How to Start a Plant-based Diet
Where are you right now? You may be thinking like I did a few years back ... did I even eat any vegetables today? Yep, there was a time when I realized that vegetables were almost totally missing from my diet. I'm not sure what spiked this realization.
Maybe it was because of what I'd read about the health benefits of eating plants or because I was getting older or because I just wasn't feeling up to par. I've always liked vegetables, but sometimes they seemed like an afterthought and weren't always that interesting. At any rate, getting started as a plant-based eater needed to be a priority on my to-do list! Does this sound like you?
"Did I eat enough vegetables today?"
I decided to make fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and plant-based cooking my main focus. I started this website to keep track and paid attention to interesting recipes brimming with vegetables. It wasn't all that hard, and getting started can be easy for you, too.
It can be as easy as doing something new every week. Something like trying non-dairy milk, having a smoothie for breakfast, or trying a deli meat alternative. By the end of the year, you'll have 52 new habits.
Why Eat a Plant-based Diet and What is It?
Why eat plants? In a nutshell, plant eaters live longer, healthier lives with fewer problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity or diabetes. They also usually have fewer aches and pains. It's never too late to start. Many of these conditions are reversible. Plant eaters have healthy bones and higher blood protein levels than omnivores and average fewer nutrient deficiencies, as well. (source) Read my more in-depth article, "Why Eat Plants," to learn more.
"Plant eaters live longer, healthier lives..."
Although there are difference between the plant-based doctors and leaders in the movement, if you include FRESH FRUITS and VEGETABLES, LEGUMES, WHOLE GRAINS, NUTS, and SEEDS, but NO DAIRY or EGGS and very little or NO MEAT or PROCESSED OIL, you can consider yourself a plant-based eater.
12 Steps for Getting Started
1. Remember Your Why
On 3 x 5” cards, write the reasons you want to stick with a plant-based diet. Keep them handy in your pocket, your purse or on your mirror and read them often. (Ideas: be able to hike 2 miles, look better in my clothes, walk without pain, live to see my grandkids, get off my meds, etc.) This idea is from “The Beck Diet Solution: Train Your Brain to Think Like a Thin Person,” which I highly recommend.
2. Make a Meal Plan
Start planning your meals each week. You can download my handy Weekly Meal Planner if you'd like. What do you already eat that's an easy switch-over to plant-based? Rice as a side made into the main dish, meatless chili, pasta with veggies, soup, veggie burgers instead of meat? It'll just come easier for you if you know what to eat.
Here’s one day to get you started.
- Breakfast: oatmeal with berries or bananas, .5 oz. walnuts, and soy milk.
- Lunch: large salad with sliced peppers, red cabbage, red onion, black or pinto beans, 1 tsp. pumpkin seeds and dressing (non-fat preferred).
- Snack: apple and hummus.
- Dinner: Thai curried potatoes with chard.
3. Find Recipes
Print the recipes you’ll be using for the week and keep them in a folder in the kitchen somewhere. You can peruse through my Recipe Index for Ideas.
4. Clean Out Your Pantry & Fridge
Go to your pantry (or fridge) right now and spend 10 minutes throwing out, or recycling. the following items: sugary cereals, soft drinks, packaged chips, cheese, milk, meat including deli meats, white bread, creamy sauces. There must be more – just do it! Then, stock your pantry with easy-to-use staples. Here's a list of meals that you can quickly make with these items.
5. Discover New Foods
Here's a free giveaway of some uncommon ingredients you might find on a whole food plant-based diet. Spend 10 extra minutes in the grocery store locating any new items on your plant-based grocery list – like quinoa, tempeh, soy milk and fat-free pasta. And, if you have trouble finding them, refer to my list.
6. Put Healthy Items on the Top Shelves
Although it’d be ideal if you didn’t have unhealthy food in the frig, it can happen, especially if you have other members of your household eating a different diet then you. The solution? Put your healthy snacks and food, like sliced carrots or peppers or tofu and tempeh, in clear containers on the middle 2 shelves. That way you’ll see them and choose them over less healthy choices. Put the unhealthy items in the drawers so they’re out of sight. (From Slim by Design which I also highly recommend.)
You can find glass containers at your local kitchen store or on the Internet* for storing your plant-based snacks, like hummus and carrots, or your leftovers.
7. Go MEATLESS on MONDAY
Meatless Mondays have been around for over 20 years and it’s a great way to start. Find oodles of recipes that are easy and delicious in the “Main Dish” category or hop on over to meatlessmonday.com to find more. Join the Meatless Monday movement and try one day, then another and so on. Surely there are meatless meals that you enjoy. Pasta with tomato sauce and sliced zucchini, anyone?
Or, go MEATLESS for Breakfast and Lunch until you're ready for the whole day. What's not to love about a strawberry smoothie, creamy oatmeal with blueberries and walnuts, or a tofu scramble? For lunch, try a large salad with beans or rice added in, or make a sandwich using a deli meat alternative.
8. Embrace the salad bar
If you have access to a healthy salad bar, by all means, stock up on salad because it can make your life easier. Shopping for dinner? Make a salad from the salad bar for the next day's lunch. Just avoid creamy, gloppy choices and the meat dishes and get excited by the other plant-based choices.
9. Eat a Salad a Day and Make Your Own Salad Dressings
It’s a great way to get in those 9 servings of fruits and vegetables and it’s recommended by Dr. Fuhrman. Then discover my oil-free salad dressing formula giveaway for making oil-free salad dressings and make one today.
10. Try meat substitutes
Although not the healthiest choice because they usually have oil and other additives, if meat substitutes help you make the transition, give them a try. There’s "turkey" deli slices and “sausage” and even vegan Toona. Then jump on in and embrace the whole foods when you feel more comfortable without meat.
11. Focus on what you're adding to your diet
Don’t focus on what you've left out. There is such a plethora of colorful, beautiful vegetables in the market. Your plant-based recipes don't have to be elaborate but give them the same love you'd give meat. Chicken is boring by itself without added spices and some fancy cooking. There are so many recipes to choose from. Read recipes, watch cooking videos and get inspired! And then try one of these easy recipes made from your pantry items, plant-based approved, of course.
12. Stay Motivated
- Meditate on Your Goals for 10 minutes visualizing your goals and imagining yourself thin and/or healthy.
- Be Accountable. Tell 3 friends that you are starting a plant-based diet and have them ask you how it’s going in one week.
- Read the lists you made in step 1 to keep your goals fresh in your mind.
For a look at any myths or beliefs you have about giving up meat and dairy, read my article, "15 Mindsets: Eating a Plant-Based Diet."
And read my post that includes frequently asked questions about eating a plant-based vegan diet.
There you have it. A few tips for helping you start and continue eating a whole food plant-based diet. You'll be eating smarter and hopefully, live longer, as well.