Tips to Help You Eat More Plants

We have a plant problem in the US today and I’m not talking about marijuana. By and large most Americans aren’t eating enough plants in their diets in spite of volumes of studies showing that eating plant-based diets is key for lasting health and weight management because they are loaded with so many vital nutrients our bodies depend on. Part of the issue is that we are a very meat-centric society and many of us just don’t know how to work more vegetables into our cooking routine because we are so used to meals consisting of a meat, a vegetable, and a starch. However, there are many plants that are great sources of protein and can easily stand in for that meat on your plate. Here are some tips to get you started on eating more plants.

Eat something green with every meal

This one is a great rule to live by and will instantly get more plants into your diet. Just add a green vegetable to every meal. This could mean adding spinach to your eggs in the morning, throwing some greens into your sandwich at lunch, and having some kale or green beans with dinner. Having green vegetables with your meals will help fill you up and can buffer against the effects of high-fat meals to a degree.

Practice Meatless Mondays

Commit to eating vegetarian one day a week. This one will require some work on your part because it’s very easy to just resort to carbs, like pasta and bread, and you may need to search for some good recipes. But it’s worth it!

Eat more quinoa

Quinoa has become a wellness buzz food and for good reason. This little seed is a complete protein and is a good source of calcium, lysine, B vitamins, and iron. It’s also gluten free. Prepared like you would rice, quinoa can be flavored pretty much any way and is versatile for use in meals. I’ve used it like rice, made pizza crust with it, made meatless meatballs with it – lots of things!

Make friends with cauliflower

Cauliflower is another versatile plant food that can be used for a large number of things. For example, you can make pizza crust with it, puree it to make an alfredo sauce, or use it as a substitute for rice. These recipes are super easy and are a great way to eat more veggies!

Give vegetable noodles a try

Don’t have a spiralizer? That’s OK! Most grocery stores now carry a variety of vegetable noodles, from squash to zucchini to sweet potato to beets. And the internet is loaded with different recipes for every type of vegetable noodle. You could use spaghetti squash instead of regular noodles as well.

Load your pasta sauce

Marinara and pasta sauces are a great place to hide vegetables, especially if you have picky eaters. You can load your sauces with bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, broccoli, spinach, zucchini, squash – you name it. Keep it chunky or puree it for a smoother sauce. Either way, you just ate way more vegetables!

Drink more smoothies

Smoothies can be another good way to increase the amount of plants you’re consuming on a daily basis. Using fresh or frozen fruit and adding some vegetables like spinach, kale, or cucumber, you can make a powerhouse of a smoothie. Just be careful not to overload your smoothie so you end up with a high calorie treat rather than a healthy snack or meal.

Replace those chips and crackers

There are many healthy plant options you can choose for snacks on the go other than chips and crackers. Nuts, for example, are a great source of protein and fiber. Crunchy chickpeas are also a yummy plant snack on the go and can be bought or made in a variety of different flavors. Carrots, celery, and sugar snap peas are also taken on the go very easily and are great for dipping.

Treat yourself to the cut fruit plate

Many of us balk at the pre-cut fruit platters they sell at the grocery store because they really charge you for the convenience. But, in my opinion, it’s a worthwhile investment if it will make it easier for you to eat healthier.

Replace your bread with greens

Replace your wraps with collard leaves and your tortillas with lettuce cups. You could also use slices of sweet potato or cucumber instead of bread for your sandwiches.

It may seem like a lot of work at first, but it is actually quite easy to get more plants into your daily diet. Once you find some recipes you like and work them into your routine with some minimal prep, you’ll be eating plants like you’ve been doing it all along.

Product Review: Trader Joe’s Frozen Cauliflower Crust

Cauliflower has been quite the rage for a while now and, not to miss the party, Trader Joe’s has released a frozen cauliflower pizza crust, much to the delight of TJ lovers and the carb conscious consumer. After reading about how excited so many health bloggers were, I decided to pick one up and put it to the health coach test.

Overall grade: 2.2/10

Nutrition

Right off the bat, I was not thrilled about this product based on its nutrition label. Essentially, they have taken a wonderfully nutritious vegetable and turned it into something nearly nutritionally devoid.

