What Should I Eat!?—The Power of Plants (without the shame, “shoulds,” & diet culture stress)

Health should make your life easier and bigger, not smaller and more stressed out.
— Whitney Catalano, Trust your Body Project

If you’re anything like nearly half of Americans, you have at some point in the last year or in your life tried to lose weight, lower your cholesterol, or get healthier in some way with some form of dieting. The trouble is, for most of us that doesn’t work out so well in the long run.  And it’s a drag.

Ditch the “shoulds” (Photo created via canva)

Dieting and trying to lose weight instantly puts us into a deprivation mindset. We focus on trying to limit or eliminate certain foods, decrease the amount of calories we take in, eat less sweets, be less “lazy” or less of a couch potato (or whatever words your self-critic prefers), work out more, etc.  

Do you hear it—the negativity and drudgery and self criticism and constriction inherent in this?  I don’t know about you, but negativity, drudgery, and criticism make make me feel resistant, resentful, unmotivated, and craving a way to feel better and relieve the pressure (which often ends in some form of numbing out).

What if eating well to feel better didn't have to be about elimination, deprivation, shame, guilt, shoulds, diets? What if it could be about delight, deliciousness, and sane nutrition?

I’m here to say it most definitely can!

It’s not about what we cut out, and definitely not about eating “perfectly” (whatever that is).  It’s about the overall pattern of what we do eat regularly, and enjoying what we eat, that matters.

Instead of focusing on all the things we’re supposed to avoid, instead of feeling guilty about “falling off the wagon,” let’s focus on adding in more good stuff and enjoying it.  

Savoring it.  

Let’s focus on feeding wellness.

 
Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.
— Ruth Reichl
 
Step_Away_from_the_Shoulds

There are lots of wholesome ways to feed wellness, but today I want to focus on feeding wellness via the power of plants, while ditching diet culture stress and enjoying good food.

I often get questions about what to eat to lower cholesterol or high blood pressure, or to balance blood sugar, have more energy, less brain fog, prevent dementia, feel less bloated, etc.  First off, as we talked about last time, we need to let go of the idea of “superfoods” and food villains. These often lead to food extremism and nutritionism, damaging diets, and stress around food. Which is a counter productive, since food can and should be something that not only nourishes our bodies and helps us feel good, but is enjoyable, delicious, and a sustainable part of our everyday lives.

 
Food alarmism is in itself damaging because it encourages us to be fearful of one of life’s great pleasures.
— Tracy Isaacs
 

The good news is that if you want to reclaim your health and feel better, there is common ground as far as therapeutic foods that help a lot of these ailments.  Foods that help promote healthy cholesterol and blood pressure are usually the same foods that can stabilize blood sugar levels, improve mood and energy, brain fog, digestive upsets, and help prevent all stripes of chronic diseases and/or their unpleasant symptoms and complications (including heart disease, diabetes, dementia, cancer, etc.).  While this series is focused on eating our way to healthier hearts, the fact is these foods make us healthier in lots of ways.

So, what is this common ground, these therapeutic foods?

Remember last time how we landed on a simple way to eat well to be well?  Michael Pollan sums it up succinctly with his call to:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
— Michael Pollan
Eat Food.Not too much.Mostly Plants

We don’t need to try to single out the “best” superfood to treat our conditions. Eating more real food (vs. industrial “edible food like substances”) and significantly more plants than most of us are now is a huge step toward improving our health and feeling better.

While “mostly plants” does not mean we have to go hardcore vegetarian or vegan, the fact is most of us in industrialized countries eat more meat than we need or that is good for us, and could stand to eat a lot more plants.

According to the CDC, only 1 in 10 of us meet the federal daily fruits and vegetables recommendations.

And these recommended daily plant amounts are sort of the bare minimum. (Depending on their age and sex federal guidelines recommend that adults eat at least 1½ to 2 cups per day of fruit and 2 to 3 cups per day of vegetables as part of a healthy eating pattern.) Most of us aren’t hitting our five a day, even though ideally we’d be eating way more than this recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. This is a case where more really is better.

 
…pump up your produce intake to 10 servings a day, and you may lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by 28% and your risk of premature death by 31%...
— —Harvard Heart Letter, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School
 

I want to pause here and say: even though most of us don’t eat enough plants, we need to be gentle with ourselves and not use this as another way to beat ourselves up around food and health because 1) that’s no fun, and 2) it’s unproductive and unnecessary.  

