where we're from—so it was very contradictory to anything we've ever heard. I have a journalism background, so I started really delving into the research about meat and cancer being linked, specifically red and processed meat, as well as the impact animal agriculture has on the environment. It became abundantly clear that a plant-based lifestyle was a healthy decision.

When I first started transitioning to a plant-based diet, it was rocky because I grew up on a hobby farm. Prior to this, I [had] never eaten a fully vegan meal in my life! I had no idea what to eat and was embarking on this adventure with a completely clean slate. That's why I went plant-based: I always say I went vegan for my health, and I stayed vegan because of the environment and the animals.

EatingWell: What inspired you to start sharing your favorite vegan recipes on social media?

Bodrug: It really stemmed from Carleigh back in 2015 who had no idea how to go vegan. I remember one of the first things I did when I was considering this was hopping on Pinterest and looking up the word "vegan" and there was this never-ending stream of these beautiful nourishables. Carved avocados, spiralized zucchini … I remember thinking "I can't do this!" because it was such a far departure from the food that I grew up eating. Given my journalism background and my interest in documenting this journey, I started sharing really practical plant-based meals on Instagram and on a blog under the name "PlantYou" and what do you know! Now I'm sitting in this interview with you seven years later. People were really attracted to the practicality and the ease of it as opposed to really complicating a vegan diet.

EatingWell: What tips do you have for someone looking to start a vegan diet?

Bodrug: What I always say to people is to not necessarily go in full-fledged—unless they're super motivated—but to take a look at what they typically eat in a normal week and the food that they love and already know. For example, if you start your day with cereal, have a tuna salad for lunch and dinner is tacos, there's small tweaks you can make in those meals to make them plant-based instead of introducing all of this food that you're not familiar with. So that [could be] swapping out your morning milk for a dairy-free option, replacing your tuna salad with a smashed chickpea salad sandwich, and opting for a vegan meat on the market or trying your own with tofu, walnuts and mushrooms in place for dinner. This is going to help you maintain that familiarity in your diet with food you love while also slowly transitioning. 

And I always say that we don't need to be perfect, and it's not about being perfect. It's about adjusting and doing something that's sustainable for you. You can start by trying out Meatless Mondays or going to a vegan restaurant. All of these things make a difference, and they add up to you becoming more and more plant-based over time.

EatingWell: What are your favorite vegan recipes for entertaining? 

Bodrug: If I want to win someone over with an amazing, mind-blowing plant-based recipe, my Creamy Gnocchi Soup using Take Root Organic's diced tomatoes and their tomato paste is such a winner. I use the diced tomato and tomato paste for the soup base, which gives a very rich tomato flavor, but then you add cashew cream to it and gnocchi at the end. People always love it, and they never know it's vegan. It's a true winner and something that everyone—vegan or not—should try.

EatingWell: Do you have any tips for someone who is vegan and attending a gathering with family or friends? How do you navigate that?

Bodrug: Holidays can be a challenging time for vegans because I think the stakes are high when you're going to a social gathering with family and friends that might not be as accepting of your new lifestyle. One of the things I always suggest to people is bringing a vegan dish to share with everybody. That way, you have something to eat and it takes the pressure off the host, and you're bringing something delicious to share and talk about. 

I absolutely love making a Vegan Tomato Cauliflower Parm using Take Root Organic's Roma tomato sauce. You cut your cauliflower into steaks and bread it with breadcrumbs, pop them in the oven and top it with tomato sauce and cashew cream. It's like a chicken Parm cutlet but cauliflower instead. It's perfect for the holidays and the perfect meal to share.

EatingWell: What does eating well mean to you?

Bodrug: Eating well to me means getting back to basics. When we look at a plant-based lifestyle, I really think that focusing on whole foods and stocking your pantry with really simple ingredients is a really great place to start. It's looking at unprocessed foods and making meals from plant-based foods that you know you can love and share with family and friends. To me, it's simple eating. We tend to overcomplicate things, especially in a vegan lifestyle there's tons of processed options, but really, there's great meals that can be made with canned tomatoes, beans, rice and vegetables.

Banana Bread Breakfast Cookies

a recipe photo of the banana bread cookies on a cookie sheet
Credit: Hilary Meyer

We love Bodrug's advice about making small tweaks to meals you already enjoy when getting started on a more plant-based eating pattern. Having options that can be made ahead for grab-and-go are great for making healthy, plant-based choices easy as well, which is where these delicious breakfast cookies come in. 

By Carleigh Bodrug

Active: 10 minutes

Total: 25 minutes

Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

Step 1

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Step 2

Mash bananas in a large bowl. Add oats, chocolate chips, baking powder and cinnamon; mix well. Using wet hands, form the mixture into balls (about 1/4 cup each). Place at least 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. Flatten the balls with your hands or the back of a fork until they are approximately a 1/2-inch thick.

Step 3

Bake until a toothpick inserted into a cookie comes out clean, about 12 minutes.

Recipe adapted from the PlantYou cookbook.