“What’s for dinner tonight… leaves?”
That was one of my friend’s favorite jokes when we’d go out for dinner.
Thankfully, we are no longer friends. (Just kidding. But he no longer tells that joke.)
What do vegans eat?
In this post, I break down the most basic of questions for the plant-based diet, plus provide a number of real-life example foods and plant-based recipes so you can whip up a tasty vegan dish tonight without worry.
A ‘What Do Vegans Eat?’ Q&A Podcast
If you prefer audio format, Matt and I recently covered this exact topic in an episode of No Meat Athlete Radio.
Check it out here:
Vegan vs. Plant-Based: Understanding the Difference
Before we dive too deeply into the foods, we should first address the great “vegan” vs. “plant-based” debate.
What do the terms mean, and are they different?
“Vegan” typically refers to someone who refrains from the consumption or use of animal products for ethical reasons — the animals, the environment, etc.
Someone who follows a “plant-based diet” is usually eliminating (or minimizing) animal foods for health reasons. Some people use it to mean a diet that’s 100% free of animal products, while others use it to mean “mostly free of animal products and processed foods.”
Where “vegan” is a lifestyle, “plant-based” is a diet.
That said, at No Meat Athlete, we tend to speak as inclusively as possible. Because I’m vegan and Matt is vegan, when we use the term “plant-based” in reference to how we eat, it’s interchangeable with vegan… but when we talk about helping others to eat a plant-based diet, we want you to interpret it in whatever way is going to help you to eat the most plants, whether that’s 100% or something less than that.
Whew. Who’s confused?
(By the way if you want to eat more plants, we can help you cut through the confusion. Check out our app for going plant-based here.)
The ‘Is this Vegan?’ FAQ
If you’re new to a plant-based diet, it’s normal to start to question everything. The breads, sauces, cereals, and packaged foods you’ve been eating for years… are they vegan?
Here are answers to some of the most common questions I hear from new vegans (and some I had myself):
1. Is honey vegan?
No, honey comes from bees which are animals, so it is not considered vegan.
2. Is pasta vegan?
Nearly all dried pasta is vegan with the exception of egg noodles, but many fresh pastas will contain egg. Be sure to check before purchasing. But yes, vegans eat pasta — here’s a list of our favorite vegan pasta recipes.
3. Is bread vegan?
The most common non-vegan ingredient in bread is probably honey, though you’ll also see milk products or eggs in some breads. These exceptions aside, bread is typically vegan.
4. But what about the yeast?
Yeast, while a live organism, is still considered vegan. That means not only is bread usually vegan, but so are many beers and wines are too. (See our post on vegan beer for more details about that one.)
In general, if you’re still unsure if something is vegan after looking at the ingredient list, here are a few cheats:
- Look for the “V” symbol on the package that clearly labels the food as vegan.
- Below the ingredient list, many packages will have a “contains: XXX” section meant to focus on allergens. Fortunately for vegans, dairy and eggs are often included here. But note, this is not a foolproof method.
- Fire up the phone and Google search it. Chances are the result will pop up right away. #technology
Just Tofu and Kale? What Vegans Eat Besides Salad
Ask a vegan to compile a list of their favorite foods and guess what?
Chances are tofu and kale aren’t at the top. (Although let’s be real, who doesn’t love some crispy tofu? And if you’re looking for what to do with kale, we’ve got you covered.)
In simplest form, you could break down vegan foods into four categories:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Nuts & Seeeds
But let’s go even further, with real-life examples:
Fruits: Apples, Oranges, Bananas, Pineapples, Berries, Grapes, Tomatoes, Avocados, Madjool Dates
Greens: Romaine Lettuce, Spinach, Broccoli, Kale, Arugula, Basil, Parsley, Cilantro
Other Vegetables: Celery, Cucumbers, Bell Peppers, Jalapeno Peppers, Onions, Carrots, Garlic, Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Beets, Broccoli, Cauliflower
Legumes (Beans): Lentils, Chickpeas, Black Beans, White Beans, Tofu, Tempeh
Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, Cashews, Walnuts, Flaxseeds, Chia Seeds
Grains: Brown Rice, Quinoa, Oats, Bread, Pasta, Seitan, Tortillas
This is not a complete vegan grocery list, of course, but I hope it gives you a little perspective about the wide range of options, and how most of the foods in a typical day on a vegan diet are foods you probably eat already.
And yes, I know I haven’t mentioned how vegans get protein yet. That’s because if you eat whole foods, it shows up in just about every food you eat, and without even trying you’ll get somewhere in the range of 12-15% of your calories from protein, which is plenty.
What about vegan meats?
The plant-based meat market has exploded over the past few years, with even fast-food chains like Burger King jumping on board. So it’s no surprise that when some people think of the plant-based diet, they immediately think of Beyond or Impossible burgers.
Don’t get me wrong, we think this growing market is fantastic and love regularly indulging in these juicy vegan treats, but I wouldn’t categorize them as a regular part of most vegan’s diet.
For one, they’re expensive. And healthy vegan food can be cheap. But more than that, most plant-based meats aren’t very healthy and we’re typically a pretty health-conscious group.
The Simple Meal Structure That Works for 99% of Vegan Meals
When you boil them down to the basics, nearly every vegan meal we eat (after breakfast) fits one simple structure: a grain, a green, and a bean.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t loads of veggies, sauces, and toppings in there as well, but at the heart of the meal is often the grain, green, bean formula.
Burritos, soup, stir fry, spaghetti, salad, stews, and even pizza can all be considered a grain, a green, and a bean depending on what you put on it.
By approaching a meal with this structure, you’ll find that it takes a lot of the guesswork out of what you need to cook, and all about guarantees a hearty, healthy result.
14 Vegan Meal Examples
Ready to get started? Here’s a collection of our favorite recipes that will blow the socks off a boring tofu salad.
- 10 Grain, Green, Bean recipes
- Plant Power Bowl (with Over 30 Grams of Protein)
- Ultimate Vegan Alfredo Sauce Recipe
- How to Make a Smoothie
- Vegan Mac ‘n’ Chard
- Tuscan White Bean Pizza
- Sweet Potato Curry with Tofu, Bok Choy, and Carmelized Shallots
- Beans and Rice
- The World’s Most Versatile Veggie Burger Recipe
And check out our simple vegan meal plan for combining these into an actual daily diet.
Don’t View ‘Vegan’ as a Limiting Word
While eating a vegan diet does eliminate certain foods from your rotation, it’s not limiting.
In fact, most vegans would tell you they now eat far more foods and greater variety than they ever did before.
The options for hearty, savory, and comforting plant-based meals are endless once you get the hang of it. And until then, kale and tofu really aren’t that bad…