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In today’s post and episode I’ll be sharing some beginner tips, suggestions and practices that can be helpful when you’re first getting started on this journey to eating more plants, to going vegan, to making as many plant-based choices and animal friendly choices as you can.
It was over a decade ago when in January, after many failed attempts at giving veganism a try, I finally decided to watch what happened to animals in our food industry, boosting my motivation and turning this change in my eating habits into one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.
When people who are just getting started on this journey ask me where they should start, I always like to do a little digging into their own motivations for making this change, into their own story with food, because the truth is I could fill an entire podcast with tips and practices and still, one person might need something completely different to another.
It’s important to mention that veganism, or the choice to go vegan extends well beyond the plate. If you’ve listened to our previous episodes you know that I always bring it back to the animals, because it was my own motivation for making this change, and so for me, going vegan encompassed so much more than just switching ingredients, it was about seeing all my consumer habits and a way of seeing all my actions through the filter of wanting to help animals in the best way I could. The food however, was and I believe still is the main focus point and sticking point for most people, since it’s not only a part of our day, but also the place where our Venn diagram will collide most often with that of our loved ones. It’s the activity most of us share most often with the people around us, and it’s also where we have to make the most purchasing decisions.
Although veganism isn’t only about the food, when people I know in real life, or our students ask us for support, it’s always in relation to the food and experiences with others where food is present.
When people ask me where or how they can start, understanding a bit more about them can be hugely helpful. To someone who has struggled with food in the past (for example with disordered eating), and they are very motivated to help animals, I start by giving suggestions on how to make different choices in aspects other than food, like activities done for entertainment not including animals, like exploring new brands of cosmetics that aren’t tested on animals or include animal products, like buying clothes and accessories that don’t include animal skin or fur, or I’ll talk about adding in some vegan meals without taking anything out, until they’re ready to do so. If someone is more about their interest in food because they don’t like to cook animal products and are starting to learn about the problems within animal agriculture , I’ll start by recommending some recipes. If someone is concerned about their health but perhaps haven’t learned about the repercussions of these industries to the environment or animals, I might start with some practical cooking aspects and meal building tips, and recommend resources that will help them see all the wonderful effects this new diet will have on animals as this will only strengthen their commitment to eat more plants. If someone is all about the animals, has seen every piece of footage out there and is struggling, I’ll start by talking about the social aspects of being vegan, navigating how they might feel now in a world and surrounded by loved ones who might eat differently. If someone tells me they’ve tried to go vegan 5 different times and failed, I’d go into what happened for them, and perhaps try a more gentle approach that takes everything that makes up their life into consideration. Every time, with every person, the recommendations and resources vary greatly, the tips I might give to someone will vary greatly if they eat meat at every meal, or they already eat and love vegan foods, or they’ve never really liked vegetables or they come from a family of hunters.
When I give people beginner tips I try to focus on the sticky aspects that I’ve seen most people struggle with or need. The things that I wish I’d known when I went vegan, most often relating to food, the practicalities of cooking and eating out, and how to deal with sharing their life with omnivores. Years before I went vegan, I had read Alicia Silverstone’s “The Kind Diet”, and Mark Bittman’s “Food Matters” and “Everything Vegetarian”, I had tried some recipes and loved them, craved and ate animal foods a few weeks in, and my efforts dwindled. It’s in some of the bumps in the road I encountered the first time, and the great habits I put in place the second time around (the time it stuck), that I hope to center today’s post and episode on.
Remember that it is all about the journey, not about a pass or fail test, or a destination you reach, get a badge at, and then you’re done, never to have setbacks or struggles ever again, never having to adjust or readjust and keep going.
It’s always a journey, meaning you reconnect with your values and the reasons that motivate you every day, recommitting to this change every day in whatever way works for you, without a focus on perfection, without a focus on purity, no matter what setbacks you had yesterday.
Our top tips on how to get started with a plant-based / vegan diet and lifestyle
Tip # 1: Start with the easiest swap - Non-dairy milk
Out of all the tips I could give you, I always start with this one for two reasons.
Number 1, plant based milks are delicious and readily available these days. There’s oat milk, almond milk, soy milk, rice milk, hemp milk, hazelnut milk, coconut milk, and the list goes on and on. Try a few types and a few brands until you find the one you love. Once you’ve found it, it’s as easy as buying your favorite brand at the store with no additional effort.
