Transitioning to a vegan diet is not as hard as you might think.
You don’t have to reinvent your whole diet to change to a vegan diet. You are only eliminating animal products: (meat, fish, dairy and eggs) which leaves an enormous amount of food to choose.
When you are starting, check out your fridge and pantry to find out what you already have that you can eat. There is a good chance that half the foods you already eat are vegan! Pasta, rice, peanut butter, most breads, canned tomatoes, chickpeas and kidney beans, jam, coconut milk, curry pastes, marinara, canned beans, many chips, nuts, crackers, and cookies, herbs and spices, many instant soups, tea, coffee, and fruit juice are still on the menu.
To make it super easy, you can buy some vegan “meat” products, so if you are used to having sausages and beans for example, you have a vegan sausage.
There are some great plant- based “meat” products out there, and most are now available in the supermarket. Because more people are eating at least some plant-based meals, supermarkets are catering for the increased demand.
Have a think about what you want to eat the first week and make a shopping list of any vegan foods you need to buy. At the supermarket, you will spend a bit of time reading food labels to ensure the products you are buying don’t have any animal products in them. (I also try to avoid products with palm oil, due to the environmental damage this causes.)
You will find product labels stating that there may be traces of milk or other non-vegan foods in the product. This means it was processed using machinery that also processes non vegan products.
Whether you want to exclude these food items is your choice. If you do, you may find it more difficult to find vegan foods you can buy. For myself, I will buy and eat these products as the animal ingredients were not added and the amount present will be negligible.
Likewise, some vegans don’t eat honey while others do.. At this initial stage though, I wouldn’t get too hung up on this one..
Meal Preparation Tips – planning ahead makes life easier
Eating more fruit and vegetables involves more meal preparation. Many recipes require soaking of nuts, or preparation of grains. This can take more time than you are used to, as chopping or food processing is required for much of what you are eating.
If you are opting for a wholefood plant based diet and preparing the bulk of your food yourself instead of buying packaged foods, this also takes more time, so it makes sense to prepare food in batches to freeze or refrigerate. This is very convenient for taking lunch to work and coming home from a long tiring day to a pre-prepared evening meal can also be great.
Planning ahead for each week really helps you to stay on track and ensures you are getting all your nutrients.
For successful meal prep it is important to plan what you want to eat. Most people only prep for the weekdays but you can set up your meals including the weekend if this is easier for you.
Shopping from a list once you know what meals to make also helps to reduce food waste.
You can check out vegan recipes on the internet. There are literally thousands of great ideas. Alternatively you might want to check out some books.
A guide I have found useful is: “Vegan Meal Prep” JL Fields.
Cooking in batches saves time. I often cook a large quantity of beans (pressure cooker) and then freeze them in 400-500 g amounts for use later (the usual amount for a recipe would be one or two cans of beans). You can make bases for meals to which you can add different flavours or spices etc. When I cook I often make enough to freeze by doubling the recipes. This gives me main meals I can use. I then only have to prep breakfast and lunch for the week.
Freeze meals in individual portions for convenience. There are some foods that don’t freeze well, such as mashed potatoes. If you are making something like a shepherds pie in bulk, I would leave the potato off and add it on when you are going to cook it; so just freeze the base.
You may need to purchase additional containers if you haven’t meal prepped before. To ensure sustainability new containers would be stainless steel, glass or ceramic. I don’t recommend silicon containers as they are also made with some plastic and are not easily recycled. Glass mason jars are a good choice to make salads to take to work. They can sit neatly in the fridge door. You need to have enough containers to store in the fridge for the week or in the freezer if you are stock piling meals.
If freezing prepared food, it is a good idea to label what the meal is and the date. This will ensure you are eating the food in the right order. I would probably use frozen meals within 3 months.
It’s about trying different things until you find out what works for you. Meal prepping is a great way to go because it saves you time and money. During the week you don’t have to worry about too much cooking as you have your meals all ready to go.
The weekend is a good time to meal prep for the week. I usually make each meal in batches, so make all the breakfasts, all the lunches and then the evening meal. Its also a good idea to prepare snacks if you are trying to lose weight or be healthier, so you don’t just eat junk food, or overeat if hungry.
It’s important to make sure you are getting your essential nutrients and it is surprising easy to do so.
(Many people on the traditional western diet are actually malnourished so going plant-based may really improve your health quite rapidly)
The Basics of Vegan Nutrition
Generally having a varied diet will cover a lot of your nutritional needs. The often-heard advice to “eat the Rainbow” is good advice to take when choosing fruit and vegetables.
Just make sure you have the right types of food.
Protein: This seems to be the one everyone worries about. How can I get protein if I am not eating meat? Our need for protein is not as high as most people think. Too much protein is not healthy and the typical western is too high in protein.
If you include some protein 3 times daily you should easily meet your needs. Protein also reduces hunger and keeps you satisfied for longer
Good sources of protein:
Soya products -tofu, tempeh, soy milk, soy yoghurts, soy based “meat products”
Seeds and Nuts – seeds are great to add into your breakfast cereal or smoothies and nuts make great snacks. Nuts also make great vegan cheeses or sauces. Check out the “Rig N Cheese” recipe on the website.
Chia Seeds – are a versatile source of plant protein. They also contain a
variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other health-promoting compounds.