“Mostly plants” does not mean only plants. And we don’t have to start eating 10 servings of plants a day overnight or stress over it.

This is just to point out that most reasonable eating patterns, traditions, and sound scientific evidence support eating a lot of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, fruits and berries, and legumes to deeply nourish our bodies.  And we modern folks are largely missing out on the benefits of eating this way. Which means we can mostly only go up from here!

We have an opportunity to significantly improve our well-being simply by finding ways to eat more plants.  

Now, if you’re rolling your eyes so hard you can see your brain right now at another health professional telling you to “eat more vegetables!”—I see you.  I get it.

Let's_do_Health_Different

Personally, most of the health coaching, health profession, and diet space messaging out there these days makes me want to hurl.  I’m sick of the slick, skinny (usually white), well-to-do people in spandex or white lab coats telling us we just need to drink more green smoothies, adopt some extreme sort of elimination diet, power through, be our best selves, “eat a healthier diet,” work out harder…. and all our problems will magically be solved.  It glorifies an unrealistic vision of what health is or should be. One that’s unsustainable, that doesn’t represent most of us (in diversity, ability, access, etc.), and oversimplifies the whole thing. Which leaves most of us feeling like we’ll never be good enough because we inherently cannot reach these extreme heights of skinniness, bendiness, food properness, etc. no matter how hard we try. And many of the calls for plant-based diets are still diet and weight-loss focused, which is harmful and is giving plants a bad rap.

This all makes us mistrust our own wisdom about our own bodies and lives because we aren’t the “expert” or the guru who must know better, even if it conflicts with what our body and lived experience is telling us.

 

These shiny sound bite folks are not talking about WHY we’re all in this mess (hello Big Food & Big Pharmacology) and HOW we got here (hello corporate profit over health of real people). They’re not acknowledging that race; gender; geography; environmental contamination; access to financial resources, education, quality foods, etc. play a HUGE role in how healthy we are or aren’t beyond “personal responsibility.”

 
How can the whole of our collective responsibility for health be so much less than the sum of what we expect from its parts? Do we truly expect every individual — adult and child alike — to compensate with personal responsibility for the collective abdications at the level of culture, and corporation?
— Dr. David L. Katz
 

Which is a whole topic for a future article.

But for now I just want you to know that if you are one of the many of us who have a health concern, are frustrated with the current food and health system, need or want to eat “better,” just want to feel better, and are struggling to do that—YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  And it’s not your fault. There is nothing “wrong” with you. These issues are societal level problems and need some societal level solutions.

Small steps build positive momentum (Photo via  Pexels )

Small steps build positive momentum (Photo via Pexels)

Having said that, in the meantime, while we work for that bigger picture change, we as individuals and communities can improve our well-being in small, do-able steps. Steps that start building some positive momentum in a healthier direction within the reality of our situation, finances, abilities, access, etc.  And we can have fun, and enjoy tasty food while we do so.

The fact of the matter is that we modern people have been suffering at the table (conveyor belt) of ultra-processed, chemical laden industrial food for decades.  Some backlash against traditionally good, wholesome foods has developed in rebellion against food alarmism, dieting, and those playing on body image and other insecurities in order to sell us something. Which is totally understandable, but we need to be careful not to throw out what is actually good, wholesome, and nourishing in the spirit of “don’t tell me what to eat.”

Yes, food alarmism and nutritionism have been crying wolf and stressing people out unnecessarily for too long.  Yes, dieting does not work and just makes being truly healthy more difficult. No, we don’t have to be raw foodists or vegans or follow any official eating plan or try to “control” our food and eating to be healthy or heal what’s ailing us.  

AND, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and whole grains (plants) are still good for us, and most of us could stand to eat more of them.  This is the common ground that most wholesome eating patterns, traditions, and sound research on nutrition do have in common: eating real food and especially plants is good for us and helps cultivate health, vitality, and a longer life compared to the Standard American Diet (SAD).

So even if “eat more vegetables!” makes you roll your eyes a bit, please stick with me here. Let’s not let the slick “gurus” or oversimplified hype ruin fruits and vegetables for us.  I declare here and now that we are reclaiming the good stuff!

