1. Start slow.
Pick a few plant-based meals and rotate them through in a week. "Start with meals you have always enjoyed that just happen to be plant-based, such as oatmeal, pasta primavera, jacket potatoes, veggie stir-fry, bean and rice burrito, lentil stew, or three-bean chili. Then build on those meals," suggests Julieanna Hever, California-based nutritionist, founder of Plant-Based Dietitian and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition.. "Since we're creatures of habit, we tend to stick to fewer different dishes, so start slowly and learn this new language of food without any pressure to be perfect," says the nutrition expert.
2. Remove any animal products that you won't miss in your diet.
If you haven't already, incorporate more whole grains, beans, legumes, tofu, nuts, and seeds to your diet while simultaneously cutting down on the animal products that you'll miss the least.
You can gradually cut down on all animal products or remove one food/food group at a time.
Remove barrier foods after you feel comfortable with all of the other changes in your diet.
Pay attention to ingredient lists, you may find it easier to begin avoiding the less obvious animal derived ingredients one at a time. You can also choose to overlook them until you've removed all obvious animal products (meat, seafood, dairy products, eggs, etc.) from your diet and you feel comfortable eating mostly plant-based foods.
3. Go for plant-based breakfast.
Once you've tested the waters, you can take the next step by committing to eat at least one plant-based meal every day. A wholesome, vegetarian breakfast is a good place to start. If you're looking for some quick inspiration check out these delish (and totally healthy) recipes for breakfast muffins, toasts, waffles, pancakes, parfaits and smoothie bowls. Next, work on vegetarianizing your lunch, followed by snacks and dinner. Here are a few simple lunch and dinner recipes to try.
4. Watch your protein.
It’s reasonable to speculate that many people who fail to thrive on a vegan diet aren’t eating sufficient protein. Since meat is loaded with protein, a vegan who suffering moderate protein deficiency would doubtless feel better within days of switching back to eating meat. The best way to avoid deficiency is to keep an eye on your daily protein intake, and ensure it’s in line with recommendations. If you’re on the margins, a vegan protein powder drink can close the gap. A little attention and vigilance can prevent significant health problems down the road.
5. Know your food.
"You can eat Oreos and drink Diet Coke and call yourself a vegan. Understanding how to make your food taste great while still being healthy and wholesome is extremely important," says Purple Carrot’s Founder and CEO Andrew Levitt. "Most of the commercial products on the market, like faux meat and cheese, are highly processed and contain the same nutrients as animal products which make them health-damaging, think saturated fat and excessive amino acids," Hever points out. Also, these foods are often packed with highly refined oils, flours, sugars, and salts. Therefore, it's better to indulge in these foods only once in a while. In general, it's best to stick to whole, intact foods as much as possible, says Hever. Other than that, educate yourself on nutrition and ways to prepare different ingredients. Alternatively, you can hire a plant-based dietitian "for one-on-one guidance on making the transition and familiarizing yourself with the lifestyle," she suggests.
6. Stock up on healthy foods.
"There are so many incredible products on the market today that it’s easier than it ever was to incorporate plant-based foods into your diet," says Levitt. From kale chips and dairy-free milk to tempeh and tofu — there's something for every budget and every palate. So take time to explore vegetarian and fresh produce aisles at your local supermarket. Stock up your kitchen with nutritious, plant-based foods and keep healthy snack options in easily accessible places like your bag, desk drawer, kitchen counter and fridge.
Keep your meals fun and exciting. Focus on foods you like and ones that are easily accessible to you. "If you aren't skilled in the kitchen, stick to easier recipes. For instance, throw together canned beans and frozen veggies in a pan, add sauce, and cook up a great pot of soup," says Hever. Next, learn new ways to make those simple recipes more fun and flavorful. Here are ten healthy 5-minute recipes anyone can make. Meanwhile, if you're tired of eating the same salad every day, find out new salad recipes to try or other fun ways to eat your veggies. Also, don't deprive yourself of occasional treats. If you're craving dessert, whip up one of these delectable plant-based dessert recipes to treat yourself to. In addition, invest some time in exploring new recipes, ingredients, food blogs and restaurants. "Find like-minded people — even if it's via social media, read books and watch films on the subject to broaden your knowledge and seek inspiration," Hever advises. "As you start to enjoy new foods and new flavors, you’ll notice how much better you will feel. And soon, you'll start to crave more plant-based foods over time," says Levitt.
7. Substitute Plants for Animal Products — Don’t Eliminate
If a normal dinner for you looks like a piece of chicken with rice and green beans (or some version thereof), you’ll be sorely disappointed if you simply omit the meat and then eat. “Rather than removing the protein from the plate entirely, substitute it with a plant-based protein, like a legume,” says Taylor Wolfram, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Chicago. Legumes include beans (all kinds), peas, peanuts, lentils, and soybeans and other soy-based foods (like tofu or tempeh). These not only provide protein but are stellar sources of fiber, too, she says.
8. Go Totally Meatless in Favor of Plants Sometimes
Remember, this isn’t about becoming vegetarian (unless you want to!). However, setting parameters for yourself is going to help you stick to the plan while pushing you to try new recipes, dishes, and ingredient combinations, says Wolfram. For instance, she says, declare one day meatless (e.g., meatless Monday), bring vegetarian lunches to work during the week, or decide to eat all breakfasts and lunches meatless (saving meat for dinner). To find the best choice for you, “consider your lifestyle, resources, and eating preferences,” she says.
