Here’s how to go vegan: a beginners guide and all the healthy recipes you need. Plant based eating can be affordable, filling and delicious!
Looking to start a vegan diet? You’ve come to the right place. Here at A Couple Cooks, we’re experts in plant based cooking and cookbook authors. Alex and I have devoted our careers to making eating vegetables delicious! While we don’t eat a strict vegan diet, the majority of the recipes we eat are plant based! We’ve learned all the tricks to making this lifestyle affordable, filling, and most of all: delicious! Here’s a crash course in how to go vegan, and all the recipes you need!
What is a vegan diet?
First things first: what is a vegan diet? A vegan diet is a diet that excludes all animal products. Here are the foods that are off limits:
Fish and shellfish
All dairy (milk, cheese, sour cream, butter, yogurt)
Don’t worry, that still leaves lots and lots of things to eat! Here’s what is part of a vegan diet:
Tip 1: Understand vegan protein & how to stay full!
Here’s one of the most important parts of eating vegan: plant based protein is key for staying satiated and full. The most important part of eating recipes without meat and dairy is to make sure they’re packed with plant based protein. If not, we’ll be hungry an hour later! There lots of options for adding plant based protein to your meals to make them filling and nutritious. Here’s are the top plant-based protein filled foods:
When you’re eating lots of protein from plants, it’s important to get a wide variety of protein sources. The point isn’t just to eat a can of black beans every day! According to Harvard School of Public Health, make sure to mix up your sources so no “essential” components of protein are missing. For more on plant based protein and lots of recipes, go to All About Plant Based Protein.
Is soy healthy?
According to the Harvard TH Chan School of Nutrition, soy is a nutrient-dense source of protein that can safely be consumed several times a week. It’s likely to provide health benefits—especially when eaten as an alternative to red and processed meat!
Tip 2: Eat whole foods!
When thinking about how to go vegan, consider this: focus on whole foods and a variety of veggies! It’s possible to eat a vegan diet and eat only processed foods: chips, crackers, fries, and the like. Here are a few tips for eating whole foods:
Read the labels of anything pre-packaged and make sure that anything you buy has minimally processed ingredients. Try to avoid lots of preservatives and additives.
This will require more time in your schedule for cooking! See Tip 4 below.
Tip 3: Consider B12.
Dairy, eggs, and seafood have the Vitamin B12, which is important for avoiding anemia and does not occur naturally in plants. If you eat a fully vegan diet, you may need to add a supplement (specifically vitamin B12) to make sure you receive all the nutrients required. Consult your doctor for more.
Tip 4: Make time and space! And find a buddy.
What does going vegan mean? Carving out more space in your life to cook! Are you already in the practice of cooking on the regular? Here are a few things to think about as your make this diet change:
Baby steps: it doesn’t happen overnight! It takes a while to figure out your tastes and what recipes will be your go-to’s (see below for all ours!). Give yourself the grace and time to figure it out over weeks and months. It’s all about long term sustainability!
If a recipe bombs: try another! Cooking is all about finding things that work for your life and your personal tastes. If you make a recipe you don’t like: find another and try that one! Have the courage to keep trying new flavors and techniques.
Find a buddy. This is one of our top recommendations: find a buddy: friend, roommate, spouse, partner — who can help navigate the change with you. Share recipes with each other! Talk about things you like, and things that didn’t work. Food is all about relationship, and having a cheerleader is half the fun.
Tip 5: A few foods to watch for!
When you go vegan, here are a few foods to remember are off limits and what to substitute:
This vegan lasagna will become your new favorite! It's layered with tangy tomato sauce, savory mushrooms and spinach, and creamy hummus (instead of a ricotta layer). Then it's topped with vegan "Parmesan" made with ground cashews. It's a fan favorite! It saves well, so you can freeze leftovers and enjoy for days.
How to go vegan? Find quick and easy lunch recipes that can power you through the day! This chickpea salad takes only 5 minutes to throw together, and it's a lunch lifesaver. It's full of plant based protein to keep you satisfied for hours. Serve with pita triangles or vegan crackers.
Wow, is this vegan fettuccine alfredo good! The creamy sauce is made with cashews for richness and cauliflower for body, making it a healthy spin. It gets so creamy, you'd swear it had dairy! Serve with standard pasta, or use zucchini noodles or legume pasta for a twist.
Jackfruit is a fun trick for when you go vegan: it truly has the texture of pulled pork! It's magical how a fruit can taste just like meat by adding onion, garlic, cumin, tomato paste, cocoa powder and adobo sauce. Look for jackfruit in the canned aisle, or you can buy it online. Serve with refried beans for a filling comfort food meal! Also try: Vegan Jackfruit BBQ Sandwich.
