How to Start Eating a Vegetable Based Diet
Do you eat a plant based diet?
This year one of my husband’s and my New Year’s resolutions was to get caught up on all doctor’s appointments. We are both wheelchair users (him for a neuromuscular condition and me for a genetic skeletal condition) so it’s important that we make our regular check-ups to stay in optimal health. During a recent visit this Spring, my husband’s doctor recommended he lose up to 50 pounds.
At first 50 pounds seemed like an impossible feat. We went home and he gradually cut out pop, but wasn’t losing much weight even though we cook at home for almost every meal. Finally, at the beginning of this summer we made an agreement to try something different – a vegetable based diet. Even though we cooked at home and weren’t eating out at greasy fast food restaurants, we were both brought up in Midwestern households where a typical plate features a protein, a starch, and a small side of veggies or salad. We changed this around and made the veggies, fruit, and plants the stars of the show and have been on a plant based diet for the past 3 months.
I am happy to say that my husband has been steadily losing weight, noted by the increased bagginess of his clothes! Not only is he losing weight but we are both feeling more energetic and good about the fresh meals we are eating, especially during these hot summer months. While we are in no way vegetarians, we are enjoying trying new foods with plants and vegetables and the mainstay ingredient. Below I’ll share our journey to lend some inspiration if you are also considering starting a plant based journey of your own.
People choose to switch to a vegetable based diet for a variety of reasons. If you have been considering swapping out your meat and potatoes for something a little more fresh, know that you can do it! Read below to find out tips on how to make the switch including benefits of the lifestyle, how to find meal inspiration, how to make a shopping list, stick to a budget, and cook easy, delicious meals.
Making the Switch
Below are just a few examples of what we are eating more of these days along with what we have been cutting out and a few things we will still eat occasionally.
What we eat more of:
- Vegetables and fruit of every kind! Frozen, fresh, or canned in natural juices.
- More salads – they are so versatile you can incorporate tons of veggies along with lean protein, nuts, and dried fruits.
What we cut out:
- Almost all dairy including cheese, cow’s milk, yogurt. I still eat Greek yogurt and cheese for calcium while my husband has eliminated most dairy from his meals. We replaced cow’s milk with coconut or almond milk when called for in some recipes.
- Full fat meat including beef.
What we still eat occasionally:
- Lean meats like chicken, pork chops, shrimp, and fish.
- Limited dairy products as a special treat including feta cheese and Greek yogurt.
- I still have a Coke or piece of chocolate in the afternoon, but am happy to say my hubby has cut out pop completely.
Reasons to Veg
People change their diets for a variety of reasons. Check out the most common reasons to try a plant based diet, below:
Recommended from others
Improved mood / mental clarity
Improved physical ability
Whether you are considering adding more veggies onto your plate at every meal because of health, spiritual, or personal reasons, you can reap a wealth of benefits in a variety of different areas of your life.
Whatever your reason may be, you will hopefully find this new way of eating to not only offer benefits but also taste delicious, too!
Health Benefits of a Plant Based Diet
When modifying your diet, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing from the get-go. Whatever your reason, as long as you are willing to try eating better as a lifestyle change, rather than a fad diet as a quick-fix cure-all, you should decide what you can live with and without and for how long.
We started slowly beginning with my husband cutting out pop this spring. We slowly transitioned to eliminating white bread, pasta, sugary desserts, and most cow’s milk dairy and fatty meats and instead swapping them for an alternative.
If that sounds like too many changes to make at once, don’t panic! Figure out what you love and don’t think you can live without right away. If you have a sweet tooth, don’t cut out all sugar, soda, and chocolate at the same time. Gradually wean yourself off and instead of cutting things cold turkey find an alternative.
Check out some of my favorite alternatives and swaps, below:
- Sour cream and cheese on tacos for fresh salsa and a veggie toppings bar
- Cow’s milk for coconut, almond, or cashew milk
- Lasagna noodles for zucchini noodles (cut thin with a mandolin)
- Pepperoni for lean turkey pepperoni
- Creamy salad dressing for flavorful vinaigrette (low in sugar and sodium)
- Sugary desserts for frozen popsicles you can make yourself
- Ice cream for frozen berries dipped in Greek yogurt
Those are just a few ideas to get you started and hopefully show you that swaps are easy to make. It doesn’t mean you have to give up everything you like, just find ways to satisfy those cravings with delicious, natural ingredients.
Look for Inspiration
Speaking of inspiration, when you embark on your new way of eating you will probably be looking for ideas to keep it interesting.
