You're ready to go vegan! Maybe you're doing it for health reasons. Or you want to help improve the lives of animals. Or maybe it's for environmental reasons. Whatever the reason, it's an excellent choice!! But figuring out how to go vegan can feel like the ultimate dilemma of removing a band-aid. Is it best to rip it off quickly or pull it slowly? For some, going cold turkey and giving up all meat, dairy, seafood, eggs and other animal products all at once is the best approach. I've tried it that way myself but it didn't work out great for me. It was just too many changes at the same time and I couldn't figure out what to eat. So what's the best way to go vegan?
I prefer the slower approach. Now, you probably don't need to take it as slowly as I did, going vegetarian for 2 years before switching over to vegan. But taking it in baby steps gives you time to adjust to each change. It's up to you to decide how long to stay at each step but I would recommend 2-3 weeks. If you're feeling comfortable with the change, move on to the next step. If you are struggling a bit, stay on that step a little longer. Remember, I recommend this approach but there isn't a Right Way and a Wrong way to go vegan. You need to do what works best for you. The good news is that vegan food is delicious, you're taking steps in the right direction, and after a while, your vegan journey will become much easier.
Eliminate all meat from your diet. You might be thinking, How is this a baby step?! Depending on what you're currently eating, this might be a huge step. Or maybe you've already given up red meat or only eat chicken a few times per week. During this step you will need to start thinking about building your meals differently. If you usually center your plate with a huge piece of meat, you will need to rethink things. Look to other protein sources like tofu, beans, peanut butter and other nuts but realize that you don't need a huge amount of protein at each meal.
Whole grains are a great place to start when building your meal. Also, there are many vegan alternatives to regular meat that you can enjoy that can be found in any grocery store. There are vegan burgers, hot dogs, vegan ground beef, chick'n nuggets and many more. Whole foods are best and I wouldn't recommend eating these meat alternatives daily but occasionally is fine. These plant-based meats can be used to make vegan-friendly versions of your favorite meals. You'll also want to start taking a vitamin b12 supplement at this point as it's the one vitamin that vegans can't get naturally from plant-based foods.
Eliminate all fish and seafood. Hopefully you didn't replace all the meat you took out in Step 1 with seafood! But no more fish, shellfish, or any other seafood. If you're thinking that you can't live without sushi, don't panic as there's a lot of delicious vegetable sushi available. It can be fun trying out different new foods at home and at vegan-friendly restaurants.
Eliminate eggs. For some people, eggs are a breakfast staple. Others may depend on eggs for baking. But no worries - there are alternatives for both! If you are in the mood for scrambled eggs, try making them with Just Egg for a delicious vegan version. As for baking, some use a flax egg (flax meal + water) as a binder. But I would recommend finding actual vegan baking recipes instead of just trying to put vegan replacements in your regular recipes. They usually work out much better.
Eliminate all dairy. You might have been dreading this step. For many, giving up cheese is the biggest challenge. There are vegan substitutes for butter, milk, yogurt and cheese that will help you complete your journey. But it's all a personal choice. I'm not a big fan of vegan cheese (I had an unpleasant fondue experience once!) so I don't use it at all. But you might depend on that alternative to get you through this step.
There are so many vegan milk and dairy products to choose from. If you need help figuring out which milk is the best for you and your needs, check out my post on Vegan Milk Options. My favorite plant-based milk is unsweetened soy milk as it has plenty of protein. These milk alternatives are often fortified with calcium, vitamin d, and b vitamins. Check to see if your vegan milk is fortified and you may not need to take a b12 supplement.
Step 5 - SUCCESS!
You've done it! You're a new vegan! You've completed the most difficult part of becoming vegan - giving up all animal products in your food. This may be the best decision you've made! But that's not the end of it. There are some other things to consider as well that you might not have thought of right away.
For one, most vegans don't eat honey as it's an animal product. You'll also need to familiarize yourself with hidden animal products like in gelatin. And many vegans make sure their beauty products are vegan as well. But it's a learning process and you can take as much time as you need to get to your goal. It's a big lifestyle change and it doesn't need to happen overnight. Just remember, becoming vegan is about more than what you aren't eating. It's about your health benefits. It's saying No to animal cruelty. It's lessening the environmental impact.
Step 6 - Cooking
Now you don't need to become a chef, but being able to make delicious vegan meals is extremely helpful. Restaurants are adding vegan options to their menus all the time but at this point you can't assume that you'll have a ton of options at every one. In the beginning, it's easier to have a go to list of breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas that you can then repeat. Then, as you're more comfortable cooking, find some additional meals made of whole plant foods to add into the rotation.
You can find sample menus online that will help you with ideas. You'll also want to become familiar with your new best friend - leftovers! It's so easy to just pack some leftovers for lunch if you're going to work or have them at home. It's one less thing to think about. It's also a good idea to make a big batch of something that you can eat for a few meals. In our house, we often make a big pot of rice and beans and then have it as leftovers, either as is or in a wrap, or with added vegetables. It's very versatile and can be used for different recipes.
Now that you've switched to a vegan lifestyle, you may need some support. Facebook groups and other social media platforms are a great resource to connect to new and seasoned plant-based eaters. They can also be a great way to find recipes and make some vegan friends. There is a whole vegan community out there that is ready to help you in whatever you need. We all want you to succeed. And down the road you can become someone else's support who is going through their own vegan journey. Good luck to you!
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