To sign up for Meridian’s Free Newsletter, please CLICK HERE.
This article is part of a series on the Word of Wisdom. To view all the articles in this series, see Discovering the Word of Wisdom.
One of the biggest challenges of switching to a whole food, plant-based (WFPB) Word of Wisdom diet is figuring out what to eat. We all love food—no one wants to eat food that is not satisfying! But some of us don’t enjoy cooking or have limited cooking skills. Others are great at making traditional meals but feel challenged with a whole new way of preparing food. Fortunately, there is lots of help for learning to cook WFPB, and anyone can do it. While it does take some effort, the payoff is HUGE.
For me, switching to WFPB was not at all easy. I was a terrible cook and had very little time to prepare food. It is not surprising that the food did not taste good at first. As convinced as I was that this is the diet the Lord ordained for our health, I was terribly disappointed that His ordained foods did not taste better! Fortunately, I soon learned that the problem was not the food (and not really even my lack of cooking skill); it was my taste buds. Most of us are so used to a diet high in fat, sugar, and salt that we have lost our natural ability to enjoy the wholesome plant foods our Savior created for us.
Fortunately, as I kept trying new foods, my taste buds changed. I also started picking up the few needed cooking skills. Just as importantly, I learned that there are very simple ways to put together delicious WFPB meals. People have a tendency to over-think and complicate WFPB cooking when they first start, so today I’d like to share strategies that can make WFPB food preparation simple, for both novice and expert cooks.
Top Strategies for Saving Time
Cooking with whole plant foods from scratch does take more time than relying on processed foods, but over time, you learn effective techniques, and it becomes very manageable. Here are some top strategies:
- Plan at least a week in advance so you can do all your shopping at once (see also, Meal Planning).
- Cook foods in large quantities so you have lots of leftovers. (As a single person, I can usually prepare 3–6 days worth of food at one time. I keep some in the freezer.)
- Use some frozen vegetables and fruits and some canned goods like tomatoes and beans. These are already chopped and can save lots of time. The nutrient loss (if any) is minimal compared to the time saved.
- Find a few recipes or meals you like and repeat these over and over so you are not constantly trying new recipes. The average family needs only 6-8 recipes.
- Instead of relying on new recipes for variety, use the same recipes but change them up by swapping ingredients, like alternative vegetables, grains, or spices.
- Most recipes are forgiving. You don’t need to run to the store to get “every” ingredient listed! Experiment with substitutions or just leave things out.
- Find some tricks to “saving” almost any meal if it does not turn out as good as you hoped. Some of my standbys include hot sauce (like Tabasco sauce), jalapeños (or other peppers), salsa, fruit, or even a little more salt.
- Use simple meal templates instead of recipes (see below).
Using Simple Meal Templates
There are thousands of WFPB recipes you can find in fancy cookbooks or free on the Internet (see WFPB Recipes). Many of them are wonderful, but they sometimes require good cooking skills, lots of ingredients, and plenty of time. Whether you are a fantastic cook or just a novice, a great alternative is to use simple templates to prepare foods. Please remember: if you are just starting out, it may take a few weeks for your taste buds to adjust; don’t get discouraged; keep moving forward in faith!
BASIC BREAKFAST TEMPLATE
- Cook any whole grain (cracked or bulgar wheat; 5, 7, or 10-grain cereal; rolled, Scottish, or steel cut oats; brown rice; quinoa, etc.). Make a big batch to last many days.
- For sweet cereals, add fruit (and a little sweetener if needed) along with a low-fat non-dairy milk (rice, soy, almond, etc.).
- For a savory breakfast, add some veggies cooked in a little soy sauce or other favorite sauce.
(For more breakfast ideas see, PCRM Recipe Archive: Breakfasts.)
BASIC LUNCH OR DINNER TEMPLATE
- Choose a starch.
- Add whatever vegetables you like.
- Use sauces and/or spices for added flavor.
- Have a piece of fruit for dessert.
For some great photos of simple WFPB meals using templates, see My Meals by Cathy Fisher (Straight Up Food blog).
