8 Steps to Transitioning to a Vegan Diet

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The first important step to starting a vegan diet is making the choice. This is actually the most important one because you are telling yourself that this isn’t a crash diet or a temporary fix or something you are just experimenting with. You are making the commitment to yourself that you will no longer eat animal products and are going to start eating a vegan, plant-based diet. 

However, you don’t want to rush into it or go from carnivore to vegan overnight. Many people who do this, find that they can’t stick to it, it is overwhelming, and they go right back to bacon and chicken the next day. 

You need to have a solid plan in place, and transition slowly. Take it one step at a time, until you feel comfortable eating your vegan diet. Here are 8 steps that we feel are important to go through as you transition to a vegan diet.

  1. Do Your Research and Educate Yourself

The first step of transitioning to a vegan diet is doing your research. This really should be the very first thing you do, and probably the most time-consuming part of the process. Educating yourself on what the vegan diet is, what foods you can eat, and even WHY it is a good idea is all-important. 

Read as Much as You Can

Now is the time to start reading as much as you can get your hands on about the vegan diet. This includes articles, websites, blogs, and lots of books. Find bloggers who are committed to a vegan lifestyle, look for friends on Facebook and Instagram who are vegans, and find books about being vegan, not just cookbooks.

You want to absorb as much information as you can when you are making this time of lifestyle change. The more you know beforehand, the easier it is going to be for you.

Learn About Hidden Ingredients

When you begin to read more about switching to a vegan diet, one thing you will notice is that ingredients are not always what they seem. You are going to become an expert at reading nutritional labels, and this includes looking for ingredients to identify dairy, eggs, and meat by-products. Ingredients like:

  • Casein
  • Whey
  • Honey
  • Gelatin

It isn’t difficult to see when there is a meat or fish ingredient on the label, such as anchovies in Caesar dressing, but dairy is rarely called milk on the label. It is often casein or whey. 

Understand the Benefits of a Vegan Diet

Another thing you want to learn and educate yourself is about the benefits of switching to a vegan diet. This includes health benefits, as well as how it benefits the environment. You will learn:

About Deforestation – One of the biggest benefits of switching to a vegan diet is improving the environment.  Ranches and farms that raise animals for meat and dairy production use a lot of the Earth’s resources to feed, house, and water them. This is leading to deforestation at a rapid pace. The more people who switch to vegan lifestyles, the better it is for the environment. 

Compassion for Living Things – Of course, another big benefit of becoming a vegan is the compassion you have for other animals and living things. Not just in not eating meat, fish, or poultry, but not adding to the animals that are working for what you consume, like bees that make honey, and chickens that make eggs. 

Health Benefits – There is a lot to learn about the health benefits of veganism, from losing weight and lowering your cholesterol, to reduce your risk for heart disease and even helping to manage diabetes.

Start Compiling Information for Vegan Meals

Part of educating yourself about veganism is starting to put together information about how to properly plan your vegan meals. It is not as simple as just eating fruits and veggies all day. This is a quick way to face malnourishment since you won’t get enough calories, protein, and nutrients in your body. 

You need to learn about the vitamins and minerals you need every day, which ones you might be lacking while on a vegan diet, and when supplementation is necessary. All of this is important in the first step of the transition process.

  1. Start Your Vegan Diet Planning

When you feel confident that you are fully educated on following a vegan diet, you can then move on to the next step, which is when you start working on your diet planning. You will make a list of foods to purchase, learn how to read labels and ingredients lists, and start working on grocery lists and meal planning.

Setting a Budget You Can Stick to

When you make a major diet shift like this, you need to be aware of how much you will be spending. It is possible to eat vegan on a budget, just like any other way of eating, but you do want to do some research beforehand. Put together some meal ideas, then look up the costs of those ingredients. Find ways to cut costs, such as:

  • Shopping in-season produce
  • Going to farmer’s markets or using a local CSA
  • Buying certain ingredients in bulk
  • Meal prep and planning so nothing is wasted

How Will Your Grocery Shopping Change?

You will also need to be prepared for how your grocery shopping process will change. This includes going to different types of stores, as well as shopping in different sections of your grocery store. Again, having a plan and detailed shopping list is going to help a lot with this.

Putting Together a Starter Meal Plan

As you begin your research on what you can and can’t eat on a vegan diet, you will start writing meals down and getting an idea of what you can eat on a daily and weekly basis. As ideas come, start writing down meal and snack ideas that are vegan. Include foods you enjoy now that are vegan (more on this in the next section), as well as how you will handle meals for the family.

