As dietitians, we often promote meal planning as a way to eat healthier and gain control of our food choices. Historically, meat has been the focus of our meals, and meal planning usually begins by choosing which type of meat we will plan the rest of our meal around. According to MyPlate and the 2010 dietary guidelines, the “protein” food group accounts for less than a quarter of your plate. So why do we make it our primary focus?
The other week I attended an all-day conference in which lunch was provided. I had to choose ahead of time whether I wanted “turkey, tuna, or vegetarian.” Since I don’t claim to be vegetarian and I was nervous about the tuna being mixed with a full fat mayo, I chose turkey.
As I ate my bland turkey sandwich that came with a side of potato chips, an apple, and two cookies, I looked over at the person next to me who had marked “vegetarian.” The vegetarian option consisted of garlic roasted eggplant, a beautiful tabbouleh salad, hummus with pita chips, and a gourmet chocolate cupcake for desert!
I suddenly wondered whether all meals would be more exiting if their main focus was vegetables. Vegetables are supposed to make up the bulk of our plates; so why don’t we give them more credit in the meal planning process? Instead of saying “what vegetables will complement our pepper crusted steak tonight?” Why not say “what protein source can complement this fresh baby spinach and cherry tomato salad?”