Heading towards a plant-based diet? Maybe the idea of cutting out familiar foods is overwhelming, especially if you’re used to eating meat, dairy or eggs daily and the thought of eating only plants (eep!) is a scary one.
I get it: ‘cutting out’ foods can feel a bit like you’re depriving yourself—that your new diet is some kind of punishment, for which your end goal (improved health, or weight loss for example) is the reward—assuming you achieve it.
But it can be helpful to reframe how you think about this shift. After all, for a lot of people, going plant-based isn’t really a ‘diet’ in the popular sense of the word. For me it wasn’t a temporary change to achieve some health goal, after which I’d go back to my old diet. It was a lifestyle change to align my eating habits with my vision of a more sustainable and equitable world (and of course, better health). That kind of long-term change shouldn’t consist of deprivation and sacrifice: it should be attractive and delicious, satiating and nourishing, and exciting.
And it is!
Ironically, I eat a much larger variety of foods now than before. As a teenager, I’d eat pretty much the same thing for breakfast every day (cereal with cow’s milk), and I’d rotate through the same cravings for my after-school lunch (an egg mixed with milk and microwaved—oh good lord—or 2-minute noodles, or toast with cinnamon and sugar). I was young, okay: my parents had much healthier habits than I! Dinner was a good deal more balanced, since mom was cooking. Luckily, I grew up eating vegetables and legumes at every meal, so my gut didn’t have any trouble transitioning to 100% plants later on.
Fast-forward 15 years, and I’ve learnt a lot. So without further ado, here are some tips on how to crowd out the meat and dairy on your plate with a whole universe of plant-based foods:
1. Focus on the adventure.
Don’t worry about those familiar foods that you’re working to cut out. Just head out and try a new plant-based food that you’ve never cooked before. Look up a recipe, don your apron and get adventurous.
2. Fill up on nutrient-dense plant-based foods.
If you do this, you’re more likely to feel satiated, and those less-healthy cravings might start to die down over time. But if, after eating the plant-based goodness, you still want that bit of cheese, it’s okay: at least you’re eating it for the taste, and not to fill you up.
3. Stock your pantry with herbs and spices…
… and start adding them to your meals. You’ll get a good dose of antioxidants, along with a flavour punch. My go-to options are: mixed herbs, ground cumin, ground coriander, smoked paprika and turmeric.
4. Try, and try again.
If you don’t like it the first time, try it again. And again, and again. According to taste psychologists, it takes as many as 10 to 15 exposures for your palate to adjust to new foods. This is true for kids, and it’s true for adults too. You’ve heard stories of people hating olives and then ‘learning’ to love them, right? It’s a thing, give it a shot.
5. Keep plant-based snacks on hand.
Think hummus, carrots, celery, almonds, roasted chickpeas, mushroom biltong. They’ve got vitamins, antioxidants, protein and healthy fats, and they’re so tasty. You’ll soon start forgetting about the other stuff you were used to reaching for.
6. Gradually start making plant-based swaps.
When you’re ready, start finding ways to replace your old foods with healthier alternatives. For example, swap your store-bought dairy yoghurt for homemade soy yoghurt (it’s super easy!). Or, swap out that creamy goat’s cheese with an equally-creamy and umami-filled Fauxmage Vegan Chèvre.
7. Take it at your own pace.
It’s not a race. If you want this to be a long-lasting change to your lifestyle, it’ll be more sustainable to make changes at a pace that you’re comfortable with. For a small handful of people, going vegan overnight is an exciting challenge that they take on with gusto. For others, it’s a lot more manageable to take a slower pace, perhaps just making one change at a time.
Those are my tidbits for making the change. I’d love to hear if you have any helpful suggestions based on your personal experience—let me know in the comments!