This post was contributed by #HalfYourPlate friend Amanda of EverydayAllergenFree

I may have been told by one or two friends that I’m notorious for droning on about how vibrant and beautiful fresh produce is… on more than one occasion.

When I step into a grocery store, fruit stand, or farmer’s market my senses are immediately overwhelmed by the bounty of fresh fruit and vegetables before me. It makes me come alive. And I want it all. They say you shouldn’t shop when you’re hungry because you’ll walk out with the whole store, but what if you’re always in the mood for fresh food? It’s no wonder my fridge is bursting at the seams with rappini, cauliflower, strawberries, and all my favorite ingredients from the earth.

Growing up with many food allergies (not just myself, but in my immediate family) has taught me to have an appreciation for fresh, whole foods. I’ve learned that by thinking about food with optimism and creativity, I will never feel ‘limited’. My diet is not controlled by what I can’t have (peanuts, nuts, dairy, soy, and some legumes), but by what I want to eat and what makes me feel good.

How I navigate the grocery store mirrors how I eat, naturally. I spend about half my time in the produce section, selecting a variety of fruits, berries, leafy greens, root vegetables, squash, and herbs. I ensure I have one main protein for every meal (that’s where the meat, fish, and eggs come in), and a grain (generally rice, pasta, farro, or quinoa). I’ll do a quick stop down the organic aisles for pantry staples such as coconut milk and olive oil, and of course a pit stop for coffee beans and tea. Being mindful about what I plan to eat, how much of it, and how it makes me feel is my guide. Most of the things I cannot eat are in the packaged and frozen aisles. My solution – simply avoid those aisles!

Here’s how I fill Half My Plate:

  • Re-frame how you structure your plate. The new Canada Food Guide published in 2019 encourages all Canadians to fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables for a healthy and balanced diet. It’s not uncommon for the protein (often meat) to be thought of as the star of the meal, and vegetables as the side dish. Let’s rethink that. Protein is certainly an important part of a balanced diet, but with all the nutrition, variety, and taste that fruits and vegetables have to offer, I try to make them the primary focus and not an afterthought.
  • Pick things from different categories. I try not to think of fruits and vegetables as one category. How can you, when there is such an incredible amount of variety? When I grocery shop I try to pick up at least one item from every category; leafy greens to cook (ex. dandelion, chard), salad greens, herbs, berries, exotic fruit (seasonally), root vegetables, potatoes, squash, capsicum, mushrooms, tomatoes, citrus, hand fruit (apple/pear/banana etc.)… you get the idea!
  • Aim to have lots of colours and textures. You eat with your eyes first! A plate with some canned corn and steamed broccoli is fine, but wouldn’t you be more excited to see a fresh salad with sliced strawberries and romaine, some cooked beets, and a baked sweet potato? Give your palate something to salivate over by adding visual and textural interest to your meal.
  • Let their natural flavors shine! Preparing vegetables does not have to be complicated. Often times I’ll just slice up fruits and veggies and eat them raw, especially when I’m in a hurry or have had a long day. Natural foods contain so much flavor on their own. Most vegetables can simply be steamed or roasted and dressed with a little olive oil, salt, and lemon juice. Appreciate and showcase the flavors that nature has to offer; there’s no need to cover them up with sauces and heavy dressings.
  • Try fruit and vegetables for dessert. Growing up it was not uncommon for my Nonna to serve fennel and mandarin oranges for dessert. They cleanse your palate and pack a lot of flavor. I also like to have a bowl of berries or some sliced fruit. If you prefer to have a baked treat or something a little sweeter, why not try to add fruits and vegetables to your recipes? I often add sweet or white potato, avocado, zucchini, and other veggies to my baked goods for added flavor, texture, and nutrition.
  • Snack in colour. Instead of picking up chips and crackers, why not opt for something more colourful? I like to have berries, crunchy things like carrots and jicama, and hand held fruits like pears or apples. Snacking this way leaves me feeling light and energized! An added bonus – buying fresh items that are in season can save me some money too.

Spaghetti with Zoodles and Creamy Avocado Sauce

This recipe felt like the perfect one to share in this post because it follows many of my guidelines for how I fill half my plate. There are vegetables from different categories (something leafy, summer squash, a root vegetable, a fruit, an herb), bright colours, complimentary textures (creamy avocado, crunchy carrot, firm zucchini), and flavors (earthy, mellow, zesty). It’s pleasing to the eye, nourishing for your body, and will satiate your craving for a hearty meal.

Free from: peanuts, nuts, dairy, egg, soy, fish, shellfish
*Read the label on the spaghetti to ensure it is safe before purchasing. Some brands may contain soy or other allergens.
Alternatives: If you have a gluten intolerance, use your preferred gluten-free pasta. Again, be sure to read the ingredients to confirm that it is safe for you before consuming.

(Dairy free!) Creamy Avocado Sauce
1/2 cup loose basil leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
The flesh of one avocado, about 1/2 cup
2 tbsp. cooking onion
Salt to taste
1 tbsp. lemon juice
Optional: 1/4 cup shelled pumpkin seeds, for protein

Add all the ingredients to a food processor and pulse until smooth.

The base of the dish
2 servings cooked spaghetti
2 cups zucchini noodles
2 cups shredded rainbow chard leaves
1/3 cup grated carrot
salt and pepper to taste

Add the spaghetti, zucchini, and chard leaves to a large pasta bowl and pour the creamy avocado sauce over top. Toss well. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and sprinkle the shredded carrot over top for colour. Serve hot or cold.

Serves 2

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