Vegan-Friendly Foods for the Family

Speaking of meals for the family now is a great time to encourage your partner and kids to start eating more plant-based as well. They don’t have to go full vegan in the beginning but make some meals or side dishes that are vegan and discover which ones your kids really enjoy. There are tons of substitutions you can make so everyone is happy.

  1. What Vegan Foods Do You Already Love?

This may be combined with step two, or you might want another added step if you are transitioning extra slowly into the vegan diet. When you choose vegan foods you already love, you are really proving to yourself that the vegan diet can be easy because there are already so many vegan-friendly foods in your diet! 

Fruits and Veggies – Compile a list of all the fruits and vegetables you currently eat on a regular basis. These staple items, and might include carrots, broccoli, greens, apples, bananas, oranges, and anything else you tend to consume frequently. These will be your starting veggies and fruits for when you make the switch.

Whole Grains – Whole grains include different types of rice that you enjoy, as well as quinoa, bulgur, oats, and millet. Do you enjoy oatmeal for breakfast in the morning? Are you a fan of quinoa instead of rice? Write this down as well to add to your starter meal plan.

Nuts and SeedsNuts and seeds are a big food group on the vegan diet since they offer some nutrients you might be missing from meat and dairy, including protein, iron, and zinc. If there are any nuts or seeds you eat now, make note of them. Some examples:

  • Peanuts or peanut butter
  • Almonds or almond butter
  • Other nuts
  • Chia seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Flaxseeds
  • Pumpkin seeds

Beans and Legumes – Next up are your beans and legumes, which is pretty self-explanatory. Write down your favorites, like lima beans, black beans, pinto beans, peas, and any other you can think of.

Other Vegan Foods – There are many other ingredients used often in vegan meals, including herbs and spices, seasonings, plant-based oils, avocado, tofu, tempeh, and others. 

  1. Use the Crowding Out Approach 

The crowding out approach is when you start crowding out the foods you will eventually not eat, in this case, that includes meat, fish, dairy, eggs, cheese, honey, and other animal products and ingredients in your diet. What you do is eat more plant-based and vegan foods, before you start actually removing these animal products. 

Easy Ways to Add in More Plant-Based Foods

When you first begin crowding out foods, you don’t want to take anything away or really replace ingredients. You just want to start using more plant-based ingredients in your meals. Here are some examples:

  • Try new salads with oil-based dressings
  • Have a side salad every time you eat pasta
  • Make dishes that use more veggies
  • Try green smoothies in the morning for breakfast
  • Enjoy hummus with your crackers, instead of cheese

Crowding Out Dairy, Eggs, and Meat Slowly

Once you have gotten used to adding lots more veggies and other plant-based foods to your menu, begin to replace certain animal products with their plant-based alternative. This might include:

  • Use almond milk in your oatmeal instead of cow’s milk
  • Replacing regular yogurt in your smoothies with coconut yogurt
  • Making a “tuna” salad sandwich with chickpeas instead of tuna
  • Switching out your burgers for veggie burgers or black bean burgers

You can do this very slowly, with just one ingredient at a time, until it becomes so commonplace, the rest of the transition feels effortless and natural.

  1. Keep it Simple in the Beginning

For step 5 of the transition process, you want to start adding in more vegan meals and be on your way to removing animal foods from your diet but keep it simple and basic. Don’t go crazy by committing to a new, complex recipe every night. This is an easy way to get overwhelmed. Instead, start slow with very simple vegan recipes you can make at home with ingredients you already have. 

How to Keep it Simple

Start with Familiar Recipes. You probably have at least a few recipes right now that are vegan or can be converted to a vegan recipe with just a few substitutions. This is a good place to start. This might be removing chicken from your salad and adding chickpeas or tofu instead, having a Beyond Burger instead of a beef burger, or grabbing a vegan mac and cheese meal and adding broccoli to it. 

Use Ingredients You Know You Like. By now, you should already have a list of vegan ingredients that you already eat on a regular basis. Use this to start compiling a list of meals that will use these to start with. Don’t try to create meals with a bunch of veggies and legumes you have never had before and don’t even know you will enjoy. This will just make it more difficult.

Don’t Attempt Everything at Once. The reason we talk about transitioning to a vegan diet slowly is that when you attempt to do it overnight, you tend to become overwhelmed, treat it like a crash diet, and don’t turn it into a lifestyle. The same goes for when putting together simple meals. Start slow with just a few changes in your ingredients, but don’t attempt to make 20 changes all at once.