The serving size is 1/6 of the crust (which, by the way, will leave you hungry). At that serving, this crust contains 80 calories, 1 gram of fiber, 1 gram of protein, 10 mg of calcium (0% of your daily value), 0.1 mg of iron (0% of your daily value), and 60 mg of potassium (0%of your daily value). Doing some basic math, that means that the entire crust contains 480 calories, 6 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein, 60 mg of calcium (6% DV), 360 mg of potassium (7.6%), 0.6 mg of iron (3% DV) and 102 carbohydrates.

Let’s compare that to an actual head of cauliflower, which contains 146 calories, 1,758 mg of potassium, 12 grams of fiber, 11 grams of protein, 12% of your DV of calcium, 472% of your DV of Vitamin C, 13% DV of Iron, 55% DV of Vitamin B-6, 22% DV of magnesium and 29 grams of carbohydrates.

The vast majority of recipes to make your own cauliflower crust call for a full medium head of cauliflower, so you will get much more nutrition from making your own rather than buying this.

Nutrition Score: 3

Ingredients

Typically when I see prepackaged products like this, I assume that they are going to be full of preservatives and fillers. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the ingredient list for this pizza crust. In this order, it contains: cauliflower, corn flour, water, corn starch, potato starch, olive oil, and salt. Short, simple, real.

But here’s the rub. We would think that cauliflower would be the most plentiful ingredient in the recipe, but the nutrition facts indicate otherwise. Either the cauliflower has been stripped down and processed into flour or there isn’t very much cauliflower in this at all.

Another concern that I have here is that this isn’t labeled non-GMO so the corn used to make the flour is probably genetically modified.

Ingredient Score: 5

Ease of Prep

According to the instructions, you are supposed to top the crust and cook it frozen in a 450 degree oven. To make it crispy, it says to put it directly on the rack. Whatever you do, DO NOT PUT IT DIRECTLY ON THE RACK. Why? Because before it gets crispy, it thaws and gets soft and then flops and falls apart on the bottom of your oven and fills your apartment with smoke. Clearly, Trader Joe did not test this product before putting the instructions on the box.

Prep: 0

IMG_20170627_185708309
This is what happens when you follow the directions and place the crust directly on the rack to make it crispy. Pro tip: DON’T

Texture

Because of the unfortunate demise of most of the crust before we realized what was happening and threw a pan under it, I can’t tell you if this crust actually gets crispy. As it was, we salvaged what we could and finished cooking it. The texture was….foamy. Like styrofoam. It wasn’t horrible but it wasn’t good either.

Texture: 1

Flavor

The flavor was also negatively impacted by the crust catastrophe because everything in the oven tasted like burning. The few pieces that didn’t taste like fire, didn’t have much flavor to them at all. So it wasn’t good or bad.

Flavor: 2

Overall, Trader Joe’s cauliflower pizza crust was disappointing. There are so many recipes out there that are more nutritious and flavorful that I would say it’s worth it to save your money and invest your time in making your own. Is this convenient? Yes, but I don’t think it’s worth the trade-off.

IMG_20170627_190649059
The final product after we had salvaged what we could from between the rack prongs. It’s a bit blurry because of the steam and the smoke in the oven.

Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce

If you are one of the many parents who struggle to get their kids to eat their vegetables, you are going to love this recipe. If you are an adult who hates eating vegetables, you are going to love this recipe. If you love alfredo. you’re going to love this recipe. The sauce has the velvety texture and creamy flavor of alfredo, but contains just a tiny amount of cheese and is made of cauliflower. Instead of milk or heavy cream, you use the water you cooked the cauliflower in for a liquid so you’re still able to get some of those water-soluble nutrients from the cauliflower. You won’t even know you’re eating a vegetable! What’s even better is this is super quick and easy to make.

A quick note on the pasta. I always recommend whole wheat pastas over white pastas – it is far more nutritious than white and it’s also more filling. However, this sauce is made with water and whole wheat pasta tends to soak that up very quickly so you end up with a grainier textured sauce. I still don’t recommend white pasta. I would say go with a brown rice pasta or a whole wheat blend, like whole wheat and quinoa pasta. It will act less like a sponge while still not being an empty carb. I recommend using penne or ziti because it catches some of the sauce inside of it so you get even more flavor with each bite.

