It’s a whole new year and you might be on a healthy eating kick right around this time. Who isn’t? The beginning of the year is a great time to take a look at your habits and figure out what you want to keep and what you want to make better. That’s why New Year’s Resolutions are so popular… but also why they fail by the time you’re turning over the calendar to February. Instead of waking up every morning and thinking that today is the day you’re FINALLY going to eat 100% healthy, why not go for a simple (and much more sustainable) 80/20 approach.
The 80/20 approach to healthy eating works really well for many (such as me, since I lost 100 pounds nine years ago and have kept it off) because it allows you to focus on eating well for most of the time but not stress about the “bad” stuff the rest of the time. And for me, eating well most of the time means having a plant-based diet during most days of the week. Here’s how it works for me: Monday-Friday, I eat almost all vegan food. On the weekend, I don’t stress about it too much (but I also don’t go TOO crazy). Although you might be doubting whether you can live without your meat or chicken most days of the week, I’m here to tell you that it is a LOT simpler than it sounds. Here are 12 tips for eating a more plant-based diet you’ll want to read in order to get started.
Try doing Meatless Monday
Meatless Monday got big on social media, and there’s a reason why it has stayed that way. It’s actually pretty easy to avoid meat just one day a week and you can even try a vegan Monday. All you really need to do is get ready for it over the weekend. It takes some psyching yourself up, sure, but also buying all of the right foods before you get there. For ideas on how to start, go for a veggie pasta dish… which makes it easy to avoid the meat while still having something yummy and familiar.
Order yourself a vegan meal kit delivery service.
One of my favorite times during the week is when I cook my vegan Green Chef meal three days a week. I’ve been doing this for almost a year, and it’s always both delicious and easy. Other than Green Chef, you can also try Purple Carrot or a vegetarian version of one of the other many meal kit/recipe box delivery services out there (as a start). Getting one of these is the simplest guarantee that you will eat a plant-based meal at least a few times a week.
Go for the “vegan before 6” thing… most of the time.
One way to go part-time vegan or vegetarian is to do it just for half of your day. For instance, the “vegan before 6” thing means that you are eating vegan food for breakfast and lunch, but going back to your normal meat-eating ways during dinner. You can also, instead, pick just a few days during the week when you will go all plant-based, all the time. For me, what works is eating vegetarian during the week and then letting loose on the weekends. You have to find what way works best for you.
Make recipes that’ll actually TASTE good.
Other than getting deliveries of vegan or vegetarian food you can make at home, another thing I would recommend for anyone who is looking to eat healthier and more plant-based this year is to rely on recipes that actually TASTE good. How? Well, for one, you can get your recipes from reputable food sites like Bon Appetit or The Kitchn. I also love following vegan food bloggers such as 101 Cookbooks and Oh She Glows for fantastic recipes that I know I’ll love.
It’s totally okay to use shortcuts sometimes, too.
Okay, so… I’m all about cooking but I know that this isn’t everyone’s jam. If you don’t want to muster up the energy (or simply can’t), it’s totally okay to sometimes buy frozen vegan or vegetarian meals and simply heat them up. My fave? The vegetarian lasagna from Trader Joe’s. There are also tons of vegan and vegetarian options from Amy’s Kitchen that you can find just in your regular grocery store’s frozen aisle that are good (healthy) options for when laziness wins out.
Invite friends over to try a new vegetable with you.
One of the best ways to get yourself to eat new vegetables is to make it into a fun game with your friends. How I started to eat vegetables in the first place, to be honest, was with this genius strategy. Here’s what you do: Prep a big pot of pasta and sauce, then ask a friend to come over with their favorite vegetable and ask them to make it the way they love. What this does is that it forces you to try something new that you might even love. Just don’t forget to have an open mind.
Load up on fruit for healthy snacks.
Want to make sure you stay plant-based this year? Load up on snacks! Although I often buy nuts and baby carrots with hummus in order to stave off hunger when that 4 o’clock slump hits, one of the best snacks to ease yourself into a plant-based lifestyle is to load up your house on fruits. I love having bananas, apples, strawberries, and white grapes around pretty much at all times. It’s a great way to make sure you’re eating healthy while also maybe having a little bit of sweetness.
Don’t be too intimidated to shop the farmer’s market.
If you didn’t grow up eating lots of different vegetables (and I definitely didn’t), then you might try running far, FAR away from the nearest farmer’s market but I am telling you right now: Don’t! The best thing to do is to head straight for it and… start making friends. The place to start is the booth that looks the friendliest. A great way to get used to buying vegetables is to talk to the farmers themselves. Ask them what’s good this week, what they recommend and, especially when you’re intimidated, how they would prepare this particular vegetable. Who knows? You might even get an idea or two.
Embrace your love of beans, beans, beans, and MORE beans.
Yes, we eat a LOT of beans in our culture and that lovely food you grew up with is a great way to step into a plant-based lifestyle while also having an easy answer whenever anyone asks you “but what about protein?!”. One of my favorite dishes to make is a slow cooker black bean soup or a slow cooker chili with plenty of Latin spices (my personal favorites are cumin, chili powder and smoked Spanish paprika). There’s tons of other recipes online, though, so get to searching and cooking!
Add in plenty of protein that isn’t just fake chicken nuggets.
The types of protein you might initially want to rely on when you start eating more plant-based is things that you might be sort of familiar with: Fake chicken, vegetarian hot dogs, etc. But don’t! Instead, embrace things like beans (above) and other sources of protein that naturally come from plants. What I mean here is that you should give tofu a try. Although lentils and tempeh make great protein sources too, tofu is a great meat alternative because it is so darn versatile. And a black bean burger? Yeah, that’s sure to be a delicious addition to any plant-based diet.
11. Definitely load up on frozen fruits and veggies.
One of the easiest things to overlook when you start eating more plant-based foods is frozen fruits and vegetables. You think: But the whole POINT of me is to eat more produce, so why would I buy the frozen kind? Here’s the thing, though, frozen fruits and vegetables are picked and flash frozen at the peak of their season, so they’re often in great shape and might even be tastier than if you were to buy strawberries out of season. Frozen fruits are great additions to any morning smoothie, whereas frozen vegetables go great in easy and quick stir-fry dinners.
Make it fun by going out to eat… at healthy eateries.
I’ve talked a lot about cooking throughout this post, because I personally love cooking and find it easier to consume healthy, plant-based meals if I make them myself. However, pretty much in every city you can find great restaurants that feature vegan options or that are completely vegan themselves. You can definitely make your foray into a more plant-based lifestyle a bit more fun if you occasionally indulge at these places. You might be astounded by how well a lentil meatloaf or chickpea meatballs taste and, in truth, this is a great way to get some cooking inspiration. Yum!