Beginner Tips for Eating a Plant-Based Diet
I know eating a plant-based diet might seem a little intimidating when you’re just starting out, but honestly once you get going, it’s actually very easy! Today I’m sharing some of my favourite tips for eating a plant-based diet to get you pointed in the right direction. With a big movement towards eating less meat and more plants, I’m here to ensure you that not only can it be done in a healthy and sustainable way but it can be delicious and a lot of fun!
You Can Do This
There are a lot of misconceptions about eating a plant-based diet. I hope these tips can help clear up some of those misconceptions for plant-based beginners. As people grow more and more aware of their food and lifestyle choices and veganism as a way of life is becoming more and more mainstream, major companies are taking note and the number and quality of vegan products are the market are increasing all the time. If you’re interested in eating plant-based for your health, the animals and the planet, now is the time to go for it!
If you feel ready to make the transition or have already started, check out my post on How to Transition to a Plant-Based Diet.
Tips for Eating a Plant-Based Diet
1. One step at a time.
If you’re a plant-based beginner, overhauling your diet probably isn’t going to happen overnight. It will take some time to get used to and there’s nothing wrong with a gradual transition.
Where to start
Try starting with 1-2 meatless days per week, then increasing that as you get more comfortable with plant-based eating. Next, start replacing the dairy in your diet. This is easier than you might think. Take things one step at a time. Start by replacing the cream in your coffee with your favourite non-dairy milk then reduce or eliminate cheese by learning about vegan alternatives. Once you’ve got a grasp on living dairy-free, it’s time to tackle eggs. Eggs are easy to replace in your diet, just don’t eat them.
This being said, please note tip #2. If you find yourself falling back on animal products over and over again, at least try to reduce the amount of meat, dairy and eggs you consume. I would rather see you find something sustainable than give up completely. I’ve been eating this way a long time and it comes completely naturally to me now. The best thing to do is just get started one meal at a time. Eventually it will become second nature.
2. Ditch rules and labels.
People will disagree with me on this one, but I think eating a mostly plant-based is better than not even trying. When you’re just starting out, it’s going to take some time to adjust to not eating and cooking with animal products.
It gets easier, just stick to it, keep learning and eventually it will be hard to imaging eating and cooking with meat and dairy products. If you slip up, don’t stress about it. I believe it’s what you do consistently over the long-term that makes all the difference, so if you eat a bit of cheese or a product that contains milk, don’t beat yourself up, life is too short. Just move on and get back to normal.
The best you can with what you have
I don’t eat a 100% strict vegan diet nor do I label myself vegan but I do eat as close to 100% plant-based as reasonably possible. There are different views on this mentality, but realistically I want to be able to maintain this diet for the rest of my life, so I just do the best I can. I don’t want what I eat to be a source of stress or restriction. I don’t use this as an excuse and I never eat meat or fish but sometimes dairy and eggs are hard to avoid completely, especially when traveling. Do the best you can with what you have, at any given time.
Vote with your Dollars
Another good starting point is just being conscious of where you spend your dollars. Support local food providers where possible and don’t buy mass-produced, factory farmed animal products. We eat at least three times a day and every meal is a chance to either stand up for believe in or continue supporting what you don’t, to nourish your body with whole, healthy food or do the opposite. Choose wisely.
Check out my post on Healthy Eating on a Budget for more tips on how to make plant-based eating doable without costing a fortune. I’d also recommend reviewing my vegan grocery list.
3. Remember your why.
Why did you decide to live without animal products in your diet? Did you see a factory farming video that affected you? Did you read a book that changed how you think about our food system and the way we treat animals? Is it strictly for your health? Always come back to that why if you find yourself struggling to maintain a healthy, plant-based diet.
Best Books on Animal Agriculture
- Eating Animals
- Animal Liberation
- Fast Food Nation
- Books by Michael Pollan
- Food, Inc
Must-Read Plant-Based Nutrition Books
- Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition
- The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted
- How Not to Die
- Proteinaholic: How Our Obsession with Meat is Killing Us and What to Do About It
4. Stop worrying about protein.
This does come with a caveat: you have to eat a balanced, whole food plant-based diet made up of whole foods in order to get enough protein. That means being conscious of getting high-protein foods into your diet. Higher protein grains and vegetables, beans, lentils, tofu, hemp, edamame, tempeh, nuts and seeds are a good place to start. I
If you’re highly active, I would recommend considering a quality, whole food based protein powder on top of what you’re already eating but there’s really no need to worry about protein. If you eat a wide range of healthy, whole plant foods, you’ll get enough.
For more information, read my guide to vegan protein sources.
