Published on August 12, 2021

Burrito bowl

Easy ways to add plant-based foods to family meals

It is hard for some people to eat less meat, no matter how many times they hear that a plant-based diet is better for their health and longevity. If you or a family member have a preference for red meat, there are satisfying ways to transition to a healthier diet.

During the summer months, when fresh produce is more abundant, it is easier to work more vegetables and fruits into your diet. As fall approaches, make plans to begin experimenting with favorite dishes and exploring new foods. You will just need a little creativity, an open mind and few additional ingredients.

"Be adventurous about trying new foods and flavors," said Rachel Eckel, a ProHealth Care dietitian. "Fruits and vegetables also provide pops of color and visual appeal to the meal."

Many people are drawn to the flavor of a dish by its seasonings. The same appealing flavors can come through with vegetables, chicken, turkey or seafood in place of beef. Herbs and spices are beneficial for health and can replace added salt. Many also have cancer-fighting compounds.

Build-your-own bowl and salad bars allow family members to combine individual ingredients of choice. These types of bars can feature a wide variety of vegetables, grains and fruits to mix and match. The choices can include Mediterranean, TexMex, Asian or American seasonings.

Stock your kitchen with fresh herbs; vegetables such as eggplant, squash, mushrooms and beans; and chickpeas, quinoa, brown rice and nuts. You can create homemade vinegar-based dressings and broth-based sauces for a fresh and lively approach to meals. When cheese is needed, use mozzarella or feta.

Grilled Portobello mushrooms or eggplant work very well as burgers or main ingredients for fajitas. Ground turkey made with seasonings and onions is a healthier choice for burgers, meatballs or meatloaf. Chicken and shrimp are popular for grilling, and can be used in vegetable-based kabobs, salads, tacos and quesadillas. Seasoned whitefish and salmon are also tasty grilling choices.

Encourage family members to use beds of greens and vegetable toppings as alternatives to buns for burgers and grilled chicken.

When the weather calls for soups, stews and chili, focus on vegetables and legumes, with turkey or chicken if needed. Bean-based pastas flavored with broth and seasonings can be even more delicious than pasta covered with calorie-laden sauces.

Whole foods like apples, bananas, pears, melons, nuts and berries are ideal for snacking.

"It’s important to eat a variety of foods throughout the day," Eckel said. "Eating well-balanced meals and snacks can be just as healthy as swapping out proteins. Aim to fill more of your plate with fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains, while reducing portions of meat."

If homemade meals seem to be a chore, make changes slowly. Develop new ways of shopping and preparing food in steps.
Search for healthy recipes and add ingredients to your shopping list ahead of time. At the store, look for precut squash, celery, carrots, onions, green vegetables, tomatoes and melons to save prep time.

The following recipes can be easily found online as plant-based, low-sodium, low-fat options:

  • Black bean burgers
  • Butternut squash and black bean enchiladas
  • Curry chick pea salad
  • Lentil sloppy joes
  • Loaded black bean sweet potatoes
  • Portobello fajitas
  • Roasted chick pea gyros
  • Salmon burgers

"For many, planning new meals can be overwhelming," Eckel said. "Try modifying familiar meals by adding beans, whole grains, fruits or vegetables. Involve family members in menus to win support for changes. Have them pick a healthy new recipe that you can prepare together."