Written by Debra Caffrey
For many die-hard carnivores and lovers of junk food, it may seem daunting to think about adding more plant-based food into your diet. But tweaking your lifestyle habits to go more “green” at the kitchen table need not be a chore, nor something to dread. In fact, there are many benefits of incorporating more plant-based items into your meals for both health and the environment. But not to worry–becoming more plant-based does not mean you have to give up meat, go extreme vegan or never eat indulgently again. It means taking steps towards adding more whole, unprocessed foods such as fruits, veggies, legumes and whole grains. Eating this way more often positively increases your nutrition, helps with weight loss and keeping an appropriate BMI, decreases your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes and may also reduce your cancer risk. Clean eating also reduces your carbon footprint and helps animal and plant habitats.
If you agree that eating a more plant-based diet is valuable but are still intimidated or turned off by it, here are some super simple ways to “invite” plants to every meal at your kitchen table without feeling lots of sacrifice or hard work.
If you aren’t ready to give up meat completely, there are plenty of ways to decrease how much you are actually eating while increasing your consumption of veggies. Cut the amount of ground beef you’d use for meatloaf, burgers and meatballs in half, and add mashed beans or sautéed mushrooms into the mix. The consistency of each mimics the feel of ground meat and you will never miss the extra meat!
Start the Day Off Right.
Adding fruit to your bowl of cereal is a super easy way to bulk up your breakfast with a healthy addition. Dried fruits and nuts are also a quick breakfast “side dish” you can nibble on while getting ready in the morning. If you typically prefer a hot breakfast, experiment with adding sliced peppers and mushrooms to your eggs, top your French toast with blueberries or make a veggie-filled breakfast burrito. Better yet, you can make a batch of them, wrap and freeze for at-home healthy “fast food” whenever you need them!
Spice Up Your Salads.
Salads can be so much more than simply leafy greens! It’s imperative to add texture and color. Adding some fresh veggies is a start, but sprinkle on some sunflower or pumpkin seeds for a crunch, or grill up some fresh corn to trim off the cob and add some fiber to the salad. The possibilities are endless and delicious!
Make Friends with Whole Grains.
Whole grains such as quinoa, farro and barley are more mainstream these days, so it’s easier than ever to find convenient versions of them in the grocery store. Try swapping your favorite rice side dish with a bag of ready-to-cook quinoa instead. Better yet, look up a few highly-rated quinoa salad recipes and you’ll be able to up your plant intake by adding veggies such as corn and pepper in the dish as well.
To me, grilling food makes everything taste better! I adore grilling all kinds of vegetables, especially peppers, asparagus, corn and zucchini. Best of all, grilling vegetables doesn’t require much technique or prep. Simply toss with a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and get some char on them! Grilled vegetables are delicious dipped in barbecue or Asian sauces, Tzatziki or hummus.
The Freezer is Your Friend.
Frozen fruits and veggies have gotten an unnecessary bad rap, but frozen produce is actually a wonderful resource to help you incorporate more plant-based eating into your life. This type of produce is frozen as soon as its harvested, preserving more nutrients than their fresh counterparts in the store. They are also usually cheaper and have less preservatives. Best of all, frozen produce is super convenient! Keep a bag of frozen cauliflower florets to sub in place of meat for many recipes (seriously, it’s like a miracle veggie!), toss some frozen peas into your next pasta salad or soup for a healthy protein and keep a bag of frozen mixed fruit on hand for quick smoothies.
Finally, approach this endeavor with excitement, not dread! The right attitude about meal planning, cooking and eating healthier is paramount! If you don’t meal plan with the right intentions, you’re definitely going to wind up eating processed convenience food instead of whole food. If you think that having an apple with some peanut butter for a snack is boring instead of nourishing, you’re going to ditch it for the potato chips. What gets me most excited about eating, especially when it comes to plant-based food, is the planning! Spend some time googling highly-rated meatless burger recipes and hearty vegetarian chilis. Browse the cookbooks at your local bookstore for colorful photos for inspiration. Ask others for recipes and advice. Changing eating habits is a slow but worthy process, and the more experience you gain, the easier it becomes!