Eat More Plants! 5 Tips on How to Start

It’s no secret that a plant-based diet is the way to achieve a healthy lifestyle and preserve your body and mind into old age. Well-known plant based diets, such as the Mediterranean Diet, are constantly in the headlines for their role in lowering blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, helping with weight loss, controlling diabetes, providing anti-inflammatory benefits for women with PCOS, and so on. Most people in the United States are raised on a “Western Diet” which is a diet heavier in meat, specifically red and processed meats, as well as refined grains and simple sugar.

Eggplant lasagna made with baked eggplant, topped with tomato and fresh basil and mozzarella.
Eggplant lasagna made with baked eggplant, topped with tomato sauce, fresh basil & mozzarella.

In my years of counseling people in different areas of the country on their diets, I’ve noticed that 1. people tend to eat how they were raised to eat and 2. meat is usually the focus at each meal. The reason I mention the first point is because, although it can be really hard to break a habit, especially a habit that we learned in childhood, there comes a time when adults must be held accountable for their eating habits. At what age can we no longer blame our poor eating habits on our parents? At what point does it shift from naivety to willful ignorance? If you find yourself saying things like, “Well this is how I’ve always eaten,” realize that this is an excuse. Change is not easy, but the choice is yours. Okay, I’m getting philosophical here but my main point is that, if adults tend to eat how they were raised to eat, then we as adults have an obligation to set our children up for success. How? That brings me to my second point.

We need a shift… a shift in our mindset from “meat is the star of the dish and everything else is a side” to “vegetables are the star of the dish and everything else is a side.” Before you stop reading and go grab a cheeseburger, hear me out. I’m not telling you to become a vegetarian, unless of course you’re into that sort of thing. The bottom line is this:

Eat more plants and less meat.

The extended version: eat more vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and whole grains and less red and processed meats.

Why?

  • Plants have fiber. Repeat after me: fiber is my friend. Fiber helps to regulate our blood sugar/energy level; it helps build immunity; it fills us up quicker and keeps us full longer; it pulls cholesterol out of our bodies; it prevents constipation and can help control diarrhea; it decreases our risk of colon and rectal cancer; it helps to prevent diverticulitis… need I say more? Most people do not eat enough plants, therefore, they don’t get enough fiber.
  • Meats, specifically red and processed meats, have more saturated fat than their white meat, seafood, and plant-based alternatives. Processed meats (like bacon, sausage, bologna, and hot dogs) can be loaded with sodium and preservatives too, yikes! Saturated fat leads to inflammation and makes us more insulin resistant, which is detrimental for people trying to lose weight and those with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or PCOS.

Tips for Eating a More Plant-Based Diet

  1. Eat 2-3 different vegetables at meals. While we downsize our meat portion we need to increase the plants at our meals so we don’t feel starving, since you should not be starving when eating a healthy diet. It might be a tad overwhelming to overflow your plate with asparagus (not to mention the dreaded “asparagus pee” you’d experience later on) so instead have a variety! Maybe you roast some asparagus, steam some broccoli, and have salad with your meal as well.
    • No time for roasting or steaming? Vegetables can be fresh, frozen, or canned! Microwave freezer bags are amazing, as long as they aren’t filled with a bunch of salty sauce. Don’t avoid canned vegetables, just choose ones that have “no added salt” or “low sodium” and rinse them under water.

      Spring lettuce mix topped with roasted Brussels sprouts, carrots, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, onions, and sunflower seeds.
      Spring lettuce mix topped with roasted Brussels sprouts, carrots, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, onions, and sunflower seeds.
  2. Use half the amount of ground meat you would normally use in a recipe and substitute that other half with plants! For example, when I make stuffed peppers or chili, I cook about 1/2 lb of ground meat then I dice 1/2-1 lb of mushrooms and toss them in with the meat. Mushrooms have a hearty or “meaty” texture and are so flavorful that you won’t even miss the meat. You could also use beans in place of the meat or try mincing onion, dicing zucchini, or shredding carrot and add them to your chili for a veggie-twist.
    • Not quite ready to swap your meats for veggies? Instead, try swapping ground turkey breast for ground beef or use half poultry half beef in your recipe.

      A vegetarian pepper stuffed with cauliflower and walnuts.
      A stuffed pepper filled with cauliflower and walnuts, seasoned to perfection. A dish like this is sure to please your vegetarian and meat-loving friends alike!
  3. Incorporate seafood into your diet. Seafood has so many incredible health benefits and can easily be substituted when you’d otherwise use meat. For example, instead of making chicken alfredo, try shrimp alfredo. If you typically order a burger for lunch, order a tuna sandwich instead. Throw some tuna steaks or salmon filets on the grill instead of your go-to ribeye. If the cost of seafood makes it prohibitive for you, choose frozen or canned options. Also remember, now that the meat portion of your meal is smaller, you can stretch a bag of frozen scallops or shrimp further than before.
Flavorful & healthy tuna in a toasted whole wheat sandwich with spinach, tomato, and avocado.
Flavorful & healthy tuna in a toasted whole wheat sandwich with spinach, tomato, and avocado.

