Cooking for nutrition

DFN's recipes and dietitian-designed meal plan make it easier for anyone to take a step towards a more energising, sustainable plant-rich eating pattern. In this article, DFN's Lead Qld Dietitian Emma Strutt explains the principles underpinning the collection and shares some handy tips for successful whole food plant-based cooking.

What we choose to cook each week has a significant impact on our health, as well as the health of the people we are cooking for. The good news is that most Australians have a desire to be more adventurous in the kitchen and try out a variety of healthy dishes [1]. If that’s you, you are in the right place.


Our newly-released collection of recipes and dietitian-designed meal plan make it easier for anyone to take a step towards a more energising, sustainable plant-rich eating pattern.


What is cooking for nutrition all about?

Choosing more plant-based dishes is the fastest way to experience the benefits of a healthy diet. Many people have discovered this, and cooking plant-based meals is now mainstream, with 42% of Australians reducing or eliminating meat. [2] However it can be daunting for those who are just getting started!


To help streamline the process of learning to create nutritious meals and snacks, Doctors For Nutrition have teamed up with a range of dietitians, doctors and other plant-powered people to curate a set of simple yet delicious recipes.

Why is a resource like this needed?

Poor nutrition is a leading cause of health loss in both Australia and New Zealand [3,4]. Making it simple to find healthy recipes that can be easily, cheaply and quickly prepared is one way to help cut through the stress and confusion of meal planning. While there are many social, environmental and other factors that contribute to poor nutrition (and Doctors For Nutrition is seeking change in many of these areas), one of the most common questions for those wanting to eat more plant-based meals is ‘what do I cook?’.

One of the most common questions for those wanting to eat more plant-based meals is ‘what do I cook?’

Not just any recipes

The recipes in the DFN collection have been specially selected to reflect the principles in our Healthy Eating Guide. This means they are abundant in the nutrient-dense whole plant foods in our “as often as you can” and “every day” categories, with minimal amounts of the “sometimes” foods. They are a guaranteed meat, dairy and egg-free zone, with no added oil, very low to no added sodium, and no refined sweeteners.


The recipes are all dietitian-approved, aiming to remove the guesswork involved in people seeking to upgrade their nutrition with the minimum fuss. The accompanying meal plan and tips by dietitian Emily Levy APD provide a guided step-by-step way to get started.


About the DFN recipe collection

✓ Dietitian-approved

✓ Easy to make, with many in the ‘super easy’ category

✓ Reflective of a wide diversity of ethnic cuisines

✓ Quick to make, with prep time usually less than 30 minutes

✓ Inexpensive, and do not require expensive appliances

✓ Made from easy-to-access ingredients

✓ Suited to a range of ‘occasions’ including entertaining, picnics and BBQs

✓ Allergy-friendly, with many suitable people who are gluten-free or nut-free

✓ Easy search and filter options

✓ No long introductory recipe blurbs!

✓ Handy chef’s tips and notes

✓ Downloadable recipe cards to save or print

DFN recipe cards
The collection includes pdf recipe cards for printing or download.

Food as a ‘package deal’

In keeping with a non-reductionist approach to nutrition, the recipes are not broken down by individual nutrients. Instead, they focus on whole and minimally processed vegetables, whole grains, fruits, legumes, herbs and spices, with smaller amounts of nuts, seeds. Together, these ingredients offer high levels of fibre, vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, plant-based proteins and amino acids, protective phytochemicals and antioxidants, omega three and six essential fatty acids, and all essential macro and micronutrients in a ‘package deal’ of real foods. [5]


The only vitamin that must always be supplemented when following a plant-exclusive dietary pattern is B12 – which is also required for much of the population, including anyone over 50 whether plant-based or not. [6]


Specific needs

Among the collection, some of the recipes are higher in energy density, such as smoothies and desserts, and dishes containing tofu, nuts or avocado. These are great for growing kids, lean highly-active people, and those wishing to gain weight. However, for people wanting to lose weight, or those with cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes it is advised to choose those recipes that contain only the ‘every day’ and ‘as often as you can’ ingredients from the DFN Healthy Eating Guide, or make a few changes to reduce the fat content.


As always, individual needs vary, and people who have health concerns or an existing diagnosis should see a dietitian or doctor with nutrition expertise to help develop a personalised plan for their specific needs.

Health professional providing nutrition advice
Qualified professional supervision of diet change is essential for people with existing health concerns.

Further tips, hacks and FAQs

  • Avoiding hidden ‘SOS’

One of the advantages of home cooking and a whole foods focus is that additives are naturally avoided, including salt, oil and sugar (‘SOS’). However, it can be convenient to buy some healthy whole foods in pre-packaged form, such as canned beans. The key here is to look for salt-free cans to avoid hidden sodium.

  • Healthy plant milks

Plant-based milks are a useful ingredient in a plant-based diet, and are readily available and steadily coming down in price, especially home-brand options from supermarkets. The best options are soy, oat, nut and hemp milks with no added salt, oil or sugar. Coconut and rice milks are high in fat and sugar respectively, so are not recommended.

  • Washing produce

Produce should always be washed as it can unfortunately be contaminated with sprays, animal waste or by-products that are used as fertilisers or find their way into irrigation water, which brings with it a risk of food poisoning.

  • Benefits for planet and pocket!

As well as being the most health-promoting way of eating, a plant-based diet is best for the planet. [7] In fact, following eco-friendly practices is generally budget friendly and convenient too. [8] For example, bulk buying pulses, grains, nuts and seeds is highly efficient and cost-effective as well as green. Likewise, keeping the skin on fruit and veg is delicious, non-wasteful and highly nutritious, too! Try unpeeled mashed potato and pumpkin chunks with the skin on: you won’t look back.

  • To blend or not to blend?

Blended foods such as smoothies or ‘nice cream’ feature in 2-3 recipes as a healthier alternative to ice cream/milkshakes. These are great for kids and athletes, or older people with low appetite. However for those wanting to lose weight, it’s best not to “drink your food".

Dried lentils in jars
Bulk buying pulses, grains, nuts and seeds is highly efficient and cost-effective as well as eco-friendly

With all that said, the best way to get started is not to overthink things and just get cooking! If mangos are in season, you could try my Mango bean salsa on rice. My other top recommendations are the Plant-powered stew, Yellow split-pea curry, Lentil bolognese and Lemon millet cake.


When you are ready for a full week of healthy plant-based meals, dietitian Emily Levy's meal plan is a top resource. Download it from the recipes landing page here.


I hope you, your friends, family and colleagues all enjoy these recipes. We would love to see and hear how you get on, so don't forget to post photos and tag us on social media, or leave a review on the recipe webpage.


Yours in health,




References

  1. McCrindle. Australia’s Cooking Landscape. 2017.

  2. Food Frontier and Life Health Foods, 2019. Hungry for plant-based: Australian consumer insights. Colmar Brunton. https://www.foodfrontier.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Hungry-For-Plant-Based-Australian-Consumer-Insights-Oct-2019.pdf.

  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics. aihw.gov.au/reports/burden-of-disease/burden-disease-study-illness-death-2015/contents/summary.

  4. Tobias M. Health Loss in New Zealand 1990-2013: A Report from the New Zealand Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors Study. Ministry of Health; 2016. health.govt.nz/publication/health-loss-new-zealand-1990-2013.

  5. Read more about the whole food plant-based approach and why it rejects reductionism at https://www.doctorsfornutrition.org/post/what-is-wfpb.

  6. For information about vitamin B12, see: https://www.doctorsfornutrition.org/post/be-smart-b12

  7. Poore J, Nemecek T. Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science. 2018;360(6392):987-992. doi:10.1126/science.aaq0216

  8. Goulding T, Lindberg R, Russell CG. The affordability of a healthy and sustainable diet: an Australian case study. Nutr J. 2020;19(1):109. doi:10.1186/s12937-020-00606-z

Emma Strutt APD - Greenstuff Nutrition, QLD Australia and Doctors for Nutrition QLD Dietitian


About the author

Emma Strutt APD is Doctors For Nutrition's Lead Dietitan for Queensland.


Read her full bio here.


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