I’ve been eating mostly plant-based for several years now, and I’ve been noticing a need out there in the food recovery world for some resources not only related to cutting out sugar and flour successfully and deliciously, but also about how to make the switch to a plant-based diet.
I had fun supporting an online Plant-Based Challenge last week led by the lovely Sandy Plüss, and I thought I’d collect and share some of the resources I put together during that week in the form of some frequently asked questions that I hear from people trying to make the switch.
Why should I eat plant-based?
I’m not in the business of convincing people to do plant-based eating, my assumption is that if you are reading this then you already have some interest in it. There are so many valid reasons to eat a plant-powered diet, including health, environmental impact, and animal welfare. Personally, I went plant-based for animal welfare and environmental reasons (darn those food documentaries…) and found out later on that it was all the rage in the health world. Bonus! 🙂
I’ll leave it to the experts to share all that research with you. Here are some resources to find out more about the benefits of a plant-based diet.
Confession: as you can see from my blog and instagram, I do eat eggs. Because my main issue is with the meat, dairy, and egg industries with regard to animal welfare and environmental impact, I don’t have any objections to locally sourced eggs, aka backyard chickens. 🙂
“But I could never give up (fill in the blank)!”
Well, you gave up sugar and flour, didn’t you? (Or maybe you didn’t, in which case please click here) Animal products were my first bright line, although I didn’t have that language then. I decided to give up meat and dairy practically overnight, and I was amazed at how easy it was to follow this commitment (as opposed to the 8 million times I committed to not eating (insert sugar or flour product here). That’s why when I came across Bright Line Eating I was an instant convert. I’d not eaten animal products for a long time because I had a bright line around it, so I knew this would work with sugar and flour too. There’s just not the same willpower struggle when you draw a bright line.
Two approaches to going plant-based (Spoiler: one of them doesn’t work)
Perhaps the most sage advice I have to offer when it comes to plant-based eating is about the approach that you take. In my experience, there are 2 main approaches.
Approach #1: Try to replace the meals you used to love with plant-based substitutes and be disappointed that it doesn’t taste like the “real thing”
Approach #2: Learn to make new, different, and delicious kinds of meals with plant-based ingredients, explore new flavor profiles and spices, and venture into types of cuisine that already lend themselves to plant-based eating.
To drive that point home, which of the following do you think is a more satisfying emotional experience that would allow you to transition successfully to plant-based eating long term?
“Wow, I’ve never tried these spices before, this vegetable chickpea curry is delicious!”
“Wow, these vegan, soy chicken wings are terrible.”
My best advice is to have an attitude of “out with the old and in with the new.” Work on letting go of those foods that are hard to substitute. It’s ok to mourn them. They were good. But there are other good things out there waiting for you too.
That said, there are also many food-experiences and concepts that you really don’t have to let go of to eat plant-based. For example, you might think that you might enjoy a plant-based summer barbeque less because it won’t involve hot dogs or hamburgers. But think about corn roasted in its husks over the grill with a little sunflower oil and salt. Or portobello mushrooms marinated in BBQ sauce and seared over a campfire. Or veggie skewers with grill marks and delicious, charred flavors. Enjoy a black bean burger instead of a hamburger. The experience really isn’t that different.
So as you move forward in your plant-based adventure, I encourage you to branch out and explore the new, otherwise you will feel disappointed and restricted. Replace and substitute where it already makes sense to do so, and let go of the other stuff. Let it be a fun new exploration of new directions rather than a loss. And if you want to try fake meats and cheeses, go ahead, there are some good ones. But try to think of them as their own thing, rather than substitutes. For example, learn to love tempeh as it’s own thing, not as a meat substitute.
How do I eat at restaurants?
You go into a restaurant, look at the menu, and order a meal. When I was first asked this question I had to think about it. I eat out so often that I had a hard time figuring out why this is difficult for people. But then I realized that the restaurants I eat at now are different than the restaurants I used to eat at before I went plant-based. In the same way that your meals at home will shift, your meals out will shift too. Don’t worry about it, there’s so much out there for us. Here are some tips.
First, some types of cuisine lend themselves better to plant-based eating than others, and when I shifted my eating, some restaurants I used to like fell out of favor for other ones that cater more to vegans. Cities are generally way better at supporting plant-based eaters than rural areas are.
If you don’t know about HappyCow, it’s the vegetarian/vegan Yelp. We use the app whenever we are on the road or in a new area, and it always helps us find all the gems.
But, you don’t have to only go to restaurants that advertise themselves as plant-based on HappyCow to get a plant-powered meal. Even at the meatiest places like steakhouses and seafood restaurants we can always find some kind of salad or veggie dish. Salad bars and buffets are great too.
Many ethnic cuisines like Indian, Thai, Mexican, Chinese, Middle-Eastern, and Japanese food have some delicious meals that are already plant-based. We go out for Thai a lot and get curries, stir fries, or soups with tofu. Indian food often has a lot of plant-based curries and lentil dishes. It’s easy to get a plant-based burrito or fajita salad by leaving out the parts you don’t want. Beans, rice, veggies, avocado, salsa, and you’ve got a solid meal. Our Middle-Eastern restaurant go-to’s are hummus, tabbouleh, eggplant dishes, and falafel. We go to our local sushi place all the time and get edamame, cabbage salad, tofu, and avocado rolls.
So, in short, you can pretty much find a good plant-based meal anywhere except for pizza places and greasy diners. (Yeah I know, mourn those and move on, they never made you feel good anyway.)
