If you want to transition your family to a vegan diet, I recommend doing it gradually, step by step. The first and most obvious step, is to go meat free.
For some, this can be as easy as simply deciding you don’t eat meat anymore. For others, it can be a huge change. It can be particularly hard for older kids (and husbands) who are very used to eating meat.
So first things first, if you give up meat, where do you get your protein? Well, if you check out my post on vegan protein here, you’ll find out that kids (and adults) can get all the protein that they need from plant based foods.
Secondly, why should you give up meat? Well, for starters going meat free is great for your health. Eating meat has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease, cancer and stroke. And then there’s the cruelty to animals. If we don’t need meat, then why torture and kill animals to get it?
How Do You Go Meat Free?
Going meat free can feel really overwhelming. There’s a whole world of meat substitutions out there, and wow it can be a lot to take in. There’s eggplant bacon, chickpeas, tofu, tempeh, TVP, seitan (yep, pronounced like the King of Hell, Satan), carrot bacon (what is it with vegans trying to turn vegetables into bacon??), Beyond Burgers, Impossible Burgers, the list goes on.
And then if you look for plain vegetarian foods, you get a whole lot of other ingredients that you really aren’t sure your family will actually eat. And anyway, how do you cook half of these things? Eggplant? Giant Mushrooms? Cauliflower Wings? Quinoa?
It’s ok. You don’t have to eat all of those crazy things to go vegan.
The easiest way to give up meat is to list all of your family’s favourite meals, and then replace the meat in each of them. That way you aren’t having to learn whole new recipes and flavours, on top of how to cook meat free substitutes. Unfortunately this won’t work for all recipes, but you should be able to come up with at least 10 vegan options to start with.
When I first went vegan, I stuck with pastas, curries and stir fries with some vegan schnitzels mixed in, because that’s what we normally ate. I slowly branched out into Mexican and European flavours as I got better at cooking vegan food. It took me over 2 years before I tried out Seitan, so don’t feel like you have to do it all!
Meat Free Substitutions
So what can you use if you take the meat out? Here is a list of ways that you can replace each type of meat.
Let’s start with chicken as it’s definitely the most popular meat, especially with kids.
- Nuggets – You should be able to find vegan nuggets in the freezer section. My favourite brand are the Fry’s ones, but there are a few others like Gardein, and Veggie Delights that are good, too.
- Burgers and Schnitzels – There are a lot of vegan crumbed chicken options around now, too. You’ll find them in both the freezer section, and the meat section.
- Chicken Breast – This one is a bit harder to get a vegan option for. The only good chicken option I’ve ever found is this seitan chicken tenders recipe. They do take a bit of effort, but I normally make up a batch and freeze them so that I can use the whenever I need to.
- Chickpeas – These are my go to chicken replacement in curries, stews and casseroles. I normally use a “chicken-style” stock powder, and cook them in that. You can see how I use them in my Chickpea Korma recipe.
- Lentils – I normally use tinned brown lentils as a mince replacement. You can just rinse and drain them, and throw them into whatever you’d put mince into. I find they work particularly well in bolognese sauce, like in my Lentil Bolognese recipe.
- TVP – It took me a while to get into Textured Vegetable Protein. It sounds a bit scary, but it’s actually really easy to use. TVP is actually dehydrated soy protein (so not suitable if you have a soy allergy). Just rehydrate it in hot water or stock until it’s soft again, and use it in place of mince. TVP has a chewy texture, so tastes similar to meat. I do find that I need to cook it for longer to make sure it absorbs the flavour. If you can still taste the soy, you just need to cook it for longer.
- Vegan Mince – These days you can buy plant based mince at the supermarket. Each of the brands taste different, with some better than others. They’re generally made from soy or pea protein. I personally prefer TVP, and find it’s cheaper, but definitely try out some of the different brands to see what you like best if you’re interested.
- Walnuts, oats and cauliflower – These are often used in meat replacements. I like to add ground walnuts and oats in with lentils to add extra texture. Just don’t grind them too finely, or they turn into a paste.
- Tofu Crumbles – My favourite meat substitution is crumbled tofu. I normally just crumble up a block of tofu, and then either marinade it in some stock and meaty flavours like soy and vegan worcestershire sauce, or just use it straight in whatever I’m cooking.
I wasn’t a huge burger pattie fan before I went vegan, but I certainly eat them more now. Burger patties work for a lot more than just burgers – they replace rissoles, steak, or you can even break them up and put them in a stew or use them as meatballs in pasta. They are definitely useful!
There are a number of different options for burger patties. You can get the more realistic tasting ones like the Beyond and Impossible burgers. For me, personally, they are a bit too meat tasting. But I think they work really well for people who might be missing the taste of meat.
You’ll find burger pattie recipes using just about every bean and meat substitute. My go to is this Burger Pattie recipe, using kidney beans as a base.
You’re sure to find a whole host of veggie patties in the vegan section of your supermarket, so don’t feel limited to just a traditional beef flavour!
Sausages and Hot Dogs
These days you have so many options when it comes to sausages and hot dogs. There are some really authentic tasting ones that you can get in the meat fridges – they even come with sausage skins! And then there are the more hot dog like ones that are in the fridges. All of the different brands taste different, so it really is a case of trying then to see which ones you like.
