Easy Steps Toward Plant-Based Eating

June 30, 2015 in Foodland, Health, Mediterranean, Uncategorized, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

If you harbor any feelings that eating largely plant-based foods is something for vegans and vegetarians, I hope you’ll take a few minutes from your busy life and read an article published on November 7, 2014, in the Washington Post by four interesting writers (Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, Ricardo Salvador and Olivier De Schutter).

I like the way they began the article; “How we produce and consume food has a bigger impact on Americans’ well-being than any other human activity.” They go on to justify their statement. Not paying attention to the critical issues involved is dangerous and will remain dangerous to our health, our society, and our world. It’s worth it for us to start somewhere. Just becoming familiar with the issues is as good a starting point as any.

Don’t skip over the part where the authors say: “Only those with a vested interest in the status quo would argue against creating public policies with these goals.” They so clearly describe my frustration with business interests driving public health goals – risking health and lives in the name of profit for the shareholders. With Big Food (“agribusiness being one of the most powerful lobbies on Capitol Hill”) putting so much pressure on health policies; we don’t seem to make improved policies. The authors contend that policies need to be designed to make it difficult for the interests of agribusiness to prevail over our public and environmental health interests.

The fact is that something needs to be done now. Lives are being impacted NOW. Hopefully, progress can begin in the areas that have been outlined by the authors listed above; but the fact is that even if agribusiness didn’t fight it (and we have seen so clearly how fiercely they will fight) it would still take years – probably decades. Meanwhile, our health and our children’s health; and our environment are being subjected to the now well-documented consequences. Today instead of waiting for policy changes that will make it better for all involved, I hope you will consider beginning now for yourself and those you influence and care for.

Everywhere you turn you read the advice that plant-based eating is healthy for you and the environment; but I worry that people may think it’s difficult or that they need to be a vegan to move in this healthy direction. People are learning that you do not need to sacrifice enjoyable taste to get a healthier diet. Just like most of the advice from this website, this issue lends itself nicely to a gradual change. If you have plant-based eating as a goal, you may want to begin by just making changes in the foods you presently eat; then you may try some new recipes and ideas as you come upon them – or as you find appealing ones in your recipe searches. It is definitely not an all or nothing type of goal; you don’t need to be meat-free to center your eating style on plants instead of meats.

