Learn 3 super strategies for how to make plant-based cooking and eating as easy, effortless, and delicious as possible from Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian.
I hear it all the time: I want to eat healthier and more plant-based, but I don’t have the time. That’s when I sigh and say, “Yes, but eating plant-based doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming!” I guarantee, you can get a delicious, plant-focused meal on the table in 30 minutes, following many of these tips I’m sharing today. Remember, eating a diet filled with plants can be as easy as a veggie burrito with canned refried beans or a salad topped with chickpeas, sunflower seeds, and raisins. There are so many easy ways to go more plant-based. Check out these three super strategies for making plant-based easy, and check out my favorite recipes under 30 minutes.
3 Super Strategies for Making Plant-Based Easy
1. Prep Your Produce Right Away. Adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet may seem like a challenge. But cooking a healthy meal doesn’t have to take any longer than picking up takeout! The secret is all in the prepping. You can save a lot of time by investing a bit of energy on the front end. Here’s how: As soon as you return from the grocery store, take some time to rinse and chop your produce. You can do this with sturdy fruit, such as melons, pineapple, and mangos; and vegetables, including bell peppers, mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, and onions. When you’re done chopping them, store produce in a paper towel-lined airtight container for 2-3 days to use in your favorite recipes. This simple step of prepping your produce ahead of time can save you up to 20 minutes of rinsing/chopping/slicing a day! You can even drain and rinse canned beans ahead of time so you have them on hand when you need them. When you are ready to cook, minimal prepping is needed to get your meals on the table. Fruit is ready for a grab and go breakfast and your veggies are ready to be used in a leafy green salad, stir-fry, sandwich or wrap. Bon appétit!
2. Cook in Bulk. Cooking starches, grains and legumes in bulk—cooking a big batch to use all week long—will allow you to have a variety of healthy, satiating food options to mix with your already prepped produce. Here are some examples of foods that are easy to cook in bulk:
• Whole Grains: Brown rice, wild rice, barley, buckwheat, couscous, millet, and quinoa are all loaded with satiating fiber, vitamins and minerals, and cancer-fighting antioxidants. Their culinary versatility allows them to be included in salads, wraps, soups, and entrées. Pay close attention to the directions on the package, but you can follow the general guidelines of 1 cup of uncooked whole grains plus 2 cups of water cooked in a covered pot until tender. Cooking times vary depending on the grain, but you can set yourself up with a week worth of grains in under an hour.
• Legumes: Beans, lentils and dried peas are an incredibly low-calorie, high-fiber source of protein that will keep you feeling satiated until your next meal. To cook up a week’s worth of dried legumes, soak them overnight in water. Then discard the water, cover beans with new water, and simmer in a covered pot for 1.5-2 hours until tender. Feel free to add a bay leaf or seasonings if desired. If you are new to healthy eating, you may want to start with lentils as they are much easier on the digestive system than the traditionally larger beans.
You can infuse your whole grains and legumes with global flavor by changing up the spices and seasonings you add. For an Italian dish, try adding basil, garlic, parsley, oregano, and thyme. Mexican and Spanish dishes typically include cilantro, cumin, coriander and smoked paprika. Curry, garam masala, ginger, and turmeric make for great Indian seasonings. Best of all, nourishing plant-based dishes full of seasoning require less salt, making the dish even healthier!
Another great idea for cooking in bulk is to make a soup! You can find a variety of crockpot recipes that are as simple as placing ingredients in a slow cooker with some veggie broth or water – don’t forget spices- and pushing the button. And for a creamy soup, just add cooked potato, butternut squash, and corn (the options are endless) with some veggie broth in a blender, and process.
3. Determine Your Favorite 5 “Go-To” Meals. Life gets busy and it’s easy to ditch healthy options for the drive-through or frozen dinners. So having some favorite, stand-by meals—no cookbooks, recipes or fuss—can go a long ways to getting dinner on the table. Start experimenting by creating a variety of plant-based versions of your favorite meals. There are so many options, but here are some ideas for a starting point. Don’t forget to cook a little bit extra so you’ll have leftovers for the next day.
- Veggie Burgers: A great veggie burger includes whole grains, such as brown rice and oats; a protein like beans, lentils and/or tempeh; and chopped non-starchy veggies, such as artichokes, cauliflower, onions, and bell peppers. Just mix these together with some seasonings and form into a patty. Then bake at 400 F on parchment paper for 10 minutes, flip and cook for 5-10 minutes more or until the outside looks golden.
- Pasta: Prepare pasta and sauce (such as marinara) as you normally would, then sauté eggplant, mushrooms (or other veggies of choice), and grated tempeh and toss into pasta and sauce for a heartier, protein-rich meal.
- Sweet Potato Un-Quesadilla: Mash veggies sautéed with southwest seasoning and cooked sweet potatoes. Spread the potato-veggie mixture in between whole grain tortillas and serve with guacamole and salsa. Add beans and greens to the mixture for added fiber and protein.
- Bean Salad: Here’s a winning formula: Bean of choice + cilantro/parsley + favorite salad dressing + mango/peach= satiating deliciousness.
- Veggie Pizza: Spread a whole wheat pita with pasta sauce, top with veggies of choice (don’t forget greens), and then bake for 15- 20 minutes. If you prefer, you can top with plant-based cheese.
Enjoying easy, wholesome plant-based meals isn’t as hard as you may think. With a little planning, preparation, and creativity—you can make it happen in no time!
For other blogs on plant-based eating, check out:
5 Tips for Plant-Powering Your Eating Style
9 Tips for Plant-Based Eating on a Budget
9 Meal Prep Tips from Dietitians
Image: Thai Tofu Veggie Noodle Bowl, Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN