I am seriously delighted to have been approached by several people so far who have expressed an interest in using the new year as a motivator to transition to a plant-based diet! If you are reading this, chances are you are one of those and so I welcome you to what I hope will be an accessible and useful resource on your “vegan journey” 🙂
Be sure to check out part 2 here for info about nutritional aspects of a plant-based diet, to make sure you eat well and take care of your beautiful self.
- First of all, let us define “vegan” Veganism is not a diet. A plantbased diet is a diet. The Vegan Society’s definition of veganism is that it “is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose” (emphasis mine)
- Do not attempt going vegan on your own if you have an eating disorder or would be vulnerable to developing one; I am happy to talk about it if you relate to that statement.
- I have been vegan since June 2017, and most of my tips are based on my own lived experience in the UK, Sweden and mainland Europe.
- I advocate for veganism in general, but as a future doctor I advocate for whole food plant-based diet irrespective of my ethical stance.
- I am not qualified to give any medical advice, but I do have a special interest in nutrition and recently completed a 6-week university course in plant-based nutrition via the University of Winchester so I am by no means clueless when it comes to all of this.
- If you have any further questions, as always feel free to contact me
- All links will open in new tabs. Happy browsing!
This post contains
- How to go plant-based and stay plant-based
- Common concerns
- Common mistakes
- Meal tips for (almost) every occasion
- My fave restaurants and supermarkets (mostly for the UK)
- Best of… dairy alternatives, meat alternatives (mostly for the UK)
- Other aspects of being vegan
How to go plant-based and stay plant-based
Remember your motivation. If you are curious enough to be reading this, I am sure you already are very much aware of how a plant-based diet is optimal for environmental, health and animal welfare reasons. Watch some documentaries, read a book, join a Facebook group with likeminded individuals. I recommend the following documentaries: Forks over Knives, Cowspiracy, Land of Hope and Glory or The Gamechangers.
Not only know why you are doing this, and be able to explain it to others. Trust me, it helps!
Learn your stuff. Know a bit of basic nutrition, take your supplements. Read my guide with what is in my opinion everything you need to know here.
Baby steps. If you cannot go vegan overnight (I did not…), try starting by having vegan breakfasts, then lunches, or just on the weekends or first at home only or when eating out only. You want to make a sustainable change, so there is absolutely no point in making drastic changes you will not be able to stick to.
Stick to your faves which you know and love. I am sure many of your cereals and breads are accidentally vegan, and you can still have them. Learn to veganise your favourites: spag bol, chilli (sin) carne, Pad Thai… Going vegan does not mean you have to give anything up.
Be open-minded and try new things! For example, do not just try cooking with tofu once. Tofu is notorious for being hard to make taste well, but when done properly it is amazing. Some dishes take time to master, and your taste buds may need adapting. Try out different recipes and new ingredients. I still try to do this to challenge myself when stuck in a rut.
Some people are worried about what others will think about them deciding to go vegan. I personally have not had a hard time – I may have been made fun of a couple of times but I take it with a pinch of salt and just laugh through the pain (lol). Honestly, it really is not bad! I find that as long as you know why you are making these changes and can explain them to others, they will respect you in the same way that you respect them.
Being invited for dinner;
I still worry about inconveniencing others sometimes. If you are invited somewhere for dinner, you do not want to force the hosts to cook something separate just for you, or to change their menu altogether.
I love potlucks, because then I can bring along some nice foods I can eat as well as share with others. Some of my fave potluck items are loaded nachos, mac n’ cheese, a good chilli, brownies or cookies.
If you are not going to a potluck but an actual dinner, I would politely inform the host something along the lines of “I am vegan but don’t need anything fancy – as long as a side are suitable for me I’m more than happy”. I would also offer to bring some food along to ensure I truly have something nice to eat, and to show the others that there actually is nice vegan food.
Do your research ahead by looking up menus online if possible. If not, just go to the place and inquire about what they could make for vegans. If you are super shy or embarrassed, you can also say that you have allergies to eggs and dairy… or ask to see the allergen menu in order to work out what is vegan yourself.
Most places will be able to make something vegan-friendly, whether it is just potatoes or a side salad. To be honest I have never really had to eat something super boring like that when out – most places are accommodating and end up providing nice food! See my list of tips below, with some restaurants and types of cuisines I usually find are safe bets when going out for food.
Forgetting your motivation, or running out of steam. In my experience “going vegan” just for health tends to fizz out, whereas ethical motivations are more of a forever thing. Remind yourself of why you are making this change.
Having an all-or-nothing mindset is not advisable. Everyone benefits from people doing their best in terms of trying to live vegan and eat plant-based. If you are a flexitarian, or simply not wanting to give up your mother’s special meat dish – know that you do not have to. Being plant-based 50% of the time is better for your health and that of the planet than 0% of the time. Trust in the process, keep trying. I have accidentally consumed non-vegan things several times in the last couple of years, but it does not mean that I am not vegan.