You can also make some homemade sausage replacements out of beans, seitan or TVP. If I’m after an easy sausage alternative, I have shaped my burger patties into sausage shapes. You can also make a more pork style sausage with my favourite flavour combination fennel and sage, or even make your own from seitan.
Steak is one of the harder meat options to make vegan. Many of the meat substitution ingredients either don’t have much taste, or have their own flavour, so they need to be covered up with meaty flavours. So, they tend to work better in recipes with sauces and marinades, rather than just a plain steak.
So, unfortunately, you aren’t really going to be able to buy a vegan steak. There are some seitan (made from wheat gluten) steaks that taste quite good, but they’ll never be exactly the same as a steak.
I suggest you look for a good burger pattie to serve in place of steak. The other option that I use when I can’t find a good replacement is to give up the food completely for a month or two. That gives your taste buds a chance to forget exactly what steak tastes like, and then you can try the seitan steaks. I guarantee you’ll enjoy them a lot more if you give your taste buds a break.
Casseroles and Stews
Casseroles and Stews are so easy to make vegan, because you have so many great flavours to play with. The great thing about these recipes is that its the other flavours that make them taste great, not the meat.
So, to make a casserole vegan, I just replace the meat with a bean or legume. I tend to use black beans and kidney beans for dark meats, and chickpeas and cannellini beans for chicken and fish. Then I just increase the other flavours.
I also use a few other great ingredients to get a meaty flavour to my casseroles and stews.
- Meat style stocks – these are not actual meat stocks, they are just meat style (a very important distinction). I always have the Massels beef style and chicken style stocks in my pantry. The only issue with these is that they’re quite high in salt, so just be careful how much extra salt you add to your dish.
- Vegan Worcestershire Sauce – You should be able to find a vegan worcestershire sauce in your supermarket. Traditional worcestershire sauce has anchovies in it, so just check the ingredients to make sure they aren’t there. This sauce is great for meaty stews, savoury mince, burger patties – anywhere that you want a nice rich flavour.
- Soy Sauce – Soy Sauce adds a savoury flavour to dishes. It is quite salty, though, so I often balance it out with the sweetness of worcestershire sauce.
Who doesn’t love Sunday Roasts? The whole family gathered together to enjoy a meal together. Well, guess what? You can still do this one meat free. There are a number of meat free roasts on the market (although they can be a little expensive) or you can make your own. Two of our favourites are the Sweet Mustard Glazed Roast, and the Wellington. Both are easy enough for a weekly meal, but fancy enough to serve as a centrepiece to your holiday celebrations.
Unfortunately pork is another tricky one to substitute. You can use marinated jackfruit to make a really delicious pulled pork. I just use tinned jackfruit from the international foods section of the supermarket, and let it marinate in bbq sauce overnight. You can also get premarinated jackfruit in variety of flavours. We find it works really well in burgers and on pizzas.
I find that you can generally use the chicken replacement options for pork as well. They don’t taste exactly the same, but you can use the extra flavours in the dish to get the general idea. I find that ingredients like dijon mustard, maple syrup, fennel and sage make recipes feel more pork-like.
Okay, let’s talk about Bacon. Are you one of those people who says “I’d go vegetarian if i wasn’t for bacon….”. Well, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is, there isn’t a magical amazing bacon replacement that tastes exactly the same. The good news is that your taste buds regenerate every couple of weeks, so you’ll forget what it tastes like.
There are so many ways people have tried to replicate bacon. There’s rice paper bacon, eggplant bacon, tofu bacon, carrot bacon. Basically, you find something that gives you the texture of bacon, marinate it in bacon flavours, and then cook it. For me, personally, I love using my chickpea bacon. If you don’t like chickpeas, you can use still use the marinade from that recipe over whichever bacon alternative you like.
Fish and Seafood
I think that seafood is the one meat that we’re still waiting on good vegan options for. There are a couple of vegan crumbed fish options from Gardein and Frys, but they are more suggestions of fish, rather than a true replacement.
I tend to use tofu in place of fish in stir fries and curries. It certainly doesn’t taste the same, but it gives you an option if you’re missing a fish dish. You can add a fishy flavour by using chopped nori or other seaweed.
Chickpeas are also a popular replacement for tuna in things like tuna salad or tuna mornay. You can mix them in with mayo or white sauce, and add some seaweed flakes for a fishy flavour.
Last of all there’s lunch meat. There are a couple of options for replacing lunch meat. First off, there are vegan ham, chicken and pepperoni replacements that you can get in the vegan section of the supermarket. What I tend to do is make a roast like my Sweet Mustard Roast, and then carve it up into meat slices.
Where Can I Find These Meat Free Options?
So it’s great that I’ve listed all of these meat free options, but where do you find them? Well, these days you can actually find many of them in your supermarket. I do find that different supermarkets stock different brands, so you might have to shop around a bit.
You can also find a great range of vegan meat options in health food shops, and organics shops. If you’re lucky enough to have a vegan grocery store in your city, you’ll be sure to find a heap of options there.
If you don’t have any success in supermarkets, you can also look online. In Australia, the Cruelty Free shop does online orders.
Now if this all feels overwhelming, remember you don’t have to do it all at once! You can even pick one type of meat to replace this week, and another next week. Or you could even just replace half of the meat in a dish to start with. Every little bit counts!