So I mentioned earlier this year that I’ve embraced a healthier lifestyle, including adding exercise and improving my diet. A big part of that for me recently has been learning new methods of shopping, cooking, and eating.

I got out of the fast food habit when I married Adam because it was something he had pretty much eliminated from his life by the time we met, and sometimes good habits rub off. However, until recently I’ve been, like most Americans, totally unaware of all the dietary options beyond canned condensed soup and grain-fed meats. I had no idea that even my most basic of Midwestern grocery stores has a well-stocked produce section full of vegetables that I’d never even considered eating.

The start of a new year is a great time to try new things and adopt new habits, so this year I felt motivated to seek out some resources that could help me learn about new foods and introduce some much-needed variety to my diet. I’ve found that one of the best ways to do this is with the help of my local library. My library (and probably yours too) stocks a great selection of cookbooks in the non-fiction section, and the beauty of it is, you can check out a whole bunch of different cookbooks and see what works for you. Then you can buy the ones that resonate and return the ones that don’t, with no out of pocket cost. The only price you pay is returning the library book. :)

I might be biased as a blogger myself, but I’ve found one of the best ways to find good cookbooks has been to seek out blogs centered around the kind of cooking I’m interested in. This year, I’m particularly interested in expanding my vegetable intake and reducing my reliance on meat and animal products. So my friend Google helped me find some great vegetarian and vegan blogs, many of which are so successful, their authors have gotten book deals. So convenient!

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not a vegetarian or vegan, and I don’t necessarily intend to become either anytime soon. However, I definitely recognize the health benefits of cutting down on my consumption of animal products, both for myself and for our earth in general. For me right now, the focus isn’t on setting firm limits on what I can and can’t eat, but bringing creativity to my eating habits and introducing new foods that I didn’t even know I love (looking at you, radishes!).

With that in mind, here are the cookbooks I’ve found to be most helpful as I’ve adopted a more plant-centered diet.

Super Natural Every Day

by Heidi Swanson

Being honest, this book is a little floofy for my taste. Heidi Swanson hails from California, and she might be just a snootch out of touch with what life is like for the rest of us who reside in the other 49 states in the union. She mentions that she likes to snack on “nut butters” and makes note that she lives within walking distance of five farmer’s markets. Cue barfing noises, amiright?

But if you ignore the narrative flourishes and focus on the recipes, Heidi Swanson knows what’s up when it comes to vegetarian cooking. She’s the reason there’s tempeh in my fridge and mung beans in my pantry. That shit is happening later this week, and I fully expect it to be delicious. She’s a legit cook even if everything about her sensibility drives me crazy.

Vegetable Butcher

by Cara Mangini

Again with the honesty--I haven’t made a single recipe from this book. But you shouldn’t buy it for the recipes, even though there are a lot and many of them sound mouth-wateringly delicious. You should buy this book as a reference guide to purchasing, cleaning, storing, and chopping all the veggies you don’t even know you love yet. Turnips! Parsnips! Celeriac! The entire brassica family! If you’ve ever looked at an unfamiliar vegetable in the grocery store and wondered, “What the heck would I do with that?!” Cara Mangini knows, and she’s happy to tell you all about it. A veggie dictionary that takes the mystery out of prepping and cooking vegetables of all colors, shapes, and sizes.

The Oh She Glows Cookbook

by Angela Liddon

I’ve enjoyed perusing this cookbook even though I don’t think I’ll ever call something made with pureed cashews “cheese.” Liddon became a vegan after overcoming an eating disorder, and she’s all about plant-based eating. However, sometimes I feel like she tries a little too hard to mimic meat-based dishes with substitutes that just aren’t going to measure up. Her best recipes are those that let the veggies be veggies instead of pretending to be meat. I made her rainbow carrots with tahini sauce for friends this weekend, and I think they turned out pretty well. Nobody ran from the house screaming, anyway!

Thug Kitchen: Eat Like You Give a F*ck

I saved this one for last because it’s the gold standard. If you want a cookbook that will introduce you to the vegan lifestyle without your even noticing it’s happening, this is the cookbook for you. The recipes are so accessible, you won’t even realize there’s no meat. Until they bring up tofu...but then the authors will browbeat you with profanity until you decide, what the hell, I’ll just try it, it can’t be that bad, right? Then you try it, it’s insanely delicious, and you realize you’re turning into one of those annoying hippies who talks about lentils like they’re the second coming of Christ.

Seriously, though, lentils are really freaking good.