We’re almost there!
Our 21-Day Food Day Challenge launches on October 31 and we’re so excited to get started with you.
So this post seeks to clarify and give you a roadmap of exactly what you should do to prepare for our Challenge Kick-Off Day.
Below are some basic guidelines, shopping tips and meal guidelines.
So let’s get started!
Some Very Basic Guidelines
Before we start about cooking and eating, here some general tips to remember moving forward:
- Focus on whole foods. Fill your plate with foods that you can recognize and name. Do your best to eliminate processed or packaged foods, even if they say “plant-based” or “vegan”.
- Keep it simple. Don’t overcomplicate things—just stick to a few, easy recipes. This might sound counterintuitive, but the fewer recipes, the better. And the simpler the recipes, the easier the cooking. (In any event, most of us tend to eat the same 6-12 dishes over and over). Find 2 breakfast ideas (sweet or savory), 3-5 lunch items and another 3-5 dinner options and rotate them over 2-3 days.
- Stay close to “home”. If you love rice, focus on rice-based dishes. If you adore pasta and noodles, make those. If you’re crazy about potatoes, build your recipes around them. Too much experimentation too soon can shock taste buds that haven’t had enough time to adapt yet.
- Details matter. Pay attention to the small things, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. Whole foods that are high in fat such as olives, avocado and nuts should be eaten only in tiny amounts.
- Avoid oils. Remember: you want no more than 20% of your daily calories from fats. Just a few ingredients with high-calorie densities such as oil and other plant-based fats can quickly tilt the balance of
your diet. Read The Attack of the 1,000 Calorie Salad to see how fast oils and fats can add up. Also, have a look at How to Read a Food Label the Right Way for tips on keeping fats in check.
- Remember the principles of calorie density. We eat an average of 3-5 pounds of food per day.
Choosing the right foods – those with the most nutrition for the caloric content – is the best way to ensure a healthful diet and help control your weight. Fruits have 140-420 calories per pound and lots of good fiber and nutrients; oils have about 4,000 calories per pound and have zero fiber and few nutrients. Get the best bang for your caloric buck.
- Eat the Fab Four. Foods with the most health-promoting effects are green leafy vegetables, beans, berries and seeds. Green leafy veggies have the highest concentration of micronutrients and phytochemicals; beans are also high in micronutrients and phytochemicals, plus they’re packed with protein and fiber; berries have the highest amount of antioxidants among fruits; and seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and phytochemicals. Fill your plate with the Fab Four every day (Tip: get frozen berries when out of season).
How to Get Started
Let’s begin with two different approaches you can take to getting started with plant-based cooking at home.
- Choose the recipes first. This is the classic approach most of us use; you make a list of recipes and use that list to make a shopping list.
Obviously, this approach works but there are two main problems with it. For starters, recipes are often chosen for how appetizing they seem instead of their nutritional value. Second, once you’ve done the shopping, you’re ‘tied’ to that one recipe. Often when you try to adapt it (for example to make it SOS-free), it tastes bland.
I prefer another approach which gives you more flexibility and a much higher nutritional value…
- Choose the ingredients first. If you don’t want to be tied to recipes and meal plans, you can try a second approach which requires no measurements or strict recipes. All you need to do is apply the principles of calorie density to the visual look of your plate. Let me explain…
According to Registered Dietician Jeff Novick, ‘dilution is the solution’. What he means is that it is essential to ‘dilute’ the calorie density of your meals (i.e. keep the calorie density low so that you can eat when hungry until comfortably full without overeating). To do that, simply fill HALF of your plate with the medium and higher calorie density foods like intact whole grains, starchy vegetables and/or legumes and the OTHER half of your plate with the lower calorie density foods like non-starchy vegetables and/or fruit. (You can do this ‘visually’ versus using any complicated measurements).This makes your visit to the grocery store really straightforward. All you have to do is apply the 50/50 rule, making sure you fill your shopping cart with a 50/50 split between the non-starchy veggies and fruit and the whole grains, legumes and starchy veggies (just remember the rule applies to cooked final volume!)
