Whenever I tell people I am vegan, they are all like, "Oh man, well then what the hell do you eat?" I get this reaction like the only things that I can possibly eat are lettuce, carrots, and celery. It's cool though.....I would have thought the same thing like six years ago. I know it's a totally different lifestyle, but there is a whole world of tasty food out there that is ignored since the processed food, fast food, and meat industries took over the world. There are also some that aren't so tasty, and some that are vegan, but not healthy. There are a lot of convenience vegan meat replacements like veggie burgers, soy sausages, "chicken" patties, and so on that are just as processed and not great for you, but good in a pinch, or at the occasional cookout. Those options also make great transition foods for people trying to change their diet... and are better from an ethical point of view at least. Most people tell me they could be vegan, but they just can't give up cheese... or something else, but the most common answer is cheese. If that's the case... give up everything but that. It's all about taking steps in the right direction.
So, over the past few weeks, I've been going through my pantry and paying attention to what I buy at the grocery store. I wanted to create a list of how I snack, keep a balanced diet, and what I keep stocked. If you are interested in trying out the vegan lifestyle... this should help you get started!
Fresh fruits and vegetables: apples, grapes, strawberries, goji berries (frozen or dried), blueberries, raspberries, avocado, brussel sprouts, spinach, kale, chard, broccoli, eggplant, bananas, cucumbers, bell peppers, hot peppers, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, parsnips, onions, squash varieties, leeks, tomatoes (regular and canned). I don't keep these all at a time, but I generally circulate these fruits and veggies in my kitchen.
* Make sure you experiment with less popular or exotic fruits and veggies like starfruit, mango, coconut, papaya, broccoli rabe, beets, dandelion greens, daikon radish, kohlrabi, or rutabaga.
* Try different mushrooms: morels, shiitake, porcini, enoki
* Try using avocado as a spread for a bagel or toast instead of "cream cheese" or "butter"
* Make sure to keep a variety of greens on hand and eat them daily.
Experiment with different milks to see what you like the best... I like soy milk, almond milk, and hemp milk. I just stopped buying soy milk because I wanted less soy in my diet. Soy is pretty much in everything you buy these days, and too much of anything can't be good for you. You might also like rice milk or other nut milks! You can also buy soy creamers for coffee or for recipes that call for heavy cream.
Vegetable stock is a must! You can use this for cooking instead of oil, you can use it in sauces, and it can be a base for any type of soup you desire.
Earth Balance or Smart Balance Organic Buttery Spread: These are both vegan and made with vegetable oils and free of trans fat. I promise that you won't be able to tell the difference between butter and these spreads. I don't use them a lot, but they come in handy if you want to make a piccata or a brown butter sauce, or just simply to spread on a piece of toast.
Condiments and oils:
*Soy Sauce, Tamari, Braggs Liquid Amino (I really only use braggs these days to cut out the sodium).
*Brown Rice Wine Vinegar
*Sriracha (this is a must)
*Vegan Mayo (Follow Your Heart)
*Vegan Cream Cheese (Follow Your Heart)
*Follow Your Heart also makes a few vegan cheeses, but I don't really recommend them.
*Experiment with high quality oils like: truffle, flax, avocado, hemp, or coconut (I actually use coconut oil in my hair every morning and my cat goes crazy over it. I let him lick the cap.... he seriously loves it.)
*I like to mix together braggs, mirin, sesame oil, and chili oil for a quick stirfry or sauce to top off some veggies, tofu and soba noodles.
Sweetness: Agave Nectar or Brown Rice Syrup can be used instead of honey or sugar. Any type of Dark Chocolate is usually vegan... but you have to check to be sure. Usually, it has to be 70% chocolate to be vegan. I love to buy vegan chocolate chips and mix them in my vegan ice cream. My friend just told me she likes to top her vegan ice cream with yogi cereal... which sounds awesome too. Oh, and Newman's Own makes some Vegan Oreos: regular and mint. I never buy them because I will eat all of them at once!!
Canned tomato sauce. I actually still use ragu, but classico is just as good and has less sugar. Try many different varieties... just make sure that there is not any dairy and opt for the ones that have only recognizable ingrediants and are low in sugar and sodium.
Beans: Keep a variety a beans on hand: black, kidney, aduki, red, etc. I love chick peas... I can eat them right out of the can. There are also a wide variety of lentils as well. There are so many different types of beans... try a different one each time.
Pasta: just get your favorite, and make sure it's whole wheat. Some pastas are hard to find whole wheat, so I'll let that slide. I always have soba noodles, udon noodles, and rice noodles on hand. Soba are my favorite....they are great with a stir fry or in a miso soup.
Whole Grains: Brown rice, yellow rice, jasmine, basmati, couscous, farro, barley, quinoa, etc. Make sure you buy and eat whole grains. Quinoa is also high in calcium and protein.
