It’s not news that eating more fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods is good for our health, but many of us are still not eating close to the recommended daily servings (5-9 servings a day of fruit and vegetables). Besides personal health, a plant-based dietary pattern can save you money on groceries and help protect the planet and animals used for food. Getting started doesn’t have to be complicated and you don’t have to overwhelm yourself and change everything overnight (unless that’s how you do things. In that case, go for it!). Here are some of my best tips for getting more plant-based meals into your weekly rotation.
Make a Plan
I’m sure you’ve probably heard the saying “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” It definitely applies to changing your eating habits! Planning ahead will ensure that when meal time comes around and you’re getting hungry, you’ll know what you're making and have your ingredients at the ready. Planning your meals at least a couple of days ahead of time will prevent you from grabbing take-out or eating chips and salsa for dinner because that’s what’s in your kitchen (guilty).
Meal planning can be as simple as writing out what you’ll have on your calendar or notepad and then making a grocery list of the ingredients you need from there. Or you could print out meal planning sheets or use an app to keep track of everything.
If you're just starting out with plant-based meals, pick one meal a day or one day a week to eat plant-based and increase from there once you've accomplished that goal. Meatless Mondays are a popular way of helping people eat plant-based at least one day a week.
There are also several plant-based meal planning services, some paid and some free. Lighter, Forks Over Knives, EatLove, and Plant-based on a Budget are just a few. Explore them and find what works best for you.
Make Plant-based Versions of Your Favorites
Plant-based food often has the stigma of being unsubstantial “rabbit food” or entirely different to what most people are eating but that isn’t the case. Anything omnivores eat, plant-based eaters can eat, too, with some simple substitutions. Are tacos your favorite? Swap lentils, veggie crumbles, seasoned tofu, or beans for the usual meat and top with cashew sour cream or guacamole. Love Indian food, burgers, mac and cheese, or BBQ? Check out my links for delicious, plant-based versions of all of these. Think about your current favorite meals and how you can make satisfying meat- and dairy-free versions. Get creative on your own or use cookbooks or recipe sites for inspiration. Minimalist Baker, The Full Helping, Vegan Richa, and Hot for Food are some of my favorite recipe blogs.
Stock Your Fridge & Pantry
As you use up your current stock, buy plant-based versions of your usual staples, like plant-based milks, cheese, ice cream, mayo and other condiments, etc. Know that plant-based versions usually won't taste 100% the same as animal products (many taste even better) and give your taste buds time to adjust. Try different brands and flavors. For example, if you didn't like the provolone-style dairy-free cheese, you may love the pepper jack; if one type of veggie burger is too mushy, try another brand next time.
Keeping convenient foods stocked will help you throw together quick meals. Convenient doesn't have to mean ultra-processed, either. Having pre-washed salad greens, canned beans, nuts, seeds, tortillas/wraps, your favorite condiments and dressings, and fresh and frozen vegetables and fruit can make whipping up plant-based meals fast and simple.
Join a Meal Delivery Service
Meal delivery services seem to be springing up all over lately. If you can afford this option, it can be a great way to try new plant-based meals without the hassle of digging up recipes and grocery shopping yourself. Some services deliver premade meals that you just have to heat up when ready to eat and others deliver recipes and ingredients for you to cook. Two companies that offer plant-based meals are Purple Carrot and Hungry Root.
Find Recipe Sharing Communities
If you’re on Facebook, there are several groups and pages that share plant-based recipes. I searched “vegan recipes,” “plant-based recipes,” and “whole food plant-based recipes” and came up with dozens of groups! This can be helpful for finding tried and true recipes before you spend your hard earned cash on ingredients for a new recipe that may turn out to be not-so-great.
Take a Vegan Cooking Course
In person or online, there’s no better way to learn than by hands on cooking. Check your local Whole Foods, culinary school, Sur la Table, and community ed classes for vegan cooking classes. Online options include Forks Over Knives, JL Fields, and if you’re really serious about mastering your culinary skills, you can get a professional certification in plant-based cooking through Rouxbe! (feel free to ask me questions—I completed this training in 2015). You can also find free cooking demos on YouTube.
Find Restaurants That Have Plant-Based options
If cooking isn’t really your thing, or you just want to treat yourself, check out Happy Cow to see what restaurants in your area have vegetarian and vegan options. So many restaurants these days have at least one or two things on the menu plant-based eaters can choose from. Even better is to try fully vegan restaurants and be amazed (and sometimes overwhelmed) at all the choices!
Host a Plant-Based Potluck or Dinner Party
Having the support of friends and family can make healthy eating easier and so much more fun and open others to new foods, too. You could try having a theme like vegan BBQ, holiday foods, dishes inspired by a favorite movie or show, a regional cuisine, etc. There is no limit to your creativity with this!
Whether you intend to eat 100% plant-based or simply up your plant food intake, I hope you found some helpful information to get started. Please post your questions and tips below or contact me. I'd love to help guide your way to satisfying, healthful plant-based eating!