This is a simple way to figure out the amount and types of food you should eat based on the calorie density principle. And the best part is this approach is infinitely more flexible; you aren’t tied to specific recipes and will be able to use the ‘calorie density friendly’ ingredients in a myriad of ways.
Now I’d like to turn to some fast easy solutions for some main meals and for snacks…
Fast, Easy Homemade Solutions for Main Meals
- The Salad Bar. Keep prewashed mixed greens, lettuce or baby spinach ready to go. On shopping day,
buy non-starchy veggies that you can easily add to your greens – bell peppers, onion, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, snap peas, etc. Wash, cut and store them in separate containers. When you get hungry, you can make a huge salad in less than five minutes. And remember to keep your favorite ready-to-use oil-free dressing in stock. (Tips: add berries for sweetness or nuts for crunch, but if you’re trying to lose weight, go light on the nuts. No more than an ounce per day.)
- The Potato Bar. Keep baked potatoes in the refrigerator. When you get hungry, simply heat one up and add your favorite toppings, like your salad bar veggies or cooked beans or mushrooms. Toss in a little green seasoning such as green onion, cilantro or parsley and you have a yummy, comforting, filling meal that won’t set you back.
- The Mexican Restaurant. Have you noticed that Mexican restaurants use dozens of ingredients in
dozens of different ways? They’ll have different types of cut-up peppers and onions, two different kinds of beans (refried and regular), corn and flour tortillas, and often two types of rice. Plus, there’s at least one salsa and some guacamole on the side. Fill a hard shell corn tortilla with rice, beans, peppers and onions and top it with salsas and/or guacamole for a yummy taco. Add the very same ingredients to a soft shell flour tortilla and you have a burrito. Or put some rice and beans on a plate and serve them with peppers and onions sizzling on the side for delicious plant-based fajitas. With very few ingredients, each variation gives you a brand new dish. (You can play the “restaurant card” multiple ways. Try the Indian Restaurant to experiment with different kinds of rice, curries and levels of spiciness. Or the Chinese Restaurant with seemingly endless varieties of veggie stir-fries.
Fast and Easy Solutions for Snacks
- Fruit. Need a snack? Have an apple. Or a banana. Or a handful of grapes. They’re nature’s simple, perfect, self-contained snack food. Carry fresh fruits with you and keep plenty on hand at home.
- Cut-Up Veggies. Just like the salad bar, do the prep in advance so it’s easy to grab some celery, snap peas, bell peppers, carrots, cucumbers or – my absolute favorite – jicama (eat it plain or squeeze some lemon juice over it like they do in Mexico). Tip: hummus is a great spread or dip for raw veggies. It comes in dozens of varieties and it’s super easy to make at home. (Be sure to make it or choose brands without oils (or tahini if you’re trying to lose weight.)
- Air-Popped Popcorn. It’s very easy to make with a home air popper. And, if you’re not against bagged microwave popcorn, new oil-free, salt-free varieties are popping up everywhere.
A Final Hot Tip
Paprika. No, not the spice, the app. Paprika is the highest-rated recipe-collecting app on the market. It’s compatible with Android and most Apple devices, so just about everyone can use it. You select the recipes you want for a day or even a whole week and it gives you a grocery list automatically. Use it for individual recipes or entire meal plans. It’s super simple to use and makes life so much easier.
(THIS JUST HOT OFF THE PRESS! There is a free app which functions much like Paprika called ‘Copy Me That’. Check it out here.)
One Last Thought
And one last thought…
One of your biggest challenges might be learning to see food as fuel for your body instead of as some form of entertainment.
Fuel isn’t as exciting as entertainment.
To others (or even to you), a plant-based diet might seem a little boring or repetitive, especially at first.
And you can get “foodie” style whole, plant-based meals if you want to, but there’s no need for anything so elaborate.
Because on a whole food, plant-based diet, you’ll be giving your body the fuel it needs and the nutrition it craves.
And I think that’s pretty exciting all by itself.