What if I told you adding more vegetables to your diet could be as simple as eating burgers, spaghetti, wild wings and pizza? With so much emphasis on health these days, the ability to transform vegetables into your favorite dishes is a game changer — and it’s easier than ever.
Websites like HungryGirl.com offer moms creative swaps for “guilt-free eating” along with recipe ideas and product ratings. Healthy versions of comfort food are gaining steam on all fronts by giving moms more ways to do what they’ve always conspired to do: get more vegetables into their kids.
The flexitarian (a blend of the words “flexible” and “vegetarian”) is described as someone who focuses on eating like a vegetarian most of the time by reducing, but not eliminating, animal protein while increasing plant-based proteins. Whether or not the term “flexitarian” sticks, one thing is for sure: vegetarians, vegans, pescatarians and my fellow flexitarians are growing in number and popularity, as multiple generations push toward cleaner eating and healthier living. Non-GMO, gluten-free, Paleo, vegan, Mediterranean and other labels/diets echo these consumer preferences.
While trends come and go, the idea of including more plant-based proteins into healthy eating patterns is here to stay.
More veg-centric meals are now regularly offered from delis and independently owned eateries, to nationwide chains and fine dining establishments. With gourmet meatless burgers, buffalo cauliflower, spiralized veggie pastas and other plant-based options that look, feel and taste like the “real thing,” it’s no surprise these creative dishes are popping up on restaurant menus and consumers’ dinner tables more every day. Even the once obligatory salad bar has “beefed” up its appearance flexitarian-style, offering far more imaginative ingredients than iceberg lettuce, carrot shred and cucumber slices.
The three eating patterns in the USDA’s 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans all use a plant-based diet as the foundation, reflecting plant-forward recommendations from governments across the globe. While the U.S. dietary guidelines stop short of advising people to eat less meat and allow for the consumption of lean, animal-based protein, the guidelines do emphasize a “shift toward other protein foods.”
Hampton Creek, Beyond Meat and Amy’s Kitchen are a few of the companies garnering attention for their efforts in developing vegetable-based “meat alternative” products. Sweet Earth Enlightened Foods in Moss Landing, CA, is another company seeing rapid growth and success by delivering plant-based proteins that also score high marks for aligning with consumer values and desires for world flavors.
As a self-proclaimed flexitarian, I would describe my diet as a convergence of vegan/vegetarian with an occasional visit to Morton’s — I do love a good steak. My views have evolved more around my own diet and, in particular, my meat consumption. From the sheer indulgence and enjoyment of cutting into a juicy ribeye, to making a concerted effort of eating more purposefully, the reasons for my flexitarian eating habits are numerous. Looking at food as fuel, I look to more plant-based options for lean protein that my body needs, balanced with an occasional craving I desire; and I view food and nutrition with a newfound appreciation.
I focus my eating around foods I can and should eat either daily, weekly or monthly; dairy, wheat and lean meats are my once-per-week-types of food, while crepes, steak or chocolate mousse are a once-a-month indulgence. Finding healthy swaps for foods I enjoy allows more foods into my daily and weekly categories, and makes my life a little better.
For Growers Express and the Green Giant Fresh brand, we meet consumer and marketplace demands for more healthy offerings by developing what we believe to be the next generation of healthful foods. The success of our Cauliflower Crumbles line and the buzz around our new vegetable noodle products continue to reinforce that now is the time for these types of fresh produce inspirations. So we continue to innovate, transforming standard garden vegetables into wholesome prepared items that help time-starved consumers prepare their own culinary masterpieces in just minutes. We call it “Veggies 2.0.”
While trends come and go, the idea of including more plant-based proteins into healthy eating patterns is here to stay. Those of us in the produce industry are wise to understand this dynamic that gives the Flexitarian Diet staying power, and strategically respond to and support it. Besides, isn’t it about time flavor and nutrition stop causing such a dilemma?
Jamie Strachan is chief executive of Growers Express/Green Giant Fresh, based in Salinas, CA. He is also the founder, past chairman and director of the Sacramento, CA-based California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, a model food safety program for government and industry.