Are you ready for your first plant-based grocery?
The plant-based food groups
A whole food plant-based diet is one where we can focus on counting vitamins more than calories and one where we can focus on health, with weight loss as a wanted side effect. The weight loss seen on a plant-based diet is gradual, progressive, healthy and without much effort. It tends to happen naturally, without withdrawals or uncontrollable cravings. People often ask me what I eat on a plant-based diet, to which I answer "almost everything". The truth is I eat tons more variety on a plant-based diet than I ever did before. Most of the foods you already know, but there are over 300000 edible plants out there to discover.
The food groups of the plant-based diet are simple. Fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes (beans, peas, lentils, tofu, tempeh, etc.), nuts and seeds. On a 100% WFPBD, overly processed foods are minimized, and animal products are avoided. That being said, the benefits are dose dependent, meaning that if you follow a plant-based diet 90% of the time, you'll reap 90% of the benefits, which might be perfect for your goals. Extremism is rarely great, but if you can do the WFPBD perfectly, by all means go for it!
Meal ideas for beginners
Starting out on a plant-based diet can seem scary, that's why I'd recommend keeping it simple at the beginning. My transition took a full 18 months to complete, and I'd recommend taking your time too. Start with one plant-based meal a week, then 2. Then focus on one plant-based meal a day, then 2. Get used to your go-to plant-based meals and perfect them. Get efficient at preparing them and making them tasty. Start with plant-based foods you already eat. Buy frozen veggies and fruits to avoid waste.
In our home, we started slowly, we made all our breakfasts plant-based. We had instant-oats, mixed with a tablespoon of flaxseeds, chia seeds and hemp seeds, topped with blueberries, raspberries and blackberries and Kashi Go Lean granola. We focused then on being consistent. Maple syrup enticed my kids to jump on board the plant-based train, but we slowly weaned them off. I started with instant oats, but now I've graduated to minimally processed sprouted oats. I then increased the berries while decreasing the granola. Now, I look forward to my daily morning bowl, as do my kids!
Snacks are simple, fruits, veggies, or whole grains. Plant-based protein bars are excellent stepping stone foods. The company Made Good makes healthy vegan and plant-based snacks for kids. Hummus and crackers is also a favorite of ours. We enjoy nuts mixed in with dried dates, as well as plant-based and home made banana bread cupcakes, or blueberry muffins. Popcorn is also a super healthy snack where vegan butter and spices can be added if desired.
Stir-frys have been a classic meal in our home. Simply throw a mix of frozen veggies with either beans, lentils, tofu or chickpeas, mix in a sauce, either store bought, or home-made preferably (we make cashew based alfredo sauces, pesto, BBQ sauce, caesar dressing and cheese sauce) and voila! Smoothies are a great way to hide nutrition in a refreshing drink. We hide all sorts of veggies in there, as well as seeds. But go slow, since green smoothies do have an acquired taste that can be too intense for beginners. Start with fruit smoothies, add bananas and frozen berries mixed in with non-dairy milk, and you have an awesome snack. Add plant--based protein powder to make it into a protein shake or meal replacement!
Switch foods you already eat to their plant-based version. Stores now have plant-based burgers, sausages, pizzas, nuggets, etc. Just keep in mind that although these foods are healthier than the foods they're replacing, they're still processed, and don't have to be the end goal. As stated earlier these stepping stone foods paved the way for my transition and were part of my journey to whole foods for more than a year. Go slow, be smart and don't worry about the stepping stones for now.
Plant-based on budget
Eating healthy doesn't have to be costly. Here, I'll share some tips on how to eat plant-based on a budget. First, have a look at what you already have in your cabinets, since lots of foods and ingredients, like herbs and spices will play large roles in dressing up your plant-based meals.
Plant-based proteins, like beans, lentils and chickpeas, can be bought already canned and are extremely cheap in comparison to their meat counterparts. Buy the dried form and cook it yourself for maximal savings. Tofu is also a cheap way to get some protein, and can be easily incorporated into all recipes. With the right spices and cooking methods, it can be made to replace any of the animal meats.
