Transitioning to a Plant Based Lifestyle

Pita Pizza with beefless ground, mushrooms, spinach, artichokes, and vegan mozzarella

After a few friends reached out asking for advice on transitioning to a plant based lifestyle and mom friends who went dairy free while breastfeeding and wanted alternatives, I decided to write a post ALL about the transition. Most babies aren’t born being able to digest dairy, unless their mom is a cow (be nice!) About 75% of people have some severity of lactose intolerance because we’re not supposed to be drinking milk from another mammal. I’ve been vegan for almost 4 years now and have a lot of advice from my wins and losses along the way and love to share them with anyone who is interested in this way of life. It’s so exciting to me how many people are taking this leap of faith to improve their health, save animals lives, and improve our environment. Who wouldn’t want that?!

First Things First

Plant based: food made from plants, term for food that doesn’t contain animal products

Vegan: term for people who adapt to the whole lifestyle, no animal products in food and all lifestyle products (no wool, leather, zoos, circuses, products or make up tested on animals)

The first thing you should do when deciding up this lifestyle is choose your WHY. Why are you deciding to veer off the “normal” dietary path? Your health? Animals? Environment? Do your research. Watch some documentaries, and you might be surprised by how much your WHY changes. Is your why strong enough to hold up to other people’s criticisms and looks? To resist everyone else’s choices when going out? Find your why and you’ll be strong enough to fall in love with this way of life. My why at first was my husband’s health. We watched What the Health (Netflix) and I threw away every animal product in the house that night and went cold turkey. Not only has it helped my husband’s Crohn’s stay in remission, but my years of terrible IBS and digestive problems basically disappear. Another win!

After years of documentaries and research, now my why is all of the reasons! Most people who go plant based for only health don’t last because, let’s face it, why often don’t do the best for ourselves. When you imagine killing an animal for that cheeseburger, it makes it a lot easier to refuse. Also, if you’re going plant based for a beach body, guess what? They make every junk food alternative so you still have to be making healthy choices, believe me from first hand experience.

Documentaries to watch: The Game Changers (geared toward athletes and men), What the Health, Cowspiracy, Food, Inc. , Vegucated, Blackfish, and new Seaspiracy.

Positive Mindset

Don’t think about things you “can’t” have anymore. You technically can have them, but you’re choosing a better alternative. Instead think about all of the things you’re doing to positively benefit yourself, your planet, and the earth. That’s a lot better than eating that slice of cheese! Plus nowadays there are literally replacements for everything you could want. It’s amazing! Now is the time where vegans are thriving and it’s incredible to watch more and more options surface almost daily. I’m eating things I never would have tried before going vegan. Vegan doesn’t mean boring. Meat and a side for every meal of your life is boring! This is your time to experiment with so many different foods and dishes and your taste buds will adjust and expand.

Meal Planning and Replacements

Meal planning is my saving grace! I’m such a planner anyway (it’s the teacher in me), that I enjoy knowing what I’m going to be cooking and eating for the week. That way it’s one trip to the grocery store and it’s done! It also prevents the frustration of getting hangry and giving up on your goals. I make a plan for a week at a time, write a grocery list in order of the layout of the store, and get it done. We usually order in once a week as well for a break. I’ll go through each category and give replacements, share my staples, and a weekly meal plan example.

Protein- mushrooms, chickpeas, lentils, beans, tofu, seitan, tempeh, hummus, edamame, peas, nuts and seeds, pea protein powder or protein bars, plus meat alternatives like Beyond Meat, Impossible, and Lightlife foods.

Dairy- unsweetened almond milk, Earth Balance vegan butter, Violife cheeses, Trader Joe’s vegan cream cheese, dairy free yogurt (almond, cashew, soy, coconut), Tofutti sour cream, Chao original slices, Daiya American or Cheddar slicesNutpods or Oatly coffee creamer, cashew cream, vegan cheeze sauce (boiled potatoes, carrots, onions, and cashews, blended til smooth), nutritional yeast

Grains- variety of rice, most breads (try and stick to whole grains for health), dried pastas, bagels, rice noodles, potatoes, most crackers, oats

Fats- avocado, nuts, seeds, nut butters, dark chocolate (usually above 72% dark), olive oil, other oils