Choose a starch. One of the keys to successfully switching to a WFPB diet is to eat enough whole starch foods. These foods are key to good health, weight control, and avoiding hunger. Make any one (or a combination) of these starches at least half your plate:
Whole grains: barley, oats, brown rice, quinoa, wheat berries (whole wheat kernels), buckwheat, rye, bulgur (a type of cracked wheat), triticale, corn, wild rice, millet. (Add 2-3 parts water to one part grain and cook until the water is mostly absorbed.)
Roots: white potatoes, sweet potatoes, celeriac (celery root), tapioca, Jerusalem artichoke, taro root, jicama, parsnips, rutabaga. (Steam or boil on the stove, bake in the oven, or cook in a microwave.)
Winter squashes: butternut, acorn, hubbard, banana, pumpkin, buttercup, turban squash. (Steam or boil on the stove, bake in the oven, or cook in a microwave.)
Legumes: Beans (adzuki, red kidney, black, mung, fava/broad, navy, garbanzo, pink, great northern, pinto, limas, white kidney/ cannellini); Lentils (brown, red, green); Peas (black-eyed, split yellow, split green, whole green). (You can buy these frozen or in cans or cook them yourself—cook in large quantities and freeze in small bags.)
Add vegetables. Don’t worry if you don’t like most vegetables. Just start with what you like. Here are easy ways to cook them:
- Sauté without oil (use water, vegetable broth or any other non-oil liquid instead).
- Steam on the stove.
- Microwave (you can use any container, but I like using a silicone container with a lid).
- Roast in oven (instead of oil, try balsamic vinegar, oil-free sauce, or juice).
- Boil in water (you lose more nutrients this way, but you should be eating so many vegetables that the nutrients you lose won’t make a difference health-wise).
- Eat raw.
Use sauces and/or spices. The possibilities here are endless! Don’t be afraid to try new things.
Spices. Experiment with different spices and spice mixes (like Mrs. Dash or Table Tasty Salt Substitute). For a useful chart for matching spices with vegetables, search for “Herbs & Spices” in Topics A-Z.
Sauces. There are lots of WFPB recipes for sauces (search for the word “Sauces” in Topics A-Z). There are also many sauces you can buy that fit the whole food, plant-based guidelines. Study the labels carefully to avoid animal foods and minimize sugar, salt, oil, and food additives. Here are sauces you can easily find:
- Salsas (there is a huge variety you can buy or you can easily make your own).
- Hot sauces (HUGE variety). I think Tabasco sauce spices up any dish.
- Mustard (many varieties).
- Vinegar (many varieties).
- Soy sauce, tamari, or Bragg’s Amino Acids (get low-sodium varieties).
- Vegetable or fruit relishes.
Enjoy fruit for dessert. Once you have stopped eating sugary desserts, the fruit will taste sweet and satisfying.
Popular Food Templates
The following templates are well known to all of us. It is easy to be creative and find endless variety with little effort or just make it simple with 3–4 ingredients! Don’t make it too complicated. Remember you can use frozen or canned veggies and beans and pre-cooked or frozen grains (check out Jeff Novick’s 10 Healthiest Packaged Foods).
Note how each of these templates is a variation on the basic template: (1) starch; (2) vegetables; (3) sauces/spices.
Sandwiches or pitas. Get good whole grain vegan bread or pita bread with little or no added oil. Add your favorite veggies, like cucumber, tomatoes, lettuce, mushrooms, and sprouts. Mustard or low-fat hummus works great as a spread.
Burritos, tortillas, and tacos. Find whole wheat, brown rice, whole spelt, or corn tortillas. Fill with rice and/or beans or sweet potatoes and veggies. Top with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, black olives, etc. Use vegan taco seasoning or other Mexican spices if desired. Enjoy with salsa.
Enchiladas. Layer corn tortillas with beans, brown rice, enchilada sauce (homemade or store bought) and vegetables like onions, bell peppers, carrots, and zucchini.
Rice and/or bean bowl. This is an easy favorite for many people. You can season the beans with cumin or other spices. Add your favorite vegetables. Flavor them with soy sauce, salsa, enchilada sauce or another favorite sauce and top with green onions, cilantro, etc. See an example recipe here.
Mexican gumbo. Mix together a can of kidney, pinto, and/or black beans (juice and all); a cup of corn (or not); and a can of fire roasted diced tomatoes. Heat and add hot sauce.
Soup. A good vegetable and/or bean or lentil soup can be very filling. This is great for weight-loss because of the amount of water. Here is a good example of a quick soup template: ‘Minutes’trone Soup
Pasta. Use whole-grain pasta as much as possible. Make sure there are no eggs. Make or purchase low-fat vegan pasta sauce (like marinara) and add lots of cooked veggies.
Pizza. Find (or purchase) a low-fat whole grain crust. Top with pizza sauce, pineapple, and vegetables. See guide to plant-based pizza.
Stir-fry. Stir-fry veggies you love, like peppers, carrots, and onions. Try some Asian favorites: water chestnuts, garlic, bok choy, bean sprouts, cabbage, or tofu. Flavor with soy sauce or other Asian sauces (I love adding a little Mae Ploy sweet chili sauce or any garlic chili sauce). Serve with brown rice or whole grain noodles.
Baked potatoes or potato bar. There is a huge variety of potatoes and lots of ways to cook them: bake, boil, steam, pressure cook or even microwave. Top with tomatoes, beans, corn and/or any type of raw or cooked vegetable: green onions, mushrooms, sprouts, jalapeños, etc. There are many possible vegan toppings: salsa or pico de gallo, barbecue sauce, soup, chili, sauerkraut, kimchi, or favorite condiments.
Mashed potatoes. Add non-dairy milk or veggie broth as you mash them. You can also mix in garlic, nutritional yeast, and/or seasonings.
Baked parcels. Cook any combination of vegetables/beans/rice you like, wrapped in parchment paper. Season with spices, herbs, Italian sauce, chili peppers, soy sauce, etc. Bake about 45 min. at 360º. See a demonstration here (note she doesn’t use all WFPB ingredients): CookingWithPlants.
Salad or salad bar. Choose your favorite veggies (adding fruit also works well). Include a starch: corn, beans, whole wheat bread or potatoes. If you are used to traditional fat-filled dressings, it may take some time to get used to non-oil dressings. Don’t worry—your tastes will change! Search for “Salad dressings” in Topics A-Z.
How Other People (Including Pros) Make WFPB Easy
- Cathy Fisher (Straight Up Food): My Meals
- Jeff Novick’s 5-minute meals: My Simple Recipes(see also: Quick & Easy Basic Recipes)
- Jeff Novick’s WFPB DVDs: The Cooking Series
- Chef AJ’s video on making these meals simple: “Easy Meals to Make You Thin.”
- Matt Jager: The Chipotle Method: How To Prepare 40,320 Plant-Based Meals In 5 Minutes Or Less
- Mark Sutton: Plant-Based Diet in a Hurry: Time-Saving Tips & Tricks
- Jeff Nelson has a video showing a typical day of eating: What I Eat in a Day
It Just Keeps Getting Better!
WFPB food preparation very naturally becomes easier the more you do it. Don’t despair if it takes time at first. Make it an adventure or hobby, at least for a few weeks! It takes time for your taste buds to change and to find the foods you love and learn to make them just right. Once you have a few meals you love and know how to prepare, the bulk of the work is over. As you continue to make these same meals and experiment with new ones, you’ll very quickly figure out ways to make food preparation VERY manageable.
Take it one week at a time. Don’t start worrying now about Thanksgiving, the Church potluck or your summer family reunion. By keeping it simple, you’ll soon develop the skills you need for any situation.
What is the key to success? Don’t give up! As long as you are moving forward, you are succeeding.
For more help getting started on a healthy Word of Wisdom diet, see: “Getting Started.”
Jane Birch is the author of Discovering the Word of Wisdom: Surprising Insights from a Whole Food, Plant-based Perspective and many articles on the Word of Wisdom. She can be contacted on her website, Discovering the Word of Wisdom. Watch the video “Discovering the Word of Wisdom: A Short Film.”