Living a plant-based lifestyle is a journey. No matter what anyone says, the vegan you are in year one is not the vegan you are five years down the road because you learn so much along the way. For me, going plant-based was very gradual (I never thought I could give up cheese on my bagel or real milk in my coffee) but once I started feeling so much better without dairy in my body, I became more committed to reading and learning more about the health benefits of a plant-based diet (thank you NutritionFacts.org).
Over the past few years, there are several important things I learned that I wish I knew way back then so I pass this information along and hope it helps anyone who is trying to gradually move towards a plant-based diet or who just wants to make their plant-based life easier.
- The hardest part of adhering to a plant-based diet is social. 99% of the world is not vegan so everything from going out to lunch or dinner to attending a party or a wedding involves food, most of which contains animal products. Then, consider that I don’t want oil, coconut milk, or added sugar and things can get really complicated. To make these events more enjoyable, I often eat before I go and lightly snack at the event on vegetables, nuts, or salad. I also carry snacks in my purse, and check out the menu at a restaurant beforehand to see if an accommodation can be made (this is possible more and more these days). And, finally, I try to relax about the oil (but I always get dressing on the side) when I go out because to ask the server if the chef could make a plant-based dish of his choice is very possible if you don’t put limitations beyond no animal products.
- Don’t underestimate the value of a really good knife. Diets heavy in fruits and vegetables will require cutting and there are few things more frustrating than trying to cut vegetables with a dull, cheap knife. Invest in a good knife.
- Every morning, I spend about 30 minutes cutting and preparing food for the day. Getting this done ahead of time makes preparation for lunch and dinner so much easier.
- Buy a lemon/lime squeezer because citrus will become more important for seasoning, cooking, and baking. When squeezing 1/2 of a lemon or lime, squeeze one side and then turn it over and squeeze the other end to get all the juice out.
- When cutting kale leaves, turn the leaf over and cut from the top of the leaf along the middle stem to the bottom. Repeat on the other side. Don’t throw the stems in the garbage disposal (they will clog it). Throw the stems in the trash or compost.
- Buy a small food processor to chop vegetables, nuts, turn grains into flour, and mix nut butters (most nut butters separate so I pour the whole jar in a small food processor to blend and then put the nut butter back in the jar). Store nut butters in the refrigerator if not consuming within a week or two.
- If vegetables like broccoli, spinach, kale, cauliflower, or carrots get limp, cut them up and put them in a large bowl filled with cold water and ice. In an hour, the vegetables will crisp up. Steam, stir-fry or use in recipes.
- To freshen whole grain pita bread, cook the pita for 15 seconds in the microwave.
- Greens are more palatable if lightly steamed or stir fried with water (I try to eat greens every single day so if the greens aren’t in a salad, then I lightly steam various greens and add to other cooked vegetables or in a finished soup). Putting a few handfuls of fresh greens in a hot pot of soup will wilt the greens but more importantly add a boost of nutrition, flavor, and fiber.
- Although expensive, a Vitamix blender will become a daily or every other day appliance. Using a Vitamix to make smoothies is popular but this super strong blender is also useful to make nut milks, sauces, turn grains into flour, make date syrup or date-based recipes, frostings, and pureed soups. In addition, I often take a few cups of a chunky soup – especially one with potatoes – and grind it all up in a Vitamix and add the mixture back to the soup. This step adds a creamy heartiness to soup.
- For the ultimate in cutting vegetables, consider buying the Swedish Alligator Vegetable Slicer. An amazing tool that costs about $130, the Alligator looks like a grater (in the shape of an alligator jaw) with a catch container. But, instead of grating, there are three blades that cut virtually any vegetable into pieces in seconds. The blades are sharp and all you have to do is push. I find this tool great to chop carrots, garlic, radishes, onions, and potatoes when I am in a hurry or when I want to make a homemade vegetable soup in less than 20 minutes. The only criticism of this tool is that its a bit difficult to clean (but this doesn’t outweigh its usefulness).
- Buy grapefruit spoons. Eating a grapefruit is infinitely easier with a sharp serrated spoon.
- Allow yourself to enjoy special treats from time to time. For me, a peanut butter or almond butter cup made by Eat Chic Chocolates or cookie dough/cookies by Just Cookie Dough are my special dessert treats. My fast food of choice is a Guac Burger or Taco Salad from By Chloe in New York City. I don’t eat these foods often but I do occasionally and I enjoy them immensely.
- Add potatoes to your diet in a big way. Contrary to all the negative carb information out there, potatoes (and there are dozens of varieties) are a great source of Vitamin C, potassium, magnesium and fiber. With no sodium, cholesterol, or fat, potatoes are filling and satisfying. Serve with other vegetables because potatoes will make you feel full longer. Don’t be afraid of potatoes. Embrace them!
- And, finally handle others gently. I’ve been pitied (they don’t understand that I get so much more than what I have given up) and called extreme (I think to myself that opening up someone’s chest and pushing back the ribs to get to the heart to do a bypass or place stents is more extreme than not eating animal products). But, I’ve also been stopped in the produce department and asked in the checkout line if I am a vegetarian or vegan and then told I look like one (I take that as a complement). To keep it simple, I almost always tell people an easy truth: a plant-based diet makes me feel great and I couldn’t imagine eating any other way because it allows me to be super active every single day.