Plant-based is the new black. Or green for that matter, as this eating style is linked with lowering your carbon footprint, as well as reducing your risk of obesity and chronic diseases. It seems everywhere you turn people are talking about cutting back on their animal intake and putting more plants on their plates. It’s a good idea, as eating a diet high in animal foods is not only environmentally intensive—it takes a lot of land, water, and food to feed farm animals—it has negative health impacts, such as raising your risk for cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. You see, when you eat lots of whole plants—fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, soyfoods, whole grains, nuts, seeds—your diet is packed with all of the “good” stuff, such as fiber, slow digesting carbs, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals—plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. So, it’s easy to see why this eating style, which makes sense for both you and the planet, is here to stay.
So, how do you get started on the path to a more plant-based diet? It’s easy; all you have to do is make simple swaps at each meal. By substituting a few key foods and ingredients on your plate, you can go from an animal-based diet to one that shines with wholesome plant foods. Check out these strategies to get you started. And welcome to a plant-based lifestyle!
With so many easy, delicious plant-based breakfast options, there’s no need to turn to eggs and bacon for this important meal of the day. Just remember the secret formula to a healthy plant-based breakfast: Whole Grains + Plant Protein (i.e., tofu, beans, nuts) + Fruit or Vegetable = Plant Power. Using this formula, you can create a multitude of wholesome options to swap out those decadent breakfasts of white breads, sugary cereals, and salty breakfast meats. Try the following:
- Whole grain pancakes with applesauce and walnuts
- Steel cut oats with almonds, berries, and soymilk
- Soy yogurt with muesli and peaches
- Whole grain pumpkin, pumpkin seed muffins with grapefruit and a soy latte
- Breakfast burrito with black beans, peppers, onions, plant-based cheese, and avocados on a corn tortilla
- English style breakfast with baked beans, tomatoes, and English muffins
- Scrambled tofu and veggies with whole grain toast
Fine-tune a few of your favorite breakfast options for your go-to, busy morning breakfasts (mine is steel cut oats with seasonal fruit, nuts, and soy milk), and take some extra time making something special for those relaxing weekend mornings, such as Zucchini Carrot Spice Muffins, Coconut Cherry Dark Chocolate Waffles, or Sriracha Sesame Breakfast Tofu Sandwich. You will be surprised at how beautiful and satisfying a fiber-rich, antioxidant-filled breakfast is first thing in the morning.
Snack-time is plant time, because some of the most wholesome, delicious snacks on the planet happen to originate in the plant world. Trade out refined, animal-based snacks, such as sugary dairy yogurts, fatty cheeses and dips, and meat sticks for fruit, nuts, grains, and veggies. Here are a few of my favorite snack options:
- Hummus with fresh assorted vegetables, such as snow peas, cucumber wedges, bell pepper strips, carrots, and broccoli florets
- Whole fruit in nature’s own packaging, the skin: oranges, apples, pears, bananas, peaches, plums, grapes, berries, cherries; to add a boost of protein to your snack bring along a handful of nuts (about 1 ounce) in a zipper bag
- Trail mix; make your own delicious blend, such as this Dark Chocolate Cherry Energy Mix, or tote along store-bought blends of nuts, dried fruit, and granola
- Nut or seed butter (peanut, almond, or sunflower) on whole grain flatbread
Enjoying a plant-powered mid-day meal can be a little more challenging if you frequent fast food restaurants, where healthful, plant-forward options are limited, and greasy burgers, deep-fried chicken nuggets, and sky-high deli sandwiches are standard fare. Although things are getting better, thanks to hotspots like Veggie Grill and a few forward-thinking restaurants, such as California Pizza Kitchen, which boasts more plant-based options (I love their Smashed Pea + Barley Soup). It’s always a great idea to check out menus for restaurants before you visit them.
However, I’m a big fan of packing along my own lunch for work-day meals. Here are a few of my favorite to-go lunches:
- Leftovers; just dish up a serving of last night’s dinner (see below for ideas) into an airtight container and heat it in the microwave at the office
- Hearty sandwiches with plant-based spreads, like hummus, tahini (sesame seed paste), plant-based cream cheese spread, olive paste, nut butters, or avocado butter; and layers of vegetables, such as greens, cucumbers, basil, avocados, tomatoes, bell peppers, sprouts, and mushrooms
- Power salad bowls, which feature greens topped with a whole grain (quinoa, sorghum, or farro), plant protein (cubed tofu, beans, or nuts), lots of veggies (carrots, peas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, snow peas, broccoli), and a healthy olive oil marinade.
This is your chance to put on an apron and get a little creative in the kitchen. Pull out a new plant-based recipe from a favorite blog or cookbook, and go to town! Swap standard dinner options of chicken, beef, or fish with plant protein stars, like lentils, beans, tofu, or tempeh. And remember, it’s the combination of plants on the plate that works magic—each meal should include one of those plant protein stars plus whole grains (think brown rice, quinoa, or couscous) and lots of vegetables. Don’t forget to gain inspiration from ethnic cuisine, which really do plant-based eating right; think Latin, Indian, and Asian foods. Here are a few of my favorite dinner meals:
- Dal (Indian lentil or bean curry) with brown basmati rice
- Stir-fried tofu and vegetables with brown jasmine rice
- Veggie tacos, with hummus, refried beans, or soy meat crumbles and lots of vegetables
- Veggie balls made with beans, grains, and vegetables served with a dip and a salad
- Pasta with beans, greens, olive oil and garlic
- Vegetable chili with cornbread and coleslaw
- Lentil soup with vegetable pizza
- Veggie pot pie
As you move to a plant-based diet, you’ll want to swap out egg and dairy-based desserts, such as ice cream, cakes, cookies, and puddings with plant-based alternatives. But before you panic, just wait a minute. There is a whole world of delicious plant-based dessert options out there that are just as good (if not better!) than animal-based treats. Here are a few classic treats to satisfy your sweet tooth.
- Dairy-free ice creams (made from cashews, almonds, soy, and coconut) are in just about every supermarket in America and will not disappoint
- Frozen sorbet (look for non-dairy) offers a lighter calorie load if you’re looking for a healthier dessert option; you can also make your own frozen ices quite easily by pureeing fruit in a food processor and freezing it until firm
- Cookies, cakes, cupcakes, and bars are easily made plant-based by swapping milk in the recipe for plant-based milk (i.e., soy, almond or coconut), using a dairy-free margarine (i.e., Earth Balance) instead of butter, and swapping eggs for egg replacements, such as aquafaba (whipped bean liquid), chia (1 tablespoon + 3 tablespoons water for one egg), or commercial egg replacers (i.e., Vegan Egg, EnerG Egg Replacer)
- Puddings can be made from plant-based milk, such as soy, almond, or coconut milk
- Creamy desserts, such as parfaits, cheesecakes, and mousses, can be made with plant-based yogurt, coconut cream, and plant-based cream cheese by simply swapping out the dairy ingredient with the plant-based counterpart
- Fruit desserts, such as pies, crumbles, and cobblers are often plant-based to begin with; just swap out any milk ingredients with plant-based milk and butter for plant-based margarine or vegetable oil
Main image: Farro and White Bean Veggie Burgers from Plant-Powered for Life by Sharon Palmer, RDN