Note: The Ultimate Guide to Plant-Based Living (Previous blog updated for 2024).
Dabbling in, learning about or creating a mindset towards a plant-based diet is a long, slow process. I get it. It’s a lifestyle change that can be intimidating at first. It was for me, and I’m still working on making changes everyday, especially with my family. Instead of focusing on what you shouldn’t eat or foods to avoid, it's more effective to start including more of the good stuff. To set yourself and your family up for success so you can reap all the health benefits from your plant-based diet, it’s important to prep your kitchen and pantry.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
Find a substitute
I find it can be helpful when you’re first starting out to find a substitute for your guilty pleasure.
If you’re used to enjoying a warm cup of coffee in the morning, try an herbal or green tea so that you can still enjoy a warm beverage with your breakfast.
Instead of Ice cream as dessert, slice some bananas and freeze them, so you can have a cold, sweet treat. You can even try a small square of raw organic chocolate with your banana slices which has many health benefits.
Or, if you like to snack on something crunchy, add some crunchy vegetables to your shopping list. Celery, crispy snap peas or try something new like jicama. Jicama has the crunchy feel of an apple. Jicama has a low glycemic index, it also has fiber and antioxidants.
Eat more vegetables. When was the last time you tried something new? Do you know what kohlrabi is? Slice one up and add it to a stir fry!
Add fermented foods like sauerkraut with*out* vinegar, kimchee, kombucha, raw apple cider vinegar with 'the mother', often considered the most nutritious part of the vinegar.
Crowd out temptation
There are likely items in your pantry that will tempt you -- and it’s okay if you still eat those items as you transition your diet. Instead, adapt a “crowd out” mindset. Stocking up on healthy foods and filling your menu with plant-based entrees and sides will slowly shift the balance in your kitchen and pantry.
Plan meals BEFORE you shop
Get excited about food shopping! If you plan in advance before you purchase fresh ingredients, you will use them up. Make it easier for yourself by meal planning and gathering a few recipes before you even think about heading to the store. Or use a delivery service to send you only the items you need for a few days.
Expert Tip: Look for recipes with similar ingredients so you can buy for the week in bulk and limit prep time.
To make your transition as smooth as possible, start by eating more of the plant-based meals you already eat, and add a new veggie to your dish.
Rice and beans, veggie stir-fry, and pasta with tomato sauce are already vegetarian. If you want more substance to them, try adding fiddleheads. Sift through your current food routine and pick out a few meatless meals you already enjoy. Add a new veggie or two. Even old staples like onions and garlic are a great way to add more vitamin C B6, potassium, and folate to your dish.
Take it slow
If you’re not ready to make a 180 degree switch to a plant-based diet, a simple shift in the balance can make a big difference. When eating a meal you enjoy with meat, add more plant foods to the mix. You don’t have to give up your favorite foods immediately. If there are one or two meals you don’t want to live without, start by cutting out animal foods you don’t eat often. And aim for 50 percent of your plate to be plant-based. Or make a larger dish by adding more veggies, with the same amount of meat, and have the leftovers for lunch or freeze the rest for a side dish on another night.
Once you know what ingredients you’ll need and what recipes you’ll be preparing this week, you can make a shopping list.
When writing out your list, picture the grocery store. List out items per store department rather than by recipe to help you stay organized and get through the store faster. Or use that online service to see what they have this week before you send in your order.
What to add to your plant-based diet
In a plant-based diet, there are many major food categories you’ll enjoy:
Fruits- any type of fruit including apples, pears, citrus, stone fruits, tropical, berries and melons
Alium: onion, garlic, leek, chive, scallion,
Leafy greens: lettuce, spinach, chard,
Cruciferous: cabbage, cauliflower, Brussel sprout, kohlrabi, kale, collard greens,
Marrow: pumpkin, cucumber, zucchini,
Root: potato, sweet potato, yam, carrot, parsnip, turnip, jicama,
Edible plant stem: celery, asparagus, rhubarb,
Nightshades: tomato, pepper, eggplant, potato,
Fungi: mushrooms, etc.
Sea: Seaweed, kelp, dulse, nori, Irish moss
Whole grains- in their whole form, such as brown rice, millet, whole wheat, oats, barley, buckwheat, bulgur, etc. Even popcorn is a whole grain. Great freshly popped with coconut oil instead of processed oil and dulse flakes instead of salt.
Legumes- peas, beans of any kind, lentils, pulses, soy, peanuts, etc.
Seeds - pomegranate, sunflower, mustard, quinoa, pumpkin, chia, hemp, flax, sesame,
Nuts - Brazil, almond, cashew, pistachio, hazelnut, macadamia, pine, pecan, etc.
It’s best if you can purchase local produce. Local items will be fresher, contain more nutrients, may have fewer chemicals, and have a lower environmental impact. Get to know your farmer!
Expert Tip: When shopping at a grocery store, stick to the perimeter of the store for healthier foods. The middle of the store contains all the processed packaged items that you want to avoid!
Explore new stores and spices
As you can tell from the list above, a plant-based diet offers more for you to enjoy than just salad. But even still, humans tend to stick to the few recipes and meals they know. After a while, you can get bored with the same flavors and meals.
Expanding your shopping to local and ethnic markets and looking for different seasonings to cook with can bring much needed diversity to your meal plan. You may even find products not offered in your regular grocery store.
Prep your food after you return from the store
If you’re not a big cook to begin with, the food prep time might feel like another big change as you adapt to this new diet. Make sure to give yourself time for food prep once you return home.
Trust me--you’re a lot more likely to use all that produce if it’s ready to go when hunger strikes.
I make it a habit of washing and cutting some of my vegetables before putting them away. This will help cut down meal prep time. Our busy schedules prevent most of us from cooking fresh meals every day, but if the prep is done all you have to do is cook.
Some foods can be cut and stored while others can be cooked and reheated. Cut-up produce will typically last 2-3 days in the refrigerator.
Fresh herbs have a shorter lifespan. You can buy herb plants for your kitchen or mix herbs with a healthy oil to cook with later on.
Invest in helpful kitchen tools
A well-stocked pantry will help you along your road to success. You may eventually also want to invest in a juicer, blender or immersion blender, and food dehydrator. These are nice-to-haves but not necessary for getting started.
I do recommend investing in glass containers with lids to help you with food prep. Glass containers will help keep your cut fruits and vegetables fresher, longer. Glass has a non-porous surface that doesn’t absorb like plastic and can be safely washed at higher temperatures in your dishwasher without melting or warping.
Bonus: there are fewer toxic chemicals that come from glass containers, as well.
Making a sustainable, healthy lifestyle change can be challenging. I’m here to help you succeed in your health goals and coach you on how to make your success sustainable. I’d love to meet with you and learn more about your health challenges and goals.