Plant-Based Eating: How to Actually Do It

Food & Entertainment

Plant based eating
Image by Sonja & Alex Overhiser, A Couple Cooks

Want to give plant-based eating a try, but not sure where to start? Hi, I’m Sonja and I never thought I’d be eating plant-based. I never even thought I’d be cooking food for myself! But in the past 10 years, I’ve gone from kitchen novice to basing my entire career around eating lots of plants. With a vegetarian cookbook under my belt and years of trial and error in the kitchen, my passion is sharing with people (you!) that plant-based eating is doable and yes⁠—even fun. Ready to get started?

The back story: from hot pockets to quinoa

My husband Alex and I got married back in 2007 and neither of us were interested in food in the least. Back then, I ate hot pockets and breakfast cereal for dinner. Alex had Taco Bell daily. We bought a house and wanted to start having guests over for dinner, but we didn’t have the first idea of how to cook even the simplest meal. (Spaghetti was even beyond me!)

So we set about to learn. We surrounded ourselves with cookbooks and started watching all the cooking shows. We tried, and we failed. And over time, we started to actually enjoy it. New foods like risotto, kale, polenta, and quinoa became part of our everyday. Around that time, we read the book Food Matters by Mark Bittman, which challenged us to think more about the food we were putting into our bodies.

The two of us decided to cut out all processed foods, and started eating lots and lots of vegetables. It started with one meatless meal per week, and then it spiraled into more. We felt better, stronger, and healthier. We spent more quality time cooking with each other and friends. And eating plant-based was not the scary, tasteless cardboard flavor I was imagining. It was delicious.

Quinoa tacos
Image by Sonja & Alex Overhiser, A Couple Cooks

What is plant-based eating?

There are so many health benefits to eating more plants, and if it tastes good too, why not try it? Before we get to recipes, let’s talk about what the term “plant-based” actually means. Does it mean eating all plants, as in: a vegan diet? Or does it mean eating mostly plants, but sometimes dairy or meat?

According to Harvard Medical Schoolplant-based eating focuses on foods primarily from plants. So a plant-based diet can include occasionally eating meat and dairy, like in a “semi-vegetarian” or “flexitarian” diet.

But how about a recipe itself? Here I categorize a recipe as “plant-based” if it has no animal products, including dairy, meat, and honey.

Decide what type of plant-based works for you!

What’s important here is that there’s flexibility! A plant-based diet can look different for everyone. Take a moment to consider what will work in your lifestyle. It doesn’t have to be only plants—just focus on as many plants as possible! Determine whether you want to try to eat one plant-based meal per week, plant-based before 5 p.m. (for breakfast and lunch only), etc.

Alex and I decided to eat flexitarian: We eat vegetarian and vegan recipes on the regular. But if we’re traveling or out to dinner, we’ll occasionally eat seafood or meat. It’s this flexible approach that has helped us eat mostly plants on the regular for the past 10 years!

Healthy chili
Image by Sonja & Alex Overhiser, A Couple Cooks

The secret to satisfying plant-based meals: protein

When I first started eating plant-based meals, I realized that a meal does not equal a pile of carrot sticks and broccoli. You’ll be hungry an hour later! Here’s the secret to making sure you find satisfying plant-based meals: focus on plant-based protein.

Here are some of the top plant-based protein-filled foods:

  • Legumes: Lentils, split peas, black-eyed peas, beans, and chickpeas
  • Grains: Quinoa, barley, bulgur wheat, amaranth, millet, and brown and wild rice
  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds
  • Soy: Soy-based products like tofu and tempeh (stick to 2 to 4 servings per week)

Make sure the recipes you’re choosing have enough plant-based protein to keep you full and satiated. Luckily, it’s as simple as choosing recipes that focus on these proteins (see below).

Tips to actually making it work

Before we get to those actual delicious recipes, here are two important tips. First: Be kind and gentle to yourself. Forming new habits takes time and a lot of experimentation. You’re going to fail, and you’re going to fall off the horse from time to time. That’s okay! Remind yourself that the time you’re spending is a valuable investment in your health.

And second: Find a buddy. There is power in accountability! There’s no way that I’d be eating the way I do today if it weren’t for my husband, Alex. Find someone else who wants to experiment with eating more plants, like you do. It can be a partner, spouse, or good friend: anyone who will promise to be your cheerleader. And especially someone who wants to enjoy a good meal together.

Spring roll noodle bowl
Image by Sonja & Alex Overhiser, A Couple Cooks

Recipes to get you started!

So what actually does this look like in practice? Here’s what Alex and I did: Start with just one plant-based recipe. Make it, and if you like it, file it away for later. If not, don’t worry! It takes time to figure out your tastes and what pleases whoever you’re cooking for.

Dinner recipes

Here are some of our favorite plant-based dinner recipes that get rave reviews every time from our readers:

Breakfast recipes

Starting the day plant-based can easily become a habit! Our Best Toasted Oatmeal with a dollop of peanut butter of almond butter is the best protein-packed way to start the day: hands down.

Lunch and snack ideas

We spent most of our energy on cooking dinner recipes: and often those turn into leftovers for lunch! But here some low maintenance lunch ideas that work for office desk lunches and snacks:

BY Sonja Overhiser - October 24, 2019

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[…] large number of plums. After I wasn’t eating out or with pals, I made an effort to consume extra plant-based meals […]

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