I really don't know what I'd do without the items in this list. Yes, we all want to *mostly* eat just fresh veggies and fruits, whole grains, and legumes. And that is what comprises the majority of a vegan's diet. I love those foods, and it's part of why I eat the way I do. But let's get real. Most of us grew up eating the Standard American Diet (SAD). I was raised a Southern meat-and-potatoes girl. I sometimes need products that remind me of my childhood. Some days I just really want something decadent, even if it's a teensy bit processed. I know we all get tired of hearing the old question about protein:
But the truth is, when we're making the switch, we may crave meatiness at first. I crave it around my period, every month. When the KFC sign on the road actually looks good to me, I know Aunt Flo will be here the next day! It's a good idea to have a plan in place for those times when the cravings hit.
Making the transition from being an all-out American omnivore to a hard-core vegan can be hard. These products make it better. I've been a vegan or vegetarian for nearly fifteen years, and I've tested most of the products out there. These are the ones I believe to be the best. None of these grocery store items have artificial colors, preservatives, or sweeteners. Some of them are quite healthy; some not so much. Some are barely processed things that I can make at home, and some are works of amazing modern nutritional science. Please note, this is not a sales pitch for these products. This is nothing more than my opinion, and I'm hoping it might help some folks make the change.
So, without further ado, here is my list of the aspiring vegan's MVP list, in no particular order:
10. Seitan. This has saved me from many meaty cravings. It's loaded with protein, and there are several brands on the market. I prefer making mine at home, though, and there's a good explanation of how to make it in my family cookbook, found here for the Kindle and in paperback:
Vegan Kids Unite
And here, for the Nook:
Vegan Kids Unite
9. Vegenaise's Grapeseed Oil mayonnaise. It's the only vegan mayo to buy, in my book, and makes everything taste a little better. My spinach-artichoke dip wouldn't be the same without it!
8. Tempeh. In all fairness, I didn't try this one until I had already been a vegetarian for a couple of years. Once I did, though, I was in love. It's nutty and mushroom-y, and has the added bonus of being a fermented food, which provides good bacteria for intestinal health. I love to steam it and turn it into a "chicken salad" or "tuna salad" kind of thing. I also love it pan-fried, with smoky flavors, and used to make a yummy BLT, or in this case, TLT.
7. Agave nectar, brown rice syrup, and maple syrup. These three can satisfy any sweet craving you get, and the rice crispy treats made from brown rice syrup are killer!
6. Tofurkey brand sausages and deli-style lunch meat. I think this company gets it right, where meat analogs are concerned. I've served it to numerous meat-eaters and they love it. I'm a big fan of the bratwurst sausage, the smoked tofurkey slices, and the chicken-apple sausage variety. I serve that one with a side of sauerkraut, potato salad, and some good mustard. SO good.
5. Quorn products. OK, this stuff isn't vegan--it does have egg whites--but for those of you who are just aiming for vegetarianism, this one is a good one. The ingredient list isn't long, and the stuff tastes scarily like the real thing. If you have only just stopped eating meat, this one can really help you make the transition. I'm ashamed to admit I'm a particular fan of their hot dogs. The stuffed "chicken" breasts are also yummy.
6. Gardein products. It's hard to find anything this company makes that isn't tasty. The food was created by a famous chef who went vegetarian, and you can tell it by the taste. I really like the BBQ shreds, the "chicken" cutlets, and pretty much everything they make. I don't buy these much, just because they are a little more processed, and they are kind of pricey. But when I do, my mouth is happy.
5. Daiya cheese. No other vegan cheese is worth your money, IMO. Daiya tastes great and actually melts. Changed my life. Note: I have heard about some new vegan cheeses that aren't processed at all, but are made in the old-fashioned artisan way dairy cheese is made. I haven't found any yet, but I have high hopes that they might be yummy.
4. Tofutti's Better 'N Sour Cream. I like this stuff way better than dairy sour cream. It's got a cleaner taste, and it works just like the cow version.
3. Silk's French vanilla and hazelnut creamer. Makes coffee happy again! I prefer almond milk for my regular milk needs.
2. Fantastic Foods' boxed mixes. These are only an occasional treat I use when I don't want to do things from scratch. The Tabouli mix is great, the Falafel mix is lovely, and the taco filling mix is a life-saver. I use it in my nacho cheese dip and in my chili.
1. Earth Balance. Say goodbye to butter and traditional margarine--this stuff is the bomb! It is made with no hydrogenation, no dairy, and it has a ton of essential fatty acids that every body needs. I recommend this even if you aren't a vegetarian!
So, there you have it! Those are my favorites today, though I know there are plenty of others I could've listed. I didn't include many desserts or sweets, because vegan dark chocolate is everywhere and baking vegan is the easiest thing ever. Most days, I'm eating brown rice with tofu and kale and yummy things like that. Every now and then, though, the items in the list above save me. Give them a try if you are wanting to make the transition to veganism or vegetarianism!