It’s also important to acknowledge that even though in some ways it is a simple way to improve our health, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.  

(Photo via  Pexels )

(Photo via Pexels)

It’s not just about what we eat, but also about how we eat and the skills involved with that (finding time to cook, planning meals and stocking a healthy pantry, buying good food without breaking the bank, how to prep and cook and store food, rehabbing our taste buds, decreasing food waste, etc.). We’ll dive into the how a bit later, and deeper in the future, but for now let’s explore the what a bit more. Because it can be so powerful.


The power of plants

It used to be common sense and shared wisdom passed down through generations that vegetables, especially green vegetables, are really good for us.  Our mothers and grandmothers (and even our heroes) have been telling us this for ages.

 
Workout, plenty of rest, eat your green vegetables.
— Peter Parker
 


I remember my nursing school instructor telling us once, when prepping us for yet another multiple choice exam that “when in doubt, green leafy vegetables is always the right answer.”  Words to live by.

A largely plant focused eating pattern, with quality meat as a tasty supplement, is the backbone of many of the healthiest and longest-lived cultures world wide.

So what is it about plants, and how can they help us?

Understanding Nutrient Density

Nutrient density refers to the amount of nutrients in a given weight of a food, whereas energy density refers to the amount of calories (regardless of nutrient make up) in a given weight of food.  So foods that supply relatively more nutrients than calories are defined as nutrient dense, and are full of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, healthy fats, fiber, etc.

But why does this matter?  Because many of the health problems we have in industrialized modern cultures are due to or exacerbated by eating calorie dense foods that lack the nutrients we need to be truly nourished and satisfied.  The Standard American Diet (SAD) is heavy in manufactured food that is packed with sugar, salt, unhealthy fats, and often harmful or at least questionable preservatives, additives, artificial sweeteners, etc. It’s also very meat heavy, and often heavy in processed meats which are linked with colon cancer and other problems.  SAD is energy dense and often nutrient deficient.

So basically we’re packing in lots of empty calories, without getting the nourishment we need to not only prevent disease, but to feed wellness.

“When in doubt, green leafy vegetables is always the right answer” (Photo by  Roman Pohorecki  from  Pexels )

“When in doubt, green leafy vegetables is always the right answer” (Photo by Roman Pohorecki from Pexels)

Eating more nutrient dense plants (and quality meats vs. industrial CAFO meat) is crucial in reclaiming our health from the grip of debilitating diseases and modern malaise.

Dark green leafy vegetables

Spinach, kale, collards, broccoli, lettuce, mixed greens, cabbage, etc. are rich in vitamins A, C, E, K, and B-vitamins. They also contain high levels of fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium and are high in antioxidants (which help prevent cancer, heart disease, etc.) and low in calories.

Legumes

Beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc. are packed with fiber, protein, B vitamins, iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and phosphorous, and also have a low glycemic index. Eating more legumes has been shown to play an important role in the prevention and management of a number of health conditions (such as type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, etc.)

Legumes and whole grains help fortify our health (Photo by  Lovefood Art  from  Pexels )

Legumes and whole grains help fortify our health (Photo by Lovefood Art from Pexels)

Nuts & seeds  

Eating nuts and seeds has been linked to living a healthier, longer life and having a lower risk for chronic diseases like heart disease. While they are higher in calories than some plants, they are also full of healthy fats that help prevent cardiovascular disease.

Whole grains  

Most studies have linked whole grain consumption with fewer deaths from inflammatory and infectious causes such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, asthma, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and neurodegenerative diseases. People who eat more whole grains—compared with those who eat little or no whole grain—have a 22% lower risk of total mortality, a 23% lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality, and a 20% lower risk of cancer mortality.

Colorful Fruits and Vegetables pack a nutritional punch (Photo by  Lovefood Art  from  Pexels )

Colorful Fruits and Vegetables pack a nutritional punch (Photo by Lovefood Art from Pexels)

Fruits, Berries, & Colorful vegetables

You can read more about various beneficial nutrients in different colored plants here,  but colorful fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, etc. that contribute to our vitality.

