Thinking About Eating Vegan in 2021? Follow This Easy Starter Guide
By Christina Lyon
Going vegan can be intimidating, but not anymore!
What do Jessica Chastain, Erykah Badu, Natalie Portman, Alicia Silverstone, Nathalie Emmanuel have in common? They’re all vegan! Veganism is great for your body, the planet, and animals.
But eating a vegan diet is easier when you’re a celeb with a personal chef on hand, right? Actually, going vegan is easier than you think, thanks to a plethora of vegan foods, meat alternatives, plant-based proteins, and vegan eateries. Fact is, there’s never been an easier time to go vegan!
If you’re thinking about eating vegan in 2021 but aren’t sure where to start, we’ve compiled a beginner’s guide with some baby steps to help you transition.
What Do Vegans Eat?
A vegan diet is abundant, nutritious, meat-free, dairy-free, and cruelty-free. If you took a tour of a vegan’s kitchen, you’d likely find these vegan products and ingredients:
- Fruits: Bananas, berries, oranges, apples, tropical fruits, peaches, mangoes, dates, cucumbers, avocados, and olives (yes, the last three ingredients are fruits, thanks to their pits and seeds!)
- Veggies: Carrots, broccoli, green beans, asparagus, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, celery, radishes, and leafy greens like kale, chard, lettuce.
- Legumes: Chickpeas, pintos, soybeans, black beans, peas, and lentils are chock-full of protein, healthy fats, and fiber.
- Nuts and seeds: Cashews, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, tahini, ground flaxseed, almond meal, and sesame seeds
- Grains: Wheat bread, quinoa, buckwheat flour, oats, barley, rice, corn, rye, millet, and sorghum.
- Plant-based meat alternatives and vegan meat: Tofu, Beyond meat, black bean burgers, veggie burgers, vegan sausage, vegan deli slices, seitan, and tempeh
- Vegan dairy: Earth balance butter, vegan cheese, almond, oat, soy, or coconut milk, and coffee creamer
- Vegan junk food and snacks: Frozen pizzas, vegan ice cream, frozen vegan meals, chips, crackers, and hummus.
- Herbs & Spices: Variety is the spice of life, and spices shine in vegan meals. Salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, Bragg’s nutritional yeast, liquid smoke, turmeric, soy sauce, vegan bullion, veggie stock, and fresh herbs
- Oils: Olive, grapeseed, coconut, sunflower, and canola oils.
Tip: Print out the checklist above and bring it to the grocery store to guide you while shopping.
And that covers your vegan basics, so what are non-vegan foods?
What Foods Are Off The Table for Vegans?
- Dairy products from cows, goats, and chickens, including milk, cheese, yogurt, and cream
- Animal byproducts like honey, gelatin, eggs, egg whites, and egg yolks
- Meat: Chicken, beef, lamb, pork, bison, hen, escargot, veal; any animal meat is a no-go.
- Fish: Salmon, cod, shrimp, lobster, anchovies (often in caesar dressing), caviar, squid, crab, mussels, etc.
- Red food coloring: The main ingredient in many food coloring is powdered insects. Ick.
- Omega-3 supplements and fish oils come from fish.
- Protein powders: Unless indicated that it’s a vegan product, it’ll likely have whey, a milk protein.
- Some beers and wines, believe it or not, can use egg whites and casein during the clarification process.
- Egg noodles and pasta
- Refined sugar and brown sugar can use bone char during processing.
We know what you’re thinking: we just went and took all the fun out of eating, right? On the contrary! Look, the transition to veganism is strenuous at first, but it’s like a muscle: the more you exercise it, the easier (and tastier!) a vegan lifestyle becomes.
A few tweaks in your shopping and cooking routine, and you won’t miss the meat!
The Best Vegan Substitutions
Whether you’re a meat-eater or omnivore, giving up some of your favorite foods is hard. The beauty of going vegan in 2021 is that you now have more meatless options than ever before. As you craft your new meal plan, consider implementing these tasty substitutions:
- Blue agave instead of honey. It’s gooey, sweet, and makes everything taste better, including your coffee!