Not eating enough! This is a big one. So many people go plant-based for health and are too focused on losing weight, or are just not used to the amount of food you need to eat in order to meet your calorie needs when plant-based. Plant foods are in general lower in calories per volume, which means you need to eat more. You cannot replace a piece of meat with one vegan steak or a couple of falafels – you will need to eat a larger quantity of food. For a foodie like me, this has never really been a problem, but if you are losing weight rapidly, be sure to include some higher calorie foods such as dried fruit, nuts and nut butters.
Doing too much too quickly kind of goes hand in hand with having an all-or-nothing mindset. Refer to baby steps point above.
Meal tips for (almost) every occasion
So – you are ready. But are you still confused as to what the hell you can eat? Here are some of my faves and go-tos for various meals and occasions.
- Porridge with mylk and fun toppings such as nuts, seeds, vegan chocolate cream, nut butters, fresh or frozen fruit/berries.
- Toast with beans, avocado, vegan spreads, vegan cheese or ham, tofu scramble, hummus and veg.
- Pancakes (one recipe here) or waffles.
- A smoothie or smoothie bowl (preferably with lots of hidden greens and maybe a scoop of vegan protein powder?).
- Weetabix or another fortified cereal with soy milk.
Mains for lunch or dinner
- Wraps with falafel, beans, rice, quinoa, last night’s leftovers, and always lots of veg or a side salad!
- Pasta with lentil bolognese (or vegan mince) or another simple sauce.
- Rice with a veggie curry.
- Soup such as a bean soup or carrot/lentil with wholewheat toasted bread and a spread on the side.
- Potatoes with beans or a curry, chilli or stew.
- Stir-fries are brilliant: have them with noodles or rice, and use tofu or faux meats for good flavours.
- Salads are boring and I forbid you to just eat iceberg lettuce and tofu!! If you want a lighter lunch opt for a salad with pasta or potatoes as a base pls and lots of beans and veg. And a nice dressing (Simnett nutrition does some great recipe vids).
- There is always the option to make a vegan version of a dish traditionally based on animal products. Literally just google “vegan X” where X can be anything you fancy, from fried “chicken” to mac n’ “cheese” to a fry-up to a Christmas dinner to shepherd’s pie to calamari (yes – really!)
- Hummus with veggies and crackers/bread/pita bread
- Toast or a sandwich
- Rice cake with nut butter and sliced apples or bananas
- Fresh fruit with a handful of nuts
- A smoothie
- Some cereal with mylk
- A plant-based yogurt pot
- Crisps (chips for Americans), trail mix or popcorn
- Some biscuits, cake, chocolate or an ice cream – if you have got that sweet tooth and fruit just will not cut it!
Best on-the-go foods
Most supermarkets and cafes offer things you can buy of course, but the following are tips of things you can make ahead.
- Most supermarkets and cafes offer things you can buy of course.
- Bring leftovers with you.
- Pasta salads, and some grain salads (but take care with rice) can be eaten cold if you do not have a thermos to bring leftovers in.
- Wraps and sandwiches make great lunches on the go.
- Always carry snacks: bananas, apples, peaches, veggie sticks with hummus, nuts and dried fruit are great for filling you up when you need some fuel. And always bring more than you think you will need (speaking from experience)…
Some types of restaurants are just better at catering for a plant-based diet, due to vegetarian foods naturally occurring in their cuisine. My favourite, most trusted world foods are:
- Indian – make sure they use vegetable ghee. Naan usually has yogurt in it, but roti or chapatti is fine.
- Mexican – will usually have dishes based on beans, rice, and corn nachos etc.
- Thai – tofu dishes, curries may be based on coconut milk.
- Japanese – tofu, noodle and rice dishes are often available, as is some veggie friendly sushi such as different types of maki and inari.
- Chinese – stir fries with vegetables and tofu, rice and noodle dishes.
- Middle-eastern such as Lebanese, Persian etc. will usually have mezzes that are suitable for vegans such as hummus, rice stuffed vine leaves, falafel.
- Italian – some pasta with veggie sauces, most proper pizza dough is vegan so you can have a pizza without cheese with lots of tomato sauce and veggie toppings instead (honestly prefer this to a pizza with vegan cheese when done well, don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it!)
Some trusty UK chains
- Pizza Express
- Pizza Hut
- Bar Burrito
- Frankie & Benny’s
- Yo! Sushi
- Prêt (my no 1 faaaave!!)
- Caffè Nero
- Costa coffee
- Even KFC do a vegan burger now, and McDonald’s has options too…
Here follow some product recommendations, which are mostly tailored to the UK. They are only a selection based on what I have tried. I have for example not perused the Iceland selection, and do not go to ASDA often but I hear they are brilliant. All of these are available in mainstream supermarkets (just Google).
