Yesterday I wrote a post on Facebook about my accidental lifestyle change surrounding plant based food.
The thread blew up, and within minutes I realized… I think I need to write a post about food on my marketing blog (lol).
So here it is, my 30 day journey into plant based cooking. But first… a MAJOR disclaimer I need to get out of the way.
I am not a certified nutritionist. I am not a health coach. I do NOT diet. In fact, I could probably run for President on my anti-diet platform because I think there has been so much damage done to our society through fad diets. It’s really destroyed so many peoples’ confidence, created extreme eating patterns that wreck metabolism, and has contributed to a rising sense of “not good enough” because we all don’t fit a particular body shape or ideal.
If you were to come to my house, sit down for a cup of tea, and tell me you want to lose weight, I would instead tell you to read books about loving your body, breaking free from emotional eating, and giving up dieting… FOR GOOD.
My stance on dieting hasn’t changed one bit since falling down the plant based rabbit hole, because all of this had nothing to do with losing weight. It all started with a curiosity about fixing digestive issues because of an intolerance to dairy (you can read my Facebook post here).
What I’m about to share is what I did PERSONALLY. That’s it. So no crazy haters or naysayers okay?
Step One: Make Sure You Understand What Plant Based ACTUALLY Is
It is not Keto. It is not Paleo. It is not South Beach or Whole 30 or any of that. Those are all fad diets. And the majority of fad diets demonize carbs. Plant based eating EMBRACES carbs. I knew that if I was going to make through the most American of holidays – Thanksgiving – without meat or dairy, there’s no way on God’s green Earth I was not going to eat carbs.
So plant based is basically as it sounds… based on plants.
Plants are things like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, and yep… GRAINS. If you were to sit down and write out every veggie and fruit and nut and seed and grain out there, you’d probably realize that the variety of food you can actually eat is crazy. There are so many options it’s overwhelming. Eliminating meat and dairy means no butter, cheese, milk, yogurt, chicken, pork, steak, etc. etc. It’s like 10 things.
Now think about what Keto removes. It’s like 7,560 delicious foods that are incredibly healthy… like oranges, grapes, quinoa, etc. etc. Any eating regimen that excludes half of what was in the Garden of Eden gives me major side eye.
Step Two: Work WITH Human Nature, Not Against It
Most people start plant based eating to lose weight. I did not. Which is probably why I had so much success. I wasn’t trying to change the way I cooked AND restrict calories. I wasn’t basing my progress based on a number on a scale. I was basing my progress on how much fun I could have cooking with all this new stuff. How could I get my kids excited about the foods I was making? How satisfied did I feel at the end of the day? My advice is if you’re going to try it, don’t make it about weight.
Now if you start reading a bunch of Whole Food Plant Based blogs, you’ll see they eliminate flour, sugar, oils, etc. I haven’t done this. Not because I think it’s a bad idea, but because I’m interested in WORKING WITH my nature, rather than against it. I knew it’d be a big switch just to stop using butter and eggs and chicken, so I started with what I could do.
And that meant… making sure I had all kinds of yummy substitutions available to show myself, my family, my meat loving husband that our choices weren’t limited… and we could still enjoy all the social holiday type stuff we always had before.
So naturally…I started with dessert.
- I found a Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe that is RIDICULOUS. I actually used Whole Wheat White Flour vs. the standard bleached flour to give the cookies more fiber and density, and the kids STILL eat them faster than I can make them.
- I also picked up some organic fruit bar popsicle-thingys if I wasn’t in the mood to bake.
- We even tried this mocha pudding cake thing that was incredible (inside the Oh She Glows cookbook).
Step Three: Redraw Your Food Pyramid
I found this food pyramid that really helped – it’s on the plantproof blog here.
I noticed that all of my meals needed some sort of grain base to it in order to feel full. Think of it like this… if all you do is start eating salads, the bulk of the veggies will fill you up and you’ll get full. But you still might be in a caloric deficit, which leads to cravings, etc. So every meal I cooked had a grain + veggie base. This meant I had to figure out what kinds of grains to use, where, and why.
- Whole wheat pasta
- Quinoa (technically a seed I think but acts like a grain)
- Potatoes/Sweet Potatoes (technically not a grain but starchy enough to be a base)
- Lentils (technically a seed I think but acts like a grain)
- Brown Rice
- Whole Wheat Flour (for breads and such)
- Rolled Oats
Those are the ones I’ve tried so far. I know there are tons more but these are the staple grains we’ve used.
SO EVERY MEAL… I’m asking myself, “What grain and veggie do I mix now?”
Let’s take one of our FAVORITE meals here… Tacos.
Well you can buy organic corn taco shells, plus tomatoes, lettuce, beans, and then what do you do for the meat? If you watch my IG stories, I RAVE about my Quinoa taco meat. It’s so good. So I made quinoa taco meat. If you absolutely need a dairy-esque topping (like cheese or sour cream) you can get a dairy substitute like tofutti.