And let’s not forget about the mushrooms

Not exactly plants, but mushrooms are packed with good stuff such as copper, potassium, magnesium, zinc and a number of B vitamins such as folate. Mushrooms are also high in antioxidants like selenium and glutathione, substances believed to protect cells from damage and reduce chronic disease and inflammation. And some mushrooms also contain vitamin D if they were grown in sunlight or exposed to ultraviolet light. Mushrooms can be delicious additions to lots of meals, providing that umami taste (variously translated from Japanese as yummy, deliciousness, or a pleasant savory taste) that is so rich and satisfying.  

Mushrooms have many helpful nutrients, including beta glucans for immune enhancement, ergothioneines for antioxidative potentiation, nerve growth stimulators for helping brain function, and antimicrobial compounds for limiting viruses.
— Paul Stamets
Mushrooms are nutrient rich and delicious (Photo from  Pexels/PIxabay )

Mushrooms are nutrient rich and delicious (Photo from Pexels/PIxabay)

Fiber and Satiety

Plants are full of fiber which fills us up and takes up space in our stomachs. It gently fills up our digestive tract helping us feel full and promoting smooth and regular movements of our intestines. This not only helps us be more “regular,” but also helps with symptoms of IBS, diverticulosis, indigestion, and other gut troubles. Because of the fiber content of most plants, we can feel full on nutrient dense, fiber rich plants with far fewer calories than the energy dense SAD.

So the good news is, not only are we filling up on food full of the good stuff that helps us feel better and be healthier, we can also often eat more of it (and need to) to feel full.  

We don’t have to count calories and obsess over portion sizes. If we’re going to have a salad for lunch, because of its nutrient density (and low calorie density), we can and should eat a BIG one that will really fill us up. We still need some good protein (nuts, legumes, healthy meats, etc.) and healthy fats (nuts, olive oil, avocado, etc.) that take longer to digest and keep us feeling satisfied longer, but the fiber in plants goes a long way to helping us feel full and nourished on less calorie dense foods.

Fiber also plays an important role in gut health, promoting not only regular bowel activity, but also providing food (known as prebiotics) for the “good” bacteria (probiotics) in our guts that play such an important role in our well-being by treating or preventing issues such as:

  • IBS

  • ulcerative colitis

  • infection of the digestive tract caused by Clostridium difficile

  • Crohn's

  • high cholesterol and blood pressure

  • inflammation

  • depression and mood swings

  • vaginal and urinary tract infections

  • eczema

  • delayed development of allergies in children

  • and help boost our immune systems.  

 
(photo via  pexels )

(photo via pexels)

  • lower blood pressure and cholesterol

  • reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke

  • prevent some types of cancer

  • lower risk of eye problems (such as cataracts & macular degeneration)

  • have a positive effect on blood sugar, which can help keep appetite in check

  • prevent type 2 diabetes

  • prevent & calm digestive upsets including IBS symptoms

  • not only prevent but treat coronary artery disease, the leading cause of death in the United States in both men and women

  • Help us live longer

  • help slow the digestion of carbs so we don’t experience a sudden spike in blood sugar followed by a crash, which helps stabilize our energy and mood.

(Photo by  Monoar Rahman )

(Photo by Monoar Rahman)

“That’s all well and good,” I can hear many of you saying, “But I have 3 kids, work 60 hours a week, have a chronic pain condition…” or whatever it is for you.  I get it. It’s easy to say—”eat more vegetables!” It’s another thing entirely to actually change how we eat day to day.

We modern folk are busy, tired, often cash-strapped, time-crunched, and stressed.  We feel that we don’t have the time or energy to take on another project. Planning around food and cooking don’t come as naturally to many of us anymore. And often we feel we don’t even like vegetables that much, or actively dislike them, thanks to canned spinach from our childhood, or previous dieting attempts that left a bad taste in our mouths literally and figuratively.  

So how do we start eating more plants in light of all this?


Start with delight. Start with adding in more good stuff.

We start small—making tiny changes at a time—and allow those to start building some positive momentum.  We start by thinking about how to add in more plants day to day, in ways that work for us in the midst of a busy life, in ways that we enjoy.

Adding_In_heatlhful_food

I can’t stress enough the importance of the little bit at a time piece of all this—the small steps. When we bite off more than we can chew, we usually end up overwhelmed, frustrated, and throwing in the towel.  

Allow tiny changes and small wins to build up over time, growing your confidence, enjoyment, and skills.

