Where do you begin if you want to try plant-based diet?

The benefits of a vegan diet have been receiving more and more publicity. When done right, “going vegan” is better for the environment, animal welfare and personal health. But, understandably, cutting out entire food groups can feel quite intimidating – especially for a vegan in New Zealand! Skipping those classic Kiwi staples – meat, fish, dairy and eggs – isn’t just tough on the palate. These foods are part of our culture. Just think what your grandmother would say!

The truth is that it doesn’t have to be that hard. There are plenty of ways to help even Grandma understand why you want to make the switch. Whether you plan to go the whole hog (swapped for jackfruit, of course), or just incorporate more plants into your diet, we’ve got some tips to help you get started.

Man trying plant-based cooking
You do you

The first thing to note is that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to go. Your reasoning and methods are yours, and any change is a positive one. So, go you!

Go Slow

Now, we’re not dieticians, but if you are apprehensive about making the change to trying vegan food or going plant-based, we recommend to doing it slowly. Simply cutting out particular foods or even food groups is much easier than diving right in. Odds are your pantry will be home to a few non-vegan products anyway. Unless you can donate these, it’s kinder to the earth to try and eat them up.

It also makes things easier when you’re cooking or being cooked for. Try taking out something like yoghurt first. Or, if that’s too tame, cut the cheese as well (we heard that little gasp!) Or, start by going vegetarian (if you’re not already). This way, you can learn to cook with less of a focus on meat and better prepare yourself for swapping out other things. There are some great resources for recipes online if you’re stuck – we even have a couple up our digital sleeves here.

Don’t panic – go organic (and local)

When you start thinking more about what’s going into your food, you might be a little surprised to see how many things – especially store-bought things – contain animal-derived products. Take store-bought bread, for example; most loaves contain a bit of milk powder.

While it’s good to be conscious of where your food comes from, it’s not good to get stressed about eating because you’re checking every label. Again, it’s up to you how fanatical you’re going to be, but just try to go easy on yourself.
Our tip?
Buy local, organic produce and goods. That way, you know what’s in your food and where it’s come from. You won’t need to decipher any labels, you’ll drastically decrease your carbon footprint and you’ll be supporting the local economy. And, if you haven’t been to a farmer’s market before – you’re missing out!
Another great tip (if you have the time and the space) is to grow your own. There’s something quite magic about being able to shop from your garden.

Lentils, salads and more lentils

Odds are, if you’re totally new to all of this, you might be wondering if there’s more to plant-based-life than lentils and salads. Simple answer? HECK YES! Pop into our (mostly) vegan café (here in Auckland), KIND to find out! In fact, there are a bunch of vegan cafés in Auckland you can go to for inspiration. One of our most popular dishes is our ‘Jackfruit Tacos’. You’d be forgiven for mistaking the jackfruit for pork!

There are plenty of “meat” replacements in the supermarkets (that are also available as vegan options at many restaurants in Auckland). These include sun-fed “chicken”, soy-based “sausages”, beetroot patties – not to mention your classic tofu and tempeh. Things like mayonnaise and cheese are also super easy to make at home!

Or, for an easy cheese-replacement, try “nutritional” or “savoury” yeast”. As unappetising as it sounds, it’s quite delicious. It’s also an excellent source of B12 – which can be hard to source un-animal-ly (yes, we just made that a word!). Again, you can find some great recipes on our blog and there are plenty online. You might notice a few different ingredients, but once you’re started, you’ll be away laughing. Which brings us to our next point…

Flavour saviour

Many people seem to think that cutting out animal derivatives means cutting out flavour. This is by no means true! You just need to be a little prepared.
It’s kind of like if you were going to make a delicious curry. If you simply use what you already have, it might not taste so curry-y. If you have things like turmeric, coriander and garam masala, it’s going to taste much more like the real deal.
And sometimes, a good range of herbs and spices are all you need! Especially if they’re fresh. The rise of veganism has also resulted in the availability of heaps of great products. Like Massel ‘chicken’ stock – not a single feather gets ruffled in the making!
You might find that staple foods like jackfruit and tofu need some ‘sprucing up’ in order to taste, well, like anything. There are lots of recipes online as well as ready-made marinades. Or, like our Head Chef James, you can simply use the marinades and sauces you’d usually use for your meat dishes. 

How will I nourish my body?

Another common issue people face when they first shift to plant-based is where they’re going to get their nutrients from. Again, a bit of research and prep goes a long way here, but it isn’t as hard as you think.
For iron: dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds pulses, grains and beans are all great sources, and many of these contain a fair bit of protein, too.

Other protein sources include tofu, tempeh, peas, edamame, hemp seed and chickpeas which will all help you feel nourished and full long after your meal.

Healthy omega-3 fats can be found in avocados, flax seeds and hemp seeds/hearts.
But wait to you hear about the magic of mushrooms! We’re not kidding either. These fungi are full of all sorts of minerals you can’t get anywhere else, as well a decent range of B vitamins. Another tip: sprinkle some fresh parsley on your ‘shrooms while cooking for an almost meat-like flavour.

Convincing Granny/avoid vegan-terrogation

In all honesty, granny might be ok with all of this – but you are bound to get a few funny comments (well, they’re funny the first time you hear them).

Fortunately, the old adage “How do you know someone’s a vegan? Don’t worry they’ll tell you!” isn’t necessarily true, and you don’t have to really talk about it (unless you want to, of course).

You’ll quickly realise when dining out – especially at the many vegan-friendly restaurants in Auckland – that there are usually a lot of options for you. You won’t need to worry about making a fuss.

Otherwise, if you’re going to a friend’s for dinner – bring a plate! That way you’re guaranteed to have something to eat, and you’ll be showing your appreciation too. And if you’re trying to show your spouse, family member or gym-buddy how good vegan food can be, invite them over for a meal. You can always wait until after they’ve eaten to tell them the dishes didn’t contain any animal products..

Your best bet, however (in our humble opinion), is to bring them along to KIND, where they’ll be able to sample delicious vegan food without even knowing it.

And – if they’re not quite ready to try going plant-based – we still have some non-veg options they can enjoy, including free-range eggs and Haloumi.

If you’d like any more tips on going vegan, drop us a line! Or even better, come visit our (mostly) plant-based restaurant here in Morningside, Auckland and we’ll happily help you out.