Top Ten Tips for Making the Jump to a Plant-Based Diet

You’ve made the decision to shift to a plant-based diet – now what? Embarking on this new journey might feel a little overwhelming, but education is key! Approach your new lifestyle with an open mind and a positive spirit because when you make the choice to live plant-based, you are choosing a healthy and vibrant life. Here are my top ten tips to help you begin your plant-based journey:

1.  Know your “before” and start a journal:

  • Go to your doctor for a check-up:
    • Get your vitals, weight, and blood tested (including B12 and D3 levels)
    • Take your measurements – waist, hips, chest, and thighs
  • Write in your journal – include your energy levels, how you’re feeling, new plant based recipes you’ve tried and loved, new fruits and vegetables that have delighted your senses, and new friends you’ve made (so much happens when we plant the right “seeds” in our health garden)!  
  • Take Vitamin B12 – VeganSafe B12 with Methylcobalamin Adenosylcobalamin Supplement by Global Healing Center – 2,500 mcg (1 Ounce)  or Vimergy. Most people are low in B12 (especially plant based).

You will be amazed at how quickly our health and vitality turns around eating plant-based – no oil, salt, or sugar! And this will inspire you to keep going on the right path – YAY!

2. Clean out your kitchen (If it’s not there, you won’t eat it!):

Get rid of –

  • All animal and dairy products – Milk, butter, eggs, meat, fish, poultry
  • Sugars – Candies, cookies, chocolates, white sugar, packaged goods
  • Refined grains – White bread, egg bread, whole wheat bread (as opposed to whole grain), white flour, pretzels, high sugar cereals, white rice, egg pasta, pasta made with white flour and oil

3. Go Shopping (If it is there, you will eat it!):

Great Staples

  • Fresh fruit (of all kinds)
  • Fresh vegetables – Leafy greens, zucchini, yellow squash, broccoli, green beans, fennel, onions, leeks, asparagus, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, potatoes of all kinds, butternut squash, and other winter squashes
  • Beans & legumes – Look for Eden brand, no-salt, cans of beans; and all kinds of dried beans and lentils
  • Whole grains – Steel cut oats, rolled oats, rice of all colors (except white), quinoa, farro, spelt, bulgur, millet, hull-less barley, amaranth, whole grain polenta or coarse cornmeal, teff
  • Nuts & seeds – Best to use as a topping for cereals, salads, and soup (2- 4oz a day is good. Too much of this “good” fat is not good).

Breads & Whole Grains

Choose breads that are 100% whole grain with no oil added or less than 10% of calories from fat. According to T.Colin Campbell (father of Plant Based Nutrition),

the following are the best bread products you can purchase:  

  • Food for Life Ezekiel – 4:9 breads, english muffins, and tortillas
  • Rudi’s Organic Bakery – 100% whole wheat
  • Wegmans Organic Sandwich Breads – All varieties except “White Made with Oatmeal” (it’s only half whole grain). These breads are not 100% oil-free but are lower fat. They also make a whole wheat flat bread pizza crust.
  • Trader Joe’s Whole Wheat Tuscan Pane – the whole wheat variety; corn and wheat tortillas
  • Dave’s Killer Bread
  • Engine 2 Tortillas
  • Whole Grain Flours – Whole wheat pastry flour, whole wheat flour, white whole wheat flour, and other flours (oat, spelt, barley amaranth, kamut, rye)
  • Pastas – 100% whole wheat or brown rice pasta, spelt, quinoa, etc. Read the labels and make sure it is entirely whole grain.
  • Breakfast Cereals – Choose minimally sweetened, whole grain cold and hot cereals without added oil (store brand or Engine 2 brand). Some examples include steel cut oatmeal, rolled (old fashioned) oats, Original Cheerios, Shredded Wheat (not frosted or sweetened, Wheat’n Brand variety is ok), Grape Nuts, Wheat Chex, bran flakes.

Non-Dairy “Milks”

Choose unsweetened or minimally sweetened non-dairy beverages. Avoid products with oils in the ingredient list and avoid oat non-dairy beverages (very high sugar). Some options are:

4. Batch Prep and Cook:

  • Fruit – wash and dice fruit that will last a few days such as melons, pineapple, mangoes, grapes, papaya and store in glass containers, refrigerate. Clean apples, pears and other fruits that will brown, and keep whole.
  • Vegetables – clean lettuce and place in ziploc bag with paper towel. Wash asparagus and place standing up in a glass filled with 1” water and refrigerate. Wash broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and squashes so that all you have to do is slice and steam or microwave. Cut up celery, carrots, bell peppers, and cucumbers for easy and available snacks.
  • Beans – if using fresh, soak overnight so they’re ready to be cooked the next day
  • Make whole grains – quinoa, millet, farro, amaranth, rice (make enough for the week)
  • Make Breakfast – cook five days worth of oatmeal and refrigerate; reheat to serve
  • OR KEEP IT SIMPLE – buy fruits and vegetables already cut up; spiralized or “riced.” Buy pre-washed salad greens, frozen vegetables and fruits for smoothies, rice for microwaving, canned beans, and jarred tomato sauce (make sure there’s no salt or oil). In minutes you’ll have a meal at your fingertips.

