When my daughter announced she was going vegan 3 years ago, a lot of things went through my mind. What will she eat? Will she be healthy? Oh my Good. NESS!…Surely this is just a phase…Turns out it wasn’t a phase. She’s still a vegan 3 years later–and has led our family in healthier eating. The rest of us aren’t vegan–but I’d say we’re veganish...We’re eating a lot more plant-based foods and a lot less meat. But at the beginning–I was freaking out! Food is a bit of a love language…When I feed my family and guests I want them to feel welcomed, comforted, and loved…How would this look for my new little vegan? Around the same time, my other teenagers were also bringing home VEGAN FRIENDS–-Ahh! What would I feed them? So take heart–if you suddenly find out the vegans are coming…don’t panic! You CAN feed them and share the love language of good food!
What is a Vegan? What to look for on food labels…
So what is a vegan exactly? Simply put–a vegan doesn’t eat any animal products. Vegan food is free from any and all animal “stuff.”
Vegetarian vs. Vegan
Generally speaking, a vegetarian will not eat any meat but will still eat eggs and dairy foods like milk, yogurt, and cheese.(Don’t come at me if you’re a special vegetarian–I see you! We’re just keeping this simple for the rest of us!) Vegans do not partake in any of that–no eggs, no dairy.
Reading Food Labels–What to Look For and What to Avoid:
Obviously any meat, seafood, dairy, or egg products are off limits ! But sometimes they’re hiding in the ingredient labels!
I’ve learned to read food labels pretty carefully to discover whether or not something is vegan–but honestly, there’s one basic trick:
- Go to the ingredients label…
- Look for word CONTAINS (usually at the very end of the ingredient list)
- If your label includes a CONTAINS list it will list major allergens–including Eggs and Milk.
It doesn’t always work–not every label will have a special Contains section, but I see it about 90% of the time. (If you’re curious, here’s more information from the FDA about food labels and the way they list allergens.)
Often you will see the words: May Contain. This means that during processing there is a chance of cross-contamination. For example the equipment may have been used for something that contained milk. Since my daughter is not actually allergic to animal products–if we see animal products listed here, we don’t worry too much about it.
Thankfully more and more companies are labeling products with a V to clearly show they are Vegan Friendly!
FYI…Amongst themselves, vegans get a little testy about things like honey, gelatin, and Vitamin D…We’ll just leave them to deal with these nuances. But you should be aware that these are grey areas in vegan culture. Your vegan may or may not be okay with jello, honey-infused peanut butter, or gummy bears… (Oops–more gummy bears for me!)
Favorite Vegan Foods at Our House
So if you need vegan food ideas, here’s what we love (in no particular order)…And remember to double check your labels! One brand or variety may be vegan, but another may not!
Vegan Snacks and Appetizers:
- Cut Veggies and Hummus
- Pita Chips
- Tortilla Chips
- Popcorn (Beware of butter or cheddar flavors…But we especially like Skinnygirl Lime & Salt Microwaveable Popcorn and LOVE Boom Chicka Pop–the kettle corn is divine and a staple in our pantry!)
- Potato Chips (just watch out for some of the special flavorings–some of them contain milk powder or cheese)
- French Fries
- Cheerios (There are actually a decent amount of cereals that are vegan! We happen to love Cheerios!)
- Almond Milk (That’s the alternative milk of choice at our house.)
- Toast (top with almond butter, peanut putter, jelly, or vegan butter)
- Baked Oatmeal (we have a favorite family recipe that we “veganize”)
- Vegan Pancakes
- Orange Juice
- Almond Milk Coffee Creamer
- Wraps–lettuce, veggies, hummus or vegan mayo (We love Hellmann’s Vegan Mayonnaise–you would never know it’s not the real thing.)
- Peanut (or Almond) Butter and Jelly Sandwiches
- Bagels (Trader Joe’s sells the best vegan cream cheese!!)
- Grilled Cheese Sandwich (with Vegan Cheese Slices or Shreds)
- Rice Cakes with Peanut or Almond Butter
- BLT…with Tempeh for Bacon (So so good!!!)
(Also great for lunch–we especially like leftovers!)
- Vegan Meatballs (This is a great recipe but we also enjoy many frozen varieties that are readily available.)
