12 easy ways to eat a more plant-based diet

Whether you want to go full vegan or just cut back on meat and dairy, these are easy ways to start eating more plant-based food.

Rainbow layer cake
Rainbow layer cake
Chowhound staff
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Chowhound staff
5 min read
Pho Soup for One Close Up

Tofu and mushrooms are both meaty plant-based options.

Enrique Díaz / 7cero / Moment / Getty Images

Is everyone you know switching to plant-based eating? Are you also curious about what exactly it means to alter your diet to a more plant-forward lifestyle? Well, you've come to the right place. While a plant-based diet is actually a broad range of eating habits, many people are doing it because they know it's better for both our bodies and the environment. So really, a plant-based diet can be whatever you want it to be. 

How you approach a plant-based diet is simply up to you. The diet does place a large emphasis on consuming mostly plant-derived foods and limiting animal products like meat and dairy, but you can be super restrictive or super lax -- the choice is up to you, at least according to some Harvard experts. Check out these 12 tips for incorporating plant-based recipes into your diet and discovering ways to cut back on meat and dairy.

1. Hop on the zoodle wagon


A spiralizer opens up a whole new world of veggie noodles to explore.


If you haven't joined the zoodle party (spiralizing zucchini or other vegetables to mimic noodles), the time is now. "Zucchini noodles are nutritious, low-calorie, low-carb and definitely plant-based," says Nick Graff, executive chef at Noodles & Company. Using zucchini, yellow squash, butternut squash or beets in place of regular wheat pasta is an easy way to instantly make a dish more plant-based, he says, and they pair nicely with your favorite sauce and mix-ins. His unique pro-tip: Use a potato peeler to cut sheets of squash, then lay them on a cookie sheet and roast in the oven until they're slightly dehydrated. "They make an amazing, plant-based lasagna," he says.

2. Swap your butter for oil

Yes, butter is sourced from animals, so switching it out for plant-derived options such as coconut oil, avocado oil or olive oil is an easy first step. "Coconut oil can be used in a 1:1 ratio when cooking or baking, making it an easy non-dairy recipe adaptation that adds a hint of flavor," says Manuel Trevino, corporate executive chef of by CHLOE, a vegan restaurant in New York City. 

Read more: Try our Vegan Chocolate Cupcake recipe.

Vegan Chocolate Cupcake

You won't miss the eggs or butter in these vegan cupcakes with fluffy vegan frosting.


3. Mimic your meat

Not all meat substitutes are created equal -- many contain superfluous ingredients you don't need or want to ingest, so choose wisely. One of the best natural options is jackfruit, which is high in fiber, protein and vitamins, maintains a texture similar to meat and is particularly good for turning your favorite barbecue items plant-based. "Use it as an alternative to a classic pulled pork sandwich," says Thomas Boemer, chef and owner of Corner Table in Minneapolis.

vegan burger

This veggie burger is based on black-eyed peas.


As far as packaged substitutes go (because, let's face it, we don't always have time to whip up veggie burgers from scratch), look for brands like Field Roast, which makes plant-based sausages, patties and more. You want products with a minimal ingredient list that includes whole foods like nuts, seeds or grains. They cook up just like regular meat and are perfect for making plant-based comfort items such as "pigs" in a blanket, "brats" and sauerkraut or "sausage" and peppers.

4. Call on cauliflower

Cauliflower can do so much, including standing in for meat (see our Cauliflower Tacos below) and dairy. It can even substitute for rice -- which is already a plant-based option, yes, but swapping in cauliflower rice gets you even closer to the plant source. "Grated cauliflower is the perfect substitution in dishes like fried rice," says Graff. You can also try grating broccoli for a similar effect (though cauliflower is a more neutral flavor base).

cauliflower tacos

Cauliflower tacos are a great plant-based meal, especially with crunchy slaw.


5. Mushrooms are your friend

Believe it or not, mushrooms can provide the deep, earthy flavor that some ground meats bring to a dish. "Make a traditional Bolognese sauce with roasted mushrooms instead of ground beef or pork for a rich, meat-like flavor," suggests Graff. They also have a meaty texture, which is why grilled portobello burgers are so eternally popular.

6. Cut back on cheese

If you're not ready to give up dairy cheese all together, start out slow. "Add fresh corn and jalapeño to a grilled cheese sandwich," says Helene Henderson, owner and executive chef of Malibu Farm Miami Beach. The extra boost of flavor and texture allows you to cut back on the amount of cheese you'd normally pile on. Eventually, you may be ready to explore vegan cheese -- maybe even make your own.

Jalapeno Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Add jalapenos and other veggies to your grilled cheese.


7. Opt for non-dairy milks

This might seem like an obvious swap -- cashew, almond, coconut, oat or soy milks in place of cow milk --  but knowing how to use them is key. For the consistency you need for a creamy, comforting mac 'n' cheese, alfredo or even a dip, try cashew milk. "When blended with soaked cashews, it becomes a great replacement for creamy sauces," say the experts at Silk. If a bowl of decadent, cream-based soup screams comfort food to you, try coconut milk instead. Then delve into dairy-free ice cream for dessert.

8. Fry your veggies

"Fried food is comfort food, especially in the South. Battered veggies like cauliflower or broccoli is a great way to [sate] that fried desire," says Katie Borger, senior director of marketing for Boston's Pizza Restaurant and Sport Bar. Check out our Buffalo Cauliflower recipe for a start.

Buffalo Cauliflower with Blue Cheese Dressing

Buffalo cauliflower bites and cauliflower crust pizza are both perfectly at home at a party.


9. Bulk up your breakfast

Load up your pancake and waffle batter so you're not hungry enough to miss the bacon and eggs. "Mix butternut squash puree into pancake or waffle batter for vitamins, fiber and sweetness," says Graff. In summer, pile fresh fruit on your French toast or pancakes.

10. Embrace your beans

Beans are a magical ingredient when it comes to plant-based eating. Not only do they add the necessary dose of fiber and protein you need to stay full, they're also super versatile. Use a variety of beans and veggies to make a hearty meat-free chili, or choose bean-based pastas (you can find them from mainstream brands like Barilla and Explore Cuisine) for your favorite pasta dish.

Easy Vegetarian Chili

Pack your chili full of beans and veggies instead of meat.


11. Use applesauce instead of eggs

Here's one baking substitute that might surprise you. "Unsweetened applesauce acts as a binder to keep your baked goods just as moist as eggs," says Trevino. Check out other egg alternatives for both sweet and savory recipes.

Read more: Healthy dessert ingredient swaps you won't even notice

12. Rethink tofu

This staple of Asian cuisine can be used in much more than a stir-fry. The firm type fries up well, so use it for faux chicken nuggets or popcorn shrimp. Its bland taste also means it holds up nicely in dishes with plenty of other flavors and spices, such as a pot pie or our Vegan Lasagna recipe. And while you're at it, get acquainted with its cousin, tempeh too.

Read More: Stocking stuffers for foodies in 2019

Vegan Lasagna

Firm tofu replaces ricotta cheese in this hearty vegan lasagna.


This story was written by Alyssa Jung and originally posted at Chowhound.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.