5. Stay Motivated:  

6. Go to a local farmers’ market and be inspired:

Spark up conversations with the farmers at the market and ask for tips for choosing the best produce and any great recipes they might recommend. Try out some new produce that you have never seen before. Take advantage of all of the beautiful, flavorful, and fresh food available to you. It’s a truly gleeful experience and gives you endless plant-based cooking options.  

7. Know how to order at a restaurant:

  • Search the menu online in advance to see what salad, vegetable, whole grain, and bean options are available. These might come with the main entree or as a side dish.
  • Call ahead with kindness – Attitude is everything! A sweet, funny, easy going demeanor with the restaurant staff will serve you very well.  Tell the manager (or whomever picks up the phone) that you are a little crazy, trying to reverse high blood pressure/cholesterol, have a nagging health concern, or even that you’re trying to win a bet and that you have to eat plant based (no oil, salt, or sugar). Menu alternatives to ask about are: Salad without the cheese or dressing (½ lemon squeeze on top), steamed vegetables without oil or salt, plain baked potato or other starch (chickpeas, beans, rice, butternut squash – sometimes these items are not listed but they are “in house” and can be prepared easily). Most of the time, the starches are already roasted with oil and salt in advance, and the chef just reheats before service. We can’t be perfect all the time, so it’s okay to have a little salt or oil when there’s no other choice (we can’t starve!).

8. Adapting your favorite recipes to be plant-based:

Almost every recipe will work well without the oil, salt, sugar, or meat. Here are some great substitutes:

  • Oil substitutes – When a recipe calls for sautéing vegetables in oil, you can either use the dry sauté method or use a little bit of water or vegetable stock.  
  • Salt substitutes – Instead of salt, use herbs and spices, lemon, lime, orange juice, or something spicy like red pepper flakes.
  • Meat substitutes – Instead of sliced chicken, bake or sauté sliced portobello mushrooms, or roast a cauliflower steak. Instead of lamb or beef meatballs, substitute french lentils and diced mushrooms. Instead of tuna, try Garden of Eydie no-tuna salad.  
  • Egg substitutes –
    • 1 egg = 2 Tbsp. potato starch
    • 1 egg = ¼ cup mashed potatoes
    • 1 egg = ¼ cup canned pumpkin
    • 1 egg = ¼ cup puréed prunes
    • 1 egg = ½ banana
    • 1 egg = 1 Tbsp. ground flax seed in 3 Tbsp. water
  • Milk substitutes – Soy, rice, hemp, oat, almond milk (unsweetened or homemade)
  • Cheese substitutes – Tofu or nut butters; nutritional yeast (for a more a “cheesy” flavor); soaked and blended raw cashews are often used as the creamy/cheesy part of plant-based dishes as well; miso, tamari, and tahini are also used to replace cheese flavored ingredients in recipes.

9. Appliances that make plant-based eating quick and easy:

  • Pressure cooker – The world has gone wild over the Instant Pot. My friend, the incredible plant-based teacher, nutritionist, and cookbook author (Vegan Under Pressure), Jill Nussinow, advised me that her favorite Instant Pots are DuoUltra, or Nova. You can easily make rice and beans, stews, and potatoes (basically anything your heart desires) in minutes!
  • Vitamix or another high-speed blender – To make chickpea flour, and other plant-based flours, nut butters, smoothies, blend soups (or make the soup right in the blender and blend until hot!) There are so many uses for this appliance.
  • Food processor – To make banana ice cream, chopped up vegetables, pizza dough, etc.
  • Microwave – To “steam” vegetables, make oatmeal, warm up soups, make frozen rice
  • Steamer basket- For stovetop steaming

10. Check Your Progress:

After one month of journaling and enjoying your plant-based program, go back to the doctor for a check-up. Make sure your B12 levels are good and re-take all of your measurements. You will be pleasantly surprised and even more inspired to continue on this wonderful adventure. 

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