Going Vegan? Here’s How to Get Cookin’

Does the thought of prepping food for the week make you want to reach for the phone and order take-out?  Luckily, being vegan doesn’t have to be expensive, complicated, or require that you spend four hours a day chopping vegetables.
In our busy lives, it can be difficult to think about planning ahead. Thinking up vegan meals that are balanced, wallet-, waist-, and clock-friendly, and tasty can be daunting, whether you’re cooking for one or a gaggle of children.  That’s why in today’s newsletter we are sharing our best tips for creating tasty, home-cooked meals on a budget and without a degree from the Cordon Bleu or endless prep time.
Gather Ye Resources
Everybody needs a little a guidance every now and then, and luckily, there are some fantastic books out there to arm you with the information you need to eat vegan with confidence.  We love Ellen Jaffe Jones’ Eat Vegan on $4 A Day, Victoria Moran’s Main Street Vegan, Rory Friedman and Kim Barnouin’s Skinny Bitch, and Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet.  Peruse and pick up these and other goodies at your local bookstore or library.In our digital age, we are fortunate to have unprecedented access to some seriously amazing online resources.  Here are just a few sites that will tickle your taste buds with gorgeous recipes and make you feel supported with lists and tips for staying the course.  Everybody’s doing it – even Oprah!: The Vegucated ChallengeYumUniverseHappy HerbivoreChooseVegVegan Starter KitColleen Patrick-Goudreau’s 30-Day ChallengeVegWebOh She GlowsVegan Baking, and The Post Punk Kitchen.
Tidy Vegan Pantry

Veganize Your Kitchen

Make Savvy Swaps: You don’t literally have to make over your pantry to make vegan cooking easier, but eliminating (or better yet, donating) meat, dairy, and egg-laden foods and replacing them with vegan options is an action that sets you up for success.  Instead of beef chili, stock up on cans of healthy veggie chili.  In lieu of chicken stock, try economical and space-saving vegan bouillon cubes.  In place of eggs, buy a highly cost-effective bag of ground flaxseed, which has more nutrition and acts as a binding agent in baking.  Here is a list of creative, taste-so-similar swaps.  Want more?  Check out the Skinny Bitch Book of Vegan Swaps.
Stock Up for Success: While tastes and cooking needs vary, here’s a basic blueprint for a well-stocked, health-focused, plant-powered kitchen:
  • Pantry:  Beans and legumes (canned and dry); nuts and seeds (raw and roasted); whole grain flours (for baking); cornstarch or rice flour (for making simple roux and thickening sauces); baking necessities (like dry active yeast, baking powder and soda); Textured vegetable or soy protein (to make seitan); natural sweeteners (like vegan sugar, agave, sucanat, or maple syrup); cooking grains (like quinoa, barley, rice, oatmeal); cereals; pasta; vegan-friendly snacks like crackers, rice cakes, roasted seaweed snacks, granola and protein bars; pasta sauce; nutritional yeast (for cheesy flavor); protein powder (for smoothies); vegan canned soups, sauces, veggies, fruits, and milks; vegan bouillon; vinegars and oils; root vegetables (like potatoes and onions); and, spices (all kinds – the more, the merrier).  See what our pal, Angela, at Oh She Glows, has in her (ultra-healthy) pantry.
  • Fridge: Fresh fruits and veggies (ideally prepped and stored in clear glass containers for easy identification and use); fresh herbs; tofu/tempeh; alternative milks (almond, soy, rice, hemp); condiments (vegan mayo and margarine, dressings); cooked grains and beans (for easy use); any tasty vegan deli items, like Tofurky or Upton’s sausages; vegan yogurts (almond, coconut, soy); hummus and other spreads; breads and wraps; opened flours and seeds; and, any other plant-based goodies that require refrigeration.  See what our friend Heather from YumUniverse has in her (super healthy) fridge.
  • Freezer: Bagged fruits and veggies (so versatile, cost-effective, and often just as healthy as fresh); veggie burgers and other meaty substitutes; frozen meals (to keep you on track when you’re feeling lazy); and, of course some sweet vegan treats.  Take a peek in Marisa’s nutritious city fridge and freezer.
Get the Tools: Great ingredients often need little culinary technique, but some key tools in your kitchen will make life easier.  PETAVegetarian TimesThe Food NetworkActive Vegetarian, and Chez Bettay have excellent listings of tools they recommend for building a functional vegan kitchen.  Adjust to your needs.
Make a List & Plan the WeekVegan Menu Planning
Do Like Santa – Make a List and Check It Twice: A wise person once said, “Don’t eat when you’re sad, and don’t grocery shop when you’re hungry.”  So true, so true.  And just as grocery shopping on an empty stomach is bad for your wallet, so is shopping without a list.  The top tip from home economists?  Make a list and stick to it – and keep that list rolling during the week as you run out of items.  To make this easier, we’ve included some vegan grocery lists that you can adjust to your tastes and needs.  We love this one that Kathy Freston designed for Oprah’s Vegan Challenge, which allows you to check off items as you go.  We also like PETA’s aisle-by-aisle list of items that are vegan-friendly (note: not exhaustive), and Wise Bread has a list of budget-friendly vegan foods.  Ready to build your own?  Grocerylists.org has a customizable grocery list template (even one that’s vegetarian), so all you need to do is add your items and print out.  Easy peasy.
Plan Your Weekly Meals:  I know what you’re thinking: “What’s next, buy a minivan and wear mom jeans?”  No.  Well, maybe.  Look, planning ahead is cool, guys.  Make your ingredient list and then plot out what you’re going to make when.  You can swap meals around if you’re not feeling like kale one evening, or you want chili mac for lunch.  You can make all of the lunches for the week ahead of time to ensure they’re ready to grab-and-go.  And best of all, planning ahead ensures that you use your time and ingredients wisely.  Did you know the average American family throws away 40% of the food they buy (ahem, that’s $2,275 a year)?  Don’t be that guy.  Here are some fun, free meal planning templates that will get you in the spirit, and if you’re at a loss for recipes, the PCRM 21-Day Vegan Kickstart has grocery lists, meal plans, and motivation to get you started.  And if you’re really pressed for time, there’s a customizable app that will digitize vegetarian meal planning for you.
Vegan Grocery Shopping

