4 Simple Ways to Have a Plant-Based Dinner Tonight

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Your Guide to Preparing Delicious Vegan Meals in Less Time

Dinner is often the biggest challenge for people considering going plant-based. Think about a typical evening meal in your house. Most likely, you’re picturing a plate with a starch, some meat and a vegetable, and maybe a small salad on the side. The mistake most prospective plant-based eaters make is imagining the meat disappearing (and possibly the starch, if it was cooked with butter or topped with sour cream) and leaving them with very little to go on.

amazing salad bowl with ripple carrotsI think this is why it’s so easy to over-complicate plant-based dinner ideas. You get into the mindset of having to re-create your entire meal plan, and it’s overwhelming. But I’ll let you in on a secret — adopting a plant-based diet doesn’t require you to turn dinner prep into a cooking show. You probably have some meals you eat on a regular basis right now, and you don’t have to change a thing about that plan besides swapping out the animal products and processed foods in favor of whole plant ingredients.

If you follow these four tips, you’ll never run out of simple plant-based meals for dinner. As a bonus, you’ll speed up prep time and be able to enjoy more leisurely evenings.

1) Use a Template

Remember the plate you pictured? That’s the template of your current dinners. Getting started with plant-based dinners is easier if you think of your new meals in the same way. Templates are better than recipes because they give you a basic formula you can follow with any ingredients you have on hand. There’s no pressure to hunt down specialty ingredients or run to the store if you’re missing just one tiny piece of the puzzle.

Here are some of the easiest templates for a plant-based evening meal:

  • Beans & Rice: Brown rice, beans, sauteed veggies, your choice of spices
  • Soup: Broth, veggies, beans or lentils, greens, salt-free seasoning
  • Chili: Red or black beans, no-salt canned tomatoes, chili powder, onions, peppers, other veggies as desired
  • Pasta: Whole wheat or brown rice noodles, marinara sauce, beans and/or greens
  • Stir Fry: Ginger and garlic, tofu or tempeh, every single veggie in the fridge

Experiment with these formulas to find the combinations you like best. The more you practice, the easier it will become. (For more tasty template ideas, check out Mark Reinfeld’s amazing book, Healing the Vegan Way or the masterful Plant Power by Nava Atlas. Both are great for inspiration!)

2) Make a Plan

You’ve probably heard over and over the importance of planning weekly meals in advance, and that’s because it’s good advice. Chances are you already approach cooking with this mindset. The family comes home and expects tacos on Tuesday or pizza on Friday or whatever your tradition happens to be. If you use templates to come up with plant-based family dinner ideas, you can have a pasta night, a bean and rice night and a soup night every week without ever getting bored.

veggies and fruits for plant-based dinner recipes

Sit down at the beginning of the week, and write out a list of the template “recipes” you want to make. Choose your ingredients based on sales at local stores or what’s in season at the farmers market, and take note of the items you can stock up on, such as pasta, beans, canned tomatoes or frozen veggies. Get the family involved in the process so that everyone is on board with the plan and you don’t get caught off-guard by your teenage son suddenly demanding a burger five minutes before dinner on soup night.

3) Become a Batch-Cooking Queen (or King)

Nothing makes for a quick, easy plant-based dinner like batch cooking. I touched on this a bit when I talked about breakfast and lunch, and it works just as well for the evening meal. The concept is simple: Instead of cooking a new dish every night, prepare meals and batches of ingredients once or twice a week.

The easiest way to do this is with an electric multi-cooker like an Instant Pot. These “set it and forget it” appliances can be used as pressure cookers, slow cookers, rice cookers and more, so you can prep your meals when you have time and let them cook while you go about your daily routine. Invest in a cooker large enough to prepare multiple servings of food for the number of people in your family so that you can maximize your batch cooking time.

You can either cook double or triple batches of foods from your “templates” (chili and soup work particularly well) or components like beans, rice and pasta sauce. While the food is cooking, you can even prep ingredients for side salads and store them in airtight containers in the fridge to throw together while reheating leftovers during the rest of the week (they’ll stay fresh for about four days). Store your batch-cooked ingredients or meals according to the directions for lunch leftovers, and there will never be a night where you’re at a loss for what to eat.

4) Schedule a Splurgevegan pizza splurge for plant-based dinners

Once you become familiar with preparing your template recipes and adapting them for batch cooking, it’s time to get creative. Borrow some plant-based cookbooks from the library, browse Finding Vegan or search through the numerous blogs penned by aspiring chefs across the web to find something mouth-watering that strikes your fancy. Set aside time to shop for any special ingredients, and pick a day when the whole family will be home to prepare the dish together.

