15 Tips for Transitioning to Plant-Based Eating

No more cheeseburgers, ice cream, buttery toast, or my dearly beloved mochas topped with whipped cream?

Well, not as I formerly knew them, anyway. As I described last week, I have made the transition to plant-based eating over the past 5 months and it has taken quite a while to find my groove. I won’t claim that it has been easy to accomplish, but I can confidently say the challenges and persistence have been worth it. Along the way I’ve collected some tips for maintaining success throughout the transition to plant-based eating.

Here’s how I’ve managed to stick with it:

1. START SOMEWHERE. ANYWHERE.

Can’t see yourself giving up cheese? Then don’t. Start with what’s easy for you to part with and go from there. When I tell someone new what I have cut out of my diet I usually get a response along the lines of, “I could never go plant-based because I could never give up {insert favorite food}!” And I get it, I really do. The thought of not enjoying a slice of pizza the way I am used to is tragic. But what is also tragic is thinking that because you can’t see yourself going all the way with something that it’s not even worth taking one step. My changes didn’t happen overnight. I gave things up gradually and found that approach much more manageable. Maybe begin by simply changing the proportions on your plate: less meat, more vegetables. Or spend just one day a week cooking an entirely plant-based meal. Start somewhere. Anywhere. Baby steps!

2. ARM YOURSELF WITH BASIC COOKING SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE.

It can be overwhelming to look at a vegetable and know what to do with it or how to make it palatable. The good news is that the internet is full of free resources that can teach you basic knife skills, foundational recipes, flavor profiles and pairings, how to season, and much more. The more knowledge you possess when it comes to basic cooking techniques, the more confident, quick, and successful you can become in the kitchen. Ten years ago when I moved into my first apartment and had my own kitchen I dedicated myself to learning as much as I could about cooking, baking, and preserving. I read books, watched cooking shows, attended classes and workshops, and tried as many ingredients and techniques as I could. The self-taught education I acquired over the past decade has served me well in this new phase of life. Don’t be intimidated by cooking – empower yourself with knowledge!

3. LEARN HOW TO STORE, PROCESS, PRESERVE AND COMPOST.

How many times have you filled your fridge full of fresh produce only to find unused items rotting a week or so later? I’ve been there, many times, and continue to struggle with using everything that comes out of the garden. The only solution I’ve found is getting as creative as possible with how I utilize and store all my produce. I rarely follow recipes to a T and frequently throw in extra veggies or herbs that I know will work well in whatever dish I’m making. Smoothies, soups, tacos, and similar creations lend themselves well to incorporating all sorts of ingredients beyond the obvious. The wide world of dehydrating, pickling, freezing, and fermenting greatly extends the life and flavor of all kinds of produce. And if there’s anything that gets truly beyond the point of ingesting, there is always the option to compost. Nothing can be considered a waste if it can be turned into compost.

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Mushroom & white bean meatballs with Swiss chard spaghetti.

4. ELIMINATE THE NEED TO MAKE CHOICES.

If I don’t have a plethora of options on-hand that are in line with the way I have chosen to eat, my mind begins to wander. I think about places nearby that I could easily sneak out to and grab something easy and convenient from to satisfy my appetite. This is a dangerous position to find myself in. To avoid this predicament I dedicate time each week to carefully plan out meals and snacks so I alway feel like I have consciously chosen things I’m excited about eating and won’t regret later. If I stock my fridge and pantry full of good choices I hardly ever think about going elsewhere. And I try keep all temptations out of my house because who has the willpower to pick a piece of fruit over a cookie? Not me.

5. HAVE THE FORESIGHT TO NOT FIND YOURSELF HUNGRY.

This one mostly applies to when I am out in the world. If I am traveling or running errands that will take a while, I have to think ahead about whether or not I will need to eat. Finding myself hungry far from home can lead to bad choices so I try very hard not to get in that position. Packing snacks and water is helpful, as well as researching restaurant options ahead of time when traveling. And I always eat before going to the grocery store. Always.

6. BREAK UP WITH FOODS YOU LOVE THAT DON’T LOVE YOU BACK.

The thought of not regularly slinging back my favorite Starbucks mocha was a huge bummer to think about. Or was it? Did I really enjoy that sugary, dairy-filled bomb of calories? Of worrying how I would have to adjust my eating for the rest of the day to make sure I didn’t go too overboard calorically? No. Not so much. And did I enjoy the fluctuations on the scale thanks to the frequency with which I downed said mochas, greasy bar food and takeout? Definitely not. It was fun while it lasted, but as much as I “loved” these foods I had to recognize that it was a one-way relationship. Other than momentary pleasure those foods added nothing but stress and anxiety to my life and inches to my waistline.

