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May 11, 2018

10 Tips to Make Plant-Based Meals Better

by Anne Paddock

Switching from a Standard American Diet (SAD) and/or a diet high in animal products  – where milk, butter, cheese, meat, chicken, poultry, pork, fish, processed drinks and foods high in added fats and sugar are center stage –  to a plant-based diet is difficult because if you’re not used to eating a diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, then the food won’t seem satisfying or tasty at first (but within a few weeks, your taste buds adjust). So, the best way to make a successful transition is to make small changes that include the following tips:

Discover the Sweet Potato:  When my husband and I go out to dinner, I would often order a baked potato but without all the fixin’s (i.e. butter, cheese, sour cream, and bacon), a baked potato can taste dry and rather bland.  Instead, try a baked sweet potato:  flavorful, moist, and filling. Bake (or roast), slice (or mash), season, and enjoy.

Buy Cinnamon in a Grinder:  Cinnamon is not just for applesauce. Cinnamon is delicious on baked sweet potatoes, roasted carrots, oatmeal, cereal, granola, muesli, and to use as a flavoring agent in baking.   Consider buying cinnamon in a grinder and keeping it on the table next to the salt and pepper. I wish someone told me about this tip when I transitioned to a plant-based diet because freshly ground cinnamon somehow adds a new dimension to a meal (probably the same way freshly ground pepper does, too). Drogheria and Alimentari sells a .82 ounce Cinnamon Mill for about $3 at most grocery stores.

Think About Greens Every Day:  Getting enough dark leafy greens every day is a challenge for many people.  Start thinking about the greens you like (i.e. spinach, kale, swiss chard, collards, arugula, Romaine, etc) and buy them every single week but mix up the way you eat them every day:  spinach salad, sautéed greens, cooked collards with vegetable broth, wilted kale, a salad made with fresh Romaine lettuce and all your favorite additions, etc).

Make Steamed Broccoli into a Snack Bowl:  Almost every single morning, I chop up a bunch of broccoli (stems and florets) and steam them until they are crisp but cooked.  After rinsing under cold water to stop the cooking process, I put the stems and florets in a big bowl and season with a touch of salt (or the seasoning of your choice). Throughout the day when I want a snack, I reach for a piece of broccoli instead of potato chips, corn chips, or cookies.

Find the Crunch in Nuts and Seeds:  There is something deeply satisfying about having a crunch in our meals.  Add a 1/4 cup of nuts (i.e. walnuts, pecans, almonds, brazil nuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, cashews, peanuts, etc) or seeds (i.e. pumpkin, sunflower, etc) to your diet every day. Topping sweet potatoes with chopped walnuts or pecans or adding chopped almonds to cooked green beans add texture and flavor.

Buy Unsweetened Milkadamia Milk:  Milkadamia Milk is a creamy, non-dairy alternative to cow milk. What separates Milkadamia from other non-diary milks is the creaminess and flavor (it’s hard to believe a cup only has 50 calories). Unlike many other nut milks, Milkadamia does not separate (the company still recommends shaking the container before using) but I’ve yet to see this product separate.

Milkadamia blends into coffee, is delicious with cereal and granola, and can be used in virtually any recipe that calls for milk or cream.  Available at Whole Foods Markets and at www.vitacost.com for about $4 (I buy 12 containers at a time from Vitacost when they have a 20% off sale with free shipping for all orders over $50, which is very often.  Each container is normally $4.39 but at 20% off, the price is reduced to $3.53 per 32 ounce container.

Make a Fruit Bowl Every Day:  Years ago when I was trying to get my family to eat more fruit, I quickly realized the secret to choosing Mother Nature’s candy, was to have a bowl of fresh-cut fruit out every day (storing the fruit in the refrigerator didn’t work; five mangos in the refrigerator will remain untouched but 5 mangos chopped up will disappear in one day).  Fruit bowls remind me of “Field of Dreams” but instead of “build it and they will come,” think “chop it up and they will eat it.”

Place a selection of berries (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries), sliced bananas, diced mangos, grapes, kiwi, chopped apples, and/or  chunks of melon (honeydew, cantaloupe, water, etc) out for breakfast to add nutrient and fiber rich fruits to their diet. Wrap and store any leftover fruit in the refrigerator and then add more and take out for an afternoon snack or dessert after dinner. 

Think Maple Syrup:  If I could give anyone one recommendation it would be this:  go to your cabinet and throw out all the pancake and waffle syrups made with added sugar and high fructose corn syrup and other additives, and buy real maple syrup. Real maple syrup is love at first bite. Although real maple syrup is much more expensive than the “fake” maple syrups, there are ways to economize (buy in bulk and store, purchase at a big container store (i.e. Costco) or at Trader Joe’s.

Real maple syrup can be dark (a more robust flavor) or light and is incredibly versatile (my husband pours maple syrup over his oatmeal covered with dried nuts and seeds and fresh fruit, and I bake with maple syrup instead of refined sugar). Note:  Consider making Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Puffy Pillow Pancakes and serve with real maple syrup.

Fall In Love With Carrots:  Every summer when I go to farmer’s markets, I am reminded of how delicious fresh carrots are.  Now grown in an array of colors (red, purple, white, and the common orange), carrots can be used to make a delicious side dish – Roasted Carrots.

Simply cut off the greens of 2-3 bunches of carrots, wash, peel (if organic, I don’t peel), and slice diagonally.  Summertime carrots are normally so sweet, no additions are needed but if you want to sweeten them up, add a tablespoon of maple syrup and a few grinds of cinnamon to the sliced carrots. Stir to blend and then pour onto a parchment paper lined baking pan, cover with a piece of aluminum foil and bake at 375 for about 20 minutes until just tender when pierced with a fork (note: the baking time will vary depending on the thickness of the carrot slices). Remove from the oven and toss with 2 tablespoons of parsley and serve.

Be Kind to Yourself:  Switching to a plant-based diet high in vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds (and low in added oils, sugars, and processed foods) is often very difficult so don’t expect perfection. As Dr. Gregor of http://www.nutritionfacts.org says (paraphrased):  Think about everything you eat as an opportunity. Life isn’t about perfection – it’s more about doing the best you can whenever you can.

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