Just start by asking the server what their vegetarian and vegan options are, if they don’t have them marked on their menu (which is very common here in Portland). Almost always, if a place doesn’t advertise anything explicitly as vegan, they are willing to modify something to meet your needs. In this day and age of dietary restrictions, it doesn’t phase chefs or servers at all. It’s their job to make you the food that you want. Don’t waste any energy feeling bad about making them “go to any trouble.” That’s literally their job. That’s what you are paying for when you buy food. Some of our favorite places to eat don’t advertise explicitly to plant-based eaters, but they have some kind of secret vegan dish that they make special for us that we keep coming back for.
Don’t be afraid to ask servers for their recommendations. Eating out can be great “research” – a great way to introduce yourself to new flavor profiles before learning to cook with them.
The plant-based world is expanding fast. Seriously, the vegan restaurant situation here has blown up in the past few years. Maybe soon, these tips won’t even be useful because being vegan and having a hard time eating at restaurants won’t even be a thing. We don’t even think twice about it, in fact, we are trying to reign in our restaurant habits, because living in the middle of one of the vegan-friendliest cities in the country, we eat out multiple times per week!
What about protein?
When people go plant-based they often worry about getting enough protein, but the reality is that the standard meat-based American diet contains way more protein than anyone needs. In the nutrition world, there’s virtually no argument. It’s really easy to meet your protein needs with only plants. And if you’re not convinced, just ask the plant-based body-builders and athletes out there.
If you are following the Bright Line Eating food plan which has a protein serving at each meal, you are more than covered. Plants have tons of protein, and the foods that “count” as proteins on the food plan are more than sufficient.
But don’t take my word for it, here’s a nice summary of the current science on plant-based nutrition and protein, to help you ease any concerns you may have and validate this wonderful body, earth, and animal friendly experiment you’ve decided to try!
According to Harvard Medical School, “studies are confirming the health benefits of meat-free eating. Nowadays, plant-based eating is recognized as not only nutritionally sufficient but also as a way to reduce the risk for many chronic illnesses.”
There are a multitude of studies showing the benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets. For example, the American Dietetic Association weighed in with a position paper, concluding that “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”
(Journal of the American Dietetic Association, July 2009)
Also, I created a little one-pager freebie about plant-based protein sources, with BLE-friendly quantities and a short blurb about how I like to use that protein source in meals. Click HERE to download the PDF for free.
But I’m too busy to do tons of food prep!
Then how do you currently feed yourself? What are your go-to meals when you have zero time or energy to cook? There are healthy, plant-based choices for meals like that too.
It’s just a matter of developing new repertoire of easy, go-to meals for when you are tired, lazy, not in the mood to cook, or on-the-go. In all of these situations, your willpower will be taxed and you will have to rely on automaticity and habit if you want to make good food decisions.
Over the years, I have developed a solid repertoire of go-to meals for when I don’t want to think about cooking or food at all. You’ll need to develop one too, so that you’re not falling back on old bad habits when your willpower is low.
Here are a bunch of ideas: https://katiesbrightkitchen.com/category/on-the-go/
There’s also a nice spread of ideas for portable plant-based foods in my cookbook.
For those adventurers, campers, and travelers out there, here is a post I curated a while back of on-the-go meals that are particularly well suited for camping or travel. You can find that post here: https://katiesbrightkitchen.com/2017/07/10/clean-camping-meals/
But plant-based foods are so expensive!
Um… have you ever looked at the price of meat? Or fancy cheeses? Yeah, plant-based food is expensive if you shop at fancy expensive stores for $15/jar nut butters and fresh raspberries and ridiculously overpriced chia seeds, but it’s very possible and easy to eat within a reasonable grocery budget if you shop smart. Here are some great tips on plant-based grocery shopping on a budget.
Help! What do I eat for breakfast?
I remember the growing pains of learning to eat unsweetened breakfasts, and going plant-based on top of that is less than thrilling for some people. If you are not excited about your breakfast situation right now, I promise you that your taste buds will change. Soon you will start looking forward to morning oatmeal toppings every day and they will begin to taste as sweet as dessert.
Here is a short video with some insight into my weekday breakfast routine. I make overnight oats for 80% of my breakfasts. I don’t get tired of this breakfast because I vary the fruit, milk, and topping combinations. I had mango on mine this morning and it was divine. Recipe here.
Experiment with different kinds of breakfast grains. Rolled oats, steel cut oats, bob’s red mill hot cereal mixes, quinoa, and millet are some of my favorites. But more importantly, experiment with different breakfast topping combinations. That’s where the magic happens. Here are some ideas.
If oatmeal and porridge aren’t your thing, I have lots of other plant-based breakfast ideas too, like Tofu Scrambles and Spiced Breakfast Quinoa and Smoky Breakfast Polenta and so much more. Or just keep it simple with roasted potatoes and a side of apples and peanut butter. Or have rice cakes with nut butter and banana. Or do as my friend Leslie does and just eat almond butter with a spoon and plain cooked sweet potato. She loves it. Check out all of my plant-based breakfast recipes at: https://katiesbrightkitchen.com/category/plant-based-breakfasts
Ok, I’m on board. Point me to where to start.
Here is my “I can’t believe it’s vegan!” list for beginners to get you started.
- Cashew Cabbage Stir Fry
- Chickpea Sunflower “Tuna” Salad
- Delicious Melty Eggplant
- Mango, Black Bean & Rice Bowl
- Senegalese Peanut Soup
- Oven Roasted Roots
- Tahini Bowl w/ Roasted Veggies
- Creamy Millet Breakfast Porridge
- Caesar Salad w/ Chickpea Croutons
Again, focus on learning to make delicious vegan food that you genuinely love and look forward to (not to be confused with vegan junk food and copycat “comfort” foods) and develop your repertoire further from there. You also need a few quick and easy meal choices. Make some lists and go grocery shopping.
You’ve got this!