Set yourself up for plant-based meal success by ensuring you always have a pantry and fridge full of these vegan staples.
You may find you need more than one type to replace the dairy in your life. There are many different types and brands out there and whilst we can offer our recommendations, the fact is that you’ll probably need to try a few to find which ones suit your taste. Dairy milk is naturally high in sugar so most plant milks will have added sweetener too. We like creamy soy milk for my tea & coffee and a coconut/almond blend for cereal. Don’t give up hope if you try some and find them revolting – there’s such a variety, you just need to find the type (soy, almond, coconut, etc.) and brand that you like. Look for those fortified with calcium and B12 too.
Bio Cheese cheddar is widely available in most Australian supermarkets and reminds us of the old-fashioned Kraft plastic-wrapped singles, which in our families was known as ‘plastic cheese’, and an indication of the colour and texture of Bio. It does a pretty good all-purpose job as a cheese replacement and Smith & Daughters (amazing vegan restaurant in Melbourne) list it as their go-to cheese too, so it must be alright. Other cheeses we like are Green Vie mozzarella and the Damona range which includes a delicious almond fetta for your smashed avo on toast. Check out your local vegan food supplier to see what’s available and start tasting, because much like the milks you’ll probably need to try and stock a few different types to suit your needs.
The Bio butter (same brand as the cheese mentioned above) is nice tasting and free of trans-fats (the bad fats) but we prefer Nuttelex as an all-rounder. It basically tastes and performs like (dairy) margarine so can be used for virtually anything, including baking, and is widely available.
4. Nutritional Yeast
You’ll find this ingredient in many vegan recipes where a cheesy flavour is required. It’s also sometimes referred to as “nooch”. It’s a yellow crumbly seasoning which is packed with B12 so a great vegan food to incorporate into your meals. It’s available in health food stores and some supermarkets (our local IGA stocks it; our local Woolworths/ Coles do not).
5. Maple Syrup
Honey is out when you’re vegan, but that’s OK because it gives you an excuse to eat more maple syrup. It’s bloody delicious and can be used as a sweetener in all kinds of things, so ‘nuff said.
Rumour has it that these are really easy to make yourself, but we wouldn’t know, because we buy ours ready-to-go from the supermarket. They have basically replaced the cold-cuts in our lives when it comes to sandwiches, and we love having them on hand for tasty meal-boosters or snacks. They are made from nutrient-dense chickpeas, so full of protein, fibre, and iron, to name a few of the health benefits.
Growing up, for some reason tofu had a really weird stigma attached to it. Like, we thought it was only something really desperate people from weird religious cults ate. We now think tofu is delicious and even if we ever find ourselves back on the dark side, we’re taking tofu with us. Most of the time we use the extra firm tofu, which is good for frying, scrambling (replacing eggs) and in Thai curries. The silken tofu we use only occasionally, blitzed to add creaminess and body to something, e.g. a sauce or quiche. In any case, if you haven’t used tofu before, dive in. Oh yeah, and it’s perfect for your vegan diet as it’s a good source of protein, amino acids, iron, calcium and many minerals.
Because… Chocolate. There are some really fancy, high-end vegan chocolates available so by all means try them if you can get to your local, fancy, high-end health food store. For a quick and cheaper fix, Lindt 70% dark is vegan (but most other dark Lindt ones are not), as are a couple from Aldi (the one with orange and almond is yum), and our current favourite is the Whittakers dark with almond (from Coles, Woolworths).
9. Frozen stuff
Our families have fish fingers and veggies for dinner about once a week. We chuck our Gardein 7 grain chicken tenders in the oven with the fish fingers, and then spend dinner time fighting off the kids for them. They’re really delicious and certainly at least as healthy (and kinder) than the fingers. There are heaps of quick frozen treats available in supermarkets these days, by brands such as Gardein and Fry’s which include meatballs, burgers and schnitzels, to name a few. Another favourite for a lazy lunch requiring a bit of grease (AKA a hangover) is the Linda McCartney sausage rolls. All these brands are widely available i.e. at IGAs, Woolworths and Coles, so stock up and make your freezer your fast-food outlet.
10. Lentils, beans, chickpeas etc
Along with tofu, it’s hard to go past these items – dried or canned, whichever floats your boat – as a substitute for meat in Indian curries, Mexican food, as sandwich fillings, or blitzed to make a quick and healthy dip. They’re full of protein, fibre and iron.
In addition to the 10 core items above, you’ll need to stock up on vegan condiments, spices, sauces/ and spreads. But before you go out and spend a week’s salary on condiments (they can really add-up), have a think about what you currently use, or buy new items as you need them based on new recipes you’ll be trying. Some items will be accidentally vegan, eg Praise’s fat-free mayo is vegan (yaaaassss), and Massel beef and chicken stocks are vegan (mind blown), but others can trip you up, for example anything with gelatin in it, is out. You just need to be informed and check your labels. Get busy with some things you haven’t tried before, especially if they’re going to provide essential nutrients for your new diet. For example, Tahini, which is sesame seed paste, is super healthy (full of calcium, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids) and is extremely versatile in both sweet (think fudge, bliss balls) and savoury dishes (dressings, dips).