Do You Have to be a Professional Chef to Eat a Plant-Based Diet?


If you have spent any amount of time researching the benefits of a whole foods, plant-based diet and lifestyle, you have probably come face-to-face with an abundance of recipe guides catering to every niche of the plant-based lifestyle. Not to mention, thousands of free recipes available online. Plant-Smart Living even provides both a recipe guide and free recipes online as well.

But, being so exposed to recipes constantly in this lifestyle can have adverse effects too.

I’ve seen it asked a lot online, but usually in roundabout ways: do I need to really enjoy cooking to get the most out of a plant-based diet?

The more I think about this question, the more I realize how unfortunate the answer can seem when people investigating this lifestyle are so heavily exposed to a constant barrage of recipes and recommendations to make this diet choice more palatable. It is as if a bare bones approach to this diet is completely unattractive, and the only way to make eating a vegan or vegetarian diet enjoyable is by “dressing up” our foods with complex recipes and a good dose of seasoning.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Many people enjoy cooking – some even carry this trait over from the time before they adopted this new dietary lifestyle. I used to really enjoy cooking a nice chicken or steak on the grill. The days when I could get the seasoning right, and a perfect amount of moisture could make even my vegan-self salivate. Of course, with my diet and lifestyle change, I no longer look forward to cooking meat and dairy products, but have come to enjoy the simple pleasure of creating and cooking interesting and tasty vegan-friendly recipes.

Still – the problem is a real one we need to discuss and figure out a solution to:

Not every person who comes to the plant-based lifestyle enjoys cooking.

Some are more well-adjusted to eating out every day, and don’t care to cook at all!

If I’m being honest, I don’t think it is possible to truly enjoy a whole food, plant-based diet (and do it in a healthy way) without investing some time into cooking. But, I don’t think it is necessary to slave away in the kitchen every night after a long day at work, either. With a change in diet and lifestyles comes a requirement to have a change in mindset as well.

Maybe transitioning to a plant-based diet is just the kick you need to learn how to enjoy time in the kitchen more.

A few things to really think about…

I’d like to make a case for why learning how to cook, or learning how to invest some more time into cooking healthy plant-based meals, is beneficial to making this lifestyle change a success.

Keep in mind, these thoughts and observations are just my own, and if you happen to have a differing opinion be sure to comment below!

First, if you do not have the ability to cook simple meals and use the simplest of kitchen tools, you need to really take a step back and look at what is contributing to this lack of skill. I have found that there are many people who did not learn how to cook at a young age, and have even gone off to college without this vital skill. There is no doubt that the environment you are raised in and education on this matter will impact you significantly, especially if you are not motivated internally to learn this skill.

It can seem so basic to so many of us, yet we can forget how it is a skill like any other, and your personal interest will vary. Looked at in another way, I learned a lot about electrical systems because it interested me and could benefit me professionally in my contracting business (of over 40 years now!). This is a skill most people do not have, likely because they were never all that interested in learning it to begin with.

If you fall into this group of people who don’t even know how to boil water, it is okay and there are some simple meals even you can make on a plant-based diet, but you’re not going to really enjoy yourself mostly eating raw fruits and veggies much of the time. Of course, the small niche of the plant-based community, the “raw vegans,” might!

Second, if you don’t like cooking (or, again, don’t know how to cook), you should take a step back and figure out…why? I know there are times when I don’t feel like cooking, sometimes after a hard day at work (which is reasonable if you ask me), others just because I am feeling lazy. If you happen to not enjoy cooking because you “just don’t feel like it” or, frankly, because you are being lazy, this is something you need to learn how to work your way out of to better your lifestyle.

Remember: lifestyle changes, just like dietary changes, happen when you are actively involved in making the change.

Of course, only you know your specific situation.

Maybe you’re stuck at a tough warehouse job working overnight for 14 hour shifts. When you come home early in the morning, you don’t feel like cooking, but would rather sleep. It seems reasonable to me, given that we are all human and all. Fortunately, there is some hope in the world of cooking even for those of you in tough situations like this.

For example, since adopting a WFPB diet, I have really come to enjoy my Instant Pot pressure cooker because it allows me to cook without having to constantly be involved and supervise the food I am making. For some meals, you can use a slow cooker to prepare foods like rice and beans over many hours, making it possible to set it before work and come home just as it is finishing its cooking cycle.

Third, you should really also look at other aspects of your lifestyle to determine really if you are being lazy or not by ignoring the kitchen. Really try to consider where you are spending your time. For example, I know many people can get absorbed into video games, their phones and computers, sometimes for hours on end without taking a break. If this is a constant thing in your life, you are really ignoring your health and making poor lifestyle decisions. Often associated with these sorts of hobbies are unhealthy foods. Just walking through the supermarket and you can see soda and chips branded with video game advertisements like the Call of Duty series has done for years.

