I have so many people, even vegetarians, tell me, “It must be so hard to eat like you do.” I can see that, at first glance, following a vegan diet can look complicated and intimidating. Others think that the hard part is giving up the foods that they like, not generally talking about meat, but much more often they mean giving up sweet treats and, especially, giving up cheese.
It’s Not Hard to Eat Vegan: 5 tips to help you make the switch to a plant based diet.
Let’s take this step by step. Here are a few tips that will make eating a plant based diet seem less scary (and more delicious). It’s really not hard to eat vegan.
- Reading Labels. This is probably the most time consuming and complicated part for new vegans. Yes, you need to read labels. Thoroughly. But, considering all the junk that is found in most processed food, shouldn’t you be doing that anyway? When I scan a label, I first look at the allergen listing. Since most manufacturers list any food that is known to cause allergies, it is a quick and easy way to see if a food contains any dairy products or eggs. If it does, put it down. If if doesn’t, you’re not quite done. Take a look at the rest of the ingredient list. Other ingredients sometimes have lesser known names, but still contain non-vegan properties. These include casein, gelatin, honey, whey, and carmine. Here is a complete list from Happy Cow that can help guide a new vegan through the ins and outs of label reading. The good news is, it gets easier. While ingredients change, and you need to keep an eye even on products that you use regularly, it will soon become second nature to read a label and pick out which ingredients contain animal products.
- Eating Out. While it would be wonderful to be able to eat at a vegan restaurant every time you go out to dinner, it is probably unlikely to ever happen. In my case, we have one vegan restaurant anywhere close to La Quinta, and it is about a 45 minute drive from home. It is possible to order a vegan meal at most restaurants, though. Fortunately, there are resources to help you find restaurants that are vegan friendly. The first and foremost is Happy Cow. Enter the city that you are searching or use the app, and you will find a list of restaurants that can accommodate your dietary needs as well as directions, suggestions, and ratings. Another app that I use frequently is VeganXpress (for iOS only, so I have to check my iPad). It not only lists the available vegan dishes at most chain restaurants, it has a vegan food list so you can check out your favorite candy, snacks, and other foods (Fritos, Oreos, Red Vines, and some Girl Scout cookies make the list!). Again, it gets easier, but you do have to read menus, ask questions, and sometimes make special requests.
- Cooking at Home. There are hundreds of vegan cookbooks available, many recipe websites and blogs that have vegan recipes (including this one!), and many other resources to help you prepare delicious and easy plant based meals. That being said, one of the easiest ways to make the transition to a vegan lifestyle is to use some the of delicious meat alternatives available. My two favorites are Beyond Meat and Gardein, and there are several others that are very good too. Do be aware that some faux meats are not vegan, including products from Quorn and some from Morningstar Farms. Simply prepare some of your old favorites, substituting the vegan alternatives where appropriate.
- “Giving Up” Stuff. If you have a sweet tooth that you need to satisfy, it is certainly possible to find or make plant based alternatives. I’ve been in “baking mode” in the past (which doesn’t happen very often) and made such treats as carrot cake, pineapple upside down cake, and a variety of cookies. There are certain specialty brands of vegan baked treats, and even Trader Joes has their own chocolate chip cookies which contain no animal products. There is ice cream made of soy, almond, or coconut milk, and dark chocolate is not only delicious, it is better for you than milk chocolate. I found that I eat a lot less junky food simply because it is not vegan. For me that turned out to be a better reason than the old “too much fat, sugar, and calories” excuse.
- Cheese. Cheese gets its own paragraph because it is probably the number one
excusereason that I hear from current vegetarians as to why it would be so hard to be vegan. “I can’t give up cheese!” they say. Yeah, yeah, I used to be there too. But you know what? Yes, you can. Eating less cheese really is a matter of “just doing it.” Like sugar, the less you eat, the less you want. Plus, these days brands like Daiya make substitutes that not only taste great, they melt just like the real thing. Daiya is also soy and gluten free. Their products go beyond the plain old cheddar and mozzarella shreds, and include Swiss and provolone slices, cream cheese, and Havarti and jack wedges. If you’d like to start making your own gourmet vegan cheese, this cookbook, Artisan Vegan Cheese, (affiliate link) has recipes using plant based ingredients like almonds, cashews, and non-dairy yogurt, to make anything from ricotta to soft Gruyère, to whipped coconut cream.
Another thing that will make it easier to make the switch to a plant based diet is that it is getting easier to find many of the substitute meat and cheese products. Many chain supermarkets, including Vons (Safeway), Ralphs (Kroger), and even Target, carry brands like Daiya, Beyond Meat, Gardein, and others. And if your local store doesn’t, why not ask? Store managers are usually quite responsive to special requests like this.
I hope this has answered a few questions and made the idea of “eating vegan” less scary. If you have questions about following a plant based diet, please feel free to ask in the comments.