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Thursday, July 11, 2019

An Easy Meal Plan to Follow

One of the important things about following a whole food, plant-based diet is to eat as wide a variety of whole plant-based foods as we can. That means eating a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains and healthy fats (nuts and seeds, avocado, soy products) as possible. When our whole food, plant-based doctors say that you get all the protein you need from eating plants, they usually qualify it with that statement about assuming you are eating enough calories from a wide variety (including the color rainbow) of whole plant-based foods. 

And that's true for all nutrients. We need to mix it up. Senior citizens (something many of us see as being about 10 or 15 years older than we currently are) are notorious for getting stuck on eating a limited variety of foods. I know I have been guilty of that myself when I would go for months or even years at a time eating colcannon every night for dinner.

But here's an easy meal plan that provides considerable variety in our diets, meets most of our nutritional needs, and is enjoyable and tasty to eat. And that is the ever popular Bowl. Call it what you want -- the Grain Bowl, the Protein Bowl, the Buddha Bowl, the Bean Bowl, the Chipotle Bowl. It's all really the same thing. And it's easy to prepare. It doesn't even require a lot of planning or forethought. And different varieties of it can be eaten at different meals during the day.

The idea is simple. You put layers of different foods into a bowl and then enjoy. I like to start with colorful fresh produce that I layer at the bottom of the bowl. This part of the meal will look like a salad. It can include dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, tomatoes, red or yellow or orange bell peppers, radishes, onion, carrots, etc. I use a chopping bowl to first chop the salad mixture up. That way I get the benefit of a full salad, but it takes up little space in the meal bowl that I'm preparing. I then spray that with apple cider vinegar to give it some moisture and to help the taste.

Then I add whole grains and on top of the whole grains, I add the legumes. This can be any whole grain and any legume (except peanuts). And then I'll top that with some healthy fats like  walnuts, flax, chia or hemp seeds, and/or avocado. You don't need a lot of healthy fat, but you need some in order to absorb nutrients from some of the foods in your bowl. And the bowl can be topped with your favorite oil-free dressing. For getting my fruit in, I like to also top the bowl with berries. That can be blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, etc. And sometimes I will add a fruit like an apple or peach or apricot or cherries when they are in season as a side item.

What is amazing about this bowl is, as I mentioned, it requires no preplanning (except to make sure you always have on hand some cooked legumes and grains, which is easy to do with an Instant Pot and a refrigerator). And it can be made with virtually any plant-based food.

And that brings me to the next part of this --- shopping at the grocery store. Instead of making your grocery list specific to specific foods, loosen it up so that you can buy what's most fresh or what's on sale or what looks like it might be interesting to eat or to try a new type of produce that you've never tried before. Remember, variety is very important in maintaining a healthy balance of nutrients in our diets.

So, instead of saying Brown Rice on our grocery list, let the list just inform us that we need Grains. Then when in the store you have a whole selection of grains to choose from. Choose some you've never tried before. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised. The same with legumes. You don't always have to buy garbanzo beans or green lentils. Mix it up and try different varieties. 

Doing this will make your meals enjoyable, easy to prepare, easy to shop for and less time consuming.

J Lanning Smith
July 11, 2019

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