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What Prevents Us From Going Plant-Based – Part 1: “It’s too complicated.”

Recently, I asked friends what their biggest reasons were for not currently following a plant-based diet. As expected, I received a variety of responses, all of which are SO valid and common that I decided to tackle three of the major obstacles shared with me, in three separate posts.

 

Part 1 of 3: “Plant-based eating seems way too complicated.”

 

Let’s be real here. A meal can be complicated regardless of whether its foundation is of plant or animal origin. It’s just that most of us are so unfamiliar with how to use plant-based proteins to create a simple meal (meanwhile, we all know how to slap some BBQ sauce on a chicken breast or heat up a hot dog in the microwave), so it seems overwhelming due to lack of experience. As a side note, one of the nice things about vegan cooking is that you don’t necessarily have to worry about heating a plant-based protein to a certain internal temperature to ensure you have killed potential foodborne pathogens {…daydreaming about eating vegan cookie dough with a spoon}.

 

To illustrate how uncomplicated plant-based eating can be, I decided to let you in on three of my family’s own go-to, simple, vegan meals at the bottom of this post — all of which are nutrient-packed, colorful, tasty, made of easy-to-find ingredients, and offer some room for customization based on what you may have in your kitchen at any given time. Trust me — I have a full time job, a growing side hustle, two four-legged beasts that need a lot of exercise, and a baby. I don’t have the time to slave over a stove any more than you do.

 

I should note that from the recipes below, you may notice that I’m not a huge fan of measuring things or specified portion sizes if I don’t have to (I know, how very “non-dietitian” of me) — I’m an ‘eyeballer’, you might say, which comes with experience. The majority of the recipes I make end up making at least four meals (enough for hubs and I to eat it for dinner and split the leftovers for lunch the next day). I should also note that I believe in creating meals packed with plant-based nutrition, made of a combination of protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates, and that I practice intuitive eating to determine the amount of food that best meets my personal needs. If this stresses you out, and measuring ingredients/portion sizes is what you need, I would highly recommend beginning your plant-based transition by investing in some vegan cookbooks; this will allow you to experiment with pre-tested, carefully calculated recipes and find combinations and tastes you like, which you can eventually adapt using your own personal touches.

 

So, where to begin? Making the plant-based transition is about starting where you are and making small changes from there. This will help prevent over-complication and overwhelm. I would never tell someone to go vegan overnight (unless perhaps they were already vegetarian and ready to take it one step further) because a large change like that, without adequate practice, has a low probability of being sustainable — and a high probability of ending with “screw this!”. Instead, think about your current favorite meals. Write down the ingredients. Mark the items you could potentially replace with plant-based substitutes.

 

For example:

 

Animal-Derived Ingredient Plant-Based Substitute
Chicken Tofu, Tempeh, or Chickpeas
Beef Seitan or Portabella Mushroom
Pork Tofu or Seitan
Cheese Cashew- or tofu-based “cheese”
Milk Plain, unsweetened non-dairy milk (almond, cashew, soy)
Eggs Tofu if something like scrambled eggs or quiche, or flax/chia seed + water if using in a baked good**

 

**Flax/chia egg = 1 Tbsp chia or ground flax seed + 3 Tbsp water. Mix and let sit 5 minutes to form a gel before adding to recipe (works well in baked goods or vegan “meatloaf”).

 

Now, think about the other types of meals your family frequently likes to eat. Google some veganized versions of these meals by using keywords; for example, “vegan chicken parmesan” or “vegan meatballs”. Start slowly making over your pantry by replacing animal-derived products with plant-based ones needed for these new recipes. Eventually, you will have a good stock of options that can be used in a wide variety of vegan dishes, without having to make special trips to the Whole Paycheck 20 miles away (side note: I can buy all of the groceries we need each week at Kroger — though you will definitely find some unique vegan products at a more designer store, you do NOT need to shop anywhere special to follow a plant-based diet). Refer to this post on my favorite vegan kitchen staples here. 

 

Lastly, although I totally stand by my statement that plant-based eating doesn’t need to be complicated, I do want to make something clear:

Switching to a plant-based (minimally-processed, whole food) diet WILL require practice. It WILL require some effort to get used to new cooking skills and ingredient applications. This WILL take some time commitment, especially in the beginning. Using more fresh vegetables in your meals WILL require chopping/slicing (unless, I suppose, you buy all canned or frozen).

Looking for a diet that is healthy, free, easy, and requires no time commitment at all? Sorry my little idealist, but that doesn’t exist.

That being said, anything worthwhile takes a little time and investment, and what better investment than the prioritization of your health?

 

And on that note, here are some of my favorite simple recipes as promised.

