For lots of folks, this transformation in life includes making changes in the kitchen. Perhaps you are considering a shift to a plant-based diet. Whether you are doing it for ethical reasons or in an attempt to clean up your eating habits, there are a few things you should to keep in mind. The shift to veganism isn't always easy but remembering these tips can make things much simpler.
1. Take it easy
Some people decide to go vegan and never go back. The move is clear-cut and simple. But for others, this dramatic shift just isn't sustainable. If you like the idea of going vegan but are feeling a little intimidated by it, there is nothing wrong with easing yourself into it. Try something small like doing a "meatless Monday" or switching one of your daily meals for a meatless, dairy-free option. Think about your lunch, for example. You'd be amazed at how creative you can be when you take that tried and true turkey sandwich off the table.
2. Do your homework
Vegan food isn't nearly as complicated as people think it is. At the end of the day, vegan food is just food. If you like to eat grains, beans and produce, you're set to get started. There are a few, important, secret weapons you'll want to have around -- you'll not believe what you can do with nutritional yeast and cashews -- but beyond that, the education you'll need isn't really all that daunting. People will inevitably ask you where you get your protein (or your iron or your calcium) and while you may want to just shrug it off, it might be better to have an answer on hand. There are lots of resources out there that can provide you with all the information you need to truly understand the food you are eating and what it is doing for your body.
3. Start with dishes you know and love
Think about your favourite meals and think about the ways you can adapt them to be dairy and/or meat free. You may have to nix the cheese or swap animal proteins for beans, soy or a hearty vegetable like mushrooms. Work with the flavour palate you know and you'll be impressed by what you can come up with.
4. But don't be afraid to be adventurous
Being vegan can open your mind to a whole bunch of new ingredients and dishes. In fact, many of the world's most exciting food traditions are already plant-based. Take a look around, you'll have plenty to draw from. Many Indian, Moroccan, Ethiopian and Middle Eastern dishes are vegan and so full of flavour that you won't even noticed they are strictly plant-based! Don't be afraid to expand your spice rack and bump up your grains, legumes and vegetables.
5. Think creatively about adaptation
When people think about making a dish vegan, many assume you will just be replacing the meat with a meat substitute like tofu. While this can be yummy, it is important to think outside the box and not trap yourself in a food rut. If you are making a hearty pasta sauce, add mushrooms and lentils. It isn't the same as adding beef but it will be delicious make the sauce stick-to-your-ribs thick. Are purred frozen bananas the same as ice cream? No, but they are sweet and provide the same texture. They make a shockingly delicious and refreshing treat!
6. Make your own dairy substitutes
While giving up meat is fairly easy, giving up dairy can be a little more challenging. Cheese, for example, is a staple in so many dishes. But, you might find it easier to make the switch if you make your own substitutes. You'd be surprised at how wonderful cashew cheese can taste. It really captures the texture and tanginess of goat cheese! While store bought nut milks have come a long way in recent years, the homemade versions are even better. Get creative. Why not try tofu paneer or tofu feta? Once you are in the swing of things, you'll be able to make all sorts of substitutes that you never imagined possible!
7. Learn to work wonders with tofu and tempeh
Vegan proteins are far more numerous than people realize. They include many different grains, nuts, seeds and legumes but when it comes to subbing out meat, there is little that can match the versatility and texture of soy based products like tofu and tempeh. If you press your tofu, you will get a firmer texture that will be preferred by most people. When making tempeh, use a boldly flavoured sauce or marinade. It will balance the earthy taste of the tempeh. If you find it a little bitter, try steaming before you marinade.
8. Don't turn your nose up at vegan products
Keeping an open mind can make this transition so much easier. At the beginning, vegan cooking can feel completely foreign and products like Daiya (vegan cheese), Earth Balance (vegan butter) and Beyond Chicken (grilled strips of soy and pea protein that taste like chicken) go a long to making you feel comfortable. They give an authentic taste and don't require much effort on your end. Short cuts aren't always a bad thing!
9. Make vegan food for everyone
It is hard to convince people that being vegan can be delicious when all you serve is salad. Pick dishes that people are familiar with and go from there. If your family loves meatloaf, you can pretty much do the same thing with lentils and walnuts. Try a vegan mac n' cheese or lasagna. There is no reason vegan food can't also be comfort food!
10. Find community
Change is easier when you have people by your side. If your friends and family aren't so interested in exploring veganism, find other ways to join the community. Search online for a vegan meetup or potluck. Comment on food blogs. If you do have a friend who is curious, have recipe testing parties! Feeling isolated or "different" can make it difficult to stick with your dietary changes. Food is meant to be shared and enjoyed -- don't be afraid to expand your circle. Are you vegan? What tips would you offer to those just now making the change? For healthy meal ideas that include vegan options, and helpful meatless swap suggestions, check out the BodyRock Meal Plan!