Number 2, it will help you understand the simplicity of the kind of mindset that really helps you stick with a big change like this: eating a vegan diet is really all about the swapping of an animal-based ingredient for a plant-based one, to make the same delicious, comforting, classic favorites you’ve always enjoyed and some new yummy recipes and ways of cooking too. When you see it as a simple swap of ingredients, it becomes simpler, more attainable, and we notice that the difficulty or huge challenge we had in our minds surrounding veganism is mostly a preconception. One that we’ll be dismantling as we get comfortable and familiar with these swaps.
Tip #2: Write a list of “the vegan regulars” and stick it to your fridge or cupboard
A bean burrito is a “vegan regular”, spaghetti with tomato sauce is a “vegan regular”, a 3 bean chili is a “vegan regular”, a delicious berry or green smoothie is a “vegan regular”, pita pockets stuffed with falafel, tahini sauce, crunchy vegetables or tabbouleh is a “vegan regular”.
Vegan regulars are the vegan by default dishes that everyone, including non-vegans, love and eat. These will give us quick ideas for meals, and also serve as a reminder that vegan food is normal food, and that we can start where we already are, with what we already know as traditional.
As you get familiar with new recipes and meal ideas, add them to your list. Use it when creating your shopping list and planning your meals for the week, for instant inspiration.
Want more ideas of vegan regulars or easy vegan meals everyone is familiar with?
Make a veggie burger and serve it with all its fixings and your favorite type of fries. Make a Buddha bowl with some kind of grain and lots of veggies to top, some legumes, tofu, tempeh, or your favorite vegan meat alternative, and top with a sauce or dip you like like salsa, guacamole, sesame ginger dressing or any you enjoy. Oat porridges topped with fruit in the morning are vegan regulars. Apple slices and peanut butter, a pb and j sandwich, or cut up raw veggies and hummus are vegan regulars. Fresh salads with lots of veggie toppings (raw or cooked) are vegan regulars. A mushroom risotto made with vegetable stock is a vegan regular. A noodle and veggie stir-fry is a vegan regular. Veggie sushi is a vegan regular. You get the idea, we start with what we know, and then we slowly add to the list as we get familiar with substitutions and new preparations.
Tip #3: Visit a health food store if one is available where you live
When I first started using vegan cookbooks and trying out vegan recipes, I had never even seen tofu at my regular supermarket (granted, this was a while ago). Times have certainly changed, but still, health food stores were the original vegan supermarkets, where lots of delicious plant-based ingredients were sold. Even if you can find vegan staples at your local store (apart from - of course - the huge bounty of naturally vegan fruits, veggies, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, spices, etc.), it’s a great idea to visit a health food store or vegan store to start recognizing new ingredients and products that will soon become familiar regulars and favorites. Use the app or website Happy Cow to find vegan stores, health food stores and vegan or vegan friendly restaurants near your area. Buy some vegan substitutes that look good and that might also fit in seamlessly with the meals you’re already used to making.
Tip #4: Meal prep or batch cook some of these staples for easy meal planning throughout the week
Here’s a brief run through of what this habit looks like for me:
When I have very little time (I choose some or all of these):
- I trim my vegetables, reorganize the fridge so I could put any leftover foods from the previous week towards the front, and newest produce towards the back.
- I wash and dry heads of lettuce and place the leaves in a container with a couple of paper towels to absorb moisture.
- I chop some vegetables and leave them chopped in a container to use in quick stir-fries or salads.
- I quickly look at what I have, and write a small list with some of the meal ideas that came to me while I had been picking them and shopping, and that I could make throughout the week. That way I’d be able to use up everything I had and food wouldn’t go to waste, and, I’d have ideas at the ready.
When I have a little more time (I choose some of these):
- I cook a pot of beans or lentils for the week, as well as a pot of brown rice, quinoa or another grain of choice.
- I freeze some fruits in baggies for smoothies, or prepare a quick fruit salad for the next few days.
- I make a salad dressing and also a topping for veggie bowls (something like a chopped salsa, guacamole, pesto, cashew dip, or hummus or my new favorite our high protein herbed dipping sauce from our online program)
- I make a pasta sauce with canned tomatoes and lots of vegetables, or I make a pot of soup or a stew with tons of veggies and greens.
- I roast a huge tray of vegetables including potatoes, sweet potatoes, leeks, beets, onions, peppers, broccoli, or anything I have on hand.
- I toast some nuts and seeds to add to yogurt or have as snacks throughout the week.
- I might marinate or cook up some tofu to have to add to salads or bowls throughout the week.
- And once again, I quickly look at what I have, and write a small list with some of the meal ideas that came to me while I had been picking them and shopping and that I could make throughout the week.
Getting some ingredients prepped is one of the secrets to easily building meals in a new way.
