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Top 10 Tips for Flexitarian Cooking for the New Year


Check out my companion podcast about Flexitarian cooking. Just click the podcast tab on my website.



Every year in January, I always do an audit of what I've been eating for the past few months. Not that I eat badly, but I tend to gravitate towards things and I always like and I like to see what that is, to make sure that I'm on the right track for my health goals. This past year has been respectable, I have been on track and managed to drop my cholesterol 39 points in six months by cooking flexitarian. It's sort of a semi-vegetarian way of cooking that allows me to mostly eat plants but occasionally eat meat. As time goes on, I am eating less meat, but I still cook it in classes and cook it at home for family and friends. I just always have some plant-based options on the menu too.


When I started on this journey, I vowed not to give up the tasty flavors of my cooking, just because I was adjusting. The truth is, there are many AMAZING recipes out there that are plant-based and delicious. Most are rooted in international cuisines that are already plant-based friendly.


Here are my Top 10 Tips for Flexitarian cooking, it's a fun way to ease into eating more plants.


Tip # 1

Swap out Plants for Meat





Grilled Eggplant makes a great stand-in for meat along with portobello mushrooms. Making burgers? Cook some mushrooms and run them through the food processor to mince and add them to the ground meat. Add a few more mushrooms every time you make them and pretty soon you will not miss the meat. The secret here is to spice them a little heavier than you normally would. The Culinary Instutite defines Plant-forward as not more than 30% of meat on your total plate.








Tip # 2

Have different vegetable dishes on the table that pair well with each other



What I mean by dishes that pair well is, that they have the same flavor profiles- For instance, Italian flavors run through all the dishes. This way they can all go together. I like to have a salad, a hearty root vegetable or potatoes, and a green vegetable on my plate. Cauliflower rice, Vegetable-based pasta, and roasted vegetables are great choices to add variety to the plate. If you like a lot of variety, learn how to cook once and eat 4 times. Which means meal prepping.













Tip # 3

Create Dishes where meat is on the side, instead of the main star



Italian Sausage alongside this Lasagna satisfies carnivores and vegetarians alike.

Risotto is one of my favorites that lends itself to meat on the side too. Just make the main dish hearty enough that you won't be looking for the

meat and will leave you satisfied.

Egg Based Frittatas or Egg Bakes lend themselves well to side meats for breakfast or brunch.













Tip #4

Embrace the Buddha Bowl


The Buddha bowl is a great exercise in fridge foraging. It's simply a large shallow bowl like a pasta bowl or plate filled with stacks of your favorite ingredients. The main components of a Buddha bowl are-

Greens

Vegetables or Fruits

Protein

Toppings

Dressing

It's easy and fun to put these together with what you have on hand.


Tip # 5

Cook in Stages and Take Out food before you add the meat.


I learned this many years ago in the catering business when I had to cater to special diets. We simply cooked the dish to a certain point and pulled out part of the dish, then proceeded to add the meat or other ingredients. A good example of this would be Risotto or Pasta- you could cook it to the almost finished point, pull some out and then add the meat and finish cooking it. You will then have 2 separate dishes, one with meat, one without. This works great with spices too.


Tip # 6

The Mixed Grill


I LOVE grilled foods, summer and winter, in fact, especially in winter. It makes me feel like I am holding my own against Mother Nature when I grill in sub-zero temps. My favorite meal to cook for friends is what I call my Mixed Grill/ Salad Bar. It fits all dietary preferences, and everyone can enjoy it- Here are my staples:

Grilled Salmon

Grilled Sausages or Chicken

Grilled Tofu

Grilled Vegetables

Cowboy Potatoes- (baked, cut in wedges or halves, drizzled with olive oil and garlic and browned on the grill)

Baby Greens or Spinach

Salad Toppings

Cheese Crumbles (include plant-based)

Crunchy Toppings

Homemade Dressings

Fresh Bread/ Olive Oil

The leftovers are epic from this meal.




Tip # 7

Keep an everyday veggie tray on hand


Convenience does increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables. I like to have a small veggie platter on hand on a dinner plate for the late afternoon munchies. It's my go-to snack while I am making dinner. Otherwise, I am heading for the cheese and crackers, which I love, I just can't imbibe on cheese every day. Having vegetables balances out my other choices.





Tip # 8

Make sure each meal has 3 food groups and snacks with 2 food groups



This was a tip from my dietitian. It's fairly easy to have a protein with 2 sides, but with snacks, it can be tricky when you just want to crunch snacks at 3:00 p.m. My go-to snacks are peapods or carrots with hummus, Apples, and Peanut butter or nuts with grapes or some other fruit. When you are eating 2 things for a snack and you make one a Fruit or Veg, you are well on your way to 7-9 servings a day.











Tip # 9

Learn how to Swap ingredients in recipes



Swap-outs are the key to cooking Flexitarian. Tacos are a great opportunity for swap-outs- Jackfruit, Chopped nuts, grilled pineapple, Mushrooms, and Tofu are all great subs for taco fillings. With all the fresh condiments and spices, you will barely notice the filling is not meat.

Dairy has become an easy swap out, along with eggs. There are numerous swaps for all of these foods that are not the same, but they get the job of nutrition and tasting great done.










Tip # 10

It's not all or nothing, that's why it's called Flexitarian.


In my position as a culinary instructor and lover of fine food, I could never be exclusive with my food choices or omit food groups. However, I am learning that moderation is the key to good health, along with exercise and good sleep. I pick and choose what I will eat out carefully, but if I am at a great restaurant that specializes in a certain dish, and I want to try it, I will. When I am at home, I practice eating 7-9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day to balance out my choices. We all have to find what works for each of us personally.

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