Put your Best Fork Forward with Vegetarian Nutrition Choices

PHOTO: THINKSTOCK/STEPHANIEFREY

March is National Nutrition Month, and it’s all about how to "Put Your Best Fork Forward.” Each bite counts and even making small shifts in food choices can add up over time, including the benefits of eating less meat or animal products. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest starting with small changes for lasting health benefits, and reducing meat intake can support both your own health as well as the health of the planet. 

Whether you are interested in eating less meat or going vegetarian or vegan, make sure to include nutritious, whole foods that you look forward to eating.  Don’t like broccoli? Not a problem! Choose other colorful veggies that you enjoy. Try new vegetables as they come into season. This spring, experiment with white asparagus, purple cabbage, collard greens, radishes, turnips and a variety of your favorite mushrooms. Adding in new veggies isn’t just a way to try new recipes; it also brings a variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants into your diet.

Spring is a wonderful time to experiment with new grains and vegetarian protein sources you’re less familiar with. Packed with fiber and nutrients, whole grains and vegetarian protein foods are fun to cook with. These ingredients add a complexity of flavor and texture to recipes. Try cooking with whole grains like sorghum, millet, farro, teff, quinoa, buckwheat or bulgur this season. Create dishes that combine grains with plant-based protein sources like tofu (experiment with soft and firm), tempeh, beans, peas and lentils. If you have tried these before and did not enjoy them, it may be time to try again with a different preparation or culinary technique.  

Finally, make vegetarian cooking flavorful and interesting by adding in new herbs or spices. Beans, lentils, grains and veggies benefit from the bitterness and zest of fresh springtime herbs. Try curly or flat-leaf parsley, cilantro, chervil, dill, chives, marjoram and tarragon as the weather turns warmer. Weaving in layers of intricate flavor using herbs and spices can enhance vegetarian cooking and add nutrients to your recipes as well.

Make cooking fun by grabbing a new plant-based cookbook, digging out an old favorite or searching your favorite culinary website or blog for inspiration. Utilize social media such as Instagram or Pinterest for even more inspiration to make vegetarian food taste amazing.

Put your best fork forward with fresh vegetarian ideas this National Nutrition Month and remember to take it one forkful at a time.

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Ginger Hultin, MS, RD, CSO
Ginger Hultin, MS, RD, CSO, is a Seattle-based writer and dietitian specializing in integrative health and nutrigenomics. She serves as Chair for the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group. Read Ginger's blog, Champagne Nutrition, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.