Eating mostly plants is not about becoming a vegetarian or a vegan (unless you want to, which is great)! You don’t have to be either to enjoy the benefits of a “plant-forward” diet. And the really great news? Eating less meat is also by far the most influential thing most of us can do for the planet. It also saves money at the grocery store, too.
The Benefits of Eating More Plant-Forward Foods
There is a mountain of evidence linking plant-based diets to long-term health, with lower rates of obesity, lower incidence of chronic disease (diabetes, heart disease), lower rates of death as a result of heart disease, and lower blood pressure (a risk factor for heart disease). Common health concerns related to plant-based diets—mainly that they don’t contain enough protein or iron—can be easily overcome, as can some of the less common concerns around vitamin B12, calcium and fatty acids.
What is a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet is not (necessarily) about being vegetarian—commonly considered to be a diet that excludes meat, seafood and poultry but includes eggs and dairy products—or vegan, which excludes all animal products. Instead, it emphasizes a wide variety of whole-food (unprocessed) plants, including vegetables, fruits, legumes, seeds and small quantities of nuts with or without lean meats, fish, poultry and seafood.
Here are some ways to eat a more plant-based diet:
What is the easiest way to eat a plant-based diet? Downgrade meat as the center of the meal.
Try using meat as more of a garnish and highlight veggies and whole grains. For example, instead of a large steak with a little broccoli on the side, make a stir fry with broccoli, peppers, onions, mushrooms, and small amounts of flavorful chicken served over a whole grain, such as brown rice, quinoa or farro.
You can also try designating certain meals or days of the week as “meatless.” For example, you could have Meatless Mondays or choose to have plant-based lunches. This gradual approach can help you get used to the idea of reducing meat in your diet.
Tip: Look to world cuisines to help guide you on flavoring your dishes with herbs, spices and condiments to make veggies more delicious. These additions can make plant-based meals just as flavorful as meat-based ones.
What can you eat when on a plant-based diet? Have fun with plant-based soups and stews.
Soups are such a great way to make an easy meal with minimal dishes and infinite varieties that incorporate lots of veggies, high-fiber proteins, such as legumes or beans, and whole grains, such as whole wheat pasta.’
Soups are a great way to use leftovers from other meals and save money. A simple formula for a plant-based soup is to sauté some onion and celery in olive oil, add other veggies (your options are limitless), incorporate beans or legumes, and add whole wheat pasta (my kids love orzo), herbs, spices and broth. Top with high-quality cheese and a drizzle of olive oil and serve with delicious whole-grain bread. Soup leftovers are a favorite to take in lunches for my whole family.
Tip: If you’re used to adding meat to your soups and stews, try crumbling in popular meat alternatives like veggie burgers and plant-based sausages.
How do you eat more fruits and vegetables? Try them in a smoothie.
Sometimes, kids are not as enthusiastic about veggies as we would like them to be. If you make a great smoothie, add spinach or avocado to it. You don’t taste either, and the avocado makes the smoothie creamy and decadent, while the spinach adds nutrients. Kids will never know.
A simple formula for a nourishing smoothie is a protein source (plain Greek yogurt or silken tofu are easy options), 1-2 fruits (frozen is a good option here and helps with a frothy texture), a vegetable (a handful of spinach frozen or fresh), a nut or soy milk base, and a little flax or hemp seeds for added fiber and protein. Avoid using fruit juice as a smoothie base to keep the sugar content lower. If your kids need a little more sweetness, try honey or a splash of fruit juice. Smoothies are a great breakfast or after-school snack.
Tip: Chop extra leafy greens (kale, spinach, etc.) up fine, put the chopped greens in an ice tray, and then fill the tray with water and freeze. You can throw a couple of those green cubes in a smoothie easily over time.
Whether you and your family find veggies delicious or need a little convincing, evidence shows that making them the cornerstone of your meals in place of meat is good for your health.
Including a variety of food groups such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein sources and healthy fats in your daily diet creates balanced meals with essential nutrients.
Begin by trying one or two realistic, concrete ways of making progress until they are second nature.
Be sure to read the other posts in our series to learn more ways to build healthy nutritional habits: