It can be an initially overwhelming process starting the transition to a plant-based diet but keep in mind that it doesn’t need to be an all or nothing endeavour. When some people hear the term “vegetarian” or “vegan” they think of all the things they don’t want to give up; bacon, burgers, Bunning’s sausage sizzles, Christmas turkey - the list goes on. To set the record straight, plant-based eating does not mean no animal products ever. Setting food rules to follow a rigid diet is for most of us, a set up for failure. The food choices we make are influenced by things like who and what is around us, how we feel, what we can afford, our relationships, health concerns, routine, morals, traditions and preferences. To smooth your transition into plant-based eating, eat mostly plants as best you can, whenever you can. However, there is no right or wrong way to transition between meat-eating and plant-based diets, some people may prefer to drop animal products all at once. Katy Beskow, a long-time vegan and the author of three bestselling cookbooks, suggests a gradual approach. She advises “to replace products in your diet with alternatives step by step, be it milk, mayonnaise or yoghurt. That way, you won’t see a difference.”
Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you get in touch with the reasons you are choosing this lifestyle: What will I gain from eating a plant-based diet? Why am I eating plant-based?
Getting into a positive frame of mind and understanding your purpose will help you keep on track with your diet-change in times where you may be feeling tempted to order that beef burger you’ve been craving. Maybe it’s for health reasons, environmental reasons, to lose weight, or a love for animals - only you can explore your true ‘why’.
Stock your kitchen with plant-based foods like lentils, oats, canned beans, nuts, rice, seeds, frozen veggies, canned tomatoes, vegetable broth, plant-based milk and fruit. These foods are super versatile and can be used across a wide range of recipes. Buying plant-based foods doesn’t have to be expensive, don’t be deterred from buying canned and frozen produce to get costs down.
There is a lot of information out there to mislead consumers about plant-based diets. Browse through blogs, or treat yourself to some new vegetarian or vegan cookbooks to help build up some recipe ideas and gain a more comprehensive understanding of plant-based diets.
Planning and food preparation might not be everyone’s cup of tea. In NZ we are very lucky to have some amazing food bag subscriptions that are delivered to your door and include vegan and vegetarian meal options. These are listed by Vegetarians New Zealand.
A recommendation that got us started on the right track is to subscribe to a vegetarian meal kit 3 - 4 nights per week. Not only does this familiarise you with plant based ingredients but gives first hand experience by cooking and preparing the meals.
Though the majority of cafes and restaurants are now offering plant-based snacks and food, taking a snack with you when you’re out and about can prevent the ravenous hunt for a snack which increases your chances of selecting an animal-based convenience option. This might mean carrying around some fresh fruit, bliss balls, vegetable sticks, crackers, nuts or leftovers.
At some stage in your transition to plant-based eating, it is likely you will be invited to a friend or family members to a meal - how do you approach this? Perhaps you could offer to bring a vegetarian or vegan dish. If your host declines just politely remind them of your dietary preferences.
Many people may find their partners, housemates or family may not want to join them in a plant-based way of eating. To get around this have single meat serves stored away in the freezer that your eating companions can defrost to accompany your plant-based meals. Find foods that you all enjoy and include these in your meals so nobody feels as though they’re missing out.
How about eating out? Most restaurants and cafes are good at accommodating for dietary needs however it pays to check the menu of a restaurant or cafe before you go, just to make sure they offer suitable plant-based options. If you’re still unsure, give them a call ahead of time to ensure they can accommodate for you.
Finally, if you feel alone in your endeavours to eat plant-based foods, reach out to like-minded people by joining up with different Facebook groups or communities in your local area.
Dealing with backlash
It would not come as a surprise if on your transition to plant-based eating you receive some form of backlash from your meat-loving friends and family. Negativity exists for a number of people who don’t share a value in veganism or vegetarianism. For some people, the thought provokes anger and deep emotion.
Win people over by cooking a delicious meat-free meal, and appreciate that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs about diet. Without offering a full lecture on the benefits of plant-based eating, use it as a teaching opportunity - perhaps they’re simply afraid of the unknown.
Chapter 6: How to choose my plant-based protein powder?
Chapter 7: Why is pea protein the best plant protein?
Chapter 9: Where should I start?