Healthy Eating

Plant-Based Living – A Fresh Look

Plants enhance life in many ways. Why just restrict your thinking to your plate?

In recent years, the phrase “plant-based” has been coined to talk about adding fruits and vegetables to the menu. This is a lovely idea.  Not new.  Fruits and veggies are two of the three food groups most commonly missing in people’s meals (the third is dairy for you curious types).  Grains are also plants.

If you know the MyPlate icon, we’ve literally been trying to get better balance on the plate, including fruits and veggies filling about half of it, since even before the plate replaced the pyramid. The Plate Method was a conversation in the health space long before “plant” was in the food headlines.  We had a “teaching tool” at the hospital I worked at a zillion years ago (circa 2000) that was literally a paper plate drawn on with a marker to visually represent a balanced meal.  Not an “Instagram worthy” image, although completely effective in our individual conversations with patients who wanted and needed a new way to plan meals.

The point is, it’s not new to talk about this.  It’s also not about getting mad at or excluding any food group, but instead, it’s about celebrating and maximizing the benefit from all of our food choices.

Talk is cheap. We need to get to the action. So let’s discuss plants.

About 3/4 of this is from a plant…

One of my favorite dietitian friends and I were talking about another new report that just popped onto the radar. I mentioned that every time I hear the word “plant”, I think of my house plants and my garden. “Plants” and I have a long and happy relationship. My dad has two green thumbs. We always had (and still have) houseplants that were incredibly healthy and beautiful and a tremendous garden, both with edible and non-edible beauties. My mom loves violets, so happy pink, purple, and the occasional mixed colored blooms greet you on a table as you enter their home.

Houseplants can provide a lovely addition to whatever room you put them in.  They can be a constant reminder of “plants” and our connection with the outside world. Taking care of one plant is not the same as growing crops for food, but it may just give a tiny bit of perspective on how much care it takes to keep a plant alive at any scale.

Grandma had a huge vegetable garden behind the tool shed on the farm.

Mom and dad had a huge vegetable garden and fruit trees on the five acres I grew up on.

Great grandma and grandpa grew all kinds of stuff including kohlrabi.

squirrel eating tomato
Neighborhood squirrel caught in the act. #tomatothief

My garden has flowers and plants for every season of the year, even evergreens and holly bushes for the winter months. Gardening is one of my favorite pastimes. I love perennials – once established, they come back year after year and provide beauty and happiness the whole time. They are self sufficient for the most part, so even though my schedule gets challenging, I know that they are out there “doing their thing” with minimal interference from me. Vegetables are another story. Beyond the challenges of water, enough sun, proper temperatures, and weeds, to name a few, there are the bunnies and squirrels who think I planted an ongoing buffet for them. As I tend to my few edible plants (one year, I got exactly one cherry tomato) it’s fun and an excellent tiny reminder of the work it would take for us to feed ourselves. Especially in the polar vortex winters we get in Illinois. “Colder than Mars” was how this winter was described. We saw the movie…it’s hard to grow stuff on Mars. 😉

The point is, stay connected in some small way to fully appreciate all we have. Don’t get nervous. Get happy that there are people who have made it their profession to wrangle all the details and figure out how to make sure we have food choices for every eating style that is out there. Thanks, farmers.

Words matter so much.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t use the word “plant” for some of the foods on your plate. I’m saying there are other wonderful ways living vegetation can get us all thinking in the right direction and offering all kinds of benefits.

Smile every time you hear the word “plant” and stretch your mind to think of all the ways plants make our lives better, including, and beyond, our plates.






By Kim Kirchherr

I am a dietitian working in food and fiber (agriculture) through retail, addressing opportunities to make things better for people and planet.