Switch to a Whole Foods Plant Based Diet: 52 Baby Steps

Switch to a Whole Foods Plant Based Diet: 52 Baby Steps

snail on apple with text

I’m amazed by people that can decide and execute change for themselves like a jackrabbit.

Here’s my problem. I’m not fast. I can decide to make my tormented 14-year old remain in Honors English, despite his insisting it’s tooooooo haaaaaaard. And I can make that decision in a red-hot minute.

But to actually move myself on a decision of my own choosing? I suck stanky hockey socks at that. Case in point: It took me 30 years to decide to let my curly hair go wild and “silver.”

Are you slow at changing your habits? If you’re like me,  we need to change slowly. Not evolution-slow, but with mindful small changes and steps to get us to our veggie-eating pot of gold. Here’s 52 actions that will get you closer to become a full-fledged WFPB-eater. There are enough actions to tackle one every week. Try them as your time and desire allows. Skip around if your rebel self wants to.

At this time next year, you’ll be more mindful of the fuel you need to do cartwheels, haul your groceries, or snowshoe through the forest. And, whatever you do, pay no mind to those speedy fother-muckers that tell you you’re doing it all wrong!

baby feet

Adjust Your Lifestyle

  1. Cook one additional dinner at home. Do you usually cook twice a week? Do it three times instead. Never cook at home? Pick one night to make you and your loves a simple dinner. If you’re alone, show yourself some nutrition love and cook at home.
  2. Buy one fruit or veggie that you’ve never tried before. Take it home, look up an easy recipe, and eat it! Guava? Persimmon? Daikon? All weird in my parts, but delish!
  3. Try a new vegan wine. Did you know that animal bone char is sometimes used in winemaking? If you’re feeling generous, share a bottle with your bestie.
  4. Cut your cheese consumption in half. Yes, I went there. If you usually snowstorm parmesan on your spaghetti, make it a light dusting. Use one slice of cheese instead of two on your sandwich. You get the idea. Try cutting it in half every month or so until you’ve completely broken up with cheese. It can be done, although I still struggle with this one.
  5. Laugh more! If you’re unaccustomed to eating veggies, bloating is common. Let one loose at work? Laugh! You know everyone heard it anyway! Watch a favorite funny movie. Read a smart and sassy book. Random dancing in the kitchen always brings eye rolls from the kids, and that makes me laugh!
  6. Never make a food decision in your car. I dearly love fast food potatoes — hash browns, tots, fries, all of them. I told myself that I couldn’t pull through McDonald’s for an order of fries all willy-nilly. But, if I get home and still want those french fries, I’ve given myself permission to go back and get some. Since I’m notoriously lazy that never happens. The energy involved in getting back in the car and fetching those fries keeps me humble. Sometimes my laziness works in my favor.
  7. Bring your lunch! Leftovers make a great lunch, and even a veggie-based sandwich is healthier than 98% of restaurant food. Seriously. You know why restaurant food tastes so decadent? Because chefs learn to use ample amount of salt, butter and oil! The next time you eat at a restaurant, select one with an open kitchen and nurse your glass of wine while lurking over the chefs.
  8. Add some raw veggies to every day. Carrots, broccoli and cauliflower all pack well and can be washed, cut and stored for an easy snack. Cherry tomatoes and cucumber slices are easy, too! Think grab-and-go to make it as easy as possible.
  9. Eat smaller WFPB meals or snacks more often. When you first transition to a diet with more plants, you’ll likely be hungrier between meals. So eat! As long as you’re eating veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds you will be fine. As your body adjusts to your leaner way of feeding it, you’ll be less hangry between meals.
  10. Eat more nutrient-dense foods. Nutrient-dense is food that contains a lot of nutritional benefit for the volume consumed. For example, a cup of blueberries has way more nutritional value than a box of Twinkies. Fact. As you reduce animal products it’s important to look to nutritional density to get your energy needs met.
  11. Have a WFPB potluck brunch or dinner. Gather with your plant-eating buddies or issue a challenge to omnivores. Any excuse for good food and good company works. And if you interest one friend to eat healthier, good karma on you. PS. Mimosas are vegan, as are bloody marys!
  12. Host a WFPB cookie exchange. A challenge? Yes. Fun? Yes! Go heavy on the vegan wine and combine with suggestion number 5 above.
  13. Have a WFPB dinner party. Invite omnis and veggies. Introduce them to a new dish. Wow them with your veggie-cooking prowess.

black buddha bowl wooden spoon

Upgrade Your Fuel

  1. Drink water instead of anything else, especially sugary sodas, sport drinks and $8 cups of hipster coffee. Make the once-a-week Red Bull a treat instead of an everyday pick me up.
  2. Eat a green salad every day for one of your meals. The bulk of your bowl should be greens — spinach, romaine, kale, arugula. But add a half a can of black beans or garbanzos, and additional veggies (tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms, cucumber, red onion). Instead of greasy croutons sprinkle a handful of your favorite raw or dry-roasted, no-salt or low-salt nut (pecans, walnuts) or seeds (pumpkin, squash, sunflower). Don’t be afraid to bulk it up, as long as it’s whole plant foods.
  3. Eat popcorn plain. Or try a sprinkle of cheesy nutritional yeast.
  4. Substitute plant milk for dairy milk. Most grocery stores carry an assortment of alternatives both in the dairy section and in the shelf-stable “health food” section. Best choice is unsweetened and plain so you can use it as a base for both sweet and savory recipes. Oat milk, almond milk, soy milk all count. But don’t use coconut milk in the can for daily use. It includes delicious coconut fat that is great in recipes, but not great for every day.
  5. Use brown, red or black rice instead of white rice. Brown rice takes longer to cook, but it is bulkier when you’re trying to fill your hole, and its nutty flavor provides fiber and a nutritional boost over white rice.
  6. Eliminate as much processed white sugar as you are able, including sugar hiding in canned and boxed goods. Maple syrup, dates, molasses, and coconut sugar are better choices for adding sweetness, and it’s rare that one of those choices can’t stand in for white sugar.  Rely on more fruit for your punch of sweetness. PS. Like wine, white sugar is often processed with animal bone char — isn’t that special.
  7. Get some berries in your day! Fresh or frozen — strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries are all good. And all are great in smoothies.
  8. Look for oil- and sugar-free bread in your favorite grocery store. It’s not an easy find! Generally I use Dave’s or Ezekiel’s, and both are in the freezer section in my stores. Both are delicious toasted and make sandwiches much more satisfying than sammies on squishy white bread.
  9. Make that sandwich a veggie one. Skip the meat, cheese and mayo. Pile greens on a slice of grainy bread, add tomato, onion, cucumbers, grated carrots, and peppers. Slather the other bread slice with your humus of choice, slam that bread together and chow! I promise if you load up the veggies you won’t miss the meat.
  10. Add veggies to every pasta recipe. Baby spinach wilts beautifully into sauces. Broccoli and cauliflower can be cooked with the dried spaghetti — same pot! Frozen peas and corn are easy adds, and spring asparagus in a lemon pasta sauce is amazing.
  11. Make yourself a whole-food smoothie. Smoothies are a great way to get fruits and veggies packed into the morning, and you can take them to go. It is easy to replace dairy products with plant-based milk, and you can add everything from cocoa, to peanut butter, to spinach or bananas. My favorite is a green berry smoothie, but that’s pretty hard core, isn’t pretty, and isn’t that sweet. For a newbie, I’d suggest this two-mango smoothie. It’s easy and delicious.
  12. Make friends with flax. Flax seeds — ground to meal or whole — are full of omega-3 essential fatty acids. Those are the good fats that have been shown beneficial for heart health. Flax is also a great source of fiber. Purchase whole grain flax and grind it yourself in a food processor. Or buy it already pre-ground into meal. Sprinkle it on oatmeal or another porridge. Add it to smoothies, and it’s easy to slip into most baked goods.
  13. Try a new homemade snack food. Many recipes make quantities that you can freeze. I love smooshed up dates and flax seeds rolled in cacao powder, or coconut flakes. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate event — just identify what you’re craving and look for a reasonable and whole food substitute.

