BY DEANNA WILLARD
Here we are in 2021- another new year, another resolution. With plant-based eating on the forefront of this year’s health initiatives, you’re probably wondering how you can make the big switch, or at least incorporate a few more plants into your routine. Don’t worry, Planetary Health Collective has got you covered!
Plant-based eating is a pattern of eating focusing primarily on plants, which includes but is not limited to fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and oils (McManus, 2018). Despite consuming mostly plants, one isn’t automatically labelled vegan or vegetarian, as meat and other animal products can still be eaten, just not in abundance. The entire concept of plant-based eating surrounds evidence that it can reduce risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, stroke, and mental health issues (Alexander, 2019), as well as being proven to reduce risk of cancer for over two decades now (Alice, 2019).
DON’T GIVE UP YOUR FAVS
This diet is all about abundance and not so much about making sacrifices. For plant-based eating to be sustainable for your specific lifestyle, you’re going to want to transform some of your favorite recipes. This is the time to open your repertoire and get creative in the kitchen! Let’s say your favorite, and potentially glutenous, meal is Mac and Cheese and fried chicken. We can start by replacing the chicken with tofu. There are many ways this can be manipulated to simulate meat, but your best bet is to prepare it the same way you do your chicken. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can air fry, bake, or do a shallow pan fry on the tofu. To tackle the mac and cheese, you may want to research some plant-based cheese sauces. These can range from a base of cashews to a base of, well, vegetables. In just two main swaps you’ve already increased plants in your meal by more than 50%.
Another way to hack the plant-based lifestyle is to stick to your roots. And by that, we mean find ways to make traditional meals from your culture more nutritious. This may mean using jackfruit rather than chicken in a jerk recipe, or cauliflower instead of beef in a country fried steak meal. These substitutions might not be exact dupes, but hopefully they can provide you with that warming hug of nostalgia. With plants the possibilities are endless. Here are some good places to start:
Chicken Fried Tofu- https://www.icanyoucanvegan.com/chicken-fried-tofu/
Vegan Mac and Cheese- https://chocolatecoveredkatie.com/vegan-mac-and-cheese-recipe/
MEAL PREP FOR SUCCESS
If you’re a grab-n-go type of person, you’re going to have a slightly more challenging time sticking to the plant-based mantra. It would be to your advantage, whether time crunched or not, to plan a few things in advance. Plus, you’ll be less likely to reach for that convenience item when you’ve got your own plant-based treat at your disposal. A great place to start is with your grains and staples. These are things that you know you’ll be eating at least once per day and could serve as a “base” for multiple meals and recipes. Think oats, brown rice, quinoa, beans, and lentils. These can all be precooked, stored in the fridge, and reheated before serving. These items usually have the longest cooking time of meal components, so it will really save you time throughout the week if you take a Sunday afternoon to knock it out. Equipment such as a rice cooker or an InstaPot can be especially useful for this.
Now let’s talk protein. There are tons of ways to get plant-based protein, but you’re more than likely going to be working with tofu or tempeh, beans, nuts, and seeds. Beans and other legumes, such as lentils, can be prepped in advance similarly to the staples we mentioned above. Tofu comes almost already prepared, with just being pressed, seasoned, and cooked to preference left. Many plant-based meat substitutes come from a combination of two the previous proteins together. An example of this could be a taco “meat” made of processed walnuts and black beans.
The bulk of your meals are likely going to be vegetables. You can easily save time during the week on these by washing, chopping, and storing them in the fridge for easy access. If you know how you’re going to use the vegetables in your meals later on, you can make things even easier by grouping these items in containers, or preparing them in a way that’s most helpful, such as peeling potatoes or cubing them. The following link is to a plant-based meal-preppers paradise!
100+ Plant-based Meal Prep Ideas- https://gatheringdreams.com/vegan-meal-prep-ideas/
FOR THE PENNY PINCHERS
You are probably wondering just how this plant-based lifestyle stacks up to your omnivore diet in terms of a grocery bill. This might be the selling point you’ve been looking for- it’s cheaper! In December of 2020, the average price per pound for ground beef chuck in the United States was $4.20 (Bureau Labor Statistics, 2020). When looking at Tofu, the prices range from $1.70 per pound found at Walmart, to $2.89 per pound found at Target. If this isn’t enough to change your mind, almost all of the staples we mentioned above can be purchased for less than $3.00 apiece. Once you begin to incorporate more plants into your life, you will truly see the money you’re able to save.
Check out this plant-based grocery list with meal ideas:
If we could give just one tip to transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle it would be don’t skip the fat! Chances are, you’re going to be missing the salt and fat from the traditional foods you’re eating. To make the diet more satiating you’ll need to utilize high quality oils, such as olive and avocado, or some tasty plant fats, such as avocados and nut butters. Additionally, it is best to remember that it’s ok to make mistakes. This diet isn’t about perfection, it’s about making an effort for yourself, your health, and for the planet. Lastly, it’s always helpful to get more than one person involved. Whether you and your partner make a date night of preparing a new plant-based meal, or the entire family gets involved, it’s always useful to make it a group activity. This will not only boost creativity but will also work towards a better health status for everyone involved. Keep it simple, have fun, and reap the benefits!