So you decided to eat more plants? Yay! You are already one step closer to feeling awesome. But transitioning to a more plant-based diet can be overwhelming at first. There is a lot of nutrition and diet jargon out there that may only cause confusion. If you’ve been cyber-searching for the simplest way to start eating plant-based, you may find these steps helpful.
Define Your Plant-Based Purpose
The first step in your plant-based journey is to define your purpose for going this direction. Understanding your “why” can help provide motivation, encouragement, and true meaning to your choices. Here are just some of the wonderful purposes you may choose to include in your own why:
- To support your quality of life. Consuming mostly (or all) plant foods is proven in many populations to improve digestion, heart health, blood glucose management, energy, mood, and longevity.
- To lower your risk of chronic disease. Plant foods contain an enormous amount of phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber that all play a role in preventing or managing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and more.
- To be kinder to animals and all living beings. Whether you are just trying to reduce animal food products or are committed to completely eliminating all animal products, you are making an effort to support animal life and fair treatment.
- To improve our environment. Consuming a plant-based diet helps decrease the demand for animal proteins that contribute to fossil fuel production worldwide.
Ditch the All-or-Nothing Mentality
Moving towards a more plant-based eating pattern does not have to be overwhelming. You may cringe at the idea of saying ‘no’ to cheese or not being able to order eggs Benedict at your weekly brunch. Guess what? You totally can! You will always have the power of choice. Reflect back on your why or plant-based purpose to help you eliminate shame or guilt when it comes to eating. Allowing yourself some grace with food choices provides opportunities for growth.
Be Open-Minded with Exploring New Foods
This plant has so many delicious plant foods, most of which many of us may never experience in our lifetime! Consider all of the different plant foods you now get to add to your plate. Think addition of foods, not restriction. Plant foods can replicate the texture, flavor, and aroma of animal proteins while providing essential nutrition. For example, mushrooms have a very “meaty” texture and umami flavor making them great substitutes for beef recipes such as burger patties, Bolognese sauce, and taco filling.
Allow yourself time to be adventurous and explore new recipes. Starting with a plant-based cookbook, following a plant-based blog or social media channel such as Chef Shannon Nutrition, and doing a Pinterest search for recipes you most often enjoy can help teach you how certain plant foods can be prepped and cooked to make a dish that you will crave again and again. Try this White Bean Pasta Primavera or these Gluten-free Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Pancakes to get started!
Have a Plan
Jumping into a new dietary routine without a plan of action will be chaos. Many clients come to me after transitioning plant-based with challenges such as nutrient deficiency, poor sleep, or limited food variety. All of these can be prevented when you take the time to do a little research, get support, and develop a plan.
Assess your strengths and weaknesses with meal planning, meal preparation, and grocery shopping. All of these actions can be excellent tools in your plant-based journey. The benefits of meal planning stretch far beyond saving you time later in the week. Fro example, writing down weekly meals and snacks gives you the opportunity to assess meal quality to ensure you are meeting your unique needs.
Learn more about what meal planning is in this post. If you feel like you could benefit from some professional support, I offer 1:1 nutrition and culinary coaching to those who are curious about, just transitioning to, and veteran plant-based eaters.
Stock Your Kitchen
Regularly stocking your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer with a combination of staple items and fresh finds makes meal planning and preparation much easier. Learning how to stock your pantry with plant-based goodies can really help beginners learn what type of foods provide which nutrients. A well-stocked kitchen can also be a game changer on weeks when you don’t necessarily have a meal plan but still want to whip up a balanced meal. Check out my free Guide to Plant-Based Grocery Shopping for helpful tips and a list of plant-based foods.
Practice Cooking Plant Foods
Practice, practice, practice in the kitchen! We are not aiming for perfection, but rather progress. There is always room for growth here. Start with what you know and gradually add in new foods, new cooking techniques, or new kitchen tools. Familiarize yourself with how to prepare different protein foods such as tofu, tempeh, seitan, dry beans, and lentils. Get curious about different whole grains that provide a variety of nutrients like quinoa, farro, millet, and amaranth.
The best kitchen tip I can give you is to practice knife skills. Your chef’s knife is your best friend. Treat it well and use it often. When you become proficient using the chef’s knife, you can quickly get through meal preparation and be more efficient in the kitchen. Plus, you can save money when chopping your own produce versus purchasing pre-chopped options at the store!
If you find yourself struggling in the kitchen or don’t even know where to start, you may benefit from a virtual cooking class. Let me know what feels most challenging to you and we can chat about your kitchen goals!
Start Small with Your Goals
The excitement of starting this journey can lead to big dreams and goals, which is great! But goal setting requires a process. After setting your big picture goal, try to break it down into daily or weekly attainable goals. Consider the system you are using to get to your big goal. Your system may include time for meal planning, time for researching new recipes, how you are going to grocery shop, when you are going to prepare meals, how much time you are going to dedicate in the kitchen, or who is going to support you. Choose one to two pieces of your process to work on at a time to keep it small. Take it one day at a time so that you can consistently reassess what is working and what may need adjustments.
I am so excited for you to start eating plant-based! New adventures will always come with its ups and downs. Take a deep breath. Remember to keep it simple. And please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions!