I went plant-based in 2016. I felt strongly about making a big change and committing to eating a fully plant-based diet for my health. However, I was also concerned about what to eat, how to prepare foods, and how to ensure I was getting the nutrients I needed on a plant-based diet. (See nutritionfacts.org for free information about plant-based nutrition.) Considering how unbalanced and processed my Standard American Diet was at the time, I can say that ANY movement in the direction towards a plant-based diet would have been beneficial.
Once I found my WHY and committed to making the transition to a plant-based diet, I was able to focus on HOW I would make the change. (See My Story for the reasons why I decided to go vegan.)
So, here is how I got started on a plant-based diet along with my top 7 tips:
Step 1 – Find a starting point that works for you – decide on overnight transition or baby steps
When I first decided to go plant-based, I was inspired to make the transition overnight.
For me, doing a 5-day juice fast was a great way to get me started. I was able to hit the reset button on my taste buds; and juicing allowed me to truly appreciate and enjoy eating vegetables.
On the other hand, I don’t think a juice fast is necessary to start with, and it is definitely not for everyone. My husband did not join in the juice fast with me. He started with small steps and wasn’t even interested in eating a fully plant-based diet in the beginning!
I don’t believe that there is a one size fits all approach that will work for everyone. Choose what resonates with you!
Other ways to get started:
- Meatless Mondays – eat plant-based meals and snacks on Mondays
- Eat more plants – focus on adding more plants to your diet (ex: drink a green smoothie in the morning or add more vegetables to one meal per day)
- Eliminate or reduce one thing from your diet at a time- begin with whatever will be the easiest for you (ex: fast food meals or processed meat)
- Check out free online starter programs:
Step 2 – Keep your kitchen stocked with healthy foods
Stock your pantry cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer with nourishing plant-based foods. Start with foods you already love and add other fruits, vegetables, and pantry staples as you start to incorporate different foods into your diet. Perhaps your kitchen is already stocked with great options, but mine needed a major overhaul!
These are the pantry and freezer items I kept on hand in the beginning:
- canned beans
- canned diced tomatoes
- canned tomato paste
- cocoa powder
- frozen fruit
- frozen vegetables
This was my base starting point from a VERY heavily processed diet filled with packaged foods. Over time I gradually branched out and I now keep many other foods in my pantry and freezer.
Step 3 – Replace animal products with plant-based ingredients
Breakfasts were definitely the easiest meals for me to “veganize” as my morning meals were typically already plant-based! Fruit, smoothies, oatmeal, many breads, and many cereals are vegan. I purchased non-dairy milk to replace the dairy, and I was good to go!
As for lunches and dinners, I started by modifying simple existing recipes I already enjoyed.
- ground beef with beans or lentils
- eggs with tofu
- chicken wings for cauliflower bites
- dairy milk and butter with non-dairy milk, beans, nuts, seeds, or potatoes to make creamy sauces and dressings
- packaged hot dogs with smoky marinated carrots to enjoy at barbecues
Step 4 – Find a handful of recipes that you really enjoy as a base
Find a few recipes that you love to eat! This may take a bit of experimentation, but it can also be quite simple and easy. Use familiar spices, condiments, and sauces to flavour your meals.
I started by making easy recipes such as:
- chili with beans
- whole wheat pasta with onion and pepper marinara
- seasoned baked potatoes with vegetables
I gradually started experimenting with different foods and new recipes – potato leek soup, shepherd’s pie with lentils, and cauliflower bites were a few favourites from the early days.
Whether you want to experiment with foods that are new to you or stick with what you know with some slight variations, finding a few recipes that you enjoy will make it much easier to stay plant-based.
Step 5 – Meal planning week by week to stay focused
I’m a planner, and as such, I planned what my meals would look like for the week. I would pick two to three recipes and purchase the ingredients required. Planning took the pressure off during the week and allowed me to “just do it,” and eat the meals that were already prepared rather than stress about what to eat at mealtimes.
Step 6 – Always have food prepared in the fridge and/or freezer
Along with planning meals, I had food prepared in my fridge and freezer at all times. Schedule a time that will work for you to prepare a recipe or two at a time. I would usually prepare a couple of recipes on the weekend and store some of it in the fridge for leftovers for the week. When I was hungry, there were always delicious prepared meals ready to be reheated and eaten.
Step 7 – Nourish yourself and enjoy the process
Strive to nourish your body with delicious and healthful foods. Find healthy foods that you love to eat, and that make you feel great! Nourishment is also about taking care of yourself and striving to live the life you want. Find ways to move your body that make you feel strong and vibrant (anything from walking in nature, dancing in your kitchen, or taking up yoga). Schedule time for yourself to do things that are important to you.
The process of transitioning into a plant-based lifestyle, whether overnight or through smaller steps, is a process. It takes time to build routines and get into a rhythm of a different lifestyle. Enjoy the process of trying new foods, finding new recipes, and meeting others (whether in person or online) who share your interest and enthusiasm for plant-based living.
People go plant-based (or move in that direction) for many different reasons. You may have a long-term goal in mind like losing weight or becoming healthier. You may be thinking broader scope in terms of reducing your impact on the environment or saving animals. Regardless of your motivation, there will likely be many ups and downs on your journey. Do not expect perfection from yourself. Know that sometimes things won’t go your way, whether that be a recipe “fail”, finding yourself eating more processed food than you planned, or life getting in the way. IT’S OK! Take a deep breath and do your best to get back on track at the next snack or meal time. Refocus on your WHY and choose actions that align with your values and goals.
Do your best and do what works for you!