Having a whole food, plant-based diet is a healthy start to a good life, one that can be really good for your body and the planet. But, for many of us, it can represent a significant change in the way we approach meals and, thus, life. After all, eating (and thinking about eating) occupies a good part of each day.
One of the best ways to tackle the task of moving towards that whole food diet is to pick up the right habits, tendencies that are going to reinforce this dietary choice. These routines are easy to start and maintain without having to invest in a bunch of fancy kitchen appliances or odd components for cooking a certain way.
Instead, we are setting the stage for success, and when that means well-balanced, affordable meals full of important nutrients and winning flavors, who doesn’t want to be in that play?
1. Stock Shelf-Life Staple Ingredients
A good pantry for a whole-food diet is one that has a great mix of staple ingredients with long shelf lives.
The list includes different types of dry pulses, a good collection to use for making all sorts of protein-rich dishes. Remember these items are more than just beans and peas, they can be the beginnings of burgers, dips, hummus, chili, and salads.
Whole grains are a huge part of the mix as well. Brown rice is a major player, but there are plenty of others like oats, whole grain flour, barley, corn, and bulgur. Combining a whole grain with a bean or pea makes for a complete protein.
Lastly, it’s good to have other pieces of the puzzle like nuts and seeds for healthy fats, as well as dehydrated fruits and frozen vegetables.
With this lineup, there are all the makings of a good, whole-food meal at the ready.
2. Don’t Keep Processed Foods
Along with stocking the right things for our whole-food diet, we have to keep the other stuff out of the house. It’s time to avoid processed foods as much as possible, so it’s best to not have them around.
The shopping list should be devoid of ready-made frozen dinners, boxes and bags of snacks, breakfast cereals, canned goods that aren’t simply vegetables in water, and all those fizzy, sugary (or artificially sweetened) drinks.
3. Soak Something Every Morning (or Evening)
Most of us are creatures of habit, keeping some sort of morning or evening routine. When cooking plant-based meals from scratch, it’s always helpful to have something soaking. Beans, peas, and even grains cook more quickly and shed anti-nutrients when they are soaked for several hours before being cooked. Setting something to soak every morning or evening will mean that making dinner will be that much easier.
4. Cook in Bulk
Undoubtedly, cooking from scratch can take longer, though it doesn’t necessarily do so. Nevertheless, preparing extra portions of those homespun, whole-food bean burgers or sausages, that killer curry, or the heaty split-pea soup means that there are some quick meals on the ready when schedules go awry or we get forgetful.
5. Look for Balance
Finding a good balance in our meals helps a lot, and it manifests in many different ways.
It’s good to have a mix of cooked and raw foods, so soups and salads work great, sandwiches and wraps can work, too.
We also need a healthy balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. All of these play essential roles in our overall wellness, so it isn’t prudent to cut any of them out of a diet completely.
And, it seems odd to say when speaking of a plant-based, whole-food diet, but including vegetables in our meals is important. Beans and grains are great, nuts and seeds are stellar, but we need a good smattering of colorful fruits and vegetables to get our vitamins and minerals. It’s easy to skip them.
6. Grow a Basic Garden
Unfortunately, fresh fruits and vegetables can be one of the more expensive things to buy from the supermarket, particularly when getting them organic is important. Even worse, they are usually the quickest to go bad. The best solution is to grow what you can at home. Not only will they be more flavorful and nutritious, but we are going to want to eat the fruits of our labor.
Some plants are easy to grow and supply fresh produce in abundance. Peas, green beans, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and a variety of greens are good places to start. They can even be grown on a sunny patio or apartment balcony.
7. Ferment, Pickle, and Freeze at Home
Once a good garden is growing, it’s often the case that we produce way more food than we can possibly eat at the time. So, this is the time to stockpile our whole foods as best we can.
Fermenting vegetables is great for adding nutritive value and probiotics. Sauerkraut is a go-to here, but it can be funked up with a mixture of greens and root vegetables.
Pickling provides that acidic punch (use apple cider vinegar for more) and is awesome for dealing with extra cucumbers, peppers, green beans, and green tomatoes. This will last for a long time, particularly when stored in a cool place.
Freezing is a simple way to preserve lots of vegetables, such as tomatoes, green beans, peas, and okra without having to go through the whole process of, and acquiring all the equipment for, canning.
Pick up these habits and eating a mostly whole food diet becomes second nature. All the pieces are put in place, so it just happens.
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