Monday, March 5, 2012

Meals Planned Around Vegetables

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?”


  1. What a great idea! My meal planing always centers around the meat and sometimes it feels like we eat the same thing over and over. You've given me a whole new way to look at dinner!

  2. I love this Ashley! One of my friends, who is a personal chef, always says that she makes meat the accent of her meals. I like thinking of it like that too-meat accents the rest of the meal.

  3. I like it...the hard part for me is the protein. I stock the fruits and vegetables, but I have to get creative to make sure protein makes it way into the meal! If only this would fly with our meat loving Americans!

  4. For many of our clients, particularly the older adults and the elderly, this great idea (eating more veggies and less meat) flies in the face of every thing they have experienced in 30 to 50 years of life. Change occurs slowly, particularly if it has been reinforced over many years. As dietitians we have an opportunity to provide our clients with small, easy-to-make changes that can help them slowly transition their diets/ eating behaviors towards a healthier eating style that will benefit them. And who knows --- may be these older Americans will then encourage their kids (and their grandkids) to make the same changes.