Launching into a plant-powered lifestyle opens an exciting array of new dishes.
But it can seem daunting on busy days.
When work or home life moves at a dizzying pace, can you still boost your intake of fruits, veggies and whole grains?
Yes, says chef Elizabeth Suvedi, manager of culinary medicine at Spectrum Health.
You can feed yourself and your family in a time crunch without resorting to a meat-lover’s pizza or a trip to a fast-food drive-thru.
Suvedi embraced a plant-powered lifestyle more than a decade ago because it delivers the healthy fuel our bodies need.
“I think it really packs a great nutrient punch,” she said. “The macronutrients, micronutrients and phytonutrients that are in plants naturally are the things our bodies need.”
Over the years, she developed a menu of tips and tricks—and handy recipes—that can help you keep plants at the forefront of your daily diet.
Make a plan
“We encourage people to eat at home as much as possible,” Suvedi said. “That really allows them to control what they put in their bodies. When you go to a restaurant, the ingredients might not be as wholesome as what you might purchase and prepare for yourself.”
And restaurant meals are often higher in sodium and saturated fat than food prepared at home.
When you have a bit of free time, Suvedi suggests jotting down meals you would like to prepare for a couple of weeks, as well as a list of ingredients.
She also saves time by relying on curbside pickup service at the grocery store.
“A lot of stores provide it at no additional cost. The prices are the same—you are just gaining time,” she said.
You could consider buying prepared vegetables, such as cubed tofu and chopped celery, carrots and onions. That does increase the cost, but for some people, the trade-off is worth it.
In general, however, a plant-based diet is not pricey, she said. A pound of beans costs far less than a pound of meat, and the beans provide fiber along with protein.
Keeping some basic items on hand can make it easy to whip up a plant-based meal. Here are some suggestions:
- Whole grains
- Beans and lentils, dried and canned
- Nuts and seeds
- Dried herbs and spices
- Canned tomatoes
- Onions for building flavor
- Bell peppers to add sweetness
- Tomatoes to add acidity to a dish
- Cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbages. They last a long time, so you can plan to use them later.
- Fresh herbs
- Fruits in season. Apples in general last longer, so you can eat berries or more perishable fruit first.
- Frozen fruits and vegetables. Already chopped, they can speed your cooking and make it easier to incorporate variety into your dishes.
Love those leftovers
When you make a stir-fry, soup or salad, make a big batch so you can eat leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day.
Suvedi packages her leftovers into individual servings and leaves them in the refrigerator so her teenage sons can grab a quick, healthy meal.
When cooking whole grains such as brown rice, barley or oat groats, make extra and freeze them.
To avoid leftover fatigue, Suvedi suggests using yesterday’s cooking in new dishes.
After serving roasted sweet potatoes on Day 1, she suggests adding the leftover potato to a taco or a salad on Day 2.
She recalls how her mother often made a big batch of spaghetti sauce on the weekend—and served it for a couple of days. Then, she added chili powder and kidney beans, transforming the sauce into chili.
Keep it simple
When pressed for time, focus on meals and dishes that you know are tasty and easy to prepare. Save the new recipes or new ingredients for a day when you have more time for cooking.
Some quick favorites include:
- One-pot bean chili. Use canned beans, canned tomatoes, frozen corn, chopped vegetables and vegetable stock. It can also be served over tortilla chips as nachos.
- Vegetable fried rice. Made with sauteed vegetables, garlic, ginger, soy sauce and leftover rice. This can come together quickly. “At the end, I throw in leafy greens and sometimes pan-seared tofu,” Suvedi said.
- Southwest tofu scramble. A flavorful dish made with tofu, red onion, bell pepper, salsa and kale or other greens.
Share the work
Meal prep should not fall solely on one person, Suvedi added.
Older children can chop veggies for dinner. Younger kids can help wash produce or clean up.
Eating on the go
If you won’t be home for a meal, Suvedi suggests packing a rainbow wrap, combining a tortilla and hummus with sliced vegetables.
She also makes apple cinnamon baked oatmeal cups, which are baked in muffin tins, for a tasty grab-and-go breakfast.
For snacks, she suggests chocolate peanut butter energy bites. They can be assembled in advance and stored in the refrigerator or freezer.