I asked some of today’s hottest dietitians about their favorite ways to power up their meals with plants. Read on for Kerri’s best culinary tips, as well as one of her favorite recipes. Kerri-Ann is a registered dietitian nutritionist who empowers people to make healthy changes that last. She is a freelance health writer for FoodNetwork.com, CookingChannelTV.com and WebMD and a former associate nutrition editor of EatingWell Magazine. Kerri-Ann also does nutrition counseling with adults and kids. Find out more about her services on kerriannjennings.com and follow her on
1. What is your favorite plant-based recipe? Please provide the recipe and photo.
So many of my favorite recipes are plant-based, so it’s hard to choose, but right now I’ve been making variations on tabbouleh. This Mediterranean-inspired, grain-based salad is so versatile and perfect for summer.
This version uses quinoa instead of the traditional bulgur wheat and ends up a bit lighter (I love it with bulgur wheat, too, though so try it both ways!). I then make a citrusy, garlicky dressing and fill it with fresh herbs, vegetables and some sort of protein (usually lentils or chickpeas, walnuts and feta).
Souped-Up Quinoa Tabbouleh
1 cup quinoa, red or white
2 cups of water
¼ c. olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 large handfuls of parsley
1 heaping T. dried oregano
2 t. dried mint
1 bell pepper, diced
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 spring onions, diced (optional)
1 cucumber, diced
2 cups cooked puy lentils or chickpeas
¼ cup feta, crumbled
½ cup walnuts, toasted
salt and pepper to taste
Boil water in a small saucepan, add quinoa and simmer until water is absorbed. Meanwhile, in a small food processor, whizz together olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and herbs (you can also mince garlic and parsley by hand and just mix together with the other ingredients). When quinoa is cooked, transfer to a large bowl and mix together with dressing and the other ingredients. Serve at room temperature or chilled. This will keep for several days in an air-tight container in the fridge.
2. Why is this recipe your favorite?
It’s a one-dish meal that stores well in the refrigerator for several days. It has whole grains, vegetables, healthy fats and protein, so it’s a satisfying dish to eat on its own or it works well as a side for grilled fish or chicken.
3. What tips do you have for people when it comes to including more whole plant-based foods in the diet?
Find recipes! Usually when you’re trying to eat more whole foods, you’ll have to cook more. Plant foods need to be processed (beans need to be soaked and cooked, vegetables need to be washed, chopped, and sometimes cooked), but it’s way better for your health if you do that processing in your own kitchen. Get inspired by reading plant-based recipes in cookbooks, websites and blogs.
Also, I like to plan meals by first thinking about produce, rather than protein. What vegetables look fresh and appealing in the farmer’s market? Or, if it’s winter, what root vegetables or frozen vegetables do I have on hand? This naturally shifts the focus to a more plant-based way of eating. In winter, I might turn those root vegetables into a hash to serve with a fried egg, or a creamy (usually creamless) pureed soup. In late spring, I make an abundance of salads with fresh local greens, shaved radishes and turnips, crispy snow peas—and then add seeds or nuts for healthy oils and protein, and possibly some oil-packed tuna, hard-boiled eggs or cheese to make it into a meal.
4. Where do you get plant-based food and recipe ideas?
I love reading cookbooks, food magazines and blogs. The Moosewood Cookbook, which I read and cooked from in high school, was a revelation. Nowadays, I favor 101cookbooks.com, Oh She Glows…
I also get inspiration from other cuisines that are more plant-based. Mediterranean and Mexican supply many of the flavors and meal ideas I use in daily cooking. If I’m feeling more ambitious, I might try Thai or Vietnamese (I’ve made amazing and very easy summer rolls).
5. What do you eat in a typical day?
It depends on the season, but breakfast might be organic plain whole-milk yogurt with fresh or frozen fruit and homemade granola, a homemade, whole-grain muffin or scone, or 100% whole-wheat sourdough toast with natural peanut butter and sliced banana.
In the summertime, I make a lot of smoothies for breakfast or an afternoon snack—I’ll add frozen fruit, milk and yogurt. Sometimes I add chia seeds or walnuts for extra omega-3s.
I eat a lot of salads—these often, but not always, consist of greens and then whatever other vegetables I have on hand. They might also take the form of a whole grain or bean salad.
I eat eggs once or twice a week, but usually for lunch or dinner. I’ll cook dark leafy greens with scrambled eggs and toast. Another quick and easy main dish I’ve been making often is a black bean, cheese and vegetable tostada (I just heat a corn tortilla in the toaster oven and top with the rest). I’m an omnivore, so I have fish once or twice a week—I always keep oil-packed tuna and sardines on hand. I don’t really cook much meat—when I do, I still have a lot of plants on my plate—and I eat mostly meat that’s locally and ethically raised.
I have something dessert-like almost every day. Now that it’s summer, I’ve been eating more ice cream—I’m in love with Strafford creamery organic ice cream. It’s made in Vermont, where I currently live, and tastes like pure Guernsey cream.
6. What is one simple step you can recommend to someone following an animal-based diet to eat more nutritious plant-based foods?
Pick one of your favorite meaty meals and make a few tweaks to make it vegetarian. First, try swapping the meat protein for a veggie protein. Next, shift the ratio toward more vegetables on the plate. So if you chose a burger, for instance, try swapping the meat patty for a veggie one (I like bean patties), top with extra vegetables (sauteed mushrooms and onions are always good), and add a salad on the side.
7. What are some of your plant-powered must-haves when food shopping?
Fruit: I almost always have bananas and frozen berries on hand and then I buy whatever else is in season. Apples for half the year along with winter citrus, then strawberries, stone fruit and other berries in the summer. I love going berry picking in the summer and then stocking my freezer.
Vegetables: I always have onions and garlic in my kitchen, then I stock up on mostly seasonal vegetables—right now I’ve been reveling in the crunchy cucumbers, peppers and fresh greens. Root vegetables in the winter, along with frozen peas, broccoli and corn. Dark leafy greens throughout the year—kale, lettuce, collards. Avocados are a treat throughout the year too, since they’re never “in season” up here in the northeast. But I love adding them to salads and spreading them on whole-grain toast.
Nuts and seeds: I live off of nuts and seeds. On some days I have 2 – 3 servings. Natural peanut butter (peanuts are technically a legume), unsalted roasted almonds, walnuts (I store all the nuts in the fridge), flax, chia and sesame seeds (which I’ll sprinkle onto different dishes) are all must-haves.
Whole grains: I eat a lot of wheat and I bake a lot, so I always have whole-wheat pastry flour in my fridge (it can go rancid easily, so this is the best place to store it) and some sort of whole-grain bread in my freezer. But I also try to incorporate other actual whole grains into my diet—stone-ground cornmeal (also for baking), bulgur wheat, toasted buckwheat (which I’ve been sprinkling onto yogurt), and oats (which I use in baking or granola or just to cook into hot cereal) are my staples.
Beans: I have a pressure cooker that I use to easily cook dried beans in under half an hour, so I keep dried beans on hand, but also a few cans of cooked beans.
8. What does a plant-based diet mean to you?
For me, it means making sure the bulk of my diet comes from plants. I’m not a vegetarian, but most of my meals are in fact vegetarian. I’ll use meat sparingly—as a flavoring in soups, or as the main protein a couple times a week. And I eat fish or seafood once or twice a week. But the backbone of my diet is vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, whole grains and olive oil. Then I also eat dairy foods (milk, yogurt, cheese) pretty much daily, eggs a few times a week, and meat and fish one to two times a week each.