Starting a plant-based diet is hard. But the more we practice our craft, the better we get at it right? This is why we thought about the 5 most practical tips that has helped us start a plant-based diet. We think practical tips are the best because we can actually apply it to what we do everyday.
1. Plant-Proof Your Kitchen
Plant-proofing the kitchen is the number one practical step we should all take at the start of our transition.
As much as I want to say plant-proofing means buying another monstera or fiddle leaf fig to display on our kitchen bench tops, unfortunately this is not it. Although please go for it if you need an excuse to add to your jungle collection!
Plant-proofing the kitchen with the right tools, devices and pantry items is essential for any plant-based beginner. If we have all the things that we need, we’ll find making plant-based meals easier. This means the transition process will be simpler and long-term commitment is achievable.
Otherwise, there will be a constant cycle of ‘not having the right ingredients or tools’ to make a plant-based recipe to ‘I’ll get some vegan takeaway then’ or ‘I’ll eat meat today and try again tomorrow’ to ‘This is actually too hard’. Not only will this undermine our efforts to eat and maintain a plant-based diet, it can also be unhealthy and expensive.
Though, this is not to say go out and buy every kitchen gadget imaginable! Kitchen appliances can be expensive. It depends on the recipes we like to make and how much experimental cooking we do. I bought my things quite slowly; only committing to buy it after coming across it in several recipes that I wanted to try. I believe a food processor and high-speed blender are must-haves in every vegan kitchen!
As for any kitchen, and I think even more so for someone on a plant-based diet, stocking up on herbs and spices is essential! This also includes nutritional yeast which is a staple in a lot of vegan cheese recipes and a good source of vitamin B12. Other key pantry ingredients include oats, nuts (walnuts, cashews), almond/peanut butter and plant-based milks. For those on a whole-foods, plant-based diet I also recommend stocking up on vegetable stock or vegan chicken stock to use instead of oil.
2. Start with One Plant-Based Meal Per Day
A practical way to kickstart a plant-based diet is to eat one plant-based meal each day.
The benefits of doing this is that it forces us to go slow. Even though some of us want to go cold-turkey, it’s not ideal for long-term commitment. This is because cravings and social pressures can start to creep in and affect us. So starting off slow with one plant-based meal per day is a great way to work towards a full plant-based diet without having to feel like we’re restricting ourselves too much.
Also by setting this goal and achieving it (which is easy to do in many cases), we’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. This instigates a positive reward feedback system where we become more confident in ourselves, of our choice to go plant-based and motivates us to continue or challenge ourselves further.
Breakfast is perhaps the easiest meal to eat plant-based. Other than big breakfasts and similar, breakfast options are usually vegetarian, if not vegan. There are plenty of healthy and delicious choices too such as granola, overnight oats, pancakes and even scrambled tofu!
Try to switch up the next meal to challenge yourself in terms of recipes and commitment. If making vegan breakfasts is easy then try to change the plant-based meal to dinner. This will force you to come up with a delicious dinner recipe! If you’re going out to dinner with friends then you could try to challenge yourself and choose a plant-based dish from the menu instead.
Overtime, even just one meal a day will reinforce habits that will eventually be the reason for your transition to a plant-based diet.
3. Make Easy Food Swaps
Food swaps are a great and practical way to eat more plant-based meals and also accustom ourselves to vegan and plant-based alternatives.
Even just swapping out regular cow’s milk for soy or almond milk in our morning coffee is a great way to become more mindful of our new diet.
It is also a great way to learn vegan cooking and baking. Amazing vegan chefs and home-cooks have found amazing plant-based substitutes for all our favourite meals. I would have never thought of recreating my favourite duck pancakes using jackfruit! And how did someone think to use the liquid from canned chickpeas and whip it up into aquafaba? I honestly think of this every time I drain out aquafaba for my cake recipes.
These food swaps could actually make the dish healthier and even more delicious than the last time we had them!
4. Understand the Difference Between Whole-Foods and Processed Vegan Foods
At Embody Nourish, we advocate for a healthy plant-based diet. We believe whole-foods plant-based is best but understand that not everyone can be 100% whole-foods (especially in today’s society!). So we advocate for people to have the majority of their diet as whole-foods plant-based with room for indulgences and quality of life enjoyment.
Surrounding ourselves with healthy plant-based food is an important point to remember when starting the diet. It is very easy to fall into the trap of eating unhealthy vegan food at the beginning. For me, I didn’t know what to cook for breakfast, lunch or dinner so I opted for convenient pre-packaged vegan meals. While I don’t necessarily condemn these foods from the diet, I don’t think they should be making up the majority of a plant-based diet. They are often processed, have heaps of unnecessary ingredients (additives, preservatives, added sugar/salt) and are less nutritious than a whole-food diet.
Sometimes these processed vegan foods, for example Beyond Meat, also appeal to us because they market to our cravings and previous diet. These are great to have occasionally to satisfy an odd craving or at the very, very beginning when we have absolutely no idea what to do in a plant-based diet. Eventually, it is healthier and cheaper to move on to a plant-based diet with lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes.
5. Plan Your Meals Ahead
Planning meals in advance is an important practical step especially for someone starting on a plant-based diet.
There are many reasons why this is so. Starting a new diet will cause cravings and random hunger pains that we’re not used to. Many of us will be unsure of vegan cooking, what vegan meals to eat and what ingredients to buy at the shops. Our lives will continue to be busy and switching to a new diet might make it feel even more hectic. There will also be external pressure from friends, family and marketing companies to eat non-vegan food.
The combination of all this can increase the likelihood of someone starting on a plant-based diet to go back to their previous diet. One important topic that is often dismissed is our mental health. We can become tired, anxious or feel anguished.
This is why I believe it’s important to plan our meals ahead. Knowing exactly what meals we are planning to make for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner allows us to organise accordingly.
Going to the shops and buying plant-based foods becomes stress-free and less expensive. We eat more nutritiously because we have more control over what we eat (my favourite part about this is how we can then use this to indulge in our favourite treats!). We can enjoy the cooking experience more and be in the mindset to learn, rather than stressing over the meal itself. Our mindful eating becomes a greater experience because we like what we’re eating. Plus, it’s very convenient if our work/study lives are quite busy.