Many people hear about the health benefits of eating plant-based, but feel hesitant to overhaul their diet or give up their favorite foods. There’s a misconception that plant-based eaters just “don’t like bacon” or have always been healthy eaters, but that’s often not the case.
“I was a steak eater. I was a chicken eater. I ate all those foods on the regular,” says Eric Adams, the Brooklyn Borough President in New York City. Adams had a good reason to rethink his meals: After being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes with serious complications, Adams committed to a plant-based diet and watched his symptoms fade away.
“People often state it’s impossible to make the transition of giving up the addictive behaviors of cheese, to give up meat, to give up all of the things that their taste buds have been used to consuming,” says Adams.
However, Adams knows firsthand that it’s possible to trade in unhealthy habits for a nourishing diet that helps him bounce from one meeting to the next. Given his tight schedule, Adams has a number of tips to help anyone stick to a plant-based diet.
1. Get creative about the way you prepare your food.
Plant-based eating doesn’t mean just eating salad and snacking on sunflower seeds. What many people don’t realize is that you can eat a lot of the same foods you did before, but prepared in creative ways without meat, dairy, or eggs. In fact, by using cheese as your garnish for most meals, you might be missing out on a bunch of flavorful alternatives. (Here are heart-healthy cheese swaps you’ve gotta try.)
“The foods that are out there are amazing,” says Adams. “When you taste some of the great foods, and you become creative with spices and different ways of preparing food, it is amazing how you can satisfy your taste buds and be nutritionally sound.”
For example, instead of tacos made with ground beef and those taco seasoning packets, try tacos with jerk-marinated tempeh (a traditional soy product from Indonesia that takes on whatever flavor you season it with). You can even make plant-based nachos with a dairy-free “cheese” sauce.
2. Experiment with swaps for meat and dairy.
There are lots of faux cheese and faux meat at the supermarket, and playing with those can be fun. However, what’s truly fun is when you can take a bunch of plants and spices and somehow transform them into something resembling your mom’s lasagna or your favorite restaurant’s queso.
“I make a great cheese out of different chickpeas and spices,” says Adams, “and it turns into a great American ‘cheese.’” For example, find out how to make a chickpea-based cheese from Blacks Going Vegan.
“You can make a great burger with lentils [and] mushrooms,” says Adams. “All of those tastes are there for you to enjoy.” Check out this quinoa burger with basil cream sauce, or find out how to make a classic black bean burger here.
3. Do some research and stock up on healthy recipes.
You’ve likely been cooking some of the same foods and using the same cooking skills for your entire adulthood, and it might take some learning and adjusting to cook a plant-based meal. You might have some “flubs” in the beginning, and that’s okay: It’s part of the learning process.
“Stock up on a large number of recipes so you can be prepared,” says Adams. The Internet hosts an astounding collection of recipes. If you’re not a very adventurous eater, start with cuisines that are already plant-based friendly: Mexican food and Italian food are both favorites in the United States, and both can easily be plant-based.
4. Prep your food in advance.
You’ll be tempted to give in to convenience from time to time. That urge will be easier to resist if you’ve already got a healthy meal waiting for you.
“Prepare your food at the beginning of the week so you don’t have to rush,” says Adams. “Chop up your salads and your kale so that you can just be prepared as you move forward.” Check out these tips for how to organize your fridge to eat healthier.
5. Store your food in a transportable thermal bag.
We repeat: Being plant-based doesn’t always have to mean eating salad. A plant-based diet isn’t a raw diet, and it’s not a boring diet. You can enjoy hot, cooked foods like pasta, casserole, stews, and comfort foods.
If you don’t have an easy way to heat up your lunch, get a bag or container that helps keep your food warm. This way, you know you have a comforting, hot meal, and you’ll be less tempted by the fast food restaurants near your workplace.
While you’re packing your lunch, don’t forget to include some healthy snacks to get you through the day. Here are 5 simple plant-based snacks for an afternoon energy boost.