**Before I get too far into this post, I'll put this out there for anyone who doesn't know: there can be a huge difference between something that is vegan and something that is whole food, plant-based. Something that is plant-based is necessarily vegan, but something that is vegan is not necessarily plant-based. For example, you can eat Ritz crackers, Fritos, Oreos, and Swedish Fish and be eating vegan, but these things are obviously not plant-based. "Vegan" is also, for the most part, an all-encompassing way of life; it isn't just about what you will or won't eat. For the sake of this post, however, I'll just call it all vegan.**
If you are interested in adding more vegan foods into your life or maybe even transitioning all the way, know that it has never been easier than it is today! You can find millions of recipes and suggestions right at your fingertips. Don't think you have to get fancy or need to hire a private chef to make it happen. Almost 5 years in and I still love eating beans and rice regularly! Anyone who tells you vegan eating is for the wealthy is wrong. Sure, if you survive on packaged foods, it can get pricey. However, the basic plant foods are extremely inexpensive. While I now eat almost exclusively whole, plant-based foods, I didn't start out that way. When I first went vegan, I was already very familiar with meat and dairy alternatives, as I had been a pescatarian for the 15 years before that. But what is available now was not available then. There certainly was a lot of stuff readily available, though. So, in addition to buying a vegan slow cooker recipe book, I went to all the standard vegan restaurants in LA pretty regularly, until I felt like I could figure out what I was doing in the kitchen. I relied heavily on meat and dairy alternatives, but I started cooking with a lot of foods that are still my staples to this day (see below).
Some of my staples are big bags of rice (I prefer Jasmine), dry beans (canned work, too!), big bags of whatever potato is on sale, onions, frozen corn, frozen peas, frozen broccoli, and traditional rolled oats. That's my starting point. Every single Sunday, I bust out my pressure cooker and make a pot of rice, a pot of beans, a pot of oatmeal, and I steam potatoes for later use. In my steamer pot, I make peas and corn. I can add those to warm dishes or, more often, I add them to my salads. I then wash and cut up my veggies for the week and store them in individual mason jars and dish out from them every night for the next day's lunch. I usually choose the same veggies, like green onions, Roma tomatoes, mini cucumbers, mini sweet peppers, zucchini...pretty standard stuff. Once you get going, it's easy to keep up. It definitely takes a little time to meal prep, but that's why I love my pressure cooker: I can press a couple of buttons and it does the rest of the work for me!
I prepare my oatmeal with water, ground flax seeds, chia seeds, some blue agave, and sometimes brewer's yeast. Each morning, I add some blackstrap molasses, chopped walnuts, and fresh blueberries. Sometimes I add frozen fruit, which is usually cheaper and always in season. It is so easy and so delicious!
As for what I suggest for people who are used to meat-heavy diets who are nervous about leaving those behind, find vegan versions of your favorite recipes online. I PROMISE you, someone has posted a recipe veganizing what you're looking to veganize. It's there. I personally don't recommend getting too adventurous with recipes that call for a ton of ingredients or, even worse, a ton of steps. If you have time for that and you know your way around a kitchen, go for it! I don't have time for that usually. I like simple and easy. But I do occasionally try to get adventurous. For the most part, I want simple ingredients and just a few steps. Some of my favorite simple recipe bloggers are: minimalistbaker.com, itdoesnttastelikechicken.com, and noracooks.com. If you're confident enough with flavors, you can depart from the exact recipe and put your own spin on it. In general, I usually follow a recipe as is at least once (except I usually omit oil because I try not to cook with it), and then I start doing my own thing while using the recipe as a guide.
If you are wondering whether eliminating meat, dairy, and eggs from your diet will leave you nutrient deficient, fear not! There is NOTHING you get from those foods that you can't get from vegan food, except the bad stuff, like cholesterol. Yes, many vegans supplement with some sort of B-12 supplement, but you'll find a lot who don't. Fun fact: people like to say that the only "natural" way you can get B-12 is by eating animals, but what they won't tell you is that, these days, because most of the animal products come from animals raised on factory farms (so they don't graze on grass and are pumped full of antibiotics), these animals get B-12 supplements, too. Here is an article about it if you're interested. And, if this makes you feel any better, you can keep in mind that the multi-billion-dollar vitamin industry does not exist for vegans. ANYONE can be vitamin deficient. You can also keep in mind that hospitals are NOT filled with vitamin-deficient vegans. 🙂 And, lastly, you don't have to get yourself worked up about whether you are getting enough protein if you are not consuming animal products. I assure you: if you are eating a well-balanced diet, full of a variety of foods, you are getting enough protein. America has become weirdly obsessed with protein (thanks to successful marketing campaigns), so much so that most people get WAY more than they need. In fact, Dr. Garth Davis wrote a book on it called Proteinaholic.
While I went vegan for the animals, I have definitely developed a strong interest in the health benefits of eating whole, plant-based foods. You can literally reverse disease with this way of eating. If you are one of those people who is interested in the health benefits and want to make sure you're eating a variety of nutrients, check out Dr. Greger's app, Daily Dozen, available for free on Android and iPhone. There are so many ways to add nutrients to your basic meal, like sprinkling some hemp seeds on a salad or pasta dish, or adding blackstrap molasses to oatmeal, or even adding nutritional yeast (a vegan favorite, also referred to as "nooch" sometimes). The possibilities are literally endless.
Finally, if you think giving up animal products overnight is too much, then transition over a period of time! Veganize some of your favorite meals, try a new vegan product every week...basically get to the point where you're eating so many vegan things that they just crowd out the animal products. I will leave you with this: if you are open-minded and not looking for a reason to quit, you will love it. Most vegans will tell you that the only thing they regret about going vegan is that they didn't do it sooner.