High-Protein Vegan Recipes
- Spicy Chickpea Veggie Burgers
- Wild Rice Edamame Salad
- Cashew Fried Rice with Tofu
- High-Protein Edamame Mango Salad
5. At restaurants, just ask!
Most restaurants will be more than accommodating or even note vegan options on their menus. Month by month, year by year, as veganism becomes more and more mainstream, expect even more restaurants to hop on board. If you’re worried, you can always check menus, call ahead and plan accordingly.
If you end up in a situation where you don’t see anything on the menu that works for you, ask your server if they can make you something. More often than not, they will happily create a vegan meal! Think stir-fry, rice, veggies, pasta, a big salad, baked potato or a veggie burger. And there’s always french fries! 😉
6. Go ethnic.
When eating out and even cooking at home, I tend to lean towards Indian, Thai, Japanese, Lebanese and other ethnic cuisines because they’re veggie-friendly, full of flavour and most dishes are quite healthy!
7. Meal plan and cook at home.
For me, this is the most important step to eating a well-balanced, vegan diet. I plan all my meals for the week and then purchase everything I need to make them so I can cook at home. If you plan well, eating a sustainable and healthy, completely plant-based diet, is very doable and your best bet for maintaining it for the long run.
Meal Planning Tips and Ideas:
- Meal Planning Tips for a Healthy Vegan Diet
- Vegan Food Prep Tips for Healthy Meals All Week
- Vegan Grocery List
- 3-Day Whole Food Plant-Based Meal Plan
- Anti-Inflammatory Breakfast Recipes
- Easy Vegan Dinner Recipes
- 25 Healthy Vegan Soup Recipes
- Easy Healthy Vegan Breakfast Recipes
- Easy Vegan Snack Ideas
8. Replace dairy milk.
Dairy milk is the easiest dairy product to replace in your diet and the options for replacing dairy-milk are numerous. With products like cashew milk, rice milk, almond milk, soy milk and coconut coffee creamer readily available in stores, there are plenty of options.
Making your own nut and seed milks at home is also really simple. There are a ton of amazing vegan cheeses available in stores now. What else? Sour cream? Try homemade tofu or cashew-based “sour cream.”
More on replacing dairy
8. Stock your vegan pantry.
This will be very important in your success with plant-based living. If you stock your pantry with all the ingredients needed for healthy cooking, you’ll always be ready to make delicious, nourishing meals. For more information, read my post on How to Stock a Vegan Pantry.
9. Vegan food is just food.
Vegan food isn’t some weird, hippy food made from strange ingredients you’ve never heard of. It’s just food. Let go of the label “vegan” and just think about all the nourishing, healthy, plant foods you’ll be eating. I also find it helps to think in terms of nutrient-density. Educating yourself on the health benefits of plant foods can help you stick to a healthy diet. Plus, plenty of your favourite foods may already be vegan! Case in point: Oreos.
10. Use online resources.
Follow me on Pinterest for plant-based inspiration. Try vegan meal plans from Happy Herbivore. There are so many free resources online for vegan living, plant-based eating and education on animal agriculture. Take advantage of them!
11. Learn vegan hacks.
When you’ve been eating a plant-based diet for a long time, you start to pick up some fun hacks for vegan cooking. I’ll be posting about my favourite vegan food hacks soon but for now, investigate: banana ice cream, homemade raw chocolate sauce, spicy vegan mayo, aquafaba, vegan baking tricks, nutritional yeast, chickpea flour omelettes, tofu scrambles, avocado chocolate pudding, chia seeds, coconut bacon…there are some many more and they’re a lot of fun to play around with.
Get in the kitchen and don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things.
12. Soy is up to you.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding soy so I always tell people you don’t have to include in your diet if you don’t want to. Personally, I include 1-2 servings of whole soy products in my diet most days. Tempeh, tofu and edamame are all staples for me as a protein source.
I think limiting highly-processed soy products is important though. That would be items like meat substitutes, which are a great option at times, are just like any other over-processed food and shouldn’t be the base of a healthy diet (see point 10).
13. Whole food emphasis.
I find meat-substitutes like store-bought veggie dogs and burgers to be a great option for BBQs and camping, but they’re not something I eat on a daily basis. That being said, today we are very fortunate to have vegan products exploding on the market. It’s an exciting time. You can now find non-dairy ice cream, cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise and yogurt in most grocery stores and the quality of these products is constantly improving.
Despite the wide range of healthy and not-so-healthy vegan products on the market, start with the basics: loads of vegetables, some fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Healthy Eating Tips
- Where to Start: 17 Simple Healthy Eating Tips
- Small Steps for Better Nutrition
- How to Build a Healthy Gut
- Anti-Inflammatory Living
15. Nutritional what?!
Nutritional yeast. Get some and learn to love it, it’s an amazing topping for pasta, great for making cheese sauce, healthy salad dressings and vegan parmesan and in addition to it’s great taste, it’s fortified with B12, an important nutrient to be aware of.
