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  • Writer's pictureSarah Fraser

Navigating this plant-based thing

Maybe you're just like us. Maybe you're someone who has had a health scare. Maybe you're someone who's already healthy but is looking to take it to the next level. Maybe you're like most people - busy, tired and looking for a way to improve your health but don't know where to start. You've heard about this plant-based thing. You're convinced that it's worth a try. But how do you begin?

Well, I've been down that road and I might be able to offer some help. The way I look at it, there are 2 different approaches to this plant-based thing. Actually, these same approaches can apply to almost any change you want to make in your life. You can a) jump in with both feet or b)dip your toe in and allow yourself some time to transition.

Jim's health scare forced us into action so we chose option a) with respect to meat and dairy. Boom - out they went. I would caveat this with the fact that we're still tweaking along the way. We didn't throw out the oil and sugars immediately. That took some more time.

When it comes to our kids, we went with option b). Some would argue this is not the right approach and that it's easier to just rip the bandaid off. I would argue that there is no one right approach. You need to do what is going to work for you. We didn't want to overwhelm the kids and force restrictions on them. We allowed them to try this new way of eating and discover it for themselves. Just as we allowed them to discover the taste of new foods when they were infants.

Option a) is pretty simple. Take half a day, go through your cupboards and fridge and throw out anything that came from a mother. Meat, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, butter, you get it. I would also encourage you to go a step further and throw out the oils and refined sugars. Water saute your foods, leave out the oil (you would be surprised at how you just don't need it), replace oil with applesauce in baking and refined sugars with maple syrup or dates. But, if the oil and sugar thing is too much to take on at first, go with the meat and dairy.

With option b) here's what I suggest. Take a day and write down 3-5 of your current favourite breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Now see if you can make replacements.

For example, can you replace your favourite oatmeal with plant milk instead of cow's milk? Can you add more fruit to it? The answer is unequivocally yes. I encourage you to try a variety of plant milks and see which one you like best. There are so many options - almond, coconut, rice, soy, oat, hemp. Say you like to grab an egg and bacon breakfast sandwich on the go in the morning. Can you make it a veggie lettuce and tomato sandwich instead? On weekends, make yourself some delicious plant-based pancakes. My favourite pancake recipe is one where I took an old familiar recipe and made substitutions. Nothing fancy.

For lunch, you love a burger and fries. Make it a veggie burger instead with a baked potato or salad. You like a tuna salad sandwich. Make it a chickpea salad sandwich.

For dinner, you like shepherds pie. Easy - switch out the ground beef for beans or crumbled tofu and use veggie broth instead of beef broth. Love those pizza Friday nights? You can still have it. Leave off the cheese and pepperoni and load it with veggies. Make your own cashew cheese (super easy by the way). Sushi night can still be enjoyed but with vegetable california rolls instead of fish.

Get adventurous! We now find that we enjoy more ethnic dishes such as Indian and Japanese. Thai is our absolute favourite and we now make our own version of pho soup at home.

Give yourself one month of trying out these meals. I promise you will feel better and have more energy. I found that it does take time for your taste buds and palate to change. Before long, you won't miss the meat or dairy. In fact, it might not agree with you anymore. About 3 months into plant-based living, we were out at our favourite pizza place. I got my usual veggies and tomato sauce but I had a hankering for cheese. I asked them to put on a small amount. I'm not kidding you, within half an hour of eating it, I actually felt ill. I thought maybe I was coming down with something but then my husband ate a slice of my leftovers later in the evening and he too felt ill. We've never eaten cheese since.

The last thing I will say is this...forgive yourself. This is important because you're going to mess up along the way. You'll be out with friends or celebrating someone's birthday and temptation will strike. Or, more likely, you will eat something at a restaurant or at a friend's house that has chicken broth or oil in it that you may or may not be aware of. It's ok. Just get back on track the next day or at the next meal. You're not going to achieve perfection (whatever that is!) and if that is your goal, you're setting yourself up for failure.

Give yourself a month. Just give it a try and I promise you won't regret it.

Here's our favourite recipe for oil-free, sugar-free, gluten-free pancakes:

1 cup flour (or gf flour. I usually use Bob's Red Mill 1:1)

3 tsp baking powder

1 -2 tbsp flax meal

1/2 tsp salt (optional)

3-4 tbsp maple syrup

1/4 cup apple sauce or mashed bananas

1 cup non-dairy milk

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Combine wet ingredients and mix into dry.

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