Fruits and Veggies– ALL, but my favorites are- broccoli and cauliflower, mushrooms, , bell peppers, zucchini, spinach, kale, lettuce, carrots, onions, cucumber, Bok Choy, eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, bananas, honeycrisp apples, grapes, berries, mangos, clementines

Egg replacers- Just Egg, tofu scramble (tofu, spinach, nooch, turmeric for color, salt and pepper), chickpea omelette, flax egg for baked goods (one egg= 1 tbsp flaxseed+ 2.5 tbsp water, mix and let sit until gelled)

Condiments– ketchup, Hellman’s vegan mayo, any mustard, pickles, relish, low sodium soy sauce, sweet chili sauce, Sriracha, hot sauce, Tofutti sour cream, Hershey’s syrup Simple 5

Dressings- Certain brands make all vegan dressings (Follow Your Heart, Daiya, etc.) TJ’s caesar dressing and Green Goddess, Brianna’s Poppyseed, Skinnygirl Vinaigrettes and Poppyseed, Balsamic vinaigrette, some Italian and Greek, Simple Truth Ranch

Junk Food- Ben and Jerry’s dairy free ice cream, So Delicious ice cream, Dr Praeger’s Veggie burgers, Trader Joe’s mandarin chickenless chicken, Trader joes meatless meat balls, Annie’s boxed vegan Mac n cheese, TJ’s vegetable Gyozas, TJ’s beefless ground beef, Lightlife Smart Tenders and jumbo Smart dogs, Hippeas, tortilla chips, popcorn, TJ’s tamari rice crackers, pita chips, TJ’s cauliflower gnocchi, veggie straws, TJ’s Jalapeno puffs, TJ’s semi sweet chocolate chips, TJ’s Scandinavian swimmers, Whole Foods vegan baked goods (cookies, donuts, muffins, etc.) Sweet Loren’s break and bake cookies, TJ’s or Annie’s cinnamon rolls and crescents, Just Egg scramble and folded, Beyond Meat or Pure Farmland Breakfast Sausage, Tofurky plant slices (we like hickory) Whole Foods mock chicken salad, TOO MANY!

Alcohol– WHAT?? Yes some alcohol is still filtered with bone char, yuck I know! This website can help you find what you’re looking for.

While transitioning and occasionally, plant based meat and cheese and junk food alternatives are so convenient. You can pretty much make your favorite recipes and just switch out meat and dairy with a plant based version. They fill that taste that you’re used to, and it makes the transition easier. That’s great and it’s a great option for occasional consumption. You’re not going to be eating a burger everyday, or have ice cream every night, so why would you do that with the plant based version? They’re not very healthy and usually have lots of hidden oils and fats. They’re exceptions, not the rule. After you feel comfortable in the plant based lifestyle, start trying new recipes made with mostly whole foods. Whole foods are foods that come from the ground and aren’t processed. You usually find them in the produce section. This is the time to expand your horizons and find new recipes that you’ll soon crave and that’s when you’ll start feeling lighter after eating (and in your pants.) Plus it’s cheaper! Everyone thinks eating vegan is more expensive, no that’s if you buy vegan processed stuff. What’s more expensive, meat or a can of beans?

Resources and inspiration– To following vegan foodies on instagram, blogs, apps, cookbooks, and Pinterest, all help you with this transition and give resources and inspiration. Here are some of my favorites.

Pinterest– SO many plant based recipes on here, I’m still finding new recipes to try weekly almost 4 years later. Make a board and start pinning anything that looks good to you!

Forks Over Knives is an app you can download that gives loads of healthy, whole foods, plant based recipe ideas.

Favorite blogger and Instafriends– Nora Cooks Vegan, veggiesdontbite, Erinireland, highcarbhannah, eatingbirdfood, veganricha, chloefairchildcooks, megunprocessed, sixvegansisters, thehiddenveggies, alexafuelednaturally, modernveganfam, forksoverknives, therealchefaj, vegandisneyfood, goodoldvegan, plantbasedonabudget, sweetsimplevegan, itdoesnttastelikechicken, SO MANY MORE for you to discover

Eating Out– Eating out can be tricky at first because you don’t know what to order anymore. I’ll help you out and give you some options for each cuisine, it’s easy!