Beans – are great protein sources and can be used in soups, for dips, in stir fries, in making vegan roasts – the possibilities are endless
Chick peas – a great source of protein and the main ingredient in hummus. I also use them as a base for curries.
Quinoa – is a grain high in protein and makes a great porridge or as a grain instead of rice in meals. Oatmeal is also a good source and has more protein than rice or wheat
Vegetables -vegetables are also a source of protein.
The best ones include: broccoli, spinach, asparagus, artichokes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts and sweetcorn. A cup of cooked peas has slightly more protein than a cup of cows milk.
Fruit – has less protein than vegetables, but good sources include: guava,
mulberries, blackberries, nectarines and bananas.
Iron: eat plenty of beans, dark green leafy veg, whole grains; iron enriched grains, dried fruits, cashews, pine nuts, macadamia nuts. To aid absorption add vitamin C rich foods
Vitamin A: kale, spinach, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin
Vitamin B : wholegrains (oats, wholemeal bread, wholewheat pasta and brown rice), sunflower and sesame seeds, tahini (sesame seed paste), pecans, brazil nuts, hazelnuts and pulses (peas, beans and lentils).
Vitamin B12: nutritional yeast; fortified non-dairy milks and cereals; yeast extract – marmite or vegemite.
(If you are going to continue a fully vegan diet after this first month, I would advise taking a B12 supplement which you can get at a health food store.)
Vitamin C: citrus fruit, pineapple, mango, strawberries, kiwifruit, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, tomatoes, peppers (capsicum)
Zinc: wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Sprouting grains and legumes helps increase absorption
Calcium: kale, bok choy, turnip greens, broccoli, calcium-fortified plant milks, tofu with calcium sulfate
Omega 3 Fats: ground flax seed, chia seeds, hemp seeds, hempseed oil, canola oil, walnuts
Iodine: include wholegrains, green beans, zucchini (courgettes), kale, spring greens, watercress, strawberries and organic potatoes with skin. However, amounts tend to be low and variable depending on how much iodine is in the soil.
For most people, regular use of small amounts of powdered or crumbled seaweed added to soups, stews, salads, pasta dishes or used as a condiment, is an excellent way to ensure a good iodine intake. A healthy vegan diet containing a wide range of vegetables, with some occasional seaweed and/or iodised salt (used sparingly) should supply sufficient iodine.
Starting Out – Food Swaps for Newbies
Sausages : buy vegan sausages. Linda McCartney sausages are very tasty, but there are many other brands you can find.
Meat/Fish/Hamburgers: many vegan burgers are now available in the supermarket. Variety include “chicken Style” , black bean, chickpea or just a plain vegi burger. Brands that are really tasty are :
Frys- they do chicken style burgers and also nuggets; Get Vegged – does a tasty veggie burger;
Gardein – does chicken style schnitzels and “fishless” fillets which actually taste a bit like fish! Great for fish and chips..
Tofu has a bad rap, but as it doesn’t have a lot of flavour, is great to cook with as it is an excellent source of protein, and takes up the flavours you add, so can be a great base for a healthy and very tasty meal..if you enjoy cooking, this one is for you!
Oil/Butter/Margarine: there is plenty to choose from and you probably already use some plant based oils. Nuttlex is a good margarine and you can buy an olive oil based or coconut based margarine with this brand. Olive oil, rice bran oil, or any other plant based oil is acceptable.
Milk: there are many plant based milks to choose from. Soy milk is good for coffee, but some people prefer almond milk; I like oat or macadamia milk on my porridge or breakfast cereal. It’s really a matter of trying different types of plant milk and different brands until you find the ones you prefer.
Soy milk takes a little getting used to, and when I was transitioning, this was a major hurdle for me as I disliked the taste. After only a week though, it tasted fine, so it is definitely worth persevering! I recently started using oat milk in my coffee and it has a nice creamy taste and doesn’t cover the flavour of the coffee.
Cheese: Vegan cheeses have also improved and you can buy the cheddar style cheese which you can grate over food and it melts, so good for pizza or lasagna etc, and there are also cream cheeses, or feta style cheeses. While they won’t taste the same as the animal-based cheeses, over time you get used to the different flavours.
I now find I don’t miss the cheeses I used to love and find vegan cheese gives me a similar experience. Brands I find tasty are: Sheese – they do a cheddar style and Greek style cheese;and BioCheese – do a cheddar and nice feta style cheese as well as a few other varieties. Different vegan cheeses can also be found at health food stores.
Eggs: if you are trialing a vegan diet due to your concern for animals, and if you have your own chickens you may prefer to keep eating their eggs. Otherwise, you will also want to exclude eggs from your diet.
Tofu can be used in place of eggs for a scramble at breakfast time; you can buy an egg replacer in the supermarket, and banana’s or chia seeds may also be alternatives used in recipes.
Stock up on tins of beans – baked beans, kidney beans, black beans etc are very useful to use in stir fries, soups etc. You may also want to get some vegetable stock in place of chicken or beef stock.
There is an endless variety of food available so you should never be bored.
You can “veganize” your existing recipes with a little bit of thought. Just replace non vegan ingredients with vegan ingredients.
Check out the book: : “The Complete guide to vegan food substitutions” by Celine Steen and Joni Marie Newman.
A huge amount of information and recipes are available on the internet so you should have no end of inspiration for what to eat. As you progress you may not want so many meat substitutes and experiment with more unprocessed food.
Veganism….a step towards making animal suffering and exploitation history…….