Turning a complex recipe into a family “party” takes the fear out of tackling a lengthy ingredient list and makes the finished product more satisfying for everyone. Don’t wait for a holiday or special occasion to try your first “crazy” plant-based dinner recipe. Make them any time of year, and don’t forget to make extras so that you have leftovers to serve during the rest of the week!

So what favorite dinner dish will you start with? There are so many options, don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to try them all. Enjoy a new quick plant-based dinner every night — without driving yourself crazy or spending your life in the kitchen.

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Load Up on Plants for Lunch!

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Conquering the Midday Meal

Lunch! It’s the much-anticipated break in the day for kids and adults alike (unless you’re stuck in a working lunch, in which case, I feel for you). But when everyone at school is lining up to buy greasy pizza and limp vegetables or the gang at the office is chowing down on fast food, how do you make sure you and your kids have something healthy and delicious?

Tackling plant-based eating is easier when you approach one meal at a time, so now that you have breakfast all sorted out, you have some techniques you can use to make lunch prep quick and easy. Read on for your guide to packing better lunches for the whole family!

mason jar salad healthy lunch idea

Make Salad Simple (and Exciting)

The mason jar salad trend has been going strong for years and shows no sign of slowing down. Why? Because it’s simple and completely customizable. By taking a meal that usually requires a bowl, a separate container for dressing and daily prep time and turning it into a grab-and-go option you can make up to a week in advance, this approach to lunch makes having a nutritious salad with all your favorite ingredients even simpler than hitting the drive-thru.

One Green Planet has a fantastic guide with all you need to pack salad ingredients in glass jars and have them ready in the fridge to toss in your bag as you head out to work. You can easily make a balanced meal by layering up:

  • Homemade dressing
  • Cooked grains
  • Beans, tofu or tempeh
  • A rainbow of raw veggies
  • Dried fruit and/or nuts
  • Greens

When lunchtime rolls around, just shake up the jar and grab a fork! You can also dump the whole thing into a bowl, but why bother dirtying up another dish if you don’t have to?

Conquering Kids’ Lunches

Packing a plant-based lunchbox is possibly the most fun you’ll ever have as a vegan parent. Seriously. When you make plant-based lunches for your kids, you have the chance to channel your inner child and get creative with tons of fun foods.

Wraps and sandwiches are quick, simple and versatile. Make the tried and true PB&J on sprouted bread, or roll a banana and some nut butter up in a whole-grain tortilla for an entertaining twist on this classic. In cold weather, send veggie and bean soups with whole-wheat pita bread or homemade corn muffins.

Even the pickiest kids will eat anything that comes with a dip. Veggies and hummus, fruit and unsweetened nondairy yogurt, whole-grain tortillas and salsa…if they can dip it, it’s a viable choice for lunch. For dessert, you can never go wrong with a piece of fruit or a colorful fruit salad. (And yes, the occasional cookie is also acceptable!)

Pack everything up in a container with separate compartments, such as a bento box, to keep everything neat and give kids the freedom to combine foods any way they like. If you’re feeling artistic, try cutting fruit or sandwiches into shapes like flowers, animals or stars for a fun surprise come lunchtime.

Leftovers: The Easiest Lunch Ever

Leftovers are unfairly made the brunt of jokes and met with groans from those assuming anything remaining from a previous meal is destined to be boring, bland, dry or disgusting. It’s time to free yourself from this stereotype and embrace leftovers as, yes, the easiest lunch ever.

When you’re making dinner, get into the habit of cooking extra food to stash in the fridge and freezer. Some good options are:vegan refrigerator wonder soup served

These all freeze well and are easy to make in large batches. When leftovers have fully cooled, divide them into individual portions in airtight containers and label them, and you’re good to go! In the morning, all you have to do is grab a container and the appropriate utensils. It’s a lunch with literally no morning prep time unless you decide to throw a green salad together to eat on the side (which I highly recommend if you have a couple minutes to spare).

Know Your Takeout Options

There are times when eating out is your only choice. Whether life happened and you didn’t have time to make food in advance or the morning was so crazy that you rushed out the door without the lunch you already packed, you may find yourself approaching the lunch hour with a growling stomach and the dread of choking down a limp salad with no dressing.

Fortunately, restaurants are getting wise to the trend toward healthier eating and are starting to offer plant-based lunch options or even full plant-based lunch menus. To find the best choices near you:

You’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover how many eateries, especially ethnic restaurants, have dishes appropriate for plant-based diets or are willing to adjust existing dishes to meet your requests. While eating out shouldn’t become a habit, it’s nice to have a “go-to” spot you can rely on in a pinch. Keep in mind some restaurants may use animal-based ingredients in vegetable dishes, so be sure to ask about sauces, dressings and soup stocks before ordering.

Quick plant-based lunch ideas like these make planning and prepping your midday meal simple and hassle-free. It may take a few weeks to get into the habit of making meals in advance and to find foods your kids will happy gobble down, but don’t get discouraged. Every day is a chance to try something new and take a step forward to a healthier lifestyle.

