One of the most common concerns I get from my patients trying to switch to an herbivorous way of eating is what to prepare and eat. Eating this way isn’t merely a diet of salads, twigs, and bark as I have heard it referred to as by some of my patients and others.
The purpose of this is to give you a formula to creating fast, easy and delicious meals. It evolved from patient requests on what my wife and I eat during a typical week.
I surely wasn’t a good cook when I adopted this lifestyle. I could grill a mean slab of meat, but that art is history. I read, watched, and learned--and experimented. And by golly, I’ve evolved into a pretty good plant-based food preparer now I must say. And you can be as well. It really isn’t difficult! Actual recipes? Naw--not in this chapter anyway. There are plenty of super vegan cookbooks I can lead you to, but I just want to give you the tools to get started--so you won’t get dismayed and go hungry! My formula is dynamic, meaning it can be easily adapted to what you have on hand at that particular moment so you don’t have to run to the store if you are lacking an item or two. There are very few recipes I have ever followed exactly as they were written--well perhaps a few. But I like to be creative--to improvise! I have fun and most of the time it is edible! Just watch! You are going to surprise yourself! You can be an artist in the kitchen as well.
So what I am going to do here is give you the simple formula for creating virtually every meal you prepare. I will also share with you a typical two week menu of our routine and also some helpful tidbits on how we prepare our meals and lunches we take to work along with some snack tips.
I am frequently asked “my recipes” when it comes to some of the soups, pasta sauces, and casseroles I come up it. But I have to admit, even though many of them are quite similar, two are rarely exactly alike. There is a simple formula I have come up with based on what I have learned from others who live this way. I approach each meal with the thought of including the 5 following items in each meal. Sounds simple right? First of all, the 5 groups.
Group 1--The “Starch” or “Carb”
This is the valuable lesson Dr. John McDougall taught me. Base all meals around the starch--the carb. In other words, select one of the four following.
Bread, Rice, Potatoes, or Pasta
Technically you could include corn in this group as it is primarily a starch, but I usually stick to these 4 and use corn as an added veggie..
Beans, legumes, or “fake“ meats.
All fruits and vegetables have some protein, but I usually consider the beans to be “the protein” for herbivores and for the “protein“ in my meal formula. The “fake meats” as I refer to them as are the plant protein mixtures made to look, taste, and have the same texture as real meat. Many whole food plant-based gurus turn their noses at these, but being a primary care physician who is trying very hard to convert the oodles of meat eaters out there into herbivores--these are a valuable weapon in my armamentarium. They make vegan hot dogs, veggie burgers(some of which are fairly good), “taco meat”, sausage, chorizo, and even bacon. If I can get my carnivorous patients to at least try a few of these, they will see that they aren’t so bad. Believe me, it helps me in my patient-convincing efforts! And I have to admit, we use some of these around our own house at times for variety, texture, and flavor.
Group 3--Fruits & Vegetables
Naturally--add your favorite fruits & veggies!!! You wouldn’t be an herbivore if you didn’t!
Even though I love fresh fruits and vegetables, I highly recommend keeping a good stock of various frozen fruits and vegetables on hand for this purpose. Sure fresh is nice, but can you really tell the difference after they are cooked? Exactly! Remember, quick and easy! Cut open a package of mixed cut veggies and dump them into the pot! Nutrient value is preserved and the chopping, washing and preparing has been done for you!
Group 4--Leafy Greens
Get your calcium in its most usable form! Calcium originates from the soil. Cows eat grass (greens) to get the calcium most Americans assume they have to consume dairy products to get! Get it from the primary source! When I think of leafy greens I think of Ann Esselstyn. This is her baby! I learned so much about preparing various greens from her on their documentaries and when I‘ve seen her speak in person about the subject. And the one lesson we implemented in our house if we aren’t planning on having a salad with a particular meal, was to merely add a layer of greens, whether it be lettuce, kale, spinach, or whatever, to the bottom of the plate or bowl and place the rest of the food over it! It doesn’t matter if it is a soup, pasta, or a rice dish. How simple--but how ingenious! It’s wonderful! Thanks Ann!
Goup 5--Onions, mushrooms
These are so important in my mind and to my palate that they get a separate grouping! I have always liked them both even before my herbivorous switchover, but it was Dr Joel Fuhrman’s video and additional information and evidence on the nutritional value of these two wonderful gems which compelled me to single them out. I guess there are a “few” things I don’t add them to such as peanut butter sandwiches (or I guess I could), cereal or oatmeal, smoothies, but not much. Whether it be stir fry, soups, chili, salads--they all get a hefty handful of mushrooms and onions! The immunity boost and cancer fighting abilities from these two items is too valuable not to!
