Two months ago, P and I decided to include more veggies in our diets. I never liked the taste of veggies and could not stomach raw greens. The only way for me to consume veggies was to cook them into a mush. For years I harboured a secret envy for people who could crunch down on raw carrot sticks! P enjoyed salads but many of his meals were utilitarian (think chicken breast, brown rice and broccoli). But a documentary here and a delicious vegetarian meal there led to the decision to eat more greens and lo and behold, we've gone from one serving of greens every other day to at least five servings a day every single day for the past month!
We wanted to eat more plants for a multitude of reasons, with the ultimate aim of being happier. Whatever your motivations are, here's what we've learned.
Tips on how to get so much more greens in
1. Commit to one serving per meal, consistently
If like us, most of your meals comprised of meat and carbs, start with just having one serving of greens per meal. Initially, P and I made sure to add a serving of greens to our dinners and boy did we applaud ourselves each time we shovelled that down. We started off with sauteed spinach which took literally 3 mins to cook and was palatable for both of us. After a week or two, we realised how much better we felt with the greens and how sluggish or heavy we felt when we went without. Voila, you have a habit of eating greens now!
2. Make veggies the focus of your meals
Eatings greens can get old fast if you're only thinking salads. Instead of an afterthought, create a delicious dinner that's based around veggies, just once or twice a week. You will start to realise you don't need lots of meat or carbs like rice, bread or noodles to feel satisfied. We started off with Vietnamese spring rolls (cabbage, carrots, beansprouts, spring onions, tofu with a little bit of egg and chicken). I cooked everything into a slush and it probably wasn't the most nutritious but the important thing is we enjoyed them and had them again and again, getting used to the feeling of being filled and satisfied by veggies.
3. Try new tastes
My month trying out Yogshakti's training programme and vegetarian lunches was a game changer. Chickpea and sweet potato fritters, cabbage salads, dhal, stews... Suddenly I was trying out all these new flavours I never knew existed and would have crinkled my nose at if not for the fact this was the only food available. And then I was dubious - could veggies taste this good without added sugars and other hidden nasty flavourings? I grilled the chef incessantly on the ingredients.
One day it clicked: just like how fruits now taste so sweet to me naturally, veggies have lots of wonderful flavours too. It just takes the taste buds time to acclimatise and the month of vegetarian lunches taught me to appreciate the natural goodness and flavours of veggies raw and cooked. For me, knowing how delicious vegetarian food could taste also helped when I was trying to recreate recipes myself. Which brings me to...
4. Spices, flavours and seasonings
Many veggie recipes call for a long list of spice and herbs and you may be tempted to skip just this or that. The beauty of veggie dishes, however, are the subtleties of flavours and textures. A stew could go from so-so to out of this world with the addition of a single passionfruit or half a teaspoon of paprika (true story in both cases). You don't need to go all out and spend a bomb on twenty different spices at once, but having a pantry stocked with some basics will allow you to get creative and go from there. Basics for me that I've gone back to time and again the last couple of months: lemon, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, peanuts, sesame.
5. Yes, you can learn to eat -insert whatever veggie you hate-
Things I detested: cucumbers, peppers, celery. Even the smell of those foods made me wanna throw up. I read that if you eat something enough times, you may learn to tolerate it, and so P bravely set about hiding those foods in salads for weeks. Now, after a couple of months, I am happily crunching down raw carrot bits while chopping them up and can munch on cucumbers and peppers and taste the flavours for what they are, without aversion. Cutting up foods really thinly or spiralizing them is a HUGE help, I cannot recommend a spiralizer enough! You don't need to go straight into the foods you dislike, but I had a huge aversion to common veggies so I wanted to get that sorted a couple of months into this lifestyle.
6. Surround yourself with positivity
While this may sound like a bit of a crock, this tip was essential was for me. I was fortunate to meet some long time vegetarians who did not impose their lifestyle on me or lecture me on the virtues of a plant based diet. That would have very quickly became a debate. Instead, they simply lived that way and only shared more information and tips when asked. They were also very realistic about common issues such as cooking for more than yourself, bloating or deficiencies. If you don't know any vegetarians, I've found Youtube to be a great help.
7. Don't label yourself
Just because you're eating more plants now, does not mean you need to become a vegetarian or vegan. P and I decided not to cook meat (chicken, beef and pork) at home anymore, but we still eat these meats when we are out. We decided on this together and only after we enjoyed weeks of tasty, realistic (preparation time and nutrition wise) meals. There is also no issue if I decide to have fish in my dinner tonight and P decides to have an entirely plant-based meal. Don't impose any rules on the other person or make them feel like they've failed. Food is very personal and P and I have vastly different preferences taste wise and goals nutrition wise. We have made many mistakes but each time learn more on how to make things work. Enjoying time at the dinner table is more important than eating 'perfect' food. Plus, people are gonna want to know if you're going to label yourself as a vegetarian or vegan and there is bound to be outside judgement, so let's not judge ourselves. Are we flexitarian, pescatarian, what are we? P and I had dozens of conversations about this topic. The words of Pollan sums our (his) eating philosophy up: Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.