Seasonings: Fresh garlic, ginger, basil, cilantro, parsley, etc. Most of these have medicinal qualities, so eat them often. Garlic is the best when it's not cooked, so throw it in at the end, or on a salad uncooked. But, nothing beats toasted garlic in olive oil as a sauce with red pepper flakes.... yummmmm... so simple too!
*Also keep dried seasonings on hand like red pepper flakes, garlic powder, onion powder, minced onion, wasabi powder, Italian seasoning, oregano, etc.
*Curry... buy red, green, and yellow curry pastes.... cook with them often!
Proteins: Tofu (extra firm, silken for smoothies), Sunshine Burgers, gardein, tempeh, seitan. I haven't had much luck with seitan or tempeh... but i'm working on it! I do love tofu though, but make sure you drain it first!
Whole grain cereals: I usually use Yogi brands. For whatever you decide on, make sure you check the sugar content. I've never been an oatmeal kind of girl... but that's also a good option for breakfast... topped with fruit.
Canned veggies: Hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, fire roasted tomatoes, olives, coconut milk, corn, etc.
Egg replacement powder: Ener-G Egg Replacer. I have this in my pantry and I have used it once over the last two years. It worked well, and I didn't notice the difference... i just realized I don't cook much with anything that has needed eggs, so I haven't needed it.
Transition/Convenience food: Veggie burgers, Boca Crumbles, soy hot dogs, sausage patties, etc.
Flours: All you really need is All Purpose Unbleached Flour. But, why not try whole wheat flour, spelt flour, chickpea flour, or brown rice flour. I haven't experimented much with these, but I intend to. If you have, let me know what you made and how it worked out for you!
Bread: Anything whole wheat and with as little ingrediants as possible. There is no reason that you should be buying bread with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, food coloring, dextrose, etc. Go to Whole Foods or Trader Joe's to get your bread. Oh, how I wish we had a Trader Joe's here in Florida.
Nut Butters: There are all kinds, so try them... almond is my fav.
Ice Cream: There are many varieties of vegan ice cream. I think the best one is called So Delicious. They have many varieties and even sell a soy free one that uses coconut milk. It really is soooooo delicious.
Nuts and Seeds: Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, almonds, walnuts, flax, cashews, pine nuts. I usually have these all of the time, but there are so many types of nuts and seeds.... try them all!
*Walnuts are high in omega 3s so those are a must. Also, seeds and nuts have lots of protein, fiber, and good fats. They keep you filled up throughout the day so you aren't more willing to eat larger portions later on.
*Top your cereal off with a good variety of nuts, seeds, and fruit. I always use strawberries, blueberries, hemp seeds, either pumpkin or sunflower, and walnuts.
*If you buy flax... make sure you grid them up... they do not digest right when they are whole.
Lemons and Limes for squeezing into sauces, topping off a salad, or in your water.
Snacks Ideas: Hummus, Triscuits (most are vegan), Baba Ghanoush, chips and salsa, pretzels, fruit, terra chips, various dips, apples with almond butter, grapes, oranges, olives, etc.
Frozen Food: Make sure you check out the frozen section for quick vegan goodies like Rising Moon Butternut Squash Ravioli, or Amy's Frozen Dinners, etc.
Baking Needs: Baking soda, baking powder, cornstarch, cocoa powder, organic unbleached sugar, confectioners sugar, non-hydrogenated shortening.
Sea Vegetables: Agar Agar... this is a seaweed powder that works just like jello. Mix it with your favorite fruit juice in hot water and then chill in the fridge for jello. It also expands in your stomach so it aids in weight loss. Nori: When this is toasted you can crumble it over a vegan paella or jambalaya to give the hint of seafood. There are many other types of seaweed so check one out at a time and let me know what you make!
Supplements: B12 - if you aren't eating a super food like Spirulina or something fortified with B12, make sure you take a supplement with food. This is the only vitamin that is tough to get when you are a vegan. I have found that some drinks such as Naked Green Machine and certain cereals by Kashi have B12 in them.
Phew... that was a lot food and ingrediants! Don't go out and buy this stuff all at once... experiment with these things one at a time. It took me about a year to finally get into a routine of things that work for me on a daily basis, and things that I have on occasion, and things that I just keep stocked because I use them every so often. I am constantly trying new things... for example... I just cooked lentils for the first time this past month, I have mung beans at home that I will try eventually, and I plan on cooking farro tonight. So, keep checking back for recipes!
Remember, it's best to buy organic and local whenever possible. Read the labels on products to make sure you are buying whole grains, vegan, and healthy ingrediants (sometimes companies change their ingrediants... so check every once in awhile). Choose whole foods over processed whenever possible. If you go over this list and eat a balanced diet.. you will not have to worry about protein, fiber, calcium, and other important nutrients... don't let anyone give you trouble about that! Good luck!
Have anything to add to the list? I'd love to hear about it.... fill me in!