I’ve had conversations with several friends recently – particularly since the covid-19 outbreak – about their desire to make more plant-based meals. They’ve asked me for recipes, shopping advice, and websites or apps that might help guide them into this new (for them) territory. I thought that some of you might also be in the same boat, so I decided to write this blog to help you take some simple steps toward plant-based cooking and shopping. This is not a blog about all things vegan. My goal is just to share some of the easiest and tastiest foods to make or buy, whether it’s just for you, for your family, or as an activity to do with kids.
Many of us are likely aware of the reasons to eat more fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, and to avoid eating animal flesh and secretions (milk, cheese). Especially in times of illness, plant-based foods provide high doses of nutrients and help build immunity, as opposed to animal products which cause inflammation. Most (if not all) of the pandemics we’ve experienced over the last 100 years have derived from animals caught or raised for slaughter, so buying plants instead of animal products also lets you flex your consumer power and vote (with your dollars) for healthier, safer, less exploitative food production systems.
Another reason to go plant-based right now? It’s fun! A lot of us are looking for ways to enrich our time at home in isolation. Cooking new types of foods (or the same foods but with plant-based ingredients) is a nice way to add variety into your routine and introduce healthy behaviors in the process. Be flexible, experiment, challenge yourself. Now is the time to eat more plants.
How do you do it?
Okay, let’s get into it. Where do you start if you want to cook some plant-based meals but don’t have much experience? First of all, you probably are eating vegan more than you realize! Peanut and butter jelly? Vegan. Gaucamole? Hummus? Vegan. Most breads, chips, pasta sauces, and cereals? Vegan. Snacks are the easiest place to start. But what about if you want to cook full meals? Here are some of my favorite resources to help you out, with a focus on simple, affordable recipes that both kids and adults will enjoy.
My favorite things to cook:
Just to give you an idea of the kinds of things you can make easily on a regular basis, here are some of my favorite easy meals to make at home, all vegan:
- Pesto pasta or creamy alfredo pasta (yes you can make these without animal products!)
- Breakfast burritos or normal vegetable burritos – stuffed with guacamole, vegan cheese, beans, veggies, potatoes, veggie meat crumbles, and whatever your heart desires
- Vegan grilled cheese (there are dozens of new, tasty vegan cheeses available these days)
- Coconut curry with tofu and veggies (pumpkin, potatoes, cauliflower, etc)
- Vegan sausages (I like Field Roast or Beyond Meat) and roasted potatoes
- Veggie stir fry with peanut sauce
- Mashed potatoes (with vegan butter and parmesan, salt, pepper, and garlic)
- BLTA sandwiches (tempeh bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado, vegan mayonnaise)
My favorite easy things to bake:
Baking vegan is SO easy, I often wonder why bakeries don’t eliminate eggs and milk altogether! Most people never even realize whether they are eating vegan or animal-based baked goods Here’s a few things that are super quick and easy to make:
Where do I find recipes?
Honestly, the way I find most of my recipes is through a simple Google search. I usually know what I want to make, and if I need a recipe I search for it. For example, “vegan pancake recipe”. I look through a few sites and choose a recipe based on which ingredients I have on hand, how easy it looks to make, and how good the reviews are. The one thing I hate about online recipes these days is that most of them follow the same frustrating style, where the author writes several paragraphs and you have to scroll way down the page to find the actual recipe. I don’t know who started it but it seems like a conspiracy to drive the world mad. At any rate, just go with it and scroll to the juicy bit. Or use recipe books!
One more tip: if you are looking for the most affordable or easiest recipe, just add key words to your recipe search like “cheap”, “easy”, and “quick” (yes I realize there is some sort of ‘I love my recipes like I like my men’ joke there that I’ll refrain from indulging).
If you have an Instapot or Crock Pot, you can find an endless supply of vegan recipes for soups, stews, curries, etc. that are easy to make and cost-effective.
