Plant-Based Foods Help Cut the Fat From Your Grocery Budget | magazine

If you’re feeling stressed out by the rising cost of meat and other groceries, this may be the time to “hang out,” say local experts. By substituting plant-based menus, you can reduce your expenses — and add new color, nutrients, and healthy fiber to your diet. You may even find that today you have more energy to face all of life’s challenges!

A recent study in the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition found that vegetarians spend an average of $750 less per year on groceries than meat eaters. Today, with rising costs, that number is likely to be even higher. A publication called The Beet estimated the savings at $23 a week in a Sept. 9 article.

“You can do such beautiful things with plants,” enthused Linda Sloop, a registered nutritionist who teaches a healthy lifestyle series through the Yakima Seventh-day Adventist Church. “You have all the color, while flesh basically has one color.” Sloop fires the imagination with descriptions of a rich “ricotta lasagna”, crispy tacos with beans and fresh “Buddha Bowls” with spicy sauce.

She also cites health benefits ranging from being able to lower cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar, to preventing diseases like cancer — and even losing some weight.

At Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital, “due to rising costs, we actually had to eliminate some items from our menu,” said Katie Wolff, director of food and nutrition services. These items include more expensive cuts of beef and salmon. “We cannot justify passing the cost on to customers,” she said.

You have to be creative, said Wolff. Memorial’s cafeteria has seen “high demand” for menu items where the customer chooses toppings ranging from grilled tofu to chicken, beef and/or chickpeas. Cereal bowls for breakfast or lunch with veggies, maybe quinoa, a sauce and a choice of protein were “very popular.”

Chris Brown, owner of Wray’s Marketfresh IGA stores in Yakima, has noted that when it comes to grocery shopping, “there’s a bit of a trade down” when it comes to meat. T-bone and New York steaks are being supplanted a bit by less expensive steaks, he said. Customers could also buy smaller portions – pork chops, for example. Brown didn’t have readily available statistics on whether plant-based foods might sell better, but noted that it’s always wise to “pay attention to what’s being advertised.”

Good plant-based protein sources like tofu can be bought for about $1.79 for 14 to 16 ounces, and a can of chickpeas costs about 79 cents, said Elaina Moon, owner of Healthy Eats Nutrition Services in Yakima.

In the classes she teaches, “I’m noticing more people saying, ‘I’m trying to be more plant-based,'” observed Moon. People may be surprised to learn that such a diet “can be very satisfying. There’s no lack of taste and enjoyment.” In plant-based cuisine, “you don’t just splatter a piece of tofu onto a plate,” she emphasized.

But even vegan (avoiding meat, poultry, fish, seafood, dairy, and egg) and vegetarian (which may include egg, dairy, and/or fish) diets need to consider the way the food you buy has been handled. Whole foods that haven’t been processed, leading to additives and/or a reduction in nutritional value, are ideal, she said. Fresh or frozen foods are best, with canning as an alternative, perhaps rinsing off salt used in the canning process, Wolff said.

Read the labels on the meat substitutes, Moon said, checking what might have been added and for the nutritional value. Also check the prices – which can be as high as some regular meat products.

With a little practice, you can serve oatmeal with appealing fruit, nuts, and grated coconut for breakfast. Lunch can be as simple as a bagged salad to which you can add your choice of beans, nuts or seeds, broccoli, tomatoes and cucumbers, and spices. Dinner can be a simple bean soup.

Just don’t try to switch to a plant-based diet overnight, experts advise.

“It doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” Sloop said. For example, it took her “three years” to fully adjust to drinking soy milk instead of cow’s milk, she recalled.

Nutritionists agree that suddenly eating lots of fiber or drastically cutting back on what you’re used to eating can be too extreme, leading to digestive issues and a very short-lived experiment. Instead, try a “meatless Monday,” a bean-based “taco Tuesday,” or just start putting more veggies on your plate and leaving less room for meat, they say. Then you can gradually increase your intake of whole foods. You can also try trying a plant-based dish when you dine out, Moon said.

There are a number of websites, books, and cooking classes that can help you avoid hot water while adjusting to a healthier diet. Some of the sites mentioned by Sloop are rainbowplantlife.com, forksoverknives.com, and minimalistbaker.com. Moon has written a book called Healthy Cooking. Or just search “plant-based diet” online.

Some people also need an occasional treat to break away from anything plant-based.

Alan Riches, co-owner of Yakima Steak Company, noted that even amid rising meat prices, “there’s been no drop in activity. … People who want to eat well, who want a steak, they just come in.” Birthdays and anniversaries, for example, are still celebrated, he said. They “are looking for an experience. They want a nice place to go.”

Even Sloop, who says she hasn’t eaten meat since she was 17 (“I’m 60 now”), treats herself to a little treat every now and then. While it may not be the chocolate cake you or I would choose, she will occasionally indulge in a berry or apple crisp. OK, she makes it with whole wheat flour and reduces the amount of sugar in the recipe, but it’s still a dessert!

About Cindy Johnson

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