Make 2018 Your Year of Plant-Based Eating

Vegetarian open cole slaw and a chickpea sandwich.
Photo: Thinkstock/OksanaKiian

Sometimes the month-long holiday season seems like the perfect set-up for making New Year’s resolutions that emphasize the word “no.”

  • No more sugar!
  • No more snacks!
  • Cut out all fat!
  • No carbs!

There’s something about January that makes us want to re-group and renew. It might be motivational to put strict food rules in place, but this kind of thinking can make food seem like the enemy. I’m not a big fan of resolutions that focus on negatives. Food should be your ally on the path to health and well-being.

Stay Positive

I prefer New Year’s resolutions that focus on foods to include. For example, my list of resolutions for 2017 included “eat more eggs.” When I needed a quick and simple evening meal, I made a vegetable omelet. Eggs also are an easy solution for high-protein breakfasts.

For 2018, I have another goal in mind. If you’re looking for resolutions you can stick to long-term that promote health and help with weight control, you can’t go wrong with a goal of eating more plant foods.  Research points to multiple health benefits of plant-based diets, from lower risk for heart disease and diabetes to easier weight management.

Some people may be put off because they think a plant-based diet equals never eating meat. But you don’t have to become a vegetarian or vegan to get the benefits of plant-centric eating. Meals can still include meat, dairy foods and eggs, but the portions will be smaller and you might eat them less frequently. Your plate will be full of vegetables, grain foods, legumes, fruit and nuts.

Resolve to Eat More Plants

If you’d like to give this a try, I’ve created five user-friendly New Year’s resolutions that involve boosting the amount of plant foods you eat. Pick one to add to your list or adopt all five.

Eat at least one meatless evening meal per week. This can be as easy as making that omelet dinner or as adventurous as making a full-on vegan meal with pesto tomato flatbread, grilled eggplant and a black bean and corn salad. As you find new recipes, you can expand to two or three meatless meals per week.

Cut back on meat portions. When you serve steak, does each person get their own 8-ounce ribeye? Cut back on portions. Two people can share that steak. And then fill out your plate with a savory bean casserole loaded with celery, carrots, garlic, onion, tomato and peppers, and perhaps a baked white or sweet potato.

Use less meat in recipes. For example, if you make lasagna, use half the recommended meat, or cut it out entirely. Instead, add sautéed vegetables or cooked drained spinach. Other dishes that work just fine with less meat include spaghetti sauce, chili, burritos, tacos, pizza and sandwiches.

Investigate alternative protein foods for salad or vegetable-centric meals. Whether you make your own salad or buy take-out salad, alternative protein options are readily available. Instead of chicken or bacon, use toasted walnuts, chickpeas, tofu or grated cheese. There are plenty of options that don’t involve meat.

Expand your grain repertoire. Whole grains are filling and packed with nutrients. They’re also deliciously hearty with unique flavors. Most grocery stores now have several types of rice alone, along with other options including barley, bulgur, buckwheat, millet, farro and quinoa. Many now come pre-cooked and ready to use in casseroles, soups and grain salads. Have a family grain taste test and stock your pantry with four or five favorites.

Eating more plant foods doesn’t just mean a bigger pile of steamed broccoli or a chunk of tofu on your plate. Legumes, grains, nuts and fruit are all plant foods. This wide variety makes meals more interesting. Experiment with seasonings from cuisines that emphasize plant foods, such as those of India, Central America or Korea.

Resources

There are plenty of websites to help you transition to more plant-centric meals, and now is a great time to start planning for that. The Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group’s consumer website includes recipes, evidence-based nutrition information and more. Major cooking magazines increasingly feature vegetarian and vegan recipes. And of course you can find ideas here on the Stone Soup blog.

Interest in plant-based eating has been growing every year. Make this your year to get involved. My resolutions are intended to make that transition successful by emphasizing small changes. You don’t have to abandon your customary diet; you just have to tweak it a bit. Make 2018 your year to increase plant foods.

Donna Feldman
Donna Feldman, MS, RDN, is a Colorado-based dietitian who specializes in plant-based diets. She is the author of “Feed Your Vegetarian Teen” and writes about nutrition and food at Radio Nutrition.