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Vegetarian Meals

Lenore Y. Baum, M.A.

Most of us recognize the benefits of a simple, vegetarian diet: increased energy, reduced health risks, fewer medical bills and less impact on the environment. So why don't we do it? It can be difficult to transform basic, whole foods into enticing, wholesome meals. Many of us are unfamiliar with healthful ingredients and don't know where to begin. To compound the problem, many cookbooks are too complex, time-consuming or hard-to-follow.

Vegetarian dishes have had the reputation of being tasteless, plain and time-consuming to prepare. I'll be the first to admit that I have thrown out many bland dishes over the years. However, I have made it my mission to create scrumptious, wholesome dishes that will meet the requirements of your body and your taste buds. Teaching others to cook delicious, natural foods has become my passion. I have been involved with natural foods cooking and instruction for over twenty-five years.

So what, exactly, are whole foods? Whole foods consist of grains, vegetables, beans, fruits and nuts. At the most basic level, a simple meal has three major components: grains, vegetables and beans. Grains store well, are easy to cook and provide complex carbohydrates, which help maintain your energy level. Choose whole grains such as brown rice, millet or barley. If your time is limited, use quicker cooking grains like pasta, couscous or bulgur.

Steamed or boiled, vegetables are crisp and fresh tasting. Stir-fried in minimal oil, they satisfy the desire for fats. Baked, they become rich, caramelized and warming in the winter. Because vegetables are packed with fiber, they give us a full feeling without the calories. Whether center stage or on the side, vegetables will nourish your body, mind and waistline, too!

Beans are hearty and versatile. They provide protein, iron and fiber. With beans, you need to consider the time constraints since dried beans require soaking. Organic canned beans and soybean products like tofu and tempeh are quick and delicious alternatives.

The key to eating simply is to spend several minutes planning the week's menu. I have found that the easiest way to do this is to create theme nights. For example, Tuesday is pasta night, Thursday is soup night, Friday is casserole night and so on. Each week, just fill in the themes with your favorite recipes. Whenever possible, use seasonal vegetables, which are fresh, available locally and usually less expensive. And remember, a wholesome meal can be as simple as a bean soup, steamed vegetables and traditional, whole-grain bread.

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