Tip #1: Figure out your why
This is important when you want to make any lifestyle change whatsoever. You need to do some reflecting and figure out why you want to make these changes. The reasons have to be personal to you and be meaningful. Simply wanting to change the way you eat in hopes of it changing how you look probably won’t cut it. Likewise, making the change because of the environment also might not cut it. Getting down to the deeper reasons, like I want to lose weight, because I want to be healthier, because I want to feel good in my own body, because I want to love and accept myself more, is going to be more sustaining than simply, I want to lose weight. Or if you want to change your diet to help the environment, you can follow a similar trajectory. What is it exactly that is going to fuel you to maintain this standard for yourself in times where you are challenged? Whether that is literally challenged by friends or family, or just personally challenged – like feeling really hungry at an airport with seemingly nothing to eat, or getting home exhausted and being tempted to order an old favourite rather than taking extra time to find something that fits with the values you are cultivating. Your “why” might change over time, or become more nuanced and that is great! For me, it started off with a desire to heal my skin, but it quickly moved into a realization that I didn’t want to consume the flesh of another being when there are plenty of plant foods that can nourish me. Watching documentaries, and reading books also helped me to solidify my “why” and this is what keeps me going in moments of inconvenience or challenge. Now that it’s been a few years, I find that the challenging moments are fewer and farther between, and I simply don’t notice them as much.
Tip #2: Plan Ahead!
This will not only make this transition easier for you, but it will also make it easier for others around you. By planning ahead and making sure you’re sorted out in situations that might not be so vegan-friendly, you’re taking the pressure off of yourself and everyone else. For instance, if you know you are going to a wedding and there won’t be many vegan options, bring your own food that you can eat before the reception, or your own meal, then you can load up on salad, fruit, veggies, whatever other options there are, and not feel deprived and hungry. If you’re planning to go to a restaurant with friends or family, or for work, look at the menu ahead of time to see if there are plant-based options. If you don’t see anything, call the restaurant ahead of time and ask them if they can accommodate you. Most places have at least a vegetarian option that they can modify to make vegan. If you’re going to be traveling and you aren’t sure what food will be available to you on the road or in the airport, load up on snacks from home! Once you’re in your new destination take a quick trip to the grocery store and pick up some essentials. You can bring fruit, veggies, nuts, nut butter, hummus, crackers, vegan protein bars, oats to make your own breakfast, etc. Even though it might not be the most exciting food you’ve ever had, you can at least keep yourself from getting hangry and saying “F*** it! I’m eating a 7/11 hot dog!”
Tip #3: Get some cooking resources.
Going plant-based may have a bit of a learning curve in terms of learning new dishes to cook. It can get especially complicated when you get into all the different types of plant-based diets: whole food plant-based, raw veganism, oil-free, salt-free, sugar-free, high-carb, high-fat, gluten-free vegan, etc. The list goes on and on. I recommend starting off by going to the library and browsing through the cookbook section and taking out a few books that look appealing to you. Try cooking from them and see which types of recipes you’re drawn to, or what books you gravitate towards, then invest in the ones you like the most. We are living in a world that is saturated with information, and have access to plenty of free recipes online, but I think that it does really help to have some tangible cookbooks to cook from. I find that browsing through a cookbook to figure out what you want to eat is less time consuming and less overwhelming than searching through the never-ending options online. Don’t rush out to buy a cookbook before trying them out and seeing if you like the way the book is laid out and how the recipes turn out for you. Here are some that I really like: Oh She Glows – Angela Liddon, Vegan Comfort Classics – Lauren Toyota, The First Mess – Laura Wright, One Part Plant Cookbook – Jessica Murane, Whole Bowls – Allison Day (this book isn’t vegan but is very vegan-friendly) and Chloe Flavor – Chloe Coscarelli.
Tip #4: Stock your spice cabinet with the essentials.
If you’re worried that vegan food just won’t taste as good or be as satisfying, first check your spice cabinet, or if you’re like me, check your huge Tupperware container cull of spices (haha). Most of what we love about omnivorous recipes are the flavours and the textures. None of that has to be sacrificed in vegan cooking, in fact it can be easily accomplished with a few key ingredients. It’s amazing what a bit of cumin, cayenne, nutritional yeast and liquid smoke do! If you don’t have a fully stocked spice cabinet yet, make that a priority on your next grocery shop. Here are the essentials to get you started: turmeric, cumin, curry powder, coriander, oregano, cayenne, crushed red chili flakes, smoked paprika, cinnamon, nutmeg. Spices can be very expensive, so I recommend buying them in the bulk section of your grocery store, if that’s an option for you. If that isn’t an option, pick a three or four spices that you can use in several dishes. Pair these with garlic, ginger, onion and some fresh herbs like cilantro, parsley, dill, basil or rosemary, and you’ve got one tasty dish! Another absolute essential for any vegan kitchen is nutritional yeast! You can usually find it in the bulk aisle, near the baking ingredients, or in the natural food aisle.
Going hand in hand with stocking up your spice drawer, you may also want to stock up on your essential condiments. These can get a little pricey, but again, you may already have some of these. In my opinion every fridge should have: apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, maple syrup, peanut butter, dijon mustard, hot sauce or chili paste, veganaise, soy sauce or tamari, and miso paste.
Tip #5: Figure out a few staple recipes for each mealtime. You want to have these on hand so that when you’re crunched for time, or just exhausted and not wanting to cook, you can whip up something healthy and nutritious without much time and effort. Staple breakfasts for me are overnight oats (easiest and most filling breakfast), avocado toast, chia pudding or smoothies. Staple lunches: leftovers (always), avocado toast (I can eat this anytime, anywhere), or baked sweet potatoes topped with a grain, lentils and veggies. Some of my staple dinner recipes are veggie chili, dhal, stir fry, burrito bowl, roast veggies with Field Roast sausages.
Set aside some time to do some food prep. This tip goes hand in hand with Tip #4. In order to make your life easier during the week, you can do some things like soak beans overnight if you know you want to have a burrito bowl the next day. You can cook a big batch of quinoa for quick lunches, or roast three or four sweet potatoes at a time, so that you have leftovers throughout the week. You can even make your overnight oats for two or three days at a time so they are ready to grab and go in the mornings.
Shop at the farmer’s market! What better way to feel connected to your food than to purchase it directly from the person who planted it? I personally feel more nourished being able to smile and talk to the farmers every week and know exactly where and who the food came from. I also love knowing that my hard-earned dollars are going towards supporting farmers doing great work. The other bonus of buying from the growers is that they can introduce you to new produce and suggest recipes or ways of cooking ingredients you’re unfamiliar with. Not only does the produce taste so much better when you’re able to get it locally, I’ve found that for certain items it’s actually cheaper than buying them at the grocery store, especially when you consider how many organic options you can find at a farmer’s market. Win, win, win in my opinion! Also, what’s more relaxing than wandering around a farmer’s market on a weekend? It’s my favourite part of my Sunday routine from May – October 🙂
Invest in a couple of good knives and a knife sharpener. This doesn’t really have anything to do with veganism, but it is a necessity if you’re going to be spending more time in the kitchen. You don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for a decent knife, especially if you get a knife sharpener. Keeping your knives clean, sharp and in good condition, will ensure that your time spent in the kitchen will be easier and more enjoyable.