by Jamie Landa, Food Campaigns Intern
So you’ve realized that a diet free from animal products is better for the planet, your health, and your wallet, not to mention it can be enjoyable and it doesn’t have to be hard? Now what?
Beginning a new way of eating can be an adjustment. Before you embark on a plant-based diet, try these tips to make it as smooth a transition as possible. If you follow these, you can have a much easier time sticking to a vegan or vegetarian diet, but remember the goal is simply to reduce dollars spent on animal products and slip-ups from your diet aren’t a big deal. No one’s perfect and you’re new at this!
1. Start Slow
If you’re currently eating a diet that includes meat, dairy, eggs, and other animal products, going directly to a vegan diet will be a huge shift from what you’re used to. Starting out with a vegetarian diet or even just giving up one kind of meat at a time (for example, beef this month, chicken next month) will help you transition easily.
If you’re currently vegetarian and looking to begin a vegan diet, you can begin by eating vegan only when you cook at home, one day a week, or on the weekends. You can learn what kinds of plant-based meals you like during these periods and then use them as you expand your vegan diet into the rest of the week!
Replacing every product in your kitchen (condiments, dressings, etc..) with a vegan version immediately can be costly, and will contribute to food waste. A better idea would be to replace non-vegan items as they run out with their vegan counterparts. This will make it an easier transition both financially and mentally.
Above all, be forgiving and kind to yourself. You are trying your best for yourself and the planet. Progress is not always linear and if you keep at it, you will get there!
2. Make a meal plan and shopping list
To get meal inspiration, look on the internet or in cookbooks for some meat-free recipes that appeal to you. For healthy, allergy-friendly and delicious plant-based recipes try Minimalist Baker, Oh She Glows, and Veganuary. You can write down ingredients from these recipes and create a shopping list.
If you prefer to go a simpler route, just make a shopping list of some veggies you like, tofu or tempeh, and your favorite beans, legumes and nuts. Add a whole grain and a healthy oil like organic coconut oil (try Nutiva) or extra virgin olive oil.
You can mix and match these ingredients to create simple grain bowls topped with roasted veggies, fresh greens, and tahini or curry sauce. Pasta dishes are another great way to tie in a bunch of colorful veggies without using a bunch of dishes. Soups and salads are also simple, tasty, and healthy options.
3. Shop smart
A plant-based diet can be far more cost-effective than one containing animal products. If you know how to shop properly, you’ll wind up saving tons on groceries. Here’s how:
- Buy from bulk bins if your store has them
- Stock up on staples like lentils, beans, grains and rice
- Shop at the farmers market and seasonally whenever possible
- Cook and prepare things yourself as much as possible (More processing = higher prices)
- Grow your own food
4. Always bring a snack!
While it’s likely that there will be plant-based options (or simple modifications you can make to menu items) there will inevitably be times when you are away from home without a vegan option. Always having a snack or two in your car or bag allows you to avoid being hungry in situations where there is no plant-based snack or meal. Some great options are nuts, broad beans crisps, fruit, popcorn, and crackers with peanut butter or hummus.
5. Be kind to others
Just like you want people to respect your decision to eat ethically, going plant-based will be a lot more enjoyable if you withhold judgment. Everyone is in a different place in their life when it comes to living sustainably. Have patience and inform other people about the environmental benefits of a meat-free diet when they show curiosity or inquire. Preaching will only make people defensive. The best way to encourage others to eat better for the planet and themselves is to focus on your own delicious, nourishing food and how great it makes you feel. Being such a great example, you’ll be sure to inspire others.