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New Year. New Diet. Transitioning to a Plant-Based Diet

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November 29, 2011

By Veronica Kinitz, Contributing Writer

With the New Year right around the corner, it's that time again to start thinking about resolutions. Maybe you want to improve your health, help animals, or safeguard the environment. What better way to achieve a trifecta than by transitioning to a plant-based diet? It's healthy and fun.

It's healthy since you'll be incorporating more whole foods into your diet such as fruits, veggies, beans, and grains, just to name a few. It's fun because you'll be trying new food combinations where the creative possibilities are endless. In a vegan haven like Portland, foodies are never at a shortage for plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy, so you can choose a plant-based version of any favorite meal. The following suggestions are just a few ideas to help you begin your transition to or continue maintaining a plant-based diet:

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? So let's make it a good one. I like to start my day with a green smoothie. Smoothies are quick, delicious, healthy, and easy to make. Just blend together fresh (or frozen) fruit, orange juice or soymilk, and kale or other greens and enjoy! One of my favorite combinations is banana, peach, pineapple, kale and vanilla soymilk. Get creative. Add raspberries, mango, strawberries, spinach, collard greens, whatever you fancy. There are a ton of possibilities, and you’ll feel great starting your day the healthy way.

If you’re craving something more substantial, try vegan alternatives to meat and dairy products. Instead of bacon and eggs, have tempeh bacon and a tofu scramble. Use soy or hemp milk to make vegan pancakes. There’s soy butter for your toast and tofu cream cheese for your bagel. And don’t forget about cereal and milk—try a healthy cereal made with oats, seeds, fruit, and nuts and a non-dairy milk such as soy, rice, coconut, almond, or hemp. All are delicious. The fun part is deciding which is your favorite!

Lunch can include a wrap with rice, black beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and guacamole. Or how about stir-fried veggies: squash, zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms and kale? If you’re craving Mexican flavors, try potatoes, pinto beans, tomatoes, and corn. For a vegan version of an old favorite, use a faux meat such as tempeh bacon, gardein™ chicken, or Tofurky™, and add Vegenaise™, a dairy-free cheese, lettuce, tomato, and avocado. Or try a Mediterranean version with hummus, olives, tomatoes, falafel, cucumbers, carrots, and tahini sauce in a pita. If you’re not in the mood for a wrap, just put the grains, beans, and veggies into a bowl.

Dinner presents plant-based versions of old favorites. There are a variety of different veggie burgers, soy burgers, and fake chicken patties. Try adding tempeh bacon and vegan cheese to your veggie burger along with avocado, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, pickles, or onions, and different dressings and sauces. If you love pasta, make it a little healthier by adding different veggies and trying different sauces (how about making your own vegan pesto?). And don’t worry, you can still have pizza! I love to make individual pita pizzas; it’s simple and tastes so good. Take a pita, add some marinara sauce or pesto, then add vegan mozzarella. I like to mix my vegan mozzarella with a little olive oil, which helps it to melt. You can make delicious vegan lasagna by using tofu, vegan cheese, and vegan sausage, and don’t forget the veggies to make it a vegetable lasagna. We all love comfort foods, and a plant-based diet doesn’t deprive us of these classic dishes.

I was never a dessert person until I discovered vegan sweets. Vegan ice cream using hemp, soy, almond, or coconut milks feature the same delicious flavors we’re used to, such as chocolate and butter pecan. If you love to bake, use soymilk instead of milk, and tofu, applesauce, or banana to replace eggs. There are even vegan chocolates and marshmallows available. You can make a vegan cheesecake, s’mores, cupcakes, or vegan chocolate chip cookies—there’s a vegan alternative for practically everything, so have fun experimenting in the kitchen.

If you need a little guidance, there are lots of excellent vegan cookbooks, and you can always search for a vegan version of your favorite recipe online. If you can’t find a plant-based food alternative in your local grocery store, try searching online. There are plenty of vegan companies that will ship their products.

With so many delicious alternatives available right at our fingertips, ringing in the New Year by making a transition to a plant-based diet is healthy, fun, and never tasted so good!

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