I have a diploma in vegan and vegetarian nutrition and enjoy experimenting with new recipes and ingredients.
Whether you are looking to switch to a completely plant-based diet or just wish to include more plants foods in your day-to-day meals, this change can seem daunting. If you are currently eating a diet that is very reliant on meat, dairy and eggs, cutting these out completely may seem like an impossible task and one that will leave you with very little choice of foods.
However, this does not have to be the case, and there are several approaches to including more plant foods in your meals. Eating more plant foods or even switching to a completely plant-based diet does not have to be a difficult process. You also do not need to make huge changes in order to reap the benefits of eating more plant foods; even small changes are beneficial, and over a period of time you will be able to add more changes as you go.
Below are some ideas for easy ways to add more plant foods to your diet or ways to swap these healthier options for those that are less beneficial.
Ideas for Incorporating More Plant-Based Foods Into Your Diet
Transitioning to Plant-Based Eating
1. Meat does not need to be excluded from your diet all at once. You can gradually switch these for plant-based alternatives over a period of time. This can make the transition easier and also less costly and wasteful. If you already have meat-based foods at home you can use these up and not replace them.
2. This idea also applies to all other animal products such as cheese, milk, honey or gelatine. Do not feel that you must clear your kitchen and start over. This waste is not helpful to you, animals or the environment.
3. If you do wish to make a clean switch to a completely plant-based diet, there are ways to avoid wasting foods that you already have. These could be given to friends and family, donated to food banks or perhaps given to a homeless shelter or kitchen.
Choosing Carbohydrates and Grains
4. Opt for wholemeal or wholegrain breads, cereals, rice and pasta where possible. These can be used in place of their white counterparts but contain a better balance of nutrients and are used slower by the body, meaning they keep you feeling full for longer.
5. There are many varieties of health promoting grains that you may not have yet tried. These include quinoa, polenta, spelt and couscous. These are versatile ingredients and can be used in many main and side dishes and to replace pasta, rice or potatoes if you wish. For example: polenta can be used to create porridge like meal and can also be baked as an alternative to fries. It is also used in baking. Couscous can be eaten hot or cold and is often featured in salad and bean dishes.
Choosing Proteins and Replacing Meat
6. Pulses such as kidney beans, soya beans, chickpeas and lentils are good sources of many nutrients including protein, carbs, B vitamins, iron, calcium and zinc. They are also cheap, high in fibre and release their energy slowly. Beans can be easily added to many dishes such as casseroles, chilli con carne, soups and stews. They can also be used to create tasty dips such as hummus.
7. When making mince-based dishes such as spaghetti bolognaise, chilli con carne or lasagne the meat can be partly replaced using lentils, split peas, beans or grated vegetables. Red lentils and grated carrot are very useful for this purpose as they virtually disappear into the sauce, making them ideal for anyone who dislikes them or mixed textures in foods. Substituting some of the meat in this way not only helps to add nutrition to meals but will cut costs as a little meat will stretch further.
8. There are many alternatives to meat that can be bought in supermarkets and health or whole food shops. These are often made using soy and come in a variety of flavours as well as formed into specific products such as sausages and burgers. These can be bought and used just as you would meat versions. Items such as soy mince or chunks can be used to create meals such as chilli con carne, curries or spaghetti bolognaise.
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9. Substitute half the meat in a meal for a plant-based alternative. For example, instead of chicken curry cook a chicken and vegetable curry or use half meat and half soy-based meat alternative.
Replacing Dairy and Eggs
10. To cut down on your consumption of milk use one or more of the many alternative types of milk available. These include soya, almond, oat, hemp, coconut and rice milk. In many cases these can be used as a direct swap for cow’s milk, for example in baking, in tea or for putting on cereals. Many of these milks are also fortified with additional vitamins and minerals.
11. Most major supermarkets now have a range of free from foods made by themselves and other companies. These products are aimed at people who have food allergies and intolerances but in many cases are also free from animal products. These ranges include foods such as cheese, cheese spread, pastry, yoghurt, desserts, chocolate, ice cream and sauces that would normally include dairy products and/or eggs.
Adding Nuts to Your Diet
12. Unsalted nuts and seeds can be added to salads, sprinkled over cereal or added to homemade cakes and breads. Some examples of common nuts and seeds are: almonds, peanuts, walnuts, cashews and sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
13. Nut and seed butters can be used in sandwiches, on crackers or rice cakes rather than using meat or dairy-based foods. These are also used in many recipes for plant-based cakes and other snacks.
Making Banana Ice Cream
14. Bananas can be frozen and used to create a healthy plant-based ice cream. This can be a good way to use up bananas that are past their best and avoid waste. Slice and freeze bananas in a container or freezer bag. This can be added to over time if you wish. To make the ice cream, blend the frozen bananas until smooth. Other fruits or flavourings such as cocoa or dairy-free chocolate chips can be added to create different varieties.
15. It is best to buy fruit and vegetables in small amounts. This is due to the fact that levels of vitamins and minerals can deplete over time so it is best to use them up as soon as possible. If you want or need to keep them for longer frozen varieties are a good choice. There are lots of varieties available to buy including some that are supplied in one portion servings and can be cooked in their bags. Vegetables can be added to meals as side dish or main feature. They can also be added to soups, stews, casseroles, curries and pasta. Using frozen vegetables cuts down on prep time as well.
16. Fruit can also be bought frozen rather than fresh. These can be defrosted and used in fruit salads, cooked puddings or in fruit and green smoothies. Dried and tinned fruits are also available but can be high in sugar.
17. If you wish to coat food in breadcrumbs you can avoid eggs by using a mixture of flour and water. Simply mix the two together until you have a thick paste like consistency. Roll the food in this first and then in breadcrumbs.
18. Tofu is a very versatile ingredient that can be used to create sweet and savoury dishes. Some suggestions for using tofu include: blending it to create puddings and cheesecake like desserts, adding to stir-fries or curries, use to make burgers or cube, coat in breadcrumbs and fry.
Trying Meat-Free Monday
19. Meat Free Monday is an idea followed by many people regardless of their regular diet. The idea is not eat any meat products on Mondays. The same idea could be applied to any day of the week or you could vary the idea a little, for example by having only meat free lunches during the week.
© 2017 Claire