We start with what we do like.  Hate green smoothies? (Right there with you on this by the way) Don’t eat green smoothies!  Love fresh basil or rosemary? Let’s get some dishes going that use these.

And think beyond just individual ingredients.  

Think—what kinds of foods and meals in general do you love?  What kind of cuisine? What textures? What makes you feel good afterward?

Maybe you love Italian or Mexican. Maybe, as a client of mine said recently, you love warm “smooshed together stuff” such as enchiladas, or mashed potatoes, or thick chunky stews, etc.  Or maybe for you it’s bright flavored crunchy dishes.

 
It becomes joyous in my mouth.
— Coaching Client describing their favorite food
 

Start with delight.  

What foods become joy in your mouth?  

For a client of mine it’s cilantro, lime, salmon. For another it’s mushrooms sautéed with garlic. For me it’s that rich savory sweetness from caramelized onions and herbs, roasted potatoes with fresh rosemary (be still my heart), the bright freshness of lemon zest. What is it for you?

Now, let’s go for it adding these ingredients and types of foods and cuisine into some meals and snacks a little at a time. Then move on to the next thing. Slowly. Steadily. NOT making it into a big overwhelming project.

At that point, you can start exploring and experimenting and widening your horizons.  What are you curious about? What might you like to try, or be willing to try?

 
I believe in the magic of preparation. You can make just about any foods taste wonderful by adding herbs and spices. Experiment with garlic, cilantro, basil and other fresh herbs on vegetables to make them taste great.
— Jorge Cruise
sage, oregano, thyme (photo by Jenny Mahan)

sage, oregano, thyme (photo by Jenny Mahan)

But what if some of the foods that become joy in your mouth are brownies or foods we’ve thought of for a long time as “bad” for us? That’s o.k.—go ahead and enjoy some gooey chewy brownies sometimes. Really savor them. Enjoy each scrumptious bite as guilt free as possible.

And maybe get creative and experiment with adding in some healthier ingredients when you make your own: whole grain flours, flaxseed meal, grated vegetables (carrots, beets, zucchini…), or even beans (pureed or mashed). Believe it or not, black beans added to brownies are delicious. I know I’m a geek about these things, but I was super excited when I discovered this myself. Give it a try and see what you think!

Rehabbing Taste Buds

While I encourage folks to start with delight and foods they enjoy, the fact is most of us are living with taste buds that have been zapped by hyper sweet, salty, fatty, industrial foods. This often makes real foods taste weird or unappetizing to us in comparison for awhile.  At some point in the process, we must allow our taste buds to rehab.

Rehabbing our taste buds—learning to like things we may not so much right now—is totally possible and often happens naturally as we slowly change our eating habits in small, steady ways.  I’ve seen it happen over and over again with the folks I work with. So if you’re not crazy about some things when you try them, maybe give it a little time and see if they start to grow on you.  

quality and freshness matter for flavor (Photo by  Lovefood Art  from  Pexels )

quality and freshness matter for flavor (Photo by Lovefood Art from Pexels)

As far as enjoying flavors goes, it’s also really important to get the best quality ingredients, produce, etc. that you can. I’ve never met anyone who loves canned spinach, but quality fresh spinach is another story. For example, snap or snow peas from the store can be good, but are often several days or weeks out from harvest. These crops’ natural sweetness starts turning starchy the minute they’re picked, and starchier and less sweet the longer they’re off the vine.  Getting them from your own or a neighbor’s garden, from a farmer’s market or store that stocks local foods, or even buying them frozen is a better bet as far as flavor goes. Frozen produce is frozen quickly nearer to harvest and retains more of its freshness and flavor than “fresh” produce that’s travelled halfway across the country or the world and sat in the grocery for awhile. This often makes the difference between loving a vegetable and hating it.

 

Starting with delight and focusing on adding in more plants is important, and it’s also helpful to have some strategies around how to do that.

So let’s dive a little deeper into the how.

There are various helpful resources out there to help folks work on adding in more plants on a daily basis. One is Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen checklist which you can print out here, or download the app here.

