Your Plant-Based Diet Starter Kit: Buy these 17 Items to Crush Your First Days
I am running on a treadmill, at 7 a.m., approaching my top speed, on an incline, when my friend leans in to announce: "I want to go plant-based! I want to do the 21 Day Challenge! Is it too late?" I explain that "No, you can start any time." I am trying to tell her: Sign up and it will trigger a series of newsletters to guide you day-by-day. One will sail into your inbox each morning for the next three weeks.
Now I hear this. She is excited. "Can I have parmesan? What about creamer in my coffee? Can I have eggs? Honey?" This is the line of questioning I am used to. In fact I get it all the time. How do you start? What can I eat? I want to reel off all the answers: "No, no, no and maybe (if you're not vegan), but that's all beside the point." I'm breathless. I decide at that moment that we need a Plant-Based Starter Kit. Something quick and easy to get you out of the gate.
I am used to explaining to people who ask: There are great cheeses made from cashew milk, and amazing veggie burgers and the JUST Eggs brand of substitute egg mix makes a credible omelet -- you'd never know you're eating beans. For that matter, Amy's Pizzas and Gardein Meatballs give you dinner options even if you're not a big cook. Califia milk is so tasty, I have it on cereal. Now with all the products flooding the market, you can make it through an entire day, week, or month of plant-based meals and never feel you've "compromise" on your favorite foods and dishes.
At that very moment, on a treadmill before heading to work to edit the rest of the 21 Day Plant-Based Challenge, I realized we needed to create your Plant-Based Starter Kit. And just include a list of all the foods that I love and have tasted, grown to depend on as my "go-to" swaps for when a quinoa bowl with salad greens won't quite do the trick-- though I hit that for lunch most days.
Here, I have compiled my best version of your Plant-Based Eating Starter Kit. I realize you may like a different choice of milk or creamer or ice cream -- enter YOUR favorites at the Product Review section, in the Beet Meter where we rate and recommend products for taste and health. But for now, with a quick sweep of Whole Foods, I came up with the only 17 items you need to start your journey and transform from omnivore to plant-based eater. This is a kit, so use it as you need it. And good luck!
Breakfast Starter Kit Items
1. Almond Milk. We love Califia Brand but there is also Oatly Oat Milk and many other great milks. This is a personal preference. If you like Blue Almond or another option, go for it. There have never been more milk choices at the market.
2. Coffee Creamer. Again this is a personal preference. I chose Califia Better Half combo of Coconut Cream and Almond Milk, but you can choose any of the growing number of non-dairy creamers hitting the shelves.
3. Vegan Butter Spread. Earth Balance is a fantastic plant-based butter spread. So is Myokos (more of a solid) and I Can't Believe It's Vegan. These melt well on toast or bagels, and you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference from the real thing in a blind taste test.
4. JUST Eggs. Every other egg substitute makes scrambling or omelettes watery or lacking stiffness, but JUST Eggs actually give you that egg-like texture when you make them. I loved this option all summer for healthy protein-packed breakfast, especially mixed with veggies.
5. Tofutti Cream Cheese. You could start an office fight of us all arguing over which one is the best cream cheese, but the larger point is that there are great new plant-based offerings. Suffice it to say that Tofutti is my favorite, but there are lots of good ones. Check out our review with the Beet Meter ratings attached for the story. Then add your ratings and reviews.
6. Oatmeal. Okay so there is nothing particularly vegan about it but it's the perfect base to add other fruits and nuts and raisins on top, and fill up quickly without any compromise. If you're Gluten-Free we recommend Bob's Red Mill classic for a base. Just add almond milk.
7. Non-Dairy Yogurt. This is an especially tricky category since most people don't love the overly-sweetened coconut milk choices that are everywhere. We have found a few that are tasty, not too sickly sweet, and have a yogurt-like taste and consistency. Check out the yogurt review we published, and add your favorites and ratings to The Beet Meters!
Lunch Starter Kit:
1. Veganaise. The great thing about lunch is you can go out for a salad or veggie wrap, or pick up soup or another veggie-based offering -- even an Impossible Whopper. If you're making your own sandwich at home, make sure to have Veganaise handy.
2. Cheese Slices or Shreds. Make your grilled cheese or salad with vegan cheese. Chao makes a good one, as does So Delicious (the mozzarella is legit) and for nachos, we love how Parmella melts and grips the chips like the real thing. These cheeses make it easy to be plant-based, even for cheese lovers. (Trust us.)
Head over to Sweetgreen or Just Salad, or even your local BK when you're feeling lazy and need fast food for the Impossible Whopper, or make yourself a hummus and flatbread snack, or avocado toast. For a list of amazing lunch options to make and bring to work, check out the 21 Day Plant-Based Challenge and look at the Carousel of Recipes!
Snack Starter Kit:
1. Air-popped Flavored Popcorn. Most of the offerings include cheese so look for the Vegan "V" sign. We love Boom Chicka Pop Sea Salt flavored popcorn because it delivers the most band for the buck when you want a little indulgence mid-afternoon.
2. Natural, Raw Almonds. This is pretty basic. But if you need an easy, protein-packed healthy snack to have on hand, almonds are a great bet. Steer away from the salty or roasted options that carry more sodium and calories than you need.
3. Home-made-style Hummus. Protein, protein, protein. Everyone asks where to get it. You know that plant-based protein is abundant in chickpeas and soybeans, tofu and of course hummus. In fact there are dozens of sources. But for the low-hanging fruit, keep hummus in the fridge and dip anything you like into it. Celery, pretzels, your finger. Just eat it.
Dinner Starter Kit:
1. Veggie Burger. Dr. Pragers, Hillary's, Boca, and others all make tasty, filling and healthy veggie burgers that don't try to imitate meat. If you want something that will "fool" your tastebuds stick with Impossible or Beyond (personal preference). These are more classic veggie burgers from beans, mushrooms, beats, and other recognizable grown ingredients.
2. Frozen Pizza. Amy's vegan supreme plant-based pizza is a medley of veggies like mushrooms, peppers, and meatless pepperoni and veggie sausage, all on an organic crust and covered with a generous dose of vegan mozzarella-style cheese. Keep these stocked!
4. Beefless Ground crumbles. Making Tacos? shepherd's pie or a bolognese sauce? These ground-up alternative meats are delicious and you would never know that there is no beef in the sauce.
5. Sliced Italian Saus'age. There are now so many options for sliced or breaded "chicken" and "pork" as well as meatballs, and other alternative meats you can try a new one every night for a month and still not have tasted all of them. We suggest keeping a bag on hand for when you want to add them to pasta or another traditional meat-filled dish.
Dessert Starter Kit:
1. Non-Dairy Ice Cream. So Delicious and Oatly make amazing non-dairy ice creams. So does Salt and Straw, depending on whether you prefer Almond Milk, Oat Milk or another base. The richest of the bunch are coconut cream based treats; when we tried them all we loved the Ben & Jerry's which taste as rich as the real thing but are massive calorie bombs. Still, when you transition to plant-based eating, don't deprive yourself. A couple of pints of non-dairy ice cream go a long way to make your new lifestyle choice feel delicious.
And watch: The Game Changers. We can't say it enough. If you're an athlete or doing this because your body doesn't recover as fast as it used to, or you want to boost your performance overall, plant-based athletes are so inspiring that you can't help but feel like you're making the right choice for your body. Watch it on Amazon Prime tonight.