Switching to a plant-based diet can be a challenge. Learning an entirely new way of eating comes with all sorts of unknowns. How will I survive without cheese? What will I add to my tea? Can I adapt meals I regularly prepare to fit in with a plant-based diet?
Transitioning is made a lot less difficult by substituting plant-based alternatives for the foods you normally eat. I will say that it’s important not to get too attached to these foods – many are processed, and if you want to eat a healthier diet, fruits, vegetables, and whole foods are your best bet. That said, I have a few suggestions that will help you make the jump to your new way of eating.
When I gave up meat a couple of years ago, I immediately looked for substitutes that would allow me to continue cooking meals I’ve enjoyed for years. There were a couple of brands that really stood out for being both versatile and delicious. If you’re fond of burgers, look no further than Iceland’s No Bull burgers. They have great flavour, don’t fall apart when cooked, and are reasonably priced. A more expensive option is Beyond Meat. The look, smell, taste, and texture of these would fool any meat lover.
If you enjoy a Sunday roast, I highly recommend Love Seitan’s Classic Seitan Log. It has the most satisfying taste and texture, and the leftover is wonderful on sandwiches. For an even more realistic roast experience, add some Essential Cuisine’s No 1 Gravy. I defy any carnivore to detect it’s completely plant-based.
I’ve tried a lot of plant-based mince, and the best is M&S’s Plant Kitchen mince. It has just the right colour (some remain an alarming shade of pink, even when cooked), texture, and taste to blend seamlessly into any meal requiring mince. I use it to make chiili, Bolognese, and mince and tatties. A close second is Vivera Veggie Mince. I made a stunning lasagna with it last weekend.
Plant-based milk is a little trickier because there are so many options, and different plant milks work better for different purposes. If you’re looking for something extra creamy, I recommend Plenish’s Cashew Milk, but the best all-arounder is Rebel Kitchen’s Mylk. It’s a blend of several different plant milks and has near-perfect mouth feel. The flavour is also very close to dairy milk. I prefer the whole version, but they also offer skimmed and semi-skimmed. Be aware that it can look a bit curdled in tea, but the taste is amazingly close to the real thing.
The one product for which there isn’t a like-for-like substitute is cheese. I’ve tried loads, and while some are very tasty, they don’t pass for real cheese. I’ve found it best to approach this category of food as a nice thing in itself. There are lots of lovely plant-based creamy spreads that are delicious on a cracker. Any from Bute Island Foods are good. If you’re looking for something to have with oatcakes and chutney, you won’t find better than ASDA’s take on cheddar. The texture gives it away, but the taste is quite close to real cheese. When you’re in the mood for something sliced or grated, both Sainsbury’s own brand of Greek Style Non-Dairy cheese and Koko Dairy-Free Cheddar work well.
Koko also makes a fantastic coconut milk yogurt. I prefer the plain variety, but there are also plenty of flavours to choose from if that’s your thing. If you’re looking for creme fraiche, Oatly’s oat-based substitute is very good. There is also a wonderful alternative to cream in Ecomil’s Cashew Cooking Cream. It works beautifully in cream-based soups and does not split when heated.
If you enjoy baking or making sweets like tablet or fudge, I have great news. Nature’s Charm Condensed Coconut Milk is indistinguishable from the real thing and works brilliantly as a substitute. Likewise the evaporated version.
For mayonnaise, it’s no surprise that Hellman’s Vegan Mayonnaise is the gold standard. I use it on sandwiches and to make homemade ranch dressing. It works in place of regular mayonnaise in any recipe. You won’t know the difference.
While cooking from scratch is almost always the healthiest option, this list should get you well on your way to enjoying a plant-based diet. Are there any items you’ve found that you really enjoy? Please let me know in the comments. I’m always on the lookout for new things to try.