Trying to eat vegan isn’t exactly the easiest thing at first, even when you know how worthwhile it is for both you and the planet. Even once you’ve been eating plant-based for a while, doing it in a way that’s healthy can still be a day-to-day struggle. While we certainly can live on bagel pizzas with Daiya cheese and Tofurki pepperoni, that is neither the healthy nor the cheap option. For the health-conscious and the plant-based, your kitchen becomes a pretty frequent companion. The problem, for a lot of us, is that we’re our own house wives and house husbands, juggling cooking with working and living. The best thing we can do is find a way to make things easy (and tasty!) for ourselves, because while it’s fun to go all-out once in a while, sustainability is the important part.
1. Plan Ahead
Many of us aren’t lucky enough to live in places with good veg options out of the house, and even then it probably won’t be as healthy. Start cooking before you get hungry, and brown bag your lunches. If you’re going to eat out, take a gander at their online menu or call them first. (If you’re nervous, here are 5 Things to Ask Your Waiter, and How to Order a Vegan Pizza.) The most important thing is to eat before you’re too hungry to make considered food choices. But if you get to the point where you’re too hungry to cook, having anticipated this disaster, you can eat a banana, sit down for a minute, and then be ready to take on the kitchen.
2. Learn What Your Body’s Cravings Are Code For
Cravings are individual to each person, but there are some general principals. Dehydration can make us crave sugar, and personally when I haven’t been eating enough hot food I crave cheese. But I don’t actually want the cheese. I want something with enough fat and protein to make up for a few skipped meals. Often the best way to tell is to drink a glass of water and reassess.
Getting enough sleep and water will help your body adjust to the changes, control cravings, and teach you the difference between real hunger and the kind caused by fatigue or dehydration. That said, physical addiction to dairy products, meat, and processed foods are very real, and there’s a certain amount of toughing it out until you adjust to your healthier diet. Read up on casein and make some fun meaty plant-based food, and most of all make sure to get enough nutrients and enough calories.
3. Reorganize Your Kitchen to Be as User-Friendly as Possible
Set up the kitchen and pantry right so you have what you need, and easily accessible, to make cooking enjoyable and easy. A lot of the basics, like keeping your spices, pot holders and spoons within arm’s reach from the stove, are relevant to any kind of cooking. But when you switch to a plant-based diet, the necessity and frequency of cooking for yourself means that you’re most likely to succeed if you make cooking both easy and enjoyable, and make sure that on off-days you have leftovers or a crock pot. To avoid reaching for a bagel or cereal, it’s also useful to have canned beans and vegetables that are good raw, as well as fresh fruit and nuts, so that when there’s no time or no energy you still have options. Canned and frozen aren’t first-choice, but they’re better than processed, high-glycemic foods that don’t keep you full.
4. Add Fat to Round Out the Flavor
5. Frozen Bananas + Plant Milk = Ice Cream
There are a lot of great ways to make ice cream, but the simplest by far is to freeze a few bananas. Even the frozen bananas by themselves are a delicious treat, but in a blender with your favorite plant milk and mint leaves, cocoa powder, or other frozen fruit and flavors of your choice, this is easier than any other ice cream we’ve tried. And delicious. Did we mention delicious? If you want a recipe, one cool variation is this Raw Mango Banana Soft Serve Ice Cream.
A lot of people freeze them in their peels to avoid having to use extra plastic, which is admirable, but the process is a lot faster if you peel them before freezing them, in grocery bags, or reusable ziplocs or containers. If you keep a stock of frozen bananas, this treat takes minutes, tops. You can also cut the bananas in half and dip them in melted chocolate before freezing for an impromptu popsicle.
6. Find New Cuisines Instead of Veganizing The Old
This is a good way to make sure you don’t just replace meat and dairy with their processed, store-bought vegan equivalents. Asian cuisines are so popular with the veg crowd largely because dairy and meat are much less integral. Get comfortable with curries, marinated veggies, as well as whole foods. Likewise, traditional Mexican food is meat-heavy, but American Mexican and Latin food is one of the easiest ways to eat veg in or out of the house.
7. Rethink the Idea of an “Entrée”
You don’t need a meat equivalent like tofu or seitan to be the entrée . Everything from baked potatoes to veggies with a nice tahini sauce can be the entrée. Finding a balance between the kinds of nutrients your body needs should be the focus. But if you do want a meat-like center piece for the meal, there are plenty of vegetables that will do the job.
8. Asian Markets Are Your New Best Friend
With the exception of some Indian food, dairy is much less common in Asian cuisine, so if something is vegetarian chances are it’s also vegan. Just make sure to read the ingredients carefully for fish derivatives and palm oil. From ready-made dumplings in the frozen food to a variety of rice, beans, and unusual fruits and vegetables, Asian markets are a good way to expand your dietary variety. They’re also likely to carry jackfruit than organic specialty stores, and the king oyster mushrooms only available at asian markets make excellent, chewy cutlets.
9. Learn To Be an Adventurous Eater With Farmers’ Markets
This relates to the idea of crowding out problem foods, rather than focusing on eliminating them. The sheer variety of legumes, whole grains and seeds make it so easy to get enough protein, carbs and calories. Plus, if you’re willing to experiment it’s a lot easier to eat local and in-season. Plants are almost limitless in their variety, and your local farmers’ markets will probably contain greens and veggies we’ve never heard of, and the farmers often have good suggestions for how to cook with them. Even if you don’t have a market, there may be local famers who do buy-in or subscription programs that will allow you to try new foods, and get your produce at a significantly reduced cost.
10. Cultivate Community
Everything is easier with friends who share recipes and education with you, pat you on the back, and make you soup when you’re sick. This can even count as a kitchen hack if you talk your friends into cooking for you.
Finally, don’t beat yourself up when you mess up. You’re doing great and you’ll do better next time. Change is hard, and no one’s journey to healthier and more ethical eating has been a straight shot. The most important thing is to do the best you can given your time, means, and body’s requirements, and even eating better just a percentage of the time will have an impact.
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