The Root of the Matter: The Challenge Begins

Thanksgiving is over, and I am feeling fully prepared for this Plant-Based Challenge*. I have been preparing for this for almost two months and have quite a few favorite meals in my lineup that I am eager to make again. I have asked everyone that wants to participate to fill out this survey before beginning and have learned a lot about everyone’s current health and their goals and fears for this challenge. In order to be successful, you need to set yourself up for success. I’ve done some planning for you to help out with your fears and address your goals.

Popular Goals

For myself, my main goal is to maintain my weight, but improve my overall health. I’m one of those people who is constantly sick, so I’m hoping that changing how I eat will give my immune system a boost. I’m also hoping for more energy and less snacking. According to the survey that many of you who are participating filled out, a lot of people shared the same goals as me. Almost everyone claimed that they wanted to be healthier, lose weight, and have more energy as a result of switching diets.

Another participant mentioned wanting to stop taking medications, which brings up a good point: before starting the challenge, or shortly after starting, you should make an appointment with your doctor to see if this diet is right for you. Discuss your medications, and make an appointment for a follow-up visit to see if your medications should be altered. 

I recently spoke to someone that follows a plant-based diet and was asking questions about this. She told me that she first met with her doctor who approved her switching diets. She went back ten days later and was taken off almost all of her medications. Now, a year later, she doesn’t take any medications. There is no guarantee that the same will happen for you. Still, you should definitely speak to your doctor about it and monitor your progress if it is your overall goal to stop taking medication.

Popular Concerns

It seems like we also share many of the same concerns for this challenge. The three big ones are dining out, not getting enough protein by cutting out meat, and missing dairy— specifically cheese. I think these are pretty common concerns and are completely normal to struggle with. Luckily, I’ve done research on all three in order to help you prevent failure:

Dining Out

This can be pretty tricky. When I get takeout or go to a restaurant, I often order whatever I want without thinking about how unhealthy it is. To me, going out is a treat. So, how will I do this as a vegan when all I want is a mac and cheese fried chicken po’boy?!

The best way to handle this is to find a go-to place that you know has vegan options. I recently looked through my Seamless app (an app used to order takeout) and used the “cuisine” filter to look for a place with vegan options. I found a few restaurants which offer vegan meals in my area and I even tried one. I ended up ordering a quinoa taro burger that was way better than any burger I’ve ever ordered. I also realized that some of my favorite Asian restaurants have a ton of vegan options since they offer tofu or veggies as an option for pretty much any meal.

Before you start the challenge, explore your area and see what’s available. If worse comes to worse, you can usually make a pretty awesome meal out of the side dishes on the menu.


In doing my research, I’ve read that the primary cases of people being protein deficient were found in people that don’t eat enough calories in the day. With that being said, you might be surprised at how much protein you actually consume each day. You can find protein in common foods like nuts, beans, oatmeal, seeds, lentils, tofu, cauliflower, spinach, and broccoli. Even bread and spaghetti have protein!

If you’re really concerned though, you could always eat an extra spoonful of peanut butter (provided you aren't allergic) and call it a day. You can also buy plant-based protein powders. I found a chocolate one from Trader Joe’s that I plan to use in my cold brew during the challenge, and I’ll be sure to write about it once I try it!

For those of you that think you’re going to miss meat, I feel you. I love sushi and bacon and hot dogs. However, when I was transitioning and eating two vegan meals a day, sometimes I would get so excited about cooking other meals from my cookbook that it would turn into three meals a day— and then a few days straight accidentally. I didn’t even think about meat on these days.

My recommendation is to get a cookbook or look on Pinterest for some recipes that make you excited to cook. Even if you find a recipe that isn’t plant-based, you can make some easy swaps to make it vegan-friendly. For example, you can swap tofu in for the meat, or cashew milk instead of regular milk. There are a ton of options out there!

Breaking Up With Dairy

This was probably my biggest fear. For the past year or two, I have started off every workday with a Greek yogurt and a string cheese. This was my go-to work breakfast. I felt terrible when I had to stop buying yogurts and string cheeses, but I honestly haven’t missed them!

Instead, I switched to a homemade quinoa oatmeal— a recipe from Thug Kitchen, and I add allspice, brown sugar, and pistachios. This has so much texture and flavor with these add-ins. I get excited about eating this each and every day. If you’re like me and love your yogurt cups, oatmeal makes a great easy substitute. I make a huge batch on Sunday nights and put them in containers for the entire week.