Dr. Joel Fuhrman's daily guidelines are another way to work on adding in more plants.  They include working up to daily eating:

  • A large salad, include some raw onion and shredded cruciferous vegetables on top

  • At least a ½ cup of beans or lentils in a soup, stew, on top of a salad or in another dish

  • At least 3 fresh fruits, especially berries, pomegranates, cherries, plums, oranges

  • At least 1 ounce of raw nuts and seeds, focus on high omega-3 nuts and seeds (walnuts, hemp, flax, chia)

  • 1 double-size serving of steamed greens (about 2 cups)

  • utilize mushroom and onions in your dishes

Some things to keep in mind for adding in more plants:

Have good food on hand

Eating more plants starts with having them on hand and ready to eat. (photo via  Pexels )

Eating more plants starts with having them on hand and ready to eat. (photo via Pexels)

Having plants on hand and ready to eat will make it that much more likely you’ll actually eat them. Stock your pantry, fridge, and freezer with green and colorful vegetables, fruits and berries, nuts and seeds, whole grains, herbs and spices, legumes, and foods made with these (nut butters, hummus, tahini dressing, fruit salad, etc..) Foods that you like and use or want to try. Make a list of healthful staples to have on hand and then keep those stocked. You don’t have to do a total pantry make-over overnight. Start by stocking one or two things and working them into your meals or snacks. Then, add another.

Think Vegetables

Start playing with thinking about plants first when planning a meal.  Decide what vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains you will have. Then plan what else to go with it, rather than centering the meat and having some token vegetables on the side.  Maybe a large salad or soup with a sprinkling of shredded chicken or bacon crumbles or a small side of some kind of meat. Or a one pot meal based on sweet potatoes, chickpeas, curry spices, and brown rice as the focus. This takes some practice and experimentation, and that’s o.k. Small steps!

Experiment with ways to increase a recipe’s nutrient density:

  • Add sauce with vegetables (chunky or pureed)

  • Use less pasta, meat, etc. and more sauce

  • Add vegetables to a recipe or use more than the amount called for

  • Add vegetables or legumes to food you already like to eat (i.e. adding broccoli to macaroni and cheese)

  • Sauté vegetables 1 minute, then add in leftovers and reheat

  • Add pureed or mashed vegetables, fruits, and/or beans (i.e. pumpkin, apples, white beans, bananas) to rolls, bread dough, cornbread, brownies, pancakes, etc.  

  • Add vegetables or beans when heating packaged soups or reheating soup.

Increase the nutrient density of an entire meal:

Add soup, salad, antipasto, or vegetable based sides and appetizers to a meal, or as the main dish with the meat as a side.

Disguise Them!

Add mashed or grated vegetables or legumes to ground meat, quesadillas, brownies, etc. My sister does this with her twin toddlers, grating lots of cauliflower into the cheese of their quesadillas without them being any the wiser (until the 7 year old older sister spills the beans). This is especially useful in that phase when you’re rehabbing taste buds and learning to like more plants. It’s a great way to add something you’re not as fond of into a meal without noticing it so much.

You can mash up beans; grate zucchini, beets, carrots, cauliflower; or finely chop mushrooms and mix them into ground meat when you make burgers or meat loaf or hash or meatballs. You can even add in some beans or grated or mashed vegetables (not too many!) into your smoothie, brownies, dips, etc.  Get creative and experiment!

More ways to add more plants into a day:

“Nibbles” are a quick, fun, tasty way to eat more plants (Photo by  rawpixel.com  from  Pexels )

“Nibbles” are a quick, fun, tasty way to eat more plants (Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels)

  • Soups & Stews: homemade or healthful store bought (low salt, sugar, etc.); super simple, quick, and easy

  • Salads: dark leafy greens and 2-4 other veggies with protein (beans, lentils, shredded chicken, etc.) & healthy fat (nuts, seeds, olive oil, etc.); also fruit salads, pasta salads, root salads, roasted vegetable salads, lentil salads, etc.

  • Smoothies: add veggies or even legumes to a fruit smoothie (white beans blend in well and are mild tasting- you probably won’t even notice them). If you want to play with “green” smoothies, spinach has a milder taste than kale. Experiment and see what you like. You can also try carrots, grated zucchini, etc.

  • Sides: with lunch and dinner (steamed, sautéed, roasted, raw)

  • Snacks: veggies and hummus for example, yogurt with fruit, apple slices with peanut butter, trail mix, potato salad with radishes & celery, etc.

