Going plant-based can be simple and fun; but getting started can also be overwhelming. When I first went plant-based, 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. No matter your starting point, or whether you are interested in going plant-based overnight or making step by step changes to make the transition, these tips are for you!
Please note that the tips I have provided are ordered generally in the order of how I experienced them. However, many of them are interconnected, and it is not a one way track straight line form tip 1 through to tip 10. It’s more of a cycle or web of tips that connect with one another. The tips are great to start, continue with, return back to if you go off track, and/or reassess over time. For example, I have continued learning over the years by reading more books and doing more studying. I’ve been so interested in the topic of plant-based nutrition that I also recently completed the Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate Program through eCornell and the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. I also continuously come back to my ‘Why’ – my reasons for making the change in the first place.
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Tip 1 – Plant-Based Learning – Watch documentaries, read books, do your own research
- Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead
- Forks Over Knives
- Crazy Sexy Cancer
- What the Health
- The Game Changers
-some of these documentaries are occasionally available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or YouTube.
- How Not to Die by Michael Greger, MD with Gene Stone
- The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, PHD and Thomas M. Campbell II, MD
- The Pleasure Trap by Douglas J. Lisle, PHD and Alan Goldhamer, DC
- The Starch Solution by John A. McDougall, MD and Mary McDougall
- Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman, MD
-some of these books may be available at your local library
- Plant-Powered Families by Dreena Burton
- The PlantPure Nation Cookbook by Kim Campbell
- The How Not to Die Cookbook by Michael Greger, MD with Gene Stone and Robin Robertson
-please note that there are recipes in the Starch Solution and Eat to Live (listed in the previous section) -some of these recipe books may be available at your local library -some recipes from these books may also be available online on the author’s websites for free -there are also many other free plant-based recipes available online
Nutrition Facts – nutritionfacts.org
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine – https://www.pcrm.org/
Center for Nutrition Studies – https://nutritionstudies.org/
Tip 2 – Find Your Why
For me, finding my why and learning about plant-based nutrition went hand-in-hand. I decided to go plant-based to improve my health and reduce future disease risk. 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 more information about why I decided to go vegan.)
Tip 3 – Find a starting point that works for you – decide on overnight transition or incremental change
I do NOT think that there is a one size fits all approach to transitioning to a plant-based diet. There are many ways to go about it and everyone comes to the decision from different starting points and perspectives. I was inspired to make the transition overnight, and started my plant-based journey with a 5-day juice fast. Taking this approach worked for me and the juice fast allowed me to reset my palate and truly appreciate and enjoy eating vegetables.
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!
Choose what resonates with you!
Other great 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, eat more fruit, or add more vegetables to meals)
- Eliminate or reduce one thing from your diet at a time- begin with whatever will be the most manageable for you (ex: fast food meals or processed meat)
- Check out free online kickstart programs:
Tip 4 – 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!
- sweet potatoes
- brown rice
- whole wheat or brown rice pasta
- 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.
Tip 5 – 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 plant milk (almond or soy 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 (see below for recipes).
Tip 6 – 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:
Whether you want to experiment with foods that are new to you or stick with what you know with some slight variations, finding easy and delicious recipes that you enjoy will make it much easier to transition into a plant-based diet.
Tip 7 – 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. 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. 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 (or even think much) about what to eat at mealtimes.
Tip 8 – Have healthy snacks prepared / available
Along with planning meals and having recipes prepared in the fridge or freezer; I would also recommend having veggies and fruit prepared in the fridge. Chop veggies for snacks or salads, and have fruit washed and chopped (or readily available). Keep frozen fruit and vegetables on hand in case you run out of fresh produce for meals or snack times. This way, when you’re hungry, there are always delicious prepared foods ready to be eaten and enjoyed.
Tip 9 – Nourish yourself and enjoy the process
Transitioning into a plant-based lifestyle, whether overnight or through smaller steps, is a 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. Focus on nourishing yourself by doing what you want to do, and aligning your actions with your values and goals. Come back to your why. Consider other lifestyle factors such as good sleep hygiene, stress management, and exercise. 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.
Tip 10 – Keep it simple and be kind to yourself
It takes time to build routines and get into the rhythm of a different lifestyle. Change can be hard, but it’s doable. Be kind to yourself. If you have a slip up or make a choice that doesn’t align with your goals, don’t beat yourself up about it. Consider why you made the choice and move forward. Make a better decision the next time and get back on track. It’s easier said than done, but I found that once I was in the habit of being kind to myself if I made a misstep, it was much easier to keep going, growing, and learning rather than dwelling on a bad choice (which would inevitably lead to making more bad choices).
Don’t expect perfection from yourself. Treat yourself as you would a child or your best friend. 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. 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!
*updated & adapted from previous post – How I Went Plant-Based (7 Tips for Getting Started)