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Peanut Blossom Bites — Plant-Based Christmas Cookie Makeover!

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I’ll admit it: when I was a kid, I snacked on cookies. My family was big on homemade baked goods, and I was kind of in love with Oreos. I would come in from playing in the snow and have a few Christmas cookies with hot chocolate or munch my way through the classic cookies and milk after school. And, of course, cookies were always a good option for dessert.

peanuts in a dish

Not unusual, right? But not the best idea when you’re trying to follow a healthy diet. That’s what inspired me to create Peanut Blossom Bites.

I may have mentioned before that I eat a lot. Currently I’m about ten pounds below what I consider to be an ideal and healthy weight for my height, which calls for a consistent strength training program and a high caloric intake. That means eating six times a day to spread out my calories in a way my digestive system is comfortable with.

Am I complaining? Nope. I love food, and I love eating. But snacks can get a little boring if I don’t make an effort to mix things up now and then. Sometimes the kid in me just plain wants to eat junk. What to do? Make something healthy that zings all the same “junk food” pathways as the cookie snacks of days gone by!

Inspired by classic peanut blossoms, these 100% healthy snack balls have it all: oats, peanuts, peanut butter, dates and chocolate. All you need is a food processor and about 15 minutes to make a batch of “cookies” you can happily snack on any time. With only three steps, it’s probably the easiest cookie recipe you’ll make all season. No more scrambling to bake something for a potluck — although it’s tempting to keep them all for yourself.

drinking cocoa for ChristmasAs I mentioned in my Cookie Q & A, these wound up tasting remarkably like Reese Puffs cereal. I think it’s because I used the Trader Joe’s peanut butter made with Valencia peanuts. I’d never tried it before — and didn’t even know what a Valencia peanut was — but wound up with a jar when my amazing landlady offered to pick up groceries for me while she was at TJ’s recently. Since I neglected to specify which peanut butter I usually get beyond “unsalted creamy,” she naturally assumed I was a fan of organic and picked up that variety.

I’m glad she did. The peanuts have a slight sweetness, making it perfect for recipes like this. (The linked article references the salted variety, but the flavor profile is the same.) The majority of Valencia peanuts in the U.S. are apparently grown in West Texas and New Mexico and are common in roasted peanut butter. Who knows, I may have tasted them before and never known it! But their particular sweetness is why I recommend Valencia for the bites. Regular unsalted creamy peanut butter also works, but I’d imagine the flavor would be a little deeper.

Peanut Blossom Bites
 
Prep time
Total time
 
Peanut blossoms are a Christmas classic, but they're not exactly healthy. These plant-based bites are the perfect snack when you want that traditional cookie taste without added oil or sugar.
Author:
Recipe type: Snack
Serves: 20 bites
Ingredients
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • ½ cup dry roasted peanuts
  • 1 cup pitted medjool dates
  • ¼ cup natural unsalted creamy peanut butter (I used Trader Joe's organic with Valencia peanuts)
  • ¼ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp raw cocoa powder (can substitute regular or Dutch processed)
Instructions
  1. Place the oats and nuts in high-speed food processor, and process until chunky and well-combined.
  2. Add the dates, peanut butter and vanilla. Process until a sticky "dough" forms. (Add more dates or peanut butter if it's stubborn about sticking together.)
  3. Form into balls, rolling each in raw cocoa powder to coat.
  4. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.
So go ahead, be a kid again and snack on cookies. I’m not judging!

vegan peanut blossom bites

If you make this recipe, tag @green_gut on Instagram so I can see your photos!

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5 Steps to a Healthier New Year

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A lot of people resolve to get healthier in the New Year but, as I can attest from my own attempts in the past, this can be a hard resolution to stick with.  Even as a seasoned vegan, there are so many tempting treats out there (read: vegan bakery three blocks from the farmer’s market) that before you know it, you’re sitting in a pile of donuts, wiping sprinkles off your face and wondering what the heck happened to your daily kale smoothie.

But the past doesn’t have to be predictive of the future!  Even if you spent the holidays mainlining raw truffles and frosted sugar cookies, you can start 2015 off right with better habits and see a healthier you in no time.  To help, I’ve amassed five tips to get you started.

(Need a little help sticking with your plant-based resolutions?  Check out my wellness consulting services!)

Quantum Vegan’s 5 Tips for a Healthy Plant-Based New Year

Healthy Greens by Wong Mei Teng full

Photo by Wong Mei Teng

1) Eat More Plants!

Whether or not you’re already vegan, it can never hurt to incorporate more plant foods into your diet.  While eating predominantly plant-based was once considered extremely weird, the world is starting to wake up.  Study after study is emerging showing that people who eat more plants have a lower rate and risk of most Western diseases including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.  Plant-based options are popping up in grocery stores, on restaurant menus and even in school cafeterias.

