If giving up burgers and cheese forever just doesn't seem possible, take heart: going mostly plant-based means you get serious health benefits and the flexibility to indulge now and then. Here's how, with tips from Dana Shulz of the Minimalist Baker.
There’s lots (and lots, and lots) of evidence on the benefits of eating vegan—but we don’t think it’s overstating things to say that making such a drastic dietary shift can be overwhelming. And we’re not the only ones, if the popularity of “vegan-ish” eating is anything to go by. A mostly plant-based approach that’s flexible enough to accommodate the occasional burger, chicken wing or slice of cheesecake, this diet plan has found fans in Jamie Oliver, whose Meat-Free Monday posts always look delicious, New York Times food guru Mark Bittman, who wrote a whole book about it, and Dana Shulz, the culinary mind behind the popular food blog Minimalist Baker.
According to Dana, whose new cookbook, Everyday Eating, features 101 easy-to-make vegan dishes (like her Thai quinoa meatballs, pictured above), a mostly plant-based diet doesn’t have to be hard work. “It’s really just about making sure you get plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and other plant-based protein sources. I think when you break it down like that, it isn’t as intimidating,” she says.
It definitely doesn’t mean subsisting on a few lettuce leaves. “I am a quantity eater and was raised by two very enthusiastic eaters. Feeling satisfied by my meals is very important to me, so salads for dinner just won't cut it. My recipe inspiration comes from having a big appetite,” she says.
Want to give vegan eating a try? Here’s her best advice:
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
“Meal prep ahead of time (like on Sundays), so you aren’t stuck without options during the week, when you come home starving and need something to eat,” Dana says. “Also, make sure you do research when traveling so you have some idea of where you can get vegan options.”
2. Try anything once.
She recommends doing a deep dive into vegan food blogs, flagging any dish that looks interesting. “Try a lot of recipes and narrow down your favorites, so you have an arsenal of easy, go-to meals that you love and enjoy,” she says.
3. Know your swaps.
Use flax or chia in place of an egg. (Check out Dana’s how-to.) Instead of using ground beef for tacos, season and cook quinoa, then bake until crispy. And just because you’re eating less dairy doesn’t mean Parmesan-free pasta. Make your own vegan Parmesan by combining cashews, nutritional yeast, garlic powder and sea salt. (Here’s the Minimalist Baker recipe.)
4. Stock your pantry.
You’ll have to re-think your grocery shopping plan, but don’t get intimidated—Dana says you can’t go wrong by stocking up on a few staples: “My top 5 vegan essentials are flax seed meal, nut milks, nut and seed butters, a variety of legumes, and dates,” she says. “I don't go for things like vegan junk food or other things in the processed realm. Eating plant-based is not about fake meats, $9 organic soy milk, and sprouting your own beans. It’s about eating a variety of plant foods to feel whole and well.”
5. Choose the right tools.
“For prep, having a food processor is a must because it makes sauces and date caramel so easily, and if you have the grater attachment it can shred up carrots, potatoes and vegetables in no time,” Dana says.