With the new year in full swing, many people have made resolutions, or changes they want to make to their lives. One common new year’s resolution is taking part in Veganuary – a non-profit organization encouraging people to try and follow a vegan diet for the month of January (and longer). (1).
As a plant-based dietitian, my speciality is helping individuals and families transition to a more plant-based diet. Maybe that means introducing one meatless meal per week, or going completely vegan. Regardless of what changes people decide to make, my advice is typically the same. If you are trying Veganuary, or just looking to add more plants to your diet, here are my five tips to get you started and stay on track.
Start small and go slowly
This is my number one recommendation to everyone. As with any change, taking on too much at once can feel overwhelming. Small changes made slowly are more likely to stick in the long term. This might look like: adding one plant-based meal a week, or maybe one plant-based meal a day, or maybe even switching out the milk in your coffee for a plant-based milk. The changes don’t have to be huge. Small, sustainable changes will add up over time. Bottom line: you don’t have to go plant-based overnight.
Focus on foods you like
I encourage people to focus on foods they can eat rather than what they are cutting out. As a dietitian, I’m all about balance, and prefer to look at the positive aspects of making changes rather than the negatives. If you’re constantly fixated on the fact you ‘can’t’ eat cheese, you might miss out on some amazing cheese alternatives.
Explore new products, restaurants, brands and cooking methods. You don’t have to love every new thing you try, but you never know when you will end up loving. There are so many amazing plant-based products on the market these days, that chances are high you’ll find a new favourite.
Organize and plan ahead
Stock your kitchen and pantry with plant-based staples so you always have ingredients on hand. This tip is relevant to non-plant-based eaters as well, especially if you’re wanting to cook more food at home. If you want more information on how to stock a healthy plant-based kitchen and pantry – check out my free resource here
Creating balanced and healthy plant-based meals can be tricky if you’re just starting out. If you come home hungry at the end of the day, chances are you might end up snacking on random things because creating a meal is not a priority. Instead, spend a little time on the weekend meal prepping or batch cooking. Not only will this save you time during the work week, but you will always have a meal available and ready to eat. Additionally, always bring a snack or two if you’re going out.
Find recipes you love
Dust off those recipe books, or scroll through Pinterest and find a few recipes that you enjoy, and make them a part of your regular rotation. You can use recipes you already know and love, and make the necessary plant-based swaps (use black beans or TVP instead of meat in tacos or burritos). Not only will your cooking confidence and skill increase, you will start to see how easy it can be to eat plant-based the majority of the time.
Pick your proteins
Protein is the key to creating a healthy, balanced meal that keeps you full, however, protein is often overlooked in plant-based meals. There are some quick and easy plant proteins (soy milk, nuts and seeds, hemp hearts), but many take a little time to prepare (tofu, lentils, beans, edamame). I suggest picking your protein first and planning the rest of your meal around it.
Try different plant-based proteins and stick with ones you enjoy. If you’ve tried tofu a few times and really don’t like it, then you don’t have to eat it. I want you to enjoy your food, not dread it.
Get creative in the kitchen! Try experimenting with different flavours and cooking methods, and mix and match different protein sources to make your meals more exciting!