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Vegan breakfasts are easy: most cereals and granolas are vegan and if you replace dairy milk/yoghurt with plant-based milk/yoghurt then you are sorted. That said, I don’t often eat cereal as it is expensive and very sugary, so I would recommend oats above anything else.
Oats are god’s gift to vegan-kind, I cannot stress their importance enough. They are filling, versatile, cheap and a source of both protein and fibre. In the summer, I put my oats in the fridge overnight, with berries, syrup and vanilla and by the morning they are soaked in the milk and all the flavours have infused.
In the winter, I mash up a banana, add turmeric, cinnamon and sometimes ginger and coconut. Then microwave for a couple of minutes and drizzle tahini over the top. If you have time, toasted seeds or nuts are also a delicious topping and another good source of fat and protein.
Tahini (sesame seed paste) definitely deserves a mention, as in my experience it goes with both sweet and savoury and is effectively a grown-up, more useful peanut butter. If you’ve had it before, it would most likely have been in hummus, but over the past couple of years I have started using it in more or less everything. Chocolate and tahini overnight oats are rich, creamy and generally great, as is tahini drizzled over any oatmeal, as I mentioned above. You can also eat it spread on toast with olive oil and salt, or if you want something sweeter, with syrup. I also put it on salads and over stews.
In comparison with peanut butter, tahini contains less saturated, unhealthy fat than peanut butter, fewer calories per serving and more fibre. However, peanut butter does have slightly more protein per serving. Obviously nothing beats peanut butter and banana on toast, but I think that incorporating tahini into a vegan diet offers an alternative to peanut butter for those who are allergic or just want to shake things up a bit. It has possibilities far beyond peanut butter (you wouldn’t stick peanut butter on a salad or in your hummus) and allows you to add a bit of protein to (almost) any meal.
A note on plant-based milk alternatives in tea or coffee:
Soy milk: Soy production is often cited as one of the main causes of deforestation in the Amazon, which, although true, does not account for the fact that 75% of soy production goes towards feeding cattle. Soy milk is actually one of the most sustainable plant-based milks in terms of emissions, land and water use. When using it in coffee or tea, be aware that it curdles at boiling point, so heat it up but don’t boil it. It also makes the best froth, far better than dairy milk.
Oat milk: Oat milk is more or less equal to soy in terms of emissions, land and water use. Personally, I prefer it, it is incredibly creamy and less likely to curdle.
Coconut/almond/rice: These are some of the less environmentally friendly of common plant-based milks, even though they are still far better than dairy. Almond milk uses a huge amount of water and rice milk has relatively high emissions and water use. These milks are very prone to curdling and affect the taste of tea or coffee, which some people love, but I am not a fan.
A fair few of the above breakfast options would work for lunch too and most of these lunch options would work for dinner. If you have enough time to make anything other than toast for lunch, then learning how to make salads that are filling and tasty will be a useful skill to acquire in your transition to veganism.
Salads do not have to be lettuce-centric rabbit food. Start off with a can of beans or chickpeas so you can be sure of getting some protein in there, then add as many different veggies as you like- the more the merrier. A variety of vegetables chopped up into small pieces makes for a salad with lots of texture and flavour.
However, what turns a salad from bland to delicious is always the dressing. A basic dressing that goes with literally anything is olive oil, lemon juice, garlic,and salt. This can be jazzed up with balsamic vinegar, a tiny bit of mustard, salt, pepper and a sprinkle of sugar.
If you are after something a bit more substantial than a salad, then hummus and veggie sandwiches are tasty and easy to make.
On a simplified level, the three main constituent parts of a balanced meal are a portion of carbohydrates, a portion of protein and a portion of vegetables. Carbohydrates are pretty self-explanatory- rice, pasta, bread, potatoes, couscous – nothing you aren’t already used to eating. There are lots of interesting and tasty grains to try as well, such as bulgur wheat and wheatberry, although these can be quite expensive and are not in any way needed.
Vegetables are also quite self-explanatory. I usually have a salad with my meals, tossed in the dressing I mentioned above, or veg that I have roasted or seared. I find searing works particularly well with tender stem broccoli and asparagus.
This leaves us with protein which is, as ever, the element of any vegan meal that requires the most adaptation from an omnivorous diet. It can be tempting to directly replace meat with any of the numerous ‘fake meats’ that are available. However, I would discourage this, partly because they are expensive but mostly because they will always pale in comparison to real meat.
There is so much great vegan food out there, that it seems a pity (and a recipe for failure) to base your vegan diet around cardboard-tasting imitation meats. If you learn how to cook well with beans, pulses and tofu, then you will be eating food that is not just tasty in terms of how closely it resembles meat, but is delicious in its own right, far cheaper and often more sustainable.
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