In the beginning, including more plant-based foods in your diet can seem daunting. Where do you begin? Do you have to give up your favorite meals? Can you only eat salads and raw veggies now?
What are you, a rabbit?
No. You’re not a rabbit. And you fully deserve to continue eating delicious food. Only now, that delicious food can also be healthy. Win-win.
Here, I’ve rounded up five easy swaps designed for you to add more plants into your favorite meals in the most delicious way possible.
Ah, tacos. Who doesn’t love them?
One of the best things about tacos is that they’re completely customizable – you can put almost anything in them that you like. Just a few basic fillings and a sauce is all you need, and you’re well on your way to taco heaven.
While it’s perfectly common to put fresh veggies in your taco, allow me to suggest you put one around your taco. Instead of a soft tortilla or a hard taco shell, try wrapping your delicious taco fillings in a lettuce leaf.
I’ve found Bibb lettuce or romaine hearts work best for this, but you can use any lettuce leaf (or any leafy green) you like. Not only does it pump up the nutritional value of your taco, it also tastes refreshing and adds a satisfying crunch.
Bonus: you can also do this with burgers – just wrap the patty in a couple of lettuce leaves, top with fixings of choice and serve!
Pasta is another favorite weeknight meal of many. It’s simple to prepare which makes it a great choice when you’re pressed for time, especially if you already have a sauce on hand.
You have a few choices when it comes to increasing your plant intake via your pasta dish. For starters, you can top your pasta with as many veggies as you’d like.
But let’s not forget that “spiralizing” a variety of vegetables to replace pasta noodles has gained popularity in recent years.
You can use a store-bought spiralizer for this, which is fairly inexpensive, or you can also use a vegetable peeler to create “ribbons” of your vegetable of choice.
Zucchini is a great veggie to substitute for noodles because they tend to be small yet firm – perfect for that spiralizer contraption – and don’t require any cooking. In fact, it will take you less time to spiralize zucchini than it would to boil water and cook traditional pasta. Another win!
You can also try spiralizing (noodlizing?) any other firm vegetable that lends itself to the process, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, cucumbers, potatoes, daikon radish, and celery root, to name a few.
Another option for a noodle replacement? Spaghetti squash, of course! Cooking spaghetti squash is a bit more time-consuming, but well worth it, and you can always cook your squash on a Sunday and refrigerate for consumption later in the week.
Simply slice your squash in half, drizzle a little olive oil, salt and pepper on the flesh, place on a baking sheet with the cut sides down and roast in a 425 degree oven for 45-50 minutes.
Then, once cooled a little, scrape the strands out with a fork, toss with your favorite sauce and tell me your mouth isn’t watering.
Mayonnaise is such a versatile spread. From sandwiches to dips to dressings, mayo lends a tangy, creamy mouthfeel that’s difficult to replicate. But not impossible.
Mash a ripe avocado, add a little lime juice and salt, and hey presto! You’ve got yourself a plant-based mayonnaise. Spread on sandwiches or thin out with water and add herbs or spices for a (vibrant green) salad dressing.
Of course, if you’re in the mood for a dip, guacamole is always popular and a good substitute for mayo-based dips. But why not get creative and add unexpected ingredients to your avocado dips?
Toss in some caramelized onions and onion powder for an onion dip, or puree with chipotle peppers for a spicy dip. Avocado, much like mayo, is a blank canvas.
You can even substitute avocado for butter in some applications. Talk about a win-win – delicious and healthy!
Everyone’s favorite game-day appetizer is an obvious great base for veggies. Nachos are often already loaded with onions, tomatoes, olives, jalapenos and the like. But just wait until you take them to the next level.
I’m talking, of course, about replacing the tortilla chips with veggies.
Slice a sweet potato on a mandoline or very thinly with a knife. Place slices on a baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes at 400 degrees. Top with all the fixings and return to the oven to heat everything through. It’s that easy.
Not a fan of sweet potato? Want to switch it up? Zucchini also masquerades perfectly as nacho chips. Just remember to toss with a little cooking oil first before throwing them in the oven.
5. Chips or crackers
I once ordered a delicious edamame hummus appetizer at a local sushi restaurant. Along with the usual crostini, it came with thick-cut veggies sliced on the bias (diagonally) for dipping.
Ever since then, I’ve been stealing this idea whenever I need chips to go with a dip I’ve made. Cucumbers and carrots work well for this, but don’t be afraid to get creative and try whatever veggie you have on hand. Jicama, radishes, and parsnips come to mind.
Your veggies-disguised-as-chips can also do double duty as crackers. Serve as hors d’oeuvres with the fixings of your choice on top. You can also try this with endive leaves and make ‘boats’ – fill with hummus and top with a sprinkle of chili powder and chopped nuts or olives.
As you can see, it’s easy to substitute fresh veggies for the components of some of your favorite dishes – all you need is a little imagination. I promise that every one of these swaps tastes delicious and, since the end result is a lighter meal, can even leave you feeling more energized.
The best part is that you get to amp up the overall nutritional value of your food without sacrificing taste – and you can still enjoy your go-to favorites.
Did I miss your favorite veggie swap? Let me know in the comments below!