4. Try new vegetables and EAT MORE. Feeling stuck in a broccoli rut? Getting tired of salad? Does the thought of mushy steamed cauliflower make you cringe? My best advice is to try different vegetables in different ways. My favorite way to eat vegetables is drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, topped with minced garlic and a dash of salt and pepper, then roasted in the oven. Roasting brings out the natural sweetness in vegetables and the slight char from the oven gives them structure and crunch. Dee-licious! We all know that a raw onion tastes a lot different than an onion in a soup, right? So before you write off Brussels sprouts or beets forever, try them cooked in a different way than you’re used to. You might surprise yourself!

  • Don’t limit your non-starchy vegetable intake. Load your plate with them AND have a salad on the side. These are the things you want to fill up on and go for seconds on. These are your non-guilty pleasure foods! Examples: lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, beets, radishes, green beans, asparagus, brussels sprouts, cucumbers, onions, peppers, zucchini.

5. Follow my Plate Method at meals for a visual reminder and to keep it simple.

  • 1/2 of your plate is non-starchy vegetables vegetables
  • 1/4 of your plate is whole grains or starchy vegetables
  • 1/4 of your plate is meat or protein
A delicious bowl of vegetables to include asparagus, beets, and lettuce with salmon and sweet potato on the side!
A delicious bowl of vegetables to include asparagus, beets, and lettuce with salmon and sweet potato on the side!

What vegetables do you love and how do you prepare them!

 

Veggie Lover’s Quiche

Tired of boring eggs in the morning? Looking for the perfect dish to bring to your next potluck brunch? This veggie quiche is a game changer. Make it once and you’ll find yourself going back to this recipe time and time again. It’s fresh, vibrant, and flavorful. Quiche is a one-dish meal, making clean-up easy. I also love how versatile it is. You can literally add anything to a quiche, or omit any ingredient you don’t care for, except the eggs of course. You can also eat it for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner.

This quiche recipe is full of fiber goodness (aka vegetables) and sprinkled with a little bit of tangy goat cheese for flavor. Feel free to substitute feta for the goat cheese, or omit it altogether. Most people don’t tend to think of vegetables as a “breakfast food” but in this recipe, they’re the stars. I love when I can load my breakfast with veggies, as it sets my whole day on the right path.

When we have company stay with us, chances are I’m making a quiche. It’s always a crowd pleaser, or at least I can say I’ve had no complaints. I stock up on pie crusts when they’re on sale and keep them in the freezer. You could make this recipe without the crust and call it a frittata, but the crust makes it extra special and delicious.

Have you ever made quiche? What do you like to put in yours? Let me know in the comments!

quiche2

Veggie Lover’s Quiche

Ingredients:

  • 1 pie crust, preferably without shortening or hydrogenated oil. I love Immaculate brand.
  • 8-10 large eggs, depending on how many people you are feeding
  • Splash of milk, about 1/8 cup (I use whole cow’s milk)
  • 1 oz goat cheese, crumbled (or substitute with feta cheese)
  • About 2 c vegetables*
    • 3-4 mushrooms, sliced
    • 2-3 asparagus spears, chopped
    • 3-4 cherry tomatoes, halved
    • 1 handful of fresh spinach
    • 1/2 onion, diced
    • *Other veggies I’ve used include: bell pepper, zucchini, broccoli, potato
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
  • salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Prepare the pie crust in a pie dish according to package directions. I usually just bake it at 350 degrees for 7-9 minutes.
  2. Cut vegetables as indicated above. Add to pan on medium heat with olive oil and garlic. Sauté for up to 5 minutes to slightly soften vegetables and wilt spinach.
  3. Pour vegetables onto plate covered with paper towel to soak excess liquid from vegetables, then transfer to prepared pie crust.
  4. Whisk eggs and milk in a separate bowl.
  5. Add egg mixture to pie dish.
  6. Crumble goat cheese onto quiche. Salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes until center is no longer jiggly.
  8. Enjoy by itself or paired with sliced avocado and a drizzle of sriracha, yum!

Tip: Prepare (cut and sauté) the veggies the night before to make assembly super easy in the morning.

