So you’ve finally made the decision to go vegan for your own health, the planet, and animal welfare (great choice, by the way!). You’re a little apprehensive – will you miss cheese too much? What does a dinner plate look like without meat or fish? How will your sweet tooth cope when it comes to dessert?! But questions aside, you’re mostly excited!
That is, until you sit down to write your weekly shopping list and realise you don’t have a clue where to begin…
Sound familiar? Trust me, I’ve been there, so I totally feel you on this one. I’ve been vegan for nearly two years now, but those first few months were definitely the trickiest when it came to behaviour change (and actually sticking with it!).
So I thought it would be helpful to break it down for you to make the transition a little less bumpy. If you’re a beginner to veganism, read on to find out how to embrace your new diet.
What Should You Eat When You First Go Vegan?
When you go vegan, you’ll need to base your diet around plant-based food groups like fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains. But make these changes gradually. There are plenty of plant-based swaps now available, meaning that you can adapt some of the recipes you already enjoy.
The reason that I say to be cautious when transitioning to a new diet is that it’s so easy to get carried away. You may have an idealised ‘vegan version’ of yourself that is eating salad for every meal, grazing on pistachios and naturally shedding 5lbs a week. The reality is that… well, this is very unlikely to happen.
Change needs to be realistic and sustainable for the long term.
Removing meat, fish and dairy is already a massive step for your tastebuds to adjust to, so at the start, you should give yourself a big pat on the back for this alone. Follow the below tips to build up some plant-based stamina!
Make easy substitutes for your favourite recipes
Finding new recipes takes time, and cooking with new ingredients takes even longer (yep, whatever the prep time states on the recipe – double it!). There is nothing wrong with some initial excitement and wanting to try out new vegan recipes, but do bear in mind that experimenting in the kitchen is nice when you have the time – it’s not the best feeling every night when you’re tired after work and just want dinner on the table pronto.
So save your creativity for days when you can honestly give it the TLC it deserves.
When you first go vegan, my best advice is to adapt your favourite go-to meals and quick weeknight dinners. Some of my own favourites were lasagne, burgers and fajitas.
The good news is that it’s so much easier to go vegan compared to even a couple of years ago – there has literally been an explosion of plant-based alternatives popping up in supermarkets (now you’ll often find whole aisles dedicated to vegetarian/vegan diets).
In my case, I found that lasagne could still be made by swapping out traditional beef mince for some plant-based mince (try Linda McCartney’s Vegemince in the frozen section). You can even buy plant-based white sauce and vegan grated cheese to top it off – and all the other ingredients are vegan anyway. There are even vegan garlic breads available at most supermarkets.
Mock-meat burgers are honestly so good now – I can barely tell the difference! Or try a fajita kit but use fake chicken pieces or even some chickpeas (you can pick up a tin very cheaply).
Making one or two vegan swaps in recipes you already feel confident with is going to feel much more manageable during the initial transition period (and won’t be too disruptive for your partner or family, either!).
Indulge in some vegan sweet treats
Next – don’t deprive yourself! I’m not saying to go wild, but you can definitely still indulge in a few vegan sweet treats in moderation. There are plenty of accidentally vegan biscuits and cakes, plus Ben & Jerry’s now do vegan cookie dough (just saying…).
If you’ve read any of my other posts, then you might be surprised by this advice because I always advocate eating whole foods and cutting out overly processed junk. And I still absolutely stand by this – but you need to make changes slowly. So if you know you’re going to struggle without a little indulgence here and there, then give yourself a bit of leeway.
Incorporate more whole foods slowly
Last but not least, introduce more plant-based foods over time. Perhaps if you like snacking on Doritos with a salsa dip (who doesn’t?), you could change it to a hummus dip. And then once you get used to this, you could incorporate some carrots into the mix. It’s all about gradual change and actually developing positive associations with healthy foods, so if you can make small adaptions to things you already enjoy, this will go a long way to help!
Beginner Vegan Meal Planning
What can you eat for breakfast as a beginner vegan?
A quick weekday vegan breakfast might include:
- Toast and plant-based butter plus jam, marmalade, marmite or peanut butter
- Cereals like Cheerios, Special K, Raisin Bran and Frosted Flakes with plant-based milk
- Porridge oats made with plant-based milk
- Berries and plant-based yoghurt with seeds
Or, for something a bit more interesting at the weekend, try:
- Smashed avocado and roasted tomatoes on toast
- Garlic mushrooms on toast
- Plant-based Full English breakfast (Linda McCartney sausages, hash browns, baked beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried potatoes, fried bread)
What would you suggest for lunch when you first go vegan?
