No soy, no nuts, no problem! Getting Your Protein On.

Getting enough protein isn’t as hard for vegans as some people would have you believe. It can get more complicated, however, if feeding children (who can sometimes be picky – go figure) and then even more so if those children have food allergies or intolerances.

Soy and nuts are well-known sources of protein for vegans. But, soy and nuts are also common allergens or irritants. But, no fear! There are plenty of other sources of protein that can easily fit into a vegan diet. Here are just a few.

Beans, Lentils, and Peas

Chickpeas, navy beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, peas, and more. Beans are a great source of protein and when combined with a grain can even make a “whole protein” (less important to do in a meal than you may believe). Children may not be into the idea of pea soup – though mine were. But that’s ok. There are many other options to try. How about:

Hummus and pita
Tacos, nachos, or burritos with beans
Navy bean soup
Minestrone soup
Chili
Black beans (or any other bean) and rice
Uncrabby patties
Black bean and sweet potato patties
Sloppy Lennys

Seeds

If nuts are off limits, how about seeds? Hemp seeds and flax seeds can be ground and sprinkled onto or into other dishes including smoothies or even mac and cheese. Chia seeds go nicely in overnight oats or a pudding. Quinoa (which acts like a grain but is really a seed) can be easily substituted for rice. Sunflower seeds can be a fun snack and also make a good addition to cookies, salads, granola, or even pasta dishes. Pumpkin seeds go very nicely in Mexican food. And tahini is a good started for dipping, using as a sauce for veggies, or thinning with lemon and oil for a salad dressing.

Grains

You might not think that grain-based food would ever have protein, but it definitely can. Brown rice has protein, as does whole wheat, buckwheat, wild rice, cornmeal, and even oats. This opens up many options for adding protein to the diet, like:

A sandwich on whole wheat bread (or check the protein values of Ezekiel bread!)
Dishes made from/with seitan
Whole wheat or buckwheat pancakes (substitute almond or coconut milk for soy)
Overnight oats with your choice of add-ons

Vegetables (besides beans)

This throws people off sometimes, but yes, non-bean vegetables can have protein. Broccoli, spinach, kale, brussel sprouts, sweet corn, arugula, asparagus, and artichokes (avocado, which isn’t exactly a vegetable). Potatoes even have some protein. This is why a varied vegan diet that contains a good amount of food close to its natural form means that there is little to fret about with regard to getting enough protein. You could whip up a little:

Roasted vegetables
Lemon miso kale
Guacamole
Artichoke dip
Asparagus tips with tahini sauce
Or even mashed potatoes

So, even if you are feeding picky kids or are a picky adult, and have to contend with allergies to soy and nuts, getting enough protein isn’t a barrier to eating vegan!

Bein’ a New Vegan

keep-calm-and-vegan-onOne of Miss TheVeganAsana Junior’s friends has recently made the vegan transition, but is finding it challenging to come up with meals. And, I certainly understand that, because it wasn’t easy for me and I had been cooking for many years. So, I promised him that I would write up a set of daily menus in a post for him.

And, here it is! All of these meals utilize things that are readily available at “regular” grocery stores or in your pantry. Where a recipe is needed, I’ve added it at the end of the day, or linked to it.

Monday

Breakfast: Vegan “fauxgurt” (food process or blend a banana, 2 cups of frozen fruit including 4-5 chunks of pineapple, ¼ cup of soy milk). Top with ½ handful of blueberries, ½ handful raw almonds, ½ handful granola.

Lunch: Large salad with romaine, arugula, red peppers, celery, tomato, carrots, garbanzo beans, sunflower seeds, and your choice of dressing. Whole wheat or pumpernickel roll or bread on the side.

Dinner: Fettuccine tossed with chopped fresh tomatoes, basil, garlic, olive oil, and sea salt. Sprinkle with nutritional yeast if desired. Sliced and baked zucchini and summer squash. Side salad as desired.

(Prep Tofu Not-Jerky for the next day)

Tuesday

Breakfast: Whole wheat toast with peanut butter spread and sliced bananas.

Lunch: Raw spinach salad with sliced tomatoes, strips of tofu not-jerky, Bac-os (if desired), red pepper slices, and balsamic vinaigrette. Rye roll or toast.

Dinner: Navy bean soup, with fresh French or Italian bread.

(prep sesame noodles for the next day)

Wednesday

Breakfast: Oatmeal or cheerios with sliced nectarines, almonds, and soy milk.

Lunch: Sesame noodles with edamame. Freshed sliced tomatoes.

Dinner: Black beans and couscous. Fruit or a salad on the side.

Thursday

Breakfast: Vegan fauxgurt with toppings (see Monday)

Lunch: Whole wheat wrap filled with leftover black beans, raw spinach, diced tomatoes, and vegan sour cream.  Mango slices.

Dinner: Cheesy Zucchini Pasta Bake (can be made without TVP or with a substitute of navy or pinto beans) and side salad.