Italian– pizza (dough and sauce are vegan) so load it up with veggies and have no cheese, or some places offer vegan cheese as an option now (Mellow Mushroom, Peace, Love and Pizza, Whole Foods hot bar) , pasta primavera, salads without cheese, bread, minestrone soup, white bean soup. Things to watch for– hidden cheeses, milk in breadcrumbs, parm and butter on crusts

Asian- Asian is really easy to find vegan, because usually foods already don’t contain dairy. When we order Chinese I usually get vegetable soup and bean curd (tofu) with mixed veggies and rice. Thai is my favorite and I get vegetable spring rolls, tofu pad see ew, pad Thai, (ask for no egg), a vegetable coconut curry, or tofu and mixed vegetables. When we get sushi I’ll have edamame, an Asian crunch salad, vegetable dumplings, and veggie sushi rolls. Things to watch for– lo mein and chow mein are egg noodles so stick to rice noodles, fish sauce, egg in wrappers, egg in dishes

Mexican- Mexican is also an easy one! I get usually some kind of veggie and bean tacos without cheese. From Ceviche I order bean and veggie tacos, guac, salsa, and chips. From Tin Lizzy’s, I order the kale and mushroom tacos or the fajita taco with impossible meat and no ranch. Burritos or burrito bowls with rice, beans, and veggies. Things to watch for– sour cream in some guac, rice cooked in chicken broth, Refried beans with lard. PS- margs are vegan! Hooray!

Mediterranean– falafel, hummus, baba ganoush, most pita (check for dairy), Greek potatoes, vegetable falafel, tahini sauce, grilled veggies, beans, salad without feta

American– veggie burgers, all fries except McDonald’s, steamed veggies, salad with vinaigrette and no cheese, lightlife smart dogs, Violife grilled cheese, broccoli cheeze casserole, veggie pot pie, lentil Shepherd’s pie, Trader Joe’s turkey-less loaf around holidays, vegan Mac n cheese Things to watch for– milk powder, cheese in things, cooked in lard, bacon bits on everything!

Indian– Indian can be tricky because they add a lot of cream, milk, and ghee. Also avoid paneer. You can order chana masala, dal, vegetable biryani, veggie samosas, pakoras, masala dosa, hara bhara kabob, baingan bharta, and aloo puri. The best way to ensure it’s vegan is to contact the restaurant.

Fast Food Options

I don’t grab fast food often, but when you’re on the road or in a different area this might be the only option. When I go on a road trip, I usually pack pb&j’s so we don’t get desperate, but these are some vegan options.

Sandwich shop/Publix– Veggies, mustard, avocado on a sub roll

Chipotle/Willy’s/Moe’s- burritos, burrito bowls, salads, with rice, sofritas (tofu) beans, veggies, lettuce, guac, and pico

Fresh 2 Order– asian salad with tofu and dijon vinaigrette, any salad without cheese, bean burger

Wendy’s– baked potato, fries, salad without cheese or meat

Burger King– Impossible Whopper no cheese, fries

Chickfila– side salad no cheese, fries, fruit cup

Panera– Any salad without cheese or meat, vegetable soup, lentil soup, lentil ramen, sandwich with avocado, tomato, and lettuce

Panda Express– mixed veggies, tofu, rice

Meal Ideas

Breakfast – avocado toast, oatmeal, bagel and vegan cream cheese, protein shake, tofu scramble, chickpea egg, French toast, waffles, pancakes, just egg and vegan sausage, biscuits, fruit salad

Lunch– I usually have leftovers, but you can have tofurkey sandwich, chickpea salad(mashed chickpeas with vegan Mayo, mustard, and spices), mock chicken salad, veggie and hummus wrap or pita, pita pizza, soup, salad, grilled cheeze, etc.

Dinner– burrito bowls, sushi bowls, lasagna, pasta dishes, broccoli cheese rice casserole, soup, taco salad, stir fries, veggie burgers, lentil shepherds pie, sloppy Joe’s, sushi, risotto, salads, spaghetti, pizza, dumplings, tacos, quesadillas, burritos, Buddha bowls, etc. Take a look at my blog for more recipe ideas!

Snacks– fruit and nut butter, air popped popcorn, fruit, hummus with pretzels, veggies, pita chips, or rice crackers, nuts, dried fruit

As with everything new, it takes a while to get used to. Your palette will expand as you try new things and you will learn to love things you’ve never had before. The only regret I’ve ever had about this lifestyle is not doing it sooner, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. You are choosing to be a better you and that’s the best thing! If you need any more help or have any questions please message me on Instagram @charmingchickpea. Thanks for reading all I had to say!

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