 

 

SEITAN  ENCHILADAS

I love this meal because it literally takes me five minutes to throw together. The rest of the time is letting it cook, and perhaps preparing a simple side like the suggestion below.  

seitan-enchiladas

Ingredients:

6 small corn or flour tortillas

1 can refried (check to make sure vegan) beans OR 1 can pinto or black beans, drained and mashed until mostly smooth

1 package seitan

1 jar of salsa or enchilada sauce

1 avocado

Cooking spray

Optional: Vegveeta cheesy topping

Sides: Strawberries, sauteed spinach with minced garlic

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375. Spray a baking dish with cooking spray (I use a 9 inch round dish).

Spread out tortillas. Split beans and seitan equally into tortillas and fold them in half so they are packed closely together in the baking dish. Top evenly with salsa or enchilada sauce. If using Vegveeta, place one dollop on top of each enchilada. Bake for 25 minutes or until tortilla edges begin to crisp. Serve with sliced avocado on top.

 

 

“WHATEVER” SALAD

I call this “whatever” salad because its constituents depend heavily on whatever we happen to have in the kitchen at the time. I’m a huge fan of healthy shelf-stable items like canned beans and nuts/seeds, so we always have these in the pantry. A light topping of cooked quinoa also makes a nice protein-rich addition to this dish.

whatever-salad

Ingredients:

Romaine, spinach, and/or other salad mix, chopped

1 can beans of choice, drained and rinsed

1 tomato, cut into chunks

1 avocado, cut into chunks

Carrots (shredded, grated, in chopped baby form or sliced whole)

Black or green olives, sliced or whole

Chia seeds or ground flax seeds

Pepitas/pumpkin seeds

Raw cashews, walnuts, or sliced almonds

Nutritional yeast**

Homemade Croutons:

Take a loaf of French or other crusty bread and cut it into chunks. Put chunks in a large pot, spray moderately with cooking spray, sprinkle with salt + pepper, mix and cook on medium-low for 10-15 minutes, stirring until bread starts to brown. Croutons will be crisp on the outside, tender on the inside.

Dressing: 1:1 mixture of extra virgin olive oil + balsamic vinegar to lemon juice

Sides: Orange slices, non-dairy yogurt

Directions:

Assemble the above as desired. You got this.

 

**I’ve been able to find nutritional yeast in the alternative baking section (with the gluten-free flours, coconut oil, and non-dairy chocolate chips) at Kroger. Or purchase directly from Bragg’s website here. This is an excellent source of B vitamins for vegans, especially B12.

 

 

HOMEMADE PIZZA

I HIGHLY recommend making your own dough. It is so much more flavorful, and you know exactly what went into it. Plus, it’s incredibly easy (the longest part is waiting for the dough to rise, but who watches that anyway)! This recipe makes two fairly thin crusts, so you can wrap and freeze one for later use.

homemade-pizza

Pizza Dough:

1 pkt active dry yeast

1 tsp white sugar

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water

1 Tbsp olive oil

Pinch salt

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1/2 cup all purpose flour + a little more for kneading

1 1/2 Tbsp any or all of each (dried): garlic powder, onion powder, rosemary, basil, oregano, thyme

Optional: Pinch of red pepper flakes

Cooking spray

 

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve sugar in warm water. Sprinkle yeast over the top, and let stand for about 10 minutes, until foamy.

 

Stir the olive oil and salt into the yeast mixture, then mix in your seasoning of choice. Add the whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup of the all-purpose flour until dough starts to come together. You may need to add additional flour until it isn’t sticking to the sides of the bowl anymore. Tip dough out onto a surface floured with additional all-purpose flour, and knead until all of the flour has been absorbed and the ball is smooth. Wash out mixing bowl and spray with cooking spray. Place ball of dough in the bowl and cover loosely with a clean dish towel or paper towel. Let rise for 1 hour.

 

Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and cut into 2 pieces. Form each into a ball, cover again with a towel and let rise for another 45 minutes.

 

At this time, you may wrap the second dough ball with plastic wrap followed by aluminum foil, and place in the freezer for later use. Move frozen dough to the refrigerator at least one day before you want to use it- it may also need to sit on the counter for a couple of hours to warm to room temperature, to make it easier to handle.

 

Toppings: Whatever you want!

One of our favorite combinations-

Marinara sauce

1 jar artichoke hearts

1 tomato, cut into chunks

1/2 can black olives

1 can cannellini or other white beans, drained and rinsed

Optional:  Cashew mozzarella cheese

Sides: Simple green salad, sliced apples

 

Directions:

Assemble pizza, drizzling desired amount of cashew mozzarella cheese over the top, and bake at 375 for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit 5 minutes before cutting.

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