There’s a rise in advice to go more plant-based for both your health and the health of the planet. If this way of eating is new to you, you might be thinking…..’but how!?’, or ‘I can’t cook like that’ or ‘I don’t like the taste of veg!’ If any of these apply to you, or if you just want some practical tips for increasing your plant-based food consumption I hope this blog will help.
Tip number 1:
Before you take anything away, like reducing meat consumption, add new things in! What I mean by this is learn how to cook plant-based foods well. Once you’ve done this, it’ll be a whole lot easier to reduce your meat consumption. If you’re cooking flavourless veg that’s been boiled to death, I don’t think anyone would blame you for not wanting to eat it, I wouldn’t want to either!
The biggest tip I can give you with cooking plant-based is flavour is key!
Use spices! Spices add both vibrancy and flavour to any dish. Experiment which what combination of spices you enjoy. Most supermarkets these days will have a wide variety to choose from. My personal favourites include turmeric, ginger, cumin, cinnamon and ground coriander.
Add sauces. Ideally these would be home made as tend to be less processed and have a lower sugar content. But if you want to ease yourself in and think making your own sauces is too much of a challenge at the moment, then shop bought is fine. A good sauce can transform a quick stir-fry into a dinner party worthy dish.
If you want some inspiration with easily accessible recipes to try, I’ll be sharing some of my favourite places to get ideas from at the end of this blog.
Tip number 2:
Try new things, be prepared not to like some but don’t let this stop you trying other things.
If you’re lucky enough to have a greengrocers near you pop in and see what they have. If you’re not sure what something is be bold and try it, if you want to know what it is or how to cook it you can always ask a shop assistant, or if shy just Google it!
Not only can this lead to you finding some new favourite foods, variety is good for your gut bugs (or microbiome if you want to be sciency about it). Not only that but a healthy microbiome is needed for you to absorb all the polyphenols that plant based foods provide 1. The more processed the foods, the lower the bioavailability of these plant-based compounds also 1 , which means your body can’t absorb as much. For example, have your orange as the whole fruit, rather than in orange juice.
Tip number 3:
I’m a real advocate of food prepping. It can save you so much time during the week and some things taste even better the next day after the flavours have had time to develop! My biggest tip is to just make extra! This is the easiest way to meal prep as it takes hardly any more time compared to making a meal solely for the purpose of putting it into some Tupperware.
You don’t have to have a whole Sunday preparing all the food for the week, unless you want to. You can just double up portions for dinner on a weekday and save it for lunch or dinner the next day. I also feel reassured if I don’t have access to a fridge the next day when my lunch is plant-based as feel there’s less chance of it going off in my lunch box then meat.
The same goes for sauces. If you’re making a sauce e.g. a salad dressing, save some in a little pot (I use an old spice pot), it’ll transform your salad at work the next day for next to no extra effort!
Tip: portion off your food by serving your future meal first. This way you won’t overeat after making more food and risk not having enough left over!
Tip number 4:
Go slow for the gut – sensitive guts can experience bloating when increasing foods like chickpeas and legumes that are high in fibre. Whilst this is great for overall health, increase gradually and give your body time to get used to the new diet. If even going slow you find a type of food doesn’t suit you, don’t feel obliged to eat it!
You can also go slow with the change towards a plant-based diet. Don’t feel you have to radically change your diet overnight. Add in a few things here and there, substitute one thing or another, find your favourite and move on. For example, you can experiment with different plant-based milks, find your favourite and then move onto experimenting with something else. Do what works for you.
Tip number 5:
You don’t need all these ‘superfoods’!
They’re pricey (often overpriced) because they’re trendy ‘superfoods’.
If goji berries, acai, chlorella and spirulina are your thing and you’re willing to pay for it, go for it.
To get the health benefits of a plant-based diet, however, they are not needed. The good old broccoli and a frozen berry can do the trick. Keep your pennies! You can often find tinned chickpeas, beans and legumes for 33p a can. Or try dried lentils, I regularly buy a bag of yellow split lentils for 55p which have many portions in it and just need a good soak before they’re ready to go.
Here are some of my favourite cheap buys which are full of goodness:
- Frozen garden peas – a surprisingly good source of plant-based protein!
- Lentils – fab for daal, curries, salads, casseroles/stews, nut roast.
- Butter beans – more versatile than you think, can use like chickpeas.
- Chickpeas – great for curries, salads, homemade hummus, making filled sweet potato skins with.
- Diced frozen onion – so, so easy for chucking into a pan to get a curry going
- Apples – Braeburns are my current favourite
- Frozen berries – blueberries, raspberries, mixed summer fruits.
- Porridge oats – whole grain if possible. Perfect for porridge, overnight oats, baked oats, or even savoury oats! Also an easy topping to yoghurt to make it more filling. I also just made my own oat milk – so easy, satisfying and cheap!
- Supermarket spices – turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, ground coriander, cumin, mild curry powder
- Tinned tomatoes – perfect combo with coconut milk for a quick and easy curry sauce, just add some spices
- Coconut milk – perfect combo with tinned tomatoes for a quick and easy curry sauce, just add some spices
- Sweet potatoes – baked or popped in a curry (or for making sweet treats with veg!)
- Tahini – great for salad dressings and stir-fry sauces
- Tamari – great for salad dressings, stir-fry sauces and homemade hummus
….all of these are ‘superfoods’ to me, but without the price tag!
I also love nuts, they can be pricey but you can often find cheap places to get them, Lidl, Home Bargains and similar stores. You can also sometimes find them cheaply in local greengrocers, but this is dependent on the independent store prices. These shops can have self-service jars and you add as much as you want to paper bags – cheaper and less plastic waste. I’m also an almond butter fiend!
People on social media who have inspiring plant-based ideas/recipes:
Happy Pear – These guys are great. They provide both drool-worthy plant-based recipes and have the most happy and uplifting demeanours to add a positive spark to your day. They share recipes on Instagram and have three amazing cook books I thoroughly recommend. Their YouTube Channel is brilliant, the 5-minute dinners are a great place to start if you are wanting to try some quick, easy and super yummy plant-based meals.
Deliciously Ella – A treasure trove of plant-based recipes. From having a deli (in London) if you want to taste how good veg can be, Instagram account and multiple best-selling cook books, I thoroughly recommend all for plant-based inspiration. They also have an app, and a new one coming out very soon. They also have a product range now if you’re not quite there with making plant-based foods yourself but want to increase your consumption.
Doctor’s Kitchen – for the science behind why these foods are good for you. A medical doctor and entrepreneur who advocates culinary medicine. He does Instagram lives showing you how quick and easy it is to rustle up a nutritious, plant-based meal and has a great resource in his website. He’s got one cookbook and another on the way.
I could go on, there are honestly so much out there! I’d recommend searching Instagram and cook books on Amazon and see which style of writing, characters and recipes work for you.
If you find a recipe you like, write a list and go to the shop and get those ingredients. Not only does this mean you have all you need to create a wholesome yummy meal, it reduces food waste.
I hope this inspires you to start cooking more plant-based,
- Ozdal, T. et al. The Reciprocal Interactions between Polyphenols and Gut Microbiota and Effects on Bioaccessibility. Nutrients 8, 78 (2016).