bearded man reading in library

Enlighten Yourself

  1. Watch a food documentary. I’d start with “Forks Over Knives.” It’s available on YouTube, and it’s also currently available on Netflix. Invite your friends and make it a party!
  2. Every time you visit the grocery store, read every ingredient label for every box, bag can or carton you put in your cart. Pay attention to the number of ingredients. Note all the ingredients you don’t recognize. Does it contain sugar? Is it refined sugar, like corn syrup or white cane sugar? Was any artificial sweetener used? How much salt is hiding there? Note the oil used — is it hydrogenated? Animal fat? How much added fat is in the ingredient list?
  3. Check out my favorite nutrition website, Dr. Michael Gregor’s nutritionfacts.org. It’s non-commercial, science-backed information on nutrition — both food and supplements.. Plus he puts out great videos every week while walking on a treadmill — gotta love his ability to multitask. The story of his grandmother’s return to health is amazing.
  4. Explore cookbooks for WFPB recipes. You can find some of my favorites here.
  5. Explore another WFPB recipe website. Spend an hour checking out both the blog posts and recipes, and see what fits your lifestyle and personality.
  6. Read “How Not to Die” by Michael Gregor. It’s a big honking tome, but  it’s easy to skip around after you’ve read Part 2 — “Dr. Gregor’s Dirty Dozen.”
  7. Consult with a WFPB nutrition coach  Any time you’re feeling overwhelmed, consult an expert (link to reference). Not all nutritionists or dietitians are experts at plant-based eating, so be sure you get advice from one that is. You can find them online by searching ‘nutritional counseling near me.’ Many do virtual consults via FaceTime or Skype. Be sure to ask lots of questions before signing on, as you would do with any medical professional.
  8. Read a new WFPB magazine. There are a number of vegan magazines out there with varying levels of dependence on processed vegan shite food (tofu hotdogs, vegan “oreos”). Some are militant no-animal-left-behind vegan and advertise vegan clothing, household goods, and even “leather” furniture! If you read through that type of magazine, avoid the temptation to be swayed by ads for vegan “cream cheese” and vegan “hamburgers,” because if you flip to the ingredient list on those foods you’ll see all kinds of shite in many of those products! And that’s hardly better than eating non-vegan processed food. My pick for a great magazine is Forks Over Knives Magazine. It’s issued quarterly and is a little pricey, but content per dollar is superb. You can find it online via the link or wherever you find your fave magazines.
  9. Watch the documentary, “FedUp.” Warning, it will likely make you angry and distrustful of the processed food industry!  This documentary taught me a lot, and cemented my vision to switch to trying a WFPB diet.
  10. Ask lots of questions. Get hit with a new study that packaged cookies are healthy?  Ask who did the study, and, more importantly, who funded it. Find out the size of the study and how the study was run. Don’t fall for bullshit results that were paid for by the Packaged Cookie Council of Know-It-Alls (for example — I might have made this organization up in my head).

white coffee cup on table

Tweak Your Thinking

  1. Eliminate fast food from your diet. If that’s not possible for you right now, only consume it as a very rare and special treat. Pick the “healthiest” choice on the menu, and truly taste every savory morsel. If this is a regular habit, you may have to decrease visits in steps — 5 this week, 3 the next week, etc.
  2. Shift your mindset from a place of scarcity to a pattern of abundance. I know that sounds a little woo-woo, but hear me out. Instead of telling yourself what you cannot eat, remind yourself of all the beautiful food you choose to fuel your body and soul.  It’s not, “dang, I can’t have pizza or chocolate cake.” It’s, “wow, I want to give my body what it’s begging for and look at all of the tasty choices I have!” Practice that over and over. PS. It works in many areas of life if you give it a chance.
  3. Make a new resolution to eat more plants, and less shite. If you can, eliminate meat and dairy altogether. Over time you will thank yourself again and again.
  4. Ask for support from your people. You’ll be an easy mark from omni friends and family. Make a deal with them. You won’t try to convert them and they will support your choices.. Easy peasy. But if someone does make fun of your “rabbit lifestyle” feel free to laugh. And then kick them in the nuts. JK.

