Plant-Forward Eating with Michigan Apples
Shari Steinbach, MS RDN
You may have noticed more plant-based foods popping up at local restaurants and supermarkets as many individuals are seeking more of these options for their meals. But what does a “plant-forward” eating pattern really mean? It simply means a style of cooking and eating that emphasizes and celebrates, but is not limited to, more foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Eating more plant foods, like Michigan Apples, typically leads to a higher intake of key nutrients. A plant-forward eating pattern that includes a variety of the right foods can also help you manage your weight, reduce chronic inflammation and reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke.1,2 However, you don’t have to eliminate any food groups, such as meat from your meals to reap the benefits. In fact, the flavors and nutrients in plants often complement those found in meat, poultry and fish. For example, lean pork topped with sautéed Michigan Apple slices and served with brown rice is not only delicious but provides a variety of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Here are some tips for celebrating plants in your weekly meals:
Pick plenty of produce. Fill half your plate or bowl with vegetables and/or fruit at mealtime. Fresh choices are great, but so are frozen and canned options. Keep versatile choices on hand like fresh Michigan Apples that can be added to hot cereal, sliced on sandwiches or diced in salads.
Choose good fats. Fats from plant sources like olive oil, canola oil, nut butters, and avocados are particularly healthy choices and may provide heart-healthy benefits from monounsaturated fats.
Blend in plants. Combine chopped mushrooms and onions with lean ground meat to make burgers, tacos, pasta sauce or lasagna more nutritious and sustainable. You can also create your own plant-based burgers with a combination of beans, nuts and veggies or fruit like our Michigan Apple-Pecan Burgers (recipe below).
Make it convenient. Stock up on canned, frozen or dried plant-based foods to make meals easy and convenient. Canned beans, for example, contribute fiber and protein to your diet. Unsweetened Michigan Applesauce can be substituted for half the fat in baked goods, or heated with cinnamon to top whole grain waffles or pancakes. Dried apples and raisins can be included in a homemade trail mix with nuts, seed and cereal. Seasoned whole grain mixes like brown rice, or couscous make simple side dishes along with frozen veggies.
Start the day with whole grains. Start your day with hot or cold whole grain cereal topped with diced Michigan Apples and walnuts; spread nut butter on a whole grain English muffin with thin Michigan Apple slices; or enjoy a veggie omelet with whole grain toast. Whole wheat or white whole wheat flour are also great for mixing up a batch of apple muffins – freeze some for those hectic mid-week mornings.
Have fruit for dessert. Crispy Michigan Apple slices, or a mixed fruit bowl with diced apples, will satisfy your craving for a sweet bite after a meal.
Go nuts! Nuts and seeds add a nutritious crunch to any meal. Sprinkle them on top of oatmeal, yogurt, or cereal at breakfast. Pair with apples for a snack. Add a handful to salads, or pasta dishes at lunch or dinner.
Make perfect pairings. If you are a meat-lover, there’s no need to remove it from a plant-forward diet, just pair it with plant foods. Make beef kabobs with mushrooms, red onions and peppers. Top our Apple Grain Salad below with cooked chicken slices or serve the Michigan Apples and Roasted Root Vegetables with fish.
APPLE-PECAN BURGER – If you’re looking for a plant-based burger option try this amazing recipe made with nutrient-rich ingredients right from your kitchen.
Makes 5 burgers
1 cup shredded Michigan Apples
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 cup cold, cooked brown rice
3/4 cup toasted pecan pieces
1 cup dry whole grain bread crumbs
2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse black pepper
5 whole grain buns, optional
5 tomato slices, optional
Vegetable cooking spray
Place apples and remaining ingredients in food processor bowl. Using metal blade, process about 30 seconds or until evenly chopped and thoroughly combined.
Using 1/2 cup measure, portion and shape mixture into 5 patties. (Mixture will be soft.) Place on baking sheet coated with cooking spray.
Bake in 400°F oven about 25 minutes or until deep golden brown. Serve hot on bun with tomato and lettuce or with sweet and sour sauce, if desired.
Note: Patties may be broiled 4-5 inches from heat, about 3 minutes per side or until deep golden brown.
Suggested Michigan Apple varieties to use: Empire, Gala, Golden Delicious, Ida Red, Jonagold, Jonathan, McIntosh, or Rome
Nutrition information per serving (1 patty): 250 Calories; 8g Protein; 12g Fat; 30g Carbohydrates; 3g Fiber; 278mg Sodium
APPLE-GRAIN SALAD – This easy salad is full of fabulous flavor! The farro is a delicious, nutty, whole grain that can be found in the rice aisle.
Makes 6 servings
1 cup farro
1-1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1-1/2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 large Michigan Apple, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts
Prepare farro according to package directions.
Meanwhile, in large bowl, whisk together vinegar, honey, mustard, salt and pepper. While whisking, slowly drizzle in oil until all oil is incorporated.
Add onions, apple, cheese, cranberries, walnuts and farro to bowl; toss until well combined. Serve immediately, or refrigerate up to 4 hours before serving.
Nutrition information per serving: 403 Calories; 6g Protein; 22g Fat; 43g Carbohydrates; 5g Fiber; 590mg Sodium
APPLES ROASTED WITH ROOT VEGETABLES – Roast tart Michigan Apples with a variety of root veggies. It’s a great way to use up any vegetables that may be a little “distressed” so you don’t have to waste them.
Makes 6-8 servings
3 cups tart Michigan Apples (peeled if desired)
2 cups carrots, peeled, cut into ¾-inch thick rounds
1 medium onion, cut into wedges
1 lb. small redskin potatoes cut into quarters
2 large yams, peeled and cut into ¾-inch cubes
2 cups parsnips, peeled and cut into ¾-inch chunks
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic Thyme Vinaigrette
3 tablespoons white Balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
Preheat oven to 425°F. Combine apples, carrots, onion, redskin potatoes, yams and parsnips in large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil; season with salt and pepper and toss thoroughly to coat.
Spread vegetables evenly on large baking sheet. Bake 20-25 minutes until vegetables are tender and beginning to caramelize.
While vegetables are roasting, whisk together vinaigrette ingredients. Set aside.
To serve, transfer vegetables to serving platter and drizzle with Balsamic Thyme Vinaigrette. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately.
Suggested apple varieties to use: Jonathan, Empire, Braeburn, McIntosh
Nutrition information per serving: 375 Calories; 5g Protein; 8g Fat; 77g Carbohydrate; 14g Fiber; 253mg Sodium