The Way We Eat Now: Our Plant-Based Switch, Part 1

Although we thought we were pretty healthy eaters before, we’ve made some big changes to our diet in the last couple of years! This is our family’s story of switching to a plant-based diet.

A flat lay of plant-based foods including tomatoes, cashews, carrots, cilantro, and other fresh fruits and vegetables.

Did you know that processed lunchmeat can cause cancer…even when the lunchmeat has “no nitrates added”?

I didn’t know that until my husband sent me an article to read and got me investigating.

I looked at the article and thought: How annoying.

How inconvenient to discover that a staple of your weekly lunches isn’t doing you any favors! And we thought we’d been doing it the healthy way by getting the lunchmeat packages that said “no added nitrates or nitrites!”

I have a principle that if there’s any food item that’s part of our regular routine, it needs to be a healthy one. Otherwise it should be moved to the less frequent “treats” category. Since lunch meat no longer seemed a good option for our weekly grocery list, I decided I’d just have to get creative and find some healthier lunch options instead.

Little did I know, but lunchmeat was just the beginning of the dietary changes we’d make over the next few years…

Before I continue this exciting story, let me pause for a minute to address the question that may be uppermost in your mind right now: Why should I care what Elsie’s family eats or doesn’t eat?

Ah, you see, the answer goes back to my philosophy of what makes an old-fashioned blog (like this one) special. A blog is a journey. I started this one back in 2011, and in the early years it was mostly centered around health and food. Readers who have been on this journey with me since early days may be curious to see what’s changed for us and what hasn’t. (I know for my part, when there’s a blogger I read and follow, I’m always interested to see where their journey takes them!)

Second reason to share this dietary update is that I want to encourage others to make healthy changes in their food consumption, too. Reevaluate what you’re doing every now and then. Are there any not-so-great eating habits that you’ve grown too comfortable with?

Now, back to our food story…

Spoiler Alert: We Went Plant-Based

In a nutshell, we’ve been eating a whole foods plant-based diet since 2019.

Shortly after that lunchmeat epiphany, I watched a documentary on Netflix called What the Health, about a man who becomes vegan after investigating the health concerns and global impact of an animal-saturated food market.

I wasn’t super impressed by the documentary or the filmmakers’ tactics, but it did make me want to know more.

Next, I turned to the better-quality Forks Over Knives documentary, which introduced me to a whole foods plant-based diet (WFPB). This documentary follows the life-long research of doctors Caldwell Esselstyn and T. Colin Campbell, whose separate careers led them to the same conclusion: eat a plant-based diet for optimal health.

What is a Plant-Based Diet?

A plant-based diet heavily de-emphasizes meat in favor of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. In a plant-based diet, the majority of your macronutrients—protein, carbohydrates, and fat—come from plants. A plant-based diet might not entirely rule out animal products (this depends on the individual), but it operates on the premise that plants are the powerhouses of your diet.

After watching the documentaries, I started reading books and scientific journal articles, and listening to podcasts and interviews from the doctors featured in the films. While I did not feel a vegan diet would be sustainable for us, I’ve become convinced that animal products create a burden for our bodies that we need to address sooner rather than later. I’ve had the bad habit of assuming that I’ll ramp up my healthy eating game when I’m older…or worse, when I actually have a disease! Which is a very glib way of thinking about health, isn’t it?

We chose to adopt a plant-based diet primarily for health reasons, as there is an overwhelming, growing body of evidence that plant-based diets protect from our major diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. However, there are also environmental and social concerns with eating an animal-centric diet, so for many people, a plant-based diet is an ethical decision as well.

What’s the difference between vegan, vegetarian, and plant-based?

Vegan, vegetarian, and plant-based diets can be similar, but there are distinctions. Here’s how they break down:

  • Vegan diet: No meat or animal-derived products. This means no beef, fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, butter, honey, etc.
  • Vegetarian diet: No meat, but may include animal-derived products such as dairy and eggs.
  • Plant-based diet: Heavily emphasizes plant-sourced foods, but may occasionally include animal products.

One of the things that plant-based advocates like to remind people of is that vegan and vegetarian diets don’t necessarily mean you’re eating lots of plants or being healthy (e.g. Oreos are vegan). The whole foods plant-based diet always keeps plants center stage and doesn’t rely on processed food as a meal solution.

If you know me through this blog, you know that I avoid extremes, preferring a more moderate and flexible approach (I cut back on sugar but still defend its real estate in my pantry). Going plant-based made sense for me because it puts our focus and energies into eating LOTS of vegetables and fruits, but still “allows” for the things we enjoy like Chick-fil-A and crème brûlée.