What is Nutritional Yeast and How to Use It
16. Make veggies the star.
When you start transitioning towards a plant-based diet you might get stuck with what to eat. Think about making side dishes your mains, then adding a protein source like chickpeas, lentils, tofu or edamame. Always make veggies the star of your plate.
Healthy Meal Ideas
17. Keep an open mind.
Keeping an open mind when it comes to vegan food is key to discovering delicious dishes you may never have even considered. Be open to trying new flavours and recipes, learn the ins and outs of vegan baking, try new ingredients and restaurants and have some fun in the kitchen! Food can be a lot of fun and there is nothing more rewarding that sitting down to a wholesome meal you prepared yourself.
18. Respect others.
Everyone has a right to their own opinion and nutrition is no exception to that.
While I’m always happy to share my experience and knowledge of plant-based eating, some people just aren’t interested, have no desire to change or may not agree with how I eat. That is fine.
Do your thing and always remember other people’s opinion of you is none of your business. Nutrition is a polarizing topic to begin with and while I love chatting nutrition when I get the chance, not everyone is interested. I prefer not to argue the merits of plant-based eating with people who want to tear it down and rarely bring it up however with the right people, there is always some wonderful, respectful conversation to be had on the topic.
I find it can help to be educated on topics such as nutrition, ethics and modern animal agriculture, so if someone does want to discuss it, at least I have some idea of what I’m talking about!
19. Consider supplementation.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with supplementing a healthy diet with a few extras. I use vegan protein powder and some other sports supplements as well as take calcium, omega-3 and B12, the most important of those being B12. Start with getting a wide variety of whole foods into your diet, then use supplements to cover your bases, if needed.
After tracking what I was eating for a while, I was coming up a bit short on calcium day after day, which is why I chose to add a calcium supplement to my diet. I’m able to cover the rest of my nutritional needs through whole foods.
Some other considerations for vegans are zinc, vitamin D, magnesium and iron, a lot of which can be found in the foods you eat but it’s a good idea to track what you’re eating for a few weeks to see if there are any holes. This is particularly important for vegan athletes and highly active individuals, so do some research and see where you might need some help.
Tips for Athletes
- 17 Simple Nutrition Tips for Vegan Athletes
- CrossFit Post-Workout Nutrition and Meal Ideas
- Vegan Nutrition Guide
20. Stock up on vegan cookbooks.
Here some of the best healthy vegan cookbooks out there, and my personal favourites: Oh She Glows, Chloe’s Kitchen, Isa Does It, Veganomicon, But I Could Never Go Vegan and Healthy Happy Vegan Kitchen. All of these are must-haves for everyone from the seasoned plant-based eater to those who are just beginning their vegan journey.
Even if you’re just trying to reduce the number of animal products you consume, these books will have you happily eating meatless meals more often than you think! These cookbooks will help show you just how delicious and easy vegan cooking can be.
21. What about coffee?
Gross. I’m sorry, but double cream and sugar in a coffee is just wrong! Haha. Sorry, all you Timmie’s lovers! Try coconut milk, almond milk or another nut milk like cashew, or soy milk. I don’t use sweetener in my coffee, but if you prefer your coffee a little sweet, try using a little maple syrup or pure organic stevia.
Or you could try one of my favourite ways to drink coffee: with coconut oil and vanilla vegan protein blended in. It sounds a little weird but it’s so good! Even just the coconut oil is awesome and I start most days with 1 tsp of coconut oil or MCT oil blended into my mushroom coffee.
I’m absolutely in love with Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee and it’s my favourite way to start the day, every day. It has just 50 mg of caffeine per serving so it’s great if you’re sensitive to caffeine plus it’s loaded with health benefits from amazing mushrooms like chaga, cordyceps and lion’s mane. You can get 10% off your order with the code RUNNINGONREALFOOD if you want to try it. Click here to purchase. I can’t recommend it enough, I love it!
22. And eggs?
Easy, peasy! Although you won’t find many vegan options on a typical breakfast menu, going egg-free at home is really easy. Eggs are easy to substitute in baking and there are plenty of great alternatives for breakfast dishes. Try scrambled chickpeas or tofu with veggies! It’s all about the spices!
