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More people than ever are eating a plant based diet. If you've decided to give it a try, I've got some great tips to help you on your plant based journey.
First of all, Congratulations! This is a big step to take on a path leading to better health, helping the environment, and being more compassionate to animals. It can be a challenging transition, but so worth it.
And it's filled with an abundance of delicious food!
What is a plant based diet?
A plant based diet is one that focuses on foods that come from plants. The main food groups in a plant based diet are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and healthy fats like nuts & seeds and avocados.
Processed foods are minimized, and no animal based foods are consumed. That means no meat, dairy, eggs, or honey.
So now that you've decided to start, just how do you transition to a plant based diet?
First, decide your motivation
Are you eating a plant based diet for health reasons? This is the best lifestyle for helping to prevent, halt, and sometimes reverse chronic illnesses such as heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and others.
Maybe you're concerned about the state of our environment. A plant based diet has a much lighter environmental footprint than other ways of eating.
Or perhaps your reasons for going vegan are ones of compassion for animals.
Whatever your reason, figuring out your "why" is very helpful when the plant based journey becomes difficult. And believe me, it will not always be easy to follow this way of eating.
For more details on reasons to follow this plant based lifestyle, take a look at my page "A Path to..."
Write down your "whys." Research them. The more your are sure of your reasons for eating this way, the easier it will be to stick with it, and to get back on track when the slip ups occur.
Make healthy swaps in the foods you already eat
The easiest place to start is by making healthy swaps in the foods you already eat.
Love Mexican food? Opt for beans, rice, cashew cheese, and guacamole instead of the meat, cheese and sour cream.
And who doesn't enjoy a nice burger and fries? There are lots of options for veggie burgers that are delicious replacements for that ground beef.
For breakfast, have some whole grain cereal with plant based milk. Love your egg and hashbrown breakfast? Try my tofu scramble and breakfast sausage! Or how about some nice fluffy pancakes - they're easy to make without eggs, milk, or oil.
You'll find it's easy to still enjoy many of the foods you love by just making a few changes.
Surround yourself with healthy food
Eating a plant based diet requires having plenty of plant based foods on hand. You can't eat what you don't have.
So load up your refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards with healthy options. Stock up on your favorite fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grain products, and a few nuts and seeds.
Fresh produce is always wonderful, but frozen is just as nutritious and lasts longer. Canned beans and vegetables are also good for longer shelf life, but just be aware of the sodium level. I always rinse my canned beans to remove some of the excess salt.
Choose some whole grain products such as whole grain bread and pasta, corn tortillas, and whole grain cereals. Try the different plant based milks. There are many options, so find the one that you like best. No, it won't taste like cow's milk, but in time your taste will become adjusted to it.
The easiest way to keep from eating unhealthy foods is to simply not buy them.
Plan your meals
Spending some time each week to plan your meals will help you know what to purchase when you go grocery shopping. It will also help prevent those quick fast food runs when you have no idea what to cook.
It's also a good idea to do some batch cooking. Cook up a pot of beans and a pot of your favorite whole grain. Use these throughout the week to make bowls, and to add to salads, wraps, and casseroles. Find or make a couple of sauces or dressings to add flavor to these dishes.
Whenever it's possible, double a recipe so you can have leftovers to eat throughout the week or to freeze. I always try to have some homemade veggie burgers, some chili, and some homemade soups in the freezer to pull out when I don't have time to cook.
Equip your kitchen for cooking plant based
Having a few good cooking tools can make your plant based cooking so much easier. Some necessities are pots and pans, mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons, sharp knives, and baking sheets.
It's also helpful to have some specialty tools like an immersion blender or personal blender, a pressure cooker, and an air fryer. None of these appliances are a necessity, but can open up more options for cooking.
For a more comprehensive list of kitchen items, see my post My Favorite Kitchen Items.
Read, read, read! There are so many books, websites, and articles on plant based diets. The more you learn, the more you'll understand your reasons for following this lifestyle.
Some of my favorite plant based doctors who have written books are Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. Michael Greger, and Dr. T. Colin Campbell. In addition to their book, they have websites, YouTube channels, and diet plans, and cookbooks. I have listed some of my favorite plant based books here.
Take a look at some vegan and plant based cookbooks as well as some plant based blogs to find new recipes to try. As you find new favorites, add them to your regular recipe rotation. Before long, you won't be missing the animal based recipes.
Eating a plant based diet when you're on the go
It's one thing to know how to eat plant based when you're at home, but what do you do when you're out and about?
Plan ahead. Know what your options are.
When I'm going to be running errands all day, or going on a road trip, I will usually pack a cooler with some food. Some fruits, veggies, hummus, whole grain crackers, and a few nuts can make a satisfying lunch if I'm out for the day. Other options would be vegan sandwiches, wraps, grain bowls, or energy bars.
Dining out? Many of the bigger cities have vegan restaurants, and more and more restaurants are adding vegan options to their menu. If it is a nicer restaurant, you can often call ahead and ask them how they can accommodate you. Some of the better chefs will be happy to put together something.
And even restaurants that don't have vegan options will usually have side items that can be put together to make a meal.
Many of these restaurant meals are high in fat and sodium, so unless you can get your dish prepared without the oil and salt, these meals should be few and far between.
When we go on vacation, we always pack as much food as we're able. We also research the area we're traveling to and find out what vegan dining options are available in the area, as well as where the grocery stores are located. This is pretty easy to do with Google maps and the Happy Cow website.
This takes a little time, but it's so nice to know where we can find food when we're in an unfamiliar area.
Find a community of like minded people
Are there vegan meet up groups in your area? Maybe there's a vegetarian or vegan society. Check them out! Find online communities of plant based and vegan people.
There are many vegan and plant based groups on Facebook. Just type "vegan" or "plant based" in the search field and several will show up. You're welcome to join my Facebook group, Oil Free Vegan Recipes and Support.
These are great places to find new recipes, as well as to ask questions.
Keep it fun!
Set a goal of trying two new recipes each week. Go shopping and find some ingredients you've never tried. Cook with family members and friends. Make it an adventure or a party!
If you don't want to invest the money in the Forks Over Knives course, there is a new plant based cooking course that I've just started to investigate. It is a free course, also from the chefs at Rouxbe, called Swich. It's self-paced, and customizable to your level of cooking ability and taste preferences. A fun way to gain some new cooking skills!
And one other plant based cooking course I've recently learned about is Simple Foundations to Plant Based Cooking by Chef Ramses Bravo. This course is not free, but is very affordable.
Go easy on yourself
Most people are not able to totally switch to plant based overnight. If you need to switch to plant based eating in stages that's fine. That's actually the way my family and I did it. We started by eliminating beef, then pork, then chicken, fish, and lastly eggs and dairy. In recent years, I also switched to cooking oil free.
There will most likely be times you slip up. Don't beat yourself up over it. It's not all or nothing. Just start back up again. Every plant based meal you consume is a step towards better health and living more lightly on the planet. Focus on those achievements, not the slip-ups.
Also, some may disagree with me, but unless you have serious health problems I don't believe you have to be 100% perfect. Allow yourself some treats on occasion.
I hope you've found these tips helpful, and I wish you success on your plant based journey!
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And come join my Oil Free Vegan Recipes and Support Facebook group, where you can share your favorite oil free vegan recipes, and give and receive support on your plant based journey.