  • One good and easy place to start is to just add veggies to your regular recipes. For example, let’s say that one of your stand-by meals is a hamburger, macaroni and cheese recipe or some other noodle-type casserole. Some ways to begin moving toward more plants are:
    • Decrease the meat and cheese
    • Add or increase vegetables – one easy addition is to just add frozen peas and carrots to the recipe.
    • Serve the recipe with a large salad or a double helping of vegetables.
    • Even traditional recipes can lend themselves to these techniques. One is spaghetti with meat sauce. Chop any of the following vegetables (zucchini, carrots, onions, eggplant, and mushrooms) add a jar of marinara sauce or herbs and diced tomatoes, and simmer. You can put browned meat in if you desire; or you can put half as much meat as you usually add; or no meat at all sometimes if that works for you. You might be surprised that so much meat and cheese is not missed.
  • Another easy place to start is to think about what the vegetables you’re serving are and build the menu with just a little animal protein. For example, if you know you have cauliflower on hand, think about how to fill out your menu around the cauliflower. Maybe add a small piece of fish, chicken or red meat; a serving of brown rice; and a little fruit cup.
  • Consider beginning your meal with a cup of veggie soup or a salad. It’s an effective way to make it easier to eat a smaller portion of a meat entrée by filling up a bit first.
  • If you’re ready to take a meat meal off or a meat day off, pick a day and make it Meatless Monday (or whatever day works best for you and your family). Let it become a tradition.
  • Don’t forget that you get high quality protein from plant foods. It has been shown through valid research that the amino acids do not have to be consumed at the same meal to be effective in providing quality complete protein. So relying on beans; lentils; nuts; seeds; tofu, edamame, or other soy products’ with grains like wheat, rice, quinoa, and so on are great options. Together they combine into complete and high-quality protein easily used by your body.
  • If you want to have a meatless meal, mushrooms are a nice substitute or addition for meat; especially in mixed recipes. To begin substitute one-fourth of the meat with mushrooms, then a half and so on.
  • When my family was young I used a little mental rubric for meal planning for dinner. It was to have something starchy (like corn, peas, pasta, bread, potato or yam); a green vegetable (which was not always green in color because yellow squash, cauliflower, carrots, tomatoes and others are low calorie nutritious choices also – it was generally not a starchy vegetable); a serving of fruit – sometimes just canned or frozen fruit); a serving of animal protein food and a glass of non-fat milk. So the “starch, green veggie, fruit, meat and milk rubric has evolved over the years because we no longer drink milk with dinner. But looking back, it wasn’t so bad, as compared to the meat and potato American style of eating, with a big chunk of meat as the centerpiece.
  • Sprinkle nuts on your cereal; it not only tastes great, but boosts the fiber, healthy fats, and protein, and in addition, helps you stay full longer.
  • Try salad as the entire meal. If you serve a salad with lots of toppings like: beans; nuts; chopped vegetables; chopped fruit; fresh mozzarella cheese; hard boiled eggs; diced leftover meat; hummus; canned tuna; or salmon; it never needs to look the same twice. I put the lettuce in a bowl and just put layer after layer; it’s healthy, interesting and tasty to eat.
  • Roasted vegetables provides a taste-satisfying way to offer hardy vegetables – the flavor is so full, if meat is not served or only a small portion is served it will not be missed. Root vegetables lend themselves to roasting – try a variety.
  • When you make a casserole or a stew filled with vegetables and you still have poultry or red meat, you can use much less of the animal protein. This is one way to begin if your family is being weaned off of the meal being centered on a large portion of meat.
  • One of the important steps in increasing plant consumption is to incorporate herbs and spices in your meal prep. They add to the nutrients and the flavor makes the foods delicious. I make homemade marinara in a large batch. I add a large bunch of chopped parsley to the other herbs – parsley is one of the least expensive herbs, so don’t be shy in its use. I freeze the marinara and use it as a sauce or the basis for stuffed peppers and so on.
  • If you’re presently eating large servings of meat, maybe begin by making your goal to move toward the recommended 3-ounce serving size. You probably won’t have enough volume for satisfied eaters, if you don’t bulk up your vegetables and maybe the grains a bit.
  • Don’t forget the lowly PB&J. Peanut butter and other nut butters are a great source of fiber, protein, healthy fats and FLAVOR! How about a nut butter wrap with some added apple slices?
  • I love lightly sweetened Greek Yogurt as an addition to fruit and grains (two groups of plant-based foods) for a snack, dessert or even a breakfast.
  • Pesto on whole grain pasta is an especially flavorful way to have a meatless main dish. Pesto is easy to make with basil, spinach, or other herbs and greens; and added cheese and nuts (pine nuts, walnuts). Serve with a side of vegetables or salad. It’s really an easy meal. You can make a big batch of pesto in the summer when you have access to the fresh greens; freeze it in recipe size; pull it out of the freezer in the middle of winter or spring.
  • You don’t need to be creative or a chef. There are thousands of recipes on line that will tantalize your taste buds and nourish your body. I did only one search and came up with Plant-based cooking. The few recipes that I glanced at looked delicious. If you don’t want to go meatless, just add meat to the recipe – maybe not so much as you used to use.

My advice is to not wait until the necessary policies are in place – begin now. Since we enjoy freedom of choice in this country, these policies will just be recommendations anyway. Really it’s not difficult. Dip your toe in and join the fun; gain the health; feel good about the little part you’re doing your own future and for the future of the planet.