- Spaghetti & Marinara Sauce
- Buddha Bowls (Basically a hearty, giant salad–I love this recipe from the Minimalist Baker!)
- Taco/ “Chipotle” Bar…Rice, Beans, Salsa, Lettuce, Guacamole–and Vegan Taco Meat if you want! This recipe is our favorite for vegan tacos…
- Stir Fry…rice, broccoli, and teriyaki sauce are a favorite at our house!
- Pizza (Many pizza crusts are vegan…Daiya makes a great vegan cheese that is readily available. And they make a frozen pizza as well!)
- Vegan Burgers and “Chicken Nuggets”…Most veggie burgers are safely vegan. Veggie chicken nuggets often have eggs or milk, so be careful when you purchase these! Our very favorite veggie burger is the Beyond Burger…Honestly so amazingly delicious! The same company (Beyond Meat) also makes an outstanding veggie brat–the Beyond Sausage Brat. I crave these all summer! **Be careful with buns–watch out for ones with eggs or milk. It shouldn’t be too hard to find a vegan variety! We usually just get the generic store brand. We also have a homemade vegan quinoa burger in our favorite family recipes!
- Lentil Soup…I make this soup from Cookie and Kate WEEKLY…I tweak it by substituting tomato sauce for the diced tomatoes (because I’m five and hate tomato chunks in my food). We also omit the collard greens or kale and lemon juice.
- Split Pea Soup…this recipe has become a family favorite at our house this winter!
- Shepherd’s Pie…We LOVE this recipe from the Minimalist Baker so much that my daughter chose it for her Thanksgiving dinner! It’s the ultimate comfort food! Our only change is to substitute tomato sauce for some of the veggie broth. I like to add about a can of tomato sauce–so I don’t add in quite all the vegetable broth the recipe calls for…And I like to add almond milk to the mashed potatoes!
**The Minimalist Baker and Cookie and Kate are two of my favorite places to find vegan recipes!
Vegan Dessert and Sweet Treats:
- Oreos (who knew?!)
- Sweedish Fish
- Sour Patch Kids
- Vegan Ice Cream (Halo Top and Ben and Jerry make some good ones!)
- Popsicles (Fruit flavors)
- Chocolate Chip Cookies: You can easily “veganize” (see the next section) your favorite recipe–just grab vegan chocolate chips! Nestle Toll House has a fantastic line of chips called Simply Delicious–we get them at Walmart. Trader Joe’s also sells vegan chocolate chips!)
How to Make Your Favorite Recipes Vegan…
My daughter cooks and bakes a lot (homeschooling gives her a little extra time to experiment and try new recipes). She can make all the recipes I’ve shared without any assistance…But she’s also learned to make just about any recipe vegan. Here’s what we typically use for substitutes at our house:
Earth Balance Butter for Butter
Unsweetened Almond Milk for Milk
1 Tablespoon of Ground Flax Seed + 2 Tablespoons of Water for 1 Egg
Vegan Mayonnaise for Mayonnaise
Our Favorite Vegan Carryout:
Sometimes when you’ve got company coming…It’s just easier to grab some carryout! Here’s what we love:
Veggie Sushi (wherever you can get sushi–there is almost always a vegetable roll)
Vegan Pizza: Our favorite is from Spin Pizza (A midwest chain…check and see if your local place has a vegan option!)
Taco Bell: You would be shocked at all the things you can get a Taco Bell–here’s a list from PETA! My daughter always specifies what ingredients she wants left off or added on…
Chipotle: Oh how we love Chipotle!! AND…Chipotle is a great choice if you’re a hosting a large party and need catering! We have used them to cater a big party for all the ballerinas in my daughter’s dance company for 3 years–everyone LOVES it!
Panera Bread: Here’s a list of their vegan options…My daughter loves Panera’s Modern Greek Salad and orders it without feta to make it vegan.
When my daughter became vegan, I had no idea how much the eating habits of our entire family would change…I’ve truly loved learning and trying so many new, healthy recipes. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d be cooking with things like tofu…and liking it! But we’ve really embraced the lifestyle change–and I’m really proud of my daughter’s healthy habits! It takes time to make major lifestyle changes–so be patient and enjoy the journey!
And even if the vegan lifestyle isn’t for you–now you don’t need to panic the next time they come for dinner!