Have you heard about the CIA’s partnership with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health? For several years, we’ve worked together on the Menus of Change initiative, which aims to refocus restaurant cooking to include more plant-forward and sustainable menu planning. Simply put, we believe plant-forward eating is better for our individual health as well as that of the planet. A win-win, right?
Of course, plant-forward does not mean vegetarian or vegan (though it can!), but instead it puts plant products at the center of the plate, moving meats—preferably ethically-raised lean meats, poultry, and fish—to a supporting role. Eating more fruits, veggies, legumes, whole grains, and nuts is shown to benefit our health in many ways, including combatting diet-related diabetes, managing heart disease, and lowering cholesterol. Also, plants that are high in fiber and complex carbohydrates help us feel full longer and provide us the energy we need to get through busy days.
So, if you’ve read all of that and are thinking, “Sounds great, but I don’t really know how to cook that way,” let us assure you that it is so easy to introduce more plant-based foods into your daily routine. Here are a few of our favorite tips to easing into a more plant-focused cooking and eating routine:
- We love recipes, but making the transition to plant-based meals is easier if you don’t think in terms of replacements and substitutions. You won’t enjoy your favorite beef stroganoff recipe as much with mushrooms and cashews, because it will never be the same as the dish you already know. So instead of cooking recipes, just cook ingredients you love—and simply, using flavorful techniques like roasting—and then combine them at the end.
To us, that might mean roasting Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes, then serving them over cooked quinoa, topped with pickled red onions, chopped cashews, and a drizzle of spicy peanut sauce. Or grilling pineapple, red onions, and bell pepper, and chopping them up to mix with black beans, brown rice, and a red wine vinegar.
- Embrace convenience with batch cooking. At the beginning of the week, make a large batch of cooked grains, a big batch of assorted roasted veggies, and a simple sauce, like chimichurri. Use these ingredients as a starting point for breakfast, lunches, and dinners throughout the week. Make a bean, grain, and roasted veggie burrito, stir the ingredients into vegetable broth for an easy soup, or sear everything together on a griddle to make a hash served with a runny egg.
- If you think plant-forward = bland and boring, just remember that, um, India exists? Draw inspiration from cuisines that are known for big flavors, like Indian, Vietnamese, and Mexican cooking. Flip through cookbooks and websites to see how dishes like lentil dal, spicy papaya salad, and bold mole sauces can inspire the flavors of your home cooking.
- Spend some time at your favorite fish market and get to know products you may not have tried before. Sustainable and responsible fish consumption means eating a greater variety of fish to help prevent overfishing of the most popular species, so do your part by stepping outside of the salmon-tuna-shrimp routine. We also like to keep an eye on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, which gives tons of information about fish and seafood sourcing. The smartphone app is handy for those moments when you have to choose between farm-raised, fresh water, line-caught, Gulf, Pacific, and on, and on, and on.
When it comes to fish, also remember that frozen is okay! Unless you live near the coast with access to fresh, local fish, lots of the seafood we buy is previously frozen anyway, so don’t be afraid to purchase frozen fish in convenient portions. Do some research on varieties and brands and choose the best quality you can.
- At the CIA, we love food—especially dessert! So we would never ask you to follow a routine that doesn’t include treats. Of course, we think that decadence is just fine in moderation (you’ll never take croissants from us!), but for every day, consider the Three Pleasures for dessert. The Three Pleasures challenge encourages you to enjoy a simple dessert with dark chocolate, fresh or dried fruit, and nuts, in any form, without added sugars, saturated fats, and refined carbohydrates.
This could mean simply a handful of nuts with some dark chocolate and an orange, but it can also be hot chocolate, made with melted dark chocolate and date-sweetened cashew milk (just blend them together!), baked cherries with toasted hazelnuts and melted chocolate, or a homemade banana sorbet with chocolate chips and walnuts. Get creative!