When I started to 'eat healthy' while living in the US, the cultural context and the foods there made things a bit easier. Meat and vegetables is a simple meal.

meat and veggies

If I am eating out, well, most restaurants would serve a meal that's primarily meat and veggies. Or cooking at home - the grocery store had ample supply and the internets had enough recipes even I could make.

There were enough cuisines, enough produce, enough variety that eating

  • more vegetables
  • less grain (not because grain needs to be avoided but because it was a filler that was taking up most of my plate)
  • more protein

became accessible.

Photo by Eugene / Unsplash

growing up

I grew up in Madras (and I live there today) in a vegetarian household. Our meals were rice, lots of it, and some vegetables. I didn't eat the vegetables much, except if they were roasted and fried potatoes.

Even when I expanded my eating horizons, the template was largely the same. Lots of rice, with bits of other things around it. What this means is

  • lots of empty calories
  • extremely little nutrients
  • poor macronutrient ratio/balance

moving back, to today

I've been back for nearly a decade now. I firmly believe in eating what produce we get locally. Obviously. But I am also not a fan of eating south Indian food daily. So, we do mix it up quite a bit.

It was still jarring to move back and change the eating habits, and it took me a few months to trial out a process. Indian food still had gargantuan amounts of rice/roti  around it. So, I came up with a simple system to combat my upbringing and cultural context of "THIS much rice".

I call it the plate inversion protocol. It is so brutally simple that you will ignore it. But here it is.

Veg Full Meals in Tamil Nadu
Courtesy: Wikimedia

the plate inversion protocol

If you are generally used to a lot of rice/grain as the central part of your meal, and not eating too much vegetables, this one is for you.

Start with your plate/meal as you normally start it off with. It is useful to measure out how much rice there is, and how much vegetables you are eating - just to set a baseline.

Step 1: Take a regular spoon, and remove 1 spoon of rice.

Step 2: Pick a vegetable and add 1 spoon of it to your plate. It is okay even if it is potato.

Step 3: Eat.

Step 4: Tomorrow, start with the same baseline and remove 2 spoons.

Step 5: Add 1 spoon of potato, and 1 spoon of another vegetable.

Step 6: Eat.

Step 7: Repeat daily.

Yes, it is that simple. And yep, it works like a charm.

You can also reduce a spoonful every 2 days or every 5 days or weekly. It does not matter. In a matter of a few months, the structure of your plate and meal will be dramatically different.

Caveats, or how to fail

  1. Ignore the advice because it is too simple.
  2. Ignore the '1 spoon' and start off by removing a silly amount that's close to the end goal.
  3. find loopholes.


I find it easy to eat more vegetables today, whichever cuisine I am eating. Even in a south Indian wedding, I am one of the few people who ask for seconds (thirds, fourths) of the meagre vegetable offerings. But so what?

It is not forced. It is how I eat today.

It took me a while to get here but it slowly became the new way of eating.

I am mostly vegetarian today (well, so far this year) and it is still rather straightforward because vegetables and not grain is what I structure my meal around. Of course there's grain involved but it is not the central factor.

So, take the next 2-3 months and use the plate inversion protocol and watch your nutrient and vegetable intake change.

You need to have the courage to take the slow and reasonable approach.

Soon, you will become 'one of us', a person who eats a lot of vegetables.