How to sneak more plant foods into every meal


Whatever diet you follow, including less processed plant foods will only make it healthier. Here are practical tips on how to bulk up your regular, everyday meals with plant-based foods.

Eating healthier is a common goal – but what does it mean today? “The very latest research from the EAT-Lancet Commission emphasises plenty of vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds,” says Discovery Vitality dietitian Terry Harris. In short, it means the more whole, plant-based foods you can include in your diet, the better for your health.”

If you’re keen to eat more plants, but are not quite ready to learn brand new recipes, here are some simple ideas from Terry on how to include more of these nutritious foods in your regular drinks and meals:

Get vegetables involved
  • If you have a blender and like making your own smoothies, try mixing in more whole vegetables to boost the health benefits. Carrots, beetroot, baby spinach, kale, celery, avocado and ginger work well. If you find the root veggies make your drink too crunchy or fibrous when added raw, steam well and cool them first before blending.
  • Opt for veggie sticks instead of highly processed snacks at work.
  • Instead of a purely potato mash, add cooked, mashed carrots or a bean pureé.
  • Add more vegetables to traditionally meaty dishes, like grating carrots or courgettes into your mince as you cook it.
  • Throw mushroom steaks onto the braai, and add diced peppers (any colour) and onion into your breakfast eggs.
  • There are also many lesser-known veggies that are often overlooked, but are just as good for you. Here are some, and ideas on how to use them .
  • “When serving, double the amount of veggies and halve the amount of meat on your plate. It may help to start thinking of the vegetable portion of your meals as the main dish, and the other foods as side dishes. That’s a great nutrition goal to aim for,” says Harris.
Embrace your fruit
  • Pure fruit juices can be high in sugar and it is easy to drink too much. It’s best to eat fruits whole to benefit from the fibre. If you have a love for juice and drink it regularly, dilute fruit juices with water over time in small increments, until you are comfortable with switching to plain water instead.
  • Breakfast isn’t breakfast without fruit! The next time you make oats, top it with a grated apple, a handful of berries or a sliced banana, or even scoop out a fresh granadilla or sprinkle over a handful of pomegranate seeds.
  • Slice fresh fruit into a green salad for a tasty addition. A nectarine or pear works particularly well.
  • Keep fruit at hand for a healthy snack – easy-to-eat options include bananas, pears, apples, grapes and berries.
  • Favour fruit-filled desserts – ones made with fresh fruits, not syrup-laden ones from a can. (Find delicious guilt-free dessert recipes from the HealthyFood Studio here.) Healthier dessert ideas include poached pears topped with yoghurt and flaked almonds or strawberries dipped in a little bit of chocolate. Experiment with increasing the fruit content in your blueberry pancakes or banana bread.
Pack in some legumes and pulses

Legumes and pulses are hailed as planet-friendly nutrition powerhouses, but let's face it – they can taste a bit plain by themselves. We put together a whole list of ways you can use them, so check out these 13 fresh tips on how to incorporate them into your meals.

Stock up on whole grains, nuts and seeds

This is an easy one – simply commit to swapping all your highly refined grains with whole ones, as far as possible. This means opting for whole wheat bread, pasta, couscous or flour and brown rice instead of the highly processed white versions.

“At least half of the grains you eat should be whole grains,” says Terry. “This may be a bit more expensive at purchase, but it is well worth it given the significant long-term health benefits of choosing whole grains (such as barley, quinoa, bulgur wheat or oats) over refined ones. Mixing the two in varying portions can help you transition.”

When it comes to other grains, nuts and seeds, buy packets in bulk and get into the habit of including them in your favourite dishes:

  • Bulk up your soups and stews with a handful of barley or quinoa.
  • Top your roasted veggies with whole wheat couscous, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.
  • Sprinkle sesame seeds over your Asian-style salads, poppy and flax seeds in homemade muffins and breads, and make simple chia-seed puddings for breakfast.
  • Put pine nuts in pesto, peanuts and cashew nuts in Indian-style curries and biriyanis, chopped walnuts, hazelnuts and pecan nuts over your porridge, and all of them in your granola mix or snack box!

“There are many ways to make meals healthier in little ways, without changing things too drastically, but the more you practice tips like these, the more natural it’ll become – and the healthier your meals will be,” encourages Harris.

“If healthy cooking seems intimidating, try an interactive cooking course at the Vitality HealthyFood Studio. Anyone can cook, upskilling yourself with tips from professionals can help you gain both proficiency and confidence in the kitchen. Once you have a few proven healthy recipes to try, stock up on plant-based ingredients and let your creativity run free!”

Discovery Vitality (Pty) Ltd is an authorised financial services provider. Registration number: 1999/007736/07. Limits, T&Cs apply.

Make your meal prep plant-based, with a twist!

Spring into action and start eating healthier with our new, flavourful Plant based, with a twist cooking course. This fun, interactive cooking course with Prue Leith Chefs Academy focuses on creating sensational, superfood-packed meals using locally-sourced fresh produce from Woolworths.

You’ll cook up a storm in our state-of-the-art kitchen, followed by a sit-down meal where you will be able to tuck in to all the delicious meals you’ve prepared. This course is perfect for vegans, vegetarians or anyone who just loves veggies and wants to learn how to create delicious meals with them. Limited courses available – find out more today!

Feed your family good health with Vitality HealthyFood

Discovery Vitality's HealthyFood benefit, created by a team of nutrition and health experts, aims to promote good health and lower the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Vitality members can earn up to 25% cash back at Pick n Pay or Woolworths for their healthy food purchases.

Check the Pick n Pay and Woolworths HealthyFood catalogues to see which products qualify. Then SMS "Join" to 47751 to start getting rewarded for healthy choices with Vitality.

Recommended for you by Vitality

Learn how to work wonders with veggies

Keen to eat healthier but not sure how to best incorporate more fresh, seasonal ingredients into your meals? Look no further than the Discovery Vitality HealthyFood Studio, a state-of-the-art teaching and dining kitchen based in Sandton, Johannesburg.

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