5 Vegan Food Swaps to Make It Easy to Give Up Meat and Dairy
Whether you’ve recently gone vegan or you’ve long been adhering to a plant-based lifestyle, there’s no denying it: Sometimes a guy or a gal just wants to sink his or her teeth into a juicy burger. Or a plate of mom’s bolognese. Or a slice of pizza. But here’s the good news, just because you’re eating vegan doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy these indulgences in a tasty way that’s totally free of animal foods. Below, nutritionists share their tips for making vegan food swaps to outsmart any kind of carnivorous craving.
1. Craving cheese? Try vegan cheese or nutritional yeast
“It's common to assume cravings are pointing to a sign of a potential nutrient deficiency, this is seldom the case, especially early on in your vegan journey. Most cravings are tied to emotional and psychological roots,” explains Trista K. Best, MPH, RD, LDN, Balance One. “Cheese can be found in just about every comfort meal you can imagine. Curbing this craving doesn't have to be difficult,” she continues, offering a three-pronged approach for when you encounter cheese cravings:
- Remember the source of cheese. “Sometimes it helps to remember where your craving comes from,” says Best, noting that this is particularly helpful for those going vegan in support of animal welfare.
- Embrace your craving. “Try to break the craving by *allowing* it to exist. When we give in to our cravings we make a way for them to return, rather than overcoming them mentally,” says Best.
- Try a vegan cheese substitute. “Vegan cheese can be an easy way to satisfy a cheese craving, if you choose a high-quality option you will find many match both taste and texture well,” says Best.
In some cases, if you’re using cheese as a garnish such as in a pasta dish, soup, or in a snack, try sprinkling nutritional yeast on the dish instead of the traditional dairy stuff. “Nooch yeast” tastes amazing on popcorn, too!
Best’s pick? That depends on your tastebuds and preferences and The Beet taste-tested cheeses and came up with our favorites for healthiest and tastiest on The Beet Meter which takes into account both taste and health factors. Rate your favorites on The Beet Meter to share your go-to nut-milk or coconut-based cheese. Miyoko's Creamery has come out with a cheese that allows you to melt it for grilled cheese that has the same texture as the real thing.
Best says that she looked at vegan cheesemakers from the standpoint of taste and health and likes Daiya Foods. “[They offer] a wide variety of vegan cheese options; shredded, sliced, block, and even cream cheese. They have done a great job manufacturing vegan cheese that matches both the taste and texture of traditional animal-based cheese.”
2. Craving eggs? Try scrambled tofu
“Eggs are arguably one of the hardest foods to give up--especially for those accustomed to the convenience of this breakfast staple. Luckily there is a plant alternative that provides the same texture, taste as well as a superior nutrient profile,” says Nancy Lee Snyder, MS, RD, who prefers using organic, extra-firm tofu for such scrambles. “Simply cut the tofu into cubes and use a fork to crumble them up. Cook in a pan over medium-high heat with the seasonings of your choosing (turmeric powder will add that yellow egg color that we all know and love).”
To jazz up your scrambled tofu, add some sautéed vegetables or hot sauce. Or, try your scrambled tofu atop avocado toast or in breakfast tacos for a satisfying way to start your day.
If you feel like skipping the cooking, try JUST Egg Folded and enjoy alone, with toppings, in sandwiches, etc. This is a pre-cooked foldable egg omelet that works great as a sandwich or wrap filler that makes it even easier to eat on the go.
3. Craving Sausage? Try a Plant-Based Sausage
“For me, an interesting thing happened as I started to learn more about industrialized animal food production in the U.S., I lost my cravings for animal foods. And I've heard similar stories from clients and colleagues. As our identity shifts, our cravings can shift as well,” shares Ryan Andrews, RD, Principal Nutritionist for Precision Nutrition and author of Drop the Fat and Live Lean. “So, it's no longer about craving sausage that comes from animals and then settling for plant-based sausage. Now, I actually crave the plant-based sausage—and enjoy every bite of it.”
Andrews’ top choice is Beyond Hot Italian Sausage. “It hits that sweet spot between fat (from coconut/sunflower oil), protein (from pulses/beans/rice), and added salt. It's versatile too. I've used it successfully on a bun, in pasta sauce, and in jambalaya,” says Andrews. A close runner-up for Andrews is Tofurky Italian Sausage. P.S. Sausage aficionados, take note: Papa John’s UK recently launched vegan breakfast pizza with plant-based sausage and we’re sure hoping for a stateside arrival of the dish. For the best pork substitutes to try this summer, check out The Beet's roundup here.
4. Craving a pulled pork sandwich? Try jackfruit
“Jackfruit not only looks and feels like shredded meat, but it takes on the delicious flavors that it is cooked in,” offers Snyder. “Simply drain and rinse canned jackfruit, getting out as much liquid as possible. Use your hands or a knife and fork to shred the jackfruit as much as possible. Combine with spices of your choosing (smoked paprika, salt, etc.) Saute some onion and garlic in a pan over medium heat and cook the jackfruit for a few minutes. Mix in some BBQ sauce and vegetable broth and cook for about 15 more minutes, using a fork to continue shredding the jackfruit.”
If you feel like getting fancy, top with lettuce, tomato, avocado, and your favorite vegan ranch dressing or some vegan coleslaw on a toasted bun. When food shopping, look for canned green or young jackfruit in water or brine, not syrup.
5. Craving a burger? Try a portobello mushroom
A firm, unblemished portobello mushroom cap makes an excellent substitute for a burger especially in this portobello mushroom burger with avocado and truffle oil. “Portobello mushrooms are a good swap for traditional burgers as they provide a meaty bite and umami flavor. Their porous texture allows them to soak up all the juicy flavors,” advises Snyder. “Simply remove the stems and marinate the mushroom caps in a savory combination of olive oil, garlic and salt. Sauté or grill until tender and juicy.” For toppings, go crazy but our votes are for a slice of vegan cheese prior to removing the ‘shroom from the heat along with lettuce, tomato, onion, avocado, vegan mayo, ketchup, and mustard on a toasted bun.
There are also many excellent plant-based meat patties on the market. We’re fans of Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger and Dr. Praeger’s Perfect Burgers. We’re also excited to try Planterra Foods’ OZO plant-based burger. The Beet taste-tested veggie burgers that are healthy and give you the satisfaction of eating a patty which when covered with lettuce, tomato, and all your favorite fixings, hits the spot but leaves out all the bad stuff. Check out The Beet meters for those and of course, add your ratings too.