If you’re new to veganism understanding what foods to buy, and more importantly, what the hell to make with them can be overwhelming.
Relax, I’ve got you.
The internet and apps like instagram are great for finding vegan meal ideas. Unfortunately, a lot of those recipes can seem complicated and time consuming…and in truth, they can be!
Ever try making homemade seitan sausages?
A layered rainbow smoothie?
Both delicious, but not exactly things you can whip up in a few quick minutes, if you even have the needed, sometimes odd ingredients on hand.
The thing is, making good, healthy vegan food is as easy or as hard as you want it be. So my suggestion is, when starting out, focus on keeping it easy and experiment with new recipes when you have some extra time on your hands.
So where to start? The pantry.
Make sure that you have the foundation of most vegan meals on hand. From my experience, these ingredients are:
- Lentils, both red and green
- Canned beans
- Tofu, extra firm
- Seitan – vegan sausages, crumbles etc. Look for clean ingredients on the label.
- Potatoes – sweet, russet, fingerling…whatever you like
- Greens – a variety of kale, spinach, romaine. Try something new!
- Fresh fruits and vegetables…a wide variety of whatever you like and not so much that it will spoil before you eat it
- Lemons and limes, which are great for salads, smoothies or dressings
- Frozen fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds – almond butter, tahini, pumpkin seeds, cashews…whatever you enjoy, just try and buy them raw and without added oils and salt
- Non-dairy milk, such as almond or soy
- Canned tomatoes and tomato sauce
- Pasta, especially chickpea or lentil pasta which is high in protein
- Healthy cereal
- Healthy breads, like sprouted grain, or whole wheat pita bread
- Vegetable broth
- Whatever seasonings, sauces and marinades you enjoy, like ketchup, mustard, soy sauce etc.
Note: with all of the above, check labels! You’ll want to buy products with few ingredients all of which you can read and understand and without added animal products.
Okay, so now, what do you do with all of this?
It’s not hard. Really. Here are a few easy ideas:
- Toast with nut butter or mashed avocado with fruit on the side.
- A bowl of vegan cereal with non-dairy milk and sliced banana.
- Oatmeal made with water or non-dairy milk, cooked with diced apple, walnuts and cinnamon.
- A smoothie with a handful or leafy greens, a banana and some frozen mixed fruit. Please note that when you add greens to your fruit smoothie it will most likely come out looking like mud. Tasty mud, but not pretty like you see on Instagram. Don’t be afraid, just drink it.
- Salads. Load up a bowl with greens, thinly sliced red cabbage and shredded carrots as a base. Top it with marinated grilled tofu, chickpeas or seitan for protein and add some nuts or seeds for crunch. Top it with a healthy vegan dressing or just some balsamic vinegar for flavor.
- Sandwiches. Just because meat is off the menu doesn’t mean you can’t have a hearty sandwich. Avocado is a great replacement for mayo, both as a spread or mixed with chopped seitan for a faux chicken salad. Marinated tofu makes a great filler as does grilled portobello. Best of all, these are all make ahead fillings.
- Hummus or other bean dips. Mix chickpeas with tahini, lemon and garlic or any beans with your choice of seasoning and a little lemon or lime juice. (I like white beans with lemon and dill). Serve with whole wheat pita bread cut into triangles and broiled briefly until they start to brown. Add some veggie sticks or a salad on the side and you have a meal!
- Rice or quinoa and beans. Top it with avocado and salsa in a bowl, or wrap it in a tortilla for a burrito.
- When you just can’t think of anything else that’s easy, go for the PB&J. Yup, it’s vegan!
- Pasta. Everyone’s favorite. Top it with tomato sauce mixed with cooked green lentils or seitan crumbles in place of meat. Or, make my easy Avocado Basil Pesto for something different. I like to add veggies to my pasta meals no matter what sauce I use. Peas, mushrooms and broccoli are my favorites to add bulk and nutrition.
- Soup. Veggie soups are easy. Just chuck everything you want in a pot with vegetable broth and cook until the veggies are tender. My favorite is to saute some onion, and then add vegetable broth, halved baby potatoes, chopped kale, a can of white beans and seasoning. Sometimes I add carrots and celery too. If I’m short on protein for the day, I’ll add sliced seitan sausage to the soup. Simple, quick and easy.
- Chili is something we make once a week. A can of tomatoes, a can of kidney beans, sauteed onions and peppers and some chili seasoning is all you need. However, you can (and should!) add chopped sweet potato and/or corn for a little sweetness to balance the spice.
- Of course I’d be a terrible vegan food blogger if I didn’t mention buddha bowls! No recipe needed…let your cupboards guide you. Use rice or quinoa for a base, add beans, lentils, tofu or whatever protein you want, cooked or raw veggies (preferably both!), some nuts or seeds and a drizzle of your favorite dressing. My go-to buddha bowl is quinoa topped with flavored beans, sauteed peppers and onions, a simple red cabbage slaw with a mustard vinaigrette for crunch and sliced avocado on top. Get creative with these…anything goes!
Finally, cook in bulk. Any of these dinner meals will make great leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day. And with the time you free up by eating leftovers, you can start to experiment with ingredients that aren’t as familiar to you.
The beauty of vegan food is that there is such a variety of options. No more boring cycles of chicken/beef/pork with a starch and vegetable. Your options are now endless, flavorful and kind.