9. Call the Restaurant Before Ordering In
At many restaurants, it might seem like there are not any vegetarian options to choose from. You can try to get creative by combining side dishes, appetizers, or modifying a dish, says Wolfram. Even better, though, is planning. “Call ahead, explain your dietary needs, and ask if the kitchen is able to prepare something,” she suggests. You might be surprised at their positive reaction. Ultimately, though, if this task is proving to be tough, it might not be the time to eat meatless. “You don’t have to put pressure on yourself so that so much rides on one meal decision,” adds Wolfram. What matters is that you’re making an effort to take small steps toward eating more plants and less meat overall.
Go vegetarian and then move onto veganism either in one step or by cutting out dairy and eggs one at a time.
MAKING THE TRANSITION:
Remove all meat from your diet, including fish and poultry. Take care not to increase your consumption of eggs and dairy to take the place of meat, focus on including more plant-based protein sources instead.
Pay attention to ingredient lists, avoid products containing gelatin, rennet, and other animal products (excluding dairy and eggs).
If you haven't already, begin incorporating more whole grains, beans, legumes, tofu, nuts, and seeds into your diet.
Once you feel comfortable to move forward you can start phasing out dairy, eggs, and honey. Feel free to do this all at once, one food group at a time, or as slowly as you need to.
GO FULL-ON VEGAN:
Cut out all animal derived ingredients and incorporate lots of whole grains, beans, legumes, tofu, nuts, and seeds for a healthy vegan diet.
Swap out all of your favourite non-vegan items for vegan alternatives. Many people find that relying on vegan burgers, hot dogs, deli slices, cheeses, etc. can really help ease the transition when cutting out animal products all at once.
MAKING THE TRANSITION:
If you want to dive right in, feel free jump into veganism straight away! You'll want to continue educating yourself so that you're as prepared as possible. For a further crash course in veganism, make sure to learn about:
Some people find relying on vegan alternatives and convenience foods very helpful in easing the transition to veganism. They're often high in protein, fortified with lots of vitamins and minerals, quick and easy to prepare, delicious, and familiar. However, some veggie burgers, veggie dogs, vegan deli slices, etc. are highly processed. Once you begin to feel comfortable with your vegan lifestyle, the use of these products can be lessened. There's nothing wrong with eating the products in moderation, but they shouldn't be used as your main source of vitamins, minerals, and protein for the long-term.
Veganism is much more than a diet, it is a compassionate lifestyle. These guidelines are mostly for transitioning to a vegan diet as that tends to be the most difficult part of becoming vegan. It's also important to learn about vegan alternatives for other products in your life, such as personal care items, clothing, shoes, and other household items.
ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING & FOOD BARRIERS TO VEGANISM
If you have the desire to become vegan but find yourself struggling with the idea of cravings or giving up a particular food, don't worry, that's completely normal! These are challenges, but they certainly don't have to be barriers. Most vegans stop eating animal products for ethical reasons, not because they don't enjoy the taste of them. It might sound silly but there's lots of cheese-loving vegans out there! (If cheese is your barrier food, read on and then check out our resource: So You Want to Go Vegan but You Love Cheese.)
Far too often people shrug off the idea of veganism for fear of missing a particular food, or they try veganism but end up giving it up in it's entirety for similar reasons. This is often the result of jumping into veganism too quickly with too little preparation. That's why it is so important to take the transition at a pace that works for you so that it's sustainable.
Cut out all barrier foods at once. Most people find that cravings for these foods only last a few short weeks and then they subside.
Try slowly introducing vegan alternatives to some of your favourite foods. For some items in particular such as cheese and yogurt you may want to give it a few more weeks before experimenting with substitutions - many people find that the longer it's been since they've had the "real thing", the easier it is for a vegan substitution to satisfy their craving. I found this to be very true for vegan cheese. As a new vegan, non-dairy cheeses didn't do much for me but after a few months of having little bits here and there, the flavour of Daiya really began to grow on me. Now I find it does a great job at satisfying a cheese craving!
You'll also have to find which products you like the most and learn how to prepare them to your liking through a little bit of trial and error.
LEAVE BARRIER FOODS TO THE END OF YOUR TRANSITION
If the idea of becoming vegan appeals to you but you feel like you'll miss a certain food too much to commit 100% to the vegan lifestyle, then start the transition and leave that food until the end. Phase your barrier foods out in a very slow, controlled manner over a few weeks or even months. By this point, you might find that removing the food from your diet is a lot easier than you thought it would be!
If for whatever reason you feel as though you just cannot commit to a 100% vegan diet because of a barrier food, that's okay! Don't let that stop you from minimizing your intake of animal based products to whatever extent you can. Give up all of the animal ingredients and foods that you won't miss, and allow yourself the occasional exception whether it's a food, holiday meal, or favourite restaurant. I advocate following a fully vegan diet and I encourage you to strive towards that as a goal, but it's just silly to abandon veganism in it's entirety because you love bacon or cheese too much. Don't let yourself get caught up in trying to label yourself based on your diet, this is a sort of all-or-nothing thinking that's simply not constructive. If allowing a little flexibility is what will help you sustain a mostly vegan lifestyle then that's exactly what you should do! This also serves to make the vegan lifestyle a lot less daunting and more approachable to others.