Vegetable-Forward Meals: How and Why to Get Started

Vegetable-Forward Meals: How and Why to Get Started

“Our mission at The Chef’s Garden is to grow exceptional vegetables, to care for each other and the land, and to inspire a vegetable-forward future.

What is Vegetable Forward? 

At The Chef’s Garden, we are all for eating more vegetables, and love thinking in terms of eating in a vegetable forward way, a form of a plant forward approach. 

First, what does plant forward mean? 

Plant forward is a term that refers to the style of cooking that incorporates foods from plant sources. Plant based, meanwhile, refers to the ingredients and foods themselves.

One important consideration: plant forward and plant based just mean that the ingredients come from plant sources—and the foods may or may not be processed. Look at the ingredient list of popular brands of plant-based burgers, you will see ingredients such as soy protein concentrate, food starch modified, and soy protein isolate. Sure, these ingredients are derived from plants, but do they have the same benefits as eating the plant in its whole form? The short answer is “no”— and terms such as “concentrate” and “isolate” are quick giveaways that food is processed and not in its whole form. 

Now, what is vegetable forward? This concept focuses on creating meals that feature vegetables as a central component of a dish or menu in their whole form. 

“Essentially, it means that an eatery isn’t going all-veg on its menu, but it’s making vegetables part of the primary equation alongside traditional proteins and meat…allowing vegetarians and carnivores to have a perfect night out together.” ~Stephanie March, Mpls St. Paul Magazine

Cooking Vegetable Forward at Home

The beauty of vegetable-forward cooking is that it can be as simple or complex as you would like. Many vegetables are great raw (like cucumbers, tomatoes, and sweet peppers), or with little preparation (summer squash), which is especially nice in the summer when we tend to prefer more cooling foods that do not require turning on the oven. In the colder months, vegetable-forward cooking could look like roasting a sheet pan of Brussels sprouts or making a soup, stew, or roast loaded with vegetables in a pressure cooker or crockpot. 

Vegetable forward does not mean vegan or even vegetarian. Meat can still be a component of a vegetable-forward meal, usually less so a feature and more of a side. Vegetable forward is inclusive (even keto can be done in a vegetable-forward way) and simply focuses on including more vegetables in each meal. 

I am not big on having too many kitchen gadgets, but there are a few that I would not want to go without when it comes to having a vegetable-forward home kitchen. 

Top 4 Vegetable-Forward Kitchen Tools: 

  1. Mandoline: Quickly slice vegetables for salads, bowls, ferments, and more with a professional look and consistent size. 
  2. Spiralizer: Everything tastes better as a noodle, and having a spiralizer makes turning vegetables into noodles fast and easy. From zucchini to cucumbers, sweet potatoes, beets, and more, enjoy seasonal vegetable noodles in minutes. 
  3. Food Processor: I use a food processor at least a few times each week to make dips (like hummus or roasted beet dip), peanut butter, or taco “meat” with walnuts, carrots, and mushrooms. 
  4. High-Speed Blender: I have had my high-speed blender for sixteen years now (we received it as a gift at our wedding shower). I often contemplate packing it when I travel because it is that useful for smoothies, soups, banana “ice cream,” dips and sauces, and more. Using a high-speed blender creates a smooth creamy texture that you cannot accomplish with a normal blender, and it is quick and easy to clean. 

Why Create a Vegetable-Forward Future? 

One in ten Americans are eating the USDA’s recommended amount of vegetables daily (about two to three cups, depending on age, sex, pregnancy status, and so forth). Then, to benefit from the most impactful therapeutic nutrition interventions, eat at least six to nine cups of vegetables daily. 

Here’s why this matters. According to a 2018 article in JAMA on the U.S. Burden of Disease, the number one cause of poor health is dietary risks. 

We know that one in two American adults have diabetes or prediabetes and that there is now a one out of two lifetime risk of cancer. In the last fifty years, healthcare costs have skyrocketed from $1 out of $20 dollars in the federal and average state budget to now $1 out of $3 dollars, and 80% of our healthcare spending is on preventable chronic diseases. We can literally not afford to continue on this path. 

A Closer Look at Plant Based 

Although many foods may be listed as plant based, they may still contain ingredients you would want to avoid, such as added sugar, processed or refined ingredients, “natural” or other flavors, binders, gums, and more.

When it comes to selecting plant-based foods, I suggest those without a label or an ingredient list. The closer to nature, the better—ideally selecting plant-based foods that have been recently harvested so that they have optimal flavor and nutrient levels. 

Plants in their whole form are innately wise, containing vitamins, minerals, enzymes, fiber, phytonutrients (antioxidants), and more, which often work together to optimize digestion and absorption at a level of complexity that we are unable to replicate (and may be lost with processing). 

The focus needs to be brought to food quality and nutrient density in place of food quantity and the old adage of a calorie is a calorie (which we know is way oversimplified) can be forgotten. 

Environmentally, a plant-forward future could help move us towards more biodiversity (away from monocropping) and towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions as more farmers move towards regenerative practices (like we practice here) such as cover cropping and reducing tillage, and grazing animals on pasture (using permaculture principles) as opposed to confined feeding operations. 

In addition, a plant-forward future needs to include practices that restore the soil instead of depleting it as statistics show soil loss at an unsustainable rate when using conventional farming practices. Caring for our soil and the land ensures that we are able to continue to eat nutrient-dense foods, not just today but for future generations. 

Root Vegetable Slices from Our Farm to Your Doorstep

Processed ingredients, whether plant based or not, are something that I try to minimize. Fortunately, our chefs at the Culinary Vegetable Institute have created delicious root vegetable slices, a breath of fresh air to the meat alternative market. They are literally just sliced root vegetables that are grown right here on our farm, then brined. 

The ingredients are simple and nutrient-dense (beets, carrots, turnips, radishes, parsnips, water, salt, ascorbic acid, calcium chloride), and these slices can be used to make all your favorite deli sandwiches, either cooked or right out of the package. 

We hope that you will join us in our vision for a vegetable-forward future! We would love to see your vegetable-forward meals, so tag us @farmerjonesfarm on FB and Instagram. Ready to keep the conversation going? Join our Farmacy at The Chef’s Garden Facebook group

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