Here’s Why Chia Seed Pudding is an Ideal Breakfast for the non-Breakfast Eater

When I discovered chia seed pudding, I think my life changed. Okay maybe I’m being a little dramatic. The fact that I can easily prep something at night and enjoy it in the morning with the only effort being unscrewing the lid to a mason jar makes me giddy. I’m also a huge “texture person” (is that a thing?) so I drool over its creamy texture. I love adding crunchy toppings to play off the creaminess of the pudding. By now, I’ve probably made chia seed pudding 50 different ways, all of which were delicious and kid friendly!

I’ve counseled numerous people that tell me they skip breakfast for various reasons. The most common reason I hear is that they are often rushed in the morning, trying to get to work on time. Also very common is that many people don’t feel hungry in the morning – sometimes even the thought of food makes them nauseous. I’m here to tell you that if you’re one of these people, I would encourage you to start eating breakfast. You might have to force it at first, but eventually you will start to wake up hungry. Also consider eating dinner earlier in the evening. Eating late at night or right before bed could impede your morning hunger.

Eating breakfast is beneficial in so many ways, both physically and mentally. While you’re sleeping and not eating, your body has systems in place to keep your blood sugar stable, thank you liver. When you wake up, you want to tell your body that you can control your blood sugar now, instead of keeping yourself on autopilot. You do this by eating, preferably within an hour of waking up. Your blood sugar affects everything, including your mood, energy, alertness, and appetite. You’ve probably heard the term “hangry” (hungry+angry), right? If you’re someone who typically gets hangry before meals, it’s likely your blood sugar speaking to you. Fluctuating blood sugar levels can make it hard for some people to lose weight, especially those with insulin resistance, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), or diabetes.

Breakfast doesn’t have to be an elaborate meal, hence this recipe. The important thing is that your breakfast includes both carbohydrates and protein. The carbohydrates are what stabilize your blood sugar, while the protein helps keep it stable for longer. The reason chia seeds fit the bill for a well-rounded breakfast is because they contain both carbohydrates and protein, with 11 grams of fiber per serving to boot!

Chia seeds also contain calcium, iron, and essential fatty acids. Due to their fat content, its best to store them in the refrigerator or freezer so they don’t turn rancid. You’ll know your seeds are rancid if they smell “off” or slightly fishy. The soluble fiber in chia seeds give them the unique ability to “gel” when added to liquid. This type of fiber also helps to lower cholesterol and, wouldn’t you know it, stabilize blood sugar.

seeds
The chia seed is a nutritional powerhouse!

The reason I use cow’s milk in this recipe is to bump up the protein a bit. Keep in mind if you use a milk like almond milk with little protein, you could pair your pudding with some eggs, or perhaps a scoop of peanut butter, or even nuts to help keep you satiated longer. You can easily make this recipe vegan by using any plant-based milk you like.

chia_ingredients
4 ingredients for chia seed pudding

Making this recipe in a jar with a lid makes prep a breeze. You literally just add your ingredients, screw on the lid, and shake. A jar is also portable, which means you can take this with you to work or school without worrying about spilling. I usually just eat the pudding straight out of the jar so I don’t have a separate bowl to wash. High five!

I think the pure maple syrup is crucial for taste in this recipe. I’ve tried it with “pancake syrup” and it wasn’t the same. Vanilla is added for obvious reasons, but optional if you don’t like it. If you’re interested in making a chocolate version, add 1-2 tsp cacao powder before you shake your jar. I use Navita cacao powder. I prefer cacao powder to traditional cocoa powder due to its naturally high magnesium and potassium content. If you have a sweet tooth like me, you’ll appreciate cacao’s chocolate flavor without the added sugar.

A jar of chia seed pudding. A jar with a lid is essential for shaking your ingredients and storing overnight.
A jar with a lid is essential for shaking your ingredients and storing overnight.

The topping options are endless with chia seed pudding. I’ve topped mine with mango, strawberries, coconut flakes, banana, and cinnamon, but not all at the same time. Come to think of it, that might actually be delicious. What toppings will you try?! Let me know in the comments section if you’ve found a delicious new combination!

Chia Seed Pudding

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1 cup milk (I use whole cow’s milk)
  • 1 Tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Tip: for a chocolate version, add 1-2 tsp cacao powder

Directions:

  1. Place all ingredients into a large jar with a lid. Shake jar and hips vigorously for 5-10 seconds.
  2. If possible, in about 30 minutes, shake jar vigorously again for 5-10 seconds. This step is not critical, but it helps prevent lumps from forming.
  3. Let sit in fridge overnight and enjoy in the morning with your favorite toppings!

My favorite toppings include: coconut flakes, dark chocolate chips, cinnamon, and/or berries.

Adapted from: Oh She Glows