- Tempeh instead of bacon. Tempeh is a wheat-based meat substitute that has a smokey, earthy flavor. Spruce up the bacon flavor with soy sauce and liquid smoke.
- Scrambled tofu instead of eggs. Many new vegans are terrified of tofu; it’s wet and gelatinous and doesn’t look appetizing uncooked. But scramble it in a pan with vegan butter, nutritional yeast, Himalayan sea salt, turmeric, and cumin, and you get a vegan breakfast scramble!
- Vegan meatloaf instead of roasts. Throw beans, rice, veggies, and walnuts into a food processor, bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes, and you’ll get a savory, smokey, super healthy meatless dish that even meat-eater friends will love!
- Flax egg instead of eggs for baking: Whip one tablespoon of ground flax meal with three tablespoons of water, let it sit for 15 minutes, and you’ve got a thick, creamy egg-like substitute for baking.
- Beyond meat patties instead of beef burgers. Thick, juicy, hearty, and savory Beyond patties are more appealing to new vegans because they look (and taste) like beef.
- Vegan cheeses are hit and miss. Our favorites for melting and spreading are cashew cheese, Daiya cheese (for melting), SO Delicious cheddar cheese, and Tofutti cream cheese and ricotta. The Whole Foods brand, 365, makes a pretty good plant-based mozzarella, too!
- Ice cream. Coconut and almond ice creams will most closely resemble the creamy, fatty, velvety richness of dairy ice cream. Target’s new “Our Favorite Day” almond dessert is one of the hidden gems out there.
- Meat sauce. Fry up some vegan meat crumbles in a skillet with vegan butter, then pour marinara sauce and seasoning in for a plant-based take on a classic meal.
What About Supplements?
The problem is, many new vegans eat the same way they did before, minus the meat. Ultimately, this means loading up on carbohydrates and sugars rather than rich nutrients and minerals.
As you transition, consider taking a daily multivitamin. Once you’ve stuck to a vegan meal plan that’s rich in leafy greens, vegetables, and plant-based proteins, you likely won’t need the supplement because natural food is brimming with vitamins and minerals, except one…
The only vitamin that doesn’t occur naturally in fruits and vegetables is vitamin B-12. Unfortunately, B-12 deficiency can cause anemia and cognitive issues in the long-run.
So, as you embrace veganism in this new year, do it the healthy way by taking a daily B-12 supplement. We recommend B-12 sublingual liquid drops like this one from Nature’s Bounty, which has a yummy berry flavor and is easy to digest.
Plus, the sublingual liquid goes directly into your bloodstream, bypassing the gastrointestinal tract to ensure you receive the entire dosage.
Shop At Vegan-Friendly Grocery Stores
Amazingly, commercial grocery chains like Smart & Final, Vons, and even Target offer vegan products, which is excellent news. However, the selections don’t reach beyond your standard almond milk or black bean patty.
You’ll find the broadest selection of vegan foods at these U.S. grocery stores and markets:
- Trader Joe’s. Find a broad roster of vegan staples at affordable prices. Tip: Follow @traderjoesgoesvegan for ingredients and recipes.
- Whole Foods. The vegan foodie’s mecca — if you’re willing to open your wallet and splurge because Whole Foods is notoriously expensive, making veganism a bit less accessible to all socioeconomic statuses.
- Ralphs. The frozen aisle and deli sections have a surprisingly broad selection, including vegan sausage, cheese, and yogurts.
- Amazon. Yep, you can find products like vegan protein powder and snacks like protein bars, chocolate chip cookies, and even vegan jerky!
- Local Farmers Markets. Eating vegan broadens your flavor palette, introducing you to the richness of real, whole foods. Local Farmers Markets have organic produce that tastes more vibrant and full-bodied than grocery store produce. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself snacking on a tomato as if it’s an apple — they’re that good.
