Eat Your Veggies: A Short Guide to Starting a Plant-Based Diet
Last March, a decades long dream came true. Husband finally got sick of eating meat. Literally.
You know how when you get sick from eating something and every time you think of that food you feel sick again? Husband may or may not have gotten food poisoning from eating meat but every time he thought about it, it made him want to vomit.
Which led to my decades long dream coming true: Eating a plant-based diet.
When you’ve been married almost 25 years, you get used to not always getting your way with your partner. Some things take a bit of convincing.
For example, I convinced him to have kids and he convinced me to get a 4-door Jeep, both great investments it turns out.
Something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time was to go vegetarian or at least eat less meat. I’m the chef de la casa so I have a lot of control over what we consume and many times over the years I’ve tried to convince Husband that plant-based proteins are just as good as meat proteins.
Husband is an old school gym rat. He’s an expert on gym etiquette, like cutting in, wiping down equipment after using it and he never intentionally stands in the sight line of someone’s mirror. He was raised in the tradition that you have to consume a gram of protein for each pound of body weight. Feeding him was like feeding a teenage boy with a growth spurt. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told him what’s for dinner and he’s asked, “How much protein is in it?”
So, for him to suddenly be open to a plant-based diet was like your kid offering to scoop the kitty litter. Hmmm. What’s the catch?
It started slowly. First we cut out beef, pork and chicken. Initially, our goals were slightly different. I wanted to eat less processed food and not have to handle raw chicken. Husband wanted to eat without wanting to puke. We both wanted to be healthier and look good on the beach.
Here are some things that helped:
Vegan is not a dirty word. Even though I have friends who are vegan, I had a lot of misconceptions about what it meant. I thought that vegans relied on strange food-like substances to survive. Ever heard of nutritional yeast? Tempeh? Jackfruit? Liquid aminos? There are a lot of strange sounding plant based foods that are unquestionably good for you and do a great job of replacing meat-based ingredients. If you’ve ever used flax or chia to replace an egg you know what I’m talking about. While vegan and plant-based are not interchangeable, I find that vegan recipes are a great starting point because it encourages me to use whole, minimally processed ingredients. And, if I want to sprinkle a little cheese on top, that’s ok too.
Don’t expect to go completely plant-based overnight. Don’t want to be gassed out under the covers? Let your body get used to the different foods you’re consuming. The more fiber you eat, the more water you need. Beans are indeed magical but for God’s sake don’t eat them for every meal. And just because you’re not eating meat doesn’t mean that you should consume an entire bag of roasted cashews (learned that one the hard way). Take your time and focus on making healthier choices. Husband still enjoys fish from time to time and I still eat some dairy and eggs. Plant-based eating is not one-size-fits-all. Experiment and find what works for you.
Plan ahead when eating out. In the beginning I’d forget to ask the cook to leave off the bacon and then because I’m a good Italian girl and can’t waste perfectly good bacon, I’d still eat it. But, over time, I learned to read the menu more carefully and plan ahead, like looking up the menu online before going to a new restaurant. It’s also been fun to explore places that we never would’ve thought to go to. If you’re ever in Tucson you need to check out Tumerico, a vegan and vegetarian Mexican food restaurant that was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. You will become a jackfruit convert.
Don’t only focus on trying to replicate meat. If you’re used to eating a protein, starch and vegetable for dinner don’t try to replace the meat with a hunk of tofu. If you focus on trying to replicate the way you’re eating now, just with more vegetables, you’ll miss out on a whole new world of foods. It’s not all salads and veggie burgers. I’ve listed some resources below that can help.
Find a well-stocked grocery store. Even my local Safeway has a decent selection of organic vegetables and plant-based proteins. But, I find that Sprouts and Trader Joe’s are my best bet for specialty items like nutritional yeast. In my experience, a plant-based diet costs about the same or sometimes less than a meat-based diet. I also find that there’s less waste. I freeze my trimmings and veggies that are about to go bad and make vegetable stock.
Great cookbooks and resources:
The Minimalist Kitchen. This is the cookbook that started it all for me. Even before Husband got food poisoning, I yearned for a simpler approach to cooking and eating. This is not a strictly plant-based cookbook but it’s a great resource for streamlining your approach to cooking and getting more plants into your diet.
Thug Kitchen: Eat Like You Give a F*ck. If you’re not squeamish about profanity, this is the cookbook for you. The recipes are all vegan and in the beginning I’d modify them by adding meat or cheese. Now, I cook them as is. My favorite recipe is the Mixed Mushroom and Spinach Lasagna with homemade tofu ricotta. If tofu ricotta sounds crazy to you, give it a try. You’ll be amazed!
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. The title says it all. I recommend the book version over the Kindle version because it’s a really big book with a lot of information.
¡Salud! Vegan Mexican Cookbook. We live 60 miles from the Mexican border and the thought of not eating cheesy enchiladas and carne asada tacos seemed unfathomable. This cookbook opened my eyes to the heart of delicious Mexican cooking which is fresh ingredients and hearty flavors, cooked simply.
If you’re worried about getting enough protein, watch The Game Changers on Netflix. It’s a documentary about the benefits of eating a plant-based diet from the point of view of athletes.
Did I mention that I also lost 5 pounds since going plant-based? I’d love to hear about your favorite cookbooks and resources!