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Kale Peanut Noodle Bowls with quick pickled watermelon radish.

7. DON’T GO AT IT ALONE.

I was fortunate enough to make this big shift along with the commitment from several of the closest people in my life. Having a built-in support system dedicated to eating the same way I was turned out to be very helpful. We can commiserate over cravings, encourage each other to persist when it’s tough, and work together to share recipes and daily motivation. Don’t have someone willing to go plant-based with you? Consider me your partner in plants. I believe in the buddy system!

8. FOCUS ON ALL THE THINGS YOU CAN EAT, NOT WHAT YOU CAN’T.

It’s easy to start down a dark path of mourning the foods you miss. When I find myself listing off all the things I’ve given up I try to stop myself and focus instead on the plethora of foods that I can eat. It’s also helpful to concentrate on the beauty and energy that fruits and veggies provide. Seeing a plate full of monochromatic meat, cheese and other “dead” foods is far less appealing to me these days. It may seem limiting at first, but when you really dive in to the plant-based world there is so much variety to discover. Carrots and beets come in a range of colors beyond just orange and red, there are hundreds of varieties of greens, berries, potatoes, and much more. Check out these gorgeous prints showing the vast varieties of vegetables and fruits for further inspiration!

9. REMEMBER YOUR MOTIVATION.

If only you could make the decision once to change something about your life, and that would be enough to implement it successfully. Sadly, making the conscious decision to change is only the very first step. I have to consistently recommit to the things I’ve decided to change, every single day. Whether it’s a morning mantra, a silent meditation, or rereading my own words, it doesn’t matter – as long as I constantly remember my motivations for going plant-based: to improve my own happiness and health, and the health of the planet. As long as those reasons stay at the forefront of my mind, I rarely fail.

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Polenta with mushrooms, chickpeas and olives.

10. FIND NEW FAVORITES.

I don’t seek imitations of my former favorites (hard pass on processed meat or dairy substitutes) but I have found ways to modify most classics. I still make pizza but instead of cheese I sprinkle on nutritional yeast over my tomato sauce. I don’t eat cheeseburgers anymore but I’ve tried a dozen or so different veggie/bean burgers with all the fixings and they’re delicious. I can have creamy pasta sauces made from soaked cashews, coffee creamer from nut and coconut milks, and delicious tacos filled with mushrooms, beans, and more. It’s about getting creative in the kitchen in order to satisfy all cravings. If you’re not finding yourself satisfied with plant-based foods, don’t give up. Identify the flavors and textures that you crave and find ways to enjoy them within plant-based cooking. Strive for a variety: crunchy and soft, hot and cold, sweet and salty, bitter and acidic. Seasoning is your friend, use it wisely. Plant-based doesn’t mean being resigned to salads, soups, and green juice. Hardly!

11. GROW SOMETHING YOU LOVE.

I’m a huge fan of gardening and growing my own food for many reasons. First off, it creates an intimate connection between me and my food that I cannot find otherwise. Secondly, I believe homegrown food is incredibly delicious and unbeatable. When I eat something harvested from the garden that same day I can literally feel the live energy of the plants within me. It’s invigorating! Whether you grow one herb in a pot on a windowsill or cultivate an acre or so of different crops, growing your own food as a plant-based eater can be empowering and utterly rewarding. Starting off by growing something you love and will look forward to eating is a wise approach. And if you can’t grow anything, visit a farmer’s market and seek the freshest, most locally grown options. Begin to educate yourself on what it takes to grow food. Again, knowledge is power!

12. REPRIORITIZE YOUR TIME.

I’ve already made mention of how time consuming plant-based eating can be. The amount of time spent planning, prepping, learning how to use each fruit/vegetable, and washing dishes adds up to anything but convenient. Not to mention how long it takes to grow something from a seed! And sadly, our culture has evolved to focus mainly on convenience when it comes to food. At first I was annoyed by how much of my life was spent simply feeding myself. But when I really assessed what I was doing with my time, I realized that what I was sacrificing by being in the kitchen or garden wasn’t really worth my time anyways. An extra hour or two of watching television or surfing the internet? I couldn’t convince myself that those activities were more important than what I put in my body. The time I spend growing, preparing, and enjoying my food has been reprioritized above all else and has proven to be incredibly rewarding.

