By Whitney Hunter |

Okay, we’re going to talk about the ‘v-word.’ That’s right- veganism. Please don’t click away from this article because you think that all vegans do is preach about how amazing their lifestyle is or because your favorite food is steak. Don’t worry, because 1) I’m not vegan and 2) I’ll be the first to admit that I love meat. There is not a single type of food I dislike and meat is no exception.

However, that being said, I am aware of the consequences that the meat industry can have on our health and our environment. At some point in my life I would love to become a vegan or a vegetarian, but I know that I couldn’t do that right now with my college student lifestyle. It wouldn’t be feasible.

What I aim to do is eat a couple of meatless or vegan meals a week and make mindful choices about the food I am putting in my body. If I can swap to something that is vegan or vegetarian, I will. Whether that means having almond milk instead of skim milk in my coffee or eating a veggie burger instead of a hamburger, it doesn’t have to be an all-consuming lifestyle change.

Deciding to begin eating a more plant-based diet can seem a bit overwhelming, but it’s not all tofu and vegetables. I’ve compiled a list of my plant-based diet staples and how I use them in my cooking. My hope is that this list can help you make a couple of swaps in your diet and help make a difference for your health and our planet.

1)    Tahini

Tahini is a gift from God. I didn’t know how much I needed it in my life until I tried it for the first time last year. Tahini is just ground-up sesame seeds, but it also packs a punch of flavor and nutrients. It has a subtle nutty flavor and is loaded with healthy fats and amino acids. I love to use it in my salad dressings, drizzled on top of roasted veggies, or blended up in my hummus.

2) Whole Grains

I really love bread so much. On more occasions than I would like to admit, I have eaten an entire loaf of sourdough bread in one sitting. While sourdough bread is one of the most delicious foods, it doesn’t have as much nutritional value as other grains. I’m talking about quinoa and oats to be specific. These grains are versatile and are full of fiber, and even protein. For oats, I love making overnight oats, topping my smoothie bowls with oats, or using them as a topping for baked oatmeal. Quinoa is a whole other story. You can put it in quinoa salads, put it in a nourish bowl, or even make taco meat with it (https://minimalistbaker.com/quinoa-taco-meat/). The options are truly endless and oh-so-delicious.

3) Nuts and Seeds

Yes, I’m aware that some may consider this bird or squirrel food, but I’m here to vouch for nuts and seeds to say that they’re so much more than this. They are a great source of healthy fats and protein, and will help keep you fuller for longer. I love snacking on almonds or cashews by themselves or with some fruit or veggies. My favorite type of seeds are sunflower seeds, and I’ll put those things on EVERYTHING. I use them in salads for some crunch, or sprinkle them on my smoothie bowls and mix them into my energy balls.

4) Lemons

Words cannot express the love I have for lemons. In my personal opinion, there is no such thing as too much lemon. It’s just not possible. Lemons are great for detoxifying the body and giving you boatloads of vitamin C. It’s hard to pinpoint my favorite way to use lemon, but right now I’d have to say it’s through lemon water with chia seeds. Chia seeds are low in calories, but filled with protein, fiber and Omega-3 fatty acids. I squeeze half a lemon into some cold water and mix in a tablespoon of chia seeds. I stir it up and let it set for about 5 or 10 minutes. The chia seeds absorb some of the water and develop a fun gel texture. It’s definitely acquired, but I can’t get enough of it. There’s not a thing I don’t put lemon on- I put it in my salad dressings, squeeze it over my nourish bowls, put it in my water and basically season everything else with it. If you’re not using a lemon a day, you’re not living.

5) Greens

Prepare to be annoyed. I love kale. I know, I know. I sound like just another Californian preaching about this powerhouse of a vegetable, but I genuinely enjoy the taste of it. I’ve even started craving kale salads. Crazy, I know. A kale salad with a creamy, garlicky, tahini dressing cannot be beat. Put some nutritional yeast and sunflower seeds in it and you’ve got yourself a feast. If kale isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of other greens that may strike your fancy. Another favorite of mine is arugula. Its sharp, peppery flavor adds a nice kick to any meal. I love it as a base for my salad or as a topping for my avocado toast with some- you guessed it- lemon juice on top. The only thing to remember when buying greens is that the darker the green, the more nutrients they have. Also, if the thought of eating dense greens has your stomach in knots, massage your greens- that’s right. No, you don’t need any candles lit or Marvin Gaye playing. Just a little bit of oil drizzled on them and your clean hands. This breaks down the greens and makes the digestion process easier and the flavor less bitter. I know it sounds crazy, but don’t knock it ‘till you try it.

Try these ingredients if you want to up your nutrients or make a healthier you or a healthier planet. Let’s say you hate all of my recipe suggestions. First of all, how dare you, but second of all, that’s completely alright. There are so many ways to use these ingredients that you wouldn’t even think of. Food blogs are a great place to start out if you are making a diet change or if you just want some more variety in your meals. Here are some of my favorites to get you started!

https://pinchofyum.com/recipes
https://minimalistbaker.com/
https://www.hotforfoodblog.com/
https://www.theedgyveg.com/

Recipe for Tahini Dressing:

¼ cup of tahini
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Almond milk or warm water to thin
Salt
Pepper
1 teaspoon of minced garlic
(If you’re feeling fancy and want to add some Asian flair- add some rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, sesame seeds, and freshly grated or ground ginger)
Mix all of the ingredients in a jar or Tupperware, seal it and shake it until desired consistency is achieved.