Author Dawn Jackson Blatner RD, LDN has an easy-going style that invites you to try out a “mostly vegetarian” way of eating while still allowing for flexibility (read: you can eat meat!). Chock-full of tips such as “Craving Control” and “Time Crunch,” Blatner’s approach to eating manages to be both fun and tasty all at the same time. With 100 creative and delicious recipes that are sure to be winners with the whole family, The Flexitarian Diet will inspire you to look at veggies, fruits and whole grains as more than just healthy, but absolutely delicious.
Super Kids Nutrition spoke with Dawn about her new book, The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life*, and what it means to “flex” your diet, how it can save time, allow you to enjoy your meals, but live healthier, too.
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Q: Could you describe what it means to be a “flexitarian” for our readers?
“Flexitarian” is the combination of two words: flexible + vegetarian. Research study after research study concludes that one of the healthiest ways to achieve optimal health and prevent and manage disease is by eating a vegetarian diet. But so many people (including myself) find it difficult to eat vegetarian 100% of the time because of social moments such as a hot dog at a baseball game with friends or traditional holiday foods with the family.
Being a flexitarian is about minimizing meat without excluding it altogether. It is the best of both worlds – you get the health benefits of a vegetarian diet while still being able to enjoy meaningful, soul-nourishing moments with others without dietary restrictions getting in the way. Unlike an omnivore who eats everything, a flexitarian is someone who gets up every day with the intention to eat more vegetarian, plant-based foods. I’ve been a flexitarian for 15 years and have counseled my patients to eat like this for over a decade.
Q: What’s your best nutrition advice for feeling great and sustaining energy throughout the day?
Eat three meals a day and make sure each meal is 50% produce. It seems like simple advice but it really works. Eating on a schedule allows your body to have a steady flow of calories/energy all day without dips and valleys. All that produce on the plate provides fiber to keep us full, hydration to keep all of our body systems running properly and adequate vitamins and minerals to achieve optimal health and energy.
Q: Your book includes “mix and match” meal plans along with shopping lists. What advice could you give our readers on how to reduce the grocery store bill while still following the meal plans?
Budget-friendly food is important in these economic times. Meat and poultry tend to be some of the most expensive items on a grocery bill so eating less of these items can save you money. Consider the average ounce of meat is $0.25 whereas an ounce of beans is only $0.08 — three times less expensive. Here are a few grocery list swap ideas:
Many people feel that reducing their intake of meat will result in nutritional deficiencies. What would you say to someone who has this concern? All of our protein needs can be met following a flexitarian, plant-based eating plan. We need at least 50 grams of protein per day which can be easily achieved by eating plant proteins at meals and snacks, such as beans, nuts, and seeds. There are so many possibilities: black beans, white beans, garbanzo beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, lentils, peas, tofu, tempeh, edamame, almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.
Other than protein, strict vegetarian diets that are not balanced can be missing nutrients such as iron, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, Vitamin D and B12. To combat this, I encourage people to do these three things:
Meat is not a necessary ingredient for health but I do have patients who feel cravings for it. Those cravings are for the meat flavor (not the nutrients in meat) known as “umami” which means savory in Japanese. Luckily there are flexitarian ways to get that umami flavor by incorporating more foods such as mushrooms, aged cheeses, seaweed, soy, broccoli, tomatoes, and potatoes.
Q: There’s a belief out there that eating “mostly vegetarian” meals is going to result in a lot of time spent in the kitchen. What tips do you have to reduce the time spent on meal prep?
It doesn’t have to take a lot of time. In fact here are ten easy and quick ways to go flexitarian starting today:
Q: The Flexitarian Diet includes 100 recipes that are “quick and delicious.” What makes them so quick and easy to prepare?
The recipes have only five main ingredients that keep things simple and quick. I also rely on some healthy convenience foods such as precooked brown rice, canned beans that you just have to rinse and drain and pre-cut and frozen veggies. All the recipes also have nutrition analysis and offer flex swaps to convert recipes back and forth from vegetarian to meaty.
Q: Your approach is not actually a diet but a “nondiet-lifestyle approach to get healthy and lose weight.” What are three everyday tips the flexitarian diet offers to help achieve or maintain a healthy weight?
Q: What are your family’s three favorite go-to meals?
Here’s a sample day and what pages of The Flexitarian Diet I’ve adapted these from:
Q: You do a wonderful job of introducing new and flavorful foods in The Flexitarian Diet recipes. What tips can you offer to get the kids to try new foods?
Q: Most Americans do not get the recommended amounts of fruit (at least 2 cups) and veggies (at least 2 ½ cups) per day. What are your favorite ways to increase these foods into the diet of the average American?
Q: Your book does a great job exposing readers to new and exciting grains they may never have tried before. What’s one of your favorite grains and what’s your favorite way to prepare it?
Quinoa is my favorite whole grain because it is super quick to prepare, super nutritious and super tasty. Curried quinoa salad on page 99 of The Flexitarian Diet is a great way to eat quinoa.
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Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, LDN, is a registered and licensed dietitian and a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. She is the online nutrition expert for Lifetime Television, writes a food and nutrition blog for USA Today and teaches healthy cooking classes at The Chopping Block Cooking School in Chicago. She is an advisory board expert for Fitness magazine, hosts a regular healthy eating segment called “Take a Bite” on NBC Chicago and is a national nutrition expert interviewed annually in over 200 media outlets such as Dr. Oz, CNN, Dateline NBC, People Magazine, and WebMD. She writes for magazines such as Health, All You, Fitness, and Ladies Home Journal and is the author of The Flexitarian Diet (McGraw-Hill, 2009). Dawn has over 10 years of experience working with clients managing obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer. For more information on The Flexitarian Diet visit www.dawnjacksonblatner.com. To buy her book, visit any major on-line retailer.
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