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Artichoke and Chickpea Nuggets.

13. DON’T CONSIDER FAILURE A REASON TO GIVE UP.

Years ago I tried going on a juice cleanse for an entire week. Halfway through I was starving and made an impulse visit to Red Robin for some seriously needed sustenance. Needless to say, the cleanse was over after that. That cycle continued with other various dietary pursuits or quick fixes which all ended the same way. When it comes to plant-based eating, however, I consider it a full lifestyle change that takes time and adjustment. There is also no end goal as there is with something like a juice cleanse, and it is void of the unsustainability of committing to a certain product. Plant-based eating has become my home base which I can always return to, no matter what. There’s an innate comfort in figuring out the most successful and sustainable way of eating for your body, and knowing you can always return to it.

14. BE ADVENTUROUS AND HAVE FUN.

The moment you consider it a chore to eat plant-based is the moment all the fun gets sucked out of it. Mistakes are a guaranteed part of the process, but they don’t have to become deflating moments. Not everything I’ve made has been a success and I am not an avid fan of every vegetable – but I don’t allow those things to stifle my pursuit of success or deliciousness. Just because I’m not a huge lover of beets doesn’t mean I have stopped eating them. Every fruit and vegetable contains a world of possibilities in terms of preparation, flavor pairings, or preservation. It’s a guarantee that you haven’t tried them all, so don’t limit yourself. Try everything!

15. KNOW THAT PLANT-BASED IS NOT MAINSTREAM.

Going plant-based will change your life, relationships, and how you exist within the world. The way that most people connect on holidays, birthdays and celebrations is through food (usually food that is the opposite of plant-based). There isn’t one holiday that doesn’t feature sugary treats, and most include meat as the centerpiece of the meal. Going plant-based means no longer participating in these events the way that most people do. It can feel alienating and create conflict amongst those closest to you. I try to keep my focus less on the food these days and more on the people that I’m with. I try not to push my beliefs on anyone, criticize how others choose to eat, or insist that those hosting me conform to my chosen way of eating. It’s a tricky thing to balance, but I try to share my success with plant-based eating as inspiration, not as the rule. It’s not for everyone, and I get that. I can only take responsibility for my own body and hope that those around me will accept my choices and be supportive. I hope if you go plant-based you’ll be supported as well. And for the sake of all plant-based eaters out there I hope that mainstream food choices will continue to evolve to feature more plant-based options. For everyone’s benefit.

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Panzanella.

Even with all of these tactics on hand I must admit that I still struggle on a regular basis. Undoing decades of eating the Standard American Diet doesn’t happen overnight, and I have to remind myself that I’m still a very new plant-based eater. I am not an authority on the subject, I merely work each day to better understand and implement this lifestyle in a way that works for me. Though I miss all of my indulgent vices dearly, I have found that I am happiest when they’re out of the picture. I owe it to myself to value my health above any passing craving, and I will continue to pursue a plant-powered life as long as I continue to reap the benefits.

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RESOURCES

A few of my favorite sites:

  • The Kitchn – Great recipes, how-to’s, and kitchen tips
  • Forks Over Knives – A powerful film and all around inspirational resource for going plant-based
  • StillTasty – Learn how long every piece of produce stays fresh, and how to store it
  • Pinterest – The best place to find all sorts of recipe inspiration (link to my favorite personal board, where all the recipes pictured came from)
  • Bon-Appetit – I love the print magazine but their website is also full of how-to’s and tips within their Test Kitchen section

A few of my favorite bloggers & authors:

curedlife

Creator

Betsy Brockett was diagnosed with Mesothelioma at the age of 28, and continues to thrive despite the challenges that cancer has created in her life. Holding a degree in Art & Visual Technology from George Mason University, Betsy expresses herself through writing, photography, painting, pottery, and more. She is most often found cultivating, creating, practicing/teaching yoga, or simply enjoying the beauty of life.

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  1. So before I saw the photo of you next to your peas I had no idea that those plants could grow so high! I’m a new gardener and have a little community plot where I planted peas. I put in this tiny little trellis and have tiny little plants with about 8 peas. ha! saw this photo and am now making myself a 5 foot trellis to replace my little baby one. The more you know…! 😉

  2. eatingwell.com is also a great starting point for recipe ideas. It’s not plant-based but there are a lot of good things that can be found there.