Friday

Breakfast: Toasted bagel topped with peanut butter, bananas, and maple syrup.

Lunch: Leftover cheesy zucchini pasta bake, bean soup, or black bean wrap.

Dinner: Uncrabby patties, green beans sautéed with onions and olive oil, apple slices with cinnamon sprinkles.

Saturday

Breakfast: Elvis style vegan pancakes!

Lunch: Scrounge around in the fridge for leftovers from prior meals and nosh, or make a big green salad with tofu jerky strips, sundried tomatoes, and sunflower seeds.

Dinner: Flash Fire Nachos (use canned pinto or kidney beans for a faster process).

Sunday

Breakfast: Bagel and faux cream cheese. Fruit of choice.

Lunch: Leftover “refried” beans wrapped in a flour tortilla with diced tomato, lettuce, and vegan sour cream. Tortilla chips and salsa.

Dinner: Pizza (Papa John’s Garden Delight without the cheese is vegan and yummy) night!

I hope this is useful to anyone trying to take this step and working to figure out some relatively easy meals to eat, without spending a fortune on prepared food (looking at you, Zach). Also, check out Tips for Making the Vegan Transition, Feeding the New Vegan, and Top Ten Reasons Not to Worry about Protein in a Vegan Diet.

Feeding the New Vegan

The transition from a vegetarian diet or an omnivore diet to a vegan diet can be a challenge, not only for the person making the change, but for anyone who might be cooking for him/her. Because the choice to become a vegetarian or vegan can sometimes occur during the teen years, parents can find themselves in a position of needing to cook for a diet that they don’t fully embrace and worrying about nutrition in that diet. As I have previously posted, it’s not as complicated as it might sound to find food for a vegan.   For the person in the kitchen, a good way to start thinking about meal planning for a vegan diet is to break it down into manageable bits.

For each individual “cooked” meal (so, I’m assuming this is mostly dinner, but it might sometimes be breakfast or lunch), try to fit in the following:

1. A grain – Grains tend to be a primary source of vegan food.  This can include basics like pasta, bread, and rice.  For diets that are high in bread, pasta, and rice, it is recommended to work toward including more whole grain pasta/bread and more brown rice, rather than always selecting white items.  Grains can also include things like couscous, wheatberries, cornmeal, bulgar wheat, quinoa (not really a grain, but works like one),

2. A protein – Vegan protein does not mean that you have to cook with tofu every day, though it can.  Tofu is very versatile and can be added to many food items with very little impact on flavor.  New tofu eaters may find it more palatable if it is more “dry.”  This can be accomplished by using a tofu press or by freezing a block of extra firm tofu and then thawing in a colander before use.  Tempeh is another easy way to fit protein in.  Tempeh comes in prepared blocks.  They can be chopped and added to other items, sliced and fried (we love it with bbq sauce), or eaten right out of the package.  Soy burgers (Boca is a popular brand) are quite popular with new vegans and have a taste quite similar to a burger.  But, you don’t even have to head into soy to get protein in.  Nuts and beans are also high in protein.  Kidney beans (mmm, nachos), pinto beans (yum, burritos), black beans (oooh, black beans and rice), garbanzo beans (mmm, hummus), navy beans (yum… soup) are easy to fit into diet and most cooks have a good variety of recipes that are bean based.  Nuts can be added to recipes or used as a base item.  A peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread gets in protein and a good grain!

3. 2 vegetables/fruits – If a new vegan doesn’t like fruits and vegetables, it is going to present a challenge, because they are pretty important in any sound diet.  But, veganism doesn’t mean fruits and veggies have to be eaten plain and raw.  Vegan “butter” is easy enough to find.   Olive oil makes a nice addition to many cooked veggies.  Fruits can be eaten plain, cooked into recipes, or blended into smoothies.

Over the course of a day, try to add in some calcium and iron (which can often be folded into the three above).  Calcium can be found in many soy products (including soy milk), vitamin fortified juices, and dark leafy greens.  It’s not a bad idea to add a calcium/magnesium supplement to the vegan diet.  Similarly, iron can be found in unexpected places.  Soybeans, quinoa, spinach, molasses, white beans, and lentils are among some of the non-meat sources of iron.  There are also vegan iron supplements available in most places that sell vitamins, and a little supplementation may ease concerns about iron sufficiency for the vegan and the cook. For smaller meals, you don’t have to hit grains, protein, and fruits/veggies, but across the course of the day, try to work on getting a total of 6 or more servings of veggies/fruit, 6 or more of grains, and 2 of the protein category, along with any supplements.

While cooking for a new vegan may require a little more planning, so that you avoid a constant diet of salad and peanut butter sandwiches, it’s really not as hard as it can sound at first.  Attention to the dietary needs of a vegan isn’t that different than attention to the dietary needs of omnivores, and, in a household where cooking has been relatively auto-pilot, having a vegan in the house may actually result in everyone having a better diet.

Happy cooking!