Have a Few Staples. Lastly, just try to keep your vegan meals and stacks to the staples. Those foods you know you can always turn to for a healthy, vegan, balanced meal and you will do great.

  1. Focus More on Whole Foods

As you continue working on the transition into a vegan lifestyle, it is a good idea to focus more on eating whole, plant-based foods. This means reducing your frozen vegan meals, cans of vegetable soup and chili, and processed food items.

Tips for Reducing Processed and Packaged Foods

If you have been on a traditional American diet, a good amount of your food likely came from a box or a package. There is nothing inherently wrong with that unless you relied on it for the majority of your meals and snacks.

When you start your vegan diet, it is a good chance for you to make a positive change for your health by reducing processed foods and trying to eat more whole, plant-based ones. Here are some tips for eating more whole foods and less processed foods:

Cook more at home – There is no way around it; if you are going to eat more whole foods on your vegan diet, you need to start cooking more at home. We are not saying you will cook 5-course meals every night, but at least attempt to make more meals at home, and rely less on frozen or packaged meals.

Use fresh or frozen produce – This is a really simple change. Instead of using fruit or vegetables that come in cans with salt or sugar added, switch to frozen produce or fresh produce. 

Make your own beans and rice – Both beans and rice come in many forms; you can get them in the can already soak and rinsed, in a package, you throw in the microwave and freezer versions. However, these are not difficult to make in whole food form. Get them in bulk to save money, and do the rinsing and soaking yourself before cooking them. Just a couple of little steps make a big difference.

Think of simple snacks – Instead of always relying on cookies, crackers, and chips for your snacks, even if they’re vegan-friendly, think of whole food snacks you can put together quickly. This includes a green smoothie, veggies, and hummus dip, banana or apple with nut butter, a handful of trail mix, a handful of nuts, and so many more easy options.

  1. Find New Recipes to Try

When you feel comfortable, it is time for step 7, which is when you start introducing some new recipes. Here are some tips for finding new vegan recipes to try out:

Vegan Cookbooks

You can start by picking up some new cookbooks, specifically for vegan recipes. There are some good plant-based cookbooks, but keep in mind some recipes might not be 100% vegan. However, a plant-based book we really like is “The Plant-Based Diet for Beginners” by Gabriel Miller.

Some other great vegan cookbooks include:

The Super Easy Vegan Slow Cooker Cookbook by Toni Okamoto, Thug Kitchen, and Forks Over Knives by Del Sroufe. 

Pinterest

Pinterest is a wealth of knowledge and ideas when it comes to anything in your life, including vegan recipes. You will find bloggers who have posted their vegan recipes, find tons of ideas, and even other boards on Pinterest dedicated to vegan recipes. Check regularly for new ideas. 

Instagram

It can also help to look for ideas based on individuals who are living the vegan lifestyle. Social media sites like Facebook and Instagram are valuable resources. Not only will you find a lot of vegan meal ideas posted, but you can join the vegan community as well.

Vegan Restaurants

Lastly, don’t forget about getting inspiration from other vegan food establishments. Depending on where you live, you might find restaurants, bakeries, and cafes dedicated to vegan options. They aren’t going to hand over their recipes, but this is a great way to get more ideas for putting your own meals together.

  1. Make a Plan for Going Out and Social Occasions

And finally, we recommend making a plan for when you go out, get fast food or eat at restaurants, and attend social events with friends and family.

Look Up the Menus Online

If you are meeting a friend for lunch or celebrating an anniversary for dinner and already know where you are going, you can look up the restaurant online. Most of them will have their menus online, or at least on their Yelp page. This allows you to see beforehand what vegan options they have, and if it isn’t clear, call the restaurant and ask. 

It keeps you from getting overwhelmed while at the restaurant and just ordering a garden salad and water. You want to enjoy your time with your friends, which is much easier to do with a plan.

Be the One to Choose the Restaurant

Whenever you get the chance to choose the restaurant, choose something vegan or at least vegan options! Many restaurants now offer vegetarian or vegan sections of their menu and are slowly adding meat and dairy-free alternatives. 

Find Activities That Don’t Involve Food

If you are still concerned about spending time with loved ones and having to stress about the food, try to focus more on activities where food isn’t the main event. This might be going to the movies instead of a restaurant, enjoying happy hour drinks and pretzels without having to order other appetizers, and having a fun hike with your friends on the weekend instead of going to brunch. 

Starting your vegan lifestyle is completely doable, today more than ever before. So many people are switching to more plant-based diets, that the popular thing to do is go vegan. This means a lot more options for you, and a much smoother transition.

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