5 Simple Hacks for Eating More Vegan-ly
For most of us, going vegan cold Tofurkey® seems impossible. Especially because we’ve lived our entire lives eating a certain way. I don’t know about you, but I grew up thinking that a meal without any animal protein just wasn’t complete.
Add the fact that most of the recipes we love inevitably include some amount of meat, dairy, or eggs so the change can feel overwhelming. Maybe that’s why so many of us quit before we even get started.
One thing that helped me is realizing that going vegan is not a black-and-white proposition. It’s okay to take it one one meal at a time, one choice at a time, and one purchase at a time.
For me, becoming a 12th Level Super Vegan was a two-year journey. In fact, it was such a long time that I barely even realized I was making the switch!
So to make the transition a little easier, here are my top five tips for living a more vegan lifestyle.
Re-Invent Your Favorite Dishes
It’s easy to stress over all the dishes you won’t be able to eat if you go vegan, but with a little creativity, replacing the animal products in those beloved dishes with something equally delicious and even more nutritious is easier than you think.
Love spaghetti and meatballs? It’s actually quite easy to make your own “meatballs” at home (here’s one recipe, another, and another). Pretty much any dish you can think of has been recreated by one of dozens of talented ex-omnivores.
If you need some inspiration, but don’t know where to start, my personal three favorite YouTubers/vegan chefs are AvantGarde Vegan (professionally-trained chef/heartthrob), Pick Up Limes (a registered dietitian), and Caitlin Shoemaker aka From My Bowl.
If cooking isn’t your thing, then no problem! There are delicious vegan options popping up in supermarkets every day. The new wave of vegan meats and cheeses taste so much like the real thing that you’ll find yourself triple-checking the packaging to make sure you didn’t make a mistake.
Restaurants, cafés, and even major fast food chains are getting in on the game thanks to the increased demand from customers. And even when it seems like a menu has no vegan options, many chefs are happy to vegan-ify a dish if you ask politely.
Experiment With Milk Alternatives
The plant-based milk alternatives are usually situated right next to the dairy milk at your local grocery store. This makes mixing it up as simple as shifting a few feet to the left or right.
Choosing your first shmilk (my personal favorite term for plant-based milks) can be daunting due to the sheer number of choices available. Oat, almond, soy, coconut, hemp, pea, hazelnut, sweetened, unsweetened, vanilla, fortified, unfortified, light, creamy — the choices can seem infinite. The bottom line is that it’s going to take some experimentation to find what your palette likes the most.
My personal favorites are oat milk from Oatly and Califia Farms, and unsweetened vanilla almond milk from Silk and Califia. These three brands nailed it with taste and texture, and they produce incredibly delicious products.
*PRO TIP: Don’t expect shmilks to taste exactly like milk because, well, they’re made from plants. Once you get over the initial shock, you’ll soon appreciate them for what they are — way more delicious.
Try Meat & Dairy Alternatives
As I’ve already touched on, there are a plethora of cruelty-free meat alternatives out there. A few examples that come to mind are the Impossible Burger from Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat burgers and sausages, and an uncanny scrambled egg alternative from JUST.
Cheese seems to be the biggest hurdle for people who want to make the switch to veganism — and although my boyfriend doesn’t think that anyone has quite nailed it yet, I think Daiya Foods shredded cheese is amazingly realistic and super tasty.
Remember, in the same way that you don’t love every animal-based product on the market, you’re not going to love every vegan dish either — so don’t give up just because you had something you didn’t like. I promise that if you keep exploring you will find foods you enjoy just as much, if not more, especially once your taste buds become acclimated to your new diet.
One question many people ask is, “Why do vegans eat and promote foods that taste just like meat or cheese?”
The truth is that I’ve never met someone who went vegan because they disliked the taste of animal products. Vegans give up meat, cheese, and dairy because they believe it’s better for the animals, the environment, or their health — usually a mix of all three reasons.
But for most of us, the importance of these substitutes becomes less important over time as we discover new flavors and fall in love with fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains.
Add More Pulses in Your Diet
Pulses is a catch-all term that includes both legumes and beans, and they are the simplest replacement for meat in most recipes. They are hearty, satiating, nutrition powerhouses filled with all the protein and fiber your body craves.
There are so many different kinds of pulses out there and each one has a slightly different taste and texture making it fun to experiment with in the kitchen. Here’s a great intro video on how to prepare dry beans and make canned beans taste amazing.
Beans do have quite a bit of fiber though, so they can cause some gastrointestinal discomfort at first if you’re not used to the amount of fiber. It can be beneficial to add 2 tablespoons at a time each week so your gut can get used to the fiber. Soaking, like the video above mentions, also helps remove some of the starches that cause gas.
My favorites are lentils, black beans, and garbanzo beans. But lentils definitely take the number one spot on my bean-ranking list since they take the least amount of time to prepare, they’re tender (making it easy to make into patties or make dishes thicker), and they absorb spices easily.
Here’s an easy lentil dahl recipe to get you started!
Buy Something New Every Shopping Trip
In my book, this one is not optional. A surprising benefit of going vegan is that there suddenly seems to be so many more options at the grocery store. Strange, right?
I used to think that I had a lot of variety in my diet, but after switching to a whole foods plant-based diet, I realized that I was only sticking to an extremely limited number of ingredients.
Suddenly the grocery store aisles seemed to widen and so many interesting things kept appearing before my eyes — it was almost like I had never been to a grocery store before.
My boyfriend and I now make it a point to always have something new in our cart when we checkout. Because of this, I’ve tried more fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, and spices in just two months than I would have in ten years. And many of those foods have become some of my all time favorites.
So be brave, and the next time you see something that peaks your interest, throw it in your cart and figure it out when you get home. Even though you’ll sometimes end up with a dud, I guarantee you’ll find things that will expand your mind and your palette.
(Vegan) Food for Thought
Food plays such an important role in our lives that it’s hard to overstate — that’s why going vegan can be so challenging at times. But these same challenges make the rewards even more satisfying.
We are so lucky to live at a time where opinions are shifting and veganism is no longer a fringe lifestyle for long-haired hippie tree-huggers (not that I have anything against hugging the occasional tree).
It’s easier than ever to choose the vegan option and to do the right thing for ourselves and the planet. Even if you’re not 100% vegan 100% of the time, every vegan choice you make will have a ripple effect that will produce a positive effect on your health and the health of the planet.
And remember, everyone’s journey is unique, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not ready to give up your weekly pint of Ben & Jerry’s — but have you even tried their mouth-watering non-dairy versions yet? 😉
What are your favorite plant-based products? Let me know in the comments.