Veganism is often defined by what we don’t eat: meat, fish, eggs and dairy, plus some of the animal ingredients that are hidden away in products, such as whey (from milk) and gelatine (from animal bones).
But really, we should focus on all the great stuff that vegans do eat. And in reality, the difference isn’t all that huge. Instead of meaty burgers, sausage and steaks, we eat plant-based versions. Instead of dairy cheese on a pizza or cows’ milk in our coffee, we choose the plant-based versions. For almost every animal-derived ingredient and product, there is now a vegan alternative, and this means that a vegan’s meal may look and taste exactly like a non-vegan’s meal, it just doesn’t come with the animal suffering, or the same environmental impact.
Don’t wake up on the first day of your vegan adventure without having thought about what you might eat! That is the absolute quickest way to fall off the wagon. Ahead of time, have a think about your first day’s meals and buy plant milk for your breakfast and coffee or tea, some dairy-free butter for toast or sandwiches, and something tasty for your dinner.
Some people find making a weekly meal planner helpful, so they always know what they need to shop for and what they will be eating. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Toast – with vegan butter, peanut butter, yeast extract, jam, hummus, avocado, sliced tomato, or dairy-free cheese
Oatmeal – with your choice of plant milk. Add seeds, nuts and fruits
Breakfast cereals – with dairy-free milk or yogurt. Add seeds, nuts and fruit
Full – vegan sausages and bacon, scrambled tofu, hash browns, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms and baked beans
Tea, coffee and fruit juice
Soup and roll – homemade or shop-bought
Sandwiches and wraps – homemade (vegan BLT; cheese and pickle; ‘ham’ and mustard; hummus and carrot) or shop-bought
Pasta salad or a hot pasta dish
Jacket potato with salad, dairy-free cheese, baked beans or chilli, or make a delicious vegan tuna salad
Sushi – homemade or shop-bought
Pizza – with vegan cheese, ham and chorizo, sundried tomatoes, basil, sweetcorn, artichoke, olives and capers, pineapple, jalapeños
Spaghetti Bolognese – made with lentils or soya mince, or a combination
Curry – Thai, Indonesian, Indian, Bangladeshi, or ‘veganise’ your old favourite recipe
Burger in a bun with a fresh green salad
Chilli non carne with nachos, refried beans and guacamole
Bangers and mash with fresh vegetables, gravy and mustard
Steak and chips – yes, there are now vegan steaks available!
There are so many everyday foods that just happen to be vegan, so open up your cupboard and take a look. Pasta, rice, peanut butter and Marmite, most breads, tinned tomatoes, chickpeas and kidney beans, jam and marmalade, coconut milk, curry pastes, tomato puree, baked beans, many crisps, crackers and biscuits, herbs and spices, many gravy granules, tea, coffee and fruit juice… There is a good chance that half the foods you already eat are vegan!
There is no need to reinvent your whole eating habits. If you like a sausage sandwich, have one – just make sure the sausages are vegan. If you want ice cream, go ahead. There are dozens of different delicious flavours out there. You can have almost everything you had before in a vegan version, so just switch like for like.
Again, there is no need to adopt a whole new eating regime. If your signature dish is lasagne, make a vegan version with soya mince and plant milk for the béchamel. If you love a morning fry-up, you can make it with vegan bacon and sausages. Whether you cook curries, casseroles, soups, stews, pies and pasties, roast dinners, cakes, desserts or anything else, simply veganise it.
Many people find that becoming vegan opens up a whole new world of recipes and ingredients, and rekindles their love of great food. Once you’ve got the hang of the basics, why not jump in and try some brand-new recipes (there are thousands online) and see if it ignites your culinary passions.
Don’t get caught out! It’s really easy to pick up vegan snacks in most places but not everywhere, so make sure you keep a bag of nuts, a chocolate bar or some fruit in your bag or car just in case.
Not every vegan product will work for you but just because the first cheese you try or the first latte you make doesn’t hit the spot, don’t rule out all other cheeses and plant milks. There are so many different ones to try – cream cheese, melty cheeses, nut-based, coconut-based, soya-based, all flavours and lots of different brands and styles; and as for milks, you’ll find oat, hemp, almond, coconut, rice and soya. Try them all, and you will soon find your perfect match.
Like eating out? Download the HappyCow app onto your phone and let it guide you to your nearest restaurant, café or shop where you can find vegan food wherever you are in the world.
It’s easy to feel isolated as a new vegan but there are millions of us out there. Find your local vegan meetup group and make like-minded friends in real life or search online for vegan groups that interest you. From vegan runners to bakers to knitters; from vegan weightlifters to fashionistas to activists. They’re all there waiting for you.
Everyone makes mistakes. Whether you ate something non-vegan accidentally or simply gave in to temptation, it’s OK. It doesn’t mean you are no longer vegan; it just means you are human! Chalk it up to experience and move forward.
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