Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What's in Your Grocery Basket?

Becoming a vegan can be a challenging lifestyle change for many, including myself. It took me about 5 years to make the full transition from carnivore to vegetarian, then back to some meat eating like white meat and fish, and then back again to vegetarian, and finally today, vegan.

One of the biggest challenges I faced, and one I think most people would face when transitioning to a vegan lifestyle, is knowing exactly what to eat? Or really, knowing exactly what is available out there for vegans to eat?

For many new vegans, much of the various foods available to them may seem strange at first and takes some getting used to, especially when it’s so unfamiliar. Tempeh anyone? How about chia seeds? Have you heard about quinoa yet, agave nectar or almond milk?

Not familiar with these food items? Well I am here to help you out with that, and suggest a healthy shopping to help get you started.  At the very least, I can share with you what typically goes into mine.  So let's begin:

Vegetables are the new Meat

photo source: Low Body Fat

Yes, vegetables.  You're vegan now, so please eat vegetables and lots of them! Seriously though, you can eat all of them and as much variety of them as you like.  When I was a carnivore I never ate half the amount of vegetables I now eat as a vegan. It’s amazing what vegetables you discover as a vegan.  I was really missing out.

So, experiment a little and try every vegetable available to you at least once before you decide what you like.  To help get you started, here's a fantastic list of all kinds of vegetables and plants you can enjoy!

Fruit: Natures Candy
photo source: The Mary Sue

Fruit, to me, is mostly to be enjoyed during the Summer months. So I don't eat much of it in the Fall/Winter simply because I live in Toronto and the Winters here are very cold. I like to bask in my warm comfort foods like soup, chili and roasted vegetables during the Winter.

However, I do love apples and because they keep well for many weeks (or months) at a time, I like to keep them in my grocery basket all year round.

My advice however, if you do live in warmer climates, is to enjoy all the fruit that you can, especially if it is locally available to you.  So jealous!

How do you milk those almonds?(And other non-dairy dairy items)

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The answer: you don't.  But you do rinse, soak, grind, and strain them with water and natural sweeteners to make your own almond milk. Or you can just buy it in a carton, like I do.  Almond Breeze by Blue Diamond is a pretty common brand you will find in most grocery stores these days.  I personally like to buy Pacific Natural Foods Almond milk when I can.

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Can't give up cheese? Rice Vegan cheese by Galaxy Nutritional Foods might just do the trick ... that is, trick your mind into thinking you're actually eating cheese.

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However, my personal favourite vegan cheese brand is daiya, simply because it’s delicious, it almost tastes like the real thing and it melts! Yes, nachos are back in play!
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If you're a fan of morning yogurt with granola and fruit, try soyogurt instead. It's dairy-free but still packed with protein.

Mains and Grains: The Other Meat

photo source: Recipes for Rice

A perfect starter grain for nearly every dish or for just a quick small meal is rice, preferably organic brown rice.  And if you are really up to the challenge, mix in some wild rice into your regular rice dish for added protein.

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Ezekiel bread, by Food for Life, is a common staple among many vegans and vegetarians.  This naturally sprouted whole grain bread is hearty, healthy and tastier then regular bread.

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For something more filling and delicious, try Amy's California Veggie Burgers.  Amy's brand is a great one because they have many organic products to choose from, and they offer options that are a bit more familiar – burgers, pre-packaged meals, chilli, soups, etc. The list goes on and on.

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And we can't forget the most important meal of the day: breakfast! Enjoy options like oatmeal, fruit with granola or toast with almond butter. A favourite of mine is cereal. Plan and simple but I love it.  A brand I like to buy is Nature's Path, because they have a lot of great organic products to choose from, including kid-friendly snacks.

photo source: Fully Nourished by Marni Wasserman

Another wonderful addition to breakfast is Chia Goodness. You can enjoy it as is by just adding water or mix two tablespoons in with your oatmeal for added nutrients and protein.

photo source: wikipedia

Tempeh ... so what is it anyway? In simplest terms, tempeh is made from cooked and slightly fermented soybeans that are then formed into a patty.  It cooks similarly to tofu in that it absorbs flavours easily and makes great burger patties.  A good brand to look out for is Henry's Gourmet Tempeh.

When just a snack will do
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One of my favourite salty, savoury snacks is riceworks rice chips - in particular, sweet chili flavour is the best.

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Mary's Organic Crackers, is another great healthy and savoury snack to try.  And the best part? They are gluten free!  They especially taste good with melted daiya cheese or dipped in homemade hummus.
(As a treat, here's my own personal recipe that I often like to make)

Homemade hummus
  • 1-1.5 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 1/4 cup of lemon or lime juice
  • 1/4 cup of water (or less) depending on desired consistency
  • 1/2 tsp Cumin
  • Sea salt to taste
Combine all ingredients in a food processor until creamy and smooth.  Add as much water as you like depending on your desired consistency.
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Need a mid-day break, try a sweet, healthy snack bar like LARABAR.  Everything about these bars is wonderful because they are vegan, gluten-free and raw, made with all natural and organic ingredients.

Websites with recipes to help get you get started:

A big part of being vegan is cooking your own meals because, let's face it, it's the healthiest way to be vegan or not.  You will always know what goes into your food and you will have a bigger appreciation for it as well. Here are a few websites to get you started on some recipe ideas:
  • Fat Free Vegan Blog: my favourite place to find recipes, by Susan Voisin
  • Vegangela: includes some healthy recipe ideas
  • Finding Vegan: a great blog that showcases vegan recipes from many other blogs or sites.

For more information about Vegan nutrition please visit: Boston Vegan Association or The Vegan Society

Just in case you're still not convinced that, as a vegan, you have so many food options to choose from, here's a pie chart:

Happy Shopping!


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