When thinking about finding a cheese substitute, think about the meal you’re making and how the cheese really impacts it:

Am I adding it for flavor?
Then maybe there’s another flavor I can put in its place.

Am I adding it for texture, like making a creamy sauce?
Maybe I can transform tofu or beans into a smooth and creamy puree to add instead. It won’t be the same as dairy-based cheese, but when you think about all of the times you add cheese to things, is it really necessary? A lot of times we add cheese because it’s a habit, not because it changes the flavor or texture of our food.

If you have to add cheese, there are a few plant-based cheeses out there, and I have found a few cheese substitutes that I think I can survive on. I haven’t tried any from my grocery store yet, but I’ve heard good things about almond cheese. I've also tried cashew cheese from Hungry Root that I thought was amazing, especially considering it wasn’t "real" cheese.

During my research phase, I discovered something called “Nooch” or Nutritional Yeast. Nooch is deactivated yeast that gives sauces and such a cheesy flavor when you add it to your recipes. It’s a yellowy-orange powder that reminds me of the cheese dust you’d find on cheddar popcorn. As a first-time user, I had no idea how much to add or how to use it. I’ve since tried it a few times and have had success with it, and I would definitely try this out while following a recipe that calls for it.

Milk was probably the easiest thing for me to cut out. For a few years, I’ve been having trouble grasping why we are the only species that drinks milk past infancy, and that it’s another animal’s milk that’s meant for their baby. That always struck me as weird and made me make the switch to a plant-based milk (even though I was still very into cheese and yogurt). There are so many different milk alternatives and I feel like I’ve tried almost all of them.

My favorite by far has been Unsweetened Original Almond Cashew Blend from Almond Breeze (Blue Diamond). I find that it tastes the most like regular milk. You have to be careful when buying these though because anytime you buy one that isn’t labeled “unsweetened”, you’re going to get something that’s like drinking a glass of chocolate milk- very sweet and a bit thicker (which may be great for coffee).  Whenever cashew milk isn’t available, I go for unsweetened original almond milk or sometimes unsweetened almond coconut blend. My brother tried Pea Milk and said it was gross, so I’d steer clear of that one.

So what do I eat this week?

Good question!

For those of you that were worried about putting more thought into meal prep, I have created a week’s worth of meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. I used my Thug Kitchen cookbooks, one of my Taste of Home cookbooks, and some recipes I found on Pinterest to get you started. I have added these recipes to my   “Chef” Orky’s Plant-Based Food Challenge Pinterest board to share with you to help you on your journey. On this board, I’ve also added some helpful charts of things to have in your pantry and ways to add protein to your meals.

Credit: Alyssa DelSoldato

Credit: Alyssa DelSoldato



Thug Kitchen’s Quinoa Oatmeal (add allspice, brown sugar, and nuts)
Thug Kitchen’s Maple Berry Grits


Trader Joe’s Thai Veggie Burgers
Thug Kitchen’s Sun-Dried Tomato Carbonara
Thug Kitchen’s Flautas For Every Meal
Trader Joe's Vegan Pesto Sauce
Thug Kitchen’s Skillet Beer Chili Mac
Taste of Home’s Coconut Lentils with Rice (no Greek yogurt)
Taste of Home’s Tofu Chow Mein
Ratatouille White Bean Casserole


Peanut butter and rice cakes
Hummus and veggies
Vegan queso and chips
Sriracha cauliflower bites with peanut dipping sauce
Cowboy caviar

Of course, there are a million more options for meals, but these are some I plan to have during my first two weeks. I find it’s really easy to stick with something if you have the same breakfast each day and have your leftovers from dinner for lunch. That definitely cuts back on the amount of preparation you need to do! You can also sign up for a free 5-day plant-based meal plan that you will get emailed to you each week through Forks Over Knives website. All you need to do is register with an email address and it’s totally free for as long as you want!

If you plan to join us in this challenge, make sure you join our Facebook group for recipe updates and support! Thank you to those of you that took our survey, and keep your eyes peeled for our halfway mark survey to check in with you. Let the challenge begin!

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Whatismyhealth © 2017

*Disclaimer: It is recommended that you consult a doctor or health care professional before making changes to your diet.