Get Creative in the Kitchen

  1. Find a WFPB substitute recipe for your favorite dish, and make it. There are great recipes out there for mac and cheese, burgers, hot dogs and even lasagna. Ask every member in the household to try it — just a bite or two. But be sure not to nag. That’s just about the fastest way to bring out the contrarians.
  2. Make your own salad dressing. It’s dead easy, especially with a blender or a food processor. Even oil-free commercially prepared dressings are loaded with other things — sugar comes to mind. Plus, let’s be honest: they taste weird as hell. Once you make your own you won’t go back to the bottle. I’m partial to Lemon Tahini Dressing (T-Crack). It feels like a creamy dressing on the tongue but has no dairy. There many other WFPB salad dressing recipes out there. Find one you love!
  3. Try a new grain. Stuck on wheat and oats? Yep, in the States wheat and oats are plentiful, so that makes sense. But have you tried quinoa or wild rice? How about teff, millet, barley, amaranth? Pick one off your grocery shelf (make sure it’s the whole grain), find a WFPB recipe, and test it out! I am a crazy fan of my Dave’s “Hippie Dish”, which includes bulgur. Bulgur is technically wheat, but it’s the whole berry, dried and slightly ground. And it has a different flavor profile than red wheat.
  4. Try tofu! Tofu has little flavor but it’s a good source of protein and bulk. It picks up flavors it’s mixed with, and can marinate nicely. I love a good tofu scramble for Sunday breakfast. Make sure you choose organv, non-GMO tofu, because most soybean products (including tofu) are made from genetically modified beans. I can usually find it at Costco.
  5. Take a cooking class. If you’re an experienced home chef, cooking WFPB will reignite your enthusiasm for playing in the kitchen. And if you’re not seasoned (see what I did there) a good class can get you familiar with knife skills, new recipes, and perhaps new friends.
  6. Experiment with a new bean-based recipe. I was in a bean rut, relying on baked bean and chili to suffice for my nearly bean-free diet. But legumes are full of fiber, and there are as many beans out there as grains — well, more! Buying them dried is very economical, but canned legumes are perfectly fine. If you have some extra pennies, check out Rancho Gordo beans. You’ll never go back to grocery store dry beans again!
  7. Introduce yourself to a cuisine that relies heavily on plants. Never had Indian food? How about Greek? Middle Eastern? Many of our global cultures have a long history of eating and cooking with plants. Pick a recipe from a different culture and try it. Indian curry is very different from Thai curry, but both are delicious. That’s the kind of stuff we learn when we look to other cultures for ideas.
  8. Make your own bread. It’s humbling to get back to the basics, and there’s something a bit spiritual about working with yeast dough. Bonus: if you make your own, you won’t have to worry about crazy ingredients. Warning, you may not want to go back to eating the commercially available processed stuff!
  9. Try this “cheese” sauce. There is no substitute for a nachos when the craving strikes. That doesn’t mean you go without. This spiced-up nacho blend is great for dipping. Or spoon this over a veggie-topped plate of chips or a baked potato. So damn good!
  10. Bake some cookies! Look for an appealing recipe and give it a go. I haven’t met a cookie that tastes exactly like the version that includes loads of butter, sugar and eggs. But I’ve been very surprised by WFPB oatmeal, peanut butter, and even chocolate chip cookies! Once you start experimenting baking without processed sugar, fat and loads of salt, you’ll appreciate how heavenly a cookie can be.
  11. Learn to saute with water instead of oil. No voodoo involved. When you fry onions, garlic, carrots, celery or any other veggie, start the process with a dry pan. Over medium heat, drop the veggies. When they start to wilt a bit, splash two or three tablespoons of water in the pan to keep them from burning. As they continue to cook, add water in little bits until you’re done. It’s an easy way to drop needless fat from your diet, and you won’t miss any texture or flavor differences.

Enjoy the Journey

Wherever it leads. It takes discipline to make changes. Be strong, but be happy. And don’t let the slips off the path get you down. Just get right back on the path.


caterpillar on green apple


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