Several of the members of our team here at Guiding Stars, Joyce, Anissa, Karen, and Hilary, have either been eating a plant-based diet for years or are in the process of transitioning to a plant-based diet. We’ve talked together about some of the challenges of the process, tips and tricks for working through them and some of our favorite resources for learning plant-forward cooking.
The challenges in going vegan are as personal and varied as the reasons folks choose to change their diet. These are a few that the team identified as common.
Historically, the experience of walking into a restaurant and finding no vegan options beyond the salad menu was common. And even with the salad menu, you often still have to ask for the removal of toppings like cheese, egg, and bacon. Vegan eating at a restaurant becomes easier everyday, however, as plant-forward diets are on the rise.
- Check out the menu before arriving.
- Go somewhere that will allow some substitutions.
- Many menus are labeled to flag vegetarian or vegan dishes, but if there are no labels asking your server ahead of time is super helpful.
Dining with Friends & Family
If you’re the only vegan attending a food-based gathering (and aren’t they usually food-based?), pickings can be even scarcer than at a restaurant. Fortunately, unlike a restaurant, you have deep relationships with the people making food and the ability to contribute food of your own.
- Always bring a dish and make sure it is enough for everyone, as everyone will want to at least try it.
- Communicate with them what your dietary restrictions are, but don’t expect them to feed you.
- If you have family that is adamant on cooking for you, have some easy and fail-safe recipes to offer them.
Holiday traditions are saturated with food, and often, that food is about as far from vegan as it gets. Including your diet in the traditions will take time, and probably involve some frustrating conversations with people who don’t want to make room at the table for something new or swap butter for oil in that old family recipe. This can be a tough time for balancing burden on the hosts with your need to not be hungry.
- Use the swap tips below to make your favorites vegan/vegetarian to avoid sticking to just sides.
- Offer to help prep the meal.
- Suggest a potluck style event so you can bring a dish or two to share.
Tips & Tricks
Know your why.
There are SO many reasons to change to a vegetarian, vegan, plant forward diet. It is important you know why you’re doing it to clarify what’s most essential to you. Animal welfare, environment, health? There are many drivers for folks to move plant forward with their diet. Know your reason so you can better explain and show confidence if others are curious. This helps you when you get questions or possibly push back for the decision or in some cases skepticism and criticism for how you go about your journey.
Be gentle with yourself and start slow.
Small changes are more sustainable. Flipping the switch in a day can lead to stress, anxiety, error, and even some mental and physical challenges too. Instead, perhaps start with more vegetarian meals or reducing portions of meat in meals. Slowly increase your vegetarian meals and eventually move to vegan meals in the same way, if that is your ultimate goal.
Expect some error and some slide back. As with any change there can be error or challenges that prohibit your success. If you slip or eat something in error, be kind to yourself and just start back for your next meal.
Use easy swaps.
Food can be a very emotional thing tied to memory, tradition, etc. Many folks find it useful to take some of your favorites and “veganize” or “plant-forward” your dish.
- Often it is the spices that make the dish, so play with using favorite spices and leaving out the meat.
- Double up veggies in a dish if you can (e.g. curries, stews, stuffing).
- Substitute mushroom broth for beef or veggie broth for chicken.
- If you are looking for meat textures, try seitan, tofu, or tempeh.
- For sausage or hamburger, try processed plant-based meat alternatives, found in either the produce section near tofu or in the freezer section of most stores.
Make use of transition foods.
While many vegetarian and vegan alternatives that are marketed to replace meat items (think tofurkey, facon, plant-based burgers etc.) are not always super healthy and may not be an everyday thing for health or budget, they can be a great option as you start the journey toward a more plant-based diet.
Many of these are highly processed and can be high in sodium and sugar, so read the labels as you’re deciding how often to lean on them. They do often fill the craving some folks encounter when transitioning away from meat products.
It can be challenging to keep up without good support. Having a buddy can also make the journey less of a financial burden too. For example, some of the vegan/vegetarian options out there are a little pricier. You may have to try a few to find one you feel really fits your taste and works for the recipes you have in mind. Rather than buying all those products and potentially wasting them, plan cooking nights to try products with a friend who is learning the ropes too so you can share costs.
Cook smart for multiple diets.
Avoid making multiple meals if the whole family is not on the same eating plan. Making different meals for every diet will make the time commitment problematic. Make a balanced meal that will satisfy your hunger and the family’s tastes. If others want to reduce their portion and add some animal protein, they can do that rather than creating separate meals.
Convenience helps success.
Many folks think a plant-forward or vegan diet means you need to be a chef and spend tons of time in the kitchen. There are, however, plenty of pantry and freezer staples that can be kept on hand to reduce cooking time, just like with an omnivore’s diet.
- Canned beans (look for low-sodium)
- Par-cooked (instant) rice or frozen cooked rice
- Frozen vegetables and fruit
- Pressed tofu
Another tip is to try out some meal kits when you start out. This can be super convenient as it lets you try some new ingredients without buying a large quantity, in case you don’t like it, and can teach you how to cook some new-to-you ingredients.
You can also use all of the techniques of make-ahead meals and freezer meals for added convenience.
- Look for big-batch recipes.
- Batch-cook your favorite grains and veggies. Plan to mix up your toppings and spices to add variety so you don’t get bored.
- Freeze meals for nights that you are short on time.
- Throw some fresh veggies or a handful of nuts on them for the crunch that is often missing with freezer meals.
If you’re new to vegan cooking, having the advice of an experienced cook to guide you through the alternative ingredients for achieving excellent flavor and texture is essential. The recipes on these sources aren’t rated by Guiding Stars, and vegan cooking certainly has its fair share of luscious “sometimes” foods, but our team has found these chefs helpful in learning the ropes.
As you get comfortable with the basics of vegan cooking and are ready to turn your attention from learning new techniques to focusing on nutrition, be sure to check out the vegan recipes in the Guiding Stars database.