My son mentioned recently that he might try to switch from vegetarian (mostly) to vegan when he is home for the summer. Our conversation about it made me think of the number of times that I have been asked by vegan-curious folks about how to make the switch. I feel like there probably is not one “best” way, but having tried to be vegan a couple of times before it really “took,” I do have a few thoughts to share.
1. Make a commitment. It doesn’t matter if you decide to go “cold tofurkey” on all animal products or if you phase them out one at a time. The key is to think it through and make a firm choice. Waffling on it, or just trying to move toward it by reducing overall consumption makes the whole process take longer, because there are going to be situations where it is a challenge to avoid animal products, and if you have made a firm choice, you aren’t likely to make it though those.
2. Research alternatives before you start. You know what your animal product weaknesses are. Think about how you will replace them in your diet. Is it cheese? Milk? Jerky? Honey? Burgers? Almost anything can be replaced with something vegan that will satisfy the same taste urges, but you have to figure out what it is, and that’s easier when you aren’t starving or trying to cook dinner in 20 minutes.
3. Think about ways to maintain your usual ratio of “fun” to nutritious foods at first. If you are accustomed to having Doritos every night for a snack, and you go vegan and only eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, you are going to be an unhappy camper. There is plenty of vegan fun (or “crap” depending on your frame of reference) food, so it is not necessary to deprive yourself. You can start changing the ratio after you get more comfortable with the overall choice.
4. Be open to prepared foods for a while. I am not a big fan of them, but when you are first starting a vegan diet, it might be easier to microwave a Boca burger and some veggie baked beans, or an Amy’s meal, than to come up with a menu on your own. It’s more expensive and you don’t have as much control over nutrition, but that will come.
5. VARIED diet. I really can’t stress this enough. If you start out by eating salads for every meal, with the same set of 4 ingredients, you are going to get bored and frustrated and are more likely to crack and order an extra large cheese pizza from Pizza Hut.
It’s a challenging change, but it really is possible, and you may find that the things you thought you would miss aren’t a problem at all.