Easy Ways To Sneak More Vegan Food Into Your Diet (And Why You Should)
Can’t open Instagram without running into a berry-strewn smoothie bowl and a handful of #veganeats hashtags? You’re not alone. More than one in 10 Australians now identifies as vegan or vegetarian, and our vegan food market is the third fastest-growing in the world: it’s currently worth a cool $136 million, with not an alfalfa sprout sanger in sight.
It’s easier than ever to sneak plant-based food into your normal diet without compromising on taste or nutrition, and it’s good for you, the environment, and for animals. Here’s how to do it.
#1 Hit the markets at closing time
Your local fresh-food market will be clearing out boxes of produce for barely anything at the end of a day’s trading, so take the opportunity to stock up on fresh, healthy and well-priced new-to-you veggies by heading there late.
Find crunchy radishes, purple cabbage, bean sprouts and flaked almonds to pull together a tasty vegan salad, mash a bagful of cheap avocados into an easy snacking guacamole, or roast sweet potatoes, beetroot or taro into a base for baked spuds, burger patties, or a wintery roast vegetable salad.
Seeing what’s available (and having it within your price range) will help you see eating vegan food isn’t just limp lettuce salads and sad cucumber sticks.
#2 Try a new cuisine
Whether you choose fine dining or make-your-own, you’ll find some cuisines naturally lend themselves to better vegan food options.
Try the grain salads and spiced vegetable stews of Iranian and Moroccan cuisines; the black beans, charred corn and zesty lime juice of Mexican food, or the stuffed tofu, ginger-y greens and hotpot soups of Chinese cuisine.
You’ll generally find yourself eating less fat than with a meat or dairy-based dish, but won’t compromise on flavour: how does a burghul, pomegranate, pistachio and lemon salad sound over defrosted mince in your Monday bolognaise?
#3 Join a Facebook group
Vegans in every city in Australia have created Facebook groups to share information, resources, products and support. By joining one, you’re flooding your feed with easy vegan food alternatives you may not have known existed.
Learn which vegan cheese is actually good, how to hack a restaurant menu with no plant-based options, and even what to look for in a creamy, frothing plant milk for your morning coffee (a combination of coconut and soy seems the best choice to me).
#4 Make smoothie substitutes
If you’re a person who drinks their breakfast, try swapping out the dairy yoghurt or milk in your morning smoothie for a plant-based alternative. And don’t just think soy.
Supermarkets are generally now stocked with alternatives milks like almond, rice, oat, quinoa and coconut. They’re generally higher than cow’s milk in vital micronutrients like potassium, iron, magnesium and vitamin E, too. Plus, they’re higher in fibre, and are easy to digest. Start your day feeling satisfied and bloat-free with a cup of almond milk blended with banana, cinnamon and a spoonful of oats. Smug Instagram post optional.
#5 Try a junk food cheat sheet
Look, it’s not the healthiest item on this list, but it can improve your diet overall: by thinking about the normal lollies, biscuits, dips, chocolate and other utterly unhealthy, totally non-vegan-sounding snacks that are accidentally vegan, you’ll train yourself to start reading what’s in your packaged food, and will be better informed in the supermarket.
Take just an extra couple of minutes to read the backs of packets of chips, dips, cereals and snacks, learn what to avoid, and buy the brands free from animal products to cut dairy from your diet without even realising.
#6 Plan ahead
You get home from work, tired and hungry, stare into the fridge for a while, and end up with a bowlful of your usual chicken stir-fry. By spending just a couple of hours each week planning ahead, you’ll have a fridge and pantry stocked with vegan-friendly ingredients that are easy to throw together for a nutritious, cruelty-free weeknight meal.
On the weekend, bake a big vegetable lasagne (using store-bough cashew cheese or homemade vegan béchamel sauce) and freeze portions.
Line your pantry with canned black beans and tomatoes – you can combine them in a saucepan with a couple of spoons of spices for a 10-minute chili with around the same protein content and more fibre than your stir-fry.
On the weekend, bake a big vegetable lasagne (using store-bough cashew cheese or homemade vegan béchamel sauce) and freeze portions for easy, nutritious after-work meals. At the market or supermarket, take a few extra minutes to check out the mushrooms, fennel bulbs, grapefruits and lumpy root vegetables you might usually avoid.
#7 Use vegan food app
Clever vegans have developed the tools you’ll need to sneak more plant-based food into your diet. Next time you’re planning date night or a meal with friends, find a vegan-friendly venue on HappyCow app.
In the supermarket, try Is It Vegan, which lets you scan barcodes and lists whether packaged products are vegan-friendly. If you optimistically bought tofu and have no idea what to make with it, the app Nasoya lists free tofu-based recipes, and Vegaholic will tell you whether the wine you’re pairing with your homemade Chinese was processed with animal parts or not.
Between the elaborate smoothie bowls and sad onion bun at the BBQ lie the everyday diets of more than a million Aussies – it’s easier and healthier than ever to join their ranks now.
Sophie Raynor is a writer and list-maker from Perth living in tropical Timor-Leste. She loves ethical development communications and taking about sweating, and tweets at @raynorsophie.