by Sharon C
I want to make the switch to a plant based diet, but every time I think about starting I become overwhelmed. New recipes. Will I have the ingredients in the pantry to make the dish? What will it taste like? In then end I just give up and think it will be too hard. Any advice to overcome the mental issues to switching? We already use almost zero dairy, hardly eat eggs and about 40% of our meals are vegan anyway. But sometimes it’s the same meals and they get a little boring after a while. I know it all seems like just a bunch of excuses, but I can’t seem to dive in and tackle changes and new ways of cooking.
Hi Sharon, thanks for writing in to ask a question. Your question reflects something that many people feel when looking to make any significant change. You’ve already made great steps in the right direction, and from you’ve shared, it seems to be that you HAVE already dived in!
You asked specifically about the mental side of the game. Start by considering why you want to move to a plant based diet. Do your reasons allow for some wiggle room or do your reasons lead you to feel it has to be all or nothing? Either way is just fine, as long as you feel right about it. If health is your main reason, keep feeding yourself information on a regular basis that reinforces those beliefs – read books like The China Study or watch movies like Forks Over Knives, get online and keep finding information. If it’s more of a animal rights issue, expose yourself regularly to that material.
You say you’re already eating vegan meals about 40% of the time and almost never use dairy and eggs. You are already doing great, so give yourself credit for that and try not to pressure yourself to move any quicker on this journey than you are comfortable with.
If coming up with new recipes seems overwhelming, try to keep it simple and look at the meat-based meals that you are already eating and come up with ways to remove the meat completely, cut back on it, or replace it with a plant based alternative.
Here’s an excerpt from my latest newsletter where I talked about planning meals without the meat:
It takes a mental shift to think about your meals without the meat centerpiece. Here is my best advice:
1. Start to think about your whole grain or starchy vegetable as the centerpiece of the plate. This is where you’re going to get the bulk of your calories, so increase the portion of these types of foods. For example, if you’re having potatoes (which I highly recommend) make both sweet and white potatoes in whatever way you enjoy most – steamed, baked, mashed, roasted – and eat more than you normally would have before. As long as you aren’t covering them in oil, butter or sour cream 😉 there is nothing wrong with eating enough to make you feel full and satisfied. You can make an oil-free sauce, dressing or gravy to put on them if you like. Brown rice, quinoa or millet can also take the center too. I’ll include a sauce I love for this purpose below.
2. Stop thinking that only one vegetable should make the plate. When I was growing up we had meat, potatoes and a vegetable most nights. Now when I make meals it isn’t uncommon to have 2 vegetables PLUS a salad at every meal. Let veggies have a more prominent role to fill your belly.
3. Find veggie versions of the meat main dish. A homemade veggie “meat”loaf is awesome (I’ll be posting a recipe on the site very soon so watch for that). Baked tofu and tempeh with BBQ sauce is a great stand-in for meat. Warmed chickpeas tossed in bottled teriyaki sauce or another sauce of your choosing make a great meal with some rice or potatoes and veggies. We often eat homemade veggie burgers without the bun on a plate with potato and veg. Once in a while, you can buy a veggie meat substitute at the store and have that as you would have had meat before. I don’t recommend eating these processed fake meats more than once or twice a month as they are not whole foods and typically are high in fat from oils, but an occasional meal of it won’t hurt you.
It’s just a mental shift! I hope these suggestions help you plan meals that remind you of those you had growing up. Those memories and comfort meals don’t have to be left behind, just changed up a little. If you are still having animal foods occasionally, experiment with dramatically cutting down on the portion size and implementing some of the suggestions above. Hope this helps!
Plant-based meals don’t have to be extravagant or fussy. Find a couple of good cookbooks that keep things simple – I particularly like Vegan on the Cheap and The Happy Herbivore Abroad. Or don’t even fuss with recipes and just think in terms of meals being a starchy vegetable like potatoes/winter squashes or a whole grain, a few non-starchy veggies and a salad. Top everything with a favorite dressing or sauce.
Make sure you make a meal plan – I would say that is the number one priority, especially to keep those feelings of overwhelm to an absolute minimum. There is nothing like not having a plan or the right ingredients that will make you fall back on old, familiar habits.
Can you buddy up with anyone who is looking to make the same changes that you are and use each other for support? If you don’t have someone locally, you could find that support online. I know Engine 2 has a group and there are many others.
Making changes in our lives is hard, particularly when it comes to food, since many times a lot of the foods we are eating have addictive qualities (fat, salt, refined sugar). It takes a well rounded approach of education, inspiration, support, proper planning and time. Sometimes we just need to allow our taste buds to adjust so that we begin to prefer plant based foods over animal based ones.
I applaud you for being one who is thoughtful about what you are putting in your body! So many just never even give it a thought. You are on the path. Honor yourself for where you are, how far you’ve come, and for wanting to move further. It is more than half the battle. All my best to you Sharon!
Have any advice to give Sharon based on your experience? Leave a comment below!