I know that we definitely needed recipe ideas to help us keep from repeating meals and break out of the habit of thinking every meal had to be a salad.
Pinterest has become my new favorite way to find interesting recipes. Try search terms like “paleo,” “easy,” “vegetarian,” and “dairy-free” to find a plethora of recipes.
(Beware: you may find yourself sucked down a rabbit hole of delicious recipe inspiration only to emerge several hours later!)
Below are some of my favorite ways to look for inspirational food, meal, and recipe ideas that are based on natural vegetable and fruit ingredients.
Keep it Simple
If adopting this way of eating is going to take too much time out of your day to plan for, shop for, and prepare, you are likely not going to stick to it for very long.
The best thing you can do when changing your eating habits is to keep it simple. If it takes too long to cook, chop, think about, or find ingredients, you will be easily given into the temptation to stop by the drive-through on your way home.
When going through your inspiration ideas (above), look for recipes that fit into your lifestyle. If you don’t get home from work until 6pm every day are you going to have time to make a zucchini lasagna?
If not, think about when you can prep your meals ahead of time to save yourself time later when it comes to getting a meal on the table.
Make a List and Keep a Budget
Some may argue that buying fresh produce is not friendly on your wallet; but if you are truly wishing to incorporate more good things into your meal plan every day that means some of the old things are going to go away. This trade off, along with good planning ahead, can help maintain your budget intact.
One of my favorite tips is to make a list at the beginning of each week. I usually make a list on Saturday for the following week and write down what we’re going to eat for breakfast, snacks, lunch, and dinner each day.
Then, on Sunday we buy what we need to make those meals for the week and do as much prep work as we can on the weekends including chopping up and storing fruits and veggies in small containers in the fridge or freezer that can be easily pulled out and incorporated into recipes on busy weeknights.
Not only will this method save you a ton of time, but shopping for what you need will save you money and help you stick to your budget and avoid snack and filler foods you don’t need to spend your paycheck on.
Try New Flavors
You’ll be much more likely to stick to a healthy way of eating for the long haul if you keep things interesting. Experiment with different flavors and spice combinations that you have never tried before. Even if you tend to eat a lot of the same veggies and fruits repeatedly, the favor combinations can be endless.
Below is a sample of what a typical day of eating looks like for my husband and I along with quick recipes you can easily make at home to get you started!
- Quiche with a side of fruit
Make a crustless quiche that you can store in the fridge all week by sautéing any kinds of veggies you like. Toss them in a greased pie plate with 3 or 4 eggs beaten. Season with salt, pepper, and the seasonings of your choice. Bake at 350 until set.
- Warm Veggie Tart
This is very easy to prepare. Layer 5-8 layers of phyllo dough with a thin layer of melted butter or olive oil spray in between each one. Spread the top layer with a dollop of pesto then decorate the top with thinly sliced tomatoes, zucchini, or onions with a small amount of feta cheese and bake in the oven at 350 for about 20 minutes.
- Apple Chips & Veggie Bags with Hummus
Simply slice apples on a mandolin or as thinly as possible and sprinkle with cinnamon or nutmeg. Bake in a 200 degree oven for about 30 – 40 minutes then flip and bake another 30 – 40 minutes or until they are the thin consistency you desire.
Use Sunday to prep 5 small veggie bags to take to work with you during the week. Fill them with sugar snap peas, cucumbers, raw peppers, celery, broccoli or cauliflower that you can dip into small containers of hummus to keep you full during the week.
- Grilled Chicken with Sweet Potato Packets
Chop up sweet potatoes with a seasoned chicken breast and sprig of rosemary with a small dollop of barbecue sauce on top. Wrap up the foil packets and grill for about 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
Give Yourself a Break
We are pleased to report increased energy and a decrease in my husband’s waist line in just the past 3 months! Switching to veggie and fruit based recipes in the hot summer months has also made the transition easier. Most produce is now in season and on sale in our grocery store not to mention the hot months are a great excuse to eat lighter, fresher cuisine. Even if we find ourselves at a backyard barbecue or summer party, we try to make good choices and when treats or cheats happen, we try to choose one, not all.
When switching up your eating habits, give yourself a break! It’s ok if you end up having a “cheat meal.” Holidays, special occasions, and work lunches will inevitably creep into your schedule; just get back on the wagon and keep on doing your best!
As with most things in life, all things in moderation is the golden rule to eat by. Your health and well-being will thank you for it.