  • Sandwiches & Wraps: add some greens and other veggies and maybe a tahini spread to make your sandwiches more nutrient-dense.

  • Roasted:  toss a bunch of chopped vegetables on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil and a little salt and pepper, and bake at 350 F until they’re tender.  Roasting works some kind of magic on many vegetables, bringing out a savoriness and sweetness that you don’t get preparing them in other ways.  

  • “Nibbles”: my sister and her spouse introduced me to what they call Nibbles—a smattering of this and that finger foods as an elaborate snack or for a lunch or light dinner.  Think sliced cheese, whole grain/seed crackers, veggie and/or fruit sticks or slices, olives, berries, pickles, sliced meat, hummus or tahini dressing for dip, etc. This is great when you don’t have a lot of any certain thing on hand, or don’t feel like cooking.  

Prep Ahead

Go ahead and slice or dice up a bunch of vegetables/fruits when you’re already chopping for a meal. Or have a chopping session to stock up ahead for snacks and for quicker cooking another time.  Having already sliced up or otherwise prepared vegetables and fruits, dressings, etc. ready to go it makes it that much easier to grab and eat something good for you later on when you might be in a hurry or just don’t have the energy or motivation to cook. Think apple slices and nut butter, celery or carrot sticks and hummus, fruit salad ready to go in small containers; pre-sliced/diced carrots, celery, broccoli, onion, etc. to toss into a soup, salad, sandwich or wrap, stir fry, etc. Again, start small and don’t feel like this has to be a huge project. Take 10 or 15 minutes one day and see how much you can chop or prep in that time. Let it be enough to start.

Batch Cook

(photo created via canva)

(photo created via canva)

When you can and it makes sense for you, make a double or triple batch of whatever you’re making and freeze or refrigerate the extras.  This way you cook once but have food for future meals in the fridge or freezer ready to go quickly and easily. This works especially well with one pot meals, soups & stews, casseroles, roasted vegetables, etc. Make sure and have some storage containers on hand for your extra portions. You can buy storage containers, like Tupperware, but repurposed containers such as yogurt, ice cream, cottage cheese, or some take out containers work just as well and don’t cost anything extra.

Cook!

One of the best ways to eat more plants, eat healthier in general, be healthier and live longer, and save money is to simply cook at home more.  

There is an established and growing body of research showing that simply cooking and eating at home increases positive health outcomes, life expectancy, likelihood that our youth (who help with food preparation) will eat and be healthier as adults, and more:

  • When we dine out at restaurants, we consume meals with 50% more calories, fat, and sodium than when we prepare meals at home.

  • We can alter the behavior of our genes at the molecular level by what we eat.

  • Cooking at home could enhance our lifespan. After following a group of 1,880 men and women over age 65, researchers found that people who cook up to five times a week were 47% more likely to still be alive after 10 years.

  • Teens who have regular family meals have a higher daily intake of vegetables, fiber, vitamins, and minerals than their peers who have less frequent family meals. Those who take part in food preparation are more likely to enjoy cooking in their adulthood, and they have healthier diets, including higher intakes of fruits and vegetables and lower intakes of sugar-sweetened beverages and fast food.

We’ll get more into cooking as medicine next time, but for now know that simply eating more home cooked, plant rich meals is deliciously powerful medicine.  

And it does not have to be a time consuming chore.

 
 
 
We’ve been so disconnected agriculturally and culturally from food. We spend more time on dieting than on cooking.
— Alice Waters
 

Start thinking about small ways to eat and cook more plants at home.  Maybe just add one more home-cooked meal to your week. Or chop up some vegetables and fruits to have on hand through the week.  Or even just start with making a short list of tasty plants you love or want to try to get at the store this week. Find an easy recipe you want to try.

However you go about it, focus on quality rather than quantity, adding in plants rather than cutting out “bad” stuff, savoring what you eat, and making one small change at a time.

To get you started, here are a few sample recipes that are delicious, easy, and quick that feature good for you plants. (Click the images to download the recipes)  

As always, if you’d like some support with a health challenge, eating better, cooking more, or just sorting out your next steps, feel free to reach out via email or schedule a free, no obligation chat.  

Happy munching!

click to download recipe

click to download recipe

Click to download recipe

Click to download recipe

click to download recipe

click to download recipe