Here are a few recipe sites (they each have Instagram accounts) that I absolutely love:
- PlantBasedJuniors (for kids/parents)
- plantbasedonabudget (also has free meal plans)
If you have a few ingredients on hand and want recipe ideas based on those, here are two sites you can use to search based on ingredient:
A note on ingredients
When it comes to cooking or baking, don’t be afraid to use a different sugar, flour, oil, bean, milk or veggie than the recipe calls for. Just go for it, seriously. I do a LOT of substituting in recipes based on what I have on hand. No matter what you’ve been told, recipes are not written in stone so use them as a guide but go off script as needed.
Pretty much any animal-based ingredient has a plant-based alternative these days. Here are a few you’ll likely encounter on the regular:
- Butter – use vegan butter, coconut or vegetable oil (or search for ‘oil free’ recipes)
- Mayonnaise – vegan mayo! There are a number of brands, all are pretty good
- Cheese – see recommended brands below, or search recipes to make your own
- Milk – oat, almond, soy, or hemp milks (there are many other blends out there too)
- Creamer – soy or coconut creamer (along with others)
If you are also looking to substitute healthier ingredients in general, here are some substitutes I often use:
- Sugar – coconut sugar, maple syrup, blended dates
- Flour – whole grain spelt (not as heavy as whole wheat), oat flour, millet flour
- Pasta – chickpea or lentil pasta (bonus – it has a ton of protein, cooks similar to pasta, and doesn’t have too strong a taste)
- Rice – quinoa, red or black rice, millet (my fave!)
My favorite vegan brands
While I encourage eating as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible, ready-made ingredients or meals can be super helpful in a pinch. Here are some of my favorite brands.
- Amy’s (soups, mac n’ cheese, sauces, refried beans, chili, frozen meals)
- Sweet Earth and Field Roast brands (awesome sausages, burgers, frozen burritos,etc.)
- Beyond Meat (if you are looking for the most meat-like burgers, ground meat, etc)
- Miyako’s, Violife, Kite Hill, and Follow My Heart cheeses (Daiya is not one of my faves); for vegan parmesan in particular, Follow My Heart is amazing! Use these cheeses instead of ‘nutritional yeast’ in recipes if you aren’t a big fan of the yeast.
- Follow Your Heart vegan mayonnaise and salad dressings (Ranch, Caesar, Blue Cheese and more!)
- SoDelicious plant-based milks and ice creams
- Earth Balance or Miyako’s vegan butters
Vegan on a budget
I love the brands I mention above, but buying a lot of pre-packaged foods can add up quick (both financially and packaging wise!). When I can, I buy certain things in bulk at Whole Foods, Sprouts, or similar: rice, oats, nuts, chickpeas/legumes, sugar, flours, and other ingredients.
There are also ways to save money while eating vegan – Trader Joe’s has a ton of vegan items that are cheaper than other stores, as does Grocery Outlet. You can find things like coconut oil, sauces, milks, and cheeses for better prices. They also have a lot of pre-made vegan items, like wraps, burritos, mac n’ cheese, and salads. Here’s a massive guide to vegan shopping at TJs, and one for Costco. You can find anything on the internet!
If you can, make your own plant-based cheeses (most are very simple and use only a few ingredients). If you want to have a fun adventure on your own or with your kids/partners/etc, you can try making plant-based milks, ice creams, and yogurts (oat milk is very easy).
Vegan shopping lists and planners
If you want to stock up your plant-based kitchen, here are a few beginners’ lists to get you started.
How to find vegan restaurants near you:
If you don’t have time or energy to cook, here are some tips for finding restaurants with vegan options near you (a lot of restaurants are struggling in the minds of this pandemic and are offering take-out and delivery, so support local plant-based businesses if you can).
- Happy Cow – both a website and an app that lets you search geographically for restaurants that are vegan, vegetarian, or offer vegan options.
- Google search for ‘vegan restaurant’ – just like recipes, Google is an easy go-to for finding restaurants with vegan options. Search within your area or via the map.
Motivation and inspiration for plant-based eating
These websites have tons of recipes as well as product reviews, vegan news, restaurant recommendations, and much more.
I could keep going with all the recipe and news websites out there, but my goal was to give you some first steps, not overwhelm you. Have questions or want advice on a specific topic, recipe, or store? Have your own suggestions or favorite recipes? Reach out to me. I wish you all health, happiness, and plant-powered goodness!