MILK: oat or soy are better for the planet and soy is an excellent protein source.
My favourite brands are Oatly, Tesco’s own unsweetened soy, Alpro’s soya light and Alpro’s oat.
CHEESE: controversial but there are good ones. The deal with cheese is that almost none of it will taste identical to dairy cheese, but there absolutely are brilliant alternatives among the absolute shite tasting cheeses I have tried. You just have to keep on trying your way through different cheeses and keep an eye out for other’s recommendations.
If you live in Edinburgh, you simply must check out Beetroot Sauvage. Otherwise violife and Sainsbury’s do amazing “feta”, Sheese/Bute island foods do delicious cream cheese and meltable cheese of different flavours, Tesco’s own free from brand is good too.
You can also make great “parmesan” by blitzing some walnuts, cashews, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and nutritional yeast.
NUTRITIONAL YEAST: Marigold foods/Engevita fortified is the best one! Pair with a drizzle of tahini on veggies to make them so so good and creamy. Nutritional yeast – affectionately called “nooch” – is a great source of many minerals and provides a whopping 5 grams of protein per tablespoon serving.
MINCE: Farmfoods “Veggie Kitchen” range, Sainsbury’s own brand.
CHICKEN: This (insane!), vegan Quorn chicken pieces.
SAUSAGES: Linda McCartney forever.
Other random things
Honey is not vegan. Check out this and this for info on why. I choose to not consume honey because it is not an essential food. Alternatives include golden syrup, maple syrup, agave syrup and even special vegan honey substitutes.
Eggs in baking can be replaced by making “flax eggs” or using mashed up banana or applesauce. Eggs act as a binder most of the time. You can also replace egg whites with aquafaba (a fancier word for chickpea water). Simply google “vegan egg replacements” for more info or click here.
Mayonnaise is a no-brainer in terms of vegan alternatives! There are so many good ones. Check out your local Holland & Barrett or brands such as Vegenaise, Hellman’s vegan and Tesco’s own free from brand.
Top money-saving tips
Always check out the reduced section of a super market for some bargains and to fight food waste!
Buy tofu, tempeh and seitan (in tins usually labelled “mock meat”) from your local Asian supermarket. It is so much cheaper than from mainstream supermarkets, and you can pick and choose from a bunch of different types of tofu: from silken to extra firm!
Buy tahini and dates from your local Middle-Eastern supermarket.
Buy dried legumes and grains in bulk from zero waste stores, supermarkets or “international” food markets. Consider investing in a pressure cooker to save time as well as money by preparing beans and rice in batches.
Use your freezer! For food cooked in bulk, frozen veggies, herbs and berries (and ice cream)
Other aspects of going vegan – part 3?
This is way lengthier than I intended for it to be already… perhaps these things ought to be dealt with in another part of my little series. I will briefly mention things to consider if you are serious about going vegan. However, I find that most people transition by first going largely plant-based, then by making more mindful changes to other lifestyle aspects.
Makeup – look into products which contain no animal ingredients, but also do not test on animals. Cruelty-free kitten and Logical harmony are good information sources. Superdrug and Boots contain loads of trustworthy brands such as B. by Superdrug, Barry M, MUA, e.l.f. and more.
Toiletries – we talking soap, shampoos, toothpaste… again, most of these can be found in Superdrug, Boots, the Co-op or health-food shops such as Holland & Barrett.
Household – cleaning products, washing up liquid, laundry detergent. Refer to point above or use Google to find cheap cruelty-free brands.
Alcohol – many types of alcohol use or contain animal products in their creation process, especially beer and wine. Clear spirits tend to be okay. I trust Barnivore as a resource to help me find out. I essentially only ever purchase vegan alcohol, but if I am offered some at an event, I will take it; however, that is a personal decision.
Clothes – leather is not vegan, and the same goes for fur, wool and snakeskin. I would urge you to keep on using your old clothes instead of throwing them away. Some people believe that purchasing such clothing items second hand is okay, others do not think that is “vegan” – make up your own mind about it.
Exploiting animals – food often gets the limelight because after all, most of us eat food three times a day. However, veganism is a lifestyle and philosophy which strives to avoid all animal exploitation as far as possible. Veganism involves adopting pets over supporting breeding, not supporting zoos, circuses and horse and greyhound races, for example.
Instagram and the Instagram vegan community is mostly massively helpful and a lovely positive bubble. Beware of restrictive or pro-diet accounts! Some of my favourites are plant power prep uk, Hannah “veganbean16“, letseatsmart, charlottetheherbivore, curry pot, naturally Nina, mybasicveganlife, lindadoesvegan (teehee)
The internet in general. Have a question? Literally just google it. Or ask me – always happy to help!