Around this time of year many people create intentions, and/or resolutions. A common resolution is eating healthier. Whether you are seeking to fully transition to a vegan diet or interested in reducing the amount of meat, dairy, or processed food consumed; I have a few tips to share with you.
There are a diverse range of reasons why you may be considering reducing or eliminating the amount of animal products you are consuming. Changing includes overall health benefits, ethical motivations, environmental concerns and a desire to increase consumption of fruits, veggies, legumes and grains. I hope to support you on the journey.
I have been a vegetarian for over 10 years now and a vegan for nearly 5. While making the transition in my diet was not as hard as I once imagined it would be (I was a “I could NEVER give up cheese” person) it was not a seamless, nor effortless process. I do become a little concerned when I see articles or posts talking about just how EASY it is to make these changes in one’s diet. I think there is a very good intention behind the sentiment that it is a simple and worthwhile process to give up eating animals and while it is completely doable, I worry that when someone hits up against resistance or struggles, they may feel that this is not for them and quit altogether. I want to be honest about the bumps in the road and hopefully give information that can assist you towards positive changes, big or small.
1. Give yourself GRACE! Food is so much more than merely calories and nutrients. Food has deep psychological, social, familial, cultural and even religious ties. Thinking of giving up meals that have been in our family traditions can feel overwhelming and even an emotional betrayal. Give yourself some grace and acknowledge that it may not always be easy. Whether you decide to go full on vegan or maybe decide to have one vegetarian meal per day; give yourself a break if you slip. Don’t decide to quit trying if you are struggling. Diet patterns are incredibly hard to change and remind yourself you are a human who has learned patterns of being that take time to unlearn + re-learn.
2. Take time to establish a firm WHY. Having a solid understanding of WHY you are making these changes will give you an anchor to come back to and stand strong in when you feel like floating away. Put some honest thought and research behind your “why” to have those facts easily accessible when you feel challenged.
3. Start slowly. Although I applaud and would love to support anyone who is ready to jump head first into complete veganism, I truly encourage you to ease in slowly. It can be a big change and if done too hastily and can have a high margin for failure. Perhaps start by:
- Adopting “meatless Mondays“
- Have all-vegetarian dinners for one month
- Stop buying dairy for home and save it for when you go out to eat. (I did this for a few months before going full vegan and it really helped me establish new patterns of cooking, without freaking out about not having ANY cheese).
- Begin to slowly swap out meat with a plant-based protein in your favorite meals.
- Begin replacing cheese with a healthy fat in meals (top Mexican foods or salads with guacamole or avocado instead of cheese, try a cashew cheese sauce instead of sour cream, use a delicious pesto on a pizza or pasta).
Please remember you don’t have to change everything at once in order to have some positive effects. I know this is a double negative but don’t NOT do it because it feels overwhelming. Know that, it is. I have personally felt ostracized at times when reading about how easy veganism is and I was struggling. You don’t have to throw away all of your cheese, leather, animal tested make-up and lanolin-based lotions in one day. Small steps add up to big healthy changes for: yourself, the environment, and our animal friends.
4. Plan, plan, plan. Meal planning is an absolute essential part of my diet. I will be very honest when I say it can be time consuming and (self-induced) anxiety provoking (I am working on it). It has become essential to not fall into a mean case of the hangries. Nothing will lead you to a drive-thru faster with, your WHY flying out the window and a burger flying in, than being ill-prepared and hungry.
If there is an interest, I can write a whole lot more about how I meal plan. I look at my family’s calendar for the week, and then at our food supply to see what needs to be used up. I check if we have any social gatherings to attend and plan out if we should take something to share, or eat something before. (Never show up hungry and expect there to be an option. You will be stuck with chips). If we may be going out to eat for something, I check the menu online ahead of time to see what may be the best option.
Most of our meals are eaten at home and I plan ahead of time what those meals will be to keep us nourished and happy. I can get a little insane about meal planning, (again, … working on it) but it truly has made eating and socializing much easier.
5. Establish a vegan community. I learned most of what I needed to know about switching to veganism through blogs and message forums. Following fellow vegans on Instagram lends me tons of inspiration and recipe ideas. This in turn helps a new vegan feel less alone when you feel like you are the only person not eating that pizza, or when your family thinks you are going to die of anemia. Even if your goal is to incorporate one vegetarian meal per week, feel out some veggie based inspiration and support.
- Check your local Meet Ups. If you are local, the IE Vegans are a great group.
- Search #vegan on instagram
- Check out some of my favorite vegan bloggers on my Why Vegan? page
I do caution you to only follow and socialize with those who share your WHY and align with your values. Vegans do have a tendency to be extremely passionate towards animal-welfare and can be perceived as shaming or judging those who still consume animals. Although I can appreciate the work these vegans are doing, their methods can be off-putting. Try to identify the difference in yourself between feeling challenged v. feeling bad. If it jives with your “WHY” to feel challenged about your food choices, then choose a community that does this in an uplifting manner. If someone’s message shames you and makes you feel bad about yourself, the unfollow button is always an option.
So….what do I eat?
Good question and one I am often asked, “If you don’t eat meat or cheese, do you just eat salad?”
One of my favorite lessons of being a vegan has been the push to be more creative with cooking. Meals do not have to get fancy (although they can). Remember, we are starting slowly.
At first, try sticking with your favorite meals by swapping out meat for a plant based protein. Beans truly are magical and as a brown gal, they have been a lifesaver in my favorite dishes I remember growing up. Nothing is more comforting than a simple pinto-bean-burrito on one of my mom’s homemade tortillas, with her spicy salsa. I add pinto-beans to: enchiladas, tacos, and nachos instead of meat.
Vegan tamale making. My mom helped by eliminating lard from the masa and I made a black bean + corn filling:
Try adding white or red beans to pasta dishes instead of chicken or make some Asian inspired stir frys with edamame or tofu.
A quick word on faux-meat products. They can be a nice transition food and help you out when you have a craving. They have come a looooong way in the last couple of years (some even freak me out a bit because they seem a little too real). However, some of these products are highly processed and filled with soy & wheat. These ingredients are not necessarily harmful, but can lead to health issues when consumed in high amounts. Please remember that just because something is vegan, it does not necessarily make it healthy. I have soooooo much more to say about that, but that’s another post, for another time. I recommend either Hilary’s or Gardein brands.
Here’s a few sample meal ideas:
- Oatmeal with nut butter and fruit.
- Chickpea omelette
- Chia seed pudding
- Smoothie with a scoop of plant based protein
- Bean + rice + guacamole burrito (my favorite).
- Veggie wrap
- Chickpea salad sandwhich
- Leftovers from dinner
- Stir fry
- Pasta with all the veggies and pesto
- Bean enchiladas
You can also explore my “What I Ate Wednesday” posts to get a glimpse into what I eat on a given day. I encourage you to get some ideas off of Pinterest or Instagram so you have variety.
I hope this post was informative. Please let me know if you have questions or how I can further support you with your goals.