Find Local Vegan Restaurants
Going vegan doesn’t mean you can’t have fun trying new restaurants, food trends, or new products. In recent years, veganism has boomed in popularity, in large part thanks to social media.
Feeling like take out? Search google for “vegan restaurants near me.” You’ll be surprised at how many metropolitan cities and suburban areas have vegan eateries.
…and Fast-food chains?
For decades, the words fast food and veganism didn’t belong in the same sentence. Sure, fast food isn’t the healthiest choice and certainly not recommended as part of your main diet, it’s exciting to see chains expanding their menus to reach the vegan demographic.
2020 was an incredible year for those of us going vegan because many fast-food restaurants rolled out vegan options. Now, that doesn’t mean we’re encouraging you to go all “Super Size Me.” But as you transition to a vegan diet, it helps to have some old comforts to stave off temptation.
And if you need to eat some fast food initially to wean off meat and dairy, it’ll be worth it in the long run.
- Carl’s Jr changed the game last year by adding the first vegan fast-food burger to their menu, the Beyond Famous Star. Be sure to get it without cheese and mayo.
- Burger King rolled out a meat-free sausage and the Impossible Whopper.
- Blaze Pizza offers meat-free chorizo and dairy-free cheese toppings.
- Del Taco. Fan favorites are the Beyond Avocado Taco and the Del Cheeseburger — sub Beyond meat for the beef patty and nix the cheese. Yum!
- The Habit Burger Grill. A veteran burger joint for vegans, thanks to that delectable veggie burger patty that’s been on the menus since the chain opened. And the new year is bringing a new menu item — an Impossible burger.
- Chipotle has Sofritas, a meatless tofu blend packed with spice and flavor.
- Wienerschnitzel — yes, home of the weiner dog — is rolling out veggie dogs in California, Texas, and New Mexico.
Ok, enough junk food for now. The real reason to celebrate veganism and begin your vegan journey is to bring healthy, plant-based foods to your kitchen table. Many facets of vegan eating align well with general nutrition advice for women our age.
How can you make that easier?
Take Baby Steps
In the beginning, you might feel pressured to embrace veganism on all fronts. However, you’ll quickly realize that transitioning to a vegan lifestyle takes time and diligence.
Was that pho broth vegan? Did that alcohol have honey in it?
Give yourself the grace to slip up and learn. Here are some final tips to make eating vegan in 2021 enjoyable, fulfilling, simple, and delicious.
- Start with simple vegan recipes with humbled foods like rice, beans, tofu, and veggies. The beauty of eating vegan is that whole foods are healthy and easy to cook.
- Follow vegan accounts on social media. Some fan favorites for healthy, quick, wholesome meals are @bestofvegan, @veganrecipesideas, and @veganiina.
- Plan ahead for social events. Social events and gatherings can be a vegan’s nightmare—no way to ruin a picnic than with iceberg lettuce “salad” for lunch. The truth is, most get-togethers only have vegetarian options at best. So, pack vegan patties for barbeques (and foil for cooking separately), bring snacks, or eat ahead of time.
- Don’t get hung up on the protein myth. For some reason, many meat-eaters cannot fathom a vegan diet rich in protein. But protein is in everything from lentils to blueberries. Eat a healthy, well-rounded diet filled with whole foods, and your protein intake will do just fine. Ask any vegan for their blood panel results (or don’t, cause that’s rather odd, but you get the idea), and you’ll typically find healthy protein and calcium levels.
- Always, and we mean always, pack a protein bar in your purse. DMV appointment? Daily commute? Quick run to the post office? Meeting with the in-laws? Anything can happen, so when you get trapped somewhere, having a protein bar handy will save you from getting hangry or giving into temptation.
Embrace Your New Vegan Lifestyle
We’ve covered a lot about eating vegan because we believe veganism should be accessible to all. As you experiment with new recipes, products, and ingredients, remember that your choice to eat vegan is making a difference in your health, the planet’s health, and the safety of cute animals everywhere. Happy dining!
The above content may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, Finer Things earns from qualifying purchases. When you click and shop, we receive a small commission to support our writers.