What is plant-forward dining?

Updated: Oct 27

In our most recent episode of Chesapeake Farm & Bay to Table “Living a Plant Forward Life for the Bay and Your Body,” you might have noticed that we talked a lot about the concept of “Plant-Forward Dining.” With all the plant diet-related terms thrown around over the past couple of years, we wanted to talk a little about the differences between types of diets and why eating more plant foods is essential for the health of Bay and our bodies!


First, let’s clear up some misconceptions about the word diet. When we talk about a diet here, we’re not talking about fads like the Lemon Cleanse Diet, rather, we’re talking about the way you choose to eat every day. There are lots of different types of diets, like the Standard American Diet, the Mediterranean Diet, and today’s star… a Plant-Forward diet.


Plant-forward is a way of eating that focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Eating more plants is good for your health. The Journal of American Heart Association says that eating "Plant‐Based Diets Are Associated With a Lower Risk of Incident Cardiovascular Disease, Cardiovascular Disease Mortality, and All‐Cause Mortality."


Additionally, eating more plants is good for the environment. The Carbon Brief estimates that about one-third of greenhouse gases are caused by food systems (including 71% from agriculture and 35% from methane production as a result of livestock production)—and another third by our transportation practices (i.e., driving). Plant foods also use fewer resources than animals do to produce food: less land needed, less water needed, lower energy inputs required...the list goes on!


You might be saying to yourself, “but I like eating meat.” Well, that’s okay! You can be plant-forward even if you're not a vegetarian or vegan!


Plant-forward eating allows for adding animal-based products in moderation. It’s more about making choices about what and how to eat, not following some hard-and-fast diet rules. It's about eating more plants and fewer animal products (meats, eggs, and dairy products). Often a plant-forward diet will focus on consuming mostly whole foods and less processed foods. If you're new to this concept and aren't sure where to start, here are some tips:


  • Eat meals centered around vegetables

  • Look for new recipes that you can add to your meal-planning routine (we have a bunch on our events page)

  • Learn from others who have already made the transition

  • Start slow, focus on one meal that is plant-based a day and work your way up to more

  • If you want, you can add substitutes for some of your favorite animal products

  • Think of meat and dairy products as an accent, rather than the centerpiece of a meal


In “Living a Plant Forward Life for the Bay and Your Body,” we made two plant-forward recipes to get you started!


Spicy Sweet Potato Cakes with

Apple and Fig Chutney “crème Fraiche”


Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds sweet potatoes, roasted, peeled, and mashed

  • 2 cups panko breadcrumbs

  • 1/2 cup flour

  • ¹/₃ cup roughly chopped cilantro, plus whole leaves for garnish

  • 4 scallions, roughly chopped

  • 2 small red Thai chilies or 1/2 a serrano chili, minced

  • 1 egg, beaten

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • Canola oil for frying

  • Apple and Fig Chutney “Crème Fraiche” (recipe follows)


Directions:

  • Mix the potatoes, 1 cup of the panko, flour, chopped cilantro, scallions, chilies, egg, salt, and pepper in a bowl.

  • Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Using oiled hands, divide potato mixture into sixteen 2-ounce patties about ½-inch thick. Coat lightly with the remaining panko.

  • Pour oil into a skillet to a depth of about ¼ inch and heat until quite hot, but not smoking. Working in batches, fry the cakes, adding more oil if needed, flipping once, until golden and crisp, about 2 to 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels and season with additional salt and pepper, as needed. Top each pancake with a dollop of the “Crème Fraiche” and garnish with cilantro leaves.


Apple and Fig Chutney


Ingredients:

  • 2 cups coarsely chopped Gala apples, peeled and cored

  • 1/4 cup dried figs, chopped

  • 1 cup sugar

  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar

  • 1/4 cup finely chopped slivered almonds

  • 1/4 cup raisins

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1 teaspoon ground fennel seed

  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice Zest of

  • 1 orange Juice of 1 orange


Directions:

  • Add all the ingredients to a pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer on low for 35 minutes.

  • Pack into jars and process according to the hot water bath method for 20 minutes.

Apple and Fig Chutney “Crème Fraiche”


Ingredients:

  • ½ cup thick plain Greek yogurt

  • ½ cup apple fig chutney


Directions:

  • In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt until smooth.

  • Fold in the chutney, cover the bowl, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using.


Warm Lentil Salad with Medallions of Clagett Farm Tenderloin & Cherry Balsamic Reduction


Ingredients:

  • 1 cup green or brown lentils

  • Chicken Stock or water

  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • ¼ cup finely diced onions

  • ¼ cup finely diced celery

  • ¼ cup finely diced carrots

  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic

  • ½ green bell pepper, finely diced

  • ½ red bell pepper, finely diced

  • 3 tablespoons aged sherry wine vinegar

  • ¹/₃ cup sliced green onions Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 6 ounces arugula, chopped

  • 6 ounces of local goat cheese

  • Cherry Balsamic Reduction (recipe follows)

  • 1½ pounds center-cut tenderloin of beef, roasted (see note)


Directions:

  • Rinse the lentils in cold water in a strainer. Place in a pot and cover with water Chicken Stock or a combination of both. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes.

  • While the lentils are cooking, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a sauté pan and add the onions. Sauté for 3 minutes and then add the celery, carrots, and garlic. Sauté gently for 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers and sauté 5 minutes longer. Turn off the heat and add the remaining olive oil and sherry wine vinegar.

  • Drain the lentils and place them in a bowl. Pour the olive oil and vegetable mixture over the top and mix well. Stir in the green onions and season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Fold in the arugula and crumbled goat cheese.


Cherry Balsamic Reduction


Ingredients:

  • 2 cups balsamic vinegar

  • 3 Tbsp brown sugar

  • 1/2 cup chopped pitted cherries and their juice (fresh or frozen – no canned)


Directions:

  • Place all the ingredients in a pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-high and allow to reduce by half.

  • Pour the reduction through a fine strainer. If it’s not as thick as you may like, return to heat, and reduce just a little more.

  • Remove from heat and let stand until ready to use.


These recipes feature just a few animal-based ingredients making them a perfect example of a plant-forward meal.


We hope you take away the message that eating a plant-focused diet is easier–and less restrictive–than you think! The key is to start small, which can be as simple as adding one new meal each week or substituting some items in a recipe. You'll find that it's not long before eating plant-forward comes naturally to you.


Chesapeake Farm & Bay to Table is produced in partnership with Harford County Public Library.


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