June 15, 2010

Go Vegan in 10 Easy Steps. ~ Virginia Messina

It’s not hard to create great vegan meals and find substitutes for the foods you’ve always enjoyed. It’s just new. Yes, there is a little bit of a learning curve as you switch from the diet you’ve always known to one that is based on plant foods. But if you take it one step at a time, going vegan can be a fun adventure.

These ten steps are practical and effective. Every change you make brings you closer to a more ethical and compassionate lifestyle—and you’ll be saving animals from lives of suffering with each step.

1. Investigate milk substitutes

Vegan or not, no one needs any kind of milk in their diet. But if you are accustomed to using cow’s milk as a beverage, with cereal or in cooking, look into some of the alternatives. Most grocery stores carry a good variety of milks made from soybeans, rice, oats, almonds, and even hemp and coconut. Look for choices that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Try them all until you find a favorite.

2. Explore meat substitutes

The selection these days is amazing! Check the frozen and refrigerated sections of natural foods stores as well as your regular grocery store. You’ll find vegan burgers, sausages, hot dogs, sandwich slices, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, pulled pork, chicken nuggets, ground beef and much more. Different ones appeal to different palates, so keep tasting until you find the ones that you and your family enjoy. These foods can be pricey, so stretch them by adding to spaghetti sauce, stews, soups and stir fried dishes.

3. Experiment with beans

Most Americans didn’t grow up eating beans, which is too bad. Legumes are super nutritious foods, and are also among the world’s cheapest and most abundant sources of protein. That’s why beans have played a role in the diets of nearly every single culture. If you can’t get organized enough to cook them from scratch, it’s fine to use canned beans. Try bean dishes that are familiar like baked beans (buy the canned vegetarian variety), bean burritos, lentil and split pea soups.

4. Try vegan cheese

Nondairy cheese products have been a little bit of a stumbling block in vegan diets for a long time. But that is quickly changing. The new vegan cheeses are exceptional. Try Teese, Sheese, Daiya and Vegan Gourmet brands. You’ll find them in natural foods stores or can order them online. Most grocery stores carry Tofutti brand Better Than Cream Cheese, too. And don’t forget to explore ways to use less cheese. Pizza topped with roasted vegetables and sundried tomato pesto doesn’t need cheese. Sliced avocado on a sandwich is so much better than cheese and better for you, too.

5. Make vegan “eggs” for breakfast

If you think vegan breakfast is boring or difficult, the new cookbook Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz is guaranteed to change your mind. Take the author’s advice and track down some black salt (called Kala Namak) which you can order online. It smells and tastes exactly like egg yolks. Try it in scrambled tofu or in recipes for vegan omelets.

6. Make simple substitutes with vegan condiments

This is one of the easiest steps in veganizing your diet. Some all-American favorites like mustard, relish and ketchup are already vegan. You can find creamy vegan salad dressings in the store, or just go with the easiest and most healthful option—oil and vinegar. Try Vegenaise brand vegan mayonnaise; believe it or not, it’s better than regular commercial mayonnaise. Look for vegan sour cream (Tofutti and Follow Your Heart both make great ones), and choose low-sodium Worcestershire sauce which is usually free of anchovies.

7. Learn to bake without eggs

Replacing the functional properties of eggs in baked goods can be tricky and is sometimes a sticking point for new vegans. But recipes for cookies, brownies and cakes that call for only one or two eggs can be made using egg substitutes. Check this list for ideas. Or treat yourself to a cookbook by an accomplished vegan baker. The Joy of Vegan Baking or Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World are good choices.

8. Discover vegan food to go

There are thousands and thousands of great vegan recipes for dinner and at-home meals. But you can brown bag it vegan-style, too. If your workplace has a microwave oven, you can enjoy instant soups packaged as individual servings (the kind in cardboard cups) or prepared burritos. Make sandwiches from vegan luncheon meats, or hummus or create your own “missing egg salad.” (Use diced tofu, black salt and Vegenaise mayonnaise.)

9. Look to ethnic cuisine

Some of the best eating patterns in the world—from both a culinary and a health standpoint—are based on plant foods. When you start exploring meals from Italy, India, China, Thailand and other exotic locales, it will open up your world to the best of vegan cuisine. Look in cookbooks and online for recipes for pasta or Asian noodle dishes, curries, stir-fries and pilafs (made with grains, nuts and dried fruits). Many people say that their culinary horizons expanded in exciting ways when they went vegan.

10. Enjoy some vegan treats

Well-balanced vegan diets are more healthful than the standard American eating pattern, but vegans eat treats, too. Many foods you already enjoy (like potato and corn chips and Oreo cookies) are vegan. Take a peek in the freezer section of your natural foods store, too, for great frozen desserts such as Coconut Bliss and So Delicious products.

Virginia Kisch Messina, MPH, RD is a dietitian specializing in vegan nutrition. She works with organizations to promote healthy vegan diets—and has been eating this way herself for two decades. View more of her writing at http://www.veggiedietitian.blogspot.com/. Follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/TheVeganRD

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