Practical, Real-Life Tips for Going (and Staying) Vegan

February 22, 2018

Sticking to any specialized way of eating can be easier said than done. That's why we've partnered with meal kit company Green Chef to bring you tried-and-true strategies for doing just that.

“That must be so difficult” is one of the first things I hear when I share with people that I’m vegan. But for me, eating only plant-based foods isn’t difficult at all—at least not in any of the ways that really matter.

I savor my food, and I haven’t even come close to running out of new recipes to explore. Still, there are some very real practical challenges that can come up as you’re trying to sustain any specialized way of eating over time, whether that’s difficulty finding options when eating out or lack of understanding from friends, family, or colleagues. Thankfully, I’ve developed a few simple strategies over the years that have allowed me to eat the way I want to eat while still enjoying social time, travel, and varied foods that keep me excited to cook.

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I’m hoping these tips can help anyone else who’s new to a special diet, whether it's veganism, vegetarianism, eating gluten-free, or something else entirely. Below you’ll find the approaches that work for me.

Meal kits tailored to your special diet, like this vegan chili from Green Chef, help keep you on track. Photo by Rocky Luten

1. Lean on your spice cabinet.

Spices help to keep your palate stimulated and provide some great motivation to explore global cuisines, too. Some of my current go-tos include using smoked paprika for a meatier flavor in vegetable-based chilis and stews, toasted cumin and mustard seeds for lentil dal or homemade kitchari (spiced mung beans and rice), and za’atar for sprinkling on roasted vegetables or hummus.

2. Focus on seasonal produce.

I’ve found that buying produce in season (and locally) really does make a difference in how fresh and vibrant vegetables taste. It also often inspires me to shape my meals around one vegetable centerpiece, depending on what looks good at the market that week—think whole roasted cauliflower in November, grilled radicchio in January, or stuffed zucchini in July.

3. Stay rooted.

Root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, and rutabagas, along with sweet potatoes and winter squashes, are a great way to add heft and carby goodness to meals (and they’re okay for most special diets). Right now I’m partial to hasselback butternut squash, stuffed sweet potatoes, and sheet-pan suppers of roasted turnips, parsnips, carrots, rutabagas, and chickpeas.

4. Batch cook and freeze.

It’s easy to stick to your guns when you’ve got a fridge and freezer full of appealing food. I learned early in my vegan process that this is a key part of staying well fed, and I still rely on this trick to carry me through busy weeks. I freeze all of the predictable stuff: soups, stews, casseroles, pasta sauce. But I also freeze cup-sized portions of cooked grains and beans, which keep for about a month. These help me assemble tasty and wholesome dinner bowls in a pinch, by adding things like seasonal vegetables, favorite homemade dressings (like my Lemon Tahini Dressing), and bits of crunch (toasted sesame seeds or sliced almonds).

5. Rely on a few tried-and-true kitchen helpers.

As great as batch cooking and freezing are, there are times when I peter out and need a heavier helping hand in the kitchen. I think it’s better to be realistically prepared for those moments than to pretend they’ll never happen, and so I stock my freezer, pantry, and fridge with a few staple products accordingly. My go-tos include ready-made vegetable broth (for when I don’t make my own, even though I know I should), vegan meats and seasoned tofu or seitan, plant-based frozen meals, and other extras like veggie burgers. Meal kit subscriptions are another excellent option to consider; starting out with all your ingredients pre-measured and ready to cook means you're already halfway there.

Special-diet meal-kit services like Green Chef deliver recipes—and everything you need to execute them—on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. Photo by Rocky Luten

6. Contribute.

Eating vegan (or following any other dietary restrictions) shouldn’t mean having to forgo the pleasures of socializing. When I get invited to a party or a meal with friends at someone’s home, I always offer to bring a dish. That way I know I’ll have something tasty to eat even if the host might not be able accommodate me, plus I get a chance to show my people how delicious vegan food can be.

7. Think outside the menu.

These days it’s easy to find vegan options in a lot of restaurants, but it can still be tricky to find a hearty, satisfying main dish that’s meat- and dairy-free. When I eat at a new place, I often ask (respectfully) if there’s some sort of vegan main that isn’t on the menu but would be easy to prepare, or an appetizer or salad option that could be meal-worthy with the addition of beans or grains. If I know where I’m eating in advance, I’ll call ahead to ask. I’ve been grateful to find that restaurants are often willing and even excited to help me come up with options.

8. Share with your tribe.

I’ve never expected my family and friends to adopt veganism along with me, but I find that the people who care about me are at least curious and interested, and I use gatherings and friendly meals as the perfect opportunity to share my food with them. If you’re following a new way of eating, invite your family to cook a meal with you, treat them to your favorite recipe, or invite a bunch of friends over for a potluck that showcases food you love.

9. Stay connected.

Sometimes it isn’t possible to enlist close friends or family in enjoying a special diet with you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t connect with like-minded food lovers. When I first went vegan, I was encouraged and supported by the incredible vegan blogging community, the work of pioneering vegan cookbook authors like Isa Chandra Moskowitz, and a few activist organizations in my area, including the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary. No matter how you eat, take the time to explore the resources and communities that are available to you. They’re out there.

Do you have any tips, tricks, or strategies of your own? Please share them in the comments!

We've partnered with Green Chef to bring you tips for sticking to any specialized diet, whether you're going vegan, paleo, gluten-free, keto, or simply trying to add more vegetables to your week. If you're looking for variety, inspiration, and some extra support pulling dinner together on busy nights, Green Chef's certified-organic meal kits can help you stay on track; they make all of the above tips even easier to work into your lifestyle, with new recipes sent to you each week. Sign up today and get $50 off your first order.

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The Food52 Vegan Cookbook is here! With this book from Gena Hamshaw, anyone can learn how to eat more plants (and along the way, how to cook with and love cashew cheese, tofu, and nutritional yeast).

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Gena is a registered dietitian, recipe developer, and food blogger. She's the author of three cookbooks, including Power Plates (2017) and Food52 Vegan (2015). She enjoys cooking vegetables, making bread, and challenging herself with vegan baking projects.