We’ve all read the news. We know that experts from the FDA to the Mayo Clinic recommend a diet higher in fruits and vegetables and lower in animal products. Health leaders like Kaiser Permanent are constantly telling us that such a diet can help people lose weight; lower their cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar; and often reduce pain and fatigue.
I know this all from experience as well. A very specific kind of plant-based diet is what helped me recover from six years of illness. Check out this page at Forks Over Knives for a slew of other inspiring success stories about people who switched to a mainly plant-based diet and lost weight, got off medications, recovered from chronic pain and generally got their lives back.
Now – before you click off this page at the mention of a “plant-based diet,” let me say two things:
FIRST: What you DO eat is more important than what you DON’T eat. If you think eating a plant-based diet could help you, but don’t want to give up dairy and meat, that’s great! Don’t give up dairy and meat. Just eat a truckload more delicious vegetables and have meat and dairy once in a while. That can still radically improve your health.
SECOND: If you’re not eating several large servings of veggies a day, it can feel hard to start that up. It doesn’t have to be so hard. Here are five tips to make it easier:
Tip 1. Turn salads into a meal.
When you think of a salad, you might think of something light alongside the real meal. One way to get more vegetables into your system is to make your salads into the main event, instead of a side attraction. I do this by making sure there is some cooked food, protein, fat, salt and lots of flavor in all my salads. When you do that –whiz bang- you have a meal. Here are two quick examples:
Chick pea Tahini Salad
A cup of cooked chick peas on a big bed of romaine lettuce with arugula, red peppers, sliced fennel, and red cabbage. Dress generously with the tahini ginger dressing at the end of this blog post or use Annie’s Goddess dressing for a good store-bought alternative.
Broccoli Lentil Curry Salad
One cup of cooled, lightly steamed broccoli and one cup of cool, cooked brown lentils over a big bed of romaine lettuce and baby spinach, shredded carrots, and sliced red peppers. Dress generously with the curry dressing at the end of this blog post or choose an Annie’s dressing for a store-bought alternative.
(*For lentils, you can use a strained can of Amy’s lentil soup or make a batch like this: 2 cups water to one cup lentils – bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes.)
Tip 2. Snack on veggies in between meals.
Often, when my sons are surgically attached to their screens, playing games or watching Youtube, I walk into the room and hand them each a plate of cut-up vegetables, which disappear 10 minutes later. For my 14 yo, it’s red cabbage, radishes, celery, or parsley. For my 12 yo, its carrot sticks, cucumbers, or snow peas. This works for adults too. When I sit down to work or watch a video, I immediately want a snack. Instead of grabbing a bag of chips, I’m way better off eating carrots and hummus, sliced apples in almond butter, or snow peas in a black bean dip. Having sugar and preservative-free, store-bought guacamole, salsa, nut butter, hummus, and other dips in the fridge at all times makes it easier to do this.
Tip 3. Make and freeze batches of vegetable soups
Vegetable soups can be a great, hardy staple in the winter months. I find that making a big batch and freezing it in 16 oz tupperwares gives me an easy home-cooked, nutrient-packed meal whenever I need it. Here’s an easy, flavorful soup that’s a favorite in our house:
Harvest Soup (from The Body Ecology Diet by Donna Gates) – Sautee the onion and garlic listed below in vegetable oil in a stockpot, then add the additional ingredients and enough water to cover them. Bring it all to a boil, then simmer until the vegetables are soft. Blend well and add more water if necessary to desired texture. (Using a blender wand is easiest – $25 at Target.) INGREDIENTS (all roughly chopped): 2 large red onions, six cloves garlic, 8 medium carrots, 8 small red potatoes, 2 medium fennel bulbs, broccoli stems from one bunch and ginger or curry and salt and pepper to taste.
Tip 4. Be adventurous.
I used to avoid any recipe that had one or two ingredients that I didn’t recognize. That made it challenging to learn how to eat new, healthier foods. Don’t be like me. With Ms. Google in your pocket, nothing needs to remain a mystery. If you come across an ingredient you don’t recognize, just look it up online or call your local health food store or organic market to ask if they have it in stock. If you prepare one meal each week with a new ingredient in it, in two months you’ll have a whole new repertoire!
Tip 5. Make it social.
Invite friends over for a Potluck game, movie night or simple dinner party. Ask everybody to bring one vegetable dish that has no animal products, wheat, sugar, dairy or preservatives, and to email you the recipe so that you can give them to everybody at the end of the evening. If you’re feeling particularly passionate, you could also include watching one of these engaging documentaries on the benefits of a plant-based diet as part of the evening: Forks Over Knives, Food Inc., or Vegucated.
If you try some of these tips to get more veggies in your life, let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear!
To your health,