16 ways to get more plant-based foods in your diet
You can easily improve the quality of your diet by increasing the amount of plant foods you consume, including fruit, vegetables, grains, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. There are several reasons why plant foods should be plentiful in a healthy diet:
- Plant foods have fiber; animal foods don't.
- Plant foods are generally low in calorie density.
- Plant foods are generally low in fat and the fat they do have tends to be the "healthy" unsaturated fat.
- Plant foods are rich in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients
- Plant foods have no cholesterol; animal foods do.
Below are a few ideas for getting more plants into your diet. Eat More Plant-based Meals [PDF] from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has additional information.
1. Stock your fridge and pantry with plant-based foods.
If you have plant foods on hand, you are more likely to eat them. Plant foods include fruit and vegetables (fresh, frozen or canned); lentils and beans; nuts and seeds; grains such as rice, oats, bulgur, barley, millet and quinoa and foods made of them such as breads, pasta and cereal; and soy products such as tofu and soy milk.
2. Pack some vegetables into your lunch or have them as a snack. Baby carrots, sliced bell peppers or zucchini, broccoli and cauliflower are perfect for snacking on. Make a healthy veggie dip by adding some spices (onion, garlic, dill, Tabasco, etc.) to fat-free sour cream and put some in a small container to bring with the veggies.
3. Always have fruit handy. Put a piece of fruit into your lunch bag or your backpack. Keep a small bowl of fruit on your desk or in a visible place in the house, such as on a countertop.
4. Have a salad. Don’t be limited to lettuce topped with tomato and cucumber. Experiment! Try fennel, endives or cabbage. Add beans (e.g., kidney beans), legumes (e.g., chickpeas) or fruit (e.g., sliced apples or oranges) to your salad. Make a healthy vinaigrette by mixing two parts olive oil with one part vinegar. Put the vinegar in a jar that has a tight lid and add your favorite spices such as garlic, oregano, rosemary, mustard, pepper, dill or minced onion. Add a little bit of oil and shake vigorously until the vinegar is suspended in the oil. Repeat until you have integrated all the oil. Pack the salad and the dressing in separate containers.
5. Add extra canned, fresh or frozen vegetables to pasta sauces or stews. You can also add whole or mashed beans to pasta and other sauces.
6. Make a sandwich. Be creative! Choose a different type of bread such as rye, pita, a bagel or a tortilla. Fill your sandwich with hummus or mashed avocado and some vegetables such as green pepper, tomato or cucumber. Use strong mustard instead of mayonnaise or butter.
7. Make a bowl. A bowl is a great way to incorporate a variety of plant foods into your diet such as vegetables, grains and beans/lentils. See "Here's how to build a better bowl" for instructions on how to put one together.
8. Grill or roast vegetables. To grill vegetables, slice firm vegetables, brush with olive oil and grill on a BBQ or even in a frying pan. Alternatively, drizzle vegetables with olive oil and spices, tightly wrap in aluminum foil and place on the BBQ (or in the oven) until the vegetables are tender. To roast vegetables, cut firm vegetables (e.g., potato, turnip, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, squash, carrots or beets) into bite-sized pieces and place them in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and your favourite spices, mix them up with your hands and spread the vegetables evenly on a large cookie sheet. Put in a very hot oven (450 to 475°F) for 15 to 20 minutes. Check them occasionally. You may want to toss them around halfway through the cooking time.
9. Steam some vegetables. Learn how to quickly prepare steamed vegetables.
10. Whip up a healthy fruit smoothie in just a few minutes by blending low-fat milk, soy milk, or fat-free yogurt along with your favorite fresh or frozen fruit, a few tablespoons of leftover cooked grains (e.g., oatmeal) and a few ice cubes.
11. Make a fruit salad by assembling a bowl of cut-up fruit and top with fat-free yogurt, chopped nuts, raisins and perhaps a touch of something sweet like maple syrup.
12. Have soup. Making your own soup is very easy (and homemade soups freeze well). A basic soup recipe begins by stir-frying some chopped onions, garlic, celery and carrots in olive oil in a large pot until they are soft (about five minutes). Add a liquid such as low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth. Next add fresh, canned or frozen vegetables such as tomatoes, cauliflower, zucchini, green beans, corn, spinach, kale — whatever suits your fancy. For a heartier soup, add cooked grains (e.g., rice, barley), cooked beans, dried or cooked lentils, or some cubed cooked meat such as chicken. Season with salt, pepper and any spices you think would fit well. Bring the soup to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Let it simmer for a while, allowing the flavours to develop. If making soup seems like too much work, take canned soup such as minestrone, chicken noodle or even a plain tomato soup and add some extra vegetables such as canned corn, peas, beans or carrots. Throw in some herbs and spices for extra taste.
13. Make your own healthy pizza at home in minutes. For the base, use a slice of toasted whole grain bread, a whole grain pita or a whole grain tortilla. Top with a mixture of tomato sauce, a bit of olive oil and some spices such as basil and oregano. Add your favorite chopped vegetables, such as zucchini, mushrooms, peppers, tomato or olives. Finish with a bit of cheese and bake at 375°F for 10 to 15 minutes until the cheese melts and bubbles.
14. Stir-fry vegetables. To stir-fry vegetables, cut firm vegetables (e.g., broccoli, bell peppers, cauliflower) into bite-sized pieces. Heat oil in a wok or deep frying pan with a heavy bottom until hot (but not smoking). Add vegetables and toss frequently until tender. If you want to add meat, stir-fry cubes of meat first and remove to a bowl. Add the cooked meat to the stir-fried vegetables and heat through. Add sauce for flavour.
15. Have a vegetarian day or two during the week. Try a Meatless Monday or a Tofu Tuesday.
16. Snack on nuts, seeds or dried fruit. However, beware that dried fruit has a lot of natural sugars and nuts have a lot of healthy fat and calories, so don’t overdo it with these tasty snacks.