We can all appreciate the “art” part of culinary art. Hell, few enjoy fine vegan dining more than me. However, I personally haven’t the time, interest or patience to engage the artform. Instead, to the extent that I’m dining in, I’ve always taken a more functional approach to eating; I want to enjoy it, of course, but I also want to make sure that the nutrient-density quotient is high. To this end, I’ve had to create “systems” where I can quickly and easily put together super healthy, yet tasty, meals, while still experiencing plenty of variety. The following is one such system.
Enter the “Matrix”
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be going into greater detail on what the optimal daily eating regimen might look like. In addition to snacks and smoothies, this will obviously include sit-down meals, where there is a tremendous amount of variety and flavor available. The Mix-and Match Meal Matrix is a super easy way to build nutrient-dense meals in a hurry. (By the way, this is for cooked meals. Check out our Ultimate Salad Systems entries for meals based around raw veggies.)
Here is the overview:
Quick reminder: For all of your choices in the Matrix, it is always advisable to buy organic, and to shop at your local farmer’s market for the freshest selections. That said, let’s look at a few ideas, starting with…
The Top Tier
1. The easiest way to get those greens is from the pre-washed varieties, bagged and ready to roll, at most markets. Collards (my favorite), kale, spinach, turnip and mustard greens…these are the true food of the Gods. Always throw some greens into the mix when you can.
2. The easiest way to include those multi-colored veggies is to go frozen, actually. You will find a lot of choices in various mixes, including Italian-style, Mexican-style, California-style, Asian-style, etc. Nutrients remain surprisingly intact with frozen veggies (and fruit).
3. By the way, you don’t always have to use a variety of veggies. Sometimes you might just use corn, for example, which I find is a great combo with collards since its sweetness offsets the strong “green” flavor of the collards.
The Middle Tier
1. Legumes could mean any of the staggering variety of beans, as well as peas and lentils. Choose one or two different kinds, like kidney and garbanzo, for example.
2. Buying dry beans in bags or out of a bin is best, but they are a pain in the ass to prepare from scratch (in my opinion). And while frozen is better than canned, I say canned is okay for beans. There is a lot more variety, and they are easier to prepare. Plus, the main things you’re looking for out of beans (protein and fiber) are not compromised in the canning process.
Note: If this is as far as you get in the Matrix, that’s fine! Beans, greens and veggies make one of the greatest meals you can eat (at least from a nutritional perspective). More often than not, I’ll just add the veggies to the greens, dump the beans on top, mix it all up, then chow it down, with no salt or seasoning of any kind. But that’s just me. You can experiment with a wide range of seasonings, herbs, even a little table salt (so long as everything else is salt-free).
3. As for your veggie “meat” option, it can be anything from Tofurkey sausage, to Gardenburger Riblets, to a Boca veggie burger patty, to some kind of Gardein “chicken” filet, and the list goes on. Most of these will probably work best as a side dish to everything else.
4. I typically choose either beans OR a veggie “meat” product, although there’s nothing to say that you can’t use both.
The Bottom Tier
1. Brown rice or whole grain pasta head the list of the most ubiquitous of the healthy grains. However, there are tons more to experiment with, if you’re so inclined. Generally, I’m not. I get nice servings of millet, amaranth and quinoa in my Ultimate Meal smoothie everyday, various grains with my Ezekiel bread, raw oats when I enjoy a second Super Foods Smoothie for the day (as described here on the blog before), and a few other servings of whole grains with my Clif bars and dry cereal that I’ll have as a snack sometimes. So, yes, we need those whole grains – especially as an alternative to refined grains like white rice and pasta – but they’re just a little further down the totem pole from greens, multicolored veggies and legumes in the total nutrient-density department. This is why they’re optional for this particular meal system.
2. By the way, what about those refined grains like white rice and pasta? Hey, it’s not the end of the world to have some of these from time to time. Regular rice and pasta have taken a thrashing these past few years, largely because of the high-protein diet insanity and all of this “glycemic index” hoopla. Truth is, it’s not so much that they’re horrible for you (in modest portions), it’s just that there’s nothing in them! They are basically empty calorie foods…but they can enhance the enjoyment of a meal and add extra calories, if needed. So if you want to include some from time to time, it’s not a big deal, so long as the bulk of your meal is about these other foods.
3. Like whole grains, potatoes are also an excellent, but optional, addendum to this meal. If you’re into them, consider the wide variety, which includes brown russet, white rose, baby red and, of course, the almighty sweet potato. I would definitely throw in a potato as a side dish from time to time.
Final Note: When preparing your greens, veggies and legumes, consider making extra amounts. Even when you mix them all together, I’ve found that this kind of meal keeps well in the fridge and makes for an excellent lunch or dinner the next day.
Back with more,