My thought at the end of the day is simple, if you are spending hours and hours each day on a hobby that isn’t really benefiting you in the long run, you should at least be able to learn how to set aside 30 minutes or an hour to cook something healthy to eat.

How can I make cooking an enjoyable experience?

If you still don’t enjoy cooking, maybe you just haven’t noticed the therapeutic effects it can have. I like the simple ability to create something tasty and good for my health from scratch, whether it’s a simple meal like Instant Pot pressure cooked beans or something more complex and time consuming like vegan friendly mac and cheese or roasted garlic "fettuccine" alfredo. Just working in the kitchen makes me feel good, though this may not be the same for you.

There are other ways to enhance the cooking experience. You just need to find a mechanism to make it work better for you, so you can also find kitchen time relaxing. Putting on some music, the radio, or even the television can create some great background noise to help you relax.

If you really enjoy your TV shows at the end of a hard work day, you can still enjoy them while being productive too. I mean, TV watching isn’t just for couch potatoes! This is best with shows that don’t require your full, undivided attention. Mostly recently I have been rewatching the Planet Earth documentary series given that Planet Earth II has just started.

How can I make good meals easily?

Good, healthy cooking practices do not have to be synonymous with long and tedious hours in the kitchen. In my experience, much of cooking on a plant-based diet involves making use of quality kitchen appliances and waiting around for things to finish. While there is some labor required if you need to chop a potato or celery by hand with a knife, and this can be boring for some people, there are solutions for making even this process faster at times. In other instances, preparation is as simple as setting some food on a tray and waiting for it to bake, or adding ingredients in a different kitchen appliance and letting it cook itself.

I put together two great lists of kitchen appliances that may help you inspire some change in your own cooking. The first is a simple list of 10 products I use and can recommend.

Another more expansive list of 22 kitchen tools based on some product recommendations I found through the McDougall Friend’s Facebook Group.

Like with my contracting job, I find that having the right tools in the kitchen can make all the difference.

The last elephant in the room: keeping things affordable

For some people, a dislike for cooking is rooted in wanting to “save money.” After all, with all these kitchen appliances and the apparent need to buy more (and more diverse) foods can be daunting. Even I sometimes get frustrated when looking through a recipe book and see a long list of ingredients, many of them used in very small quantities like a “dash of thyme.” Even I don’t feel like buying a jar of thyme just to use it once and forget about it!

With this said, saving money and keeping things affordable is all relative – I might be able to spend more on groceries, while you may have to spend less (or vice versa). Your budget will be the same regardless of your diet, but your diet will greatly impact the amount of money you end up spending in the long-term in other areas of your life. For example, medical bills will be substantially lower if you are not carrying around a lot of extra weight (if you are overweight like I was). There is value to a plant-based diet that may not be immediately seen like this.

There are some secrets to making each dollar stretch a little more. Buying dry and canned goods in bulk is one good way. I know I eat a lot of rice and beans, so it is a simple way to save money by buying a large bag of both. These nonperishable goods are some of the best because they can be purchased and last a long time.

Another method to reduce costs, especially in the long-term, is growing your own food. I have maintained my backyard garden for many years, and over time have learned a lot of methods to increase my harvest output with a minimal amount of work or expense. Even setting up one raised garden bed can make a substantial difference, and require very little effort on your part.

One last little idea that I have utilized is really simple – make a list before you go to the grocery store, and preplan your meals for the week, too! People who spend too much money on groceries tend to be the same people who have food go bad in their refrigerator. While we are all guilty of this sometimes, there comes a point where you should really evaluate if you are wasting money and food because you are buying too much. An easy way to remedy this is to only buy what you need – more importantly – what you know 100% you will use.

The bottom line

Becoming a good cook is sort of interrelated with the plant-based lifestyle. It can be difficult to escape if you want some true diversity in the meals you are preparing. Some staples of this diet are, fortunately, very easy to prepare such as rice, beans, or baked potatoes. In a world of frozen produce, you can also find a lot of great options that you simply microwave or boil in a pot of water. 

While I don't think it is completely necessary to cook a lot if you are really adverse to it, it can be advantageous because "variety is the spice of life." Even making 1 or 2 unique meals a week can make a substantial difference, and help you invest in your plant-based lifestyle for the long haul. 

What do you think? 

If you already have adopted a whole food, plant-based diet, do you find yourself cooking a lot throughout the week? 

If you haven't made the change to this lifestyle, does the thought of having to cook a lot turn you off at all?