Cura Personalis: Produce and chill?

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Karen Konkoly

If you stand behind me in line at the grocery store, you might think I’m buying food for a family of four. And if you look closer, you might think I’m buying for a family of 40 . . . rabbits.

Yes, an entire grocery cart packed with produce might seem like the result of foolish impulsiveness or unrealistic optimism. However, by the end of every week I am utterly out of stock, forcing me to return for another cart’s worth.

How can someone eat so much produce on a weekly basis? How can someone afford so much produce on a weekly basis? Is it even good for you?

Let me answer the last question first: It’s incredible for you. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise us to eat at least 9-13 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Currently, the average American eats less than four.

As opposed to supplements or processed foods enriched with nutrients such as milk and pasta, whole fruits and vegetables provide a number of benefits.

A diet rich in whole plants naturally provides thousands of bioactive compounds that can’t be obtained from drinking protein shakes or Soylent. You might recall the names of some of these compounds, like phytochemical and flavonoids, since they’re often tossed around to advertise the latest “superfoods,” like acai berries, chia seeds and quinoa.

It’s easy to think of superfoods as obscure and expensive. Here’s a secret that’s hidden in plain sight: Every food is “super” before it’s processed.

One of my favorite things to do is look up the name of any plant food I’m eating on WHF, the World’s Healthiest Foods website. There are phytonutrients and nuanced health benefits in everything from bananas to peanuts to white potatoes, but only if we eat them before they’re processed with artificial preservatives, oils and salts.

A primarily whole-food, plant-based diet will prevent disease, reduce cravings, improve your mood and benefit the environment. But it’s expensive, inconvenient and unappealing compared to your friend’s Domino’s pizza.

Unless, that is, you take advantage of the wonder that is meal planning. Planning meals around plant-based foods enables you to transform a cart full of produce into some delicious meals before it goes bad. By sitting down for 20 minutes every week to plan out your meals, a whole-food, plant-based diet becomes a piece of cake . . . er, cucumber.

For me, plant-based meal planning means starting with an assortment of ingredients to mix and match. For breakfasts and lunches I can easily make giant smoothies and salads. But because I have more time to cook at night, dinners are where I focus the rest of my meal planning efforts.

Some of my favorite dinners include stir-fry veggies with zucchini noodles, Thai veggie curry with cauliflower rice, and spaghetti squash with tomato sauce and basil.

If you want to get started on your own meal planning, take a look at your calendar. Take into account any plans you have to eat out, days you’re especially busy and days you’ll have time to cook.

Then, on a sheet of paper, plan out what to cook on the top half and keep a list of ingredients you need to buy on the bottom half. It’s important to look at serving sizes to estimate how many days of leftovers a meal will provide, taking into consideration that it generally takes a lot more plant food to fill a person up.

If there are any dinners unaccounted for, I find it helpful to plan “fast food” meals that require minimal cooking. A classic fast food meal might consist of frozen veggies and potatoes steamed in the microwave with some beans and a slice of avocado. Because the components of these meals — frozen veggies, potatoes, beans — have a longer shelf life, they have the added bonus of increasing flexibility in your schedule.

Until this semester, I’d never been able to maintain a primarily whole-foods, plant-based diet because doing so while shopping at Wegmans or Giant would be egregiously expensive. Finding a place to buy cheap produce makes all the difference.

I would bet that if you ask around, you’ll find a hole-in-the-wall store not too far away from you. For me, discovering Elias in North Bethlehem has enabled me to eat almost entirely produce for less money than I used to spend on my more processed diet. I can buy a pint of blueberries for 50 cents there.

My friends and I have found it much easier to stick to a meal plan based on whole plants because we know the ingredients will only last for a few days. Call it getting peer pressured by our produce, but who’s to say there’s anything wrong with a radish as a role model?

Karen Konkoly, ’17, is a columnist for The Brown and White. She can be reached at krk217@lehigh.edu.

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