Leah Vanderveldt is a wellness writer and recipe developer based in Brooklyn. She’s the author of the cookbooks The New Nourishing and The New Porridge and loves learning and writing about food, travel, body image, meditation, tarot, and much more. She's the former Food Editor of mindbodygreen.com and is certified in Culinary Nutrition from the Natural Gourmet Institute. You can find her cooking up vegetable-centric meals and exploring wellness in ways that are affordable, fun, and a little woo-woo over on her blog, The Nourish Exchange and Instagram @leah.vander.
We’re in the thick of that “New Year, New You” energy. But maybe you don’t want a whole new you (face it, you’re pretty awesome already), you’re just looking to up the amount of plants you’re eating because you know that’s the key to a healthy lifestyle. Eating more plants provides your body with an array of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, all of which leave you feeling more vibrant and energetic. Maybe you’re ready to commit to going full-time plant-based or you’re just looking to cut back on dairy and meat — either way relying less on animal products is great for your body and the planet.
To make the plant-based transition (or part-time transition) as smooth as possible, try my four-week challenge. Incorporating one change per week, you’ll accumulate all the tools to start living a happy, healthy (+ delicious) plant-based life.
Week 1: Start your day with a smoothie.
This week is all about adding more plants.
Smoothies and smoothie bowls are a great breakfast for fitting in a few extra fruits and veggies and starting the day with a completely plant-based meal. With one whirl of the blender, you’re a third of the way to being plant-based.
Start with a base of almondmilk or coconut milk (I love Califia Farms Unsweetened Almondmilk and Toasted Coconut Almondmilk), a frozen banana, some frozen strawberries, a bunch of fresh or frozen spinach and almond or peanut butter. Blitz in your blender and enjoy with some granola on top — you’ll stay satisfied until lunchtime.
Experiment with using other fruits: frozen cauliflower, steamed sweet potato, kale, spirulina powder, and spices like cinnamon and turmeric.
Week 2: Find dairy replacements you actually like.
This week we look at transitioning away from dairy.
Enjoying life’s little joys, like your morning coffee or a hot chocolate on a cold day, are essential to living a happy life (in my opinion, anyway). Try out dairy-free coffee creamers and milk replacements that easily allow you to nix the dairy from your life without it feeling like a sacrifice. The key is finding products that, first and foremost, taste good to you and are made from simple, high-quality ingredients.
A good place to start: Califia Farms Better Half creamer, made with coconut cream and almondmilk (it's a perfect swap for Half & Half).
Week 3: Rethink protein.
Break out of the meat and two vegetables meal concept. Being plant-based doesn’t mean you have to eat tofu or weird meat replacements if that’s not your thing. There’s plenty of protein in things like legumes (as in all types of beans and lentils), grains (like quinoa, millet, and farro), and nuts and seeds (and nut butters).
Rethink your plate and build it with vegetables first, then plant-based protein on top — plus some tasty extras, like sauces, citrus, and crunchy seeds. Get creative. Hummus has protein, so does brown rice, peanut butter, and roasted pumpkin seeds. Don’t stress about getting enough — just focus on including some plant-based form of protein with every meal. If you notice you’re not staying as full for longer, try adding extra or another type of plant-based protein at your next meal.
Week 4: Recreate your favorite dishes with plants or find new favorites.
For our final week, we get little more ambitious.
Use Pinterest, recipe sites and blogs, and cookbooks to find plant-centric versions of dishes you already know you like or new ones with flavor profiles that sound appealing to you. Then get in the kitchen and experiment! Try dishes that rely on spices and aromatics (think garlic, onions, and shallots) to bring the flavor, rather than the meat.
If you’re at a loss of where to start, think of your go-to takeout dishes and go from there. Love chicken tikka masala? Ditch the chicken and make it with chickpeas. Try making a pasta dish with lots of veggies, garlic, olive oil, and chili flakes, instead of meat or cream. Get cozy with a vegan mac and cheese. Make an all-veggie pad thai or curry.
A lot of plant-based recipes actually cook quicker too, because you don’t have to wait for meat to cook through — bonus! Once you find a few recipes that you love, make extra and enjoy them for lunches during the week.
Embracing a more plant-based lifestyle doesn't have to be complicated and you don't have to sacrifice taste. Make a few swaps each week over the next four weeks and feel the difference. Good luck plant people, you’ve got this!
Taking the challenge? Share your progress with us @CalifiaFarms!