OK. Here is an example of what I do to create a fast, super nutritious, satisfying, and delicious plant-based meal. This can be prepared easily in less than 10 minutes!
Boy, are you in for a treat!
2 packages of frozen rice which you can microwave first to get ready for 3 minutes. You can purchase these anywhere but I like the Trader Joe’s Rice Medley--avoid WHITE rice! Sure, you can use rice you prepare yourself, but I
2 15 oz cans of your favorite beans--drained and rinsed--I like to mix--for instance add one can of kidney and one can of garbanzo)
1 16 oz package of frozen veggies (whatever you like or “have on hand”)
1 small package of sliced mushrooms(you can even use canned if you wish)
Add your favorite seasonings and there you go!
Place a handful of greens of some type--on plate or in the bowl first. Then after merely cooking your creation for 10 minutes or so, add your cooked creation over your greens.
I like to use the small potatoes as “the starch” frequently as well. You can either boil the potatoes in water for 10 minutes or so and then leave whole or slice and add to your mixture or slice and steam for about 15 minutes. To me, potatoes add more of a heartiness to the meal.
And like I said, be an artist--be creative! Poor a can of diced tomatoes into the mix, chop some jalapeno peppers into it to give it some zing. Or even create a chili by using chili beans, chili powder and perhaps even one of the vegan sausages or chorizo as the protein source. I do all of these and they are amazing!
Here are some examples for a couple of days.
Day 1: Breakfast: Oatmeal with one of the “plant milks” and a few nuts (perhaps 6 or so) crushed almonds or walnuts and/or flaxseed. Then I add perhaps some raisins & berries, and ½ banana. We tend to use frozen berries and what we do is place a handful of the frozen berries in the bottom of the bowl first and then add the hot oatmeal over the top and mix. It quickly thaws the berries mixing it into the oatmeal and cools the mixture so you can eat it! If you prefer a bit more sweetness, one can add some agave nectar or perhaps a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses. We have found, however, that when you mix the banana, blueberries and raisins into the oatmeal it is plenty sweet enough.
Day 2: Breakfast: One of my Smoothies. (This makes 2 fairly large smoothies or four small ones). These ingredients all go in the Vitamix but one can use any blender. Add some crushed ice. Add one banana (this makes them “creamy“. For extra creaminess we add some chia seed which thickens once it gets wet. Plus it is a good source of Omega 3. Add one small bag of (12 oz) frozen fruit. Now you can use fresh fruit, but we commonly keep the frozen fruit in the freezer for convenience and non-spoilage sake. I commonly use the mixed fruit from Sprouts, but again any fruit of your liking. Blackberries and raspberries are also two of my favorites, but Costco has bags of mixed berries now that we commonly keep on hand. I make it a habit of adding a tablespoon of flaxseed, perhaps some agave nectar or blackstrap molasses, a”good” handful of kale or other green. Then fill with either water or for more creaminess, your favorite plant milk. They are wonderful and so packed with immunity-boosting phytochemicals and phytonutrients to protect you from all of the viruses and pathogens you will encounter throughout the day. Experiment! That is what is so fun about it!
Lunch: Hummus sandwiches. We use pumpernickel, rye, or wheat bread. There are many good brands out there. Costco carries breads which are oil free now and they are simply terrific! Spread one slice of bread with you hummus. I also make my own and that is another easy thing to do and endless with regards to the ingredients and flavors you can add and create. Add cucumber, onion and mushrooms (of course), perhaps some bean sprouts, romaine or field greens, and tomato--These are so wonderful!
Snacks…My wife and I take the following items to work for those mid morning or afternoon hunger pangs we so often get. Here are some rather healthy herbivorous hints. Remember, if you are hungry, EAT!
Celery & carrot sticks (I eat a lot of these!), celery, sliced cucumbers, melon, Lara Bars (or other bars--but again, read the labels!). Many bars contain dairy, eggs, and tropical oils. Most Lara bars ARE vegan. I also like apples, pears, bananas, and raisins as snack items and my favorite is Marys Gone Crackers. These are made without any oils and are absolutely wonderful. Of course there are other crackers out there, but remember the ol addage--”read the label!” Other than the Marys Gone brand, it is difficult to find crackers which aren’t produced with oil.