Another meal we eat all the time (as do most Americans lol)? Meat and potatoes. It’s about American as it gets.
And here’s where I think I stray from most folks who are sold on plant based… I still served my kids a meat if they want it. I’m not going to force my children to eat the way I do. My personal choice. So a classic meat and potatoes dinner shifted in this way….
I picked up a Rotisserie Chicken at the grocery store for kids that will die without meat. But instead of having a LOT of meat available for every person, I had just a small amount as a side.
I whipped up mashed potatoes using some almond milk and cashew butter, made a veggie (broccoli) and then offered a Veggie burger patty over greens to those who weren’t eating the chicken. Sunshine Organics makes a good veggie burger that has ingredients you can read on the back.
Another meal that we eat a lot? Pasta.
And even though pasta with tomato sauce is awesome, sometimes you just want a creamy pasta. Enter Avocado pasta. OMG. It was so good. Serve with a salad and some whole grain garlic bread. That recipe is in the Oh She Glows cookbook, although I found an alternate online one here.
Also? SOUPS for the win!
So many soups. Bean chili. African sweet potato/peanut stew. Minestrone. Soups are so easy and so delicious. Serve with bread crumbs or bread on top.
So my point here is, start thinking about what veggie and grain are going to form the base of your meal. Then work from there.
Step Four: Make Life Easier With Pantry Shopping
Here’s an argument for buying a cookbook. If you just use online recipes (which many are awesome), you end up having to buy 8,000,000 ingredients. But if you start with ONE cookbook and a few supplemental recipes, you’ll notice the author oftentimes uses the same things again and again. I started with the Oh She Glows cookbook and just committed to opening up that book and building my pantry from there.
I made a spreadsheet actually. You can have it if you want! It’s simply an inventory and there are three tabs… one for “We Need (the red x)”, one for “We Have (the green O)”, and one for “We Don’t Have but Don’t Need (the gray N)”. That one is for things that we might use but for whatever reason they aren’t in season or not what we’re into.
I keep it updated in real time and me and Alex and my house manager share access to it.
The idea is to fill your pantry with all the staples and just do your produce shopping every week.
- We purchased those sealed containers to hold nuts and seeds and grains. Helps tremendously!
- We outfitted our spice cabinet.
- We made more room for fresh produce.
- We looked for plant based snacks that, while not oil free, are at least a better choice than other processed things.
Once the kitchen was outfitted, cooking became so much easier. Tools we use a ton….
- Food processor
- Lemon Squeezer
- Instant Pot
- Cookie Sheets
- Shallow bowls (these make your meals look SO amazing and fun – power bowls I think they’re called)
Speaking of bowls, I went out and bought these.
And presentation is everything. So last night for example, I made a kale/quinoa salad. Put that on 1/3 of the bowl. Then I added a bunch of butternut squash, then a bunch of black beans, then topped it with Avocado cream and toasted pumpkin seeds. If I were a food blogger, it would’ve been IG worthy. But alas, I just ate it instead. So good (here’s the recipe).
Step Five: Create a Fun New Habit
For us? It was juicing. I know there are like crazy pro-juicers and then the people that are anti-juicing, and I’m just not going to fall down either rabbit hole right now. But I will say that making fresh juice every morning is something ALL of our kids got behind. Even William. Even when it’s green.
We’ve been experimenting with all different kinds of recipes, but this the produce we keep on hand:
(these are the sweet fruits that help sweeten a drink that might be bitter)
For green juice, keep on hand:
- Kale or Spinach
For red juice, keep on hand:
And then, don’t forget a splash of:
We’ve started serving these half juice/half seltzer and I’ll tell you what.. it puts soda to SHAME.
Get some fun glasses, pour over ice, and enjoy. Last night’s concoction was like some decadent beachside cocktail (minus the alcohol) and it was SO good.
I was NOT excited about another kitchen appliance, and I admit – I resisted Alex’s insistence on the juicer. Not anymore. I’m sold.
Step Six: Fall In Love With Beans
I admit, beans by themselves don’t thrill me. Although now that my palette has changed, I feel differently. BUT… beans can do some pretty cool stuff! Here are two things our kids said YES to…
Falafel (we bake ours rather than fry)
Shove it all in the food processor, form into patty’s, and then freeze them. Pull out when you need. We love them over salads or inside whole wheat tortillas with veggies and tahini dressing.
Chickpea Chicken Salad
It’s not really that, but if you like the flavor and texture of a chicken salad on a piece of sourdough bread, this recipe from the Oh She Glows cookbook was one of our first winners. It legit tastes like you’re eating chicken salad on a sandwich.
Beans are so versatile, so filling, so good for digestion, I’m working on incorporating them into both lunch and dinner every day (I haven’t figured out breakfast yet). And if you’re short on time, just get the cans of beans. Don’t be a hero and soak them unless you’re on a mad budget and need the bulk pricing.