WOW is all we can say about this vegan enchiladas recipe! It tops the charts as one of our most crowd-pleasing plant based recipes…ever. Tortillas are wrapped around a veggie filling oozing with flavor, and it’s all doused in a zesty homemade enchilada sauce. With the crunchy veggie topping, this dish looks simply incredible. It tastes even better than it looks!
This vegan shepherd’s pie is cozy comfort food to the max! Imagine: a creamy gravy filled with tender vegetables, lentils and scented with fennel and sage. Then a fluffy layer of mashed potatoes, topped with fresh rosemary. It’s layered together in a baking dish and then baked until golden. This one’s a whole food plant based stunner!
Curry is the best way to eat loads of healthy foods without even noticing. This vegetable curry is so good, you’ll be shoveling it down by the spoonful! It’s full of big flavor and all the best veggies you can eat, like cauliflower, carrots, bell peppers, and chickpeas. It features crisp tender veggies in a seriously flavorful broth. Serve with naan bread or rice and it’s one of the most satisfying plant-based dinners around.
There’s no such thing as too many easy vegan dinner ideas. So let us present our new favorite: these incredible vegan fajitas! Everyone loves this meal, even meat eaters. It’s a great way to make a fun healthy dinner where no one notices there’s no meat! Roast up lots of veggies on a sheet pan with spices, and serve with refried beans and “guac-ish,” a super fast version of guacamole.
You'll never believe the texture of this vegan sour cream! Blend together just a few ingredients and you've got a mixture that has all the creaminess and tang of sour cream, without the dairy. It's a must try! And perfect for...(see below)
Here's the ultimate vegan chili recipe! Everyone loves chili, and it's the perfect way to make vegetables taste delicious. It’s hard to find someone who will turn this one down! It’s full of savory flavor starring beans, quinoa, and a hint of adobo sauce for complexity. Top it with our vegan sour cream and some pickled jalapenos and well: it’s out of this world good.
Here's the ultimate vegan burrito, chock full colorful healthy veggies and nutrients! Something about all those tasty fillings snuggled cozily into a tortilla makes a burrito irresistible. This one is packed with flavor from Spanish rice (aka Mexican rice), seasoned black beans, peppers and onions, and mashed avocado. Even better, step it up with a zingy vegan sauce!
Going vegan doesn't mean an end to baking! Vegan baked goods are some of the best out there. You may not have thought cornbread was life changing…until now. This tender, moist vegan cornbread tastes the Jiffy box, but 100 times tastier. It doesn't matter that this recipe doesn't use dairy. It's SO delicious, you'll never notice, and neither will any of your friends or family members.
You'll be surprised how much a tofu scramble has the flavor and texture of scrambled eggs! It's a healthy, savory vegan breakfast that takes only 10 minutes to whip up. If you'd like, serve it with a veggie saute: red onion, peppers and greens cooked until tender.
These vegan chickpea burgers are extra special. They’re crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, with a hint of nuance from smoked paprika. Painted with BBQ sauce and served with shiitake bacon and spicy mayo, they’re pretty darn tasty (if we do say so ourselves). They save well: refrigerate or freeze for meals throughout the week!
These crispy avocado tacos are destined to be your new favorite vegan recipe! You’ve got avocado fries, breaded and baked in a hot oven until crispy. Then top that with spiced black beans, pico de gallo, and the refreshing crunch of romaine lettuce. Drizzle on a creamy lime and cilantro sauce, and it’s heaven on a plate.
Hummus is a lifesaver when you go vegan! This creamy, savory dip is perfect for healthy snacks and lunches. Use it for dipping pita chips and veggies, or in Hummus and Veggie Roll Ups for a quick lunch.
This easy sheet pan dinner is full of colorful vegetables and loaded with flavor! It's a plant-based dinner that roasts up everything on a sheet pan at once: lots of good-for-you veggies and chickpeas for plant based protein. Throw it all in the oven while you cook rice or quinoa. Top with a dollop of hummus, cashew cream, or another vegan sauce. Dinnertime win!
Here’s a solution that’s a perfect dinner for a crowd: chili baked potatoes! Bake up some potatoes, top them with vegan chili and all the fixin’s, and it’s an easy dinner everyone can enjoy. Chili is a hearty match for baked potatoes, and really: who doesn’t love a baked potato bar with all those fun toppings?
