Many people tell me they want to become vegan but they don't know how to do it.
I get what they mean-- It can be really confusing to try to imagine what you can possibly eat, especially if most of your meals revolve around meat and dairy products.
If you take those things away, what's left?
Luckily, there's plenty. When I went vegan I found that I actually started eating a much more interesting and varied diet. I kicked baked salmon and rice, tuna mac-n-cheese, and cheesy pasta salads to the curb and added a whole new flavor and texture profile. I almost immediately lost weight, gained energy, and enjoyed what I ate so much more.
In my opinion, there are three main ways to become vegan...
I've known people who have successfully become vegan by substituting what they used to eat with the vegan variety of that food. You should keep in mind that the vegan replacements for meat and dairy have similar texture and flavor, but they will not be the exact same as what you're used to. If you can get beyond the fact that it's not quite the same, you can do well with this option.
If you are used to making baked chicken with rice and broccoli, try a vegan chicken from high-quality brands like Gardein and Beyond Meat. Cook your rice and broccoli the same as usual, except substitute in a vegetable oil in place of any butter, or even use a vegan butter like Earth Balance.
If you eat a lot of steak, you can even find good brands of beef-like foods from Gardein. There are a dozen or so good vegan burgers from brands like Boca, Morningstar Farms, Gardenburger, Amy's, and Sunshine Burgers. Plus, you can make vegan burgers like my black bean version.
There are even seafood substitutes from brands like Sophie's Kitchen and at Asian supermarkets if you really want to find fake fish.
My caveat here is that many of the vegan substitutes for meat, fish, cheese, ice cream are packed with preservatives, soy isolate, sodium, sugar, and other unhealthy ingredients. A vegan steak and potatoes dish is going to be healthier for you than the meaty version, but I believe only marginally so. You can probably still lose weight and train your body away from meat and dairy, but you're not eating as well as you could be.
I think of this substitution plan as a nice transition into the vegan world, but if you want to truly improve your health, you'll eventually need to move over to eating without meat replacements.
The key to this plan is to think of it as a transition, and not to expect the exact flavor and texture of meat and dairy.
This is perhaps the easiest path to become vegan... it's the way I did it and I know it's phenomenally easier than you think it will be. If you already know your way around the kitchen, all you need to do is google a few new vegan recipes or find an outstanding vegan cookbook and try some new things.
I found it fascinating that not only could I prepare meals that completely filled me up without a smidge of fish, cheese, or any other animal products, but I could also bake vegan desserts that were impossible to distinguish from non-vegan desserts. For probably two years I was blown away by what I could do with some egg replacer and nondairy milk. It's so much easier than you might imagine.
If you're in this position, my best advice is to jump right in and start cooking. Try something new as many days in a row as you feel like cooking and then pick what you like best and try that again. Soon enough that one favorite will be part of your new arsenal of go-to recipes for days you don't feel like thinking about what to make.
Keep your focus on real foods, like those made with whole grains, vegetables, beans and legumes, fruits, and nuts and seeds. Keep the vegan food pyramid as a guide to make sure you're balancing your new diet successfully.
You could also join a CSA program so you get to try out a bunch of new vegetables that you wouldn't normally select at the market. Before you know it you'll be a nutritionista yourself.
I have two meal plans that would work well to help you become vegan. One is designed around Spring and Summer fruits and vegetables, and the other is for Fall and Winter meals. Both contain 30 days of menus, recipes, pictures, grocery lists, and nutritional information.
The key to this plan is to experiment.
For many, the reason going vegan is so daunting is because they either don't like to cook, don't know how to cook, or don't have time to cook. Maybe this is you, and you really want to eat healthier, but not only do you not know what goes on a vegan plate, you don't do plates.
You should not despair if this is you. Cooking truly is just about knowing how to read and paying attention to directions. It's about building confidence with easier things and then remaining confident when you're tackling new territory. And cooking when you have less time is about learning to use the time you do have to prepare more and save it for later. These are all doable tasks.
One of my eBooks is designed specifically for newbies, Vegan Cooking for Beginners. It's full of easy recipes with normal ingredients that are perfect for people to new to veganism and people new to cooking.
I also have a free list of ideas for vegan meals for people who eat out at restaurants because they don't have time to cook at home. You can become vegan if this is your situation.
As far as learning to cook, the two best things you can do is watch other people do it and get in there and do it yourself, feeling free to make mistakes. I have always enjoyed watching the cooking channel, even if what they're making is not specifically vegan, because it teaches me technique and gives me ideas for new vegan recipes. You'd be surprised at how much better you get just by watching. As far as messing up in the kitchen, I do it sometimes, and it's liberating. Sometimes a recipe is a flop, but I don't take it personally.
You can also look into participating in some free cooking classes. I find our Whole Foods has them weekly and they're even often vegan classes. You can also do an internet search for people in your area who might teach vegan cooking.
I recommend keeping in touch with our monthly newsletter. I always share a new vegan recipe, and also tons of tips that are excellent for new vegans.