Step Seven: Fast Breakfast For The Win
If you’re like me, morning time is frantic. Kids have to be out the door by 7:30am. So our go to speedy breakfasts include:
- Peanut Butter + Banana Toast
- Avocado Toast
- Baked Oatmeal (prepare the night before and keep in fridge for 3 days) – this by the way also can be a dessert
The Nutri-bullet is amazing. We taught the kids how to make smoothies… The idea is…
- Coconut Milk or Almond Milk
- Frozen Fruit (we keep a ton on hand)
- Some type of seed (flax or chia)
- Bonus points if you throw in some kale/spinach
- Bonus points if you throw in some spices
If you’re in a MAD rush, just make the smoothie and put it in a to-go container. And if it feels too much like you’re drinking breakfast, make the smoothie a bit thicker, put it in a bowl, and top with granola, unsweetened coconut, and little pieces of dark chocolate. It’s like a mock acai bowl.
Step Eight: Don’t Ignore Your Body
If it’s hungry, eat.
Then eat again.
Then just keep eating.
For anyone who’s been on yo-yo diets, your body will naturally start to stop the feast/famine cycle when you’ve adequately convinced it that ABUNDANCE is here. Now I keep roasted veggies, grains/rice, and beans in my fridge so I can whip up a power bowl in minutes.
We always have some dairy free dessert on hand.
We drink juice and smoothies and spritzers in wine glasses.
Step Nine: Understand the New Weird Stuff You Will Cook With
- Nutritional yeast for example. It’s in regular grocery stores, but it took me a bit to find it. It adds that cheesy flavor, plus it’s got all kinds of good stuff in it.
- Coconut oil (which isn’t weird really anymore but if you’re used to regular canola oil, it takes some getting used to).
- Tahini is like the consistency of peanut butter, and it’s made from sesame seeds. We use it all the time.
- Get a garlic masher because there’s a lotta garlic going on in our house now.
- A cheesecloth will help you drain the water when you’re soaking stuff like quinoa.
My point in all of this is that if you set yourself up right, it’s NOT harder to cook this way. It’s actually easier. Things can be served at room temp. Food spoiling and sanitizing spaces where raw meat was is gone. You can make all kinds of substitutions in recipes with whatever veggies or beans you have on hand. You actually eat MORE variety with less work.
Step Ten: Holidays, Travel, and More…
We’re going to Disney World tomorrow so I’ll report back on how it goes. Disney has over 400 plant based options on property so I’m sure we’ll be fine. And we’ve gone out several times in 30 days and here’s what we do…
Tell the server you have a dairy allergy. That way they’ll be sure to not cook with milk, butter, eggs, cheese, etc.
Then just order the vegetarian option on the menu.
- We went to hibachi and had the noodles, the rice (without the egg), the veggies, the soup, and salad. We were STUFFED.
- We went to Sushi and had veggie rolls, edamame, and miso soup.
- We did Thanksgiving and filled out plates with veggie based stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, more veggies, bread, and then had a lentil/kale salad as the whole grain.
- We had company over and did a Taco bar and offered ground meat and quinoa meat so people could choose.
At this point almost every restaurant and party has a vegetarian option, so choose that and explain you’re dairy free and you’re good to go!
So What’s Happened In 30 Days?
Here are the things that have changed in our house since starting this…
- My teenagers regularly make fun of me because I’ve gone “hippie vegan”. They sometimes participate, sometimes don’t.
- William is drinking fresh juice every morning and getting a massive hit of vitamins that we wasn’t otherwise getting in his very picky diet.
- Alex and I are cooking together.
- We waste less.
- Insomnia GONE.
- Digestive issues GONE.
- Energy levels WAY up.
- Mood levels UP.
- Palette changed
- Sugar cravings gone (YES we’re still eating sugar and yet the night snacking is gone- I can’t explain it).
- Weight lost (I’m not tracking but I can tell by my pant size). I know Alex has tracked and lost somewhere between 10-12 lbs in 30 days.
So there you have it. 3000 words letter and not one affiliate link, it’s my gift to you! Merry Christmas!
By the way, a couple of books I read that cemented my belief around this way of eating?
I want to end with this. My family still eats processed food. We have diet coke and cookies in our cupboards. This is not about extremes. I personally feel better than I EVER have and have no desire for meat or dairy. So I’m going to keep going. But I’m also not the kind of person who’s going to control everything about what my entire family eats, because I’m a big believer in just leading by example, by what you feel in your heart you should do, without any judgment or shame about what other people choose to do instead.
So yea… maybe they ate a veggie burger with a Diet Coke and some potato chips.
Maybe they eat beans. Maybe they don’t.
All I know is that I accidentally fell into plant based eating, and me, my palette, my body, and my stomach… are happier than they’ve ever been.