There are many reasons why plant-based lifestyles are rising in popularity these days. For some, the ethical treatment of animals is a top priority. For others, concerns about the negative environmental impacts or health risks of meat consumption outweigh the enjoyment of a hamburger. Anyone following a plant-based lifestyle has a reason, and for most of us there are multiple reasons!
I have been plant-based for over ten years, with the last three years as a vegan. As you can imagine, I have accumulated a wealth of knowledge in this topic. If you are considering transitioning to a plant-based diet this year, have no fear! Here are my top 10 tips for starting (and loving) your plant-based lifestyle!
1. Know your Why. Are you facing health concerns such as heart disease, high blood pressure, weight gain, nutrient deficiency or even general fatigue? Maybe you are healthy, but you’d like to prevent having issues in the future. Do rising sea levels and global temperatures really boil your blood? Do you want to prevent deforestation? Or are piggies just too dang cute? Knowing your “why” for starting to a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle can help significantly with motivation, and also inspire others to follow in your footsteps.
2. Start slow. Cutting out all animal products can definitely seem overwhelming at first. Is mayonnaise vegan? Should you throw out your frozen meats? What about buttered popcorn at the movies? For anyone starting out on a plant-based diet, I always recommend starting slow and easy. Buy oat milk instead of whole milk next week. Try a “meatless monday.” If you can’t bear to part with buttered popcorn just yet, that’s okay! There are no hard and fast rules to this lifestyle, so it’s okay to say “I’m vegan - except for popcorn!”
3. Try dishes at your favorite restaurant. There are a number of vegan and vegetarian options right before your eyes! Going vegan doesn’t have to mean missing out. Eating at your favorite restaurant is a great way to try dishes you’re guaranteed to love! Swap kung pao chicken for tofu, grab a black bean burger, or chow down on veggie fajitas. Some of the best cuisines for vegan options include Chinese, Mediterranean, Indian, Mexican, and Thai food.
4. Learn to cook at home. Now that you’ve gained lots of inspiration from your favorite restaurants, it’s time to bring it home! Plant-based cooking at home doesn’t have to be tedious or boring. Some of the most delicious recipes are the simplest (think red beans and rice, spring rolls, vegetable stew, and Buddha bowls)! Cooking at home really allows you to explore with ingredients and learn what works best for you. Put on some music, pour yourself a glass of wine, and take time to meditate on all the fresh colors, scents and flavors.
5. Make a weekly meal plan. Once every week, I sit down and write out my lunch and dinner plans for the week ahead. I base my grocery list on my meal plan. Creating a meal plan assures that you’ll have a good variety of meals all week, helps you to resist cravings and impulse purchases, saves money and avoids waste. I always recommend planning to eat most of your fresh produce earlier in the week, while saving frozen and shelf-stable foods for the end of the week. Don’t fret if you miss a day, your veggies go bad, or your plans change! I keep my meal plan in a Google document so I can easily rearrange.
6. Be wary of faux meats. Faux meats can be excellent for transitioning some of your favorite meaty dishes to plant-based ones. They reduce environmental impact and prevent animal suffering too. Unfortunately, faux meats and other animal products are not the healthiest option for our bodies. Frequently relying on these products for protein can have health consequences. Faux meats are often highly processed and contain loads of sodium. Not to mention, they can quickly eat away at your budget! When people say vegan diets are expensive, they are usually referring to animal product substitutes. A plant-based diet can be very affordable (and healthy) if you stick to whole foods as much as possible!
7. Vary your proteins. With that being said, whole foods can sometimes become boring. It’s important to switch up your protein sources throughout the week to give your body a variety of nutrients and limit flavor boredom. Some plant-based protein options include beans, nuts, legumes, whole grains, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, tempeh, seitan, high-protein veggies (edamame, broccoli, brussel sprouts), pea protein powder, and faux meats in moderation!
8. Spices, spices, spices. The above list of proteins might not sound super appetizing on their own, but this is where an arsenal of spices and pantry essentials comes in clutch. With the right spices, you can make any vegetable taste incredible! My essentials include onion powder, garlic powder, chipotle pepper, curry powder, dried oregano, black pepper, chili powder, and smoked paprika. The combination of smoked paprika, chipotle pepper, and a little vegan worcestershire sauce adds a distinct “meatiness” to any dish. Cashews and nutritional yeast do a good job of adding “cheesiness.” Seaweed, umami, and mushrooms are great for adding a little “fishnisess.” The secret to great vegan cooking is playing until you find the perfect combination!
9. The grill and the pan are your best friends. Grilling and pan-frying are great for adding both flavor and texture. Charred, savory, and crispy foods satisfy those meaty cravings. Personally, I do not enjoy soft and squishy tofu. Gently squeezing and slicing the tofu before pan frying adds a firmer, crispier texture. When in doubt, you can’t go wrong with pan-frying veggies in a little oil or throwing them on the grill (or foreman grill)!
10. Take it easy. Have some oreos, french fries, and vegan bacon every now and then! Even the occasional omelet, cheesecake, or bite of sushi is nothing to stress over. You don’t need to torture yourself in order to stick to your goals. The best way to maintain any diet is with a little flexibility! Remind yourself of your Why, and it will all become easier with time. Explore, play, try new things, and enjoy!