Eating a plant-based diet is good for the planet, good for animals, and good for your body. But it’s not easy when you’re used to including lots of meat and dairy, as most people do from childhood.
Changing habits, especially eating habits, can be hard. In a busy lifestyle, we do loads of tasks on autopilot, and this includes taking quick options for lunch on the go and preparing family meals after a hectic working day.
But, it doesn’t need to be hard. Of course for those of us who love vegetables, fruit, whole grains and nuts then the switch is easy, but if those are something that you need to get used to then persevere. It’s much better for your health and you may even find a new love!
My husband Ben once said he’d never give up meat or dairy. He wasn’t ever a big fruit and veg lover, let alone into whole grains, nuts and seeds. But now he has eaten a vegan diet for almost a year. He tried one month following a plant-based diet and he’s never looked back!
If you’ve been thinking about switching to a healthier way of eating by including more plants in your diet, here are a few tips to make it easier and more fun.
Images – Canva
If you tell your meat-eating and dairy-loving family and friends you’re going vegan (or even vegetarian) tomorrow, they may greet you with horrified stares and loud protests. For many people the thought of giving up meat or dairy is absurd. It’s ingrained in us from childhood. For many it seems traditional to eat these foods. Plus many people find them tasty, so why would you ever give them up?
Turning to a plant-based diet is not always met with admiration and praise for why you choose to do it, be it the animals, your health or the planet, so be prepared for criticism and a lack of understanding. Once I’ve made my mind up, I’ve made my mind up, but I was still very nervous telling certain family members that we had gone totally vegan as a family.
If you are ready to dive into your new diet fully then go for it! But if you are hooked on meat and dairy and need to ease yourself off, then instead introduce plant-based meals gradually, maybe with one or two meat-free meals each week. Include a couple of meat-free packed lunches too if you’re making up lunch boxes for kids. It’s better to make gradual changes and stick with your goals than to go all out from the start then give up completely.
Knowing everything I know now, I wouldn’t hesitate to go vegan straight away. I have read and seen too much about the destruction caused in all sorts of ways when eating animals. But it was a process for me at the time. I first returned to vegetarianism, then cut out milk, then reduced the rest of dairy, then cut out dairy and finally I cut out eggs and honey. This was over a few years and all the time I was reading and researching to learn as much as I could. Once you start researching and finding out the truth about the meat and dairy industries then you’ll never look back and it will inspire your plant-based journey even more!
When you find yourself reaching for a pork chop or a pack of sausages while doing the weekly shop, recall why you decided to try and avoid such foods. Keeping your original motivation at the front of your mind helps you move along the aisle in search of a healthier alternative.
Just keep going. As with anything, you may crave the foods you have been used to. I never thought I could ever live without cheese. I loved the stuff! The stronger the better. I’d have grated cheese with literally every main meal. Now I’ve totally lost the taste for it and can’t ever imagine eating it again. In fact I don’t ever want to eat it again and I also don’t believe I’d enjoy the taste anymore.
Remember why you started, stay motivated and allow time for your tastebuds to adapt.
Don’t let yourself get hungry
A wonderful thing about eating a wholly or mostly plant-based diet is that you no longer have to limit yourself on how much you eat. Stock up on salads, fruits and vegetables, beans and pulses and wholegrain rice. There’s a feast of good foods that don’t involve animal products, including plant-based snacks and pre-prepared dishes that are gluten-free if you’re also dealing with allergies or intolerances.
As plant-based foods are quick to digest, you may feel yourself getting hungrier more often. Snack of fresh fruits, raw vegetables, nuts and seeds to keep hunger pangs at bay and to provide a natural healthy energy boost throughout the day.
Find food swaps
Instead of telling yourself you must go without meat, look for meat alternatives such as tofu or seitan instead of chicken products, or bean burgers instead of beef burgers. Eating a vegetarian diet used to be hard work, but modern food manufacturers are aware of healthier trends and the choices open to us are constantly growing. Other ways of swapping animal products for meat-free products is to use vegetable broth in recipes calling for meat broth or stock, or switching to plant-based milk instead of cow’s milk.
When you first switch to a plant-based diet it can be a good idea to replace your favourite meat foods with a substitute. That way you instantly don’t feel like your missing out.
But a better way to look at it, is to think about all the new foods you are opening yourself up to that you never tried before. Get some plant-based recipe books and follow some vegan bloggers. You’ll soon discover you were actually missing out on a whole range of incredibly tasty plant-based meals that you had no idea existed.
Don’t focus on what you can’t have and instead focus on what you can have!
One of the common arguments against moving to a plant-based diet is the lack of time we all have for meal prep these days. But products like broccoli and cauliflower rice help. Use these in salads without any need for cooking, or heat them for an easy veg addition where you’d normally eat rice. Convenience food doesn’t always mean unhealthy.
There are also so many quick and easy meals to make when plant-based. In fact, even some main meals are much quicker. Just think how long a meat Sunday roast takes to prepare and cook. We make our plant-based versions in only one hour!
Vegetable stir frys, chickpea curries, beany chillis, salads, topped flatbreads, falafel kebabs, bean burgers, pasta dishes, rice dishes – there are so many plant-based meals that are actually a lot quicker to make when you cut out the meat. You’ll also realise meat is actually quite expensive compared to plant-based alternatives such as lentils and beans.
Focus on new foods
It’s tempting to view a new way of eating negatively, focusing on what you can no longer have. As mentioned above, a better way is to concentrate on all the new and exciting recipes and food types you’ve yet to discover.
The internet is full of ideas for plant-based recipes, and supermarkets offer huge ranges of fruits and vegetables that you’ve never tried. You can even introduce vegetarian twists to familiar dishes, such as cooking lasagne with a tomato and lentil sauce in place of the usual beef layer.
Snacks and food on the go
Pre-packaged snacks or meals used to be tricky as a vegan and in some places they still are, but the main supermarket chains produce excellent alternatives to meat products and have clear labelling to make choices easier. Look for free-from products and you’ll find chocolate buttons as well as dairy-free cheeses and even dairy-free pizzas. Quick veg options include riced vegetables in pouches that don’t need refrigeration to stay fresh and provide a healthy plant-based snack on the go.
As you progress with a plant-based diet, you’ll soon be adept at reading labels and determining what’s plant-based and what’s not. Ingredients that might trip you up at first include gelatine (found in jelly and lots of other products), which comes from animals, and albumen which comes from eggs. If you do make a mistake one day, don’t sweat over it.
When my husband Ben first went vegan he ordered a coffee totally forgetting to ask for plant-based milk. He was on auto-pilot of what he used to order and even started drinking it before making the realisation! Oops!
Anything new takes time, so don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself, or your family. Keep introducing new things and dishes, and soon your diet will be entirely plant-based, full of colour, health and excitement!
Read these next:
This is a collaborative post.