Vegan Breakfast Ideas
- How to Make Healthy Tofu Scrambles
- 4-Ingredient Mega Fluffy Vegan Protein Pancakes
- Peanut Butter Jelly Chia Seed Pudding
- Brownie Batter Overnight Oats
- Grain-Free Breakfast Bowls
- Vegan Sweet Potato Breakfast Burritos
- Sweet Potato Breakfast Bowls
23. But, chocolate.
You don’t have to stop eating chocolate. Thank god. Good quality chocolate doesn’t typically contain milk products, just check the ingredients, and you can even make your own raw chocolate at home! Vegan Peanut Butter Chocolate Cups, anyone?
24. It’s too expensive.
Guys, it’s not. It’s very inexpensive! I couldn’t imagine having to buy meat and dairy! Especially if you choose sustainably, “ethically-raised” organic meat. I couldn’t afford it and for myself, it’s not worth it. If you’re on a tight budget, planning your meals and shopping accordingly is the way to go.
Doing your weekly food prep and freezing portions is also a great way to save money. And when it comes down to it, how important is your health to you? Take an honest look at your spending habits and see where you can make adjustments to prioritize healthy foods. Read my post on Healthy Eating on a Budget for more ideas.
25. Be mindful.
My last tip is a very important one and something that I think has gotten lost in society today. Be mindful and conscious of your food. Pay attention to what you’re eating and putting in your body. When possible, sit down to eat, away from screens and distractions. Slow down. Learn to listen to your body and recognize the difference between hunger and boredom, between being thirsty and craving unhealthy foods.
If your struggle with a healthy relationship with food, try journaling to help let go of food labels and any guilt associated with eating. Make meals about spending time with friends and family, even better, prepare food with your friends and family then enjoy it together. Whether you choose to eat animal products or not, I hope, our society as a whole can come back to food as a form of love, joy, health and nourishment.
I recommend reading Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life if you’re interested in mindfulness and how it relates to how we eat. Always come back to that why or your big reason for starting this journey in the first place.
Anything to add?
Well, there are some of my tips for eating a plant-based diet, now what would you add to this list?
If you’re interested in plant-based eating, simply start one meal at a time, have fun with it, try new foods and recipes, spend time on Pinterest, stock up on spices and herbs and just enjoy cooking wholesome, vegan meals at home!
Ready to make the transition? How to Transition to a Plant-Based Diet
Thanks for sharing these great tips! this will help a lot.
I am getting excited making some of these recipes from YouTube. I think I am going to give this a real try.
Intimidating or intimating? first paragraph.
I really love your article! As a long time vegan I agree with you that eating mostly plant-based diet is better than not even trying. I find veganism to be a learning curve, it’s completely normal to miss eating animal-based products. It takes time to adjust, and it’s okay if you can’t make the transition all at once. I wrote an article about going vegan (https://vegancookbook.com/going-vegan/) with advice that helped me live a cruelty-free lifestyle that is fair to me and others around me. I think it’s important to remember why are you doing it and not pressure yourself, and just enjoy.
Amazing post. So many of these are great points. Like you said, food and nutrition are such polarizing topics. We’ve recently adopted a full on vegan lifestyle and are just starting to expand out more as we transition , and I am DREADING explaining it to a few relatives who are going to bombard me with concerns that my toddler isn’t getting enough “fill in missing nutrient.” And I fully agree with your philosophy o do the best you can, that mostly is better than not at all, and to not beat yourself up over a lack of perfection. We’re so addicted to perfection!
Thanks again for this wonderful post filled with important reminders to help us keep this lifestyle going.
Thanks for your thoughts, Kira! I agree, in fact, perfection doesn’t exist but consistency sure does. And just imagine if we all reduced our consumption of animal products to even half of what it is. I’m so glad you found this post helpful, good luck on your journey…and who knows, maybe your relatives will be interested and you’ll be able to share some of what you’ve learned so far. Happy plant eatin’!!
This was a great article, thank you so much. My husband and I are just starting with this diet and I am very hopeful for improved health and weight loss as well. I love that your emphasis is on trying your best and being non-judgmental. Thank you.,
I’m so glad you found it helpful, Cynthia. I never want anyone to feel judged when it comes to their diet, we’re all just doing our best! Best of luck in your journey! Thanks for your comment.
Nice tips. Now, I My husband can lose his weight easily to following your guideline.
Thanks for sharing.
I find the “remembering your why” as incredibly important. For a while, I just ate a whole-food, plant-based diet because it’s what I have done for years. But recently I found my passion again for this type of lifestyle and has me reinvigorated. Maybe you should write down your “why” and hang in on the fridge, tap it on your bedroom mirror, etc.
Great idea! Keeping it front of mind is key. Whatever your reasons might be, reminding yourself of them as often as possible can help keep you motivated and invigorated to continue this lifestyle. Thanks for your comment!