Tip #5: Pick a vegan recipe and make it a date with yourself
Buy a cookbook, make one of our recipes, or google or use Pinterest to find any recipe your heart desires by searching for any dish you love with the word vegan in front, i.e. vegan shepherd’s pie, vegan pancakes, vegan lasagna. Make it a fun date, one that is all about reconnecting with yourself and this very special moment of preparing the foods you will eat. Put on some music, a fun film in the background, or listen to a podcast you love. If possible, because we tend to stick to new habits more when we link them to a time or a place, do it on the same day every week, or get into the habit of writing it down in your planner at the start of the week.
Tip #6 Learn about the basics of a vegan plate and basic nutrient requirements with this one simple resource:
Use The Vegan for Life Food Guide or The Plant Plate (click the image in the link to see the visual guide), created by registered dietitian nutritionists Jack Norris and Virginia Messina to learn the basics of vegan nutrition and what delicious goodies should be a part of your plate, without a focus on excessive worry or restriction, knowing that our plates will look a bit different from day to day, but where we try to include all the basic food groups and nutrient sources, and supplement when needed (and always with vitamin B12 and a source of iodine like using iodized salt in your cooking, getting some sun for some much needed vitamin D, etc).
Tip #7: Don’t try to be a food superhero or make too many changes at once
This is another reason many new vegans leave this way of eating behind. They’ve become too rigid with food rules, too regimented with other dietary restrictions that have little to do with veganism and more to do with the pursuit of purity or even fears over certain foods. By using the food guide above, you can learn the basics, knowing that we can have space in our eating lives for healthy nutrient dense foods and also enjoyable, delicious foods that are fun and that help you feel like a normal eater.
Tip #8: Feel overwhelmed with all the nutritional information floating about? Here’s one place to start: A source of protein in each of your 3 main meals
Often thinking about this when building your meals makes the job easier. Pick your source of protein first, and then look at the visual guides I mentioned above for ideas on how to round out the meal.
This can mean:
- Oatmeal or cereal with soy milk and fruit, or, toast with peanut butter and preserves, and coffee with soy milk
- A salad with smoky tempeh bacon for lunch
- Vegan 3 bean chili, peanut noodles with tofu and lots of veggies, or a veggie burger for dinner
- You can add some yummy snacks with or without a protein source as well.
It really helped me in the beginning when it came to building meals, and soon it became second nature.
Tip #9: Find community (and community can mean lots of things)
One of the biggest reasons people struggle with veganism is that they feel a bit of isolation if no one from their immediate circle decides to join them on this adventure, or might even be resistant or angry about this change in their eating. It helps so much to know and understand that these issues are not yours alone. That other vegans struggle with resistant family members too, or have cravings for familiar foods too, or have slip ups and set backs on their journey too.
Community can mean finding vegans in your area to try out vegan restaurants with, or create a supper club with, but for my fellow introverts out there, community can also mean reading the comments of a blog you love and supporting each other, joining in person or online vegan cooking classes or a program, listening to a vegan podcast and engaging with their fellow listeners through social media, especially if questions, stories and struggles from listeners are shared. It can also mean finding the one friend who, even if not vegan themselves, loves supporting you and is more than happy to try new things. You don’t have to go through this change alone, you are always welcome in this little space we call Brownble to share your story, struggles and triumphs.
Tip #10: Do deep research into your why and if possible, make it about much more than just you
I can give you countless practical tips for going vegan, but if your heart isn’t in it, and isn’t full of motivation and a deep and important reason why, it will definitely be harder to stick to this new way of eating and living in a world that is still mostly not vegan.
For me this reason was the animals, then I learned more and it also became about the rights of our fellow humans, then it also grew with my understanding of sustainability and the environment. Every time you have to make a choice, whether it ends up being “perfect” or not, keep your motivation close to you, and learn as much about it as you can, it will help you keep moving forward, it will help you understand that this way of eating isn’t about perfect choices every single time but about a journey in which we try to help as much as we can. It will help you remember why you decided to try it, and why you, with all your wonderful traits, goals achieved, missteps, triumphs, good and bad days, are an important part of creating this change in the world.
We’ll soon go into some of the most common reasons why and sources of motivation in an upcoming updated series in the podcast, but all of us know what is lighting that little fire inside of us to make a change like this, research it, learn more about it, it’s what will ultimately propel you forward and more importantly, make it something you spend enough time doing that it becomes second nature and no longer a big issue, just a usual part of who you are, how you eat and move through the world. We’ll have lots more on understanding motivation and mindset in upcoming episodes as well.
These are just a jumping off point, and our blog and podcast is full other tips to help you on your journey to a more sustainable way of eating, giving the animals and our beautiful planet a chance for a new future, and us in return.
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