Preparing a vegetarian vegan plant-based meal diet

How to Change to a Plant-Based Diet

I know from personal experience, as well as from ten years of wellness and health coaching, that changing eating habits on a long-term basis requires time, passion, a ton of knowledge, and a positive emotional commitment to the process. There is always a pain-and-pleasure dynamic at play:

Most people dislike change because they believe the process of changing is difficult or painful (both physically and emotionally). Thus, most change only happens when we recognize that the status quo — staying as we are or maintaining old behaviors — is more painful than the process of changing itself. When that happens, we approach change with hope and the promise of a new, more pleasurable existence. That realization encourages us to seek the knowledge and to find the time and the emotional fortitude to build new, healthier habits.

My experience with veganism has had its ups and downs. I grew up eating and loving meat — things like pork chops, ground beef, and even canned meats. When I decided to stop eating meat over a decade ago, I became a vegetarian for a while (eating eggs and dairy), then a pescatarian (enjoying fish on occasion), and then what I called a “holiday-tarian,” or someone who only indulges in meat during vacations and holidays.

At one point I even became what I call a “muffin vegetarian.” Yes, my diet was 100 percent plant-based, but I ate mostly white pasta, muffins, sugary drinks, and bread. How many nutrients could I have possibly found in that kind of food?! I might as well have been a McDonald’s, steak-and-potatoes gal! It took years of education, experimentation, and building better habits that work for me to finally commit long-term to veganism.

That has been my journey. Now it’s time for you to continue yours. What follows are my tips for changing to a healthier, mostly to fully plant-based diet, which is followed by an even more specific twenty-one-day diet plan.

My most important advice is this: Take any changes one step at a time. This is not an overnight process. Every small step is a step in the right direction. Particularly if your diet has been heavy with meat, don’t try to go “cold turkey” or make every change at once. Pick two or three strategies from the list below, try them for a week or two, and see what happens. Then try a few more.

After a month or so, as you adjust the balance of your diet and try a variety of foods, your taste buds will evolve. You may notice changes in your mood and well-being. You may realize that you don’t want meat anymore, or that meat becomes something you want only occasionally, as a treat or indulgence.

Whatever happens, give yourself time, patience, and self-love.

  • Start by eating at least three fully plant-based meals a week. That’s just 14 percent of your weekly meals. For instance, pick breakfast on Monday, lunch on Wednesday, and dinner on Friday. Or, make one day entirely plant-based (like the popular Meatless Mondays). If you already do this, then expand by three the number of plant-based meals you normally have each week.
  • Make a list of your favorite foods and dishes and see how you can veganize them. For example, if pasta is one of your favorite meals, pick vegetarian options like pasta primavera or eggplant parmesan and use plant-based cheeses.
  • Eventually, ensure you have at least one plant-based meal every day, and if you already do this, and then make it two per day. In my experience, the easiest meal is breakfast. If you drink coffee in the morning, have it with almond, coconut, or rice milk. Or better yet, have a bowl of fruit on an empty stomach, wait one hour, then follow that with a piece of whole-wheat toast and organic jelly. Another alternative is a green smoothie made with spinach, bananas, berries, and almond milk.
  • Eat at least one raw ingredient with each meal. For example, if you’re eating a bowl of whole-wheat pasta, have a side salad with arugula, cucumber, and avocado. If you’re having a Mexican bowl, make sure it includes fresh-made guacamole.
  • Use my “reduce and replace” method (for more on this, see “The Basic Method: Reduce and Replace,” pages 148-50). Pick a single “junk food” to eliminate or reduce from your diet and replace it with one yummy health food you already know and love. For instance, reduce tortilla chips and replace with celery sticks; reduce a bag of Skittles and replace with whole fruit; reduce an afternoon coffee and replace with a cup of herbal tea. Continue doing this each week with other junk food until you have reduced and replaced at least 50 percent of the junk food you currently consume.
  • When planning meals, think of animal flesh as a side dish, not a main dish. Make whole grains and colorful vegetables the main stars of each meal. If you still want to eat meat, make sure animal flesh fills less than 25 percent of your plate, so that you are eating less meat.
  • Eventually, eat meat only on a single “treat” day. Choose a single day of the week to indulge in meat-based dishes. By doing this, you can also identify how your body reacts to consuming flesh versus whole plant foods.
  • Chef Jenné also shared this tip: “Make colorful things, try to show that you can veganize familiar foods, whether they’re soul food or any other cuisine. Try to bridge familiarity with foods that you are already used to eating, and clean them up a little. If the recipe calls for a ton of oil or butter, find a way to cut back on those because, of course, it’s not just about it being vegan, but it’s also about it being healthier. Start where you’re at, with what you already know.”
  • Finally, keep educating yourself. Be curious about food, diet, health, and your own body. Read books on the health benefits of a plant-based diet, and continue to learn the what, why, and how of the foods you eat. The more you know, the easier it is to make the right choices.

Jovanka Ciares is the author of Reclaiming Wellness and several other titles. A certified wellness expert, integrative herbalist, nutrition educator, and coach, she offers lectures and workshops in Spanish and English. Visit her online at

Excerpted from the book from Reclaiming Wellness: Ancient Wisdom for Your Healthy, Happy, and Beautiful Life. Copyright ©2022 by Jovanka Ciares. Printed with permission from New World Library —

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Written by Jovanka Ciares

Explore Wellness in 2021