Ingredients

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 cup water (from the cauliflower)
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 box whole grain pasta, cooked

Equipment

  • Blender

Directions

  1. Break up the cauliflower into florets. Place them in a large pot of water and boil until soft.
  2. While the cauliflower is cooking, saute the chopped garlic cloves in the extra virgin olive oil for about a minute – just long enough to bloom the flavor. Scrape the garlic and oil into the blender.
  3. Once the cauliflower is soft, add it to the blender with the salt, water from the pot, and parmesan. Blend until the sauce is smooth.
  4. Add the sauce to the cooked pasta. Optional: top with a little more grated parmesan and cracked black pepper and enjoy!

Using a small head of cauliflower, I had some extra sauce leftover using one box of pasta. So. if you buy a larger head, you may be able to make enough sauce for two boxes of pasta.

If you want to take this one step further, add some grilled chicken and broccoli to it!

Cauliflower Sauce
This sauce is so incredibly velvety and creamy!

Cauliflower Caraway Soup

Cauliflower caraway soup is a healthy, crowd-pleasing appetizer…or main course! It is so creamy and has a really rich, decadent flavor from the caraway so it leaves you feeling really satisfied, the way a creamy chowder would. But, this recipe  is completely dairy-free and vegan… oh, and it’s delicious, too.

It starts out with a basic mirepoix sautéing while you boil the cauliflower until it’s soft. I season the mirepoix with salt and pepper, garlic powder, coriander, and Bell’s turkey seasoning (the official spice of the Commonwealth of MA). Towards the end, I add a ton of caraway seeds to get them toasty and bring out the flavor.

Mirepoix

When boiling the cauliflower, you want to use just enough water to cover it because that is what’s going to become your broth. It’s loaded with nutrients and cauliflower flavor so it’s really going to enhance your soup in more ways than one. Once the cauliflower is soft, remove the pot from the heat. Then, using a potato masher, carefully (so you don’t splash scalding water onto yourself – been there, not fun) mash the cauliflower right in the liquid.

Cauliflower Pot

Once you’ve gotten the cauliflower well-mashed by hand, add the mirepoix and blend with an immersion blender (you can  do this in a regular blender or food processor as well). Blend until it takes on a creamy consistency.

I am a major proponent for tasting as you cook. So at this point, I say taste and if it doesn’t have enough caraway or salt, add more. And don’t be shy about the seasoning – it can take a lot to balance the cauliflower. You want the final product to taste almost like pumpernickel bread. I highly recommend putting it back on the heat for a while not only to keep it hot until it’s served but also to render the flavors even more.

This soup makes a great appetizer or can be a whole meal as well. Want to get fancy? Serve it with some pumpernickel croutons on top or garnish with some extra caraway seeds.

Cauliflower Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 heads cauliflower, cut into chunks
  • 3-4 medium carrots, diced
  • 3-4 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • Olive Oil
  • 2 Tbsp Bell’s turkey seasoning
  • Caraway seeds (as many as it takes)
  • Salt & Pepper (to taste)
  • 2 Tsp Coriander
  • 1 tbsp Garlic powder
  • 2 Bay leaves

Instructions

  1. Place the chunks of cauliflower into a large pot and fill with water until just covered. Place on high heat, add bay leaves, and bring to a boil. Salt the water and boil the cauliflower until it is soft. Remove from heat.
  2. While the cauliflower is boiling, sauté the carrots, onions, and celery in about 1 tbsp olive oil until soft. This is your mirepoix. Season this with the coriander, garlic powder, and salt and pepper. Add about 2 tbsp of caraway seeds and cook another minute so that the seeds get toasty.
  3. Using a potato masher, carefully mash the cauliflower in the water. Add the mirepoix and blend using an immersion blender until smooth and creamy in texture.
  4. Add the Bell’s seasoning and another tsbp of caraway seeds and blend some more. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Your soup should taste very similar to pumpernickel bread. Taste frequently and add seasoning as you need to.