Here's a simple fact: fruits and vegetables are awesome for you. Packed with vitamins, antioxidants and fiber, they're vital in keeping all of our bits and parts functioning and fit. What's not so easy? Integrating more plant-based foods — and less animal-based food, while we’re at it — into our daily eating, so it becomes a lasting lifestyle change. That's why we turned to two authorities on the topic. Here, chef Tal Ronnen of L.A. vegan hotspot Crossroads and chef Matthew Kenney, author of the forthcoming cookbook Plant Food, share 7 practical, easy-to-follow tips on eating cleaner and smarter.
1. Baby steps
Rather than drastically overhauling your diet — which usually sets you up for failure — ease yourself into eating better by taking baby steps. “Start by integrating meatless meals just a couple times a week, to take the load off,” says Ronnen.” He believes that once you start feeling the positive benefits from eating healthier, you’ll naturally want to incorporate more fruits and vegetables — and while you’re at it, less meat — into your daily diet.
2. Breakfast rules
Kenney finds that if you kick off your day with salty and fatty foods, it’s difficult to reset your palate for lunch and dinner. Therefore, view breakfast as a strategic time to go as clean as possible, namely with juice. Kenney recommends a blend that’s “more green and not too sweet,” in order to “feed your mind and prepare you for lunch.” The hope is that starting the day with nutrient-packed, green-based juice will pave the way to making smarter choices the rest of the day.
3. Think globally
Tacos stuffed with rajas poblanos. Saag Paneer. Miso-glazed Japanese eggplant. When you start looking at how other cultures you typically eat, you’ll quickly realize how effortless – not to mention awesome (and affordable) – plant-based eating can be. “Enjoy exploring ethnic cuisines that offer meatless meals inherently,” says Ronnen. “Lots of cuisines such as Indian, Japanese and Chinese have great meatless options.”
4. Strategize your snacking
Everyone's got the urge to snack, but it’s important to identify the flavors and textures you’re craving when reaching for the Cool Ranch Doritos in between meals. If crunchy and savory’s your deal, try salted nuts, which are loaded with heart-healthy fats, fiber and protein. Have a sweet tooth? Reach for dried, unsweetened fruits, such as dates and figs, which couple deep sweetness with a satisfying chew. Portion handfuls of these snacks in baggies, and keep them readily available. “Fight temptation by being prepared,” says Kenney.
5. Preparation is key
Upon scanning a menu, it’s fairly easy to isolate what dishes are vegetarian and what aren’t. However, it’s not just the ingredients, but the preparations, that you should watch out for. “Fried. Sauteed. Roasted. Many of these preparations require additional fats to cook,” warns Kenney. And these additional fats can easily be animal-based (think lard, schmaltz and tallow). When in doubt about how something’s prepared, play it safe and ask your server.
6. Shop like a pro
Pack your shopping cart with a nutritional punch by learning how to navigate your grocery store. ”Avoid the middle aisles (which are typically filled with processed and packaged foods),” Kenney says. “Do the bulk of your shopping in the outer aisles, where things are perishable and fresh.” And while shopping, periodically check in with your cart, to make sure the majority is comprised of raw fruits and vegetables.
7. Sharing is caring
Here’s where the buddy system can boost your chance of success. “Find someone who's willing to try this with you,” recommends Ronnen. Being accountable to someone — while having to keep that person in check — can make all the difference in your ability to stick with the game plan.
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