During the coronavirus lockdown, it’s important to focus on healthy eating for everyone. Focus on these plant-based superstars to fuel delicious eating and optimal health.
In the midst of a pandemic virus, and all that it brings—food shortages, long lines at stores, shuttered restaurants, social distancing, more time at home—there is a distinct, almost tangible worry of what’s to come. While we can’t control what’s happening, we can choose how we respond to it. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends we prepare by having at least a two weeks’ supply of food in our homes. Why not adopt a positive outlook and look at this as an opportunity to dig deep and prep the pantry with the most nourishing, long-lasting, and delicious foods to prepare for ourselves and our families? There has perhaps been no better time than now to embrace this gift of time to slow down, head into the kitchen, and lovingly prepare comforting meals for the soul.
A well-stocked larder means there’s no need for frequent market runs and certainly no need to hoard. Smart, practical shopping gives us a sense of readiness and calm, and it’s good for the entire community. Here’s a list of 12 Plant-Based Foods, which are, nourishing, versatile, and long-lasting foods to carry us through these times.
1. Local Produce. Now is the time to support local farms and farmers markets if you can (Go to LocalHarvest.org to learn more). It’s especially important to come together as a community right now. Local foods from small farmers can support a more resilient food system, as this healthy food stays within your community. We need our local farmers to keep growing healthy food to feed us all. Right now, many farmers across the country should be preparing their fields for planting, so let’s support them by purchasing their spring produce today. If your farmers market is closed, then do some exploring and call around to see what local farmers are doing. For example, you can offer to pick up a box of produce from your local farms. It’s also a great time (depending on your growing region) to plant seeds in your garden, window box, or small pots and see how quickly you reap the benefits. Herbs are a great way to begin in any size space, but give quick-growing lettuces, peas, and radishes a try.
2. Canned Beans. Black beans, pintos, chickpeas, navy beans—so many varieties offer plant-based protein with a healthy dose of fiber and important minerals, like iron, magnesium and potassium in a snap. Toss them onto salads, mash them into creamy bean dips, like hummus, or form them into veggie burgers with whole grains and fresh or frozen veg.
3. Peanut Butter. Always a crowd pleaser, this beloved legume has earned permanent pantry space. Peanuts are rich in protein, vitamin E, niacin, and folate, to name just a few of its nutrients. The great thing about peanut—as well as other nut butters—is a little goes a long way. A jar is long-lasting, but keep a couple in stock for that urge for a classic PBJ hits, or call on it for a quick dip for cut veggies, baked goods, or a flavorful Thai stir-fry.
4. Dried Beans, Peas, Lentils. These pulses keep up to a year in a cool, dark, dry place and are packed with nutrients. Protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals make them an excellent, and inexpensive, food choice. Perfect for comforting, slow cooked one-pot meals like soups, stews, chilis, and curries, dried beans, peas, and lentils freeze well after they’re cooked—the perfect way to cook once, portion, and freeze for future use.
5. Whole Grains. Stock familiar favorites, like oats and brown rice, as well as a couple different varieties, like farro, sorghum, and quinoa. Hearty whole grains—fill your own bags from bulk bins if you can—will feed your family for months, though they’ll store much longer. Whole grains maintain all three parts of the grain and all of the nutrients they pack, and studies show they reduce risk of many chronic diseases. They are super simple to prepare as a hot breakfast cereal, steamed side dish, and baked into delicious breads, muffins, and cookies.
6. Canned Vegetables. Give them a try—canned tomatoes, corn, green beans, to name just a few. They’re tasty, convenient, and quick, cost just pennies per can, and they’re an easy way to serve up vegetables year-round. Grab no-sodium varieties and watch how easy a can of tomatoes gets a pizza or a bowl of chili on the table; green beans jazz up a casserole or soup; and corn makes a killer salsa, burrito filler, or sautéed side.
7. Frozen Vegetables. Eating fruits and veggies has never been more important. And frozen varieties pack all the health-promoting plant compounds, including fiber, vitamins, and minerals, as fresh, and sometimes even more! Studies show that eating a healthy diet with fruits and veg (aim for the recommended 5-a-day) boosts mood and reduces symptoms of depression. Blend them into smoothies, roast, steam, saute for a quick and tasty dinner side dish, or use a mixed veggie blend for a quick pot pie!
8. Apples and Pears. These gems will last two, even up to three months in the fridge, making fresh fruit a reality if a market run isn’t possible. Low in calories, they pack plenty of fiber, essential nutrients, and have been shown to reduce risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Snack on slices, dice onto cereals, yogurt, and salads, and definitely bake with them—cobbler, pie, baked apple.
9. Nuts and Seeds. They may be small, but nuts and seeds like pistachios, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are tasty, filling, and nutrient-rich. A little really goes a long way too—just a handful satisfies hunger and supplies significant health-promoting vitamins and minerals. Sunflower seeds have a wealth of antioxidant vitamin E and cancer-fighting selenium, while pumpkin seeds pack magnesium, which helps control blood sugar, and zinc for better immune function. Walnuts boast omega-3 fatty acids. Almonds and pistachios are rich in protein. Nuts and seeds make great grab and go snacks, salad toppers, and they taste great in granola, added to whole grain cereals, like oats, and whirred into smoothies.
10. Root Vegetables. Carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips, potatoes are just a few of the many root vegetables that have sustained generations of people around the world through good and difficult times. They are in season now, will last for months, and because they grow underground, they absorb important nutrients from the soil, including vitamins C, B, and A, iron, and several antioxidant compounds. They’re also fiber-full to make us feel full longer. Baked, roasted, steamed, or raw and grated, root veggies are so versatile. Slice roasted beets onto salads, boil and mash potatoes with turnips, or make a root veggie saute.
11. Citrus Fruit. If you’re lucky enough to pick citrus fruits—lemons, oranges, grapefruits, tangerines—from a backyard tree or know someone with a tree, do it! They’re in season now and can either be enjoyed right away or they’ll last for months refrigerated or juiced and frozen. Rich in vitamin C, fiber, folate, and potassium, citrus brightens taste buds with a splash of tang.
12. Spices. Everything tastes better when seasoned with spices—warm, smoky, pungent, spicy, salty, or sweet, to name but a few. They also add aroma and color to make our eating experience enjoyable on so many levels. Spices are also full of healthy plant compounds that are both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Sprinkle nutmeg into hot chocolate, add chili powder to veggie tacos, enrich pasta sauce with oregano—and let that just be the beginning!
Written by Lori Zanteson with Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN