There are bloggers out there who boast about using only a few ingredients in each recipe, and that’s great… but if I try their recipes I always end up adding ingredients to kick up the nutritional value. Taste and convenience really important for me, of course. But making sure my family gets all the macro- and micro-nutrients they need is numero uno right now. Because I know the people I work for also are feeding little people with growing bodies, I often include these six natural vegan nutrition boosters in the vegan family meal plans.
#1 – Increase iron absorption with vitamin C
Splash your stir-frys with a bit of lemon or lime juice towards the end, or add a few pieces of orange or strawberries to your chickpea and quinoa bowl. Combining iron-rich foods with ingredients high in vitamin C will boost absorption by converting iron from its ferric form to its ferrous form, which is easier to absorb. When eating legumes (beans, lentils and tofu), oats, seeds or dried fruit, all of which are high in iron, make sure to add some brightly colored veggies (red bell peppers, broccoli, peas…) or fruit (strawberries, lemon, lime, orange, pineapple…).
#2 – Add red lentils to… everything
Red lentils go everywhere and… disappear. You can hardly detect them in the finished dish, but their nutritional legacy is there! I throw in a big handful (1/4 to 1/2 cup) to any and every tomato sauce, chili, soup, or curry that I make. They bring in extra folate, manganese, iron, phosphorus, copper, thiamine, potassium, zinc, plus a ton of fiber and protein. Also, they slowly release their energy to keep you going for longer. I also like how they thicken sauces.
#3 – Sprinkle with turmeric and black pepper
Speaking of curries and soup, I always make sure to add a teaspoon of turmeric to them. The phytochemical curcumin contained in turmeric is increasingly recognized as preventative for many conditions. (It also has anti-inflammatory properties, but at high doses better handled by supplements than soups.)
The bright-yellow spice is also a winner on roasted chickpeas and almost any dish inspired by Middle Eastern, African, and Indian cuisines. I find the color more noticeable than the taste. To boost absorption by up to 2000%, make sure to sprinkle with fresh ground pepper.
#4 – Drop in the leaves… at the last minute
I get a big bag of “power greens” (mix of Swiss chard, spinach and kale) from my grocery store and drop a few handfuls (about 2 cups) in almost everything I make throughout the week. They are a great match for both stir-frys and simmered dishes, and an essential addition to every vegan bowl. I chop them a bit so they fit every fork without a fight. In cooked dishes, I don’t think it changes the taste at all – but it brings tons of extra calcium, iron, zinc, folate, and more. To get the most health benefits, just add them at the very end, and eat them raw a few times a week at least.
#5 – And don’t toss those stems!
Recipes often say “remove leaves and discard the though stems” but that’s pure waste. Whenever you cook a simmered dish or stir-fry, start by tearing the tender green leaves off the stems and set them aside. While the onion or carrots are cooking, cut off the bottom 1/2 inch of the stems then slice the rest finely. Throw them in as you sauté the rest of the veggies. It won’t change the dish at all – just add move vitamins and fiber.
#6 – Top it with Vegan parm nuts
Walnuts, nutritional yeast and garlic pulsed together a few times give that finishing touch to dishes, plus extra protein, minerals, B12 vitamin (if your nooch is supplemented) and all the good stuff from garlic (among other benefits, it helps us absorb zinc). And it’s oh-so-good. Look up the recipe!
Keep on learning
Would you prefer me to do the thinking and planning of those vegan nutrition boosters for you? You can subscribe to the Vegan Family Meal Plan service. Download a sample meal plan to get started.