You’ll find a bit of a range when it comes to the finer points of a plant-based diet. On the strictest end of the spectrum, Caldwell and Ann Esselstyn eat a plant-based diet with no animal products, ever, as well as no oil, limited salt, and no saturated fat from plants such as avocados and coconut milk. On the other end, for some plant-based advocates all edible plants are fair game, and they take their cues from long-lived people groups where meat and seafood are consumed in moderation. We’re in that camp, although I know we still have room for improvement with eating more plants than we do currently!

Four bright pink radishes on a yellow napkin

How We Went Plant-Based

After all of my research on the subject, it was time to implement what I learned. I had two simple aims: increase the plants, reduce the meat.

Goal 1: Increase the Plants

Of course, we ate fruits and vegetables before. But it wasn’t enough. I had fallen into the trap of becoming a “token vegetable” cook, including a vegetable with our meals as an afterthought, merely to check a box. With our new emphasis on plants, we started buying fruits and vegetables we’d previously ignored, and sought out new-to-us ways to prepare them.

We discovered that roasted broccoli is so amazing that we could easily eat a whole pan—each! And who knew that cauliflower is so wonderfully versatile? You can use it steamed and pulsed as a rice-like side dish; or bread it, bake it, and add to tacos!

We upped our green smoothie intake to about four times per week, so we can all start the day with a dose of spinach or kale. (We don’t add juice to our smoothies…our typical method is to put water in our Blendtec blender with a few handfuls of fresh or frozen kale or spinach, plus a couple handfuls of frozen fruit. Aldi sells bags of frozen berries, mangoes, pineapple, cherries, etc, so we vary these from week to week.)

Our go-to weekday breakfast is overnight oatmeal (variations of this). And even when we enjoy egg-and-cheese burritos (usually on the weekend) we load them up now with mushrooms and cilantro or other plants.

For supper we eat dal, beans and rice, all manner of soups, chickpea curry, and tofu, to name a few things! Lunches are usually leftovers for the adults, and finger foods for the kids like peanut butter sandwiches, raw fruits and veggies, frozen peas and corn, crackers, etc.

In an upcoming post, I’ll share some of the family-favorite, plant-based recipes we’ve added to our repertoire. We’ve always been advocates of cooking from scratch, it’s just that the recipes we make now have become increasingly plant-dense!

Goal 2: Reduce the Meat

Because we lived under a tight budget for years, we’ve never been meat-at-every-meal people. We usually had one or two vegetarian suppers per week, and plenty of meat-free breakfasts and lunches. However, unless we were eating beans we typically relied on eggs and dairy (cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, etc.) to maintain the protein in lieu of meat.

Now we’ve flipped the equation so that we only have one or two meat suppers per week, perhaps one vegetarian (for homemade cheese and veggie pizza, for instance), and the rest plant-based/vegan.

Across the board, we’ve reduced our dairy consumption to less than half of what it used to be. We use unsweetened almond milk instead of cow’s milk, and since we’re not having those lunchmeat sandwiches anymore, we don’t use as much cheese, either! (It’s interesting: I’ve found that in a lot of meals and recipes, animal products call for more animal products. So if you intentionally cut back on one type of animal product, you end up reducing others along the way without much effort.)

In spite of the fact that we ate a real food diet before, going plant-based was still a radical mindset and habit shift for us. But it’s been fun. And incredibly tasty. Who knew that by giving up lunchmeat we’d gain so much?

Stay Tuned for More Posts in This Miniseries…

I’ve got a bit more to say on this topic, so keep an eye out for these upcoming posts:


  1. I love Nourishing Traditions diet so I’m very interested in that upcoming post! I love your balanced approach. I do believe that healthy, local, and sustainably produced animal meat and products can be incredibly healthy for us (we get local meat, eggs, and raw milk), but I love how much you focus on plants and I’m inspired by that. Looking forward to hearing more of your journey.

    1. Thank you, I can’t wait to share! Hopefully it won’t take me too long to get those other posts up, because I already have rough drafts for them! Originally they were all part of this post, but then I chopped it up because it was just getting too massive. I think getting local meat, eggs, and dairy is definitely the way to go with animal products! And thank you for reading about our journey, even if you do things differently!