This chickpea salad sandwich is one of our top vegan lunch ideas: a vegan version of a chicken salad sandwich made using chickpeas! They're smashed and mixed with a touch of vegan mayo (or cashew cream), lemon juice, celery and green onions to make the most savory, delicious spread.
These vegan Sloppy Joes have a zingy lentil filling that tastes just as good as the meaty version. Put it on a toasted bun with some bread and butter pickles, and WOW! You’re going to love this one (promise). They're crowd pleasing and have a cozy, comforting vibe!
If you want to go vegan and eat your ranch too...now you can! This vegan ranch dressing is ultra creamy and rich, using cashews to make a creamy base. It's full of spices and tastes so good! Perfect for dipping veggies.
You don't have to miss burgers when you go vegan: make a veggie burger instead! It's made with sweet potatoes and oats, and then flavored with soy sauce and mirin to mimic a teriyaki flavor. For the topping a few sauteed shiitake mushrooms and sriracha mayo, which makes for a killer combination. And speaking of burgers...
Of course fries are already vegan, but why not have a healthy homemade fry recipe on hand! If you're craving comfort food when you go vegan, this one's for you. The fries come out perfectly crispy after being baked simply in the oven with olive oil and spices. They're salty, crispy and oh so good.
Here's a fan favorite recipe that happens to be vegan: our creamy wild rice soup! It features this healthy whole grain along with white beans, mushrooms, and veggies. They're all covered in a creamy sauce made rich by blending cashews with a bit of the simmered soup. Everyone loves this one! Also try: 25 Best Vegan Soup Recipes
“You’d never know these muffins don’t have butter or eggs.” That was my mother in law, one bite in. And with that, we knew we had a winner in this recipe! These vegan apple muffins are perfectly fluffy and moist. The best part is a crunchy apple streusel muffin topping: it gives each bite a perfectly sweet crunch, without being overly sugary.
Craving the flavor of bacon after you go vegan? Here are three different ways to make it, each using different ingredients! They're each delicious in their own right: choose from Coconut Bacon, Shiitake Bacon, and Tempeh Bacon.
An acai bowl is a perfect treat breakfast when you go vegan! It's made from purple acai berries, available as a frozen pulp in most grocery stores. Combine it with pineapple, banana, and mango, then top with sliced fruits and almond butter.
Are you ready for the chewiest, salty sweet, delicious vegan chocolate chip cookies? They’re made all from whole food ingredients, are downright delicious, and made dirtying only one bowl. Oh and did we mention they’re naturally gluten-free, too? They've got an irresistibly chewy texture using almond flour.
Here's a go-to vegan dinner recipe that you can make in under 30 minutes: Mediterranean bowls! They're filled with seasoned chickpeas, crunchy veggies, and quick-cooking couscous. Drizzle it all with our Best Tahini Sauce and it's full of flavor! Also try: Raw Falafel Buddha Bowls
If you love baking, there's no reason to stop when you go vegan! This zucchini bread is moist, cinnamon-scented, and the perfect sweetness. It’s got just the right texture: it’s not too oily or dense. And, it's a quick bread that's easy to put together! Also try: Vegan Pumpkin Bread
Here's a tasty granola recipe that's good for you and not loaded with sugar! It's easy to make, featuring oats and a maple pecan flavor. It's perfectly crunchy, warmly spiced, and just the right amount of sweetness. Serve with almond milk or oat milk.
This vegan chickpea curry hits all the checkboxes for plant based dinner perfection. It’s full of plant based protein, so it will keep you full for hours. Packed with chickpeas, spinach, ginger, and curry powder, and it takes only 20 minutes to make. Serve with basmati rice.
Oatmeal is the powerhouse of vegan breakfast ideas. This one is chewy and toasted, and the flavor has readers around the world swearing off “normal” gooey oats. Our favorite toppings? All natural peanut butter and strawberry jam. Also try: Vegan Breakfast Ideas
Gotta have sweet treats, too! These vegan peanut butter cookies are soft but perfectly crumbly, and salty sweet. Decorated with the classic criss-cross pattern, they’ve got a sparkle of sugar. If you'd like, add our chocolate icing drizzle, which makes them look even more fun.
Last but not least in our recipes for how to go vegan: curry lentil soup! After one bite, we guarantee you'll be sold on this curry lentil soup. It’s full of hearty red lentils and root vegetables, and the broth is swirled with red curry paste and coconut milk. With all the texture and flavor going on, it feels rich and luxurious. But at the same time it’s a healthy, plant based meal!
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.