Lunch was the meal I found the trickiest going vegan – all sandwich fillings seem to include meat or dairy! So here are some suggestions that have worked for me:
- Beans on toast
- Jacket potato with guacamole and kidney beans
- Falafel/quorn mini fillets and salad wraps
- Greek pasta salad (make it in bulk to last the week)
- Scrambled ‘egg’ (tofu) sandwiches (if you’re feeling a little more adventurous)
What to eat for dinner as someone who’s just turned vegan?
The meals I mentioned earlier are a great place to start, but for quick vegan weeknight dinners you could also try:
- Plant-based chilli with rice and naan
- Any kind of vegetable curry (most use coconut milk which is vegan)
- Vegan meatball pasta
- Vegan pie, mash and vegetables
- Vegan pizza, chips and salad
And, for a Sunday treat, you could give a nut roast with roast potatoes, vegetables and vegan gravy a try – absolutely delicious!
What about dessert – aren’t they all vegetarian?!
I know what you’re thinking – sorbet is not the one! If this has been your experience with most vegan desserts in restaurants then fear not, because there are quite a few options now in supermarkets. Or, if you like baking, you can easily substitute egg for an ingredient like flaxseed.
Beginner Vegan FAQ’s
Is it more expensive to shop vegan?
Many people assume that it costs more to eat vegan because lots of foods marketed towards vegans come with a hefty price tag. However, the more whole foods like grains, beans, fruits and vegetables that you can include in your diet, the more cost-effective it will be! I’ve got loads of helpful budget-friendly vegan tips over here.
Can you drink tea and coffee as a vegan?
Yes! There are so many different types of plant-based milk – almond, oat, soy, coconut, pea, hemp. My personal favourite for tea and coffee is oat milk (I even prefer it to the taste of dairy now). I always opt for Oatly Barista in the grey bottle. It’s not the cheapest, but it’s by far and away the best I’ve tried and you can buy in bulk. Just give it a good shake before you pour for maximum creaminess.
Can you still drink alcohol as a vegan?
Yes, although you’ll want to be careful with cocktails that may involve cream. Some wines also technically aren’t vegan (they may contain milk or have been passed through animal guts) – but it usually says on the bottle. If you’re at a bar and unsure, don’t be afraid to ask!
What if food packaging says it MAY contain milk or eggs?
It honestly depends on how pedantic you want to be. If you’re not careful as a vegan, you can spend a heck of a lot of time studying food packaging! As a general rule of thumb, I try to avoid anything with milk or egg listed in the main ingredients. Past this, I tend not to fuss – life is too short.
What if you’re at someone else’s house who isn’t vegan?
It’s easy to forget when you visit friends and family that they may not have anything on hand that’s suitable for vegans. This is a mistake you won’t make twice! Once people know you’re vegan, they’ll probably go out of their way to cater for your needs. But I always find it’s good practice as a vegan guest to bring anything you might need with you (e.g. milk, vegan dishes, dessert, etc).
What if there aren’t many vegan options on the menu when you go out?
Being vegan in restaurants is already a hundred times easier than it used to be. However, there may still only be one or two options on the menu. For now, it’s a sacrifice you’re just going to have to make. On the plus side, it reduces decision fatigue and creates more demand for vegan options, which means you’re doing your bit to drive positive change.
Will you be lacking any key nutrients on a vegan diet?
A varied vegan diet with plenty of fruits and veggies should provide you with all the essential nutrients your body needs, however you will be missing out on Vitamin B12 (which is super important). I take one of these Nutravita vegan supplements every day to prevent any deficiencies, but whatever your choice, do make sure to at least supplement with B12. If you’re interested in finding the best supplement for your needs, then check out my post on 8 of the best vegan multivitamins in the UK.
Make Going Vegan as Enjoyable as Possible!
A plant-based diet may feel challenging or even restrictive at first, therefore it’s important to make the transition as seamless as possible. This will allow you to make gradual changes over the course of months and years. Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of buying loads of obscure ingredients for recipes you’ll only try once – this is only going to lead to burnout!
Now that veganism has become an established part of who I am and my daily routine, I’m much more creative in the kitchen and will happily experiment with new ingredients and cuisines. However, it’s taken a while to get to this point and I’m definitely not perfect! That’s okay though, because it makes things more sustainable and enjoyable over the long term.
To make things easier still, read on for everything you need to know about minimalist meal prep and vegan meal delivery services. Plus, I’ve got a complete guide to transitioning to veganism here. If you have any questions or top tips, then let me know in the comments below!