Shop Strategically

You’re a savvy shopper.  You look out for coupons, and you’re armed with your reusable canvas bags.  Awesome!  Here are some other tips:
  1. Buy in bulk, but be smart about it.  A large bag of your favorite beans that you’d eat each day if you could = good idea.  A 10lb bag of xantham gum, when you’re not a professional gluten-free baker = bad idea.
  2. Shop during off-hours.  This isn’t always possible, but have you ever been to a grocery store at, say, 10am on a Wednesday and marveled at how peaceful an experience it is?  When not rushed or stressed, people tend to make healthier and more fiscally-sound purchases.
  3. Visit Farmer’s Markets & Co-Ops.  You’re likely to get better deals on food that is in season or bulk, you’ll support local farmers and business, and the food will be a tasty adventure party in your mouth because it’s fresh.
  4. Shop the circumference of the store.  This is where the good stuff is, like the fruits and veggies.  The grains and beans are a few aisles in, but the closer you get to the inner sanctum of the store, the more you will be enticed by pricey convenience foods and sugary, salty snacks.  Stay to the perimeter and you’ll find the more wholesome, and often cheaper options.
  5. Buy store brands if possible.  Sure, I’d love to be a millionare vegan who buys all brand name, organic, locally-sourced, premiere ingredients.  But until this newsletter goes platinum, I will continue to buy decent store brands for stuff that isn’t worth the markup, like dried beans, flour, and grains.
  6. If you’re a city-dweller, buy only what you can carry home.  This was once a practice of necessity (no car, little money), until I realized how excellent it is for the wallet.  Walking to fetch my groceries meant that I wasn’t blowing money expensive, nice-to-have, heavy items.  I was only buying what I could carry home.  This meant that I rarely bought stuff I didn’t need or wouldn’t eat.  And it gives you fantastic arm strength.  The end.
  7. Pay Cash.  Sure, swipin’ a debit card is easier, but paying with good old greenbacks helps you to stay on budget.  When that cash leaves your hand, believe, you will be treasuring your groceries all the more.
Vegetable Prep

Prep for the Week

You’ve got your list, your groceries, and your meal plan.  How’d you get so awesome?  Now, with just a few minutes of prep, you can have cooking-ready ingredients all week.
  • Store Appropriately: Did you know that storing apples with greens is a no-no because gasses emitted by the apples cause nearby foods to over-ripen?  Consult this guide on where and how to store fruits and veggies to ensure yours stay fresher longer.
  • Wash & Chop: Cleaning and chopping certain veggies and fruits and storing them in clear containers means that they’re always at the ready when you want to whip up a stir fry or fruit salad.  This handy-dandy guide will help you to determine how best to prep and store the most common plant foods.
  • Make Ahead of Time: For many of us, Sundays used to be the “Nurse Your Hangover” Day.  The rite of passage to adulthood is when that same Sunday becomes “Make Food for the Week” Day.  Welcome.  It doesn’t have to be Sunday, but soaking beans overnight, cooking grains, and storing them appropriately will make cooking during the week a whole lot easier.  And, if you’re really ambitious, you can make a soup, a casserole, or these too-cool-for-school salads in a jar for plenty of on-the-go meals during the week.
Have a favorite vegan meal planning tip or recipe you’d like to share?  Spill in the Vegucated Schoolhouse Community Forum!