Plant-Forward Cuisine

Chickpeas and vegetables in bowls.

by Tim Schoonmaker, MBA, CEC, WCEC, CCA, CDM, CFPP, FMP, MCFE, Director and Executive Chef, Centra Nutrition Services

Plant-forward cuisine is a trend that is increasing in popularity.  It involves replacing traditional protein sources (meat) with plant-based foods.

Beans, lentils, whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds can be incorporated or substituted for meat proteins in many dishes. And boost your meal with additional vitamins and minerals while cutting out some of the saturated fats from meat.  Plant-based does not explicitly mean that you are cutting out meat proteins in your diet. Instead, it is an effort to consume less meat and can help lower your risk for health-related issues due to a poor diet, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. 

When we think of protein, we often think of the texture. 

When we think of protein, we often think of the texture.  When we eat, our bodies interpret many different senses, such as temperature, consistency (or mouthfeel/chew factor), and flavor. These sensations become paired with memory, and we instantaneously form an opinion regarding like or dislike for the food.  Thus, it is essential to experiment with different plant-based products and gradually phase them into your meal. The following are some examples of some ingredients you can try incorporating into your meals.

TEXTURED: sweet potatoes, greens (kale/spinach/swiss chard/collards), bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, beans (all kinds), lentils, quinoa, couscous, artichokes, hearts of palm noodles, radishes, tofu, cabbage

SWEET: strawberries, avocado, blueberries, watermelon, grapes, apples, oranges, dragon fruit, raspberries

SAVORY: walnuts, pecans, cashews, chia seeds, flaxseed

Be sure to look at some newer alternatives–hearts of palm noodles, whole wheat pasta, cabbage noodles (cutting cabbage into strips), zoodles, pasta from quinoa, chickpeas or lentils. Or try keto pasta, a combination of eggs and cream cheese (formed into sheets when combined and baked).

As is the case with a plant-based diet, the key to any diet is balance.  Your meals should be nutritionally balanced, with the recommended amounts of protein, fiber, vitamins, and not be high in fat, carbohydrates, or calories. 

When changing your diet, you may see a change in your mood, energy level, and bathroom habits as you adjust to this new intake.  Be sure to evaluate your menu planning and consult with a physician before changing any of your routines. Here is a good sample menu for incorporating plant-based ingredients into your diet:

  • Breakfast- Egg & Vegetable Burrito
  • Lunch- Chicken Caesar Salad with roasted vegetable
  • Dinner- Whole wheat pasta with pesto and fresh tomatoes

My recommendation is always to take time to go to the grocery store and be open-minded when menu planning.

Allow yourself time to walk around and explore the variety of products that the stores have to offer (yes, even traditional grocery stores have plant-based alternatives and other items you can try, usually found in the specialty foods or organic section).

Don’t be afraid to look at smaller, local grocery stores, even ethnic stores, which may have a wide variety of different ingredients to try.  Buy small amounts, so you can experiment and look at various alternatives.  Try cooking methods such as sautéing, baking, stir-fry, poaching, roasting (air-frying), and combining different ingredients and seasonings to create new flavors.  The key is to find items that you enjoy!

Lastly, always look at nutrition labels.  Many plant-based items, commonly known as meat substitutes, are loaded with saturated fat and binders, such as soy and other chemicals.  Look for clean ingredients (those that you can pronounce and are familiar with) and determine if there are other alternatives to these products.  Quinoa can be an excellent example of an alternative to a meat substitute offered as plant-based.

Chef Timothy Schoonmaker is a Certified Executive Chef, a Certified Culinary Administrator, and a World Chef Certified Executive Chef, and an active member of the Southwestern Virginia Chapter of the American Culinary Federation, and serves as the Educational Chair. Chef is also a member of the Association for Healthcare Food Service and serves on the Nominating Committee, and is 2019-2020 Chair of the Benchmarking Committee, as well as the 2020 Conference Planning Committee. Additionally, Chef is a Certified Dietary Manager and an active member of the Virginia Chapter of the Association of Nutrition and Food Service Professionals, where he serves as the Membership Chairperson, Newsletter Editor, and serves on the CBDM Board and Young Advisory Council. Chef is also a Foodservice Management Professional through the NRA, holds his Servsafe Certification and is a registered instructor and proctor, and is also a Master Certified Foodservice Executive through IFSEA. Chef is also a mentor and Big Brother through the Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Central Virginia and serves on the Board of Directors for BBBS.

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