Putting More Plants on Your Plate
Disclaimer: the content in this post is from a Plant Based Nutrition Leadership Conference that I attended as a guest of The Wonderful Company and Wonderful Pistachios. I was not compensated to attend the conference and the information and sentiments contained herewithin are my own. The photos in this post are credited to Wonderful Pistachios. This post does contain affiliate links.
Putting Plants First
With 7 kids and a full time job, I don’t get to attend in-person nutrition events as often as I would like anymore. But when I hear about a good one, I want in! And this was the case with the recent Plant-Based Nutrition Leadership Symposium (PBNLS) sponsored by Wonderful Pistachios.
Full disclosure: I am not a vegetarian. Far from it. My husband is from Texas, so he thinks his birth right is to have meat at every meal!
In addition to being a mom of 7 kids - in my professional life as a dietitian specializing in baby-led weaning, I teach introduction to solid foods and very much value the nutrients, particularly iron, that animal foods can provide in a baby’s diet.
While I value and personally eat both plant and animal foods, I’m also a huge advocate of Michael Pollan and his sentiments about structuring your plate in his book Food Rules, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
So What Does “Plant-Based” Look Like Today?
One of my favorite parts of the Plant Based Nutrition Leadership Symposium were the extensive conversations with presenters onstage and informally with my fellow attendees all about, “What exactly does plant-based mean”?
I didn’t realize that much of the general population hears “plant-based” but thinks that means “plant-only”. To me, “plant-based” always means mostly plants - like more than half your plate.
There was no consensus statement put out about defining “plant-based” but I enjoyed the education sessions, research briefs and commentary from practitioners about the various ways to eat more and reasons for encouraging more plant food intake.
Powering Baby’s Palate with Pistachios
Most of the attendees at this particular conference worked with adult populations. There were university researchers and integrative wellness professionals from many walks of life. And I was one of a handful of professionals representing infant and child nutrition clientele.
I do a fair amount of work with Wonderful Pistachios promoting this product to adult populations, but I also use it some of my baby-led weaning materials since pistachios are a tree nut and research is increasingly demonstrating the importance of early introduction of potential allergen foods in preventing food allergy.
Because intact nuts and thick globs of nut butters are potential choking hazards for babies, one way I encourage introduction of tree nuts like pistachios is to pulse them in a food processor or use a blender to finely chop so they can be sprinkled on or incorporated into other recipes as ingredients.
You can coat slippery foods for babies like avocado slices or cooked apple or pear slices to add grip for babies, but they also work to roll proteins like tofu or even fish in as a crust before baking or frying.
There were no shortage of amazing plant-based recipe ideas and actual foods presented at this conference, and I saw a lot of crossover between the foods the adult attendees were eating and those that could be enjoyed safely by babies and toddlers.
Must Follow Plant People
At the Plant-Based Nutrition Leadership Symposium I had the opportunity to hear from a few of my favorite speakers in the nutrition world.
Chef Julia Nordgren
I was so excited to see one of my favorite physicians who is ALSO a chef, Chef Julia Nordgren, MD on the speaker lineup.
I had a chance to chat with her about her book - which is filled with NORMAL recipes families can make and many of which can be safely fed to babies.
One of my favorite parts of Dr. Julia Cook’s talk was her “Will Cook for Screentime” approach she uses with her 2 pre-teen sons. If they want to play video games or use their tablet, she “trades” them time in the kitchen helping her prepare meals for the family.
I’m going to be doing some collaborations with Dr. Julia around her book and family feeding in the near future so stay posted!
Christopher Gardner, PhD
Another all-time favorite speaker of mine is Dr. Chris Gardner from Stanford who researches and speaks about the intersection of meat, protein and the environment. I’ve heard him speak before at the Healthy Kitchen, Healthy Lives conference and I love love love his talk on protein - basically breaking down and dispelling the notion that ANY of us aren’t getting ENOUGH protein.
Dr. Gardner is down to earth, steeped in science and factual info, but with a great presentation style that keeps even the nerdiest nutrition folks in the audience laughing.
Another soft spot for Dr. Gardner is he did his PhD at UC Berkeley - in the same department where I used to teach undergraduate dietetics - and he has some great history and stories to share about conscientious objectors and testing baseline protein needs that would NEVER fly in today’s research world…but that served an important role in helping us reach modern day understanding of actual protein needs.
Jessica Mathews, PhD
It was also a special opportunity to get to travel to and from this conference and spend time with another friend in attendance, Jessica Mathews, PhD who is the Program Director of the Integrative Wellness Master’s of Science in Kinesiology program at Point Loma Nazarene University.
Jessica and I used to teach together in San Diego and even though her background is in fitness and integrative wellness, our professional paths cross often. She works closely with Registered Dietitians and other credentialed healthcare professionals teaching about the importance of Integrative Wellness and plant-based diets.
If you’re interested in Integrative Wellness, Jessica’s program is doing some really amazing work at PLNU and you can check out their page here.
Plant Based Juniors
Another highlight from the PBNLS was the opportunity to meet Alex and Whitney, the from the instagram page @plantbasedjuniors.
Alex and Whitney are both dietitians - and moms - and they offer a ton of great resources for families living a mostly plant-based lifestyle.
Whitney spoke as part of a panel about communicating plant-based messaging to consumers and she did a fabulous job explaining the conundrum for some parents who feel they are missing out on vital nutrients if they forego most meat and animal foods.
If you’re interested in more of their resources, Plant Based Juniors website is here.
Plant Forward Recipes the Whole Family Will Love
And no nutrition conference worth its weight doesn’t have amazing food. The food at the Plant-Based Nutrition Leadership Symposium was out of this world.
The chefs put together an amazing array of mostly plant-based foods, showcasing bold flavors and ingenious pairings, that this meat eater didn’t even miss the animal foods!
One of my favorite cooking presentations was all about Lebanese food from chef and dietitian Jackie Newgent, a natural culinary nutritionist. She explained her family’s Lebanese heritage and some of the important food principles of that culture and shared some really amazing recipes and dishes with us.
I’m waiting on some of the recipes promised to us from the Wonderful Pistachios team and I’ll come back and update this post with a few of my favorite recipes once I have them!
Thank you to the team at Wonderful Pistachios for putting on this fabulous Plant-Based Nutrition Leadership Symposium and for including me on behalf of the infant feeding community of nutrition professionals!
If you’re interested in learning more about Wonderful Pistachios and their education initiatives and charter schools in California’s Central Valley (that I also learned about at this conference :) click here.