Warning, a bazillion links ahead.
If I had a dollar for everyone who’s said to me some variation of “I’d be vegan if someone else cooked for me,” well, I wouldn’t be living in this crappy little college apartment. Although changing things about your diet can seem daunting, I’m here to tell you that you can make gradual changes and eventually be able to see that cooking and eating vegan is really not that difficult, and neither is making sure you’re getting balanced meals. Yes, it’s a learning process, but learning is exciting! I looked at the challenge of learning how to cook for myself as a fun opportunity to eat better and less expensively and hone some creative kitchen skills. It feels awesome when you create something delicious from scratch and it’s darn healthy, too. I also want to say, you do not have to be a chef to make delicious vegan food for yourself at home! I’m definitely not.
I’m under the assumption that you probably cook at home at least some of the time, right? And that if you’re balancing your meals already you are loading up half your plate with vegetables, a quarter with a whole grain (brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, bulgur, farro, etc.) of some sort, and the other quarter with a protein dish. So, if you’ve got that down, you’ll see how easy it is to swap out the meaty/cheesy portions of food for plant-based deliciousness. If you haven’t gotten that down, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Studies have shown that Americans are not eating enough vegetables and whole grains and are counting entirely too many French fries as vegetable servings. But if you’re reading food and nutrition blogs, you’re probably looking to change that, too.
The first thing I’d suggest is picking one of your favorite meals, say tacos. There are a ton of ways you can make them meat and dairy-free and still full of flavor! The easiest, most obvious route is to use some sort of (not totally full of weird, processed ingredients) veggie crumble instead of meat. The next thing I would think of, and the way I usually like my tacos, is to use seasoned black or refried beans and then load your tacos up with your favorite veggie toppings, like shredded cabbage, tomato, onion, and of course avocado and salsa! Seasoned lentils make another great taco filling, as do grilled or sautéed Portobello mushrooms, red peppers and onions, or grilled marinated tofu or tempeh. Really, the options are endless. Do a Google search for “vegan tacos” and see what I mean.
On that note, not to be obvious or anything, but Googling for vegan recipes is one of the simplest things you can do to get some great meal ideas. People have asked and vegans have answered the question “what do vegans eat, anyway?” in a major way! If you’re a cookbook fanatic like me, there are hundreds out there. There are books on everything from simple comfort food to decadent, restaurant quality meals. Some of my favorites are Veganomicon, How it all Vegan (the first vegan cookbook I ever bought, aww), The Inspired Vegan and Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry, and Crazy Sexy Kitchen.
Some more tips for adding more vegan meals to your repertoire:
- Try veganizing one meal at a time. Breakfast is an easy one. You can make fruit smoothies, oatmeal with berries and flax or chia seeds and soy, rice, almond, hemp, or coconut milk, tofu scramble, pancakes, muffins, etc.
- Acquaint yourself with the basics of vegan nutrition. You’ll feel a lot better when those questions about where you’re getting your protein roll in and you can be ensured you’re getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals. The Vegan RD is one source I trust. She also co-wrote a book Vegan for Life that I highly suggest reading and has another on the way called Vegan for Her.
- Try eating vegan one full day of the week to start out. Meatless Monday is great to participate in if you’re trying to eat more vegan meals.
- Plan ahead and cook up enough beans, lentils, quinoa, brown rice, etc. to get you through the week. Wash and chop your veggies so they’re ready to grab and go. Add these ingredients to a variety of dishes so you don’t get bored of eating the same thing all week.
- Check out the wealth of free vegan recipes online and the vegan cookbook section at your local bookstore or library.
- Replace the meat in meals with beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, seitan, mushrooms, eggplant, and on occasion vegan burgers, sausages, and other vegan meat-like products (check nutrition labels if you’re trying to watch your sodium or fat and look for products with minimal ingredients).
- Replacing eggs and dairy in baked goods is simple once you know there are other options. This is a great guide to getting started (vegan) baking up a storm.
- Make sure you’re eating your vegetables! Remember, half your plate should be vegetables. Ginny Messina, The Vegan RD mentioned above, has just come up with a great vegan plate graphic that will help you determine the right food proportions of your plate. Farmer’s markets are great for trying new varieties of the freshest, in-season vegetables. Farmers are usually happy to share their favorite way to prepare their vegetables, too.
- Try a vegan meal-plan to make things easy, like the free one at PCRM.org or the Happy Herbivore’s , which you pay a fee for.
- If you are so inclined, purchasing Kris Carr’s book Crazy, Sexy, Kitchen, gets you free access to cooking videos by her and chef Chad Sarno. I learned a new thing or two from watching these.
- Another amazing cooking resource that you can access from your own home is Spork Foods online cooking classes! These sisters are amazing and make learning cooking so fun. It feels like you are actually there having a dinner party with Heather, Jenny and their students.
- Keep in mind why you want to make this change and let it inspire and keep you motivated. Is it because you’ve recently learned the suffering that animals raised for food endure? Do you want to be healthier? Are you trying to lighten your ecological footprint?
- The most important thing is to not stress about it, relax, and enjoy the endless possibility for trying new foods and flavors! It’s not about being perfect and you don’t have to change everything overnight.
As a side note, I’m super happy that one of my best friends who had been going back and forth with being vegetarian has been texting and calling me lately with vegan food recommendations. People make changes at their own pace when and if they’re ready. I never pressure, but I’m always here for support.
Do you have any specific questions or suggestions you’d like me to address?