Since plant proteins are often sold as canned, or dried, their shelf life is much longer than meat and contributes to much less waste. We buy them at Costco,in bulk, and canned for convenience. At Costco, we also buy our organic berries, tofu, herbs and spices, frozen and fresh fruits and veggies and non-dairy milks. Almond, soy and oat milk are all foods that can be bought in bulk since they last much longer than dairy milks. We also buy chickpea pasta, quinoa pasta at Costco, as well as nuts and seeds that can also be bought in bulk for a fraction of the price.
Buying frozen fruit or veggies is also an easy way to buy in bulk and save. Simply pour some mixed frozen veggies with a canned version of plant-based protein, top with your favorite sauce, and you have a quick, easy and cheap stir-fry.
In the end, I personally believe it's fairly easy to eat a healthy, plant-based diet at a similar price than a meat based diet. We batch cook and freeze to minimize waste, we eat what spoils first, and we alternate certain foods from week to week. For example, instead of wasting watermelon, cantaloupe or honeydew melons, we simply buy one per week, then alternate each week with different melons to maximize our kids' food exposures, and this way, they never get tired of the same old foods!
If you're wondering if the plant-based diet is appropriate for kids, the answer is a clear YES! The only thing to consider is that the growing kid requires more calories to thrive. This can be accomplished with healthy foods by adding nuts, seeds, nut butters or avocados in their meals. A plant-based diet will transfer healthy eating habits to your children, as well as decreased risk of acne, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and many other chronic inflammatory or allergic conditions. For reasons stated in the For Nerds section of the menu, a reliable source of B12 is recommended for children, and we use a daily B12 and Vitamin D supplement.
It took me 18 months to make the full whole foods plant-based transition. My kids did it way faster than that! Although their resistance to change was high at the beginning, once we figured out how to go slowly with them, the transition was completed very quickly. When we started the transition, my youngest daughter was just one year old, and my oldest was 3. Kassi didn't bat an eye, having never tasted much animal products before, but Zara needed a bit more convincing and took more time, having been on an animal containing diet since she started eating.
But before making the transition, me and my wife agreed to one rule, that we wouldn't let their diets restrict their activities. After all, the plant-based transition was our decision, not theirs. In a world of bullying and stereotypes, we wanted our kids to enjoy eating plant-based, and not feel embarrassed in front of their friends or classmates. At birthday parties, they eat cake, pizza and drink juice. But at home, their food rewards are plant-based.
Our other rule is that they can always have unlimited servings of fruits and veggies. Unlimited! Treats and junk food are permitted, but only rarely, and when they are, they're often plant-based and minimally processed, like Made Good's vegan chocolate chip cookies. They also enjoy plant-based ice cream (oat based ice cream, banana nice cream, coconut based ice cream), Kashi granola bars, vegan brownies we either make or buy, trail mix, chocolate soy milk, and many other plant-based or vegan treats.
Almost every morning, they have oatmeal that we mix with hemp, chia and flax seeds, topped with granola, berries and a drizzle of maple syrup. For lunch, they'll bring to school a variety of plant-based shepherd's pie (the meat is subbed for lentils), vegetable soups, pastas, sandwiches , etc. We always add fruits and veggies, mostly raw in their lunchboxes, and they always come back home empty! For supper, they basically eat what we eat, but for some meals, they still need some convincing. Put some ketchup on it, and problem solved. I would rather have them eat veggies with dressing, tofu with ketchup, and oats with syrup, than no plants at all.
We hide blended cauliflower in their mashed potatoes, nutritional yeast in sauces and blended veggies in their soups and smoothies. We used to need plant-based cheeses to help the broccoli go down, but now it's like they really enjoy the taste. Once they were weaned from the highly processed, sugary, salt laden, saturated fat filled food, their taste buds began to experience food the way nature intended.
At the present time of writing this, Zara is 8, Kassi is 6, and they both completely understand what health food looks like. They understand that the colors are the vitamins, that eating food that grows from the ground is healthy, and that we are to minimize foods in a box or a bag, unless they're whole grains or foods that are non-processed. We talk about health regularly and about how investing in health and nutrition now will pay off later. Even if they're still young, they understand that health is their responsibility and they take pride in eating the right way and in not contributing to the use and abuse of animals.