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6 Simple ways to get more veggies in your diet

Sarah is a holistic health & lifestyle consultant, wellness media personality, founder of Chicago’s wellness retreat series, Be Healthful, & the force behind

How to eat more plant-based meals without feeling deprived

Everyone has tried to lose weight at one point or another, which is why there are thousands of diet plans available. Yet once we start "dieting," it seems it’s not so easy to sustain. It can be time consuming just figuring out what you can and can’t eat. Even the word diet can bring up feelings of guilt and failure if your goal isn’t reached.

More: 7 Foods everyone in your family should be eating

What if we focused on what we could include in our daily meal plan instead of worrying about what we have to take out? For example, challenging yourself to add a salad to every dinner or making a goal to start your morning with a smoothie. By using this approach, your eating habits can become a reachable, permanent lifestyle change rather than a phase or "fad diet."

If you focus on working plant-based foods into your eating habits, you may naturally start to crowd out foods that don’t serve the purpose of a healthy weight and body.

1. Replace junk foods and empty calories with plant-based snacks

This is the first step in making a fresh start. Go through the kitchen cabinets and look at the junk foods that sabotage your efforts and have no nutritional value. Replace your chips with kale chips or homemade baked veggie fries, use olive oil instead of canola oil and replace your vanilla ice cream with frozen bananas blended with almond milk. If you can replace at least one thing in your fridge, it should be your high-sodium salad dressings. If you love cooking and want to make your own, I shared some plant-based dressings on my blog, Balanced Babe, that you can whip up in a jiffy! Also, visit your nearest Whole Foods or Trader Joe's to see all the healthy alternatives that are already on shelves!

2. Add at least one extra side of vegetables to each meal

This is the easiest way to ease into eating more plant-based foods while still craving meat and poultry. Make it a goal to have an extra side of veggies or a grain like quinoa with each meal — even breakfast! Let's not be wimpy, either — make the servings a hearty size. By eating the plant-based side before the other foods on your plate, you might realize you can be satisfied without the other additives. Also, when starting out, it helps to prepare the majority of your own meals at home so you aren't tempted to pick not-so-healthy items from the restaurant menu.

More: Eating less meat could help your wallet and the planet

3. Make a checklist of kitchen essentials

Aside from your basics, you want to have the proper kitchen tools to prepare your fresh juice or smoothie. Buy the best blender and/or juicer you can afford. If you're investing in only one, I’d choose the blender. It’s more versatile and can puree soups, blend smoothies and make delicious nut milks. A juicer is very nice, but you most likely won’t use it every day, as it has only one purpose — to make juice. Other essentials, such as a food processor and a salad spinner, are a big help when you want to prep healthy recipes yet save time in your busy schedule.

4. Herbs and spices are the key

Adding flavor to plant-based recipes is so quick and easy when you have herbs and spices on hand, such as: Basil, cumin, ginger/turmeric, mustard, oregano, paprika, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme are ones I buy dried. When possible, I like to buy fresh bunches of parsley, cilantro and dill for seasoning. I love using dill in cucumber/yogurt dips, and cabbage and eggplant dishes. Parsley can be added to almost any recipe for added flavor. Cilantro packs a flavorful punch in homemade salsa and salads. There are many others just waiting for you to experiment with in recipes — check them out in your grocer’s aisle.

5. Start experimenting, then be generous

Now that you’ve stocked your pantry and fridge with savory spices and herbs, don’t forget your favorite healthy oils and vinegars. It’s time to play with different veggie and seasoning combinations. Start out with very small portion combinations to see what you like and don’t like. Different combinations can lead to awesome veggie entrées that can be very satisfying. You can get lots of inspiration from browsing plant-based recipe communities such as Pinterest, Tasty Kitchen, Yummy Plants — and, of course, doing a Google search.

Once you’ve started incorporating veggie side dishes with your meals, start making larger quantities. Where does it say you can’t have an entire bunch of sautéed kale for dinner with a side of quinoa and mushrooms? Or a heaping bowl of spinach with chopped beets, apples, pecans and goat cheese? This extra boost of vitamins, minerals and fiber will likely be extremely satisfying. I say the more greens, the better!

6. Keep your healthy snacks readily available

Between meals and when you are on the go, it makes a huge difference having a variety of homemade items available for munching. Some of my favorites are baked sweet-potato chips, roasted chickpeas with garlic and seasoning, sliced apple with walnuts and cinnamon, coconut yogurt with berries and chia seeds, a handful of raw cashews or almonds, avocado with hot sauce, cucumber with hummus or sliced banana with almond butter on a rice cake.

Finding balance is all about incorporating more healthy foods into your daily diet instead of depriving yourself. Go easy when you start out, and be kind to yourself on this new journey. Give it a try for a week to see how it’s working for you. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t completely cut out meat from your diet. I'd be willing to bet you will have more energy and clarity. You have nothing to lose and lots to gain by adding more plant-based foods to your life!

More: 10 Ways to look for awe in the ordinary

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