Sometimes the hardest part about adopting a vegan diet is figuring out where to start. There’s no cookie cutter path but this is what I did and what was helpful for me.
Tip #1: DECIDE & COMMIT
Everything starts with a decision. Whether you’re changing a habit or a diet. You have to decide that you are going to give it an honest shot. Otherwise, when you’re faced with a challenge a couple days in, you’ll find yourself saying, “oh well, I tried.” I recommend that you give yourself a few months to get use to your new lifestyle. If you slip up, accidentally or on purpose, instead of saying “oh well,” you’ll find yourself saying, “not again.”
Tip #2: GO THROUGH THE PANTRY
If you can get rid of non-vegan items, great! But, I went through our pantry looking for items that were already vegan. I made my decision on a whim and didn’t want to wait until I went to the grocery store and was fully prepared. I just needed to start ASAP! Fruits and vegetables were a given, but I also found rice, pasta, soups, beans, nuts, peanut butter, sauces, seasonings, tortillas, and bread. After seeing what I had, I was able to figure out how to make some basic meals like bean tacos with fajita vegetables (bell pepper & onion grilled with cumin and chili powder). Avocados are still a staple in my house. I could throw it on some toast or make some guacamole to add to any dish. Of course, there were many times I turned to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as I began to get comfortable in the kitchen.
Tip #3: TOUR YOUR LOCAL GROCERY STORES
You may feel completely comfortable at your grocery store but this tour is not going to be just about where to find things but to learn what’s in things. I went to the grocery store to spend some real time there. I went through all the aisles, well most, you can skip the meat and cheese aisles. I spent my time there mostly reading labels. I checked things that I usually bought and things I was just curious about. I even checked things I knew were not vegan. I think it helped me understand what makes things not vegan: dairy, eggs, chicken broth, etc. While milk and eggs are allergens and will be listed in bold at the bottom of the ingredients, things like chicken or beef broth will be among all the other ingredients. One surprise to me, was finding milk in my spaghetti sauce. I guess it makes sense now. Some people add cheese to their pasta but at that time I didn’t expect to find milk in a regular marinara sauce. Give yourself time to get reacquainted with food.
Tip #4: GOOGLE RECIPES
Whatever foods you like to eat now, google vegan versions. This is good for a couple reasons. First, you will learn that you can still have a lot of your favorite dishes, just in a different form. Secondly, you will learn a lot of the tricks people use as substitutes. After missing out on Spinach & Artichoke dip at restaurants, I googled “vegan spinach & artichoke dip” and found a great recipe that I still use today.
Tip #5: RETHINK FOOD
People have heard a lot about macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat) and have learned how to manipulate these to lose weight. Increase protein and decrease carbs. But, we receive fiber, micronutrients, and energy from healthy carbs and they are needed to remain healthy. Now, I’m not saying to eat a bucket of fries or only eat pasta. Just don’t be afraid to incorporate healthy carbs into your meals. If you’re use to looking at your plate and seeing a food item as your protein and another item as your carbs, start making a shift in your mind. Look at your food differently. Understand that beans are both your carbs and protein and nuts are protein and fats. Fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts, and legumes are whole foods and nutrient dense.
Tip #6: SNACKS ON THE GO
Always be prepared when you’re out and about, especially in the beginning. When you’re hungry and feel like you have no options, you’re more likely to gravitate to what you’re comfortable with. Take snacks to run errands, go to birthday parties, the movies, etc. I like taking nuts, protein bars, grapes, apples, bananas, even avocados. Avocados can easily spruce up any boring garden salad.
Tip #7: LOOK UP VEGAN OPTIONS AT YOUR LOCAL RESTAURANTS
Sometimes the thought of going out to eat is enough to break people from a vegan diet or scare them from even starting. It really has become a lot easier than before. Restaurants are either familiar with vegan or with allergies, so they can tell you the non-dairy, egg free options. I have looked up menus on the way to the restaurant or found postings of the vegan options available. Eventually, you will also become quite good at making a full entrée out of sides or piecing together ingredients from various entrees offered. In the beginning though, it helps knowing you have options. It will help keep you from becoming overwhelmed in the moment. A great site for finding vegan-friendly restaurants near by is happycow.net.
Tip #8: FALL IN LOVE with NEW FOODS
If one of the reasons you’re not going vegan is because you just love cheese or love bacon, I would suggest to stop thinking about what you can’t have and give yourself time to fall in love with something new. Remember, you have probably been eating meat and dairy your whole life. You have had a long relationship with those foods and in various forms. Get creative with vegetables and spices. Give yourself time to fall in love. After a year of being vegan, I was completely in love with foods that were just okay for me in the beginning. But, as I said in #1, I decided to be vegan and was committed to my healthier lifestyle.
Tip #9: HANG OUT with VEGAN-FRIENDLY FRIENDS
This may sound silly but some friends are more vegan-friendly than others. I am truly grateful to the people in my life that were willing to go to vegan restaurants with me or down to try whatever new recipe I found. I offered to cook for family and invited people over just to try some new recipes. Everyone loved it! They got fed and I got a chance to share something I was becoming passionate about. Find your support! If no one wants to explore these things with you, get involved with a meetup or create one. Find other vegans!
Tip #10: BE PATIENT with YOURSELF
There will be bumps along the way. In the beginning, there were a few foods I ate that weren’t vegan. I had found out that they had chicken broth or milk that I was unaware of. Once I learned, I simply made a switch and kept going. There will be other options to switch to. Don’t get discouraged or frustrated. Whether you’re vegan for animals, health, the environment, or any other reason, just remember why you chose this lifestyle. Watch those documentaries again, learn more, read more, and recommit to yourself.