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Plant based diets are all the rage recently, and for good reason! Not only does a diet high in fruits and vegetables help with increasing your energy and clearing mental fog, but research is showing that going plant-focused can actually play a huge role in reversing chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes.
Thankfully, some medical professionals are reading the research and taking the time to not only educate themselves but also their patients, like Dr. Jami Dulaney in Florida and Dr. James Loomis in Washington D.C. (but formerly from a hospital I worked for back in St. Louis!). If you can find a doctor like this, hug them and don’t let them go. The last cardiologist I worked for was absolutely astounded that I “could stomach” a lunch of sautéed vegetables with grilled salmon over brown rice as he downed his usual cheeseburger. He ended up needing a cardiac procedure himself. True story, and one of the reasons I’m so passionate about quality patient education now.
“But I don’t like eating vegetables!”
This is the number one complaint I hear when I talk to friends or colleagues about plant-based nutrition. It must be a pretty popular complaint, too, because the food industry is catching on and helping all of us make healthier eating a little easier. Here are my favorite tips for sneaking in more fruits and vegetables into your daily diet:
Switch out your pasta
Not only have pasta manufacturers gotten better with gluten-free pasta options, now they are also coming out with protein pasta options. I bought this brand, Pow! Pasta, and the only ingredients are green lentil flour and quinoa flour. I’ve really missed my pasta since going to a less processed diet, so this allows me to have my hearty comfort foods without the guilt.
If you are going entirely non-processed, “zoodles” (made from spiraled zucchini) or spaghetti squash are also good options. But if you’re looking to “hide” veggies in your diet (especially for picky family members!) plant pasta is definitely your best bet.
Start your day with a smoothie
I love smoothies. I especially love that I can throw basically anything into them and as long as it tastes like bananas, my son will chug them down. For him, it doesn’t matter what color they are (so I can throw in some extra kale or spinach). But for pickier eaters, adding in other things for a more recognizable color (like blueberries or blackberries for purple, strawberries for pink, or a chocolate powder or chocolate protein powder – I like this one) can hide extra produce without causing the unsuspecting eater to revolt.
For myself, I like to add as many fruits and vegetables as I can into my smoothie, as I can drink my salad on the go a lot easier than sitting there munching. I prefer smoothies over juicing as I still get all the benefits of the fiber and pulp, and there’s less prep time since I tend to throw things like strawberries and kale in whole instead of chopping them up first.
Along the same lines as smoothies, making your own sauces is a great way to hide extra veggies in a dish without compromising the appearance of the meal. Sauces can easily hide all sorts of things. For instance, when making homemade macaroni and cheese (with your sneaky pasta, of course), add or swap in pureed butternut squash to the sauce for extra nutrients. Making your own spaghetti sauce allows you the versatility to add in spinach, roasted peppers, zucchini, and carrots. Blend before serving and no one will know your secret! If your family likes a bit of texture to their sauce, mix in sautéed diced onions and mushrooms after you blend.
What not to do when going plant-based
Don’t buy too much.
If you are cooking for just you, spend some time on Pinterest and find some recipe ideas that sound interesting. Try a few new items/dishes at a time and work them into your rotation before you buy a year’s worth of seitan and find out you actually hate it.
Don’t force-feed the family
If you are transitioning over to a more plant-based diet for more than just you, include your family on this journey instead of forcing them to join you. Start with small changes, like the pasta and pasta sauce, and work out from there. Studies show kids’ taste buds change when exposed regularly to nutritious foods, so give them time to adjust and get excited about the new foods on their own. Give them a few nutritious options, and include their food preferences. If they subsist off of french fries, make them some homemade baked sweet potato fries. If they like mac and cheese, grab yourself some plant pasta (bonus – it has protein in the pasta!) and make a healthier cheese (or squash) sauce.
Don’t forget to meal prep
Meal prepping is honestly how I can eat so healthy. If I didn’t take the time to meal prep, I would constantly eat whatever is easiest/closest/fastest, and end up feeling like the garbage I just ate. I plan an hour or so once a week to prep healthy meals and snacks for the rest of the week. I chop up melon and pineapple, de-bunch grapes, make a big batch of quinoa, roast some veggies, hard boil some eggs, and cook up chicken breasts (Peter likes chicken in his daily salads). Throughout the week, those options are ready to pull out of the fridge, place in a container, and pop into the lunch box. For more ideas on batch cooking, download my free ebook, Dirt Cheap Nutrition!
I also like to get some easy treat options ready, like homemade energy bars or homemade version of larabars.
To increase my fruits and vegetable nutrients intake, I also take my salad bar capsules daily, which provides extra nutrition from 26 plants, and I also enjoy a scoop of my plant-packed protein powder in my smoothies for nutrition from another 24 plants.
Eating healthy is possible, even with picky eaters. You just need to get creative!