If you’re not vegan yet, there are many resources such as the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, VegWeb and Veganuary to help you get started and take the mystery out of eating plant-centered meals.

The easiest way to start putting more plants on your plate is to enjoy a big salad every day!  I recommend this to clients as a tasty opportunity to experiment with veggies they’ve never tried before.  Start with a base of mixed greens and add whatever strikes your fancy.  Carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, beets, parsnips, bell peppers, mushrooms–the possibilities are endless!

2) Go Unprocessed

Though it’s possible to be vegan while sucking down Boca burgers and Swedish fish, that kind of diet isn’t going to promote health in the New Year–or any time, for that matter.  Processed foods contain high concentrations of sugar, salt and fat, a trio used by the food industry to keep us snacking. Not only can these foods be addictive, but they’re also full of ingredients that can cause long-term damage to our health.  Chemical additives from colorings to preservatives aren’t recognized by the body and may contribute to the metabolic stress that paves the way for disease.  Hydrogenated oils are damaging and wreak havoc on the cardiovascular system through the production of free radicals.

The solution to this problem?  Focus on whole foods.  Choose fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains such as brown rice and quinoa, legumes and raw nuts and seeds instead of packaged convenience foods whenever possible.  You’ll avoid potentially harmful additives while enjoying the benefits of a wealth of plant-specific nutrients–called phytonutrients–that aren’t available from any other types of food.  These same nutrients work to heal damage in your body while protecting it from further harm.  Now that’s what I call plant power!

3) Incorporate Regular Exercise

Exercising more is a common New Year’s resolution, usually in the hopes of losing weight.  However, the benefits of exercise go far beyond weight management.  A regular exercise routine:

  • Lowers blood pressure and resting heart rate
  • Increase basal (resting) metabolic rate (BMR)
  • Decreases body fat and increases muscle mass
  • Improves insulin sensitivity for better blood sugar control

For adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week along with at least two days of strength training that targets all major muscle groups.  Double that amount offers even more benefits.

The trick, though, is to start small, especially if you’ve never followed a structured exercise regimen before or it’s a been a while since you last worked out.  Overdoing it at the start is a recipe for injury, which will put a stop to your routine before it even starts.  Begin with about 1/2 an hour per day, three days a week and work your way up from there.  Even small changes like taking a 10-minute walk on your lunch break help to increase your fitness level.

If you already exercise, consider changing up your routine.  Doing the same workouts over and over decreases the benefit as your muscles acclimate to the movements.  Challenge yourself with new strength and cardiovascular exercises and incorporate at least one day of restful stretching exercise such as yoga to give your body a break.

4) Reduce Stress

Eating well and exercising more are only part of the picture.  To be truly healthy in 2015, you’ve got to lower your stress levels.  While some stress can be positive, too much is detrimental to your body.  Stressors of all kinds trigger the release of cortisol, the hormone responsible for the “fight or flight” response.  Cortisol causes your heart rate to increase and prompts your body to release stored glycogen from the liver to give you a quick burst of energy.  This in turn raises blood sugar, triggering an insulin response to get that energy into your cells.

In a true “fight or flight” situation, the cortisol response is a good one since it provides the energy and alertness you need to respond to potential danger.  Long-term stress, however, keeps cortisol production high.  This stresses the body physically and can lead to hypertension, insulin resistance and weight gain or difficulty losing weight.  The high demand for cortisol can also cause adrenal fatigue, a condition where the glands that produce the hormone can no longer keep up with demands and effectively shut down.

How can you cut down on the stressors that trigger cortisol?  Assess your schedule to see where you can slow down a bit.  Learn to say no when you already have a lot on your plate.  Make time every day to relax, unwind and do something you love.  Read a book, enjoy a cup of tea, play a game with your family, work on a hobby–whatever makes you feel calm and focused.  Aim to create balance between work and pleasure that allows you to be productive without feeling overwhelmed.

5) Pray!

An active spiritual life, and prayer in particular, has been shown to exhibit positive effects on both mental and physical health.  People who participate in a regular religious practice enjoy a more positive outlook, better relationships, less stress and, according to some evidence, a lower incidence of illness.  Taking time to stop and pray in difficult situations calms your mind and connects you with something bigger than yourself–and much bigger than your problems.

Turning to God allows you to refocus and offers strength to face the day no matter what happens.  The Bible encourages us to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and to “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” (Philippians 4:6)  With this mindset, it’s possible to handle anything that the New Year throws at you–including the challenge of maintaining a healthier lifestyle.

What advice would you share with someone committing to (or re-committing to) a plant-based lifestyle in the New Year?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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