Mastering how to veganise your diet is the first crucial step towards committing and focusing on your goal of living a vegan lifestyle. As a self-confessed foodie I know for certain that if I’m not able to prepare delicious, satisfying meals then no matter how strong my beliefs regarding animal cruelty, health and the environment I’ll struggle to make the switch.
Start with your favourites
I made a list of everything we like to eat as a family and paid particular attention to the meals and side dishes that are already accidentally vegetarian. I quickly realised that with a few minor tweaks I would still be able to enjoy many of them which encouraged me that I could at least get started sooner rather than later and not starve. I then went on a scavenger hunt through the fridge and pantry cupboards and educated myself on the ingredients in the items I use regularly. The easiest way to do this is to check for the allergens which are usually listed in bold. Although this is the quick and dirty way to see if a product contains milk, egg, cheese and is by no means the definitive way to tell if something is truly vegan it’s an effective first step in what’s going to be a steep learning curve.
Should I throw away my old cookbooks?
The easy answer for now is No. There are literally hundreds of vegan cookbooks, recipe blogs and resources for you to discover but in the interests of getting started then I think its important to minimise overwhelm and the initial costs and start simply with what you have available. Take a look at your favourite cook books and cookery shows with fresh eyes to look beyond the recipes as they are being presented. When we concentrate on the flavours, textures and themes within the dishes it becomes much more obvious what simple substitutions can be made whilst still keeping the integrity of the dish. A fragrant Moroccan tagine works just as well with chickpeas and apricots as it does with lamb and a stroganoff welcomes wild mushrooms to absorb those rich flavours without loosing anything by removing the beef.
Why does everything contain eggs and milk?
I’ve certainly had days these past few weeks when it feels that way but the good news is there are actually so many replacements for these staple ingredients that you may wonder where to start. Depending on what you’re trying to create there will be an alternative ingredient available but in the beginning its going to be very much trial and error, which for me is part of the fun. Go back to your list of favourite meals and note down anything that you feel can’t simply be swapped out for a fruit, vegetable or grain alternative. Your list will prob include eggs, milk, cheese, cream, butter etc then with the original recipe in mind Google the vegan alternative and see what comes up. You’ll likely get multiple versions and ways to achieve the same dish, just do as I did and pick the one that suits whatever you already have in stock, know that you can find easily or that sounds the tastiest based on your personal preference. Keep a notepad handy and jot down any ingredients, alternatives and superfoods that keep coming up as you search. A few helpful comprehensive resources that go into detail on recipe swaps and alternatives are Cooking Substitutions by Vegan Wolf and Vegan Substitutes by Holy Cow Vegan.
Shopping lists make happy shoppers.
There’s a world of difference between lovingly crafting your ideal weekly vegan meal plan and storming around the aisles of the supermarket in a blind panic because everything you usually buy is totally unsuitable to your new way of life. Take a breathe….. AAAAAH. Now go back and read that last sentence. Fully allow the fact that this is “your new way of life” and not a one time only supermarket sweep to sink in.
I’ve spent 36 years of my life so far as an omnivore and 18 of those years cooking with meat, eggs and dairy on a daily basis. It’s safe to assume that a lifetime of those ingrained habits is not going to be undone by one carefully considered shopping list on my first trip out. Its going to take time and considerable effort to get things right. Despite some REALLY SCARY VEGANS shouting at me from their high-profile online soapbox I’ve made the decision for myself to forgive the over sights or slip ups I’m bound to experience as I make the journey forwards and choose to concentrate on living with the intention of doing the least amount of harm I’m capable of on any given day.
If at all possible and practical I suggest doing a specific vegan shop online and filling it with everything you discovered during your Googling phase. Making the time to do this online, focusing on your objectives and checking out brand reviews as you go will give you so much confidence in the fact that you can prepare all the meals you’ve been thinking about without stressing over missing ingredients. Living in a very small village with minimal amenities meant that I chose to do my vegan shop with Ocado. Not only did they have all the basics I needed such as nut milks, vegan butter and cheese but they also listed the more obscure items I wanted to try such as Maca powder, Cacao nibs and Chia seeds. I highly rate them and am so pleased I saved my shopping list to repeat in the near future.
If online grocery shopping is not your thing then once you hit the shops there are definitely things you can do to help get you started the right way. The shopping list of course is key, as queen of the list I can say with 100% confidence that you will benefit from making and sticking to that list. If you’re shopping at the supermarket give yourself permission to miss out entire aisles or sections if you know your cravings are likely to overwhelm you. I would head straight to the free from/dairy free or specialist diet section to stock up on all those alternatives. Don’t forget to stop off at the beans, pulses and grains and feel free to go wild. The biggest bulk of your shop should be focused on fresh fruit and vegetables. If you’ve got the time or energy after all that then it might be helpful to checkout the ingredients of some of your usual items or brands.
Time for the 5 R’s
So the kitchen is stocked, you’ve dusted off your cookbooks and you’re feeling pretty smug. It must be time for the 5 R’s.
- Review: Double check you have everything you need for the next few days. Review the labels and ingredients as you go, looking specifically for the vegan seal of approval or any unsuspecting hidden ingredients.
- Research: If you come across ingredients you don’t recognise and cannot establish if the product is suitable for vegans then research the ingredient online, check out the brands website credentials and contact them directly for confirmation until you’re satisfied.
- Release:If you realise you’ve inadvertently bought something unsuitable decide for yourself if you need to use it, forgive yourself and choose differently next time or give it away to someone who will make use of it. These types of mistakes are inevitable, release the guilt, vow to do better and move on.
- Refresh: Go back over the meals you planned for the week. Refresh your mind as to the recipe swaps and methods that may differ from your usual cooking style.
- Repeat: Use every opportunity to continue learning and supporting yourself in your decision. Make time to get prepared for next week ready to repeat the whole process again.
I hope that you feel ready and empowered to embrace these first few weeks and feel proud of everything you’ve achieved so far in your journey to living a healthy, cruelty free vegan lifestyle. Please share in the comments below the issues you faced in veganising your diet and your tried and tested methods to overcome them.