By Jane Birch
Figuring out how to eat a healthy plant-based diet is difficult for several reasons:
- Our taste buds are accustomed to meat and processed foods (with lots of salt/sugar/fat), so it takes time to learn to really appreciate whole foods. (Don’t give up until you get there because real food is very delicious!).
- Learning new ways of preparing food takes time.
- Cooking whole foods from scratch inevitably takes longer, especially at first, so we have to readjust our thinking and habits. (Once you master new skills, you’ll find all kinds of ways to cook very quickly when needed.)
- Everyone’s tastes and habits are different so there is no one set of recipes that works for everyone. (Others can provide ideas, but you have to work out the solutions on your own. Enjoy the adventure!)
For some people, making this change can feel a bit overwhelming at first, especially if you are trying to feed a family. Keep it simple! Don’t expect to be perfect overnight. Even though it takes effort, you can do it, especially if you decide you’re going to keep working until you succeed.
I know it is do-able because I started with literally zero cooking skills. I struggled so much that I finally got on the McDougall Discussion Board to plead for help. Others with experience responded with lots of great recipes and other ideas for succeeding. (You can read the posts here: “Help! I’m NOT enjoying my new food.”) I can now feed myself relatively quickly with minimal effort, and I VERY much enjoy my food. It does not feel like a sacrifice. It feels like a GREAT blessing.
With this diet, you will primarily be cooking from scratch—there is really no way around it. Unless you can afford to hire a cook or know someone who will cook for you, you will be doing a lot of cooking (or if you plan ahead: reheating).
You can find literally thousands of free recipes online. Of course, you don’t need thousands. Most people do fine most of the time with 6–12 recipes, but you may need to explore more than that before you figure out what you like and what works for your lifestyle.
Beginner Strategy to Finding Foods You Will Like
You can find foods you like before you begin the diet, or start the diet right away with a few foods that you already know how to make while you explore new recipes.
- Make a list of all the foods you currently enjoy that already fit within the guidelines of this diet. Add to that list any foods you like that you can make fit the guidelines with minimal adjustments (like replacing meat with mushrooms, beans, tofu, or squash; using whole wheat pasta; or cooking with water/broth instead of oil). See WFPB Guidelines.
- Try WFPB recipes to find additional foods you think you’d enjoy, ones that work for you in terms of taste and preparation time. See WFPB Recipes.
- After you have a basic set of 3–7 meals you like, continue to use them over and over each week. This takes the stress out of having to cook a bunch of new recipes. (You may want to make a detailed weekly menu so you can get all your shopping done at one time and be prepared for the full week. Make large batches so you don’t need to cook every day. See Meal Planning.)
- As you have time and interest, try a new recipe, but don’t make the process harder or more complicated than it needs to be. Try one new recipe 2–3 times a month as you have time and desire.
- Don’t get discouraged if you make a recipe, and you don’t like it! Especially if it took a long time, this can be discouraging, but it is a natural part of the process. Make this a chance to figure out how you can “improve” the recipe to your tastes. Trying adding more spice, hot sauce, salsa, onions, garlic, and/or salt.
- As your taste buds change, you’ll naturally find you enjoy more and more WFPB foods, but don’t pressure yourself about the process. Keep it simple! Have faith!
Remember: if at first you are not enjoying this food, don’t panic. This will not last forever, just a relatively short time period. Not enjoying your food for a few weeks is NOT the end of the world. We humans are designed to enjoy wholesome plant foods. The food industry has hijacked our taste buds. We can reclaim them and learn just how wonderful and delicious the wholesome plants God created are.
Typical breakfast foods
- Breakfast burritos
- Cracked wheat or oats with almond milk and fruit
- Hash browns with fruit
- Muffins or toast with 100% fruit jam
- Pancakes, French toast or waffles
- Tofu scrambles or omelets
Typical lunch foods
- Chips with “7 layer” dip
- Lentils with chips
- Pasta salad
- Peanut butter and honey sandwich
- Salad or soup with whole wheat bread
- Veggie sandwich
- Crackers with hummus
- Energy bites
- Peanut butter and celery
- Veggies with hummus
Typical dinner foods
- Burritos, tortillas, tacos
- Chili with corn bread or baked potato
- Enchiladas or tostadas
- Pinto beans with tortillas & salad
- Potato bars
- Rice and/or bean bowls
- Shepherd’s pie
- Soups and stews
- Stir-fry over rice
- Veggie burgers
- Veggies over noodles
- Clear out your fridge and cupboards of all non-compliant foods, or if that is not possible, stick them in a place where you can’t see them unless you make a concerted effort.
- Stock up on staples that can last awhile: cans of low-sodium beans and tomatoes; whole grains and other starches; frozen fruits and veggies; spices and condiments. Here is a good list of “WFPB Kitchen Staples.”
- Make a menu plan. If you are cooking for a family, check out this page on “Meal Planning.”
- Do produce preparation soon after shopping so that you have already chopped/prepped veggies for a quick meal.
- Cook food in large quantities so you have lots of leftovers (or freeze for later).
- Use frozen vegetables and fruits and some canned goods like tomatoes and beans. These are already chopped and can save LOTS of time. The nutrient loss is very minimal compared to the time saved. The biggest problem with canned foods (besides a difference in taste) is sodium. Get reduced salt or no-salt varieties when possible.
- Check out: “Reducing Fat and Cooking Without Oil”
- Tips for replacing eggs: “How to Replace Eggs” or “Substitutes and Techniques for Fat-free Cooking” (see bottom of the page) or “Confused About Vegan Egg Substitutes?” See also, “A Beginner’s Guide to Plant-Based Baking”
- Try replacing meat in old favorites with mushrooms, especially portabellas. Slice and water sauté them for a casada/fajita/BBQ effect. Roast them whole and call them portabella steak. Eat along side mashed potatoes and gravy for holidays meals. When white or cremini mushrooms are finely minced with cauliflower and onion then water sauted, the result is similar to ground meat–perfect for spaghetti sauce, pizza, shepherd’s pie, lasagna, and other casseroles. See also, “Swap the Meat for Whole Plant Substitutes.”
- A good ground beef substitute is equal parts cooked lentils and cooked barley.
- Experiment with spices to flavor your food. It may take a while to figure out what you like.
Food Management Tips
- Be sure to eat enough food every day so you are not hungry. If you eat until you are full at each meal, you’ll do much better. If you are hungry you will be tempted to eat something unhealthy. Be prepared: on this diet, the volume of food will be larger than what you ate before. (However the cost can be much cheaper, especially if you buy in bulk and prepare most foods at home. In some areas of the country, you can eat WFPB for as low as three or four dollars per day.)
- Have some healthy snack foods available when you need something extra or want to munch on something. Keep some healthy snacks in your car, office, or anywhere else you spend lots of time. See WFPB Snacks.
- Don’t cut out salt entirely, especially at first. A little salt can make a big difference. If you tend to use too much, tackle the issue after you’ve found foods that you can enjoy and your tastes have changed.
- Find local restaurants or health-food stores with a big salad bar or other WFPB compliant foods so that you have a resource for healthful meals away from home or to recommend when friends or family what to eat out.
Dealing with Other Challenges
- Giving up certain foods (overcoming food addictions)
- Dealing with other people (handling social situations)
More WFPB Food Resources
- Getting Started
- WFPB Guidelines
- WFPB Recipes
- WFPB Meal Planning
- WFPB Made Easy
- WFPB Kitchen Staples
- WFPB Resources
Last updated: April 9, 2017