  2. So interesting to hear your experience with this! I am also very interested in your thoughts on the WAPF diet in the next post! We lean towards the JERF (just eat real food) and mostly vegetarian at home (more for ethical reasons) with some meat occasionally. Always interested in seeing what other people eat and their reasons for it! 🙂

  3. I switched over to a plant based diet three years ago. Very happy with the results. I still eat some sardines and salmon once or twice a week or an egg plus a few whites. I eat tofu, beans, lentils, farro, wild and brown rice, oatmeal, Post Whole Wheat and Bran cereal, potatoes, and polenta. Make vegetable based soups. Changed over to whole grain pasta. I am allergic to dairy, so I drink unsweetened soy milk in my coffee. I don’t eat vegan cheeses because of the high oil and salt content. Took about a month to make that change. I get a lot of my veggies and fruits at the discount bin for a dollar a bag and buy small bags of salad greens and spinach. I am the only family member who eats this way but I continue to persevere. The results speech for themselves. I weigh 135, my waistline is 27 inches, my hair is glossy, and my skin glows with health. Not bad for age 56. I do make some healthier options for my my family but right now they prefer the sweet treats I create with fruits, berries, apples, pears, and vegan butter. Looking forward to your family recipes.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience with a plant-based diet! And some specifics of what you eat–that’s very helpful! I, too, love what plant-based eating is doing for us so far, and only anticipate more positive benefits to come!

      1. My biggest issue is that my family isn’t interested in eating this way. Well, at least one family member enjoys making meals based on lots of vegetables, beans, tofu. He is a creative cook, much better than I am. Because I am the only “bean eater” I buy cans of low or no salt beans at the grocery store and add them to my meals instead of cooking beans. I tend to buy smaller bags of fruits and vegetables for the same reason so there is no spoilage. I have also realized that just because an apple, pear, or vegetable is bruised doesn’t mean you can’t cut out the bruised part and enjoy it in a meal. My husband has lately started paying attention to my way of eating. He cooks oatmeal for breakfast, eats rice and adds some corn to the dish along with the meat he loves. He has cut back on soda and is drinking more water and more tea. He is morbidly obese with other health issues as well, so even small changes are a good start. With food prices so expensive, it is easier and cheaper to eat home cooked meals instead of eating out. Hopefully this trend will stick and I can feed my family healthier options.

        1. Yes, that must be hard to want something different for your family when they’re not on the same page yet! Encouraging though that your husband is making those steps! I wonder if he’d be willing to read the book Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman. It includes some compelling testimonials from people whose health was completely turned around by eating a nutrient-dense, plant-based diet.

  4. I love this post. I can’t wait to read the next in the series. We have also started to include more of a plant based diet in our home. Thank you for sharing. I don’t know how I found you but I clicked the link and I am glad I did!

    1. I’m happy to be a “stumbled upon” find! I think more and more people will start moving toward a plant-based diet in the next decade. And it’s certainly getting easier to do it! Our local Aldi, for instance, carries lots of plant-based milk options, as well as organic tofu, larger bags of cashews, and plant-based products on special buy. Now I just need them to start stocking Beyond Meat burgers on a regular basis!(;

      1. That’s true. I find a lot of good things at Aldi. I have one allergic to soy, among other things, so I have never tried the tofu there. We grow a big garden so that is a lot of our table too.

  5. Do you find any difficulty with your husband staying full without protein? My husband runs five times a week and on those days it seems hard to keep him from getting hungry with chicken for lunch and dinner…

    1. We’ve had to learn how to bulk up our meals more, and to keep eating [plants] when we feel hungry. One of the things I love about a plant-based diet is that it does not demonize carbs (in fact, it points out the benefits of complex carbs and starches). So we bulk up our meals with potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, squash, muffins, fresh bread, etc. We also had to figure out which plants have higher amounts of protein in them. We were already very familiar with beans. But we’ve also started using chickpeas for more than just hummus, putting them in stews and curries in place of meat. We’ve found new lentil recipes, and the kids eat green peas at lunch in place of the cheese we used to give them. We make a creamy alfredo sauce with cashews–high in protein. (I’ll share the recipes later in this series!) We eat tofu in stir fries. And of course, whole grains contain protein, and since we do not have grain allergies we rely on that source, too! Since your husband is a runner, he might like to watch the documentary The Game Changers, which features a number of plant-based athletes and competitors.

  6. My family has also gone WFPB. We loved What the Health; what an eye-opener! Have you seen The Game Changers? I think it might be one of our favs; it really made a believer out of my husband.

    1. Yes! I loved The Game Changers! Pretty smart angle to present a WFPB diet from, as it effectively answers the protein question people inevitably have!

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