How do I get started on a plant-based diet?
So you’ve looked at the evidence and decided to consider moving towards a plant-based diet. But, how do you make this transition? Well, there is more than one way to do this and you will need to think about what works best for you.
Some people like to go all in: They will rid their kitchen and pantry of all non-plant-based foods, restock their fridge and pantry, and all this in a matter of 1 or 2 days. By all means, do this if it works for you, but make sure you plan ahead by compiling a couple week’s worth of menus first and plan your shopping trip based on what you will need for those meals. I would encourage you to have a core set of plant-based recipes before making the switch.
Others prefer to take baby steps; they want to slowly transition into the lifestyle by making one change at a time. For a lot of people, this approach is much more sustainable and the changes stick because you have brainstormed how you will make each change work for your household. Also, you won’t get as discouraged and overwhelmed as if you went cold turkey- pardon the pun.
Step by Step Guide to transitioning to a plant-based diet
Here is how I recommend you make a step-wise transition to a plant-based diet:
1 – Make a Meal Plan
Start with your current meal plan. If this is a major step for you, start by switching one meal per day e.g. lunch, or switching one day per week, e.g. having a Meatless Monday. The rest of the time, stick with your current meal plan. Now this way of switching things up is particularly helpful if you are feeding a family, especially one with multiple children of differing ages because introducing new dishes gradually can help your children adjust to change without turning their world upside down overnight.
How should you make your plan? When you sit down to make your plan (yes, I recommend writing it down!) you can do it digitally, or on a piece of paper. Start by making a list of all your (or your family’s) favorite foods and dishes according to category. For example:
- Grain dishes (pancakes, cereal, beans and tortillas, rice/noodles and veggies, waffles, etc.)
- Portable meals (for school days or work days) – different sandwiches, fruits, soups, beans, salads
- Protein foods/entrees – mac and cheese, pizza, tacos, burgers, casseroles, etc.
- Fruits and vegetables – cooked and raw
- Nuts and Seeds
When you categorize your meals, it makes it easy to input them into a simple menu planner using a template with categories.
Next, set aside one meal or day/week for your new plant-based meal plan and that’s where you plug in things to try or things you already know that your family likes that are plant-based. Then, from week to week, add more and more dishes/meals/days that are completely plant-based. This allows you to build a repertoire of favorites as part of your routine and before you know it you can complete this transition and stick with it successfully!
2 – Check your equipment
As you incorporate new plant-based recipes into your meal plans, check to see if you need to invest in a new piece of equipment in order to be able to make your recipes successfully. For example, it’s pretty hard to make a wide variety of cheese replacement sauces, creams, and smoothies without a decent blender! To see my recommended list of plant-based kitchen essentials arranged according to order of importance, go here.
3 – Stock your pantry
Pay close attention to the list of ingredients for each new recipe you incorporate into your meal plan to ensure that you add anything you don’t have in stock to your shopping list. Think about whether the missing item is a staple (something you will utilize in multiple recipes on a regular basis – for instance salt, oil, flour, lentils, beans and oats). Staples are usually shelf stable as well – dry items don’t spoil quickly and canned items- well those are extremely shelf stable as well!
You will want to purchase and store staples in bulk so that you can put meals together quickly and efficiently. The great thing about buying in bulk is that it is usually cheaper as well! Where to store all these items if you do not have a big pantry? You can get creative! Some people store pantry staples in bins under beds, or under other pieces of furniture, or on shelves in the garage or even the fridge or freezer. Hazelnuts for instance can be stored up to 6 months in the fridge and up to a year in the freezer. Certain seasonings are often in the staples category as well.
4 – Shop
Now that you have a meal plan and you’ve checked your pantry inventory, make sure your grocery list is complete. Have you included fresh fruits and vegetables that you will be eating without any preparation, as well as any required in the recipes you will be making this week week?
Now, if you are on a budget, do not be afraid that it will be more expensive shopping for a plant-based diet! Contrary to popular belief, eating a plant-based diet is not expensive. In fact a study found that a plant-based, diet (even including extra virgin olive oil) was much cheaper than the lowest-cost version of the USDA’S MyPlate diet. To save even more money, check out fliers for sales at your local Aldi’s store, Walmart, and other local discount stores. Use your coupons wisely, but make sure you do not compromise on quality just for price. Remember, you are what you eat and you need quality food for good health. This is especially true in the produce department. Once fresh produce has been picked, it loses some of its nutritive value every single day. So look for fresh and unblemished fruits and veggies. Eating locally and in season can help you to get the most nutrition bang for your grocery buck. You can do this by checking out your local Farmer’s Market and perhaps making it a fun little outing for you and your family!
5 – Prep
Now that you have your meals organized for the week, let’s organize your week for your meals! When you come home from doing your grocery shopping, you will be surprised by how much time you can save over the coming week by investing in a little prep time –just 30 to 60 minutes of your time!
Begin by stowing away your staples, and washing your fruits and veggies. Prepping some of them on the spot can save you lots of time later. For example, chop your carrots, cucumbers and onions for salads during the week and store them in airtight glass containers. Wash and spin or drain your leafy greens and store them in airtight plastic bags or glass containers; they will stay crisp and fresh longer. Likewise, tomatoes can be wedged or chopped several days in advance. Other things can be washed and placed in cold storage or the fridge. Potatoes, onions and greens can be chopped for soups if it’s not too many days away. Be sure to cover your chopped potatoes in water to prevent browning. If you have some main dishes planned that freeze well or keep well in the refrigerator, you can even get those baking or cooking while you are prepping other things.
6 – Serve
When it’s time to make a meal, all this planning really pays off. Often, you can put together a healthy meal in 30 minutes or less if you follow the prepping tips mentioned above. That’s comparable to the time you may spend eating out or even waiting for your order if you are ordering takeout! Considering the time it takes to get to a restaurant, be seated, and eventually being served, making your own healthy meals at home could save you a considerable amount of time, not to mention money! If you consistently follow my tips for prepping, this will lower your stress levels, make meal preparation a snap AND improve your health!